Monday, 24 November 2008

Professor Hovhanness I. Pilikian on Exceptional Music Concerts

The Maestro and his First Class 'Students'
29th October, 2008 - 6.30 pm - Steinway Hall, London.

Maestro Alberto Portugheis - live sketch, 2008 - by Ronald Stein

Alberto Portugheis is a lucky Maestro – even, an extremely lucky one – and by Jove! He deserves fully his providential good fortune. He is an extraordinary human being, totally devoted to his chosen field – Music, and chosen instrument – the Piano.
His performance career has resulted in several sought-after recordings, including besides the Khachaturian Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, such rarities as Rossini’s piano works.

Founder of the Iberian & Latin American Music Society (ILAMS) and its Chairman, Founder and Artistic Director of the Dorothea Law Piano Centre, Vice-Chairman of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, Vice-President of the European Piano Teachers’ Association … enough? For ordinary mortals, I would say, more than enough, but not for Maestro Portugheis – he is also, and wait for this, Vice-Chairman of the International Society for the Study of … Tension in Performance, not only in Music, but also Theatre and Dance!

Still, all the above activities that may floor someone half his age, is not enough for the Maestro, who also manifests young Goethe’s wanderlust – born and bred in La Plata, Argentina, of Russian and Rumanian parentage, now based in London, the Maestro has appeared in Canada, the USA, France, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland, Cyprus, Serbia, Nigeria … and won’t stand still – he tirelessly raises funds for the education of very poor children of the AmaZon Art charity founded by a virtuoso young Brazilian cellist, Diego Carneiro.

To top it all, Maestro Alberto Portugheis is also writing a book on the … language of Peace. Any wonder then that he has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Cultured and compassionate, the Maestro is a gentle soul, always with a smile, an unassuming human being – Like Jesus washing the desert-worn feet of his disciples, it is rather moving to witness Maestro Portugheis sitting next to his piano students as a page-turner … turning the pages of their musical scores with a profound paternal affection.

And what was the Maestro’s extreme luck I was referring to?

The fact that four of his piano “students” he presented in a concert – Clare Jones, Katalin Csillagh, Jovanni de Pedro, Blagoy Filipov – are already technically speaking masters of the keyboard – each a concert pianist of virtuosic proportions – any one of them alone would bring honor to a teacher and their national cultures, let alone an incredible … Four of them at once, come here to London to attend three days of Masterclasses with the Maestro!

Clare Jones played quietly but firmly Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor (D.784) like Beethovenian Variations, enlightening me to the possibility that Schubert’s said work may indeed have been inspired at a deeper level by Beethoven’s variations … Ms Jones also manifested the right amount of zartlichkeit for a Schubert composition.

Katalin Csillagh, a Hungarian virtuoso, played Beethoven’s Sonata in F Sharp (Op. 78) with a Bach-like nobility, leaving no doubt whatsoever about Beethoven’s own study of Bach’s Counterpoint.

While the rich display of Beethoven’s Bach-like quality in itself was quite an achievement by Katalin Csillagh, I wished she could also simultaneously not lose occasionally the traditional passionate Beethovenian delight in musical dialectical contrasts, battles with exhausting and exhaustive contradictions rising into feisty crescendos. Of course I would not know if Maestro Portugheis’ gentleness had dampened down Miss Csillagh’s Beethovenian ardour.

Jovanni De Pedro on the other hand, had all the ardour, in fact in double and treble dosage … perfectly suited to Ginastera’s brash Sonata No. 1 (Op. 22) – an odd piece this – it begins with a harsh allegro marcato with referential melodies and rhythms all over the place – New Orleans Jazz, Duke Ellington, Carmen Jones (Ginastera lived in the USA for two years in 1945, and may have seen a revival of the original 1943 Broadway production) and, most of all, Aram Khachaturian … the latter’s Violin Concerto and Toccata for Piano providing Ginastera with a wealth of inspiration. Most originally though, the Right and the Left hands are used equivalently, as musical mirror reflections of one another.

The Second movement, in presto misterioso sounded like music for a ghost-film, with a Hollywood car-chase wrapped in a nightmare. The piano-playing hands though return to their conventional function, the Left being the base-line holder, the accompaniment to the melodic Right. Moreover, there is more passion here than in the next movement misnamed as adagio molto appassionato, which curiously had more 'mystery' in it than the previous movement supposed to be imbibed in misterioso – odd, very odd – either Ginastera had got it wrong – great people too can get it frequently wrong (including Popes!) – Or his interpreter Jovanni de Pedro could not deliver the composer’s dynamic markings – unlikely the latter, because Jovanni displays virtuosic musical grasp. It must therefore be Ginastera’s own emotional chaos.

What is remarkable, once again, was the functional use of the hands – now, back to the case of the first movement, where the Right and the Left were treated equilaterally, but in this movement with a subtle nuance – they no more reflect one another, but rather stay separate and independent, doing their own thing.

The last movement, ruvido ed ostinato is Khachaturian’s Toccata for Piano gone mad, and with exciting arpeggios truly ostinato! Jazz is forgotten, unless one insists that Khachaturian was being Stravinsky-like jazzy breathing fresh air into the close atmosphere during the Stalinist tyranny over the Soviet Arts.

Last but not least, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures from (sic! I think at) an Exhibition (1874) is the kind of all-time masterpiece no modernist composer of any rank can do without – it has probably influenced everybody who is anybody in music. Endlessly transcribed for even a large orchestra (first by the French Maurice Ravel of the Bolero fame, in 1922), for Organ by Hansjörg Albrecht, there is a Swiss Jazz-band version by Mats-up, even a Rock-version by ELP = Emerson Lake & Palmers (who, interestingly, had also adapted the 4th movement of Ginastera’s first Piano Concerto and recorded it on an album Brain Salad Surgery in 1973 under the title Toccata). But it is good to hear Mussorgsky’s Pictures in its original conception as a piano solo with dense orchestral textures.

The Bulgarian Blagoy Filipov is undoubtedly a concert pianist of great virtuosic potential, but alas, alack, he did himself a great disservice by playing it from the score, rather than by-heart (pun intended). If there ever was a solo piece in the history of ‘western’ music that demands absolutely, the absolute use of one’s musical memory, it is this!

Mussorgsky’s piece, as good as a symphonic poem, is a peak of what I call visual narrative music (my term – instead of the commonly used, and I think silly term “program-music”) – the performer must inwardly soul-fully visualize practically every note, and it is simply humanly impossible to do so while reading the score during a concert performance. I can categorically refute any excuses for not doing so. I think Maestro Portugheis should have insisted on it being so.

The damage done to the performer was obvious from the very first few bars played too student-like, as if trying to get the notes right – architecturally constructed on the principle of the leitmotif later identified with Wagner’s oeuvre, Mussorgsky delineates I think a complex character of a visitor seeing these extraordinary paintings from an old castle (il vecchio castello) to the musically overpowering gate of the Bohatyrs of Kiev (La Porte des Bohatyrs de Kiev) – and you better not mess with a shaven-headed Ukrainian Khokhol-Cossack … 'Bohatyr' is a word of Persian origin, passed into the Ukrainian language via the Turkish, meaning a strong man, hence a hero!

