Friday, March 28, 2014

Some Examples of the Oddities and Ironies Emanating From Human History...

I had, in at least one of my preceding blogs, mentioned the reality that the greatest mystery I know of is the image I see in the mirror while shaving. For me, the most imponderable questions that grip me are  - Who and What  am I?  Why am I where I am?
To cite some examples of the Human Condition, especially dealing with another mystery we call Music:
Imagine  the final concert given in Berlin; during the death throes of Nazi Germany, in the midst of the final horrific  Battle of Berlin -  in an unheated hall with an audience which consisted,  in part, of some of the more important Nazis(I believe that Albert Speer was there), wearing  coats and shivering while listening to a Bruckner symphony,  among other masterpieces.  Bruckner was the object of much controversy in Germany during his time, and there were those who thought that his music would best be suited for the nearest bonfire. And yet, shortly after France was occupied by Hitler's hordes in 1940, the manuscript to Bruckner's Second Symphony was lovingly smuggled out of Vichy France by none other than the widow of Gustav Mahler, who walked over a portion of the Pyrenees to Lisbon, coming to rest, at long last , to California and final freedom.
Adolf Hitler championed and listened much to the music of Beethoven, which tells me that the tyrant  appeared to be unaware of Beethoven's unbridled hatred of and utter disdain for Authority and the trappings of Royalty - the great composer  once remarked that it is "they who should bow to us." What if   the tyrant and composer had been  contemporaries? We will never know the answer to such a question.
During my early years in music, I remember doing an informal recital in a large home in Vienna, with about fifty or so people in attendance. During intermission, while I  mingled  among the audience members, a gentleman approached, shook my hand, and stated that he liked my playing of the "D" major Rondo of Mozart. He made a point of reminding  me(rather needlessly) of Mozart's historical importance to Vienna. I MUST say that his stance of superiority irritated me,  and I retorted quietly to him that it should be recalled that while citizens in Prague  were whistling his tunes, Mozart was quite ill and in debt in his native Austria. This gentleman  drew himself up in anger, wheeled and  walked away.
Perhaps I should have been 'nicer';  however, I  felt quite self righteous, being quite young and feeling justified in simply uttering the truth - oh, well...
Mozart once called Muzio Clementi a "mechanicus."  It might be of some interest to the reader that  the personal library of Beethoven contained more of the piano music of Clementi   than the piano music of Mozart.
Oh, well...
Did you know that  the name of the  most powerful composer in the music of the West(yes, indeed - Bach) can be found on police records? Yes, he was imprisoned for a short period for having been too irascible in an argument with a local politician.
At a time when Jewish music was again being played in Germany after World War II, an article appeared in Time Magazine describing the event. Obviously, the article centered around Mendelssohn, and  was excellently written, describing the importance  and makeup of this composer. One aspect had been forgotten, which prompted me to contact Time magazine, reminding them that the discovery of Bach by Mendelssohn was veritably as important as  the music by Mendelssohn. I was asked to write about this aspect, which appeared in Time shortly thereafter.
After all; the Bach Cult has been going on ever since 1829, when Mendelssohn staged the first performance of  Bach's greatest  Mass since Bach did it a century before...
And did not the Teacher become the Student of the same man? Haydn was born in 1732 -  Mozart in 1756, but who died some eighteen years before Haydn passed away. Mozart studied with Haydn during his youth; however, I cannot shake loose from the enhancement of  the compositional process that Haydn must have undergone during his latter years after having been witness, as a great composer himself, to the heights his former student reached during such a brief period. This array of events has never been replicated. To consider all that came to us from 1732 to 1791 -
And so it goes...  


Thursday, March 20, 2014

When Titans 'Collide' - When Great Soloists Perform Chamber Music Together...

