Godowsky: Piano sonata

And, separately: Marc-Andre Hamelin on his relationship with the piece:

“Living in Canada, it wasn’t terribly easy to find Godowsky’s music. He found some of it in music stores in Montreal, and he made a trip to New York in 1970 and he found a great deal more: there was a music dealer who had a lot of second-hand stuff that had originally belonged to a couple of members of Godowsky’s entourage. And I helped him over the years with whatever else I found.

“But for some reason he’d never been able to secure a copy of the Sonata because he’d never seen it. And he finally went as far as requesting a photocopy of it from the Library of Congress. Not only that, but also a copy of the manuscript, and the sketches. He had to obtain permission from Godowsky’s son. And that’s how he found it.

“Only much, much later, like in the early 1990s, was I able to get an actual copy of it. An original. And at that point, the only recording that existed was on LP, and it was only the first movement. It was played by a lady named Doris Pines, who I don’t think is performing anymore. But this is the early 70s, it’s on the Genesis label. From the very, very little I knew of it, it always seemed to me like it was a work which started very interestingly and that the interest dwindled with each movement. But that was a very uninformed opinion on my part; I mean I really hadn’t delved into it.

“But in 2000, I suddenly got a request. My Godowsky étude recordings had just come out, and I got a letter from Robert Lienau, the original publishers of the Sonata, asking me whether I would write a preface to it because they were going to reprint it. I procrastinated because I didn’t really know the work. So they asked a friend of mine, a musicologist, to write the preface, and that was fine. But their request did cause me to take a second look at the piece. And as I was reading the first movement, I was thinking “Yes, this is really good.” And I was reading the other movements and saying “Oh yeah, this has possibilities.” And already, the thought of a possible relationship with the piece was formed.”

In letters: Franz Liszt to Robert Schumann

"[...] As to the Kinderscenen, I owe to them one of the greatest pleasures of my life. You know, or you don’t know, that I have a little girl of three years old, whom everybody agrees in considering angelic (did you ever hear such a commonplace?). Her name is Blandine-Rachel, and her surname Moucheron. It goes without saying that she has a complexion of roses and milk, and that her fair golden hair reaches to her feet just like a savage. She is, however, the most silent child, the most sweetly grave, the most philosophically gay in the world. I have every reason to hope also that she will not be a musician, from which may Heaven preserve her! "Well, my dear Monsieur Schumann, two or three times a week (on fine and good days!) I play your Kinderscenen to her in the evening; this enchants her, and me still more, as you may imagine, so that often I go over the first repeat twenty times without going any further. Really I think you would be satisfied with this success if you could be a witness of it!"

— Wednesday June 5th, 1839.

Scruton on sound and music and gesture

Roger Scruton: "The object of musical hearing is organised by metaphors of space and movement that correspond to no material realities. Music goes up and down, it leads and follows; it is dense, translucent, heavy, light; it encounters obstacles and crashes through them, and sometimes it comes to an end which is the end of everything. Those metaphors, and the order derived from them, are shared by all musical people. The order that we hear is an order that we – the musical public – hear, when we hear these sounds as music. And although there is, at any moment, an indefinite number of ways in which a melodic line or a chord sequence can continue without sounding wrong, the ideal in our tradition has been of an uninterrupted sense of necessity – each melodic and harmonic step following as though by logic from its predecessor, and yet with complete freedom. ... When we hear tones we are also hearing sounds; but we are hearing in those sounds movement, organisation and gravitational forces in a one-dimensional musical space. That is the fundamental musical experience, the experience that causes us to hear one note as moving on from another, answering another, attracted to or repelled by another. It is what enables us to hear tension and release, beginnings and endings, goals and starting points. It is at the root of the art of music as we have known it, since it is what gives music its fundamental nature as an art of motion, which grips us and takes us with it in a space of its own. We are moved by music because music moves."

"Do not look beyond the notes, they themselves are the doctrine."

