A longtime friend passed away on July 18: Edith Eisler, whom I met two decades ago in my capacity as manager of the editorial coverage of classical and related music in the magazines published by Tower Records: Pulse!, Classical Pulse!, and epulse. I use the word “manager” instead of “editor” because my incredible array of freelance writers, most of who came to the magazines thanks to Bob Levine (with whom I co-founded Classical Pulse!), knew far more about the subject at hand than I did at the time, or ever will. Edith was key among them. Chamber music was her specialty.
Edith was a violin teacher and music critic who lived in Manhattan, and she was a constant presence in our pages. I worked at Pulse! from 1989 through 1996, and then continued in a freelance capacity through Pulse!‘s closure in 2002 and epulse’s in 2004. Throughout, Edith was a force of nature. Before her mother’s health began to decline, she attended concerts seemingly nightly, and had thoughtful, considered, often corrective reviews written and submitted before the musicians themselves had gotten a full night’s sleep.
Editing Edith was a remarkable experience for numerous reasons. To begin with, she was the fastest talker I have ever known — she spit syllables like the best rappers could only dream of — and on top of it had the most impeccable written English, the sort of English that perhaps only those for whom it is a second language could manage. (Edith and her mother were from Vienna originally but moved to the U.S. after living in London during World War II, where they witnessed the bombings. Edith’s mother, Sophie, would joke: “We lived in Vienna, Hitler came to Vienna. We went to Czechoslovakia, Hitler came to Czechoslovakia. We moved to London, Hitler’s bombs came to London. He followed us everywhere — he was crazy about us.” Sophie also told stories about seeing Mahler on the streets of their native Vienna in her youth.)
There were times when the only editing Edith’s text required was figuring out that she had meant a “1” when she had typed a lowercase “L” — a habit that persisted long after her late transition from typewriter to computer. Edith wrote so much for the publications, it’s difficult to single out specific work, but I remember fondly working with her on a piece about performance competitions, whose very existence she questioned (I agreed with her on this, and learned much in the process of developing the piece).
Edith was forever intrigued by the editorial efforts amid which her writing was published. The Tower magazines mode was to consider all genres alongside each other, a kind of meta-purism that dispensed with genre purism in favor of a utopian approach that sometimes is termed “big-eared.” Even after classical music was removed from the aggressively eclectic Pulse! magazine and given its own publication, the coverage strove to both challenge longtime listeners and intrigue new ones. Edith was fascinated by the inclusion in the magazine of comics, which I edited, and was quite outspoken about her lack of comprehension of the contemporary music we featured. But there was never a sense of dismissal, just of intense curiosity. I learned enormous amounts from Edith and her writing, in particular how strong opinions can be expressed without the appearance of rudeness.
Edith and I did not speak often in the past decade, usually just once a year, when I would call on her birthday, which happens to be Valentine’s Day. Next Valentine’s Day will be a sad one for everyone who knew her or her work. Rest in peace, Edith — no doubt you are having a strong cup of coffee with Mahler and your dear mother.
(Above images from allthingsstrings.com. The youthful one was, if memory serves, the photo that accompanied a newspaper review of a recital she played shortly after arriving in the United States.)