Kapell: Truly American
Craftsman Of Music
By The "HERALD'S"
A FEW weeks ago the young American pianist, William Kapell, played Chopin's "Funeral March" for a Sydney
It was one of the several beautiful performances that he gave during his uneven concert
That beautiful playing might well have been prophetic, for on Thursday, in California, Kapell died, just as he was about to land in his homeland.
His death, not so very long after the air-crash deaths of Gin- ette Neveu and Jacques Thibaud, the French violinists, is a fear- ful blow to lovers of music
Kapell, at the piano, was a clever, disciplined, and obsessed ciaftsman who knew what great- ness was, knew the doggedness with which one had to fight for it, often doubted whether he had the little bit extra that great- ness means, hated to be reminded where he might have missed it (for he probably knew already)
and could yet be as great as some of the greatest we have ever
Americans, always keen on tags, used to call Kapell the "dead-end kid of American music." Superficially, there was a touch of delinquency and "cheek" about him that struck a sym- pathetic chord in the American imagination, and he exploited it.
He gave us a picture of Kapell as a fuss-debunking little New Yorker hard as Bowery kerb- stone, half-choked with cigarette
smoke, militantly full of battle against all the elements of East Side underprivilege in his back- ground.
But there was a ruthless streak of sanity in Kapell. He had the taste and the imagination to know that there is much, much more to a musical career among the great than the striking of picturesque attitudes He knew he had to work fiercely, to think fiercely, to burn himself up as a kind of furnace in which his music might temper itself. And he did that.
He played with clarity, biting decision, knowledge and disci- pline, sometimes at the cost of spontaneity and impulsiveness. His Debussy was exquisitely trim in design. Nobody knew better [than] he how to throw the steel daggers of metropolitan Proko- fiev or backblocks Khachaturin.
Many American musicians have performed in Australia— people like Isaac Stern, Warfield, Ormandy, Tibbett, Lateiner, Dorothy Maynor, Rabin—and Kapell may not have been the greatest of them, but he was the most distinctively American (in all that Americanism means to the rest of the world) of all the musicians I have heard.
He spoke music with a Man- hattan accent There was no imitation of European models or example in anything he did. He spoke honestly and directly from his New York background and found unique greatness in doing