Saturday, July 23, 2011

Two Pianists; a Perspective on Rachmaninoff's Third...

As I have written in a previous blog, a famous encounter in New York took place in 1928 between the legendary pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and the 24 year - old sensation from Mother Russia, Vladimir Horowitz, resulting in that famous exclamation by Rachmaninoff after his hearing Horowitz play his 3rd Concerto; namely, "He swallowed my Concerto whole!"
And the fact that Rachmaninoff himself disdained from playing his 3rd for nearly a decade because of the Horowitz incarnation - well, the first of several recordings that Horowitz made of this great Concerto was in 1930 in London, with Albert Coates and the London Philharmonic. One critic called this performance "one of the hundred great recordings."
For me, I carried around the conviction that this recording of the 3rd was the greatest ever made by a pianist not yet thirty(Horowitz was 26 or 27 at the time). I did not know of anyone in his twenties who could equal the conceptual, let alone technical power of the Horowitz reading.
And I kept this conviction most of my career; that is, until in 1996, as I remember, I heard a 25 year - old pianist overwhelm me with a reading of this behemoth that was absolutely redolent with an intellectual and technical display that, for me, undermined my generations - long conviction about the Horowitz recording made so long ago.
To encapsulate, I placed both recordings back - to - back on one CD; the result being that Leif Ove Andsnes, the acclaimed Norwegian pianist, and Vladimir Horowitz, the 20th century giant from Mother Russia are, for me, the two pianists in their twenties who stand alone in their youth as the two who give more to this Concerto than any other not yet thirty.
See (or hear!) if you agree...


Friday, July 15, 2011

Mendelssohn - The Variations Serieuses...A Work of Great Importance

Mendelssohn is justifiably compared, in terms of precocity, with Mozart.
He wrote music at an extremely early age, and publicly appeared as a pianist before age ten. He possessed an assiduously keen curiosity about his world, and traveled a great deal, having been born into a family of power and wealth; after all, his grandfather was the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, his father Abraham one of Germany's more powerful bankers. We know that he read Shakespeare in English as well as in German. Among other accomplishments, he was the founder of the Leipzig Conservatory, and gained great notoriety both on the Continent and in England.
His Symphonies and the marvelous Violin Concerto are among his better-known masterpieces.
In the piano solo aspect, his Songs Without Words remain to this day among the more popular masterpieces for the instrument.
One piece, which I believe should be more widely acknowledged, is his Variations Serieuses, primarily for one reason; that is, the quality of dimension in a piece for piano solo.
It goes without saying that in his orchestral works and the Concertos the architectural abilities of Mendelssohn are pandemic, marvelously enhanced by way of his pristine harmonic judgement.
However, in his works for piano solo, he does not involve himself quite as much in size as he does so wonderfully in his harmonic judgement, as witnessed countless times in his Songs Without Words, most of which are a few pages in length. Certainly his vaunted Rondo has extended material; however, in the Variations we see a piece of music of considerable size and concept, both in material and in his abilities to develop variations. As I recall, it was written in 1841, only a few years before a tragically premature death.
There are a few recordings of the Variations available. It is, of course, familiar among those in the profession; however, this blog will serve, hopefully, as a piece of information which will serve some of you by way of discovery of Mendelssohn as not only the great composer we all know, but also as a musical architect of the first magnitude through these magnificent variations.
As a child, I was entranced by the Horowitz recording - see if you can get hold of it.


Monday, July 11, 2011

"The Art Of" the Word - in Comedy

"A horse must be led to water, but every pencil must be led."
"You're right - any bird can build a nest, but not every one can lay an egg."
(Hardy) "Call me a cab." (Laurel, confused, asked) "What?" (Hardy, in mounting impatience, said "I said, call me a cab!" (After a second or two, Laurel, in a rather confused state, said "You're a cab."
"What did he die of - he died of a Tuesday, or was it Wednesday?"
The inane, vacant look emanating from dull glazed-over blue eyes accompanied the equally inane, vacant words you have just read.
In case you do not know of the illimitable genius of one Stanley Laurel Jefferson, do please undergo a study of this man.
He was half of a two-man comedy team that made it seamlessly from the era of silent movies to the early days of the sound films of the thirties. The world knows them as Laurel and Hardy, and this duo made a plethora of great film comedies that set the standard of the importance of The Word in slapstick comedy.
In one of their best films, called "Sons of the Desert," after a deeply philosophical conversation of about twelve seconds in duration with his partner Oliver Hardy, Laurel looks blankly into the camera, and sighs "life isn't short enough."
In another of their classics, titled "Way Out West," Laurel loses a bet with Hardy, vowing that he would eat Hardy's hat if he lost the bet. When Hardy shoves the hat in Laurel's direction, saying "eat it!", Laurel hesitates for a moment, then bursts into uncontrollable sobbing, and exclaims "I never ate a hat before."
In a film called "Helpmates," Hardy calls Laurel on the phone and asks in a benignly social manner, "Whatchya doing?" To which Laurel answers unhesitatingly "talking to you."
In "Way Out West," Laurel and Hardy play detectives looking for a girl named Mary Roberts .In one scene Laurel approaches a young lady who has a different name and blurts " I want to know why you are not Mary Roberts!"
And so it goes, in one film after another - Stan Laurel exhibited a unique weapon that gave the visual aspect of their memorable films a gigantic dimension in the totality of their creations - that weapon was The Word - and Laurel utilized this aspect like no one else in the field of comedy.
Even though I had written about the following incident in a previous blog, I thought it apropos to inject it at this point:
On his deathbed, Laurel was in a coma, attended by a nurse on vigil(who documented this incident).
His eyes closed, Laurel suddenly muttered "I'd rather be skiing."
The nurse was dumbfounded, and found herself asking "do you ski?"
Laurel, with eyes still closed, replied "no, but I'd rather be skiing."
What an encomium to the spirit of this man! Comedy to the very end.
I may be mistaken, but this incident, as I recall, is included in the P.H.D. written by John McCabe, a Laurel and Hardy scholar.
By the way, a gem uttered by another great comedian of the same period, W.C. Fields was given to history in an early sound classic, titled "The Dentist".
Fields, who plays the role of dentist, asks the patient in the chair "have you ever had this tooth pulled before?"


