Thursday, April 30, 2009

Part Five - Conversations with Three Visionaries?

I have already written about these two rather fascinating bed-fellows; one, a musician - the other, a political philosopher. I think that I would have been fascinated simply by being witness to a conversation between these two, with perhaps a timidly projected question or two on my part.
One was Alexander Scriabin, the Russian composer who underwent. arguably, the most complete transmogrification of any of the major composers; that is, he started out as an unabashed Romantic and ended a short life as a true Mystic, with a completely different harmonic vocabulary from that which he began with - truly, two totally different entities having been created within one being.
His friend, Georgi Plekhanov was also a defining visionary, with his panoramic view forming out of world politics; the result being as powerful a Marxist as Russia ever produced, with his enormous intellectual influence aiding in the swerving of the direction of Mother Russia as it moved through the early 20th century. One can only imagine the sanguine nature of power emanating from these two mouths.
Another visionary I thought about was Woodrow Wilson, a man of enormous attainment arising principally from his indistinguishable conviction about the moral station of America, as he went from professor to president of Princeton to President of his beloved United States.
He took his convictions with him to Clemenceau and Lloyd George after the defeat of Germany in World War I, but did not understand that the hatred of these two leaders toward Germany would defeat the moral aims of Wilson, who did not, or indeed could not hold sway in his view that the power of moral righteousness could prevail over the powers of retribution and revenge.
And so, sadly, I had to admit to myself that, at least from my view, a conversation with Woodrow Wilson might have left me unrequited, with personal vindication based upon the unparalleled tragedies that would come out of Versailles.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Part Four : Conversations With "The Big Three?"

No, I'm not referring to The Big Three, who led their cultures to final victory over the Nazi menace in World War II; namely, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
I'm thinking of The Big Three, all born in 1685, each of whom had a major part in the formulation of musical evolution after the Baroque period; namely, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.
I think that I should have liked to be in conversation with these three giants, and I shall pose the issues in their lives which have led me to my desires to "talk with and listen" to them -
Bach, for all of his pandemic influence upon virtually all who followed him, had a short fuse, which in one case in, I believe 1717, put him under arrest.
His rather vehement, if not vitriolic insistence that he leave Weimar for a better job at better money - the result was that the local authorities threw him in the local jail, at least for a week or so - that is the kind of authority the local officials were capable of exercising in those days.
And so our mighty Bach was a jail-bird, and with a record that can still be looked at.
The same kind of local authority was prevalent in the town of Hanover, Germany, when the soon-to-be recognized composer Handel asked the Elector ( sort of like a mayor today) of Hanover for permission to visit London for a short period to have his music played there. The Elector, whose name was George, allowed Handel the privilege of visiting London for about a month, upon which the composer would have to return, under the existing local laws.
Well, Handel went to London, and never looked back.He became the toast of London, eventually making great fortunes in his musical endeavors, and remained there as a permanent part of the London Establishment.
Unfortunately for Handel, the Elector of Hanover, through political process, became King George of England(!), which resulted in Handel's become a hunted man.
The composer went into hiding for a rather lengthy period; then, discovering that the new King loved the Thames River and the boat races thereon, he took a chance by writing his Water Music as a tribute to and recognition of King George. When it was presented, George was so pleased that he officially forgave and pardoned Handel, who certainly lived happily forever; after all, the great composer is buried in Westminster Abbey!
As for Scarlatti, the 555 or so masterpieces he wrote for the keyboard were so prescient that his influence upon the composers who wrote for the piano were, in many ways, more direct than Bach. The great pianist Horowitz was so enamored of Scarlatti's music that he enlisted the aid of Ralph Kirkpatrick, the eminent harpsichordist, on how to deal with Scarlatti on the modern piano, the result being a strong revival of the music of Scarlatti in the latter part of the 20th century.
At least as beguiling to me is the influence that the Spanish and Portuguese composers had on Scarlatti, who spent much of his life in these two countries even though he was an Italian by birth. Most especially to me is the infusion of the Flamenco guitar on his music, and I should certainly have liked to hear his personal reactions to this kind of influence upon his thinking.
And so, the experiences the "Big Three" underwent could very well be strong sources of interest in the art of conversation, which I would have loved to be a participant in.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Part Three of "How Does One Answer the Following Question??

