Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How Artistic Collectivity Can Converge Upon One Subject...

The subject: Reinhard Heydrich.
The artistic cast of characters:
Karl Hajos - a  Hungarian composer
Douglas Sirk -a movie director
Emil Hlobil - a Czech composer
Bohuslav Martinu - a Czech composer
Edna St. Vincent Millay - an American poet

The subject, one Reinhard Heydrich,became, arguably, the most efficient and pure form of Hitler's Nazism  under the tyrant's regime. His ascendancy, especially after directing the proceedings at the Wansee Conference, which dealt with and gave birth to the Final Solution, cast him to the top of the Hitler hierarchy within a  brief period. Hitler himself thought of Heydrich as the most potent form of Nazi activism. Had he survived, and the Nazi movement were to continue, this man could well have been chosen by Hitler to be  his successor.
Heydrich, however, was assassinated in 1942 by Czech patriots having  been flown in from England.
Hitler was beside himself, and personally ordered, in retribution, the extirpation of a village located in one of the provinces Heydrich was Protector of, named Lidice.
Lidice became one of the great tragedies coming out of World War Two - all men over fifteen were executed by the German troops assigned to  enter this village. Most of the women and children were sent  to Germany, facing a fate still pretty much unknown. Some women and children were indeed murdered within the village.  The final act was for the village to be razed to the ground, leaving veritably no viable trace of the community.
In the years following the war, various artists have come forth to bring their imagery forward in order to keep the memory of Lidice alive. Both Karl Hajos and Emile Hlobil,  rather well-known within their milieu,  have written short compositions depicting the horror of this act. I believe that some of the music may   be on YouTube, even though these men are quite unknown to most of us.
The composer Bohuslav Martinu, an internationally recognized composer, also wrote a musical memorial to Lidice's   fate. The music is available.
Douglas Sirk was a movie director who left Germany to escape the oncoming threat of Hitlerism , and was well-known in Germany. He had actually met a young Heydrich some years before he came to the West, and described Heydrich as a rather "edgy" young man.  Sirk directed one of a number of movies made about Heydrich over the years after the war; his movie being released in 1943.
The  eminent American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry during the '20's, wrote an extended form of Poetry titled "The Murder of Lidice," which received  much recognition after its writing; of course, the work can be found.
Other artists have also created their interpretations of the event, to be sure, and those of you who have any interest in pursuing the results will find other material.
The final twist is pure irony:
Reinhard Heydrich was an accomplished violinist, coming from a family of distinguished musicians, one of whom founded the  Halle  Conservatory of Music...


Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Process of Writing Music - Can There Be a Greater Mystery?...

Among my usual pursuits is the very occasional event dealing with composition.
The pursuits I have been actively involved in are:
Public performance (until some four years ago), musicology, theory (including specific involvement in harmonic and polyphonic analysis),  arts history, and  pedagogy (which I enjoy the most).
Which means, of course, that the art of composition is at the bottom of my list of priorities. I very rarely write, and only for  a particular person or event. The greater part of my life has been involved with about only a dozen or so compositions. In my young years I wrote large numbers of pieces, which ceased upon my realizing that there was much more that I could actuate in the field at a far higher level.
Of all my pursuits, the only aspect which involves  a personal 'wrestling bout' is composition. Strangely, I have never really enjoyed the process - it has always felt rather 'foreign' to me; almost as if I have been forcing myself to shove my consciousness into an area of 'comfort' while writing.
In addition, an uncanny feeling arises veritably every time I sit down to compose; that is, a feeling that someone outside of me is moving my pencil. I almost always feel that when ever an idea pops into being, someone, or something other than  me, is writing the idea down - it is a most uncomfortable experience. And yet, as the ideas hatch, there is a form of some excitement or anticipation that forms.
In other words, I am not comfortable when I compose.
Are we not our own  greatest mystery?
In spite of the above, a  number of my works for unaccompanied violin appears  on YouTube, performed by an established violinist. His name is Ricardo Odriozola, and this man should be heard - he has much to say.
And I like what I hear - HAS to be the performer, not the music. He is a wonderful violinist, and has recorded much in his career.
And the mystery continues for me, when I read, in letters of Mozart, his awe at what he is able to do. Without a trace of ego, he is asking (to paraphrase)  "HOW can I do what I do? How could  that symphony be committed to paper so quickly?"
Or Beethoven - in his Heiligenstadt  letter, he begins with thoughts of suicide, but ends with determination to give to the world the results of the power that had been given him.
And Brahms - destroying some of his own work that dissatisfied him.
I'm not in any way, of course, comparing myself to these great composers. I am merely pointing out how that indefinable power  can  form  such defining results; or in my case, induce me to  come up with a list of priorities within the art I  have become   so much a part of.
Like with Horowitz, who, at the beginning, really thought of becoming a composer (yes, really!).
But, listen to his  "Valse Excentrique"  and be glad he changed his mind!
Just having fun...          


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Another Example of "The Art Of" - One of the Great Documentaries...

