Thursday, February 25, 2016

Miklos Rozsa - More Than a Movie Composer...

During my elementary school days, my Dad presented a record album to me with the music from the movie "Jungle Book." This was not the Disney version, but the original  1942 version by the Korda brothers, which faithfully represented the Rudyard  Kipling story. For reasons undecipherable to me at the time, I became quite attached to the music, listening to it as often as my listening to  Mozart, Beethoven etc.  Later on, I got to understand why this particular movie music attracted me essentially as much as my listening to a Chopin Polonaise or a Beethoven Rondo; and that was my looking into the life and attainments of the composer.
Miklos Rozsa had become well known, to be sure, as a composer of movie classics such as "Spellbound" or "Ben-Hur" during the middle of the 20th century, and recordings of these movies became best-sellers; however, one might be reminded that Rozsa wrote music that was performed by such great conductors as Charles Munch and Bruno Walter.
Additionally, it should be known that Rozsa received commissions by a number of the leading concert  performers of the day, such as  the great 'cellists Janos Starker and Gregor Piatigorsky.
None other than the dominating violinist of those times, Jascha Heifetz, commissioned Rozsa to write for him. These compositions were not just written. They were indeed performed by these giants. It's quite obvious that Rozsa's music attracted and impressed these men.
And now you know why his music attracted me as a youngster, even though I was too young to synthesize the reasons for such an attraction.
Finally, as I think of it,  I do recall that every time I saw a movie with music written by Miklos Rozsa, I could invariably identify the writer before the credits were shown on the screen - - I can recall that sense of triumph when his name appeared.
Ah, those evanescent triumphs of youth!


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Defining Moments in Arts History - All Coming Out of Train Rides...

Honneger's unique portrayal of a train ride("Pacific 231")   occupied my thoughts for a brief time the other day, followed by a recording   I remember hearing, with Honegger himself conducting. The recording, going back to the late 'twenties, was  one of my earlier memories. I really should get back to listening to it once again.
At any rate, it led to my thinking of other train rides that are connected to the arts, and three were scraped out of the bottom of my memory box:
On a train ride between New York and Boston, the composer George Gershwin became aware of a  pattern of rhythms emanating from the train wheels on the tracks. And in a manner not at all clear to those of us in the arts, that particular 'imagery' became the catalyst of the composition that  set the history of music on a new course; namely, the "Rhapsody in Blue."  Gershwin  himself was the bearer of this  event.
On a train ride from New York to Hollywood, Walt Disney  was discussing his cartoon character Oswald the Rabbit with his wife, and  mentioned to her that he wanted to come up with another animal character for his expanding lexicon. After a brief period of time, Mrs. Disney just happened to suggest "how about a mouse?"
Thus was born Mickey Mouse.
Many years later; in 1968, to be exact, I was on a train bound for New York, having been invited to a recording to be made at Carnegie Hall for a performance to be broadcast later on that year on world television. Everyone in that audience had been invited to attend; therefore it  was a closed affair, with no publicity attached.  To  state  that I was in an extreme state of excitement is to understate. I remember veritably every mile of that trip, even remembering the contents of the newspaper I had picked up in the train station before boarding. That newspaper was chock full of the horrors of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
The concert? Oh, it just happened to be the first television appearance of Vladimir Horowitz...


Friday, February 12, 2016

My Sole Excursion Into The Art of Virtuosic Performance -Would the Original Composer Have Smiled (Or Laughed?)

 In my earlier days, I made a point of performing often in public, which I  took considerable enjoyment from. Some of the works were of considerable difficulty - I remember, particularly, playing such compositions as the "Dumka" of Tchaikovsky; or the Liszt "Funerailles;" or the seventh sonata of Prokofiev. I used these three quite often, during my time in Germany.
It was, in fact, during that period when the thought crossed my mind to consider constructing a transcription, which, of course, is a form of music that more often than not 'shows off' the physical technique of the performer; the prime examples in our time are, to be sure, the fabled transcriptions of Vladimir Horowitz.
And so, after a time of consideration, I decided to build a transcription on the popular "Sailor's Dance" from the "Red Poppy " of Gliere.  I dove into the project with a palpable degree of elan, producing all kinds of  'bells and whistles' such as dashes of cross-hand playing and cascading octaves, with the necessary piccolo parts glittering across the landscape above the melody  etc. etc., ending the piece with all of the thunder I could cajole out of simultaneous use of large chords coupled with the correct addendum of the pedal a millisecond after the final chord was administered in, of course, the key of "a" minor; one of the piano's more 'comfortable'  physical locations.
The transcription was well-received, and I found that on certain occasions I would be called upon to perform it in informal situations.
And now you know of my one invasion of the vaunted atmosphere of the Virtuoso.
It WAS fun, even though the entire experience  must have lasted about only a year or so.


Friday, February 5, 2016

David Bowie and the Baroque(?)

When I heard the opening of Bowie's final album, titled "Blackstar," I almost immediately began an aural analysis  of the harmonies he employed(something I did not expect to undergo), simply because of the paucity  of the harmonic choices he made. From the beginning of the music, the imagery dealt around two chords; namely, the sub-dominant with lowered third followed by the dominant within the key he chose. With the occasional entry of Bowie's voice and these two harmonies, followed by the ensuing expansion(still limited) of both the harmonic language and his vocal message, I realized that, for me,  I was listening to Bowie's use of Minimalism, which we hear in the two masters of that form, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich.
Fusion of the machinations of a Rock giant and these two powerful composers?
Then came my realization that Bowie and Glass knew one another, and were in conversations  from time to time. That, plus the 'Low' Symphony by Glass, based upon Bowie's "Low" recording,  and Glass in his unabashed  recognition of David Bowie as a major creative Voice.
Which took me back to  two terms emanating from both the Middle and High Baroque periods; namely, Passacaglia and Chaconne, both rather interchangeable, in that these terms signify decided limitation on  usage of material by employing either a bass(called Ground Bass) consisting of a constantly repeated statement, or a constantly repeated harmonic expression -  in either case, the music born of these kinds of circular direction is what we hear as a composition. Bach and the great English composer  Purcell championed the use of these designs, which persist past the Baroque period, through Brahms, in his fourth symphony, and the magnificent Chaconne he brought forward.
Minimalism, for me, stems from the Baroque, with its Passacaglia and Chaconne, because of the conscious efforts of the composer to purposely employ limited material in order  to form a complete idea.
Obviously, Bowie, in his contacts with Glass, must have discussed the process of Minimalism.
What I wonder about is the question:
Was Bowie aware of the connection between the works of Glass, and the tap roots of Minimalism stemming from  the purposeful  limitation of material  as projected by the composers of the Baroque?
By the way, I find Bowie to be a powerful projector  of his message in his final  incarnation, and am deeply impressed by his gifts.