Saturday, June 28, 2008

I've Sometimes Wondered - Why Such Reactions??

Mozart called Clementi a "mechanic" (even though more of Clementi's piano music than Mozart's was found in Beethoven's personal library).
Chopin called Beethoven a "thumperer"; also, a "noise-maker."
One of the composers in the group that included Moussorgsky once stated that "Moussorgsky's music should be placed at the bottom of every ash-can in Moscow."
Tchaikowsky called Brahms "that artless bastard."
And there are more of these kinds of statements made by great composers about other great composers - what about Wagner calling Brahms a "prophylactic composer?"
I've sometimes wondered if there is an indefinable, actually physical (chemical??) component that innately protects some of the great composers (certainly not all) from any palpable influence - could that be a reason for such reactions?
No need to take me seriously - only a whimsical form of theorizing on my part.


Churchill - A Stunning Choice on His Priority List!

In 1941, the lunatic solo flight that Rudolf Hess took to Scotland is known, of course, to the world.
His bizarre attempt to forge a peace with Great Britain, behind Hitler's back, is one of the strangest episodes to emerge from World War II.
Churchill, upon hearing of this unfathomable act on the part of one of the three most powerful men in Nazi Germany, incredulously asked "do you mean to tell me that Hitler's Deputy is in our hands?" Upon hearing the confirmation, Churchill then said "well; Hess or no Hess, I'm going to watch the Marx Brothers."
Which he proceeded to do.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

George Shearing - Two Unique Offerings

I haven't dealt with popular music for quite some time now; therefore, please allow me to do so: I have in my vast library of historical performances two gems that delightfully represent the wonderful pianist from Britain, George Shearing.
The video I have was done at a Boston Pops concert around 1980, and includes the following morsel:
With conductor John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra looking on after a number done by Shearing and the orchestra, Shearing announced that he had finally come up, after countless public performances, with a new incarnation of his famous "Lullaby of Birdland." He then proceeded to play the tune with the customary sophistication one expects from a Shearing arrangement.
Accompanying Shearing was the acclaimed bass player, Don Thompson.
About a minute or so into the tune, Thompson stopped playing , placed his string bass on the floor, and proceeded to the piano, with Shearing still playing. Thompson then sat on one edge of the piano bench, gently but firmly pushed against Shearing, easing him off the other side of the bench, and picked up on the piano where Shearing had left off. Shearing stood for a few moments next to the bench while Thompson proceeded to overwhelm the audience with really brilliant piano playing.
Shearing then eased himself back onto the bench on the upper side of the keyboard, and the two of them began a truly historic performance of "Lullaby of Birdland", part of which included a section of Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze," played by Shearing, and which fit perfectly into the harmonic pattern of "Lullaby" (leave it to Shearing to create such cleverness!).
The tune went on for another couple of minutes, with a virtuoso ending by both Shearing and Thompson (who absolutely stunned me with his piano abilities), followed by a tumultuous reaction from the audience. What an event!
The second gem is on an audio cassette, done around thirty years ago, in New York, with George Shearing (believe it or not) as a disc jockey on an all-night jazz radio program, which went on for about two hours. Shearing would discuss the record he was about to play, and eventually put on some records of his playing which he had brought with him to the radio station, none of which had ever been released commercially. The program ends with a couple of Shearing performances
on (honestly!) an accordion.
I have this tape.
If you have interest, perhaps you should try Google or some other internet entity to see if you can obtain these two rarities.
Good Luck!

