Thursday, September 30, 2010

Truth Being Stranger Than Fiction - Another Example:

Those of you who follow my blog are aware that I use the words "the art of" as a vehicle to point out examples of the process of creativity outside of the arts.
Besides my being involved with the creative processes germane to music, I have ventured into other areas of Man's innate curiosity in order to put into action the creative process, such as, for instance - making bread ( I AM serious!).
Some years ago, when the first electronic bread makers appeared in the stores, I decided to try one out, and so I purchased one with a famous brand name attached, this model being imported from Japan.
I quickly found out that there were some flaws, especially in the machine's ability to maintain the same level of quality in the loaves that were produced, obviously due to it being among the first bread makers available.
And so, I began work on ways to outwit the contrivance in order to find ways to make each loaf of bread one of equal quality to its predecessor or successor, which I eventually succeeded in doing.
Along the way, I also was aware of the very few recipes that were in the instruction manual that accompanied the machine, and embarked upon a venture commensurate with my creative journeys in my chosen field.
The results surprised even me. To mention but a few of the recipes I created for the bread maker (which totaled some forty in number) were such concoctions as chocolate bread, strawberry bread, orange bread, anise rye bread, 21- grain bread, Ezekiel bread ( I modified the recipe found in the bible for use in the machine), and even Indian Pudding bread, after having consumed a delicious Indian Pudding in a restaurant on Cape Cod.
And so, in the very same sense as my being a composer, a pianist, etc., I found the very same form of elation upon attaining a particular level of expertise in a creative endeavor outside of the Lively Arts.
My breads were sought after by students, colleagues, and......... read on!
Here is where the saga of my bread takes on a surreal course, and you MUST believe me:
I decided to write the company that fabricated the bread maker, pointing out the deficiencies I discovered, plus the paucity of recipes in the manual, and my activities in overcoming both aspects. I included the list of some forty breads I had developed along the way.
I never expected to receive a reply; HOWEVER...
One day, as I ventured past the front door and looked out, a stretch limousine from the airport came to a halt in front of my house, and three men, dressed in formal wear, emerged and approached my door. I thought that these men were obviously going to the wrong house, but upon their ringing my doorbell, in they came, each wearing 500 dollar suits and offering a card of introduction. I was overwhelmed when I read these cards - each gentleman had come in from New Jersey by air and brought to my home by limousine. New Jersey was the American headquarters of the machine and many other products the whole world is familiar with, and each card had the name of each gentleman in English, with other words in Japanese.
It was obvious that the three were executives from this company - only one of the three spoke English.
I was absolutely staggered at this reaction to a letter I had forgotten about. The very first question I asked myself, and ask to this day - why did they come unannounced? What if I had not been home??
At any rate, they were interested in my recipes, and (in a complete daze) I went to the chest freezer and brought out little examples of my bread for them to observe and taste.
Imagine! In MY kitchen! Three gentlemen, one of whom could speak English, each attired in wonderful wear, nibbling on little slices of my bread, quietly talking among themselves in a language I did not know - it was Surrealism of the first magnitude.
To make this saga brief, the outcome was interesting. The one man who could speak my language asked if I would give my recipes to them, to which I gently said "no" - it became obvious to me that, as the conversation continued, that no monies were mentioned in this process, and so I did not pursue the subject and remained firm in my refusal.
After a short time, he thanked me for the time spent, and for the bread, and for my welcoming them in, etc. The three bowed, shook my hand, and left.
I was in a state of absolute shock and bewilderment - why had they come without having contacted me? What results were they looking for in me? What did this all mean? All I can ascertain is that the three were high executives in this company, with perhaps the two gentlemen who could not speak English having come straight from Japan, to New Jersey, to my home. I really cannot be sure. A few weeks later, I received some gifts from New Jersey or Japan - I cannot recall from where.
I have the cards from these men - there is proof that this happened.
My bread- making continued for some years thereafter.
The bread maker resides in the cellar.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Giant Barely Out of his Teens - and Stravinsky??

I cannot recall my having related the following story to you. I don't believe that I have, and it is really a rather piquant little tale:
Barely twenty, George Gershwin became one of the most famous and sought-after composers of his time just months after the legendary Al Jolson sang the young man's song, one of the most popular tunes of that day, "Swanee."
Gershwin became, almost overnight, the toast of New York, and his fame spread quickly even to as far a place as Mother Russia.
Gershwin was bedazzled by all of this recognition and attention, and soon thought, probably with some embarrassment, that he ought to accumulate more knowledge about music by taking lessons in music language and theory. The great Igor Stravinsky, one of the twentieth century's true musical giants, happened to be in New York City at this time, and so Gershwin sought him out.
He was ushered into Stravinsky's office or den (I know not which). Stravinsky, who was generally known to have the social grace and disposition of a Puff Adder, without looking up, asked the young genius, "why are you here?" To which Gershwin replied that he would like to take some lessons with him.
After a short pause, strange words emanated from Stravinsky; namely, " what is the size of your bankroll?" Stunned, Gershwin managed - "Sir?" Stravinsky then looked up at him, and asked "how much do you have in the bank?"
Staggered, Gershwin, who really had no specific idea what monies he had accumulated, gave, rather haltingly, an amount, to which Stravinsky then resumed looking down at whatever was on his desk, and muttered, "It is I who should be taking lessons from you."
That ended the conversation.
Now, I relate this tale to you, without being absolutely positive about its being a reality - I have already cited examples in previous blogs about, in certain instances, even Primary Source material being suspect; however, I am telling you this tale because Ira Gershwin, George's brother, related that he heard George himself telling this experience more than once at the many parties the Gershwins held in New York and/or Hollywood with countless celebrities present as guests, both from Hollywood and New York.
Believe it or not, one of the guests at one of these Gershwin parties was none other than the titan Arnold Schoenberg - yes, he was there - I have a copy of that film on one of my DVD videos.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Medical Treatment for a Musical Composition - Really!