Mussorgsky had created his Suite of piano pieces as a monument to a Jewish friend of his, Victor Hartmann, an architect whose Exhibition of about 400 designs – drawings, sketches and watercolours Mussorgsky had seen, before Hartmann died in 1873.

It took Mussorgsky almost a year to compose his masterpiece of new modernist sound, ironically by going back to the roots of the Russian language and folklore – he intended each piece to be a subjective musical emotional response – his own really! – to one of Hartmann’s paintings. Mussorgsky selected ten of them, then lined them up all on a 'Gallery' wall he imagined … himself being the sole Visitor walking about (Promenading) in the Gallery – what an inventive imagination of sheer creative genius!

And how daring politically, and in profound compassionate humanity – Mussorgsky belonged to Russia’s landed gentry, who were anti-Semitic, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Polish … anti-everythig really, and Mussorgsky chose a bosom friend (Hartmann) who was both Jewish and Ukrainian/Polish, and glorified them all in an extraordinary innovative sound-world which was profoundly … Russian, deeply rooted in his own people’s folklore. Thank god the Tsar’s censors (as all censors in political dictatorships) were too stupid to understand Mussorgsky’s humanitarian message of non-racist brotherhood to deport him to Siberia – they did not need to do him any harm either, as Mussorgsky drank himself to an early grave (*).

Blagoy Filipov’s score-ridden Promenade was the ambulation of a bore, visiting the exhibition like a dumb American tourist, looking at works of art through his home-made video-lens.

Filipov’s interpretative inadequacies had one stunning unintended consequence – it brought home and enlightened hitherto an un-acknowledged aspect of Mussorgsky’s musical genius.

What is hitherto regarded (in musicology) as the visitor’s simple leitmotif – a musical sticky tape bonding the different musical events (=pictures/paintings) together – a “melody repeated as an interlude between many of the paintings” as one ignoramus critic puts it, is in fact I think a complex, musically highly richly textured characterization in different keys and variations throughout, as profoundly individualized as in a Shakespeare play

The Exhibition-Visitor’s deceptively tuneful melody that begins the piece with almost a childish nursery-rhyme ring to it, is in fact immediately and instantly variegated by a range of several different rhythms, and is then developed and enriched with extraordinary complexities right to the end of the piece.

This musically factual observation allows me to daresay that musicologists have got it all wrong – the ‘pictures’ are more of a side-show – precisely the reverse of what is understood hitherto – contributing to the central focal evolution of the Visitor’s dramatic characterization (as in a good play), and his emotive reactions to the paintings musically magnificently delineated throughout. The extraordinary range and variety of the pictures are there only to enhance Mussorgsky/Visitor’s (by proxy the Listener’s) experience of them – the latter’s emotional evolutionary entanglement with the pictures, Mussorgsky pictures (again, pun intended) before your very mind’s eyes …

I would go further and insist that Mussorgsky’s undoubtedly autobiographical Visitor to my mind is consciously a Portrait drawn of himself by himself as a pictorial “Self-portrait” par excellence.

There is a frightening musical feast of dramatic, wild and almost barbaric characterizations right at the end of the piece (at the awe-inspiring Gate of the Cossack Heroes – the Bohatyrs of Kiev);

The Visitor having just seen the scene of La cabane sur des pattes de poule (= The Hut on the paws of a Hen, a funny mad title this, thought to refer to Baba-Yaga, a fairy tale witch who crunches ... children’s bones and lives in a shed on … chicken legs!) – musically a kind of Beethoven scherzo evolving into … Tchaikovsky sugar-plum fairies, while echoing an earlier picture of an erotic Ballet des poussins dans leurs coques (=Chicks in their cocks! Surely, it must be the other way around … but perhaps Mussorgsky did not wish to blatantly scandalize the gay Russian aristocrats, misleading the critics into thinking that it merely means “un-hatched chicks”, still the dogma in musicology), musically unrelated to what follows but contrasting it dialectically, the ambulating Promenade/Visitor journeys through an extraordinary spiritual range of concentrated musical emotions ~ there is nothing like it in music ~ at the awesome Gates of Kiev, from the timid, when he can hardly tiptoe around, to dissonant chords and solemn heavy arpeggios in largo – a remarkable musical feat this – recovering his self-confidence, and finally rushing away hurriedly as a changed man – St Paul’s phenomenal conversion (epiphany) on the road to Damascus!

The separate identities of the ‘pictures’ are erroneously exaggerated in critical studies of Mussorgsky. Musically speaking, the whole thing is not a linear arrangement of separate pictures (themes) hanging on the walls of an Exhibition Hall, but a single tapestry of a single compositionI suggest the Promenade-theme – with extraordinary scenes – its variations – taking place in different locations but somehow deeply connected.

Thus, for example, the Bydlo painting (a Polish word meaning a heavy farm-cart, with wooden wheels, drawn by two oxen through the mud-mired fields of Northern Europe), musically speaking is a solemn variation on the lighter theme of the Promenade, as much as Samuil Goldenberg and Schmuyle is – impossible not to think of a Chagall-painting of stetl-jews, Goldenberg wealthy, and Schmuyle very poor, the first residing in London’s Edgware, the other in Manor Housewhile the Limoges market presents a complex alloy of variations on both the Promenade and the Ballet des poussins.

Ironically, I am of course most grateful for these path-breaking and vital musicological insights to Blagoy Filipov’s score-playing I would not condone!

(*) My instinct suggests to me – perhaps influenced sub-consciously by his first name Modest being the same as Tchaikovsky’s older brother’s name who was quite a liberated homosexual – that Mussorgsky (1839-1881) perhaps was gay himself and could not cope with its hypocritical persecution by the Russian-Prussian ... French-speaking ruling elite practicing it behind closed doors, while marrying women for Christian cover!! The great Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) himself was a perpetrator precisely of this kind of behaviour, against all advice to the contrary from his upfront brother and the latter’s aristocratic gay gang. Tchaikovsky was eventually forced into a suicide by the Tsar for seducing a young princeling – although the subject is still controversial among the experts of his biography.


I am deeply grateful to Ronald Stein, Advertising Consultant, for letting me publish exclusively and as a first on the World-wide Net his live-sketch of Maestro Portugheis above.

Ronald Stein has a magnificent collection of such sketches of world-class musicians drawn live over the years, during their concert performances. I hope he publishes them soon as an Art-Book with snippets of his memories attached to them individually.


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Sunday, 22 June 2008

Professor Hovhanness I. Pilikian on Exceptional Music Concerts

A Promise of Greatness
Arturo Serna & Ana Laura Manero - Duo Teresa Carreno

The Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela - London
Bolivar Hall, 29th May 2008, 7.30 pm.

Arturo Serna (Cello) and Ana Laura Manero (Piano) are excellently trained young Venezuelan musicians, who have come together to form Duo Teresa Carreňo, when in fact each possesses all the merits to carve up a great Solo career. Their coming together however, is an intelligent move as both shall need one another to mature as great artists in an exceedingly mercantile (and mercenary) world of music. The success of the Bolivarian Revolution creatively re-invented by the hugely popular President Hugo Chavez is the sole guarantee of the mass Renaissance of all of the Venezuelan Arts and crafts.

