Sunday, February 22, 2009

In the World of Music, the Supreme Terrorist?

The vicious temper of the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini is well - documented.
I have already written one story about his brand of terrorism.
He repeatedly either broke his baton, or threw really priceless scores at his musicians during these tantrums, and insulted countless colleagues without mercy or hesitation.
One real gem was his threat to the orchestra during a rehearsal; namely, " when I die, I shall return as the owner of a bordello, and not allow any of you to enter. Anyway, you all play as if you were castrated, so what is the difference?"


Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Five -Year-Old Playing Diabelli - Wonder What Became of Her?

I recall, a good number of years back, taking on, as a student, a little Japanese girl of kindergarten age.
Her family came from Kobe for a period during which her father was attending Harvard for his doctorate.
She was rather precocious musically, as she could read music better than her own language, and was impressive in her knowledge of English, even at that age.
The event I remember best was when she and I played in public, in her fifth year, doing the six sonatinas of Opus 163 by Diabelli, named "Pleasures of Youth", which are really quite charming, and redolent with melodies.
I vividly recall those tiny, chubby little fingers gliding over the hundreds of notes she had to play, and the audience simply loved the performance.
Even though I have taught many much older than she was, that event stands out as one of my more memorable experiences.
Wonder what became of her?


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Young Composer Who Got Away With It - Namely, Me

During my elementary and high school days in Rochester, I attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music as a piano student, before making the defining decision to make music my profession.
Those of us who played well were qualified to play in the Honors recitals, which took place periodically in, as I recall, the beautiful Kilbourn Hall.
I performed in virtually all of these recitals, as I was considered pretty good at playing the instrument.
Of course, one would have to pass a rather stringent list of prerequisites in order to perform in the Honor recitals. Obviously, the committee who decided knew the repertoire, and expected certain vital aspects of that repertoire to be attained in order for the performer to be in those recitals.
One day, the diabolical reality appeared, that if I played pieces which I composed, the members of the committee would not have any precedent to go by, as these pieces would not have been heard prior to the recital, as I would write a composition specifically for each recital. My teacher liked my compositions, and so I had no problem entering them.
There were, to be sure, certain pieces from the repertoire that required performance, which I did, of course; however, any and every piece that I wrote, then performed in Kilbourn, passed the tests with flying colors, and I became a kind of mini-celebrity, being the only kid in the Honors recitals that wrote original music.
Diabolical, perhaps; but, it worked every time.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Twentieth Century Music's Greatest Tragedies

For me, the most unremitting losses dealt the world of music in the twentieth century were the tragically early deaths of three performers who, at the time of their passings, were already legendary in attainment and promise.
I have already written about the American pianist, William Kapell, who was killed in a plane crash at the age of thirty one. The few recordings left to us are vivid descriptions of a massive pianistic and intellectual entity, rivaled by only a few great pianists many years his senior.
Guido Cantelli was also killed in a crash, he at age thirty six, and at the time of his death was already considered a conductor on the very edge of a meteoric career. Arturo Toscanini, the legendary conductor, described Cantelli as the most impressively gifted young musician he had ever met (do be reminded that Toscanini's son-in-law was Vladimir Horowitz), and he was never told of Cantelli's tragic end, which he survived by only a few months.
The Rumanian pianist Dinu Lipatti died in his thirty third year of a blood cancer, and had already achieved a status essentially equal in musical probity and eclectic powers to his world -renown contemporaries, a truly amazing status to have arrived at so early in a career.
Where would these three giants have taken us, had they lived on?

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Before the Deluge - The Statue and the Painting

The curators in the Louvre had already activated mock evacuations of their treasures in 1938, just in case their enemies on the eastern borders decided upon a mischievous incursion.
And so, upon the threat of invasion into France in 1940, during the so-called "Phony War", the plans for removing as much of the priceless works of art went into action.
Notable was the action taken by the curators and staff as regards two of the most priceless possessions in the Louvre; namely, the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory.
The most difficult procedure for removal was, of course, the eight foot Winged Victory masterpiece, which was in an extreme form of fragility, as it is, in reality, a highly damaged statue, consisting of about two hundred fragments, having been found in the latter third of the nineteenth century in utter disarray on an Aegean island, almost two thousand years after it was created.
Imagine, if you can, the statue being tenderly transferred onto a device especially constructed for the purpose of transporting it down the grand staircase of the Louvre, by inches, until it left for the safety, fortunately, of Southern France.
As for the Mona Lisa, a special vehicle with a sealed atmosphere (I believe a converted ambulance) arrived for transport of the most acclaimed painting in the Louvre, also, for the safety of Southern France, and beyond the visual capabilities of the Nazi hordes, about to make France a part of the Third Reich.
It perhaps should be noted that the curator who accompanied the Mona Lisa in that ambulance fainted en route to the area of safety, due to the particular ratio of temperature/ humidity created in order to protect the painting from damage that the elements could have caused.
The world is thankful for these actions.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Irony in War - How Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan Enhanced Their Inevitable Defeats

