Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ah! The Sweet Smell of Celebration!

Some years back, one of my friends was a well-known radio personality, who for many years held top popularity in his programs on Jazz and Pop music, and was an acknowledged authority of those aspects of music. I still remember the warm feeling I got when, as I would drive my car, I would see his name plastered on the city buses, knowing at the same time that he would be coming over to the house for a piano lesson in order to learn more about classical music.
He had not only immense knowledge, especially of Jazz; he also possessed a great sense of humor; for example, on one of his radio programs, he recounted an experience of having been given due recognition in the form of having a building named after him; then describing the building as one consisting of public toilets, exclaiming that "I was MOVED (!) by this recognition."
Of course, no such event ever occurred.
Well, the time arrived for celebration of my and my wife's anniversary, and we received a call from our radio celebrity that he planned on coming over with a present, which obviously pleased us.
And so he pulled up to our home in his VW Beetle, and appeared at the door with a bag of something that positively reeked with a totally evil odor. He then announced that he thought that a most appropriate gift would be a bag of horse manure for our tomatoes, as he knew that we were growing vegetables in the back yard. To explain: our friend owned a horse - need more be said?
I wondered for a considerable time after this incident - WHAT did his tiny VW smell like after a twenty mile ride to our home??


Friday, November 20, 2009

Humor From One Word; Namely, "Here"

I was musing over the human element attached to the word "War," and immediately connected to humor, as it would waft, occasionally,over the landscape of desolation. Two examples struck me:
As the Americans entered Paris some weeks after D-Day, one American G.I. remarked that "it's not that the girls back in America don't have it; it's just that the French girls have it HERE."
Another is the better remembered good-humored derision that the English directed toward the American troops as they flooded England in order to launch Operation Overlord: "the American G.I. - overfed, overpaid, oversexed, and over HERE."


Humor From One Word; Namely, "Here"

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mozart - Will Music Ever See Another Like Him?

The countless words written and spoken of Mozart will forever be on the tablet the world can always refer to.
With all that I know of him, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the impressive list of attainment bestowed upon this little giant, at least for me, is that we know that he, more than once, would be working on as many as five compositions on the same day, same hour; no matter the medium. It could have been a symphony, a quartet, a piano sonata, a violin concerto, and an opera, all during the same evening or afternoon.
I know of no other composer who could do this kind of thing, and at such a rate of speed.
It's almost as if the music was already there, awaiting this medium to transform it into being.
Will this form of candescence ever present itself again?


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Twists and Turns of the Human Condition...

Those of you who read my blog have gotten used to the inevitability of my turning away from music, from time to time, in order to mull over the mystery of human nature; and so...
I was thinking of some of the almost incredible ironies that arose from the conflict of mid-twentieth century, and the following are tidbits of my bout with reminiscence...
After Japan was defeated in August of 1945, bringing the Second World War to its end, one of the most curious events took place in the Philippines region - with increasing unrest leaning toward independence, the American military re-armed the very same Japanese soldiers who had just laid down their arms, in order for them to become a kind of police force needed to control the mounting call for independence - all this occurring just weeks after these soldiers had been the enemy.
In 1948, the Berlin Airlift prevented Stalin from taking over all of Berlin, with many thousands of tons flown in daily at the height of this operation - the American air force counted heavily on a group of German mechanics to service the planes bringing in this incredible amount of food, fuel, medicine and other materials needed for the Berliner to survive. These mechanics just three years prior were servicing the German Luftwaffe as the war was coming to a close in the very same city called Berlin.
Operation Paperclip was the covert process created in order to spirit German scientists into America directly after Germany was defeated. Hundreds of scientists, some of genius, were brought in to America, with Soviet Russia doing the very same thing, as one of the harbingers of the coming Cold War and space race.
The reigning scientist was Wernher von Braun, who headed the development of the dreaded V-2 rocket for Hitler. Many consider von Braun to be the leading rocket engineer of his time, perhaps of the entire century. Here was a man who became a member of the SS, Hitler's personal army, and the very same man who was responsible for America's landing humans on the Moon. I still have a clear picture in my mind of this man acting like a cheer-leader when that first man landed on the Lunar surface.
Incidentally, I think few realize that von Braun, coming from a wealthy family, was thinking of becoming a composer in his early years. He played both 'cello and piano with considerable skill, and for a time studied with the great German composer Paul Hindemith.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Part Five - Conversations I Would Love to Have With Living Greats

One person that comes to mind I would enjoy conversing with is Condoleezza Rice.
The decision has nothing to do with her particular political position - I never obscure any of my personal decisions with my own opinions. I merely choose based upon the attainment level and history of that person's development into what he or she becomes.
What intrigues me from the outset is that she first thought of entering serious music as a profession, and studied piano and associated musical issues assiduously as a youngster, the result being a competent and accomplished pianist. She once accompanied the great 'cellist Yo-Yo Ma in either 2001 or 2002, playing her favorite composer Brahms.
However, she realized early on that she did not have that singular talent to become a performer of meaning, and altered the direction of her education.
To be brief: her having risen from provost at Stanford, where she began with a university in debt for about twenty million dollars, to a university with a healthy financial margin within two years; to her becoming the first African-American Secretary of State, are my primary reasons for desiring that conversation with her. It would be an enlightenment for me , through the art of conversation, to find out, in palpable detail, the view she has through her own eclectic looking glass; to see what makes her 'tick.'
I think that I would be in the presence of a true "Renaissance" lady, with many facets of information from many different views, which would more than hold my attention.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lalo Schifrin - A Composer Whose Music is Better Known Than His Name