What is commendable about this Duo is the innovative intelligence of their repertoire, playing classical South American and Spanish works Eurocentric musicians would ignore (the latter betraying their own lamentable ignorance). One can say with certainty that the two are pioneers, revitalizing the glorious achievements of a unique personality like Alicia de Larrocha (b. in 1923, in Barcelona), the concert-pianist with the ‘small hands’, who could construct a distinguished international career through sheer hard work, grounded in unrelenting finger exercises, developing an idiosyncratic technique of passionate interpretations of Spanish Music.
This young Duo seems to have also grasped well the craft (not to say ‘art’) of giving Concerts few artists nowadays seem to know – a well-established modern notion experientially developed throughout the ages would make it vital to build-up a concert program according to the traditional concept of a Beginning, a Middle and a climactic End, not a ‘veggie-soup’ as it were – the Russian borscht with everything thrown in … which can be ‘eaten’ even cold!
A Concert (of any music – classical or pop alike) should unravel, display an evolutionary development of Content within earshot of its audience – it must not be a succession of pieces sounding all alike that could fill an evening of entertainment at home with friends …
One extremely vital, nay fatal element is in danger of disappearing from the podium of classical music concerts as a direct result of general ‘dumbing-down’ – Americanization really! – And that is performing by Memory, which is essential to music creation in the very first place.
The areas of the human Brain harbouring the musical experience are closely linked with human Memory, specifically with what is defined as the Long Term Memory. Severing this link can plunge the musician in technical chaos, let alone the intellectual and emotional one. No wonder the Duo had unnecessary slip-ups and silly mistakes unworthy of their skills – occasionally it ruined the clarity of the Cello’s musical diction or articulation. I could not believe that any accomplished string player would fail on his plucking and pizzicati … coupled with some strident head-long playing from the Piano.

I am not for throwing Babies out with the post-modern bath-waters … where anything is OK – and Jerry Springer must be the great American Social Revolutionary of our times – he is of course more intelligent than his hopelessly ridiculous punters and foolish successors, like the British invented Big Brother air-heads.

Cultural values accumulated over long periods of time must be preserved by all means – like learning Music by-heart (a wonderful folk-expression this), then to play it by-mind for an audience. Music that is not memorized by arduous rehearsals over a period of time cannot be re-invented (not to say re-produced) intelligently, let alone with a profound creative instinct that is the life-blood of good and great music-performance.

Concert Music must be played by heart and mind – never the latter without the former. A concert is not, cannot, and must never be a score-reading rehearsal; and I care not what Jerry Springer Managements would promote … Young Soloists do themselves irreparable harm by score-reading performances, which belong to the rehearsal room, and must stay there. [1]


The Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) Suite Popular Espaňola for Cello & Piano was a highly intelligent choice to begin the concert with, plunging the audience instantly into the sunny shores and sweet melancholies of de Falla’s Spanish heaven. The composer was one of a cluster of musicians (Bartok in Hungary for example) re-discovering, exploring and developing contemporaneously their national folk-musical culture. He was lucky to be a student of that remarkable musicologist Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922), a Catalan, who was in turn providentially fortunate to have nursed the huge talents of Albeniz and Granados too – any one of whom would have been enough to embrace posterity as their teacher! [2]

El Paňo Moruno, the first of the Six Songs of the Suite (originally Siete Canciones populares espaňolas for Voice and Piano dedicated to Ravel's beloved Ida Godebska, 1914) immediately sucks one’s Soul sensuously into the world of de Falla’s distinctive Spanish (-Russian) sound (3), never to come out again until the swimming end. The Cello is the Singer, accompanied by the Piano, which Miss Manero must try and learn to tone down throughout the series – for these are truly Songs, no more (and nor less) needing subtle, not hectic accompaniment.

Nana is a melody of such exquisite beauty and sweet, unbearable melancholy that it feels as if it tells the whole sad story of mankind’s creation by a mad sado-masochist god, who thinks Man, his own image, must be punished to death through insufferable suffering here on earth, merely to acquire wisdom in an after-life.

Canción and Polo are passionately percussionist, when not discretely melodic. In La Jota, the end piece, occasionally both melody and rhythmic essence unite conflict-free.
The Suite as a whole is like a painterly collection of Renaissance miniature Portraits worked on medallions – each a simple, straightforward, mostly monophonic piece, created as a keepsake, for the civilized lover pining for an unseen beloved.

Granados will be … Granados – A grand Spaniard indeed! Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was the Second of the great Triumvirate of modern Spanish musicians (the others being Albéniz and de Falla) now of classical status – equally with a distinctive sound, yet recognizably … O so Spanish! [4]
Granados, a virtuoso pianist (like Albéniz) was also a painter obsessed with the revolutionary humanism and passion of the compassionate Spanish painter, Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828), who had created a powerful magical realism from the camp ornamentals of the Rococo.
Granados titled his masterpiece, a major Piano Suite (actually a series of suites, individually titled with names from Goya’s Paintings) Goyescas (1911), which became an overnight success, enough to inspire him to convert it into an opera, with the same name, based abundantly on themes from the said piano suites. [5]
Granados’ opera contained the famous Intermezzo for orchestra, played by the Duo as an arrangement (by G. Cassado) for Cello & Piano. While listening to them, I was thinking of Arturo Serna evolving in time into a second Pablo Casals … And I hope he shall know what a great honour I am bestowing upon him. [6]

The Argentinean composer Alberto Evaristo Ginastera’s (1916-1983) Pampeana No 2 for Cello and Piano nicely rounded the first half of the concert with a mini climax. [7]
Although known as an opera composer, Ginastera had moved to Geneva (in 1971), and experimented with everything fashionable going, including twelve-tone music, and microtones – musical intervals smaller than half a tone – pioneering and proto-typing sounds developed later by electronic means of music-making.

His Pampeana No 2 begins with a lengthy introduction that could pass as an improvisational cadenza anytime. It settles down into an interesting dialogue with the Piano, and the whole thing gradually evolves structurally into the Sonata form – the dynamic form of a Sonata, with the typical variations in dynamics, of contrasting rhythms belonging to a symphonic structure.


After the Intermission, came the much-awaited Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), Sonata for Cello and Piano No 2. A giant of a composer (with a gigantic output – over two thousand compositions), this great Brazilian lacks an instantly recognizable sound. [8]
The overlap between Ginastera’s Pampeana (ending the first half of the concert) and this Sonata by Villa-Lobos beginning the second half, must be commended as a piece of highly intelligent and sensitive program-design by the Duo Teresa Carreňo.

While Ginastera’s work was implicitly, covertly of the sonata form, Villa-Lobos is explicitly and overtly so – and there the sensitive similarity ends.

In the first movement (allegro moderato), an entirely unexpected cadenza-like introduction by the … Piano (not the Cello!) hugs the centre of all attention – you would be excused for thinking that this is a solo … Piano piece, until Villa-Lobos eases the Cello in … that is when ‘he’, the ‘virile’ Cello, finally succeeds dropping in casually, on the antics of the Piano, unannounced, pretending that he did not really mean to …

He plays along the piano, not with it, gently seeking to catch her attention – to no avail, she ignores him musically, he is not angry, lets the Piano have her way, finally accepting his failure attempting to dominate her, and more in the bargain – like the New Man of the nineties, the Cello agrees to role-reversal, and ends up accompanying the Piano, honouring her musical alpha-female status …

Villa-Lobos must have been a male-feminist long before the post-modern species was born in the nineties. And this work is a pioneering musical illustration of gender politics – I think intensely subjective and autobiographical. Either, he had an excellent equilateral marriage for as long as it lasted (divorced in 1936), or it reflects the impossible dream of the ideal marriage all heterosexual couples can only fantasize about.

