Saturday, August 30, 2014

Imagery - the Core Propellant for the Creative Process...

When the comedian Robin Williams passed away earlier this month, I gathered some of my thoughts and impressions about this unique package of  unequaled gifts in the form of a man.
His uncanny speeds in extemporaneous reaction to whatever subject he was encountering at that particular moment is, for me, not only the quintessential example of comedic genius, which, after all, is reaction in comedic form to a particular subject or issue of that moment, but also a wonderfully clear parallel to the extemporaneous gifts of an Art Tatum,or a  Charlie Parker, or a Dizzy Gillespie etc.; or the scat singing of  a Cleo Laine,  or an Ella Fitzgerald, or a Mel Torme - or what about the 'frozen'  improvisations cascading upon us in a Horowitz transcription? Or speculation (another word for interpretation)  the performer is promulgating as he or she is playing a Beethoven sonata, which can not ever be repeated in pure exactitude, as no two performances by the performer can  be one fingerprint.
The almost brutal brush textures we see in so much Van Gogh can give a picture  of this artist taking up that brush, and in one extemporaneous sweep producing  a painting before he puts that brush down; time and time again.
And when I recall the very same kind of reaction in Robin Williams when he would dazzle his audiences with the pyrotechnical  dazzle of a Horowitz, or Tatum, or Laine(listen to her scat-singing of "Turkish Delight").
Recently, in a discussion with a great surgeon, I remarked that the "only the difference between you and those of us called Artists is your medium." He hugged me(!) and then said "you truly understand."
What Schumann wrote about Chopin in his Zeitung can be applied, in my opinion, to Robin Williams; that is, "hats off, gentlemen; a genius!"
Imagery - that's what it's pretty much about...

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Great Voice Has Passed On...

With apologies for a brief respite from my blog writing, which I shall resume later this week, may I relay to  those of you who may have missed the sad announcement that the legendary  Italian soprano, Licia Albanese, passed away  the week before last, at the age of 105.
If you have not heard her sing, I would strongly suggest that you listen to the scintillating  colors that she created; both in the characters she sang, and in the vocal powers she possessed.
During my school years, I made a point of listening to her as much as I could, marveling at the instrument this woman was the owner of;  especially in Italian opera, which is what she was primarily noted for.
Two other singers who also fall into the category of sheer vocal weaponry, for me, are the American artists   Marian Anderson and Richard Tucker.
Anderson, who could move into the tenor range with the same unalterable purity as her venturing into the soprano realm, simply pulled me into her gravitational field by way of the sounds  that emanated from her throat, regardless of the music;  whether it was a  Spiritual from the cotton fields of the American South, or  a Lied from Schubert - I believe that she was the first Black to be accepted by, and  sing in the Metropolitan Opera .
As for Richard Tucker - well; do listen to his performance of "Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen" from La Boheme,  after which  I would wonder if you  might still have been  more impressed by the likes of  Caruso, Gigli, or   Peerce - or any other tenor you may have heard sing Italian opera, after listening to Tucker.
This man, for me, constitutes another example of what the power of the human instrument can accrue...

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vincent d'Indy - A Composer Who Should Be Known More Than He Is...

When I think of the reaction in France to the music of Wagner, and the ensuing results, culminating in, among other aspects of reaction, Impressionism itself;  a composer stands out, not only because of his influence upon composers such as Debussy, Satie and  Albeniz, his standing  as an educator of much import, but also his music. His name: Vincent d'Indy.
Do read about his reactions to the music-dramas of Wagner, and how he reached into the history of the Drama to enhance his musical  proclivities. Also look into the founding of his Schola Cantorum, an institution which  brought back a reexamination of pillars of  musical antiquity, such as Gregorian chant and  the giant Palestrina, and how to meld these ancient entities into the existing fabric of late nineteenth century French music. Incidentally, Schola Cantorum exists today.
One of the dramas which d'Indy inculcated to enhance a really interesting musical output was an epic poem which goes back to the Assyrians, or  Babylonians, or Sumerians,  some two or more thousand years B.C. - Istar, an ancient princess, ventures into the Underworld (some of us call it Hell) in order to free her lover from eternal  captivity. In doing so, she would have to enter and pass Seven Gates, discarding one of her garments (seven in number, of course) as she passes through each gate. When she discards her final garment at the Seventh Gate, and stands naked, her lover is freed.
To me, d'Indy may very well have been in a whimsical mood when he thought of how to bring music to this ancient story. He composes the Istar  Variations.
The music BEGINS with the final variation! The most wholly clothed  - and as each variation is introduced, it has lost an article of its clothing - it is less florid and colored, until after the final (the FIRST!) variation is completed, the Theme finally is given us, and in unison. There it (she) stands, naked as a babe.
This piece must therefore be hailed as one in the form of Variations in Search of a Theme.
I can easily imagine witnessing the reactions of one  Papa Haydn, the master of Theme and Variations; if he were brought back just to witness his favorite personal form and see it placed in reverse. I just have to feel that a guffaw would escape him; knowing of his sense of humor.
d'Indy - a  fellow who marched to the beat of his own drum.
Incidentally, this fellow was exceedingly gifted as a composer - listen not only to Istar Variations, but a composition which was arguably his most popular; a lovely piece of music titled Symphony on a French Mountain Air.
Do search him out, and you may well have considered finding d'Indy's music and thinking more than worthwhile...

