Friday, December 30, 2011

Liszt: His Words and His Music - Total Fusion!

I finally got around to read Liszt's book centering on his friend and fellow composer Chopin.
As regards the nature of the commentary, there was nothing unexpected, as it is well - known that Liszt had a deep and genuine admiration of Chopin's language.
Liszt projects a constancy in the redolence of his love for the gift that Chopin possessed, and in a relatively non-technical perusal of a number of the Polish composer's works, Liszt leaves for us a clarity and luminescence of description that attest to what the world has known for the better part of two centuries; that is, the immediacy of great beauty that emanates from Chopin's indescribable view of the keyboard. Do keep in mind that Chopin is the only great composer who centered all of his works around the piano.
What surprised, even astounded me was a reaction that appeared not long after my getting into Liszt's words describing Chopin:
The verbal sequence, in terms of linear choice, was at first a potpourri of the flowery and the ornamental in terms of description, almost as if it was a form of a kind of genuflection on the part of Liszt. What staggered me was the ensuing reaction; namely, that these words and the style of Liszt's wondrous colors in his own music seemed to be one and the same. As I continued my reading, various sections of the music of Liszt came wafting into my inner ear - it was as if the words and the music of Liszt were one and the same!
Nothing like this has ever occurred in my experience, and was totally unexpected, I can assure you. How and why did this happen? Am I the ONLY one experiencing this kind of fusion in this form? I would invite any of you who may have undergone this situation to let me know in "comments."


Friday, December 23, 2011

Muzio Clementi - An Addendum...

In the blog of Clementi I had done earlier today, I had forgotten to relate an item of importance dealing with the influence that Clementi had on not only the possibilities of the keyboard, but also on the advent of early Romanticism, as it eventually asserted its power later in the 19th century:
When Beethoven passed away, the authorities dealing with the affairs and possessions of the fabled composer discovered that upon investigating the material in Beethoven's music library, more of Clementi's piano music resided there than that of Mozart.
All one has to do is listen to the first movement of the opus 26, no.2 of Clementi. There are passages therein that one would swear Beethoven had written; and, of course, that would have been an impossibility, as Clementi was the clear predecessor.
Do listen closely to Horowitz playing a group of sonatas by Clementi, and you will, at times, hear Beethoven before Beethoven...


Muzio Clementi - The Genesis of the Modern Keyboard, and the Romantic...

Why is it that the piano music of Muzio Clementi is heard less than it should be?
The world of music recognizes this composer; however, as Horowitz once wryly said, "I am famous, but not well-known." Another way of reasoning with this dilemma is the simple fact that both giants we call Mozart and Beethoven were two of Clementi's contemporaries; therefore, partial historical obfuscation, and justifiably so, seemingly.
Clementi was born four years before Mozart, and eighteen years before Beethoven. His keyboard abilities thrust him into the world of music as a precocious performer before he was out of his teens; more importantly, however, his forays into composition became his primary pursuit before very long.
To put this man into proper perspective is best projected in our time by an occurrence in Milan in an old book store. The wife of Vladimir Horowitz, Wanda Toscanini Horowitz, happened to be in this establishment and came across the keyboard music of Clementi, which she purchased and presented to her famous husband. The result was an instant infatuation with a palpable amount of the material in this collection, and an assiduous championing of Clementi's music in countless performances of the Italian genius in recitals which Horowitz gave, virtually up to the end of his life in 1989.
What obviously gripped Horowitz (remember that Horowitz was already middle-aged and firmly established when his wife presented him with Clementi's piano music) was his immediate recognition of the depth of keyboard knowledge that Clementi demonstrated in this music, let alone the Romantic prescience made amazingly available when Beethoven was just a lad of about twelve.
It is most interesting to me that although Clementi always spoke glowingly about the music of his younger contemporary Mozart, the veritably total opposite was stated by Mozart, calling Clementi, at one time, a "charlatan," and another time a "mechanicus." Probably in both cases Mozart was citing Clementi's playing, rather than the writings; however, it may be implied that Mozart was wrapping both playing and writing into the same package, as, after all, Clementi was championing his own music by way of performance.
No matter - his playing, his writing, his success as one of the first powerful manufacturers of the piano - this was Clementi.
And yet, we do not hear his greater piano compositions as often as we should.
By the way, one of Clementi's students, who later became one of his chief salesmen in the manufacturing aspect of his career was, arguably, Ireland's most powerful musician. His name- John Field.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"The Art of" - Bio-Acoustics?? Read On...

