Lemco Interviews Dehavenon, Kapell's Widow

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Lemco Interviews Dehavenon, Kapell's Widow

Post by Lance » Tue Jun 24, 2008 10:47 am

An Interview with Dr. Anna Lou Dehavenon
by Gary Lemco

Dr. Gary Lemco spoke with Dr. Anna Lou Dehavenon, widow of famed pianist William Kapell, over the telephone on Saturday, 31 May 2008. The discussion came about as a result of the publication of the 2-CD set, “Kapell Rediscovered,” resuscitated recitals—edited by Jon Samuels—that William Kapell [1921-1953] gave in Australia just prior to the fatal plane crash outside of San Francisco that claimed his life, robbing the music world of a pianist considered by many as America’s leading virtuoso.

GL: Dr. Dehavenon, we spend so much time lamenting the death of William Kapell, we often forget your own talents at the keyboard, and your teachers, like Sergei Tarnowsky (1882-1976).

ALD: Yes, I was studying in Chicago; I had begun my love affair with the piano at the age of nine. Tarnowsky had been a pupil of Essipova, part of the Leschetizky constituents of piano instruction. It was in Chicago--I had been there two years--that I first heard William Kapell; and, of course, I fell immediately in love with his playing.

GL: Can you recall your first impressions of Kapell’s musical personality?

ALD: Well, there was his obviously fiery temperament. But there was a maturity about his playing that was well beyond his years; and even later discussions with his teachers like Olga Samaroff and Dorothea La Follette could not entirely explain the phenomenon. Kapell could move so quickly from lyrical meditation to white heat, it was uncanny and a bit scary. As he got older, he began to color his chords and his palette at the piano, and he could communicate a great humor, which was a big part of his personality. Willie loved to laugh and make jokes. We all become obsessed with his early death and forget—being so tragic about it ourselves—that Willie delighted in laughter: that’s why he and Oscar Levant got on so well in Westwood. For instance, in your review, you say that the “Samuel Goldenberg” episode in Mussorgsky is “a Marxist confrontation.” Willie would have loved that!

GL: I know William Kapell came from a family who owned a bookstore. Was Kapell fond of reading, of books?

ALD: Yes, David Kapell and his wife, William’s parents, owned a bookshop on Lexington Avenue. Willie loved to read, especially among the Russians. For instance, he was fond of Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, especially, with the innocent Prince Mishkin whose guiltlessness could be as destructive as any sinner’s. We knew Clifford Odets, so Willie knew about the Group Theater and the plays, like Golden Boy and The Country Girl.

GL: You make me think of another tragic artist, the actor John Garfield.

ALD: Oh, yes, we appreciated John Garfield. I can’t remember a lot of his movies, but he was very popular. Willie would read about music, of course, like Mozart’s letters and Thayer’s Life of Beethoven. I recall that Steinbeck’s East of Eden was dear to him.

GL: What are your feelings about the revived recitals from Australia, in spite of the often horrible sound qualities?

ALD: As you point out in your review, we have to listen beyond the surface qualities of the restored originals. And I have to thank Jon Samuels for all of his hard work to clean up the sound and repress the noise as much as he did without losing the vitality in the performances. Willie took his own pianos, you know, the Steinways, No. 115 and No. 81. Willie felt he wanted to develop his own sound, the same way Horowitz, Rubinstein and several others could be recognized immediately for their unique sound. The sound for Willie had to be worthy of the power of the content of the pieces he loved. He took his attitude from people like Serkin and Schnabel, each of whom had an impact on Willie’s way of thinking about music. The treasures of the Australian recital, to me, are the Chopin pieces and the Prokofiev. You liked the Barcarolle, too, I see. What Kapell could do with the bass notes! And the Debussy--particularly ‘Clair de Lune.’ Someone suggested we issue this one excerpt from the Suite bergamasque as a solo CD.

GL: I think you mentioned, in passing, that Kapell would likely have taken a break in his active career to re-study much of his repertory and to develop some new works.

ALD: Yes, Willie wanted to take a sabbatical to re-think Schubert, Beethoven, and Mozart. He felt he needed to get closer to the character of the music he championed. Also, there was a desire in him to play new music, especially by American composers. And chamber music! Willie loved chamber music, like Mozart’s Piano Quintet, an he did get to work with Casals and Primrose and few others, like Heifetz. Conductors just loved to work with Kapell: I remember he played Saint-Saens in Philadelphia at the Orchestra Youth Competition. When he won, he met Jose Iturbi, who presented him with a prize turkey! That sounds funny, but Jose Iturbi proved to be very dear to Willie and me.

GL: To me, Iturbi remains under-rated because of his Hollywood associations.

ALD: True, Irurbi’s success in motion pictures drew a snobbish attitude from the classical doyens. But he was a fine musician, and he could excel at several styles, not only Spanish music.

GL: Can you think of other musicians who impressed you and Kapell? For instance, one of my favorite collaborations is with Dimitri Mitropoulos in the Brahms D Minor Concerto.

ALD: Dimitri Mitropoulos! We loved him, and Willie was able to work with him both in Minneapolis and in New York. Eugene Ormandy was very helpful, and he and Willie played Shostakovich with a great sense of fun and energy. You have to remember that Willie and I had only five years together—two more, before we were married—and I try to retain what I can, but I had another life after Willie’s death, including two children by Dehavenon.

GL: I do not know much about him.

ALD: Well, after Willie, I did not want to become involved with another musician, anyone who would have to bear invidious comparisons with someone so intense as Kapell. Dehavenon was a much older man, a perfume-maker and art collector, and I respected him deeply. As for my children, I also did not push them towards music, with the music-business often a much uglier reality than the music itself would indicate. One of my children, Joshua, redesigned the town of Greenport.

GL: Are there musicians currently active whom you respect and enjoy?

ALD: I would have to name Jerome Lowenthal as a foremost interpreter. He possesses many of the same qualities Willie communicated to an audience. They are both conscientious, searching artists, and they think deeply about the music they perform.

GL: Well, it’s been a great privilege to speak to you, and I will make it a point to get you the collaboration of the Rachmaninov Rhapsody with Rodzinski on CD.

ALD: Please, because I did not know of it and would be eager to listen to it. If you are going to be in New York, be sure to call ahead and let me know, so you can visit.

GL: You are very kind.

Dr. Gary R. Lemco is a frequent guest reviewer
for Classical Music Guide. He resides in California.

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