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.

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