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...


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rendezvous With a Comet - and Music...

A veritable miracle in our time took  place  just hours ago, with Man's first encounter in distant space.
Ten years ago, an object about the size of an electric clothes dryer was sent skyward, headed for a comet about the size of Central Park, many millions of miles from Europe, where our clothes dryer named Rosetta started its multi billion mile journey.
This process presumably began with what we call numbers, which created the language or languages needed to ultimately give us Rosetta; or a man on the Moon; or Galileo; or, say,  music.
When, as an analyzer of music, or a somethimes-composer, I am, at times,  assailed (lovingly, of course!)  by that Thing we call The Number:
The staff has 5 lines and 4 spaces.
"G" is the 5th note of the "C" major scale, and is on the 2nd line of the treble clef.
There are 3 beats in the measure. Or 4. Or 6.
A sharp is one half step above the given note.
There is Binary; or Ternary form in musical structure.
And so forth.
And in recently analyzing some of the most riveting aspects of Chopin's harmonic language at its highest forms in the two great C# minor Mazurkas; language culled from numerical elements which give us the language we call Music, and the power of both Enharmonic Design and Chromaticism emanating from numerical positions given the composer in the tempered scale, and the genius of creating previously unheard -of sounds at a level given to a Chopin- well, these creations give us Chopin at his best; a world outside of the cascading beauty we hear so much in his music, which may not necessarily possess the true core of where this man was headed, which can be found  in the quieter, more contemplative sections of these two mazurkas.
So to wind this up:
The landing on a comet untold millions of miles away - the beginning of a new wave of Realization about who we are?
Like Chopin? The likes of whom opened the book to the next page for the next musical explorers...


Monday, November 3, 2014

A Brief Diversion From Music...

I thought that it would be a brief respite from my world of the arts to relate to you a quartet of events  which occurred on  the 22nd day of June,  among  four different years...
June 22, 1937:
The feared boxer from Detroit, Joe Louis, became the  world's  Heavyweight champion by defeating Jimmy Braddock -
June 22, 1938:
The reigning champion, Joe Louis, avenged his only professional defeat up to that time by overwhelming  the famous boxer from Germany, Max Schmeling, in the first round.
June 22, 1940:
In the Compiegne Forest, France signed an armistice with Germany, in the presence of Adolf Hitler, in the same railway car that the Germans surrendered in 1918, ending "The War To End All Wars."
June 22, 1941:
The tyrant Adolf Hitler sealed his own fate by  invading the Soviet Union in the greatest land invasion in military history.
These four dates, strangely, interconnect  to form a number of compelling events:
The beginning glimmers of the Civil Rights Movement in America...
The first  palpable international 'slap in the face', in an athletic event, that Hitler received,  since  the performance of Jesse Owens of America in the 1936 Munich Olympics. Also, final personal vindication (Hitler's) of his conviction that America must be militarily defeated after he has conquered Europe.
Even though there is, of course, no connection between  the surrender of France in 1940 along with  Hitler's decision to invade Russia in 1941  and the Louis/Schmeling bouts, the date of 22nd June is involved, strictly by coincidence.
If you'd like to discover for yourselves how these dates are interconnected, researching these four dates will form the compelling story for you.
However; if  you prefer, I'd be happy to write, in my Aphorisms blog, an account of the events that fuse the 22nd of June into a really fascinating  historical saga - do let me know in the 'comments' aspect of my blog.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Music and the Face of Eternal Youth...

Recently, I picked up the latest CD of, arguably,  the most famous pop singer still among us;  namely, Tony Bennett, and his duets with Lady Gaga.
My initial reaction to the performances on this CD is, of course, amazement at the reality that Bennett continues to be at the top of his form in doing that which he has achieved fame for, since the Second World War.
I am perfectly aware that there are those who do not like his singing style, and I am not in any way defending the entity of Tony Bennett as I write this. Personal taste and resultant opinion are factors that need not  be the subject of assault - after all; no argument is, from what I can gather, ever won or lost.
What is astounding to me is that, unlike any pop artist I know of, Bennett continues to make a statement in his particular field of the art that averts the reality that this man is months away from his 90th year.
In addition, he is singing with a vocalist who is 60 - odd years younger than he, and the result is an event of two aspects; one, Bennett is capable of melding with and shaping the form of his style around an artist who is young enough to be his granddaughter. And, two;  this young singer is, in my view, as sensational as Bennett, in that her styling and completing a picture of such stylistic compatibility in tunes that Bennett has been singing  for generations, which   helps form one of the most unique singing duos in pop music history. They are so wonderfully comfortable with one another that their performances  remind me of the marvelous synergy of 'oneness' created by the  two  great jazz/pop musicians pianist George Shearing and vocalist Mel Torme. They bonded in the same fashion and performed together for years. Torme himself remarked that what he and Shearing accomplished, as a unit, was "as if we were two minds in one body." What  is different is these two men were pretty much out of the same generation.
One additional issue about all of this is that Bennett, at age 88, and Shearing and Torme, as grandfathers, represent the face of Youth, with its words of love and hope forming so much of the base of pop music.
Listen to Bennett, or Shearing, or Torme,  with  'eyes closed'  - you hear the sounds of  the young expressing their  emotions and experiences in real time.
 There  were and are other pop artists who will always defy their ages in performance, such as Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald, and many others - that is the elemental nature of pop music. It MUST have either a smile on its face so much of the time, or the yearning, searching nature that is endemic to being young.
The Bennett/Lady Gaga CD encapsulates all of this so well - the most amazing reality is these two are sixty years apart...


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.