Saturday, August 30, 2014

Imagery - the Core Propellant for the Creative Process...

When the comedian Robin Williams passed away earlier this month, I gathered some of my thoughts and impressions about this unique package of  unequaled gifts in the form of a man.
His uncanny speeds in extemporaneous reaction to whatever subject he was encountering at that particular moment is, for me, not only the quintessential example of comedic genius, which, after all, is reaction in comedic form to a particular subject or issue of that moment, but also a wonderfully clear parallel to the extemporaneous gifts of an Art Tatum,or a  Charlie Parker, or a Dizzy Gillespie etc.; or the scat singing of  a Cleo Laine,  or an Ella Fitzgerald, or a Mel Torme - or what about the 'frozen'  improvisations cascading upon us in a Horowitz transcription? Or speculation (another word for interpretation)  the performer is promulgating as he or she is playing a Beethoven sonata, which can not ever be repeated in pure exactitude, as no two performances by the performer can  be one fingerprint.
The almost brutal brush textures we see in so much Van Gogh can give a picture  of this artist taking up that brush, and in one extemporaneous sweep producing  a painting before he puts that brush down; time and time again.
And when I recall the very same kind of reaction in Robin Williams when he would dazzle his audiences with the pyrotechnical  dazzle of a Horowitz, or Tatum, or Laine(listen to her scat-singing of "Turkish Delight").
Recently, in a discussion with a great surgeon, I remarked that the "only the difference between you and those of us called Artists is your medium." He hugged me(!) and then said "you truly understand."
What Schumann wrote about Chopin in his Zeitung can be applied, in my opinion, to Robin Williams; that is, "hats off, gentlemen; a genius!"
Imagery - that's what it's pretty much about...


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Great Voice Has Passed On...

With apologies for a brief respite from my blog writing, which I shall resume later this week, may I relay to  those of you who may have missed the sad announcement that the legendary  Italian soprano, Licia Albanese, passed away  the week before last, at the age of 105.
If you have not heard her sing, I would strongly suggest that you listen to the scintillating  colors that she created; both in the characters she sang, and in the vocal powers she possessed.
During my school years, I made a point of listening to her as much as I could, marveling at the instrument this woman was the owner of;  especially in Italian opera, which is what she was primarily noted for.
Two other singers who also fall into the category of sheer vocal weaponry, for me, are the American artists   Marian Anderson and Richard Tucker.
Anderson, who could move into the tenor range with the same unalterable purity as her venturing into the soprano realm, simply pulled me into her gravitational field by way of the sounds  that emanated from her throat, regardless of the music;  whether it was a  Spiritual from the cotton fields of the American South, or  a Lied from Schubert - I believe that she was the first Black to be accepted by, and  sing in the Metropolitan Opera .
As for Richard Tucker - well; do listen to his performance of "Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen" from La Boheme,  after which  I would wonder if you  might still have been  more impressed by the likes of  Caruso, Gigli, or   Peerce - or any other tenor you may have heard sing Italian opera, after listening to Tucker.
This man, for me, constitutes another example of what the power of the human instrument can accrue...


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vincent d'Indy - A Composer Who Should Be Known More Than He Is...

When I think of the reaction in France to the music of Wagner, and the ensuing results, culminating in, among other aspects of reaction, Impressionism itself;  a composer stands out, not only because of his influence upon composers such as Debussy, Satie and  Albeniz, his standing  as an educator of much import, but also his music. His name: Vincent d'Indy.
Do read about his reactions to the music-dramas of Wagner, and how he reached into the history of the Drama to enhance his musical  proclivities. Also look into the founding of his Schola Cantorum, an institution which  brought back a reexamination of pillars of  musical antiquity, such as Gregorian chant and  the giant Palestrina, and how to meld these ancient entities into the existing fabric of late nineteenth century French music. Incidentally, Schola Cantorum exists today.
One of the dramas which d'Indy inculcated to enhance a really interesting musical output was an epic poem which goes back to the Assyrians, or  Babylonians, or Sumerians,  some two or more thousand years B.C. - Istar, an ancient princess, ventures into the Underworld (some of us call it Hell) in order to free her lover from eternal  captivity. In doing so, she would have to enter and pass Seven Gates, discarding one of her garments (seven in number, of course) as she passes through each gate. When she discards her final garment at the Seventh Gate, and stands naked, her lover is freed.
To me, d'Indy may very well have been in a whimsical mood when he thought of how to bring music to this ancient story. He composes the Istar  Variations.
The music BEGINS with the final variation! The most wholly clothed  - and as each variation is introduced, it has lost an article of its clothing - it is less florid and colored, until after the final (the FIRST!) variation is completed, the Theme finally is given us, and in unison. There it (she) stands, naked as a babe.
This piece must therefore be hailed as one in the form of Variations in Search of a Theme.
I can easily imagine witnessing the reactions of one  Papa Haydn, the master of Theme and Variations; if he were brought back just to witness his favorite personal form and see it placed in reverse. I just have to feel that a guffaw would escape him; knowing of his sense of humor.
d'Indy - a  fellow who marched to the beat of his own drum.
Incidentally, this fellow was exceedingly gifted as a composer - listen not only to Istar Variations, but a composition which was arguably his most popular; a lovely piece of music titled Symphony on a French Mountain Air.
Do search him out, and you may well have considered finding d'Indy's music and thinking more than worthwhile...


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On This Date in August of 1945 - A Product of the Human Creative Impulse...

Hiroshima was transmogrified in  about nine seconds.
In a vote taken by a group of scientists  involved directly with the birth of the Bomb, shortly after Hitlerism was eradicated - the question being "should we continue to work on the Bomb?" - the answer was an instantaneous and resounding "YES." Was the affirmative answer declared because the Japanese were yet to be dealt with for Finality; or was it, in reality, a knee-jerk reactive declaration for the creative impulse to be consummated and placated, now that the Secret seemingly was more close at hand?  To this day, there is still argumentation swirling around this issue. The thirst for knowledge; especially, a thirst for a definitive answer to a question or questions seemingly close to being answered, resides  in all  of those who deal creatively  in the arts or the sciences. A  composer who approaches the ending section of a work becomes, naturally, increasingly aware of the significance of the material having been written down; the result may well be a kind of refocusing on the import of the quality inherent in  completion. In performance in general, it may well be that the performer or performers assign a different code or responsibility  to any ending area in order to further vindicate the reason for the performance itself.
I  often think about human reactions to creative process - they appear to be similar -  for instance, in an interview with Vannevar Bush, who was the first Scientific Adviser  in the  history of the Republic (to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman), and involved with the Manhattan Project, Dr. Bush was asked what he thought was the most valuable military asset invented by the Americans prior to the Bomb.  Vannevar Bush practically glistened as he declared that the proximity fuse saved countless lives and hastened the defeat of  Nazi Germany. His  obvious pleasure in describing the development and ultimate ingenuity of this device was the same kind of reaction I've seen in musicians upon their producing a particular level of greatness in a particular performance.  I remember seeing that "glistening" in a Serkin performance of  a Schubert sonata.
I could go on with other examples of the same kind of reaction among those who deal with the creative process; however, the subject has, I think, been dealt with enough for now(mercifully!).