“Nie dam się” (translated from Polish means: “I will never give in”) Artur Rubinstein’s motto
When we picture the caricature of a renowned classical pianist, the idea of a type-A stubborn asexual asshole that dedicated their entire waking life to complete perfection comes to mind. The kind of person that scowls a lot, speaks in paragraphs about the bastardization of language, and someone that has never farted. Ever. Not even a single pop or that silent rush of warmth in the jeans. Nothing. The stereotype of a good classical pianist goes like this: The higher that stick is shoved up the ass, the better the pianist.
Then there’s Artur Rubinstein. Artur was a different brand of motherfucker.
“It is said of me that when I was young,” Artur said, “I divided my time impartially among wine, women and song. I deny this categorically. Ninety percent of my interests were women.”
Dude seduced an Italian princess and then married a rich ballerina. When living in Paris in 1910, he would spend his money on lobster and champagne and then, with no money left, slept on park benches. Dude hung out with Picasso, the Prince of Wales, Ernest Hemingway, or a harem of absurdly good-looking ladies before he played a concert. Artur was a total player. “What good are vitamins?” he said at the age of 75, “Eat a lobster, eat a pound of caviar – live! If you are in love with a beautiful blonde with an empty face and no brains at all, don’t be afraid. Marry her! Live!” Fluent in English, Polish, Russian, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, he often regaled party guests from around the world with stories from behind a fat Upmann cigar. He gestured wildly and climbed on top of tables and chairs to help punctuate these tales. One story he liked to tell was when he played a duet with Einstein (ya, that dude) and when poor Albert missed his cue Artur said to him, “For God’s sakes, professor can’t you even count up to four?”
When hearing about Artur’s personality, you’d think the dude played circus music while blowing bubbles and giggling. But this is not what Artur is known for. Dude plays the shit out of Chopin. He is known as the greatest Chopin interpreter of the 20th century. This fact is undeniable when you hear these tunes. Nothing is forced. This music just eases out of him like he’s taking a breath.
“At every concert I leave a lot to the moment. I must have the unexpected, the unforeseen. I want to risk, to dare. I want to be surprised by what comes out. I want to enjoy it more than the audience. That way the music can bloom anew. It’s like making love. The act is always the same, but each time it’s different.”
Well, there’s no question about it, Artur knew how to play the piano and how to fuck. He was a true rock star. The music he played could fill you with hope in one moment and make you cry in the next. He played some of the most heartfelt music the world has ever heard. He sucked the marrow out of life with a big fucking smile on his face. Even when old and partially blind he continued to perform. I like to think that Artur’s distinct and effervescent personality was the secret sauce to his talent. His ability to immerse and feel every single moment life had to offer allowed him to play the way he did. But Artur explains this better than I ever could.
“I was born very, very lazy and I don’t always practice very long. But I must say, in my defense, that it is not so good, in a musical way, to overpractice. When you do, the music seems to come out of your pocket. If you play with a feeling of ‘Oh, I know this,’ you play without that little drop of fresh blood that is necessary – and the audience feels it.”
Go play with blood, motherfuckers. Play with blood.