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Writer Richard Ford on Anton Chekhov.

Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the novel "Independence Day," has edited and collected a new selection of short stories by the great Russian playwright and short-story writer Anton Chekhov. It's called "The Essential Tales of Chekhov" (Ecco Press)

18:34

Other segments from the episode on January 5, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 5, 1999: Interview with Arnold Steinhardt; Interview with Richard Ford; Review of the television show "The Rodgers and Hart Story: Thou Swell, Thou Witty."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 05, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 010501np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Arnold Steinhardt
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

DEAN OLSHER, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dean Olsher, Cultural Correspondent at NPR, sitting in for Terry Gross.

It's been said over and over that a string quartet is like a four-way marriage. The funny thing about cliches is that they're often true. As violinist for the Guarneri String Quartet, Arnold Steinhardt has been married to fellow violinist John Dalley, violist Michael Tree, and cellist David Soyer for 35 years. No other quartet has been together this long with its original members.

Steinhardt has written a memoir of his experiences called "Indivisible by Four." In it, he describes the sublime and ridiculous aspects of the chamber music life from performing in the White House to endless arguments over how a single note should be played to the dangerous ways a musician's mind can wander during performance.

ARNOLD STEINHARDT FOUNDING MEMBER, GUARNERI STRING QUARTET; AUTHOR, "INDIVISIBLE BY FOUR": Well, I thought I would put that in as a touch of realism because I think it really is realistic no matter how disciplined and how focused a musician is -- there are these moments. At the end of this book, when I try and give the reader a kind of stream of consciousness -- a virtual reality -- sense of what it is to be inside a group, I put that in as just a little touch of realism.

OLSHER: The part you're talking about, you're playing "Death and the Maiden" by Schubert, it's a string quartet where he's taken an earlier song he's written which is based on a German poem. And that poem is part of what keeps coming back to your mind. If you could just read for me, please, those two stanzas that you mention in your book.

STEINHARDT: Yes, it's a poem called "Death and the Maiden" by Claudius. And it goes like this:

The maiden
Pass me by
Oh pass me by
Go wild skeleton

I am still young
Go dear one
And touch me not
Death

Give me your hand
Oh fair and tender form
I am your friend
I do not come to punish

Be of good cheer
I am not wild
You shall sleep softly
In my arms

OLSHER: So that poem is the basis for the original song that Schubert wrote and then adapted as the basis for this theme and variation for his string quartet known as "The Death and the Maiden Quartet" that you're performing here with your colleagues.

So after you've been performing it for a while here are some of your thoughts. I wonder if you could pick it up at the point where you've remembered this line, "I am still young. Go dear one and touch me not."

STEINHARDT:

"I am still young
Go dear one
And touch me not

The music bursts suddenly into fortisimo at the second half of the variation. David and I trade off quarter notes learned into chords. We are angry Gods hurling thunder bolts across the sky at one another. But David's thunder bolts are different every night, and since he throws first I must be prepared for anything.

Tonight he sweeps the chords with a little extra length. When David sweeps, I sweep. We all come together for the last three notes which ring in unison, and as the dust settles John flips his page over.

How does he do it so fast? The minor key is cast aside for the first time in the next variation. Perhaps the maiden has already left our world. In the ethereal key of G major, our four voices weave together with mine providing the filigree wandering up and down the scale.

Whose voice is more important, John's or mine? We sleepwalk through it letting our subconscious do the work. Watch out for that arpeggio in the second half. Ah, at least better than Jerusalem last week.

But they loved us in Jerusalem, we had to play an encore. Will we have to play one here in Albuquerque. Stop it, you idiot. Your mind is wandering. A woman is grappling with death, and you're thinking about encores. All right. All right. Where was I?"

OLSHER: Arnold Steinhardt is the author of "Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony." Arnold Steinhardt plays violin with the Guarneri String Quartet. David is David Soyer, the group's cellist.

The Budapest String Quartet would carry on Bridge games in the middle of a performance while they were playing sublime music thinking about their next move and then go, during intermission, to pick up the hand where they left off.

STEINHARDT: Yes.

OLSHER: And you're doing virtually the same thing. It's almost as if you're multitasking. You're concentrating on this music, and at the same time you're still carrying on, for example, offstage conversations in your mind and trying to remember things that the others have challenged you to remember so that when you're walking off into the wings, it's almost as if you're in a movie and you hear the conversation that proceeded the performance, picked up right where you left off.

