Category Archives: classical musicians

The Prolific.

 

Beethoven was a loner.

Reports are his hair was often dirty. He’d wear a long top coat, pencils in the pockets, and pace the streets, muttering under his likely foul, acidic breath. His personality was neither warm nor appealing. To use contemporary vernacular, he was not well liked. Had there been a club, he would not have been invited.

Upstairs, where it all happened, he’d pore over his scores, for hours on end. The man was a driven perfectionist; his original manuscripts show so many scribbled erasures so as to have damaged the paper upon which his markings were made.

The totality of his compositions, while many, were not what one would call evidence of a prolific; rather, they were each in their own way masterpieces. They were masterpieces because, whether Beethoven himself realized it or not, he was changing the sound of music for ages to come.

And, in fact, there is hardly a civilized person who cannot name the 9 Beethoven symphonies as placed among the pearls of creative treasure for all of history.

Bach preceded Beethoven, by a stretch.

His output was enormous.

Each Sunday, there was a new Chorale for the church. Bach wrote 600 of these. And, within the mainstream of cultured society, although they are among the most beautiful of musical creations he isn’t even known for them; most cite his volumes of two and three part inventions for keyboard instruments, his partitas, his chaconnes, his toccattas and fugues.

Two singular composers, both creative geniuses.

Is one of higher value than the other?

In matters of taste, two constituencies may form. Under Beethoven, those who prefer to be moved by chordal harmonies and driving rhythm; under Bach, those affected by the intricate complexity of voicing and counterpoint.

But, each contributed not by the collected volume of individual works, but by sheer artistic impact. Regardless the quantity, the power of their affect lay in the quality.

Let’s not ask of our artists that they fulfill our time based expectations. Let us cast aside judgment against the frequency of their contributions. Art needs neither justification, nor critique upon its merit. The next masterpiece may already be in progress. All we have to do is wait, and prepare our hearts.

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© 10/18/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  Thank you for respecting original material.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

A Certain Regret.

 

Six feet two, at least, and all leg, polio hadn’t stopped him. Steel crutches swung the lower limbs, but the rest of the man carried on with the kind of aplomb that filled any room. Louie was the professor of cello at Fredonia State University, and beloved.

The year he finally died (“Why am I still here??”), his daughter presented his truest epitaph. Readying to leave the wake, and in the midst of a warm hug, Sarah said to me: “Dad didn’t live in the Land of Regret!”

Regret. The kind of sorry which affords no take backs. Louie either did it, or he didn’t, but when it was over he never looked over his shoulder.

Not so his perpetually fledgling student.

I suppose guilt is a factor. One cannot feel regret unless one entertains guilt. The Should Haves, in their illicit bed with the Could Haves. Seduced by the If Onlies.

“If only I’d done x, I could have had x. I should have done x; if I had, I could have had… well…x.”

About six months ago, something near, dear, and precious to me was destroyed. For nearly 32 years, I had been a member of the cello section in the Erie Chamber Orchestra and, for the back half of those, its principal cellist. This ensemble was unique. It’s founder, Bruce Morton Wright, had established the mission to bring classical orchestral music to the entire community, free of charge. And, that’s exactly what he did.

This monthly convocation of musicians was my social life. Four nights and one afternoon, every three weeks, preparing a concert program and then performing the music at St. Patrick’s Church, or the Mary Seat of Wisdom Chapel, for an audience of hundreds populated by retired professors, social misfits, loners, the extremely bright and the feeble and, unlike the monied who attend just to be seen, all of them genuine music lovers.

When this organization was cast into the trash bin by the local university which had subsidized it, my world was shattered. The value I had placed upon my role leading that cello section couldn’t be quantified; it had become my professional identity.

And, so, I became the loudest voice of protest. No; we would not go quietly. No; we would not be obliterated.

Others saw an opportunity.

Privately, a group was formed. Those of us from ECO who had been members of longest standing were to step back, and just wait. Wonderful things, we were promised, would happen.

We waited. All summer.

Plenty of time, to think and reflect. Gradually, without warning and not seeking one, I had an epiphany.

Taking a tally of the orchestral repertoire, I discovered that, over those 32 years I’d performed, in random order: all the Beethoven symphonies; all the Tschaikovsky; all the Mozart, and Haydn; all the Brahms. Most of the Dvorak, all Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn; the Sibelius, Prokoffief, Shostakovich; All the Mahler! And, the Bruchner, the Saint-Saens, the Berlioz. Plus, Strauss’s Eine Heldenleiben, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring; Ravel, Respighi, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons; Gershwin, Copland, Korngold (as pianist); the operas of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Strauss; Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet; and, every requiem, oratorio, overture, and orchestral accompaniment to virtually every piano, string, brass, woodwind and percussion concerto on the books.

