Hill Station to Hill Station

What a difference sheer distance can make, when two locales, each over 6,000 feet high happen to be situated some 1500 miles apart! Intrigued? If so, read on.

I was born in an Indian hill station, Mussoorie, 6000-plus feet up in the North Indian foothills of the Himalayas, and not surprisingly I’ve always enjoyed the climate that enticing places like it enjoy in the world – both close to home as well as those further afield, or more accurately in other countries. Mixed in with that climatic observation is the fact that in one of my earlier careers I was involved in the tea industry as the managing agency I worked for had as one of its many corporations the Assam Sawmills and Timber Co., which was the largest manufacturer of tea chests in the country. As a result, in my role  as a senior  company executive, I visited many tea gardens in Assam and  West Bengal in the Northeast, and Nilgiri in southern India, during which time I learned of another important source of black tea: the neighboring island of Ceylon – now known as Sri Lanka.

Came a time when a person whom I first met in New Delhi at a diplomatic party intrigued me with fascinating stories about his homeland – both about its ancient history as well as its modern day developments. I speak of the late Sir Richard Aluwihare, who was Ceylon’s distinguished ambassador to India during my three-year managerial stint in the Indian capital. I got to know him and his family well and it came to pass that one day out of the blue he invited me to his family estate in Matale for a holiday during which time I would have an opportunity of visiting not only neighboring tea gardens including famed Nuwara Eliya as also well-known archaeological sites in the northeast.  I accepted his kind invitation with alacrity, and not many months later I found myself in Colombo, the capital, en route to destinations in the hinterland for a glorious fortnight’s respite away from the enervating heat of  summer in my homeland.

 

Puccini Pavilion

[While growing up in New Delhi, India, I was used to hearing music pervade the household, whatever the season – be it during the Capital’s colorful springs, hot summers, wet monsoons, cool autumns or cold winters. Even as a pre-teenager, I recall our trusted gramophone being primed with 78 rpm recordings issued by His Masters Voice (HMV) of famous Western Classical musicians – instrumentalists and operatic singers – filling our drawing room with the lush unforgettable music of their world-renowned performances.

That was mainly due to my parents’ abiding love of music – Mummy’s bent was for listening to piano compositions, Daddy’s proclivity lay elsewhere – in operatic arias! In my blog posts beginning January 2015 I have devoted quite a number of hours writing about my favorite pianists and their unforgettable performances, so it’s about time that I turn to the human voice as portrayed so marvelously in the world of opera. ]

Today, I am taking the 93rd death anniversary on November the 29th of my best loved opera composer, Giacomo Puccini, to celebrate his Madama Butterfly that premiered in Milan, Italy on February 17, 1904.

Puccini was the last descendant of a family that for two centuries had provided the musical directors of the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca. Puccini initially dedicated himself to music, therefore, not as a personal vocation but as a family profession. He was orphaned at the age of five by the death of his father, and the municipality of Lucca supported the family with a small pension and kept the position of cathedral organist open for Giacomo until he came of age. He first studied music with two of his father’s former pupils, and he played the organ in small local churches. A performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, which he saw in Pisa in 1876, convinced him that his true vocation was opera. In the autumn of 1880 he went to study at the Milan Conservatory, where his principal teachers were Antonio Bazzini, a famous violinist and composer of chamber music, and Amilcare Ponchielli, the composer of the opera La gioconda.

On July 16, 1883, he received his diploma and presented as his graduation composition Capriccio sinfonico, an instrumental work that attracted the attention of influential musical circles in Milan. In the same year, he entered Le villi in a competition for one-act operas. The judges did not think Le villi worthy of consideration, but a group of friends, led by the composer-librettist Arrigo Boito, subsidized its production, and its premiere took place with immense success at Milan’s Verme Theatre on May 31, 1884. Le villi was remarkable for its dramatic power, its operatic melody, and, revealing the influence of Richard Wagner’s works, the important role played by the orchestra. The music publisher Giulio Ricordi immediately acquired the copyright, with the stipulation that the opera be expanded to two acts. He also commissioned Puccini to write a new opera for La Scala and gave him a monthly stipend: thus began Puccini’s lifelong association with Giulio Ricordi, who was to become a staunch friend and counselor.

After the death of his mother, Puccini fled from Lucca with a married woman, Elvira Gemignani. They lived at first in Monza, near Milan, where a son, Antonio, was born. In 1890 they moved to Milan, and in 1891 to Torre del Lago, a fishing village on Lake Massaciuccoli in Tuscany. This home was to become Puccini’s refuge from life, and he remained there until three years before his death, when he moved to Viareggio.

