Friday, September 25, 2015

Only When Great Music and the Great Performer Are One...

I sometimes  grapple with and  wonder about  Time and Space when I am witness to the fusion of great performer and  great music.
When I hear, for example, the Arietta by Grieg; or "Chopin" by Schumann, either of which amounts to one page of manuscript, I  am the bearer of precisely the same kinds of reactions and sense of presence as I do when I hear, again for example, the "Hammerklavier"  Sonata by Beethoven or the Second Piano Concerto by Brahms, either of which consumes the  greater part of an hour.
The nature of impact of connection and spiritual/emotive gravitation seem to result in the same kind of reality, it seems to me, that sleep gives; namely,  upon falling asleep and awakening, which could be a period of three minutes, or six hours -  there seems to be a sense of  NO time, as we normally  encounter time measurement  - by the second, minute, or hour.
When Andsnes plays Arietta, or Serkin plays "Hammerklavier,"  I undergo the same  kind of immersion, seemingly, of "no time" - whether it be a minute or 45 minutes.
Great Music without the attendant Great Artist; or, vice versa -  none of the above would or could exist...


Friday, September 18, 2015

"The Art Of -" How Words Can Be Their Own Music...

I've shared the world of Imagery with you, primarily by way of  music, in these blogs. And as you know, I often delve into other forms of human creativity as well.
Why not touch upon  the blend of words, rather than music this time around?
Here are some of my favorite examples of  creative giants among us:

"True terror is upon awakening, and realizing that the country is being run by your high school class."
Kurt Vonnegut

"Every old person has a young person inside who wonders what happened."
Terry Pratchett

"Karl Marx was right. Socialism does work. It's just that he chose the wrong species."
Edward  O. Wilson, naturalist. One of the world's authorities on the social network of  ant colonies.

"What we have learned from history is that we have not learned from history."
Benjamin Disraeli

"Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you'd stay out and your dog would go in."
Mark  Twain

"T.V. is very educational. The moment someone turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book."
Groucho Marx

"There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule."
Mark Twain

And  what about some examples of pure humor, without any philosophical weight attached?
The great comedian, Stan Laurel, of the immortal Laurel and Hardy  team attaining world-wide fame during  the second and third decades of the 20th century, first had become a protege of Charlie Chaplin before he came to America, and was, in actuality, the genius behind the famous series this culture knew so well some eighty years ago. His unique sense of color in the form  of humor was so pure that his statements were inculcated into most  of the scripts  surrounding that pristine form of  his utterance. For instance:
In one of the films, he is a kind of detective looking for a young lady by the name of Mary Roberts. Well into the story, his frustration is measured by his approaching a  lass he had never before seen, demanding an answer to " I want to know why you are not Mary Roberts!"
In another movie, he had just met a person he had not seen in twenty years, and ejaculated "do you remember how dumb I used to be? Well, I'm better now."
His most poignant statement came after an assiduously deep conversation with his partner Oliver Hardy about the mysteries of Life. After a pregnant pause, Stan Laurel  fastens his bleary, vacant  eyes directly onto the camera, emits a deep but gentle sigh and informs us that "life isn't short enough."
Just a few of my favorites concerning another creative form that human genius can and does  drop into our hands...


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Compendium of Lesser Known Facets of Powerful Figures in Human History

I thought that it might be fun, as  a form of digression from the usual blog format, to glue together a number of  lesser known aspects of some the figures of the past millennium   that I have written about during the past seven or eight years:
Dwight D. Eisenhower -The General chosen by President Roosevelt to lead  the 20th century's most important  military operation called Overlord, which history has named  "D" Day, the beginning of the liberation of  Occupied Europe. Also, the bearer of a speech(his farewell as President)warning of a  military/industrial complex, which was the first  prescient forewarning of a new and dangerous time we are the inhabitants of.
Eisenhower  loved to paint, and did so to assuage so many pressures created simply by being a rung on the ladder of history. He was really quite good at painting - take a look. There is, I believe, a permanent collection at Eisenhower College. And there are other paintings hanging elsewhere.
Wolfgang Mozart - how many composers could work on as  many as a half dozen works simultaneously?
Not many - imagine the beginning and completion of  his last three symphonies in one summer (1788), which includes his longest symphony (the "Jupiter"),  his final work in the symphony form, whereas it took
Johannes Brahms - about 21 years to begin and end his first symphony.
I am NOT comparing; simply noting- a gentle reminder that each of us is a fingerprint. Brahms was and is one of the greats.
Reinhard Heydrich - a  member of the Hitler Hierarchy , and, arguably, the most efficient incarnation of pure evil outside of Hitler himself. I have always felt that had he not been assassinated in 1942, he would very well have become Hitler's successor upon the tyrant's suicide in 1945.
This monster's father had founded the Halle Conservatory of Music in Germany, and was himself an accomplished violinist, who could have followed his father's footsteps -sadly, Fate led him down a different road. If you want to know pure evil, read about  this man.
Frank Sinatra - One of America's best remembered pop vocalists, especially in mid-20th century. His recordings continue to be heard around the world today.
Ever see his paintings? There are  many hanging today. I think that you will be happily surprised at his gifts as a painter; especially if you happen to be a fan of his.
Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl -The only person in history to work for both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler - really! Imagine being called, in the 1920's, "Hitler's Pianist."  Look him up - truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. 
Muzio Clementi - When Beethoven died, the authorities who entered his home to list the possessions of the great composer found that in his personal music library, Beethoven had more of Clementi's piano music than Mozart's. Why? This builder of pianos was a composer as well, as you know. But do be reminded that Clementi may well be considered the first of the "modern" composers of the piano - the first true 'romantic?'
Adolf Hitler - If  the young Hitler been able to effectively paint the human figure into his watercolors, would the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, which had twice rejected him, have allowed him entrance?
The twentieth century would then almost assuredly have taken on a totally different form.
There are many more examples of multi- talented figures - George Gershwin and Tony Bennett, for instance, and THEIR painting abilities -and so on and so on...


