Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Wry Humor of Frederic Chopin...

In a life span of only 39 years, the great composer Frederic Chopin shares with us an insight into the piano like no other composer; after all, the 172 plus works he committed onto paper deal with the piano. No other major composer wrote works encircling one instrument only. When he wrote the early songs, the piano was the accompanist, of course; or, as another example, his 'Cello Sonata is really a sonata for piano with 'cello obbligato.
Interestingly, some of the few words he gave to history carry a rather delightful aroma of a kind of ironic humor; such as:
Near death, he wryly exclaims that "I was cursed with a short life and a long nose."
According to Chopin, during a bout of severe illness, he was visited by three doctors, each of whom had a specific opinion:
the first - "You are dying."
the second - "You are going to die." (Seems to me that this doctor possessed infallible wisdom for all of us...)
the third - "You are already dead."
I think that I would have LOVED speaking with Chopin.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

History and Primary Sources - Theme and Variations??

In going over the material on Chopin written by Frederick Niecks concerning the first meeting of the great composer and the novelist George Sand, which resulted in an affair lasting almost a decade, I must say that the four variations of their first encounter, all witnessed by contemporaries of the composer and the novelist, result in stark chaos, in reference to the term 'Primary Source.'
To cite:
One contemporary, named Enault, states that the first meeting occurred in an aristocrat's home, where Sand was described as one with a "beautiful face."
Another version of that fateful first meeting, as witnessed by one Karasowski, described the event with Chopin performing before a small audience(which he almost always did), with a"plainly dressed woman with penetrating dark eyes, leaning on the piano that Chopin was playing on. She was a woman of beauty and sweetness, with a deep, sweet voice."
A third variation of that first meeting was witnessed by a student of Chopin named Adolph Gutmann, who claimed that the recital Chopin gave was " a matinee,with all present wearing informal clothing, with Sand in the audience."
The fourth incarnation of that first meeting was related by Franz Liszt himself, which happened in Chopin's own apartments. Liszt claims that he was solely responsible for bringing Chopin and Sand together.
To cite further fuel to the fire in support of primary source material, do read on:
Another description of the woman 'of beauty and sweetness;' this attributed to Liszt himself -
she wore trousers often, smoked black cigars, had a penetrating voice, and a hint of 'down' on her upper lip.
To go on:
Liszt claimed that Chopin's eyes were blue.
Probably the first artist to paint Chopin, his name being Kwiatkowski, said that the composer's eyes were brown.
One contemporary stated that Chopin's hair was dark brown.
Another opined that it was light brown.
A third witness to Truth described the composer as a 'blonde.'
As one attached to the importance of historical weight in the study of Human History, I still adhere, be assured, to the elemental reality of Primary Source material as the primary tool to be utilized; however:
Are you as confused as I am about that first meeting??


Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Some of the Great Composers Experienced Their Own Writings...

In the thirty odd years that Haydn was employed by the powerful Esterhazy family, the great composer would, from time to time, spend many of his mornings at the keyboard, improvising musical designs as they appeared on the blackboard of his mind. On countless occasions this giant, who wore the same uniform as the servants, would stop his extemporizing long enough to write out a design he particularly liked, and it is known that many of these ideas, which appeared like dew in his mind's eye/ear as he improvised, re-appeared at a later time in many of his compositions. What I cannot answer is which of these ideas we see on paper were born out of those mornings at the keyboard. Other composers may well have undergone the same process, but Haydn underwent this experience through much of those thirty years.
And what about Mozart? Astounding to me is that as many as five different compositions lay strewn out on his pool table, along with, I presume, an occasional bottle of wine. And it is known that this blindingly gifted genius was able to work on five different works, all within the time period he would give to these works, that morning, or afternoon, or evening. No other composer I know of could do such a thing.
And Brahms? Why did he destroy a number of works he did that displeased him? Any musicologist would extract an eye-tooth to see those works - I know that THIS student of musicology would!
Man IS Mystery... I utter this statement veritably every time I shave that image I see glaring at me in the mirror.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Blue-Grass in Europe? A Rather Unique Composition...

On March 13, the eminent violinist Ricardo Odriozola will be premiering a work of mine in Finland.
This distinguished musician possesses a strong eclectic view of music, with a wonderfully democratized view of his art in its countless forms, from Jazz through Folk to Classical, and beyond - the term 'beyond' reminds me of a short work for the violin, titled "Dance" by a composer whose name is Theo Loevendie. Both the composer and the performer have a true sense of Adventure, represented in this piece. One might say that "Dance" is music for virtually unaccompanied violin; that is, Odriozola indeed performs on the violin, while at the same time one of his ankles is surrounded by a set of bells, activated by the stamping of that foot, in a particular array of rhythms enhancing the violin part, both foot and violin inculcated into the score - honestly! If the harmonies were less 'modern,' one would almost swear that he or she were listening to a blue-grass session in Tennessee.
And yes, one can watch Odriozola perform this refreshing and entertaining incarnation on youtube.
And yes, Odriozola brilliantly demonstrates to the world that it is possible to walk and chew gum simultaneously.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A "Report" on Peter and the Wolf...

As you may know, on March 2 I performed the initial piano incarnation of "Peter and the Wolf" as Prokofiev first wrote it.
I briefly explained to the audience the primary reason that the world of music is not familiar with the original piano score; that being, the rather difficult problem of creating specific character differentiation with only the piano sound being available, and why Prokofiev wrote it so quickly thereafter for the orchestra, in order to create the brilliance in character design by way of various instruments available.
And so I explained that I would heighten the difference among the characters in the story by increasing the stylistic power endemic to each character through inflection and a wider elasticizing the musician calls 'rubato.' I felt that this approach might help overcome the limitations of a piano sound, and only a piano sound.
I did receive comments after the performance that my tactics were successful, and that the story line maintained its form, without the help of a clarinet, an oboe, a bassoon, the violins etc.
And so it seemed to go well, for which I am grateful!