Joseph Robinson

I have just found a florid letter written to my parents on March 30, 1963, describing my first encounter with Tabuteau in Nice.

When I returned to Tabuteau’s apartment later that evening, I found him dressed in a white apron and hat preparing supper.  His boisterous personality reminded me of John Mack’s. We ate together and talked of music in general and of my hopes in particular until about midnight.

The next day he agreed to go with me into the cane fields centered around southern France not far from Nice. Needing cane himself and a way to get to it, the old master, for the first time, shared his secret contacts along with about 15 pounds of what he avowed was the best material for oboe reeds that could be found anywhere in the world. As he examined, cut, rubbed and selected the cane, his actions became increasingly animated and his attentions intensely focused, so that he hardly reacted to anything for hours except the clacking yellow tubes in their musty barn-like hiding places.  I bought him lunch, which along with the red wine and the day’s excitement, put him to sleep in the car on the way back from the cane fields.

Once home, supper at his hand was again insistingly offered; and the confidence which Tabuteau had already shown in me was confirmed in his solemn confession, in the midst of all the fun we were having in the kitchen, that I reminded him of himself when he was a young man!

I had arrived in Nice, a messenger of a golden time in Tabuteau’s life, with an unspoiled flower of adoration in my hand, reminding him of the joys and achievements of his highest days. He spoke to me about his most intense moments with Stokowski and Toscanini; about the many brilliant students who cowered under his scrutiny at Curtis; and about musical idealism he could only imagine now in retrospect. There was some melancholy in these half-recognized fantasies, and it was clear he yearned for the youth in himself which he saw embodied in me. He drank and roared with laughter, then almost cried as he watched me walk out the door!

It remains to be seen whether I can meet him again and share the disciplined secrets of his genius.


Below are a series of letters written to Marcel Tabuteau by Joseph Robinson during the latter part of 1965 when he was a graduate student at Princeton University. The intent of the letters was to encourage Tabuteau’s return to the States for various projects.

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