In 1908, Puccini devoted himself to La Fanciulla.del West (The Girl of the Golden West.) Its premiere took place at the Metropolitan in New York City on December 10, 1910, with Arturo Toscanini conducting. It was a great triumph, but he admitted that “writing an opera is difficult.”However, he really didn’t understand contemporary events, such as World War I. In 1917 at Monte-Carlo in Monaco, Puccini’s opera La rondine was first performed and then quickly forgotten.

Always interested in contemporary operatic compositions, Puccini studied the works of Claude Debussy, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, and Igor Stravinsky. From this study emerged Il trittico (The Triptych; New York City, 1918), three stylistically individual one-act operas—the melodramatic Il tabarro (The Cloak), the sentimental Suor Angelica, and the comic Gianni Schicchi.

His last opera, Turandot, is the only Italian opera in the Impressionistic style. Puccini did not complete it, as he was suffering from cancer of the throat. He was ordered to Brussels for surgery, and a few days afterward died with the incomplete score in his hands.

Solemn funeral services were held for Puccini at La Scala in Milan, and his body was taken to Torre del Lago, which became the Puccini Pantheon. Shortly afterward, Elvira and Antonio were also buried there. The Puccini house became a museum and an archive.

The majority of Puccini’s operas illustrate a theme defined in Il tabarro: “Chi ha vissuto per amore, per amore si morì” (“He who has lived for love, has died for love”). This theme is played out in the fate of his heroines—women who are devoted body and soul to their lovers, are tormented by feelings of guilt, and are punished by the infliction of pain until in the end they are destroyed. In his treatment of this theme, Puccini combines compassion and pity for his heroines with a strong streak of sadism: hence the strong emotional appeal but also the restricted scope of the Puccinian type of opera.

Each Puccini opera has its distinctive ambience. With an unfailing instinct for balanced dramatic structure, Puccini knew that an opera is not all action, movement, and conflict; it must also contain moments of repose, contemplation, and lyricism. For such moments he invented an original type of melody, passionate and radiant, yet marked by an underlying morbidity; examples are the “farewell” and “death” arias that also reflect the persistent melancholy from which he suffered in his personal life.

Puccini’s approach to dramatic composition is expressed in his own words: “The basis of an opera is its subject and its treatment.” His conception of diatonic melody is rooted in the tradition of 19th-century Italian opera, but his harmonic and orchestral style indicate that he was also aware of contemporary developments, notably the work of the Impressionists and of Stravinsky. Though he allowed the orchestra a more active role, he upheld the traditional vocal style of Italian opera, in which the singers carry the burden of the music. In many ways a typical fin de siècle artist, Puccini nevertheless can be ranked as the greatest exponent of operatic realism.

Madama Butterfly, Puccini’s opera in three acts (originally two acts) (Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) premiered at La Scala opera house in Milan on February 17, 1904. The work is one of the most frequently performed of all operas.

Puccini and his librettists, Illica and Giacosa, took steps to introduce an element of realism into the new opera. Illica even traveled to Nagasaki to investigate local color, while Puccini set about researching Japanese music. His music for the opera reflects what he had learned and even makes a few direct references to the Japanese songs he had been exposed to. To delineate the American characters, Puccini often used a bluff forthright manner of expression, and he occasionally worked in bits of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

For all his care in composing the opera, Puccini was stunned at its reception on his home turf. The opening-night audience openly jeered, booed and hissed throughout the performance. Madama Butterfly’s Japanese theme was mocked, and its tragic heroine was derided as a secondhand copy of Mimì from La Bohème. Nevertheless, he and his librettists began extensive revisions. The new Madama Butterfly, which reached the stage in Brescia, Italy, on May 28, 1904, was a great success. Two more revisions would follow, in 1905 and 1906, before the opera reached its definitive form. All versions included “One Fine Day,” which remains one of the best-known arias in the soprano repertoire. Listen to it here sung on a Victor recording of September 20, 1922 by none other than Amelita Galli-Curci – Un bel di vedremo.

Afterword: While a student in London University (1948-51) I spent one summer holidaying in Italy and took the opportunity of visiting Viareggio, Lucca and Torre del Lago Puccini. The experience of following in the great composer’s footsteps was overwhelming and fortified my commitment to taking every opportunity while abroad to listen to his captivating and enduring operas.

References: Brittanica; My Diary

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Earl Wild: The Romantic Master

Earl Wild – American pianist, composer, transcriber, conductor, editor and teacher

Born: 26 November 1915, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Died: 23 January 2010, Palm Springs, California

I got to know Earl Wild during my three years as General Manager of the Florida Philharmonic in Miami from 1978 through 1981 and enjoyed his company – and piano recitals – on many occasions.

According to the New York Times Music Critic Harold C. Schonberg, Mr. Wild was in the forefront of the Romantic revival,” and cited his championship of Liszt — at a time when Liszt was out of favor among many pianists — as one of Mr. Wild’s most crucial contributions to modern pianism.

