Monthly Archives: August 2016

My Thirty Years of Broadcasting (1945-75)

Azim on VU2ZYWORLD WAR II WAS JUST ABOUT OVER, when as a fledgling pianist, eleven years old, I broadcast for the very first time.  To wit, it was on March 9, 1945 that I made my debut on VU2ZY – the U.S. Radio Network – and thereby began a series of regular recitals on the air that were programmed to entertain American troops serving in South and Southeast Asia.

Photo of Azim Lewis (stage name) at 11
[You may click on the accompanying picture here and those below to enlarge them.]

Located in New Delhi – at the corner of Queensway and Connaught Place in a nondescript “temporary” construction – the American  Radio Station offered few of the creature comforts associated nowadays with the romance of broadcasting. But what it lacked in the way of luxuriously appointed air-conditioned studios it made up in the excellence of its round-the-clock music programs – both recorded and live. Indeed, one of the most popular was dubbed by the compère as “The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven” and announced in the drawliest diction of a full-blooded Texan.

The tragedy of war-torn Europe had made a deep impress on my youthful imagination reinforced by the currency in Delhi of a stirring recording of the Warsaw Concerto composed three years earlier by the British composer Richard Addinsel for the film Dangerous Moonlight.  The Polish calamity in particular was, therefore, very much on my mind when I was asked to choose a ‘signature tune’ by the Program Director – an avuncular Brigadier – over a glass of ice-cold Vimto. the colorful, vogue drink popular among school kids of the Capital. I unhesitatingly opted for Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C minor, Op. 28: a little over a minute in duration, it is in an elegiac key, yet with a courageous spirit imbuing it that proclaims the resilient will of a proud nation – all but obliterated from the map – to survive at all cost through her culture.

Azim Lewis at 13
Azim Lewis at 13

I must admit that in the early months of broadcasting, the music of the great Polish pianist and composer was very much in evidence in my programming due partly to my own preference and partly to the insatiable demand of my invisible audience for more and more Chopin, expressed through the fanmail for listeners’ requests. The American Radio, therefore, took recourse to prerecording a number of my broadcast recitals at one go. Remember that his was before the advent of the now ubiquitous tape recorder, so that the would-be recording artist, cooped up in a stuffy studio, had to spend many sweltering hours ‘cutting’ shiny  discs of friable black glass,  all the  while playing on an indifferent, portable mini-piano.

 

Azim Lewis at 15
Azim Lewis at 15

Four early favorites of mine are all by Chopin and, over the three decades I’m covering here, they – with the exception of the Polonaise in A major mentioned below – continued to occupy a very special place in my repertoire. The intervening years have undoubtedly wrought a change in my original conception of them.

 

 

For example,

  • That remarkable effusion of pure charm, the Valse in D flat major, Op. 4, No. 1 – the so-called Minute Waltz – I no longer attempt to perform in one minute!
  • In the Nocturne in B major, Op.32, No. 1, I am far more aware now of the magic and mystery of the “prophetic” coda: here, after a disarmingly simple reverie, are heard the somber sounds akin to a kettle-drum – a passionate recitative – and, then, silence. The effect is pure drama, and the least imaginative listener involuntarily invents for himself a “happening.”
  • The Etude in A flat major, Op. 25, No. 1, Schumann imagined as a poem for an Aeolian harp. Yet, as a child, I was more familiar with the sobriquet “Shepherd Boy” so that even today I am torn between a radiant Grecian and a simple pastoral image when playing it.
  • The momentous time I heard the Polonaise in A major, Op. 40, No. 1, was on the grounds of Chopin’s birthplace at Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw in 1970. Despite the beautiful setting and the excellence of the soloist, the experience confirmed my earlier impression that this work begins to pall after a while. But in the dark days of the mid-forties it seemed to me curiously relevant, and you will grant that the 3/4 time notwithstanding, it is nothing if not military in character!

After the cessation of hostilities there was a perceptible change in the content of my broadcast programs. A perusal of my old radio contracts shows the appearance of sonatas by Beethoven and the sole one by Grieg followed by contrasting examples of French music epitomized by Debussy and Ravel. In that regard, I recall with affection,

  • Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata: In poetic content it is tragedy as the young feel it with the glamour, urgency, even exaltation, of Romeo and Juliet. It has been said that few love-scenes could be more softly glowing than the titanic master’s slow movement Adagio cantabile with its almost unbelievable melodic loveliness and velvety tone.
  • Debussy’s First Arabesque, which is full of youthful charm.
  • And then there’s Ravel’s timeless Sonatine, which I’m guilty of playing at a moment’s notice, much to the delight of my abiding aficionados.

