Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another "core" view - Rachmaninoff, This Time!

In perusing the very marrow of the bones of the works by Mozart and Beethoven in recent blogs, I find it really difficult to forge a way to describe, in most composers, a view, not of the style, but of the very raison d'etre of the music. May I try Rachmaninoff?
After Scriabin, Rachmaninoff emerged, first in his shards of the "post- mysticism" of Scriabin, but in truth, as the totally self-sustaining composer, especially after his sessions with the suggestive hypnotist Dahl.
To make mercifully brief my encapsulation of his core, from which radiates the music we know:
After all, Rachmaninoff almost makes it through the first half of the twentieth century(he passed away in 1943). This tall, gaunt man stood tall in the midst one of the most violently transitive periods in musical history, which began with Schoenberg's suggestion about the destruction of the key-signature. What with the likes of Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith, Prokofiev etc., each with his own school of followers and detractors, this tall, gaunt man, long after the peak of 19th century Romanticism, stood tall as a true Romanticist, and with a language truly belonging to him.
That kind of event does not happen very often in the arts.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beethoven - The Great Clarion Call?

The other day I wrote about my sense of the core language of Mozart and the immensity of its communicative power, and today this particular aspect of reaction brought me to Beethoven. I hasten to point out that in neither the Mozart blog nor this perusal of Beethoven is there an examination of the stylistic prowess of either composer - I am intrinsically involved here in the core issue of communication:
We know that Ewen wrote a book on Beethoven calling him the "man who freed music." The title is indeed appropriate as it applies to the ways of Beethoven's unparalleled power in projecting human emotion for the sake of its existence; hence, the beginning of the Romantic era.
However, the core rationalization, to me, stems from Beethoven's being a true Child of the Enlightenment, a period when European Man began a focused examination of his place in relation to the powers around him. Before Beethoven's language asserted itself, the arts bowed to both the possessors of great wealth and royalty, both acquired and "handed down." As an example, I think of the gifted painter David, essentially a "court" painter of the Napoleon entourage, and I am thinking of two paintings in particular depicting Napoleon as either the second Hannibal or the sentinel who remains awake at all hours as Protector of the people.
Conversely, Beethoven was never obsequious in his language - remember his rage at Napoleon, to whom he originally dedicated his 3rd symphony? He roared "so he is a man like all other men"
when he discovered Napoleon's true motives, and expunged the tyrant's name from the first page, and re-dedicated the symphony to another. Never was a note changed.
I recall his saying to Goethe that, in a discussion relating to royalty, that "it is they who should bow down to us." He was, therefore, the first great composer, it seems, to outwardly declare that tyrants may come and go, but the Art shall remain - one sees that truism from Beethoven through Hitler's failed attempt to desecrate the artist's infallible independence through his organizing the largest art exhibit up to that point in history, "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art), in 1937, proving his inordinate fear of the artist who never bowed to his power and brutality.
Beethoven's music and Thomas Jefferson's words were true brethren, both created during the same period - more powerful than the wonderful creations Beethoven gave to us lies the power within the composer's spirit that created these masterpieces. How ludicrous, how unknowing Hitler was by championing Beethoven's music - the composer would have loathed him.
The Master's music is a clarion call, reminding us of the elemental right Man was born with, and, sadly,which is always in danger because of the elemental weaknesses that Man, it seems, is born with.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Great Composers - Compelling Linear Placements...

Three of the great composers come to mind when I consider events in their lives that add, in a rather arcane manner, to the admixture that created them:
Take Franz Schubert, for instance - the legendary Austrian lived for 31 odd years, giving us an enormous lexicon of unfeigned beauty.
It is most interesting to me that during his final illness in that final year, he had sought out and agreed with a master teacher (I believe his name was Schecter) to take harmony and counterpoint lessons with him.
Also consider Modest Moussorgsky and his "Pictures at an Exhibition," one of the more powerful statements of the time.
In the important Henle edition of " Pictures," several errors in basic technique can be noted, such as simple rhythm involving the math that supposedly makes up a particular measure, let alone a handful of other rather peculiar ways of expressing his ideas on paper.
And what about Tchaikowsky? A long time ago I had read in some Russian translation that as a young professor, he was only weeks ahead of the students he was teaching at the Conservatory, and was feverishly striving to maintain his pace; to me, a rather compelling example of artistic Darwinism!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Mozart - The Most Universalized Language of All?

Do please forgive me, if you find that the following turns out to be directionless rambling to you:
A few years ago, the "Mozart Effect" was introduced into the retail world in CD form, with the accompanying statement that Mozart's music affects the unborn; more, perhaps, than any other composer and enhances their particular station within the process we call Life. Why?
I don't know the number of stores I've shopped in, including large department stores, that play the music of Mozart as background enhancement. Why?
Two weeks ago, we entered a Chinese restaurant for the luncheon buffet, and upon settling into our booth, we noticed that the music was not the exotic sound of the East - but Mozart; a movement from one of his piano sonatas. I never dreamed that my Lo Mein would be accompanied by the Master from Austria. What made this incident occur? The owners of this restaurant could barely speak English...
It induced me to ask a question; is the music of this titan the most natural method of communication extant in our world?
There is a sense of such powerful inevitability in Mozart - I find that, from time to time, I can tell exactly where the music will be going, even though it is a piece of his music I had never heard before - and yet, no matter how many times I either play or listen to his music, the sudden surprise emanating from his unparalleled power of direction is always a part of my experience in listening to his incarnations.
In a way I cannot possibly begin to describe, the music of Mozart seems to send words directly to the center of the mind, without any word involved. The libretto in a Mozart opera and a piece of his purely instrumental music are, for me, exactly the same, in terms of what Mozart is telling me. No other composer in my experience can do such a thing
A mystery forever unsolvable.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Personal Reminiscence - Beniamino Gigli

