Monday, February 25, 2013

Goddard Lieberson - Yes, He Was a Composer, Too!

Goddard Lieberson was president of Columbia Records during the 1950's and 60's, and was the visionary who introduced the LP to the American people. This alone has imprinted his name onto the pages of  the history of the  recording industry.
He was also a mover in the celebrated recording of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, two musicians who never existed(see my 2007 blog), which caused a sensation among those who heard this most singular recording.
Additionally, Lieberson was a composer, and promulgated his brilliant wit in the 1964 publication of a three volume affair for solo piano, titled "Piano Pieces for Advanced Children or Retarded Adults."
The contents:
Volume One   -
Five Songs Without Mendelssohn:
Whistling Boy on Horseback
The Same Boy, Five Years Later , in Paris
My Neighbor Studies Voice
My Father Plays Pizzicato
An Aimless Walk in the Woods

Volume Two -
Six Technical Studies(Which Will Teach You Nothing)
Melody for the Left Hand
Melody for the Right Hand
Minor Seconds
Safe on Third
In Fifth Form

Volume Three -
Eight Studies in Musicology(Which Will Teach You a Great Deal) -
Mozart Without One Mistake
How to Handel a Bach Violin Solo
How to be a Soviet Composer
The Piano in the Distance Playing Chopin
Shostakovich's Vacation on a Collective Farm
Liszt, My Children(And You Shall Hear an Enharmonic Change)
Aaron Copland Shakes Hands With Abe Lincoln
Tchaikowsky's Last Waltz

The pianist Andre Previn recorded the above, if you can find it - have fun!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

George Shearing - Another Morsel From His Genius...

In the Pantheon of the great musicians, classical or pop, one of my favorites is the legendary pop pianist from England, George Shearing.
Jazz; the Blues; Dixieland; Bop;  - Shearing was totally comfortable in whatever aspect of popular music he pursued and performed -  not the case with many other notables whom we are familiar with.
Hovering above virtually all that he played were the styles of the great composers in the Classical aspect, which Shearing had such consummate powers in inculcating, actually fusing the Classical styles of three centuries into his arrangements so much of the time in the recordings so many of us treasure and repeatedly listen to.
An unparallelled example of Shearing's unique synthesis is a radio program that the great pianist help arrange  in 1989 for one of New York City's stations, lasting about ninety minutes. Shearing himself emerges as a kind of D.J., recounting and playing recordings from his own collection, going back to the years of World War II, and bringing us into the first decade of the new century  - imagine! His career spanned some seven decades. He remarks ruefully that he wished he had been given copies of studio recordings he made in London which were never released because of the sounds of sirens piercing the recording studio during an attack by Hitler's hordes during the London Blitz.
This radio program also contains some of Shearing's most wonderful performances of some of the great tunes written during that period, which is really a kind of Golden Age of tunes, many of which are still popular today and brought back by today's pop instrumentalists and vocalists.
One of the highlights in this radio program done on WNEW in New York is some accordion playing(!) by Shearing himself. For example, he plays a recording he did on accordion in 1949, which I believe is the final time he records on the accordion. He also reminded us with his own voice of what a true gentleman is; namely, "one who knows how to play the accordion - but doesn't."
Yes, George Shearing was a great Jazz artist, who understood that  humor must be infused tactfully into his work from time to time, insuring that eternal youth is endemic to Jazz. He utilized that sly inferring into his arrangements like no other in his field.
Just listen to the manner in which he subtly  injects Satie, or Bach, or Chopin, or Rachmaninoff, or Delius, or Schumann into the tunes of Richard Rodgers - just one example of what Shearing, and Shearing alone, gives to us.
Which pianist smiles more at the listener than this man?  Errol Garner, perhaps- and only at times; at least, for me.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tidbits Of Humor By A Legendary Musician....Vladimir Horowitz

The picture formed in the minds of those who were witnesses to his performances is pretty much the same for most who saw him in concert; that is, a man of average height, rather slender during much of his  career, with a chalk-white complexion, and a profile not unlike that of Chopin, who transforms the atmosphere through his magic...
There was, however, another side of this 2oth century Liszt.
In some actions, he was a kind of pixie; for example, in an interview with the late Mike Wallace in the Horowitz home, the pianist tells Wallace of his occasional insertion of a stiff-bristled hairbrush into  his wife's bed, bristles up, so that upon her slipping into bed she would find herself about two inches short of the ceiling. The impish smile on the Maestro's face as he related the event tells us all about his irrepressible sense of practical humor. Another event lasts about twelve seconds on a video made during the 80's, when he tosses off a fragment of his version of "Tea for Two," much to the irritation of his wife sitting nearby.
An example of the delightful jumble of words he often projected(he actually was more fluid in French than he was in English) went as follows:
"When I complain to my doctor about my aches and pains every morning, he tells me that at my age, if I got out of bed without aches and pains, I'd already be dead."
A photograph of Horowitz and the brilliant humorist and gifted pianist Oscar Levant, who was a close friend of George Gershwin and a top-flight performer of Gershwin's piano works, tells us more. The photo shows Horowitz and Levant sitting on the same piano bench, with Horowitz occupying most of the bench, leaving Levant with a few inches of bench available for a rather strained seating posture. The photo tells us graphically as to which one is the better pianist.
Do investigate, and  you may well find other little treasures connected to this giant posing as a pixie...


Friday, February 1, 2013

Moura Lympani - A Personal Renascence Of A Great Musician...

Perhaps the name Moura Lympani is not familiar to a number of you who read my blog; therefore, I feel that I should  bring her name out of recent history in order for you to know  of a great pianist who should be remembered:
I consider this lady to be one of the truly great British pianists. Both Dame Myra Hess and Moura Lympani are, in my view, two of the great ladies of the 20th century.
The stunning ease she demonstrated in forming the architecture of the music she had recorded, along with the marvelous balance and spontaneity  she imparted, especially in 19th century piano music she chose to perform(and record), are examples of artistic contributions of the highest order. Even  monstrously difficult works, such as "Islamey" of Balakirev ,are tossed off with such elan  and incandescence that I sometimes wonder if any other woman, besides perhaps, Constance Keene, had any equals in piano mastery.
By the way, both Keene and Lympany did record the Preludes of Rachmaninoff - for a real experience, why not listen to these recordings back-to-back? You might agree with Artur Rubinstein in his statement that he "could not imagine the composer himself playing them better."
Do listen to Lympani, and discover a treasure for yourself.