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Rubin Goldmark was the outstanding personality among Antonín Dvorák’s American students. Today he is mainly remembered as the mentor of such significant composers as George Gershwin (1898-1937), the Italo-American genius Vittorio Giannini (1903-66), Aaron Copland (1900-90), Frederick Jacobi (1891-1952), or Alexei Haieff (1914-94). Stylistically a thoroughly conservative late-romantic composer, so to speak a ’brazen romantic” off the beaten track of the progressive tendencies of his time, after his death Rubin Goldmark’s name quickly fell into total oblivion in a climate of modernistic aesthetics. But his music strikes, beyond its obvious melodic charme and vitality, with rich invention, harmonical substance and complete mastery of large forms and orchestration. It is definitely worth to be rediscovered.
He was the nephew of the famous Jewish-Austrian composer Carl Goldmark. His father Leo Goldmark (1843-1927), born in Deutschkreutz in Burgenland and living in New York as a lawyer and cantor, was a keyfigure in New York music life being one of the founders and a singer of the Oratorio Society of New York as well as a co-founder and at times director of the New York Symphony Society. The young Rubin Goldmark grew up in a milieu where the most significant musicians who worked in New York permanently or as guest artists were regular guests at the Goldmark’s house.
In the beginning Rubin Goldmark studied piano privately with the German emigree Alfred von Livonius (1846-1916; Amrican citizen since 1892) and spent one year at the College of the City of New York. In 1889 the seventeen-year-old went to his uncle in Vienna where he studied at the Conservatory composition with Robert Fuchs and Johann Nepomuk Fuchs and piano with Anton Door. After his return to New York in 1891 he continued his studies at the National Conservatory for two years; his teachers were the Hungarian piano virtuoso Rafael Joseffy (1852-1915) an ex-pupil of Moscheles, Tausig and Liszt, and Antonín Dvorák in composition. On 8 May 1893, Rubin Goldmark’s Piano Trio in D minor Op. 1 written in 1892 was premièred at the conservatory by violinist Michael Banner (1868-1941), cellist Victor Herbert (1859-1924), and the young composer himself at the piano. Afterwards Dvorák is reported to have said: ”Now there are two Goldmarks!”, and the work was printed by the famous Leipsic publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel in 1896. After Dvorák’s departure Goldmark taught piano and theory at the National Conservatory in 1893-94. But due to health reasons he had to leave New York City, and his patrons founded for him the Colorado College in Colorado Springs where he served as director until 1902. As a composer he became widely recognized after the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s première of his tone poem Hiawatha after Longfellow on 13 January 1900.
After Rubin Goldmark’s health had considerably improved he returned to New York in 1902 where he taught piano and composition privately for the following two decades. He frequently toured across the United States and Canada giving lecture-recitals on Richard Wagner’s music. In 1907, he was co-founder of the ’Bohemians’, the legendary New York Club of musicians initiated by his teacher Rafael Joseffy, and was its president from 1907 to 1910, and again from 1926 until his death (the violinist Franz Kneisel [1865-1926] was president of the ’Bohemians’ from 1910 to 1926). In 1909 Goldmark received the Paderewski Prize for his Piano Quartet Op. 12. On 14 March 1914, the Boston Symphony Orchestra premièred his tone poem Samson, and on 30 January 1919 his purely orchestral Requiem. Suggested by Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was premièred by the New York Philharmonic. Both works were printed in full score by Schirmer.
In 1922 Rubin Goldmark composed his most successful orchestral work: A Negro Rhapsody was first performed by the New York Philharmonic under their chief conductor Josef Stransky (1872-1936) on 18 January 1923 and published in print by Universal Edition in Vienna in the same year. This work doesn’t only impress by its excellent craft, riveting dramaturgic construction, vital charme and musicianly brio. It was a truly pioneering act as Goldmark employed seven Negro Spirituals (among them ’Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ and ’Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen’) as basic themes of the Rhapsody and therewith laid the foundation for the future musical identity of US-American composers and, as one of the first leading artists, courageously transcending the established racist fission of American society. (For the unmistakable statement of his pupil George Gershwin relating to this matter see below; and see also Frederick Jacobi’s Tribute from 1936).
In 1924, Rubin Goldmark was appointed director of the composition department of New York’s Juilliard School. Apart from the works mentioned above he composed inter alia a Sonata in B minor for violin and piano, a String Quartet in A, Four Pieces for violin and piano including the Call for the Plains, composed in 1915 and orchestrated in 1922 after it had become a favourite piece of Misha Elman, as well as piano music and songs.
In conjunction with the American composers’ search for their cultural identity, Gershwin wrote about Rubin Goldmark’s Negro Rhapsody:
”It was obvious from the very first that if America was to produce a music of distinction and individuality, it must first find a distinct idiom which it can use in expressing itself. Thirty years ago, we had many gifted composers fumbling in that direction. Some of them turned to the Indians for their inspiration and by use of Indian themes they hoped to find a native American musical idiom. But the fallacy is obvious. For the pale and fragile tenderness of Indian music can no more express the fret and chaos of our modern American life than can the music of Brahms or Schubert.
”In the midst of this blundering there was found a prominent and significant Jewish composer, Rubin Goldmark, my teacher and friend. Goldmark sensed that it was futile to employ an Indian idiom to express America. But Goldmark, too, felt that America must have its individual idiom if it is to produce a music of distinction, and so he groped in another direction. And Goldmark’s gropings were the first feeble steps towards the much-cherished destination. Not to the Indians did Goldmark turn but to the negro – with the negro’s strong sense for rhythm, with his sad wails and pathetic groans. In the negro spiritual did Goldmark feel – just as Dvorák had felt – that he had found, at last, the American idiom.
”His Negro Rhapsody is far from being American music. As we listen to it today – our ears trained to hear those strains and slides of the true American music of our time – this seems to be pretty feeble stuff. But as a pioneer work, its importance cannot be overestimated. Overlooking the fact that this is, at best, pretty thin music; that it resembles Dvorák more closely than it does anything American; that its fragmentary moments of beauty are as far removed from the American spirit as Rubin Goldmark himself was – overlooking these things the fact remains that Goldmark was among the very first to turn his eye towards the negro and to attempt to interpret America through the poignant strains of the spiritual.
”And since jazz – certainly the most efficacious means, to date, for the creation of American music – has its roots deeply embedded in the negro spiritual, the importance of such a pioneer work as the Negro Rhapsody should not be disregarded.”
Rubin Goldmark’s Negro Rhapsody was regularly performed until the 1930s but then, in the course of the increasing assimilation of the authentic music of the Black people, the work gradually vanished into thin air. May the present reprint of the original full score create renewed interest in this work that is anything but a contribution to exoticist discrimination as the title may suggest to the reader of our time. At its time just the opposite was the case, as it stood intentionally for the sustainable overcoming of racism and arrogance in the arts.
Christoph Schlüren, March 2018