The name Bernie Krause may not be familiar to you; however, you may find his story one of fascination, as it applies to the art of music:
Born in 1938, his initial interest was music, which he delved into at about age four, first in violin, then composition. Yes, he was considered a prodigy by many.
As he grew, he pursued the guitar as a primary instrument, ending up with the famous group The Weavers, and pretty well made his mark as a musician.
His gigantic curiosity about the world he lived in, plus his equally gigantic intellect resulted in his returning to school, emerging with a PHD centering around the science of bio-acoustics. He ventured around the world as a bio-acoustician garnering, by recording, the sounds of creatures both well-known as well as exotic.
He then fused these sounds with his musical gifts, and the results - well, why not pick up one of his most unique recordings, titled "Gorillas in the Mix?"
It consists entirely of many of the animal sounds he collected, forming them into musical pieces which, I'm confident you will agree, are essentially as unique as any musical offering you can identify with.
Take my word for it - get a copy!


Monday, December 12, 2011

What Musical Gifts for Christmas? Some Suggestions...

Music is perfect for giving on Christmas, of course - how about some suggestions?

For children, how about the perennial favorite, Peter and the Wolf? If you can find an old recorded version with Eleanor Roosevelt as the narrator, it is truly a classic reading. Another is a charming reading of Peter by the legendary Leonard Bernstein - or how about Sting?? It is really very good!
Another piece for children would be the Toy Symphony, traditionally thought to be written by Josef Haydn. Now there are historians who are inclined to believe that Mozart's father, Leopold, actually wrote this charmer.
The Swiss composer Artur Honegger composed a fascinating piece for orchestra that replicates the sound of a short trip by a steam engine - children would love to know this composition, I'm sure.

And how about the grown-ups??
For starters, the second recording of duets with Tony Bennett and various famous vocalists is now available, and demonstrates the genius of Bennett in his ability to form a synergy beautifully with each of these strong vocals entities. And, at age 85, Tony Bennett is a kind of musical miracle - his performances are redolent with the essence of undying youth, the primary requisite for pop styling in music.
For the Classics; both the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto and the famous Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto are magnificently performed by the late Emil Gilels, one of the piano legends of the twentieth century.
How about the great opera La Boheme? Listen to the American tenor Richard Tucker equal any recording by the great Italian tenors who have recorded this masterpiece during the past century. For me, Tucker possessed as great an instrument as any tenor I have ever heard - see if you agree!
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On This Date, 70 Years Ago...

It was a Sunday in 1941; specifically Dec. 7th, that the forces of Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into the Second World War.
Our entry into history's greatest conflict resulted in some truly significant events; for instance, a solution to the lingering depression in America, due to an almost immediate conversion from a peace-time industry to that of a war-engendered necessity.
From my view, another more significant issue emanating from Pearl Harbor was the ultimate assurance that Imperial Japan's geopolitical aims would be transmogrified into their utter defeat.
I go back to a generation or so before Dec.7, 1941, when a brilliant young Japanese naval officer warned the militants coming to power "never to go to war with America." This he said on more than one occasion after having spent a couple of years in America studying at Harvard, and visiting the oil fields in Texas and the industries in Detroit. He understood that the resources in the United States would overcome an enemy in any future conflict. He also prophesied that "the next naval war would be decided in the air."
This military visionary would be proven correct:
Within six months of Pearl Harbor, Japan's dreams of conquest in the Pacific were shattered at the Battle of Midway, where the opposing battleships and aircraft carriers were never in sight of one another - it was America's air power that permanently destroyed Japan's offensive naval capabilities. From that time on, America began its offensive operations that ultimately defeated Imperial Japan just three years later.
Another pregnant statement came from this visionary on Dec. 7th, when he received word that the two aircraft carriers America had in the Pacific were not berthed that fateful day at Pearl Harbor. They were out at sea, therefore escaping destruction.
This man of vision then remarked "all I fear that we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Were these the words of a man who, on the very first day of the war, knew that America would not lose this war?
This remarkable man was the planner of the Pearl Harbor attack - the very same man to warn his nation never to engage America in conflict; but nevertheless, and without hesitation, went to war, as the overriding reality was that he "was a son of the Emperor."
His name - Isoroku Yamamoto.


Friday, December 2, 2011

The Genesis of the United Nations - and Stravinsky...

Dumbarton Oaks was a glorious estate owned by a gentleman named Robert Bliss and his wife, in the Washington, D.C. area. In celebration of their 30th anniversary, the legendary composer Igor Stravinsky was commissioned to write a work , which he wrote not for orchestra, but an ensemble. This work, not very well known except to Stravinsky's followers, was ultimately titled "Dumbarton Oaks Concerto," even though the work is obviously not in the concerto form. It was begun in 1937 and completed in the following year, during which its premiere took place.
What may be of interest to the reader is that the very same location was the site of the so-called Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which took place in 1944.
This conference dealt with the question of the need to establish an international council that would be created to confront the reality of inevitable war, and how to crush this inevitability.
It was, in other words, the first step taken on a journey that resulted in the United Nations.
That goal to eradicate War has, sadly, fallen short, as we all know too well.
But the music which bears the title of the location of that first step still exists.
Why not listen to this rarely performed piece by one of the 20th century's most powerful composers?