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...


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Recalling the Very Day of Defining Events - and the Transcendent Ubiquity of Music...

Veritably all of us recall a specific day of the week connecting with a great, life-changing or historically altering course of events, such as, say, the passing of someone dear or , say,  the passing of President Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. For me, a mystifying connection with a musical happening on the same day falls into place, such as the death of  Roosevelt. I happened to be walking home from  my weekly piano lesson at Eastman School in late afternoon, musing over having been selected to perform one of my compositions at the next Honors  Recital in Kilbourn Hall. Mr. Diamond, my beloved teacher through those high school days, had chosen little old me - I felt like the proudest rooster on the block! My  reverie came to a shocking end when one of my friends stuck his head out of the door of the store he was working in as I passed by,  and  asked if  I knew that the President had died. That day was Thursday, my piano lesson day.
To go back further: It was one of  my favorite days of the week ; matinee time at the local movie. My middle brother and I were just emerging from the cartoons and Westerns usually showing on that day of days; namely, Sunday. As we came out of the theater, we were puzzled by our being met by  our father, who never before had come to take us home, as we customarily walked home from the movie theater.  He wore a grim expression as he told us about the attack on Pearl Harbor some hours earlier. I can only speculate as to why he had to come and get us. Dad had always been an intense student of things historical, and had, I suppose, a sense of dread about the implications of  this event and just felt compelled to talk to us on the way home about the significance of the Pearl Harbor attack, through his eyes, even though my brother and I were still in short pants going to elementary school.
It was also the same day that I had just started to learn a new piece on the piano which I just adored; a Tarantella by Pieczonka .
As  a friend and I were walking  to high school on Wednesday, June 7, 1944, someone in front of us yelled back that D-Day was well under way in France, having begun on the 6th. It was also the day that I was to play my solo version of the Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell in the auditorium.
It was Sunday, September  2,  1945. In Tokyo Bay, General Douglas MacArthur presided over the official surrender of the Japanese Empire, ending World War II, on the American battleship Missouri.
My family and I were still in Old Forge, a hamlet in the Adirondacks, and were preparing to return home for a new school year. I remember the celebration that evening at the Old Forge Hay Fever Club, where I led a community sing of patriotic tunes while banging out the accompaniments on the piano.
I remember emerging from a music theory class I had just finished teaching at a private local school, and was then informed of the assassination of President Kennedy. It was a Friday, November 22, 1963.
Fascinating - that special glue the mind uses for such events...

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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.


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... 


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...