The Corner

Music and Movies (and WFB)

Earlier this week, Dmitri Masleev played a recital at Carnegie Hall. He is a young Russian pianist. I will review him (in The New Criterion) in due course.

Speaking of WFB (who liked to say “in due course”): I thought of him while listening to this recital. On the program was something very rare: Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor. Rare? Isn’t that a hackneyed old thing? Yes — which is why it’s almost never programmed. It’s overfamiliar.

But don’t forget: If a piece of music is hackneyed, or overexposed, it’s not its fault! And this prelude is a beautiful — also an interesting — thing.

The prelude became something of an albatross around Rachmaninoff’s neck. It was known by one and all. Everyone played it at home. And wherever Rachmaninoff went, he was expected to play it. People waited for it. They wanted it. It was his signature tune, so to speak.

Which brings us to WFB: He was known for a few comments outstandingly. He said he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone book than by the Harvard faculty. When he was running for mayor of New York, he was asked, “What’s the first thing you would do if you won?” He quipped, “Demand a recount.”

Also, he wrote a famous letter — later-famous letter — when he was eight: to the King of England, demanding that the monarch pay his war debt.

Bill heard about these things a lot, over the decades. He wearied of them and winced at them. He would refer to the phonebook thing or “Demand a recount” as “my Prelude in C-sharp Minor.”

(But those lines, like the prelude, are damn good.)

P.S. As I mentioned in a blogpost, David French and I recorded a podcast yesterday — here. A listener writes, “Out of all the important topics you guys discussed, I was most impressed by your knowing the movie Some Kind of Wonderful!”

Oh, please: Every male my age has thought about Lea Thompson, Mary Stuart Masterson, or both for lo these 30 years. Trust me.

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