Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Art of Conversation - The Winner!

In my last blog connected with "The Art of Conversation", I had listed the finalists. And, as promised, I would bring the list down to the four finalists I would have chosen to converse with; and they are Franz Liszt, Albert Schweitzer, George Handel, and Mary Shelley. The reasons for these choices are already available in the blogs which contained their names.
To make it a bit more interesting, perhaps, is for me to choose one of these final four, and after considerable thought, I have decided upon the name of Albert Schweitzer. May I enhance my reasons for having chosen him?
I think that he would have swept me into a realm of thought like no other, because of his views, at the highest level of perspective; of theology, music, and medicine. At the same dizzying level of probity and ultimate attainment, his views on man's elemental attachment to the word "God"; his overwhelming sense of empathy toward others by way of his quest for the winning of the omnipresent struggle over disease; as noted, for example, in his establishing a leper colony in Africa, and finally his search for the ultimate form of communication with his existence through a language which does not need words for meaning; namely, his attainments as an organist and as a Bach scholar, of the highest order - for me (and remember that this is only one writer's view), this man personifies the ultimate in what the word "great" means, in all of the facets surrounding this word - one man, who is like three, all truly great.
A suggestion was made that I compile a list of living men and women with whom I would like to be in conversation, and so I will consider that possibility as my next little "game".
Stay tuned!


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Simple Numbers - Simply Numbing!

Yesterday I was ruminating about certain numbers which grabbed at my consciousness, a few of which were so luminous in my memory core, that I thought that I might share a handful of them with you:
When we were attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, our army was about the size of the army of Rumania.
When the auto industry, which had produced millions of cars until that attack by the Japanese Empire switched over to war-time production, only 139 cars were produced from that day until the end of the war in August of 1945 - truly astounding.
The great composer Chopin performed less than thirty times in the public halls of Europe during his career.
His great contemporary Franz Liszt had twenty seven major love affairs that we know of, many of them with enraptured women in his audiences.
The composer Brahms took about twenty years to complete his first symphony.
Mozart had written thirty five symphonies by age thirty one.
Scarlatti received his calling as he approached middle age regarding the possibilities of what he called "exercises" for the keyboard, and from that time in his life to his passing he produced almost 600 of these "exercises," which we now know as the legendary Sonatas.
Eisenhower insisted upon activating Operation Market Garden, formulated by Montgomery, which resulted in about 17,000 Allied casualties, more than on D - Day.
When Bach wrote those incredible minimalist Two - Part Inventions, one of his most important issues was "which notes do I leave out?"


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Art of Conversation - the next to final list!

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may remember that I had been mulling over a list of people from the past I would have liked to be in conversation with, the ultimate goal being the selection process from a semi-final list of four, then boiling it down to one.
The following are the great names I had been considering, for reasons expressed in ten blogs I have submitted to you over the past few months:
Ludwig Von Beethoven
Franz Liszt
Robert Oppenheimer
Albert Schweitzer
Albert Speer
George Handel
Alexander Scriabin
Oscar Levant
Peter Tchaikowsky
Mel Torme
Mary Shelley
Oscar Wilde
Serge Prokofiev
John Hasson
From the above list, I have eliminated all the names, save for the final four:
George Handel
Oscar Levant
Franz Liszt
Albert Schweitzer
Keep in mind that this is only a kind of 'game,' as I fully expect the reader to disagree with many names having been listed - please be reminded that each name that appears was chosen through my eyes only, and this entire process is merely a personal reactive adventure into a world of the genius mind.
Stay tuned!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Personal Confrontation With Music of Western Europe - Ashkenazy and Gilels

About twenty years ago, the great Russian virtuoso, Vladimir Ashkenazy, gave a recital/interview from his home which I have (a video), and he not only performs his usual magic, but also discusses his own private war with the music from the West; chiefly German.
The insularity in both Czarist and Communist Russia existed for such a lengthy period of time, with the only truly viable "window to the west" being St. Petersburg for a considerable period, there was a time when Russian musicians had to construct a kind of 'learning mode' to deal with the interpretive issues endemic to the masters from Western Europe.
In the case of the Russian pianists, people in our time, such as Ashkenazy and Emil Gilels confronted the issue of how to "architecturalize" the Germanic statements of the likes of Bach and Beethoven. Forerunners such as Rachmaninoff had already dealt with this problem, but there is very little known about Rachmaninoff's personal viewpoints about this issue.
Ashkenazy DOES discuss, in this interview, and at quite some length, his personal dealings with the works of Beethoven and Mozart, and it is apparent to me that he spent years searching for the true meaning of the intellectual, let alone artistic aims of the great German masters.
I would assume that Gilels did much the same, as, such as with the recordings of Ashkenazy, the music of Gilels demonstrate exquisite readings of both Mozart and Beethoven.
I bring this up only because this issue may not be thought much about; however, with the manner in which Russian musicians were insulated by their own discoveries of the genius germane to their own culture, the door to the West HAD to be, in my view, an issue of elemental import, as an eventuality.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musicians and World Conflict - Some Reflections

