Friday, April 22, 2016

Genius Forgotten - Three Musicians in Obscurity...

When doing studies in Germany, much of my time there was in Frankfurt am Main, which contains  two musical  treasures; one, the Hoch Conservatory. One of the notables on its faculty was Clara Wieck Schumann, wife of the legendary composer, and, arguably, the most powerful woman pianist of her time. The other is the Three Kings Church, which houses a wonderful organ which I actually played on during my brief time with its organist, Helmut Walcha. By the way, Frankfurt also is the home of the Palmengarten, which I used as a practice base when I did a tour for the Amerika Haus group during my studies (see  my blog on the Palmengarten).
About Helmut Walcha - a miracle in human form. Blind from childhood, he was one of few organists who had consigned every known organ work by Bach to memory, and was a master of  other Baroque composers as well. I, at one time, had summoned enough courage to ask him about his method of learning. Of course, Braille was the primary course of action. He then stated that another process he used was for his wife to play the music he wished to learn - imagine!
And about Henryk Szeryng - a violinist who should be remembered; but is essentially  not, sadly. He once played for a fellow Pole we all remember; Artur Rubinstein, of course, who declared that "this man moved me to tears." Both Rubinstein and Szeryng performed in various recitals. This violinist commanded international attention for years, but his name is unfortunately consigned to a state of relative obscurity in this new century.
Lastly; about Albert Grumiaux - another violinist, who, like Szeryng, is  not generally known  or remembered  these days. Just listen to his playing of Beethoven or Bach, and  your first reaction might well be "why is this man not remembered??"
Finally, I would invite you to search out recordings of these two violinists in performance with Helmut Walcha, who also was a master of the harpsichord. And do listen to  recordings of  Walcha on the organ, mostly done on the organ at Three Kings Church in Frankfurt. It brings back many vivid memories for me - why not share them with you?


Friday, April 15, 2016

Johann Sebastian Bach and Art Tatum - How Does One Prioritize(if at all)When Listening To and/or Studying These Two?

Bach maintains his stance, of course, as one of the great powers  in the process of musical composition. For centuries the world has continued its orbit around the amalgamating  gifts of this man, who is the quintessential entity coming out of the late Renaissance by way of the miracles he produced in polyphony, which are so intrinsic a part of both instrumental and vocal creations we have become so familiar with. The Fugue, for instance - how many of us are aware that when a Beethoven or a Schumann utilizes fugal technique, the stylistic  'seepage' of the late Baroque becomes evident? It simply cannot be avoided. Samuel Barber, in mid-twentieth century, does very deftly give us an example of  extrication from this dilemma by utilizing jazz-like rhythms in his marvelous fugue in the piano sonata.
And so, it makes sense for one to consider the process of counterpoint first when we consider or listen to Bach. Certainly, no other composer exceeded the attainment level in the horizontal imagery of this master.
 However, a gentle prod serving as a reminder to the incalculable powers contained within his harmonic vocabulary might be in the over 200 chorale   harmonizations existing. In teaching harmonic analysis over the years, I used, and continue to use dozens of  Bach's chorales as  certification that this giant's harmonic visions were every bit the equal of his multi-voiced creations. Even today, I  become open-mouthed (metaphorically!) when I think of some of his truly prescient devices to create tension and release within the harmonic scheme of things, such as, for instance, the use of the leading tone and the tonic it moves to; but simultaneously. And so forth...
I often think of Art Tatum when I am immersed in the Bach experience, and for the same kind of reasoning:
When one thinks of Tatum, the first traditional reaction tends to  be   one's becoming mesmerized   by   the unequaled brilliance of his finger technique and resulting protraction of  extemporized  patterns - the same reaction, in linear tradition, to the polyphonic magic of Bach.
But, then, go to Tatum's harmonic  preferences  he adds to "Over the Rainbow."
We all are  familiar with the simple harmonies originally connected to this tune.
But listen to what Tatum does to (or for)a simple  tune; what Bach did for the transparent line  of the chorale - a direct parallel. Or, become seduced by the uses of  his  roaming modulations in another originally simple tune as "Tea for Two." Horowitz himself was totally won over by this arrangement.
Whether or not you agree with my  personal parallels between these two  musicians from worlds totally remote from one another, I hope that you will have had some fun in sharing your time with me...


Friday, April 8, 2016

The Great Artist , Numbers, Great Attainments - What a Melange!...

