Monday, October 20, 2014

Two Major Artists and the Fusion of Sight and Sound...

When I think of the process we call Synesthesia, two world renowned artists come to mind:
One is, of course, the Mystic from Mother Russia, Alexander Scriabin.
The other is the cartoon visionary, Walt Disney.
In his final unfinished work titled Mysterium, Scriabin describes, among other scenes,  the vision of "bells hanging from clouds" in a work that combines the forces of music and color that he had earlier produced in his "Prometheus - Poem of Fire," which premiered in Moscow in 1911; the conductor being the great Serge Koussevitsky. In "Prometheus" Scriabin employs the use of his invention called by some a color organ; by others a color keyboard (Scriabin called it "clavier a lumieres"),  which would project a specific color onto either a wall or screen, along  with a particular note of the scale, with the result being a certification of the process of synesthetic projection  applied in a formalized work of art.
Obviously, such a work requires so much effort, let alone  funding,  that it has  been done rarely in its original format. One recent performance was staged at Yale University in 2010, engendered by a young Scriabin scholar in pursuit of her PHD. Of course, by 2010, the miracle of computerized electronics is almost a century after Scriabin's experiments in his fusion of Sight and Sound. I sometimes wonder what Scriabin's reactions would be, upon being witness to his creation a century later, in the same way I wonder what Bach would have thought of his Brandenburg Concerti, were he  able to re-visit a performance, in our time,  of these works without the so-called "terraced dynamics" he employed in his time, when he was conductor of these masterpieces.
In a number of experimental cartoons, titled "Silly Symphonies,"  which appeared for about a decade after his introduction of  Mickey Mouse in 1928,  Walt Disney employs visions in brilliant color, most without dialogue, and fuses them to various styles of music, imparting a striking melange  of color  in various motions enhanced in projection with musical parallels which, for those times, must have been striking examples of  color and music with no words needed to complete a unique artistic response. I remember to this day, as a small child, seeing some of these brief cartoons in a theater my parents used to take me to, and how they are still imprinted in my memory. The cartoons I most vividly remember were "The Old Mill," "Flowers and Trees," and "Music Land."
And, almost fifty years ago, pyschedelic  music in the form of blaring speakers and flashing colors, in rhythm to  the music emanating from them, became the rage, especially among the young.
Music and color  are bed mates; innate or otherwise , and  have been extant in cohabitation  long before Scriabin appeared. In one of  a number of interdisciplinary  endeavors I developed was a course I taught titled "Sights and Sounds,' dealing with music and visual art enhancing one another in a state of constancy. My partner in this pursuit was an art teacher, who came out of retirement to be my other half.
And so it goes..


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gerard Schwarz - A Pregnant Statement About Mozart Tells Me More About Haydn...

During the period when the American conductor Gerard Schwarz was conducting the Mostly Mozart group out of New York, the conductor was asked a question about a number of factors which separated the sublimity of Mozart from the brilliance of  his well known contemporary Antonio Salieri, the Court Composer.
Schwarz answered first by reminding the interviewer that the primary difference, of course, was the lofty position Mozart was positioned in simply because of an unprecedented supply of  incandescent   genius.
Schwarz DID give an answer to an almost rhetorical question by remarking that "for me, the most revealing aspect that Mozart projects   besides the obvious gift of creative genius  the world of music is aware of, is his ability to work out the material that comes out of the messages given him."
When I heard this statement my attention almost immediately swerved to Mozart's predecessor Haydn , and the gargantuan powers he held in the manners of "working the material."
 I wonder what the youngster Mozart saw in his analyses of his teacher Haydn's massive sense of attaching architecture to the Primary Idea?
When I peruse Haydn, I am unceasingly struck by the ways of his building the structures emanating from the core idea; for instance, the virtually endless array of variations being splayed out to the listener or analyzer from just one theme, or even part of a theme.
On the other hand, Haydn absolutely dazzles the observer when he takes a theme, and rather than hurls variation after variation in our direction, he maintains absolute rigidity in the theme, say in his Rondo forms, and gives  us a potpourri of  ideas that swirl around that never-changing theme - the absolute opposite, tactically, from the wonders of Theme and Variations, which, in my view, are unparalleled; that is, until that fellow named Beethoven comes by.
I'm quite convinced that the student Mozart, what with the depth of vision he held, must have been absolutely dazzled by Haydn's riveting architecture, and had to have been permanently attached to this aspect as part of what becomes that overriding miracle we  know as  Mozart


Saturday, October 4, 2014

An Example of the Sedulity That Can Emerge From This Thing We Call Music...

