Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Composer and the Novelist- Parallels in History...

The famous novelist Michael Crichton passed away in 2008 from cancer, leaving an unfinished story behind. Evidently Crichton's agent was impressed enough with this unfinished work to contact another author to ask him if he would be interested in completing it.
At first this author, whose name is Richard Preston, hesitated, obviously due to the rather unique proposal offered him; after all, how often is the work of one creative mind taken over for completion by another?
Well, how about Amadeus Mozart and Franz Sussmayr?
It appears that Mozart's last great work, his Requiem, slipped from his dying hands before he could complete it, and Sussmayr was called upon to finish this masterpiece.
There are several different stories attached to the Mozart/Sussmayr saga; for instance, how much of the remainder of the Requiem was dictated to Sussmayr by Mozart as he lay dying? or, was Mozarts' widow a primary component in the finishing of the Requiem by Sussmayr, who was both a highly skilled composer and dear friend of the fabled composer?
It is known that within a hundred days of his receiving the manuscript for completion, Sussmayr presented it to the great composer's widow.
Some historians claim that Sussmayr had studied with Mozart; however, there seems to be more weight to the reality that he had studied with Mozart's chief competitor in Austria, Antonio Salieri.
Oh-by the way; Richard Preston DID complete Crichton's last tome not too long ago...


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chopin and Andsnes - The Greatness to Come...

Of the sonatas written by Chopin, his first is the least known.
The principal reason is logical - he was just seventeen when he began writing it, and the Chopin the world has known since 1849 was yet to be formed.
However, even though the formalism and barriers of his formative years are in evidence, the luminescence and wonderfully conditioned boundlessness germane to the Chopin we know begin to appear, especially in the mid-section of this sonata. What wonders this genius gives to the future are already beginning to appear. Listen closely, and I'm sure that you will agree.
As a parallel to the composer, I offer to you a recording of this first sonata by the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes.
Here is a young pianist, about twenty two at the time of this recording, performing the young composer with a kind of eclectic response one would expect of a great musician palpably older.
Andnes immediately is at the core of the message which defies any intelligent description that may be attempted by any learned listener.
To encapsulate: both the composer and the performer do rather precisely the same thing - they give us a picture of the future at a remarkably early time in their lives.
Chopin shares with us a portrait that is being painted; to be completed years later, when the promise is consummated a couple of decades down the line.
Andsnes does precisely the same thing, and a couple of decades later, this great musician, now in his early forties, is considered by many to be the Prince of the eminent pianists of our day.
Both Composer and Performer promised the world a language which enhances our existence -
and both have fulfilled the Promise.
By the way, Andsnes also recorded the other two piano sonatas of Chopin in this album. I cannot imagine any musician at age 22 giving us greater insight than that which we hear in these works.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cecile Chaminade - Should History Pay Her Another Visit?

Among the relatively few eminent women composers of the 19th century, Cecile Chaminade was among that small coterie.
For those of you who are not very familiar with this composer, just a few words:
Chaminade was an accomplished pianist, with her debut in her late 'teens - she became known in France as a fine teacher, with a distinguished career in teaching lasting over a half century - she may have written close to 500 compositions overall, with a great number of them published during her life span - she was admired and championed by such musicians as Isidor Philipp, one of the last of the super-teachers straddling the 19th and 20th centuries. Phillip's name endures as a pedagogical entity influencing many great minds involved with the evolution of piano performance, to this very day.
I recently thumbed through the opus 76 of Chaminade, and was impressed with the fourth and sixth pieces in that group.
It's not that she is in a league with a Debussy or a Ravel. She is not what would be termed as a great composer; however, the gift that Chaminade possessed; namely, a highly attractive harmonic vocabulary, coupled with a pristine sense of how to write for the piano reminds us of the reason for the fame she accrued during her time and through the first half of the 20th century.
Rather sadly, her popularity waned after about 1950-55, and her entity is in the shadows to this day, with an intermittent revival of some of her work here and there.
Again; we do not cast her into the top echelon of composers; however, her music was played throughout Europe and America by countless pianists for the better part of a century.
Take a look at her opus 76 - it's really rather delicious music!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Michelangeli and Beethoven - An Astounding Experience...

Those who are familiar with the eccentric and unpredictable ways of the great Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, know that this reclusive genius recorded a relatively small number of performances. Arguably, among the more important events in his recording span were the 1st, 3rd and 5th piano concertos of Beethoven, with Guilini and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, in live performances. Keeping in mind that Michelangeli, more than once, failed to appear for scheduled concerts, leaving shocked and, I'm sure, rather angry audiences looking at a piano which would not be played - knowing of these sorts of actions taken by this genius, let us be thankful for the capturing of the astounding feats of this musician, both on video and audio.
One of the more priceless assets left by Michelangeli may well be these Beethoven concertos on video.
For me, even the magic of his Debussy; the indescribable sounds, seemingly of an instrument we cannot quite identify, but intimating the sound of the piano, as only he and the great Walter Gieseking could promulgate - even that form of pianistic magic does not exceed, in my view, the journeys that Michelangeli undergoes as he enters the universe that Beethoven gave to those of us fortunate enough to have succeeded, not preceded him.
I know of no other performances that better form a higher level of dialogue between piano and orchestra that Beethoven challenges the pianist to uncover. The conversational values that Michelangeli imparts in these works are, for me, a true coruscation; almost as if I had never really heard these works before. Guilini, the conductor, appears to have grasped the magic of the moments as well - having seen Guilini in many performances; knowing well of the massive integrity he possessed in quest of that special form of 'truth' this great conductor relentlessly sought; to me, in these performances, Guilini appears to exceed even his own expectations, made possible, perhaps, by the unique chemistry formed between him and Michelangeli in these wondrous documents.
I would ask those of you who know of Michelangeli, but have not yet seen these performances, to procure them, and decide for yourselves...


Monday, November 7, 2011

Andy Rooney and Vladimir Horowitz - Total Fulfillment?

When the acerbic,wonderfully gifted columnist Andy Rooney passed away at the age of 92 a couple of days ago, I thought of the wonderful combination of a long life, followed quickly by his departure. Just three weeks after his retirement, Rooney said 'goodbye' to us all.One of his colleagues remarked that the only improvement possible would have been to have departed three days after retirement rather than three weeks.
Another rather poignant and poetic departure from this world was the manner in which the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz left us:
One day after a recording session, Horowitz happened to be sitting in his town house, not very far from his beloved piano, when he quietly slipped to the floor, not far from his wife.
What better examples of of bidding 'goodbye' to the world by these two creative giants so soon after their singular, unforgettable tasks were completed, are there?
For me, these two gifted creative minds waved their farewells in a manner fitting the poetry of their work.