|ORCHESTRA: Symphonie Lyrique; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Le Fiancé.|
About Nicholas Nabokoff: Chesterian 13:48November 1931.
" Ornstein possesses the ability to transmute into art, by means of a powerful and lurid imagination, the life of his time."--PAUL ROSENFELD
LEO ORNSTEIN, for a long time the stormy petrel of contemporary music, was born in Kremenchug, a town of southwest Russia, on December 11, 1895. When he was three years old, his father--a famous cantor--began to teach his son the first elements of music on the piano. When Leo was five years old, he showed the unmistakable signs of talent for music for the first time. His father sang for him a Russian song which Leo could not have heard anywhere before. The lad listened to his father carefully and then, advancing to the piano, played not only the complete Russian song with marvelous fidelity, but also a series of original variations, composed extemporaneously, in which he disclosed an amazing inventiveness.
Undisputed were both his ability in and passion for music. But his father was reluctant to allow his son to adopt it as a life-work. The position of cantor was so much more dignified, and it would, at least, permanently keep Leo in the bosom of his religion! But Leo's uncle, a violinist, recognized the boy's talent and intervened on his behalf. It was finally decided to give the boy a thoro course in piano as the first step in his musical career.
In 1902, Josef Hofmann, the famous pianist, came to Kremenchug, and Leo Ornstein timidly came to his hotel and, trembling, asked the great pianist to hear him. Hofmann listened to the lad carefully and then, amazed at his prodigious technique, wrote a letter recommending him to the Petrograd Conservatory. It was some time before Ornstein was to take advantage of this letter. For, a few weeks after this meeting with Hofmann, Ornstein played for Puchalski--a popular composer of the time--and Puchalski accepted the young musician as a pupil of the Imperial School of Music at Kiev. Ornstein did not remain very long at this school. The death of an aunt brought him back home where he continued his musical studies with neighborhood teachers.
But Ornstein had not forgotten his great desire to study at the Petrograd Conservatory and so, in 1904, he made the trip to the famous city. He had not been there very long when he found an opportunity to play before Glazunov, the composer. As soon as he struck the first few aimless chords preceding his first number, he perceived that the piano was a half-tone lower than it should be. He told the fact to Glazunov who greeted the remark with a smile, and told the boy to play his repertoire anyway. Ornstein began the first few notes of a Bach fugue, and then stopped suddenly, his musical sensibility jarred by the ill-tuned piano. Then, without much ado, he calmly transposed the entire fugue a half-tone lower. Glazunov, bewildered, decided to test young Ornstein's talent still further, by making him identify chords which the composer played at random on the piano. It was child's play for Ornstein, and Glazunov realized that an outstanding talent had fallen into his hands.
For several years, Ornstein studied at