Friday, September 4, 2015

The Beethoven Violin Concerto - A Genesis That Reads Like A Novel...

There  are, and have been, for the greater part of  two  centuries,  the countless performers and listeners who have considered  the one violin concerto by Beethoven to be the existential quintessence in the form called 'Violin Concerto.'  The defenders of the assertion that this work is without parallel as a dialogue between violin and orchestra are as much a reality in strength and number today as was the case, say, a century ago.
Those of you who may not be familiar with the saga surrounding the Concerto's  emergence will find the story quite fascinating; and so, read on:
To begin with,  there is evidence that a 22 year-old Beethoven had been toying with the idea of committing a violin concerto to paper, as there is a fragment of a first movement, which is all that we have - how far the great composer went beyond the fragment may never be known.
But Beethoven's "follow-through" is given us in 1806, when the debut of a full fledged violin concerto took place.
And the 1806 debut, performed by a  well-known violinist of the day; a fellow named Clement, is the only time that this  piece was performed publicly - until 1844.
Yes, indeed - this was the same work that the entire world is so conversant with today. Difficult to believe, but this masterpiece almost did not make it.
The 1806 debut was met with general indifference, and the event went quickly into obscurity.
Just a few months later, the composer Clementi suggested that the violin work be rearranged as a piano concerto, which Beethoven did shortly thereafter. For those of you who may not know of the piano version(Beethoven therefore has six piano concerti to his credit!) please find it as opus 61a.
The revivification of the original violin concerto of 1806 took place in England in 1844, with a large chamber orchestra from London conducted by no other than Mendelssohn. The violinist was the giant-to-be Joachim - aged twelve, I believe.
And we have known it ever since.
I have sometimes wondered whether Clementi suggested the re-working of the violin concerto into a piano concerto because:
he sympathized, as a composer, and offered the suggestion as a form of  palliation in order to alleviate the pain of disappointment that Beethoven may have  been going through; or - he actually  thought that it might succeed more efficiently as a piano concerto - well, I cannot find verification of either of my premises.
Oh, well...
By the way; a  recording of the piano concerto, known otherwise as the  violin concerto was done in 2012 by none other than Daniel Barenboim - Do listen to 'What Might  Have Been' as opposed to 'What Is' - 
Thank Fate for Mendelssohn!
He 'found' Bach for us in 1829 - was he responsible for 're-finding ' Beethoven's masterpiece in 1844?

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Music - The Greatest Mystery? Other Than Oneself?...

For years, I have continued to hold the notion that the fellow I see staring back at me, in the mirror while shaving, constitutes the greatest mystery I  know.
There are countless reasons, to me, for the above -  music continues to be the most compelling arcanum arcanorum, and remains at the top of  my list.
I compose very little. I just completed a Suite for two unaccompanied violins, and have sent it off to an accomplished and eminent violinist in Europe, who has played and recorded a handful of works written just for him.  Other than these works for the violin, I compose only for my students.
I do not feel comfortable when I do write - I have never thought of myself as a composer, which in and of itself is a mystery to me. And yet these pieces have been recorded and performed. Upon sitting down and engaging myself in the first moments of the process, I find myself veritably an "outsider" who in reality should not be making an attempt at committing to manuscript.
But, invariably, once I make contact with the paper in front of me, I find that I have entered a kind of "bubble"  containing  a sort  of atmosphere that somehow yields to me answers that only seconds before were simply not in any form of existence. And as long as some force permits me to sit there ( I do not decide the time), this process continues. When the time, somehow, decides to end, I get up from the chair, and become someone else; namely, me. Those notes I look down at on the table are strangely alien.
And these kinds of days continue until the piece being worked upon  is finished.
And, invariably, I undergo the same reaction - "did  I write this? Were these notes written by ME??"
I have no connection with the Occult. I do not and cannot connect myself with ANY aspect of this life I have no interest in or knowledge of.
And yet; months, YEARS after that occasional composition that comes from my hand, I find myself asking "DID I write that piece? I'm simply not the same person sitting inside of that "bubble."
Above all, I find myself, upon going over these works, occasionally,  commenting on the logic and direction that this music contains, WITHOUT commenting that it's good. THAT I cannot know.
And tomorrow I will face my greatest mystery once again - while shaving...

