Lessons in Saying Goodbye: The Farewells of Carlo Maria Giulini
Meaningful farewells are rarely easy. Some people hide their emotions, others are overwrought. Here are two examples from someone you will relate to: Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005), the famous Italian musician whose 100th birthday anniversary we are celebrating this year. His model of how to handle parting might nudge you to rethink your own.
The first farewell was both heart-rending and public, beginning with a rehearsal and then in performances by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in March, 1971 when Giulini was its Principal Guest conductor.
Fred Spector, a now retired CSO violinist, told the story in 2001:
We were doing the Verdi Requiem and we knew that his mother had just died (unexpectedly, while he was in Chicago). He walked out on stage (to rehearse with us), starts to conduct the Requiem and stops. He was crying and he said “They want me to come home. What good is that? My mother is dead. It is more important that I have this experience with you and the Verdi Requiem and think about my mother.” And now he’s got us all crying, the whole orchestra in tears. “That’s more important because then I can experience and think about my mother in this marvelous Requiem.”
That is kind of what this man was about and those were the greatest performances I’ve ever played of the Verdi Requiem, bar none…. We wanted to get that feeling that he wanted for his mother.
Giulini said goodbye in a different way when he accepted the Music Directorship of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to begin in 1978. It would mark the end of his 23 year association with the Chicago Symphony, the orchestra with which he made his American debut in 1955. The announcement came about one year before his final CSO concerts.
The conductor handwrote a letter to the Orchestra itself shortly after the news became public, and he eventually would make the rounds of the various staffers at Orchestra Hall to say a personal farewell when he returned during the 1977/78 season, before taking on his Los Angeles duties. Here is a portion of his April 16, 1977 letter:
My Dear Friends,
Circumstances made it that during the week of your deserved rest I was regrettably unable to personally meet with you. In a sense, this may have been a blessing in disguise, since such a meeting would have produced in me so many emotions that I would have been overwhelmed. That is why I am writing this letter to each and every one of you.
How long has it been since we have been together and made music together? At times it seems it was so long ago and at others, as if it were yesterday. In all of these years, so much music and work was translated in a rare and precious manifestation of friendship and collaboration between us that transcends the level of dutiful professionalism and indeed represents the true spirit of our calling as musicians. In the course of our long association, a rare and precious relationship developed among us — much as the one that existed among my quartet companions of my younger days (when I was a violist). A relationship that springs from excellence, love and dedication to the noblest purpose of music — of which we are the custodians.
For the music and work we did together, for your trust and loyal support, for all the feelings of joy and fulfillment we shared, and for what we have been able to transmit to music lovers, I thank you most profoundly.
There is not much more for me to add — because I am sure that you will understand both what I feel and what I mean.
You will continue to occupy a special place in my heart as you always have,…
As for the future… it is in the Hands of God.
Until we meet again, I fraternally embrace each and every one of you and wish you all the very best and —
Thomas Saler* wrote of the rehearsals that preceded the conductor’s last CSO performance on March 18, 1978:
“Chicago was the most beautiful moment in my musical life,” (Giulini) said. “It is in my blood, not just in my heart.” Ever the Italian poet, Giulini expressed that sentiment to his musician friends at the first rehearsal before those final concerts. “For me, Venice is more incredibly beautiful every time I return. And so, gentlemen, are you.”
For more on Giulini see: A Man Who Refused to Judge.
*Thomas Saler, Serving Genius: Carlo Maria Giulini (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 86.