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."