I call it a kind of mini-miracle.
A world famous pianist ( a visitor to dinner at my home-honestly!) was incredulous when in answer to a question he projected concerning  my activities, I related this 'mini-miracle'  to him.
This subject is bandied about periodically among my friends, family members and students.
And, at times, I wonder about the number of teachers in the arts who have undergone, or are at present undergoing  the same event?
Read on -
In 1981, at the college I was teaching in, I received a new student, at the time a sophomore at Harvard, for piano lessons.
He is now in his fifties, and is still a student of mine, spending an hour with me each Tuesday. He has, since his Harvard days, taken harmony and counterpoint with me by way of Hindemith and Piston texts, along with his piano lessons.
Another student of mine, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, took his daughter's place a week after she left town for college; the daughter having been with me from age 6 to age 17. That was some twenty one years ago- he sees me each Wednesday evening.
A graduate of M.I.T. also replaced his son's lesson slot with me, after the son  graduated from high school (he began piano lessons with me in 3rd grade) to go on to college. That was also about twenty years ago. I see him each  Tuesday, directly after my Harvard sophomore of 1981 has  bid me 'adieu' for the week.
Another brilliant M.I.T. graduate usurped his daughter's lesson time with me, directly after she left town to attend college  following about six years of piano with me. He comes in to my studio each Tuesday at 8:15 A.M., on his way into work directly  thereafter, and has been doing this for about twenty years.
These men; all four, are in the sciences, and  now accomplished pianists.
Looking at numbers(which generally do not lie), it appears that each of the four families listed above have averaged over thirty years of visitations, and continue doing so, with  continued elan.
The most illuminating result of these experiences is the amount of growth I have been witness to, especially in re-visiting works these men had done in previous years with me.
How often is that possible with students who are  actually in pursuance of a musical career, and cannot be seen by a teacher for more than a handful of years?
I truly have been blessed with the empirical reality of  the bottomless and boundless nature of artistic expression and meaning, by way of these sessions with these people, who are now, essentially, extensions of my own family.
I ask any teacher in the arts who happens to come across this blog:
Are any of you undergoing this kind of experience? Please let me know through "comments." I pray that I am not alone.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Juxtapositions of Choice by Great Musicians - Rhetorical Questions to Mull Over?...

I will cite decisions made by three famous musicians, which, for me, result in -  "really?? Why?"
The legendary Spanish pianist Jose Iturbi was listed among the leading performers of his day, and enjoyed a world wide reputation as both harpsichordist and pianist, let alone a conductor of many leading orchestras during a lengthy career.  During the 1940's,  Iturbi appeared in several Hollywood extravaganzas, playing or conducting in circus-like atmospheres, surrounded by bathing beauties and other individuals who were worlds apart from the Iturbi persona, socially and cuturally.
In 1961, the singular American composer Aaron Copeland wrote music for one of the weakest film dramas extant, in my opinion, centering around a  depressed young lady roaming street after street, going in no particular direction, with the denouement of the story falling flat on its physiognomy.
In 1939, the violinist Jascha Heifetz, at the height of his immense powers as, arguably, the century's  king among the violinists, appeared in a film that was, shall one say, less distinguished than Heifetz'  station among the great musicians of that period. The script was obviously written around the entity called Heifetz, and was rather forgettable in depth and general direction.
No; I am not a prude, sniffing derisively at these rather strange decisions promulgated by these illustrious artists. I am merely making an attempt to fit the artist and his decision into a sphere of  comfortable logic.
Did these three really need the money? Did they decide to "let their hair down.?" Can you construe some kind of answer?
It's not that important an issue, really - I'm merely toying with the issue of juxtapositions that possess a less than  symmetrical   form.


