Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chopin, Paganini and "The Carnival of Venice" - Honestly!

After "charging my batteries" I've decided to resume my blog; so, welcome back!
After hearing a performance of  Chopin's "Berceuse"  the other day, my thoughts wandered back to another piece the great composer wrote which also contains but two chords.
The miracle that Chopin gives us based upon only the tonic and dominant seventh chords in the "Berceuse" has no parallel in the world of piano writing, and it stands, of course, as one of the most defining harmonic tactics in the art of  Theme followed by Variations.
Chopin, however, during his nineteenth year, gives us his first incarnation containing the same tonic and dominant seventh chords (in a different key, of course), as a result of his having been totally taken over, it seems, by the demonic pyrotechnique of the violinist Paganini.
It appears that Chopin, upon witnessing a performance of  the magical violinist, was overwhelmed  enough  to quickly sit down and write a set of variations, called  "Souvenir de Paganini,"  based upon the traditional folk tune "The Carnival of Venice" as an encomium (or genuflection, perhaps?) after his being dazzled by the violinist's feats.
The result, is, for me, a kind of mystery - the variations based upon this folk tune are brilliant,  greatly varied and wonderfully conceived for the piano, as only Chopin could do; and, after all, he was but nineteen.
But,  the MUSIC - well; for me, it's not much more than  a calisthenic for the instrument, and bears none  of the wonders that we customarily  attach to this legendary composer.
Listen to this piece - then listen to his first concerto,  completed  just a few months after, and undergo the atmosphere eddying  around you, as should be the case upon  being witness to  pure greatness, especially from one barely past twenty.
What was Chopin thinking of when he was writing "Souvenir?" Was he in an ecstatic state, devoid of any artistic urges for the moment? Or was he merely having a ":fun time" mirroring the gymnastics of the violinist?
I know that Paderewski had a copy of this piece,  and he called it "weak" -
What do you think?
What was Chopin thinking of ?



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Music "Wishlist" No. 2 for the Holidays...

Although Pop music is not  in my bailiwick area, I have great regard for the form, and listen as often as I can to the many geniuses representing this aspect of the language.
I have chosen the following as suggestions to you, which are among my favorites:

The Tatum Hampton Rich Trio
This 1955 release is, for me, a golden example of what three of the leading instrumentalists of their time can do as they perform together.
The Force that was the pianist Tatum acts as a kind of binder/catalyst  that  propels Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich (and Tatum himself) up into a level of discovery that is absolutely spellbinding. The chemistry formed by their simply getting together results in a fragment of History becoming formed, especially in "Hallelulah" and "Making Whoopee".

Shearing and Torme 'Do' World War Two
George Shearing, the legendary pianist, and his close friend Mel Torme, he of the velvet voice, collaborate in a delightful array of tunes coming out of  the Second World War. This collection  is numbered among  the final  recorded  performances  of this acclaimed  duo before the passing of Torme.

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

This recently released gem combines two vocalists who are, unbelievably, some sixty years apart. However, the magic of indestructible Youth is portrayed by way of story-telling through Song,  in spite of the reality that Bennett, at age 88, and Gaga, at age 28, sing tunes that Bennett was quite possibly singing publicly before our Lady  was born.

Cleo Laine and John Dankworth
Look for "Turkish Delight", based on Mozart's "Turkish Rondo" as done by the superbly gifted British pop singer, Cleo Laine and her husband.
And do not stop the search then and there. If you are not familiar with the artistry of Cleo Laine, listen to some of the tunes that she recorded. She was one of the most powerful pop singers in the history of this form, as you will discover.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A "Wishlist" of Musical Performances for the Holidays...

Not having done this for the past few years on this blog, I thought that I should give, at long last, some of you a handful of suggestions for Holiday gifts for music lovers among friends or family:

Music for Unaccompanied Violin by Bach - Performed by Jascha Heifetz
History labels Heifetz, generally, as the dominant violinist of the twentieth century, what with his unparalleled technique and  the inimitable essence of language he possessed. The bowing techniques he exhibited as well  were brilliantly demonstrated in these masterpieces by the legendary German composer.

The Mazurkas - Performed by Artur Rubinstein
The little gems by Chopin were recorded more than once by Rubinstein; so, do look for the last of his recordings of this form.
Chopin himself, more than once, remarked that composing  the Mazurkas was his favorite pursuit as a composer, and he was unconditionally attached to this form. Some of his most powerful  examples of compositional technique appear in a handful of these pieces, which, seemingly, may lend credence to his
embrace of the Mazurka as a form of poesy within the circle of his greatness, as one of the giants of 19th century creative entities.