The other day, numbers  connected with Man's first encounter with the tiny planet   Pluto crossed my path, and those numbers positively staggered me:
The space journey of the vehicle took nine and a half years, reaching the realm of Pluto last summer. For those nine and a half years, the speed averaged around 35,000 miles per hour and completed its journey some ninety seven seconds before schedule. Some of the photos taken of   Pluto were within 8000 miles  of the Solar System's furthest known planet.
Shortly after a period of shaking my head in reaction to this attainment, I began to assemble other numbers that  are products of where the powers of the mind can take us from time to time.
Some of these numbers I have used in previous blogs, and others are  new, which I thought might add to and enhance the world of wonder; in this particular blog, the Artist:
How about Anthony (Antoon) Van Dyke, the great Flemish artist? There are some early works, done around age ten, that tell us of his immense gift. He had become one of Europe's most sought-after portraitists before reaching age 20.
What about Giovanni Pergolesi, the early writer of Opera Buffa (comic opera), who was the most important progenitor  of this form of vocal art? He died at age 26.
What of Handel's experience with his "Messiah?" The 259 pages which were required to house this immortal work came into being in only about 24 days, with a sensationally small number of errors so noted by the composer upon first perusal after completion.
Mozart's last three symphonies having been written in about nine weeks, as I had recently noted in another blog, should not be overlooked. This miracle in the shape of a child wrote his first symphony at age 8 or 9, with his first oratorio about 3 years later.
And Mendelssohn had already written a couple of short  'sonatas' at age 10. Seven years later he gave us  "Midsummer's  Night Dream" after reading Shakespeare . Isn't it rather revealing that Grove himself wrote of this work by a teenager as"the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music" - and this statement  AFTER Mozart?
Franz Schubert - over 1500 works that we know of ; more than 600 works alone for voice and piano; 6 masses; 17 operas that we know of... dead at age 31.
Domenico Scarlatti -  About 550 Sonatas (he named them 'exercises'), which he began submitting  to paper in 1738(age, 53...)
Alan Hovhaness wrote about 43 symphonies AFTER age 60. His catalog  of symphonies gives  numbers of 67-70. We know of some 500 works by this 20th century composer.
Finally; for now, a statement made by the most demanding musician known to me; specifically Arturo Toscanini, who almost never  spoke of any musician as he spoke of Guido Cantelli, whose promise as a conductor was shattered by his being killed in a plane crash:
"This is the first time in my long life that I have met a young man  so gifted."
Toscanini was never told about the death of this young man, whom he loved.
Thought that I should share with you the attainment levels and sentiments of some of the giants among us, each of whom made the kind of journey that parallels  the miracle of  last summer's  journey to a place  that averages out to some three billion miles from the sun.
Some years ago, scientists hurled a time capsule into space - included in its contents is  some Bach played by Glenn Gould -  where, at this moment, is the capsule? Will Gould's  message be heard? And, if so, will we ever receive acknowledgement of the event?


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Momentary Diversion From Music - Some Great Oddities and Ironies That Remain in My Memory Chest...

