Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rage over a lost concert

As if it is not bad enough that this nasty bug has kept me quarantined for four days now, I had to miss Menahem Pressler with the Muir Quartet, playing at Kleinhans Music Hall's Mary Seaton Room. Our reviewer Garaud MacTaggart got to go instead of me. And he is on Facebook right now gloating about how great it was.

Curse you, Garaud, and the horse you rode in on!

The Muir Quartet is great. I interviewed their leader, Peter Zazofsky, once. The hardest part of it was training myself to say his name. It is a tongue twister! I was walking around for three days going "Mr. Zazofsky" so I would not stumble over it.

But what I am really feeling bad about tonight is Menahem Pressler. I had been looking forward to him forever. I heard him a few years ago and he was wonderful and I did not get to write about him then and I was hoping to write about him this time around.

What is the saying: Man tracht. Gott lacht.

Translation: Menahem Pressler fan plans, God laughs.

Plus he was playing Brahms!

Sniffle sniffle.

Cursed cold.

Here is my consolation prize ... Pressler playing Schubert. It comes in in the middle but it is worth it for the terrified-looking page turner. You have to love those terrified-looking page turners. We should start a Page Turner Hall of Fame, on this blog.

And a Lost Concerts Hall of Fame.

This one would certainly qualify.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fathers and sons, Part 3

Usually I do not blog twice in one day but today I cannot help it. I just saw the kickiest story in the Wall Street Journal that plays right into our Fathers and Sons theme.

There is this grandson of Serge Prokofiev whose name is Gabriel Prokofiev. He is a DJ in a club. Above is a picture of Gabriel Prokofiev.

I do not know if I would quite call Gabriel Proky a chip off the old block but there might be a bit of family resemblance. Here is his grandfather.

Just in case after reading my earlier post you think I am a crab, I have to say I like what Gabriel Prokofiev is doing, which is presenting what we would generally call classical music side by side with other more pop stuff, like electronic music and indie rock.

The writer, Greg Sandow, is saying this is one way to get new audiences to discover classical music, by presenting it in informal settings, alongside the "pop" music these young listeners already like. You can talk or, as someone in the story suggests, "get rowdy."

That is great, I say!

And it works both ways. Who knows, listeners who love classical music might get to like some of this other stuff if we did not have to sit there silently for two hours and listen to it. I would probably be able to make peace with a lot of new music if I did not have to sit there silently listening to it and growing bewildered and bored.

In any case, interesting ideas, thanks in part to Gabriel Prokofiev. In his honor we listen to his granddaddy's "Visions Fugitives."

Check out the story here.

Fathers and sons, Part 2

This morning I was honored to read a comment from the director of the Galerie St. George on Staten Island regarding my opinions on George Pissarro.

George Pissarro is a funny person to have emerged as a preoccupation of this blog! It is like how my Leonard Pennario blog became mysteriously haunted by the ghost of Peter Piccolo.

The director of the Galerie St. George is named Gary Brant. He said -- nicely, for which I am grateful -- that all I knew was a tiny fraction of George Pissarro's work so I should reserve my judgment.

That is nice of Mr. Brant, to say I knew a tiny fraction of George Pissarro's work. The fact is, I know zero about his work! I wrote what I wrote because I love Camille Pissarro and I did not know how any abstract sculptor could live up to what he had done. That is a painting of Camille Pissarro's pictured above. I never pass up a chance to display one on this blog, that is for sure.

What the heck, let's look at another Pissarro. Camille, that is.

I have to admit, I have this reaction now against contemporary abstract art. And music. It is not my fault. It is an attitude I have learned.

Real quick: I do not think an audience should have to work through what amounts to a doctoral thesis in order to grasp a piece's quality. And over and over I find that is what is happening. It is boring and I am beginning to resent it. Here in Buffalo our Albright-Knox Art Gallery did not help things when it sold off pieces people here loved so they could buy things that, I am sorry, they just do not touch us the same way. It is as if they slapped us in the face and said, "What could you possibly know, you stupid plebs? We are the experts. We will tell you what is best."

Here is a recent acquisition of the Albright-Knox.

Ha, ha! It has an otherness about it! That is what someone said in Woody Allen's "Manhattan."

But I know, I'm the idiot. Once upon a time people said the same thing about Mozart and Rembrandt. If I understood geometry, trigonometry and physics better, I would grasp the importance of this piece. I cannot live in the past. Blah, blah, blah. I have heard all the arguments.

So yes, I am afraid that poor George Pissarro unjustly became my scapegoat. Every artist deserves consideration as an individual, and cannot be made to pay for the sins of his generation (or generations, this goofiness has been going on for a long time).

There are artists in every era whose work deserves appreciation. The trouble is, it is getting harder to find them. New art and new music are a lot like dating. You have to sink a lot of time into it, and kiss an awful lot of toads.

How is that for a screed? That is a word I like, screed. I just looked it up. The meaning that comes closest in this situation is, "A ranting piece of writing."

Here is me living in the past and writing my screed.

That is Vermeer's "A Lady Writing." It is not found at the Albright-Knox.

Well. As Woody Allen says in "Manhattan": "Too angry. I don't want to be angry." I am cheering up watching the link to "Manhattan" above. That is the playing of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra! I found that record on vinyl a while ago at Goodwill. I now own a bit of Buffalo history.

Here is the beginning of "Manhattan." In which you hear "Rhapsody in Blue." And the "too angry" line.

As I fritter away my Saturday ...

La la la la la la la.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The book of Liszts

It is hard to get the hang of Twitter but I figure that because I am writing that book about Leonard Pennario I should be twittering, as they say. So every now and then I check in and I twitter something. I have maybe 6 followers and they are all buddies of mine here in Buffalo so it does not matter what I am twittering.

Today I threw it on up there that I am listening to Liszt. Because that was what I was doing. My tweet, if you can stand this cutesy lingo, read:

"Mary Kunz Goldman is listening to Liszt which is a heck of a thing to listen to before you are through with your first cup of coffee."


Then I decided to search around and see what else people were writing about Liszt. I hit "Search" and typed in "Liszt."

Interesting what people have been writing about Liszt in the last 24 hours.