The realization was sudden: I could accept whatever the new orchestra had in store…..

Or, walk away.

But, why make the choice? Why not just stay, and play?

Because, in the world of fine art music – already proven too vast for one lifetime – there was so much music I had never played. Like, the solo and chamber repertoire, for cello and piano. These were my instruments, and their music had never been dependent upon an orchestra to be realized. For every symphony, composed by any and all of those already performed, there were several corresponding works for solo, duo, trio or quartet. A piano accompanist for decades (Creston; Brahms; Ibert; Hartley; Hindemith; Mozart; Beethoven, Shostakovich, et al) , I had never even covered the sonata repertoire; a musical freak, beyond R. Strauss and some Boccherini I had also never performed the solo repertoire for cello. One could spend a decade on Bach, or Chopin, alone!

Yes. Suddenly, an orchestra seemed confining. Always led by a conductor, a musical director, all programming dictated. Rehearsals, scheduled by those in charge of its calendar. I’d longed to wake up each day with music I alone had chosen to play; but, instead, there was always, it seemed, the next folder filled with material to be conquered. The cello part, so much of it non-melodic; sometimes, as many as 65 pages in one concert (one Mahler symphony’s cello part is over 35 pages!)  Endless notes, uncompensated private hours, all requiring collaboration to make musically complete. If I returned to all that, I might reach my final breaths never having touched the rest of the music!

Last Sunday, Yo-Yo Ma presented in their entirety the six suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Bach, on the stage at Blossom. He had likely been honing each movement of all these for the better part of his lifetime. There he was, alone on that massive stage, dwarfed by its majestic teakwood shell. And, there had to have been between ten and fifteen thousand people, nearly a half mile wide, in his audience.

Had Mr. Ma not chosen to submit to these masterworks, he might have endured a certain regret. I, however, am certain of this: he likely never missed the relentless docket of orchestral folders. Not for a minute.

I can just hear Louie’s voice. I can see his bright smile. He’d be shaking his head, with a chuckle. “Rootie”, he’d say, with so much love. “You can do whatever the hell you want.”

And, so I shall. With absolutely no regret.

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©  8/15/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo        All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for listening. Stay tuned.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

The Acquisitionist.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

She wasn’t sure who had inserted the list of seven deadlies into the catholic penitential practice. Likely not an indulgent English King and surely not his God ( to whom all sins were created equal ), but regardless whence they’d come these were the generally recognized cardinal variety: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, rage, and sloth.

He’d conquered a couple of them.

To the observer, this one was never lazy. And, demonstrating rage being expressly forbidden in the unspoken code of professional conduct, if present, there were no witnesses. Likewise gluttony, as applied to the ingestion of substances; while inclined toward the fats of bacon and cheese, he’d never been seen packing it in.

But, the corporate organism had definitely found a host.

She’d been around long enough to remember life quite free of mendacious, monopolizing influence. There were still members of her family who rarely left home – home being the house, the homestead, the four walls and the rock garden out front of the furnished porch and the flowers and vegetables out back.

And, even those among her ilk who had escaped poverty on the most verdant side of old money could be found, after an elegant meal, reading an historical novel by a grand fire in the study, whose window overlooked a carefully cultivated rose garden, the latest recording of fine symphonic music filtering a rarified air punctuated only by perhaps the occasional waft of equally fine pipe tobacco.

Quite outside of such a truly removed scene, and squarely at the hub of all things prescient, he stood. Arms folded tightly against the chest, square head cocked, lips tightly closed and eyes lowered so as to feign genuine interest in his subject, not a native of these parts he resembled no one in the room, an aspect which drew an even greater degree of interest from those who clamored after social connection. He was the acquisitionist; one only stood near him if one had nothing to lose but one’s identity.

Does the wisdom of age render sin with greater clarity?

Turned out, she’d discovered the seven deadlies had been isolated by the Christian hermits – monks, living in Egypt. Perhaps solitude, and its accompanying reflective contemplation, rendered this clarity.  She only knew that the acquisitionist was never alone for very long. That which he’d been lusting after fed his envy, and his envy the greed which drove the grasping. As for that which he had managed to seize, the cloud of minions at his beck had seen to it that all who starved for a reason to feel important resounded the chorus of his affirmations at the altar of their own unwitting self sacrifice. It would take at least another decade before most of them would know the encroaching negation which floated along in his wake, waiting to lap up against their own saturated, wilting flesh.

Perhaps all that remained was pride. But, he’d feel enough of that for all the rest of them, put together.  In the end, they would be required simply to feel nothing.

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© 4/7/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo       All rights those of the author, whose insights these are, and whose name appears above this line. Go watch a movie. Thanks.

littlebarefeetblog.com