I have already written, at some length, about the power of music, especially as it pertains to historical realities; for example, the way that Hitler used martial music to help weld the community together in the rallies and the speeches, let alone the omnipresence of Wagner's music, engendering the combination of community and collective purpose Hitler so successfully utilized.
But what about the musicians themselves in times of conflict?
One of the best remembered examples of artists as intrinsic contributors of national identity as well as elemental contributors to morale boosting were the many musicians in America during World War II. I think of people like Bob Hope, whom most remember, of course, as a comedian having traveled thousands of miles to be with the troops, in places of great danger. Be reminded that he did a great deal of singing as well, and brought with him many well - known musicians to perform for the soldiers. He did the very same thing in the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam.
And Glenn Miller, the fabled arranger and trombonist, who traveled all over the world with his band, entertaining untold thousands of soldiers with his truly immortal sounds, which are still popular today among pop and jazz enthusiasts.
And the final tragedy of Miller, who was shot down during the war.
The legend from the days of vaudeville, Al Jolson, also did his part to give the warrior some respite and comfort during those days in mid-century.
I could go on and on discussing these selfless artists, who gave so much of themselves countless times, and under truly dangerous conditions - at times, the sounds of gunfire and bombings could be heard during performances.
The most dramatic example I know of the artist giving of himself was in Soviet Russia during the height of the terrible experience of Hitler's invasion of Mother Russia.
It was on the tarmac of an airfield somewhere in the Soviet Union, with planes taking off and landing, and in the middle of it all was a grand piano having been brought in, and a very young Emil Gilels playing some of the great music of Russian composers - the combining of the din of war and exquisite sounds being created by a genius is something, perhaps, unique in the course of artistic endeavor.
For those of you who are research-oriented, that little bit of film exists - I have a copy of it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Short List of Some of the Most Thrilling Performances on Video

To be sure, there will have been truly thrilling performances by great musicians which are not included in the following list; however, I thought that some of you may like to know of a small number of performances which, from my view, you may be as thrilled, if not overwhelmed by, as I am:
The first that comes to mind is the performance of the Chopin Etude, opus 10, number4, by the legendary Russian pianist, Richter, as seen in the video "Richter - the Enigma".
Richter was a big man, and the piano looks small in front of him. The tempo Richter takes in this playing of the Etude is stupefyingly swift. It does not seem a possibility; and yet, there it is. The interpretive aspect of this piece cannot be measured. I am not equipped with a reason for his playing of the Chopin at such a speed - I can only speculate that perhaps Richter asserted to himself that he could do what others at his level simply would not do; all this without a trace of ego.
Heifetz, perhaps the most powerful violinist of his time, creates utter magic with his playing of a section of Bach's Partita in "E". The bowing and the fluidity of sound are beyond description.
Additionally, Heifetz, in the Auer incarnation of Paganini's most famous Caprice, this with piano accompaniment, tells us of a violinist who dashes off the unparalleled challenges with such a
wide margin of confidence and alacrity, that it defies any attempt at description.
Horowitz, in his performance of the Etude, Opus 8, of Scriabin, becomes so enraptured by his fusion with the power and sound production of this composition, that he veritably surpasses, perhaps, his own expectation within this particular performance - we are fortunate that it happened to be filmed!
In the same recital, the only time that the legendary athleticism of Horowitz is demonstrated on film is represented in his transcription of "Carmen". It is the only time Horowitz, on film, proves to history, that the legend of Horowitz as the Lion of the piano in the 20th century is a truism.
Art Tatum was filmed very little, sadly, but the tune "yesterdays" is taken to a level that none of us could have contemplated. Small wonder that Horowitz openly admired Tatum.
At the Cafe Carlyle in New York, the bass player Brian Torff exhibits a Brobdingnagian technique in his composition "high and inside", accompanied by none other than George Shearing. Torff handles the instrument as if it were the size of a violin.
Finally (for now!), the last three sonatas of Beethoven are played by Serkin with such a sense of inner spirit, that it seems as if it were the composer himself at the instrument, with the world around him a cosmos of silence, but the sounds from within a language which cannot be followed by any successor. Serkin is so immersed in the building of the material that he, like the composer, can hear nothing but the language coming from the very nucleus of the spirit of creator; nothing less.
If one really makes the attempt, I feel confident that most, if not all of the above can be obtained from various sources.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Walk With a Composer