"You should balance out that Brahms with some Franz Liszt."

"Stupid 80's cartoons. Whenever I listen to Liszt's 1st piano concerto the first thing I think about is Gargamel."

"Schubert - Soiree De Vienne No 6 [arranged by Liszt] Pianist Leonard Pennario." (Hmmm, nice. That came from PlayClassicalUK which I imagine must be a radio station.)

"To help my mood I'm listening to one of the most beautiful pieces of music; Liszt's Piano Concerto No 2."

"To help my mood I'm listening to one of the most beautiful pieces of music; Liszt's Piano Concerto No 2. It beats his first *hands down*..." (From the same person)

"life is never too short for some Liszt :-)"

That is for sure.

For a moment I could see the charm of this Twitter business. You can see the glittering thread that is Liszt going all over the world, binding us together, in this one brief segment of time.

Then that moment passed.

Here is the oddball piece I was listening to that got me on to all this. When it is finally the weekend and I can breathe instead of writing these scattered, rushed communiques, it would be interesting to discuss it.

I can't wait till I have time to do more than twitter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A pianist named Kunz

I have an affection for musicians named Kunz because that is my name. Before on this blog we have talked about the wonderful Viennese baritone Erich Kunz.

Wow, listen to that wonderful aria from "The Countess Mariza."

Where was I?

Oh, right. There is this new pianist, Eduard Kunz. He is a contestant in this year's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, to be held in Fort Worth, Texas, later this spring. He will be walking out on the same stage I walked out on when I played Schubert in the first, ahem, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. That is Eduard Kunz's picture at the top of this post. He has a kind of Evgeny Kissin thing going on. Only he is better looking than Kissin.

Here is a picture of Evgeny Kissin so we can compare and contrast.

And here is another shot of Kunz. I have decided he is my cousin.

Wow, look! Critics are turning against Evgeny Kissin. Here is the London Evening Standard two years ago:

Evgeny Kissin dazzled at the age of 12 but too often spoils the poetry these days with clangorous tone.

The young Russian Eduard Kunz is a recent addition to the BBC Radio 3 New Generation roster and as he demonstrated in yesterday's lunchtime recital, broadcast live (available for rehearing on the Radio 3 website), he, too, runs the entire gamut from sensitive introspection to fullblooded, muscular pianism.

And it goes from there, praising Kunz to the skies. That was two years ago! Imagine what they are saying about Evgeny Kissin now. Face it, Evgeny. You are out and Eduard Kunz is in. Have a shot of vodka if that makes the truth any easier to swallow.

My family came from Bavaria but Eduard Kunz's family is from Siberia. Sometimes in all honesty Buffalo feels like Siberia, I will say that. Eduard Kunz lives in London now. He is 28.

Here is a clip of Kunz on YouTube. The technical quality is substandard because that is the point where Kunz's career is at, as we like to put it here in Buffalo.

Still he is off to a good start! One commenter on one of Eduard Kunz's YouTube videos writes: "I think he is a genius."

Here is someone blogging about Eduard Kunz. "I have not heard music of such luminous spiritual purity since the days of Dinu Lipatti."

Dinu Lipatti! He will never die!!

All the same I will be cheering on Eduard Kunz as he competes in the 13th Van Cliburn Competition, from May 22 to June 7 this year. It is him, Erich Kunz, Kunz Vogelgesang and me. We are the four Kunzes of music. You would think with Kunz being such a popular name in Germany and a gem being named Kunzite that there would be millions of great musicians named Kunz. But there are not.

Break a leg, Eduard!

Do the family proud!

Ol' Blue Eyes

I always think it is funny how the great pianist Ferruccio Busoni has the most Italian name in the world. Then you look at him and he is this big German.

There is Ferruccio Busoni pictured above. Here he is again. He is pleasant to look at, I will say that. You cannot really see in these pictures that his eyes were blue but I believe that they were. I am sure I have seen that in other photos.

His looks made sense only when I read that Busoni's dad was Italian but his mother was German. It is funny how she allowed his father to name him "Ferruccio." His name was 100 percent Italian even though his looks were not.

My mother and I were once talking about Busoni and my mother said, "His mother must have loved his father very much."

I think that must be true!

I like how Busoni expanded on Bach and other composers, making already difficult pieces that much more difficult. There was a kind of glory in that, a celebration of musical skills. There was a time when people did not respect that kind of artistry. I am happy that now it is being respected again.

Here is Horowitz giving us Busoni's take on Bach.

Always great fun to listen to.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This morning at Mass they sang the great Bach chorale "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." That is a chorale that breaks my heart. Here is a version on YouTube with beautiful religious images.

Here is a version where all they show is this shooting star and I like that too. The genius of Johann Sebastian Bach! There is a great statue of Bach pictured above. It is in Leipzig.

I love the "St. Matthew Passion."

But you know what I really love? The "St. John Passion."

I had a Seraphim box set when I was a kid and over the years I have just kept listening to this marvelous music. That is so often how things work. Something's cheap, you can afford it, you pick it up, you get to love it.

There is this aria "Ich folge dir gleichsam." I could lip-synch the whole thing. It has this beautiful flute part.

And the ending really gets me. "Ach, Herr, lass dein lieb' Engelein." "O, Lord, send your angels." This is the chorale that ends the whole St. John Passion. By that time you are just beat, and then this piece washes over you and soothes you and makes you cry. Catholics, like me, will be reminded of the beautiful last prayer of funerals, when the priest asks that the angels lead the deceased into paradise, that the martyrs come out to greet him and bear him to Abraham's side.

Here is that chorale that I love in the Cologne Cathedral.

There is often humor in the saddest situations and on this video, the guy who posts it is apologizing for misspelling "bosom," as in "bosom of Abraham." He spells it "bossom."

We should kick around Bach cantatas a little more than we have been doing. I have a whole host of them that I love and like all Bach fans, I am always mentally going over my list and adding to it.

True story: During Holy Week, radio stations love to play the Bach Passions. And once I walked into a bar -- it was the Italian Fisherman -- and they were playing the "St. John Passion." The TVs were muted but the place was noisy and over it all I heard "Ich folge dir gleichsam." With everyone drinking beer.

