Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Year... Some Vapid Thoughts-

As the New Year is about to begin, my thoughts move to the mystery we call Time, and some points of time are impressive to me; for instance, 1685 is the birth year of three musical titans named Bach, Handel and Scarlatti the Younger.
At this moment, I am considering the incredible compactness that time can project; for instance, within a period of time palpably less than a century, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert will have altered the direction of music.
Or, when I think of the word 'compactness,' how about Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt appearing on the scene all during the same period, let alone the likes of a Balzac or a Hugo?
I've lived for the past several years on the premise of Time's great illusion; namely, that the day is long and the year is short - perhaps that's all that Einstein really had to say.
My heartiest wishes for the New Year!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Like Beethoven, Perahia Prevails!

When one thinks of the deafness of Beethoven and the elemental power of tragedy that accompanied his consciousness, the name of Murray Perahia arises.
Perahia is now about 63 years of age, and is considered to be one of the handful of the living titans of the piano.
Perahia was born in New York City, and received important training in America, including his graduating from the Mannes School in New York. He also studied under various luminaries in the art of teaching, all of whom recognized an enormous pianist and musical intellect, about to pounce upon that defining moment; namely, world recognition.
Horowitz, also living in New York, who rarely evinced a critical view of his contemporary competitors, was quite unabashed in his professional recognition and personal fondness of the younger genius, and they became close friends; indeed, almost as if Horowitz may have considered him a kind of son, a son the great Russian master never had. Perahia visited the Horowitz home many times, and has openly discussed the priceless perspectives that Horowitz had endowed him with. As a matter of fact, I believe that Perahia was the last person to hear Horowitz play before the elder genius passed away the following day.
Now, as regards Perahia: a seemingly mundane moment turned his life upside down - I believe it was a cut on a thumb - I recall that it may have been a paper cut. The thumb became infected, and Perahia was given an antibiotic, which reacted violently, causing far greater damage to the thumb, shutting his career down. He did eventually recover enough to return to the concert stage, and he resumed his magic.
I believe that a recurrence of this thumb problem appeared again, in 2005; however, he is now back and continuing his great career.
I have become rather puzzled by all this, as I pulled out a video of his famed Aldeburgh recital, which took place before the thumb problem, and noticed that there was at least one small bandage on the tip, not of a thumb, but on one of the other fingers.
Does Perahia have a medical problem with his system that goes beyond the well-known incident with his right thumb? I have wondered, from time to time, about this.
Most important is the reality that despite the personal tragedy which endangered his wondrous career, is that Perahia now plays, and plays better than ever.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

"The Art of-" A Follow-up...

As promised when I wrote the blog dealing with Lyonel Feininger and the Comic Strip, here is my follow-up:
In the 1930's, one of America's more powerful authors (sadly, I cannot remember who it was), emitted a "warning" not to consider the comic strip "as anything less than an art form of strong import; nothing less."
I consider the comic strip as just that, simply due to the impact it had upon my consciousness as a child, and how it was part of my daily existence; my constantly becoming totally lost in the many worlds created by extravagantly gifted artists.
As I look back, the most singular strength projecting from these artists was the total; the absolute purity of the cosmos created by each creator; for instance, the mysterious, sometimes dark world of Little Orphan Annie never filtered itself into the wacky, inept world of Mutt and Jeff - each comic strip was in a world of its own, let alone the total uniqueness, stylistically, of each character.
Here is a partial list of the comic strips, emanating from my experience, containing the totally insulated character of the Unique, as represented in the strips mentioned below:
Do keep in mind that the following comic strips appeared before Walt Disney...
Hans Und Fritz, which became the Katzenjammer Kids I had mentioned in the Feininger article, and still is extant, making it, probably, the longest existing comic strip in history.
Little Nemo (I remember seeing examples of this strip going back to 1908!).
Mutt and Jeff; the Gumps; Polly and her Pals; Moon Mullins; Bringing Up Father; Gasoline Alley, Toonerville Trolley.
The following strips appeared around the advent of Disney; namely, the late twenties and early thirties: Skippy; Little Orphan Annie; Dick Tracy.
The impact of Little Orphan Annie can be certified by the musical "Annie," which was created, of course, generations after the comic strip character.
I'm sure that you can find examples of these strips by way of, say, Google.
Oh - by the way; the reason I decided to write about this subject in the first place, was the word Google - to explain, when I was a child, I loved a character created before Disney. His name was Barney Google. Do look him up.
To encapsulate, see if you agree with my suggestion of the art value connected to the comic strip. Examine the uniqueness of each character; the superb techniques of these artists, in their abilities to project the core character of each strip; look at the scintillating color saturation employed by the artist; lastly, delight in the story value surrounding each of these one-of-a-kind characters.
Have fun!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

