Moments in Life with Arthur Rubinstein - through the lens of his daughter, photographer Eva Rubinstein

In a collection of photos taken by her, Eva Rubinstein, the oldest daughter of the iconic Polish-American pianist Arthur Rubinstein, remembers her father with a personal caption on each of the depicted mementos. The majority of the photos date back to the late 60’s to the mid 70’s, spanning the years of Arthur Rubinstein’s late career and his older days, up until around the time of his last concert in London in 1976.

Rubinstein “died [just a few weeks short of his 96th birthday] in 1982, having lived a rich life, and bequeathing to the world a legacy of recordings that will continue to thrill music lovers for generations to come,” remarks Jeff Spurgeon in Rubinstein’s obituary. “His reviews were rapturous; his audiences, enraptured. Standing ovations preceded the first note on the program and elicited multiple encores after the last.” The Times paid tribute to Rubinstein’s feat in a 1961 editorial: “Artur Rubinstein concluded his massive series of ten piano recitals last night in Carnegie Hall. But they were more than piano recitals. They were an attitude toward life—the expression of a civilized man who, in creating and recreating beauty throughout his life, has refused to grow old.”

 

 

 

 

(Rubinstein used the spelling and pronunciation Artur/Arthur according to whatever country he was in: Artur in Poland, Arturo in Spain, S.America and Italy. Arthur in France and in English-speaking countries. In the days when all ballerinas had to have Russian names,  Rubinstein’s impresario Sol Hurok thought the Polish spelling to be more exotic.)

Performing publicly for close to 9 decades, he not only leaves behind the legacy of his recorded performances, but a number of philanthropic foundations in support of pianistic excellence that bear his name. Besides the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel, many festivals named for the famed national, still exist in Poland. As the only Polish-speaker of his children, Eva, a passionate music lover, made it her mission to continue her father’s legacy.

Watch
this video
of Arthur Rubinstein on film in 1947 at Carnegie Hall, playing one of his audience’s favorite encores, “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla.

The photos, assembled from his daughter Eva Rubinstein’s arsenal of stowed away boxes, represent her own impressions as a daughter as well as the inspired eye of a photographer. About her process, she says:”I don’t really make such an analytical selection, mostly I let myself be drawn in, by my subject. I don’t look for special scenes, they rather find me, luring me into a special moment of connection; that’s what it’s really all about.”

Following him backstage during some of his unforgettable performances and his many encounters with colleagues, friends and admirers, concert photos are mixed in with private scenes showing him in concentrated preparation, repose, and triviality.

While Eva recalls it was difficult to catch Rubinstein at the piano, as he was not to be disturbed while practicing, there are some rare occasions, when she was able to catch him in an intimate response to the music – she describes his look in these images, when playing, as his “real face”. When your father happens to be the iconic pianist Arthur Rubinstein, public events often intertwine with the personal, and while there were many happy times spent as a family, she also remembers the heartbreak caused by her father’s love affair and parting from his marriage of many years.

Growing up in Germany, I will remember Rubinstein as the benchmark pianist he was for the older generation of music lovers. Perhaps like no other, his name remains intimately connected with the art of the piano and his larger-than-life performances. But beyond the celebrity aspect of his public persona, Eva Rubinstein’s account captures his domestic live while travelling and at their private residences in Paris and Marbella; laughing, working and relaxing, sometimes in blissful solitude with a book and a cigar, her impressions bear witness to his individuality, his energy and joie de vivre, in a fascinating portrait of Rubinstein – the artist and man.

 

1976, Plaza Hotel, Ball Polonaise

“The Ball Polonaise was a fundraiser in support of Polish compatriots in New York. At the time he was 89, but he whisked me off my seat, when the Polish Orchestra started to play; and what a good dancer he was. Even on the way out, he suddenly burst into a few steps of a Mazurka…”

 

 

Family Christmas in Paris 1976. Arthur and Nela Rubinstein, Eva in the middle with Eva’s children Amy, Alex (left) and David.

“This was the last Christmas we were together with my father, as the split of my parents was imminent. My father was working on the second volume of his auto-biography,  and as he could not see well anymore dictated it to Ms. Whitestone, with whom he later moved to Geneva, at the age of 90.”

 

 

1969 in Marbella, cigar after lunch

In 1965 my parents bought a summer house in Marbella, in the south of Spain. That’s where my father wrote most of his first volume of his memoirs and mother loved it, because it reminded her of California, where she had been very happy.