That was strange!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Morning time and evening time ...

I have been thinking about Anne Brown, the soprano who died last week at 96. She was the first Bess in the original 1935 Broadway production of "Porgy and Bess."

That is a picture up above of Miss Brown with Todd Duncan, who sang Porgy. We do like our old atmospheric pictures on this blog! And that one is a good one.

Here is a cool poster I found of Anne Brown.

It is touching to read certain aspects of the story of Anne Brown and "Porgy and Bess." When she auditioned for George Gershwin she was singing Schubert and Brahms, and felt offended when he asked her to sing a spiritual. (She went ahead and sang one anyway.) Then apparently Gershwin loved her singing so much that he made Bess into a bigger and bigger role and that was why, eventually, he called the opera "Porgy and Bess" instead of just "Porgy."

"Porgy and Bess" is so much a part of our culture that it is impossible to imagine its title as simply "Porgy." That was the title of the book it was based on. The world owes so much to Anne Brown.

Anne Brown must have known Al Tinney, the wonderful late Buffalo jazz pianist. Because Tinney assisted Gershwin in preparing "Porgy and Bess" for Broadway. Tinney, who was only 14 then, served as the rehearsal pianist. During the actual production he had a funny little job. He was in charge of leading a goat on stage.

Here is the obit for Al that appeared in the London Independent. It does not mention the part about the goat but we used to get Al to mention that at least.

It was unfortunate that Al was not more of a talker. He would have given us such a window on those long-ago events on Broadway in 1935.

When I was in California with Leonard Pennario, I got a phone call from my friend Charlie back here in Buffalo. Charlie said: "If only you could have done a book about Al!"

I said, "Charlie, I wanted to. But Al wouldn't talk!"

You need someone who will talk to you! And though Al would sit around your house for hours and play the piano for you and drink coffee with you, he was the silent type when it came to talking.

Now they are all going, the last people who remember that historic "Porgy and Bess" premiere. You would think someone would have to be tough to make it to 96, and Anne Brown was, by the sound of it. "We tough girls tough it out," an NPR tribute quotes her as saying.

You can listen to some of Anne Brown's singing on that site here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Riled by O'Riley

There is this pianist, Christopher O'Riley. He came here to Buffalo a couple of weeks ago to tape his national radio show, "From the Top." I got to interview him for The Buffalo News. You can read my interview here. It is insightful, erudite and engrossing!

But there is a hilarious part of my conversation with Christopher O'Riley that did not make it into the paper. That is when I brought up the book I am working on about Leonard Pennario.

Normally I would not do that. I know it is hard to believe but I do not bring up Pennario with every pianist I talk to. But O'Riley was in Pennario's address book. I figured that was because in 1981, O'Riley placed fourth in the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, and Pennario was on the jury that year as he was many years. Pennario was one of only two permanent judges of the Van Cliburn Competition, the other one being the Hungarian-born pianist Lili Kraus. There is a biography of Lili Kraus, by the way, that brags on the back cover that she was the competition's only permanent juror. Not true. Thanks a heap, Lili Kraus biographer!

You can read about the 1981 Cliburn competition here, on the Van Cliburn Foundation's Web site.

Pennario was a judge on a number of competitions -- the Van Cliburn, the Naumburg, etc. -- and I have been given to understand that he was generous with the young musicians, offering them advice and encouragement. A number of former contestants wound up in Pennario's address book and I figured that was why. Pennario was very meticulous about keeping track of people he met.

Anyway. I bring this up with Christopher O'Riley at the end of our conversation. Which, admittedly it was not a great conversation because they scheduled it at 4:30 p.m. when I am always tired and out of it.

And O'Riley had no recollections of Pennario at all!

I said, "You didn't talk to him or anything?"

O'Riley: "No."

Me: "Because often he would offer advice to the kids who competed. He would go out of his way to do that."

O'Riley: "I remember he liked to play bridge."

Me: "Bridge! That is a word I do not want to hear again!"

O'Riley: "Well, he played bridge."

Me: "Well, the reason I thought maybe you had some recollection of him was, you were in his address book."

O'Riley: "I was????"

And then so he would not feel so flattered I assured Christopher O'Riley that Pennario had a big address book, a lot of people were in it.

What a ridiculous conversation! I keep laughing about it. It is funny how I find myself taking it personally when people display no knowledge about Pennario or no interest in him.

This definitely goes under the category of "no one told me being someone's biographer would be like this."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The tenor of his times

My dad's favorite tenor was Richard Tauber (above, with dachshund). The name came up frequently in our house because of a disaster that occurred before I was born. It seems my dad had a recording of Richard Tauber singing Schubert's "Die Schoene Muellerin," a work that needs no introduction on this blog, that is for sure.

And something was wrong with the record. There was a skip in it or something. Whatever was wrong with it dated to its time in the factory, so my dad ended up sending it back and asking for a replacement copy.

And they sent him back a "Schoene Muellerin" by Heinrich Schlusnus. And it was never the same. For the rest of his life, my dad yearned for his old Richard Tauber "Schoene Muellerin." Richard Tauber's "Schoene Muellerin" was indescribably beautiful in his memory and it only got more beautiful as the years went by and the memory became more and more distant. My father bitterly regretted having let the record out of his hands. Even with that scratch, it would have been better than nothing.

Here is a picture of Heinrich Schlusnus whose "Schoene Muellerin" did not measure up.

My dad never did get to hear Tauber's "Schoene Muellerin" again. I sure hope that right now he is having Richard Tauber sing it to him in the world that comes after this one.

It is funny, I can't find any reference to this recording on the Internet. Perhaps was it not Schubert's whole "Schoene Muellerin" my dad was talking about? Maybe it was just a few songs, and then other songs. Who knows.You start to wonder when you can't find something on the Internet. You are used to everything being there.

One of the things that made Tauber unusual is that he played the piano and often accompanied himself. Roaming around, winnowing through the offerings on You Tube, I found a mini-documentary that broke my heart.