Well, how about a conversation with one who sits on the other side of the table from the likes of a Schweitzer; namely, one from the Dark Side?
There are so very many (sadly) examples of the human monster to choose from, that I thought it a bit more convenient to choose from a certain sector of human history.
As the twentieth century houses a plethora of, say, tyrants, I thought of the more likely candidates I might like to have shared a conversation with.
The first, obviously, was one Adolf Hitler, who through his brand of evil may be considered the most defining example of the Dark Side, as he formed the first half of the century to a level which decided the form of the latter half.
I decided against a "conversation" with the German dictator for one reason; and that is, his book "Mein Kampf", which he wrote while in prison in the 1920's.
This book predicts, with frightening prescience, what his plans would be for the world. Included is actually a reference to poison gas, let alone the laying out of plans which formed the Holocaust and the deaths of many millions during his twelve-year tenure.
But the book also informs me of the staunchly parochial view he had of the world outside of his personal plans. And that, of course, would mean that he would most assuredly, in conversation, project a limited, if not inaccurate view of issues of consciousness outside of his white-hot microcosm of hate and moral corruption.
Frightening, indeed, but probably quite tedious during the course of a conversation.
From the Nazi hierarchy, I would probably have chosen Albert Speer, Hitler's Minister of Armaments. who may have been close to the level of genius.
Speer was a trained artist, highly educated and sophisticated (probably the only sophisticate within Hitler's Circle). Speer became the Dictator's personal architect, and accomplished several really quite brilliant projects for Nazi Germany. Of all of those close to Hitler, Speer was one man whom Hitler actually demonstrated some open admiration for, which created some division among those who sought Hitler's favor.
At the Nuremberg trial, Speer was the only high Nazi who projected a palpable picture of remorse for what had occurred in Germany and occupied Europe. This clever deflection on his part resulted in a twenty - year sentence, rather than the sentence of hanging, which most of the Nazi hierarchy received. We know that he employed slave labor for both his projects and the armaments industry during the war. It is unknown as to how many of these laborers died.
This one man who served his master, and yet survived to write his memoir and die a natural death, is a Nazi I think I would have found interesting in conversation. By commanding, however small, a degree of respect from Adolf Hitler prompts me to choose this one monster out of an entourage of monsters whose brand of nihilism may never again (hopefully) be replicated.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Part Two of "How Does One Answer the Following Question??"

A second contribution concerning the question "which four people would you consider the most interesting to be in conversation with?" -
I thought that I would venture, at least in part, away from the world of music in this incarnation, and came up with several names to spar with:
Edward Teller came to mind as an example of defining brilliance in physics - he was known in mid-century as the "Father of the Hydrogen Bomb", he being an exponent of overwhelming power needed in order to dispel the possibility of another, and perhaps final world war.
A bit of humor connected with Teller: when Oppenheimer asked him to join the vaunted group in the Manhattan Project, which was the body of brilliant people brought together to beat Hitler to the Atomic Bomb, Teller said he would IF he could bring his piano with him in order to play his beloved Beethoven. Oppenheimer assented.
Well, I thought about Teller and the conversations which may emanate from him, but my thoughts rather quickly veered in the direction of Robert Oppenheimer, that genius from New York, who headed the Manhattan Project.
He was truly a man of great interest, in that not only was he a great physicist but also a great lover of the arts, learning classical music early in life, and becoming an expert in poetry, chiefly from other cultures. He must have been an inspiring teacher - on one occasion, a young woman who had been in one of his classes insisted upon repeating the course, even though she had passed the course with flying colors. She simply wanted to undergo the experience another time. In addition, many of Oppenheimer's students became world-class physicists in their own right.
I feel confident about my choosing J. Robert Oppenheimer as a person I should love to be in conversation with.
I also thought about the likes of a Hegel, or Schopenhauer , but steered myself toward a man who was not only a great philosopher, but wore other coats as well:
A medical doctor who established a hospital in Africa, and worked with leprosy and its problems.
A world-renown philosopher, as I had mentioned, with a panoramic view of the ethical world of Christ, and the ensuing ramifications.
A recognized theologian, with several defining books having been written.
One of the world's eminent organists and Bach scholars, with treatises written not only about Bach, but also about the art of organ-building. He had a lead-lined organ installed in his home in Africa, in order to ward off damage from the excessive humidity in that part of the world.
If I had to choose between Bach and Schweitzer regarding the art of conversation, I would have to move toward Schweitzer because of the immensity of world-view this man possessed.
I will continue with this "game" in the near future.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

How Does One Answer the Following Question??