STEINHARDT: Mmm-hmm.

OLSHER: I find that so astonishing that you're able to do that. Do you divide your brain into different parts?

STEINHARDT: Well, I don't know, you'll have to ask my brain. It acts on its own. But with the Budapest, it was very funny, they had an Australian tour and they became obsessed with Bridge. And they played until the very last moment before the concert. And they walked out onstage because they had to. Their minds were still on the Bridge game.

And Mishi Snyder (ph) told me this story -- Mishi Snyder the cellist of the Budapest Quartet. He said he came to the end of the first movement and he didn't know what he played. He was thinking about the hand he had just left, and at the end of the first movement of the first piece he stood up and bowed.

Nobody knew why he was bowing. So, yes, life goes on offstage and life goes on offstage right until the very moment when you walk onstage. And at that moment, if you are an experienced and disciplined musician, something else takes over immediately and completely.

And you become a focused performing musician. And then as soon as you're offstage, it's somewhat gone, although I must say going onstage is a bit different than going offstage at the end of the concert because you've been through this cathartic experience. And no matter how much you can laugh and tell jokes and tease your colleagues after a performance that there is this gradual calming down and recovery from the experience -- the great experience of having given of yourself to an audience for an hour and a half or two hours.

OLSHER: The Guarneri String Quartet was formed among four young people who anticipated probably having solo careers, instead coming together with the Budapest String Quartet looking upon you and giving you their blessing. And giving you a very important piece of advice about how to get along when you're not playing: don't socialize. Is that right?

STEINHARDT: Yes. That was Alexander Schneider (ph) the second violinist of the Budapest String Quartet. He went further than that, he said don't socialize. He said, don't let wives -- spouses, he put it more generally although in this case it would be spouses since they're all men in our quartet. Spouses should not mix into business and there was a third one, I can't remember it right now.

But the don't socialize part of it was the one that really became very important for us, because as I soon realized, quickly enough, you not only play the concert together, you not only rehearse together, you not only have business meetings, travel together, go to parties together. You do everything together.

And then to socialize on top of that is asking a bit much. And I think that would ask a bit much of a friendship. And since we are colleagues who are also friends, I think it was necessary for us to separate our private from our business lives -- our musical lives -- somewhat quickly just as a means of survival. Survival as people and surviving in our relationship with one another.

OLSHER: As much as you are all different there is still a certain dynamic in the group that led you to call it -- well, there's a dynamic where you've even said that there's a time when it feels as if the Guarneri String Quartet is really the Guarneri Trio Plus One. And that plus one is John Dalley, the other violinist in the quartet.

STEINHARDT: Right. Who -- how shall I put this? Is somewhat more private as a human being then we are. He's a very social man, he's a very friendly man, but he keeps to himself. I think much more than we do, and I think he just needs that kind of cushion of privacy more than we do.

So, often we travel alone, and there's a little story in this book about three of us getting into a cab someplace with a our instruments and the cab driver looks at us and says, are you a musical group? And one of us answered, yeah, we're a string quartet.

And there's a long silence, and then he says, aren't there four people in a string quartet. Yeah, but there are three of us here. And there's another long silence, and he says, so, let me get this right. This is a string quartet comprised of three people, right?

And that, in a nutshell, is the Guarneri String Quartet for maybe 80 or 90 percent of our traveling life. Fortunately, it's a hundred percent -- there are a hundred percent of us who show up onstage every night. The four of us actually do show up -- John always shows up onstage.

OLSHER: Although sometimes at the last minute, right? You've waited and waited and you trust he's going to be there, but sometimes he'll breeze in just at the moment you're entering the stage.

STEINHARDT: Well, no, that's a story that people love to circulate to make his mystery a bit broader than it is. But John is very responsible and he does show up on time. It's just we think he's not in the hall often, and what has happened is he's found himself a room in the basement and he's quietly practicing 50 feet away from us. But as far as we're concerned it could be the moon because he's hidden himself from us so successfully.

OLSHER: There's another part where you're talking about how John and one of the members of the group interprets the same line of a piece of music differently, and one of you has put words to it. And one sings, "He's Jewish." And the other sayings, "He's Gentile." John being the only non-Jew in the quartet. And I wonder how much that has to do with differing styles.