Here is Tauber playing and singing Schubert's "Serenade." Part of it, at least. It is a little abbreviated. It is kind of a home movie. Tauber made this little recording only three months before he died, as they explain later in the video. With his dark hair and spectacles he looks a little like Schubert himself.

After they show the Schubert clip, you hear Tauber singing the German folk song "Kommt ein Vogel geflogen." My dad had that recording. I remember it as a little girl. It is so sweet and sad. My father used to say about Tauber that there was such a sadness in his voice.

Tauber was half Jewish and had to leave Germany when the Nazis came to power. The video addresses that too with some home-movie footage of Tauber in what appears to be California. They also show the great singer getting on the ship, going to America, and you hear him singing "Dalla sua pace," from "Don Giovanni," in German. Then the ship sounds its horn. The crowd on the shore waves goodbye. Tauber never went back to Germany again.

There are a few brief interviews. "Unvergesslich herrlich," one woman repeats, recalling Tauber's singing. Unforgettably magnificent.

It's especially poignant how throughout the video, Tauber acts so jaunty and cheery. On the ship, on his way to America, he looks dapper, and pleasantly self-conscious. He even serenades his fellow passengers with "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz," the famous aria from Franz Lehar's "The Land of Smiles."

Can you stand it?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Goin' to Chicago

My friend Peter says that Matthias Goerne is singing at Ravinia this summer. He says we should get a group together and go on down there and rent rooms at the Red Roof Inn and catch Matthias Goerne's act.

I looked on the Internet and lo, there it is: Matthias Goerne is singing Schubert, with pianist Christoph Eschenbach, at Ravinia on July 27, 29 and 31. He is singing the complete "Die Winterreise" and other Schubert songs, too. Rumor has it he is singing "Die Schoene Muellerin" and "Schwanengesang." But it is late and I cannot get the Ravinia Web site to do what I want it to do.

I cannot make up my mind whether I like Matthias Goerne or whether I think he is a thug.

He just looks like a thug! He frightens me!

That is a picture of Matthias Goerne above. He looks like a prisoner. Here is another picture of him you see a lot where he is feral and unshaven.

Here Goerne is singing "Die Nebensonnen" from "Die Winterreise." It is not bad if you divorce his voice from his look. Though even just his voice by itself, I would have to warm up to that.

After "Die Nebensonnen" comes the haunting closing song, "Der Leiermann." That is in the video too. Such thrillingly bleak music!

It suits Goerne, I will say that.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The unanswered question

Just now I was roaming the Internet trying to find a factoid I needed about Isabelle Vengerova, who was one of Leonard Pennario's teachers.

You would not believe what I found instead!

The Leonard Pennario Quiz!

I am taking it right now. The first question, would you believe it, I did not know. I think I may have gotten it wrong! The thing keeps giving me question after question. Here I am Pennario's authorized biographer. He gave me his records and he signed these papers practically marrying me and I wake up every day and put on his bathrobe and I light a candle for him at church every week and now along comes this Leonard Pennario Quiz and I COULD NOT ANSWER THE FIRST QUESTION!

It was about this celebrity bridge game Pennario was in.

At least it was not about his piano career!

I am not making this up. Take the Leonard Pennario Quiz here. They scramble the questions every time so you might not have the first question I did.

One of the questions relates to Pennario's childhood in Buffalo.

Another relates to the teacher who got me into this mess, Isabelle Vengerova.

And yet another question relates to the picture at the top of this post. I like that picture, which shows Pennario at the piano with Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. I like how Pennario looks as if he wishes they would just go away.

I know he didn't feel like that but he looked it. He looks that way here too.

Ha, ha! OK, I have work to do. I have already sacrificed going to the St. Patrick's Day Parade so I can work on my book so can't sit around all day wasting time with this stuff. G'wan with your bad self, take the Leonard Pennario Quiz. Here is the link again in case you don't feel like going back to the first one.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The galloping gourmet

Thinking about binge music, which we did earlier this week, led me to "Normanns Gesang," the Schubert song I loved as a teenager. I must have listened to it several dozen times since finding it on YouTube.

Here again is "Normanns Gesang" in case you want to follow me down this road of no return. Isn't that a funny funky picture of Schubert above? I cracked up when I saw it.

Looking at the comments on the "Normanns Gesang" video I saw somebody wrote: "A galloper!"

Schubert fans know what that means: a song set to the sound of a horse galloping.

Now that it's Saturday and I can breathe a little bit, I started thinking about other Schubert songs like that. There are so many of them and it is fun to go over them in your mind. They remind you that Schubert never grew old. Dead at only 31, he was always a young man, in love with the images of knights and ladies and horses. Of course I never really outgrew those. But some people do. Schubert never did.

Off the top of my head, a few horse songs.

"Auf der Bruck." Darn, there's no translation here, but you almost don't have to hear the words. The singer makes a lot of testosterone-laden declarations about life and love while crossing a bridge, is the gist of it. I like this video of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I like how self-conscious he looks at the beginning, and then you can see him getting the image in his mind, picturing the bridge and the horse, getting into the mood.

The ending to "Auf der Bruck" is one of the great declarative Schubert endings.

"Willkommen und Abschied." Wow, this is fun! I never have anyone to discuss Schubert songs with. Here is a version of this one -- "welcome and farewell," the title means, or "Hello and Goodbye" -- sung by Bo Skovhus. I like Bo Skovhus. Let's mix things up a little.

Like "Auf der Bruck" this is a song to be sung by a guy. Preferably a baritone, in my way of thinking. You know what, though, Skovhus is not as over-the-top as the recording I love by Fischer-Dieskau. What can I say, I am a Fischer-Dieskau girl. If you can get your hands on the Fischer-Dieskau version, he really goes over the top. You have to do that in a song like this. Restraint has no place in this song.

There is no translation for this song either but what it happening is, the singer is thinking of a sweetheart he had to say goodbye to -- but he is going to see her again, and at the end he declares, in spite of all the pain, what a joy to be loved. It is a kind of "What I Did For Love" song. That is another great euphoric Schubert ending.

A lot of Schubert songs I love go back to when I was a kid. "Willkommen und Abschied" is one I got around to only a few months ago.

