Saturday, May 30, 2009

Part Eight - Conversations with Whom??

To get back to the question dealing with "whom I should have loved to be in conversation with" -
Thought I should traverse the pop/jazz aspect at least once, perhaps more times along the way.
The first name that came along was (and without being surprised) Frank Sinatra. After all, his voice was one of the top contributions to pop music in the twentieth century, and radio programs continue to herald him week - to - week, as featured artist.
However (and for the same reason, essentially, when it came to considering Mozart), the difference, at least for me, between a defining talent giving us a medium through which passes a history-altering language, and the possibility that the art of conversation may not be hand - in - glove with that talent prompted me not to choose Sinatra.
Do not be mistaken - as with Mozart, I love what Sinatra gave to us, and I listen to his recordings whenever I can. But I am not sure that he commanded the kind of attention I might be searching for in the art of conversation.
If I had to choose a pop singer at this moment to be in discussion with, it might very well have been Mel Torme. He was most eloquent in his discussions about the ways of music as they swirled into being in his mind, and his collaboration with the great pop pianist George Shearing, who was a compelling conversationalist (I believe I had written an earlier blog dealing with a conversation I had with him years ago) resulted in an unforgettable twosome for a few short precious years before Torme's passing on.
Whether you agree with me or not; be reminded that this is merely a "game."


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Liszt or Horowitz - Which of the Two Had More Hubris?

Two pianists engendered more audience reaction than any other of the great pianists.
One was Liszt, in the nineteenth century, and the other was Horowitz, in the last century.
We know that at one particular period in Liszt's relatively short career as a concert pianist (he retired from the stage at a comparatively young age), an attempt at using stage seats to bring in a larger audience ended in disaster, as some ladies sitting close by would attempt to snip a fragment of Liszt's hair as a memento. On another occasion, a distraught woman actually attempted to take a shot at Liszt at one of his recitals - another woman took a cigar stub that Liszt had just discarded, from an ashtray, and kept it with her until she died. These incidents were documented during the great pianist's life, and so we perhaps ought to take them seriously; at any rate, this is the kind of sensationalism that Liszt created wherever he went.
In our time (remember that he passed away in 1989), Vladimir Horowitz possessed the same kind of power over his audience, even over his colleagues; for instance, Nathan Kroll, a violinist and producer relates an occasion he was actually at:
A new young pianist from Russia had just come to America, and was in recital - his name; Vladimir Ashkenazy, who is now one of the truly great pianists of our time.
After a few encores, his audience would not let him go, and clamored for more. Ashkenazy sheepishly took a watch from his pocket, and said " I would love to play more for you, but I see that I have exactly fourteen minutes to get to the Horowitz concert."
In 1926, when Horowitz was just approaching his 23rd birthday, a recital that he had just concluded in Paris ended with police becoming involved, as these overwhelmed people refused to leave the hall, demanding that Horowitz play on.
In 1928, after Rachmaninoff had just finished playing the orchestral part of his 3rd Concerto with the young Horowitz, the composer remarked that Horowitz had just "swallowed my Concerto whole," and Rachmaninoff then made a decision never to play his Concerto in public again - keep in mind that Rachmaninoff was probably the reigning pianist of his time.
Rachmaninoff DID break his promise in 1941, when the conductor Ormandy beseeched the composer to record all of his Concerti with the Philadelphia Orchestra in order to create the
Rachmaninoff legacy.
I remember, as a youth, the stomping and yelling after every Horowitz concert I attended.
So you choose which of the two had more hubris.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Part Seven - Conversations with Whom??

