Monday, May 28, 2012

Dietrich Fischer-Diskau - One of Very Few...

In going over the career of Fischer-Diskau, who died earlier this month, I see him as one of the very few great musicians who stands, perhaps, a notch above other greats. In my humble view, I think of him as one of a very small number at the very top of a short list of great artists of his time.
The basic reason for my measurement of this baritone is the manner in which he was able to peer more deeply, in my estimation, than other great performers, into that untrammeled inner space of a kind of synthesis formed by both a spiritual and intellectual marriage which, even among the great, creates a world of rare power of communication.
This man was able to hold unequaled command of Opera and Lieder in a spellbinding manner. I have always felt that he was singing only to me - that I was the only person in his presence. Not all of the great musicians in the recordings extant can do this, despite their impressive gifts.
He was also impressive in appearance. He was tall and had the face of a movie idol. I have a picture of his standing besides Bernstein, Horowitz, Menuhin, Rostropovitch,and others who were participating in the famous 1976 Carnegie Concert. They were all singing the 'hallelujah' of Handel as Finale to this gala, and this wonderful singer towered over the rest of this distinguished coterie! By the way, get this recording, and you will hear Fischer-Diskau singing Lieder with none other than Horowitz as his pianist - it is really a rarity.
Among some of the others who share this kind of gift of communication; well, I think of Fritz Kreisler at the height of his career, along with Casals in his Bach playing, or Du Pre in her Elgar Concerto, or Lipatti in his Chopin. There are a few others, but I shall not regale you with any more of this personal view .
Very simply, I felt as if I should share with you my personal genuflection dealing with a level of Poesy we witness so rarely in our experiences.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Some of the World's Great Performers in Partnership With Mediocrity...

As I recently watched an old movie called "They Shall Have Music," released, as I recall, in 1939, I was both captivated and bemused at the asymmetry caused by the role of a violinist saving an urban music school from fiscal ruin by performing on behalf of the school in a benefit concert. The individual playing the part of violinist was one Jascha Heifetz.
Which led me to thinking about other films utilizing the same route - the following are some of them:
"A Song to Remember" - the purported life of Frederic Chopin, played by a strapping ,muscular actor named Cornel Wilde, who HAD to have been a third larger than the great, but fragile composer.
"Carnegie Hall" - a saga connected to the goings on within the legendary concert hall. The story line had the intrinsic interest germane to the taste of wallpaper; however, a handful of music giants enhanced what otherwise one might label the production as pedestrian:
Walter Damrosch, Lily Pons, Artur Rubinstein, Bruno Walter, Jan Peerce, Artur Rodzinski, Rise Stevens - if you are not familiar with some of these names, do look them up.
"Humoresque" - the story of a gifted young violinist and his inner struggles as he climbs his particular ladder to either fame or ignominy. However, the violin playing is spectacular; and if one peruses the credit list at the beginning of this movie, one will discover the violinist hired to play the violin music - it is the name of an aspiring young violinist , Isaac Stern.
"Moonlight Sonata" - When I was a young child, my mother took me to see this film, which is centered around the rather disparate equation of a plane crash and a music icon. The script was rather definitely written around this icon, who did appear in the movie in actual performance not long before his passing. The icon: Ignace Jan Paderewski.
"Fantasia" - I could not hold back from offering this charmingly singular picture of Mickey Mouse clambering all over one of that period's most powerful musicians; namely, Leopold Stokowski.
Lastly, I need to emit a tiny squawk of discomfort when I think of a great musician, with whom I had a few lessons, cavorting in a group of musicals made for the movies. He certainly ran circles around any nightclub pianist who might have appeared in any of these films - his name; Jose Iturbi.
Oh, well -


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lincoln, Roosevelt - and Mozart??

Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had something in common:
Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, sadly short of the ensuing unification of North and South he so assiduously wished for; a dream denied.
Roosevelt died just eighteen days before the suicide of Adolf Hitler and less than a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany; again, realities denied him.
Mozart died as he approached his 35th year, before one of his most sublime expressions, the Requiem, could be completed.
I sometimes think of these three because of the poignancy I attach to the impact of consummation of such elemental missions being denied them by the powers of circumstance.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Roman Totenberg - a Personal View...

