Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Triumph of the Will," Part Two...

In my preceding blog, I had written about a pianist, a football player, and a documentarian; all involved with the power of the will. My final statement reminded the reader that there were, indeed, others - and so, I  will submit additional  musicians  to that list:
How about Alexander Scriabin? We know about his journey, as a composer, from  the Chopin period to a world of mysticism and unfettered  imagery; a transition unlike any other composer. But one should be reminded of a crisis  which  arose, at age 21, from an injury to fingers on his right hand, resulting, probably,  from too stringent a self-imposed program of technical development after examining the Liszt Don Juan Fantasy and deciding that his technique was simply not up to the task of dealing with the piano music of this titan.
For about two years, Scriabin could not use his right hand; fortunately, his powers as a composer give us a couple of masterpieces written for the left hand during this terrible period of  fear and depression - there were moments   during which  thoughts of suicide pervaded his consciousness.
But, the will to overcome prevailed, and this genius returned as both a powerful composer as well as one of the most gifted of the pianists of his time.
And what of Robert Schumann?  His death in an  asylum for the insane tells us about the quality of life he endured, beginning with a devastating injury to a number of his fingers while preparing  for a concert career. One story is that he had designed a contrivance that he thought would hasten the physical development of some aspects of technique; and the result were the injuries incurred. Another story is that the syphilis that he fell victim to during his youth was the cause; namely, by undergoing a mercury treatment to combat this disease, the mercury poisoning that ensued damaged the neurology in his hand - so much for the vulnerable revisionism we attach to History; in other words, will we EVER truly know what formed the fate of  the great composer? Certainly, his turning to composition as a prime force of pursuit, following his struggle with hopes to become a performer, gives  us his magnificent powers whenever we wish to listen to his language. The attempts at suicide, and the depression which accompanied this genius throughout his life, were simply swept aside as he sought to pursue the need to do what had to be done.
The will, perhaps?
What about Paul Wittgenstein, the legendary pianist  with not ten, but five fingers?
The promise of  a concert career was shattered when he lost his right arm in a battle during the First World War. Suicide seemed the only way out, for a period. Then, some composers of power came to him and offered to  write music for the left hand. Of course, the most notable of this coterie was Maurice Ravel, who created the most important contribution to the renascent return  of the young man's career; namely the Concerto for  the Left Hand . Serge Prokofiev, among the great composers, also wrote a concerto for Wittgenstein; however, he never performed the piece, as he did not intrinsically understand the style of the Russian composer's music.
Again; the will to overcome...
The legendary pianist Dinu Lipatti was struck down with a fatal disease, while in his early thirties.
I have a recording of a recital containing  the waltzes of Chopin; all the waltzes, except the final one.
He nearly fainted while coming out on stage. He managed to get to the final waltz, but did not; COULD not perform any longer  - there simply was no further strength left.
And yet - do listen to this event. Can you tell what was going on? Absolutely not - the will to do the job at the  high level attached to this man was the paramount reality that  HAD to be the Realization   - anything less was simply not part of the picture being painted.
Again; the will -  the messenger   needed to certify the existence of a power given to so few of us...
And; yes indeed, there are others...

                           










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Monday, February 6, 2017

A Legendary Pianist, a Reigning Athlete, a Gifted Documentarian - a Commonality?...