In the andante cantabile of the second movement, the virile cello enters very early on to stake his territory. But soon, almost immediately, he lets his Piano show off in crackling musical pyrotechnics, helping along patiently, unobtrusively. Thus gratified, the feminine Piano defers now to the Cello’s own alpha-male primacy.

In the scherzo, underlined by the allegro scherzando, the Piano cracks musically an excellent joke, a crackling (perhaps even a kama-sutra) joke – the Cello joins in, and they both end in hilarity – an ultra post-modernist moment!

The last movement in appositely selected and defined dynamics as allegro vivace sostenuto is a masterly end to all that went before in this Duo’s Dating-game. They start the movement together, Cello and Piano hand-in-glove, already well-tempered, mated and already married.
Throughout the movement, they both work (play) hard, go their separate ways only to return to their joint inter-play – somehow they stay together (‘married’) in spite of all the musical tensions and anxieties of a power-obsessed social life typical of all hierarchically constructed societies (including that of the Primates in the … Amazon).

Villa-Lobos has one more naughty glint in his musical child’s eyes – of hardly a single bar’s length, but what a magnificent powerful blow – the movement ends with an unexpected huge sound produced jointly by both instruments – a triumphant public declaration of vows (?), of heterosexual Love (?), perhaps Orgasm (?), with a message writ musically large; Married couples of the world – stay put! Or perhaps, Couples of the World – get married!
Whatever it may be, it is inimitable, pristine Villa-Lobos, the Heinrich Heine poetic type.

It would be difficult to top Villa-Lobos – but if anybody could, some of the Argentinean Ástor Piazzolla’s (1921-1992) works would … the student of Ginastera above, and the last item of the program was a well-targeted choice - Le Grand Tango – a magisterial work of great originality. [9] Lo and behold the marvel – a Cello … dances an … Argentinean Tango with a … Piano!
And musically speaking, precisely so, with recognizable rhythmic and melodic elements delineating all the complex variations of Posturing, yo-yoing between the male and the female taking turns in erotic teasing, public foreplay, tender, romantic, and a most beautiful tuneful consummation … even post-coitus rolling-over in bed is there, in Piazzolla’s music!
Suddenly – something Villa-Lobos would do, and Heinrich Heine in poetry – Piazzolla breaks the mould of the tango completely … it is all forgotten in a haze of European musical harmonies.
The Piano tries to return to the tango through musical quotes. The Cello won’t have it … but of course only teasingly just for a moment, he succumbs easily to the Piano’s tango-esque charms, and they start all over again – another dance – tango of course! – And a very different one from the first.
This time, the Piano is very enterprising, very feminist, and erotically very forward … the composition ends with both genders, both instruments very equal, musically singing from the same hymn sheet … A remarkable end to a glorious concert-programming, and a much deserved audience ovation requesting encores ... but not getting them.

One could see how exhausted even these young musicians were, as they had given all to their audience with such total professional commitment and joy.

The Path may be long and arduous, but endowed with exceptional musical intelligence, Greatness certainly awaits them.

Notes on Musical History

[1] On the 28th March 1995, one of the great Pianists of our time, Artur Papazian, the Armenian virtuoso stunned the Carnegie Hall audience in New York by playing Chopin’s 24 Etudes and 24 Preludes with the precise Dynamics of the original by sheer Memory – trained in the grand Romantic tradition of Soviet Piano-playing, Papazian preserves its best traditions and has everything to teach the musicians of the future by his technical musical behaviour.
[2] There was in late 19th c. this curious pan-European musical interest in all things Spanish – most famously Bizet’s (1838-75) opera Carmen (1875) in France, and Maurice Ravel’s (1875-1937) L’heure espagnole (Spanish Hour – 1911), Tchaikovsky’s frequent references in Russia …
Pedrell discovered genuine old Spanish music preserved in the archives of Rome, where he was a scholar in 1876 subsidized by the Councils of Tarragona and Girona in Spain. Pedrell rescued for example, the Complete Works of Tomas Luis de Victoria (publishing them between 1902 and 1912), thus laying the foundations of ‘modern’ Spanish music, simultaneously introducing Richard Wagner’s music to Spain – the latter fact ignored by those who only wish to see Pedrell as a blinkered musical nationalist.
True, he taught his students total pride and devotion to exploring every nook and cranny of Spanish musical culture – and what a culture of huge nooks and crannies, every bit of regional Spain – Aragón, Andalusia, Catalonia, the Basque country … loci of priceless multi-ethnic accumulated cultural wealth, evolved from the dominant Catholic Church, reluctantly fertilized by the Moors of African Islamic Berber-Arabic progeny … peppered with the Andalusia dancing girls of the Roman times, and salted with Flamenco, the Gypsy Dance from southern Spain with roots in … India, all of which manifest in every piece of those composers, and de Falla most of all.
The latter would leave no stone unturned – in his opera El Retablo (The Puppet Show), he used a Harpsichord – although a precursor of the Piano, but constructed very differently from the hammer-strikes of the piano, its plucked-string tones relate it to the Guitar – evoking the spirit of Domenico Scarlatti, History’s greatest Harpsichordist, who had lived a large part of his life in ... Spain.

De Falla himself had inherited the restless world-weary Spanish Soul. Born in Cádiz, he taught Piano in Madrid, and then settled in Paris for seven years (1907-14), then back to Spain until 1939 – he was inconsolably disturbed by the
gratuitous murder of his friend, Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the great poets of all time, right at the start of the Spanish Civil War by the Fascist lunatics of General Franco who was openly puppeteered by Hitler and Mussolini, and became incredibly the West’s ally after the war.
The British Government’s betrayal of the democratic cause in Spain was indicative of the role Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would play buttering up to Hitler, betraying the Czechoslovak people next …

De Falla left his beloved country in disgust, never to return, as he reached Argentina … and died there, in Buenos Aires (14th November, 1946), having rejected all ‘friendly’ offers by the war-criminal Franco himself, of a ‘glorious’ return on a fat pension to the fascist regime …
When in Paris, de Falla’s mentor and friend Claude Debussy, the founder of Musical Impressionism, gave him quite a stupid advice – great men and women are not immune to common human stupidities – that he should never write music for Guitar, if he wished to be taken seriously as a serious composer …

A man of gentle but sardonic wit, de Falla seems to have followed Debussy’s foolish advice, until that is, after Debussy’s death, when in 1920 de Falla composed a beautiful piece for … Guitar (the only one of his works written for the instrument), a Homage to his friend titled The Tomb of Claude Debussy, where de Falla quoted Debussy’s own … Piano piece evoking … Granada (La Soirée dans Grenade) – de Falla’s own favourite place on earth.

