The following article, written by Betty Jane Wright & published on Apr. 9, 1958 in the Warwick Valley Dispatch, has been transcribed by Amy Feldner Lawlor.
A program of music composed entirely by a resident of Warwick, Dr. Helmut Robert Freisinger – will be presented on Apr. 25 at the Warwick Reformed Church for the benefit of the Orange County Heart Association.
This musical event, unique in the history of the Village, will feature the performances of Charles Blackman, violinist, also a resident of Warwick; Ludmilla Azova, soprano; Paul Peckins, baritone; and Yasha Zayde, pianist.
After 15 years of medical practice, almost everyone in the community knows Dr. Freisinger as a physician. Many know him as an artist for one of his paintings of Swiss children adds cheerful color to the waiting room of his Galloway Heights office. But few are aware of his talent for musical composition, a talent he began developing as a 14-year-old schoolboy in his native Austria and one that, as both medical student and practitioner, he has found to be a marvelous balance to the excitement and tribulations of the profession.
With the concert only a few weeks away, we talked with Dr. Freisinger and his attractive wife, Ernestine, about the forthcoming program which he has entitled, “An Evening of Music.” How did the idea for the concert originate?
The doctor looked up from the sheets of musical composition paper on which he was writing the complex symbols of music with the precision of a draftsman.
“As a physician I have always been grateful for the Orange County Heart Association,” he mused, “and when some of my friends urged me to collect my musical compositions for a public performance, the thought occurred to me that such a concert could help to further the work of this fine organization.”
He told us of his deep personal interest in cardiology – his mother died of a heart attack when he was a 20-year-old medical student. He spoke of his experiences with many things made possible by the Heart Association – its Newburgh cardiac clinic – the $1,000 electro-cardiograph and the $2,000 fluoroscope given to Warwick’s St. Anthony Community Hospital and similar equipment presented to six other voluntary county hospitals – the life-saving electric Pacemaker instrument presented to each of the seven hospitals for use in case of a sudden standstill of the heart as during operative procedures – the scientific research program carried on at the New York State University College of Medicine in New York City and the Association’s newest project, made possible through the cooperation of the Orange County Pharmaceutical Association – the Rheumatic Fever Prevention program. Under this program, penicillin is made available at a reduced rate to inactive rheumatic fever patients who must take the drug daily for many years to guard against a recurrence.
Music & Medicine
Convinced that the Warwick physician-composer couldn’t have selected a more worthy organization to benefit from his concert, we sought more information about the composer himself. How had he managed to combine both musical and medical studies?
“It wasn’t easy, but it has been wonderfully rewarding,” he recalled, “As a boy of 14 living in the country community of Lichtenegg in Upper Austria where my family had moved from Vienna nine years before. I was already convinced that I should become a doctor, but I wanted to study music, too. So twice a week, after the long session of regular school, I walked the four miles to the music school at Wels. When we moved back to Vienna, where I was born, I had the opportunity to take piano lessons and at 18, when I entered the University of Vienna on a medical scholarship. I somehow found time to continue my musical studies, too.”
Vienna offered the young medical student a long and resplendent season of concerts and operas. Every Saturday after school several of his classmates took the hour-and-a-half walk to the opera house to wait in line for fourth gallery standee tickets. Often the performance lasted until nearly midnight – well past the time of the last trolley car – so another two-hour hike was in order to get home.
Two Fine Teachers
Two of Dr. Freisinger’s teachers stand out in memory – Anton Popovict, a concert violinist, who publicly performed several of his pupil’s compositions and a young conductor, Erwin Leuchter, now a resident of Argentina. From them he learned harmony, counterpoint, musical forms, and instrumentation and through them he obtained special seats behind the orchestra where he could follow the music, score in hand.
After these rich experiences, music became a never-to-be-neglected part of the young doctor’s life in spite of the many disturbing events of the years that followed. The political situation in his country following Hitler’s rise to power caused him to join relatives in American in 1938, leaving his family, including his bride of two years, behind.
With a year of internship and five years of residency and X-ray specialization in the Vienna hospital behind him, the young doctor’s career lead him to St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, DE, further X-ray training at New Rochelle, a two-year internship at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, NY, a year and a half of residency at the New York State Training School for Boys and finally the opening of his own private practice in Warwick. The busy days were offset by relaxing musical interludes, at Mary Immaculate, he composed a lullaby which he dedicated and sent to his six-month-old son, Gerard, now a 20-year-old medical student at Cornell. Mrs. Freisinger and Jerry joined him in 1940, arriving in America on the last voyage made by the ill-fated Italian liner, Rex.
Dr. Freisinger cannot recall a time when music was not a source of great enjoyment in his life. Among his happiest memories are the lullabies sung to him by his mother and the Freisinger family singing carols at Christmas time.
His “Evening of Music” will include approximately 20 songs including six violin obligatos, one duet with violin obligato, one piece for violin and piano and eight German songs for which both the original words and translations have been mimeographed for the concert audience.
“An Evening of Music” truly belongs to Warwick. Much of the work was composed in Warwick – at the end of a long day, in between house calls, late Sunday afternoons. The lyrics of three of the pieces are poems written by Warwick residents – one by Miss Harriet Wheeler Pierson of Pine Island and Washington, D.C., and two by the late Dr. Erwin Levy, former Warwick dentist. Dr. Levy brought two of his poems to Dr. Freisinger a few days before being stricken with a fatal illness, asking the composer to set them to music. One was in a light vein, while the other carried a feeling of foreboding of his approaching death.
Dr. Freisinger spoke appreciatively of another Warwick resident, Charles Blackman, prominent conductor and violinist. Through informal conferences with Mr. Blackman and through the latter’s adult education courses, many helpful criticisms and suggestions were obtained by the composer.
And when the idea for the Heart Fund concert was conceived, Mr. Blackman offered his services without charge and arranged for three of his personal friends – all nationally famous artists – to perform in Warwick at a very nominal cost.