Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Century of Steins

The only statement I can make about Ludwig Wittgenstein and Albert Einstein with any veracity is that everything they had to say is beyond my reach. They never met but they had many mutual friends in the Vienna Circle and at Cambridge in the decades following World War I. Just as Einstein’s theory of Relativity displaced Newtonian physics so Wittgenstein’s linguistics challenged philosophy itself. As for E=mc sq. I have never, for an instant, doubted it.

Gertrude Stein famously described Oakland as, There is no there, there. However her address in Paris was an important there where she collected art and artists at her regular salons. Her poetry (a rose is a rose) and prose signaled the literary extension of Cubist art and deconstruction to follow.

If Oscar Hammerstein only wrote the lyrics for Ol Man River he would have been immortalized but he co-wrote 850 other songs many of which have become classics of musical theater. In fact he is credited with inventing the art form.

Stein is a German word meaning stone or stoneware as in a 
beer mug. Why that suffix attached itself to so many Jewish surnames I leave to Talmudic scholars or more properly to Yiddish historians. It probably owes its provenance to those creative gate-keepers at Ellis Island.

Arthur Rubenstein was a piano virtuoso at age three and performed publicly for the next eighty-two years. His repertory or valise, as he put it, contained works by Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky and most prominently, his fellow Pole, Chopin. The century would have been all the poorer without his early exuberant sound which mellowed over the years allowing the instrument to more fully breathe.

There are no Marc Blitzsteins out there today …that I know of. He was a composer-librettist-lyricist whose creative voice spoke for the true forgotten man during the Depression. His major work produced in 1937 was The Cradle Will Rock as well as a translation / adaptation of Brecht and Weil’s, Threepenny Opera.

The Epstein brothers, Julius and Phillip gave us the film, Casablanca, said to have been written on the fly, a triumph of intuition. It was certainly more than a hill of beans. It struck the perfect blend of serious fun with Bogie and Bergman on the eve of American entrance into World War II.

Since it is his 200th anniversary Frankenstein deserves some mention. In film after film he’s been roaming our inscape warning us of technological wreckage.   

Make Someone Happy is what Jule Styne did writing the music 
which  jumps out of the American Songbook including, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, I’ve Heard that Song Before,  It’s Been a Long, Long Time and Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night of the Week. Where would Sinatra have been without him and where would be without Sinatra?

Leonard Bernstein had that Gershwin sound in his signature 
though he went beyond as a pianist, composer, conductor and teacher. Also a child prodigy his ambitions extended into writing and even poetry. His Westside Story changed musical theater and it remained his greatest achievement along with Candide.  

Sondheim was to Hammerstein as Michael Feinstein was to Ira Gershwin, archiving and learning at the master’s knee. He has gone on to interpret the songs of his antecedents and is now the acting ambassador of what has become to new ears as Old Music….which is to say my music.

I can’t think of any famous Goldsteins except for Rebecca, the novelist and Ruby the boxing referee……….but the list of notables includes a Nobel Prize winner, physicist , historian and actor Eliot Gould who changed his name.

I might find room for Dianne Feinstein, the ageless Senator who seems to have never lost an election. And then there is Rob Rosenstein whose chapter in American History is still being written. I suspect he will become more than a footnote.

Finally there is Harvey Weinstein who has stained the Stein name. But I shall not allow his misconduct to blight the Steins of the century. Let us raise our stoneware, Hear, Hear !


  1. How could you forget Stone (I.F.)?

  2. My apologies to Izzy. I was probably busy biting into a Gravenstein apple