Elegy for J.F.K, a memory

Do you know this piece? It was written by Stravinsky in 1964 celebrating the passing of John Kennedy. It was composed for mezzo-soprano and three clarinets, as I recall three different clarinets. I may have performed one of the first few performances of the work. I remember it much more for the title than for the music as it is a twelve-tone piece with none of the immediacy of many other works by Stravinsky. It is rather stark and it is quite short. One performed the work more for its title than for the content.

Of course, thinking about November 22, 1963 brings back vivid memories of the exact day at least from the standpoint of the time immediately after receiving the news on a radio in a Chinese restaurant where we were having lunch between rehearsals. As we walked out of the restaurant, we were approached by one of those “man on the street” TV camers and I was asked my opinion as to the tragic turn of events. I dodn’t remember what I said.

Curiously enough, we were about to go on a short tour of northern Wiscnsin with the Soprano Elizabeth Schwrtzkoff.She was singing the “Last Four Songs” by Richard Strauss and the orchestra playing Don Juan. The program was hastily amended to include the “Air on the G String” from the 3rd orchestral Suite by JS Bach.

All of the performances of that fateful weekend were sold out . There was “standing room” only. All of the concerts were played to hushed auditoria.

The orchestra returned to Milwaukee at the end of the concert. During the next morning, I went to the drug store to get some Neo Synephrine nasal spray, a failry benign medication to which I was addicted. As I waited for my purchase, I looked up at the television set, saw that now-famous big white stetson on the head of the marshal who was escorting Lee Harvey Oswald to be arraigned. Suddenly a short man advanced toward him brandishing a pistol.It was Jack Ruby and he shot Oswald dead in front of the eyes of the nation.

Of all of the eery mwmories of that time was one indelible in my mind. The night before , a group of musicians fro the orchestra were having a beer at a local tavern. We were hoping that pehaps some  brave or diseased soul  might rent a boat, take it out on Lake Michigen, armed with a high powered rifle and “take care”of our conductor,universally reviled by the orchestra at that time.

The thoght seemed oddly prophetic, was not to come to pass, but Dallas, unfortunately for us all, did come to pass.

Keep practising.

Sherman Friedland


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