Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Titan Who Is Virtually Forgotten - A Violinist of Rare Gifts...

The other day I decided to look back among the 700-odd blogs comprising a part of my last twelve years of personal endeavor, and, to my horror,  I found that I had overlooked my  writing about one of the 20th century's most gifted violinists. and one of my youth's heroes.
During my teen years, both Vladimir Horowitz  and Jascha Heifetz were at the top of my beloved 'heap' of favorites, followed closely by Artur Rubinstein, Arturo Toscanini, Robert Casadesus,  etc.
Whenever  Horowitz or Heifetz  visited  my home town and appeared at Eastman Theater, I was among the fortunate in their audiences. Their particularized uniqueness of the moment   always created that period of breathlessness  and expectation,  never to be forgotten.
A  violinist a generation after Heifetz appeared whom I regret I have never seen, primarily due to timing and the exigencies germane to my acquiring  the training I was seeking. However, the few recordings I have heard and the written and voiced  experiences of those who were his followers and admirers which I  have become aware of convince me that he must have been, on his better days, one who could almost never be equaled  I DO recall, as  a student, after hearing some of his Beethoven  and Paganini, asking myself if " this man REALLY does overwhelm me precisely as did Heifetz?"
Seemingly, a combination of his political beliefs(he was a staunch Communist and did much of his magic within Mother Russia, let alone some illnesses and an ultimate fatal heart attack) have created,  the reason it seems to me, why  he is not as well recalled as, say, a Heifetz.
But! Listen to this man - there are recordings that attest to a greatness worthy of remembrance...
His name? Leonid Kogan.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Great Music - A Personal Certification From a Recent Event...

Whenever, say, that if the  Eine kleine Nacht Musik of Mozart is discussed or thought of, an immediate and automatic reaction on my part is to 'hear' the first few measures of the opening allegro; or, say, if  the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven is  discussed or thought of, those first four notes are brought immediately into  my  inner world of sound.
Well, the other day I decided to look into the latest recording made by the indestructible crooner Tony Bennett, released on August 3rd, the date of his 92nd (!) birthday, finding that his partner-of-choice was the great Canadian pop singer Diana Krall - a recording that consisted of  a number of songs-by-choice of George Gershwin; songs such as  ""I got rhythm," "I've got a crush on you, " S' wonderful"   ...the very first reaction was for the opening sounds of these and the other tunes that appear  in this recording to waft by my  inner ear; the very same reaction  created by , say, Mozart;  or Beethoven; or the other giants and their priceless legacies.
The very same reaction...
So; a gentle reminder that the Gershowitz family, soon after to become  the Gershwine family, and finally the Gershwin name will inhabit the same building that Mozart, Beethoven and the rest of the immortals reside in.
A few short weeks of a century ago, George Gershwin asked his friend Oscar Levant  " I wonder if my music will still  be heard a hundred years from now?"
And the brilliant and derisive Levant, without looking up, said "yeah, if you're still around."
Well, ask a 92 year- old crooner, still giving us his magical gift, having chosen the music of Gershwin as his perhaps final offering to the world; "why Gershwin?"
Perhaps Bennett's answer would be yet another question:
"why not?" ...

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George Gershwin

Friday, September 14, 2018

Great American Music Connected with a Fannie Hurst Short Story...

A movie titled "Humoresque" was produced in Hollywood and released in 1946. The movie is based upon a short story written  in 1919 by the eminent American author Fannie Hurst, and  deals with the budding career of a brilliant young violinist, and features two eminent movie stars of the day, Joan Crawford and John Garfield.
What drew me to this movie was not the movie,  but vital ingredients supporting the two stars:
A character named Sid, played by none other than Oscar Levant, one of America's great humorists  as well as a close friend of George Gershwin, who had passed away less than ten years before the making of this movie. Levant was devoted to the music of Gershwin, and performed the great composer's  piano music throughout the Western world, and left us with recordings of the music as well - do keep in mind that Levant was a world-class pianist  (Horowitz was a close friend), and his humor was - well, do you recall some of his quotes I gave you in one of  my blogs, such as " I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin''  or, "what this world needs is more geniuses with humility - there are so few of us left" -
In almost  every  movie Levant appeared,  he was allowed by the screen writers to inculcate his own brand of derisive humor into the script -  a rare event in movie-making.
Another unexpected treat in this rather typical Hollywood romance was the violin playing supplied to the John Garfield characterization of that young budding violinist by a rising young violinist who became one of America's  great concert artists. His name? Isaac Stern...
So; if you'd like to witness unexpected historical gifts to the world of music in a Fannie Hurst short story adapted for the screen, look for a movie called "Humoresque."

