Friday, July 22, 2016

"Sights and Sounds" - Just Some Thoughts Swirling Around These Two Sources of Imagery...

This morning one of my pedagogical ventures came back to me; namely, a course I put together and taught at both high school and college levels. It was given the title " Sights and Sounds," which was an interdisciplinary venture  combining music and a number of  other subjects;  and spending, say, a week or so  in fusion form in order to enhance the total: for example, I might invite the head of the English department to spend two or  three sessions  on Shakespeare, after which I would offer Elizabethan music for the next sessions in order to bring into greater focus the 'flavor' of that period in history.
Other subjects, such as  physics,  or math, would  become involved in the same linear format. It turned out to be a quite popular way of  projecting added perspective to the object of examination.
Which  brought me to thinking about some documentaries produced over a half century ago, dealing with some aspects of World War II, and the music written for these productions.
One was a description of the conflict in Burma and India, and the intense struggle between the adversaries in  one of the world's most hostile and disease-ridden locations.And how tense and dark the music was, in order to complete a lurid picture of those times. And the composer? How many of us remember Elie Siegmeister, whose music was of a stature that attracted conductors like Toscanini and Stokowski  to perform some of his work. Some thought that he was the equal to Aaron Copland,, a far better known composer.
And other composers of stature, such as Darius Milhaud and George Auric, two gifted composers of the Post-Impressionist period, belonging to  the powerful 'Les Six?' They wrote for the same series, dealing with subjects such as Erwin Rommel, or the Danish Resistance fighters. Auric wrote the music for the acclaimed picture, "Moulin Rouge," the story of the artist Toulouse-Lautrec. And  the primary pop tune in the movie "Where Is  Your Heart" became  a long-standing  hit. Milhaud taught for a period on the West Coast, where he encountered a promising student named Dave Brubek.
I remember them well, as a young man - for all I know, they may well have influenced my thoughts enough about the  fusion of sight and sound,  in order to bring  that little class I taught into reality.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Pianist This Writer Had Forgotten About(!)...

About a week ago, a family member brought up the name of a musician, in general conversation, which caused a severe case of personal embarrassment  to me and my purported powers of retention.
The name - Menahem Pressler. Within a second or two, I clapped a hand to my forehead (metaphorically, that is) and gave myself a solid spate of scolding. I don't believe that I have ever included Pressler as a subject of one of my almost 680 blogs, for which I apologize.
Among his many accomplishments is  his being a founding portion of the acclaimed Beaux Arts Trio, which began back in 1955, and performed for the final time in  2008  .
He is an acknowledged pedagogue, having  won the hearts and minds of many  young people making a bid to enter the field.
Above all, however, is the level of attainment having been realized while in his teens, and which  has been maintained to this day;  a reality  truly remarkable.   Menahem Pressler is entering his 93rd  year.
Picture a gentleman coming on stage with a cane, often supported by someone in his entourage, and slowly lowering himself onto the bench or chair. Of course, the physical technique has been diminished, and he appears a bit smaller now.
But the magic remains. Within the narrowing dimensions of a world-class repertoire, the message is still given to his listener.
Years ago, I had pretty well been of self-assurance that Artur Rubinstein, who gave his final recital at age 89, would have reached an age  not to be surpassed,  at such a level.
However, even though Pressler never reached the heights of a Rubinstein, he was and continues to be among the world's more distinguished  musicians - at age 92.
Imagine - escape as a youngster  from Nazi Germany's Night of Broken Glass in 1938, with a number of his family engulfed by the Holocaust, to his present place as a patrician among fellow musicians -
My apologies to a gentleman I promise not to forget, a second time...


Monday, July 4, 2016

On America's Day of National Recognition - A Wrench in the Spokes of Stravinsky's Wheel??...

