Friday, May 23, 2014

A Violinist Not To Be Forgotten...

Although I use the piano as my primary instrument, my first experience in performance was by way of the violin. My first lessons in performance were on a  small sized violin, as I was just a little kid, and I did continue to play violin in orchestras throughout my school years.
And so, I listened to and purchased many recordings of violin performances during this period, including those of Heifetz, Kreisler, Francescatti, Menuhin, etc.
I remember playing games of  attempting to identifying violinists upon hearing first performances over the radio, and what is still quite vivid  in my memory is that of all the violinists I could most easily identify, primarily by his tone, it was the great Hungarian Joseph Szigeti.
I have always been more attracted as to how the great violinist  would approach the note to be played, with  the ensuing result or results;  and with the pyrotechnic of a Heifetz, or the grace and utter beauty of a Kreisler incarnation always in attendance, the most captivating reality that I became aware of  was, for me, the manner in which Szigeti would approach his music; specifically, the initial contact he engendered and the resulting sense of  molten gold that constituted  the result  for my ears - I cannot, in words,  project any reason for  my being able to recognize so successfully the sounds that Szigeti created; more so than any other great violinist.
Conveyances such as YouTube, or listening to this man on a postage stamp-sized set of speakers would not be the way to listen to a great  string player such as Szigeti.  If one should like to hear what Szigeti was able to create, I would  suggest getting recordings that can be played over a quality  system with room-sized speakers.
At any rate; for those of you who have not heard Szigeti's  recordings, may I invite you to do so?
You may not be 'seduced' as I was; however,  I have confidence that you will recognize the greatness of this
musician; a musician who should be well remembered.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Omnipresence of Music?...

Is there, CAN  there be a limit  as to the power of presence given to the mystery we call Music?
My reason for this question  is , for one, the possibility  of musical saturation, innate or otherwise, in the human consciousness - take two examples that come to mind, that emerge from World War II:
One: Operation Mulberry, one of the most ingenious creations of the entire conflict:
As D-Day was being organized and put into reality, it was realized that because the coast of Normandy was chosen for the West to use as a springboard to free Western Europe from the Hitler nightmare, there would be no deep water ports available for disgorging the numbers of men and the mountains of material needed for such a gigantic amphibious undertaking.
And so,  military engineers proceeded to BUILD two ports, both portable so that they could be towed across the channel and used as  breakwaters to disgorge some two million men over about an eight month period, along with the commensurate supplies. Both ports were larger than the port of Dover.
This was indeed done. These two immense man  made  ports did their job, even though one was destroyed by a violent storm only weeks after the primary invasion took place. The remaining port was used for about eight months, insuring the success of Operation Overlord.
Mulberry was the name given to these two ports, having been designed and built  by Englishmen (the second port was named "Port Winston"). The tune "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush" was also English, first appearing as a circular parlor game  in the late 19th century,  with the music appearing shortly thereafter. Did the beguiling little tune connect with the military minds in the century following, resulting in the name given to the two giant ports used in 1944? Can any one disprove that possibility?
Secondly; the word "Katyusha," given to the Russian rockets used in the conflict with Nazi Germany.
I think of the tune "Katyusha", coming from the name "Katyushka,"  Catherine or Katie in the  English language;  written in Russia around 1938, dealing with a young girl dreaming about her lover, who is in a war many miles away. This tune became popular in Mother Russia during the war which  began in 1941, some  three years after the tune was  written.
The wailing of the rockets -
The tune; written three years before -
A connection?...


Monday, May 12, 2014

Dimitri Mitropoulos - A Musician With Astonishing Gifts...