STEINHARDT: Well, it's humorous of course. And David was the one who editorialized. It was a Hayden Quartet, and John and Michael, as inner voices, often play the same thing together. Or if not together, one will make a statement and the other has to repeat it. In this case, it was a three note statement by one of them repeated back and forth, back and forth.

And Michael played it in a very emotional way, and John played it in rather a reserved way. And both renditions were beautiful. Sitting there, I could pick either one happily, but together they didn't quite work. And it sort of magnifies the problems that a string quartet has in getting four personalities to blend when blending is the order a business of the day.

And each one of them had to give up a little bit of who they were as musicians -- one Midwestern, one Mediterranean, or, as you say, one Jewish, one Gentile -- to meet in the middle.

OLSHER: How much has that been true, not just in terms of how you interpret a line of music, but how you exist as a foursome?

STEINHARDT: Well, it's true of everything. After 35 years I'm rather shocked that we haven't sort of blended into one vaguely familiar unit. We go our separate ways, we do our separate things, we are very separate personalities and we come together for the music. And even in the music there -- our style is to maintain a certain amount of individual -- individuality when we deem it important.

And that probably sets us apart from other groups who let the individual disappear more for the good of the entire whole, and we will have people who will say that's a good thing and people who say that's a bad thing in an audience. But that certainly has been our style over the years.

OLSHER: My guest is violinist Arnold Steinhardt. His book about his 35 years with the Guarneri String Quartet is called, "Indivisible by Four." We'll talk more in a moment.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

OLSHER: I'm speaking with Arnold Steinhardt, violinist with the Guarneri String Quartet. The quartet was the subject of an acclaimed documentary called "High Fidelity," which offered an insiders look at the life of a string quartet from bone-wearying travel to heavy-duty rehearsal fights.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- SCENE FROM DOCUMENTARY "HIGH FIDELITY")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: Sounds like bop-da-da-ta-da. Like an accent.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: Like last time?

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: No this was better, but is still sounds like you have a ta-da-tal in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: David, you both had a D and then I could hardly keep up with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: D?

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: You don't want to change the tempo.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: Yes, but even then I'm going much lower by now. It's not even the tempo of the opening anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: Now if you want to keep the same tempo what tempo do you want me to play a D?

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: No question about it. A little bit faster. We do that in every work from letter A through letter D big it's gets very much slower, which is all right in itself. I don't mind that.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICIAN: Between A and C. I think it's exactly at the end...

OLSHER: For an outsider who doesn't get to spend time with the Guarneri String Quartet every day, this is going to come as a shock that people can speak to each other so bluntly and still get along.

STEINHARDT: The fact that the portion of the film you choose to air here had us disagreeing rather loudly I think in a way points to one of the reasons why we've managed to hang together. And not just hang together but enjoy our 35 years together, and that is that everything gets out. We're more like four brothers in a family than very polite distant colleagues.

And when something aggravates me, out it comes. When something pleases me, out it comes. We let it all hangout. And I think it's healthy for each of us individually and I think it's healthy for the group. But people who come from the outside, for example, guest artists who are playing with us who see our style are a little nervous.

They come up to me afterwards and say, is everything all right in the group? Are you getting along? Are you disbanding? It's -- they're really concerned because it's not the style that's used, generally, when people come together for an occasional chamber music concert. Everybody will be on their best behavior and things will get done, but it will get done with a completely different style.

OLSHER: I wanted to ask you about a couple of things having to do with the longevity of the quartet. One, you make this point. Even to attempt an exact replay of an interpretation night after night goes against the nature of change in all things.

And I think about that line, and in that one sentence it as if you have just sort of tossed off a throwaway line that encompasses Daoist philosophy right there. And I wonder if that doesn't have to do with the key to the group's longevity.

STEINHARDT: Well, it might. You know, there are performers who try and nail down a performance, and their recording will sound like their performance. And ten years from now it may sound exactly the same way. Or there are performers who would like to make it send exactly the same way. But I think even those who are inclined in that way would have a hard time stopping the natural evolution and change that things undergo.

I mean, you see it in your handwriting, you see it in your face, you see it in your walk, you see it in the way you think about things. You change. And so a performance will change even though you haven't had a rehearsal to say, let's take first movement slower, the second movement louder, the third movement faster. It will change automatically.