Charles Rosen in The Frontiers of Meaning: "Music has its existence on the borderline between meaning and nonsense. That is why most attempts to attribute a specific meaning to a piece of music seem to be beside the point—even when the attribution is authoritative, even when it is made by the composer himself ... Nevertheless, music will not acknowledge a context greater than itself — social, cultural, or biographical — to which it is conveniently subservient. To paraphrase Goethe's grandiose warning to the scientist: do not look behind the notes, they themselves are the doctrine."

"I am a mirror..."

I am not a complete idiot, but whether from weakness or laziness have no talent for thinking. I know only how to reflect: I am a mirror ... Logic does not exist for me. I float on the waves of art and life and never really know how to distinguish what belongs to the one or the other or what is common to both. Life unfolds for me like a theatre presenting a sequence of somewhat unreal sentiments; while the things of art are real to me and go straight to my heart.

— Sviatoslav Richter

Claudio Arrau on Rachmaninoff

"Rachmaninoff was really a great pianist, but not a great interpreter, because he made everything into Rachmaninoff. He was a sensation in Berlin after the First World War. I heard a few recitals -- it must have been in the twenties. Technically, he was phenomenal. But I thought the sound was not very good. And from the standpoint of interpretation, it was appalling. He didn't seem to care at all what the composer meant. He even added several bars of his own to the end of the Funeral March sonata of Chopin. You know, once I played the Beethoven Eroica Variations in Chicago and Rachmaninoff came backstage during the intermission to tell me how beautiful it was. He had never heard of the piece before. He was friendly, very complimentary. But he wasn't even surprised that he had never heard of it! The Eroica Variations!

For do but note a wild and wanton herd,Or race of youthful and unhandled colts, Fetching mad bounds, bellowing and neighing loud, Which is the hot condition of their blood; If they but hear perchance a trumpet sound, Or any air of music touch their ears, You shall perceive them make a mutual stand, Their savage eyes turn'd to a modest gaze By the sweet power of music: therefore the poet Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones and floods; Since nought so stockish, hard and full of rage, But music for the time doth change his nature. The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night And his affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

(The Merchant of Venice Act V Sc. 1)

Adding as subtraction

Glenn Gould on his process of recording the Goldberg Variations in 1955: "When I recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations, I by-passed the theme -- the very simple aria upon which the variations are constructed -- and left it for recording until all the variations had been satisfactorily put down on tape. I then turned to that ingenious little sarabande, and found that it took me twenty takes in order to locate a character for it which would be sufficiently neutral as not to prejudge the depth of involvement that comes later in the work. It was a question of utilizing the first twenty takes to erase all superfluous expression from my reading of it, and there is nothing more difficult to do. The natural instinct of the performer is to add, not to subtract. In any case, the theme, as represented on my recording of the Goldberg Variations, is Take 21."

"For that which befalls man, befalls beasts"

From Gustav Ophüls in his Memories of Johannes Brahms: "... It was more an intensified recitation of Biblical text in tones, which he gave us in his hoarse voice; and what we heard was entirely different than an art song. Since then, no singer, not even Meschaert himself, has been able to awaken the same mighty impression in me, which the improvised rendition of these songs by their creator made on me at that time. It was actually no different than if the prophet himself had spoken to us ... The third song, 'O death, how bitter thou art,' plainly gripped him so strongly during its delivery, that during the quiet close, 'O death, acceptable is thy sentence,' great tears rolled down his cheeks, and he virtually breathed these last words of the text, with a voice nearly choked with tears. I shall just never forget the moving impression of this song."

"One obtains the same musical colouring by external means..."