On Tuesday of this week, a musical icon left us, surrounded, in his home, by family and a group of his students, some of whom came from considerable distances to be with him.
At the age of 101, Roman Totenberg was the center of the most uplifting and beautiful form of poesy that can be imagined - almost to the point of his final 'goodbye,' some of these students performed at his bedside, using the most important of the many languages this man could speak; the one language which does not require words. A more perfect coda to the composition this man's life-story represents could never be imagined.
For me, this marvelously accomplished musician created a plethora of memories. To begin with, Totenberg was the best boss I ever worked for, being the director of the school I happened to teach in. Countless times, he would invite me into his office simply to talk our trade, or to ask how things were, or to exchange many reminiscences of our respective experiences - all this when I KNEW that he HAD to have had many more important things to do, as director, than to sit and talk with me. He insisted, at times, that he hear at least a portion of a composition I was either writing at the time, or had recently completed.
To me, besides the obvious depth of his artistic core, the reality that struck me most was his Jeffersonian view of the student. He treated a twelve year old in the children's orchestra he worked with every week with the same love and zeal and genuineness as the college student who would be in his studio for his lesson, perhaps in the very next hour. I cannot think of any musician I have ever known who loved his fellow man more than did Roman Totenberg.
For a number of summers, he would send an occasional postcard to me from the summer music school he taught in, at Blue Hill, Maine - needless to say, these postcards are among my most valued possessions.
I could go on; however, just know that from the writer of this blog comes, in perpetuity, a loving nod and a bow to the Greater Man.


Monday, May 7, 2012

The Tatum Project - A Perspective of This Giant...

I thought that I had discussed with the reader in a previous blog my Tatum Project; however, it appears that I had not done so. May I present this endeavor to you now....
Perhaps the most compelling reality about the name Art Tatum is that of all the great pop musicians this past century has produced, his name is discussed, analyzed and held in greater regard and awe than, perhaps, any other in his field. From university to living room; from recording studio to diner or bar - every day that has passed since his brief appearance on this earth, the name Art Tatum is dealt with in one form or another, in locations scattered throughout the world. I cannot remember any of the hallowed educational institutions I had attended where the name Tatum was not discussed. And please be reminded that the likes of a Horowitz or a Rachmaninoff held him in the the highest regard.
Some years back, I decided to deal with his genius at a rather high level of comparative analysis.
And so, to make this a bit more brief - over a period of about six months, I produced about five or six CD's, with the following material therein:
Very carefully, and with much thought, I chose a specific tune from the Tatum recordings(I believe that I possess almost everything he recorded, which includes the wire recordings of 1941 from the Newman Archive), followed by a piece from the vast library of classical recordings by the great concert pianists of our time and past periods.
In other words, these discs would contain a tune arranged by Tatum, which would then be followed by a composition performed by, say, Artur Rubinstein, of about the same length; specifically, about three minutes or thereabout.
To encapsulate: The CD's would contain such a list as the following - Tatum, Kissin; Tatum, Gilels; Tatum, Horowitz; Tatum, Rachmaninoff; Tatum,Arrau etc.
The reason for this rather heavily researched project was simply to put forth a question; namely, was this comparatively uneducated, unsophisticated little man the equal, in raw pianistic terms, the equal of any of the legendary pianists that have been recorded during this past century?
Wonder if Horowitz ever pondered this question - we know that Vladimir Horowitz befriended Art Tatum and was unhesitatingly in awe of him, speaking countless times in open admiration of the prowess of the pop legend.
I can tell you that one of the leading pianists of our day requested a copy of the Project, which I sent him.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Magic in Chopin's Playing - Relativism?

On more than one occasion the great composer Chopin remarked that he wished he could play like his contemporary Liszt, and at times that statement ruefully connoted a rather benign form of jealousy.
We know that Chopin's physical structure was rather delicate, more from the corrosion of lung disease than from being diminutive, which he really was not; actually, Chopin was around five feet seven, which certainly was not considered small in mid-nineteenth century.
He most certainly was a wonderful, if not great pianist, as he was so much in demand as a performer of his own works , and countless reviews attest as to his pianistic gifts.
Certainly, the playing of Chopin's music by Liszt, arguably the greatest pianist of the nineteenth century, what with that massive pyro- technique unprecedented in actuation by both listener and performer until Liszt appeared, must have had an affect upon Chopin.
According to contemporaries, it appears that Chopin's entire dynamic range was, perhaps, a notch or so below the physicality of a Liszt or a Mendelssohn or other virtuosi appearing during this period.
And, innately or otherwise, Chopin promulgated ways of creating the same range of dynamics by way of a unique method of a kind of relativism that instilled the same kind of pianistic excitement, when called for, as a Liszt. We know that some of the critiques describe the excitement in Chopin's playing as being at the same level as any other pianist during this period.
And so the reality of a kind of instrumental relativism may very well have been the ingredient that seemingly made Chopin a virtuoso in his time, let alone the great composer we know him to be.