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

On This Date -A Momentous Decision For Us All

I will digress from the arts once again to remind the reader about a fateful decision made on this date - a decision that places us all where we are at this point in time.
On June 22, 1941, the greatest land war in history began when Hitler's Germany invaded Mother Russia, better known then as Soviet Russia.
Around dawn of this fateful day, some three million German troops, on a line of some two thousand miles, running north to south, stormed into Russia in order to create the lebensraum Hitler had written about in his Mein Kampf a generation before.
We give thanks, of course, for the massive blunder Hitler perpetrated upon himself by not having learned from Napoleon's experience in Russia, not to mention his turning upon his own words; that is, never to fight a war on two fronts.
After the carnage emanating from the next four years, two nations emerged as eventual Super Powers; namely, the U.S.A. and Russia, with the ensuing Cold War resulting in what we now are experiencing in a dangerous and fluidic world that has shrunk to the size of a pea.
I sometimes wonder what the world would be like today, had Hitler conquered a nation occupying approximately one sixth of the world's land mass?
Or, as the great historian Stephen Ambrose once speculated; namely, on the possibility of an alliance between Hitler and Stalin?


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chopin - A Unique Legacy

Frederick Chopin, that third member of the great Polish Triumvirate (Paderewski and Artur Rubinstein the other two), was indeed unique, in that every composition he created included the piano. Even the songs written early had, of course, piano accompaniment.
What strikes me is that because of the history-shattering precedent of writing exclusively for the piano during his all-too-brief life cycle, the one apparent price that this genius paid was his inherently weak sense of orchestration.
In his great first concerto (all of seventeen when he began writing it), let alone the other works for piano and orchestra, I have come to the conclusion that these are not concerti, but sonatas for piano with orchestral accompaniment.
I as well have the same reaction to his 'cello sonata, which pretty much turns out to be a piano sonata with 'cello obbligato.
Please understand that this is not a criticism; merely an observation.
Chopin's entire world swirled around the need to probe the potential of the piano, and this he did with such brilliance and prescience that one can forgive other aspects of his writing that were, out of elemental priority, secondary.
As Schumann wrote in his journal, "Hats off, gentlemen - a genius!"

Saturday, June 14, 2008

On the Death of Tim Russert - "The Art Of___??"

Upon hearing of the untimely passing of Tim Russert yesterday, I thought of his personal view of himself upon having achieved his certainly deserved stature.
He was in absolute awe, and without a trace of ego, of where he had taken himself ; that is, as one of the most powerful journalists of his time.
He, more than once, remarked to either members of his family, or close friends a virtual disbelief of his success, constantly reminding himself of the humble beginnings and the ascending road that lay ahead.
It reminded me of a letter Mozart once wrote to his father, stating pretty much the same thing; namely (to paraphrase), "Did I really write that composition? How can it be?" And in the 1938 translations by Emily Anderson, this letter can be found. And, as I recall, there are other letters by Mozart with the same unanswerable question.
Beethoven, in 1802, in a letter written to his brothers, but more really to himself, rationalizes into extinction the possibility of suicide, because of the oncoming deafness which he first sensed, probably, in 1798, for a simple reason - he had been put on this earth to do a very particular job.
He certainly was in awe of his own gifts.
With journalists such as Edward R. Murrow, or the young Richard C. Hottelet (who, incidentally, was the only American journalist ever jailed by the Nazis on charge of espionage, but released after four months , as, fortunately, the jailing took place a few months before America had entered the Second World War), it seems to me that the phrase "the art of" can be attached to virtually any subject, if the communicator of that subject demonstrates the importance of assiduous creativity in whatever thesis emerges as product.
Oppenheimer, the great American physicist, and father of the atomic bomb, certainly demonstrated that physics was truly an art form through his enormous enthusiasm connected with the unraveling of the mysteries of his pursuance, such as a Mozart or a Beethoven does in unraveling the elements of sound in order to convey that vital message. Many of Oppenheimer's students thought of him as an artist by way of his manner of presentation.
Russert (or for that matter the likes of Murrow and Hottelet), in(as all great artists must do), was, from my view, most assuredly an artist within his field - perhaps this is what thrust him into prominence (as were, ultimately, the Mozarts and Beethovens).


Friday, June 13, 2008

Is Travail a Requisite for Profundity?