Here is a song that is not exactly a galloper but it is a horse song. This is "Abschied" ("Farewell") from "Schwanengesang" ("Swan Song"), Schubert's last collection of songs.

"Abschied" has the guy on his horse and he is trotting away from a town that holds a lot of associations for him. And as the horse trots he says goodbye to things one by one. The houses, the inn, the love he is leaving behind. Finally he says goodbye to the stars. That is a moment that can bring tears to my eyes. Schubert does something to the key right there, something to the harmony.

It is poignant to associate this song with Schubert's last days because you can look at the song as someone saying goodbye to life, one thing at a time. It can make you think of the goodbyes in your own life, too. During the months I was in California with Leonard Pennario, I had this song on a CD and it took on new meaning to me there. But this song does not have to be sorrowful. You could look at it in a lighthearted way. It is actually cheery, with the horse trotting along, the rider not feeling too much nostalgia.

Here is "Abschied" sung by my guy, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Can you take one more for the road?

I have just found the funniest take on "Abschied." Check out this video. Too funny -- you have this goofy guy in a sweatshirt singing this song, none too well, in between swigs of red wine, to a girl in a bar. To a sort of canned electronic accompaniment. "Ade," he says to her at the end, when they clink glasses. I watched the whole thing!

It is occasionally excruciating but at the same time so boozy and cute.

Schubert heard his songs sung like that many times, you can bet on that.

Friday, March 13, 2009

33 Variations on "33 Variations"

"Jane Fonda and Beethoven -- Together on Broadway." There is no missing that headline in today's Wall Street Journal. The headline goes with Terry Teachout's review of "33 Variations," a drama about Beethoven and a dying woman who is researching the "Diabelli Variations."

Here is the review if you are like me and read everything you can find about Beethoven even if it does involve Jane Fonda.

Remember Beethoven's hot nephew?

Where was I?

I have to confess, I do not have a lot of interest in this play about Beethoven. It's my experience that most people, concocting dramas about musicians, miss the mark. They just don't get it. To get a handle on music, it doesn't take special skills or college degrees but what it takes is time and love. You have to love the music and listen to it for years and years until it gets into your bones, it becomes part of your life and consciousness.

Almost no writers do that. That is why there are so many novels and plays about writers and poets and English teachers. That is what writers know about. They have a handle on that. And if they try to write about music or musicians, there's this disconnect. It is just ... unsatisfying.

Then it's discouraging because I think, OK, now that there's this crummy drama about Beethoven, or whoever, we will not get a good one. It's been done.

Listen to me gripe! I was out too late lastnight, can you tell?

I have not seen "33 Variations" but already, I see a couple of red flags. The one is, as Terry Teachout points out, the "Diabelli Variations" are just too big, deep and wide to be used as a backdrop to some drama. That hints to me that the playwright had a superficial relationship with them.

I do not like when people have a superficial relationship with Beethoven!

Here is another thing and this is just me talking now. Even if this playwright, Moises Kaufman, knew the "Diabelli Variations" inside out, and even if he could create a drama that measured up to them -- which, good luck -- I am not sure that even then I would want to go.

I just don't like the "Diabelli Variations" enough.

I appreciate their greatness, but on an intellectual level. Now, I realize that the more I listen to them, the more I will hear in them. In other words, my relationship with this piece is still evolving. But I appreciate them, so far at least, with my head, not my heart.

For starters, I do not like the name "Diabelli." It sounds like "diabolical." It should not bother me but it does. I bet deep down it bothers other people too. That is Anton Diabelli pictured above, probably holding his waltz.

Which leads me to a bigger problem. The waltz that Diabelli sent around for composers to write variations on, it's a stupid, silly theme. I realize that Beethoven is making a point, writing these towering variations on a silly theme. But for me, the piece as a whole suffers because you don't get that thrill of a magnificent theme behind all the variations. You know what set of Beethoven variations I love? The "Eroica" Variations. (Or the "Prometheus" variations, if you want to be fussy and use the scholarly name.)

In the "Eroica" Variations you get that wonderful theme. And the moment when Beethoven swings into it for the first time, when he lets you hear it, that's a thrill. First he teases you for a couple of pages, giving you the bass line. Then he goes into that beautiful "Eroica" theme and you just want to die, hearing it.

That moment is almost exactly at 3:00 in the link above if you want to hear it. Wow, I love it. I studied this piece myself and learned to play it pretty well and I never, ever got sick of playing that. Just the other day I took the music out and played the first five pages just so I could experience that one moment.

You don't get that in the "Diabelli Variations." That Diabelli theme is so tinny and annoying.

There is one variation I love, love, love. That is when Beethoven takes that dumb theme and turns it into a heartbreaking waltz of his own. That gives you a glimpse of the romantic side of Beethoven you do not always get. Beethoven can be extremely passionate and romantic. He loved women deeply and helplessly and you hear that in this beautiful waltz.

That is Variation VIII. It is at 1:15 in this clip. I wish I had time to shop around through all the "Diabelli" clips on You Tube. There is a bundle of them!

Unfortunately Variation VIII comes early in the "Diabelli Variations" and I spend the rest of the piece regretting that I will not get to hear it again. That is a problem with the piece, I say.

Beethoven should have consulted me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My new friend from France

There is this pianist I have gotten to be blog buddies with. He has a beautiful name, Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont.

Pierre-Arnaud is French!

The other day the excellent Monsieur Dablemont did a post on the Five Most Difficult Piano Pieces. He mentioned Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit." And I wrote to him -- not to shock anyone, but I wrote about Leonard Pennario, how Pennario did a historic recording of "Gaspard de la Nuit" but how I always got the idea that Pennario took even more pride in being the first pianist to tackle Ravel's solo-piano arrangement of "La Valse." I wondered if "La Valse" was not perhaps more difficult.

Which, I have no idea, because I have never tackled either of those pieces. That is for sure!

I love asking a question like this, posting it on someone's blog. It is like the old comic strip B.C., pictured above, where the cave man carves his question on a stone tablet and tosses it into the ocean and awaits his answer.