When Fritz Kreisler, the legendary violinist, at the height of his powers, plays a Beethoven sonata with Sergei Rachmaninoff,  in 1928 - what can one expect?  One great mind at odds, philosophically and interpretively, with the other? What happens when a renowned  genius, endowed with supernatural powers as a soloist, merges with an equally great peer -  do we expect a gargantuan clash of wills?
The answer, generally, is "no," IF the great soloists have  a sublime superpower outside of their performance abilities; and that is, to LISTEN to the total endeavor of the composer and come to an understanding with one another to give the world an experience; unexpected, perhaps - but most assuredly sublime.
There is a recording of these two giants, of the Beethoven(Op. 30, as I remember).
In 1976 a celebratory  concert was given  at Carnegie Hall in recognition of Carnegie's 85th anniversary - can you imagine Vladimir  Horowitz, the 20th century's answer to Franz Liszt, accompanying the greatest baritone of the age, Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, in Schumann's  "Dichterliebe?"
Or, Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the two or three top 'cellists of that period, being accompanied by Vladimir Horowitz in the andante from the Rachmaninoff sonata (Opus 19)?
Why not listen, and thrill to the magic of two life-long friends, born just months apart; both escaping just months apart from the madness of civil war in Mother Russia, in the third sonata of Brahms for violin and piano? For these towering artists, Nathan Milstein and Vladimir Horowitz, to become ONE...
The performances listed above, all of which are on CD, are some of a relatively small number of  defining historical perspectives of  the merging of Brobdingnagian artists who teach us about the community that can be formed by a tiny portion of  great minds who can communicate with one another in addition to the audiences who know of them, primarily, as individual performers of  the highest order.  


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Pianist Jose Iturbi -A Wildly Famous Enigma...

Jose Iturbi was, and remains for me, a puzzle whose parts have always remained impossible to 'glue'  into the correct place.
This personal dilemma,  be assured, has  nothing whatsoever   to do with the few lessons I experienced with him.
 The parts of his puzzle, strewn in various directions, veritably like flotsam and jetsam bobbing on a restless body of water, are as follows:
He loved, owned and drove motorcycles.
He played boogie- woogie  as accompanist to Judy Garland in one of the movies he made for MGM.
For a brief period, there was discussion about his assuming a serious role as an actor in movies; an event which never took place.
He performed with and was an acquaintance with many of the great musicians of the period.
He was considered one of the great pianists by many critics.
His knowledge of music, as both a harpsichordist and pianist, was world recognized.
He was also a conductor, and at one time considered it as a prime activity to follow.
He loved playing the piano in concerti, while sitting and conducting at the same time. I saw him do it  in  the Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue.
O.K. in the  Rhapsody, but try doing this in the Tchaikowsky,  which he did. Not quite so  successful, as it turned out to be.
Iturbi possessed the greatest level of Keyboard Location that I know of - even Horowitz, I believe, could not equal  that aspect. Iturbi could look away from the keyboard while playing some of the most difficult passages from the literature. He even talked calmly, as if he were smoking a pipe, to others, while his fingers accomplished the playing of fiendishly difficult  cascades  of notes from  Liszt, Chopin etc.
There is no question among historians and witnesses  pertaining to  his legendary status as a player of the piano.
But the music...
At times, he brought the language into being; and during those periods, he was stupefying.
Sadly, these times were few and far between.
The puzzle never came together, for me...


Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Important Debut Concerts - Concerts I Was Witness to...

During my childhood school years; both elementary and high school  periods, I was witness to many great experiences as a  part of audiences  watching the reigning musicians, such as   Rubinstein, Heifetz, Horowitz, Milstein, Kreisler, Koussevitsky, Iturbi, Reiner etc.
However, there were two performances of defining import historically, as both  were geniuses just starting out. Most important, these two carved out  careers of illimitable luster and power, as History has since certified.
Both occurred during my high school days, while  beginning my studies at Eastman, before embarking upon my more advanced work in Germany.  The first of these two defining experiences was the Eastman debut of Leonard Bernstein. He was in his late twenties, as I recall, just having created his sensational entry into the world of conducting. I remember his not using a baton at that early point in his career. The use of both of his  hands to mold shapes of  expressive designs overwhelmed me - it was almost as if I were watching a ballet for the hands. It was as  if I were actually SEEING the music emanating from both hands as the sounds were being engendered a millisecond  thereafter. All this coming from this intense young man with jet black hair, barely a decade older than I was. The music I remember best that evening  was his conducting the Rochester Philharmonic in Beethoven's 8th symphony, which  simply overwhelmed my senses. His understanding of the celebratory aspects of this work was absolutely sublime. I shall never forget what Bernstein was able to summon at such a young age.
The other event was a recital by the American pianist William Kapell, who had also just embarked upon a journey that was to catapult him into fame throughout the world in just a matter of months. He played the Khatchaturian piano concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic on that day, and  his gargantuan technique and quicksilver-like tone seduced  the audience I was part of. The tragedy of his death in his early thirties in  a plane crash in California is one of the great blows suffered by the world of music during the twentieth century. Many even today consider Kapell, along with Murray Perahia, to be America's most important addenda to the history of piano performance.
To consider myself fortunate to have been there at these two events is to understate - I feel blessed to have been there...