Jussi Björling Society - USA

 

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The Voice of Silver that Conquered the Storm
Marguerite Wenner-Gren

Recounting the memories of our years of friendship with Jussi is like trying to describe a richly faceted diamond. Goethe says in the prelude to Faust: “Go straight at all the stir and strife, That agitate our human life; All have it, but not many know it. Get hold of it, where’er you will, In all its motley mixture show it, And it is interesting still.” So it is with recollections of a life with such a human jewel as Jussi. Let me try to draw forth some of the treasures of memory from Gretchen’s jewel-case! First, a happy evening at Häringe where Jussi’s great sense of humour took full flight. He was, as we all were, in a wonderful mood.We had read somewhere that every tenth or twelfth Swede was more or less mad. I suggested that we form a “crazies” club called “one against twelve”. Each of those present would have to demonstrate something that qualified him or her for membership. Jussi was fired up by the idea. Many fell by the wayside, among others, Axel [Wenner-Gren] who, at least for the time being, was judged to be far too normal; but both Jussi and I were considered highly qualified. It was decided that all members would pledge themselves to doing certain crazy things when we met each other in public—for example, we would speak inarticulately, or sound out our words like modern pre-school children. Jussi’s membership test was superb—it turned out that he was also a brilliant mimic and “crazy artist” who would have created a furore on the variety stage. He impersonated and mercilessly parodied a whole series of opera singers, librettists and conductors. Finally I mentioned Tetrazzini, the world-famous soprano whom I had seen in my childhood, she of the gigantic girth and enormous string of pearls, who, as she sang her show-stopping arias, would fling her pearls about. Jussi leapt up: “I can do that too!” whereupon he produced a fantastic send-up with all Tetrazzini’s gestures, mannerisms and juggling of pearls. His humour glittered and shone like fireworks, and he finished his performance on a captivating, melting pianissimo with the words: “Just look, I can fling my pearls too.” And so a quick jump over to the Bahamas. We were in Mexico and were just about to leave for Nassau when we got a telephone call from Anna-Lisa. Jussi had become hoarse; he thought he had lost his voice. “May we come to you tomorrow?” “We’re just leaving for Nassau,” I replied, “but you’ll be very welcome there.” They arrived half an hour after me. I had not even had time to take off my hat or powder my nose. Jussi was utterly dejected. He had lost his voice, he said. He could barely whisper “Shangri La”. He had had to forfeit splendid engagements and honours. They stayed for a week. Jussi wandered along the beach like Diogenes and practised with pebbles in his mouth, full of concern for his voice. Then suddenly one morning—a storm was raging, waves were crashing onto the shore—a tone like a silver trumpet! Its silver conquered the storm and burst like a beam of light against the sky. Jussi’s voice had returned. He was on top of the world again—all was bright and joyous once more. In all our memories of Jussi there is interwoven a golden thread which glistened through and bound together his whole life - Anna-Lisa! Anna-Lisa, ever-faithful, ever-present, always supportive when life’s vicissitudes struck. She was Jussi’s inspiration, his guardian angel, his reason for being. Jussi’s death has brought Anna-Lisa and us even closer together. If all Jussi’s admirers the world over knew what she meant to him, his name would never be mentioned without hers. I started by speaking of a diamond. These recollections of mine are but small glimpses of its richness. I would have liked to have said so much more, especially something to recall his big, warm, open-to-all heart, but what I finally most wish to express are my sincere, my heart-felt thanks for having been able to consider him as a member of our family, as a friend to rely upon, as the artist who became a golden gift to his country and to the world—a prince of artists whose very memory, in all its brightness, makes the stones along the paths of our everyday life shimmer like jewels. 

Ed. Note: Marguerite Wenner-Gren was an American soprano who married Axel Wenner-Gren, Electolux tycoon. She was a good friend of the Björlings, who visited the Wenner-Grens in the Bahamas. She became a close friend of Anna-Lisa after JB’s death.

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