Friday, August 26, 2016

Addendum to Yesterday's Blog on Imagery

With my apologies (HOW could I have been so remiss??),
If you were to go back to yesterday's blog, you will note that I had written about the Battle of Midway in the spring of 1942, in context with my section on Admiral Yamamoto, and the ensuing destruction of the Japanese Empire's ability to continue waging offensive war, resulting in its inevitable defeat.
What I failed to mention was the cause of Midway in the first place - that cause was another great example of my core reason for yesterday's blog; namely, Imagery.
After Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt made it known that he wanted retribution against Japan as soon as possible - what could be done?  At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, our army was not much larger than Portugal's standing army, and a good portion of our fighting ships at Pearl Harbor was either gravely damaged or sunk.
It so happened in early 1942;  a naval officer by the name of Low happened to be landing at a naval air base, when he noticed fighter planes practicing the dropping of bombs on the shape of an aircraft carrier etched into the ground.
And so that mystery we call Imagery came into place :
After some thought, Low asked himself if it would be possible for planes to take off from an aircraft carrier - I will save you considerable time, by simply outlining the actions thereafter:
The question eventually got to General "Hap" Arnold, head of the Air Force.
That question registered -  Arnold put into motion actions that would answer that question and he enlisted the aid of a retired air force officer and famous winner of international air race trophies. His name, James H. Doolittle. It is not generally known that among innumerable personal accomplishments was his earning a PHD in aeronautical engineering at M.I.T.
And the Imagery was handed over to this man. The result was the Doolittle Raid in April of 1942, one of the most defining operations of the war.
Imagine 16 B-25 medium bombers crowded on an aircraft carrier's deck, each safely taking off with a ton of bombs, headed for Tokyo and three other cities in Japan.
The Japanese militarists were thunder-struck by this event. No such attack on the Empire was thought possible - and here is what caused the inevitable demise of Japan's war:
The Japanese government suffered a knee-jerk reaction by pushing forward a plan to extend their defensive circle further out into the Pacific, and they chose to occupy the island of Midway to do just that. Unknown to them was the reality that the Japanese secret naval  code had been broken, and that American forces were lying in wait for them. The result? The results that you already know about at Midway.
The imagery of Low; then the vision of Doolittle, making the Impossible a reality.

What is a canon? It is, in simple terms, a melody, followed in another part by itself at a given distance.
What is canon cancrizans? It is a melody, followed by itself  BACKWARD (cancrizans, in Latin, means crab). Therefore, the first measure in the piece becomes the last measure backward, moving from right to left toward a melody that is proceeding in the initial part, from left to right. Eventually these parts meet in the middle, resulting in a piece of music.
What is a table canon? It is a melody, followed by itself both backward AND upside down (!), each part moving toward itself and meeting  somewhere near the middle, for completion by the composer. In other words, imagine ONE sheet of music played by, say, one flutist. The other flutist in the room has the same music in his possession, and places it UPSIDE DOWN - and they create music together.
Imagine the staggering level of visualization needed, not only to write that (those!) melody (ies!), coupled with the commensurate harmonies implied that meld the tunes into a complete  musical offering.
How imagery, at a high level, catapults Technique into a different kind of dimension...
You can be witness to these forms of canon by visiting the domains  inhabited by Bach and Mozart.



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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Another Range of Thought Dealing With "The Art Of"

When that well-worn phrase " the art of" enters my consciousness by way of my  giving or listening to a lecture; or general conversation; or in discussion with either a student or some other victim of circumstance ; or  simply absorbing the three words as a reader in whatever context - well, often it leads to my curiosity about this phrase's application.
It has more than once been a source of unanswerable questions concerning two of Man's more omnipresent bedfellows; that is, Music and War.
Take "The Art of War," supposedly written by one Sun Tzu, about 2500 years ago. It was read avidly and repeatedly by such powerful figures as Mao Tse-Tung and Douglas Mac Arthur. The power of the text has affected such pursuits as Law and Politics to this very day. The quasi-arcane and  exotic assemblage of words strung together, such as (to paraphrase) " successful War is to vanquish the enemy without doing battle, " or "War is always based upon deception"  will give one a taste of  human attachment to the art of choice as regards the spoken or written word, such  as, say, in the work of  Shakespeare.
Seems to me the word 'imagery' is what lies behind all  pursuits engendered by the creative process.
What prodded  George Patton  to create poetry? Or Eisenhower to give us the quite revealing (and little known) attachment to his  painting of   still-life?  Or Omar Bradley's need to work on  solving problems in trigonometry , even during the course of battle, such as during  the Battle of the Bulge?
What prompted Isoroku Yamamoto, one of the 20th century's great military minds, and creator of the plan to attack Pearl Harbor, to quietly murmur "all  we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve" during the attack on Pearl Harbor when he learned that neither of the two aircraft carriers he had hoped to destroy  were not at Pearl Harbor, but out to sea? Was he, in  brutal(to him) reality, stating that Japan had lost  the war on that first day?
Yamamoto  had twice, as a young man, lived in America, first as a Harvard student, then later as a naval attache in Washington. He had visited the Texas oil fields and the industries in Detroit, Upon his return to Japan he warned the militarists, almost a generation before Pearl Harbor "never to go to war with America." His great sense of imagery had already told him that the next naval war would be decided in the air, not on the water. He was the creator of the Pearl Harbor operation in spite of his convictions about America, simply because the ancient rites of Japanese history had created him as a "son of the Emperor" (his words) in spite of his vision of ultimate defeat, in eventuality.
A scant six months after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese suffered  annihilation of their ability, at Midway, to wage offensive war, primarily because the American airplane, not the battleship, had sunk four aircraft carriers - gone was Offensive Warfare.  After Midway, Japan could wage only a defensive  war, and it was  ultimately a matter of time  -  final defeat  occurred, of course, in 1945.
Talk about Imagery... Yamamoto gives us a great example.
Imagery - in  the summer of 1788, the three final symphonies were 'visualized' and committed to manuscript by that fellow named Mozart. Never again was  the composer to write a symphony, even though he lived on until 1791 - a long time for Mozart, without another symphony; after all, by age 31, he had written all but the  last half-dozen symphonies Was that thing called 'imagery' telling him that there was no need to attempt another composition in the symphonic form?
And Douglas MacArthur, that combination of obnoxious pomposity and egocentricity, merging  with one of military history's   most brilliant minds? As regards his brand of hubris, do remember  that Dwight Eisenhower, as a young officer, spent several years as an aide to the General . Eisenhower, years later , in answer to the question "did you serve under MacArthur?" gave a terse answer; namely, "did I serve under MacArthur??  I studied Drama under him for years!"
As American viceroy  to Japan after World War II, MacArthur gives us  as a result of his powers of leadership,  an example of "nation building" that, since that time, has never been equaled. Japan has been the leading form of Democracy in that part of the world since the days of   Douglas Mac Arthur in, perhaps, his greatest personal victory.
Imagery? Could be... 

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Mystery (and Dilemma) of My Own Reactions to Performance...

To begin with, the following description of my experiences with  the process of listening to great music does not serve in any way as a critique; only as an observation:
I  decided, earlier in the week, to listen to one of the leading pianists of our time - the young Russian living in Germany, Igor Levit. He is not yet thirty, and already considered a major force among the eminent keyboard artists today. I have heard him before, of course; however, I felt that I should offer myself a higher degree of concentration this time around.
There was the Beethoven 30th Sonata, followed by the Goldberg Variations. I completed my listening with a  portion of the First Partita.
Levit is indeed a marvelous pianist.  The sounds emanating from the instrument have a transcending level of  beauty at  all times, and his ways of developing a statement are compelling and wonderfully comprehensive.
I then found myself putting together a mini-compendium of performances of other young pianists among the leaders of keyboard  contemporaries, and the results pretty much leveled off in similar fashion - and there lay my dilemma; specifically:
All performers involved were highly gifted - no question whatsoever. They all impart world-class levels in whatever they have committed to the recordings I heard. Essentially, they all perform as well as any pianist I know, as   regards tactility with the instrument.
But not one made the atmosphere around me eddy as I expect the great artist to do.
I was moved by the wonder of their playing, but not with the music they were unfolding  to me. It is veritably as if  the music was written by ONE  person writing in the styles of Bach, then of Beethoven, or Rachmaninoff etc. There, for me, seems as if  no separation from one cosmos belonging to one composer, to another,  is being created- almost as if there is one and only one language adorned by tangential alterations in stylistics.  How strange. When I listen to Horowitz , at around age thirty,  transfix me with his grasp of the Liszt Sonata; or Lipatti, who did not survive his youth, doing a Chopin Nocturne; or  Andsnes, in his early twenties, in his first reading of the
 Rachmaninoff 3rd, my world becomes a part of theirs.
But then, I thought of Busoni, one of the post-Lisztian giants, in his Vorsetzer   recordings done in the first decade of the 20th century - how naive his playing is to me. How different these pianists were during that period, and how much greater was the musical offering given me from Rachmaninoff on.
A dilemma? Perhaps so. Again, my reactions are not any form of critique; perhaps, not even opinion.
All I am sure of is the reality that change is a constancy...

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Beethoven's Music; a Smoke-Filled Room - a Romance? Not Necessarily...

Recently I went over a film clip of Artur Rubinstein, then in his nineties, thoroughly enjoying his newly acquired retirement, somewhere in Mexico. There he sat, at a small outdoor table with a cup of coffee, wearing a sombrero and an  equally broad smile. No longer the performer, but an ongoing possessor of Love of Life, no  exceptions  allowed. As I gazed at this incredible man thoroughly immersed in his personal Chapter Two, I recalled seeing, years ago, a photograph of Rubinstein at the pinnacle of his unparalleled career (probably in his fifties or sixties) seated at a piano, wearing a tuxedo as if  being photographed during a recital, with a cigar jutting out of his mouth  in profile, at an upward angle reminding me of Franklin  Roosevelt in a lighter moment. What a guy!
Which brought back to me an event during my student days in Europe.
I recall reading a story written by some English musicological  writer  named Bachrach; a story which may or may not be an intrinsic sector of Truth in History; however, it's such a unique twist in the tale of Beethoven Performances, and, after all, this story was in print(I read it!), I thought that you might enjoy its contents; therefore:
Early nineteenth century. Scheduled, one of the earlier Beethoven Concerti(I cannot recall which).
Beethoven, still a possessor of much of his hearing, was in the audience.
The pianist  (no name comes to me) comes out on stage, bows, and seats himself before the keyboard. The music begins. Then it becomes uncomfortably evident that the  performer has a cigar emerging from his mouth, with smoke curling upward. Probably in his state of nervousness (after all, the Master himself is in the audience!)he had forgotten to extract the cigar from his probably perspiring  physiognomy. By the end of the first movement, a pall of smoke had been formed above the piano area. Before the second movement began, the cigar had been removed, and the remainder of the Concerto was given to history in an increasingly clarified atmosphere.
I luridly remember my reaction. as a reader of this musicological gem of unswerving historical non-revisionism; that is:
1. What would Beethoven have been thinking during these golden moments?
2. What would the chances have been for Beethoven to select this particular pianist for  a future Beethoven performance?
I remember asking myself these two pregnant questions, followed by
WHAT am I reading??
Indeed, this tale is in print somewhere -  the author is Bachrach, someone well-known in Britain, at least during my period of study.
I'd prefer not to divulge to you how many years ago...

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Joust With Perspective By Way of 'Tactical Listening'...

The legendary pianist Artur Rubinstein recorded the Chopin Mazurkas repeatedly during his career, capping off this  unparalleled  relationship with these masterpieces by way of a simple remark made during his twilight period  " I think that I can play them better now."
Glenn Gould burst upon the scene in his twenties with his magnificent Goldberg Variations, and  shortly before his tragically premature death  recorded them once again.
Vladimir Horowitz first recorded the Rachmaninoff  third concerto in 1930. His final recording of this massive work occurred in 1978.
The Bach Partitas, as recorded by Glenn Gould, had for years been my most compelling view of these pieces; that is, until Angela Hewitt came along years later with her recording of these jewels by the giant of the Baroque Era.
The enormous number of recordings of the Mazurkas as performed  by Rubinstein made it impossible for me to array them in any linear modality, as regards listening to them in  encapsulated form; however, I placed the Gould recordings of the Goldberg variations back-to-back on CD. I also placed the first and last recordings  that Horowitz had made of the Rachmaninoff Third back-to-back on another CD.
With Gould and Hewitt, I recorded each piece in all  six of the Bach Partitas  so that, for instance, the Gigue in Partita I by Gould would be followed by Hewitt's performance of the same  Gigue.  
Which comes to my Tatum Project. Initially, I chose around twenty or thirty of  tunes recorded by the Jazz giant Art Tatum  in order to get underway with the Project.  A few years later,  I decided to enlarge the Project by taking  the 70 pieces recorded(in three days!) by Tatum in 1953, organized by the jazz impresario Norman Granz, almost as if he knew that Tatum would be dead within three years of these recordings; almost as if Granz had demanded  that the legacy of Tatum be created - at any rate, taking these 70 tunes, I created a lexicon of perspective, primarily for my own pleasure AND ultimate enlightenment by way of linear placement.. I chose one of these 70 tunes, then followed by choosing a recording made by one of the concert giants of the past century which contained the same kinds of finger techniques that were used in the Tatum tune.
And so a giant project followed that afforded me a refurbished, certainly unprecedented view of piano performance at the highest level in a different format. For instance, Tatum might be followed by Horowitz; then the next  Tatum might be followed by a Rachmaninoff; or a Gilels; or an Arrau; or a Lhevinne; etc., etc., until all of Tatum's tunes would, in single form, be followed by the great classical artists of the past century or so, with a grand total of 140 separate recordings being heard in contiguous form.
And YES(in answer to your question!) it was worth spending months on the Tatum Project.
For me, I have a far greater Perspective enhancing my reactions, both intellectually and spiritually, such as in the Gould, Horowitz, and Gould/Hewitt incarnations; and in the dazzling world of finger techniques, such as in the Tatum Project.
The term 'perspective' has  a deeper significance for me, through this procedure.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