The Preludes of Debussy - Performed by Walter Gieseking
Gieseking, who tends not to be heard these days, exhibited an uncanny power to extract different sounds out of the piano key, which results in recordings, if they are revivified technologically, that defy description.
Do see if you can obtain his recordings of the Impressionistic period that have been re-mastered, and you will hear a pianist who was, in my estimation, able to move further away from any of his contemporaries,  from the reminder that the piano is, after all, a member of the Percussion family. I heard him live just one time, and I shall never forget the magic of a sound like no other player of the piano.

Brahms Concerto in "B" flat - Performed by Vladimir Horowitz
Remarkable indeed is the reality that the legend Horowitz, more than once, stated that he did not especially like performing Brahms. It seems that the great pianist felt 'uncomfortable'  performing the composer's music  in public, and said as much.
And yet; the power of Brahms is, for me,  at its greatest, in this overwhelming reading recorded in the early '40's with his father-in-law Toscanini. Personally, I cannot fathom the music of Brahms being portrayed more beautifully than in this recording.

The  Concertos of  Beethoven(the first four) - Performed by Leif Ove Andsnes
These are recent recordings by the Norwegian pianist, and are a revelation to me.
I have heard these compositions veritably all my life, and have, of course, some degree of familiarity in connection with the sense of Victory that Beethoven established over personal tragedy, as so many of the history books tell and re-tell about this composer.
However, it appears to me that Andsnes captures not so much the meaning of 'victory' as it pertains to the composer, but rather an astonishingly lucid   view of pure positivism that Beethoven truly demonstrates in his language.
From the Heiligenstadt  Letter in 1802 to his final breath in 1827, Beethoven's true core of personal Victory is given us in this  reading of  the Concerti by Andsnes.

My next "wishlist" will deal with pop music...


Friday, November 21, 2014

Unknown Giants From the Russian Piano School...

From the time of Anton Rubinstein, whom History has named the Founder of the Russian Piano School, the world of music has been enthralled by the magic of  such legends as Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Gilels, Kissin and others who have been given to  us by way of this fascinating group of pianists from Mother Russia.
And this School continues to produce at world-level brilliance such names as Pletnev and Volodos, with no seeming end in sight for this vaunted clutch of piano magicians.
But - how many know of, say, Samuil Feinberg, born some thirteen years before Horowitz?
Or, is the name Vladimir Sofronitsky, born two years before Horowitz, familiar to you?
Let's take up, in short form, these two products of the Russian Piano School; and if you'd like, I will gladly add on to a list of  other pretty well forgotten geniuses who straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, and who have had influence upon a number of  great Russian pianists the world of music is familiar with:
Samuil Feinberg was reared pretty thoroughly by the school of pianistic thought emanating from Beethoven's pupil Czerny via the names Liszt and, probably, Siloti. To give you an idea of the level of piano performance the young Feinberg attained as a student is the day of his piano exam in 1911 at the Moscow Conservatory, let alone his stamina! In the morning he played works of Handel, Mozart and Franck, followed by the still freshly composed 3rd Concerto of Rachmaninoff. He returned that same afternoon to play both books of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier.
He was the only pianist able to play any one of the ten Scriabin Sonatas at any time, and also accompanied a violinist during these days in the complete Beethoven violin sonatas.
The story of Vladimir Sofronitsky is rather tragic after his having reached fame, which I will explain a little further along:
He loved Scriabin's piano music, and played the composer's only concerto at his exam in 1921. Scriabin's widow was present at a performance Sofronitsky gave of the 3rd sonata, and remarked that she had never heard the true depth of meaning of  her late husband's music until that performance, and never forgot that experience. Prokofiev, some ten years older than Sofronitsky, was a great admirer of this pianist, and the two became friends.
Sadly, he was not exactly enamored of the politics of the day, and the result was his becoming ostracized by Russian officialdom and relegated to minor positions within his profession and not allowed to tour outside of Russia. The result was gradual disintegration from both alcoholism and  drug addiction, with  obscurity the final punishment.
If you try, you can find recordings of both Feinberg and Sofronitsky available. I  am quite sure that you will be greatly impressed...


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rendezvous With a Comet - and Music...