“By any standards,” Mr. Schonberg wrote, “Mr. Wild has one of the great piano techniques of the 20th century, and with it a rich, sonorous tone.”

Wild was celebrated for his robust technique and rich tone, championing the sweepingly virtuosic music of Rachmaninoff (whom he knew personally) and Liszt. But his repertoire stretched to include Bach and contemporary pieces. He also won recognition for his many arrangements and transcriptions of songs and tunes by other composers.

Here, for example, is his performance via YouTube  of Liszt’s Waltz on Themes of Gounod’s “Faust” recorded on February 28th, 1988 at the age of 83-plus no less. Then, there are his scintillating renditions of Liszt’s La Leggierezza and Chopin’s Etude Op. 25, No. 2.

In 1986, he was awarded the Liszt Medal by the Hungarian government, in recognition of his long association with the composer’s music. His last concert performance was at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on Feb. 5, 2008, when he was awarded the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

He is certainly the only pianist to be invited to play at the White House before six consecutive Presidents (beginning with Herbert Hoover). In 1939, he became the first pianist ever to give a live solo recital on US television. Remarkably, in March 1997, he also became the first pianist to give a live solo recital on the Internet. In 1942 Wild was the first American-born musician to be invited by Arturo Toscanini to appear with him (in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue), making him the youngest soloist ever engaged by the NBC Symphony.

Background:
Though born into an unmusical family (his father was in steel, his mother was a hat designer), Wild’s pianistic genealogy was distinguished: at 11 he was accepted as a pupil of Selmar Janson, himself a pupil of Scharwenka and d’Albert (who had studied with Liszt); later he took lessons with Egon Petri (a pupil of Busoni), Paul Doguereau (a pupil of Paderewski and Ravel) and Helene Barere (wife of the Russian virtuoso Simon Barere). This foundation enabled him to maintain playing well into old age. He rounded off his celebratory 85th birthday recital in Carnegie Hall with d’Albert’s finger-crunching Scherzo. His 90th birthday recital in Carnegie Hall showed that his playing had lost none of its colour and vigour. He gave his final recital in February 2008 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles when he was awarded the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Afterword:
Here is the beginning of Wild’s delightful transcription, which I have on my old Ivory Classics LP recording of Liebesleid by Kreisler/Rachmaninoff – enjoy!

References:  Wikipedia; My Diary

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $5.00, $10.00, $15.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

 

Indira Gandhi Birth Centenary – India’s First Woman Prime Minister

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi née Nehru was born this day 100 years ago on November 21,1917. She was an Indian stateswoman and a central figure of the Indian National Congress. She was the first and, to date, the only female Prime Minister of India. Gandhi belonged to the Nehru–Gandhi family and was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian prime minister. Despite her surname Gandhi, she is not related to the family of Mahatma Gandhi. She served as Prime Minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984, making her the second longest-serving Indian prime minister after her father.

Gandhi served as her father’s personal assistant and hostess during his tenure as Prime Minister between 1947 and 1964. She was elected Congress President in 1959. Upon her father’s death in 1964 she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and became a member of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. In the Congress Party’s parliamentary leadership election held in early 1966 (upon the death of Shastri) she defeated her rival, Morarji Desai, to become leader, and thus succeeded Shastri as Prime Minister of India.

As Prime Minister, Gandhi was known for her political ruthlessness and unprecedented centralization of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India’s influence to the point where it became the regional hegemon of South Asia.

Citing fissiparous tendencies and in response to a call for revolution, Gandhi instituted a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 where basic civil liberties were suspended and press was censored. In 1980, she returned to power after free and fair elections. She was assassinated by Sikh nationalists in 1984, less than a month before her 67th birthday. The assassins, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, were both shot by other security guards. Satwant Singh recovered from his injuries and was executed after being found guilty of murder.

In 1999, Indira was named “Woman of the Millennium” in an online poll organized by the BBC.

Afterword:
It was during Mrs. Gandhi’s tenure as Minister of Information and Broadcasting that I was called upon to provide her with the means of getting to the Bihar coalfields. I was then the General Manager of Bird & Company’s Coal Department with extensive coal mines in West Bengal and Bihar that made them the largest producers of coking coal in the country used by the steel industry in India and exported to Japan and elsewhere abroad.

Via an urgent telexed message I received from our New Delhi Office,  Madam Minister needed to travel immediately on arrival by air from the Capital at Calcutta’s Dum Dum International Airport to various parts of the coalfields on an important mission, and the only sure way for her to stick to her tight schedule was by private plane, which could air-hop to various small airstrips without much ado.

I was pleased to meet Mrs. Gandhi on her early arrival off the Indian Airlines plane and escort her to the Company 8-seater aircraft, which Bird’s had placed at her disposal. She insisted that I accompany her on the outward trip and so for most of that morning, I had the opportunity of speaking to her about our industrial role in the the economic development of the Eastern India states for nearly a century.