Please do forgive for my temporary respite from the usual  musical issues - thought you might have some  moments of interest  with me, as I ruminate over  a few  examples of the fascinating processes we call Irony and Oddity:
Item: Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl -
The only person I know of who worked for both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Sometimes called "Hitler's Pianist" - he performed countless times for the  Nazi leader.
Imagine! - A Harvard graduate, who ate lunches at the Harvard Club, along with a fellow student who becomes, arguably, the most powerful American president of the 20th century. At one time,  Hanfstaengl  became Hitler's Press Secretary; at another time, a confidante of President Roosevelt, filling in the President by way of his connection with and knowledge of the Nazi mind.  Do read about him -  engrossing  story!
Item: Isoroku Yamamoto -
Known, of course, as the planner of the attack on Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II.
He, like the above Hanfstaengl, had been a Harvard student, having been sent  by the Japanese government, and eventually becoming a naval attache in Washington. After having visited the oil producing industry in the southern states, followed by his visiting the dynamic industrial expansion in the north, he  hastened to inform( and warn) the Japanese military upon his return  never to go to war with the United States.  At the same time, Yamamoto's great sense of vision gave form to the conviction that the Day of the Battleship was over; that the future  naval battles would experience their ultimate decisions by way of the airplane. His actions in actually planning war against America must have been somewhat ambivalent - his final actions in preparing for war was his inescapable reality  that he was, after all,  a "son of the Emperor."
His fears and prophesies would become Reality when he was informed during the actual attack on Pearl Harbor that the two American aircraft carriers he thought would be among the targets were actually out at sea; therefore, his prescient statement on that very day which was "all I fear that we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve" tells me that he might have  already seen the consequences of his own vision, which  came to light  only six months after Pearl Harbor;  specifically, Japan's offensive weaponry in the Pacific was permanently  destroyed at Midway  by, yes, the air power of the United States. The result was that  the Japanese could wage  only a defensive war from that time on, resulting in its inescapable defeat in 1945.  Do look this great military visionary up!
Item: A raging Hitler insures his ultimate defeat -
Early in the Battle of Britain, Churchill himself admitted that the air strikes on England's  air fields and radar stations were bringing Britain within weeks of capitulation.
Then, the miracle - During one of  Germany's raids on the British isle, one  bomber mistakenly dropped a bomb load not far from the Thames river in London. Churchill then ordered British bombers to retaliate by bombing Berlin, which had yet  to taste the bitter pill of war directly. Hermann  Goering himself  had declared  in his usual pomposity that "if they ever bomb Berlin, then call me Meyer," referring to his hateful derision of the plight of the Jew in Europe.
Upon hearing of the bombing  of Berlin, Hitler flew into a rage and ordered what became the London Blitz, killing some 40,000 or more Londoners over the next several months. His action averted the final destruction of England's battered defensive structure by diverting his air force to destroy a city instead. This was the first of several fatal  decisions  Hitler promulgated that eventually destroyed him. You can quite probably find material connected to this incident which precipitated The London Blitz.
Item: Juan Pujol -
A young Spanish subject, with veritably no education, but endowed with a fascinating gift for fabrication. To encapsulate:
He became a double agent for Great Britain and Nazi Germany, and totally hoodwinked  German intelligence. For example,  Pujol was officially recognized for his work at Westminster Abbey  during the same period that Nazi Germany bestowed upon him the Order of the Iron Cross.
It was Pujol who facilitated the success  of the Allied invasion of Northern France on D-Day, and relatively few are cognizant of this man and his almost incredible exploits. Do read about him.
Item:The Ardennes - When will one learn from history? Especially recent history?
After the Phony War ended with Hitler's invasion of the West in 1940, the Germans formed a fatal trap by way of a massive operation through the Ardennes, supposedly impenetrable due to heavy forests. This trapped the Allies, who were eventually forced at Dunkirk to escape to England and fight another day.
And on Dec. 16, 1944, with Germany facing defeat from both east and west, Hitler once again, in his final major operation, launched a massive attack with tanks and thousands of troops through, yes, the very same impenetrable  Ardennes at a point where the Allied lines were at their thinnest. Even though Hitler's final attempt failed a month or so later, he  inflicted the heaviest casualties on the Americans suffered throughout the entire conflict, including American casualties at Okinawa(about 12,000 killed). The Ardennes operation took the lives of some 19,000 American troops, so tragically close to the defeat of Nazi Germany just five months away.
What happened to Allied intelligence? Why was military memory so abysmally short-winded?
Do read about this cataclysmic irony.
There are other examples of oddity and irony available, of course; perhaps, another time?
Back to music next time...


Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Living Composer Whose Voice Is Redolent With A Resounding Arsis and Ensuing Sense of Direction and Completion - Listen to This Voice...

After Edvard Grieg? Much indeed; how about Harald Saeverud, who was born a decade before Grieg departed,  and left a treasure of music that has become a vital  portion of the musical legacy given us by Norway?
The reason that I bring up the name of Saeverud, who was one  among a treasure  trove of Norwegian composers, is that his son, Ketil Hvoslef,  one of today's musical treasures, is a source of recognition in increasing measure among Norway's living composers. An irrefutable proof of my assertion is by way of an album of  Hvoslef's music, the  second of eight albums to be made which, I am told,  will give us the chamber music of the composer in its entirety.
I was recently sent this album, and was, to state the least, deeply impressed by the manner of communication he possesses, through singular instrumental combinations, an unremitting sense of humor fused to a line of  incessant and  remarkably clear direction.
Two accordions; eight  flutes; a soprano speaking (somewhere,perhaps, between the worlds of sprechstimme and sprechgesang)  the language of a planet to be named later; percussion  and pianos - just a few of  the  possibilities  brought  to light by this insightful and delightful musical engineer.
A one-of-a-kind composer (a rather important requisite, agreed?).
I loved it -for me, he is one of few composers of our time who has  a wonderfully clear sense of purpose.
I believe the album is now available - I was informed that it can be gotten through
Do get to know the work of this man. Quite candidly, I feel that there is much to gain by those of us  in the 'New World' simply by turning our gaze onto  what is happening to and for the world of music, in Norway...


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Some Memories as a Teacher - Some of the Unexpected Exploits That Enhance My Reminiscences....

