An Interesting Meeting of Minds

Two nights ago, Bill McGlaughlin, on his program Exploring Music, was on the second night of his Schubert festival. On this particular program, he played the first movement of the Arpeggione Sonata with Lynn Harrell and no mention of the pianist. Lynn’s performance was so commanding and transcendental, I wondered whether he had quicksilver in his fingers to match his exquisitely beautiful tone.

Hearing this performance brought me back sixty-two  years to October 31st, 1960, at a Halloween party at Juilliard. Lynn’s reputation preceded him, having won the first prize at the Merriweather Post Competition playing the Rococo Variations. For whatever reason, I had a relatively high opinion of my own work since I could play several Paganini Caprices and the Barber Concerto. So, I walked right up to him and said, “You’re Lynn Harrell, Rose’s best student.” He said, “You’re Danny Morganstern, Luigi Silba’s best student.” So, I said, “Why don’t we go to my place and see how good we both are?” So, we walked down to 110th Street, where I was living, and I played my Paganini and at least the first movement of the Barber Concerto, and he was duly impressed. Then we walked over to Lynn Harrell’s place, and he played for me the Boccherini A Major Sonata, the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, one or another of the Schumann fantasy pieces, and Popper No. 14, an etude in octaves which he played with a heft and command I could not even imagine. Most of all, it was the Boccherini and the Schubert that he played with such a beautiful sound; it was the closest thing to the famous Irish tenor John McCormick that I ever heard in the sixty years since that any instrumentalist could approach to that particular quality of beauty.

At that time, Lynn was sixteen and I was nineteen, and we spent the rest of the night and most of the next day just walking, talking, and communing about what was important to us and how we proposed to make our careers.

We remained friends and played for each other often for the next year until he finally moved away. Leonard Rose took Lynn into his home as a roommate to Leonard’s son, Arthur, and I saw much less of Lynn after that. For many years after he became world famous, if anybody mentioned my name, Lynn would always refer to that magic evening when we played for each other and bonded.                            

Fifty years later, we met at Meadowmount where we were both teaching and spent another five hours playing for each other. However, this time, our playing was fueled by a bottle of scotch, which we finished in record time. Afterwards, my wife June provided three pints of strawberry ice cream with fresh cut strawberries; Lynn ate two of them but, after all, he was a big man in every way.

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