I continue to 'grapple' with the question "which four people from the past would you most enjoy having conversation with?"
I thought that I should get back, at this time, to musicians from the past, to consider:
The so-called "Mighty Five", that incredible group of composers from Mother Russia has always been a source of wonder to me, if for no other reason other then only one of the five was a professional musician, the other four being clerks or from the military - imagine! To think of the likes of Tchaikowsky or Moussorgsky as being musicians by avocation, or Rimsky-Korsakov as a naval officer - it really boggles the mind!
However, this group emerges as the major force of Russian national expression in the 19th century, and sets the kinetic up for Russia's continuum into the 20th century by way of giants such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovitch etc.
Of the "Five", I would probably not have chosen Cui, Borodin, or Balakirev, as my sense about their social placement is a question - would I have become 'bored?'
And I am not completely comfortable with Moussorgsky, as his alcoholism may have interfered with a clarity of direction endemic to the art of conversing, though I fully realize that this man housed, perhaps, the most pure form of nucleic musical honesty of the Group, despite his technical weaknesses.
Tchaikowsky I should have liked to converse with, however. Besides the wonder, in terms of pure beauty, almost always attached to his language, the issue of personal tragedy and fear; the attempt, at least once, at suicide; the stigma in Mother Russia of homosexuality, a crime in that culture; the annullment of a sexless marriage; the constant pressure of the reality that he was only months, in terms of knowledge, ahead of his students in the Conservatory, primarily due to the lurching into view of an unprecedented monster; namely, a struggle to attach a formalized educational structure to this thing called music, which was just then struggling to get off of its knees as a known artistic entity by way of such entities as the Five...I believe that it would have been fascinating to hear Tchaikowsky relating life's imagery and experience as he reflected upon it.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Tragic Cutting Short of a Major Talent

The passing years have dulled the name Michael Rabin, who is pretty well forgotten at this point in time.
May this writer suggest that had he lived on, he could very well have become the most significant American violinist of his time.
I remember, as a young student, hearing his performance of the Paganini caprices (which were recorded, by the way). To this day, it continues to be in my memory as one of most riveting portrayals I have ever heard of these daunting compositions by the legendary 19th century violinist/composer. I don't believe that Rabin, at that time, was more than fourteen. I do know that the great Heifetz heard him and immediately recognized the immense potential housed in this child.
Sadly, Rabin was afflicted by some neurological malady which cut his career short very quickly, and he died at age 35 of a fall in his New York home.
Between William Kapell and Michael Rabin, America was denied the limitless promise of perhaps its two most defining talents.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Part Six - "Conversations With?"

As I thought more about the people I would most have enjoyed indulging in conversations with, I found myself considering great humorists, of which there are many.
I began moving my thoughts toward memorable American humorists, and was immediately surrounded by large numbers; so, I commenced the process of elimination.
At this particular point in time, I find that I should have really enjoyed listening to and exchanging some issues, perhaps, (IF I could have summoned the courage to do so) with the likes of H. Allen Smith and Oscar Levant.
Smith wrote a truly funny book, titled "Low Man on a Totem-Pole," along with a great number of articles laced with his brand of humor (he was a fine journalist).
You may remember seeing a warm, humor -filled movie, titled "Rhubarb", which Smith wrote; a movie that became really well - liked during mid-century, and can be seen from time to time on
As for Oscar Levant, I have already written about him some time ago, pointing out his historical musical importance, having been a friend of George Gershwin and championing his music through many performances.
Levant was, in my view, one of the more brilliant personalities in the 2oth century, which included an encyclopedic array of information about his world and an acerbic, derisive sense of humor which is remembered about him veritably as much as his musical abilities.
His humor reminds me, at times, of the barbed humor of the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde, who mentioned in his "Picture of Dorian Gray" the widow whose "hair suddenly turned quite golden in grief upon the death of her husband."
One of Levant's great lines was "there is a thin line between genius and insanity - I erased that line."
And two of his books will tell you of his line of humor simply by your gazing at the titles: " A Smattering of Ignorance" and "Memoir(s) of an Amnesiac".
I have a photograph of Levant sitting on the same piano bench with the fabled pianist Vladimir Horowitz. This photograph was created by Levant, and shows Levant sitting on the very edge of the bench, commanding all of about two inches, while Horowitz commands about 90% of the bench - this way Levant shows the world who is the better pianist.
I would have really enjoyed conversations with these two!


