Monday, April 25, 2011

Let's Not Forget "Nannerl" - a Question Never to Be Answered...

The entire world recognizes the wonder child Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and his unequaled attainment level.
But; perhaps, just a few words about his older sister, Marie Anna, born five years before Amadeus...
Of course, any of us who follow the course of the history of Western music know that the wonder child had an older sister, who demonstrated undeniable brilliance in keyboard abilities at an early age - we know that both brother and sister performed often in Europe as duo pianists, with works including some written by Little Brother.
However, we shall never know precisely as to the level of brilliance Nannerl (her nickname) may have possessed, as regards her station as a performer and composer (yes, she also wrote music).
The times, it appears, dictated to her a diminishing role as she became a young woman, seemingly placing her more as one of a coming marriageable age, more than as one of demonstrable promise as a musician. The social constraints of the times, it seems, may well have been complicit in the lack of our abilities to determine as to whether Mozart's older sister could have become a musician of import.
An unanswerable question - would Nannerl, if she had been born at a later time in history, have become a renowned musician?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

About Prokofiev - Just in Case You Do Not Know...

I was looking over some of the piano music of Prokoviev the other day, in the event I should like to go back to a period of practice time involving the fracturing of some of my knuckles in order to catapult some of his music into existence for some future recital - do keep in mind that Prokofiev wrote piano music almost exclusively for his own technique, as virtuoso composers traditionally do, such as Rachmaninoff, Liszt etc.
Prokofiev drove some of his teachers virtually mad by way of his unique physical attitude toward the piano, which mirrors his commensurately unique music for the instrument, for the most part.
As an example (for those of you who are accomplished pianists who have yet to confront Prokofiev); sit down and start working on the third movement of his 7th Sonata, which is both i-s-o-rhythmic and in 7/8 time - talk about knuckle busters!
In looking over his material, I came across a piece I had totally forgotten about which I did, I think, twice in public, many years ago; and that is the composer's own piano reduction of Peter and the Wolf.
It is wonderfully sculpted for the piano, in that it is equal in effect to his famous orchestral incarnation, as it captures the aura of the legend as well as the version for narrator and orchestra.
So, if you do not know of the piano reduction, do acquire it and indulge in a rather delightful experience.
Some years back, I asked a friend of mine, who was a well-known radio announcer in the large city I live close to, if he should like to be narrator in a performance with me of the piano reduction. He was delighted at the idea, as we could not find any evidence of it having been done in that form in our part of the country. And so we had a small number of sessions at my home, in rehearsal.
Sadly, the gentleman passed away unexpectedly; and so our collaboration never came to pass.
However, in the ensuing years, I did perform the piano reduction twice, as I recall - I do remember the delightful experience quite well, now that I think of it.
I remember layering some additional material to the original reduction during the final parade as the wolf was being taken to the zoo, and privately exulted in the fact that I was actually adding
to the difficulties already perpetrated by the composer!
And so the days of Hubris come and go...


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Haydn and Mozart - A Unique Confluence of Events...

There is no need, on my part, to relate any aspects of the careers of Franz Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as the world knows of them so very well; however, the calendar divulges a truly unique confluence simply by way of the birth and death years of these giants:
Let's examine - Haydn's span was 1732-1809.
Mozart's was 1756-1791.
Mozart, for a brief time, was a student of Haydn, and lived and passed away within Haydn's life span, with time to spare on either side of Haydn's earthly presence.
The younger composer's meteoric development and output created such a deep impression upon Haydn that, upon the tragically premature death of Mozart, and with almost a generation left for Haydn to continue his marvelous career, it might be noted that, without any design or seemingly conscious manifestation of intellectual or stylistic influence upon Haydn, and as a great and knowing composer, through his own observations, the elder composer became a kind of "student" of his former student, and may well have been infused innately by the Mozart Miracle.
The calendar tells us that no such event has ever been replicated. It is known that Haydn once told Mozart's father that his son stood alone and unique in the world of musical writing.
I must add that, in my opinion, Haydn was mistaken when he declared that there would be no one at the level of creative greatness represented by Mozart for another hundred years.
With deference to Haydn,whose music I love, and considered correctly as among the most important composers of all time - a hundred and more years have passed, and, in my view, the world is still awaiting the arrival of Mozart II...


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12 - Two Defining Events in American History...

On this date, in 1945, the sudden death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent shock waves through our country, our Allies, and our enemies.
As I have written before, there was some fear that Roosevelt's passing would have an effect upon our war aims; and, in actuality, there was some degree of panic about whether the fortunes of war would pass to the enemy - of course, by this time, Nazi Germany had been laid waste by our bombing and was within weeks of final defeat by way of the inexorable powers squeezing Germany from both east and west. It should be remembered that Adolf Hitler, after a brief period of euphoria upon hearing of the American President's passing, committed suicide only 18 days thereafter.
It is considered by many that Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were America's most powerful Chief Executives.
What may also be remembered that the shots fired on a fort in South Carolina called Sumter, on this date in 1861, put into motion the Civil War, which killed somewhere between 618,000 and 700,000 (the exact numbers may never be known) - America's most bloody experience.
And almost at the same time of year; namely, April 9, 1865, the Civil War was ended.
April 12 - a date that should be recalled to memory, it seems...


Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Grandma Moses? - It's Never Too Late!

When one thinks of an artist who worked well into old age, Grandma Moses is well remembered. I believe that she died in her 101st year. and was active as she approached that magic century mark.
Not far from where I live, a furrier began painting after his retirement, and became very well known for his delightful work; so well known that his works were seen in many art studios and other centers of art in and around Boston. I suppose one, upon enacting some research, could very well come across examples of his work. He was recognized by many experts for his delightful paintings of flowers, as well as many beautiful homes and well-known buildings, such as some at Harvard University; and the soft, truly benign sense attached to his subjects was really quite unique. I believe that there is a Gideon Cohen (his name) award given out periodically.
Cohen was not only an artist of ability, but equally interesting as one who, however quietly and diffidently, marched to the beat of his own drum.
He did not own a car, but walked really incredible distances to reach whatever artistic subject he chose to bring to life. When I taught at one of the music colleges, my studio had large windows that faced a busy street, and I cannot tell you the number of times that I saw this lean little man, straight as a rail, in his eighties, walking to a destination, or from one, with a painting under his arm - his home was some miles away. Many times he would appear at my door, asking for my wife, who is an artist, so that they could share in some aspect of art. He sometimes brought his latest painting with him, so that it could be the center of a conversation.
Imagine a man, around eighty five, clambering onto a ladder, going up two stories, in order to paint his modest little home - yes, he also painted that way as well, when the necessity arrived.
He, like his art, was the embodiment of friendliness and gentleness.
And his quiet voice, with not a trace of declamation, still comes back to the memory.
His kind are few in number, it seems...