But in addition to that, you do have new ideas that pop-up. And they're discussed, they're accepted, they're discarded. Part of the idea will be excepted. It will evolve. And so when I hear our recordings from the first years I'm often shocked because I forget, over the years, how much our playing has moved forward.

Now, to say it's improved or has deteriorated, I don't know. I can't comment on that. But, unquestionably, it's changed dramatically.

OLSHER: Now, for other string quartets change in personnel has been the way that they've kept going. The Juilliard String Quartet has been together more than 50 years and has none of its original members anymore.

STEINHARDT: Right.

OLSHER: The Guarneri String Quartet holds the record now. In terms of string quartets that are in existence, it is together with its original personnel longer than any other group -- 35 years. Now, here's another line from your book, "The Amadeus String Quartet had been together in their original configuration for 39 years. A record that is unlikely to be broken anytime soon."

Now as you know, there are an awful lot of people who are speculating and gossiping about the possible breakup of the Guarneri String Quartet. Now that line -- maybe I'm reading into it too much the way, you know, people used to listen to Beatles records backwards and look for clues, but that sounds to me as if you're planning to breakup in the next four years.

STEINHARDT: In the next four years. Well, you're going on a fishing expedition that will lead to nothing, because -- and I say this quite honestly, when we started we didn't know how long we would go on. And we're not the kind of people who plan. We don't make long-range plans.

Because I think, although I wouldn't say that we're incredibly brilliant, I think we're smart enough to know that life is what happens while your planning something else. And our career has always been the concerts of the next year. And so it's always been one year at a time. God willing, it will be next year. We have our season just about firmed up for next year which means I can tell you that we are a quartet for the next year.

And, you know, I hope we go on for another 35 ears. But to actually say we are or we aren't, I don't know.

OLSHER: Arnold Steinhardt, thank you very much.

STEINHARDT: Thank you, Dean.

OLSHER: Violinist Arnold Steinhardt's book about his 35 years with the Guarneri String Quartet is called, "Indivisible by Four." Steinhardt will appear as himself in an upcoming feature film based on the true story of a New York City music teacher who fights on behalf of funding for music education. Meryl Streep will star and Wes Craven will direct.

I'm Dean Olsher, and this is FRESH AIR.

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Dateline: Dean Olsher, Washington, DC
Guest: Arnold Steinhardt
High: First violinist Arnold Steinhardt is one of the founding members of the Guarneri String Quartet, which has been playing together for 35 years. He's written a new memoir, "Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony." The quartet is considered to be one of the finest string quartets performing today.
Spec: Entertainment; Culture; Media; Lifestyle; Music Industry; Profile; Arnold Steinhardt

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Arnold Steinhardt

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 05, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 010502NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Richard Ford
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

DEAN OLSHER, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dean Olsher.

My guest, Richard Ford, is one of the most celebrated fiction writers in America. His novel "Independence Day" was the first to win both the PEN Faulkner award and the Pulitzer Prize. But over the long-term, it's safe to say he's built his reputation through his short stories.

In a similar way, the great Russian writer Anton Chekov is probably best known in America today for his plays, "The Seagull" and "Uncle Vanya" among them. And yet it was Chekov's short stories that were admired and assimilated by American masters of the form including Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty and Raymond Carver.

So when Ecco Press decided to publish a selection from Chekov's body of more than 200 short stories called, "The Essential Tales of Chekov," Richard Ford was the logical choice as the editor. The only problem was that he hadn't yet read most of them.

RICHARD FORD, AUTHOR, "INDEPENDENCE DAY," "THE ESSENTIAL TALES OF CHEKOV": For a story writer like me it seemed shameful that I hadn't read it all. Insofar as writers all through this century, American and otherwise, named Chekov as their great influence. Probably over my life I had named Chekov as my great influence without ever reading more than two or three stories.

And so I thought when I was as by Dan Halfern (ph) at the Ecco Press to do this book I just saw it as my chance. I was 54 years old and I thought, if I don't jump at this right now and read all of these stories now, I never will. One of them -- one of the costs of spending your life writing stories as much I spend my life writing stories is that I don't read very much. I don't read enough anyway.

And so just saw it is a real little island I could carve out and, in the flow of things, make it be that Chekov Island and read it all.

