Sunday, June 29, 2014

Summer Strings Around the World

I'm excited to report that the Hillel Academy summer string program in Jamaica, run by Dr. Lisa Walker, will be working on some of my string orchestra arrangements. Here's a photo of the group:

The Child's Play Foundation in India, directed by Dr. Luis Dias, also uses my arrangements. These is a photo of some of the string players at the Hamara School in India.

ArCoNet in North Wales Pennsylvania:

If you have an ensemble that uses the arrangements that I share in my Dropbox folder, please leave a comment here, or send me a picture by e-mail, and I'll post it here. Recordings are also welcome. If you would like to have (free) access to my arrangements, please send me an e-mail message and I will send you a link through Dropbox.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Notes from the Piano

Now that I am nearing the end of my first year of my (almost) daily relationship with the piano, I have returned to spending quality time with Mr. Haydn. Things are different now. Instead of simply being amazed at what he does with his material, I am now starting to ask the music to do something for me emotionally. Instead of turning to Haydn simply for inspiration and a little instruction, I am now turning to him as a way to express myself emotionally (there is much in Haydn to soothe an aching soul) and suddenly I want to play legato, which I can actually accomplish when I use the suggested fingerings in my Peters edition of the Sonatas. This requires me to use all my fingers, even the relatively weak ones.

I noticed today that my piano fourth finger on my left hand is the weakest finger of my two hands. I find this odd since it is the very same finger I consider the strongest when I am playing the viola and the violin as well as the flute and the recorder. I suppose that there are over-developed muscles and under-developed muscles in all the fingers, and as form follows function, the underused muscles in otherwise strong fingers reveal themselves and develop over time.

I find that I want to play more evenly and more in rhythm than I did during my maiden voyage through Haydn's Sonatas, and it seems that I can now play the quicker movements with a little bit more tempo (only a bit). I was surprised that yesterday I could actually play triplets in my left hand while playing sixteenth notes in my right without thinking about it. This is something that I could only do mathematically a few short months ago.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dubious Passages

When I come across passages like these in a book filled with all sorts of obscure non-musical information (Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses), I don't know what to believe!

Portrait of Michel Martin Drolling by his Father

The Huntington Library spells Martin Drolling's name with an umlaut over the "o," so I was under the impression he was German, but he was a French painter, and this is his son, who played the violin as a child and became an excellent artist himself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Woman Playing a "Viola da Gamba" by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse

One way of measuring the rise of musical knowledge in the 20th and 21st centuries is that far more people know what a viola da gamba is than they did in the 19th century. I had a nice chuckle when I saw this sculpture in the Huntington Library last week.

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleus (c. 1824-1887) put a Tourte-style bow (with a rather elegant bow hold) in the hand of this musician, and he placed the instrument in a position that was far more modest than the way the viola da gamba is actually played. How the instrument remains aloft is a mystery to me, but I still love this sculpture.

Here is a nice collection of paintings and drawings of people playing violas da gamba with the appropriate bow.

A few years ago I heard a viol player explain why the instrumet requires an underhanded bow and bow hold. The violin was not considered an instrument for ladies to play because the lifting of the arm (and perhaps exposing the armpit) was considered obscene. It seems that the viola da gamba was considered an instrument appropriate for ladies to play because the powers that were created a bow that made it possible to move the forearm without lifting the upper arm.

Speaking of violas da gamba, there was also a Gainsborough painting of Carl Friedrich Abel (1728-1787) at the Huntington Library.

And here's one of Abel's wonderful solo pieces for viola da gamba:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Musical Freedom

Perhaps I should have titled this post "some consequences of giving away music for free," but then nobody would want to read it. I probably wouldn't want to read it, but since nobody seems to have written about experiences similar to mine, I'm writing it anyway.

I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast this morning called "There's no such thing as a free appetizer," and it started me thinking about consequences of offering musical stuff to people for free. As a composer I unfortunately came of musical age at the time when music publishing was on the wane. I suppose I caught the tail end of it when I worked with Seesaw Music. I felt very good about the professional relationship I had with Raoul Ronson, and felt that he earned his (and the standard) 90% of the sale of every piece of music he sold because he promoted my music. I got some hefty royalty checks during the last few years of his Raoul's life, which happened to be my first few years as a published composer. After Raoul died they reduced substantially, trickling down to almost nothing. Nobody was there to advocate for me in the company that took over the Seesaw inventory.

I didn't have the resources at the time (or now, come to think of it) to set up my own publishing house for my not-yet-written music, and I did not have the strength of ego at the time (or now, come to think of it) to withstand possible market rejection. In order to offset the price of a high-quality photocopying machine and binding equipment, and renting office space for it (there's no room in our house), I would have had to sell a lot of music. I had a choice to make. Not wanting all my hard work to go to waste sitting in either my drawer or the shelves of a company that wasn't interested in promoting my work, I decided to put everything I wrote from 2006 onward into the Werner Icking Music Archive which was then absorbed into the IMSLP Petrucci Library. I thought of my contributions as a kind of Tzedakah.

