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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 11, 2008 / 4 Adar II 5768

What is a genius? We use the word frequently but surely, to guard its meaning, we should bestow it seldom

By Paul Johnson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | To me, a genius is a person whose gift contains an element of the inexplicable, not to be accounted for by heredity, upbringing, background, exertions and talents, however noble. Thus, we can't account for the extraordinary imagination of Chaucer, the vintner's son, brought up at a military-minded court. Equally, where Shakespeare got or acquired his magic is a mystery. By contrast, Jane Austen, though one of the greatest of novelists — and my personal favourite — is a straightforward case of a clever girl, brought up in the congenial environment of a reading family, with its jokes, theatricals, verse-writing and wide acquaintance, who used her natural wit and sharp gift of observation, helped by her appreciative but critical siblings, to create a new kind of realistic fiction. No mystery there, whereas Dickens, coming from nowhere and nothing, to explode his Sketches by Boz and Pickwick Papers as a superbly self-confident young master, is an enigma. We can't explain it, any more than we can explain why Kipling, at 18, wrote so truthfully and enchantingly about the secrets of human hearts, of both sexes and many races.


When I was 12 or 13, and first making incursions into the musical repertoire, my idea of a genius was Arturo Toscanini. He was then conducting New York's NBC Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra he virtually created and which was disbanded after his retirement. I contrived to hear him conducting all Beethoven's symphonies, either on records or on the wireless, and they are still my ideal of how they should be played; rightly so, for his fidelity both to the score and the spirit and intention of the composer was his lifelong object, achieved so comprehensibly that he changed the art of conducting for good. He looked the part too: not tall, in fact, though he seemed immense at the rostrum, but gloriously handsome with fierce, penetrating eyes and an expression of such masterful intensity as to make you gasp; a terror to the idle, incompetent, insincere or anyone who did not take great music with total seriousness.


Toscanini came from Parma, where they certainly had always taken all the arts seriously. His father was nothing much: a tailor by trade who made a bare living, or less. His chief interest in life was politics. He had been a follower of Garibaldi, and his proudest possession was his red shirt, worn as a militant irredentist. His family was lucky if they got enough to eat. On the other hand, in his tailor's shop, men used to congregate to read aloud poetry and dramas and to sing opera. It was an age and a place where art was more important than a full stomach or a comfortable dwelling. When young Toscanini showed signs of musical talent, even his father, lazy though he was, stirred himself to get the boy into the local conservatoire, and eventually succeeded, Arturo specialising in the cello. He was then nine, and he was there nine years. It was then (1877) a fearsome place, dirty and insanitary; cold in winter. The food was disgusting, often fish bought cheap because it was going rotten, and the nastiest wine. There was only one water closet and no baths: the boys, who wore military uniform, went once a year for a bath at the town hospital. They slept on palliasses of straw, changed infrequently, and the dormitory stank. The boys were rarely allowed out. Discipline was strict and punishments severe. When Toscanini failed to button up his uniform properly, he was locked up in a small room with his cello. After some hours, he called the custodian and asked permission to go to the lavatory. He was told: 'No! Control yourself!' In the end he was obliged to pee into his cello, and when this was later discovered, he was further punished.


Yet Toscanini emerged at the end of nine years an accomplished musician with an extraordinary knowledge of the repertoire. His memory was prodigious, perhaps the best in the whole history of music. It was this particular gift, assisted by ceaseless industry and application, and by huge self-discipline and concentration, which pushed him into the magic circle of genius. At 18, his first job was with a third-rate travelling opera company which toured Brazil. In Rio, the local conductor, a Brazilian, had to be sacked for incompetence. His Italian substitute, from the company, was booed even before he could begin to conduct, and he fled from the theatre. In despair the manager turned to 18-year-old Toscanini, still playing cello but known to be an all-rounder. The young man took over. The opera was Aida — long, difficult and exhausting. He used no score. He knew it by heart. He soon had the audience hushed, the company playing and singing their best, and the evening was a triumph. Here was a victory of genius over circumstances, and though Toscanini's subsequent ascent to the rostra of La Scala and the Metropolitan was by no means smooth, his destiny was fixed.


I don't know of any other case in which memory played so important a part in the evolution of a genius. At 18, it seems, Toscanini already knew 50 operas by heart, and the number eventually rose to over 100. He never wore glasses, either from vanity or more likely because he could not find a pair to suit him. Perfect memory of a score was therefore indispensable to him. It was also a godsend, for if a conductor can avoid constant reference to a score, and all the business of turning pages, he can concentrate on the players and singers much more intently and comfortably. And it goes without saying that he knows the score in a way which mere familiarity through reading will never permit. It meant that Toscanini could go straight to the heart of great music to grasp the composer's intentions. So his memory was the means whereby he dragged the musical world into a new era of conducting and authenticity — beginning with the first proper performance of the cliché-encrusted Trovatore at La Scala. No wonder the aged Verdi once sent him a telegram, after a performance of Otello, which read simply: 'Grazie, grazie, grazie.'


The way in which a particular single gift, like Toscanini's memory, heightened to an almost unimaginable pitch, becomes the key to genius, can be illustrated by other examples. Vermeer, for instance, had such unwavering control over his brush that he put the paint on the canvas without appearing to do so with any physical action of his own. It is as though it floated down to settle with total accuracy on the place designated by his mind. This skill, without parallel in the history of painting, was the key to his particular genius, which was to render stillness and make it living, even dynamic.


Some writers have a particular skill in bending and twisting words to a special purpose. What raised Mark Twain from being merely an exceptionally resourceful (and ruthless) writer to the genius level was his skill with dialects: he uses seven, all distinct and perfect in Huckleberry Finn. Again, it is hopeless to single out the special skill in Shakespeare, because he had so many. But if one had to choose, I would say it is his brilliant dialogue: terse, direct, exciting to speak and hastening on the action at a terrific lick — as for instance in Macbeth, act two, scene two. Dialogue of this quality has not been bettered in the four centuries since the play was written. Or again, in the case of Tchaikovsky, the sheer invention and beauty of the melodic line are the title deeds to genius. I often think of this, and the poor man's sad, solitary death, a victim of harsh convention, when I sing that moving song, 'None but the lonely heart'. We cannot explain genius but we can salute it.

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Previously:

03/03/08:Fiction as a crutch to get one through life
02/26/08: Impatience + Greed = Trouble
02/13/08: Shakespeare, Neo-Platonism and Princess Diana
02/07/08: Where Industry Has Failed Us
12/19/07: People who put their trust in human power delude themselves
12/12/07: What is aggression?
12/04/07: Pursuing success is not enough
11/07/07: Are famous writers accident-prone?
10/31/07: Courage needed to disarm Iran
09/20/07: Who Will Say ‘I Promise to Lay Off’?
07/24/07: Greed is safer than power-seeking
04/02/07: Benefactors must be hardheaded
03/07/07: American idealism and realpolitik
11/28/06: Space: Our ticket to survival
10/24/06: Envy is bad economics
10/11/06: Better to Borrow or Lend? Rethinking conventional wisdom
08/22/06: Don't practice legal terrorism
08/08/06: A summer rhapsody for a pedal-bike
08/03/06: Why is there no workable philosophy of music?
07/11/06: Historically speaking, energy crisis is America's opportunity
07/06/06: The misleading dimensions of persons and lives
06/06/06: First editions are not gold
05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty ones
04/25/06: Was Washington right about political parties?
04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle

© 2006, Paul Johnson

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