Sunday, July 29, 2018

Horowitz and the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto - an Odyssey Unequaled...

In 1978, the  celebrated piano titan Vladimir Horowitz, then in his mid seventies, and Zubin Mehta, the distinguished conductor, collaborated  in a performance of the 3rd piano concerto by Rachmaninoff. There was but one person in that hall who knew that this would be his final public performance of this monumental work - and that person was the pianist.
Fortunately, that performance was recorded, and therefore the recording is a document that will forever be a testament to the pianist in more than one way. To explain:
Fifty years before, the composer, already well established as  both the creator of a  number of masterpieces, as well  as one of the world's great pianists,  and this young  lion named Vladimir Horowitz, who had just a few days before arrived in America, carrying with him a reputation as a pianist of astounding powers, met in New York. Circumstance led them both to Steinway Hall, where they selected two pianos in the cellar. Rachmaninoff had known that the young Horowitz knew and had performed the concerto in Europe, and he suggested that  Horowitz play the solo part while he would do the orchestral reduction on his piano of choice.
History tells us the result; namely, that Rachmaninoff 's  famous statement after this incident; specifically "he swallowed my composition whole,"  was certification of the coming bond between these two men. They became veritably father-son until the passing of the composer in 1943. By the way, Rachmaninoff vowed never to play that concerto publicly again after hearing Horowitz play it that fateful day.
So, a fifty year Odyssey became a reality, during which Horowitz would give to his world a lexicon of performances of this knuckle-buster - which finally ends with the 1978 performance.
Horowitz made several recordings of the 3rd during that fateful fifty year period, some of which are, in my view, staggeringly  powerful statements  of one of the  reigning pieces in this form.
In the 1978 recording, the prodigious technique of Horowitz was  already beginning to falter - the Inevitable had begun. However, the unique Message of Statement remained totally intact, and the unique legacy of father-son is there from beginning to end  - a truly great recording, which is simply through the Horowitz recordings of the concerto a statement of the sublime chemistry formed by these two men...


Monday, July 23, 2018

Oops- A Letter Written by Composer Max Reger , Should Have Been Included...

Forgot to mention a letter written to a critic by a rather irascible composer, Max Reger,  whom  I had just written about a few minutes ago  in today's blog.
It's worth the price of admission:
"I am now sitting in the smallest room in my house. Your review is now before me. In a moment it will be behind me."
It seems to me quite evident that Reger did not think much of this particular critic -
Oh, well...

Piano Music for the Left Hand - a Reminder of Its Import and Magical Level of Attainment in the Realm of Compositional Technology...

Allow yourself  to consider, for just a moment or two, a beguiling question connected to the issue of piano performance: how much is out there,  knowing that violin music is so redolent with the answer to the issue of what comes out of the world of music created by just four fingers?
For the pianist, what with  the availability of sound production by way of TEN, not four fingers - can come  the question "what if one hand is omitted - how much, and what, is available to the composer, if one hand becomes the medium; not two?"
And the great composer  Johannes Brahms (remember that we're  talking 19th century!) answers that question with his sublime  contribution; namely, the piano transcription for the left hand alone, the Bach  Chaconne.
Enter  Fate, which becomes the great facilitator, in the form of personal tragedy or travail:
Alexander Scriabin, the iconic Romantic-turned -Mystic, who seriously injured his right hand while working on the Liszt Don Juan, and was unable to play with that hand for many months - during that vexing period of depression and frustration, wrote some music for left hand alone, one of which stands today as a brilliant  example  of  early creative sojourns dealing with the issues of simultaneity and production with only five fingers available; that is, his Nocturne for Left Hand.
Then comes World War I, and the tragedy of a young pianist of great promise in the German army whose right arm was  amputated in the ghastly trench war that came out of that period. His name was Paul Wittgenstein, and it appeared that all was over for him and the attendant promise of a brilliant career.
Around 1929, Wittgenstein made what becomes a fateful decision in music history, by commissioning the eminent composer Maurice Ravel to write a Concerto for him.  A whole new industry then began, as composers emerged to delve into and investigate the seductive world of  The Possible by developing a whole new technology with original creations,  not transcriptions, of piano music for five fingers. Serge Prokofiev, the eminent Russian composer,also wrote a Concerto for Wittgenstein. Interestingly, this work was never performed by Wittgenstein, as he decided that he simply could not truly understand the music that Prokofiev had written.
At any rate, other composers flocked to Wittgenstein, and he went on to experience a lengthy and successful career in music for one hand . I recall seeing him once on early TV during my student days.
What is remarkable is the writing of  secondary composers such as  Felix Blumenfeld and Leopold Godowsky, both of whom straddled the 19th and 20th centuries. Neither is generally known today, but the brilliance of their technology in writings for music for left hand is available. Listen to  one of   the great pianists of  our time, the Canadian Marc-Andre Hamelin play Prelude and Fugue on
B-A-C-H by Godowsky. Or listen to  the  Japanese pianist Tchinai , who cannot use his right hand, perform music by Max Reger , called Special Studies.
Or the fabulous pianist Simon Barere,  who died onstage at Carnegie Hall at the beginning of a concert, perform a Blumenfeld Etude for left hand.
And there are other performances one can see/hear on YouTube.
And do ask the question - is the game "can I create music that sounds as if both hands are involved?"
And the composer has indeed answered...