Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Pianist Like No Other- A Journey Into a Place Like No Other...

I recently delved into two recordings by the great Russian pianist Emil Gilels,  done many years ago at the height of his powers. Of course I had heard these performances countless times over an extended period; however, I chose to hear both of these back-to-back this time around for one reason only: to look more deeply into the nature of the composer's pursuance and delivery of the projection of beauty as he shapes it into being. The composer is Rachmaninoff; the two pieces are the Prelude Opus 23, no. 10  and one of the composer's musical paintings titled  Daisies, opus 38.
I made sure that, before sitting down to listen to these two creations, I was clear of any form of distraction or interruption, including shutting off my cell phone.
I can relate to you  an experience that rarely visits me, especially in the world of  personal discovery and coruscation.
In the Prelude, I came to a realization that, for me, this is Rachmaninoff  at the height of his communicative powers, through his employment of melody, especially in dialogue by way of diagonal writing, but without overt canon use, resulting in a wondrous form  of loving  argumentation among  the melodic fragments - all this  transported   by an uninterrupted accompaniment. It was, for me, a finalized certification of where Rachmaninoff had taken the Golden Age of  19th century  piano music by way of Chopin in his Mazurkas and Grieg in his Lyric Pieces. Do remember that Rachmaninoff ends his journey 43 years into the 20th century.
And in his "Daisies" Rachmaninoff  projects a marvelously simplistic portrait of the delicate flower   with little more than a  handful of aural brush strokes.
What a magnificent example of the power spectrum of a great  composer - and in just two brief compositions.
And the magical playing of Gilels, who handles the conversational projections in the Prelude that defies description - I cannot imagine anyone exceeding this reading by the Russian.


Monday, October 22, 2018

Musings of One Who Composes For One Musician...

I have a certain amount of pride  in having  set out over a decade ago to write a series of  blogs without use of technical  terminology, to reflect reaction to subjects of interest to me - pride, because my blogs now number about 700 without running out of material; at least, up to now.
So; as prologue to my first blog which will contain some terms that may require some of my readers to refer to a dictionary, please accept my sincere apology:

In my early days, I wrote music mostly for my primary instrument (the piano), starting at around age thirteen, and continued doing so until I went off to my college period. I did not return to serious writing for about thirty years, although I  have written  hundreds,  if not a couple of thousand of pieces for my students as part of their development  during my career as a pedagogue.
My return to  serious composition  took hold as a result of the beginning  of an encounter with an exchange student from Spain; an encounter that has continued for over thirty five years, and exists to this day in the form of  a Friendship without parallel in this life. I have written about Ricardo Odriozola a number of times. He is now a highly regarded violinist and has been  a faculty member of the  Grieg Academy of the University in Bergen, Norway for many years.
Odriozola,  at around age 17,  accosted my senses with such a high level of musicianship and technique from the first day, that it created a mode of inevitability of my need to write for this gift, which has continued to within the last two years or so. He is the only musician I have written for - this particular road HAD to be built. I would venture to speculate that a composer writing for one performer  forms an incident that does not replicate too often.
And recently Odriozola has honored me with his decision to have these works, mostly for unaccompanied violin, published. His understanding of my desire to further investigate the inner workings of the diatonic system, which has existed for many centuries, and is the base of Common Practice Music, especially the core of which has been extant from about 1600 to the early 1900's, but undying, primarily due to such processes as enharmonic design, is an understanding that I believe  Odriozola's decision to publish came from.
At any rate, this has been an experience for me I felt that I should share with my reader.
I am not, in any primary way, a composer. This process has always been at the bottom of my list of priorities to pursue.
However, in some arcane way, this wonderful violinist, awoke (or re-awoke?) something in me - and
 for this unexpected event, I will forever be thankful...


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 convincing  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.


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?" ...


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."


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...