Vladimir Horowitz was considered by many to be the most powerful pianist of the twentieth century. Possessing a  magnificent  expressive range and a mammoth technique, he  held  countless audiences breathless in  his famous afternoon recitals, for over half a century.
During his career, there were mysterious departures from the concert stage, during which his admirers would be in wait for the maestro to return; and would be in waiting as much as years at a time. One of these 'retirements' consisted of his not leaving his New York home for two years. Some of  the recordings he made during these periods away from the concert stage were made right in his town house in Manhattan.
The  central reason for these withdrawals from the recitals was Fear - fear that he might fail an audience. He was bedeviled by a fear born of  his need to propel his playing beyond the moment - and fail. Perhaps it was due to  a positioning of self caused by the need to 'take a chance'. Rachmaninoff once stated that "every really fine pianist needs to take a chance." And it seems that the electrifying manner of Horowitz performances was created by a kind of neurotic 'edge' that propelled him constantly forward relentlessly, creating that Fear  attending his concerts for a greater part of his life. He received psychiatric treatment during these periods away from the stage, and underwent treatment for the depression that must have accompanied his consciousness.
But - he prevailed. He did not fail, as we all know.
Tom Brady has been a mainstay for a  decade and a half, having become a household name in New England as one of football's great quarterbacks. He is regarded as one of the great football players with his command of the game, tactically and physically. His brilliant career was certified this year with both a four game suspension overwhelmed by leading his team to yet another of his multiple appearances in the Super Bowl last night. A close game was expected by many.
But - New England was behind  twenty to nothing before the first half was over, and I left the living room and announced to my wife, who was working on a painting, that catastrophe was at hand, and that I might  just  shut  off the T.V. in disappointment and surprise. It appeared that neither Brady nor his team was adjusting to a brand of football being displayed by the competing team(Atlanta), and was being thrashed.
Lo and behold -  Horowitz in a football uniform - Brady, in the second half, became the Artist, the Thinker, about the moment. The team became alive,  transforming itself into the dominant component in  a matter of minutes, and reversed the direction of the game. Imagine - Brady and  his team were never in the lead  in the game until the final play, which  was the touchdown that decided the outcome.
Brady was the performer who achieved and  maintained winning control over HIS instrument; namely, the team  he had known so well for such a long period of time.            
Which brings us to Leni Riefenstahl, one of five women close to the core of the the Hitler hierarchy, who created a documentary dealing with the 1934 Nazi Congress in Nuremberg.
Her theme was the power which a single man; Adolf Hitler, held over some 60 million, and  moved the entire world toward a new Dark Age. Her techniques in this documentary were so imaginative and compelling that future directors such as Hitchcock and Wilder  used some of them in their masterpieces. This documentary is considered one of the greatest of the twentieth century.
The title?
"Triumph Des Willen" - "Triumph of the Will."
 Horowitz? Brady?  Indeed.
There are, of course, others...

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Imagery in the Learning and Playing of Music -Collaboration of Teacher and Student - Walter Gieseking and Karl Leimer...

One of the most intriguing examples of the implementation of the process of imagery is, for me, the collaboration of a noted  pedagogue, Karl Leimer, and his most famous student, the celebrated pianist Walter Gieseking.
Teacher and student collaborated in 1932 in the creating of a method of learning music, especially for the piano, by way of a kind of internalized form of absorbing material before actually performing, which Gieseking brought to greater clarity following the passing of Leimer.
Briefly, the method involved  the learning of the music chosen by 'playing' the music through the reading of the material and the allowing of the senses involved to formulate the core character of the composition before actually performing the music at the piano. By 'visualizing' the music through inner sensory reaction to what is read, and allowing the meaning of the thrust of the composition to form into a reality evincing enough for actual playing of the music, such issues as muscle memory and the eventual formation to an interpretive stance, or view, combine to form the product as a precursor to actual playing of the music.
In a piece of considerable duration, I can only assume  that sections of that particular music be gone over by the above process until the entire piece will have been dealt with.
Up to a point, I can perceive the ways of this process, as I have, from time to time, taken a saturating look at a relatively short piece in total before actually touching the keys, and it does indeed help in  the conceptualizing of the music chosen.
However, this method, as utilized, evidently, by Gieseking, probably made sense, as this man was endowed with staggering powers of memorization, let alone, almost illimitable powers, as well, in sight reading. He could go through music just a few times and have it totally memorized. There were times, unbelievably,  that he memorized and then performed the piece IN PUBLIC without having touched the piece beforehand.  Imagine playing music in concert without having actually played that piece. Gieseking  practiced very little - he once said that after learning how to read, his formal education was over.  Back in the late forties and into the fifties, Gieseking was one of very few pianists who learned every piece of music that Mozart ever wrote, and then recorded the entire contents. I think that the recording can still be gotten.
And he learned  and performed all of the music of Mozart in a matter of weeks.
No wonder that this man conjured the sounds of the piano, unequaled, in my opinion, that he did. His legendary memory simply gave him more time than, perhaps, any other pianist we know of, to work on the issue of timbre and dynamics as, arguably, his Signature.
What with his views on Hitler and  Nazism, remaining in Germany throughout World War II, he remains one of the great miracles of the twentieth century.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Events Lurking in the Shrouds 0f History - How Some of Them Form Far Greater Stories...

