By BERNARD HOLLAND
Some talents elevate humankind. Others are sublime in their very pointlessness. An example of the latter is Dr. Arthur B. Lintgen and his astonishing ability to "read" musical recordings.
Before an audience in the auditorium of Abington Hospital, near Philadelphia, two weeks ago, Stimson Carrow, professor of music theory at Temple University, handed Dr. Lintgen a succession of 20 long-playing records chosen by Mr. Carrow and 10 of his graduate students. All identifying labels and matrix numbers were covered over, but Dr. Lintgen, simply by taking the records in his hands and examining their groove patterns in a normal light, identified the piece and the composer in 20 cases out of 20.
The event was arranged and filmed by the ABC-TV program "That's
Incredible," which plans to air the segment early next month. Mr. Carrow had
"never heard of Dr. Lintgen" before ABC called and asked him to administer
the test. "We chose mainstream music - the Beethoven Fourth and Fifth
Symphonies, 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' by Strauss, the Tchaikovsky
ABC's test was child's play next to the one witnessed by this writer in the doctor's suburban home in Rydal, Pa., a year and a half ago. It took place In the presence of Patricia Prattis and Marna Street, two reputable musicians occupying principal chairs in major American orchestras - both of whom had heard of Dr. Lintgen through a colleague treated in his hospital. Dr. Lintgen sat in his easy chair under an ordinary bridge lamp and identified, within 15 to 30 seconds and using only the record surfaces as a reference, the Bruckner Fourth Symphony, Rachmaninoff's "The Bells," Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony, Orff's "Carmina Burana" and the Saint-Saens "Organ" Symphony. For his piece de resistance, Dr. Lintgen spotted the Strauss "Alpine" Symphony, adding with pride - and astonishing correctness - that Strauss was conducting.
Dr. Lintgen's abilities do not include ESP or X-ray vision. Nor has he
acquired his talent through hard work, study or memorization. A phone call to
his home last Sunday was delayed for a few moments while he turned down the
volume on his new recording of the Vaughan Williams Seventh Symphony. Then he
explained, "I was at a party five years ago and friends of mine said, 'You
know so much about music, I'll bet you can read the grooves of records.' I said
I bet I could
How does he do it? All is
"I also know how the pressings of different labels look, so I can often figure out who is conducting." Given a Haydn symphony in the earlier test -a composer outside his ground rules -Dr. Lintgen noted the four-movement spacing, the A-B-A pattern in the minuet movement and the slow introduction at the beginning, and correctly identified the composer.
Yet his exactitude elsewhere as to composer and specific work (his colleagues swear he recognized Messiaen's "Turangalila" at a glance) defies mere processes of elimination. "Friends of mine with more scientific and musical knowledge than I have tried it unsuccessfully," he said. "I don't know how I do it. I have terrible eyesight."
Dr. Lintgen, who is 40, stresses that he is a happily committed man of medicine and views his strange sideline with mild amusement and nothing more. In the ABC test to be seen on "That's Incredible," he deferred two identifications until the end. One was a "Swan Lake" suite. "Tchaikovsky never made a suite of it, but I finally figured it out," he said. "With the other, I couldn't decide whether it was Schuman's 'New England Tryptich' or Ives's 'Three Places in New England.' It was Ives."
Music history has reported mysterious gifts in the