Thursday, January 29, 2009

Irony in War - Another Example

Now that Hollywood has released the movie "Valkyrie" , which depicts the final attempt on the life of Hitler on July 20, 1944, I thought of the dimensional power of meaning that the opponents underwent concerning the outcome of history's greatest war.
Rather recently released information tells us that Eisenhower, then Montgomery, had gotten to know the exact location of Hitler in his so - called "Wolf's Lair" in East Prussia in 1944.
The brother of John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State, Allen Dulles, was Director of Central Intelligence, and was in Switzerland compiling intelligence about the location and daily scheduling of meetings that Hitler held with his generals in this place.
Evidently Dulles had refined the intelligence information enough to convey this data to Eisenhower. It appears, therefore, that Eisenhower considered it a distinct possibility that Hitler could be assassinated, and Montgomery concurred.
Therein lies a great and defining irony:
Eisenhower decided NOT to attempt to kill Hitler, as he considered Hitler to be more valuable alive then dead, as (rightly so) he thought that Hitler's radicalism would drag the German nation down in flames with him more efficiently.
On the other hand, the high-ranking Germans who concocted the plot to kill Hitler in July of 1944 thought it imperative that Hitler be killed in order to save the German nation from the utter destruction it was sure to undergo as long as Hitler was alive.
So the Great Irony was that the Allies wanted Hitler to remain alive, and the German patriots
wanted Hitler dead, and for the very same reason.
Another example of the results of the human condition, and what can be formed from it.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Immortal Triangle - How Compact History Can Be!

While musing over the birthday of Mozart, I was struck at how music was transmogrified in such a short period. The three giants, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven knew one another. Both Mozart and Beethoven had Haydn as a teacher for a short period.
By gazing at certain dates, one can easily see the compactness of those times:
Haydn was born in 1743.
Mozart in 1756.
Beethoven in 1770.
Most interesting is the reality that at the beginning, Haydn was Mozart's mentor, but the process reversed due to Haydn's surviving Mozart by many years, and becoming ultimately a kind of student of his former student by being witness to the miracle that Mozart became, and influenced by the language that emerged from this unprecedented genius.
And Beethoven, as a teen-ager, met Mozart once. At that meeting Mozart prophetically uttered "one day Beethoven will make a big noise in the world."
And so, from 1743 to 1827 (the passing of Beethoven), the world of music received, arguably, its most important transfusion.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Genius Wears Many Different Coats - For Example:

During our first years, my wife and I became acquainted with a number of brilliant and fascinating people.
Two of them became our dearest friends. They were older, both having gotten out of Vienna when Hitler annexed Austria.
They were both in the scientific field, she being one of the group which created a revolutionary process in photography which the entire world got to use as consumers.
One day we were invited to their home for lunch, and we were told that the scientist second in command of this new and burgeoning industry was also invited.
Well, he appeared on his bicycle, having pedaled his way about twelve miles in order to appear. What was interesting to us was that he was in his sixties, and had the physique of a twenty year-old.
It was a hot summer day, and after a short round of conversation, this gentleman, who did not exhibit much in the way of random banter, offered to chop down some of the smaller dead trees in the back yard (our friends' home was in the suburbs), and asked for an ax.
He proceeded to go to the back yard, strip to the waist, and began to dispatch some of the deceased greenery within his reach.
The remaining four of us continued conversation for awhile, after which Helen announced that lunch was ready. She then called out to the venerable Paul Bunyon in the yard to come in, upon which he removed the rest of his clothes, took a nearby hose, and rinsed himself off, all in complete view of those of us staring out at him from the living room windows.
Helen yelled out to get back into the house with clothes on, and compulsively reminded him to wash his hands (!).
The friendship continued thereafter.
Genius is devoid of constraint.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Strange Deaths of Charles - Valentin Alkan

There is a degree of mystery surrounding the name Charles - Valentin Alkan.
He was born in and lived out his life in the Paris area, and by his thirties he was already in what turned out to be a rather permanent obscurity.
He was considered a child prodigy, and the rave of his surroundings for some time. His overwhelming pianistic abilities were recognized by such luminaries as Chopin, Liszt, Hugo and Delacroix.
The music he wrote is certainly some of the most difficult written for the piano. One of his Sonatas requires almost an hour to get through, and although his music has been obscure since the period after his time, there is a kind of renascence in recent years by some of the pianists; most notably, the recordings of the late Raymond Lewenthal.
I feel that his being a direct contemporary of Franz Liszt was one of the reasons we do not hear of him to a palpable degree in our time. He was born about a year and a half after Liszt, and died a few months after the legendary Hungarian.
His death enhances the aura of mystery surrounding him.
One account lists his demise as a result of a bookcase falling on him as he was on a ladder reaching for a book in the library of his home.
The other claims his death from smothering when a heavy umbrella or clothes rack pinned him to the floor.
You choose.


Friday, January 16, 2009

A Recital Like No Other!

During my young years I frequented the beautiful concert hall at the Eastman School of Music, watching countless great artists perform there.
Perhaps the most memorable recital I can remember was performed by one who never became recognized, as I cannot even remember her name; however, she accomplished something I would never have contemplated:
She was a tall, blond young woman in a cherry - red dress, accompanied by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Guy Fraser Harrison, as I recall.
What was curious about the program was that two concerti were listed, but only one performer's name appeared.
Sure enough, she first sat at the piano and performed the Tchaikowsky Piano Concerto (the well - known one, of course), and played it with skill.
Directly afterward, she came out with a violin, and performed the Max Bruch Concerto in "G", and with equal skill.
This event was certainly unique; imagine, one person playing two different instruments well enough to do such a thing.
The obvious reason we do not know of her is that she was devoid of that magic ingredient; namely, genius.
A kind of freak, with the ability to master the instruments, but with nothing to say.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One Composer's Reaction to Criticism! - Whew!

Max Reger was a composer who straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, living only 43 years. Many loved his ideas, and about as many loathed them.
A letter he wrote to one critic went as follows:
"Dear Sir: I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your critique in front of me. In a moment it will be behind me."
No need for any comment from this writer.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Women, Black Cigars and Genius - Only in the 19th Century!

They both smoked strong, evil-smelling cigars. One wore pants, and had the genesis of a mustache on her upper lip. Both were married, and became mistresses. Both were the antithesis of what the "proper" 19th century representation of European women was all about, in general.
George Sand ran off with Frederick Chopin.
Princess Carolyne Von Sayn-Wittgenstein ran off with Franz Liszt.
Both dominated these composers through the daunting power of their personalities.
We know that Liszt's father, on his deathbed, warned his genius son that "women may very well complicate your life."
But the music survived.
Great art is almost always the ultimate survivor.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Strange Roads in Human History - Anwar Sadat

Another of my digressions from the arts, for which I apologize:
The world knows, of course, of the Camp David Accords, brokered by President Jimmy Carter, and signed by the Heads of State; namely, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel, which resulted in the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, an unprecedented act in the history of the Middle East.
This act of courage on the part of Sadat was repaid by way of his assassination in 1981 by the Fundamentalists we now call the Jihad.
What is generally not known is that during World War II, during the Battle of Africa, a small coterie of young Egyptian officers, known as the New Officers, was preparing to welcome the legendary Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, at that time Hitler's favorite, into Cairo and Alexandria, upon the defeat of the Allies, which, of course, never took place. One of those officers was Anwar Sadat.
How strange, how inexplicable it is to be witness to the saga dealing with the man who readied himself as a welcomer of the Nazi horde at one point in his life, followed over a generation later by his signing a treaty of peace with the nation formed by the Holocaust.