Today I checked back to see if my new friend Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont had answered my question. He had! It was just like in "B.C." He wrote:

Mary, la valse IS difficult! I did not list it because I think it’s less difficult than Gaspard de la Nuit and I only wanted pieces originally for piano.
Thanks for reading! And you already know I am enjoying your blog ;-)

Monsieur Dablemont, merci beaucoup!

Here is a picture of mon ami Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont.

Is this Internet age not wonderful?

You throw an opinion out there, and erudite people, like Prof. G yesterday, take it seriously and weigh in. You can communicate with pianists from another continent. We can all share opinions with each other, about arcane matters.

No piano fan is an island! We just sometimes feel as if we are.

Here is a hotly contested -- as you can see by the comments -- version of Ravel's solo-piano "La Valse" by a kid entering a competition.

Here is "Ondine," the first part of "Gaspard de la Nuit," played by Robert Casadesus.

And here, my friends, is the blog of Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We lock horns with Dinu Lipatti

I know that being the authorized biographer of a pianist I am supposed to be objective and everything. And I try. I try!

But just now I found myself listening to the famed Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti playing the simple Brahms A flat waltz.

Then I listened to Leonard Pennario playing it.

There was no comparison!

I am not speaking ill of Lipatti. Perhaps this comes down to a matter of taste. But to me Pennario's version is so warm, so full, next to Lipatti's. Lipatti's is nice, but it's kind of staccato, perfunctory and cold. Pennario's is slow. Sensuous. Grown-up. Passionate.

At the end, when Lipatti just kind of flips the thing off, Pennario finesses things with such poetry, it breaks your heart.

And what is a pain, is, well, you know I have been reading the reviews that Gramophone gave Pennario down through the 1950s. And I am reading the New York Times' reviews, too. Both these publications, Gramophone in particular, are always comparing Pennario with Lipatti, and finding Pennario wanting. It gets like this kind of whine. And all I can think is that it was because Lipatti was dead. He died young, in 1950. He was only 31. Which was a terrible tragedy, and so critics kept saying, well, Lipatti played this, Lipatti played that, Lipatti is gone, no one can be like Lipatti.

Imagine that, being up against this fabled dead person. It is like "Rebecca." Fie on these critics. Fie!

Here is a picture of Dinu Lipatti.

C'mon, people, we all know this waltz. You be the critic. Listen to both of them, say what you think.

Here is Lipatti's take on Brahms' famous little waltz. Now that I listen to it again, I think it may have been speeded up a little. It sounds as if it is a whole tone high. But still.

Here is Pennario's. He is playing on two pianos, too. Keep that in mind. He recorded one part, and then did the other part over it. You would think that would be more cumbersome and mechanical. But he makes it work! His playing has such emotion, such a wonderful direct quality. By the way this clip includes a number of waltzes. The waltz we are talking about is the first. The other waltzes he plays are also off the charts. They are vigorous and magnificent.

Which of these two pianists hears more in this piece?

I ask you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fathers and sons

The Chautauqua newspaper is always fun to get this time of year because it reminds you that summer is right around the corner. Looking it over, I saw this poignant little story.

The late Portuguese-born sculptor George Pissarro produced a prodigious amount of pieces in marble ... A descendant of the great French painter Camille Pissarro, George supported himself as an usher at Lincoln Center. Before his recent death, he lived in a ramshackle carriage house in a blighted neighborhood on Staten Island and never received critical acclaim.

Wow, how weird! I am not much into visual art these days and it is interesting to know that there was this descendant of Camille Pissarro running around making art and supporting himself as an usher at Lincoln Center and living in a ramshackle carriage house.

My brother George and I are fans of Camille Pissarro. When we were in Paris we undertook this search in the famous Paris cemetery for Pissarro's grave. It took forever because first of all it was 95 degrees and secondly we discovered that Pissarro's grave was deep in the Jewish section where there was nothing but Hebrew. But we persevered. And we found it! Camille Pissarro has a stone that we felt was woefully small for an artist of his stature. We feel that Pissarro was greater than Monet.

So, poor George Pissarro. That is a tough row to hoe, being the descendent of a great, and then entering the same field. In contemporary art these days it is pretty much impossible to tell who has talent and who does not. But I would guess that George does not measure up to Camille. Because look, that is a Pissarro painting pictured above.

And here is a set of George Pissarro's sculptures. They do not awaken the same emotion in me, I have to say that.

My sister and I used to joke about writing a play called "Fathers and Sons," about situations like this in music.

There was Mozart's son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart II, originally named Franz Xavier. Greatest guy, apparently, but not his dad, is all I am saying.

And Duke Ellington's son, Mercer Ellington.

Like Mozart's son, Mercer was the greatest guy. And I love his easy blues "Things Ain't What They Used to Be." But he was not the Duke. I am just saying.

We could also include Siegfried Wagner.

They are coming out these days with a ton of Siegfried Wagner operas. When in the world am I going to find the time to wade through them? I feel I should. I listened to one, "Sonnenflamen," and I liked it. But I am such a fan of Richard Wagner that I could hardly hear clearly because I was too busy regretting that Siegfried was not the old man.

Here is an excerpt from Siegfried's opera "Sternengebot." Listen to it, someone, and tell me how it is.

The poor guy, Siegfried! Even his opera titles are forgettable! Not like "Tannhauser." Not like "Goetterdaemmerung."

Probably I shouldn't lump all three of these sons together. They were of varying talents and abilities.

But like George Pissarro, they had a tough row to hoe.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Musical binge behavior

Wow, I am warmed by Ward's admission the other day that once he listened to William Byrd's "Ne irascaris, Domine" (nine minutes long) performed by St. John's College, Cambridge, for about an hour. In the car.

In the car is where these things happen because you have the time and also a lot of the time no one is there to witness your binging behavior. I could not find Ward's binge piece on You Tube but that is a picture above of St. John's College, Cambridge, in tribute to his confession.

I have a car binging story too. Once my friend Lizzie and I were driving to New Orleans and I got stuck on the slow movement to Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto. Lizzie was asleep, and I just kept hitting that button. And the movement would start again! I love that long sensuous line when the piano comes in. It is like getting a massage. You can almost feel it physically.

So I listened to that movement, again and again. I started grinning to myself just with the secret pleasure of it. It was like chocolate cake. Imagine just running your finger along the frosting one more time. That was what I kept thinking of.

