Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cuban Missile Crisis and Philip Glass

Watched the powerful documentary, "Fog of War," which deals with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
All of us who have seen this film know that it centers around the Secretary of Defense under President Kennedy, Robert Strange McNamara, one of the most powerful and controversial political figures of those times.
I hasten to insert at this point that I take no position on the issues that created this documentary - that is not my reason for this blog.
It is the music that was written for the documentary by Glass.
The center of this documentary is the reality that the world was face-to-face with Armageddon for a period of two weeks in the Fall of 1962. The lurid nature of war and its immortal message, 'kill or be killed' was never more pronounced than in this crisis.
The black and white nature of strife and its consequences was made even more brilliant in impact through the music of Glass. Do recall that in his early career, he was known as a "minimalist," and in this film, released early in this first decade of our new century, Glass returns to that form, most assuredly in his simple harmonic progressions and language of the days of his two favorite teachers (as he himself asserts), Bach and Mozart.
The result, for me, is a perfect marriage between the implacable reality of the horror of War, and the parallel simplism in the music that Glass writes to buttress the theme of the documentary.
Do watch AND listen, even if you have already seen the film, and see what you think.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More on "Atmosphere"...

One of my recent blogs dealt with how atmosphere serves as an elemental aspect of artistic endeavor, citing authors and musicians as some examples.
In discussing the ways that the British authors P.D. James and Agatha Christie so skillfully employed atmosphere to enhance the story lines, I had neglected to mention the names of two British actresses who are forever connected to Christie's most famous character, Miss Jane Marple.
In the 1960's British filmmakers asked Dame Margaret Rutherford to appear as Miss Marple in about six movies for television.
Interestingly, Rutherford does not in the least portray, either physically or stylistically, the picture that Christie gives us in her novels; that is, a wispy, dovish, rather strait-laced schoolmarm -like little lady with a quiet demeanor and aura.
Rutherford was quite the opposite. She was a rather stout, short woman with a decided propensity toward comedic expressions, and quite curt and not exactly soft-spoken in her ways; however, her skill as an actress somehow created a kind of perverse but delightful representation that, though a rather decided opposite to Christie's incarnation, made the Rutherford version of Miss Marple a successful series, which consisted of several productions.
Conversely, an actress named Joan Hickson was exactly what Agatha Christie pictured Jane Marple to be, in her novels. Hickson was a wispy, dovish, rather strait-laced schoolmarm-like little lady with a quiet demeanor and aura. As a matter of fact, Agatha Christie herself once wrote Hickson, hoping that one day she would take the part of "my dear Miss Marple."
Which Hickson did indeed, in several really quite wonderful movies which were produced as the 20th century began to draw to a close, and became the standard, in movie form, of what Miss Marple was in the famous stories Christie gave to us.
Of course, why I have written all this was to remind you that both Rutherford and Hickson helped, in immeasurable ways, to produce the 'atmosphere' that saturate their performances.
By the way, Joan Hickson appeared as a cook/servant in one of the Rutherford productions many years before Hickson became Miss Marple herself!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another "Hats Off!".... A Truly Singular Musician

This week, at Symphony Hall, Boston, a very special occasion will take place.
It is a salute to a truly singular musician; a violinist who performed with such notables as Artur Rubinstein, and who played for such notables as Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his tenure as President. Not only did he establish himself as a violinist of considerable stature, but also he has become renowned throughout the world of music as a teacher of vital import.
I was most fortunate to have taught at a well - known school of music, who had as director, this remarkable gentleman.
His approach to and through his art, coupled with a philosophy based upon the elemental power of love and recognition for both his colleagues and students, constitutes a unique admixture seen rarely in the arts; therefore, I consider him to be a priceless addendum to the history of music.
His name is Roman Totenberg. He has now lived a century. He continues to teach - just consider the reality of Perspective that he represents to his students.
He is a miracle in our time, and is loved by many... "Hats Off!"


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Linchpin of the Arts - 'Atmosphere'...

