Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Great Ladies of the Piano - One Still Remembered; the Other, Pretty Well Forgotten...

Two great pianists who actually performed during the ravages of the London Blitz were George Shearing and Myra Hess.
As a youngster, I remember reading about these two artists and their recording sessions and informal concerts wherever there were havens of relative safety available, during Hitler's obscene attacks on the civilians living in the principal cities and towns of England.
Which leads me to the many recitals that Myra Hess gave during this period, with Royalty attending at times. Hess did not hesitate in lending her great talents to her loving audiences at a time when Dame Myra was at the height of her powers, giving these oppressed people some respite and relief  through the magic of her Mozart and Beethoven ; to mention but two of a massive number of the great composers she could perform at any given time.
Hess is still remembered, especially in Great Britain, as one of her great musicians - her recordings are the testimony, as to her place in the history of  music.
Incidentally, she was a great Jazz enthusiast, and happened to be a teacher of the mother of none other than Dave Brubeck.
Another lady, who, sadly, is less well remembered, was Eileen Joyce. Although a native Australian, she spent her adult life in Britain , and  was  thought of as a British pianist.
Her pianistic powers were astonishing, and at a young age, was recognized rather quickly. The critic Kolodin  wrote of her as "the greatest unknown pianist in the world." Her repertoire was amazingly wide and eclectic; more importantly, her artistry  was top level. Unfortunately, rheumatism invaded her system, and her career was relatively brief, about thirty years. This event shortened not only her career but also historic remembrance, and her attainments have been pretty well obfuscated by time.
But, may I   mention   just a few   of  the great number of conductors who were her partners  when she chose  to play a Concerto?
Sergiu Celibidache; Eugene Ormandy; Sir Colin Davis, Sir Thomas Beecham; Herbert Von Karajan...
Pretty fair company -


Thursday, October 24, 2013

"A Force of Nature" - Prokofiev Performing His Third Concerto...

My curiosity about the piano music of Serge Prokofiev came into full focus around my 15th or 16th year when I heard the Horowitz recording of the composer's seventh sonata. For the final movement to be non-stop and in seven/eight time absolutely overwhelmed my young ears - and from that time, my adoration of his unique voice  has never faltered.
Shortly after my first experience with the sonata, I came across a recording of  Prokofiev himself , in a performance of his 3rd piano concerto. I clearly recall my primary reaction to the playing and the material being played; namely 'how is it possible to play the piano like this? or to write music like this for the piano?'
I then began a study of this man, and uncovered the unprecedented physical approaches to the instrument, which, of course, his architectural view of the piano, as a composer, demanded.
I was, as a youngster, totally captivated by his intransigence during his student days; attaining low marks in some  of his exams; actually failing some - simply because those teachers did or could not comprehend the vision that this young genius represented through his profound imagery, especially in a system that has been extant for centuries; that is, the Diatonic language. It confounded the educational system that the young student called Prokofiev was part of, and he most assuredly created more than one enemy by both his sublime language and his social demeanor, especially his derision of various elements of the educational institutions he was surrounded by and immersed in.
At any rate, the 1932 recording of Prokofiev playing his 3rd concerto was his first experience in recording, as I recall. He complained that in one section a clarinet played wrong notes; and so, that section was re-recorded with the clarinet notes corrected - unfortunately, Prokofiev found that his  piano playing was not good enough, and so that section had to be re-recorded once again.
The recording session lasted two or three days. The conductor, Copolla, remarked in his diary that Prokofiev was a "force of Nature", and also said that" Russians, when they put their mind to it, are incredible."
For those of you who love the music of Prokofiev, do listen to the magic of his playing - he was, indeed, a Force of Nature...


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto - Through Six Sets of Eyes...

