About 40 years ago, when my husband and I were teaching at Deep Springs College in California, I met Hilda Hemer, an 80-something pianist, who gave concerts in her home in Bishop. She said, “I’m as deaf as Beethoven!” That did not stop us from performing his Spring Sonata for violin and piano. Furniture was moved around to accommodate music loving farmers and merchants and I did all the listening for both of us.
Hilda was full of music, having studied with Artur Schnabel, the great German pianist, before World War II forced her to flee to Los Angeles. Somehow her father managed to send over the Bösendorfer piano he had given her for her 13th birthday. Deserted by her husband during the war, Hilda raised her three sons by giving piano lessons in her Los Angeles living room. When she retired to Bishop, the piano made that trek, too. By the time I arrived she was desperate for musical company.
After five years of reading Mozart and Beethoven sonatas together, my family moved to Eugene. I saw Hilda only once more, when I brought Victor Steinhardt, founding core pianist of Chamber Music Amici, to Deep Springs to play the Spring Sonata with me. By that time Hilda was too old to make the 40-mile drive over Westgard Pass to attend our concert. Instead, I brought Victor to her home.
There she pulled out the faded pages of her Beethoven sonatas, covered with Schnabel’s notations. She reminisced about her lessons with the master, and she translated his comments for Victor. She played for Victor, and he played for her.
To view the other two blogs in this series where Amici musicians reflect on treasured moments, click below.
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part I: Summer 1986, by Jessica Lambert, click here
Treasured Chamber Music Experiences, Part III: Turning Point, by Eunhye Grace Choi, click here