"My teacher Louis Vierne was born blind. He had an operation when he was twenty-six and could see a little. He found one thing unbearable, the way a head is attached to the neck and shoulders. For him, that was horrible. Also, if he was told: 'Pick up this pencil!' he would answer, 'I can't, it's too far away'. But he would want to pick up a house because it was large and he saw it close up. It took him one or two years to understand the relationship of large and small to proximity or distance. He used to see large objects as close and small ones as distant." "But to what degree does any of us see things as they really are? Someone who hears the organ will say, 'Oh!, it must take such strength!' Now, to play an organ with five hundred stops, you exercise the same pressure as when you play a little pipe organ with two pedals. Those who hear the organ for the first time are stunned by its power. One doesn't employ extra force. One obtains the same musical colouring by external means, in much the same way a shadow plays on the colour of an object."

(Nadia Boulanger, interviewed by Bruno Monsaigneon.)

With neither beginning nor end

[Leonard Bernstein's account of his visitation of Mlle. Boulanger.] I was ushered into her bedchamber by the angelic and anxiety-ridden Mlle. Dieudonné, who, with forefinger to lips, and seconded only by an attending nurse, whispered a sharp order: Ten minutes only. As it turned out, the visit lasted closer to one hour.

Nadia was beautifully dressed and groomed, as if for the coffin. Her crucifix gleamed at her throat; her eyes and mouth were closed; her whole face seemed closed in coma. I knelt by the bed in silent communion. Suddenly there was the shock of her voice, deep and strong as always (how? her lips did not seem to move; how?) "Qui est là?" I could not respond for shock. The Dieudonné forefinger whipped to the lips. Finally I dared speak: "Lenny. Léonard..." Silence. Did she hear, did she know? "Cher Lenny..." She knew; a miracle. Encouraging signal from Dieudonné. I persevered: "My dear friend, how do you feel?" Pause. Then that basso profundo (through unmoving lips!): "Tellement forte." I drew a deep breath. "Vous voulez dire ... intérieurement?" "...Oui. Mais le corps--" "Je comprends bien," I said hastily, to shorten her efforts. "Je pars. Vous devez être très fatiguée." "Pas de fatigue. Non. Point. ..." A protracted pause, and I realized she had drifted back into sleep.

Signals from the astonished attending ladies suggested my departure, but I was held there, unable to rise from my knees. I knew there was more to come, and in a few minutes it did come: "Ne partez pas." Not a plea, but a command. I searched my mind anxiously for the right thing to say, knowing that anything would be wrong. Then I heard myself asking: "Vous entendez la musique dans la tête?" Instant reply: "Tout le temps. Tout le temps." This so encouraged me that I continued, as if in quotidien conversation: "Et qu'est-ce que vous entendez ce moment-ci?" I thought of her preferred loves. "Mozart? Monteverdi? Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel?" Long pause. "Une musique ... [very long pause] ... ni commencement ni fin ..."

She was already there, on the other side.

"I have never rested well. I am only happy when I work. But I can't work. And there you are."

Leonard Bernstein to Aaron Copland (July 1967): Dear A:

Can't sleep (haven't for weeks) and thinking very much of you, of music, of impasses. Haven't found a work to write (after almost a month of dolce-far-niente in this beautiful house): not a note on paper, not a score studied, a very few books read: no thoughts to speak of, no nuthin. Much pleasure in children. Hebrew lessons (!) to Alexander (we adore them and laugh a good deal; in the sun-air-sky-water-boat department, diving from my new rubber boat (singing all the while "All we've got is a rubber boat we can't blow up and a single flashlight" and nearly weeping with nostalgia) and enjoying all my diving gear -- black spaceman type wet-suit, flippers, helmet, knife, watch, depthometer, oxygen tanks on back; enjoying driving my new silver-gray Maserati -- my first (and last) sheer playboy acquisition. Sailing, snorkeling, seeing a very few people, not even going to see Etruscan ruins nearby, logey, paralyzed with sea and sun. And no sleep. Somewhere in all this I must be restoring my soul, recharging my transistors, "resting." I never have rested well; I'm happy only when I work. But I can't work. And there you are."

The original poet "must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished."