As a child,  my favorite conductor was Arturo Toscanini; however, a rather close second was, arguably, the most powerful Greek musician of his time, Dimitri Mitropoulos.
My first visual impression of him (of course, I was quite young, then!) was that he looked more like a  gangster straight out of the movies, what with that gleaming, bald head and eternal cigarette dangling out of the right corner  of his mouth - BUT, that impression was erased when I became aware of what this man could do with an orchestra:
His sense of the ultra-focus on the architectural lines  of the music he was dealing with became quickly clear to my young mind, which, of course at that time, had no definable reason to contend with, for my attraction to his ways of building the structure he was putting together - I was simply mesmerized without knowing, intellectually, why  I was mesmerized. That knowledge, of course, came much later by way of my own intellectual development.
At any rate, this man was an astonishing musician, with an equally astonishing power of memory;  for example, when he appeared at his first rehearsal with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in, I believe, 1937, which he just assumed directorship of,  the orchestra members quickly found that he never had a score in front of him, and on that first day it became  quickly clear  that he knew the name of each and every orchestra member, whom he addressed  directly by name, rather than by instrument.
On one occasion he visited Cyril Scott, the eminent English composer and  writer, to look at the score of a new work that Scott had written for the orchestra to debut. Mitropoulos pored over the score on that day. Scott later revealed that Mitropolous looked only one more time at this score; then conducted it at rehearsals and the debut event without ever again  referring to it. This incident, with all of the experiences I have read about genius performers and their photographic minds, was the most stupefying example of memorizing powers that I know of.
If you are not familiar with the feats and recordings of this little bald fellow with the dangling cigarette, why not delve into the life of this frighteningly gifted conductor?


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Schubert, His Opus 11, and the Visitor...

Many years ago, while still in Germany and immersed in advanced studies, I was also performing for a group called Amerika Haus, in many places; mostly throughout Germany. And as I had mentioned in an earlier blog, I was given use of a wonderful Bechstein piano to prepare my recitals,  in Frankfurt, at the Palmengarten, a beautiful building with gardens and palm trees right in the middle of the structure.
I recall one day very vividly; while working on Tchaikovsky's  "Dumka," a young man came through the room (people were free to come into this room, as it was a public building. It really was beneficial to me, as very rarely does one have the experience of practicing before a constant, roaming audience, and this constant 'intrusion' served  to enhance my concentration).
At any rate, this young man approached the piano, armed with  manuscript. He listened for a few moments, and when I paused, he asked me if I would accompany him for just a short time. I was mildly surprised, as he had appeared from nowhere. He then told me that he was a student of voice, and had been given a copy of  Schubert's   "Die Nachtigall"  earlier that day, and would like to try it out.
This was a rather strange, unanticipated moment for me, as the request was so sudden and, I thought, rather unique.
And so I decided, after a few  seconds of  "what should I do?,"  to take the score from him, look it over briefly,  and say to him something like "let's try it."
He sang really well, and I perceived that he had been  strongly  familiar with the composition long before he had received it.
Part of the way through it, he paused, thanking me for my  accompanying him. He then asked if he could sit for a few minutes to hear me work on the Thaikovsky.
He then shook my hand, thanking me once again and departed.
He never returned - I never saw him again.
I  think about this rather singular encounter from time to time;  for me, an unanswered question...


Thursday, May 1, 2014

An American Composer, A British Songstress, and A Hell on Earth...

The country known then as Burma was a vital invitation to Imperial Japan  to  enhance the possibilities of an invasion of India, during the second world war; and so a theater of operations took place there throughout the length of history's greatest conflict. Japan never did invade India, but this place called Burma became a Hell on earth for the combatants; namely, British and Canadian troops, for the most part, engaging in a  struggle with Japan in a place infested with diseases such as malaria and dengue fever -  the monsoon rains which made it impossible to wage war for six months of each year the conflict took place,  where a world of mud and dizzying temperatures was a daily reality - a war which resulted in such huge numbers of casualties caused by disease as  to constitute a factor of import to both sides in logistics.
Burma  took second place to the more central locations one remembers during this war; such as the European theater of operations, or the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific.
But a lady who sang for a living in Great Britain remembered, and decided to spend a considerable amount of time with the British and Canadian soldiers in  this repugnant hell-hole, at great peril to her life.  Her name was Vera Lynn, who I believe is still with us(she must be approaching 97 or 98 years in age), and was well known in England during this period.
One of the tunes she sang to the troops was written by none other than Irving Berlin, titled "It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow,"  and it became the most popular song she performed - a  tune by Berlin, which never became as popular as so many of his delightful  songs. But it was a vital message of hope and  escape to  many men struggling in a truly alien world of disease and  appalling weather.
And this woman; this warrior without a weapon, unhesitatingly made the decision to refute the possibilities  of a fate that could have taken her life -simply to sing her message. A message that they are not forgotten, and that they were loved by many so far away. Another example of the power we call music.