Alas, alack, who can tell what deadly poison Debussy’s well-meaning mind injected into de Falla’s soul to abort great masterpieces in conception for the Guitar.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) himself was forced into the role of a reluctant musical nationalist who rescued the subtleties of French music from the dominance of Richard Wagner’s brutal, anti-Semitic and quite hysterical Germanic ultra-nationalism – expressed musically in repetitious over-long-and-stretched unresolved chords and keys, and obnoxiously incestuous librettos, written by Wagner’s own self-confessed-and-obsessed Jew-hating self!
Debussy was truly a sophisticated musical internationalist with an insatiable appetite for multi-ethnic forms, travelling in search of them (in 1879) to Florence (very Italian Renaissance), Venice (the Orient in … Italy), Vienna (the best of German, un-spoilt by Wagner) and finally Moscow, as personal composer to Tchaikovsky’s very own patron, the wealthy aristocrat Madame Nadejda von Meck …

The Peoples’ Music – Aristocrats lacked any
A historical development that is not yet properly understood or defined in Musicology is the fact that European classical Music arose from the people’s music, viz. forms created by ordinary people – the illiterate masses everywhere – usually through the dances of peasantry, with erotic lyrics linked with seasonal changes in Nature.

The great composers from Bach to Beethoven and Brahms grounded themselves in (Euro) folklore, to transform those popular dances into the melodies and movements of their Sonatas, and Suites, Concertos, and Symphonies
Thus, all music, without the slightest doubt – one can insist against all modern musicological ignorance – arose from Folk music – the dances and songs of the anonymous people!
The Euro-Aristocrats had no music – they enjoyed like Peeping Toms watching their peasants celebrate life itself – the historical fact is wonderfully captured by Mozart in The Marriage of Figaro!

The Troubadours that invented Court-music and romantically serenaded the chatelaines imprisoned in ‘golden cages’ with sadistic iron-clad chastity-belts waiting for their aristocratic Knights in shining armoires were not Aristocrats, but nomadic itinerant jobless peasants with the gift of the gab!

When the Aristocrats finally began dancing in their Courts elegantly and stiffly – just to prove they were not vulgar like their sex-mad peasants – they could still only use the well-grounded tunes and rhythms of their Folks!

Thus, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century European gold rush to musical nationalism was merely a revival – a second musical Renaissance – of what Bach to … Brahms via Haydn, Handel and Mozart had done first of all. It was nothing new, and mislabeled as nationalistic!

Nonsense of musical Nationalism – A musicological dogma
Like the best of his ‘nationalist’ labeled contemporaries, De Falla actually never used the tunes of actual Spanish folk songs, but he created his very own inspired by them … And along the way he invented such a distinctive, sensuously (almost erotic) baritone-textured tone, which is immediately recognizable and instantly associated with Spain, that one cannot say whether such a linkage is limiting or enriching – something (a distinctive sound) which the Brazilian patriotic composer Heitor Villa-Lobos lacks, for example – but it is anyway subliminally engulfing of the audience. De Falla’s oeuvre defines Spanish-ness, as the multi-ethnically originated people of Spain had defined him – but is it right or fair that Spain should be defined by one man’s Spain, however great is his genius?

[3] Ironically, de Falla, this most Spanish of composers – speaking purely in musical terms – sounds to me to be also the most … ‘Russian’ – just like his friend and mentor in France, Claude Debussy, who had sojourned in Russia – having imbibed and absorbed orchestration techniques from the great Russian masters, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov … this fact alone could put paid to the musicological dogma about the late 19th century composers that they wished to explore their own musical cultural heritage as ‘ardent nationalists’! The famously named The Five led by Mily Balakirev, an army officer, were even self-taught (like Felipe Pedrell in Spain) – incidentally, an inexplicable miracle in the history of music!
Alexander Borodin (1833-87), one of the first to acquire an international acclaim on the back of his dynamically driven Polovtsian Dances (from Act II of his opera Prince Igor) sounding very … Andalusean to me, was a … Chemist. He had even helped establish a medical school for women – an unacceptable revolutionary concept in Victorian Britain, let alone in backward Russia.
Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), a naval cadet, was their great mentor and master of orchestration, who had learnt all from … Tchaikovsky, and taught all to the Five frequently, even re-touching and finishing their works – Borodin’s unfinished Prince Igor (1889), and Mussorgsky’s (1839-81) Boris Godunov (1896) operas etc.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem Scheherazade (1888) on Oriental-Islamic themes exudes as much the erotic delights of Alhambra-Spain I think, as the aristocratic Spanish dances in the Ballets of Tchaikovsky – in the Swan Lake (1876) and The Nutcracker (1891-2), where no opportunities are missed by jolly courtiers to use castanets and cymbals …
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-93), one of History’s greatest masters of orchestration, frequently identified as the paradigm for the Russian nationalist composers, had no … Russian model himself to learn from but the greats of Western classical music – mostly Beethoven, learning from Mozart, learning from Haydn …

Likewise Manuel de Falla, who learnt from Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) – Rimsky-Korsakov’s student – whose seminal The Firebird (1910) and The Rite of Spring (1913) together fecundated I think de Falla’s ballet El Amor Brujo (Love – The Magician, 1915), proven at least by its most famous number, the similarly titled Danza ritual del fuego (Ritual Fire Dance). No wonder, in 1917, Serge Diaghilev, the Russian Ballet impresario who had earlier fecundated Stravinsky’s musical genius did the same to de Falla by commissioning and producing the latter’s El Sombrero de tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), with set designs by Pablo Picasso.
In a non-verbal matrix like Music, ‘nationalism’ is a fraudulent nonsense – and those composers who fall into its verbal equivalents, end up with egg on their faces, like the racist author of Britain’s National Anthem God Save The King wishing the enemies of the British Royalty dead … the childish verses render what they flatter a laughing stock in the modern world!
The Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) could hardly save his future reputation from the horrendous aberration of having fallen prey in the 1930s to the fascist regime of the ultra-nationalist Getúlio Vargas, who eventually (thank god!) committed suicide, like a Roman! Under economic pressure – no welfare state, no money – Villa-Lobos, just like a … Stalinist composer, underwent even the stupidity of publishing in about 1941 A Música Nacionalista no Govêrno Getúlio Vargas, singing the lunacies of the ultra-racist fascist ideology of the ‘sacred nation’ – über alles! – And its ‘sacred flag’ and all that Buzz-buzz!

What saved his soul from its sale to the fascist devil was Bach’s divine music – between 1932 (No. 1 for 8 cellos) and 1944 (No. 9 for Chorus or String Orchestra) Villa-Lobos produced one of the most original, beautiful, nation-less (internationalist), spiritual compilation of nine pieces known as Bachianas Brasileiras – deserving of Johann Sebastian Bach, the god of all music.
God and the Spirit belong to the whole non-racist world … The Bachianas placed Villa-Lobos among the greats of all music, while also simultaneously ironically inventing … Brazilian-music as a genre, whatever that may mean. All fascist attempts to eliminate the multi-culture nature of Brazilian society by definition have failed, since the Portuguese times, and shall never succeed – being merely tragically wasteful of human life and foolishly of natural resources.