OLSHER: Yeah, here you are one of the major short story writers of our time. Here's Chekov, the acknowledged father, in some way, of the American short story; Hemingway, John Cheever, Eudora Welty. We have major American short story writers including Raymond Carver, who was a close friend of yours who acknowledged this terrific Russian writer as their model in many ways.

FORD: That's right.

OLSHER: And yet their influence on you is indirect. It's one generation separated. You, maybe, assumed some of that influence through their writing.

FORD: I think that's probably right. You know, as you say Ray, and Cheever and Hemingway -- Sherwood Anderson. You know, those were the people that probably had the largest effect on me even deciding to write stories. And they all listed Chekov.

OLSHER: In fact you said that it's not that you didn't like Chekov when you were in college, but you just didn't know what there was to like about him.

FORD: I was too young. I was too immature. Even today, I can go back and I can read "The Lady with the Dog" which is sometimes called "The Lady with the Pet Dog," which is wildly anthologized in America. And I still -- I still don't quite I think I get it all. Or I can read "Goose Berries" which is another great anthology favorite and I'll just read it and think, gee, here's a guy who wrote this story in his late 30s, and here I am in my middle 50s. I still don't get it all.

The sensibility of that story, "Goose Berries," particularly is so fine in its sense of how small events in life radiate to attract meaning to it or to them. It's just so freighted.

OLSHER: These are works for grown-ups, as you say, and he focuses on little moments that otherwise might pass you by if you're not paying attention.

FORD: He does that. But he does that often, not always -- Chekov, wonderfully, doesn't do everything all the time. But he puts those small moments under a lot of pressure by having people seem to feel great things about them or he puts them in the context of people's lives at a certain moment when he makes it clear that large events are happening.

So, he attaches those small moments which is the fundamental pitch of a realistic story. He attaches those small moments to large issues as a way of saying, among the things, a sort of cautionary -- as a way of saying, pay attention to these small events in your life. They will connect you with larger events.

OLSHER: Here's a real contrast that I've noticed, anybody -- well, let's put it is why there are plenty of teachers of writing who will have a beginning writers workshop in which they insist, this repeating mantra, show us don't tell us. And yet throughout...

FORD: ...it's baloney of course.

OLSHER: Throughout Chekov you have him telling you things, in the most amazing ways, in complete violation of this so-called rule.

FORD: Yes, so-called is right. I mean, all narrative to my understanding, is telling. Sometimes you tell it one-way and sometimes you tell it another way and sometimes it's perhaps more efficient, perhaps it's more dramatic to reveal action which is fundamental -- always told action by creating a scene in which characters might seem to talk to each other.

But it's always, always telling. So, indeed it is a kind of a misunderstood distinction. Maybe it's -- what do they say? It's a difference more than a distinction. It's a distinction more than a difference. I don't know. It isn't a distinction I have any respect for, I'll tell you that.

OLSHER: You refer, in fact, to his signature character summaries. In one case, astoundingly acid, as you put it, and that's in "An Anonymous Story." I wonder if you could read that astoundingly acid character summary.

FORD: This is from "An Anonymous Story" from 1893.

"The second visitor, Kukushkin (ph), an actual civil counselor though a young man, was short and was conspicuous for his extremely unpleasant appearance which was due to the disproportion between his fat puffy body and his lean little face.

His lips were puckered up suavely and his little trimmed mustaches looked as though they'd been fixed on with glue. He was a man with manners of a lizard. He did not walk, but as it were crept along with tiny steps squirming and snickering. And when he laughed he showed his teeth.

He was a clerk on special commissions and did nothing, though he received a good salary especially in the summer when special and lucrative jobs were found for him. He was a man of personal ambition, not only to the marrow of his bones, but more fundamentally to the last droop of his blood.

But even in his ambitions he was petty and did not rely on himself but was building his career on the chance favor flung him by a superior for the sake of obtaining some foreign decoration or for the sake of having his name mentioned in the newspapers as having been present or some special service in the company of some great personages. He was ready to submit to any kind of humiliation; to beg, to flatter, to promise.

OLSHER: The title of the work is "An Anonymous Story" by Anton Chekov, read by Richard Ford. You are known as a masterful reader of your own writing. What is it like to read Chekov's writing?

FORD: Well, if you read it enough, and I have read a lot of these stories aloud to myself for the simple pleasure of doing it, you begin to participate in the rhythms of it. Bearing in mind, again as we said before, that this is Russian in translation to English so you're removed. But you begin to feel the dramatics in the sentences just as much as you would your own, I think.