The following is one of my more rather strange and totally unpredicted experiences in music:
A respected physician who at one time treated me, with a deep friendship being the result, is as well a highly accomplished pianist, music being second only to his first calling.
Shortly after 9/11 in 2001, he contacted me and asked, in recognition of the tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York, that I consider writing a piano transcription of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" as a musical retort to and recognition of the unspeakable event which had taken place.
Well, I thought about it, and decided to write a statement for piano constructed around one of Berlin's well-known tunes.
I discovered that in order to promulgate a sense of national anger as a reaction to that defining day, I found myself writing a piece in the Horowitzian style, with all kinds of bells and whistles swirling around the melody and most assuredly enhancing the sense of vituperation I had felt about that event.
I had never attempted a transcription based upon a pop tune before, and so some trepidation crept into my consciousness as I wrote the piece.
However, it turned out well enough for me to decide to learn this piece and include it in future recitals.
Well, after finishing it, I sent the transcription off to my doctor friend, and thought that the experience was over.
To my surprise, about three weeks after my sending the music, a CD appeared in the mail, with no message of any kind. Curious of course, I went to my CD player, and listened to a perfect performance of the transcription by this most gifted physician - no note, no word of any kind, no label on the disc. The only way I could know that the doctor had indeed recorded it was by way of the return address on the package he had sent.
And so, I would ask of you a better example of top-rate medical attention given to a piece of music?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Hats Off" to a Former Student, and Now, a Colleague

Schumann once wrote an article in his journal, with the title "Hats Off, Gentlemen; a Genius!" as an encomium to his friend Chopin.
I will now exercise plagiarism ( as only I can do) and proclaim "hats off!" to a truly fine violinist and esteemed teacher, who has established himself at the Grieg Academy in Bergen, Norway as a mainstay there. He has performed, and continues to perform internationally, and is a very active conductor, let alone a gifted composer as well. Attendant with all this is my pride in having known him for about a generation, from his days as a student of mine, to the present day.
One of my many reasons for writing about Ricardo Odriozola is something I just found out, and that is, Ricardo is celebrating over twenty years in performing with a wonderful pianist and a student of the revered Norwegian composer Harald Saeverud, during his final years. The pianist is Einar Rottingen, who is also a master teacher in the Academy and a performer of considerable stature and power. Both he and Ricardo constitute an important addendum to the literature of Music da Camera, and in my opinion, have given to our time a number of luminous and enduring readings of music from the High Baroque to the present day.
You can enjoy their considerable gifts by turning on your computer - may I suggest that you go to Google, then punch in you tube Hurwitz "Enigma" - you can hear an example one of my compositions performed by Ricardo - from there you will be able to pick and choose various performances he recorded. Additionally, you can find much about Ricardo by investigating the material pertaining to his career, in addition to the videos he has produced.
Above all, my "hats off" goes to Ricardo, not only for his gifts to his listeners; but for me the most important reason beyond the music - his Friendship.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Liszt - An Excursion into the World of Dimensions

Recently, I decided to see if, at this point in my life, I can handle a piece of music which requires protracted stamina along with finger articulation at a high level - and so, I chose a piece by Liszt (who else?), who, simplistically stated, wrote for his own unprecedented pyro-technique, automatically making much of his piano music truly daunting technical dilemmas, even for the 21st century pianist.
Now, at my age, I am cowardly enough to consider practicing this piece, which is titled "Funerailles," in a way compatible to a degree of self-logic; that is, rather than simply learning the piece, starting at the beginning and ending up at the end, I decided to divide the music into sections, learn the most difficult sections first, and then finish the project with the less challenging phases, technically, of the piece.
I found that there are about eight sections in "Funerailles" - I have learned the first two sections well enough to decide to go on, and it really is a kind of adventure, as I had never looked at this music during my youth, when the more sanguine nature of my physical being was at its height. I'm quite sure that if I had learned this piece during my twenties, I would have learned it in pure linear form; that is, from beginning to end.
BUT, as the athlete discovers, things start going down hill from about middle age on, physically - unlike athletes, however, the performer of music does not depreciate as quickly as does the athlete (fortunately!) - just listen to a Heifetz or a Horowitz or a Rubinstein in their older years as proof.
Anyway, it will be a true adventure, as I stated, to discover whether I can put together the entire piece and survive my own performance! The jury is , at this time, of course, still out.
By the way; for those of you who may not know about this piece: there were historical papers, proven erroneous, which stated that Liszt wrote this piece as an encomium to Chopin, who died in 1849. In actuality, Liszt created this piece as a reaction to the terrible Hungarian insurrection
of 1848,49, and it is redolent with an overpowering admixture of national determinism(Liszt was Hungarian) and seething anger.
I recently re-learned the "Ballad of Revolt" of Harald Saeverud to see if I would run out of breath, as it is a study of some stamina requirement, and took it at the same tempo as Andsnes does in his wonderful recording, and I found that these old fingers and old lungs had no trouble; however, the Liszt piece is far longer, with many dimensional issues imbued within the text.
Will I perform this music in recital? Time will divulge.


