Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Ceaseless Uphill Trek - Beethoven's Battles With His Existence...

Obviously, when one thinks of or deals with the legendary composer Beethoven, deafness is the primary issue thought about besides his defining  music.
Of course, the curse of his deafness began as early as his late twenties, and ended with a great deal of his greatest possessions having been written during total deafness - still a staggering proposition to swallow on this very day, almost two centuries after his departure.
But there were  more issues of discontent and consternation endemic to his existence, which dogged him through his adult years; such as his battles, both legal and personal, concerning his nephew Karl, whom he dearly loved and wanted to support without the interference of Karl's mother. Do read about this aspect, if you'd like -much has been written about this phase of Beethoven's life.
The most vexing issue, professionally, was Beethoven's experience with a number of those firms or people who published his work - keep in mind that the word 'copyright'  was not a reality  at this time, and  the composer was at the mercy of those times; for instance, he might publish a particular work with a publishing firm, then discover that the same work was published by others not involved with the composer, with many notes altered or expunged. To this day, one can purchase editions of a particular work of the great composers of this general period, and find each edition with notes that differ from another edition, even though it is supposedly the same work.
Another issue Beethoven faced from time to time, especially when he wrote various  works for the church, was to be given specific directions to, for instance, make the music soft at a particular point in the music, or to write music with a particular length of time required etc.
In short, the composer was bent, at times, into shapes he did not either conceive or agree with.
I use Beethoven as one example - other composers experienced the same kinds of exigencies during those times.
However, to me, Beethoven, who decried all forms of authority he deemed corrupt and arbitrary, is the best
example of why Ewen wrote a book about the composer, and in the title are the words, "The Man Who Freed Music"...
This giant won over the forces  waging war against his will - just listen to the music...


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Special Day for "Aphorisms" - I Invite You to Join In...

This entry marks my 5ooth blog entry, and so I feel that it is about time to explain to  the reader the reasons for having begun this  series back in 2007:
After having undergone a series of pushes and shoves on the part of family and students to establish a blog site, I decided to do so, with some highly focused,  self-inflicted rules of specificity, which were inculcated and remain in force to this day:
To make sure that non-technical language be utilized, so that readers from all aspects of pursuance and interest can understand what they are reading.
To write about subjects that pop up in my mind, and to write them down at about the rate of one or so a week.
To write the blog without referring to any written source of information; in other words, to make this a kind of  'game'  in order to see how long this blog can last. The salient rule I abide by in this  'game',  is to rely solely on my memory bank, without resorting to the Internet, or a thesis or book etc. Only twice in these six years have I been forced to refer to some written material; one being my piece on one of Napoleon's soldiers visiting the composer Beethoven's apartments, and I needed specific words from the soldier's memoir to describe the disorder and unhealthy condition of Beethoven's living quarters on that day.
 The second time I needed exact written words was my piece on Beethoven's own rather truncated  written descriptions of the problems he had about his maids whom he hired to clean up after him.
All my other blogs  are things that 'pop' up without any reason, other than my commemorating a particular day in history, as I am rather good with dates.
My overall 'theme' is divided into two categories; simply, either  to write about something generally not known about a well-known figure or event; or,  to write about a figure either not known or  long forgotten.
My ultimate goal is to stop this blog when nothing 'pops' up - I am rather surprised that after six years, things keep 'popping' up, without my getting technical about this field we call Music.
It has been fun, and I hope that you will continue to have fun with me!


Thursday, May 16, 2013

"The Art of -" A Personal Remembrance of a Gifted Artist...

