Rubinstein Remembered: A 100th Anniversary Tribute PBS, Monday, 9 p.m. (check local listings). Produced and directed by Peter Rosen. Written by Mr. Rosen and John Rubinstein. FOR some children, getting to know their father - if it happens at all - comes through honest conversation. For John Rubinstein, it came through watching his late father play the piano, which he says provided ``an absolutely pure knowledge of a person's soul.'' Oh, that's who you really are! John would say to himself as he listened to the man widely acknowledged as one of our century's greatest pianists.
It's one of the many moving insights in this beautifully fashioned documentary about John's father, Arthur Rubinstein, airing in the ``American Masters'' series. In May, PBS broadcast a program about another fascinating pianistic giant, Vladimir Horowitz. ``Rubinstein'' stands in notable contrast - less performance-oriented, more autobiographical, more historically comprehensive. Much of this history spins off a visit made by the Rubinstein family earlier this year to Lodz, Poland, which was Arthur's birthplace. Old photos and film clips take viewers through Arthur's early years as a musical prodigy, his Paris playboy days where his buddies were Picasso and Cocteau, his points of despair, and his years of world preeminence.
John, the principal narrator of this mellow, reflective history, is a noted actor, and it shows in his intelligent reading, so refreshingly free of the bombastic tone of some documentary narration. Arthur's wife also picks up the narrative, telling, for instance, of their meeting in Warsaw - she 17, he 39 - where they courted.
But the best moments come during footage of Arthur himself talking - especially when he illustrates his remarks on the keyboard. He describes the time he was 17 and came to Paris - mistakenly considered a piano genius, which he wasn't at that time - and performed a very tough Chopin 'etude he really hadn't perfected. With a few delightful bars he shows viewers the way it was supposed to sound, then hilariously demonstrates how it actually came out - with a pounding left hand smoke-screening the floundering right hand.
From old and new clips you see enough of Arthur to believe his statements about loving life. It's clear from his exuberance in home movies, his zestful raconteuring, his love of Poland, and - some say - from the nature of his playing. If Rubinstein's life had a voice, it would sound like Chopin, whose music Rubinstein played with depth and power, saving it from the effete visions of his earlier interpreters. You can hear him playing Chopin - wonderfully - in the background, as this program leads you through his remarkable and often inspiring career.