Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Double Image - Vladimir Horowitz

After hearing the recently released recordings from his private collection out of Yale, all of which were live performances at Carnegie Hall, made between 1945 and 1950, I came to a kind of realization about this towering musician that had not formed until the present time, even after all the years of having seen and heard him during my younger period.
There are two Horowitzes, seemingly; at least, to me:
In the studio recordings, we hear one Vladimir Horowitz - in the live recordings, we hear another. An explanation:
In both the studio and live performances we hear, of course, the unparalleled power of communication that this man possessed; the wonderfully steely sound, the unmatched range of dimensional change, both in the physical technique and in the interpretive projections, however at times perhaps controversial, and the commitment to the art and a special kind of integrity that gave us a true language, no matter how close the immense finger powers he had came to extinguishing the basic idea.
However, one reality, in my view, that one hears in the live concerts and recitals that is not available in the studio recordings, at least most of the time, is that undefinable "edge" that adds to the excitement that he already projects. That "edge," as it were, was probably formed by the kinds of fear that accompanied Horowitz through much of his career, and from time to time, resulted in his quest for answers from specialists - and those fears were, I believe, based upon an ongoing fear of his "failing" before a live audience.
I sometimes feel that Horowitz was actually part of his own audience; that is, wondering about what was to happen in performance, as he was driven to find different strategies and various "ways" of dealing with the music he was performing - of course, all great performers always "search" as they play; however, in Horowitz' case, there seemed to be a level of adventure in his "searching" that, seemingly, created a kind of arcane resistance against him in the form of a unique form of challenge to his searching for the answer of the moment.
This wondrous admixture of a kind of neurotic brilliance and diaphanous poetry is, to me, the result I hear in his live performances. Horowitz is alone, and on a pedestal belonging to him only.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jose Echaniz, anyone??

My thoughts went back to my days at Eastman, and the wonderful memories floating out at me, from the recitals in Kilbourn Hall to the magnificent chandelier in the Eastman theater.
I have already written about one of my teachers there, who was a prime force in my movement into the field of music.
But I realized today that one of the most brilliant musicians to have been born in Cuba became a member of the piano faculty at Eastman around the time I was a student there - I had never taken lessons from him, primarily because of my beloved teacher, with whom I had been for quite some time.
But Jose Echaniz should be remembered for his memorable piano prowess and repertoire. His recordings of Spanish masters should be recognized, let alone his impressive perspectives on the likes of Bach, Mozart and Liszt, whom he played much, and made sure that these giants were an intrinsic part of his students' development.
I saw him many times in the halls at Eastman, and heard him many times in concert - he was a wonderful pianist and musician who History, in my view, should recognize a bit more.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Paganini and Liszt - Bigger Than Life??

Both Niccolo Paganini and Franz Liszt attained folk - hero status during their careers, and history tells us essentially all that is known about these titans.
Paganini was to the violin as Liszt was to the piano. Both had attained such pyro-techniques as to plumb the depths of the potential of their respective instruments, and set the stage for the kinds of writing that ensued after their time.
What is almost as gripping as their gifts are some of the stories that swirled around them within their life spans - whether some or all were apocryphal or otherwise, is not for me to give definite answers to; however, some of these stories really tell us about the power of their hubris over the audiences who were witness:
Paganini, more than once, made it possible for a particular string to break during a performance, and would continue the recital on three strings - I suppose he had to rehearse the transposition of some notes either up or down in order for the compositions to remain intact!
He was said to have chalked a widow's peak down from his hairline to accentuate the Satan - like appearance, along with robe - like outer wear which went to floor length, making him appear as if he were floating, not walking onto and off the stage.
All this, plus the strangely thin body and incredibly long fingers and arms, caused by a genetic disease affecting connective tissue, magnified the aura of this great sensationalist.
Liszt, it is said, at around age nineteen, saw Paganini in concert, which resulted in his quest for the same level of super-technique, practicing as much as twelve hours a day.
The results were quite palpable. More than one historian has related to us that Liszt had at least 27 "love affairs," many of whom were originally in his audiences.
Stage seats were attempted just once to control the great numbers of people wanting to hear him; however, ladies with scissors attempting to snip a lock of his hair while he played put a stop immediately to that project.
During an intermission, a woman took a shot at him, and as she was led away, she cried " If I cannot have him, nobody will!"
In Russia, crowds would hoist him onto their shoulders and pour out onto the streets after a recital, and on more than one occasion.
There were other stories circulating during their tenures - Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles were not the first musical folk-heroes, to be sure.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Erich Wolfgang Korngold... A Gifted Musician