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Three Electric Performances - the Three H's...

Remember "the Three B's?,"  namely,  Bach,  Beethoven and Brahms?
Well, how about the Three H's,"   namely, Holt, Horowitz and Hanfstaengl?
Allow me at this time to explain my use of the word   'electric'  in the context of this blog:
'Electric'   is not used to describe  any brilliance in the following performances. There is no brilliance in these performances.   Rather, it is employed to underline the  historic placement and reason for the performance in each of the three events I will now  describe  -

The Boston Red Sox include among their  athletes a utility player of import to the successful year they are now  having in quest of the coveted World Series. His name is Brock Holt, a favorite in the clubhouse. From time to time he takes out his guitar and begins a songfest with team mates before  or after a game. A few days ago, he decided to enter the shower room of the Chicago White Sox, whom they were playing. Without his guitar, he faced a wall, and proceeded, a capella,  to sing the notes of the  popular "Halo Song" - when I first heard this ten or  fifteen second performance, my automatic ability to analyze music I hear informed me that these were the lower notes of either the Dorian or Aeolian Modes (we now call 'Scales') employed by the early Christians over one and a half thousand  years ago.  The solemn notes sung without vibrato enhanced the moment.
Holt paused, then slowly turned his head to face the camera, and smiled  -  all this time he had  his baseball cap placed on  backwards. I think that the composer would have been pleased;  or, at least  it might  have commanded his attention...

Vladimir Horowitz - the Titan of the great clutch of the leading performers of his day, decided in 1986 to visit his native  Russia, for the first time in 60 years. At age 21 he had found a way to escape the Communist  reality, with some money stuffed into his socks.
It was  a sensational affair, creating a firestorm in the music world. Prior to the affair, TV undertook producing a brief   'commercial'  describing the coming Great Moment. It showed Horowitz in performance performing the great Tchaikowsky Concerto. But the music heard - imposed was some of the worst,  most inept, totally impaired playing I have ever heard; all this, paired with the image of Horowitz at the piano in total triumph. Almost immediately after this episode Horowitz appeared walking toward the camera, ending this memorable episode on television, with his tongue emitting  a  distinct  and derisive 'raspberry' directly into the lens.
Obviously, Horowitz was directly implicated in this  historic production.
I have this in my collection. I just happened to have in my hand the controls to my recorder at this moment. I have never been able to find this  example of Horowitz Humor anywhere else - 

Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl - the only man I know of to work for both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Do look his life story up - it's  available. You can find him  in a blog or two I had done some time ago.
As a student from Germany at Harvard, one of his majors was music. As a matter of fact, while at the college, he wrote some of the Harvard marches. An accomplished pianist, he was known as "Hitler's pianist" - this was during the early days of rising Nazism. Hitler loved listening to this towering (Putzi, which means 'little guy,' was somewhere between  6' 4'' and 6 '6'')  fellow  play Wagner.
I won't go into his personal life at this time. You can read my older blog, or simply look his history up - it's really quite fascinating.
My main point  now is to call your attention to a 2 record Grammophon disk Putzi made in 1934; his doing a couple of movements from his own Suite.
It's not that he was a great pianist - the performance  simply forms the third of my three H's - 'electric' in that it is the third choice I made of three, really weird examples of  "one-of-a-kind" events engendered by that
ubiquitous language we call Music...
Enjoy!

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Articulation At The Highest Level - Listen to the Music of Scarlatti and Galuppi...