The Use and Abuse of Nationalism

The problem of Nationalism is perhaps the most complex of socio-economic and political relations. Its evolutionary origins lie in the very intricate development of individual consciousness – The search and acquisition of identity throughout life is an extension of the trait of Consciousness attributed uniquely to the human animal – it is what makes the humanoid a human being, followed by ‘speciation’ – finding physical security and safety in numbers or, Group-belonging in modernist non tribal societies (US Gangs, British Football Hooligans etc.), which is the equivalent of totemic tribal identity exemplified in infantile patriotismstanding to attention in front of a flagpole and childishly singing to it … This then constitutes the primary form of a passionate Nationalism – thus a natural evolutionary process in human development.
The record of human history however proves that all such natural needs of consciousness are easily perverted into criminal acts – in this case, that of ultra-nationalism that invents and feeds racist fantasies – select elites massaging themselves by the tomfoolery of thinking they are superior to all others … while listening to Wagner!

A friend of mine, Robert Kruszynski, of Polish parentage, Biologist and Social Anthropologist, has an acute observation; “Nationalism is the specter that has been haunting Europe since at least 1789 (national sentiments can be found of course way back in the Middle Ages of Europe). It is, without a doubt in my mind, the most important political force of modern times …”
True, and I like Robert’s wonderful pun on the first paragraph of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Robert continues (in a personal communication), “In a nutshell, it is important not to demonize the concept of nationalism, which per se is not the issue, but what is done with it.” I fully agree with him that the need for individual national identity is a natural human need that must be acknowledged and can be channeled for positive societal achievements, but not if it implies that one should drop one’s guard and constant vigilance against the murderous consequences of Euro-American imperialist Nationalism.
Why is it that in the cradle of modern nationalism, the 19th c. Europe, it went awry and produced fascist Nazism, of the genocidal racist paradigm under which the whole world is suffering, still, and moreover, having turned cancerous under the neo-con American disease for world domination. Perhaps we need a new word, like … ‘root-ism’, to replace the infantile childishness of US patriotism, and the much murderously soiled and nazified ‘nationalism’.
Artificially invented mono-ethnic national boundaries in Africa and Asia were convenient fraudulent means of imperialist domination. No one puts it better than Andy Lowings, not an anthropologist, sociologist, or a historian, but a musician in search of the roots of the Lyre music in the Middle East and Africa – “I landed in Nairobi, Kenya, in the heart of Africa … I think that my preconception of national boundaries representing the people within them had by now taken a new and enlightened turn. Ethiopia where I had just come from has some 70 individual ethnic groups, with their own languages, Kenya has some 42….Movements of people and their musical instruments transcend all modern borders…. It is a huge complexity of language, customs, geography and history.” [“Exploring an ancient civilization’s modern legacy in Africa”, an unpublished paper by Andy Lowings, Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship 2007].
India and China have a hundred ‘nationalities’ each … The world has seen nothing yet, until they shatter internally under the globalized pressure of barbaric capitalist inequalities. Ironically, the only hope of a peaceful future lies in the civilized socialist notion of racial equality – a musical harmony!

The European ‘nationalist’ composers plunged into their countries’ intellectually neglected cultures – in their turn totally multi-ethnic, hence ripe for exciting discoveries to be made – in search of new musical forms and fresh innovative expressions, not as drumbeats for racist nationalism – what patriotic Musicologists have merely fantasized.

What is denied hitherto by blinkered imperialist historians is the unalterable historical fact that the imperialist ‘nations’ themselves were constituted entirely by multi-ethnic diversity. Catherine the Great was not Russian! Marie Antoinette was not French … The present peoples of any South American country, for example, have the most astounding surnames that have fossilized global ethnic diversity, and not only from Europe – a ‘Gandelman’ from Brazil, for example, is a … Yiddish ‘candle-man’ from an Orthodox Russian stetl caged in a Nazi Polish ghetto

Tchaikovsky’s whole work creates if not reflects a multi-ethnic world – the Court dances in his Ballets, Italian Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (1870), Capriccio Italien (op. 45, 1880), German-titled Manfred Symphony (op. 58, 1885), Symphony No. 2 (1873), which he revised subsequently and titled I think very subversively Little Russian at a time when Russian racist chauvinism was having a field-day aggrandizing themselves as Great Russians by belittling everybody else of their neighbours – the Poles and the Ukrainians to mention but two – Nikolai Gogol, their greatest novelist of the day, was actually a … Ukrainian often denigrated with an abusive rude nickname khokhol (= cock’s crest! referring to the Cossack haircut – the Ukrainian underdogs reciprocated, name-calling the Russians katsap =goat-like!). Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet who had modernized the antiquated Russian language was the grandchild of an … African slave-boy brought over as a gift to the Tsar – the mind boggles as to what for!
Composing an opera titled The Oprichnik (1872), Tchaikovsky dared throw a gauntlet to the Tsar’s oprichnikithe Dog-head geared black-shirted proto-Nazi SS first invented by Ivan the Terrible, to torture and murder, literally boiling alive in huge vats, the sick-minded Tsar’s perceived enemies. Tchaikovsky, with a brave heart courageously dared baptize his Symphony No. 3 (1875) The Polish!
Rimsky-Korsakov, a 2nd Tchaikovsky in his unsurpassable mastery of orchestration, followed the latter’s multi-ethnic musical explorations every step of the way, and leaving it as an unalterable legacy to his students and followers, Igor Stravinsky among them, who would become a pioneer of soaking up the Black American Jazz idiom into the modern musical discourse.

The Spaniards, and the South Americans, for historical reasons, were there already waiting in the wings. Stravinsky, although initially abused in Paris, offered them and subsequently everybody else in the musical world the green light of respectability to integrate Jazz – the Black Man’s Music – and its syncopated rhythms into the modernist classical idiom.

Unfortunately, Stravinsky too suffered from the occasional bout of human stupidity – he wrote in his Autobiography (1936) with an incredible masochism and self-harm – “Music is, by its very nature …. Powerless to express anything at all” – utter tosh! denying the essence of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Beethoven’s 1-9 Symphonies – precursors of the 19th c. genre of the ‘Symphonic Poem’, evolving into Debussy’s ‘musical impressionism’ (the masterly La Mer = The Sea, 1905) … and his own very work The Firebird (1910) and The Rite of Spring (1913) where Stravinsky succeeds perfectly to express musically complex narrative themes and metaphors. Obviously, they shared intellectual foolishness … what is not acknowledged and I think very unfairly is Debussy’s own influence (Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune - 1894) on Stravinsky’s said works.

[4] Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz (1860-1909), the oldest of Spain's musical Triumvirate was born in Campodón, and although a child prodigy on the piano, he must have had a disturbed childhood – incredibly, at the age of thirteen, he reached … South America, and survived working as a peripatetic pianist. By fifteen, he was back in Europe, studying at the Conservatory in Brussels, where in 1878 he was tutored by no less than History’s greatest technician of Piano music, the Hungarian Franz Liszt, before joining Felipe Pedrell in 1883 in Barcelona.
In 1892, Albéniz settled down in Paris, where his house provided warmth for Spanish artists including Granados and de Falla, and by which time Albéniz had composed a series of dances representing different regions of Spain (compiled in 1887 as Suite Espaňola). This had a seminal inspirational direct influence on the music of his compatriots – Granados similarly composed twelve Spanish Dances (12 Danzas Espaňolas), and echoes can be detected in de Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs, some of which are also dance tunes, like La Jota (of the Aragón region).

