I love the cello. It is probably my favorite instrument if I had to choose. I even took lessons for 5 weeks in addition to my regular voice studies. The only reason I stopped was due to my chronic health problems. My grandmother took up the cello in her forties and became decent enough to play in community orchestras, although she plays piano, organ, and flute, so she is already quite talented. My mom, a former piano prodigy, said I had a pretty tone even though I didn’t study for that long.
One of my absolute favorite cellists is Steven Isserlis. He’s British, which is always a plus in my book, and he’s a brilliant musician. He has the most amazing tone and is a joy to watch perform.
If you’ve never heard Steven Isserlis play, perhaps start with the Bach suites. It’s on iTunes, and I highly recommend the album. It’s a favorite of mine. I also enjoy his Haydn concertos immensely.
Mr Isserlis (I’m omitting the period after the abbreviation to have just a sliver of British-ness in this piece of writing) recently made a 30-minute radio piece on the BBC Four station about Harpo Marx from the Marx Brothers. If you are unaware of the Marx Brothers, please do yourself the favor and look them up on YouTube. They are a very important part of Hollywood history. Basically, they were a vaudeville act that was picked up by Hollywood for movies in the from 1921 to 1959, which is incredible.
Mr Isserlis and I share a love of someone in particular: Harpo Marx. In short Harpo Marx was the mime of the Marx Brothers’ act (there were five brothers in the act). He was by no means silent, though. He used other mediums besides his voice to get his points across; whistles, horns, tattoos, and of course, his harp. He was a real natural and had an incredible ear. From what I understand, he learned a Ravel piece for harp by ear. That, dear reader, takes talent.
He was also an INCREDIBLE comic. His face was basically rubber and could make any expression. He didn’t speak in the traditional sense, but one could always tell how he felt and what he was trying to say. His timing was perfect, and I’m guessing it came from his music timing. Perhaps not, but it would make sense.
I was exposed to these delightful brothers early on though their movies, and even if half the jokes went above my head, I enjoyed the fun they were clearly having making these silly and brilliant movies.
My favorite memory of watching Harpo is actually from an episode of “I Love Lucy.” It’s called, “Lucy and Harpo Marx,” and the whole scene is taken from “Duck Soup,” which is one of their most famous movies. He also plays a lovely rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his harp, and for many years of my childhood, I watched that episode over and over again. I had it on VHS (I’m old), and watched to make my days a bit better, as much of my childhood was utter hell.
(If you’d like to read about how music helped my childhood and life in general, please click here!)
I don’t listen to podcasts or radio often, but I’m so so so glad I took time, to intently listen to Mr Isserlis’ piece on Harpo. It was just delightful and I’ve been telling everyone, especially my father (another Harpo lover) to listen.
Mr Isserlis, sir, my hat is off to you. You are so amazing, and I like you even more now knowing we share a love for a great master of comedy and music.
“Finding Harpo’s Voice” only available to listen on the BBC website for 26 more days, so do it while you still can. You do not want to miss it.
Click the link below to be taken to the radio programme:
To learn even more go to Steven Isserlis’ page on Facebook to see pictures and read his writing: