Thursday, October 20, 2016

Viola and Berlioz, in the Eye of the Storm...

We know that the powerful composer Berlioz used opium at least part of the time during which  he wrote his legendary "Symphonie fantastique." The lurid nature of a marvelous orchestral technique is much in front of our senses as we continue to be in awe of this composition, even though the  greater part of two centuries has passed since its writing-  such as with the alcoholism of Moussorgsky enhancing  the message of "Boris Godunov" and "Pictures at an Exhibition," or the coming mental/emotional instability of Van Gogh giving better rise, quite probably, in my view, to the increasing power of message, especially  in his latter paintings.
A rather curious lack of anguish is extant, curiously, in the unique combine of viola and symphony orchestra titled "Harold in Italy." Throughout this wonderful creation replete with lush color and a rather contemplative portrayal of human emotion with no specified forms of anguish, a different  mode  of dialogue  is given over to a solo instrument and orchestra. And yet  "Harold" is not a concerto for viola and orchestra; rather, a symphony with an elemental form of marvelously fusing 'meanderings' represented by the viola,  woven into the fabric of a kind of 'chamber' view of  what can be given to a full symphony orchestra.
In the third decade of the 19th century, a coruscating view of orchestral writing -   even Paganini, the greatest violin player of his and, just perhaps,  ANY time, who talked Berlioz into writing something important for the viola(he had just gained ownership of a viola, and wanted something written for it) was disappointed, at first flush, in "Harold in Italy." Later on, Paganini altered his view of this composition, and became one of its principal enthusiasts.
During my school days, the playing of the viola part by William Primrose, was one of my great memories, and I practically wore out the recording of it - I believe the conductor of the recording was none other than Toscanini himself.
And the performer, William Primrose - well; how many violists played the Paganini Caprices on the viola?? Well, HE did... Yes, indeed; a violist with an enormous technique...
To hear the viola in an unforgettable pose, see if you can get  hold of Primrose doing Berlioz.
Above all, the combine of Primrose and Berlioz is  a rarity to experience...


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Two Pianists - Tragedy and Triumph...

These two performers come from different aspects within the cosmos of music; one, a jazz pianist - the other, one of the giants in the Classical  pursuit:
I first consulted YouTube to insure that you can see these two perform at their highest level, and I was gratified that both are available.
First(in the event that you are not familiar with this man), picture, if you can, a young man barely three feet in height, who either had to clamber onto the bench, or be bodily lifted onto the bench, especially toward the end of his career. Michel Petrucciani was born with a rare genetic disease that resulted in his having bone structure that would shatter almost a hundred times before he was twenty. His particular form of this disease also resulted in  his not attaining a height of much more than the length of a yardstick. He claimed that he was in constant pain, especially in his arms when in performance. His career, in Europe, then in New York, made him a celebrity during his brief time ( he was, I believe, about 37 when he passed away). His adventures with Duke Ellington's music were, for me, his signature. The Jazz was 'new,' if you will, and a number of you may not approve of this particular form within the Jazz idiom; however, do witness the prowess of this singular musician and experience, with this tragic figure, a unique and defining example of triumph over tragedy.

A large, lumbering man surrounded the piano he sat before, especially during the years of increasing corpulence. His attitude toward the world he resided in became one of increasing indifference or even  a strain of insouciance, as he moved further and further away from a place  he created with his enormous gifts, by way of unforgettable performances throughout the civilized world and especially in his beloved Great Britain, wherein  resided a number of critics who opined that John Ogdon, who passed away in his fifties, may well be the greatest English pianist of them all.
Was it what we now call Bipolar Disorder ? Or Schizophrenia?
I'm not really clear as to what took him away from his immense attainments in the world of performance. I  believe that Ogden was the first pianist after Rachmaninoff himself to actuate  the task of recording all of the piano works of the great Russian, and I believe he had gotten half-way through the project when he shut it down. He was one of the first to record all of the Scriabin sonatas. He also was one of very few who played the almost impossibly difficult piano literature of Alkan - and the list goes on...
Listen to his Beethoven, such as the sonatas opus 106 and 111 - I wrestle, from time to time, with the question "HAVE I ever heard more powerful Beethoven??"
Like Beethoven himself  -  triumph over tragedy.  Great art is always left behind; intact, whether it be after War or some other human catastrophe. 


Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Glance at Fusion in Music...

Sauter- Finegan  -
These two men  organized a group resulting in the form of a jazz band;  the result being, in mid-20th century, an aural display of experimentation in the combining of  classical music and jazz. But NOT in the same manner as given us by, say, George Shearing -  his wondrous creations are the placing of pop/jazz tunes in the styles of various giants such as Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff etc.
What Sauter and Finegan pursued was more subtle, if you will, by way of the use of inner constructions of sound emanating from the world of Classical music, rather than overt stylistic implementation. The results are profound, but one has to 'listen' in a more focused modality, rather  than  merely sitting back and hearing  a pop tune in the guise of Mozart. I am not stating that Sauter  - Finegan is 'better than' George Shearing, or Alec Templeton - listening to the Sauter Finegan band  simply requires a different listening posture.
Be reminded that the bases of these two men emanated from such places as the Paris Conservatoire and the music college of Columbia University.
Listen to a compelling example of  Sauter-Finegan, by going to a recording  performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by the legendary conductor Fritz Reiner, in a composition by the Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann; the Concerto for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra, written specifically for the Sauter-Finegan band.

Don Shirley -
This man held three PHD's, only one being involved in music. He knew seven or eight languages fluently, and  was intrinsically involved in matters of religion.
His instrument was the piano, and his language was an imagery of fusion not unlike, tactically, that of Sauter-Finegan. His creations range from the spiritual to the concerto, with the base of his myriad of ideas springing from jazz. As a young musician, I was entranced by his journeys  in Sound resulting from the melange of his ideas, and his language remained in my consciousness for some years. Few remember him today.

Keith Jarrett  -
He could play St. Saens at age seven.
If  you watch him perform, he will make you itch. His mannerisms are, essentially, orgiastic as he writhes and twists on the piano bench, especially if he is dealing with his world of Fusion based upon Jazz styles.
I once saw him play the Mozart Concerto K. 488 at Tanglewood. His physical stance during that event was one of , essentially,  asexual tranquillity.
HE is an event...
Agree with me? Let me know, by examining these examples  of the pioneering spirit...


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Two Piano Giants of the Past - Simply a Gentle Prod...

History is, arguably, the most fragile and vulnerable of our intellectual pursuits. To explain: which subject is more prone to Revisionism? In and of itself, this  subject is prone to being both short legged and short winded in constancy.
This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation, and a perusal of music history  will always result in the need for a gentle wake-up call for remembrance, in the cases of musical legends that need a prod of recall:
Take the  attainments of, say, one Geza  Anda, a Hungarian pianist.
His patrician views of Brahms or vocalizing  of the language of Mozart constitute lessons to be learned. From my perch, I cannot imagine a higher bar of artistic  endeavor and result.
And his Chopin is, to me, a revelation surpassed in a form of  intensity,  by no other.
And a technique that lends such a unique level of sophistication to Liszt that is not expected -
Or, what about that  lady  from Romania, Clara Haskil?
Whenever I hear her Mozart, it's almost as if  she had been performing before actually starting - the feeling that the music had already  started before the first note was heard by the rest of us. I have never experienced  such a seamless approach to that master's piano music. Haskil's view of the Romantic is, as well, a case for  a personal side of communication that makes for an image of a pianist performing for one human being, rather than an audience.
And, thanks to a happy course of events, one can hear a recording of Anda and Haskil performing a Bach two-keyboard Concerto.
I know that many of you are familiar, at least  to a degree, with these two  titans.
But, for those who are not, why not enhance the beauty of indelible Truth always lying in wait for discovery, by listening to names having receded into the shadows?
There are so many ways to enhance our day...


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gershwin and Feinstein - a Reminder of the Immortal Bond Formed by the Two...

It began almost a century ago and continues this very day,  in  the recordings of one of America's most valued performers.
It begins with  a boy growing up  on the streets of New York, who receives that call from within, at around  age ten, after hearing  a violinist, to enter that magical world of a language without words.  One of his early tunes, called "Swanee" catapulted George Gershwin  to fame in his early twenties. In his 26th year he alters the course of music history with his "Rhapsody in Blue" - why go on? The rest is, as they say, History. Our American Mozart (both dying in their thirties) visits us for a brief period, and leaves an indestructible imprint.
A young man of about twenty is introduced to George Gershwin's older brother, Ira, some forty or so years later. He is employed by Ira to catalogue the vast collection of records  the Gershwin family had amassed. This young man remained about six more years, having become, essentially, a kind of  student of  the Gershwin legacy, and he remains, arguably, the  most valued Gershwin historian of our time. The man, of course, is Michael Feinstein, who is , I believe, around sixty years of age.  Feinstein's wonderful recordings of the tunes of Gershwin constitute, in my view, the import of  his connection with the Gershwin experience, and the ongoing reality of the miracle formed by the fusion of the music by George and the lyrics  by brother Ira in these immortal tunes - there is no parallel in the history of the Great American Songbook.
I recently paired some of the Gershwin tunes, sung by Feinstein, Ella Fitzgerald and Cleo Laine, with piano transcriptions of these tunes, written and  recorded by the great American pianist Earl Wild. It is one of my favorite personalized CD's. Do look for some of these absolutely breathtaking  piano transcriptions. I'm sure that Gershwin himself would have been flattered by Wild's encomium to one of America's greatest possessions;  a boy growing up on  the streets of New York, dropping out of school at age 15...


Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Ongoing Miracle Through the Powers of Music...

I sometimes wonder if there are those  reading my blogs who either know of  similar experiences  that replicate the experience I am about to relate, or are themselves a  part of such an event? To go on:
This is the story, in  brief form, of four students of mine, who are about to resume their studies with me after a few weeks off for the summer - I will identify each by a number:
Number One was added onto my schedule while I was  a faculty member of the Longy School of Music. He was a sophomore at Harvard at the time, enrolling as a piano student  and seeking credits, as Longy at that time was attached to Harvard. After a short period, he decided to add to his time with me by taking courses in harmony and counterpoint. He remained with me through his years at Harvard, and was therefore not only an improving pianist, but also able to go on to harmonic analyses of the music he either performed or simply knew about. The year that he began with me was,  I think,  1983 - he will be resuming sessions Tuesday next, at my home; his 34th year with me , or thereabout...
The next three students all fall into the same line of events that brought them to me; namely, that they had children whom they decided to add to my piano student roster of private students. The children all began as elementary age students, and remained with me until their graduating from high school years later.  Numbers  2 and 3, within a week or so after their children had run off to college, called me in order  to occupy their children's slot on my schedule in order to take lessons with me; the result was that in virtually unbroken modality time--wise, the parent had simply slipped onto the same bench that their kids had occupied the preceding decade or so. Only  Number  4 was different - he decided to take piano with me WHILE his girls were still on that piano bench - imagine three members of the same family being student-contemporaries every week... the  existence of that dynastic continuation constitutes about 30 years per family of continuum.
Numbers  2, 3, 4 will be resuming their lessons next week.
The meaning - and the significance to me - is that we have four adults, none a professional musician; all four wonderfully educated and outrageously intelligent, with degrees from M.I. T., Princeton, and Harvard, each at the top of their particular profession, doing something I can NEVER do; and that is, to ESCAPE into music from somewhere else, and lose themselves in a manner that I can never experience - I am already there, simply having chosen music as my core of consciousness and pursuit as primary choice.
 The most valuable aspect I have received from this (what I am prodded to call 'miracle' of sorts) outside of the priceless friendships having been formed is the unique kind of growth that is available to these gentlemen by not only learning in the traditional linear fashion, but going back to music they had learned with me years back and undergoing the transformation of meaning to the very same notes they thought that had  learned well. They have all done this, and have a view that  relatively few non-professionals have undergone, as these parents, such as number  1, ultimately undertook a study of the language of music with me (harmony, chiefly)  along with the  piano lessons.
And so; with these four 'students' (I simply can not list them as such; perhaps the word 'partners' is more apropos) constituting  over a century of time with me, and I can  never describe to you the true depth of what the word 'learning' means , not to these four, but to me.
I enjoin you to contact me if you know of such an experience elsewhere - it would mean a great deal to me, be assured...


Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Horowitz Transcriptions - A Recurring (and Seemingly Unanswerable)) Question...

I occasionally go over the recordings of the eleven piano transcriptions available to me, more often than not as a reminder of the  neurotic drive that catapulted an already legendary physicality into existence. I wonder, sometimes, whether the same level of excitement that Horowitz created in his audiences will again appear?
A more compelling question also forms before me as I listen, and that is:
Why were these pieces not written out as they came into our world?
Which leads to another issue of import; namely some controversy as to whether he indeed did make some form of effort to commit them to paper. There is more than one article pertaining to the existence of at least a portion, in written form, of his early transcription on the themes from "Carmen."
There is more than one musicologist out there who has  expressed confidence that this manuscript written by Horowitz indeed exists. I do not know of any proof that it has ever been seen.
You can look at one of my blogs dealing, by way of a letter exchange,  with the transcriptions. I received an answer from the virtuoso, which surprised(and pleased) me, as I knew that he normally  did not deal with any musical issue by letter-exchange.
His letter pretty much convinced me that he had never written any of his transcriptions down.
But I can find  no pure proof of that.
A conversation in the Horowitz household between Horowitz and Dubal of Juillard indicates to me that they went, unwritten, to the grave with Horowitz in 1989.
 The reputation that David Dubal possesses leads me to the probability that my personal opinion remains unchanged, as I consider the conversation not to be apocryphal:
Horowitz had been discussing with Dubal the history and the issues dealing with the transcription form, especially those emanating from Liszt and post-Liszt. Horowitz himself was a brilliant improviser and often just sat and improvised for hours. Some of the legendary designs in his transcriptions certainly attest to his love for and  powers of  extemporization.
Horowitz declared, within the context of this subject that " I have  never had the time to write my transcriptions down!"
The great pianist's wife Wanda immediately interjected " he was too lazy to write them down!"
And so, the question, for me, still looms.
Was it also possible that Horowitz did not have the writing technique to commit the  hordes  of notes
onto manuscript form? Was it also possible that he thought that they should not be written down simply because he thought that no one would be able to play them anyway?
What if Horowitz were to return just one day to hear some teenagers playing his "Stars and Stripes Forever" transcription with ease? Pedagogical technology has given us many pianists who can do just that today - and, yes - all of the Horowitz transcriptions are now available on manuscript.
So, do go out and buy some, and give  them  a try...