Showing posts with label Vladimir Horowitz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vladimir Horowitz. Show all posts

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Everything you wanted to know about the Russians, but were afraid to ask

Many years ago, in another century, in what feels like another lifetime (though was merely the 1990s) I used to edit a piano magazine. It was the UK's first independent piano magazine, named Classical Piano, and its creation, lifeblood and later eventual absorption into one of its fast-springing rivals is now ancient history. While there I published an article by a then-youthful Russian pianist, Rustem Hayroudinoff, about what the Russian School really means.

It was one of the most informative and interesting articles we ever ran, I think. So I was more than delighted to log on to Rustem's website and see that he has now revised the article and much expanded it, complete with all mod cons such as recordings from the likes of Rachmaninov, Chaliapin and Neuhaus, to name but three. Rustem is now a professor at the Royal Academy of Music and has made some stunning recordings himself, notably of Rachmaninov.

Here's a taster of the article: 

A great deal of confusion surrounds the term “The Russian Pianistic Tradition”. This phrase has been applied to any successful pianist coming out of Russia - often conjuring up images of fire-eating virtuosi scooping up competition prizes. And very often musicians with aesthetic principles as different as those of, for example, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sviatoslav Richter are mentioned in the same breath as being representatives of the same “great Russian School”. To discover the true meaning of this term, I am going to look at some common features in the pianistic principles of several performers who belonged to this tradition.

Even the most superficial acquaintance with the recording legacy of pianists such as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Josef Lhevinne, Josef Hofmann, Vladimir Horowitz and Heinrich Neuhaus reveals that all of these pianists possessed an exquisitely beautiful tone. Their incredible achievements in this area were due to a very conscious cultivation of singing tone and colour on the piano, as the following quotations illustrate.

Josef Lhevinne dedicated a long chapter of his Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing to “the secret of a beautiful tone”, in which he explains how a “ringing, singing” tone is to be achieved: “The main principle at first is to see that the key is touched with as resilient a portion of the finger as possible, if a lovely, ringing, singing tone is desired ... Just a little further back in the first joint of the finger, you will notice that the cushion of flesh is apparently more elastic, less resistant, more springy. Strike the key with this portion of the finger, not on the fingertips as some of the older European methods suggested ...” 

He also emphasises the role that the free wrist and arm play in the production of a good tone: “... the wrist [is] still held very flexible so that the weight of the descending hand and arm carries the key down to key bottom, quite without any sensation of a blow.” And “... when the hand descends, as large a surface of the fingertip as feasible engages the key; and the wrist is so loose that it normally sinks below the level of the keyboard.” 

This last passage holds particular interest because it testifies to the fact that Horowitz’s famous flat finger-low wrist technique was not a mere oddity but an integral part of this same tradition which he took to its extreme in the pursuit of his ideal of a singing tone...

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Angelo Villani: I've got a little Liszt...

There could be worse inspirations for a pianist than Vladimir Horowitz. As the pianist Angelo Villani prepares for his first London recital in five years, he's written us a guest post about how the legendary Russian has lit the way to an approach that respects the score and composer while also finding a spontaneity that recreates the music anew in every performance. Do come and hear him play Chopin, Mozart, Bach and, of course, a little Liszt - actually, quite a lot - at the Royal Overseas League next week, 5 July. JD

Angelo in action
Photo: Bronac McNeill

Angelo Villani writes:

This July will be my first public recital in London for five years, so it’s an understatement to say I am excited. In the past, my repertoire has been principally centred around Liszt, as well as my own transcriptions, but for this next concert, alongside Chopin, I will be playing a smattering of Bach and Mozart for the very first time. My supporters are curious as to how I plan to approach these composers. 

Since my teens, I have listened to great pianists, like Horowitz, who came to Mozart late in his life. He didn’t play a huge amount of Mozart, but he played him magnificently. Horowitz came from an operatic perspective that was not wholly conventional, and it ties in with how I feel about finding nuances and a sense of colour, which forms its own boundaries and its own cohesion and wholeness. His playing is very inspired. And inspiring. It’s emotive and personal, and changes with every performance. That’s what I am looking for, too. 