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On This Date in August of 1945 - A Product of the Human Creative Impulse...

Hiroshima was transmogrified in  about nine seconds.
In a vote taken by a group of scientists  involved directly with the birth of the Bomb, shortly after Hitlerism was eradicated - the question being "should we continue to work on the Bomb?" - the answer was an instantaneous and resounding "YES." Was the affirmative answer declared because the Japanese were yet to be dealt with for Finality; or was it, in reality, a knee-jerk reactive declaration for the creative impulse to be consummated and placated, now that the Secret seemingly was more close at hand?  To this day, there is still argumentation swirling around this issue. The thirst for knowledge; especially, a thirst for a definitive answer to a question or questions seemingly close to being answered, resides  in all  of those who deal creatively  in the arts or the sciences. A  composer who approaches the ending section of a work becomes, naturally, increasingly aware of the significance of the material having been written down; the result may well be a kind of refocusing on the import of the quality inherent in  completion. In performance in general, it may well be that the performer or performers assign a different code or responsibility  to any ending area in order to further vindicate the reason for the performance itself.
I  often think about human reactions to creative process - they appear to be similar -  for instance, in an interview with Vannevar Bush, who was the first Scientific Adviser  in the  history of the Republic (to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman), and involved with the Manhattan Project, Dr. Bush was asked what he thought was the most valuable military asset invented by the Americans prior to the Bomb.  Vannevar Bush practically glistened as he declared that the proximity fuse saved countless lives and hastened the defeat of  Nazi Germany. His  obvious pleasure in describing the development and ultimate ingenuity of this device was the same kind of reaction I've seen in musicians upon their producing a particular level of greatness in a particular performance.  I remember seeing that "glistening" in a Serkin performance of  a Schubert sonata.
I could go on with other examples of the same kind of reaction among those who deal with the creative process; however, the subject has, I think, been dealt with enough for now(mercifully!).

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vladimir Horowitz, Art Tatum, and a Gypsy Soprano - An Iconic Triune In the History of Recorded Music...

As a  musician, I have amassed a very large collection of audio and video recordings that are an overview of  a century of  a legacy of greatness of both composer and performer. From the Vorsetzer recordings of Grieg, Debussy, Ravel etc. to the latest Beethoven  revelations  by Leif Ove Andsnes, there are hundreds of discs, tapes, and CD's and videos scattered throughout the house.
A few  days ago a question fluttered across my mind's blackboard; specifically, "which two or three constitute the most unique recordings in my collection?"
Which set me to thinking about the 'detective' I  would have to become in order to decide upon two or three in my collection. And so I began the 'game', with the following results:
1. Rachmaninoff in 1926.
2. Art Tatum in 1932 and 1935.
3. Vladimir Horowitz in the mid-1980's.
There is a Gypsy Traditional tune from Mother Russia titled "Powder and Paint,' which was a favorite of a mezzo soprano named Plevitskaya, well-known a century ago. The legendary pianist and composer Rachmaninoff was enamored of her way of projecting folk tunes, and asked her to record a tune or two, with him as accompanist. The result is this recording of a saucy, fun-filled incarnation with the great Rachmaninoff enhancing the  accompaniment with his own piquant harmonies in improvised form. Do listen, and form your own opinion!
When I first heard Art Tatum's initial  recording (1932) of a tune titled "Tiger Rag," I was simply overwhelmed by the passages that  this titan dared me to believe  they were not figments of my imagination.
I then underwent an investigation, and found that Tatum had recorded it once again in 1935, which is indeed a better copy, projecting a stride bass technique that no pianist  has ever been able to equal, less replicate. Do be reminded that Tatum was legally blind.
When I bought the video titled "The Last Romantic,"  which centered around Vladimir Horowitz performing in his town house in New York just a few years before his passing in 1989, I was especially attracted to an event which lasted all of about 20 seconds, during which Horowitz made a stab at the pop tune "Tea for Two". The result was less than spectacular, except for an impish smile emanating from the Horowitz physiognomy. What immediately came to mind was that Horowitz, arguably the best player of the piano since Franz Liszt a century earlier, was an unabashed admirer of  Art Tatum, whose music was  not in any way understood by Horowitz. What Horowitz DID comprehend was  that this little, rather squat  player of the piano rivaled HIM, in terms of raw pianistic powers. The result, what with all of the apocryphal stories swirling around  these two- in absolute truth, Vladimir Horowitz was an unabashed admirer of Art Tatum, and the strange bedfellows developed  a relationship - to what degree of meaning, I am not sure.
Horowitz was mesmerized by Tatum's recording of  "Tea for Two" - hence that  little  shot at"Tea for Two" in the Horowitz video.
The question I have - I wonder if Horowitz ever got to hear  "Tiger Rag??"

