Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Major Artist's Most Powerful Statement...

I  will, for the moment, move  to an art form other than music, primarily because I do not very often move outside my primary field:
A great movie is indeed an art form - Disney, in his history-altering view of animation in such masterpieces as "Snow White" or "Bambi" is  one such artist so well-remembered; or, Alfred Hitchcock, with his  sense of vision in  movies we continue to watch, such as "The Birds" or "Suspicion" are but two of  a number of  possessors of images and ideas that result in immortality in the same  sense of reality when one thinks of a Bach, or a  Beethoven, or  a Winslow Homer.
George Stevens most assuredly is among the Exalted, as director of such movie epics as  "Shane" or "Giant" or "Place in the Sun," among a number of other masterpieces we see in our day; however,  I personally consider his work during the Second World War in Germany to be the most powerful statement of his creations. Even Stevens himself stated that his experiences altered his thinking forever about the kinds of movies he would create after the conflict was over.
Stevens was assigned to make a film record of  the war from D-Day to the last days in Berlin. He chose a coterie of top notch writers and cameramen to create this film, using, for the first time in war, 16 mm Kodachrome film.All were part of the armed forces and in uniform, including Stevens, who was made a lieutenant colonel.
This group of unarmed men was as close to the conflict as any soldier involved in the fighting, and  in constant and dire danger from the first day to the surrender, almost a year later.
The sense of presence, with the gifts these men had in creating a record of the horror of war,  brilliantly enhanced by the wonderful quality of color that the Kodachrome process possessed, is, for me, the most evocative example of the final year of the war that I have in my personal collection of filmed documents.
If you have not seen this document, and have interest, my recommendation is automatic.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

An Evening of Music by Mozart And Salieri - Both Were There...

On an evening in 1786, a rather special occasion( a kind of Regal Gala) took place, during which music written specifically for this event had been written by a rather brash young genius we know as Amadeus Mozart and an established and popular composer named Antonio Salieri.
Mozart was in his thirtieth year; Salieri, a composer of the Court, six years Mozart's senior.
Picture this: two young fellows just  doing what they were assigned to do, in order to earn an evening's pay.
Both were given the task of writing music of parallel forms, to be performed back-to-back; for instance, an overture by Salieri was played first, followed by an overture written by  Mozart. This event must have been of considerable  length, as symphonies by both composers, let alone vocal works as well, were on the program.
To have been "a fly on the wall" during this event - I  wonder, from time to time, what the audience reactions were on this night over two centuries ago, to the music of the relatively unknown Mozart and the well established Salieri. After all, Salieri was the Power of that period, having been the teacher of such aspirants as, say, Schubert and Liszt. Yes! And even Beethoven , for a brief period.
I wonder how many in that audience had an efficient awareness of the reality that Mozart already was at this time? How many knew what Salieri must have known by 1786; that is, of the sublimity of Mozart's gift?
We know that Salieri had a fear and palpable hatred; not for the man Mozart, but for his talents.
It should be remembered that Salieri was indeed a fine composer, with luminous melodies woven throughout his works. It just so happened that a musical giant was a contemporary...
And; yes indeed - I would have LOVED to be that "fly on the wall" on that evening in 1786!
AND!  Oh, yes - did Mozart and Salieri speak to one another that evening?  There is no document I can find to answer that question...


Thursday, December 17, 2015

My Audio Suggestions for Children This Holiday...

Obviously, the first classic that comes to mind is the celebrated delight, the  "Toy" Symphony by Papa Haydn,  redolent  with the delightful sounds that abound in what was one of my favorite musical morsels during early childhood.  Time has not sullied the glitter of this venerable composition, which happens to be at this point of time a center of some controversy germane to the question of the actual composer - was it Haydn who actually committed this work to paper?  Perhaps I might bring this issue up at another time, if you'd like...
A French composer of secondary standing, Jacques Ibert, known in his domain for his adroit  and spirited writing, pokes great fun at the hallowed tradition we call Marriage by giving us a glimpse of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, rudely interrupted by trumpets emitting 'wah-wahs' amid some staggering forms of forward motion. It's in an orchestral confection titled "Divertissement." A child old enough to have become familiar with the Wedding March will invariably emit a guffaw at this rupture of Traditionalism.
A Swiss composer by the name of Arthur Honegger was a passionate lover of trains, and used them constantly whenever he needed to be somewhere else. I have searched to see if he was a model train collector, as he passed on in 1955, a time when model train collectors were present in Europe in great numbers. At this point in time, I do not know if he was indeed a collector, but I DO know that for those of you not familiar with Honegger's "Pacific 231" for orchestra, you may well be in for a treat, in that this composer replicates with orchestral instruments the sounds of a train, from the beginning of a trip, to the completion of  its journey.  A rare glimpse of a composer consorting with just plain Fun...
"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" - is there a child's tune more popular?
Then, why not introduce a child to Mozart's Variations on this tune? It's a typical Mozart gem, with that irrepressible positivism and unparalleled clarity of purpose we know so well in so much of this master's work - and a positively painless way to allow a child to hear the game that Mozart is playing with such a simple little tune.
Which prompts me to suggest that you also  look for ":Heigh-ho Mozart," a compendium of Walt Disney tunes arranged in the styles of great names such as Mozart, Chopin etc. Utterly delightful, and  masterfully arranged  for various instrumental combinations.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Brief Audio List For the Holiday...

