Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mussorgsky, Krushchev and a View of Armageddon...

On this date, in 1962, an event of considerable irony took place:
Just 24 hours before, on the evening of October 22, the American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy informed America, let alone the world, that Soviet Russia was installing nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba, just some 80 miles away from American soil.
Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev was taken aback, as he felt confident that the United States was not aware of the presence of these missiles.  Nevertheless, this did not deter Krushchev from attending a performance of the great Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's masterpiece "Boris Godunov." on the night of October 23, at the Bolshoi theater in Moscow.
The irony is that the part of Boris was not sung that evening by a Russian  artist, but by an American singer
on an official performing visit to the Soviet Union at the time.
After the performance, the American singer drank champagne with Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev.
All this, while at the very same moment, the world was preparing for a possible Armageddon...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Grieg Ballade - Perhaps His Greatest Work For Solo Piano...

In watching the great Norwegian pianist Andsnes perform the Ballade in "G", Opus 24, I found myself wondering "which is more important to me - the popularity, indeed well deserved, of his Piano Concerto; or, the singularity of the Ballade?"
I have long been of the opinion that the Ballade is his most important solo piece for the piano. For those of you who are not aware of  the Ballade, and know of the Concerto, I would respectfully ask you to listen to this work:
It is a large piece, consisting of variations emanating from a Norwegian theme, which begins and ends the work. The variations are wonderfully engineered, demonstrating the mastery at its highest level of this grief-ridden composer, who had just lost his only child, at the age of one.
Grieg pours his tortured soul into the music, resulting for us in a powerful demonstration of how music can envelope the listener and take him or her with the composer on a journey of illimitable terraces of emotion.
For me, this composition best demonstrates most efficiently the power of expression that  Grieg can impart.
Do listen, if you are not familiar with this work.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Power of Man's Art - Monte Cassino in 1944...

The Benedictine monastery  erected in the 6th century on a rocky height some 80 miles south of Rome was an architectural masterpiece, revered these 1500 years by  the inhabitants who resided within this imposing site, let alone by  those countless scholars, admirers  and believers who have followed  the line of history attached to this magnificent place. Although the monastery has been  attacked and damaged or destroyed several times by war during the past millennium and a half, it has been rebuilt as many times, and remains one of the world's great examples of man's devotion to a greater power as well as a magnificent art form.
In 1944, with the Allies pushing northward toward Rome, some four battles were fought at Monte  Cassino before it was wrested away  from Hitler's army, with a contingent of Polish soldiers being chosen to place their flag in the ruins of the monastery as a recognition of the Allies' sense of justice regarding the Nazi rape of Warsaw in 1939.
Interestingly, in one of the rare cases of deference bestowed upon a religion by the nihilist forces of Hitlerism, the Abbe of Monte Cassino was allowed, with a group of his followers, to live within the monastery during this period of conflict, and the German soldiers were ordered not to occupy this place.
Sadly, there were enough in the position of power within the Allies who believed (mistakenly) that the Germans had occupied the monastery, and ordered that the place be destroyed by bombing, which did occur. Ironically, the rubble produced by the destruction became prime defensive positions for the Germans, and so they occupied the ruins of Monte Cassino - one of the many tragedies of the greatest conflict in man's history.
At any rate, the Allies prevailed, and shortly after the battle was won, Rome was declared an Open City by the Nazi tyrant, and soon Italy was cleared by the advancing Allies.
Just a reminder that the incalculable power of both  the truth of man's art and  the power  of  faith  can sometimes cause even a tyrannical entity to ponder about  its decisions.