The other day I was mulling over the powerful and riveting "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by the Irish genius, Oscar Wilde, whom I have already written about (isn't this work his only published novel?), and the dark, truly low-key tactics Wilde employed in producing the specter of dread throughout this unique work, and how the essences of pure malevolence and ultimate horror emerge so efficiently. No hyper - dramatic exclamations or overt violence, except for that one blow to the back of Basil with Dorian's knife. This novel demonstrates wonderfully well the development of and ultimate magnificence of atmosphere, as the primary vehicle of communication, no matter the art form.
This work by Wilde led me to consider the ways, in terms of technique, the artist in question instigates and molds 'atmosphere' into the total work; for instance, the two, arguably, most illustrious British authoresses of the mystery novel, P.D. James and Agatha Christie, especially Christie, by way of the center of many "who dunnits," Miss Jane Marple, the wisp of a woman in her later years, who acts as a detective with an answer to the identity of the culprit in every novel this dovish little spinster appears in. Without exception, the sense of what is so uniquely English saturates the works of these two renowned writers, and forms the catalyst through and by which the story is always so clearly projected. When I read a "Miss Marple," I almost always see the typical little village, the church, the flowers, the townsfolk chattering, etc, as clearly as I perceive the line of the story.
Composers like Chopin and Liszt give us the same gifts in, say, the Nocturnes and the Consolations, respectively. Even though this kind of music is Absolute; that is, without a specific story line, the wondrous "settings" these composers produce in order to put their singular melodies and harmonies on pedestals for us to more easily absorb, is what I mean as 'atmosphere' - The graceful line of notes in the left hand in many of the Nocturnes of Chopin and the way Liszt introduces the transcendent beauty of his third Consolation IS 'atmosphere.'
I have a video of Artur Rubinstein playing a Chopin Nocturne (around 1944) in the living room of his Hollywood home before a group of his friends and his wife. As the music begins, the lighting is normal; however, as this wonderful music continues, the lights gradually dim as the music delivers its message, leaving those viewing this performance with just enough light for Rubinstein to continue. The overall effect lends even more 'atmosphere' to the already defining beauty of the music. After a while, as the Nocturne approaches its end, the lights, very gently, increase until the music ends. A solid piece of "Hollywood," but a brilliant foray by some creative film-makers to demonstrate the elemental nature of atmosphere as an intrinsic vehicle of communication.
Oscar Wilde, P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Franz Liszt and Frederick Chopin are but a handful of great artists I have in mind; however, be assured that, in my mind, I leave no one out!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Out of the Darkness...A Titan and his Dog

One of the great mysteries of the mind is how it recreates an incident long forgotten, then suddenly reappears, and for no reason you and I can possibly understand - do read on:
In 1975, I remember going to New York to witness a Horowitz recital at Carnegie Hall, and got there the day before the event.
That evening, I decided to take a stroll not far from where I was staying, and it was just about total darkness, when a gentleman, dressed in a black overcoat and a black hat pulled down over his brow, with his head down, and with a leash attached to a black Poodle, approached at a fairly brisk pace, then went by - it was Vladimir Horowitz.
All of the following took place in just a few seconds:
My mind raced with the following issues- at that time I then reminded myself that Horowitz did not live far from this location, knowing his address. Please believe me when I state that I had totally forgotten about his place of residence until that very moment. Then the question slammed into me - should I turn and attempt to greet him, and if so, what should I say? Was he in a contemplative mode, going over his recital of the next day? Would he have been cordial? Or just the opposite?? Would I have been stupid making the attempt?
Then the sober reality of the demons that he faced before so many of his concerts instructed me to just move on.
I DID look back, however, for one last glimpse of a giant who had just passed me by- he had disappeared around a corner not far back of me.
All of the above, in just a few seconds...
Strange; how such shards of memory re-emerge.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Creative Impulse, and its Power...