Last week I offered a short list of videos of historical import for you to pursue and peruse in order (hopefully!) to help enhance the holiday spirit. This time, I will add a few really wonderful audios containing performances of stunning impact and uniqueness I hope  you may also have interest in:
Imagine being bathed by the collective genius and attendant beauty of two giants performing  in the very same room at the very same time - it's the recording in 1976 of Schumann's masterful "Dichterliebe,"  sung by the legend Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, with, believe it or not, Vladimir Horowitz at the piano. And so -  just listen...
Jacqueline du Pre, at age seventeen, in her introduction to the history of music, had already given to the world in her first public performance a sound emanating from her 'cello that was already world-class. Later on, her recording of that same masterpiece, the Elgar Concerto, was given us and to posterity.
What a tragedy - a career of  just a  handful of years; and then, the deadly disease that took her from us at age 42-  where would this phenomenon have taken herself had she lived on?
Mikhail Pletnev is one of Mother Russia's piano titans of our day, and has thrilled audiences throughout the world with his wondrous color vocabulary and pyrotechnique. A truly welcome contribution to the holiday is his luminous and scholarly adherence to the   Tchaikovsky orchestration, in a piano transcription of "The Nutcracker."  Pletnev's brilliance in his creation makes it sound, veritably, as if Tchaikovsky could very well have written every note that you hear as a keyboard entity, rather than for the orchestra.
In 1928, after hearing the 24 year  old  Horowitz perform his 3rd Piano Concerto, Rachmaninoff asserted that he would never perform this work again in public. It was as if Rachmaninoff had been cast into the same mode of  regarding the sensational young pianist as was the author Hilton, who once remarked that "if a person were born deaf. and later given one hour of hearing, that person would have been well advised to spend that hour listening to Horowitz."
And yet, there is a recording that Rachmaninoff made of the 3rd Concerto many years later, just a few years before he passed away. During that period, the great Russian composer/pianist recorded his other works for piano and orchestra with the Philadelphia Symphony. We are indeed blessed to be able to hear these recordings. They are easily available.
So; do enjoy these little contributions during the holiday!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

For Your Christmas, Just a Short List of Defining Videos to Search For...

I thought that I should apprise you of a few videos of great musicians that  may nicely add to the usual pleasures of the Season:

If you can get hold of  the video of  Richter, the legendary Russian pianist (called "Richter- the Enigma"), there is a performance of the C# Chopin Etude in the Opus 10 that will positively  bowl you over. You may well ask "how is it possible??". Enough said - judge for yourself.

Whatever you may think of  the ways of Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli, as regards some of his interpretations, search for a video made in Milan in, I  believe, 1962, and simply exult in the quicksilver sounds that this man could produce that are in evidence even  in a video made so many years ago. It's an all-Chopin recital, which includes his omnipresent black  handkerchief and a positively luminescent reading of the Andante Spianato.
I wonder - was this genius ever known to smile?

Although produced in 1977, this video of the great 'cellist Piatigorgsky  must have been made years before.
Besides the marvelous playing here, perhaps equal in historical import is that you see him play the Largo from the  Chopin  'Cello Sonata,  one of only  nine compositions we know of that Chopin wrote that included something along  with the piano. What makes this video even more  'rare' is that a giant among the great accompanists plays with him.  His name was Ralph Berkowitz.

A video of the career of David Oistrakh begins with his playing  of the cadenza of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. I have seen it several times, and I continue to be positively stunned. For me, this particular moment in time  is a moment without parallel.
Again-judge for yourself!