Friday, September 10, 2010

The Incalculable Power of Music - Read On...

When I came down with a neurological disorder some years ago, and lost about 40% of the powers of articulation in my right hand, it seemed that playing the piano would no longer be a possibility - this was simply not acceptable to me, as the piano is such a large part of what I am.
So I began a rather tortuous process of self-rehabilitation , including exercises from the Phillip lexicon to regimes I created for myself. After about six months, I essentially had recovered what physical technique I had lost - for me, it seemed almost miraculous, as I had thought that my playing days were over.
Other experiences come to me, as they pertain to the power and elemental values of music:
Years ago, when I taught organ for some time, one of my students was a woman who had been blighted by a non-curable muscular disorder which direly affected her legs, let alone her mobility.
She took organ with me for about two years, and the foot articulation which is required in organ playing, to make it brief, palpably altered and improved her condition past that which doctors had hoped for - it was wonderful to be witness to that event.
The near -blind college student of mine, whom I had written about in a previous blog, is another inspiring example of what music can create as regards the possibilities perhaps otherwise not available.
I have had many students, over the years, who had injured themselves, such as breaking a finger in athletics, coming to me, sometimes tearfully, asking "how can I continue the piano?"
I simply wrote music for their remaining hand, with the same title, in each case, "For My Fractured Friend."
I think of Paul Wittgenstein, for whom Ravel and Prokoviev wrote concerti for his left hand, after his losing his right arm in war, and becoming, after this unspeakable tragedy, a world-renown pianist for many years thereafter.
During my first years in teaching, I delved into music therapy, one of my students being strongly gifted in piano performance, but in an institution dealing with mental disorders. For reasons I cannot give to you, after three years, she was able to return to her home for short visits, which her doctors had never contemplated as a possibility.
And so, the bottomless pool we call Music remains for us an unsolvable mystery, let alone one of the miracles Man has been given.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Liszt - A Vital Core Issue in His Linguistics?

Up to this moment, I believe that I have been able, at least minimally, to describe core values in Mozart, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. I think that Franz Liszt should be a subject as well.
The compact nature of History and Genius is best made example of, say, by dates; for instance, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti were born in the same year.
Well, how about the closet space given to giants of the Romantic? Mendelssohn, 1809 - Chopin, 1810 - Schumann, 1810 - Liszt, 1811?
The reason I bring these dates up is simply the pressures instilled by contemporary geniuses upon one another, quite unconsciously.
For instance, one of the most powerful phases of Liszt's writing is based upon what I call ' enharmonic design.' For those of you not in the field of music and who may not know the word 'enharmonic,' it is, in simple terms, the process of giving a note a different "name" - for example, one can call "C" another "name" called "B sharp", or "D double flat" etc., and any note in the tonal system can be dealt with in the same manner - Liszt used the enharmonic system, as did his contemporaries, especially Schumann, as part of the broadening of the harmonic vocabulary during this period, and I have a feeling that, perhaps, some intellectual pressures might have been formed in Liszt's mind which may have enhanced his approach to enharmonic design, creating some truly wondrous and luminous aspects of his language that may well have had an impact upon the likes of the coming Wagner and Strauss, to mention but two.
Liszt, in being able to transmogrify the direction of a note, simply by altering its name, gives us a palette of harmonic color by instantaneously moving us from one key to another, rather than changing keys through chords of commonality, which takes some time.
Two great examples on the piano of this approach are, of course, his great Sonata and his transcendent Consolation in "D" flat - in only a few pages, Liszt forces the knowing musician, in the Consolation, to consider the elemental alterations in the psyche of the music each time a new key emerges like dew. In his symphonic poems we hear this process as well, of course; actually, it is an intrinsic aspect of the "brand" of identification one attributes to the music of Liszt.
To encapsulate, and without diminishing the genius of his contemporaries for a millisecond, I consider the mind of Franz Liszt as one of the most powerful in the art. His merging of Poetry and Music, without words, is one of the products that emerges from the process of enharmonic design.