References:  Wikipedia; My Diary

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $5.00, $10.00, $15.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Polish Pianist Politician

Here's a piquant poser for you: A Polish pianist (1860-1941) was born in Kurylowka.  He achieved worldwide fame for his interpretations of Schubert and Chopin. After World War I, he served briefly as the first premier of the Republic of Poland. Who was he? To help your getting an answer, his photograph is inserted below:

He was none other than Ignacy Jan Paderewski, GBE – born on this day in Kurylowka, Poland, the 18th of November in the year 1860 (and died in New York City on 29 June 1941) – who was a pianist and composer, politician, statesman and spokesman for Polish independence. He was a favorite of concert audiences around the world, and amazingly his musical fame opened access to international diplomacy and the media.

On 9 May 1890, he made his first appearance in London; on 17 November 1891, he made his American debut in New York City, the first of 117 performances throughout the United States. After that he appeared in virtually every music center of the world, everywhere acclaimed a Titan of the keyboard, and one of the foremost interpreters of Chopin’s music.

Paderewski played an important role in meeting with President Woodrow Wilson and obtaining the explicit inclusion of independent Poland as point 13 in Wilson’s peace terms in 1918, called the Fourteen Points. He was the prime minister of Poland and also Poland’s foreign minister in 1919, and represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. He served 10 months as prime minister, and soon thereafter left Poland, never to return.

Upon Paderewski’s death in 1941, President Roosevelt ordered that he be given a state funeral at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Below, you may access six different early piano recordings ( 1922-1930) of his playing various Romantic works, as well as the well-known slow movement of a Beethoven sonata.

Valse Brillante in E flat Major, Op. 18 (Chopin) rec. 22 May 1928
Hungarian Rhapsody No, 2 (Liszt) rec. 26 June 1922
Study in C minor, Op. 10 No. 12 (Chopin) rec. 22 May 1928
Minstrels (No. 12 from 1st Book of Preludes)(Debussy) rec. 13 October 1930
Sonata in C# Minor(Moonlight) – Adagio (Beethoven) rec. 16 December 1926
La Campanella (Paganini arr. Liszt) rec. 18 August 1927

References:  Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $5.00, $10.00, $15.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

November Honorees

[Remembering three brilliant musicians, whom I recognized here two years ago – Aaron, George and Benjie!]

This has nothing to do with the upcoming, long Thanksgiving Weekend – the magnet each year for marketers of all stripes who woo the masses to visit countless American retailers. No, on a musical level, it permits me to sit back and heave a sigh of relief as I recall fondly three of my favorites in this blog amongst a slew of friends and erstwhile colleagues: I give them thanks for sharing their great gifts with such mere mortals as this writer and those in the world around us – in the USA, UK and India.

In chronological order according to their birth dates, I’d like to list them below: you will see later on that each of the gentlemen played some part in my own part-time career as a composer, pianist, musician and orchestra manager for two of them were world-famous composers and one a  brilliant pianist.

Aaron Copland b. 11/14/1900 d. 12/2/1990 – Met up in Rochester, NY (1976)
Jorge Bolet b. 11/15/9014 d. 10/16/1990 – Met up in Miami, FL (1978)
Benjamin Britten b. 11/22/1913 d. 12/4/1976 – Met up in New Delhi, India (1956)

Aaron_Copland_1970Aaron was, in my opinion, at his most brilliant as a conductor of his own works. When he was the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra’s guest artist for a week in the summer of 1976 and as part of the ArtPark Festival near Buffalo, he led our orchestra through some of his most enduring works, those that have stood the test of time and consecutive generations.

Soon after arriving in November 1975 in Rochester as its Assistant General Manager, I bought a Buick four-door sedan, which my family and I immediately nicknamed Black Beauty. It was the vehicle I used to pick up guest artists from the airport or the railway station, as well as to squire them around on our many run-outs with the orchestra members trailing us in two coaches: yes, I always arranged for two – one for the “saints” or non-smokers and the other for the “sinners” or you-know-who without my having to elaborate upon their social habits or life choices.

On another run-out, the RPO was on tour through a number of stops along the interstate highway right up to the extreme end of the North Country – Ogdensburg! Aaron was always a wonderful companion to have on our hours on the road and never seemed to tire: he was as fresh as a daisy after a quick clean up and refreshment or two before appearing on the concert stage. A few lucid, homey, non-technical words to the audience about the program, and he’d be ready to start the concert. People always loved the rendition of his own well-known compositions, particularly, the music to his ballets, Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo. Other than those was my favorite, which you can hear here via YouTube – Fanfare for the Common Man with Conductor Alsop and The Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra at the London Promenade Concerts in 2012.