With the return of the American Forces to their homeland and the consequent winding up of VU2ZY, I started broadcasting from the studios of All-India Radio (AIR) on Parliament Street, New Delhi, and from 1946 onward till my studies abroad in London I was a regular visitor there, for both the afternoon school programs as well as the evening transmissions of Western music.

I recall flying back from London to Delhi in December 1951, when I took the opportunity of recording a recital for the AIR External Service. On my return to the UK in the New Year, my performance was beamed to Europe, and you can imagine the thrill of other-worldliness as I tuned in to listen to myself over 5,000 miles away, closeted in my “digs” with college friends and a shortwave set.

My love of Liszt’s music came to the fore in the mid-1950’s, but gradually – in place of the blood and thunder of his studies and rhapsodies – I introduced his late works over the air so as to familiarize the public with these remarkable forerunners of modern music.

One source of this inspiration was a month’s sojourn in Budapest and its environs in September 1956 which proved – if proof were at all necessary – the indebtedness of Bartok to Liszt. The Concert Study, Waldersrauschen, and the somber, austere and desolate La lugubre gondola underline the remarkable harmonic difference between the early and late piano pieces of the great Hungarian composer. it is, indeed, incredible that the same man could have written both.

In drawing up radio programs over the years I have come to realize and appreciate the importance of sugaring the bitter pill, as it were. Audiences everywhere are found to have one common trait – conservatism in musical taste and style – and the injection of new, unfamiliar works must necessarily be done with a certain degree of circumspection. Not that I believe in playing solely to the gallery, but a ‘balanced’ program (as it is so called) is, I think, a sine qua non for making the exercise as painless as possible.

That is true even among the comparatively avant garde musical public in the States, as I discovered for myself during a month spent there in December 1961. In fact, this stimulating visit helped me, on my return, to incorporate the sometimes astringent sonatas and other works of Kabalevsky, Barber and Bartok in my broadcasts within a traditional framework of compositions by more popular masters. Paradoxically, I also developed an abiding interest in the works of early composers, such as Scarlatti, Bach and Couperin. Here, for example, is a favorite of mine – Siciliano by Bach:

This is not to deny a continuing courtship with my first loves, Chopin and Liszt, joined in the early 1960’s by that other great Romantic composer, Schumann. Admittedly, he was there in previous years , but then his appearances were quiet and unobtrusive of the Arabesque kind. Now he blossomed forth, occupying whole segments on the air with my playing his Fantasiestucke, Faschingsschwank, Fantasia and so on, ad infinitum.

Over the three decades, 1945-75, I have mainly broadcast direct from the studios of AIR around the subcontinent, be they in Delhi, Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bombay (now Mumbai) or Madras (now Chennai). But there was a golden period in the 1960’s when – with the Calcutta Radio Station and the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra working closely together – it became possible to give armchair listeners the thrill of immediacy, so to speak, the awareness of being present in the concert hall itself.

Thus, as a soloist, I had the privilege of participating actively in the Annual Winter Concert Series at the Empire Theatre over several years. Indeed, my concerto debut over the air took place with Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto in C minor under the baton of Bernard “Bunny” Jacob and with Stanley Gomes as leader of the orchestra, and in the decade that followed, AIR broadcast, among others, Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto in E flat major and concertos by Liszt (No.1 in E flat major, Op. 22) and Rachmaninoff (No.2 in C minor, Op. 18) presented by, I feel, an essentially rewarding combination. The latter composer began to be my favorite source of romanticism, especially his preludes: here’s one of his best-loved pieces among them – Prelude in E flat major, Op. 23, No. 6.  

CSO ProgramSpeaking for myself, Liszt’s work was a particularly happy musical experience. Alongside is the top half of the concert program of February 1966 that began with Malcolm Arnold’s two Little Suites followed by Liszt’s Piano Concerto with “Bunny” conducting and myself as soloist under my stage name of Azim Lewis.

In sum, I have a treasured recollection of my thirty years of broadcasting in India, although there may have been that rare and unexpected experience, when in spite of a warning ‘on air’ red light, a studio factotum with an umbrella in one hand and a perky whistle on his lips walked in with a flourish into a recording session clutching in his spare hand a steaming cuppa tea!

