It Is A Boon to Have It Now Available
Last November, Rollin Smith was kind enough to send me an article from The New York Times of March 30, 1942. It contained the only photo I have ever seen of Pietro Yon’s son, Mario. I posted it then, and I’m pleased that he chose to review The Heavens Heard Him in the April issue of The American Organist.
VERA B. HAMMANN AND MARIO C. YON: THE HEAVENS HEARD HIM. 192 pp. Available as a PDF from michaelsmusicservice.com. $9; available from Amazon on Kindle, $9.99. Published in 1963, this is subtitled “A Novel Based on the Life of Pietro Yon (1886–1943).” Mario was Pietro Yon’s son and only child and, in 1951, the foreign trade consultant in the New York Regional Office of Price Stabilization. He had studied the organ, and in a student recital had played one of the Bach eight little preludes and fugues. Evidently, he provided the information and Vera Hammann wrote the book in what T. Scott Buhrman, editor of The American Organist, described in a 1964 review as a “noticeably overdone style.” The subject of the book is enough to whet the appetite of any organist, and, since the book did not have much currency, it is a boon to have it now available as either PDF or on Kindle. A print version is not available, but if you order the PDF, you can print it out.
Pietro Yon was a native of Settimo Vittone, a small town in northwestern Italy. As a child, he studied piano with the local cathedral organist, and by the age of 14 had entered the Royal Conservatory in Milan, where he studied with Polibio Fumagalli; the next year, he won a scholarship to the Turin Conservatory, where he studied organ with Roberto Remondi and composition with Giovanni Boizoni (of Minuet fame). At 18, he entered the St. Cecilia Academy in Rome and graduated with every honor, having studied organ with Remigio Renzi and piano with Giovanni Sgambati, a noted Liszt pupil. In 1907, he came to America his brother Constantino, a singer, had preceded him) and became organist of the Jesuit church of St. Francis Xavier in New York City. He was a brilliant virtuoso with a certain gift for composition (Christmas in Sicily and a Toccata, 1912; First Concert Study, 1913; First Sonata, 1916; and, of course, Gesù Bambino, 1917), and knew the value of publicity — he gave 24 paid-admission organ recitals in the concert halls of New York (a total that is difficult to document).
This is not an easy book to review, considering that it diverts from the facts so often and is, of course, a paean from a loving son to his father’s memory. In addition to several tear-jerking sequences, there is an over-abundance of Italian clichés and phrases to keep up the paisano flavor, the misconception that an artist has arrived when asked to play in Carnegie Hall (as though the hall were not rented and the publicity paid for), and an elevation of Yon’s Mass of the Shepherds to the stature of the B-Minor Mass (check out a performance on YouTube), not to mention a preposterous scene of His Eminence Cardinal Hayes going backstage after a recital at Carnegie Hall to invite Yon to become his organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (no mention of his predecessor, Jacques Ungerer, who was informed by letter of the loss of his job while on vacation during the summer of 1928 — another of those “be careful who you hire as an assistant” situations). There is neither mention of Yon’s wedding at which Giovanni Martinelli was an usher, and Charles Courboin, playing for the Mass, held down a perfect fifth while the vows were spoken, nor of Premier Mussolini making Yon an officer of the Crown of Italy in 1926.
There is so much factual misinformation that the book is almost a disservice to the organist’s memory, and one wonders why it was written as a “novel” and not a biography when the family had all the material necessary. Nevertheless, given the dearth of fictional biographies with famous organists as the subject, this fills the bill and is certainly fairly priced for what you get, just take it cum grano salis.
visit The American Organist
See The Heavens Heard Him
Read about the Kilgen he designed for Carnegie Hall.