During one of my student recitals in my home, one of the performers  played  a Clementi Sonatina. Surprisingly, the Sonatina which was selected  never did 'see' the light of day. This being her first recital, she was so nervous that she performed  a different Sonatina than appeared on the program. Astoundingly, she did not miss a beat, even though upon beginning, she realized  what had been done.  After the recital, she and I shared a laugh or two(to her immense relief).
One of my adult students was known throughout the world of science as one of the pre-eminent engineers in his field, having been Director, for instance, of  construction of a giant radar station somewhere in the Pacific, and a summa  cum laude graduate of M.I.T. He also happened to be an accomplished pianist, and spent many years with me.  One of my choices at a particular time was one of the  great Kabalevsky Sonatas, which he dove into with the greatest  glee, as he loved this composer's piano music. On one night, as he was in the midst of learning the first movement, he played a section he had just learned; a section which contained a key change. When he played through this  newly learned portion, I could scarcely believe what I was hearing - he was playing it  in "B" flat major   -the problem was, that this section was in  "B" major. He, for a reason that was totally unavailable to both him and me, dove into the music and somehow went straight to the notes without seeing the alteration in the key signature. I believe that it constituted the weirdest experience I have ever undergone  in a long career of teaching, especially because the entire section  was played perfectly in a key that Kabalevsky had never contemplated. Do attempt to picture yourself as a fly on the wall of my studio when I gently pointed out to him what he had promulgated. We laughed about this incident for months after this memorable evening.
The  acclaimed composer Alan Hovhaness happened to be a high school graduate in the year 1928, as I recall, of the high school I was teaching in, and we invited him to celebrate the 50th year of his graduation by spending two or three days with us in a "Hovhaness  Jubilee." Hovhaness, living in Seattle at the time, accepted. The result  was an unforgettable experience for all of us on the faculty, but even more of a thrill for the students, as the composer actually conducted the high school orchestra in one of his compositions. During the three  days, students performed his music, with the composer in attendance most of the time. On one occasion, music that the composer had written especially for children was performed at one of the elementary schools. One of my students, aged 8 or 9, happened to be one of the performers, playing a one-pager - what I remember as vividly as his  pristine performance was a remark made directly thereafter; specifically, "that kid certainly played the  living crap out of that piece!"  One of my proudest moments!
At the Longy School, where I taught piano and theory, a particular recital included a student of mine, who  was to perform a piece that I had written for her - of course, any music performed had to be memorized. About a third of the way through, her memory took leave, and she was forced to leave the stage in a moment of personal  torture. As the recital went on, she approached me, and whispered in my ear that she would like to give it another try. She was so upset that she was in tears, most assuredly because she had felt that she had let me down. I thought a moment, and said that I would announce her after the final scheduled piece had been played. To make it brief - I went out on stage, and simply announced that Jill would play the piece. She played  it perfectly and with solid feeling -    the result was resounding applause for her display of strength and personal redemption. I could not have been prouder.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Final Three Symphonies - Mozart's Apotheosis?

In a little over a third of a century, the stamp of Mozart was assembled,  then  applied  indelibly upon the brow of history by way of certification in  "The Magic Flute," the magnificent final statement in his final year. Within the space  of a generation, Mozart's  galvanic powers brought the Classical period  of musical language into stylistic reality and focus sufficient for the stage to be set for the examination of human emotion for its own sake-  we call it Romanticism.
With all of the above, I go back  to the year 1788, three years before his death, in order to witness what I consider a blindingly  unique  configuration of events I find impossible to equal in terms historical:
In a period of about nine weeks, Mozart produced his final three symphonies - these three symphonies appear to represent a  compendium of the core meaning of his language and level of attainment making for the possibility  of the ensuing Romantic Period to take shape.
For me, with full recognition of the importance and impact which his glorious "Magic Flute" bestows upon the ongoing saga of music history, I find myself drawn back to one summer in 1788, which  forever gives the reality of human attainment within the walls of three magnificent structures which give us, for example,  the almost unbelievable probability that the composer never heard a performance of  these  miracles, and at the same time graces us with the Improbable; namely, five-part counterpoint at a time when no such endeavor was expected.
Within the course of speculation, when the last three years; almost a tenth of the composer's life span, appear with no additional symphony, did Mozart assert to himself that  it would be impossible to attempt  another work in that form, simply because he knew  that, for him, the symphonic horizon had been reached?  How intriguing it is to know that a little boy of ten began writing symphonies, lived 0nly thirty five years, and wrote no symphonies from the fall of 1788 to his farewell year of 1791...