Probably if you -- if I read Chekov enough to you aloud, Chekov would seem to become a Southerner. Chekov was a Southerner in a way, of course.

OLSHER: Just in another country. Sure.

FORD: In another country.

OLSHER: Writer Richard Ford. We'll continue our conversation about Anton Chekov in a moment.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

OLSHER: Let's return to our conversation with writer Richard Ford. He selected stories by Anton Chekhov included in a new collection called "The Essential Tales of Chekov."

I was wondering if you could read a passage from "An Anonymous Story?" A different passage than the one that you read.

FORD: "An Anonymous Story" is a quiet long story. One might even call want to call it a novella. It's rich and it's vergated and it's funny and it's dense. For me, if I had to choose a story in this entire body which made the largest impact on me it would be this story from 1893.

"To causes, which is not the time to go into in detail, I had to enter the services of a Petersburg official called the Orlav in the capacity of a footman. He was about 5 and 30 and was called Georgy Ivanich (ph).

I entered this Orlav's service on account of his father, a prominent political man, whom I looked upon as a serious enemy of my cause. I reckoned that living with the son I should, from the conversations I should hear and from the letters and papers I should find on the table, learn every detail of the fathers plans and intentions.

As a rule, at 11:00 in the morning the electric bell rang in my footman's quarters to let me know that my master was awake. When I went into the bedroom with his polished shoes and brushed clothes, Georgy Ivanich would be sitting in his bed with a face that looked, not drowsy, but rather exhausted by sleep.

And he would gaze off in one direction without any sign of satisfaction at having waked. I helped him to dress. He let me do it with an air of reluctance without speaking or noticing my presence. Then, with his head wet with washing smelling of fresh scent, he used to go into the dining room to drink his coffee.

He used to sit at the table sipping his coffee and glancing through the newspapers while the maid, Pullya (ph), and I stood respectfully at the door gazing at him. Two grown-up persons had to stand watching, with the gravest attention, a third drinking coffee and munching rusks.

It was probably ludicrous and grotesque, but I saw nothing humiliating at having to stand at the door though I was quite as well-born and well-educated as Orlav himself."

OLSHER: What is it about the story that speaks to you?

FORD: Well, a lot of things. And there are a lot of things in the story. It is never fully explained, this premise that the story just announced, exactly why the speaker of this story puts himself into service of this man. He does not explain, other than what is just explained in that first paragraph, why he puts himself into this particular service.

Indeed, once this service is commenced and the life with this sort of interesting public servant, Orlav, goes along then a woman moves into his house and there's a great blow up and dust up between Orlav and this new woman would be his wife.

And subsequent to the whole event, the footman, the speaker of the story actually absconds with, though not in a romantic way, the wife. And the story ends up so far from where it began, and yet the linkages in logic and the linkages in sequence are all quite rational. It makes perfect sense how it gets where it gets to. It just gets so far.

In addition, there's a good deal of life revealed. There's a good deal of life in Petersburg, or at least the stories version of Petersburg. There's a good deal of variety of characters, that little vignette I just read you before about Kukushkin. The story is full of those kinds of wonderfully rich details.

It's about love and it's about passion and it's about the failure of both, and the sustaining something between the speaker of the story and then Orlav's new wife becomes what the story is about, finally. The story always surprises me.

OLSHER: You talked about how Chekov's influence was present in writers who you revered, and that there was a, sort of, one generation distance between him -- separating him from you. And now that you've immersed yourself in 220 of his stories I wonder if you anticipate absorbing any influences directly from him as you continue writing.

FORD: Well, I hope so. I hope that I'm not immune to those stories. It seems to me to be necessary if you're going to go on carrying on as a writer that you have to learn new things and that you have to acquire new subjects.

One of the things that I noticed in reading Chekov and that I noticed is absent from stories that I sometimes read -- that I am asked to read -- is how much in the Chekov story the writer, not necessarily the narrator, the writer goes always from one important event to another important event to another important event to another.

That there's almost, in Chekov, no let up. That it will not necessarily be the same important set of issues but he never lets, what I guess James would have called, the unity of action in the story. He never lets it lapse. He is forever, and you're aware of this issue in any story of his, he's always pursuing something terrifically important.

