ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN in HAMBURG (1966) – NDR documentary

ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN in HAMBURG (1966) – NDR documentary

A wonderful documentary film featuring Arthur Rubinstein which shows him improvising a lot and playing snippets from the following works:

Chopin: Etude in A-Flat Major, Op. 25 No. 1;
” Etude in C Major, Op. 10 No. 1;
” Etude in A minor, Op. 10 No. 2;
” Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23;
Szymanowski: Symphonie Concertante, Op. 60;
Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales;
Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960.

The spoken parts are all in the original German, and the English subtitles are my own — just hit the “CC” button in the playback window to show the subtitles (or to turn them off if you prefer).

This clip was made in 1966 by the North German Radio when Arthur Rubinstein came to Hamburg, Germany to inspect his own favorite, personal Hamburg Steinway D-274 piano which was dropped from a crane somewhere while he was taking it on tour. It was sent back to the Hamburg Steinway factory for repairs. The event takes place in a room at the Steinway factory in Stellingen, a suburb of Hamburg. You can read more about it here — in German, in an article which appeared in “Die Zeit” back in 1966:

I recorded this off the air in 1992 or 1993 from an ARTE broadcast. At one point, this clip was available as a VHS cassette. All of my efforts to locate it today have failed, and so I am making this available on YouTube because I feel that it is an important historical document. The sound quality is shaky at times, but considering the improvised placement of the microphones and the mobile recording techniques available back then, it is amazing that they were able to capture the sound as well as they did! The audio signal wobbles in pitch a bit at one point during the Schubert — since there is no disturbance in the video there, I have to assume that this was a glitch in the original, not in my transfers. And the audio gain wanders wonderfully at random between channels at times. Then there is one place where Rubinstein makes a CRESCENDO on a held chord, merely by holding down the sustaining pedal 🙂 — actually, it is just the automatic level control on the original recording “zooming in” on the decaying sound of the piano.

Since all of ARTE’s broadcasts back then were in “Zweikanalton”, meaning that there is French in one (stereo) channel and German in the other, it was a bit of a challenge to preserve the native stereo recording of Rubinstein playing the piano and not have both languages at once in the dialog passages. In addition, my rather cheap VCR at the time had overlaid a soft, but still rather nasty 50-cycle mains hum to the whole thing. I was able to filter out the noise to a tolerable level (thanks to Cool Edit), remix the channels in the dialogs after stripping out the French parts (it’s originally all in German, anyway). Then I translated the dialogs into English — the ones I could hear clearly, that is — and made the subtitles myself.

For French-speaking viewers, the only parts which were actually translated into French by ARTE are the sparse comments which were spoken by the off-screen narrator. None of Rubinstein’s spoken parts were translated, also none of the reporter’s questions in the middle of the clip were translated into French, so there is not much missing by having only German dialogs.

All in all, I have tried to do Mr. Rubinstein and the folks at the Steinway factory in Hamburg a service with all of this, and I hope that everyone will forgive any shortcomings there are with this unique little clip in light of its historical significance. I only hope that a better version might surface someday. Enjoy!


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