Saturday, April 30, 2016

Brahms and Mendelssohn - From a Different Place...

My first action in this blog is to state my illimitable admiration  for and unabashed admiration of Glenn Gould. I need to be perfectly clear about this, as the following reactions on my part are  in no way any  forms of criticism;  only consternation  and  a measure of confusion:
A few days ago, I finally got to hear some of the works  of Brahms and Mendelssohn as recorded by Gould. I can only wonder if any of you out there have ever undergone the same reactions  I underwent upon listening to his readings.
The reactions were specifically the same with both the Brahms (late Brahms) and Mendelssohn (a  number of the Songs Without Words).
In all cases, the playing was truly wonderful. The beauty of the melodic line and the attendant harmonic positioning  were  utterly delicious. No one I know of could play the instrument better than this  enormously gifted  musician.
But, the wonderful flow of Mendelssohn, for me, was stultified by a sense of indifference leading essentially  from one state of diffluence to another; almost a feeling of 'ho-hum', without boredom - as if there was no nesting upon completion of a statement - all attended to by ravishing piano playing.
Almost as glib, if you will, or adroit as the wonderful ease Mendelssohn demonstrated, second only to Mozart, in the writing down of an idea.
As for Brahms; the overly expansive, almost dilatory manners of expression whenever there was a climactic phase of the music made me rather uncomfortable and left me  rather firmly in mid-air.
And; again- like the writing of the composer, who totally unlike a Mendelssohn or a Mozart, took much time to labor over so many of his ideas. Did you know that Wagner sneeringly derided Brahms as "that prophylactic composer" - was his reasoning the same as mine, or simply the music itself?  For example; months required for some of the late pieces to be completed; or, somewhere between 14 and 20 years to complete his first symphony(again! a reminder that I am a great lover of Gould, of Brahms, of Mendelssohn).
I have never undergone reactions like this; all in one day - have any of you?
Was it something I ate??


Friday, April 22, 2016

Genius Forgotten - Three Musicians in Obscurity...

When doing studies in Germany, much of my time there was in Frankfurt am Main, which contains  two musical  treasures; one, the Hoch Conservatory. One of the notables on its faculty was Clara Wieck Schumann, wife of the legendary composer, and, arguably, the most powerful woman pianist of her time. The other is the Three Kings Church, which houses a wonderful organ which I actually played on during my brief time with its organist, Helmut Walcha. By the way, Frankfurt also is the home of the Palmengarten, which I used as a practice base when I did a tour for the Amerika Haus group during my studies (see  my blog on the Palmengarten).
About Helmut Walcha - a miracle in human form. Blind from childhood, he was one of few organists who had consigned every known organ work by Bach to memory, and was a master of  other Baroque composers as well. I, at one time, had summoned enough courage to ask him about his method of learning. Of course, Braille was the primary course of action. He then stated that another process he used was for his wife to play the music he wished to learn - imagine!
And about Henryk Szeryng - a violinist who should be remembered; but is essentially  not, sadly. He once played for a fellow Pole we all remember; Artur Rubinstein, of course, who declared that "this man moved me to tears." Both Rubinstein and Szeryng performed in various recitals. This violinist commanded international attention for years, but his name is unfortunately consigned to a state of relative obscurity in this new century.
Lastly; about Albert Grumiaux - another violinist, who, like Szeryng, is  not generally known  or remembered  these days. Just listen to his playing of Beethoven or Bach, and  your first reaction might well be "why is this man not remembered??"
Finally, I would invite you to search out recordings of these two violinists in performance with Helmut Walcha, who also was a master of the harpsichord. And do listen to  recordings of  Walcha on the organ, mostly done on the organ at Three Kings Church in Frankfurt. It brings back many vivid memories for me - why not share them with you?


Friday, April 15, 2016

Johann Sebastian Bach and Art Tatum - How Does One Prioritize(if at all)When Listening To and/or Studying These Two?

