Thursday, May 27, 2010

A "Heads - up" On The Next Horowitz Release

As a number of you know, some fifteen recordings made just for Horowitz by a recording company he hired, ended up in the Yale archives in 1986, donated to the college by Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz, just three years before the passing of this titan of the piano.
And twenty years after his death, four of these recordings, containing performances never before available to the public, have been released. I have written about these recordings in prior blogs, and I am most happy to share with you the reality that the fifth recording will be released in June(on or around June 10th).
At this moment, I do not know the contents of this eventful arrival, and if it's anything like the previous four, we are all in for a defining experience. The last release, his 1986 Berlin recital, brought back to me the electricity of my experiences in having seen him many times in my youth and middle years.
There is, in my view, no experience that compared to a Horowitz recital in all the concerts that I have gone to - the purity of a Serkin, or a Rubinstein, or a Lipatti is, of course, a defining attainment of genius at its highest level - it's just that whenever Horowitz appeared, the atmosphere surrounding all in that hall, including Horowitz himself, was so filled with a different, a higher sense of anticipation and "pre-excitement," that no other artist in my experience could ever create that same form of alchemy, as it were. I've thought long and hard about the Horowitz phenomenon, and all that I can muster is the possibility that Horowitz, in his unparalleled quest for the Boundless and Unknown in his own incarnations about to occur, was actually in the same space of experience as the audience. I think of what Rachmaninoff once said: "a truly great pianist is one who is willing to take a chance."
And Horowitz was in a state of constancy germane to Rachmaninoff's projection - the innate sense of Adventure was his trademark, and no recording he ever made can capture the utter magic of the Horowitz Moment - only those of us who were given the opportunity to be in the same room with him can really know.
BUT! I must tell you that many of the performances on these recently released recordings, called, "The Private Collection," come as close to that kind of electricity as can be made possible, and I can without hesitation suggest that you listen to these four recordings, all of which were done before live audiences. Horowitz, in his studio recordings, as great as those recordings are, is not the same Horowitz before a live audience. The unique mixture of the thrill of adventure, enhanced by his personal fears which haunted him through much of his career, gave a Horowitz recital a galvanic edge that simply did not appear in his studio recordings.
And these recordings from the Yale archives brush the edge, many times, of that galvanic bubble.
Do listen.


Monday, May 24, 2010

A Conductor With A Galloping Adam's Apple?? Read On...

Yesterday an event I hadn't thought about in many years reappeared, and it is unique enough, from my view, to share it with you:
During my high school days I played violin in the school orchestra, even though the piano was (and is) my primary instrument. The music system throughout the city was one of the best of any city in America, as Eastman School was the driving force, this great music college being intrinsically involved in the public school system by way of its visiting faculty.
Our particular school orchestra was highly motivated, and led by a very proficient conductor, who had us doing such works as the Brahms second symphony, which I really loved being involved in, as the string aspect of that symphony has so much beauty. I remember one year our concert master, who was a senior at that time, did the Bruch Violin Concerto in "G", and the young man ended up the following year as both a freshman at Eastman AND as a member of the Rochester Philharmonic, which paid his way through college - a rather unusual confluence of events surrounding one of the many really strong talents in our school orchestra. My four years in high school constituted a profound effect upon my musical consciousness and aspirations - I have already related to you other really wonderful experiences in other blogs germane to those formative years.
Well, I MUST tell you about our beloved conductor, whose initials were J.L.L. -
He was a loving and enthusiastic musician, and he gave us a really large repertoire over the years.
He was a tall, lean man, with a protruding Adam's Apple centered upon a exceedingly long neck.
Whenever he plopped down off the podium and went to the piano to cite a particular example of, say, proper tempo in a particular piece, he would play, and as he played, his Adam's Apple would move up and down his long neck in exact rhythm to the music being played.
As I recall, no one ever giggled or suppressed a guffaw - I suppose it may have been due to our being in such awe of this traveling Adam's Apple, that it precluded anything save thunderstruck silence; honestly, in my four years as witness to this unprecedented addendum to his performances, I can state that not once did any of the students laugh or giggle.
I cannot recall as to whether this peripatetic Adam's Apple went through the same motions when J.L.L conducted; probably because I was so immersed in the music I was attempting to project on my violin.
I remember J.L.L actually appearing at my home, beseeching my parents to have me continue playing the violin, as at that time, I had decided to deal with the piano only, and sadly leave those beloved days in orchestra.
I loved that man; BUT, that Adam's Apple was, arguably, even more memorable.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Schumann-Did External Events Affect His Musical Imagery?