I recall on one occasion, we’d just concluded a sold-out concert performance in which Billy the Kid brought the audience to its feet in rapturous applause. After we’d bundled into Black Beauty for the journey back to Rochester, Aaron soon required some sustenance and I pulled into the parking lot of a brightly lit diner. As we walked in the door, there was a startling round of applause, much to Aaron’s amazement. It turned out there were a number of people there who’d just been to his concert. In response to his quizzical look, I whispered to him, “Billy the Kid’s in town!” and that was enough for him to grin mischievously and bow sweepingly to the diners before we settled down to some much needed pick-me-ups and victuals.

Jorge_Bolet_1975

Jorge (“George” to Anglophiles) I got to know and admire when I was the Florida Philharmonic’s General Manager in Miami. Just before then, in 1974, he’d come to national attention at the age of 60 with an amazing recital in Carnegie Hall. Later on I lost touch with him as he left for Philadelphia to head the Piano Department at the Curtis Institute where he himself studied as a child prodigy on a scholarship. He soon made his American debut in New York in 1933. One year later, his country, Cuba financed a European tour. In 1937 he received the Naumburg Award, and in 1938 the Josef Hofmann Award from the Curtis Institute.

During World War II he served in the United States Army. Resuming his concert career after the war, he became one of five American musicians invited for a four-week tour of Western Germany as guests of the German Republic in 1954, the first time a foreign government served as host to American artists.

Jorge was best known for his romantic repertoire that included the works of Liszt, Chopin and Schumann. His performance of the Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s dedicatory song Widmung reflects to perfection his soulful, songful genius: Listen now to his interpretation of Schumann-Liszt “Widmung” and judge for yourself…….

Benjamin Britten 1968

Benjamin (addressed as Ben or, more fondly, Benjie!) was quite another kettle of fish – and a brilliant one at that! Remarkably gifted in music from childhood on, he completed major works by the time he was sixteen – a symphony, ten piano sonatas, and six sonatas. Some of the melodic material form this juvenilia was gathered into his Simple Symphony in 1934.
Here’s the second movement performed by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra and enjoy the freshness of youth in its light and joyful interpretation: II Playful Pizzicato
From 1930 to 1933 he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, where his teachers included John Ireland and Arthur Benjamin.

In 1939 he visited the United States and lived there three years before returning to his native land. However, during his time Stateside, Aaron Copland and he got to know each other well and corresponded on musical matters and on the business of music.

aaron with benjie

Of several letters archived in the Library of Congress, a copy of a missive from Aaron to Benjie is displayed alongside.

aaron-benjieBen often composed with particular performers in mind. His most frequent and important muse was his personal and professional partner, the tenor Peter Pears. As a celebrated pianist and conductor, performing many of his own works in concert and on record, he also performed and recorded works by others, such as Bach’s Brandenburg concertos,
Mozart symphonies, and song cycles by Schubert and Schumann.

Together with Pears and the librettist and producer Eric Crozier, Britten founded the annual Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. In his last year, he was the first composer to be given a life peerage.
The Delhi Music Society, of which I was a member, in collaboration with the British Arts Council in the capital, was successful in bringing the Britten-Pears duo to the capital for a series of song recitals. They not only performed in the local concert hall but also in the Gymkhana Club – the erstwhile watering hotel for the Brits of the lost Empire! There, Ben and Peter mixed congenially with the embassy crowd as well as the hoi-polloi scattered around the ballroom converted into a recital hall. That task was delegated to an army of turbaned and red-costumed ‘bearers’ who after completing their physical chore of moving furniture and seats reverted to their real occupation of ensuring that the milling crowd were well-served with drinks and finger-food when given a chance in between servings of Brittenesque songs delivered lustily by the renowned tenor and his life partner at the piano. I’m not sure how the duo took to the unusual setup, but they were not deterred from giving a fine account of their combined talents on the quasi-stage.

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 since January 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

 My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.  
It would mean a lot to me if you would please consider making a donation of US $5.00, $10.00, $15.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Russian Romantic

Nikolai Karlovich Medtner  was a Russian composer and pianist, who was born in Moscow on January 5, 1880 and died in London on November 13, 1951. After a period of comparative obscurity in the twenty-five years immediately after his death, he has since become recognized as one of the most significant Russian composers for the piano. I’ve chosen today, November the 13th – the day of his death – to celebrate his life and his body of work.

A younger contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin, Medtner wrote a substantial number of compositions, all of which include the piano. His works encompass fourteen piano sonatas, three violin sonatas, three piano concerti, a piano quintet, two works for two pianos, many shorter piano pieces, a few shorter works for violin and piano, and 108 songs. His 38 Skazki (generally known as “Fairy Tales” in English but more correctly translated as “Tales”) for piano solo contain some of his most original music.