And it's the writing about it that somehow makes all of these disparate things, this one important thing after another, go together in this wonderful logical word chemistry that the story is. So, I guess if I could hope to learn anything from Chekov it would be not to let those things lapse, not to let there be parts in stories where nothing is going on.

It's easier to do in stories, but the same kind of ethics you carry over into writing longer fiction too, it seems to me.

OLSHER: Chekov died a young man, and yet was dealing with things that you're saying that even at the age of 54 you're still not sure about.

FORD: Sure. I mean -- again, let's have recourse to that great story, "The Lady with the Dog," here are two rather uninteresting people who sort of roam into each other's orbits in Yalta and have an affair. And then what becomes of that affair is the gist and meat of the story. And the fact is that at the end of the story there isn't a great to-do made of both the stories and or of the end that might be put to this love affair.

It just kind of goes off into the gloning in essence. It neither stops nor starts. And somehow this sophistication of that vision of what happens to love; that it started rather ambiguously, rather dispassionately, going off into a whole other set of life experiences is, to me, just quite -- I don't want to say adult because that's not the right word -- it's just quite complicated.

Sometimes fictions cause us to define life in rather conventional increments, and here it's stories begin with love and then the love ends. Stories begin in life and then death intervenes. But here is a much more human and complex end put to a story. These two people just go off into the next set of squares that their life will occupy, both together and apart.

And -- I don't know -- it just seems to have taken a quite sophisticated man to figure that out as the ending of a story. We all know -- we all know that it happens in life, but to make that be the end of a piece of art is, to me, quite impressive.

OLSHER: And one thing I noticed is not far from the end, just paragraphs before it's over, you have one of these lines that is one of these character summaries, where he's telling you a lot, not showing you, but just squeezing a whole bunch in.

At the end of the story where he says, "He always seemed, to women, different from what he was and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination whom they had been eagerly seeking all their lives. And afterwards when they noticed their mistake they loved him all the same."

FORD: Indeed.

OLSHER: What a funny thing to have at the end of a story.

FORD: Well, and how unconventional too. He just sort of decides he needs to tell you something at that point. Or maybe he just tells it to you as the reader. When he figured it out himself, but he's certainly not bound by some conventional sense of what happens typically at a stories end. If he wants you to know that then, by golly he'll tell that to you. And, as you say, he'll just shoehorn it into the story where he thinks it fits, which is quite -- I don't know of any one bracing.

OLSHER: Richard Ford, thank you very much.

FORD: Thank you, Dean.

OLSHER: Writer Richard Ford. He is the editor of a new collection of stories by the great Russian writer Anton Chekov called, "The Essential Tales of Chekov." Ford's latest collection of stories is called "Women with Men."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Dean Olsher, Washington, DC
Guest: Richard Ford
High: Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the novel "Independence Day," has edited and collected a new selection of short stories by the great Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekov. It's called "The Essential Tales of Chekov."
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Media; Richard Ford

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Richard Ford

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 05, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 010503NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Lloyd Schwartz
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

DEAN OLSHER, HOST: Rodgers and Hart formed one of the great songwriting teams of this century. Their 24 year collaboration produced such standards as "The Lady Is a Tramp," "My Funny Valentine," "Where or When," and "I Wish I Were in Love Again."

A new PBS documentary about their partnership, "The Rodgers and Hart Story: Thou Swell, Thou Witty," airs on many public television stations this week. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- PERFORMANCE OF RODGERS AND HART COMPOSITION "THOU SWELL, THOU WITTY")

Thou swell
Thou witty
Thou sweet
Thou grand

Would you kiss
Me pretty
Would you hold
My hand

Both mine eyes

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC: If I had to pick only one songwriter or songwriting team to listen to on my desert island portable CD player it would be Rodgers and Hart. They were such opposites, it's amazing they lasted as team as long as they did.

Rodgers was the handsome, hard-working, but emotionally reticent family man. Hart, barely five feet tall, was a self loathing closeted homosexual. A volatile, undisciplined alcoholic who would disappear on binges when his lyrics were due.

Hart's trenchant word play energized Rodgers bronzian (ph) lyricism. While Rodgers' tunefulness grounded Hart's edges. According to Mary Rodgers, Noel Coward once said that her father positively peed melody.

