Monday, July 07, 2008

The story of Mrs C...

This adorable story about Piatigorsky comes, rather unexpectedly, from the inimitable Robert Fisk, who devoted his Saturday column in the Indy to certain gems of information provided by his readers.

'...there arrives another letter from Ms Somervil-Ayrton, remembering how I once sat next to the late Mstislav Rostropovich en route to Beirut with what he called his "wife" – his sacred cello – on the seat beside him. Did I know, asks Ms S-A, the airline story about Piatigorsky, "who had the reputation Rostropovich has now"? I fumble for my massive, 2,239-page edition of the Norwegian K B Sandved's The World of Music, a weighty heart attack of a book wherein, on page 1622, I find "Gregor Piatigorsky, Russian-American cellist, born 1903". He began life by playing at his local cinema, but at 14 was engaged by the Imperial Opera in Moscow. At the revolution, smugglers got him out of Russia, leaving him stripped and penniless in Poland but he became first cellist in the Berlin Philharmonic and toured the US in 1929 where Samuel Chotzinoff wrote that in his hands "the cello loses its limitations, his playing is as light and brilliant as if he were playing a violin".

Now back to Ms S-A who writes how Piatigorsky "was shopping around for an airline that would carry his cello free of charge – as he was sick of all the hassle and expense ... he managed to find one – 'Of course, Mr. Piatigorsky – of course' – and went on the appointed day to pick up his tickets. To his surprise, they proudly presented one for himself and one in the name of Miss Cello Piatigorsky. I think he had to pay anyway...".'