Medtner first took piano lessons from his mother until the age of ten. He also had lessons from his mother’s brother Fyodor Goedicke. Then he entered the Moscow Conservatory. He graduated in 1900 at the age of 20, taking the Anton Rubinstein Prize.  Despite his conservative musical tastes, Medtner’s compositions and his pianism were highly regarded by his contemporaries. To the consternation of his family, he soon rejected a career as a performer and turned to composition, partly inspired by the intellectual challenge of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and string quartets.

During the years leading up to the 1917 Russian Revolution, Medtner lived at home with his parents. During this time Medtner fell in love with Anna Mikhaylovna Bratenskaya (1877–1965), a respected violinist and the young wife of his older brother Emil. Later, when World War I broke out, Emil was interned in Germany where he had been studying. He generously gave Anna the freedom to marry his brother. Medtner and Anna were married in 1918.

Unlike his friend Rachmaninoff, Medtner did not leave Russia until well after the Revolution. Rachmaninoff secured Medtner a tour of the United States and Canada in 1924; his recitals were often all-Medtner evenings consisting of sonatas interspersed with songs and shorter pieces. Medtner never adapted himself to the commercial aspects of touring and his concerts became infrequent. Esteemed in England, he and Anna settled in London in 1936, modestly teaching, playing and composing to a strict daily routine.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Medtner’s income from German publishers disappeared, and during this hardship ill-health became an increasing problem. His devoted pupil Edna Iles gave him shelter in Warwickshire where he completed his Third Piano Concerto, first performed in 1944.

In 1949 a Medtner Society was founded in London by His Highness Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Bahadur, the Maharajah of Mysore (the princely state in southern India). The Maharajah was an honorary Fellow of Trinity College of Music, London, in 1945 and also the first president of the Philharmonia Concert Society, London. He founded the Medtner Society to record all of Medtner’s works. Medtner, already in declining health, recorded his three Piano Concertos and some sonatas, chamber music, numerous songs and shorter works before his death in London in 1951. In one of these recordings he partnered Benno Moiseiwitsch in his two-piano work entitled “Russian Round-Dance”, Op 58, No. 1; in another he accompanied Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in several of his lieder, including The Muse, a Pushkin setting from 1913. In gratitude to his patron, Medtner dedicated his Third Piano Concerto to the Maharajah of Mysore.

Medtner died at his home, 69 Wentworth Road, Golders Green, London in 1951, and is buried alongside his brother Emil in Hendon Cemetery.

Legacy: Hamish Milne has recorded most of the solo piano works. Other pianists who championed Medtner’s work and left behind recordings include Benno Moiseiwitsch, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, and Earl Wild. In modern times, pianists noted for their advocacy include Marc-André Hamelin and Evgeny Kissin.

Medtner’s superb command of his favorite instrument is evidenced in this 1925 piano-roll recording of his Danza Festiva, Op. 38, No. 3.

Afterword:
I was first introduced to Medtner’s piano works by way of his Forgotten Melodies – after all these years I still treasure his scintillating “Spring” performed here by Hamish Milne.

References: Wikipedia; My Diaries

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 in just over 2 1/2 years ago back in February 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.

It would mean a lot to me, if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $2.00, $5.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Peter, Pessimism and his Pathetique

Who was he? Who was this giant of classical music? Generations after his death on November the 6th 124 years ago in 1893, his masterworks live on and may be heard around the globe by adoring audiences. And his name is attached to a world-famous competition that attracts scores of those aspiring to greatness on the concert stage.

I speak of none other than Peter Ilitch Tchaikovsky, born in Votkinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840.

He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. Tchaikovsky was honored in 1884, by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension.

Although musically precocious, Tchaikovsky was intended for law and attended the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg; thereafter he worked for three years as a clerk in the Ministry of Justice.  In 1861 he began to study music with Nicholas Zaremba, and in 1862 entered the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory. Now certain of his direction, he resigned his Ministry post to concentrate on music.

After completing his studies at the Conservatory in 1865, Tchaikovsky became professor of harmony of the Moscow Conservatory, which Nicolai Rubinstein had just founded. While holding that post he completed his first symphony, successfully introduced at Moscow in 1868. The next year he completed an early version of his first masterwork, the orchestral fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, introduced at Moscow in 1870

Tchaikovsky’s formal Western-oriented training set him on a path to reconcile what he had learned with the native musical practices to which he had been exposed from childhood. From this reconciliation, he forged a personal but unmistakably Russian style—a task that did not prove easy. The principles that governed melody, harmony and other fundamentals of Russian music ran completely counter to those that governed Western European music; this seemed to defeat the potential for using Russian music in large-scale Western composition or for forming a composite style, and it caused personal antipathies that dented Tchaikovsky’s self-confidence. Russian culture exhibited a split personality, with its native and adopted elements having drifted apart increasingly since the time of Peter the Great. This resulted in uncertainty among the intelligentsia about the country’s national identity—an ambiguity mirrored in Tchaikovsky’s career.

