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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 21 Jul 2006 07:33:31 -0400
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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"Kevin J. Bochynski" <[log in to unmask]>
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A partial answer to Clara's vocal talent is found in an excerpt from Russell
McLauchlin's unpublished memoir.  McLauchlin was the Music and Drama Critic
for The Detroit News until his retirement in 1955.

Kevin B.


Ossip Gabrilowitsch, than whom there was never a more popular pianist or a
more delightful human being, was for many years conductor of the Detroit
Symphony Orchestra. He was, of course, a Russian by birth. He acquired
English to perfection and taught himself to use it colloquially.

 “That new horn-player of ours is a peach,” he would say, in completely
unaccented words.

 He became an American in every detail but the pictorial. He had what is
sometimes called “wild hair” and he wore the highest starched collars ever
seen. We all wondered where he bought them. There was one theory that his
wife made them in her sewing-room. He was tall and slender, with
strongly-marked features and an outsized nose.

That wife of his was the daughter of Mark Twain, to whom her husband always
referred as “the old gentleman.” He wore the old man’s watch-chain across
his waistcoat and he held him in what you might call jolly veneration.

All the musical and journalistic professions in Detroit cut the stately
Russian entitlement to “O.G.” Generally, his nickname was “Gabby.”

Mrs. O.G. was a beautiful woman and it was sad that their daughter inherited
her father’s cast of countenance, instead of her mother’s. There is a story
that once, long before the Gabrilowitsch marriage, a musical afternoon was
held in the Mark Twain home. The old gentleman introduced the participants,
among whom were the youthful O.G. and David Bispham, the baritone, who is,
alas, forgotten nowadays.

The feature of the program was Clara Clemens, who insisted on being
considered a musician. But she didn’t fool her father.

“We shall now hear from my daughter Clara,” said the old gentleman. “She is,
they tell me, a mezzo-soprano. She is not quite so good a musician as Mr.
Gabrilowitsch and Mr. Bispham, but she is much better looking.”

In the long years of O.G.’s incumbency with the Detroit Symphony, the wife
of his bosom was occasionally presented as soloist, not at the weekend “pop”
but to the stately audience of subscribers. What domestic pressures fruited
into those events, I cannot say. All I can say is that they were exceedingly
tough on the working press. Mrs. Gabrilowitsch, who was always billed as
“Mme. Clara Clemens,” was not a good singer. We all felt the utmost respect
and affection for her husband. In our few encounters, we found her a woman
of breeding and charm. But the fact remained that her vocal gifts were
several kilometers short of great. The problem was, how [to] report on Mme.
Clemens without wounding O.G.?

I was kind of proud of what I did, once. I wrote all around Robin Hood’s
Barn and then I appended some words of Brutus’ Portia, in the second act of
“Julius Caesar.” And what a friend we have in Shakespeare!

Says Portia:

“Think you I am no stronger than my sex,

 “Being so fathered and so husbanded?”

You remember that Portia’s parent was Marcus Cato, the famous senator.

After one of those ghastly occasions, I was riding downtown with Ralph
Holmes, my opposite number on the Detroit Times and my beloved friend. I
have never ceased to mourn him.

We rode for several blocks in silence. Then Ralph heaved a great sigh.

“I’ve always heard that love was blind,” he said. “But I never knew it was