Sunday, February 28, 2010

Man's Art - A Common Language With Many Facets

When I was active in performance in my earlier years, I remember playing an all-Bach recital, ranging from original works to Busoni transcriptions. It was, as I recall, an informal affair, with my meeting members of the audience afterward.
When my conversations with a number of these people had ceased, I noticed a middle-aged gentleman with a roll of paper under his arm approaching me. He introduced himself, and I immediately recognized his name, having heard of his reputation as an architect, mostly dealing with church and synagogue building.
He asked if I should like to see what he had rolled under his arm. I became quite curious immediately, and offered moving to the piano in order to unroll what turned out to be a large sheet (I presume that this was the kind of paper architects used in their processes).
He mentioned, while spreading this sheet on the piano, that he did not know how to read music, but thought that I might have interest in what was on this large sheet of paper.
I gazed at what, upon first sight, resembled, from left to right, a kind of silhouette of a city's buildings and skyscrapers, in black pencil - I then looked up at him, rather blankly, I would imagine, and asked him what I should be looking for, to which he replied, with a slight smile, that he did this while listening to the music.
I then looked again, and to my amazement, I saw the outline of the melody of a Sarabande I had played during the recital I had just finished. It was if I were looking at the music I had played, but from an entirely different visual form. It absolutely astonished me, and my astonishment resulted in his saying something like "we all speak the same language, don't we?"
He and I became fast friends; sadly, he passed away in the prime period of his life - I shall not forget this man, let alone this realization he offered me.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Johannes Brahms - Did Puck Grow a Beard??

In a book of various doctoral and other papers written by British musicologists, edited by one Bacharach, one of the papers dealt with Brahms, written during the great composer's life span.
One event recorded was as Brahms leaving a party, and at the door he bellowed "if there is anyone here whom I have not insulted, please forgive me!"
The other event was centered around an overstuffed chair which had been "tampered with" by Brahms, and was located in his apartment. Brahms would offer his visitor, often a lady, this comfortable chair, and upon sitting down, the victim's feet would immediately be pointed toward the ceiling.
Apocryphal or not, these two events were cast upon paper during the composer's reign, and are in print. if one should like to search for them.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Front Door to the World of Music - What a Bargain!

I was thinking yesterday about my first encounter with the world I have loved more than any other world.
I was, as I recall, six years of age - he was already moving out of middle age, and had taught piano for many years in the city of my childhood. I cannot remember a man of greater kindness and love for children, let alone his illimitable patience, the most important requisite, perhaps, for any music teacher.
He was the music director of his house of worship, and exulted in directing the choir, made up mostly of men and women, with a few of the older children sprinkled evenly among the brood.
Picture the following:
He would get onto a street-car near his home, which was on the opposite side of the city from where I resided. It took at least a half-hour to cross town; he then would get off the street-car at the corner of my street, walk about a quarter of a mile down my street to arrive at my home, and upon entering would have a cup of tea or coffee with my parents, exchanging the news of the week etc.
I would be waiting in the living room, where my upright resided, whereupon this kind, gentle man would enter, and we would be together for an hour at the piano, developing a mutual love for one another, while ostensibly I would devour the musical information which was, ultimately, the reason for his being there.
Over the first four or five years, I of course encountered the likes of Concone, Czerny, Streabbog, etc., laced with Fur Elise, Idilio, Flower Song, works of Chopin, Schumann and Bach, to be sure, let alone countless other morsels of sound which I would valiantly attempt to actuate to his pleasure.
When the hour was expended, he would then graciously take leave of me and the family, and take the street-car to the next destination, wherever that might have been.
This event occurred every Thursday evening for the first handful of years in this wonderful new world.
All this for - ONE DOLLAR.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Marcel Mule and Steve Lacy - Opposites, But With a Common Bond

Of the musicians who played the soprano saxophone, two opposites, for me, were equals.
I have already written about the legendary French soprano saxophonist, Marcel Mule; however, in the context of this particular blog, do allow me mention him once again:
The recordings of this rare gift to great music are relatively few, but extant. His 1947 recording of the Concertino da Camera of Ibert is, arguably, his best-known, though other equally engrossing examples of his genius do exist, if one looks for them.
Mule lived into his 100th year, dying in 2001, and lives on as perhaps the most defining musician representing this diminutive instrument.
Steve Lacy, who, for me, equally compelling on the soprano sax, primarily for his unique approach to what truly is Minimalism , was one of the strongest disciples of Thelonius Monk, along with his personal view of multi-media poetics, as we can view through his connection to associated arts, more noticeably, literature, and how he fused his musically nucleic identity with such minds as Herman Melville and other writers.
The honesty of his incarnations without the attendant myriads of notes that could have been made available is his signature, in my view.
He taught briefly at the New England Conservatory of Music before dying prematurely, sadly, of cancer.
Listen to two different worlds on their common instrument, and know how the face of genius can be discerned by way of Common Bond


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vladimir Horowitz - an "Out-of-Body Experience?" Read On!