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Mystery of Imagery on the Mind's "Blackboard"...

I cannot offer any reason for the repeated impulse I experience periodically concerning the miracle of Mozart; at any rate, the following imagery assails me from time to time:
Because of the level of genius, coupled with the incredible speed of his writing and resulting output of Mozart given us in such a short time, I am occasionally the receiver of a "suggestion" that it almost seems that the music was already there, in existence, simply waiting for a medium; in this unique case, Mozart, to appear and unwrap the "package" for the countless thousands to listen to and marvel at in the years after this "medium" has passed from the scene.
I find it most compelling to take note of the imagery of Michelangelo, as he actually described his experience in the creative process; namely:
Michelangelo had more than once remarked that when a block of marble was in front of him, he felt that the figure was already there under the smooth exterior, and simply had to be revealed, veritably "unwrapped".


Friday, May 8, 2009

On This Day...

On this date in 1945, the European phase of history's greatest war came to an end, when Hitler's Germany ceased to exist.
A war, which killed some 55 million world-wide, and set off the world's most immense cross-migration in Europe, with roads filled with people walking back to where their homes existed, or, where their homes once existed, was over.
Hitler, who until he decided that he was a militarist, had become, arguably, the greatest political entity of his culture since Bismarck, and could have created a new Dark Age.
Ironically, his fatal misstep of resorting to war ultimately preserved succeeding generations from that Dark Age.
We will never know what might have been had this political genius, an incarnation of pure evil, not made that fatal misstep.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Richard Addinsell and Leo Litwin - WHO??

The reader may not be familiar with the names Richard Addinsell and Leo Litwin; however, their names crossed my mind the other day, and so I thought that I should share with you their places in music history:
Addinsell was a well-known composer in Great Britain during the 20th century, and became famous throughout the musical cosmos by way of his 1941 contribution; namely, The "Warsaw Concerto." This incarnation was written as a dedicatory contribution to the memory of Warsaw and its destruction in 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, resulting in World War II.
It became very popular, especially in America, and was gobbled up by thousands of pianists, some of whom recorded it for posterity.
The most famous recording was made by the Boston "Pops" and its conductor, Arthur Fiedler, and many music lovers became owners of this recording. The pianist was a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, who became a staff pianist of the "Pops". He was Leo Litwin, and his name is forever fused with the Warsaw Concerto.
While in high school, I fell in love with this hyper-Romantic, Rachmaninoff-like piano tidbit (though it IS rather difficult, and only accomplished pianists can handle the piece).
And so I used a portion of a week's allowance to buy a copy of the music, and proceeded to learn it.
I never DID inform my beloved piano teacher about my secret little project, as I thought that he would not approve of this music, as it was on the "pop" side of the musical spectrum.
Well, I became the hero of the high school I attended, and was asked constantly to play it whenever I was near any piano in the school. Both student-friends of mine and many different teachers; that is, teachers of English, History, Science, etc. would prevail upon me to play it during the school day whenever it was possible to do so. Even the members of the varsity baseball team I was a pitcher on began to call me "Maestro", and called me that even during any game I would pitch in.
This went on throughout that entire school year, which included a rather focused diatribe on the part of my piano teacher, who discovered my immortal discretion, and who berated me for wasting such time on music "of that kind".
Interesting - on an occasion when I gave a formal performance (it may have been my last performance in public of the "Concerto") in the auditorium - I remember, as I bowed to the applause, I noticed a figure standing at one of the exits - it was my beloved piano teacher.
A final note - in the town I live and have worked in for so many years, it is a great coincidence to me, that of all the towns in this country, I found that one of the residents of this town was none other than Leo Litwin, who had been living quietly here for years, and had been teaching here just as I began to establish myself as a professional in the same field.
Litwin and I never met - he died during my early days in this community.
What a mystery the Path of Life can turn out to be!