Bach maintains his stance, of course, as one of the great powers  in the process of musical composition. For centuries the world has continued its orbit around the amalgamating  gifts of this man, who is the quintessential entity coming out of the late Renaissance by way of the miracles he produced in polyphony, which are so intrinsic a part of both instrumental and vocal creations we have become so familiar with. The Fugue, for instance - how many of us are aware that when a Beethoven or a Schumann utilizes fugal technique, the stylistic  'seepage' of the late Baroque becomes evident? It simply cannot be avoided. Samuel Barber, in mid-twentieth century, does very deftly give us an example of  extrication from this dilemma by utilizing jazz-like rhythms in his marvelous fugue in the piano sonata.
And so, it makes sense for one to consider the process of counterpoint first when we consider or listen to Bach. Certainly, no other composer exceeded the attainment level in the horizontal imagery of this master.
 However, a gentle prod serving as a reminder to the incalculable powers contained within his harmonic vocabulary might be in the over 200 chorale   harmonizations existing. In teaching harmonic analysis over the years, I used, and continue to use dozens of  Bach's chorales as  certification that this giant's harmonic visions were every bit the equal of his multi-voiced creations. Even today, I  become open-mouthed (metaphorically!) when I think of some of his truly prescient devices to create tension and release within the harmonic scheme of things, such as, for instance, the use of the leading tone and the tonic it moves to; but simultaneously. And so forth...
I often think of Art Tatum when I am immersed in the Bach experience, and for the same kind of reasoning:
When one thinks of Tatum, the first traditional reaction tends to  be   one's becoming mesmerized   by   the unequaled brilliance of his finger technique and resulting protraction of  extemporized  patterns - the same reaction, in linear tradition, to the polyphonic magic of Bach.
But, then, go to Tatum's harmonic  preferences  he adds to "Over the Rainbow."
We all are  familiar with the simple harmonies originally connected to this tune.
But listen to what Tatum does to (or for)a simple  tune; what Bach did for the transparent line  of the chorale - a direct parallel. Or, become seduced by the uses of  his  roaming modulations in another originally simple tune as "Tea for Two." Horowitz himself was totally won over by this arrangement.
Whether or not you agree with my  personal parallels between these two  musicians from worlds totally remote from one another, I hope that you will have had some fun in sharing your time with me...


Friday, April 8, 2016

The Great Artist , Numbers, Great Attainments - What a Melange!...

The other day, numbers  connected with Man's first encounter with the tiny planet   Pluto crossed my path, and those numbers positively staggered me:
The space journey of the vehicle took nine and a half years, reaching the realm of Pluto last summer. For those nine and a half years, the speed averaged around 35,000 miles per hour and completed its journey some ninety seven seconds before schedule. Some of the photos taken of   Pluto were within 8000 miles  of the Solar System's furthest known planet.
Shortly after a period of shaking my head in reaction to this attainment, I began to assemble other numbers that  are products of where the powers of the mind can take us from time to time.
Some of these numbers I have used in previous blogs, and others are  new, which I thought might add to and enhance the world of wonder; in this particular blog, the Artist:
How about Anthony (Antoon) Van Dyke, the great Flemish artist? There are some early works, done around age ten, that tell us of his immense gift. He had become one of Europe's most sought-after portraitists before reaching age 20.
What about Giovanni Pergolesi, the early writer of Opera Buffa (comic opera), who was the most important progenitor  of this form of vocal art? He died at age 26.
What of Handel's experience with his "Messiah?" The 259 pages which were required to house this immortal work came into being in only about 24 days, with a sensationally small number of errors so noted by the composer upon first perusal after completion.
Mozart's last three symphonies having been written in about nine weeks, as I had recently noted in another blog, should not be overlooked. This miracle in the shape of a child wrote his first symphony at age 8 or 9, with his first oratorio about 3 years later.
And Mendelssohn had already written a couple of short  'sonatas' at age 10. Seven years later he gave us  "Midsummer  Night's  Dream" after reading Shakespeare . Isn't it rather revealing that Grove himself wrote of this work by a teenager as"the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music" - and this statement  AFTER Mozart?
Franz Schubert - over 1500 works that we know of ; more than 600 works alone for voice and piano; 6 masses; 17 operas that we know of... dead at age 31.
Domenico Scarlatti -  About 550 Sonatas (he named them 'exercises'), which he began submitting  to paper in 1738(age, 53...)
Alan Hovhaness wrote about 43 symphonies AFTER age 60. His catalog  of symphonies gives  numbers of 67-70. We know of some 500 works by this 20th century composer.
Finally; for now, a statement made by the most demanding musician known to me; specifically Arturo Toscanini, who almost never  spoke of any musician as he spoke of Guido Cantelli, whose promise as a conductor was shattered by his being killed in a plane crash:
"This is the first time in my long life that I have met a young man  so gifted."
Toscanini was never told about the death of this young man, whom he loved.
Thought that I should share with you the attainment levels and sentiments of some of the giants among us, each of whom made the kind of journey that parallels  the miracle of  last summer's  journey to a place  that averages out to some three billion miles from the sun.
Some years ago, scientists hurled a time capsule into space - included in its contents is  some Bach played by Glenn Gould -  where, at this moment, is the capsule? Will Gould's  message be heard? And, if so, will we ever receive acknowledgement of the event?