Some time back, I wrote a blog concerning two of Man's most ubiquitous bedfellows; namely,  war and music - both  of these elemental entities have accompanied us, seemingly, virtually from the Beginning of this  Experience.
Thought I'd play a kind of  'game' germane to the above, and ask you to join in by either agreeing or disagreeing with the impact of  the lesser - known events I bring up:
 On a day in 1829, a  20 year- old must have  scratched his head (metaphorically?) as he pored over some of the manuscripts of one  J.S. Bach(I believe this moment took place in a library in Leipzig), and muttered that  the "B" minor Mass by the  Baroque composer had been performed just once  a century before(1729). This 20 year-old  vowed to have this music performed once again, which did indeed take place. The response was so strong that he arranged for another performance, and the music of Bach became known to the common man - thus, the Cult of Bach began, and has been going on ever since.
 The 20 year-old was Felix Mendelssohn.
I read somewhere that many years later, Mendelssohn was said to have uttered the following statement - "it took a Jew to discover this great Lutheran." I have no idea as to whether the statement is apocryphal; ,however, it does indeed show up in more than one   tome I have encountered.
On a day in April of 1942, the Doolittle Raid over cities in Japan took place. There was less than significant damage wrought by the bombs; however the militarists ruling Imperial Japan were thunderstruck by the event, as no such  event  would be thought  possible after the destruction at Pearl Harbor.
The knee-jerk reaction on the part of the Japanese hierarchy was to plan on extending their empire further eastward so that no such raid could again occur, and so they planned on invading and occupying the American territory called Midway island.
What was not known to the Japanese - their naval code had been  deciphered enough by American Naval intelligence to make the Midway plan known. The results:
The American forces were lying in wait for the Japanese to appear, with  the Japanese suffering what was to become a fatal wound ; that is, the sinking of four aircraft carriers, which made it impossible for the Japanese to conduct an offensive war in the Pacific from that day on,  which resulted in their inevitable defeat in 1945.
On a particular day  a  few  years ago, the eminent pianist Daniel Barenboim announced to the musical world the emergence of a piano designed by him and crafted into existence by a master  piano builder from  Belgium. At the time, there were just two of these pianos in existence; one in Barenboim's studio, the other in the possession of  the piano maker.
The difference in tonal production and pedaling techniques was announced by Barenboim himself, mainly through a different positioning technique of the strings and an altered approach to the makeup of the sounding board. The results, if accepted by performers and others of influence, could alter the very way of dealing tactically(interpretively) with the standard repertoire. I can only assume that 'the jury is still out' about what effect there can or will be in the playing of the likes of a Schubert, or a Beethoven etc.
One day we will know...
On a September day in 1940, on one of the air raids conducted by Hitler's Luftwaffe over England, one of the planes accidentally dropped some bombs in  the London area, this for the first time. Prime Minister Winston Churchill then demanded that the British reciprocate by dropping bombs on the city of Berlin, which was done.
Similar to the Japanese reaction to the Doolittle  Raid, The Germans were thunderstruck  - Hitler was incensed and demanded that London undergo what  was to become the London Blitz.
By diverting his air force from the attacks on the radar stations and airfields, which had brought England to within just a few weeks of defeat (Churchill's own admission), the raids on London made it possible for the British airmen to recover sufficiently to make it impossible for Hitler to invade England by way of Operation Sea Lion.
Thereafter, Hitler turned to the East and invaded  Russia with an undefeated England at his back.
Hitler  himself had more than once cautioned that a two-front war  would be fatal to Germany.
And so it was...
There you have lesser known events which have formed great changes in the direction of the Road Traveled  called History - of the examples listed above, we will have to wait for an answer to the question surrounding  the  Barenboim Piano.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Lives as a Composer - A Purveyor of Untrammeled Unoriginality...

Among  my pursuits as a musician, I  have occasionally written music for piano or violin, some of which has been recorded, mostly in Europe. Composition is listed, on my list of priorities, at the  lowest position, for a reason I have discussed in previous blogs;  specifically,  that  I have never felt comfortable while composing, and have done it, especially during the middle and latter phases of my experiences with music, very few times.
One exception, however:
I have a grand daughter who is playing 'cello and has fallen in love with the instrument. Her discoveries connected with the instrument, as a high school student, have led her into an increasing  curiosity about the great composers of the past three centuries, and prompted her to ask me  some  months ago "Papa, could you kindly write something for  me in the style of Bach?"
Which I did, after asking her to listen to the first Bach Suite for unaccompanied 'cello.
So she did learn the piece I wrote for her  under the guidance of her 'cello teacher, whom I had contacted to inform her about my writing the music.
About two months later I received another request to write something for her in the style of Mozart, which I did, using the rhythm of the primary theme of the "D" major Rondo by the Master.
Followed by Chapter three; namely, "Would you kindly write a piece for me in the style of Chopin?"
And so I  plied her 'cello with the atmosphere of a Nocturne. which seemingly pleased my favorite  young   'cellist.
And now, I am faced with yet another task of proving that I have finally found  my niche as a composer:
A few days ago, I received an E mail from  -
you guessed it.
"Hi Papa! When you have time, could you write something for me in the style  of Tchaikovsky?"
At least some recognition has been given me, even though it falls neatly into the category embedded  in the title of this blog...


