Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Triumph of the Will," Part Two...

In my preceding blog, I had written about a pianist, a football player, and a documentarian; all involved with the power of the will. My final statement reminded the reader that there were, indeed, others - and so, I  will submit additional  musicians  to that list:
How about Alexander Scriabin? We know about his journey, as a composer, from  the Chopin period to a world of mysticism and unfettered  imagery; a transition unlike any other composer. But one should be reminded of a crisis  which  arose, at age 21, from an injury to fingers on his right hand, resulting, probably,  from too stringent a self-imposed program of technical development after examining the Liszt Don Juan Fantasy and deciding that his technique was simply not up to the task of dealing with the piano music of this titan.
For about two years, Scriabin could not use his right hand; fortunately, his powers as a composer give us a couple of masterpieces written for the left hand during this terrible period of  fear and depression - there were moments   during which  thoughts of suicide pervaded his consciousness.
But, the will to overcome prevailed, and this genius returned as both a powerful composer as well as one of the most gifted of the pianists of his time.
And what of Robert Schumann?  His death in an  asylum for the insane tells us about the quality of life he endured, beginning with a devastating injury to a number of his fingers while preparing  for a concert career. One story is that he had designed a contrivance that he thought would hasten the physical development of some aspects of technique; and the result were the injuries incurred. Another story is that the syphilis that he fell victim to during his youth was the cause; namely, by undergoing a mercury treatment to combat this disease, the mercury poisoning that ensued damaged the neurology in his hand - so much for the vulnerable revisionism we attach to History; in other words, will we EVER truly know what formed the fate of  the great composer? Certainly, his turning to composition as a prime force of pursuit, following his struggle with hopes to become a performer, gives  us his magnificent powers whenever we wish to listen to his language. The attempts at suicide, and the depression which accompanied this genius throughout his life, were simply swept aside as he sought to pursue the need to do what had to be done.
The will, perhaps?
What about Paul Wittgenstein, the legendary pianist  with not ten, but five fingers?
The promise of  a concert career was shattered when he lost his right arm in a battle during the First World War. Suicide seemed the only way out, for a period. Then, some composers of power came to him and offered to  write music for the left hand. Of course, the most notable of this coterie was Maurice Ravel, who created the most important contribution to the renascent return  of the young man's career; namely the Concerto for  the Left Hand . Serge Prokofiev, among the great composers, also wrote a concerto for Wittgenstein; however, he never performed the piece, as he did not intrinsically understand the style of the Russian composer's music.
Again; the will to overcome...
The legendary pianist Dinu Lipatti was struck down with a fatal disease, while in his early thirties.
I have a recording of a recital containing  the waltzes of Chopin; all the waltzes, except the final one.
He nearly fainted while coming out on stage. He managed to get to the final waltz, but did not; COULD not perform any longer  - there simply was no further strength left.
And yet - do listen to this event. Can you tell what was going on? Absolutely not - the will to do the job at the  high level attached to this man was the paramount reality that  HAD to be the Realization   - anything less was simply not part of the picture being painted.
Again; the will -  the messenger   needed to certify the existence of a power given to so few of us...
And; yes indeed, there are others...



Monday, February 6, 2017

A Legendary Pianist, a Reigning Athlete, a Gifted Documentarian - a Commonality?...

Vladimir Horowitz was considered by many to be the most powerful pianist of the twentieth century. Possessing a  magnificent  expressive range and a mammoth technique, he  held  countless audiences breathless in  his famous afternoon recitals, for over half a century.
During his career, there were mysterious departures from the concert stage, during which his admirers would be in wait for the maestro to return; and would be in waiting as much as years at a time. One of these 'retirements' consisted of his not leaving his New York home for two years. Some of  the recordings he made during these periods away from the concert stage were made right in his town house in Manhattan.
The  central reason for these withdrawals from the recitals was Fear - fear that he might fail an audience. He was bedeviled by a fear born of  his need to propel his playing beyond the moment - and fail. Perhaps it was due to  a positioning of self caused by the need to 'take a chance'. Rachmaninoff once stated that "every really fine pianist needs to take a chance." And it seems that the electrifying manner of Horowitz performances was created by a kind of neurotic 'edge' that propelled him constantly forward relentlessly, creating that Fear  attending his concerts for a greater part of his life. He received psychiatric treatment during these periods away from the stage, and underwent treatment for the depression that must have accompanied his consciousness.
But - he prevailed. He did not fail, as we all know.
Tom Brady has been a mainstay for a  decade and a half, having become a household name in New England as one of football's great quarterbacks. He is regarded as one of the great football players with his command of the game, tactically and physically. His brilliant career was certified this year with both a four game suspension overwhelmed by leading his team to yet another of his multiple appearances in the Super Bowl last night. A close game was expected by many.
But - New England was behind  twenty to nothing before the first half was over, and I left the living room and announced to my wife, who was working on a painting, that catastrophe was at hand, and that I might  just  shut  off the T.V. in disappointment and surprise. It appeared that neither Brady nor his team was adjusting to a brand of football being displayed by the competing team(Atlanta), and was being thrashed.
Lo and behold -  Horowitz in a football uniform - Brady, in the second half, became the Artist, the Thinker, about the moment. The team became alive,  transforming itself into the dominant component in  a matter of minutes, and reversed the direction of the game. Imagine - Brady and  his team were never in the lead  in the game until the final play, which  was the touchdown that decided the outcome.
Brady was the performer who achieved and  maintained winning control over HIS instrument; namely, the team  he had known so well for such a long period of time.            
Which brings us to Leni Riefenstahl, one of five women close to the core of the the Hitler hierarchy, who created a documentary dealing with the 1934 Nazi Congress in Nuremberg.
Her theme was the power which a single man; Adolf Hitler, held over some 60 million, and  moved the entire world toward a new Dark Age. Her techniques in this documentary were so imaginative and compelling that future directors such as Hitchcock and Wilder  used some of them in their masterpieces. This documentary is considered one of the greatest of the twentieth century.
The title?
"Triumph Des Willen" - "Triumph of the Will."
 Horowitz? Brady?  Indeed.
There are, of course, others...


Friday, February 3, 2017

Imagery in the Learning and Playing of Music -Collaboration of Teacher and Student - Walter Gieseking and Karl Leimer...

One of the most intriguing examples of the implementation of the process of imagery is, for me, the collaboration of a noted  pedagogue, Karl Leimer, and his most famous student, the celebrated pianist Walter Gieseking.
Teacher and student collaborated in 1932 in the creating of a method of learning music, especially for the piano, by way of a kind of internalized form of absorbing material before actually performing, which Gieseking brought to greater clarity following the passing of Leimer.
Briefly, the method involved  the learning of the music chosen by 'playing' the music through the reading of the material and the allowing of the senses involved to formulate the core character of the composition before actually performing the music at the piano. By 'visualizing' the music through inner sensory reaction to what is read, and allowing the meaning of the thrust of the composition to form into a reality evincing enough for actual playing of the music, such issues as muscle memory and the eventual formation to an interpretive stance, or view, combine to form the product as a precursor to actual playing of the music.
In a piece of considerable duration, I can only assume  that sections of that particular music be gone over by the above process until the entire piece will have been dealt with.
Up to a point, I can perceive the ways of this process, as I have, from time to time, taken a saturating look at a relatively short piece in total before actually touching the keys, and it does indeed help in  the conceptualizing of the music chosen.
However, this method, as utilized, evidently, by Gieseking, probably made sense, as this man was endowed with staggering powers of memorization, let alone, almost illimitable powers, as well, in sight reading. He could go through music just a few times and have it totally memorized. There were times, unbelievably,  that he memorized and then performed the piece IN PUBLIC without having touched the piece beforehand.  Imagine playing music in concert without having actually played that piece. Gieseking  practiced very little - he once said that after learning how to read, his formal education was over.  Back in the late forties and into the fifties, Gieseking was one of very few pianists who learned every piece of music that Mozart ever wrote, and then recorded the entire contents. I think that the recording can still be gotten.
And he learned  and performed all of the music of Mozart in a matter of weeks.
No wonder that this man conjured the sounds of the piano, unequaled, in my opinion, that he did. His legendary memory simply gave him more time than, perhaps, any other pianist we know of, to work on the issue of timbre and dynamics as, arguably, his Signature.
What with his views on Hitler and  Nazism, remaining in Germany throughout World War II, he remains one of the great miracles of the twentieth century.