Their first published song was "Any Old Place With You" from 1919 when Rodgers was 17 and Hart 24. Stanley Wayne Mathis sings it in the new TV documentary.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- STANLEY WAYNE MATHIS PERFORMING RODGERS AND HART COMPOSITION "ANY OLD PLACE WITH YOU")

Will not for Syria
Brings in Siberia
Negligee in Timbuktu
In dreamy Portugal

I'm going to Portugal
Ancient Rome will paint anew
I'll call him Studapest
You like in Budapest

Oh for far Peru
I'll go to hell for ya
Or Philadelphia
Any old place with you

SCHWARTZ: The documentary mixes archival footage with new production numbers that are more distinctive for their period orchestrations than for most of the performers. I'm not even sure some of them understand what they're singing about.

The historical stuff is fascinating, especially home movies taken of the original productions. But we get only snippets. Don't blink, or you'll miss George Balanchine rehearsing dancers in "On Your Toes." Or the great Nicholas brothers in Balanchine's comic ballet.

There's a flash of Desi Arnaz pounding a conga drum in "Too Many Girls," his Broadway debut. And Jimmy Durante under the big top in "Jumbo" at New York's legendary Hippodrome. We hear all of 10 seconds of a rare home recording of Gene Kelly, the original "Pal Joey," singing "I Could Write a Book."

We get more substantial clips from a 1929 short subject called, "Makers of Melody" in which Dick Rodgers and Larry Hart appear as themselves in a mock interview about how they came to write their songs. You can see the whole film on a Keno home video.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- CONVERSATION BETWEEN RICHARD RODGERS AND LAWRENCE HART)

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: It's all your fault.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: My fault? All you did was talk about your lyrics. Why didn't you let me play the music for them.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I'm sick of this racket.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Now you'll have to go into the real estate business with your father.

SCHWARTZ: One highlight is of Vivian Siegel (ph) on a 1952 TV show singing the great song she introduced in "Pal Joey," but even her two skimpy excerpts get interrupted by comments from her costar Gene Kelly's ex-wife Betsy Blair.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- VIVIAN SIEGEL PERFORMING RODGERS AND HART COMPOSITION)

I'm wild again
Beguiled again
A simpering whimpering
Child again

Bewitched bothered
And bewildered
Am I

BETSY BLAIR, EX-WIFE OF ACTOR GENE KELLY: She conveyed sophistication intelligence, the ability to have a passionate sexual affair when her head knew better. And she sang very well.

SIEGEL:

I'll sing to him
Eat drink to him
And worship the trousers
That cling to him

Be with him
(Unintelligible) and bewildered
Am I

SCHWARTZ: Still, we should be grateful for what we get. It's fascinating to hear Richard Rodgers say in a 1961 interview that Hart thought the Broadway shows he grew up with had been cowardly, responded only to formula, and didn't say anything. Rodgers and Hart certainly helped change that.

In fact, though the narrator, Jonathan Pryce (ph), tells us that their songs were great in spite of weak plots. Other interviewees paint a different picture. "Pal Joey," based on "New Yorker" stories by John O'Hara, introduced a new level of literacy and sexual sophistication to the Broadway musical.

Who, before Rodgers and Hart, based musicals on Mark Twain or Shakespeare? "The Boys from Syracuse" is probably smarter and funnier than "The Comedy of Errors." "On Your Toes" integrated ballet into musicals well before "Oklahoma!"

I think these shows, wise, racy, hip are far more advanced than "Oklahoma!" The so-called landmark musical Rodgers wrote with his next partner Oscar Hammerstein, with its throwback to opera and cornpone.

Hart is often called a cynic, but has any songwriter, even Cole Porter or the Gershwins, ever given us a more complex view of the inner life of the emotions?

"The furtive sigh, the blackened eye, the words `I love you til the day I die,' the self-deception that believes the lie. I wish I were in love again."

We don't hear this song on the PBS show, but at least a new generation of TV watchers will get a taste of one of Americas most underrated contributions to 20th century culture: the classic Broadway musical at its very best.

OLSHER: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the "Boston Phoenix." "The Rodgers and Hart Story" airs on many public television stations this week.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dean Olsher.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Dean Olsher, Washington, DC
Guest: Lloyd Schwartz
High: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews the new PBS documentary "The Rodgers and Hart Story: Thou Swell, Thou Witty." It's part of the Great Performances series and is broadcast in most cities on January 6.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Television and Radio; Music Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lloyd Schwartz

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