Whenever I think about the music of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I sometimes ponder the relationship between the product the composer gives us and the road that his life travels upon. To explicate:
Mozart , the grinding poverty and denial, in general, of his entity.
Beethoven, his deafness and the essential destruction of social intercourse.
Chopin, the constant struggle with his lungs and general well-being.
Schumann, the injury to his hand and eventual insanity.
Moussorgsky, his struggle with and destruction by alcohol.
Scriabin, his personal demons and escape into pure mysticism.
The reader can easily, if desired, probe into the personal tragedies of these men; therefore, there is no need for me to delve into issues which can be uncovered by anyone who chooses to do so.
I bring all this up because of one other composer, Felix Mendelssohn, who had none of the above encounters with elemental misfortune.
His was a life of relative calm and placidity , which were the products of family wealth and resulting security.
For me ( and there will be those of you who may disagree), I find that this composer, who may very well have possessed a creative gift second only to the likes of Mozart and Schubert,
produced music that was at times heart -rendering in pure beauty of sound, but almost never touched the bubble of profundity.
As an example, the second movement of his great trio begins with a melody that is essentially as beautiful in its aural movement as any melody I know; but, for me, I am not assailed in the same exquisite manner that I am when I hear, for instance, the titan of the profound as represented in the final movement of Mozart's 'Jupiter'; or, the prelude to the first movement of the sonata, Opus 78 , of Beethoven; or, the opus posthumous Nocturne in "C#" minor of Chopin.
Please be reminded that this is through my own personal experience; no one else's.
I as well understand that this is not an infallible argumentation from my perch; for example, Liszt suffered no cataclysmic experience as a composer, but did touch upon the profound from time to time. I think of his Consolations, or his great sonata.
It's simply that I find myself thinking about this issue, and I dwell upon it from time to time, merely as a personal struggle with the ultimately unanswerable.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

A Day to Remember - Hats Off, Juan!

Sixty four years ago on this date, June 6, the greatest armada in history landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe under Nazi rule.
This story is one of the most thoroughly researched in the history of warfare; therefore, it would be a waste of the reader's time for me to re-enact any phase of this great military operation.
I should simply like to acknowledge our eternal gratitude to those who participated in Operation Overlord, and, particularly, those who fell in this magnificent endeavor which ultimately is the cause for placing us where we are at this moment in history.
In addition, may I remind the reader of one fascinating individual who was a kind of linchpin in the success of this undertaking?
His name was Juan Pujol, who was known as 'Garbo', and one of the most brilliant double spies in the history of warfare. Working for the British, and believed at the same time by the Nazis that he was working for them, Pujol kept feeding the Germans false information concerning the location of the coming landings by the Allies, inducing the Germans into thinking that Calais would be the location of the invasion, rather than Normandy, which indeed was where the landings took place.
Imagine! The Germans were so convinced that Pujol was a spy for them, that Hitler had ordered the striking of a medal for his contribution to the Third Reich.
After the war, Pujol, upon visiting the cemeteries in Normandy to honor the Allied soldiers who had fallen, wept, stating that he wished with all of his heart that he could have saved the lives of more men.
He passed away shortly thereafter.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Thomas Jefferson and Ludwig Van Beethoven - Brethren in Spirit?

I remember reading, years ago, a book by David Ewen, titled "Beethoven - The Man Who Freed Music". The title is perhaps a bit simplistic; however, the author effectively deals with Beethoven's struggle and ultimate victory in representing, for the first time, music reflecting the vocabulary of man's emotion simply for the sake of its existence - or, to cite briefly, the creation of Romanticism in music.
Jefferson, a contemporary, and thousands of miles away, was doing the same thing in his writings; that is, to exemplify the spirit of the Enlightenment by way of reflecting upon the reality of man's struggle with and questioning of Authority, let alone dealing with the coming pragmatism of human contact and the lowering of the barriers to allow common language and egalitarianism to project the ongoing search for freedom in its many incarnations and forms.
It seems to me that these two giants were involved in the same process.

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