From the numbers on the IMSLP website it seems that a lot of people download my contributions, but it is very rare that I hear from anyone who does (though I am thrilled when someone does write). I rarely hear about performances, which leads me to think that performances are indeed very rare. Occasionally (very occasionally) people write to me asking if I could re-write something for their instrumental combination (and I always do), and once the music is finished I don't hear anything more from them. It's as if my very act of giving something to someone I do not know makes the thing that I give have so little value that it is not worth acknowledging. It becomes a non-transaction, which becomes, in our market-oriented society, a non-relationship.

Maybe the act of Tzedakah is only properly realized when it involves someone with money giving money to someone without money. I used to think that giving music to people was a form of Tzedakah, but now I question that belief. Here are Maimonides' Eight Levels of Giving (in descending order):
1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.

2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.

3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.

4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.

5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.

6. Giving adequately after being asked.

7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.

8. Giving "in sadness" (giving out of pity) or giving unwillingly.

In the highest level it is not possible to substitute the word "music" for "tzedakah," or "money," but for the longest time the word "music" seemed to be a sensible substitution to me, particularly in #4. Perhaps, not being a person who deals much in money, I misunderstood the meaning of the word.

2. Giving music anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your music in a most impeccable fashion. (This would be an entity like the IMSLP.)

3. Giving music anonymously to a known recipient. (I would count instances when the composer is not acknowledged on a program in this group.)

4. Giving music publicly to an unknown recipient.

5. Giving music before being asked.

6. Giving adequately after being asked.

7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.

8. Giving "in sadness" (giving out of pity) or giving unwillingly.

Giving, when reciprocal (in some way or other), is a wonderful thing. When it is not reciprocal (in some way or other) giving creates sadness and emptiness on the part of the person doing the giving. People experience this kind of sadness and emptiness in personal relationships with friends, lovers, and family members, and discuss them with other friends, other family members, and therapists.

Musical relationships (i.e. the relationship between a composer and a person play his or her music) are personal relationships. Perhaps we, as a musical culture, are so used to playing music by people who are either dead or inaccessible that we forget.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

(Années de) pèlerinage

My daughter bought me a copy of Cheryl Strayed's wild (spelled with lower case "w") at Book Soup in Los Angeles. She is currently reading it, but I was able to finish my copy of the book because my biological clock was set in Midwestern time and I am generally an early riser. I did a lot of reading while everyone else in the Los Angeles apartment was sleeping. I also had two flights and a layover to spend reading the book.

Much in memoir writing tends to involve the act of moving through loss (and everybody has a unique cocktail of losses), public confession of indiscretions and outright wrongdoing (everybody has some of those), the chronicling of triumph over odds, both seen and unseen, and words of gratitude. A memoir about a pilgrimage is a different kind of memoir because it involves a single journey with a point of departure and an ending point. Cheryl Strayed unwittingly did everything that is customary for religious pilgrims to do, only she was not searching for religious absolution. She gave away everything she owned except for the hiking gear necessary for her travels. She followed a path, and followed a guidebook. Sometimes she strayed from her path, and sometimes she had to make decisions about whether to bypass areas that she would be unable to cross and actually live to make it to her destination. There were no religious relics at the end of her path, but getting to the end of the trail on her own ended up being sort of a natural-religious experience.

I inadvertently went on a pilgrimage when I was far too young to do so. In May of 1980 I was finished with Juilliard and held a great deal of sorrow brought on by the death of someone very close to me. There were other difficulties connected with staying in New York and, for that matter, the United States. The first recession was upon us, and there was little in the way of work that I could hope to get as a flutist. I simply didn't know what to do outside of my tiny envelope of flute-related possibilities (or impossibilities), so I either sold or gave everything I owned away except for what could fit in a backpack and in a box that I left at my father's house, to be sent wherever I might end up, eventually.

Thank goodness I didn't need to hike in the woods in the dark (Strayed points out that the only thing scarier than the idea of hiking in the woods in the dark is hiking in the woods in the dark). My process of rebirth included the exciting and terrifying idea of not having a clue where I would be going after a flute competition in Budapest. Strayed didn't have any fitness training or hiking experience before she began her journey, and I only had a smattering of high school French, spiced up with a few Italian and German tempo markings, and the smallest of instruments (a flute and a piccolo). My years of travel took me away from where I had been, and they allowed me to work through my grief. Now I travel mostly for pleasure.

My daily trials and tribulations (and triumphs and confessions) will never make it into a memoir, but reading Cheryl Strayed's memoir allowed me to visit my own experiences again. Last night I had a dream peopled with flutists of my pre-pilgrimage past, and it featured a performance of the Barber "Hermit Songs" by Sanford Sylvan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Das elektriche Hotel" performed in Munich!

It seems that some members of the Bavarian Radio Orchestra gave a performance of the music I wrote for El Hotel Electrico a few days ago. I wish I had known about it!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Definite Article (or lack thereof)

My father told me a story on the telephone today. Someone called him back in his Cleveland days and asked him if he could play "Faure Requiem." My father interpreted this as a question about whether he was available to play "for" a requiem, so he asked the caller which requiem it would be. They went back and forth for a while, and then my father finally understood that the requiem in question was THE Faure Requiem.