The fourth recording of the Yale-Carnegie Hall recordings of Vladimir Horowitz was just released, and we continue to revel in these legendary performances which have never before been available.
I just finished listening to this recording, which was the final Berlin recital of the great pianist, three years before his passing.
Horowitz, approaching his middle eighties, was in superb form in this performance, and gives us the indefinable luster, control and power which have always been his signature.
In one piece, however, Horowitz appears, at least to me, to have become electrified at what he discovered that moment in the Scriabin d# Etude, a piece he had been playing for much of his career -it is as if he had never fully realized the implications embedded therein, and, as wonderfully thrilling and magnificently colored is the first half of this brief piece, Horowitz seems to have found a way to look back down upon himself from some sort of immeasurable distance, and the last half of the Etude, for me, is an experience I cannot describe. I am convinced that this performance of the Etude, unlike his other brilliant evocations of the same piece(which are on record) is a true fingerprint, and he himself would have told you that the experience he had while performing the Etude could never again be approached.
Have you ever tried to describe to someone on the telephone how to tie a tie? Well, this is precisely how I feel about attempting to describe what Horowitz experienced in this particular playing of the Scriabin.
Just go out and order this recording, and let me know on "comments" if you agree with me.


Time and War - What a Different World!

It's been some time since I have mulled over the issue of Man's constant companion; namely (and sadly), War-
I was thinking today of the world in the last century, experiencing History's most defining war:
It took Hitler about six weeks to conquer France.
In about four months, England won the Battle of Britain, leading to Hitler's decision to invade Russia in 1941 without defeating Britain, therefore activating a two-front war which insured the eventual destruction of Hitler and Nazism.
Only six months after Pearl harbor, Japan's offensive campaign in the Pacific was permanently destroyed in the Battle of Midway, paving the way to the defeat of the Japanese Empire.
It took approximately nine seconds to obliterate the city of Hiroshima.
In our present day, War and Time have formed a different equation.
Be reminded that the Second World War, the world's most devastating conflict, lasted for about five and two-thirds years.
In our present time period, palpably disconnected from the two great wars of the last century, there are no borders to cross over.
It has been almost a decade since the horror of 9/11, in 2001.
There are now countless soldiers throughout the world without uniforms.
And our world is in perhaps its deepest peril.
How different our world has become.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Don Shirley - an Engrossing Talent

Don Shirley is a Jamaican musician, who may not be as well known to today's music lovers as he should be.
When I was starting out in my career, I came across some of Shirley's recordings, and was overwhelmed by his creative gifts.
First of all, he is a superb pianist, wonderfully trained in the classics, and started out by performing the famous Tchaikowsky concerto with several of the world's most acclaimed orchestras.
Along the way, he moved into the world of pop music, and is chiefly known for his work in that aspect of the art.
He is the only major musician I know of who has three earned doctorates, only one of which is in music, which to me demonstrates the nature and breadth of his genius.
We know of the attainments of the great British pop pianist, George Shearing, who was also thoroughly grounded in the classics, and we are all familiar with the way he can take a tune, and play it in the style of a Mozart, or Bach, or Delius, or Schumann, etc. You may remember in one of my previous blogs about Shearing's having stated to me that he thinks of himself as "a classical pianist who happens to play jazz."
Well, in the case of Don Shirley, this musician takes a different road in his knowledge of the classics, as he utilizes that aspect within the pop field. Unlike Shearing, Shirley has found a way to create a true fusion; a complete synthesis in the binding of the classical techniques with various pop styles; and, for me, a new language has been formed by this phenomenal man.
I am not stating that he is 'better' than Shearing - I am merely pointing out that in some arcane way Shirley has discovered new tactics through a unique imagery that produces musical ideas which simply cannot be replicated. My words, or any written or spoken description of what Shirley produces are veritably hapless in hopes of clarity. The only way one can come up with any kind of understanding of Shirley's incarnations - is to listen.
There are recordings available.
By the way, Don Shirley is one of only three pianists to have performed at the La Scala Opera House; the other two - Artur Rubinstein and Sviatoslav Richter.