Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Momentary Diversion From Music - Some Great Oddities and Ironies That Remain in My Memory Chest...

Please do forgive for my temporary respite from the usual  musical issues - thought you might have some  moments of interest  with me, as I ruminate over  a few  examples of the fascinating processes we call Irony and Oddity:
Item: Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl -
The only person I know of who worked for both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Sometimes called "Hitler's Pianist" - he performed countless times for the  Nazi leader.
Imagine! - A Harvard graduate, who ate lunches at the Harvard Club, along with a fellow student who becomes, arguably, the most powerful American president of the 20th century. At one time,  Hanfstaengl  became Hitler's Press Secretary; at another time, a confidante of President Roosevelt, filling in the President by way of his connection with and knowledge of the Nazi mind.  Do read about him -  engrossing  story!
Item: Isoroku Yamamoto -
Known, of course, as the planner of the attack on Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II.
He, like the above Hanfstaengl, had been a Harvard student, having been sent  by the Japanese government, and eventually becoming a naval attache in Washington. After having visited the oil producing industry in the southern states, followed by his visiting the dynamic industrial expansion in the north, he  hastened to inform( and warn) the Japanese military upon his return  never to go to war with the United States.  At the same time, Yamamoto's great sense of vision gave form to the conviction that the Day of the Battleship was over; that the future  naval battles would experience their ultimate decisions by way of the airplane. His actions in actually planning war against America must have been somewhat ambivalent - his final actions in preparing for war was his inescapable reality  that he was, after all,  a "son of the Emperor."
His fears and prophesies would become Reality when he was informed during the actual attack on Pearl Harbor that the two American aircraft carriers he thought would be among the targets were actually out at sea; therefore, his prescient statement on that very day which was "all I fear that we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve" tells me that he might have  already seen the consequences of his own vision, which  came to light  only six months after Pearl Harbor;  specifically, Japan's offensive weaponry in the Pacific was permanently  destroyed at Midway  by, yes, the air power of the United States. The result was that  the Japanese could wage  only a defensive war from that time on, resulting in its inescapable defeat in 1945.  Do look this great military visionary up!
Item: A raging Hitler insures his ultimate defeat -
Early in the Battle of Britain, Churchill himself admitted that the air strikes on England's  air fields and radar stations were bringing Britain within weeks of capitulation.
Then, the miracle - During one of  Germany's raids on the British isle, one  bomber mistakenly dropped a bomb load not far from the Thames river in London. Churchill then ordered British bombers to retaliate by bombing Berlin, which had yet  to taste the bitter pill of war directly. Hermann  Goering himself  had declared  in his usual pomposity that "if they ever bomb Berlin, then call me Meyer," referring to his hateful derision of the plight of the Jew in Europe.
Upon hearing of the bombing  of Berlin, Hitler flew into a rage and ordered what became the London Blitz, killing some 40,000 or more Londoners over the next several months. His action averted the final destruction of England's battered defensive structure by diverting his air force to destroy a city instead. This was the first of several fatal  decisions  Hitler promulgated that eventually destroyed him. You can quite probably find material connected to this incident which precipitated The London Blitz.
Item: Juan Pujol -
A young Spanish subject, with veritably no education, but endowed with a fascinating gift for fabrication. To encapsulate:
He became a double agent for Great Britain and Nazi Germany, and totally hoodwinked  German intelligence. For example,  Pujol was officially recognized for his work at Westminster Abbey  during the same period that Nazi Germany bestowed upon him the Order of the Iron Cross.
It was Pujol who facilitated the success  of the Allied invasion of Northern France on D-Day, and relatively few are cognizant of this man and his almost incredible exploits. Do read about him.
Item:The Ardennes - When will one learn from history? Especially recent history?
After the Phony War ended with Hitler's invasion of the West in 1940, the Germans formed a fatal trap by way of a massive operation through the Ardennes, supposedly impenetrable due to heavy forests. This trapped the Allies, who were eventually forced at Dunkirk to escape to England and fight another day.
And on Dec. 16, 1944, with Germany facing defeat from both east and west, Hitler once again, in his final major operation, launched a massive attack with tanks and thousands of troops through, yes, the very same impenetrable  Ardennes at a point where the Allied lines were at their thinnest. Even though Hitler's final attempt failed a month or so later, he  inflicted the heaviest casualties on the Americans suffered throughout the entire conflict, including American casualties at Okinawa(about 12,000 killed). The Ardennes operation took the lives of some 19,000 American troops, so tragically close to the defeat of Nazi Germany just five months away.
What happened to Allied intelligence? Why was military memory so abysmally short-winded?
Do read about this cataclysmic irony.
There are other examples of oddity and irony available, of course; perhaps, another time?
Back to music next time...


Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Living Composer Whose Voice Is Redolent With A Resounding Arsis and Ensuing Sense of Direction and Completion - Listen to This Voice...

After Edvard Grieg? Much indeed; how about Harald Saeverud, who was born a decade before Grieg departed,  and left a treasure of music that has become a vital  portion of the musical legacy given us by Norway?
The reason that I bring up the name of Saeverud, who was one  among a treasure  trove of Norwegian composers, is that his son, Ketil Hvoslef,  one of today's musical treasures, is a source of recognition in increasing measure among Norway's living composers. An irrefutable proof of my assertion is by way of an album of  Hvoslef's music, the  second of eight albums to be made which, I am told,  will give us the chamber music of the composer in its entirety.
I was recently sent this album, and was, to state the least, deeply impressed by the manner of communication he possesses, through singular instrumental combinations, an unremitting sense of humor fused to a line of  incessant and  remarkably clear direction.
Two accordions; eight  flutes; a soprano speaking (somewhere,perhaps, between the worlds of sprechstimme and sprechgesang)  the language of a planet to be named later; percussion  and pianos - just a few of  the  possibilities  brought  to light by this insightful and delightful musical engineer.
A one-of-a-kind composer (a rather important requisite, agreed?).
I loved it -for me, he is one of few composers of our time who has  a wonderfully clear sense of purpose.
I believe the album is now available - I was informed that it can be gotten through
Do get to know the work of this man. Quite candidly, I feel that there is much to gain by those of us  in the 'New World' simply by turning our gaze onto  what is happening to and for the world of music, in Norway...


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Some Memories as a Teacher - Some of the Unexpected Exploits That Enhance My Reminiscences....

During one of my student recitals in my home, one of the performers  played  a Clementi Sonatina. Surprisingly, the Sonatina which was selected  never did 'see' the light of day. This being her first recital, she was so nervous that she performed  a different Sonatina than appeared on the program. Astoundingly, she did not miss a beat, even though upon beginning, she realized  what had been done.  After the recital, she and I shared a laugh or two(to her immense relief).
One of my adult students was known throughout the world of science as one of the pre-eminent engineers in his field, having been Director, for instance, of  construction of a giant radar station somewhere in the Pacific, and a summa  cum laude graduate of M.I.T. He also happened to be an accomplished pianist, and spent many years with me.  One of my choices at a particular time was one of the  great Kabalevsky Sonatas, which he dove into with the greatest  glee, as he loved this composer's piano music. On one night, as he was in the midst of learning the first movement, he played a section he had just learned; a section which contained a key change. When he played through this  newly learned portion, I could scarcely believe what I was hearing - he was playing it  in "B" flat major   -the problem was, that this section was in  "B" major. He, for a reason that was totally unavailable to both him and me, dove into the music and somehow went straight to the notes without seeing the alteration in the key signature. I believe that it constituted the weirdest experience I have ever undergone  in a long career of teaching, especially because the entire section  was played perfectly in a key that Kabalevsky had never contemplated. Do attempt to picture yourself as a fly on the wall of my studio when I gently pointed out to him what he had promulgated. We laughed about this incident for months after this memorable evening.
The  acclaimed composer Alan Hovhaness happened to be a high school graduate in the year 1928, as I recall, of the high school I was teaching in, and we invited him to celebrate the 50th year of his graduation by spending two or three days with us in a "Hovhaness  Jubilee." Hovhaness, living in Seattle at the time, accepted. The result  was an unforgettable experience for all of us on the faculty, but even more of a thrill for the students, as the composer actually conducted the high school orchestra in one of his compositions. During the three  days, students performed his music, with the composer in attendance most of the time. On one occasion, music that the composer had written especially for children was performed at one of the elementary schools. One of my students, aged 8 or 9, happened to be one of the performers, playing a one-pager - what I remember as vividly as his  pristine performance was a remark made directly thereafter; specifically, "that kid certainly played the  living crap out of that piece!"  One of my proudest moments!
At the Longy School, where I taught piano and theory, a particular recital included a student of mine, who  was to perform a piece that I had written for her - of course, any music performed had to be memorized. About a third of the way through, her memory took leave, and she was forced to leave the stage in a moment of personal  torture. As the recital went on, she approached me, and whispered in my ear that she would like to give it another try. She was so upset that she was in tears, most assuredly because she had felt that she had let me down. I thought a moment, and said that I would announce her after the final scheduled piece had been played. To make it brief - I went out on stage, and simply announced that Jill would play the piece. She played  it perfectly and with solid feeling -    the result was resounding applause for her display of strength and personal redemption. I could not have been prouder.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Final Three Symphonies - Mozart's Apotheosis?