What else have I binged on? Oh, it is not pretty.

Omigosh. I cannot believe I found this song on You Tube. This is a song I binged on when I was 16. One afternoon in my room I listened to it about 100 times. It is so obscure. I can't believe I found it.

This is a song by Schubert called "Normans Gesang." I don't have to translate it because whoever put this video together translates it and did a great job with these Sir Walter Scott images. The You Tube video maker even used the recording I loved and binged on, by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau of course. Well, no one else probably has ever sung this song.

"Oh, glaub, o glaub, mein letzter Seufzer, Maria, ist fuer dich." I am dying here watching this. This song has the greatest Schubert gallop motif. You can hear the knight's horse galloping -- as some commentator put it once, you can hear it galloping over uneven ground. That is true!

And at the end he salutes his love, with that little vocal flourish. That is another thing I read somewhere. I read so many things and I never remember where.

I have just blown 20 minutes binging on this song all over again. "No shame in that, Mary," Ward wrote. But still.

Howard just stuck his face in the door and went, "Nerd."

Well, at least this binge behavior won't make me fat.

Think of England

Reading Gramophone is an adventure, I will say that! But it is not what I had expected it to be when I rhapsodized about it yesterday. These Brits and their music criticism! And their colons, and their semicolons!

Don't get me wrong. I love the British. My good friend Alenka from church is British. She is the one who wrote the biography of Leonard Cheshire ...

... and we have a lot of fun comparing and contrasting our respective Leonards, mine being the pianist Leonard Pennario, pictured above.

But there is something about these British critics that makes it almost excruciating to follow Pennario through the years, which is what I was using the Gramophone site to do seeing that I am writing this book about him.

My journey begins in 1952 when Pennario gave a debut recital at London's Wigmore Hall, a debut that knocked people's socks off, in particular the critic Andrew Porter's. That was when Porter wrote that famous ecstatic review with the line: "No one today plays the piano better than Pennario."

Which is nice. That is is all well and good! But then we go from there. A little while after the Wigmore Hall recital, Porter writes:

I may have been hypnotised when I heard Leonard Pennario's only recital in this country so far, in the Wigmore Hall on June 20th, 1952; but in that case so, independently, were the two people whose opinions on piano playing I most value, who happened to be at the concert too. It may be that Pennario on that evening was particularly inspired. This, his latest record, leaves me in the ungraceful position of trying to wriggle from the position of extreme enthusiasm in which that recital left me. These are two of the pieces he played: Mephisto and the Barcarolle. Neither, it must be said, is remarkable. The Barcarolle should surely start with veiled tone: an embarkation in the halflight. So Dinu Lipatti played it, in a wonderful performance preserved on Columbia LX1437; so Claudio Arrau plays it, in Volume i of his Chopin just issued. But Pennario sets out in everyday light; blah blah blah...

That "blah blah blah" is mine. I guess Andrew Porter will not be talking to me for my book after that. But I could not help it. Anyway, let's continue. A little while later, a new Pennario record comes out. I was glad to see it gave A.P. reason to get back his old enthusiasm:

I first heard Leonard Pennario in the Wigmore Hall last June, when he moved me to write what an American correspondent described as "incontinent ravings." Pennario's new record, more successful than any of his previous ones, should show why I raved. To find comparisons with Pennario one casts for the name of the greatest pianistic giants...

Even the complimentary reviews Pennario gets, there is something funny about them. He was such an unfussy pianist -- we were just talking about that in yesterday's post -- and here he is being dissected in the most detailed, scientific terms. It is as if these British critics are fascinated by him, this unusual American, so absurdly full of life, but they aren't sure what to make of him.

This is part of a glowing review in Feb. 1959 of Pennario's record of the Grieg Piano Concerto:

Pennario sometimes seems to be the sort of pianist who is happiest when the music is really difficult, and a little at a loss when it is easy. In the slow movement of the Grieg he misses much of the poetry of the piano entry, yet elsewhere he cheerfully adds to his technical problems by playing some of the hardest passages faster than is either usual or really necessary. This is an extremely brilliant and glittering performance. The orchestra too is very much on its toes, and the result is vitality and a good deal of excitement.

But the Chopin preludes, a record I find glorious, gets this from a critic signing himself S.P.

I was disappointed with this. Much as I admired the agility and above all the clarity of the playing, I couldn't help feeling that time and time again Chopin had passed Pennario by. Not, be it noted, the other way round — for Pennario makes a show of espressivo playing when he feels he should and is anxious not to skimp anything: but his rubato invariably succeeds only in laming the music, never in elevating it. ... I made fairly full notes about this performance as I listened but detailed criticism is hardly necessary when other recorded performances by Rubinstein, Arrau, Askenase and Moura Lympany exist that deserve it far more.

And now for my favorite. This is a critic dissecting Pennario's "Pictures at an Exhibition."

Pennario comes close to achieving the impossible; his performance is brilliant in the highest degree. To call it also soulless is not, I hope, so damaging as it sounds; the music does not set out much to exercise the soul in the first place. And the brilliance does lend a great deal of point to many passages which are apt to sound not so startling in the original as in the arrangements...

Here is a picture of Pennario's beautiful Ravel record featuring "Le Tombeau de Couperin."

About this, another initialed critic pontificates:

The impressionist label can't really be made to stick on Ravel's music; it has a nervous grace and clarity that is far removed from the sort of tonal fog that word conjures up. It is no coincidence that Ravel chose to pay homage to Couperin, and I cannot help feeling that a course of playing French harpsichord music would work wonders for Mr. Pennario's understanding of Ravel — at the very least it might persuade him not to ignore the spiky articulation Ravel prescribes for the subject of the fugue in Le Tombeau de Couperin...

OK, I'll stop now. And tomorrow I'll go back to writing about other stuff besides Leonard Pennario. But here is what killed me. In the middle of all this the Gramophone search engine tossed up the obituary the magazine ran last June. "The American pianist Leonard Pennario has died, age 83..."

As if they had nitpicked him to death!

You just picture all these critics, A.P., J.N., R.F. and the rest, all gathered around his body, pecking away at him. I am sorry, that is the image I have.