Charles Rosen in an essay titled "The Frontiers of Nonsense," published in The Frontiers of Meaning: If getting used to music is the essential condition for understanding, it is hard to see just what purpose is served by writing about it. A few experiences of listening to a symphony or nocturne are worth more than any essay or analysis. The work of art itself teaching us how to understand it, and makes the critic not merely parasitical but strictly superfluous. This is not an unprecedented dilemma but one in which the critic of literature found himself at the end of the eighteenth century, when the function of criticism as an act of judgment crumbled before his eyes. The accepted criteria that had served so well for centuries began to seem the heritage of an alien culture; it no longer required any courage, or provoked any surprise, to question the authority of the classics, and it became almost commonplace to assume that the models given by Homer, Virgil, and Horace were no longer relevant to the literature of contemporary Europe. With the realization that absolute standards were not valid for new civilizations and different cultures, critics were compelled to derive their measures of evaluation from each culture in turn, and then from each individual author, and finally from each work. Standards could no longer be imposed from outside or in advance, and critics finally recognized that a new work was capable of establishing its own system of values. Here is the basis for Wordsworth's famous affirmation that an original poet "must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished." The more traditional, straightforward exercise of judgment was left to journalists. Critical evaluation was transformed into understanding, and criticism became not an act of judgment but of comprehension.

This is the legacy of Romanticism, and critics who would like to maintain or return to absolute standards have been protesting it without much success for almost two centuries. Whether there is, in fact, anything constant or invariant about aesthetic appreciation is irrelevant -- even if there is, it must be on a level of such generality that it can never help us in any given instance. Our sensuous appreciation of the world and of the works created by man has, no doubt, a biological foundation, one shared by all human beings, but that is no use to us when we try to evaluate a Bach fugue or a Dostoevsky novel -- or even the simple experience of a landscape, as our delight in the view of a mountain or a waterfall is also determined by the traditions of our culture. The coexistence of different criteria of judgment is, in any case, by now a fact of life. Beethoven cannot be judged or even understood by the standards of Mozart, however much he may have continued them, nor Berg by the standards of Wagner or Richard Strauss, nor Elliott Carter by the values of Ives and Stravinsky. A work of music can be only partially integrated into history, although that partial integration may be inescapable: it also demands to be listened to as if nothing had come before it and nothing was to come afterward.

The paradox was stated explicitly in that manifesto of Central European Romanticism first published in 1799, the Athenaeum, at the beginning of the section of book reviews:

"Excellent works generally criticize [characterize, or review] themselves, and in this respect it is superfluous for another to perform yet again the very task that the author has doubtless already done. If such a criticism, nevertheless, is a work of art (as it always ought to be), then its existence is anything but superfluous; but it stands entirely for itself and is as independent of the written work criticized as this itself is independent of the material treated and described within it."

This proclaims the independence of the critic, which may here be equated with the freedom of the artist; and it must be recognized that a small degree of irresponsibility is necessary for a critic with any self-respect. Without that irresponsibility the work of criticism is indeed superfluous. If the principles of judgment are to be drawn from the work of art itself, it is clear that its creator has already done that, even if only implicitly.

Shaw on Wagnerian singers

From George Bernard Shaw's The Perfect Wagnerite: "No nation need have much difficulty in producing a race of Wagnerian singers. With the single exception of Handel, no composer has written music so well calculated to make its singers vocal athletes as Wagner. Abominably as the Germans sing, it is astonishing how they thrive physically on his leading parts. His secret is the Handelian secret. Instead of specializing his vocal parts after the manner of Verdi and Gounod for high sopranos, screaming tenors, and high baritones with an effective compass of about a fifth at the extreme tiptop of their ranges, and for contraltos with chest registers forced all over their compass in the manner of music hall singers, he employs the entire range of the human voice freely, demanding from everybody very nearly two effective octaves, so that the voice is well exercised all over, and one part of it relieves the other healthily and continually. He uses extremely high notes very sparingly, and is especially considerate in the matter of instrumental accompaniment. Even when the singer appears to have all the thunders of the full orchestra raging against him, a glance at the score will show that he is well heard, not because of any exceptionally stentorian power in his voice, but because Wagner meant him to be heard and took the greatest care not to overwhelm him. Such brutal opacities of accompaniment as we find in Rossini's Stabat or Verdi's Trovatore, where the strings play a rum-tum accompaniment whilst the entire wind band blares away, fortissimo, in unison with the unfortunate singer, are never to be found in Wagner's work. Even in an ordinary opera house, with the orchestra ranged directly between the singers and the audience, his instrumentation is more transparent to the human voice than that of any other composer since Mozart. At the Bayreuth Buhnenfestspielhaus, with the brass under the stage, it is perfectly so."