The normal pursuit that I actuate in my blogs is to write about such issues as music; or, paintings; or, architecture etc.
However, do please allow this writer to project to you another example of Man's art by way of a  personal experience; to be precise, the Totem Pole.
During my childhood years, my father would arrange to have the family spend each August in the Adirondack  Mountains, which happens to be the largest state park in the United States. Through my elementary and high school years, the family would reside in a hamlet named Old Forge, located in the southwestern section of Adirondack State Park, and from that little town, over the years, we attained a considerable knowledge of this vast, wonderfully beautiful wilderness.
One of the residents of Old Forge was a Native American, whom I met early on as a child, when Maurice Dennis (his name) was the official lifeguard of Old Forge Pond.
His biceps and striking  musculature were the first items I remember about this young, bronzed God, who at the same time was a totally affable fellow with a great affinity to laugh and to guide and teach the young boys who gravitated around him, especially when we met each day to learn how to swim - yes, he took the time out, while his assistant did the lifeguarding, to give us swimming lessons Monday through Friday of each week. Amazingly, almost all his students, including me, became accomplished swimmers.
Among other activities he engendered was to teach how to correctly and safely handle a canoe, and with some of us , as a personal aside he obviously loved doing, taught us how to use a lemon wood bow. He had us learn from the bow he fashioned with his own hands.   I distinctly  remember my shooting at an archery target that was positioned across a narrow portion of the pond.
With all of the above, the most impressive aspect of this hero of my young years was his artistic propensities, especially when it came to his carvings, the most singular object of his work being the Totem Pole, for which, in his later years, he became well-known in the Northeast and in Maritime Canada.
To this day I do not know whether the stories he carved into each totem pole were his own, or traditional stories of his tribe; namely, the Abenaki, who lived and still live, I believe, in both northeastern America and maritime Canada. Maurice was, at a particular time in his life, made a Chief {I suspect that the title was a form of honorary recognition), and he  was generally known as "Chief Dennis" from that time on.
Above all of the memories I hold of Maurice Dennis was his striking totem poles, some of which remain scattered here and there throughout the region.
Man's Art - how many faces??


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What About Great Women Violinists? Read On!

The other day, my wife asked me about  women  who achieved fame on the violin. Instantly, I  realized that among my 498 blogs, I had been remiss in dealing with this particular subject. And so, rather apologetically, I will offer you the following:
A striking violinist who has, in our time, achieved fame, is, of course, Anne-Sophie Mutter, a German virtuoso, who is at the top of her form as you read this, and is, arguably, the most powerful among the violinists of her gender playing today. She, as I recall, was supported from the very beginning by the legendary conductor Herbert  Von Karajan, and performs world-wide, having made a large number of recordings.
What slammed into my memory bank after my wife's  question, however, was a name I had long forgotten about, and she constituted a vital portion of my musical memories when I was a teenager and young adult.
Her name was Erika Morini, a German violinist who died  in her nineties late in the 20th century.
She made her debut in her 12th year with the Berlin Philharmonic, no less, and became a sensation in Europe and, later, in the United States, where she eventually settled. The magazine The Strad termed her as ":the most bewitching woman violinist of our century." There are recordings available, and her performances of the great violin concertos, such as the Beethoven and the Tchaikowsky,  are at the top of the heap of legendary incarnations of these classics.
Her name today, sadly, is pretty much forgotten - a great injustice, it seems to me.
Why not find out for yourself?


Friday, May 3, 2013

Domenico Scarlatti - A Composer With a Magnificent Prescience?

Before discussing the keyboard work of Scarlatti, please allow me to state that not for a  moment do I diminish the work and influence of his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach, who remains for those of us who understand his unparalleled place in the Pantheon; a place reserved only for the likes of a Bach, or a Schweitzer, or a Galileo, or the few others who cause History to create  a major swerve in its never-ending path.
I simply wish to articulate the case of Scarlatti's keyboard music, as it affects  the performers of import and power in our times.
The magnificence of Bach's works for the harpsichord continues to imbue the musicians of  our time with a glow of recognition of the Master's synthesis of harmony, counterpoint  and just plain mathematics, which remains unabated in power three centuries after his time with us. No other composer has reached the level of universal impact upon the composers who have come after him.
There is, however,  the work of Domenico Scarlatti in the 555-odd works he called "exercises," which we now call "sonatas."
Though Scarlatti was born in Italy, the admixture of Spanish and Portuguese influences upon his style (shall we call them "the Iberian influence?"),  especially in his keyboard works, imparts a special kind of color, folk and the ambient reality of the Baroque, with its clarity of melodic and motif design, laced with uniquely unpredictable harmonic modulations. The result is a style that curiously lends itself beautifully to an instrument just then emerging from the shadows of development; namely, of course, the pianoforte.
We know that Scarlatti wrote a small number of his works for the pianoforte, though the vast majority of the Exercises was designed for the harpsichord.
But the wondrous admixture described above has for some time enraptured a number of the great pianists of our time, and continues to do so. Vladimir Horowitz, of the piano legends performing during the past century , is the most powerful of those who loved playing Scarlatti before the public. He was enraptured by the atmosphere engendered in so many of these brief masterpieces, and has recorded a number of them.
The personal joy  for me is that great pianists such as Horowitz, Gilels and Michelangeli  understood the unique combine of the Baroque and nascent Classical and Romantic elements  that were evident in Scarlatti's incarnations.
I am thankful that these three pianists have given us Scarlatti in many recordings.
I sometimes wonder how Scarlatti would have reacted to his "exercises," as performed on today's piano?
Enraptured? I have to think so.