Friday, November 21, 2014

Unknown Giants From the Russian Piano School...

From the time of Anton Rubinstein, whom History has named the Founder of the Russian Piano School, the world of music has been enthralled by the magic of  such legends as Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Gilels, Kissin and others who have been given to  us by way of this fascinating group of pianists from Mother Russia.
And this School continues to produce at world-level brilliance such names as Pletnev and Volodos, with no seeming end in sight for this vaunted clutch of piano magicians.
But - how many know of, say, Samuil Feinberg, born some thirteen years before Horowitz?
Or, is the name Vladimir Sofronitsky, born two years before Horowitz, familiar to you?
Let's take up, in short form, these two products of the Russian Piano School; and if you'd like, I will gladly add on to a list of  other pretty well forgotten geniuses who straddled the 19th and 20th centuries, and who have had influence upon a number of  great Russian pianists the world of music is familiar with:
Samuil Feinberg was reared pretty thoroughly by the school of pianistic thought emanating from Beethoven's pupil Czerny via the names Liszt and, probably, Siloti. To give you an idea of the level of piano performance the young Feinberg attained as a student is the day of his piano exam in 1911 at the Moscow Conservatory, let alone his stamina! In the morning he played works of Handel, Mozart and Franck, followed by the still freshly composed 3rd Concerto of Rachmaninoff. He returned that same afternoon to play both books of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier.
He was the only pianist able to play any one of the ten Scriabin Sonatas at any time, and also accompanied a violinist during these days in the complete Beethoven violin sonatas.
The story of Vladimir Sofronitsky is rather tragic after his having reached fame, which I will explain a little further along:
He loved Scriabin's piano music, and played the composer's only concerto at his exam in 1921. Scriabin's widow was present at a performance Sofronitsky gave of the 3rd sonata, and remarked that she had never heard the true depth of meaning of  her late husband's music until that performance, and never forgot that experience. Prokofiev, some ten years older than Sofronitsky, was a great admirer of this pianist, and the two became friends.
Sadly, he was not exactly enamored of the politics of the day, and the result was his becoming ostracized by Russian officialdom and relegated to minor positions within his profession and not allowed to tour outside of Russia. The result was gradual disintegration from both alcoholism and  drug addiction, with  obscurity the final punishment.
If you try, you can find recordings of both Feinberg and Sofronitsky available. I  am quite sure that you will be greatly impressed...


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Rendezvous With a Comet - and Music...

A veritable miracle in our time took  place  just hours ago, with Man's first encounter in distant space.
Ten years ago, an object about the size of an electric clothes dryer was sent skyward, headed for a comet about the size of Central Park, many millions of miles from Europe, where our clothes dryer named Rosetta started its multi billion mile journey.
This process presumably began with what we call numbers, which created the language or languages needed to ultimately give us Rosetta; or a man on the Moon; or Galileo; or, say,  music.
When, as an analyzer of music, or a sometimes-composer, I am, at times,  assailed (lovingly, of course!)  by that Thing we call The Number:
The staff has 5 lines and 4 spaces.
"G" is the 5th note of the "C" major scale, and is on the 2nd line of the treble clef.
There are 3 beats in the measure. Or 4. Or 6.
A sharp is one half step above the given note.
There is Binary; or Ternary form in musical structure.
And so forth.
And in recently analyzing some of the most riveting aspects of Chopin's harmonic language at its highest forms in the two great C# minor Mazurkas; language culled from numerical elements which give us the language we call Music, and the power of both Enharmonic Design and Chromaticism emanating from numerical positions given the composer in the tempered scale, and the genius of creating previously unheard -of sounds at a level given to a Chopin- well, these creations give us Chopin at his best; a world outside of the cascading beauty we hear so much in his music, which may not necessarily possess the true core of where this man was headed, which can be found  in the quieter, more contemplative sections of these two mazurkas.
So to wind this up:
The landing on a comet untold millions of miles away - the beginning of a new wave of Realization about who we are?
Like Chopin? The likes of whom opened the book to the next page for the next musical explorers...


Monday, November 3, 2014

A Brief Diversion From Music...

I thought that it would be a brief respite from my world of the arts to relate to you a quartet of events  which occurred on  the 22nd day of June,  among  four different years...
June 22, 1937:
The feared boxer from Detroit, Joe Louis, became the  world's  Heavyweight champion by defeating Jimmy Braddock -
June 22, 1938:
The reigning champion, Joe Louis, avenged his only professional defeat up to that time by overwhelming  the famous boxer from Germany, Max Schmeling, in the first round.
June 22, 1940:
In the Compiegne Forest, France signed an armistice with Germany, in the presence of Adolf Hitler, in the same railway car that the Germans surrendered in 1918, ending "The War To End All Wars."
June 22, 1941:
The tyrant Adolf Hitler sealed his own fate by  invading the Soviet Union in the greatest land invasion in military history.
These four dates, strangely, interconnect  to form a number of compelling events:
The beginning glimmers of the Civil Rights Movement in America...
The first  palpable international 'slap in the face', in an athletic event, that Hitler received,  since  the performance of Jesse Owens of America in the 1936 Munich Olympics. Also, final personal vindication (Hitler's) of his conviction that America must be militarily defeated after he has conquered Europe.
Even though there is, of course, no connection between  the surrender of France in 1940 along with  Hitler's decision to invade Russia in 1941  and the Louis/Schmeling bouts, the date of 22nd June is involved, strictly by coincidence.
If you'd like to discover for yourselves how these dates are interconnected, researching these four dates will form the compelling story for you.
However; if  you prefer, I'd be happy to write, in my Aphorisms blog, an account of the events that fuse the 22nd of June into a really fascinating  historical saga - do let me know in the 'comments' aspect of my blog.