Friday, September 12, 2014

The Most Profound Influence Upon Me -- a Historian; Not a Musician...

For  those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I had studied with a number of brilliant musicians and a small knot of geniuses - the base of my musical pyramid is quite strong, thanks to these luminaries.
However, the base of my  existence extends in many directions outside of my chosen field, due to a historian, not a musician;  in much the same  way that  one of the teachers I studied under  who possessed the greatest knowledge of the piano repertoire I had  yet encountered, was  a trumpet player; not a pianist (in previous blogs, I have already written about both of these gentlemen).
I recall the days when this historian, whom I had met during my  teaching days at college and high school levels, made a point of our getting together once or twice a week, in informal mode(either at his or my home, or in school).
He exercised a consistency in asking questions germane to music, as did I about issues historical,  mostly out of my growing awareness of the width of his knowledge. He often reminded me, with a smile, that   "you know more about history than I know about music."  He began working on a PHD during this period, at the age of 54 (he was about twenty years my senior).  His chosen subject was the rebuilding of the British navy by St. Vincent, and I remember my helping him arrange  many of the countless informational ingredients  deemed  necessary in order to earn the degree, which he proceeded to do.
 His range of information was enormous -  one  of our sessions might deal with the impact of the Thirty Years'  War;  the next, perhaps, might wrestle  with the social realities obscured by the wonders  of the Renaissance. I recall our spending a considerable amount of time on the Enlightenment, and its impact not only on the politics of the eighteenth century, but also how the relationship to the  Church had altered, and how such human endeavors as education and the creative core had been transformed in thought, then deed.
These last two issues were discussed at length in our sessions, with Beethoven becoming a  kind of  center piece - do remember that the great composer once gave us the ultimate  truth about the growing disdain for Authority and Royalty  during this defining period  -  "it is they who should bow to us."
This historian  was an avid listener of great music, and possessed an almost grudging admiration for those who wrote and performed. He had almost as many questions for me as I reserved for him . I believe I first met him at one of my performances.
One day, he asked me a question - a question that forever altered my way of thinking about and dealing with music, let alone veritably all other pursuits, right up to this day.
The question was "why does Beethoven's music sound the way it does?"
Of course, there was no immediate answer on my part.
I pondered that question until I realized that he was asking about all of the possible historical contexts and issues, let alone events,  before and during  the life span of the composer, that  led to his particular language, both spiritually and intellectually. In other words, this historian could have asked "why does Mozart's music sound like Mozart?" or, "why does Chopin sound like Chopin?" etc. etc....
The coruscation that followed has been the basis of all that I do in my learning processes  through all of  the years that have gone by. For me, the delight of connection in the most intrinsic form, of the power of History as elemental requisite of any pursuit I choose to learn about, cannot be described.


Friday, September 5, 2014

A Transcendent Gift to the Piano - Earl Wild...

I last wrote a blog about the miraculous American pianist Earl Wild back in March of 2006(do refer to that blog by way of the archive list on the right side of the page). This man was still with us, and   in his 80's continuing his career at a dizzying pace.
When he passed away at age 94, I recalled some of his most important and pertinent addenda to the glorious history of piano performances captured in recordings. I, at the same time,  realized  just today that I had totally forgotten to relay to you on the day of his passing, some time ago,  one of his most notable and fabled endeavors; that is, his transcriptions of several of Gershwin's immortal tunes.
They are in the styles of  transcriptions written by several students of Liszt, straddling the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are exceedingly difficult and marvelously conceived - I  feel that Gershwin himself would have embraced these incarnations, being a strong pianist himself, and at the same time, of course, a quite wonderful writer of music for the instrument.
Some of the tunes Wild transmogrified on behalf of the piano are:
Liza; Somebody Loves Me; Lady, Be Good; The Man I Love; Fascinatin' Rhythm; Embraceable You; I Got Rhythm.
If you have not heard Wild, let alone these formidable  piano transcriptions of his;  you are in for a unique experience...

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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...