I had totally forgotten about this episode until just a few days ago; and so, I thought that I might share it with you before I once again forget it:
I was in high school at the time; about 16 or so, and taking lessons at Eastman with my beloved teacher and second father, Jerome Diamond, whom I have written about in a previous blog.
I had been going with a girl, whose father was a judge and patron of the arts, and who was responsible for my having met the late William Kapell after his first recital at the Eastman Theater.
My girl friend told me at school one day that her father would like me to meet a musician of note at their home, and so I jumped at the opportunity.
Arrangements were made, and I found myself being introduced to none other than David Diamond (no relation to my teacher), who had come into town to hear one of his compositions. Incidentally, Diamond had been born in Rochester and had gone on to become a recognized composer after quite a personal struggle of many years.
Well, after a rather brief exchange of pleasantries and chat in the judge's living room, Diamond said that he had to get down to the Eastman School to be present at a rehearsal of his
composition, and invited me to accompany him on his walk to Eastman. I instantly said "yes" to his invitation, then realized that we were on the opposite side of town from Eastman, which would constitute quite a walk. Before I could utter any kind of sound, he interjected by informing those around him that he walked a great deal, which allowed him the kind of time needed to utilize his thought processes about music and other issues, and then asked if I had the time to walk with him.
To walk with a well-known composer was all I needed for ANY walk anywhere.
And so ( and I remember so vividly) we started out from Canterbury Road, turned left on Culver
Road until reaching East Avenue, then turned left once again all the way into the center of town; namely Gibbs Street, where the Eastman School was located. How many miles, I cannot tell you, but it was a good, long walk, during which Diamond, with limitless kindness and empathy informed me about the multifaceted aspects and issues connected with any question about the possibility of my going into music as a profession; the obstacles and struggles looming as possibilities in my pursuance, if I so chose music. Very quietly, he spoke and also asked me questions. I remember that he was on my right throughout the entire walk, and he was quite short, shorter than I was, even though I had not yet reached my towering height of about five feet, nine inches a bit later on in life.
His insights and warnings were of incalculable value to me as time went on, and I am forever grateful to this quiet, gentle man whose art-songs, from my view, made him a kind of American Schubert during his tenure as a recognized composer.
I cannot remember the end of this walk, and just how we parted. I never saw him again; however, judging from his broad and easily perceived perspectives I encountered, he must have been a wonderful teacher at Juillard, where he taught for about a quarter century.
A walk not to be forgotten.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

On This Date in 1945, History Took On a New Form

On this day, I digress from the arts in memory of the incalculable human carnage which had taken place during the period approaching mid-20th century. All of the following events leading up to August 6, 1945 took place, and are verifiable:
A physicist named Wilson approached Oppenheimer, the director of the project titled "Manhattan," and suggested that "the gadget" be tried with delegates from the Japanese Empire present as witnesses - Oppenheimer replied "what if 'the gadget' doesn't work?"
A couple of days before "the gadget" was to be tested, a memo went around, asking "should we have the Chaplain here?"
The lead physicists created a betting pool designed to speculate about what the results of the test might be - one answer was "it might be possible for the atmosphere to be vaporized."
Among the most important characters in the upcoming drama were the following bets...
Oppenheimer - "the gadget" would yield the equivalent of 3,000 tons of dynamite."
Teller (the "father" of the hydrogen bomb) -"I say, 45,000 tons."
I.I. Rabbe - "About 20, 000 tons - " (he was the closest - the event would yield the equivalent of about 25,000 tons).
Enrico Fermi - "At least a portion of New Mexico may be incinerated."
All of the above having taken place only a few weeks before the Day of Hiroshima - August 6, 1945.
And the same species can yield a Mozart, a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare - there is something elementally incomplete in this picture.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Spalding - What's in a Name? Read On...

The name Spalding in America connects almost immediately to the sport of baseball, as it was Albert Spalding who founded what was to become one of the most famous sporting goods retail organizations in the history of American sport. He and his brother James were the powers that brought this giant organization into being, and the name Spalding continues to be more directly associated, historically, with baseball than any other sportswear chain. Albert was also a professional baseball player ( a pitcher) for several years, and the Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York inducted Albert into the Hall of Fame in, I believe, 1939, for his powerful contributions to the sport.
What makes the Spalding name even more interesting is that James' son Albert Jr. was regarded as one of America's great violinists. As a matter of fact, there were critiques written in the last century that listed Spalding as the most distinguished violinist that America had ever produced up to that time.
There are some recordings which may be available, if some of the L.P. recordings that were extant are now on CD. I cannot answer that at this time, as I have not as yet looked into this issue. I do remember, as a child, hearing some of his recordings, and the elegant and lofty nature of his performances, epecially those of Beethoven, are still vivid to me. He was indeed a powerful force in music during his time, and should be remembered for his attainments.
It is of interest to me that he did some recordings with a pianist named Jules Wolffers, who became director of music at one of the nearby universities, and toward the end of his career Wolffers invited a very young musician; namely me, to do a few radio programs from the university, which included some of my work for concert harmonica, which I believe I had mentioned in a previous blog.
Interesting how things tie together in Life!
Do look for Spalding, whether it be for a new baseball, or for a recording.