Svengali in Scheveningen?

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It was the last symphony concert of the season in the Dutch resort city of Scheveningen. Suddenly, during a Bach violin concerto, Soloist Sam Swaap started scrubbing his fiddle discordantly. Then he stopped cold for a dozen bars, holding his fiddle like a broken toy. After embarrassing moments, Swaap got back on the track. After him on the program came French Pianist Janine Weill. She got midway through the last movement of Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 4, then her fingers became riveted to the keys. The orchestra struggled on by itself for 40 bars before Madame Weill fell in again.

Next morning, the Scheveningen concert was the talk of The Netherlands. Indignant Dutch critics accused Conductor Ignaz Neumark and his 86 state-paid musicians of "lack of discipline and inadequate rehearsing." But nothing had gone awry with the orchestra, only with the soloists. Dutch journalist Henri van Eysden had an explanation. The astonishing amnesia of two soloists in one evening could be explained only by the kind of foul play that Novelist Du Maurier put Svengali up to in Trilby. It was all the fault of a Dutch building contractor who practiced hypnosis and mental telepathy as a hobby, he said. The contractor had laid a bet that he could wreck a concert by tele-hypnosis.

Back in Paris, angry Pianist Weill told French newsmen her tale. Said she: "I had reached the middle of the last movement . . . there were no more difficulties ahead and there was nothing that might have provoked any confusion. Suddenly there was a complete blank in my memory.... I would have taken the whole matter for an unpleasant incident, had I not heard a strange explanation from one of the orchestra's musicians. After the end of the concert, this musician went out on the casino terrace for a drink. At the next table he overheard four men exchanging congratulations on having successfully disturbed the performance by tele-hypnosis. Three of the men handed a 50-florin bill to the fourth one."

It was an explanation that Scheveningen's burghers found hard to believe, but they could think of no better one.