Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Bit of Information About This Blog - Please Read On!

The other day, I happened to be discussing the life of Josef Haydn with one of my students, and mentioned that this great composer wore, for a time, the same uniform that the servants wore.
I pointed out that for almost thirty years Haydn was employed by one of the most powerful families in Europe; namely, the Esterhazy family.
And so, Haydn was one of the few composers during that time who did not have to be concerned about his next meal, but at the same time was just a musician trying to make a living.
Of course, history takes us to Haydn's eventual recognition and fame as one of the truly vital composers in the story of human attainment.
As I was sharing the Haydn information with the student, the thought crossed my mind that I had forgotten to inform you, as readers of this blog, called "Aphorisms", that this blog is a game to me. To explain:
After I finally consented to initiate this blog, back in November of 2007, I stated that I would continue writing the blog as long as the information comes from my memory bank, and from no other source. The moment I am forced to consult a book, or a paper, or the Internet for information is the moment that this blog ceases to continue.
And so, dear reader: Let us see how much longer I can go on with "Aphorisms" - now you know why I call this a "game."


Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Final Concert - A Spring Day in 1945

On April 12, the day that President Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, a concert took place in war - ravaged Berlin. It was the final war - time concert in Berlin before Germany surrendered the following month to the Allies, and eighteen days before Hitler committed suicide not far from where this concert took place.
The program consisted of a Bruckner Symphony (I cannot recall which one), the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods) by Wagner.
It is rather curious to me of the championing of not only Wagner's music, but Beethoven's as well, by the German dictator.
He obviously did not peer enough into the personal history of Beethoven, who demonstrated many times during his life a derision toward, if not hatred, of authority.
Beethoven was a child of the Enlightenment, flying into a rage when the duplicity of Napoleon became known to him. He, upon refusing to bow before a royal entourage (for which he could have been jailed), uttered " it is they who should bow to us."
We cannot know what would have occurred had Beethoven and Hitler been contemporaries. It is perhaps possible that Beethoven might have been spirited to safety through Portugal, to America, with Varian Fry's complicity, Fry having saved many great artists from Nazism.
Or Beethoven might simply have kept quiet, such as other artists did in Germany, for their own safety. One will never know; however, it IS known that the great composer fought against human oppression, which is evident in his music.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Piano Project I Enjoyed Doing

During my experience in teaching, there were many happenings of solid enjoyment involving my students.
One that I remember was a project I did , called "A Parade of Pianists."
What I did was to write several variations on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", which I titled "Argument Over a Well - Known Theme."
Each variation was written in the style of a great composer. I used Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, the so-called "mystic chord" of Scriabin, and Prokofiev, in fashioning these variations.
Off stage, the piano students were lined up, each of whom came out on stage to do his or her particular variation, one after the other, in a continuous "parade", after which I completed the cycle by coming out and doing a Lisztian (or Horowitzian) transcription of the well-known theme, with all of the bells and whistles of absolute bravura and hubris, followed by a most enthusiastic reaction from the audience.
It was indeed a bundle of real fun to have done this project, and, above all, an experience of value to me, having been involved with these deserving students, who worked so hard to make it a successful remembrance for themselves.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Anton Kuerti - A Pianist Who Should Be Better Recognized

In my twenty seven years of college-level teaching, one of the musicians who had studied at the school I taught in, before I got there, is Anton Kuerti.
And who is Anton Kuerti, in the event the reader does not know the name?
I believe that he was born in Vienna; however, he is considered a Canadian, as he has spent much, if not most of his life, in that country, primarily as a pianist, teacher, and conductor.
While I was teaching at the school mentioned above, Kuerti came down from Canada with one of his beloved Mason and Hamlin pianos, and gave a recital in the place that, as a younger man, he had spent some years studying at.
I was overwhelmed at what I heard in this recital. He played Schubert and Beethoven, as I recall. I came to realize that I was listening to one of the most powerful minds in the world of music.
Kuerti is a musician's musician, a pianist's pianist; that is, his interpretive powers are so attuned intellectually to the composer being performed, so bound architecturally to the sounds he is producing, that his readings, in my opinion, are more directed to the more critical listener. This may very well be the reasons why this pianist is not as well-known to the world, perhaps, as the more familiar names.
He is a giant, no doubt. He is one of very few who has recorded all thirty two Beethoven Sonatas and the five Piano Concerti, along with, I believe, all of the Sonatas of Schubert.
If you are not familiar with the work of Kuerti, I do certainly recommend that you listen to some of his recordings. You will find that this man is a world-class musician.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Evil Incarnate and the Arts, Hand-in-Hand

