Thursday, November 9, 2017

How History Ties These Two Titans of the Piano Together...

Vladimir Horowitz and Simon Barere...
How are these two names connected? And how many are familiar with the second name?
Even though almost thirty years have elapsed  since his passing, the name Vladimir Horowitz continues to resonate with the followers of great piano music and of  the legends who perform these masterpieces. Horowitz, with that singular combination of  a kind of neurotic edge and 'pyrotechnique'  continues to accompany so many of us today by way of his magic.
On the other hand,  the name Simon Barere has emerged  into public awareness from time to time, then recedes back through the veils of  history. He is remembered, perhaps,  more by way of his
tragic death on the stage of Carnegie Hall on April 2 of 1951 than the recordings he left behind. I cannot recall such an event being replicated in the world of music - imagine, for a moment, those electric  moments of Barere playing for the first time in his career with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy. The work was the Grieg Piano Concerto.  Shortly after the  opening of the work, a wrong note was heard, then another. Barere leaned forward, then collapsed, with his forehead striking the keyboard, and he then slid off his stool onto the floor . I remember seeing a photograph of his form lying in a heap next to the piano.
Barere was taken backstage, whereupon his death took place. It was a massive stroke.
This event  left the musical world  shaken for quite some time.   The sensationalism connected with this tragedy left an imprint lasting for months, especially among those  who recognized the measure of the loss of this man.
I think the central reason why Barere comes back to us from time to time is the nature of his life story, what with the problems Barere encountered in Mother Russia because of his being Jewish in a society that repressed others as well, such as Horowitz,  Godowsky and Heifetz, in early careers - and following Barere was the eternal bad luck,  such as his final move to Germany in hopes that better fortunes would follow, only to land in a place beset by the oncoming reality called Hitlerism. And playing in bistros and other places just to make a living...
And so it went for a time - but his enormous powers as a pianist would not be denied, and he eventually received the acclaim that these powers demanded.
But, at the height of his powers, he was taken from us.
Listen to a piece written by one of his teachers, the Russian pedagogue Felix Blumenfeld, who also was the teacher of  a youngster named Vladimir Horowitz .
It is an Etude for the  left hand alone, and demonstrates a remarkable knowledge of how to write for the piano. It's the only piece of many written by Blumenfeld that still shows up, from time to time.
It is viciously difficult, what with not only the hordes of notes that seem to make it impossible to believe that just one hand is on the keyboard; it is also a veritable lexicon on pedal techniques needed in order to promulgate the effects of the keyboard imagery engendered by Blumenfeld.
 Horowitz learned it, in preparation for future performances - however, according to contemporary accounts left us; when Horowitz heard a performance of the Etude by Barere, Horowitz decided never to perform this piece in public. We know that Horowitz had an open admiration  for the prowess of Simon Barere. Do look into the fabulous recordings left to us of this man.
To encapsulate, Felix Blumenfeld must have been one heck of a teacher... 



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