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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Friday, July 11, 2014

Franz Josef Haydn - An Anomaly Unparalleled?

A few weeks ago, I decided to embark upon an adventure with a number of my students who had completed a study of both harmony and counterpoint with me. This 'adventure' consisted merely of a suggestion on my part; specifically:
"Try as fervently as you can to put yourselves into the worlds of Mozart and Beethoven as students of Haydn, with the attendant level of imagery these geniuses possessed, and what they saw in the works of their teacher. Then promulgate  an  analysis of what you see in his music that you might not  otherwise  have uncovered."
I was astounded at the general results - these students came up with additional and multidimensional answers germane to some of the Haydn piano works which could very well have been analyzed by either Mozart or Beethoven, or both. As  for  those of you who can analyze music through your own expertise, one  knows that in certain incarnations, there can be more than one answer available, and the only reality one comes up with is speculation; for example, "did Haydn want this area to be a secondary dominant or a minimal modulation? Is it through precedent? Or something else?"
There are sections within countless compositions that can bear more than one answer, in musical analysis, and one simply cannot summon the long -departed composer to supply us with a specific answer.
And therein lies the reason that I asked these students to assume a position of transfer in order to enhance their sense of analytical skills.
And they really enjoyed dealing with this process.  Their palpably increased awareness of Haydn's legendary  abilities to squeeze the juices of variations dry and to promulgate some uncanny surprises in a number of  surprising but totally logical twists and turns in his approach to modulation, are perhaps the salient reactions I have noted in these students. A great example in Haydn:  In an "E" flat sonata, the second movement is in "E", not "B" flat. How come?  The answer appeared to a couple of these students: "E" is the enharmonic  'other name'  to "F" flat, the Neapolitan of "E" flat major.
Nothing proven; except perhaps, an increased awareness of the curious limitations coexisting  with the  exquisite boundlessness attached to the process we call knowledge. 

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Friday, July 4, 2014

The Lively Arts - In Unexpected Juxtapositions...

I have written about some of these individuals in previous blogs; however, I thought that it might be of interest to cite additional examples of The Unexpected and wrap them all into one neat package:
Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin  both sang as choirboys in their youth;  Hitler at the Seminary in Lambach, and Stalin, who gained a scholarship at the theological seminary in Tiflis, the capital of Georgia.   How different would the twentieth century have turned out to be, had the young Hitler been able to pass entrance requirements at the Academy of Art in Vienna?
Reinhard Heydrich presided in a 90 minute meeting of high ranking Nazis in Wannsee in 1942. This meeting dealt with one item on its agenda for that day -  that item was The Final Solution. Heydrich was arguably the most valuable Nazi serving Hitler, demonstrating a perfect, demonic mode of pure genocidal proficiency that arguably could have made him Hitler's successor, had he not been assassinated just a few months after the Wannsee Conference. Hitler himself  referred  to  Heydrich,  in actual  conversation,  as "the  man with the iron heart."  Reinhard Heydrich was  a highly gifted violinist, and performed at weekly recitals in the home of  Admiral  Wilhelm Canaris, at that particular time Hitler's intelligence chief.  Heydrich's  maternal grandfather had been  the Director of the Dresden  Royal Conservatory, and his  father had founded   the Halle Conservatory of Music.   It is difficult for me to picture this tall, blond monster named Reinhard  Heydrich , in a comfortable room with fireplace supplied,  in communion with Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven...
And what about the man who led the crusade into France on D-Day in 1944 to begin the liberation of  a suffering humanity?  The oil paintings of Dwight  D. Eisenhower can be seen.  Do search for a 1955 portrait he did of Winston Churchill, for instance, and the craggy granite of the British leader as Eisenhower the artist saw him.
Or look at the tender creations in still life format that the General created. I'm not calling these paintings great art - I'm simply projecting  to you  another side of one of History's best known warriors.
And what of another great warrior named George Patton? The  reflective, internalized  choice of words in some of his poetry gives us another part of the puzzle we call Patton.
Omar Bradley was one of America's most gifted generals, and gave much to the success against the Nazi hordes in Europe, especially as a leading  member of Eisenhower's General Staff. During moments of rest and reflection in battle, especially during the first few days of the  terrifying  Battle of the Bulge, Bradley would summon rather intense creative powers, especially in Calculus, and create 'games' with this and other mathematical  processes, in order to transport him, at least for the moment, into another world. There is a research fellowship in Bradley's name at Muhlenberg College.
Edward Teller, the creator of the hydrogen bomb, was one of Oppenheimer's entourage in the Manhattan Project, which gave the world the atomic bomb. When Oppenheimer first asked Teller to join him in this historical project, Teller  said he would if he were  allowed to bring a piano with him, so that he could play his beloved Beethoven  Sonatas.  Much to the discomfort of those fellow scientists who were trying to get much needed sleep, Teller played his beloved sonatas into the night. And nights...
And how about the paintings of two of the world's best known crooners, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett?
Much of the time, many of their paintings are on display somewhere.
 Charles Ives is known to the musical world as one of America's most singular, most powerful composers.
He made his fortune, however, as one of the most successful innovators in the field of insurance, specializing in such aspects as estate planning and corporate insurance law.
The most sensational examples of The Unexpected, to me, are the performances of two legendary musicians performing on Unexpected instruments:
Jascha Heifetz, of course, is considered by many to be the 20th century's reigning violinist.
But what about Heifetz at the piano?
And Stephane Grappelli was the greatest of the Jazz violinists.
But what about Grappelli at the piano?
Go to YouTube - the treasures are there for you to witness...
And there are others; but, enough for now...

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