Friday, July 27, 2012

Additional Facets on the Jewel Called Chopin...

The world of music, for almost two centuries, has had a love affair with the music of Frederic Chopin - the sublimity of his gift finds a subject in virtually every part of the world he visited for such a brief period.
You may find other aspects of his entity rather interesting, to perhaps aid you in putting additional 'pieces' of this towering artist into place.
There are thousands of words having been written by a number of Chopin's contemporaries, some of which are rather surprising, if not beguiling...
Few know that Chopin was a gifted mimic, and he made fun of many of his acquaintances, let alone some caricatures of the human species in general; for instance, at various times he mimicked, at the piano, his great contemporary, Franz Liszt, as well as other musicians who played this instrument. I cannot, of course, describe to you the manner of mimicry surrounding his version of Liszt -all I can state is that I would have been willing to have a tooth extracted if that were to have been payment for being witness to his mimicry of great musical contemporaries.
According to one of Chopin's contemporaries, Chopin delighted in mimicking both highly disheveled gentlemen and elderly ladies(!) Wouldn't YOU have wanted to be witness to such goings-on, , especially when one is reminded that such activities were engendered by the only great composer who wrote, essentially, for the piano, and who caused the history of piano music to swerve on its path onto a field of pure beauty never dreamed of, never anticipated?
Additionally, upon digesting the voluminous material left to us by his acquaintances, I sometimes wonder if this genius had any true friends? I seem to have garnered an impression of his having directly touched countless individuals without having developed a genuine form of friendship with anyone except, perhaps, his lover, George Sand - and even with her I wonder if they truly were friends, as we know the meaning of this word. The ephemeral nature of his social demeanor, even with such supporters as Liszt, Schumann and Mendelssohn leads me to wonder, at times, if the only elemental aspect of truth Chopin possessed was the music, and the music only.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Two Piano Concertos - Joined at the Hips??

I unabashedly bow to my kid brother, who is responsible for this particular contribution to my 500 or so preceding blogs:
He had recently gone to a performance of Tchaikowsky's 2nd Piano Concerto at Lincoln Center, and in his relating this to me, I suddenly realized that I had never discussed this work in any of my blogs.
This work, and another piano concerto, written by another master from Mother Russia; namely, Rachmaninoff, are in a rather arcane way, joined at the hips, in that from my view, they represent these composers, in the concerto format, that veer off in directions that result in compositions that do not rise to the levels of predecessors in the same format these composers had created.
Please understand that these are my views only, and some of you may not agree:
For me, the First Concerto of Tchaikowsky contains ideas and the development of these ideas that have resulted in this concerto's immense world popularity. The second concerto simply does not contain, for me, the spontaneity and sense of direction that the first is known for.
To be sure, the 2nd contains shards of the great composer, with its wonderful melodic output; sadly, I feel that the piece is, simply, too long, and therefore "short-winded," with resultant lack of spontaneity, an elemental requisite within the realm of what we call Greatness.
Finally, how many of you have heard the 2nd concerto more than you may have heard the 1st?
As for Rachmaninoff, his 4th concerto, for me, does not reach the heights of two preceding works in the same format. Why?
In my view, it may simply be that Rachmaninoff embarks upon different directions endemic to his first three Concertos - for instance, his being influenced by the likes of Gershwin and Art Tatum result in some 'jazzy' incarnations; very witty and deftly written, but a departure from the Rachmaninoff the world is so adhered to.
As a composer, I fully understand the import of constant learning and investigation; however(and ironically!)the composer who is not considered 'great' can afford to 'change' in order to see another way. But we know the great composer can only 'change,' by way of increasing knowledge of "how to work things out" more thoroughly the base material that only the great composer can possess. Salieri had wonderful ideas, but he simply could not "work things out" like Mozart could.
So when Rachmaninoff actually alters the base of his creative direction, he is simply no longer Rachmaninoff as the world knows him. Alexander Scriabin is the only great composer I know of who successfully underwent a metamorphosis from Romanticism to Mysticism without losing his identity.
And now you know why I think of these two works as being, as it were, "joined at the hips."


Thursday, July 12, 2012

The word 'prodigy,' as it can apply outside of the arts...

When one thinks of the word 'prodigy,' or 'genius,' the name Mozart almost automatically leaps into our consciousness.
Of course, the stupendous gifts this man possessed are so very much a part of human history- for a child to commit music to manuscript before he could write down his own name; to be known outside his own country before he was ten - and on and on...
But can one apply the words 'prodigy' or 'genius' to other pursuits?
I think of the great golfer Tiger Woods, who knew what to do with a golf club at age two, and in his third year was already playing the game. He actually played against the acclaimed comedian Bob Hope, who was a superb golfer... little Tiger was age three at the time.
What about a baseball pitcher named Bob Feller, who appeared in the major leagues before he returned to complete his senior year at high school? A man, who today would be considered quite small - at 6 feet in height, weighing around 180 pounds (as much as 5o pounds lighter than some of today's pitchers), he routinely threw the ball at 102 miles per hour, and was once clocked at 106.7 miles per hour - absolutely fantastic for those times; the 1930's. As a young boy, he would work on the development of his arm strength by hurling rocks at the barn wall on the farm his father ran.
And so, I thought that it might be a bit of fun to apply 'genius,' or 'prodigy,' to different pursuits - how many examples can you summon? Enjoy the pursuit!


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Musician; Athlete - Any Differences?

When I think of the preparation modes and procedures needed to become the prerequisites before any performance, I think of the parallels between a great athlete and a great performing musician.
Let me cite two examples who come to mind in both pursuits; specifically, Ted Williams and Jascha Heifetz.
Williams, as the baseball world knows, was the last hitter to bat over .400; specifically, .406.
Just think, over four out of every ten times he batted, he got a hit. It seems unlikely that this record may ever be broken. Other greats have gotten within range of that percentile, but have not exceeded that monumental number.
Williams was a true artist, a great thinker about his art. He spent countless hours creating mental designs that were so intimate in imagery, belonging to him only, that they were like compositions. He also wrote two books that I know of dealing with the art of hitting. His entire career, like a musician, evolved about performance at a level no other baseball player has realized.
Heifetz, as the music world knows, was arguably the most gifted violinist of the twentieth century. His performances, many available, fortunately, on video, were at a level that sometimes defied believability.
At his California home, he would walk the fifteen steps from the main house to his practice studio(he actually made a point of specifically noting that it would take fifteen steps; no more, no less, every time he took this daily "walk" before working out on his instrument - this, to me, serves as proof of the sense of discipline that would catapult his day into existence. He would then take his practice violin out of the case. and begin exhaustive exercises he developed to bring his vaunted technique to a level that prepared him to work on his music. Day after day this was his regimen , similar to Ted William's books.
Heifetz was also a highly accomplished ping-pong player as well as a tennis player, and he pursued the same kinds of self disciplinary modes in these sports that made him the best ping-pong player among the musicians of his time! I also have a film of Heifetz at the piano, performing amazingly well.
There are other, however few, examples I may some day write about - enough, for now...

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