Of course, today's date serves America its  annual reminder as an elemental and  historically redolent celebration  of the 240th year of its existence. This nation becomes  a kind of boiling-pot on this date; of fireworks, the hot dog, and parades, with a warm glance at the military veteran who has and continues to be an elemental part of our brief history.
When I consider the meaning of this date each year, constantly changing images emerge;everything
from the first fragile days, through the Civil War, Slavery, Reconstruction, the Industrial Revolution etc.etc.
Interestingly; how this year I've been re-hashing some of the musical chapters that have been  written into my personal  'book' that came about as reactors to  such 'things'  American, as,  - how about Jazz?
One rather odd incident occurred in 1944 in Boston.  Odd, because the Central Figure was not an American; rather, a gentleman from Mother Russia - his name, Igor Stravinsky. He had just completed the first of his(I believe)four harmonic versions of the  Star Spangled Banner. His primary reason for undertaking this project was no more than making it less  difficult to sing it, as he thought that it was too ungainly, in its traditional harmonic garb, to sing well. And so, he embarked upon some subtle harmonic changes (including a secondary dominant 7th !) in order for, in his opinion, the anthem to be sung with more 'naturalness' by way of the harmonic changes he introduced. On a particular day, his arrangement was to be performed, but some rather disturbed leaders in Boston  circles arranged to have some police confront the composer with a warning that a statute, passed in the legislature  during  the period of World War I, stating that  a fine would be imposed if the national anthem was tampered with. Actually, that statute merely warned not to use the anthem as either an exit march, or any background to dancing of any sort.
This "tempest in a teapot " disturbed the great composer, who during this period was lecturing at Harvard, as I recall.
The upshot: there are several recordings of Stravinsky's version of the anthem, including one replete with chorus. So much for that...
Other nods to Americanism in music would include Stravinsky  being commissioned by the legendary bandleader Woody Herman to write for Big Band. The music is titled "Ebony Concerto"(do refer to my Sept. 21, 2013 blog for more info).
Equally impressed by America's contribution to the language of music were such notables as Ravel and Debussy - and how about Russia's  love affair with Gershwin's folk opera "Porgy and Bess?"
And I could go on...


Friday, July 1, 2016

George Gershwin and WHO??? - How Some Puzzles Form and Create Human History...

For a reason I will never be given an answer to, a name popped up; one I had not thought of since my high school days. To begin:
Kilenyi?  Yes indeed; Kilenyi..... I pondered for a number of seconds; then - of course! Edward Kilenyi, who captivated my young ears with his playing, especially of Chopin and some Beethoven!
HOW did I remember him? I cannot at all remember whether it was a live recital; or a recording or two;  or was it a visit to Eastman, where he might have  played for someone informally? I simply cannot recall. But his playing  captured me for, I think, a brief period.  And nothing more - except that what at present has come   to mind, now that I know a little more  than I did then, all kinds of pieces to a puzzle that began with the young Edward Kilenyi -  tidbits that I haven't thought about since my young days:
Kilenyi's father, Edward Senior, was himself a strong musician, both in performance and in teaching, and I believe that there may be some recordings of him extant, as I  do know exist of his son.
Which brings in George Gershwin, who studied piano, harmony  and some  composition with  Kilenyi Sr.  for some time, as well as piano   with Charles Hambitzer, another well-known teacher of that period. According to George's surviving brother, Ira, Kilenyi and Hambitzer had a rather profound influence on the young genius, and, to me, this  begins a  part of some  disagreement with the still existing argument on the   part of some that Gershwin's genius overpowered the paucity of his musical education, and that  he triumphed in spite of his rather sizeable   lack of knowledge of the arcane force called Music.
Actually, even though Gershwin dropped out of high school, he sought out various teachers before the life  of fame  began at about age 21 with his tune "Swanee."
He  studied the Schillinger Method with Joseph Schillinger himself, along with counterpoint.  Gershwin also studied with composers Henry Cowell and Rubin Goldmark, and sought out such giants as Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky, let alone Schoenberg himself, all three of whom refused, primarily for the same reason; namely, "why get in the way of, and possibly impede the innate genius of this new young force?" Another giant Gershwin sought out for sessions in composition was Nadia Boulanger, who accepted him for a few lessons, then  ended them, fearing that both powerful composers and pedagogues could squelch and ultimately damage the purity of Gershwin's emerging language.
Encapsulation: Even though many experts felt that Gershwin's lack of  formal expertise  in composition was common knowledge, and that this kind of groundless thinking  lasted well into the end of the preceding century - well, this fallacious stance has finally been pretty well  quelled.
By the way, did you know that Gershwin and Schoenberg played tennis almost weekly, as both used the sport as a complete diversion from their creative worlds? Both composers became great friends, and Schoenberg was deeply affected by the untimely death of the American phenomenon.  There is a brief home movie (around 1937), filmed by Gershwin and his newly acquired movie camera, which contains delightful views of Schoenberg and his wife, which very clearly demonstrates the  depth of friendship these two men held  for each other. In a moving tribute after Gershwin's passing, Schoenberg called Gershwin "a great composer" and enumerated the reasons  germane to this revealing encomium. I have a photograph of Schoenberg, one of the giants that helped create  the immense transitional period we call the 20th century, relaxing on one of those cloth folding chairs in the Gershwin back yard at one of their many garden parties. Also do look at Gershwin's painting of Arnold Schoenberg. Do be reminded that George Gershwin was also  a gifted painter, and I'm quite sure that one can get to see an exhibit of his paintings at given times.
Imagine! All of the above coming out of the name Kilenyi! - Wonder what other delights still lurk in my now  grizzled  memory bank?