"Sights and Sounds" - Just Some Thoughts Swirling Around These Two Sources of Imagery...

This morning one of my pedagogical ventures came back to me; namely, a course I put together and taught at both high school and college levels. It was given the title " Sights and Sounds," which was an interdisciplinary venture  combining music and a number of  other subjects;  and spending, say, a week or so  in fusion form in order to enhance the total: for example, I might invite the head of the English department to spend two or  three sessions  on Shakespeare, after which I would offer Elizabethan music for the next sessions in order to bring into greater focus the 'flavor' of that period in history.
Other subjects, such as  physics,  or math, would  become involved in the same linear format. It turned out to be a quite popular way of  projecting added perspective to the object of examination.
Which  brought me to thinking about some documentaries produced over a half century ago, dealing with some aspects of World War II, and the music written for these productions.
One was a description of the conflict in Burma and India, and the intense struggle between the adversaries in  one of the world's most hostile and disease-ridden locations.And how tense and dark the music was, in order to complete a lurid picture of those times. And the composer? How many of us remember Elie Siegmeister, whose music was of a stature that attracted conductors like Toscanini and Stokowski  to perform some of his work. Some thought that he was the equal to Aaron Copland,, a far better known composer.
And other composers of stature, such as Darius Milhaud and George Auric, two gifted composers of the Post-Impressionist period, belonging to  the powerful 'Les Six?' They wrote for the same series, dealing with subjects such as Erwin Rommel, or the Danish Resistance fighters. Auric wrote the music for the acclaimed picture, "Moulin Rouge," the story of the artist Toulouse-Lautrec. And  the primary pop tune in the movie "Where Is  Your Heart" became  a long-standing  hit. Milhaud taught for a period on the West Coast, where he encountered a promising student named Dave Brubek.
I remember them well, as a young man - for all I know, they may well have influenced my thoughts enough about the  fusion of sight and sound,  in order to bring  that little class I taught into reality.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Pianist This Writer Had Forgotten About(!)...

About a week ago, a family member brought up the name of a musician, in general conversation, which caused a severe case of personal embarrassment  to me and my purported powers of retention.
The name - Menahem Pressler. Within a second or two, I clapped a hand to my forehead (metaphorically, that is) and gave myself a solid spate of scolding. I don't believe that I have ever included Pressler as a subject of one of my almost 680 blogs, for which I apologize.
Among his many accomplishments is  his being a founding portion of the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio, which began back in 1955, and performed for the final time in  2008  .
He is an acknowledged pedagogue, having  won the hearts and minds of many  young people making a bid to enter the field.
Above all, however, is the level of attainment having been realized while in his teens, and which  has been maintained to this day;  a reality  truly remarkable.   Menahem Pressler is entering his 93rd  year.
Picture a gentleman coming on stage with a cane, often supported by someone in his entourage, and slowly lowering himself onto the bench or chair. Of course, the physical technique has been diminished, and he appears a bit smaller now.
But the magic remains. Within the narrowing dimensions of a world-class repertoire, the message is still given to his listener.
Years ago, I had pretty well been of self-assurance that Artur Rubinstein, who gave his final recital at age 89, would have reached an age  not to be surpassed,  at such a level.
However, even though Pressler never reached the heights of a Rubinstein, he was and continues to be among the world's more distinguished  musicians - at age 92.
Imagine - escape as a youngster  from Nazi Germany's Night of Broken Glass in 1938, with a number of his family engulfed by the Holocaust, to his present place as a patrician among fellow musicians -
My apologies to a gentleman I promise not to forget, a second time...

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