Friday, May 27, 2016

A Constant Companion in the World of the Arts - Speculation...

For a brief period, I experienced an exchange of letters with the celebrated presidential historian Stephen Ambrose (remember his ending his letters with"happy trails," which I had mentioned in a previous  blog?). In one of his letters he speculated that if Hitler had defeated the Americans in the Battle of the Bulge by wresting the port of Antwerp from the Allies,  Stalin might well have considered forging a treaty with Hitler, in a final stage of exasperation, after all the bloodshed these two tyrants had caused against one another.
I had always been fascinated by Ambrose having indulged in historical speculation, but I've  since found out that this process is utilized as a kind of 'game' by many historians; probably as a source of
enhancement of the historical process through perspective.
I find myself, occasionally,  pursuing the 'game' of speculation, more for relaxation than anything else. For instance: what if Mozart had  lived  another twenty years, returning after 1788, his final symphonic year as we know it, to the writing  of symphonies after the "Jupiter?"  Would we know Beethoven today in a different form?
Or; What if Brahms had not destroyed ( mostly through burning) a number of his works he wanted to disavow ? Would we now be listening to more of his creations today?
Or, What if Gershwin had lived to be, say, 58 (he died at age 38)? Would Bernstein have been a different Bernstein today?
Obviously, there will never be an answer to any speculative query.
And so, may I invite you to   play the 'game ' with me by adding to the list below?

What if Bernstein had been so affixed to his "Jeremiah" symphony, written so soon after his Harvard days, that all of his creative energies were to  follow in the same line, without a thought of Broadway?
And no "West Side Story?" or "On the Town?"
What if Beethoven had not become deaf? Would  the greatness have taken a different direction?
And the following list of artists, whose greatness was a reality;  or yet to certify as greatness;  or, if at all?
Dinu Lipatti - dead due to  Hodgkin disease   at age 33.
William Kappell -  killed in a plane crash at age 31.
Michael Rabin - died of injuries in a fall at age 35.
Vincent Van Gogh - a suicide at age 37.
Giovanni Pergolesi - died of an illness at age 26.
Guido Cantelli - killed in a plane crash at age 36.
Alexei Sultanov - died of a series of strokes at age 35.
Ginette Neveu -  killed in a plane crash at age 30.
Julius Katchen - dead of cancer at age 42.
How different would our sense of "now" be than it is?
No answer, of course, can be available.
But, I cannot deflect from wondering, at times...
I invite you to add to my list, which, of course, is partial!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Coming Greatness? Two Violinists Pretty Well Forgotten...

In writing last week about three pianists relegated to  relative  obscurity,  I was also thinking of two violinists who are , as well, placed  in the shadows  of historical remembrance. And so, do allow me to project their names out to you,  in the event that they have not crossed your paths:
Both were French;  the woman,  Ginette Niveu. The man, Christian Ferras.
To aid in putting their names into the modality of reality, consider:
In the case of Niveu - debut at age 5.
Two years later, performing the Bruch "G" minor Concerto.
At age 15 or 16, participating in a competition in Warsaw, beating out a young violinist named David Oistrakh.
The ultimate tragedy  - killed at age 30 in a plane crash bound for Paris, which also took her brother along with one of France's best known athletes, Marcel Cerdan.
Some recording highlights include works of Ravel, Beethoven and Brahms.
In the case of Ferras - A violinist who attained recognition quickly and adroitly enough to number the likes of Heifetz among his admirers.
Worked with and performed  compositions of Enesco.
Recorded the Bach two violin Concerto with Menuhin.
Played with Casals.
Recorded with Von Karajan.
Committed suicide at age 49, after a life-long struggle with depression.
Recordings to listen to include works of Beethoven,  Brahms,  Ravel and Bach.
Why not listen to these two, and judge for yourselves?


Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Interruption: An Error in My Most Recent Blog...

With apologies,  I hasten to point out an error in my blog of last week in the depicting of three forgotten pianists.
One of my former students and now an accomplished violinist and distinguished  educator  in Europe, Ricardo Odriozola,  contacted me and gently informed me that I had  inserted the name "Borodin,"  rather than  "Balakirev."
 Do please forgive!


Friday, May 13, 2016

Occasional Greatness? I Sometimes Wonder - Three Pianists Remembered...