Lalo Schifrin is a composer born in Argentina who began his musical education in Buenos Aires with the father of the renowned pianist Daniel Barenboim, and ended up in Paris studying with the legendary Olivier Messiaen.
The American TV viewer knows his music through one of the longest-running series in TV history; namely, "Mission Impossible," with Schifrin writing the theme music in five/four time. Schifrin has many TV scores to his credit and has received several Emmy and Grammy awards and nominations.
For me, one of his most compelling scores was written for the landmark documentary "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William L. Schirer, who was, with Edward R. Murrow, the reigning American journalist of the mid-twentieth century. Shirer was also a noted historian with great journalistic talent. His "Berlin Diary," written shortly before America's entry into the Second World War, brilliantly depicts Nazi Germany - as a matter of fact, Shirer left Germany rather hurriedly upon being told that the dreaded Gestapo was compiling a file on his activities.
The music of Schifrin dovetails so effectively into the fabric woven by Shirer that, from my view, it is one of the most powerful documentaries in earlier TV history. The sense of foreboding and the coming Darkness seems to spring out of both Shirer and Schifrin as if they were one.
I believe that one can obtain some of Schifrin's music. I would also strongly recommend viewing
"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" - it is truly a memorable incarnation of the combination of sights and sounds coming out of the last mid-century.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Napoleon and Hitler - The Gripping Parallels

Against the advice of his generals, Napoleon invaded Mother Russia on June 24, 1812.
Against the advice of his generals, Hitler invaded Mother Russia on June 22, 1941.
Napoleon invaded with over 600,000 men; a number he was sure large enough to overwhelm Mother Russia.
Hitler invaded with some 3,000,000 men; a number he was sure large enough to overwhelm Mother Russia.
Napoleon felt confident that this campaign could be measured in weeks.
Hitler felt confident that this campaign could be measured in weeks.
In the 1812 campaign, the sweltering heat of summer was a harbinger of disaster - Napoleon lost about 150,000 soldiers.
In the 1941 campaign, a winter of unprecedented cold was a harbinger of disaster - Hitler lost entire army groups.
Both Napoleon and Hitler lost their way in Mother Russia.
Student did not learn well from Teacher - the case for History is the failure to learn from itself. It seems that learning from history, as George Will put it, is "like trying to plant cut flowers."
Perhaps this is why War is Man's most faithful companion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How About Great Musicians of Dutch Ancestry?

I recently got hold of a wonderful transcription for piano of "Sheep May Safely Graze" by Bach , written by Egon Petri, and am quite sure that I have never discussed great musicians of Dutch ancestry:
Although Egon Petri was born and raised in Germany, he was a Dutch citizen, as his parents emigrated from Holland.
The few recordings available of Petri place him, from my view, among the greats. His reputation as a distinguished teacher should not be ignored; for example, two of his students ascended to the World Stage - Victor Borge, known throughout the world for his unique application of comedic genius to classical music, and the other was Earl Wild (whom I have already written about), acknowledged as one of America's most distinguished pianists.
Elly Ameling was knighted by Dutch royalty for her defining attainments in the world of vocal art. She is best known, perhaps, for her wonderful ways with French Songs and German Lieder. I have also heard her sing Mozart and Salieri, and her position as one of the great singers has long been established.
Do listen to both of these great musicians, if you are not familiar with their work.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

'Les Six' - Another "Mighty Heap?"

Some of you may remember my blog centering on what was called derisively by opponents in Mother Russia the Mighty Heap, which included such a "second - rater" as Mussourgsky.
Well , another "heap" was launched in 1920 in Paris; a group of composers which included Auric, Milhaud, Poulenc, Honegger, Durey, and Tailleferre. These post-impressionists were the rage among the avant-garde for a short period, and each went his own way, with Poulenc and Milhaud, arguably, becoming the better-known of the group.
I'm writing about this group after seeing a British movie recently, called "The Dead of Night," and was rather interested in noting that the music for the film was written by George Auric. I then recalled that he also had written the music for the fictionalized account of the artist Toulouse -Lautrec in the movie "Moulin Rouge", with that music becoming quite popular in America for quite some time, and a pop ballad laced with words remaining on the scene for many months after the movie had been released.
I might add that one of the other 'Six,' Darius Milhaud became the teacher of one of America's best known pop musicians, Dave Brubek, who described Milhaud as an elemental influence upon his musical thinking.
And so another "heap" was given us to examine, appraise, and enjoy. America had a literary "heap," called "The Algonquin Table," which has provided the inveterate reader with many enjoyable and brilliant moments. Several brilliant people would meet regularly in New York for lunch; almost daily, and some of the luminaries included such minds as Edna Ferber, Robert Benchley (grandfather of Stephen Benchley, who wrote "Jaws"), George S. Kaufman, Robert Sherwood etc., and this went on for about ten years - imagine being a fly on the wall of THAT restaurant!!
So: hats off to "The Heaps!"