On 28 October 1893, Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique in Saint Petersburg. Nine days later on November the 6th, Tchaikovsky died there, aged only 53. He was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, near the graves of fellow-composers Alexander Borodin, Mikhail Glinka, and Modest Mussorgsky; later, Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev were also buried nearby.

While Tchaikovsky’s death has traditionally been attributed to cholera from drinking unboiled water at a local restaurant, as one story accounts, many writers have theorized that his death was a suicide. Opinion has been summarized as follows: “The polemics over [Tchaikovsky’s] death have reached an impasse … Rumors attached to the famous die hard … As for illness, problems of evidence offer little hope of satisfactory resolution: the state of diagnosis; the confusion of witnesses; disregard of long-term effects of smoking and alcohol. We do not know how Tchaikovsky died. We may never find out …..”

Afterword:
I was introduced to Tchaikovsky’s music – both orchestral and solo piano works – at an early age in New Delhi, India. I still have his Selected Compositions for the Piano purchased in December 1962 from A. Godin & Co., which sold Pianos, Gramophones & Radios in the capital and the Himalayan hill station Simla. My favorites at the time were Troika (November) from “The Seasons” – played here by Richter on YouTube –  followed by Chant sans Paroles, Op. 2, No. 3, Romance, Op. 5 and Reverie du Soir. During that time, my mother presented me for my birthday with Tchaikovsky’s famous Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, which I must confess I never mastered for performance on the concert stage. Here on YouTube is Martha Argerich at the piano with Charles Dutoit, conducting the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in 1975.

References: Wikipedia; Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen; Schirmer’s Library of Tchaikovsky Select Piano Works: Foreword by Philip Hale.

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 in just over 2 1/2 years ago back in February 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.

It would mean a lot to me, if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $2.00, $5.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Indian-Americans in Western Classical Music

As far back as December 1995, the widely read news magazine India Today published an article by Lavina Melwani entitled Cultural Symphony in which she drew attention to the growing number of Americans of South Asian origin who were making a name for themselves in the Classical Music field.

(Clockwise from left)
Indira Mahajan, center, at the Glimmerglass Opera
Odin Rathnam; Robert Gupta; and Priya Mayadas: rising stars

In particular, she mentioned Priya Mayadas, then 28, as being one of “those fast-becoming-familiar names. Winner of the Young Artists of the Year Award from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Mayadas is a successful concert pianist in New York. She has been playing since the age of three, and at nine received the Student Composer Award from Broadcast Music Incorporated.”

Melwani went on to write that Priya “didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Father Azim and mother Lolita Mayadas were both well-known concert pianists in India and ran the Calcutta School of Music. ‘Priya is a reflective musician with a finely honed and expressive technique,’ says David Buechner of the Manhattan School of Music.”

“So how does it feel to be a minority in such a mainstream profession? ‘Being an Indian female is a bit unusual,’ says Mayadas. ‘I feel rather special.'”

As to her parents, they were remembered much earlier by Aveek Sen, a violinist, concertgoer and Western Music critic in Calcutta, India: in an article entitled “Requiem for a Lost City” published in 1990 he bemoaned the loss of the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra in the 1980’s; also, the departure of “Lolita and Azim Lewis Mayadas — the unforgettably charismatic and distinguished first couple of music-making in Calcutta — who (at a 1972 music festival) gave a two-piano recital, playing Stravinsky, Brahms and Rachmaninoff.”

The couple, with three daughters in tow, emigrated to the United States in 1975 and settled down initially in Rochester, New York, where Lolita taught at the Hochstein School of Music and Azim was hired as the Assistant General Manager of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Three years later the family moved to Miami when Azim was appointed General Manager of the Florida Philhamonic and Lolita became his Administrative Director.

Despite the heavy work load, they found time to give two-piano recitals locally and in surrounding South Florida venues. Memorable was the reception accorded to them in West Palm Beach, which was already familiar to Azim, as he had occasionally programmed orchestral ‘run-out’ concerts there or in neighboring locales up and down the Atlantic coast.

After three years in Florida, they moved back to the Northeast, this time to New Jersey, first Teaneck, then Englewood, their ‘home-town’ now for over 35 years. While in Teaneck, Lolita was hired in 1981 as Executive Director of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and a year later Azim as its Managing Director in charge of Institutional Membership.

Thereafter, they ran with the ball and built a near bankrupt non-profit organization into the powerhouse it is today. They retired from NGCSA in 2001, but still continue to work at matters close to their heart: Lolita at her newly formed NotePerfect Project and Azim at his blog on a wide-ranging matters of concern to him and to those around him – pros and cons!

References: Wikipedia; My Diaries

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 in just over 2 1/2 years ago back in February 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.

