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Huneker, James Gibbons (1860 - 1921)

American music critic and writer. Huneker was teaching piano at the National Conservatory of Music in New York during Dvorak’s tenure at the school. He was of a somewhat eccentric character, which is also reflected in his books. His “scandalous” recollections of Dvorak published in a volume of memoirs entitled Steeplejack earned him the reputation as Dvorak’s critic and enemy. Huneker’s views on Dvorak’s music, in fact, oscillated between admiration and dismissal. He considered the composer’s early compositions to be his best works, while he did not accept Dvorak’s theory on African American music as the foundation for an American national school of music.

 

 

 

From Huneker’s Steeplejack:

"Old Borax, as Dvorak was affectionately called, was handed over to me by Madame Thurber when he arrived. He was a fervent Roman Catholic, and I hunted a Bohemian church for him as he began his day with an early Mass. Rather too jauntily I invited him to taste the American drink called a whiskey cocktail. He nodded his head, that of an angry-looking bulldog with a beard. He scared one at first with his fierce Slavonic eyes, but was as mild a mannered man as ever scuttled a pupil’s counterpoint. I always spoke of him as a boned pirate. But I made a mistake in believing that American strong waters would upset his Czech nerves. We began at Goerwitz, then described a huge circle, through the great thirst belt of central New York. At each place Doc Borax took a cocktail. Now, alcohol I abhor, so I stuck to my guns, the usual three-voiced invention, hops, malt, and spring water. We spoke German, and I was happy to meet a man whose accent and grammar were worse than my own. Yet we got along swimmingly – an appropriate enough image, for the weather was wet, though not squally….

I left him swallowing his nineteenth cocktail. ‘Master,’ I said, ratherly thickly, ‘don’t you think it’s time we ate something?’ He gazed at me through those awful whiskers which met his tumbled hair half-way, ‘Eat. No. I no eat. We go to a Houston Street restaurant. You go, hein? We drink the Slivovitch. It warms you after so much beer.’ I didn’t go that evening to the East Houston Street Bohemian café with Dr. Antonin Dvorak. I never went with him. Such a man is as dangerous to a moderate drinker as a false beacon is to a shipwrecked sailor. And he could drink as much spirits as I could the amber brew. No, I assured Mrs.Thurber that I as through with piloting him. When I met Old Borax again at Sokel Hall, the Bohemian Resort on the East Side, I deliberately dodged him."