No one told me being a biographer would be like this.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Into the Gramophone's archives

Today brought a big deal for nuts like me. You can now log onto Gramophone Magazine's Web site and get free access to their archives. That is all the magazines since 1923!!

This is fantastic. This is like Christmas! I love Gramophone ever since they were nice enough to print my letter and now I dived into their archives with excitement and glee. That is my letter pictured above. See, not only do I enjoy perusing the archives, I am in them.

Once I signed onto the archives, I know you will find this hard to believe but the first thing I looked up was: "Pennario." There were over 150 references to him. This is heaven. This is the kind of thing I dream about at night.

There was one story where someone caught up with Pennario at his hotel when he was in London and got two quotes out of him. One was: "I feel something like a phantom." Because as the writer pointed out, Pennario had not been to London for six years, and existed to the public only through his records. This was in 1958 and he had not been there since 1952 when he made his debut at the Wigmore Hall.

Wow, Pennario would hate that link I put just now. He would totally kill me.

Where was I? I got a kick out of reading that interview, is what I was saying. I have found so few interviews with Leonard Pennario. That is one reason I wanted to write about him. No one else over the years ever seemed to have had much luck sitting him down and getting him to talk.

Here is the other quote Pennario gave to the Gramophone reporter.

We talked about what he called "intercutting "—the joining together of several "takes" to make a record which is presented as a single performance. Pennario likes to minimize this practice, but told me of a fellow pianist who actually boasted that there were one hundred splices in the master-tape of a single recording. Pennario does not concern himself with engineering techniques in the studio: "People say — was there one mike? Where was it placed? But I never know, because I'm in another world."

Isn't that wonderful? That made me all proud and nostalgic for the old man. I am reading it thinking yep, that's my guy. That's Pennario.

I wonder who that pianist was with 100 splices. Ahahahahahaha!

I do not expect that anyone will have one tenth the fun I am having with Gramophone's archives! But it is nice to know they are there, that is for sure. Explore them, have fun. It's free. Just click here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Somewhere along the line during the last few months I fell in love with this song by Erik Satie. It is called "Tendrement."

Here it is sung by Jessye Norman. "Tendrement" was on this CD I came into possession of called "Surprise," by Measha Brueggergosman. That is Measha Brueggergosman pictured above. Her ponderous last name is her last name, "Gosman," put together with her husband's last name, "Bruegger." That is what I have read. Were I do follow in her footsteps my name would be Mary Goldmankunz. Perhaps I should do that!

I actually like Measha Brueggergosman's recording a little better than Jessye Norman's. It is not as dramatic. But then maybe that is because I am used to it.

This is sorry to admit but I binged on that song! That is an ugly side to my music listening I do not like to admit to. It wasn't so easy back when we had only cassette players in the car. You could not just flick your finger on a button and have the thing go back to start.

Now, technology being what it is, you just hit the button and bingo, you can hear the song again. Or the movement of the concerto. Whatever it is you are listening to. So while I was listening to "Surprise," by Measha Brueggergosman, I just kept hitting the button over and over, and listening to this little waltz. I liked the other songs fine. I especially liked the cabaret songs by Arnold Schoenberg that came before this one. But I just kept returning to "Tendrement." Once I drove all the way to work listening to it over and over.

That is music moron behavior!

Here is a picture of Erik Satie. He does not look like the type of guy who would write something like "Tendrement," I will say that.

Not like Johannes Brahms.

Now, Brahms, you could believe he wrote whatever romantic song of his it is that you are binging on.

Wow, look at that link. Gerald Moore. He is so British! His Britishness is somehow at odds with this song. It is so cute.

Back to "Tendrement." I found another recording. What do you know? Let's listen to it again. "Tendrement."

Not as good as the Norman.

But still.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Blast from the past

Here is one thing I love: someone who gets all excited about a musician most of the world has never heard of.

In other words, someone who reminds me of me! Not exactly like me, of course. I am a breed unto myself, I will admit that right now. But someone similar.

On my Leonard Pennario blog today I ramble on enthusiastically about my new friend Larry, whom I have met through You Tube. He posted a bunch of Pennario's recordings, and we have begun a correspondence which, trust me, will one day prove as valuable as that between Wagner and Liszt.

Larry has a fixation on the conductor, composer and teacher Rene Leibowitz (1913-1972). That is how he discovered Pennario. Pennario and Leibowitz teamed up in 1963 for a recording of Liszt's Piano Concertos 1 and 2.

That is Leibowitz pictured above. Larry got on to him because of a couple of records Leibowitz conducted that he heard as a teenager.

"Two of those records would become my lifetime favorite classical pieces, Leibowitz / Royal Philharmonic A Night On Bare Mountain-Pictures At An Exhibition (same record) and Bach-Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor which he arranged," he wrote to me.
"After listening to all of the versions of these works I could find, Leibowitz's genius just impressed me all the more. Nothing else compares. His arrangement of Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor for double orchestra is another astounding example of the 'special' sound he produced."

Larry passes on the link to Leibowitz's Bach which you can find here.

"So, this set the stage," he continued. "Leibowitz fascinated me in a very special way. Many countless hours have been spent listening to just these three works. My favorites. Admiration is an understatement. He has no equal in so many ways. Just like Pennario. And yet he is widely unknown. And look what he did for Schoenberg's 12-tone method of composition. Pierre Boulez and Jacques-Louis Monod were his pupils! His ear and attention to detail results in a unique sound that just 'stands out'. To me, anyway."

Here is Leibowitz's "Night on Bald Mountain." "Rare and amazing!" Larry writes. And it is! It is extremely dramatic, I have to say that. Right from the word go.

Here is his "Pictures at an Exhibition." Aye me! Putting up these links I mistakenly got them both playing at the same time. That is not good.

Just on my own I stumbled onto Leibowitz doing Ravel's Bolero. Who can resist that? Not me!

How wonderful that Leibowitz delved into this music as passionately as he did. Other conductors might consider these pieces simply warhorses. He attacks them!

How wonderful too that Leibowitz has Larry championing him.

All deserving musicians should be so lucky.