"The Art of -" Another Example...

The only serious artist I know of to gain fame by way of a comic strip he created was Lyonel Feininger, who was born, I believe, in New York, of immigrant parents, but who went to Germany for his training.
Feininger was a brilliant caricaturist, let alone a rather singular painter. His interest in the art of caricature in his work led him to create a comic strip called "the Kinder-Kids," and was first published in the Chicago Tribune in 1906, but lasted only a short period, as he simply could not keep up with production demands.
Fascinating indeed is that this comic-strip artist, while in Germany, was an intrinsic part of the founding aspect of the renowned Bauhaus, which was a unique school combining art and design techniques. The Bauhaus gained great notoriety for its defining philosophies and attracted many gifted artists from all over Europe. The founder of the Bauhaus was the legendary architect Gropius, who enlisted the likes of a Feininger to help with the development of this school and think-tank.
Before his succession to power, Hitler had on many occasions attacked the Bauhaus, as he considered it a "dangerous" entity, endangering the existence of more traditional approaches to artistic endeavor. When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the Bauhaus eventually was dissolved, and Feininger, for one, came to America, which brings us up to his connection with the Chicago Tribune and his creation of the "Kinder-Kids."
What is important to note is that his comic strip and another, called the "Katzenjammer Kids" helped to establish the American comic strip, which is an art form of palpable significance; after all, would there have been a Walt Disney as we got to know him in 1928?
Incidentally, I believe that the "Katzenjammer Kids" still exists, which would make it the longest running comic strip of them all.
In an ensuing blog, I will discuss the great comic strips of the '30's arising from the time of Feininger and Dirks, the man who created the "Katzenjammer Kids."


Friday, December 17, 2010

The Quiet Genius - Clifford Curzon

He was a truly diffident, unassuming and introspective man, who just happened to be one of the truly great English pianists of the twentieth century.
That quiet, ruminative manner translated, innately or otherwise, into his unique manner at the piano.
Actually, he is the only great pianist I am aware of who seemingly sublimated the music he performed simply by way of a natural kind of suppression of his own entity to create some of the most singular approaches I have ever known; for instance, in a performance of the legendary Liszt Sonata I heard as a youngster, the kind of intensity of drama so germane to the name Liszt was never in evidence in this performance. For the only time in my life I heard Liszt played in a kind of setting that cannot be described in words - the sounds of Liszt were precisely as powerful in text, but in a way that was so pure in projection, that the drama came simply from the sounds Curzon gave me without a trace of his personality as part of the propellant - it was not so much the usual or expected human endeavor, in emotional terms, but rather a direct confrontation with the intellect of the composer without hubris or melodrama.
Now there was, and perhaps still is, another recording of the Liszt filled with false notes and a rather shoddy and disoriented reading of this sonata, and to this day, I do not know how it ever met the light of day. This kind of performance would occasionally be given by Curzon, who was in fear of live performances and shunned them, unlike Horowitz, who in fear played regularly until he went into one of his many retirements in order to reestablish equilibrium. Curzon was also uncomfortable in many of his recording sessions. Seemingly, his search for the unattainable; namely Perfection, overcame his efforts, from time to time.
But there are recordings of Curzon out there of Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven, which are absolutely marvelous and enlightening. He did study with Schnabel for a period, which led into his specializing of the music of these masters.
If you are not familiar with Curzon, I would certainly advise your listening to this singular, quiet genius. I think that you will be enraptured.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Art of"...Another Example

