Thursday, March 19, 2015

Horowitz and Brahms - Adversaries?? How?...

One of the few recordings made by Vladimir Horowitz and his father-in-law Arturo Toscanini was the immense Concerto in  B flat by Johannes Brahms, which the composer  often referred to as  a "tiny wisp."
This particular recording has often been considered by countless listeners as the most important contribution given to history, as it pertains to this concerto of four movements. As a child, I recall thinking of it as a kind of symphony with piano, probably because of its particular dimensions.
When I get to listen to this recording, along with other recordings of  Brahms played by Horowitz, what comes to mind automatically is the brouhaha  surrounding  remarks, made more than once by Horowitz regarding his personal station concerning his playing of this composer. He, in different ways, felt 'uncomfortable' (his own word)  whenever he performed  the music written by Brahms for the piano.  I cannot uncover   any specific reasons that Horowitz ever divulged for his 'discomfort'. At times he actually said that he did not like playing Brahms in public. For instance, upon his learning and performing the Brahms Second Concerto, his exact words were(he said this two years before he passed away in 1989) "It is not a concerto for me. I never liked it very much, and I played it so badly, and my ideas about the music were so different from Toscanini's... I didn't enjoy rehearsing this performance at all."
And of the First Concerto, Horowitz said "I admit its great message, but it is not my kind of music."
Listen to the Horowitz recording of Brahms' great B flat minor Intermezzo - for me, it is positively ravishing, in its certification of late Brahms at its pinnacle. And yet, Horowitz positively squirmed while playing this and other brief masterpieces of the late Romantic.
So, why did Horowitz play Brahms throughout his career?
Perhaps, his statement about the Brahms First Concerto that I included above; namely, " I admit its great message" is the reality that like all great artists and their commensurate integrity, dealing with the truth  about Greatness, no matter the discomfort for whatever the reason -  that Greatness  must always be recognized for its existence.
Whenever I listen to Horowitz, I think of the different demons that pursued him, and were woven into the fabric which constituted HIS greatness...


Friday, March 13, 2015

Fusion in Music - George Shearing At His Best...

The popular song "My Ship," written by Kurt Weill for the Broadway show "Lady in the Dark," is not generally remembered in our time. It may be the reason that the great pop pianist George Shearing chose it,  in one of his most compelling examples of  the fusion between  the Classics and pop music; a process he promulgated and championed better, arguably, than any other pianist I know of.
In his performance(which is recorded) Shearing begins with "The Engulfed Cathedral" by Debussy, note for note, for a short period. Then Shearing seamlessly causes Weill's tune to appear on the aural  Debussy tapestry - what is essentially as impressive as Shearing's legendary gifts of Fusion , it seems to me, is his choosing of "My Ship," a tune rarely heard. This  can allow the listener, from my view, to be drawn into an even higher sense of the merging of Weill and Debussy, simply due to the state of unfamiliarity of the pop tune. The result can be, especially for the listener who has never heard "My Ship" and has, at best, a partial  conversance with the piano music of Debussy, that the tune was actually  written by Debussy, rather than Weill.
Is that why Shearing chose a tune not generally remembered?
At any rate, this creation by the wonderful British pianist is one of his most important contributions given to the process of  Fusion.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Mozart, the Niaux Caves, and Other Questions That Defy Their Answers...

The words written in this particular blog are merely musings that occasionally swirl around my milieu from time to time, in various forms and shapes; then simply vaporize - so please do forgive my particular form of involuntary Quixotism:
Periodically, when it is necessary to gaze into a mirror, the sense that the image I see represents the greatest mystery in my consciousness.
In my composition "Enigma" for violin and piano, I attempt to represent the Three Questions "Who am I?"
"What   am I?"  "Why am I Here?", and the piece does not truly end, as there are no available answers to me. The great American composer Charles Ives dealt with the same issue  in his "Unanswered Question," written in 1908.
Then I can find myself meandering to, say, Mozart, and two letters, which contain statements that are either cryptic or incredibly open and simplistic - I cannot choose between the two:
"Everything's composed - but not written yet."
"The music? It's already there - it  just has to be written down."
Jerry Saltz,the music critic, is simply blown over upon his visit to the Niaux Caves in Southwestern France, when he gazes upon cave drawings that are about 13,000 to 15,000 years in age, that demonstrate Linear Perspective, which art history books state  did not come into being until the Renaissance. In actuality, some of these ancient drawings contained examples of Reverse Perspective, which  induces the viewer to see smaller subjects closer than larger ones.Saltz has written about his defining encounter with these wall and floor drawings, if you'd like to read about his experience.
Man and his Art;  arguably, his most powerful languages-
Is there a Form or Shape to the limits of this creature, that we behold in the mirror?
Just Who? or What are we?
My mirror tells me nothing.What I see tells me absolutely nothing.
Oh, well...


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...