The pianist John Humphreys has a delightful recollection for us of the brilliant Julius Katchen, who would have turned 90 this week:
My teacher Harold Rubens knew him well and heard one day from a friend that Katchen had just given a recital in Baltimore (or wherever) with the Brahms F minor Sonata on the programme.
Katchen sits down (always advisable when you have something serious to communicate) whacks the low F, breaks the string, gets up, shrugs and says to the audience: “So sorry folks, these things happen. Now what can I play of Brahms which doesn’t have the low F?……….ah, yes, the Paganini Variations!” Audience stunned.
A few weeks later Harold goes to hear him in Boston (or wherever). Exactly the same thing happens. Harold goes back stage: “What the hell are you up to, you son of a bitch?” Katchen: “Oh, it’s easy, you just beat the hell out of that low F, hope that it breaks and create a minor sensation by playing the Paganini!” Harold: “And if it doesn’t break?” Katchen: “No problem, I know the sonata well enough!”
He died at the age of 42 – tragic loss.