Thursday, September 29, 2016

Two Piano Giants of the Past - Simply a Gentle Prod...

History is, arguably, the most fragile and vulnerable of our intellectual pursuits. To explain: which subject is more prone to Revisionism? In and of itself, this  subject is prone to being both short legged and short winded in constancy.
This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation, and a perusal of music history  will always result in the need for a gentle wake-up call for remembrance, in the cases of musical legends that need a prod of recall:
Take the  attainments of, say, one Geza  Anda, a Hungarian pianist.
His patrician views of Brahms or vocalizing  of the language of Mozart constitute lessons to be learned. From my perch, I cannot imagine a higher bar of artistic  endeavor and result.
And his Chopin is, to me, a revelation surpassed in a form of  intensity,  by no other.
And a technique that lends such a unique level of sophistication to Liszt that is not expected -
Or, what about that  lady  from Romania, Clara Haskil?
Whenever I hear her Mozart, it's almost as if  she had been performing before actually starting - the feeling that the music had already  started before the first note was heard by the rest of us. I have never experienced  such a seamless approach to that master's piano music. Haskil's view of the Romantic is, as well, a case for  a personal side of communication that makes for an image of a pianist performing for one human being, rather than an audience.
And, thanks to a happy course of events, one can hear a recording of Anda and Haskil performing a Bach two-keyboard Concerto.
I know that many of you are familiar, at least  to a degree, with these two  titans.
But, for those who are not, why not enhance the beauty of indelible Truth always lying in wait for discovery, by listening to names having receded into the shadows?
There are so many ways to enhance our day...


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gershwin and Feinstein - a Reminder of the Immortal Bond Formed by the Two...

It began almost a century ago and continues this very day,  in  the recordings of one of America's most valued performers.
It begins with  a boy growing up  on the streets of New York, who receives that call from within, at around  age ten, after hearing  a violinist, to enter that magical world of a language without words.  One of his early tunes, called "Swanee" catapulted George Gershwin  to fame in his early twenties. In his 26th year he alters the course of music history with his "Rhapsody in Blue" - why go on? The rest is, as they say, History. Our American Mozart (both dying in their thirties) visits us for a brief period, and leaves an indestructible imprint.
A young man of about twenty is introduced to George Gershwin's older brother, Ira, some forty or so years later. He is employed by Ira to catalogue the vast collection of records  the Gershwin family had amassed. This young man remained about six more years, having become, essentially, a kind of  student of  the Gershwin legacy, and he remains, arguably, the  most valued Gershwin historian of our time. The man, of course, is Michael Feinstein, who is , I believe, around sixty years of age.  Feinstein's wonderful recordings of the tunes of Gershwin constitute, in my view, the import of  his connection with the Gershwin experience, and the ongoing reality of the miracle formed by the fusion of the music by George and the lyrics  by brother Ira in these immortal tunes - there is no parallel in the history of the Great American Songbook.
I recently paired some of the Gershwin tunes, sung by Feinstein, Ella Fitzgerald and Cleo Laine, with piano transcriptions of these tunes, written and  recorded by the great American pianist Earl Wild. It is one of my favorite personalized CD's. Do look for some of these absolutely breathtaking  piano transcriptions. I'm sure that Gershwin himself would have been flattered by Wild's encomium to one of America's greatest possessions;  a boy growing up on  the streets of New York, dropping out of school at age 15...


Thursday, September 15, 2016

An Ongoing Miracle Through the Powers of Music...

I sometimes wonder if there are those  reading my blogs who either know of  similar experiences  that replicate the experience I am about to relate, or are themselves a  part of such an event? To go on:
This is the story, in  brief form, of four students of mine, who are about to resume their studies with me after a few weeks off for the summer - I will identify each by a number:
Number One was added onto my schedule while I was  a faculty member of the Longy School of Music. He was a sophomore at Harvard at the time, enrolling as a piano student  and seeking credits, as Longy at that time was attached to Harvard. After a short period, he decided to add to his time with me by taking courses in harmony and counterpoint. He remained with me through his years at Harvard, and was therefore not only an improving pianist, but also able to go on to harmonic analyses of the music he either performed or simply knew about. The year that he began with me was,  I think,  1983 - he will be resuming sessions Tuesday next, at my home; his 34th year with me , or thereabout...
The next three students all fall into the same line of events that brought them to me; namely, that they had children whom they decided to add to my piano student roster of private students. The children all began as elementary age students, and remained with me until their graduating from high school years later.  Numbers  2 and 3, within a week or so after their children had run off to college, called me in order  to occupy their children's slot on my schedule in order to take lessons with me; the result was that in virtually unbroken modality time--wise, the parent had simply slipped onto the same bench that their kids had occupied the preceding decade or so. Only  Number  4 was different - he decided to take piano with me WHILE his girls were still on that piano bench - imagine three members of the same family being student-contemporaries every week... the  existence of that dynastic continuation constitutes about 30 years per family of continuum.
Numbers  2, 3, 4 will be resuming their lessons next week.
The meaning - and the significance to me - is that we have four adults, none a professional musician; all four wonderfully educated and outrageously intelligent, with degrees from M.I. T., Princeton, and Harvard, each at the top of their particular profession, doing something I can NEVER do; and that is, to ESCAPE into music from somewhere else, and lose themselves in a manner that I can never experience - I am already there, simply having chosen music as my core of consciousness and pursuit as primary choice.
 The most valuable aspect I have received from this (what I am prodded to call 'miracle' of sorts) outside of the priceless friendships having been formed is the unique kind of growth that is available to these gentlemen by not only learning in the traditional linear fashion, but going back to music they had learned with me years back and undergoing the transformation of meaning to the very same notes they thought that had  learned well. They have all done this, and have a view that  relatively few non-professionals have undergone, as these parents, such as number  1, ultimately undertook a study of the language of music with me (harmony, chiefly)  along with the  piano lessons.
And so; with these four 'students' (I simply can not list them as such; perhaps the word 'partners' is more apropos) constituting  over a century of time with me, and I can  never describe to you the true depth of what the word 'learning' means , not to these four, but to me.
I enjoin you to contact me if you know of such an experience elsewhere - it would mean a great deal to me, be assured...


Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Horowitz Transcriptions - A Recurring (and Seemingly Unanswerable)) Question...

I occasionally go over the recordings of the eleven piano transcriptions available to me, more often than not as a reminder of the  neurotic drive that catapulted an already legendary physicality into existence. I wonder, sometimes, whether the same level of excitement that Horowitz created in his audiences will again appear?
A more compelling question also forms before me as I listen, and that is:
Why were these pieces not written out as they came into our world?
Which leads to another issue of import; namely some controversy as to whether he indeed did make some form of effort to commit them to paper. There is more than one article pertaining to the existence of at least a portion, in written form, of his early transcription on the themes from "Carmen."
There is more than one musicologist out there who has  expressed confidence that this manuscript written by Horowitz indeed exists. I do not know of any proof that it has ever been seen.
You can look at one of my blogs dealing, by way of a letter exchange,  with the transcriptions. I received an answer from the virtuoso, which surprised(and pleased) me, as I knew that he normally  did not deal with any musical issue by letter-exchange.
His letter pretty much convinced me that he had never written any of his transcriptions down.
But I can find  no pure proof of that.
A conversation in the Horowitz household between Horowitz and Dubal of Juillard indicates to me that they went, unwritten, to the grave with Horowitz in 1989.
 The reputation that David Dubal possesses leads me to the probability that my personal opinion remains unchanged, as I consider the conversation not to be apocryphal:
Horowitz had been discussing with Dubal the history and the issues dealing with the transcription form, especially those emanating from Liszt and post-Liszt. Horowitz himself was a brilliant improviser and often just sat and improvised for hours. Some of the legendary designs in his transcriptions certainly attest to his love for and  powers of  extemporization.
Horowitz declared, within the context of this subject that " I have  never had the time to write my transcriptions down!"
The great pianist's wife Wanda immediately interjected " he was too lazy to write them down!"
And so, the question, for me, still looms.
Was it also possible that Horowitz did not have the writing technique to commit the  hordes  of notes
onto manuscript form? Was it also possible that he thought that they should not be written down simply because he thought that no one would be able to play them anyway?
What if Horowitz were to return just one day to hear some teenagers playing his "Stars and Stripes Forever" transcription with ease? Pedagogical technology has given us many pianists who can do just that today - and, yes - all of the Horowitz transcriptions are now available on manuscript.
So, do go out and buy some, and give  them  a try...


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Recalling the Very Day of Defining Events - and the Transcendent Ubiquity of Music...

Veritably all of us recall a specific day of the week connecting with a great, life-changing or historically altering course of events, such as, say, the passing of someone dear or , say,  the passing of President Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. For me, a mystifying connection with a musical happening on the same day falls into place, such as the death of  Roosevelt. I happened to be walking home from  my weekly piano lesson at Eastman School in late afternoon, musing over having been selected to perform one of my compositions at the next Honors  Recital in Kilbourn Hall. Mr. Diamond, my beloved teacher through those high school days, had chosen little old me - I felt like the proudest rooster on the block! My  reverie came to a shocking end when one of my friends stuck his head out of the door of the store he was working in as I passed by,  and  asked if  I knew that the President had died. That day was Thursday, my piano lesson day.
To go back further: It was one of  my favorite days of the week ; matinee time at the local movie. My middle brother and I were just emerging from the cartoons and Westerns usually showing on that day of days; namely, Sunday. As we came out of the theater, we were puzzled by our being met by  our father, who never before had come to take us home, as we customarily walked home from the movie theater.  He wore a grim expression as he told us about the attack on Pearl Harbor some hours earlier. I can only speculate as to why he had to come and get us. Dad had always been an intense student of things historical, and had, I suppose, a sense of dread about the implications of  this event and just felt compelled to talk to us on the way home about the significance of the Pearl Harbor attack, through his eyes, even though my brother and I were still in short pants going to elementary school.
It was also the same day that I had just started to learn a new piece on the piano which I just adored; a Tarantella by Pieczonka .
As  a friend and I were walking  to high school on Wednesday, June 7, 1944, someone in front of us yelled back that D-Day was well under way in France, having begun on the 6th. It was also the day that I was to play my solo version of the Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell in the auditorium.
It was Sunday, September  2,  1945. In Tokyo Bay, General Douglas MacArthur presided over the official surrender of the Japanese Empire, ending World War II, on the American battleship Missouri.
My family and I were still in Old Forge, a hamlet in the Adirondacks, and were preparing to return home for a new school year. I remember the celebration that evening at the Old Forge Hay Fever Club, where I led a community sing of patriotic tunes while banging out the accompaniments on the piano.
I remember emerging from a music theory class I had just finished teaching at a private local school, and was then informed of the assassination of President Kennedy. It was a Friday, November 22, 1963.
Fascinating - that special glue the mind uses for such events...

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