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Moses and Chopin

In response to:

Moses and Aaron in Paris from the December 13, 1973 issue

To the Editors:

Oy mea culpa! I have received several letters informing me of an error in my Bibliology—which should attest to the piety and high-mindedness of your readership, the more so since no one has so much as mentioned my double-barreled misspelling of “Folies-Bergère” ((Moses and Aaron in Paris, NYR, December 13, 1973). Aaron was not a “stammerer.” But then, neither was Moses, whom most of my correspondents assumed to be the automatic alternative. According to Exodus, Moses is “not eloquent [but] slow of speech,” a description that fits no definition of the word stammerer.

One correspondent also noted that I wrongly added an “s” to “peoth” and pluralized “tsitsith” incorrectly—words that he spells differently, although it seems to me that my “peoth” is closer to pronunciation that his “paoth”; furthermore, the Librarian at Temple Emanu-EI confirms that my spellings of both words are acceptable forms. The same correspondent adds that the Grand Rabbin of Paris, “as of my last visit,” was Rabbi Vais, but the date of this journey not being disclosed, the statement is unhelpful. (The New York Board of Rabbis, in answer to my inquiry, identified the incumbent as Rabbi Kaplan.) Finally, the wording of a program note—“Traduit par les membres du Rabbinat Français sous la direction du Grand Rabbin Zadoc Kahn“—under a French translation of excerpts from Exodus, somehow led me to suppose that this one was new.

Another letter, from a reader in New Orleans, says that, contrary to my belief, Maurice Brown’s Chopin, which I reviewed in the NYR, December 18, 1973, “has added nothing new about [the composer’s friend] Johns that wasn’t already known in the 19th century to biographers of Chopin.” But since these biographers are not named, I can say only that my late friend Herbert Weinstock, whose Chopin is still the standard contemporary biography in English, was unable to find reliable data in nineteenth century biographies concerning the, in any case, trivial matter of the comings and goings of Johns. Besides, neither Weinstock nor any other biographer substantiates my scrutator’s unqualified assertion that in 1832 Chopin was seriously contemplating emigration to America.

None of this, however, but my own unqualified assumption that Johns “understandably” preferred Paris to New Orleans is what has provoked my correspondent. He says that “In the 19th century New Orleans had a considerable cultural life and was a very desirable place in which to live.” When I said that Johns “understandably” preferred Paris, I meant that during the period in question the slave-trading Louisiana city struck some morally developed people—Abraham Lincoln among them, and he was probably there at the same time as Johns—as an absolutely horrifying place in which to live.

Robert Craft

New York City

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