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The Tropic Bird
flights and notes...

Florencia Raitzin-Legrand has recently written her autobiography, The Tropic Bird flights and notes…, under the name of Serena Leigh Dalban. The limited edition of The Tropic Bird, offered by alumni of the P.I.M. to subsidise study grants, is on sale at Galignani’s, 224 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris or, by appointment, at the Paris Institute of Music (phone: +(33) 1 4260 4840, or by email).

The Tropic Bird seeks an editor to fly even further...

A few extracts from the autobiography (translated from the French by Christopher Thiéry)

My maternal grandmother, who was travelling from Poland to New York where her fiancé was waiting for her, got on the wrong boat. And that is how she came to be married to my grandfather, who was travelling from Russia to Argentina. We probably owe our musical talents to that absent-minded Polish lady who sang so well.
My paternal grandfather came from a good Austrian family; he was more of an explorer than an emigrant, wandering off to “new lands” rather like one goes off on a shooting party. He was fond of luxury, a trait we have all inherited.

...I still sometimes wake up in Paris having lost my bearings, wondering where I am. The worst nightmare would be to find myself in my bed as a young girl in Buenos Aires. Our house is now Clara’s. Apart from the black wickerwork chair I used to climb on to as a little girl, the only thing that I have inherited from the family house is this portrait of my mother, which stands imposingly on my piano. It was painted by a Russian portrait-painter when she was engaged to be married. The blue eyes, quizzical and tender, still follow me, watching, encouraging me. Like the mysterious duende that haunts Spanish literature, the spirit of my mother is with me every second of my life. Hers of course is benevolent, not in the least bit fey.....

....If I had to compare myself to an animal, I think it would be the tortoise. Not because it is slow, but because of its shell. I often hesitate to poke my head outside the unreal world I live in, wholly invented, with a background of music. When perchance I decide to go and see what is going on around me, I regret it. Not always because of the others, but because my sense of aesthetics or my shyness will have made me say or do something silly.
Most of the time I have the impression that I spend my life waiting for someone to put me back on my feet, and on the right track. Communication would once again become possible....

.....As an antidote to having a single teacher, one day I felt I would like to receive in my studio masters and pupils from abroad, while leaving the door open to French musicians. In 1970 this was a complete novelty, because the usual practice was for one master to reign supreme over a series of classes, as Cortot and many others had done.
The success was immediate, especially as money had no part in these high level exchanges.

When he arrived at the age of six, he looked like a little ball of wool, with his bonnet, his gloves, his scarf and his curly hair. Only his fingers were as stiff as chopsticks. Every score was “too hard”. At times he sniffled a bit, but the tears were always kissed away. I explained to him that notes are notes, whether it is Bach or Bartok. No point in starting with meaningless preliminaries, we go straight to music. The scales come in between; the keys and the chords are explained as we go along.
The first years are a game; a deeper understanding will come later, when the music has got under the skin.
A child like Gregory is fascinating. The others are but pale imitations of adults.
Gregory understands and remembers everything I tell him. One day he told me he would never be able to play with both hands. When I gently threatened to call a doctor, he hid under the piano. “You must attack the note with a downward movement: the sound travels upwards…” He gazed at the ceiling.

...The anonymous passenger who found herself face to face with Princess Grace of Monaco on the gangway of the “Renaissance” cruise ship at midnight, in May 1968, was I. She was coming down in royal splendour, divinely dressed, while I was going up, exhausted by the twelve-hour non-stop drive from Paris to Monte Carlo.
I nearly missed the boat, and the dream cruise. I was contacted at the last moment, as a substitute, when all transport in France was at a standstill because of the May revolution. Friends who were also next-door neighbours witnessed my despair at missing such a golden opportunity, and bundled me into their car. Without a second thought they collected their dog, closed their shop, seized some sandwiches for the journey, and off we went for my first musical cruise, probably the most successful.
I would have remained incognito were it not for the generosity of Wilhelm Kempff, the great man of the piano world. He had surreptitiously heard me play, and saw fit to mention my name to Bernard Gavoty. At the end of the trip I was one of the “majors”, and I played with everyone during the last concert.
We were uncomfortable at the idea that Paris was in the throes of the student uprising, which seemed menacing. We listened to the news between candlelight suppers and concerts off the Yugoslav or Tunisian coasts.
Each stop, Naples, Taormina, Monastir, Valdemosa, Dubrovnik, was an ideal setting for listening to music. The fabulous luxury of the enormous yacht for billionaire music-lovers enabled us to approach without ceremony the cream of the jet set and the stars of music.






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