When you make the annual Father’s Day call to your Dad, you hope to create the perfect and profound sentiment worthy of the man of the hour. For me, creating this annual message for my father was always a challenge.
He usually stopped me when my birthday greeting went on too long, or turned flowery and sentimental. My father did not suffer gush gladly. He himself was a man of few words. English was his second language, but my Dad was a master at magnificent expressions in a few, meticulous sentences.
I first heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 sitting with my father on a warm Sunday Berkeley afternoon at the dining room table. He was reworking one of his lectures, and I was just sitting listening to the radio. The symphony’s slow movement is a simple but melodic funeral-like procession, whose main theme builds and builds. Before the movement was halfway over, the cumulative effect of the measured crescendo and its aching melodic beauty had already lowered its emotional boom on my entire body.
“How could this happen; how could anyone write something so beautiful,” I practically shouted.
“Once in a lifetime, someone comes along who can create something like this.”
He was, as I said, a man of few words. His response, while not necessarily profound by musicology standards, was the only real explanation.
My father once belonged to a Three Musketeers-like band of inseparable teenagers, each an escape artist from 1930s Germany. Like many European teenagers, Herbert, Heinie and Martin pursued pretty girls, soccer and classical music.
Often, they would take turns playing orchestra conductor. While one musketeer conducted the music playing on an old 78, one of the other musketeers cranked the huge handle that turned those overweight records on the phonograph.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 was one of the pieces he liked to conduct the most. There was a piano arrangement of the symphony in his Berlin home which he played as well on their sturdy upright.
The genuine beauty and ingenuity of the 3rd Movement (A march in ¾ time) was one thing, but the visual image of my bespectacled teenage father conducting the record and then also banging it out on the piano, contributed to it becoming my favorite Mozart symphony as well.
To all you parents out there…he never tried to force me to love the music - that, I did on my own. That was my father’s greatest - and wisest - gift of all.
Herbert H. Srebnik (1923 – 2016)