In a little over a third of a century, the stamp of Mozart was assembled,  then  applied  indelibly upon the brow of history by way of certification in  "The Magic Flute," the magnificent final statement in his final year. Within the space  of a generation, Mozart's  galvanic powers brought the Classical period  of musical language into stylistic reality and focus sufficient for the stage to be set for the examination of human emotion for its own sake-  we call it Romanticism.
With all of the above, I go back  to the year 1788, three years before his death, in order to witness what I consider a blindingly  unique  configuration of events I find impossible to equal in terms historical:
In a period of about nine weeks, Mozart produced his final three symphonies - these three symphonies appear to represent a  compendium of the core meaning of his language and level of attainment making for the possibility  of the ensuing Romantic Period to take shape.
For me, with full recognition of the importance and impact which his glorious "Magic Flute" bestows upon the ongoing saga of music history, I find myself drawn back to one summer in 1788, which  forever gives the reality of human attainment within the walls of three magnificent structures which give us, for example,  the almost unbelievable probability that the composer never heard a performance of  these  miracles, and at the same time graces us with the Improbable; namely, five-part counterpoint at a time when no such endeavor was expected.
Within the course of speculation, when the last three years; almost a tenth of the composer's life span, appear with no additional symphony, did Mozart assert to himself that  it would be impossible to attempt  another work in that form, simply because he knew  that, for him, the symphonic horizon had been reached?  How intriguing it is to know that a little boy of ten began writing symphonies, lived 0nly thirty five years, and wrote no symphonies from the fall of 1788 to his farewell year of 1791...


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Masterpieces Born of Pure Travail...

My previous blog dealt with the composer Miklos Rozsa, as you may know.  Shortly after writing it, I watched one of the classic movies that Rozsa wrote the music for; namely, "Lost Weekend," a story dealing with alcoholism.
Briefly;  a tale of a young man struggling to write his first novel, then falling under the weight of alcohol addiction.  At one point, it describes the struggle our hero has with the  reality that the imagery of his writing takes flight whenever he emerges from his  bouts of semi-consciousness while under the effects of  'the bottle.'  And so the tragedy is heightened by his losing the powers of  creative imagery when in a lucid state.
As this phase of the movie was described, my thoughts went to two great composers who were beset by the  darkness of drug addiction.
The first who came to mind was the French master of early Romanticism Hector Berlioz, whose  masterpiece "Symphonie fantastique" was a direct product of his struggle with opium. The vast aural expanse of tonal color is the base of the existence this powerful  example of orchestral architecture projects, let alone the frightening struggles which can beset human consciousness, as is given us in the story which catapults the music into existence.
The second composer was the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, arguably the most gifted of the so-called Mighty Five, who murdered himself at age 42 by way of alcoholism.
Toward the end of his brief life, and firmly held in the grips of the horror that had enslaved his existence, Mussorgsky ground out his "Pictures at an Exhibition."  The sudden death of his friend Viktor Hartmann, the enormously gifted young artist, propelled the composer to enter that dark field of self- annihilation for what turned out to be the final time, during which his "Pictures" was born.
In his "Fantasia,"  Disney uses "Night on Bald Mountain" of Mussorgsky  to project, through animation, that evil evening, replete with horrible creatures scattering about  in various forms of grotesquerie  - Disney gives us, in wondrous brilliance, one of his best examples of  abstract animation, and very well may have captured the  terrible  fears that  engulfed  Mussorgsky while writing his best-known work.
I have a copy of the composer's original manuscript of  "Pictures," which, sadly, bears some testimony to the state of mind of  Mussorgsky; namely, the kinds of errors that are shown.
Imagine!- a measure in six/eight time, containing the wrong number of beats... or, a section of the Promenade theme, with almost  every note preceded by a #, rather than his simply writing a key-signature of 6 #'s, which was the key this section was in.
And half a dozen  errors or strange notation before one gets  past the first few pages.
All this simply because Miklos Rozsa wrote the the music to a movie I had just seen!
Incidentally(this  event may be the only time it occurred), in 1945, Rosza was given Academy Award nominations for two movies he wrote for that year; one being the picture  mentioned in this blog, "Lost Weekend," the other "Spellbound." .
Rozsa lost to himself, as "Spellbound" was the movie which won the Academy Award for the music written.