It would mean a lot to me, if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $2.00, $5.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

 

Howard Ferguson

Howard Ferguson (21 October 1908 – 31 October 1999) was an Irish-born composer and musicologist. He composed instrumental, chamber, orchestral and choral works. While his music is not widely known today, his Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 8 and his Five Bagatelles, Op. 9, for piano are still performed. His works represent some of the most important 20th-century music to emerge from Northern Ireland.

Ferguson was born in Belfast and attended Rockport School in Holywood, County Down, where his musical talent was recognized, leading to several school prizes. The pianist Harold Samuel heard him in 1922 and encouraged his parents to allow him to travel to London to become his pupil. Following further studies at Westminster School, Ferguson entered the Royal College of Music in 1924 to study composition with R. O. Morris and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He also studied conducting with Malcolm Sargent and formed a friendship with fellow-student Gerald Finzi.

His early compositions such as his Octet of 1933 (scored for the same forces as Franz Schubert’s octet) met with considerable success.

During World War II, Ferguson helped Myra Hess run the popular, morale-boosting series of concerts at the National Gallery. From 1948 to 1963 he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, his students there including Richard Rodney Bennett and Cornelius Cardew. He regarded Bennett as having an astonishing natural talent, though lacking a personal musical style.

His music has a haunting, searching quality, as if a deeply personal question is being asked, but never answered. In the song cycle Discovery, the surrealistic poetic language of Denton Welch (“What are you in the morning when you wake? A quacking duck, a quacking drake?”) is the ideal spark for Ferguson to express such private questioning in his aphoristic, fleeting settings. Ferguson produced what is probably one of the greatest British solo piano works of the twentieth century, the stormy and passionate Piano Sonata, Op. 8, inspired by the death of a friend. Of his two violin sonatas, the second emerged after a long silence just after World War II; the ferocious energy of its finale has a spirit of escape and liberation, a suppressed voice finally speaking (Ferguson had not had the time to compose during the war due to his other commitments). His miniatures, such as the Four Short Pieces for clarinet and piano and the Three Sketches for flute and piano, have a crystalline intensity, as if hinting at much larger works  – Anton Webern was a composer he admired, even if stylistically Ferguson’s own work belongs to the sound world of twentieth century Romanticism. Ferguson was always highly self-critical as a composer: after writing the large choral work The Dream of the Rood in 1958-9, he received a commission to write a string quartet. It was during the composition of this that he felt he was merely repeating his previous work, so he destroyed the sketches and gave up composing, saying that in his relatively few works he had said all he wanted to say. For the next decades he concentrated on musicology. His editions of such repertoire as early keyboard music and the complete piano sonatas of Schubert are outstanding, with a meticulous attention to detail which make them authoritative.

In his later years he lived in a white-painted converted farmhouse in Barton Road in Cambridge, his quiet hospitality legendary. He wrote a cookbook in the 1990s, Entertaining Solo, which commemorates the remarkable welcome he gave to so many friends, as does the memoir mentioned below. In the same decade he also prepared an edition of letters between himself and the composer Gerald Finzi, which is an invaluable source of information on the professional lives of Ferguson and his circle. Late in his life, a friendship with the German singer Reiner Schneider-Waterberg led to his rediscovering a song written in 1958 as part of incidental music for a William Golding play, The Brass Butterfly, and subsequently rearranging it for counter-tenor and piano (originally harp) as “Love and Reason” (1958/1994), a moving postscript to a compositional output whose great characteristic is powerful emotions expressed through superb and strictly controlled craftsmanship.

Afterword
I was studying with Prof. Frederick Jackson at the Royal Academy of Music in the early 1950’s for my Licentiate (L.R.A.M. Performers) and was glad to meet Howard Ferguson as I was learning some of his piano compositions. I fondly remember getting under my fingers his striking, short Five Bagatelles opus 9 (1944) – played here on YouTube by none other than the legendary Dame Myra Hess – some of which I enjoyed including in my recitals in India, Europe and the States, oftentimes as an encore to the delight of my audiences.

As per Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians on the composer, “His music is distinguished by boldness and freedom of the ideas, by a consistent lyrical impulse. And by an independence of current fashions and conventions.”

References: Wikipedia

Dear Readers,
You number over 70,000 in just over 2 1/2 years ago back in February 2015, when I first began to put “some of my thoughts, written down” and posted them in the blogosphere. Since that time, many of you have urged me to seek support of my site and my writings by way of donations.

My blog is about my life. It’s about what I’ve learned through the span of my life. It’s about things I love, and things I know and things I have experienced. I am humbled that so many of you want to join with me in my reflections. If you like what you find here, if it inspires or informs or amuses you, then I am content.

It would mean a lot to me, if you would please consider making a donation of US $1.00, $2.00, $5.00, or whatever amount you deem fit to sustain my work.
And thank you for being a regular reader of the Azim Mayadas Blog!
Copyright © 2017 Azim Lewis Mayadas