He was a brilliant music teacher. He was a renowned trumpet player but his piano lessons were widely sought-after. He was hilarious, he was charming, and he was one of the finest chess players I ever met.
In his private lessons, he was patient and he was kind. I was not a good musician but he always said "If you could only get your fingers to co-operate with your heart." So, it was he that encouraged me to study music literature with the same passion I had for history and philosophy. "The piano may never reveal your heart but the pen certainly will. Make others feel what you feel by your words about the music!"
So, I wound up for a time following his advice about writing on music. I wrote for my high school and college newspapers and wrote a lot of concert and record reviews. Why did I ever stop?
In his college classroom, he served up musical delicacies that thrill me to this very day. Sure, we heard all the stuff from Bach and Mozart and the rest and I enjoyed listening to the music and watching him diagram the music. He played for us Saint-Saens and Sibelius, Shostakovitch and Smetana, Michaud and Mahler, Grieg and Glinka and so many others I had never heard.
More than this, however, he began telling the personal stories of these great and sometimes not-so-great composers.
The French composer Lully, for example, had spent most of his career working for King Louis XIV. In those days, the conductor was not more than a time-keeper and they used a long staff instead of the later baton. They would beat out the time on the floor using this big staff. Lully was conducting a Te Deum in celebration of Louis XIV’s recent recovery from illness. During the performance, Lully struck his big toe with the heavy staff. The wound turn gangrenous and Lully died from it. No wonder they invented the baton. “Conducting is dangerous stuff!” Maser proclaimed.
With stories like that, I became intrigued with the composers as people and not just as music-writers. He told of Brahms being raised in a brothel. Beethoven was beaten by his father to make the young Ludwig play for the old man’s drunken friends. Wagner married Liszt’s daughter. Handel and Scarlatti used to have harpsichord and organ contests between themselves.
He especially loved to talk about Joseph Haydn. His favorite re-telling was how Mozart and Beethoven had called him “Papa” Haydn. Maser even seemed to get a little misty-eyed when discussing it. After studying with him for the next two or three years, a couple of other students and I decided to call him “Papa Lou” Maser. So help me, the old guy had to wipe tears away and just said, “Bless you boys.”
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