An English eccentric, Francis Burdett Coutts, the inordinately wealthy heir of no less than the Bankers (Coutts & Co.) to Britain’s Royalty was mad for writing librettos on fanciful heroics like the legendary King Arthur … he generously contracted Albéniz (in 1894) to his service in London, where the composer could bring his wife Rosina and family of three children – their lives secured financially for good.

As Francis Coutts got bored with writing librettos, it created a mental and an emotional space for Albéniz to return to his own musical truth grounded in the Spanish landscape, to produce finally his masterpiece Iberia (1905-8). Little could anyone predict that a year later, on a fun-trip to the French Pyrenees (in May 1909), the great composer would catch kidney infection (nephritis) and pass away, leaving a legacy that would nourish the Spanish soul, as much that of Granados, who had the misfortune of sharing similarly an unnecessary death, even worse and totally preventable!

[5] Granados’ opera Goyescas was to be premiered in 1914 in Paris. The outbreak of the ridiculous First World War instigated by the German Kaiser (a grandson of the British Queen Victoria) ruined the occasion. Instead, the premiere took place in peaceful New York (on the 26th of January, 1916) in as yet neutral America. Granados attended the occasion with his wife. The success was huge, enough for President Woodrow Wilson to invite him for a Piano recital … which forced him to miss his boat directly back to Spain – no air-travel then!
Instead, he took one to England, where he changed ship, to board a passenger-ferry named Sussex bound for Dieppe in France. Nobody knew that the German mad Kaiser had decided on a new concept of loose war – referred to as total – murdering non-combatants – soft targets and the innocent masses. Napoleonic old-style wars were conducted strictly between armies, according to rigid soldierly rules – not any longer for the mad Kaiser.

And as a first idea in innovative evil, the Anglo-German Kaiser had decided to try out his new toy, a U-boat (UB 29) to torpedo the Sussex (March 1916) outraging the world. Half of the ship was instantly destroyed in the English Channel – fifty lives lost immediately.

The Great Granados, lucky and safely in a life-boat notices his wife Amparo at some distance struggling in the water. He jumps in to save his wife, only to be drowned himself … they say he had nursed a morbid fear of water (hydrophobia) throughout his life!

What a rare human being – what deep heterosexual love – What depth of Heterosexual love – A true Hero, not a Wagnerian camp incestuous Nazi Phony – how sad – how tragic – how … Everything!
Such an unnecessary crime – a great creative artist as one of the first totally innocent, Jesus-like victims of the world’s first foolish global war …

Should not Germany today apologize for it, and compensate Spain by creating a fund for creative Spanish artists?


[6] Precisely as Segovia had created the classical Guitar, Pablo Casals (1876-1973) created the classical Cello – and both Spaniards began with Johann Sebastian Bach – a miraculous historical coincidence?

Casals’ performances of Bach’s Suites for unaccompanied Cello are the crown jewels of the world’s classical recordings – if the world is worth saving from the catastrophe of the climate change, it would be worth to save it for Casals/Segovia recordings of Bach’s music …

Born at Vendrell, a Catalan town, Casals was a child prodigy, son of an Organist cum music teacher father. By the age of 12, he could already play quite a few instruments of the orchestra. While an accomplished pianist, composer, and conductor, Casals was of course ultimately his cello, and the world’s ultimate cello … he invented new techniques of bowing and fingering.

Casals was also a great humanitarian all creative artists should emulate all over the world – I say, Globalize Pablo Casals’ dedication to world peace, not America’s obsession with capitalist warmongering.

Like de Falla, Casals rejected Franco’s fascist regime, sustained by Great Britain and later America that had strangled to death the democratically elected Spanish Republican government, supported by all the democrats of Europe, drowned in blood by Hitler and Mussolini in the slaughterhouse of the Spanish Civil War (1936-9).

Like de Falla, Casals too left Spain in disgust in 1939, never to return (he died in Puerto Rico). Further than de Falla, by late 1940s, Casals refused to play in any country – and especially Britain and America – that approved of General Franco. Only in 1963, aged 87, he lifted his self-imposed embargo partially, only to conduct (at London’s Festival Hall) his own composition advocating world peace – an Oratorio titled El Passebre (The Manger).


[7] Born in Buenos Aires of a Catalan father and an Italian mother, Ginastera was another of those multi-ethnic restless Spanish souls – he studied in America (1945-7) with the American modernist composer Aaron Copland, returned to his city Buenos Aires and co-founded the (Argentinean) League of Composers, only to return to the United States (1968), then finally to settle in Europe (1970) and died in Geneva, Switzerland aged 67.

[8] Ignoring his pompous nationalist hot-air, I would characterize the best of Heitor Villa-Lobos as French-Italianate music.

His genius is protean, Shakespearean, adapts to forms, and adopts them for his gargantuan musical appetites. And he always keeps stings in his musical tails that bite off all stereotypical expectations from the Western classical music formats he employs so abundantly. He builds them up only to subvert them, in the nick of time, just before the end of a section or a piece –
In musical technique, Villa-Lobos is like a naughty child given expensive time-honoured toys he plays with, constructs a tower, admires it, gets bored, and to the fury of complacent parents as the audience, knocks them down …

He reminds me very much (in literature) of the great German poet Heinrich Heine, who uniquely in classical German literature does precisely the same with words. Heine – the German poet with the most humour! – frequently slaughters the reader’s sacred cows.


[9] There is nothing like seeing with your own eyes Piazzolla play his bandoneón, covering his own heart with it, and gradually fanning it out like a huge butterfly … producing music in Bach-like grandeur of a fugue! The bandoneón as played by him turns instantly at once into a poor man’s miniscule orchestra, generating sounds as pleasant as in chamber music – say a Haydn Quartet.

And Piazzolla was as fertile a composer as Villa-Lobos, topping the latter’s 2000 pieces by a thousand more to 3000 …

Strangely, just like Albeniz at the age of 13 reaching South America, Piazzolla at 13 was head-hunted by Carlos Gardel – a master of the tango – to tour with his band. Unlike the case of Albeniz, the Italian parents of Piazzolla refused point blank to let their child go – Gardel and his band sadly soon after perished in an aeroplane crash …

Piazzolla grew up to escape the military dictatorship in Argentina (1976-83) by living in his parents’ country, Italy. His revolutionary transformation of the tango inspired the social revolutionaries of the Argentine society, proving that dynamic political change was possible, if even the eternally fixed tango they thought was unalterable could be changed for the better and the richer


The bandoneón itself is quite an extraordinary instrument. Piazzolla, its greatest grandest master performer says in a BBC-TV interview (accessible on YouTube), “anyone wants to play bandoneón must be mad” – and he is not joking (although of course he was partly …)

Like a modern Japanese Yamaha keyboard, the bandoneón ‘contains’ the texture of several orchestral instruments, especially strings-in-a-Quartet! Its maverick inventor was a German by the name of Heinrich Band, who intended it as a poor man’s instrument to perform … religious music normally accompanied on grand Church Organs. He could never imagine that his compatriots, German emigrants would carry it with them in early 20th c. to Argentina, where it would become an instrument for the erotic tango played in brothels …

And a musical genius like Piazzolla would come along to save the instrument from its local use to equal the global Church Organ – more than Heinrich Band could have ever dreamt of or hoped for.