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Art of Prescience... Two Singular Voices - The Ultimate Results

The power of prescience appears in all human pursuits - sometimes it is unconscious, such as Scarlatti's legendary Sonatas, written during a period before the piano, but fit the piano so superbly, that there are those who feel that pianists like Horowitz and Gilels bring to ultimate reality the full potential of these masterpieces, even though they were written for the harpsichord.
Or, take the sonatas for piano written by Beethoven, many of which were so powerful that at times instruments being built during Beethoven's time were damaged, during performance of some of these masterpieces; however, the addition of metals to support the language of Beethoven eventually gave us the piano we know, even though Beethoven never saw what many of us have in our living-rooms.
But at this time my thoughts go to the art of prescience as it applies to two singular Britons, each with a message of warning, and each with a different reason for the message.
Winston Churchill, during the decade before Hitler went to war, was one of the few voices in a Britain that decried reality, primarily because of the horrific price the island nation suffered during World War I. But Churchill's persistent and eloquent voice prevailed, and the world knows that his warnings were vindicated when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, and Churchill became Prime Minister of a country at war with Hitler.
Another voice of warning was that of one Lady Lucy "Poppy" Houston, a stout defender of the Empire, her reason simply being that the Empire MUST be looked after. She once said that any true Briton would rather sell his last shirt than give in to those who do not believe that constant vigilance is a prerequisite for the maintaining of the Empire.
She once gave a large amount of money to Aquamarine, the plane-builders, in order to make sure that they could compete in the Schneider Air Trophy races, held about ten years in Europe, and one of the most prestigious events in the world of water-based airplanes during the early twentieth century.
What is interesting, really fascinating, is that the kinetic health, financially, of Aquamarine. primarily due to the gift of Lady Houston, improved to a point that the genius airplane designer, R. J. Mitchell, was called upon to design the planes for some of the races, and that the basic all-metal design that Mitchell created led to his being asked by the British government to design a warplane based upon his design visions for sport-racing.
That request led to the creation of the plane that ultimately was the leader in the defeat of Hitler's air force over England, which spelled the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany, as Hitler turned to the East and invaded Mother Russia.
That plane; that lynchpin, was the Spitfire.
And it all started with a grand lady's warning about preserving the Empire...


Friday, July 1, 2011

Mozart - The Beauty and Dangers of the Written Word...

As a child, I was a voracious reader, and at a rather early age, I stumbled across the famous book on Mozart by the brilliant authoress Marcia Davenport called, simply - "Mozart."
I must have read the book four or five times (I remember being of elementary school age), falling more and more into the world of Mozart painted so exquisitely by Davenport, and for a long time Davenport's world of Mozart was my world whenever I thought about this genius, or whenever I played his music.
However, this world was, if not shattered, certainly taken down a few sturdy pegs, as I delved, as a young adult and aspiring musician, more deeply into Mozart's time, and found that Davenport's information about Mozart was, at times, either incomplete, - or simply inaccurate.
This kind of of discovery transmogrified my thinking of and approach to the dangers that are inherently endemic to the relating of Man's history, not only in music, but also in all other aspects of Man's world. As an example - did Hitler actually get elected to power (I've seen this statement more than once in books read), or was he appointed to power? or, "Did Mussolini's trains always run on time?"
Think of David Irving, once a most powerful historical voice, stating that "the survivors of the Holocaust are liars" -
Or Schindler, who followed Beethoven around like a Spaniel, and who became a well-known voice of the life of Beethoven in his writings - sadly, Schindler has been found lacking, let alone inaccurate; even false, on more than one occasion. One can, by going into ensuing research projects on the life of the Beethoven, discover the corrective revising of Schindler and his work.
And yet, when I think of Marcia Davenport, her magnificent color-portrayal of Mozart through her words has not changed my mind about her being one of the great story-tellers of my youth.
I probably will go back one day and read her book once again - and enjoy it.