Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two Master Composers and Two Movies They Wrote For...

tThe wonderfully atmospheric movie "Dracula" was released in 1931, and maintains its status as one of the great masterpieces of the then newly developed sound movie era. The original music was redone for this movie in 1999 by the renowned contemporary composer Philip Glass, known, of course, for the minimalism he so successfully employed during one of his stylistic investigations. Now the crystal-clear and simplistic approach that Glass employs in this newer score truly enhances, in my view, the eerie translucency which is so wonderfully effective in projecting the story line.
Another composer, William Walton, known throughout the musical world in the last century, also did some movie scores, one of which harbors an engrossing prelude and fugue in a movie not well-known to the average movie-goer. The movie is "Spitfire," produced in England and released in 1942. It tells the story of the development of an airplane that may well have been the linchpin in the thwarting of Hitler's planned invasion of Great Britain, therefore insuring the destruction of the Nazi threat in World War II. The story is partly fictionalized, in that the genius designer of the Spitfire dies during the Battle of Britain; in fact, R. J. Mitchell died in 1937. The movie begins with Walton's Prelude, and the Fugue appears later in the film. For me, it is a truly powerful piece of movie music, and bolsters an otherwise average film immensely.
By the way, one of the most singular examples of choral writing in the 20th century is Walton's"Belshazzar's Feast."
When you have an afternoon of leisure, why not look at these two films, and decide for yourselves?

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Musical Masterpieces Born Because of June 22...

On this day of the year; the year being 1941, an event occurred which still manifests itself , in geopolitical terms , even to this day:
On an approximately 1800 mile front, some 3,000,000 men of Hitler's Germany smashed into Mother Russia, unleashing a conflict that, dimensionally, has never been replicated in dimension. The invaders got as far as within some 14 miles of Moscow. Then, in an agonizing process, was slowly but inexorably forced out of Stalin's Russia over the next three and a half year period, with millions of soldiers and civilians never returning to their respective homes.
The greatest land battle in the history of Man resulted in a titanic redistribution of military power and political positioning giving us, of course, the emergence of the two Superpowers, Russia and the United States.
Out of the indescribable Hell of a war of unprecedented horror, the omnipresent human language called Art , emerged, as it almost always does out of human conflict. In this particular case, I am thinking, in particular, of sublime expressions depicting Man's darker side, by two Russian giants; one being Shostakovitch, the other, Prokofiev.
In the gargantuan Leningrad Symphony by Shostakovitch, the stark reality of conflict, in my view, serves as one of the most provocative examples of the obscenity Man can bestow upon himself.
In the so-called "War" sonatas (6, 7, and 8) of Prokofiev, the grinding mercilessness of war is wonderfully given us by this unparallelled master of irony - for me, the most powerful section of these sonatas is the final movement of the 7th sonata, written in 7/8 time, with its asymmetry and never ceasing 8th note rhythm.
For those of you who are not familiar with these statements, do review the battle between the two Fascist giants; then - listen...


Monday, June 18, 2012

The Unparalleled Tragedy of Three Great Musicians...

From time to time, I think of a trio of young geniuses who undoubtedly would have palpably enriched the history of 20th century performances to a degree none of us can predict, as the boundlessness of their gifts serves only the cause 0f speculation:
The American pianist William Kapell, who dazzled audiences all over the world with his unique way of surrounding whatever he played with an indescribable way of etching his incarnations so as to fashion a form of delineation like no other pianist I know of.
Ginette Neveu, the French violinist who discovered a kind of controlled excitement commensurate with an immense range of spiritual contact that gave rise to a unique language.
Guido Cantelli, an Italian conductor who demonstrated so very quickly a mastery over the immense difficulties germane to leading world class musicians in orchestral and operatic presentations, before the age of thirty, causing the legendary Arturo Toscanini to take him under his wing...
All three, each in his or her thirties, killed in three separate airplane crashes...


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BACH - On Father's Day - Hats Off to the Father of Them All!

As Father's Day approaches, I bow to the greater man, not only as a musician, but also as a father. Of course I bow to Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably the most influential composer of the past three centuries.
I continue to gaze in awe at this man -not only was he unparalleled in the position of power he has held for so long, let alone the amount of music he created at such a high level(example: he wrote enough music for the Lutheran service to provide approximately five years of musical service for his church), he was also a producer of twenty children that we know of; seven children with his second cousin, who was his first wife, and thirteen children with his second wife.
How he wrote about 2000 compositions, produced such a large family, and lived 65 years, a life tenure far exceeding the expected span during that period of history, continues to dazzle my senses. He even wrote music for his kids, sharing teaching them with Mother (or mommies?).
What a master of production! Hats off to the Greater Man!


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On This Date - A Day That Altered History...

I usually write about the events of June 6, 1944 whenever this date appears on the daily calendar, due to its impact upon the remainder of the twentieth century, let alone this very day:
No need, of course, to reflect in detail Operation Overlord, as it has been thoroughly documented countless times since that Longest Day.
However, some strange events emanate from that day that may be of interest to some of you - upon the beginning of the greatest amphibian operation in history, with about 150,000 men landing, within hours, in France to initiate the liberation of millions, no one in Hitler's entourage could summon the courage to awaken the dictator. He was told of the landings in Normandy only after he had awakened himself.
In addition, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was back in Germany to celebrate his beloved wife Lucy's fiftieth birthday. If he had been in France during that momentous morning , would he have altered the nature of the ultimate successes the Allies engendered - would the Longest Day be different from that which our world is so familiar with? Historians continue to mull over that fascinating clutch of possibilities.
Finally, when one considers the enormity, dimensionally, of that operation, which enlisted some 5,000 ships transporting not only the fighting men but also staggering amounts of equipment and supplies, one might consider the horror of the magnitude of casualties resulting from such an event.
Actually, the casualties were less than those suffered both in the battle of Okinawa and the so-called Battle of the Bulge. As a matter of fact, the Americans lost more of its hallowed warriors in Belgium during the Christmas period in 1944 than in any operation in all of World War II.
Still, the sixth day of June, 1944 continues to bear the symbolism germane to the liberation of suffering humanity more eloquently, perhaps, than any other event in that momentous conflict.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Mozart - An Unanswerable Question?

In 1906, the great American composer Charles Ives gave us a short piece for an ensemble group titled " The Unanswered Question." It deals with the three elemental queries; specifically, Who Am I? What Am I? Why Am I Here? Of course, no answer is forthcoming.
Well, an equally engrossing question connects me with the 18th century titan Mozart. For years, I had been discussing the imponderable question, both with myself and a number of my students; a question wrestling with a feeling that always pervaded my consciousness every time I listened to Mozart - why is it that with this composer, and no other, the uncanny feeling that the music was already in existence - it was merely waiting for a medium (Mozart?) to appear and commit it to paper, rendering it a secret no longer? That question has been with me for as long as I can remember.
Recently, in going over the letters written by Mozart, I came across one I had somehow overlooked during all these years of study. It was a letter written by the genius to his father, and these are his words:
"the music is already here - it just needs to be written down."
Another Unanswered Question - certainly unanswerable to me...