Postscript: Actually a short piano solo, My Prayer, which I composed in 1945 and which I occasionally played after the finale of a concerto in response to cries of “encore.” Here’s a brief video of me at the family piano in the living room:


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Dear Readers,

You number over 50,000 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 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 © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

 

 

The Golden Age of Greek Poetry

map-of-ancient-greece[Click on the map to get the whole picture]

[A pentathlon is, as you all know, a contest featuring five events. With the Rio Olympics in full swing, you will sometimes find that word used to conjure up one of the more complicated tests of will and endurance that exemplify the Ancient Greek original, which combines its words pente (five) and –athlon (competition) (Greek: πένταθλον).]

Starting seven years ago in mid-summer, August 5,  2009, I embarked on a different quest that took me until October 21 of that year to complete the daunting task of finding five Greek poets who used five different forms of poetry that when combined under one umbrella exemplified the golden age of Greek poetry. In summary, I came up with the following “gold medalists” – the Pentathlon Poets – in alphabetical order:

Alcaeus of Mytilene, Lesbos
Alcman of Sparta
Archilochus of Paros
Palladas of Alexandria, Egypt
Pindar of Thebes

Each poet is represented in the hotlink to my collection of pentathlon poets, that I would urge you to click on now, so as to enjoy the various genres of poetry that are embedded there for your delectation.

They range from the comic verse of Alcaeus and the lyric verse of Alcman, on through the iambics of Archilochus and the epigrams of Palladas, to the immortal odes – three are included here – of Pindar. They are presented in the original Greek (rendered in Roman script) and alongside each is my English translation.

You won’t be disappointed as I guarantee that their ancient take on  the human condition doesn’t seem to differ very much from our own centuries later. I might add that all the translations are mine and bear little or no resemblance to the extant versions found elsewhere since I use my own, new and significant concept that I term “metapoeia.” For my readers, who are unfamiliar with that neologism, it is best defined by me as:

“A creative turning of verse from one language to another, where the style and/or
form may be rendered afresh to conform to the dictates of
voice and movement.”

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References: The Greek Language by B. F. C. Atkinson; My Language Texts and Manuscripts; Wikipedia; The Miscellany, December 1974, Calcutta, India.

Dear Readers,

You number over 50,000 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 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 © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

Of Rome, Roma and Romania

Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania

Castle_Peleș_SinaiaI seemed to have caused more than a flurry of comments when I mentioned in my last post about the seminal date of July the 31st that  I had spent time in my youth “traveling to such out of the way spots as Gaucho habitats on the pampas of Argentina, and Gypsies encampments in the wilds of Romania.”

Then just the other day the New York Times had as its lead International news item Elisabetta Povoledo’s Rome Journal about the ‘Gipsy Queens’ of the Italian capital. The group she writes about comprise of Roma women, who mainly live in overcrowded camps, and who originated mainly from Romania

Having had a fair share in meeting up with the far-flung Roma, from their original – disputed by some! – homeland in India (Rajasthan) to Europe (including England, Wales and Scotland in the UK, Spain in Western Europe and Romania and Hungary in Eastern Europe) to the Americas (USA and Argentina) I felt it incumbent on me to join in the foray of combating the misguided and sometimes unfettered hostile attitude by those who should know better toward these much-maligned people.

For starters, I prefer to dwell on the positive starting with my reminiscences of Romania.

I recorded in February 1959 in an Indian (Calcutta) publication, The Cable, an unusual fortnight’s holiday that I had spent down in the capital Bucharest followed by a weekend visit up north in the Carpathians, first to Sinaia (at an elevation of 2,600 feet where I regaled in the splendor of Peles Castle) and then to the lower slopes of the 8,000 feet Bucegi Mountains. Midway, I chanced upon a Gypsy encampment, and was invited to join a small company of resident musicians; the atmosphere was made more welcoming by their laudable efforts to entertain their Indian guest and his companions with the haunting sentimental melodies of Transylvania.

borrowMany moons earlier, I had been drawn to the Gypsies by reading the works of George Borrow, whose books I’d acquired in my teens for their romance with the derring-dos of whom he called The Romany Rye. [Origin of the Roma: The Romani (also spelled Romany), or Roma, are  – as I strongly believe – of Indian origin, now living mostly in Europe and the Americas. Romani are widely known among English-speaking people by the exonym “Gypsies” (or Gipsies)].

Turning to the more modern era, there are famous people who are/were Roma or have had Romany ancestry. For example, taking only those born to Romanichal families in the United Kingdom – the word “Romanichal” is derived from Romani chal, where chal is Angloromani for “fellow” – here’s a short list comprising of two actors and an orchestra conductor. Some, if not all three, names will surprise you!