As you know, when I write about War, it is almost always about the countless ironies that emerge from this man-made cataclysm; for example:
As I think about the present economic malaise that our culture is undergoing, my thoughts move back to the Great Depression.
One should be reminded that almost a decade after the Great Depression began, this event continued to persist. In 1938, it was called by detractors "Roosevelt's Depression", as unemployment was still a major issue.
Well, in one day, Imperial Japan solved that problem for us by its attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Gone was the Depression, as America shifted to a war footing, which ultimately insured Japan's defeat.
As for the European conflict; in the fall of 1940, the Luftwaffe attacks on the air fields and radar stations in Southeast England were inflicting such damage that it was thought by many in Parliament that the defeat of England was only weeks away, which could very well have altered the course of history, as we know it today.
In late August of 1940, when England was tottering on the brink, a German bomber accidentally dropped some bombs on a London suburb, which prompted Prime Minister Churchill to order a retaliation by bombing Berlin for the first time.
That bombing of Berlin, which inflicted minor damage, threw Hitler into a rage, whereupon he ordered his air force to cease its attacks on the English air fields and exact revenge upon London, therefore launching what is known as the Blitz.
Night after night, destruction rained down upon London, ultimately killing thousands of civilians.
In the meantime, the Fighter Command, having received respite from the German fighters and bombers, quickly recovered and not long after, exacted terrible damage on Hitler's Luftwaffe, forcing the dictator to postpone his planned invasion of England, as he no longer had air supremacy over that island. And so, because of a temper tantrum, Hitler certified his coming defeat by turning to Russia in 1941 without having vanquished England and insuring his having to fight a two-front war.
Also, one can never ignore the alliance formed by England and America at that point in time, which later gave us Operation Overlord, the invasion of and inevitable liberation of Western Europe.


Two Fellows Just Trying to Make a Living; One, Gifted - the Other, Sublime

Imagine an evening in 1786 in Vienna, with the rarity of two composers rarely seen together, on the same program in a command performance, both having a number of their compositions performed.
One was the chief court composer, the other an impoverished young man just six years younger than his contemporary.
One can assume that the court composer had an ongoing fear, if not hatred of the existence of the younger man, full well knowing that this particular composer was infinitely more gifted. And that fear must have persisted until the younger man died. There was even talk about the court composer having poisoned his younger rival, which to this day is still discussed, but has never been proven.
And so, both appeared on the same stage on the same evening.
I wonder if words were passed between the two on that occasion?
The chief court composer was a gifted musician from Italy, named Antonio Salieri; the other, from a nearby community. His name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Two fellows, just trying to make a living.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Power of Suggestion - And the Result!!

Dr. Anton Mesmer , an Austrian physician, lay groundwork in neurology which resulted in the development of hypnosis in Scotland.
Mesmer moved from Vienna to Paris, placed a piano in his new apartment, and on at least one occasion had a fellow by the name of Chopin perform for a small audience there.
A little over a half century later, a young composer, after early success, ran into a period of not being able to compose. Depression set in, and even thoughts of suicide began to appear.
Upon the insistence of friends, he decided to visit a clinical hypnotist by the name of Nikolai Dahl, who was well-known for his work in the relatively new process.
In 1900, this young composer spent about four months under treatment of clinical hypnosis with Dr. Dahl, who suggested to him that he would once again create music, and important music, and would not stop writing throughout his life.
Well, the result was more than successful. One of the works this young man wrote shortly after his treatment ended was his second piano concerto, which a century later remains one of the most popular works in this form.
This young composer, as it was suggested by Dahl, did indeed write much music of great power, extending the Romantic period forty three years into the twentieth century. Dahl was proven correct about his prognosis, and the composer dedicated this concerto to him.
The composer's name - Sergei Rachmaninoff.