Many who altered the course of history were subjected to forms of escapism by way of the creative process, an impulse that cannot be erased.
Two youngsters were choir-boys, each in a different culture, and contemporaries.
They both were strongly drawn to the purity of the music they heard and sang.
The young German boy sang in a Benedictine surrounding, and the young Russian boy had such a pure voice that he was enlisted, from time to time, to sing solos at various occasions.
The German boy was Adolf Hitler, the Russian youth Josef Stalin.
Winston Churchill, who for about a year stood alone against the Nazi menace, constantly found time to paint, especially in his yard on his estate, with a brush in one hand, and a cigar planted firmly in mouth. His paintings can be seen. He also found a special kind of solace in brick-laying, and completed several projects with loving care, again on his estate, even during the London Blitz.
The man chosen by Roosevelt to lead the Allies on June 6, 1944, in history's largest amphibious invasion in order to free a suffering humanity was Dwight David Eisenhower, quite soon to become an American president. Not generally known is the existence of a few really attractive and captivating outdoor scenes he did in oils, and may very well be at the Eisenhower Library.
One of Eisenhower's generals, Omar Bradley, who became one of the most skillful military minds of this period, found escape, even during the infamous Battle of the Bulge, by working on creative aspects of calculus - Bradley was a superb mathematician, who thought of this subject in artistic terms.
Among great artists, who found other forms of art to become involved in, included such luminaries as composer George Gershwin, a highly accomplished painter in his spare time, whose portrait of Arnold Schoenberg is one of his best projects, and whose work with the brush was always a subject of avid interest.
What about Frank Sinatra? And Tony Bennett? Sinatra was a truly gifted painter, and Bennett is a highly competent and well-regarded artist, whose works can be seen today. Bennett has exhibits, from time to time.
The world - renowned player of the harmonica, Larry Adler, who captivated the musical world with his transcriptions and works by noted composers for this tiny instrument, found time, for a short period, to be a food critic for Harper's magazine.
And on it goes...


A Date Exactly One Year Apart - A Lesson to be Learned...

On June 22, 1940, a vanquished France signed an armistice with Hitler in the same railroad car the Germans signed their surrender, in 1918 at the Compiegne Forest, France.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler began his descent into total destruction, by invading Mother Russia.
A lesson learned? Not really.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some Observations About the Horowitz Transcriptions...

As you know, I wrote yesterday about the address of the people notating the Horowitz transcriptions. I thought that I might share with you some personal reactions to what is transpiring during this period concerning the transcriptions:
Some of you are aware, of course, that a number of the transcriptions has been recently recorded by the young Russian pianist, Arcadi Volodos.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I had thought for many years after the passing of Horowitz in 1989, that the transcriptions would not be performed again; that they were, indeed, personal incarnations of Horowitz, and Horowitz only, as the transcriptions were really an elemental extension of the core of the unparalleled Horowitz pyro-technique.
However, the immense gifts of Volodos, both as a pianist and as an astute observer of the legacy given us by Horowitz, have resulted in some recordings, uncannily close to the Horowitz notations, that give an overpowering verism to a reality. That reality is simply a reminder that nothing remains the same, even though one may think that, for instance, the playing by Horowitz of his transcriptions could ever be exceeded in raw pianism.
And yet, my arrogance that Horowitz, who has been a hero of mine since childhood, deemed unassailable in the playing of his own transcriptions, is at least diminished somewhat by the playing of Volodos.
I decided to compile a CD of performances of some of the transcriptions, played by Horowitz and Volodos back-to-back. As overwhelming as Horowitz is, of course, in his playing, I became aware that Volodos finds spatial "stretching" of the notes, even though his tempi are, for the most part, similar to Horowitz - that spatial aura is an issue I had not contemplated before.
In short, like geological change, the process of furthering the physiognomy of an issue may be indeed subtle, or at least barely discernible; however, to me, I hear in Volodos a movement forward in the technology of that performance; in this case, a furthering into the bottomless nature of the mass of Possibility that proves that Man always finds a new way of furthering his base of consciousness.
Not for a moment am I stating that Volodos is a better pianist than Horowitz. It's simply an analogy to the breaking through, for instance, the sound barrier, that enlarged the world of flight.
For me, Volodos has gone a tiny step further in pure pianism in works I had mistakenly considered the property of one genius, and one genius only.
You may or may not agree with my reactions - do remember that it is only one musician's reaction.
Perhaps the word "Progress" sums it all up.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Inner Sanctum of the Horowitz Transcriptions...

One of two letters I had written to Vladimir Horowitz dealt with the question of looking at his transcriptions, which, to my knowledge, had not been published at that time. He answered, with an apology, that they were simply not available for scrutinizing. Frankly, I had expected no answer, as his general policy was never to write any letters dealing with musical matters.
And so, since his passing in 1989, I never expected to look upon the notes making up these unparalleled works designed to explore the recesses of further possibilities awaiting those who make an assiduous study of the hidden potential awaiting within the piano.
Finally, I contacted a group I had been hearing about, who for years had been, fragment - by - fragment, committing the notes of these transcriptions onto paper, so that the arcane world of Horowitz and his massive technique can be finally seen.
Those of you who should like to be witness to the music can do so by keying:
I have a sense that Horowitz would not have been pleased at all this, as I feel that he preferred taking these coveted investigatory exercises he created with him on his final journey.