Like period dramas, music shows us something of that time, but they also hold a mirror up to ourselves, showing us the human condition. We will always be drawn to Shakespeare, for example, and this year is the 200thanniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They speak to us as we are essentially the same humans. The customs and manners have changed, which is what we see in these dramas. We see the way they behave is different, but what they feel inside, that humanity, really hasn’t changed a lot. People still search for love and truth. 

For me, in whatever I play, it’s a question of expression. With Mozart I am not looking for any of that classical form of correctness. I believe that can be achieved, that sense of style, when one taps into what Wagner referred to as melos. Being in the moment. It’s very telling, and it’s derived from his ideas on conducting. Approaching all music, one has to find that sense of being in the moment and finding the right mood, and let that carry through. It creates its own structure and sense of scale and for me it’s very important to do that in an organic way, although it’s difficult to achieve.

When we talk about classical music, we’re using an umbrella term for a lot of music that blossomed from the Renaissance up until present day. We have Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and then Moderns, Avant-garde and beyond, to what we have now. It’s good for people to understand that music can greatly reflect its epoch, but at the same time for the artist to be able to exploit the humane characteristics of the music, and to bring out its soulfulness and inherent humanity, they need to transcend barriers of classification. A lot of music can express these very personal human emotions that don’t necessarily come from the Romantic era. For me, when I played my transcription of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, it opened a door for me to hear the Mozart D minor Fantasy and the Bach Siciliano in a completely different way because it reminded me, all of a sudden, that this music is heart-breaking and has its own pain, even though the way it is structured, its simplicity, is very much a Baroque style. It’s like a small etching or a pencil drawing, but with incredible and very poignant detail. So it drew me to these pieces in a way I wasn’t necessarily aware of when I was younger. 

I’m sometimes asked what my motivation is for altering the score. I don’t do it that often, but it largely happens with Liszt, who was unique in this respect as his works were not always a finished product in the same sense as Chopin or Mozart, where everything was crystallized. He comes from a very Beethovenian line of thinking. Liszt tended to improvise and he kept re-writing the same pieces, not really knowing what would be the final result. His music relied a lot on the performer, who infused a good deal of their own personal take on it, especially the endings. So, I am always at ease with the idea: "Well, what would the composer do to take it beyond what they have arrived at?" Because music is a transitory experience, when a composer writes a piece down on paper, it’s still in transition until the performer brings it to life. I don’t think it’s a finite work, and we do have to respect that these great composers improvised. Chopin used to improvise a lot of the ornaments in his music, and his students said he never played his music in the same way twice. So even he changed things. They were ornaments, but it was essential for him to be able to change them. With Liszt, it was a malleability in his sense of texture and sound, which was more orchestral. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Bryn Plus

I had a wonderful interview with Bryn Terfel last week and it is in today's Independent, here. Bryn sings the lead in Der fliegende Holländer at Covent Garden, opening tonight.

Here are a few bonus bits of the interview.

Bryn on...Andris Nelsons (who conducts the Wagner tonight):

"The first time I met him was in Birmingham - and then I heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra had snapped him up. He’s married to Kristine Opolais,of course, which will only make him an even better conductor of singers – but he can sing! Goodness gracious, you should hear his voice. He's a stunning bass-baritone and he loves to sing from the pit- and he laughs and winks at you. From what I hear, the orchestra loves him as well. Isn’t that a great formula already? Who knows where he’ll go?"