As a  reminder : I've long synthesized the term "the art of " and the creative process; whether the product is, say,   the Edison light bulb; or, Tesla and AC; or, Horowitz and the piano transcription, etc., etc.
I once created  an arts course, titled "Sights and Sounds,"  which combined these two elemental aspects of consciousness by way of fusing the artist and musician in countless ways in order to enhance each of these powers; for instance, dealing with Impressionist artists and Debussy in their products of depiction, such as, say, a body of water.
Then why not "the art of"  the Word?     Shakespeare? - enough said...
One of my favorite activities is to collect documentaries that are so defining and  powerful in message as to represent, at a high level of attainment, the altering of the direction of the Road of History.
One such example is, in my view, a documentary made in 1981 by a  wonderful writer , who, I think,  is still teaching at Master's level, the profession of journalism at  the University of California. His name is Jon Else.
When I first saw the work shortly after its release, my primary reaction was " I need to  own this documentary", - which I immediately proceeded to do.
The title is "The Day After Trinity:   J. Robert  Oppenheimer and the Atomic  Bomb"
The sense of a rather arcane, engrossing; yet, rather gentle form of atmosphere wafts out of  this video - the narrative Else writes to depict the tale of the  men and women grappling with one of the mysteries in our existence is so wonderfully fused to the Byzantine path leading to that  defining moment in New Mexico just weeks before Hiroshima - some of the finest writing I've been witness to,  in this form of presentation.
The gradual destruction of the moral core of a number of physicists working in the Manhattan Project is so disturbingly evident in the  increasingly vacant, and, in a sense, dying  eyes of such great scientists as  Hans Bethe, Robert Wilson and Oppenheimer's brother Frank, also a physicist, who at times, in interview, wraps his arms around his head in anguish as he describes his reactions to that first atomic explosion in the desert.
And so; in this documentary, Jon Else, in unparalleled power, depicts the feeling of these geniuses  undergoing, within a second, the horrendous journey of  "We did it!!"  to "My God, What Have We Done?"
I have yet to witness a more brilliant example of the Power of the Word...


Friday, November 11, 2016

Movie Composers With Something to Say...

With all of  the movie  composers we know about, were any of them involved with  a number  of the world's greatest performers?
How about:
Miklos Rozsa, who  wrote a concerto for Jascha Heifetz? Rozsa also wrote music for the cellists Janos Starker and Gregor Piatigorsky.
Franz Waxman wrote music for Heifetz.
Louis Gruenberg also wrote a violin concerto for Heifetz.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote a concerto for Heifetz.
The composers listed above were widely known for their movie scores, some being submitted  for Oscar  nominations.
These, plus  a handful of other movie composers, reached beyond the Expected with their work for some of the world's great performers.
Among the present-day movie composers, John Williams is, arguably, the best-known for his masterful scores in some of the great movies so familiar to us. I wonder, at the same time -  how many of us are familiar with his work outside of the cinema?  Do listen to one of  his  most imaginative compositions; a Concerto for tuba,  as an example of his enormous creative range...


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Another Aspect of the Creative Process - Words, Rather Than Notes...

Thought it was time for a form of what we might  call 'divertissement' -  let's embrace a presentation of pithiness encrusted by a bit of humor :
Submitted is a brief list of my some of my favorite expressions; not in any particular order, but as they appear in my memory bank while punching these keys:

Never argue with an idiot, as any bystanders involved will not be able to identify the idiot  -   O.  Wilde

A bureaucracy is a large organization run by pygmies  - H. Balzac

He has Van Gogh's ear for music   - B. Wilder

I never let my schooling interfere with my education  -   M. Twain

Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it hundreds of times  -  M. Twain

Pure terror is upon awakening and discovering that the country is being run by the high school class  - K. Vonnegut

I've  had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't  it  - G. Marx

Do you remember how dumb I used to be?  Well, I'm better now  -  S. Laurel

Do share any of  these kinds of "aphorisms" you have stored, with me - I'd love to know them!
I promise to return  to  my form of 'normalcy'  next time...

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Piano Wizardry - Sviatoslav Richter... an Enigma?

He was a big man, with massive hands. He created the illusion of  'surrounding' the piano.
First thing you do after reading this blog, go to YouTube and enter Horowitz playing the C# minor Etude (Opus 10, No.4), of Chopin - then follow by entering Richter playing the same piece  - look at the performance marked "9 years ago" -   you will then understand what is meant by 'surrounding'  the piano.
There are those who question his approach to at least some of the masterworks he played. I include myself among them; however, no one in my memory made this huge instrument appear so small.
He was known for, arguably, possessing the largest repertoire of any of the reigning soloists. There were seasons during which he had, by memory, 15 different recital programs available on demand. He himself remarked that "I had about 80 programs in my head at one point."
During his teenage period, he played for any group that he could find; opera or ballet organizations especially. His sight reading abilities were the source of countless conversations.
A documentary made in Europe is titled (and available) "Richter-an Enigma."
Personally, I think of the producer of this documentary as perhaps a bit  too dramatic in his title.
There is no question about the private man that Richter was. He built a road with room only for him and   his eye-on-the - prize; specifically, his fusion with "that wonderful Yamaha" he preferred over other pianos, and the quest to uncover as many ways he could enter dialogue with -  through, arguably, the most arcane  language  available to us.
At times I am in controversy with this man.
But ALWAYS in awe...


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...