In letters: Franz Liszt on Schubert

[To Sigmund Lebert, December 1868.] Dear friend,

The annotations to Schubert's Sonatas demanded more time than I had anticipated. For some weeks past I have been working industriously at them—now they are finished ad unguem.

Our pianists scarcely realise what a glorious treasure they have in Schubert's pianoforte compositions. Most pianists play them over en passant, notice here and there repetitions, lengthinesses, apparent carelessnesses, and then lay them aside. It is true that Schubert himself is somewhat to blame for the very unsatisfactory manner in which his admirable pianoforte pieces are treated. He was too immoderately productive, wrote incessantly, mixing insignificant with important things, grand things with mediocre work, paid no heed to criticism, and always soared on his wings. Like a bird in the air, he lived in music and sang in angelic fashion.

O never-resting, ever-welling genius, full of tenderness! O my cherished Hero of the Heaven of Youth! Harmony, freshness, power, grace, dreamings, passion, soothings, tears and flames pour forth from the depths and heights of thy soul, and thou makest us almost forget the greatness of thine excellence in the fascination of thy spirit!——

Let us limit our edition of Schubert's pianoforte compositions to 2 Sonatas, the G major Fantasia (a Virgilian poem!), the splendid "Wanderer"-dithyramb (C major Fantasia), 2 books of Impromptus, Moments Musicals and all his Valses (among which there are gems of the first water). All this will be sent to you forthwith; and in addition Weber's Polonaises.

In the Sonatas you will find some various readings, which appear to me tolerably appropriate. Several passages, and the whole of the conclusion of the C major Fantasia, I have re-written in modern pianoforte form, and I flatter myself that Schubert would not be displeased with it.

The pianoforte Duets of Schubert (Holle's edition) please address to Weimar, as I have no time left for revisings in Rome. Send me also a copy of the "Aufforderung zum Tanz" ["Invitation to the Dance"] that is so drummed at everywhere. You forgot to let me have this piece of salon-fireworks with the other music, and I too did not remember it at the time; years ago I had to play this "Invitation" over and over again, times innumerable—without the smallest "invitation" on my part—and it became a detestable nuisance to me. However, such a show-piece must not be omitted in Cotta's edition of Weber.

Your visit to Weimar, dear friend, will be very welcome and agreeable to me. When there we shall be able to discuss, weigh and settle a number of things very conveniently.

With sincere thanks, I remain

Yours in all friendship,

F. Liszt

Villa d'Este, December 2nd, 1868

P.S. — I have not received the French translation of your Method.

Aristotle on the role of musical virtuosity in general education

From Book VIII, section 6 of Aristotle's Politics, translated by Benjamin Jowett: "The flute, or any other instrument which requires great skill, as for example the harp, ought not to be admitted into education, but only such as will make intelligent students of music or of the other parts of education.

"Besides, the flute is not an instrument which is expressive of moral character; it is too exciting. The proper time for using it is when the performance aims not at instruction, but at the relief of the passions. And there is a further objection; the impediment which the flute presents to the use of the voice detracts from its educational value. The ancients therefore were right in forbidding the flute to youths and freemen, although they had once allowed it. For when their wealth gave them a greater inclination to leisure, and they had loftier notions of excellence, being also elated with their success, both before and after the Persian War, with more zeal than discernment they pursued every kind of knowledge, and so they introduced the flute into education.

"At Lacedaemon there was a choragus who led the chorus with a flute, and at Athens the instrument became so popular that most freemen could play upon it. The popularity is shown by the tablet which Thrasippus dedicated when he furnished the chorus to Ecphantides. Later experience enabled men to judge what was or was not really conducive to virtue, and they rejected both the flute and several other old-fashioned instruments, such as the Lydian harp, the many-stringed lyre, the 'heptagon,' 'triangle,' 'sambuca,' the like- which are intended only to give pleasure to the hearer, and require extraordinary skill of hand.

"There is a meaning also in the myth of the ancients, which tells how Athena invented the flute and then threw it away. It was not a bad idea of theirs, that the Goddess disliked the instrument because it made the face ugly; but with still more reason may we say that she rejected it because the acquirement of flute-playing contributes nothing to the mind, since to Athena we ascribe both knowledge and art."

"When you say 'billowing,' do you mean like a triangle?"

(David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest, page 649.) '--just a boy with a violin and a dream and special roundabout routes to school to avoid the boys who took my violin case and played keep-away over my head with it, one summer afternoon I was upstairs in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, alone, practicing my violin. It was very hot, and there was an electric fan in the window, blowing out, acting as an exhaust fan.'

'I know from exhaust fans, believe you me.'

'The direction of the flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this one afternoon, the fan's vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.'

'A thing.'

'As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.'

'But it was inside you, though.'

'Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey, I dropped my violin and ran from the room.'

'Was it triangular? The shape? When you say billowing, do you mean like a triangle?'

'Shapeless. Shapelessness was one of the horrible thing about it. I can say and mean only shape, dark, and either billowing or flapping. But because the horror receded the moment I left the room, within minutes it had become unreal. The shape and the horror. It seemed to have been my imagination, some random bit of psychic flatulence, an anomaly.'

Excerpt from Wagner's "The Art-Work of the Future"

"Man will never be that which he can and should be, until his Life is a true mirror of Nature, a conscious following of the only real Necessity, the inner natural necessity, and is no longer held in subjugation to an outer artificial counterfeit,—which is thus no necessary, but an arbitrary power. Then first will Man become a living man; whereas till now he carries on a mere existence, dictated by the maxims of this or that Religion, Nationality, or State.—In like manner will Art not be the thing she can and should be, until she is or can be the true, conscious image and exponent of the real Man, and of man's genuine, nature-bidden life; until she therefore need no longer borrow the conditions of her being from the errors, perversities, and unnatural distortions of our modern life. "The real Man will therefore never be forthcoming, until true Human Nature, and not the arbitrary statutes of the State, shall model and ordain his Life; while real Art will never live, until its embodiments need be subject only to the laws of Nature, and not to the despotic whims of Mode. For as Man only then becomes free, when he gains the glad consciousness of his oneness with Nature; so does Art only then gain freedom, when she has no more to blush for her affinity with actual Life. But only in the joyous consciousness of his oneness with Nature does Man subdue his dependence on her; while Art can only overcome her dependence upon Life through her oneness with the life of free and genuine Men.

The curse of the ninth

"According to Arnold Schoenberg, this superstition began with Gustav Mahler, who, after writing his Eighth Symphony, wrote Das Lied von der Erde, which, while structurally a symphony, was able to be 'disguised' as a song cycle, each movement being a setting of a poem for soloist and orchestra. Then he wrote his Ninth Symphony and thought he had beaten the curse, but died with his Tenth Symphony incomplete. In an essay about Mahler, Schoenberg wrote: 'It seems that the Ninth is a limit. He who wants to go beyond it must pass away. It seems as if something might be imparted to us in the Tenth which we ought not yet to know, for which we are not ready. Those who have written a Ninth stood too close to the hereafter.'"