ChaplinSir Charles Chaplin

It’s known that his mother, Hannah Smith, was Romanichal, and also his father belonged to the Romany Smith family. Charles Chaplin was born in a Gypsy caravan in the West Midlands. He was knighted in 1975

Caine
Sir Michael Caine
Born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, it was a tradition of his Romanichal family to call Maurice the firstborn son. As an actor, he was awarded twice with the Oscar (1986 and 1999). He was knighted in the year 2000 for his contribution to the performing arts.

woodSir Henry Joseph Wood belonged to a traditional Romanichal family and made his mark in his hometown of London by founding the Promenade Concerts there.
He was also a composer, whose most celebrated work is “Fantasia on British Sea Songs.” Part One of the work is hotlinked to the rousing YouTube recording by the BBC Orchestra and BBC Choir at the Last Night Proms 2012.
Henry Wood was knighted in 1911 for his services to music.

References: Wikipedia; Romany Rye by George Borrow; The Gypsies by Jan Yoors

Postscript: My late twin sister, Tehrim, was nicknamed Gypsie, because of her ruddy complexion at birth, by one of the nurses who delivered her at the Evelyn Nursing Home situated in Mussoorie, which is known as the Queen of the Hills and is nestled 6000 feet up in the Himalayas as an escape from the heat of the plains each summer.

Dear Readers,

You number over 50,000 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 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 © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

 

 

July 31 – a Seminal Day in the History of Hindustan

AurangzebYou have to go back to the year 1658 to learn that end-July the Indian subcontinent began an inexorable journey that led to the climax and then over the next century to the nadir of the Mughal Empire that held sway over most of Hindustan. And the pivotal figure was Aurangzeb, to many a strange mix of ferocious fighter and God-fearing ascetic.

With no succession by primogeniture in those days, it was dog-eat-dog when a ruler died or was incapacitated, and the last man left standing among his sons assumed the mantle.

And so it was with Aurangzeb when with the dispatch or riddance  of quarrelsome male siblings he assumed the Peacock Throne as the sixth Mughal Emperor. To give him his full name and title, Abdul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb, commonly known as Aurangzeb Alamgir and by his imperial title Alamgir (“world conqueror” or “conqueror of the universe”), reigned for 49 years from 1658 until his death in 1707. Aurangzeb was a notable expansionist and during his reign, the Mughal Empire attained its greatest reach.

Mughal EmpireDuring his lifetime, victories in the south expanded the Mughal Empire to more than 3.2 million square kilometres. In all,  Aurangzeb ruled over a population estimated as being in the range of 100–150 million subjects.

He was a strong-handed authoritarian ruler, and following his death the expansionary period of the Mughal Empire came to an end.

I draw a distinction between travelers and tourists, so when I urge my readers to take time off to  travel to such places as India, it is in the hope that they will imbibe much more about the cities and landmark sites and scenes on their own than as part of a hurried ‘tourist package’. Impractical? I don’t think so as I have discovered  when traveling to such out of the way spots as Gaucho habitats on the pampas of Argentina, and Gypsies encampments in the wilds of Romania.

If you do venture to India, think of using Bombay (now Mumbai) as your point of entry rather than the capital New Delhi. Then, instead of thinking Bollywood, travel by road, rail or air within the state of Maharashtra, to the city of Aurangabad, named after – you guessed it! – Emperor Aurangzeb.

Ahilyabai_Holkar_Chowk

That city is also your point of entry to getting to see the famous caves at Ajanta and Ellora. The latter is one of India’s most important Shiva pilgrimage temples (almost no foreigners know about it), and if the urge takes you, you may splurge on the high quality shimmering Paithan silk weaves on sale in Aurangabad. Its main ‘square’, Ahilyabai Holkar Chowk, is seen alongside.

European car manufacturers, including the German auto manufacturer, Audi, have zeroed in on Aurangabad, making the city the hub of their operations in India.  In the cantonment area, you’ll also find one of the finest private schools in the country – Nath Valley School, which attracts the best and the brightest from around the country and is worth visiting to see what good education means to India.

References: Wikipedia, The Great Moghuls by Bamber Gascoigne, Four miscellaneous miniatures of Mughal emperors – hotlink to a painting of Aurangzeb in his old age.

Note: The spelling Mughal or Moghul is acceptable East and West in literature.

Dear Readers,

You number over 47,000 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 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 © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas