Thursday, October 27, 2011

Journeys Into the Unknown - Student Recitals...

Some of my most poignant memories stem from recitals; not mine, but students of mine.
Try these two incidents for size:
One of my young ladies emerged to play a work of Clementi. There's nothing really unusual about a Clementi performance; HOWEVER, she was sufficiently nervous to begin a work by the composer which did not happen to be the work intended for that golden moment.
I have never experienced ANYWHERE a work played in public that was not the work printed on the program. I can assure you that both she and I went on a trip through Hades during that particular offering. I lived my life a thousand times by the time she finished. Miraculously, the work she played was done in its entirety without mishap.
I would not wish any of my colleagues such an undergoing.
On another occasion, a very young lass and I were playing a series of duets by Diabelli before a rather large audience, an audience quite curious about a five-year old playing in public.
Unfortunately, neither my student nor I had noticed that one of the keys she played had a small but jagged edge, due to some previous breakage. Sure enough, she cut a finger about half-way through the music, which contained six pieces. Both she and I became witness to a gradual introduction of the color red, not normally associated with the traditional black/white combination connected with the piano keyboard. By the time the composition was performed(yes, she continued on!), both she and I, let alone the keyboard, had indeed become highly colorful performers. Fortunately, the blood flow was minimal, as she must have barely grazed that jagged edge during that fateful moment, and never furthered the damage to her finger. No one in the audience knew what had occurred, and directly after our bows, we repaired to a rest room in the building to administer a complete washing to that hand with the aid of hydrogen peroxide, which fortunately was available for reasons I will never know.
How about the word "brave" for that little kindergartner, who never complained during this entire debacle?
And how about the teacher? I can assure you that complete recovery took days...


Monday, October 24, 2011

Franz Liszt - How Could I Have Forgotten?

It's obvious that, from time to time, my head is not connected to my neck; for example, to have forgotten until now, the 10th month of the year, that 2011 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the 19th century's legends, Franz Liszt.
It's not really necessary to re-dig the information germane to this overpowering musician, as I have written so often in my blogs about him.
Perhaps, all that is needed at this time is to indeed be reminded of the existence of and great influence by Liszt. To develop a pyro-technique at the age of twelve, so that by his early teens, he could play the piano essentially as well as anyone alive; to write such overpowering masterpieces as his mammoth piano sonata, with its transcending investigation into Theme Transformation; to become one of the most revered and iconic teaching entities of his century, with future piano legends having studied with him. Many consider Liszt to be as powerful a messenger of the Romantic period as there was; all this and more, coupled with the reality of a mere handful of months between 1809 and 1811, producing not only Liszt, but Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann...
How would you have liked to be a "fly - on - the - wall" during that time?
Hats off to Franz Liszt, for all that he has given us!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Music, Math and the Wonders of Music...

Arguably, Bach is generally thought of as the most influential composer of the last three hundred years. The magic of sound and numbers, in unparalleled symbiosis, which this titanic musical thinker has given life to, has filtered into virtually all composers' thought processes since his time.
Those of us in the field think of Bach and his powers almost daily, as his language permeates our consciousness in countless incarnations whenever the process of music writing becomes the issue of the moment.
And yet, when I study the harmonic vocabulary of a Chopin or a Schumann as I venture into the historical placement of this art form when it represents the Romantic period, I am staggered each and every time at the incredible level of mathematics, especially as it applies to the height of spontaneity that a Chopin or a Schumann can impart to us when they deal with the issue of projecting the cause of human emotion and its voluminous vocabulary.
It is, quite simply, a coruscation of the highest order to digest and recognize what the two words "great composer" imply, no matter what period, after Bach's time, we are involved with.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Roger Williams, Al Tory, and I...

During my early teaching career, I was far more involved in listening to pop and jazz than I am now, and total democratization in my musical tastes came out of this period.
One of my many pop heroes during this period was Roger Williams, who passed away last week at the age of 87. His splashy and crystal-clear playing was always attractive to my young ears, and his immense success in such recordings as "Autumn Leaves" or the theme from "Doctor Zhivago," among many other releases, was a source of a different kind of pleasure(perhaps a kind of release?) from the disciplines of the world of Bach, Mozart, Haydn and the other giants in my everyday pursuits, both in performing and teaching.
At that time, I decided to find a way to play some pop music, and with my compositional abilities, thought that I could write some pop arrangements along the way.
And so I elected to take a number of lessons from one of Boston's better-known pop pianists, who played all over town. His name was Al Tory, and he taught me how to build chords and improvisational patterns in a matter of a few weeks. The result was erecting some arrangements of a number of ballads, which was relatively easy, as I could glean ideas from 19th century classical music, such as "Chopinesque," or Schumannesque" styles I could inculcate into some of the pop tunes which I chose to build arrangements around.
Strange; on the day that Roger Williams passed away just a few days ago, the above reminiscence about my lessons with Al Tory reappeared in my memory, along with an arrangement I had fashioned in the interlocking style of George Shearing. The tune was called "I'll Never Smile Again"(until I smile at you, etc.), and after all these years, I went to the piano and played it again, resulting in guffaws from my wife, let alone myself - imagine! After a lifetime of performance, teaching and musicological study, I instantly became the Roger Williams of my bailiwick, and it was both funny and proof that I chose wisely by sticking with classical music.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Prokofiev, his 5th Concerto, and Some Thoughts...

On Sunday last, I was listening to Prokofiev's glistening 5th Piano Concerto - since high school days, Prokofiev has been one of my heroes coming out of the twentieth century. My first encounter on the piano was his Fugitive Visions, and have loved them since, let alone essentially most of his output. I remember my personal piano-war with his mammoth 7th Sonata; however, it was truly worth the effort, as I think that it's the best of his so-called "War" Sonatas.
As I sat listening on Sunday, a truly gripping irony about this composer resurfaced in my memory bank - read on:
On March 5, 1953, the Soviet Union was given the stunning news that its leader, Josef Stalin, had died.
This tyrant, as we all know, was handed the power of absolute leader from Lenin upon his death, and Stalin maintained his tenure of dictator for a generation and a half until 1953.
The man Stalin exceeded, in my view, the evil of Hitler, simply by instigating the massacre of millions of his own countrymen, which Hitler never did, if one leaves out the fate of the Jews, Gypsies, the mentally deficient and political foes the German dictator dealt with.
Hitler maintained the phrase "we shall fight to the last man" several times, during the latter part of the war he had begun. Stalin was even more efficient in his nihilistic, paranoid world by warning his soldiers "if one moves forward, he may die; however, if he moves one step backward, he WILL die."
So much for one of two men who died on March 5, 1953.
On the same date, Sergei Prokofiev also passed away.
Which of the two do we better remember today? Just listen to the strangely and wonderfully melodic music given us by Prokofiev, on any day we choose - we can bring the genius of the artist to life any time of day we decide upon; on the other hand, it requires mute words from a book, or a grainy image of Stalin and the like on film, tape or a compact disc, to muster up a sense of whom we are pursuing some knowledge of.
By the way, while musing the above issue on Sunday, another date wafted up to my inner eye; that date, June 22.
On June 22, 1938, the black heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Joe Louis, met the man from Germany, Max Schmeling, for the second time(first time was 1936, when Schmeling defeated Joe Louis).
Louis, in a little over two minutes, severely beat Schmeling, which irritated and embarrassed Hitler upon his realization that a man of color had vanquished a member of the Aryan nation, which Hitler had proclaimed a culture superior to all others.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler would ultimately become somewhat more than irritated and embarrassed, by making the mistake of invading Mother Russia.
Certain dates can most assuredly represent the formation of the road that History travels on...

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