Violinist Mischa Elman performs a set of two of the most recognizable popular classic violin pieces: "Humoresque" composed by Antonín Dvorák, and "Gavotte" by François-Joseph Gossec. He is accompanied off screen by pianist Josef Bonime, although Bonime's instrument can be seen in the background behind Elman on screen. In one continuous single shot, the stationary camera focuses in squarely on Elman as he performs the two pieces.Written by
In the 1920s, classical musicians were still popular with the general public rather than being stigmatised as 'long-hairs' for elitists and snobs. With the coming of talkies, Warner Brothers' Vitaphone unit (based in Brooklyn, NY) were quick to film the performances of classical musicians and opera singers based in New York City, demonstrating the cultural aspects of the newly auditory medium. This sound short featuring Mischa Elman was recorded and released before 'The Jazz Singer', the film which people persistently misbelieve was the very first sound movie. In fact, 'Mischa Elman' (as this short film is titled) was premiered on the same programme as the feature film which actually DID convince the public that sound movies would replace the silents: 'Don Juan', starring John Barrymore (a movie with synchronised sound effects and music but no audible dialogue).
Mischa Elman (no long-hair in the literal sense; he's almost completely slap-headed here) was a popular concert violinist of the time (the Gershwin brothers once satirised him in a song) who is now nearly forgotten. Here, he performs two violin numbers on a static set. I was vaguely distracted by a white bust on a pedestal behind him: during Elman's performance, I kept staring at the bust and trying to figure out whether or not it depicted Beethoven.
Elman's first number is Anton Dvorak's 'Humoresque', which remains a well-known piece ... and which, in Elman's time, also inspired the title of Fanny Hurst's then-popular novel. (And the parody title of the Marx Brothers' 'Humor Risk'.) Although I'm no musician, I was interested in having this chance to study Elman's technique. In 'Humoresque' he uses double-stringing to accompany himself.
Elman's second number is the gavotte by François-Joseph Gossec. I recognise this melody due to the fact that Carl Stalling later used it in so many Loony Toons. In fact, while I was listening to Elman play this piece, I kept half-expecting an anvil to drop out of the sky ... or some other piece of Termite Terrace foolabout.
Elman is accompanied here by a pianist named Josef Bonime, who is listed on the opening credit but who is not seen on-camera. Bonime's contribution was unnecessary, and his piano technique sounds unremarkable. Admittedly he's only here to make Elman sound good, but Elman clearly doesn't need his assistance.
This movie isn't very visual, so its value today is more historic than anything else. Anyone who wants to hear Elman's music will be better served by tracking down his audio recordings. I suppose that a few music historians will want to see this movie so as to study Elman's technique. I'm not a huge fan of classical music, so I might be somewhat prejudiced in rating this short film only 5 out of 10.
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