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Bartok at the Bar - A Remembrance...

The workings of the mind can defy description at times. The following morsel from my memory bank serves as an example:
Just a couple of days ago, this event leaped back into my consciousness after decades of  absolute somnolence - how and why this had been totally forgotten  for so long a period  is beyond any power of reason I possess.
When on my Amerika Haus tour  in Germany, I visited a section of downtown Frankfurt with some friends, and we came across a little Hungarian restaurant with  the words "Dios Teszta" printed on a sign in the window. First of all, be assured that none of us knew what these words meant -what prompted us to enter this little place was the sound of piano music.
A few tables, and an equally small bar constituted  the interior.
And a piano - an old upright close to the bar, and a middle-aged gentleman playing  what sounded to me like a folk tune in the Hungarian idiom.
We were led to a table by a fellow  who was also the waiter, who spoke English quite well, and recited a brief   list of dishes available, including those two words we saw on the sign on the window. He informed us that it was a classic Hungarian favorite composed of pasta and walnut. and the specialty of the house. I do not recall, of course, what else we ordered. But we must have enjoyed the meal, as nothing leaps into my memory up to this moment.
But the reason for my recalling this event was not the food, but the pianist at the bar. Sometime during the meal he  began to play some of the music of Bartok - sections of the composer's music, interrupted by various little Hungarian  folk tunes, in obvious random - imagine! - a medley of little tunes, interlaced with some of the quieter Bartok I was familiar with.
I found myself  at the bar, hoping that this man spoke English - he did.
He had studied for a short time with Bartok in New York, toward the end of the composer's life. And he fed me other information about his brief  experience with  the great musician. I did not press him in any way. I just listened to him talk.
To be brief, I visited this little place a few times by myself, and remember playing the Allegro Barbaro of Bartok on the upright (it was the only music by Bartok that I knew at the time). Hours of eating Dios Teszta and discussion about music...
That's all I can recall - I do not recall asking this man more about himself. I knew absolutely nothing more about him than you, the reader.
And that's all that I can recall - WHY did this event recur after all these years?
It's the ONLY time that I have ever eaten  dios teszta - this event did occur. This special form of pasta, and this man playing Bartok at a bar...

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Miracle of Genius and Old Age - Here's to Tony Bennett and Menahem Pressler !

The power that  the modality of genius lends to a mortal who utilizes music to prove a point  is best proven, to me, by attaining old age and remaining at world-class level at the same time.
No better examples are available than the careers of a singer in the world of pop music, and a piano player in the art of Classical music; namely, Tony Bennett and Menahem Pressler.
Simply listen to Bennett sing with Lady Ga-Ga, and hear Pressler play Mozart.
Bennett  melds into the style of Lady Ga-Ga, despite the reality that he is 60 years older than her.
And listen to him wrap his sense of musical story-telling around the shapes of the likes of Elton John and Stevie Wonder.
Then be reminded that Menahem Pressler escaped Hitler's Kristallnacht in 1938, and has been enthralling the world  ever since with his patrician readings of the Masters.
And I remind you that they are not products of Memory - they are Now...
Bennett celebrated his 90th birthday recently, and is releasing the latest of his  recordings.
Pressler will tell you of  a recent bit of surgery on his heart by  a surgeon  who demolished a premise that this kind of surgery should never even be considered on a man approaching his mid-nineties.
Pick up their latest recordings - what a gift to us!! Consider the combination of empirical and eclectic powers that these two performers possess.
Up until this period,  I had long considered that the legendary pianist  Artur Rubinstein was, for me,  the  paradigmatic example of longevity and genius  - after all, how many great pianists performed the music of Chopin  over twice as long as the life span of the composer? Rubinstein retired at age 89, after performing for years with failing eyesight and hearing, without divulging this information to his loving audiences. I adore his story of personal courage.
Fortunately, both Bennett and Pressler continue to enhance our world of escape, and my hope is that this miracle can go on...
By the way, the paintings of Tony Bennett  are on display  non-stop in various locations throughout the world.

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