In a previous blog, I had mentioned that while I was working on Schumann's wonderful Intermezzo from the "Viennese Carnival," I had taken note of his unique use of dissonance as a form of harmonic enhancement, especially the 'risky' manner of his infusion of this particular form of dissonance, which, as I had mentioned, works wonderfully well, from my view.
Realizing that my thoughts are only speculative, I thought that I might share them with you:
Is the particularized use of dissonance in this piece for piano an incipient form of imagery caused by the physical assault upon his body, which became a monster with his life ending in an institution for the insane?
It appears that Schumann may well have been infected with a tertiary, or latent form of syphilis, which fortunately did not pervade the reality of the large family he fathered in marriage. It also appears that he may have taken doses of mercury, which was at that time considered a deterrent to the ravages of syphilis, and may very well have caused at least part of the damage that resulted, after an attempt at suicide, in activating his very own request that he be admitted - after about two years, the great composer succumbed in the institution he requested admission into.
Knowing that all this may be speculative, it is, after all, a sad story indeed.
Almost as mysterious is the question: would the world know him today as the great composer he is, had he not permanently injured a finger on his way to a concert career?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Quintessence of Integrity and Honesty...Rubinstein

The other day I watched a performance of a trio of giants; Artur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, playing Mendelssohn's great Trio, in Rubinstein's living room in Hollywood during the 1940's, I believe.
It is indeed a unique experience to be witness to three artists playing in a living room, each at the top of his pyramid among the great performers, and I am fortunate to have this copy in my collection. The miracle created by the collective sound of these titans is more than evident, even though my copy is not a digital revivifying of the event.
What struck me the most is how Rubinstein confronted the music, and how he almost always confronted the music he played, especially after about age forty.
He has always induced me into consideration that he was nothing more or less than a pure medium through which his message traveled - neither a trace of hubris nor a particularized personality is evident - a kind of benign confrontation with the notes he produced, and the language that results in the recordings that we can listen to -this is Rubinstein.
I sometimes wonder what Rubinstein might have become if those first years were not squandered by way of the fireworks he loved to light, rather than the music that was there for him to mold into being?


Friday, May 7, 2010

On This Day... A Defining Event in Human History

Even though May 8 of 1945 turned out to be the first day of celebration in America, the actual surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies took place on this day, May 7, in Reims, France. As I recall, it took place in a little schoolhouse in this French town.
Ironically, the final day of the European aspect of Man's greatest conflict might be considered the first day of the Cold War, even though events in Poland, prior to the May 7 surrender, had already given out warnings as to what was to come for the next half century.
Perhaps, for a moment, one might just consider the impact of this event, and ask where it has taken our world.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Schumann's Intermezzo - Brilliant Use of Dissonance

In preparing for a coming recital, I decided to add the Schumann Intermezzo from his " Viennese Carnival," written, as I recall, during his 29th year.
It is, of course, a most beautiful piece, coveted by many a pianist over the years. Its luscious sense of flow and exquisite harmonic sequence make it a true masterpiece.
The most riveting aspect of the Intermezzo aside from its all-too-apparent beauty, from my view, is Schumann's use of a non-chord tone in the guise of an appoggiatura - for those of you not familiar with this word, it is, in simple terms, a note that does not belong to the harmony surrounding it, and is a form of harmonic dissonance with a degree of weight due to its position within the format it appears. Schumann, at times, has the appoggiatura appear just before the note it is destined to resolve to, thus releasing the dissonance; however, at times, the composer uses the appoggiatura simultaneously with its destination note, making for a most pronounced dissonance if taken out of context. The manner in which Schumann utilizes this device, and if the performer melds it effectively into the overall fabric, causes this particular form of dissonance not to be heard as a dissonance, but as an extra spice which cannot be tasted, but enhances the flavor of the recipe.
It is, for me, a most brilliant and successful use of a consonance and dissonance forming a unique synergy.
For those of you who play, but have not looked at this piece, why not take a look at Schumann's wonderful strategy? And for those of you who are not active performers, why not pick up a recording in order to see if you can "pluck" this sound out of the overall fabric?
Incidentally, the greatest performance I know of the Intermezzo is by Michelangeli.