A veritable miracle in our time took  place  just hours ago, with Man's first encounter in distant space.
Ten years ago, an object about the size of an electric clothes dryer was sent skyward, headed for a comet about the size of Central Park, many millions of miles from Europe, where our clothes dryer named Rosetta started its multi billion mile journey.
This process presumably began with what we call numbers, which created the language or languages needed to ultimately give us Rosetta; or a man on the Moon; or Galileo; or, say,  music.
When, as an analyzer of music, or a sometimes-composer, I am, at times,  assailed (lovingly, of course!)  by that Thing we call The Number:
The staff has 5 lines and 4 spaces.
"G" is the 5th note of the "C" major scale, and is on the 2nd line of the treble clef.
There are 3 beats in the measure. Or 4. Or 6.
A sharp is one half step above the given note.
There is Binary; or Ternary form in musical structure.
And so forth.
And in recently analyzing some of the most riveting aspects of Chopin's harmonic language at its highest forms in the two great C# minor Mazurkas; language culled from numerical elements which give us the language we call Music, and the power of both Enharmonic Design and Chromaticism emanating from numerical positions given the composer in the tempered scale, and the genius of creating previously unheard -of sounds at a level given to a Chopin- well, these creations give us Chopin at his best; a world outside of the cascading beauty we hear so much in his music, which may not necessarily possess the true core of where this man was headed, which can be found  in the quieter, more contemplative sections of these two mazurkas.
So to wind this up:
The landing on a comet untold millions of miles away - the beginning of a new wave of Realization about who we are?
Like Chopin? The likes of whom opened the book to the next page for the next musical explorers...


Monday, November 3, 2014

A Brief Diversion From Music...

I thought that it would be a brief respite from my world of the arts to relate to you a quartet of events  which occurred on  the 22nd day of June,  among  four different years...
June 22, 1937:
The feared boxer from Detroit, Joe Louis, became the  world's  Heavyweight champion by defeating Jimmy Braddock -
June 22, 1938:
The reigning champion, Joe Louis, avenged his only professional defeat up to that time by overwhelming  the famous boxer from Germany, Max Schmeling, in the first round.
June 22, 1940:
In the Compiegne Forest, France signed an armistice with Germany, in the presence of Adolf Hitler, in the same railway car that the Germans surrendered in 1918, ending "The War To End All Wars."
June 22, 1941:
The tyrant Adolf Hitler sealed his own fate by  invading the Soviet Union in the greatest land invasion in military history.
These four dates, strangely, interconnect  to form a number of compelling events:
The beginning glimmers of the Civil Rights Movement in America...
The first  palpable international 'slap in the face', in an athletic event, that Hitler received,  since  the performance of Jesse Owens of America in the 1936 Munich Olympics. Also, final personal vindication (Hitler's) of his conviction that America must be militarily defeated after he has conquered Europe.
Even though there is, of course, no connection between  the surrender of France in 1940 along with  Hitler's decision to invade Russia in 1941  and the Louis/Schmeling bouts, the date of 22nd June is involved, strictly by coincidence.
If you'd like to discover for yourselves how these dates are interconnected, researching these four dates will form the compelling story for you.
However; if  you prefer, I'd be happy to write, in my Aphorisms blog, an account of the events that fuse the 22nd of June into a really fascinating  historical saga - do let me know in the 'comments' aspect of my blog.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Music and the Face of Eternal Youth...

Recently, I picked up the latest CD of, arguably,  the most famous pop singer still among us;  namely, Tony Bennett, and his duets with Lady Gaga.
My initial reaction to the performances on this CD is, of course, amazement at the reality that Bennett continues to be at the top of his form in doing that which he has achieved fame for, since the Second World War.
I am perfectly aware that there are those who do not like his singing style, and I am not in any way defending the entity of Tony Bennett as I write this. Personal taste and resultant opinion are factors that need not  be the subject of assault - after all; no argument is, from what I can gather, ever won or lost.
What is astounding to me is that, unlike any pop artist I know of, Bennett continues to make a statement in his particular field of the art that averts the reality that this man is months away from his 90th year.
In addition, he is singing with a vocalist who is 60 - odd years younger than he, and the result is an event of two aspects; one, Bennett is capable of melding with and shaping the form of his style around an artist who is young enough to be his granddaughter. And, two;  this young singer is, in my view, as sensational as Bennett, in that her styling and completing a picture of such stylistic compatibility in tunes that Bennett has been singing  for generations, which   helps form one of the most unique singing duos in pop music history. They are so wonderfully comfortable with one another that their performances  remind me of the marvelous synergy of 'oneness' created by the  two  great jazz/pop musicians pianist George Shearing and vocalist Mel Torme. They bonded in the same fashion and performed together for years. Torme himself remarked that what he and Shearing accomplished, as a unit, was "as if we were two minds in one body." What  is different is these two men were pretty much out of the same generation.
One additional issue about all of this is that Bennett, at age 88, and Shearing and Torme, as grandfathers, represent the face of Youth, with its words of love and hope forming so much of the base of pop music.
Listen to Bennett, or Shearing, or Torme,  with  'eyes closed'  - you hear the sounds of  the young expressing their  emotions and experiences in real time.
 There  were and are other pop artists who will always defy their ages in performance, such as Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald, and many others - that is the elemental nature of pop music. It MUST have either a smile on its face so much of the time, or the yearning, searching nature that is endemic to being young.
The Bennett/Lady Gaga CD encapsulates all of this so well - the most amazing reality is these two are sixty years apart...