Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beethoven - The Chaos Surrounding Him...

Let us be reminded of the veritably grotesque nature of the chaos surrounding Beethoven in Vienna, especially from about 1824 to his death three years hence:
A form of chaos created by the very composer himself; that is, the power and stature of this genius  by way of the elemental nature of  his manner of carving out the road he formed, and traveled along, through the creation of such a unique language we can today experience at our will.
In spite of the recognition Beethoven had accrued by the second decade of the 19th century,  he was both the victim of  the forces of greed and social controversy and  a revered  hero to admirers, many of them historical figures as well.
A kind of 'open letter' was written to the composer, which was publicly presented to him; a letter of recognition and adulation with such signers of the letter as Prince Lichnowsky, a powerful aristocrat in Viennese matters, who was one of very few in his entourage whom Beethoven considered a true friend ; Diabelli, whose name is immortalized in Beethoven's dizzying "Variations on a Theme by Diabelli;"  Czerny, one of Beethoven's most illustrious students, who himself authored what is still considered an intrinsic contribution to the development of keyboard technique through exercises, both for the fingers and the brain; and a host of other dignitaries; plus a number of other Viennese residents with position. This letter recognized the importance of Beethoven to the Viennese picture of its place in history, and a powerful expression of recognition of the genius this man had given to the world of Art.
At the same time, the scurrying around of, say, various publishers, each of whom had various ideas as to how to  'correctly' perform his music. There were the 'dark' powers, as it were, who contained their own ideas about Beethoven's music, regardless of the fact that Beethoven himself had given directions as to how to deal with the meaning of his unique language. Just one example:  after the invention of the Maelzel metronome, Beethoven injected metronomic directions  most carefully, and used pedal most sparingly in his 32 sonatas.But if one procures the Beethoven sonatas pedal markings are pandemic, far greater in number than Beethoven suggested. And look at Haslinger's publication of the  Opus 27   sonata (the so-called "Moonlight Sonata), and look at  the  metronomic  indication given to the second movement; namely, 84.  Then take a look at the London edition by Moscheles, which tells us that the tempo of this movement be 76. And so on...
How about the Vienna printing of the E flat sonata; then look at the London edition of the same composition, and you will see  differing  metronomic indications of each of the movements. And so on - despite the suggestions given by the composer himself. It appears that the great composer's sense of performance in his works, especially in the piano works, was somewhat more restrained, especially in tempo indications, than many of the publications that were produced. Beethoven himself remarked that it seemed to him that the more facile the technique of the performer  was, the more 'skating' OVER the material occurred than did true spiritual and self-probity in the formation of the ideas.
All this, while the great composer was experiencing serious encounters with his nephew Karl, who did consider suicide at one time, what with the young man's encounters with his particular world.
And through all this, the declining health of this defining genius, which, from 1824 to his passing, was a reality of constancy.
And yet - we have his music.
What a victory!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

For Today's Composers: A Conundrum, or simply a "Tempest in a Teapot?"

The composer in our time lives in a hypo-dynamic age of electronic devices that make it possible to engender a plethora of new ideas and tactics not known or conceived in preceding years.
The computer, as an example, is emerging as a tool for the composer in geometric terms, which is  actuating a sea change in creative tactics and the commensurate aural results given the listener.
For instance, as a simplistic example, a composer, by way of the computer, can fashion a piece of music for piano which can result in, say, forty or fifty notes being heard in simultaneity, which no human can accomplish.
And because for two centuries of our  having heard the human attachment to the piano, and the traditional  expectation of what ten fingers can accomplish on the keyboard, the mind can be blown away by the sound on  an instrument which had its genesis in the eighteenth century - a brilliant psychological  example, perhaps, of  a new expression in aural art.
Which leads to an issue which, in historical terms, still has its "jury out," in the form of a question having been raised by more than one creative thinker; namely: In an age wherein the composer has had direct contact with the manuscript in front of him for so many centuries, is there a problem created  by injecting  an additional  form of creative power between composer and paper; in this case, the computer?
Allow me to project a statement; specifically,  that I do not in any way mean to imply any form of opinion relating to this issue. I am simply bringing it to light, be assured.
To encapsulate: perhaps the "conundrum" described  here is nothing more than the question  "Does the computer interfere for the first time, in the history of musical creation, with the human spirit, which has always been the true and most vital phase of human creativity? In other words, is, for the first time,  spiritual contact from human to manuscript faced with an obstacle?"
Will this issue take on the form of a problem, or will this process simply be another chapter in the ever-changing nature of human exploration?
Please don't ask me...


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mozart and his Violin?? Absolutely!

A few days ago,  an excellent article, centering on a violin owned by a composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  appeared in the local newspaper, and I am so happy that it was written, as the world knows, generally, about Mozart as both a legendary composer and a brilliant, if not great pianist.  May I point out that  Mozart, as a child, received a concentrated form of violin performance techniques from his father Leopold, who was, of course, well  known as  a violin pedagogue.
In actuality, the young Mozart quickly attained fantastic results as a violin player, and more than one learned observer has stated that this meteoric genius might well have become a renown violinist.
 We know that he actually performed a number of his violin works in public, and it wasn't until the ripe old age of about 21 that the reality of his impressive keyboard abilities became the permanent fixture of choice in performance.
I am reminded about a handful of other musicians who were impressive and recognized for their abilities on instruments other than the one they were known for; for instance, the great violinist Jascha Heifetz was an extraordinary pianist. I have films of his playing the piano, and  these images still overpower me to this day.
Serge  Koussevitzky, the founder of Tanglewood and beloved conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. was, arguably, the greatest string bass performer of his time. The same applies to Zubin Mehta, the distinguished conductor, who is a world-class bass player.
And in the pop field, I think of Mel Torme, the wonderful singer known as the "velvet fog" because of the  unique quality of beauty and control he possessed in his singing.  Torme also played drums, and  he achieved such a high level of performance, he recorded as a drummer with the likes of the Dorsey band, along with such pop giants as Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson.
And what about Stephane Grappelli, the greatest jazz violinist of his time, and the celebrated recordings he made with George Shearing? I have one or two films of Grappelli playing the piano at a phenomenal level, much in the style of "Fats" Waller, who was a great influence on Art Tatum.
There are only a few of these incredible performers, but their legacy seems larger than their total.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June - A Month Redolent With Defining Historical Events...

I think of  "The Art of War" when the month of June comes around for its annual visit; for instance, the grinding conflict in Italy during World War Two, culminating in the wresting of the Eternal City from the Nazis on June 4th, 1944. And within 48 hours of the liberation of Rome, the greatest amphibian operation in military history took place on the sixth of June on the coast of Normandy, which began the eventual liberation of the Western European from  Hitler's yolk. And on June 22, 1941, three million men on an almost 2000 mile front invaded Mother Russia, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of Hitler,  let alone the creation of the  Cold War, and the resulting fractious state our present world appears to be immersed in.
But; do not despair:
Robert Schumann(1810), Edvard Grieg(1843), and Igor Stravinsky(1882), were born in this month...