Baldassarre Galuppi - a mouthful indeed; and a pretty well-forgotten composer at this point in time - and Domenico Scarlatti,  who is quite the opposite, being well-remembered today.
Scarlatti preceded Galuppi by about a generation, and was  one of the Great Three born in the same year(1685); namely, he, along with Bach and Handel. The pianist of today continues to be enthralled by his wonderful sonatas, about 550 in number, which he wrote for the keyboard; namely,  the harpsichord, which preceded the piano, which first appeared  around 1711. The matchless prescience of these compositions fits the modern piano veritably as if Scarlatti's vision  allowed for him to write for an instrument yet to come - and these short pieces continue, of course, to be among the great contributions to the  world  of harpsichord performance.
Galuppi was well-known, primarily as a writer of comic opera, and was among the most popular musical figures of his time - what is pretty well discarded today are  his keyboard works, some of which are really quite wonderful, especially in utterance of melody  and harmonic taste. Why not go to YouTube and listen to examples of both composers, one well-known; the other pretty well consigned to relative obscurity?
I chose the art of finger articulation at the highest level among three giants - no crushing Lisztian passages and heroics or passages which sweep us along in the Horowitzian  manner  this time around.
Just sounds, essentially without pedal or overpowering dynamic events.
Listen to the magic of Michelangeli, with his quicksilver tone and marvelous control over finger motion, murmur us through the third movement of a Galuppi Sonata - become introduced to Galuppi. You may very well want to hear more of this composer.
Then go to Martha Argerich, considered to be among many, the world's most powerful woman pianist.
Her performances of the Scarlatti Sonata no. 141, especially the 2008 version, and the replication by Scarlatti of  the guitar through repeated notes  done by the use of the first three fingers, is stunning.
Then do go to Michelangeli, whose Scarlatti is  a revelation, in his performance of the Sonata  in "C" no. 159.
Finally watch Yuja Wang, currently   the  most riveting, arguably, of the new crop of pianists  extant today, do another 'repeated note' investigation  by Scarlatti, in the Sonata no.455 in "G."
Do enjoy!

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Monday, August 6, 2018

On This Date in 1945 - a Reminder, and a Strange Story of Human Imagery...

We all know of the dawn of a new age emerging from the destruction of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
How many of us are aware of a lecture given in Zurich late in 1944 by Werner Heisenberg, known  as one of the leading physicists in Hitler's Germany, much like Robert Oppenheimer , another great physicist here in America, who was head of the Manhattan Project , the project created and assigned  to create the Atomic  Bomb?
Among the members of the audience in this Zurich lecture was an American, with a pistol in his pocket, who was in actuality an agent of the O.S.S., the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency of our present day.
This man was sent to Zurich to determine the status of Hitler's quest for development of The Bomb, and shoot Heisenberg if it was found that the Germans were ahead of us in that race.
In the event that the assassination was necessary, that man would then take a poison capsule to escape capture and interrogation.
The assassination was deemed unnecessary, as he determined that the Germans were quite far behind us in the quest to build The Bomb.
And so this man returned safely to America. This individual, posing as an advanced student in physics, also actually met Heisenberg after the lecture. Heisenberg, after the war, remembered this inquisitive young man.
Hard to believe?
Read on...
The man's name was Moe Berg, a baseball player, who was a catcher for such teams as the New York Yankees and the Boston Red  Sox.
He also graduated from Princeton as a language major.
He received a law degree from Columbia University as well.
We know he spoke at least seven languages, such as Japanese and German. He knew and spoke  two dead languages; namely Sanskrit and Latin.
He was asked, before  graduation, to stay on at Princeton, in order to teach.
He was  enlisted by our government,  to join the Office of Secret Services , which he did.
He knew President Roosevelt personally, as well as Albert Einstein, who once remarked to Berg,
"you know more about physics than I know about  baseball."
And there is more about this remarkable man.
You probably know of the Salinger classic, titled" The Catcher in the Rye."
Well, the author Nicholas Dawidoff  reshaped that title in order to write a biography of Moe Berg, titled "The Catcher Was a Spy."
I thought I'd write a little about Berg, as an example of the power of Imagery, this time concerning the power of language, other than the language we call Music - just for a change of pace...

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