Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dohnanyi Radio

I love the wild and woolly world of Internet radio.

Today writing on my Leonard Pennario Web log about a conversation I had with the biographer of Ernst von Dohnanyi I was Googling around looking for this and that. And I found Ernst von Dohnanyi Radio. That is Dohnanyi pictured above. Here he is a little bit older.

It is funny how he kept that same look. Very distinguished, a little suspicious.

Back to Ernst von Dohnanyi Radio. I listened for a while. It was not strictly Dohnanyi -- as a matter of fact, I did not hear any Dohnanyi in the 10 or 15 minutes I listened. It seemed to be music that someone who liked Dohnanyi would like. Which, I have to say they are right. I like Dohnanyi, and I liked what I heard on Ernst von Dohnanyi Radio. They played the Brahms Lullaby, Then an orchestra-plus-soprano version, in the original German, of Schubert's "Ave Maria." Then a weird choral piece by Rachmaninoff that I loved.

Intrigued, I began looking around this site -- Last FM, it is called -- to see what else it offered. "Why not try Foo Fighters, Muse, indie or rock?" it prompted me. Ha, ha! Because I do not want to listen to them, that is why.

Instead I opted for a string of Cyrillic letters. And it wound up being Prokofiev.

As you listen to Prokofiev Radio you get to look at a whole bundle of beautiful old photos of old Serge. They were playing Vladimir Ashkenazy playing the Piano Concerto No. 1.

This is a fine way to get behind with your day first thing.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The piano teacher

Here is something I sometimes walk around thinking about. Consider two great musicians who taught piano, Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin.

It is hilarious who was the tough one and who was the softie.

You would think Chopin ...

... would be the softie. He played so soft you could hardly hear it, he looked like a girl (at least in that picture), he wrote those heart-melting nocturnes.

And you would think Beethoven ...

... would be the one yelling at you.

But no, if the books I have read are true, Chopin was the meanie. There are accounts of women leaving their lessons with tears streaming down their faces.

Whereas it was Beethoven who was the cream puff. He fell in love with women he taught piano to, and even the ones he did not fall in love with, he was nice to. You could twist him around your finger, is the impression I get.

It would definitely have been more fun to take lessons from him.

But you would probably learn more from Chopin.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Risky business

Here is a book waiting to be written, though not by me because I am too busy with Pennario.

Isn't it odd that in Tudor England, so many of the great British composers were Catholic?

There was William Byrd, above.

Thomas Tallis.

And the melancholy god of the lute, John Dowland.

Wow, these men all look pretty much alike. Perhaps they are in fact the same person!

But seriously. This seems like an unusual situation, all of them being Catholic in an era when that took great courage. It makes me wonder about the theory I have read about, that Shakespeare was Catholic. Judging from these three -- and there are more, I just can't think of them right now -- it seems to have been the thinking man's religion.

Wikipedia suggests that Dowland was defiant about his faith, even working behind the scenes for the Vatican. Elizabeth was supposed to have said that he "was a man to serve any prince in the world, but [he] was an obstinate Papist."

It is hard even to imagine his courage. In Elizabethan England you could get executed simply for being Catholic. The memory was still recent of how Henry VIII had beheaded Sir Thomas More in the public square because he would not renounce his faith. Here he was the Chancellor of England, one of the king's closest friends, and he went to the block with his wife and children watching.

And he got off easy next to some of the others. They would execute Catholics in terrible ways. Hanging, drawing and quartering seems to have been a common way to do it. That happened to a London bookstore owner who would not stop selling Catholic books.

Anyway, given the situation, it seems amazing to me that these composers were Catholic, stuck to their guns and seem to have gotten away with it.

Elizabeth must have liked their music an awful lot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Monday in the country

Let's get this Web log rolling again! If I see Ivo Pogorelich's face one more time I am going to lose it. Every day I log onto my Leonard Pennario Web log and there is Pogo in the corner, staring at me.

No more!

He reminds me of the villain from the "Austin Powers" movies. I cannot think of that character's name right now but I cannot like at Ivo P. without thinking of him. Maybe it's me. I just cannot help it.

Today the Web log zooms across the world to Heiligenstadt. I would rather have Heiligenstadt looking at me. Above is a statue of Beethoven at Heiligenstadt. I think they made Beethoven a little short. I read he was 5'6" which stuck in my head because it is my height. Well, a minor quibble.

Heiligenstadt was the town where Beethoven used to go to relax. There is the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, an anguished letter he wrote to his brother about his deafness. Beethoven wrote that letter in Heiligenstadt.

A few weeks ago my friend Prof. G sent me a video of the house in Heiligenstadt where Beethoven lived.

The homemade video, made 16 years ago, is so touching. You see the thunderstruck young Beethoven fan, exploring Beethoven's house in Heiligenstadt, looking at his manuscripts and playing a sweet Bagatelle. Doing a fine job with the Bagatelle, too, as Prof. G pointed out.

I love when he runs his hands gingerly over the piano keys and then holds his hands up in the air, as if, "I won't touch."

One of the comments gives the impression that if you ask to play Beethoven's piano at his Heiligenstadt house they are often pretty good about it. It depends on who is on duty, but there is a good chance they will tell you yes. That is a nice and very Beethoven way to be!

Most of all on this hectic Monday morning I am drawn toward the part of the clip where the camera takes you down the stairs and casually shows you the countryside. You can almost feel the breezes and the summer air. I can see what Beethoven loved in the place. I wish I were there this morning and not going to the office, I will tell you that.

I want to be at Beethoven's house in Heiligenstadt this morning.

Looking at his manuscripts.

Playing his piano.