A couple of days ago, I was asked "which four people would you consider the most interesting to be in conversation with?"
Well, to begin with, I feel that this question can never be answered, at least from my perspective, as the numbers of defining historical figures form a bottomless pit.
But I find myself in virtually endless argumentation with myself by pointing out the reasons I would NOT, as well as would be willing to be in conversation with giants I have thought about; in other words, a game of sorts with my own reactions.
As an example, in the world of music, which is the world I chose as my first choice in life, I immediately thought of Mozart, whose raw talents have yet to be matched.
In consideration of this unparalleled composer's attainment level, in a brief life of 35 years; a composer having written all but the last half-dozen of his 41 symphonies by age 31, with Beethoven just completing his 1st symphony at the same age, my primary reaction was how thrilling it might be to discuss issues with Mozart.
But then I thought back to his letters and other primary source aspects and realized that the level of intellectual curiosity about the world around him was really quite limited; truly an organism created to produce great music, and nothing much more - well, I sense that he might actually be interesting in conversation for just a short period. I cannot be sure that he might have had sufficient eloquence in his projections to carry on a lengthy conversation. And so ( alas), I disqualified my first subject.
I think, now that I have set the tone for the way I wrestled with Mozart, I can be a bit more brief about my thoughts concerning this question.
Please allow me to interject the reality that I fully expect disagreement with any number of my arguments, as this question can be only a game among all of us who may be given a question of this sort.
Beethoven may have been more interesting to talk with, as a child of the growing Enlightenment, with derision of, let alone hatred of authority, royalty or the like, and the Jeffersonian principles he applied in his music, to represent the vocabulary of human emotion in his work simply because it exists; to unshackle this language, allows me to seriously consider wanting to listen to what he had to say.
Or Liszt; above Chopin, Schumann or his other famous musical contemporaries - looking at the dimensions created by this new device; namely, Theme Transformation, which he inculcated in his one Sonata, and the methods through intellectual design, almost like a scientist, that coalesced in this gigantic work, prompt me to want to have listened to Liszt and the workings of his mind in a conversational format.
I will continue with this subject in consequent blogs, with your permission.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's in a Tune? - The Power of Music...

I mused this morning over the pandemic nature, the omnipresence of music, and how intrinsically it is fused into our consciousness -
Although Wagner's music influenced Hitler's sense of what his world goals should be, it may be of interest to note that his favorite pop tune was "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?", because he liked the nick-name given him and used by his close circle of friends; namely Wolf.
A tune that was sung in English by the British soldiers and in German by the German troops, both during World War II, was " Lili Marlene." Both sides were attracted by the nostalgia and depicting of love in this tune.
Again; in English in this country, and in German in Hitler's young dictatorship, the tune "Happy Days Are Here Again", and sung for the same reason; namely, a musical escape from the reality of the Great Depression, and the hopes of both the German people under the new leader Hitler and the Americans with the new President Roosevelt - it was a parallel expression in diametrically opposed cultures.
Mozart takes a well-known tune and creates a delightful set of variations around it; namely,"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".
Pilots of the vaunted P-51 Mustang, the brilliantly designed fighter-escort plane in World War II, was so coveted by its pilots, that most, if not veritably all of those flying this defining plane thought of this brilliant piece of engineering as their very own. Actually, it is known that one of the pilots named his plane "Baby Mine", a tune out of Walt Disney's Classic cartoon "Dumbo", which was released during this period. The tune was that sung by the mother of the little elephant called Dumbo.
A pretty young teen-ager of average talent, a student of Beethoven, becomes immortalized by Beethoven's writing of a little piece titled "Fur Elise".
And on and on - other examples exist; however, you probably feel that you have read enough!


Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Singer and the President - April Events To Be Remembered -

As we are in the month of April, two events that come to mind about April should, perhaps, be recalled, due to their defining significances:
In April of 1939, the great contralto Marian Anderson sang in front of the Lincoln Memorial before some 75,000 people.
She sang there because the wife of the president, Eleanor Roosevelt, had arranged for her to do so after she was not allowed to give a recital in the hall of The Daughters of the American Revolution; refused because of the nature of segregation as it then was in those times.
As both black and white, for the first time in our cultural history, were standing elbow -to - elbow listening to the legendary singer, it may be, from my view, one of the first significant awarenesses of social change given to the American, along with the unparalleled cohesiveness formed among the citizenry by the defeat of Max Schmeling by Joe Louis in 1938.
Louis was the black boxer from Detroit who, because of the events taking place in Nazi Germany, became the overwhelming favorite over Schmeling, who had become a hero of Hitler after his defeating Louis two years before.
So, before Martin Luther King, we can perhaps consider the first formations of the Civil Rights Movement which King created, actually beginning back in the thirties.
The other event took place on this day in 1945; namely, the passing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, arguably among the most powerful of the presidents. "We, who hated your bloody guts, salute you" was one of the statements made by the opposition to Roosevelt - this expression reminds us of the stature of this man who, tragically, passed away just weeks before the end of World War II.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Do Take "Note" ... Please Read On -

Recently one of my former students, who is now an accomplished and distinguished performer and educator in Europe, sent me a message containing questions concerning one of my compositions. The reason, of course, was that an artist of his integrity needed to be sure that the notes in question were indeed the notes that I had intended to come into existence.
This kind of questioning is a compliment to the art, as it is a process which is the self-propagating force seeking the truth of the expression that the composer intended; after all, the music left behind cannot be defended by the composer who has passed on.
We see such problems of revisionism in countless compositions left by composers who, before our time, had meager or, indeed, non-existent legal means to defend his intentions.
Just one example:
In the 1985 recording of the Mozart Piano Concerto , K. 488, done in Italy by Horowitz and the conductor Guilini (whom Horowitz had chosen for the task), Horowitz approached Guilini before recording the final movement (this was in the back-room before going out to the studio and the waiting orchestra) and, with the music in hand, said to the conductor that he was aware that Guilini, in a particular measure, which Horowitz pointed out, was done in a particular way, and Horowitz then said "and I do it THIS way."
Well, Guilini was stopped in his tracks, said nothing, and looked for a pregnant second or two at the pianist, who then broke the ice, and said, "tell you what - why don't I do it my way, and you and the orchestra do it your way?" Horowitz then diffidently shrugged his shoulders, upon which both he and Guilini broke out into uproarious laughter.
By the way, in the recording we hear that measure done Horowitz's way, by both the pianist and the orchestra, even though Guilini was an acknowledged Mozart scholar.
And so it goes - you can see this event. It was recorded on DVD, if you can find it. I do have it.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Iturbi - A Great Pianism Unfulfilled?

The noted pianist, Jose Iturbi, one of the foremost musicians from Spain, has been a kind of dilemma to me all these years.
As a child, I was magnetized by the brilliance of his playing, especially of the Spanish masters, for which he was known throughout the musical world.
Iturbi, in actuality, was unequaled for his sheer pianism. His uncanny sense of keyboard location was a constant wonder to me. Countless times I asked myself "how CAN he do what he does without even looking down at his fingers or the keyboard?"
As the years went by, and my understanding of the process of the totality of performance grew, I came to view this man with growing apprehension and disappointment, when it became apparent ( and this is only my view - there may be those of you who do not agree) to me that the synthesis, the totality of his entity never did form. He remained for me only a wonderful player of the piano who only occasionally touched greatness in his attachment to the music he performed.
I once mentioned to one of the more eminent of the younger pianists on the world stage that I did not think of him as a pianist, primarily; rather, a great musician who used the piano to make his point. He liked my description.
Sadly, this description does not, in my view, apply to Iturbi.

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