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Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957)

Musical genius of Toscanini on looking back was in his ability to convey what the composer had in mind not only musically but psychologically and thus playing his work he made it a dramatic experience. By studying the score sheets he saw beyond the notes the intention of the composer and by memorizing it, brooding over it he saw the work as a totality of the man, his work and his role as a faithful translator of his ideas . As he told George Marek, his biographer ‘When I look at a score I see the profile of the composer on the page’.
He was a stern taskmaster and yet he was not a martinet. He respected individual ideas. He said to an oboist playing the cadenza in the Beethoven’s Fifth, ‘That is not the way I would have phrased it –but I like it. There is nothing absolute in music.’
Pianist Rubinstein once played Beethoven C Minor Concerto under the leading of Toscanini. It was their first encounter. The pianist was a bit apprehensive and on the first rehearsal Rubinstein came and sat at the piano. The maestro nodded and the pianist began. It was a catastrophe since they found their ideas were completely different.
At the end of the first movement Toscanini looked at the pianist and asked him if he intended to play his part like that.
‘Yes.’
Toscanini asked him to repeat the first all over again. While he played Toscanini listened noticing the tempo, phrasing and every expression mark. On the repetition they had the look as if they had been playing the music together all their lives.
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At the time he was developing and perfecting his technique as a conductor he set new standards of interpretation in his insistence that music should be played exactly as was written. One occasion,- and it was not the only time, Toscanini stopped a rehearsal because the timpanist failed to give an accent to a particular note. ‘There is no accent marked here on my copy, maestro’ the timpanist said.
‘Then put it on’ said Toscanini and he was certain it was how originally written. Some time afterwards the timpanist went to a library where the original of the composer’s score was kept. On checking it he found the maestro was right: the accent was there.
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Once he hollered at a well-bosomed soprano in Italian and he said pointing to her head ‘If you had up here what you have down here, what a singer you would be!’
(Toscanini, A Biography: Gorge Marek,1975/Atheneum)

Tailpiece: The other day I heard a Chinese girl of 9 playing Chopin and not a note was missed and her playing was faultless. On the other hand I heard Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Piano concerto #1 ( BBC program) recently at the Albert Hall-having heard him and enjoyed his music, I was disappointed. His facial contortions in bringing solo passages to a close was distracting to say the least. I hear often criticism of lacking in experience leveled against Far Eastern performers. Nationality of players have not come in way of enjoying their recitals.
Is life experience needed in order to play Chopin or Liszt?
In my opinion a player should stick to the score faithfully and if the player could get the dynamics and tempo right it is all needed for me. My life experience and mood is what counts and not the players’ contortions to be transcendental.
Herbert von Karajan was like a sphinx but his presence was unmistakable. Toscanini was tempestuous while rehearsing but on podium he was the conductor and his personality also made it an satisfying experience.

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The fact the composer was buried in an unmarked grave is too well known to repeat here. The cure for the illness from which he died was discovered only a few years after his death. A blizzard and sleet drove away the mourners who had come to pay their last respects.
Shortly before the composer’s death the Emperor Josef II had passed a decree, evidently to discourage the Viennese tendency to erect opulent tombs more in vying with one another to show off their wealth,- and as a result a grave stone was not thought of for the occasion.
He was unlucky that there is no truly authentic portrait extant for posterity to conceive of a composer who set down the very voice of God in musical language. A death mask was made and was accidentally smashed.

This child prodigy was fortune’s fool and yet no one who has listened to his music can ever refuse a kinship that is nurtured only in realm that matters, one’s soul. He is a soul-mate for anyone who seek for consolation in times of weal or woe beyond one’s immediate circumstances.
benny

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Woodie Guthrie (1912-1967)
Woodie Guthrie had been on the road most of his life , a drifter with a guitar and singing folk songs. Alan Lomax, who was collecting folk songs for the Library of Congress persuaded him to record them for posterity. Woody lived with Lomaxes while he recorded three hours of songs and conversations for the Library. During this period he slept on the floor wrapped in his lumber jacket, and had his dinner standing by the sink. ‘I don’t want to get softened up,’ said he to his host, ‘I’m a road man.’
benny

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When I listen to Mozart i know I am transported to another level and having come down to earth I shall never be the same at least for a couple of hours. I am sure I have seen how my cat would come purring and walk around me swishing his furry tail as though he kept time to the Mozart’s piece. House tits also come flying chirring their delicate wings to wow my day. I haven’t cared to find if they find something special in his Requiem or in divertimenti.
I know I am at peace with the living and the dead.
benny

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The first time I visited the British Museum in 89 one item that captivated me was the autograph of Beethoven. Alongside was that of Mozart. The tidiness of the latter was totally missing in the work of Beethoven. Comparing these is easier than analyzing why one is distinct from the other.
Yet both have been essential to me. Though I have no musical training to appreciate the merits of a composer from his style, in the manner one uses melodic, rhythmic or textural elements, my responses to both composers have been varied. Whereas one has smoothed my troubled spirit by life’s inconsequential hammerings, as an infant satiated by it mother’s milk, Beethoven has supplied more than ample muscle to keep me going through day’s chore. I require both. Even as I get on with tasks on hand, snatches of his themes are ever in my mind. I can smooth day to my liking. 
Is there anything that I may pick out from works of Beethoven as infinitely of high order than others? Given the temperament and cast of my mind second movement in symphonies, the slow movements touch me deeper than others.  Whatever I may be doing while the music goes on the background I pause in order to take the delicious passages: Seventh symphony, the third piano concerto are cases in point.
After becoming acquainted with his music for years my ear can note development of a theme, tonic major and minor relationships how bits and pieces of it are scattered throughout the work. Such juxtapositions of key and dynamics give the piece its variety; themes when restated are like memory playing tricks, a sunny brisk passage when restated is in minor key nevertheless balance is achieved.  His music almost mirrors life in that that sunny outlook of a child derived from its influences may be transformed by tragic aspects of life. But such major minor relationships do not make life seen separately; overall unity of a Beethoven symphony is in its variety despite the motive force of life merely lets each of us to touch highs and lows of joy and sorrow. If the music has its structure and unity is neither of joy nor of sorrow of life can be isolated. They are part of a design. As long man is subject to such tempests of life music of Beethoven must be relevant to him.
As long as my ears can note the difference between a violin and drum I shall listen to Beethoven. If totally deaf with age I hope my memory shall continue to give my ruined state some semblance of sparkle. I shall end with a quotation of Lenin, ‘I know nothing which is greater than the Appassionato…It is marvelous, superhuman music. I always think with pride –perhaps it is naïve of me-what marvelous things human beings can do. (Maxim Gorky-Days with Lenin)’

benny

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