Thursday, December 13, 2012

For the Five Great Musicians Who Died This Week Part 1

Heaven clearly needed a benefit concert this week, so no less than five musicians of world importance died. There’s simply too much to write about all important musical figures who died this week. So rather than try, I’ll write a paragraph for each and let the music do the talking:

For Dave Brubeck (1920-2012): First of all, let me point out Le Malon’s wonderful guest post that he did last week to commemorate the old legend. But let me also add one thing, one which Le Malon will no doubt remember quite well. For me, as I suppose is true for many tens of thousands of others, memories of Dave Brubeck involves after-parties galore. The cheap beer and boxed wine would be accompanied by whatever indy music White Stripes white noise was fashionable between the years of 2001 and 2009, but the afterparty was where the good stuff was brought out, and usually that meant scotch and jazz. Short of Coltrane, I don’t think any musician was more featured on those playlists than Brubeck – at least not in my life soundtrack.

For Charles Rosen (1927-2012) - Everything about Charles Rosen bespoke the ultimate refinement. The ease with which he unraveled the most complicated technical problems on the piano, the dazzling manner in which he unraveled the thorniest problems of music theory in prose just simple enough to be understood and just dense enough to remind you how extremely learned he is; the plush Upper-East Side accent of his superbly articulate interviews, the (apparent) excellence of his French cooking; the eternal-seeming index of subjects ad nauseum which he wrote about for the New York Review of Books, and the honor roll of piano, language, and poetry students he taught both privately and at schools as venerated as MIT, Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Oxford. Charles Rosen was the pie in the collective face of every person who despairs (often rightly) that musicians are uncurious idiots outside of their chosen métier. There was not a single vulgar bone in Charles Rosen’s body, and while he was a pianist of towering strengths, it was also his greatest (and perhaps sole) limitation. His playing was startlingly intelligent with effects seemingly executed with the same ease by which we laymen put on a CD. He was the model of good taste and the perfect pianist for connoisseurs of his generation, a Schnabel-like classics specialist just vulgar enough to be a superb Chopin and Liszt pianist (um gottes willen!) but not vulgar enough to play Rachmaninov or Prokofiev. This refusal to indulge in any mannerism which smacked of the masses was not a virtue and should not be celebrated as such. It was an excuse to renounce the better part of a musician’s individuality, and as a result, Rosen’s playing sounded like the ivory ideal heard in your own head – the realization of a dream, but telling you little you didn’t know already.

Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata – Final Movement

An arrangement of Chopin’s Minute Waltz with an extra line of thirds for greater virtuoso display – by Rosen’s equally legendary teacher in his era, Moritz Rosenthal.  Would that we had more from him like this and a few fewer Hammerklaviers. Here is some more unadulterated Chopin.

Liszt’s Don Juan Fantasy – called by some the hardest piano piece in the standard repertoire, and apparently recorded when he was eighty-three!

Mozart on the pianoforte – Rosen was twenty-eight when he made this recording. He later became quite disparaging of trends towards historical performance practice.

Night Fantasies – written for him by his good friend, Elliott Carter – the equally upper-east side patrician composer of atonal music who lived to be 103 and died merely a month before him.  

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