1969 at the Pavilion Restaurant in New York, one of my father’s favorite restaurants, where the admiring Chef named the Lobster Bisque after Rubinstein. Home base had been split between Paris and New York, until the New York residence on Park Avenue was given up in 1965, after the big world tour of 1964.

1969 London, at the Savoy Hotel. A new book and a cigar – total bliss. Having lost his entire library during the war in Paris, he started a new collection in America. Wherever he travelled, he was always on the lookout for something different.

 

1975 Philadelphia, warm up at the concert hall, Academy of Music

It was an afternoon concert; he and I had driven from New York by limousine, and arriving at the hall he would immediately check the piano. The tuner is in the foreground, just in case.

 

1969 Carnegie Hall, trying the piano, before changing for the concert, for which he would wear his usual white tie and tails, as shown in the next photo.

 

1969 Carnegie Hall, one of the rare occasions, I was allowed to take photos from backstage . I was very nervous, as it was my first time photographing during an actual performance.

                                        

1970 New York, at the Drake Hotel, where my parents made their home base in New York, after 1965.

             

1969 Paris, at the piano posing for me

1969 Newark, New Jersey, backstage. Playing on a surface other than the piano, which he often did, especially for exercises, as he hated the sound of them. He invented his own practicing method, where each finger would get the same amount of work…

Otherwise, playing the piano was the most natural thing for him. That’s why I loved to photograph his face when playing. That’s when he was totally himself.

 

1969 at Carnegie Hall, photographed from backstage 

1947 reunion with Pablo Casals. First time back in Europe after the war. This meeting took place in Switzerland after 20 years of not seeing each other; they played Brahms together, as if they had practiced all along. 

1969 Constitution Hall Washington, D.C. after the concert backstage, with Senator Edward Kennedy

1969 Philadelphia, Academy of Music during concert

 

1970 Metropolitan Museum, rehearsal with the Guarneri String Quartet

1969 Paris at our home

22 Square de l’Avenue Foch

1969 Paris, dressing for an evening “avec décorations”

1969 with my son Alex on my father’s birthday

Early 70’s with Max Wilcox, his longtime recording engineer at RCA, they were on the same page.

1969 in Paris, posing for me for an “everyday scene” photo-shoot. My father, who was extremely careful with his hands, would have never touched spiky objects, such as an artichoke  at a fruit stand.

1969 Marbella, at our house with Café,  his beloved dog

1969 at the Drake Hotel, with Glenn Gould, in an interview for ‘Look,’ but my father did not let him get a word in…

1971 Philadelphia, Philharmonic Hall, showing his hands, gesturing he can’t possibly play another encore…

1970 Philadelphia, Academy of Music, backstage fighting with his unruly, and by then thinning hair that had to be put in place – with the help of some hair spray…he sometimes also lightly sprayed the keyboard, as his hands were very dry. This prevented his fingers slipping on the keys.

1969 rehearsing with George Szell at Carnegie Hall

1976 with Sol Hurok, Rubinstein’s Impresario of many years at his Apartment in New York, after the last Carnegie Hall concert performance by Rubinstein… with Daniel Barenboim, who tells a funny story imitating Casals.

1976 Rubinstein knew Barenboim’s parents in Argentina and met him again in Israel, when Barenboim was 14 years old. They both connected over smoking cigars together, a habit that Barenboim is fond of up to this day.

1969 in the Drake Hotel, New York.

This was at the 18th floor apartment, the suite reserved for them when on tour in the US.

1951 Theatro Colon, Buenos Aires

Lineup of ticket buyers around the block for the concert

1969 Marbella, protecting his cookie

1978 New York with John, his youngest son.

John was starring in the leading role of ‘Pippin,’ on Broadway. this was a photo for ‘People Magazine.’We are four siblings; I am the eldest, born in Buenos Aires, 1933, my brother Paul in Warsaw 1935, then ten years later Alina and finally, two years later John, both of them born in Los Angeles.

1969 Rome, Hotel Excelsior 

That day, I remember there was a big family drama, over the phone. My father was working on Schubert’s posthumous Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960 . My photo made it onto the cover of the release. 

Rubinstein had a difficult relationship with the B-flat Sonata, Schubert’s final essay in the form. He attempted to record it four times: twice in 1963, again in 1965, and finally returning to the studio for a last attempt in 1969. 

Rubinstein approved the 1969 version. But it was generally felt at the time that Rubinstein had allowed himself to “over-think” the piece and the performance was rather bogged down and joyless.

It was therefore replaced with a previous version (from 1965) of the Sonata, which appears on Rubinstein’s only existing all-Schubert compilation on the RCA label, released in 1969. (T.Drake)