Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Lives as a Composer - A Purveyor of Untrammeled Unoriginality...

Among  my pursuits as a musician, I  have occasionally written music for piano or violin, some of which has been recorded, mostly in Europe. Composition is listed, on my list of priorities, at the  lowest position, for a reason I have discussed in previous blogs;  specifically,  that  I have never felt comfortable while composing, and have done it, especially during the middle and latter phases of my experiences with music, very few times.
One exception, however:
I have a grand daughter who is playing 'cello and has fallen in love with the instrument. Her discoveries connected with the instrument, as a high school student, have led her into an increasing  curiosity about the great composers of the past three centuries, and prompted her to ask me  some  months ago "Papa, could you kindly write something for  me in the style of Bach?"
Which I did, after asking her to listen to the first Bach Suite for unaccompanied 'cello.
So she did learn the piece I wrote for her  under the guidance of her 'cello teacher, whom I had contacted to inform her about my writing the music.
About two months later I received another request to write something for her in the style of Mozart, which I did, using the rhythm of the primary theme of the "D" major Rondo by the Master.
Followed by Chapter three; namely, "Would you kindly write a piece for me in the style of Chopin?"
And so I  plied her 'cello with the atmosphere of a Nocturne. which seemingly pleased my favorite  young   'cellist.
And now, I am faced with yet another task of proving that I have finally found  my niche as a composer:
A few days ago, I received an E mail from  -
you guessed it.
"Hi Papa! When you have time, could you write something for me in the style  of Tchaikovsky?"
At least some recognition has been given me, even though it falls neatly into the category embedded  in the title of this blog...


Monday, January 2, 2017

Bartok at the Bar - A Remembrance...

The workings of the mind can defy description at times. The following morsel from my memory bank serves as an example:
Just a couple of days ago, this event leaped back into my consciousness after decades of  absolute somnolence - how and why this had been totally forgotten  for so long a period  is beyond any power of reason I possess.
When on my Amerika Haus tour  in Germany, I visited a section of downtown Frankfurt with some friends, and we came across a little Hungarian restaurant with  the words "Dios Teszta" printed on a sign in the window. First of all, be assured that none of us knew what these words meant -what prompted us to enter this little place was the sound of piano music.
A few tables, and an equally small bar constituted  the interior.
And a piano - an old upright close to the bar, and a middle-aged gentleman playing  what sounded to me like a folk tune in the Hungarian idiom.
We were led to a table by a fellow  who was also the waiter, who spoke English quite well, and recited a brief   list of dishes available, including those two words we saw on the sign on the window. He informed us that it was a classic Hungarian favorite composed of pasta and walnut. and the specialty of the house. I do not recall, of course, what else we ordered. But we must have enjoyed the meal, as nothing leaps into my memory up to this moment.
But the reason for my recalling this event was not the food, but the pianist at the bar. Sometime during the meal he  began to play some of the music of Bartok - sections of the composer's music, interrupted by various little Hungarian  folk tunes, in obvious random - imagine! - a medley of little tunes, interlaced with some of the quieter Bartok I was familiar with.
I found myself  at the bar, hoping that this man spoke English - he did.
He had studied for a short time with Bartok in New York, toward the end of the composer's life. And he fed me other information about his brief  experience with  the great musician. I did not press him in any way. I just listened to him talk.
To be brief, I visited this little place a few times by myself, and remember playing the Allegro Barbaro of Bartok on the upright (it was the only music by Bartok that I knew at the time). Hours of eating Dios Teszta and discussion about music...
That's all I can recall - I do not recall asking this man more about himself. I knew absolutely nothing more about him than you, the reader.
And that's all that I can recall - WHY did this event recur after all these years?
It's the ONLY time that I have ever eaten  dios teszta - this event did occur. This special form of pasta, and this man playing Bartok at a bar...

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Miracle of Genius and Old Age - Here's to Tony Bennett and Menahem Pressler !

The power that  the modality of genius lends to a mortal who utilizes music to prove a point  is best proven, to me, by attaining old age and remaining at world-class level at the same time.
No better examples are available than the careers of a singer in the world of pop music, and a piano player in the art of Classical music; namely, Tony Bennett and Menahem Pressler.
Simply listen to Bennett sing with Lady Ga-Ga, and hear Pressler play Mozart.
Bennett  melds into the style of Lady Ga-Ga, despite the reality that he is 60 years older than her.
And listen to him wrap his sense of musical story-telling around the shapes of the likes of Elton John and Stevie Wonder.
Then be reminded that Menahem Pressler escaped Hitler's Kristallnacht in 1938, and has been enthralling the world  ever since with his patrician readings of the Masters.
And I remind you that they are not products of Memory - they are Now...
Bennett celebrated his 90th birthday recently, and is releasing the latest of his  recordings.
Pressler will tell you of  a recent bit of surgery on his heart by  a surgeon  who demolished a premise that this kind of surgery should never even be considered on a man approaching his mid-nineties.
Pick up their latest recordings - what a gift to us!! Consider the combination of empirical and eclectic powers that these two performers possess.
Up until this period,  I had long considered that the legendary pianist  Artur Rubinstein was, for me,  the  paradigmatic example of longevity and genius  - after all, how many great pianists performed the music of Chopin  over twice as long as the life span of the composer? Rubinstein retired at age 89, after performing for years with failing eyesight and hearing, without divulging this information to his loving audiences. I adore his story of personal courage.
Fortunately, both Bennett and Pressler continue to enhance our world of escape, and my hope is that this miracle can go on...
By the way, the paintings of Tony Bennett  are on display  non-stop in various locations throughout the world.


Friday, December 16, 2016

The Death of a Giant, and the Final Concert Arranged by a Leading Nazi Before the End of World War Two - On the Same Day...

It was April 12th, 1945 in  Warm Springs, Georgia.  A beautiful  and bucolic dawn introduced this day.
A frail, tired man began this day in a chair downstairs in the lovely cottage he would visit from time to time. A brief period  before,  he had just returned from  the Yalta Conference, his final meeting with Stalin and Churchill, who derisively described Yalta as "the Riviera of Hades."
After  undergoing some activity, he put  a  hand to his head and said "I have a terrific headache."
In a few minutes this  man was dead. The  frail, tired man was, of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the leader of the Crusade against  the threat of a New Dark Age - sadly, he failed by less than a month to be  witness to the promulgation of the   historic victory he had fought to achieve.
On the very same day, in a cold concert hall in a battered Berlin, with the Russian military approaching from the East,  a final concert in that hall was performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. This concert was arranged by none other than Albert Speer, the gifted architect and one of the Nazi hierarchy - music of Beethoven, Bruckner and Wagner was performed. Imagine, if possible, a concert given in a city almost completely  destroyed by years of Allied bombing.  Even though it was April, it was a cold, gray day, and this select audience sat in the cold with collars up to ward off discomfort while listening  to what was to become one of the final expressions of a culture which gave the world so much; a culture which was driven insane by a monstrous agenda created by a man who thought  that he could become an artist.
For those of you who have not seen some of the water color art  of Adolf Hitler, do look at a few of them; then ask "what if this man had had sufficient gifts to follow through with his painting and taken a different path, what kind of twentieth century would we have had?"
At any rate, April 12th, 1945 was a rather interesting day, wouldn't you say?


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...