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Friday, August 21, 2015

What IS It About This Fellow Named Brahms?

Wagner  once described Brahms as that "prophylactic composer."
Tchaikovsky called him at one time a "mediocre" composer; at another time a  "scoundrel" - finally, in a state of a  more highly stylized   invective "that artless bastard!"
After their first meeting in 1888 in Germany, the Russian composer remarked that the primary impression that Brahms left upon him was that  "he reminded me of  a benign Russian priest."
The legendary pianist Vladimir  Horowitz remarked more than once about the discomfort experienced whenever he played Brahms, and projected the sense that he was not sure that he  really understood the music of one of the giants of the latter half of the nineteenth century.
And yet Horowitz has left us with several powerful  readings  of the music of Brahms; especially the 2nd Concerto, with his father-in-law Toscanini.
Is it true that, indeed, Brahms burned a number of his works that he felt disappointed in? Some of his contemporaries claimed  just that.
His First Symphony took about fourteen years to complete; actually, about twenty one years if one counts the sketches prior to final writing.
Why is it that whenever I go through the opus 117 Intermezzi, I feel that rather than play the notes, I should rather just gaze at the superbly burnished surface of each note, as if it were some painting? Though brief, these pieces took months to receive final commitment to paper.
Of all the major composers, Brahms, and only Brahms, sometimes glares at me, chiding me to "go ahead; try to figure me out!"
Am I the only one who thinks THIS way about the legendary composer?


Friday, August 14, 2015

Franz Liszt and Glenn Gould - - Watershed Decisions in Their Youth...

Franz Liszt may well have been the supreme player of the piano in the 19th century. The veritably 'rock star' reactions in his audiences are legend and  much in evidence, historically,  in the reality of what this man could do sitting in front of an instrument  he could transform into a miniature orchestra. All one has to do is peruse the music he wrote for this instrument.
And at age 36, this man retired abruptly from the concert  stage.
Done was the shouting; the screaming. Done were the purported affairs with various lady members of his audiences; done was the carrying of this man  out of a concert hall on the shoulders of audience members.
Liszt needed to plumb the depths of his gifts; the result being his exploits in composition, conducting and teaching, along with continued performances on the piano.
The results are what history has unveiled to us about one of the giants of the Romantic Century.

Glenn Gould - As a youth living in Rochester, New York, I found myself  positively enthralled by the magical piano performances coming out of live radio in Toronto, which lies on the other side of Lake Ontario from where Rochester is. This young fellow named Gould was just starting out on his fateful  journey, and his riveting views of Bach were already evident to me.
We know of the meteoric career of this musician, and the illimitable promise of a career that was so tragically cut short in his 50th year.
As was his concertizing, by his decision to no longer perform before a live audience during his 31st year.
His reasons?
Far greater numbers could hear his playing by way of recording.
And the other reason created palpable controversy; namely, by way of  electronics, Gould could (HIS words!), "get it just right."
Gone would be, through his decision, the beautiful boundlessness in human art which propels the thinking artist about " it could have been better ." Let us just contemplate, for a moment, the actual possibility, of human Perfection by "getting it just right."
I don't think so. Do please know that, outside of his decision, I was and am a Gould Admirer.
Try to find a TV program done by William F. Buckley on his "Firing  Line" series, in 1985, on the subject of Gould's decision, with a panel consisting of Roselyn Tureck, one of America's great musicians; Schuyler Chapin, who was  a well-known impresario and executive officer in the Metropolitan  Opera; Tim Page, the award-winning critic of the New York Times and other major papers. And witness the consternation among these three. Also you will see a miraculous few minutes of Gould playing a snippet of his piano transcription(!) of the Strauss opera "Elektra" with Gould singing the baritone part in German. His talents were boundless!
Two giants, about a century apart -
What if no such decisions were made?  In what form or manner would we know these two, in our time?