The other day, after listening to Arcadi Volodos perform the Rachmaninoff 3rd piano concerto, it struck me as to how he constructed this massive composition; how he dealt with the myriad of ideas having been committed to manuscript by the greatest of Romantic composers of the 20th Century.
Eventually, I came around to my wondering how the enormity of dimension can be corralled in such a Brobdingnagian piece of great art and result in a cogent and positive, yet poetic reading  of,  arguably, the most impressive Romantic Piano Concerto of the Post-Romantic era(1909, I believe, this concerto to have begun).
After grappling with ways to wrestle  with utter dimension, as regards interpretation,  the word Kinetic  appeared, and I found myself listening to various pianists dealing with the first movement of the concerto, just to determine if a clue as to 'Tactic' would  come forward.
To my consciousness came a proposition by way of the Interrogatory;, namely, "is it possible that the very first part of the first movement, what with its wonderfully poignant and rather   morose beauty , set the  psychic stage for the entire work?"  This question entered my mind as I reminded myself as to the truly wonderful manner in which the three movements are bound into a kind of Gordian knot;  truly as if one movement could simply  not exist without the other two(another way of describing to myself, probably, that this work is one of the relatively few truly towering incarnations in the Concerto Form).
And so I began a  kind of vigil; namely, listening to the playing of the first movement of this work by six different great artists. I then put these six performances back-to-back on a blank CD, and heard them non-stop a number of times.
I then listened to these pianists play the entire work, and I  found myself  riveted by how the sense of atmosphere chosen by these artists pervaded the other two movements;  how  the comprehensiveness  of direction seemed to have, in some arcane fashion, arisen from the first movement.
The six pianists were Janis, Kissin, Andsnes, Volodos, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz in 1941 and then again in 1948.
I do not seek from any of my readers either agreement or disagreement  in my reactions to this adventure  I experienced. I am merely relating to you an event which, for a musician who has been involved with the study of music for  many years, has been given  another view of the ways to listen to this wordless language.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Music and War - An Example, Mostly Forgotten...

On June 10, 1942, one of the most deadly and defining events contained in the saga of World War II took place in Czechoslovakia, in a town named Lidice; not far from Prague.
On that day,  a group of soldiers from Hitler's  army of occupation  took all of the men of  Lidice, marched them to a church, and executed them. The women and children were marched out of the town, sent to Germany, and disappeared into history.
The following days, teams were brought in to raze the town to the ground, leaving nothing but the  remains of the foundations of  a number of homes and  municipal buildings.
This event took place because of the assassination by two Czech patriots flown in from England,  to do away with, arguably, the most pure form of Nazism other than Hitler himself -  a man named Reinhardt Heydrich, who had been appointed by Hitler to reign over regions called Bohemia and Moravia. Heydrich had, earlier in that year,   directed  a meeting near Berlin to deal with The Final Solution.
In 1947, a British composer named Alan Bush presided over a performance of one of his works  for chorus which he named 'Lidice' - this performance took place at the site of this monstrous happening.
I do not know if a recording of this work  has  ever been made -  I know it contains one of the ancient  Greek modes (Aeolian, I believe),which, in my view, helps project the ageless connection with Human Tragedy.
There are, of course, many works of art which depict War -for me, Picasso is the most powerful messenger in his 'Guernica';  however, the work by Alan Bush has been pretty much forgotten (Bush WAS talented enough to be accepted as a student by such luminaries as Benno Moiseiwitsch, John Ireland and Artur Schnabel),  as he is not among the great composers. But it IS another  reminder  of how art  and its descriptions of  the darker side of the human condition are constant cohabitants...


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Liszt, Horowitz, and Ibert - A Sneer; or, Simply, Having Great Fun?...

The  almost overwhelmingly familiar array of harmonies forming the introduction of Felix Mendelssohn's Wedding March has led me into an arena of  semi - serious pondering over  a trio of compositions; namely, "Divertissement" by Jaques Ibert and two piano transcriptions of the Wedding March. The Liszt transcription was begun, I believe, in 1849, and the Horowitz transcription about a century later.
Jaques Ibert was a fairly well known composer in  France, especially in the Parisian culture. One of his most popular compositions was his "Divertissement," which as the title implies,  bears witness to any  form of  opposition  to any serious  human issue. For example, in one section, he uses those famous harmonies from the Mendelssohn Wedding March, and interrupts these harmonies  with a fusillade of wah-wahs from the trumpet section, seemingly sticking a finger into the eye of Tradition.
Enter Franz Liszt with his pianist gymnastic based upon the Wedding March, transforming the Mendelssohn harmonies into a statement that forces the original concept of sanctity to disappear, and a call to arms to take its place.
In the Horowitz version, which is in reality additional terracing added to the Liszt incarnation, making it almost impossibly difficult, the great piano virtuoso (who never published his vaunted  transcriptions) seems to force the Mendelssohn harmonies to go marching off to war, with trumpets blaring and crowds cheering.
Were these three musicians simply having great fun with the Mendelssohn composition, or was it, at least fractionally,  a form of lampooning of  a timeless expression of the Sanctity of Marriage?
Just musing...

Labels: ,