On one fine day during my young years, my piano teacher described one of the  most daunting pieces written in the 19th century for the piano by a Russian composer  I, up to that time, had never heard of. That description was so intriguing to me that I decided to purchase the music and learn it on my own.
When my first gaze at the jungle of notes had registered, I very sadly decided that I did not possess the weaponry to attempt it, and, with tail between legs, consigned  the piece to a pile of music in the piano bench.
During this period, I became acquainted with the name of a pianist who was gaining fame for his playing of Beethoven and Brahms, and so I began listening to some of the few recordings that he had made, one of which was the Brahms Opus 117 in "B"  flat  - I had recently learned this wonderful piece, and was seduced by the playing of this emerging young  pianist from New Jersey, named Julius Katchen. I got to see him once in concert, which included  the music that I had decided I was not ready for, described in the paragraph above. This piece is titled "Islamey" by Balakirev,  and remains one of the most challenging compositions to this day.  Katchen positively overwhelmed my teen-age consciousness with a crystal-clear exploitation of this jungle of notes which had intimidated me such a short time before this recital. Tragically, Katchen was cut down by cancer in his early  forties.
Another pianist who became a hero of this time period was known by one name;  Solomon,  and had been one of the few pianists of that period  who performed the complete cycle of the Beethoven sonatas,  which mesmerized me during this impressionable time in my development. I remember well my constantly asking the question (to myself, of course), "how can one memorize so much music and still be human?" Solomon suffered a stroke in his fifties while recording the Beethoven Cycle for EMI records, and his career was destroyed.
The third pianist, Simon Barere, was, for me at this time,  one of the most impressive pianists I knew of, what with the likes of Horowitz, Rubinstein and Gieseking at their primes lurking about. His command, both technically and spiritually, moved me essentially as much as the other better- known pianists. One of his recordings which popped up before me was none other than that accursed piece "Islamey," which shed further light upon the increasing number of reasons that this is one piece I should continue to leave alone. In 1951, Barere collapsed on stage of a cerebral hemorrhage in a performance of the Grieg Concerto with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and died  backstage.
One final issue about "Islamey" - it is, of course, a great example of a secondary composer writing so very well for the instrument, but not numbered among the great composers we are so familiar with.
BUT! Do have some  fun by assembling the "Islamey" recordings of :
Julius Katchen, Vladimir Horowitz, Mikhail Pletnev, and Simon Barere. And in this order.
Horowitz and Pletnev are the better known performers, of course. And their legendary powers transport this jungle of notes  to a level expected.
But the transparency of Katchen and the dizzying tempo of Barere make for, in my view, some compelling moments - make your own determination!
To encapsulate:
The names Katchen, Solomon and Barere are pretty much forgotten in this new century, but I am attracted to a level of greatness in the late Brahms of Katchen; the impact of early Romanticism through Beethoven by Solomon: the level of text in Liszt and Beethoven by Barere.
Occasional Greatness?  I continue to ask this question, which was raised in my youth...


Friday, May 6, 2016

The Gimpels - One of the Twentieth Century's Most Highly Acclaimed Families of Musicians,,,

When one thinks of notable talents  in the arts of more than one within a family, we might first think of the Bronte sisters, who demolished the Victorian premise of male superiority in the art of the written word.
Or; perhaps, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn.
How about Wolfgang and his sister Marianne "Nannerl" Mozart? In the Mozart example, one tends to forget that many considered Marianne to be a genius as well. Both she and her younger brother performed extensively as a  pre-teen duo, dazzling audiences wherever they played. She might well have become known throughout Europe, had it not been for two factors; one, the  precocity of  her kid brother, and, the social statements of reality that girls having become women were expected to become wives and mothers first and foremost. She might very well, in our time, have become a Constance Keene or a  Clara Haskil.
Alexander and son  Julian Scriabin - Alexander we know, of course - his transformation from Romantic to Mystic was a 'one-of-a- kind' in the history of the art. But Julian? - dead at  age eleven of an event that remains one of mystery even to this day. His drowning in a river is still a subject of question.
The music he left; just a handful of music for piano, is startlingly unique for one so young. There remains a question of complete authenticity regarding at least some of this music, but there seems to be no doubt as to his veritably Mozartean precocity. You can hear/see some of this music on YouTube.
And do not forget Jose Iturbi and his sister Amparo.
Which comes to my perusal of Jakob and Bronislav Gimpel.
Jakob became a pianist of sufficient stature to accompany the legendary violinist Nathan Milstein on tour. He became known as a pianist of stature throughout the Western cultures, while at the same time his brother was counted by many to be included among the leading violinists of the day. It  is an example of  uniqueness  to witness two brothers performing throughout the world on the same stage at such a high level,
You can also see them on YouTube.
And, of course, there are other examples of the above; however, I trust that this should suffice  for now...