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The World of Music - As Seen Through the Eyes of One of its Inhabitants...

I have written about 560 blogs since beginning them in 2007, mostly  in representation  as a  musicologist, spasmodic composer and at times a fulfilled  performer, with an occasional dip into the well of history.
Today, I realize that I rarely, if ever, have delved into the wonders of  that which I  am most assiduously attached  to:  that is, the art and  attending  wonders and rewards of  Sharing  one customarily calls Teaching.
And so I have decided to delve into my world of reaction  to and  experiences with  some of the teachers I studied with:
There will be no names of teachers; only the internal issues of  recognition of import and their ways of  making their import known to me.
For example: in Performance, I studied with several teachers, some known world-wide.
One would deal primarily with the overriding priority we call Technique. His modus operandi was, simply,
"what good is attempting to portray the idea without possessing the digital requisites to project that idea? An extremely  musical entity is a useless entity without the weaponry to make that idea come alive."
Another teacher, well recognized,  prioritized the ways of dealing with those notes to make the idea come alive, if the technique was extant. And so here was the opposite premise; namely, "even if  the performer was virtually incapable of playing a wrong note, what worth is there if he or she was not born with that priceless gift of making music come to life?"
One or two teachers dealt with both aspects, but made sure that the student chosen was indeed gifted with an item no teacher can teach; that is, the gift of being musically endowed. And so, their screening process with potential students was vertically relentless in searching for that indefinable gift.
And, in Music Analysis; that is, uncovering the linguistic secret given to the written note was a fascinating bevy  of interests and issues to me.
For example, one teacher insisted that there was a specific reason for the existence of each and every note written. In even a scale passage he would insist that "this note is a passing tone - that note is an accented passing tone - this note is an appoggiatura  - that note is a chord tone"  etc.
Other teachers would be more liberal, and in sweeping and  more generalized ways  they would  accept my answers to the reason for the notes being analyzed.
And there are other aspects connected with the language of music; however, I will go no further, simply because the above experiences are being shared with you to prove and certify one reality about Learning; and that is, the word Perspective is the most valuable asset in the learning process - mere linear absorption is only the beginning of the process we call Learning.
And when I teach, the word "why" is,  in ongoing constancy, held up to the light.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mozart and Mendelssohn Got Their Way - Two Curious Events,,,

I would invite any of you reading this blog  who are professional musicians to let me know if you might have experienced an event or events  similar to the following  "encounters"  which I underwent as a student:
On two different occasions, each event about two years apart, I prevailed over my piano teacher as regards choice:
The first event:   I insisted that I learn the Mozart piano concerto K.488, in spite of the reality that my teacher had planned on my learning another work at that particular time. I had just received an answer from the acclaimed musicologist and  historian Alfred Einstein; an answer to a letter I had written him,  asking about  tempi in Mozart as applied to the projection of bel canto in his piano music. I was so enamored of his answer that I insisted that I learn that particular concerto for two reasons; one, that Einstein himself considered the K.488  as fine a concerto as any other in that form in the Mozart repertoire - and, two; the glorious romanticism of the second movement -  most specifically, the combine of tempo and  'singing.'
My teacher, as I recall, was not too happy about my attempt to override his choice of music. I cannot remember the sequence of events; but, I got my way!
Event number two was an announcing to my poor, suffering pedagogue of the moment that it was my intention to learn the daunting  Variations Serieuses of Mendelssohn as soon as possible, primarily because it  was, as I now recall, the only one of three sets of variations  Mendelssohn wrote that was published DURING his short life, and that this aspect of human drama appealed to me; and, of course, it was a wonderful work, arguably the best of his variations. Again, I cannot recall the possible squabbles I may have encountered with the teacher - but AGAIN! I got my way! It took about a year, but I learned it.
The prodding question remains:
WHY did I get my way?

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