Until this very day, I had long forgotten about one of the more memorable recitals I had ever been witness to, and it's a mystery to me as to why it had slipped my memory until this afternoon:
While studying in Germany, I took the opportunity to witness many concerts in some of the great halls. One recital came back to me today, and I believe that it, both in terms artistically and historically, may very well be the most important in my memory.
I remember going to this particular recital in Frankfurt - it was a performance of the legendary tenor Beniamino Gigli, in the twilight of a career listed among the greatest of the great singers.
At this time, within just a handful of years before his passing, he had pretty much gone past one of the most powerful of the opera careers of his time, and was almost always in recital, rather than in opera.
Gigli had essentially become the second Caruso after that great tenor's passing, and established himself as one of the vocal giants of his day. When I saw him, the power of his projections had diminished, but the unparalleled sweetness and purity of his voice remained. If one goes to a u-tube performance of Gigli, one will immediately become aware of the staggering ease Gigli possessed in bringing to life a truly unique form of vocal art.
When he came out on stage, sadly noticeable was the aging process which appeared in his physical entity, plus the corpulence that was attendant as well - but when he began the recital, all in the audience were within a fraction of a second transported into a world of rapture and a sense of timelessness, which only a truly great artist can make possible.
The reality that I was looking at and listening to a piece of history coming out of the Caruso era totally enveloped my consciousness - I cannot remember, but I'd be surprised if tears had not formed among many of us witnessing that indescribable event.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Two Brilliant Artists Named Stevens...

Recently I came across a movie called "Night Song," and because the word "song" was part of the title, I thought I would check it out in order to determine whether music played a part - well, the movie itself was rather puny in substance; however, I was rather sharply surprised to note that two giants in music were in the movie; namely, the legendary pianist Artur Rubinstein and the acclaimed conductor Eugene Ormandy. They performed a short "Concerto" for piano and orchestra, composed by Leith Stevens. By this time I was DEEPLY drawn to this little movie!
If you are not familiar with the name, it probably is because Stevens almost exclusively worked within the Hollywood circle, unlike other movie composers who are well-known to us, such as John Williams, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, etc., who ventured often outside of the movie industry.
Be assured that Leith Stevens was an accomplished composer, highly regarded within the movie circle. In this movie, Rubinstein and Ormandy collaborate in the "Concerto," and both rather obviously thought well of the music, which is by far the most memorable aspect of this movie. Perhaps if I mention the memorable movie with Brando as star; "The Wild Ones," please know that Stevens wrote the score for that acclaimed movie, as well as others - what compelled me to write about this less than memorable movie "Night Song" is that both Rubinstein and Ormandy, at the height of their great careers, thought enough of Stevens and his music to become a part of the movie. A recording of this so - called "Concerto" is available, by the way.
The other Stevens had a first name; namely George. This man was one of the truly great writers, producers, and directors in the history of movie-making. Some of his pictures are true epics, such as "Shane," "A Place in the Sun," and "Alice Adams," his earliest movie of significance. He was, at great personal peril, assigned to film the period from the Invasion of Normandy in 1944 (D-day) to the final conquest of Nazi Germany, and it was the first Allied color history of the war, taken in 16-millimeter technicolor, which included a searing visual account of Holocaust evidence. He was a recipient of the Academy Award, and is well-remembered for his accomplishments as a great American artist.
Do add these two, named Stevens, to your list of brilliant artists, in the event you should like to delve more thoroughly into their accomplishments.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Incalculable Power of Music - Read On...

It's interesting, if not actually gripping to consider the omnipresence of Music, and its hold on the Human Animal:
How many of us not in music wake up, then become aware of a tune we know swirling in our head?
Many times it's "the tune of the day - " and on another day it's a different tune.
I think of the mortar we call Music being one of the ongoing powers that held the early Christians together through communal singing.
I think of the excellent bands that prevailed throughout Germany in the period from 1933, when Hitler came to power, and how he held the German community together through the songs composed specifically to help fuse that community into one immense entity of purpose.
And the last concert in bombed - out Berlin in 1945, just days before the surrender of the Nazi nation to the Allies, with the sounds of Bruckner reaching the exhausted ears of those sitting there among the ruins of a once great city.
I think of Otto Graham, considered to be one of the great quarterbacks in American professional football, known for his memorable passing abilities, whose love of the sport that made him famous was equaled by his love for music. Graham might well have become a professional musician - his parents were accomplished musicians, and he played three instruments equally well.
I think of Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State in the Bush administration, who played the piano well enough to accompany in public such diverse renown musicians as Aretha Franklin and Yo - Yo Ma.
I think of the one time I called a sports program on radio to discuss the "athleticism" of the musician. The radio host, a former major league baseball player himself, kept me on the air for about fifteen minutes after I told him that an accomplished pianist could play myriads of notes per second, and how many of the well - known athletes in various sports are active in music as a vital part of their daily lives.
And there are so many other examples of the ambient nature of this Thing we call Music...