The other day I happened to look in on a movie titled "Devotion," a production centering around the lives of the four Brontes. As expected, the movie was richly fictionalized; you know, such as in "Amadeus," Salieri feverishly writing out the score of Mozart's Requiem before the composer expires etc.
However, I was struck by the music written for "Devotion," and found that Erich  Wolfgang Korngold had written the score.
I have always been impressed by the ways of Korngold's writing for the strings, with its Straussian qymnastics and creaminess, let alone vibrant Wagnerian chromaticism and an occasional loving stab at the monumental treatment of the Brahmsian style - in other words, not a great composer, but a superbly gifted craftsman with a great sense of melodic attachment.
Actually, the young Erich was considered a kind of Mozart in precocity, having had a ballet performed during his thirteenth year - and no less than Gustav Mahler suggested to Erich's father that he study with the fabled Zemlinsky, which the young boy did - yes, Erich  was a sensation during his young years.
Korngold exited Europe because of the coming Hitlerism, along with others such as Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich and Billy Wilder, to mention but a few of the considerable talents getting out of Europe before the deluge.
Korngold arrived in Hollywood and was recognized by the movie industry for his gifts. He wrote scores for many movies - personally, I think that his best score is the music for a movie based upon Henry Bellamann's "King's Row," which is wonderfully enriched by Korngold. Incidentally, one of the stars in "King's Row" was a reasonably capable actor by the name of Ronald Reagan, which may well be his best role. Reagan actually emerges as a powerful actor in his role as Drake.
At any rate, you can, if you try, get hold of either a DVD of " King's Row" or a collection of Korngold's music on CD.
In my view, Erich  Wolgang Korngold emerges as one of Hollywood's most gifted composers - let's see if you agree!


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Benny Goodman and Bela Bartok?? Why Not??

I was mulling over some of the famous musicians who conducted forays "across the line," as it were, and it really is fun to go over some of the specifics dealing with these artists.
The first musician who came to mind this morning was Benny Goodman, the fabulous jazz clarinetist and chief representative of what is called Chicago Jazz. He was, of course, noted for a legendary technique on his instrument, with countless recordings of his wonderful improvisations and arrangements. We know that he was one of the chief movers of integration of African - Americans into the mainstream of the big bands, let alone his championing of one of the most talented of all the songstresses, Peggy Lee.
But do be reminded that his love for and knowledge of the classics prompted his "crossing the line" in such performances and recordings of the Bartok Trio, with Bartok himself playing the piano and the wonderful violinist Joseph Szigeti playing alongside Goodman. And what about Goodman at Tanglewood, playing the Mozart clarinet concerto in "A?" Such recordings may not be the apotheoses of the playing of such pieces, but the level of talent that Goodman had is demonstrated in his singular ability to cross that line.
From the composer's view as a primary example of "crossing the line," how about Igor Stravinsky? Many viewed this giant as the twentieth century's greatest force in the writing of music - one may recall the reaction of the 1913 debut of his "Rite of Spring" in Paris, and the resulting riot that spilled out onto the streets that day - well, this is the same man who composed his "Ebony Concerto" for another fabled jazz clarinetist, Woody Herman, and his band which was called, "The Herd."
How about Vladimir Horowitz, who upon hearing Art Tatum's fabled arrangement of "Tea for Two," setting upon this tune in a rather aborted attempt at coming up with a transcription?
And the American Earl Wild, who had studied with a student of one of Liszt's students, carving out a medley of the music from "Snow White?"
It's rather fun, and, for me, a period of relaxing abandon to dwell on this subject from time to time.