I have already written, in a previous blog, about Hitler having been rejected twice by Vienna's prestigious Academy of Fine Art, and what a different turn the history of the twentieth century would almost assuredly have taken, had he become a professional artist; for most of us, perhaps the most disturbing example of art and evil being coupled in one human.
Consider the following, as well:
Unlike Hitler, this man was born into a sophisticated, well-to-do family.
His father was founder of the Halle Conservatory of Music.
His mother's father was founder of the Dresden Conservatory of music.
He became highly drawn to music, and became an accomplished violinist.
During the twenties, he became a close friend of Wilhelm Canaris, an admiral in the German navy, who was ultimately chosen by Hitler to become head of Intelligence.
The wife of Canaris, Erika, was an accomplished violinist, and invited this young man to perform in regular sessions of chamber music, in the Canaris home. What we know of these sessions was that Haydn and Mozart were the most often performed. It appears that had he chosen to do so, this young man could have entered the world of music as a professional.
He decided to embark upon a different mission.
In January of 1942, he gathered some fifteen of the top officials in the Nazi party, and conducted a meeting with one agenda; namely, the Final Solution - a meeting which took about ninety minutes, and sealed the fate of millions in Occupied Europe. This was the infamous Wannsee Conference.
He achieved great power within the Nazi regime, and was greatly admired by Hitler.
Later in 1942, he was assassinated by two Czech patriots who had been trained in England for this one purpose, then flown into Europe to fulfill this mission.
For pure evil, he was equaled only by Hitler himself. The blood of millions was on his hands.
It is thought by many that had this man lived on, he would have become Hitler's successor.
In retribution for this man's assassination, the town of Lidice was totally destroyed, all of the male population of that town executed, and the women and children sent off to Germany for a fate not totally known.
And this man loved the vaunted human achievement we call Music.
His name was Reinhard Heydrich.


Monday, March 9, 2009

High on the List of My Most Valued Experiences in Music

I have undergone many wonderful experiences as a musician and educator, through countless encounters with brilliant teachers who formed my entity, and with many accomplished musicians, some of them world - renown. These experiences have formed a priceless dossier of memories.
However, an ongoing experience constitutes one of my most cherished facets of existence, let alone memories.
Over the years, the hundreds of students I have shared my time with average out to about twelve years of sharing per student, and one of the most engrossing realities in my role as a teacher is that I now have a number of students who are, and have long been, more than students in my life. Allow me to explain:
There are, among those who visit me each week, five adult men, each a professional in something other than music, who have been with me , as described below:
1. A brilliant and much respected engineer, who in 1975, walked into the college I was teaching at, requesting piano lessons, which have been going on ever since.
2. A sophomore at Harvard, who took piano and music theory with me at that point in time,
for additional credits. He is now in his mid - forties, is CEO of his own corporation, and sees me each Tuesday.
3.His daughter started with me; then he followed her onto my path, and has been with me for about eleven years. A brilliant intellect and successful in his field, he shares with me many prized moments of music and discussion about our world.
4.An acknowledged entity in his field, this man followed his son into my studio directly after his young man, who took lessons with me, went off to college.
5. An expert in the medical insurance field, and well recognized for his expertise as a professional working for the state we both live in, waited for a short period after his daughter, who took lessons with me, went off to Notre Dame - he then pounced onto my schedule in her slot, and has been with me for, I can only guess, about twelve to fifteen years.
I can only approximate; however, I come up with a total of approximately ninety years of being with these gentlemen, who are now a world more meaningful to my consciousness than mere students. They have become an intrinsic way of life for me. I have suggested to them more than once that they are no longer taking "lessons" with me; rather, they share "sessions."
I cannot reason as to why this experience exists. I can only continue to relish in this mini-miracle, and tell you that the growth I have seen is unique, in that the usual amount of time someone in my position can be witness to growth is a handful of years, usually around four, if one sees the student during his or her college tenure. In my experiences dealing with these dear friends, which they have become, I have seen musical growth for the number of years they have shared with me, which makes for a truly unique perspective on growth.
I have illimitable gratitude for these experiences, and invite any fellow educators to share with me any similar happenings in their careers.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Chopin and Artur Rubinstein - Only Once Per Lifetime

I was witness to an inner experience the likes of which can never be replicated.
Artur Rubinstein, nearing the end of an eighty year career, was giving an all - Chopin recital, one of many I had experienced, by this towering musician.
About half-way into the program, as he was playing one of the Nocturnes, something happened within me, totally indefinable, that instigated the onset of tears rolling down my cheeks; tears without a sob or any other reaction from within me. Tears, not in a torrent, but in a gentle downward trickle. Something in his message created a response which I had never anticipated nor repeated thereafter.
After the recital ( and I had gone alone to this particular recital), I was in absolute consternation about what had occurred, and why.
Some weeks after, an answer came to me, and to this day I cannot improve upon that admittedly speculative answer:
Rubinstein, at this point in his wonderfully lengthy and immortal adventure, had been performing the music of Chopin for a period longer than the actual complete life - cycle of the composer himself, and had found ways of the kinds of discovery that perhaps Chopin could not possibly have contemplated in such a short life.
Is it possible for a performer to discover elemental and innate phases within a piece of music that the creator himself could not have known, simply due to the degrees of difference in eclectic response between composer and performer?
Be reminded that Rubinstein played and lived with Chopin's music for about 80 years; the composer lived into his 39th year.
Was this revelation the cause of the tears I could not possibly have anticipated?