As you have read in my blog, I have projected various examples of the term "the art of" by describing the process of creativity in different incarnations; for example, my experience in bread-making, and the resultant list of exotic breads I had created.
Or, to cite other examples of creativity; the way that Oppenheimer dealt with physics as a true art form by way of the exultant process of discovery, or a method of escapism as demonstrated by a legendary soldier, General Omar Bradley, who would deal with the processes of possibilities through Calculus as a kind of escape during the extreme stresses of waging war.
Truly; any activity dealing with the creative process is, of itself, an art form.
And so, another example of "the art of:"
About thirty-odd years ago, I thought that I would return to one of my first loves; that is, the railroad train. One of my early remembrances was - upon hearing a steam engine approaching if I were near the railroad station, I would run as fast as my little legs would take me in order to watch one of those wonderful metal monsters, white steam pouring upwards from its stack, lumbering in my direction as it began its grinding to a halt on the track I was standing besides. I cannot possibly know how many times I did that very same thing as a child. I was utterly fascinated by the size, the power, the sounds of this thing called a train.
On my tenth birthday, my father, knowing of my fascination with trains, purchased my first electric train - it was a "streamliner," with four cars attached, on an oval track with a pair of switches, which took the train onto a different set of tracks. I spent countless hours playing with this train set, and it was, for a considerable part of my young years, a love second only to my music.
As an adult, I decided to return to the train by going into building a model railroad, and started by putting an oval track in the bedroom with an 027-gauge train, one of the larger sized train models. That lasted for a short time, as both my wife and I tired of tripping over the tracks in the dark.
To shorten this saga, I moved everything downstairs to what HAD been the dining room, and went to HO-gauge, which is 1/87th life size, giving me much room to construct what, over the years, was my personal railroad empire.
On a six - by - six foot table complex, I constructed an entire village, surrounded by mountains, with three different trains running on separate track systems. My first incarnation was a village in summer. And so, over many months of putting buildings together, piece by piece (some structures had over 300 pieces), installing ground and grass and trees, with stones gathered from the back yard, which became boulders at 1/87th scale, of course, along with such items as a woman hanging out clothes to dry; a parade down Main Street; children plunging into the village pond; an outdoor wedding with the couple in formal clothing surrounded by family and friends; a complete shopping area, with people bustling back and forth carrying packages; dogs frisking about; a tunnel into which the train would disappear and emerge from the tunnel at the base of a mountain in the distance; a restaurant which, with electric motors I had installed, would slowly revolve at a rate of one revolution per minute at the top of a tower, much like the restaurant at Niagara Falls. I also constructed a merry-go-round, with horses moving up and down. There were many other objects on this table too numerous to mention - all of this with three trains moving, each at a different speed. I eventually was able to mount a device into the engines, which blared out the sounds endemic to train sounds, which included whistles as well, each train independent of the others in the sounds, with the chug of the steam corresponding in pulse with the speed of the wheels. It was all almost like having learned a piece of music, with the same sense of achievement and pleasure, I can assure you - I had learned so much about the miracle of electricity by doing all of this.
I then decided to shroud my village in Winter, and took away all of the greenery, substituting snow, clothing all the people in winter garb (by the way, there were about 250 people on this diorama, along with cars and buses), added some skiers, and ice-skaters whirling around the pond which had changed from water to ice.
As a final move, I added a mono-rail above the entire village, which slowly circled the community above the buildings, and installed tiny speakers in snowbanks from which came the sounds of children singing Christmas carols - I added fiber optics to many trees, so that they all glistened with the lights of the Holiday.
I was more than sad, when I finally dismantled my empire, so that we could have our dining room back once again - all of that material is but a memory now, no longer in my home; HOWEVER, there ARE photos and camcorder tapes as proof that my childhood love had returned later in life.
For me, another chapter in "the art of."


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On This Date...A Day of Remembrance -

The entire world knows, of course, that the forces of the Japanese Empire attacked the American fleet in Pearl Harbor on this date, in 1941.
Over 24oo were killed on that day, and Battleship Row lay in partial ruins.
Some thoughts come to mind about that Day of Infamy:
The lingering Depression, by that time called by the opposition "Roosevelt's Depression," still witnessed many Americans still out of work. In one day, this date in 1941, the Japanese solved this lingering problem by creating a gigantic war industry almost overnight in America, putting countless thousands back to work in a common purpose.
Adolf Hitler was in shock when he heard of the attack, and it required him almost four days before he declared war on America, in accordance with the tenets of the Tripartite Agreement, signed by Hitler, Mussolini and representatives of the Japanese Empire.
Strange; America was the only country in the entire World War that Hitler declared war upon.
Yamamoto, the Commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, had come to America to study at Harvard years before, and had learned of the American and his ways, through such pursuits as poker, which he loved playing. He once visited Detroit, followed by a trip to the Texas oil fields, and upon returning to Japan, warned the militarists " never to go to war with America."
He also, as a great visionary, some twenty years before Pearl Harbor, stated that the "next naval war will be decided in the air."
How prophetic - when the attack took place at Pearl Harbor, a message was sent to Admiral Yamamoto, informing him that the American aircraft carriers were not present - the Admiral then uttered that prescient statement "what I fear that we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
I have for years had the gnawing feeling that when Yamamoto uttered those words on Dec. 7, he knew that Japan would lose the war; however, as a "son of the Emperor" he was committed to his nation and culture, and planned the entire Pearl Harbor venture.
Days like this should not be forgotten.
By the way, at this same point in time, the legendary pop musician, Dave Brubek has begun his 91st year - Best Wishes to a true pioneer, one of very few pop artists to study with a great classical composer, Darius Milhaud, one of the eminent Post -Impressionists.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

For Christmas - Some Suggestions?

I haven't offered suggestions for Christmas in some years now, so I thought that I would offer some little "gumdrops" for consideration in the gift-giving department!

For Christmas itself, may I suggest that you look for a recording called "Christmastide,", which is a number of carols played on old instruments - it is delightful in its simplicity and clarity. We really do not hear that often these days the beloved carols in a more proper setting.

For the children, a video called "Beethoven Lives Upstairs" really tells us of the personal side of the great composer, even though it is rather fictionalized, to a point. I enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding Beethoven in his daily life, going from apartment to apartment etc. - it's quite charming, and will give youngsters some insight into the life style of this fabled composer.

Also, for the youngster, why not acquire the Walt Disney movie, "Fantasia?" It's a marvelous blend of great music coupled with the visions that Disney had about coupling Sight and Sound together - a defining trip into the world of Imagination.

Finally, young people may like to see very early Disney, back in the 1930's, when Disney decides to fuse music and cartoon, with no dialogue whatsoever - these are true classics. They are called "Silly Symphonies."

For the pop listener, why not look for the "Great Songs of World War Two," performed by the great performers of that time? It tells us of the particularized genius that the American composers possessed, to write one pretty tune after another, some of which have continued to be heard today - from Sinatra to Crosby to Fitzgerald to Goodman to Ellington to Basie, and on-and-on - it's a three disc set, and worth listening to and owning.

For the most satirical pop recording I know of, look for "Jonathan and Darlene Edwards." I once wrote a blog about this unique recording, and it's worth looking for - a truly singular approach to performance.

For the classical lover, look for a book called "Evenings With Horowitz," a delightful series of visits to the Horowitz home in New York by a teacher at Juillard, a friend of the great virtuoso.
One will visit the informal side of Horowitz, and be witness to that Puckish sense of humor he was known for among his close friends and associates.

How about a book by Oscar Levant, called "A Smattering of Ignorance?"

For those not familiar with the revolutionary device called the Vorsetzer, created during the first few years of the 2oth century, look for some of the incredible performances by such names of the past as Grieg, Debussy, Ravel, Lhevinne, Busoni and many other legendary figures in music who straddled both the 19th and 20th centuries. You might look at my blog on this machine that will give you greater insight as regards an event that created a sensation among the great musicians of that time.

Finally, in the event that the recipient of any present you give does not own the Beethoven Nine Symphonies by either Bruno Walter or Arturo Toscanini, you cannot miss giving a most delightful and meaningful gift!