Bryn on...his foundation to help student musicians:

"Whatever I do concertwise now, the money I get for that goes to the foundation. I need to work a little bit harder, maybe, on getting people to invest some of their money into the youth of my chosen career, so I’ve given some nmoney to young Welsh singers, I’ve given some mopney to a young accordionist who's doing really well at the moment, Ksenija Sidorova, I gave her a little foundation money – I’m sure that any student coming out of college would like some help. So that’s something for the future. In the next 10 years I’m going to home in on my foundation. I started it because I heard from students that they were coming out of university with debts and that made me think that maybe they need the money now, while they’re still in college. So the money I’ve given to students, they’re in college now, spending it. And there’s no stipulation about what they can spend it on – they can buy shoes, a car, a dress – and these are things you need as a performer. I’ll never forget Sir Geraint Evans telling me: 'Buy a new suit.' And he was right. Because that generation, thety’d come to rehearsal in a three-piece suit! I’ll never forget who I got money from. Capital Radio gave me £500 once. The Kathleen Ferrier Scholarship I won was £5000 and that was really important for extra coaching and extra language coaching."

Bryn on...the great pianists:

"I’ll never forget going to hear Martha Argerich play with the young Verbier Symphony, full of kids under 25 years old. I sat there with Peter Gelb and he said 'It’ll be brilliant tonight.' I can guess a pianist will be brilliant by the names, but to hear piano music being played I need to study a little more, I think, on the difference between brilliant and mediocre, because I think they’re all fantastic. And Peter said that at the end of Horowitz’s career he was his agent and filmed him playing in Moscow for the last time. He said they didn’t want to film him from the front of the audience, so he had the camera on Horowitz from behind - and looking through into the audience, all these Russian people were sobbing. But he said Horowitz had said to him: 'Only one pianist will take over what I’ve started, and it’s Argerich'. So I was about to listen to this woman – I listen to a lot of Horowitz anyway on Youtube - his White House soirées with presidents are recorded on video. So that was one of the most exciting evenings I’d ever had, having heard that story."

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Historical: Horowitz Live in London

This is Vladimir Horowitz's second-last recital in London, filmed live at the Royal Festival Hall in May 1982 (the last one was a week later. Thanks to my pianophile-in-chief consultant for the correction). He was not a well man by then, and apparently was on much medication, but the old magic is alive and well despite some slips; listen to the tone, the voicing, the variety of imagination, and a Polonaise-Fantaisie that certainly draws the tears from fanatics like me... And the way he plays the national anthem at the outset is a sliver of piano genius in itself, though this audience of 31 years ago stands to attention and doesn't applaud. (Prince Charles and co are in the royal box, not looking their most comfortable ever...).

The concert hall, which we see at the start, stands in grim concrete isolation in a lifeless area. It's a bit different today, happily.

The programme is:

Part I

01. God Save The Queen
02. Scarlatti Sonata in A flat major K127
03. Scarlatti Sonata in F minor K466
04. Scarlatti Sonata in F minor K184
05. Scarlatti Sonata in A major K101
06. Scarlatti Sonata in B minor K87
07. Scarlatti Sonata in E major K135
08. Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie Op.61
09. Chopin Ballade No.1 Op.23
10. Horowitz talks about himself

Part II

01. Schumann Kinderszenen Op.15
02. Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 Op.36
03. Chopin Waltz Op.69-1
04. Rachmaninov Polka de W.R.
05. Scriabin Etude Op.8-12

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Historical: Horowitz plays the Chopin Barcarolle

Recorded live at Carnegie Hall on 26 November 1967, this is the kind of performance that proves that it ain't what you've got, it's what you do with it. Vladimir Horowitz had an extraordinary technique, but infinitely more vital than that was the brainpower, the imagination, behind it. That is the seat of true artistry, and to concentrate on the technical side of Horowitz is simply to miss the point: the vital spark was his capacity to reimagine the works he performed and take them to places - yet musically sincere ones, faithful to the composer - of which others can barely dream. As Martha Argerich said when I had my (one and only) interview with her: before you can make that sound, you must be able to imagine it. To that end, I've chosen today his live performance in 1967 of that masterpiece of abstract poetry, the Chopin Barcarolle.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Friday Historical: Vladimir Horowitz out-takes

"Listen, you wanted Moszkowski, maybe?..."

Just stumbled on this little selection of out-takes from Vladimir Horowitz - The Last Romantic. Wow.