You could make this stuff up, but I know he didn't!

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Gingold Talks about Technique in Violin Playing

Josef Gingold is brilliant. You can hear segments from his whole interview with Kim Markel.

Dangerous Harmonies: The Memoir of Harold Coletta

My friend Seymour Barab gave me his copy of the memoir Martin Goldman wrote with Harold Coletta (1917-2001) in 2004, and I just finished reading it. The introduction to the book ends with a tribute from Seymour:
We met at the first rehearsal of the orchestra in Atlantic City. The picture of Harold that is most memorable, is of his appearance at the swimming pool aboard ship. He was extraordinarily handsome and I was envious. (Still am.)

Over the years we have frequently worked together in recording studios and chamber music ensembles. We have been amicable friends but have not endured any crises together. As most of our situations together have been in conjunction with music, I must add the obvious; that he is exceptional, reliable, sensitive, etc. His viola playing is exemplary. He is an artist and as one, defies comparison. as for the nitty-gritty, he has always remained competitive, because that is the nature of the profession. But he was never drawn into any overt unpleasantness, as is all too common.

I don't know if he is religious, believe no, but his philosophy is certainly Christian in the best sense of the word. I admire him enormously for his intelligence, talent, personality and humanity. I might think of him in the animal world as a lion.

Here is an anecdote. My first job in New York was a Frank Sinatra recording session, around 1948. Harold was sitting next to me. This was my first recording session ever and I was in awe of the proceedings. Standing against the walls around the studio were about a dozen rough looking guys in black raincoats. I asked Harold who the guys were. He gave me a knowing look and said, "Why don't you ask them?"
This is but one of hundreds of quotations from the book that I would love to put on this blog, but since the book is ostensibly still in print I don't want to get in any kind of trouble.

Coletta dictated the memoir to Martin Goldman, and though there are some repetitions (as all dictated memoirs have) and some typographical and grammatical errors (including one that refers to his friend "Paul Child's" home, and mentions that his friend's wife was a gourmet cook, which would lead any reader to think he was talking about Julia, but a later reference reveals that it must have been a misplaced apostrophe since Coletta was clearly talking about the violinist Paul Childs), it is a delightful look at the musical world of 20th-Century New York with stories and portraits that should not fall into oblivion.

Unfortunately 2004 was a lousy year to use a print-on-demand publisher because the Amazon price for the book is OUTRAGEOUS ($329.07 for a new copy and $71 for a used copy), and it is only available through third-party sellers.

I hope that it is possible for Goldman to re-publish this memoir so that it can have a more reasonable price. This book is a prime example of what is wrong with the publishing business. Something of value can be listed in catalogues and be inaccessible at the same time. (You can, however, click on the "look inside" feature and read segments of the book for free, but it will just make you want to read all of it.)

While I'm at it, I heard a CD re-issue of an LP recording of Lowndes Maury's Sonata in Memory of the Korean War Dead played by violinist Myron Sandler with Maury at the piano. It's a spectacular piece, but it was published by Protone Music, which no longer seems to be in the business of selling music. There are two copies of the score listed in the WorldCat: one is at USC and the other is in the New York Public Library. Two copies.

Redefining is Relative

Yesterday I happened across Lynn M. Hooker's Redefining Hungarian Music from Liszt to Bartok, a new publication from Oxford University Press. I was very excited to read what Hooker had to say about László Lajtha, but I found that he wasn't mentioned anywhere! The book is from 2013, and there are entries about Lajtha on the internet that date from 2007, including this Wikipedia article.

I didn't know anything about Lajtha until earlier this week, but I'm not a musicologist, and I know only a little bit about Hungarian music. I tried searching through the book through Google Books, and then I tried the "search all books" feature. What came up surprised me. This entry is part of a book put together ten or twelve years ago by some of my American Record Guide colleagues (I have a bunch of entries in the book as well). Most of the contributors to the book are not musicologists, but they are people who spend a great deal of time listening to music and writing about it.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum Made Easier (sort of)

Nothing beats Fux for learning counterpoint, re-learning counterpoint, or keeping up counterpoint skills. Mozart, Haydn, and Brahms all used Fux (and so did a great many other composers). I have gone through Fux a few times since first encountering species counterpoint in my high school counterpoint class. Today, just as I was getting ready to start again on a Fux cycle, I thought to do a search just to see if some kind counterpoint teacher might have saved me the tedium of copying out all the cantus firmus lines.

Yes indeed! Here it is as a 108-page PDF file. [You might need to export it to your computer in order to get it to print.]

To the printer, and off to work!

Monday, June 02, 2014

László Lajtha

I just learned about the Hungarian composer László Lajtha, and thought I'd share some of his music here. Lajtha worked with Bartok and Kodaly collecting Hungarian folk music, but he supported the 1956 Revolution so his music was suppressed, and his ability to travel outside of Hungary was restricted.

Thank goodness the suppression didn't last! Here's his 6th String Quartet. It is, to my ears, every bit as good as the Quartets of Bartok and Kodaly (and that's saying a lot).