Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beethoven - A Stance of and for the Enlightenment...

The world knows, of course, of the genius and work of Ludwig Van Beethoven - the power of his language moves us from the Classical to the Romantic, to encapsulate.
The pursuit of the portrayal of the human emotions simply for the sake of the extant  vocabulary of Human Emotion is the ultimate core of the power emanating from this towering figure in the world and history of the language we call Music. Ironically, the  substance and forms of the power of statement we hear when we listen to Beethoven, are, it seems to me, propelled even further because of the deafness, which may very well have acted as a deterrent; a kind of fire wall, against any form of influence, no matter how subtle or insidious. As there are no other examples, with any other great composer, of the same physical disaster that struck Beethoven, I  can only speculate. I've often wondered what kind of a Beethoven would the world know if he had not lost his hearing.
At any rate, his great regard for the works of Plato and other philosophers, is most assuredly reflected in  the tenets  of the morality code available to Man. Most powerful to Beethoven's view of the work of Plato are, of course, the ways of Wisdom and Reason, which dovetail into the ways  of the period of Enlightenment, of which Beethoven was a part. His sense of derision about the place of Royalty and Authority is  well  known to us. His refusal to take his hat off, or bow, metaphorically or in reality, to royalty is certified in his statement "it is they who should bow to us."
Which leads me to wonder -  just how much did Adolf Hitler know about the core of Beethoven?
The great composer's music was certainly heard in constancy throughout  Hitler's regime, which seems to me an anomaly. I'm quite sure that had Beethoven and Hitler been contemporaries; had Hitler's parochialism of the world outside of his own limited visions been dissipated just enough to understand the composer's hate of  artificial authority, Beethoven's stature, let alone possible fate, might very well  have turned  out to be very different. Would it have been  a concentration camp? Or escape, like Albert Einstein? Or would Beethoven have changed because of the ways of  the 20th century? We can only speculate.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Another Great Event in an April of the Past; This Time, in the World of Art...

In my previous blog, I had written about two important events which occurred in Aprils of the past; namely, the death of Roosevelt and the Doolittle Raid.
HOW could I have overlooked Pablo Picasso??
During the last week in April of 1937, an event of pure horror took place during the the tragic Spanish Civil War.
Franco had asked for military aid from Hitler during Germany's re-arming period  in his  defiance of the Versaille Treaty, and the German tyrant was more than eager to try out some of his new "toys".
And so numbers  of German bombers were sent to Spain in a bombing campaign. A particular Basque town called Guernica was singled out to test the bombing capabilities of Hitler's Luftwaffe. The town was essentially annihilated, and many hundreds of its inhabitants were murdered in what was an operation in pure terror.
The world recoiled in horror and revulsion, and  Pablo Picasso, by that time acknowledged as one of the world's great artists, set out to project his grief and pain, let alone his  illimitable  anger, by creating  a mural of large size, which he titled, simply, "Guernica".
The world has known of it since its creation, and is recognized by millions as one of the great paintings of the 20th century, and  one of the most powerful statements ever  made by an artist,  against  one of Man's constant companions; namely,  War.


Friday, April 12, 2013

April - a Month Laden With History...

During the month of April, two events occurred which altered the course of history:
The first took place on this date, the 12th of April, in 1944, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly at Warm Springs, Georgia. The man who held the most powerful position in the Western world had been in office throughout the Great Depression and into much of the Second World War, and, tragically, did not live long enough to be witness to the end of the greatest military conflagration in history.
The second event occurred on April 18, 1942, when the famed Doolittle Raid took place.
A PHD recipient from MIT, in aviation engineering, James Doolittle, was the creator of an unprecedented military operation, and that was a flight of B-25 bombers which took  off from an aircraft carrier(the USS Hornet), having  steamed  to within 700 miles of Tokyo. These large bombers raided Tokyo and three other major cities on the Japanese mainland, which utterly stunned the Japanese military, let alone the civilians, who never dreamed of  being attacked in any form, especially so soon after their attack on Pearl Harbor. This operation was sanctioned by Roosevelt, and  so thoroughly shocked the top military in  Japan, that their reaction was to immediately plan on extending their ring of defense further out into the Pacific. Their primary choice was Midway island, an American territory. Unknown to the Japanese, their naval code had been broken into by the Americans. The result, in brief, was that the Americans were in wait for the Japanese fleet, and permanently  destroyed the offensive  power of the Japanese navy - from that point, the Japanese Empire could wage only defensive war, which ended in its overwhelming defeat in 1945.
And so, April gives us two defining events, which were factors  in the formation of the remainder of the 20th century.                                   


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Great Artists - With Whom Did They Share Their Lives?

One usually considers the aspects and issues surrounding a great artist  by way of the legendary individual and his or her particular experiences, and usually not much else.
But did this genius share his or her life with another? It is natural that much of the time we give to our perusing the genius chosen is to that individual only.
But it's at the very least interesting to delve into other aspects which enhance our knowledge of that genius, and how that genius is affected, either for the worse or better.
For instance; how about Carlo Gesualdo?
This composer preceded Bach by over a century, and was a creative genius with almost startling visions of how to inculcate chromaticism into his work, which most assuredly affected and influenced the manner in which succeeding composers thought about the harmonic vocabulary.
And yes, Gesualdo had a wife; and yes, he murdered his wife and the lover she was with when the composer came upon them during a rather delicate state of affairs.
Granted that this example is perhaps an ignominious way of  beginning this blog.
Well then; why not look at the giant Johann Sebastian Bach?
He married his second cousin Barbara, resulting in a group of children, one of whom was Karl Phillip Emanuel, who became one of the most powerful composers straddling the Baroque and the Classical periods.
And how about Robert Schumann and his wife, the former Clara Wieck, one of the first great woman pianists? Clara became Robert's fingers, championing his works throughout the Continent, as Robert could not perform due to a permanent injury he experienced in his formative years.
What about Chopin? Though he did not marry, he experienced a decade-long relationship with the famous novelist George Sand. The two were lovers during the earlier part of their experience together; then, as his health declined Sand became more a benefactor and supporter. The less-than-pleasant end  to their  relationship certainly helped bring on the untimely death of the great Polish composer.
Liszt - a man with not one relationship, but many; mostly dalliances with captivated women from among the  audiences he performed his unprecedented magic upon. Liszt's father Adam, on his death-bed, warned his genius son that  "women may well complicate and disrupt your life."  Well; be assuaged that Franz Liszt DID  eventually 'settle down' after a brief, meteoric piano career, to become one of the 19th century's giants in the world of music.
During more recent history, consider the stormy but loving life that Vladimir Horowitz and his wife, the former Wanda Toscanini shared. During more than a half century of marriage, Wanda Horowitz was at virtually all of the recitals and concerts that her husband performed, and was with him on the day he slipped off a chair and died at his home, not far from his beloved piano.
Leonard Bernstein, from his days at Harvard to his passing at 72, was almost always in the musical headlines - from his 'Jeremiah" Symphony to "West Side Story" he was  an ongoing  living legend. He did marry, and her name was Felicia Montealegre, a beautiful Chilean actress, who passed away tragically of cancer.
There are other artists, of course, who shared their lives, whom you can easily read about. Lina and Serge Prokofiev, for instance - or Artur Rubinstein and his beautiful wife - and so forth and so on...