Unless you are a Bach enthusiast of a certain age, or she was married to your uncle (as she was to mine), you probably won’t be familiar with the name.
(picture above from the Oberlin College Yearbook where she performed in 1939)
Not falling into the first category, and being quite young at the time of their marriage, I was interested in, but not impressed by her persona. Unfolding gradually over the following years, the story of their connection, beginning at Caltech in the late 1930’s, became an exotic thread woven into the fabric of my family history.
You have met ‘Uncle George’ – George Wallingford Downs, Jr*
(*posts: Connected in time and space….parts 1 and 2)
The first encounter between musician and physicist was to be at the Stammtisch** – a casual monthly gathering of faculty at Caltech. To each meeting a notable person from outside their ranks was invited to share in the meal during which he or she was asked one question, the answer to which would be delivered after dinner in the form of a lecture. Rosalyn had debuted at Carnegie Hall and was – in her own words – “fabulous and an overnight success”. Invited, she traveled from New York to Pasadena in 1938, and was asked the question: ‘is piano music qualitative or quantitative’.
(**German: regular’s table; an informal group meeting or gathering held on a regular basis; the Stammtisch at Caltech met sometimes at a private home and often at the Athenaeum.)
Recognized as ‘The High Priestess if Bach”, Rosalyn performed worldwide, recorded, wrote, and dedicated her life to perfecting a specific style of playing his music, reflecting the vision of the composer.
Meanwhile, George continued his affiliation with Caltech, worked on the development of ‘sonar’ at UCSD, the Caltech Torpedo Project, and, working with the Manhattan Project, had a hand in developing the trigger for the atomic bomb. He also worked for, participated in the formation of, and served on the Board of Directors of several companies in related fields.
Twenty-five years would pass before they married in England in September of 1964.
Rosalyn and I would not meet until 31 years after my uncle’s death.
Of course, I find the story line fascinating…..perhaps, as it unfolds, you will too………