The buttons on both sides of this ‘mad’ odd instrument do not constitute a keyboard like the ones on the conventional accordion. And worst – more maddeningly – most of the buttons on the bandoneón do not produce the same note when opening its accordion-folds outwards or closing them inwards.

There are thus two sets of different buttons to be learnt for each pitch (or single note) on each aggregate of the buttons on each side, both together amounting overall to a schizophrenic … four keyboards!

It does need a … genius to play it perfectly, let alone to transform it into a church Organ! And that genius was undoubtedly the unique Piazzolla – another like him shall never be.



Sunday, 20 April 2008

Professor Hovhanness I. Pilikian on Exceptional Music Concerts

The Perfect Union of Two Minds - João Luiz & Douglas Lora

Brasil Guitar Duo – Bolivar Hall, London – Friday 29 February, 2008, 7.30 pm


I was delighted to discover that the cultural co-operation between the Brazilian and the Venezuelan Embassies in London is continuing, and with such compassionate elegance -- something the English can learn from the South Americans! -- the handsome Brazilian Attaché dedicated the evening’s concert to the outgoing Venezuelan Lady-Attachée …

Although Guitar-like instruments have surfaced through the archeological record, the ‘modern’ Guitar seems to have emerged in Spain and as the poor people’s preferred instrument, in imitation of the Aristocracy’s viluela endowed with six double-courses (each being a pair of strings). The poor could hardly afford such extravagance of strings … so, by the mid-eighteenth century, the double-courses were made single, and a sixth was added at the top end of the five strings (reduced from the rich man’s twelve).

The Hawaiians re-invented their own steel-guitar, and played it placed across the knees … The North Americans conceived of the Electrical Guitar in the 1930s, and the American musician Les Paul made it the staple of the Pop-world by the nineteen-forties.

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), the Spanish composer saved the Guitar from its depths of proletarian depression … and turned it into a noble (‘aristocratic’) instrument of solo concerts. His passion for it as a child, seems to have been aroused by a local player known as The Blind Man of the Sea = el ciego de la Marina. Tárrega settled in Paris, then again to return finally to Barcelona in 1882, to establish a School. He developed new techniques of performance, and transcribed Handel, Mozart and Chopin for the Guitar.

But the man who created the classical Guitar was of course the great master-musician Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), recently under attack by John Williams, a considerable English musician himself, who incredibly – and I think very foolishly – called Segovia “a limited musician” (John Williams on Segovia, BBC Music Magazine, 1999). One wonders what had come over John Williams that day to utter such a monstrous nonsense.

I contend that Segovia single-handedly invented the Classical Guitar – one can almost date it precisely to 1935 – And he did it with an extraordinary instinctual intelligence by hitting on a remarkably simple musical idea – he played Bach’s Chaconne on his guitar … from that pin-prick of concentrated energy, exploded the Big Bang of the classical guitar the whole world now takes for granted.

João Luiz and Douglas Lora are a young Brazilian Guitar Duo of classical guitar mastery unequalled in their intellectual union of perfect equivalence. Every aspect of their musical skill seems to be perfectly balanced in equilateral doses – tonal texture, range of musical phraseology, range and breath of technical ability, rhythmic feeling, emotional key-ing, in a word, their individual musicality sounds (and I intend a pun) equal.

I have never encountered such a perfect union of two minds – musical twins conjoined at the heart!

Domenico Scarlatti (Sonata L305 in Sergio Abreu’s transcription for 2 guitars) was an excellent introduction to the Duo’s perfect mental and musical harmonies, which then blossomed in the 3 Preludes and Fugues (op 199) by the prolific modern composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – an Italian whose surname Tedesco means German in Italian … in 1939, fearing for his life as a Jew, he had escaped to America, where he acquired citizenship in 1946, settled in California and wrote also film-music, ten concertos, several operas, endless piano pieces, songs, and chamber music ...
Four Hands as Two

Our Brazilian Duo seem to be pioneering in recording C-Tedesco’s work – no wonder, because their conjoined musical being is perfectly born to realize the most original manifest nature of C-Tedesco’s The Well-tempered Guitars, based on treating the Two performers as One as if playing the Piano … each player represents the Right and the Left hands of the single virtual Keyboard player – Lora, mostly the melodious Right, Luiz, mostly the pulsating base line Left, occasionally alternating the musical game – four hands are truly two, and both really belong to one, playing a Baroque keyboard – for, C-Tedesco had mastered both Baroque and Piano music – a remarkable sound to experience and a sight to behold … two guitars, a keyboard hand each, Right & Left, playing polyphonic harmony rather than a single monomatrix piece, melody shifting from one to the other, while the ‘other’ stays as accompaniment … The unity of the two is vital as the breath-of-life of their musical performance – there can be no other two guitarists besides this Brazilian Duo capable of such a feat perfectly suited for Tedesco’s music.

Piazzolla’s Pioneering Argentinean Music

Complicated musical disruptions in the programme began predictably with the great Astor Piazzolla’s music (Zita) – he of the fame that introduced complex Western classical music harmonies into the Argentinean Tango, and succeeded brilliantly transforming both.

Piazzolla was a mere accordion player – the large kind called bandoneon in Argentina. The Tango was the only music Piazzola knew as a child, before he studied with Alberto Evaristo Ginastra, an Argentine Composer who had moved to Geneva in 1971, and whose Malambo seems to me to have been heavily influenced by the Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-78) – the latter’s Saber Dance from the Ballet Gayaneh (1942) was an iconic world-wide hit during my own youth – everyone on the planet then seemed to have heard it, or of it …

But Piazzolla’s greatest good fortune was studying Composition with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) in Paris. This lady was a remarkable woman – a conductor who pioneered the revival of Monteverdi’s music, becoming the first woman-Musician ever to conduct (between 1937-9) full concerts with the London Royal Philharmonic Society, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic – someone (a woman-Conductor I mean) still extremely rare in the concert halls of the world.

What’s more, Boulanger possessed the uniquely non-racist approach to ethnic/national music – she encouraged all her multi-ethnic students to think of their own musical roots as the Music they must explore and re-invent, instead of imitating the language and idioms of the European classical harmonies.

Not understanding properly Boulanger’s pioneering non-racist concept of musical composition, leads euro-centric musicologists to misrepresent the extraordinary oeuvre of someone like Piazzolla by insisting that he married the very limited medium of the Argentinean tango with complex European forms.

The truth is otherwise – following Nadia Boulanger’s wise advice, the Tango was all the music Piazzolla wanted to write, and his intensely original transformation of the Tango was all music!

His tango sinfónico (= symphonic tango) was not a new musical genre as Western musicologists would like to think, but the very “contemporary music of Buenos Aires” itself, as Piazzolla himself said and thought of it.

The second part of the Guitar concert (after Intermission) was dedicated to Brazilian music. Brazilians, like all South Americans and other nations economically and culturally marginalized hitherto by Western imperialism (including my own Armenian people, Jews, Arabs, Turks, Indians …) are understandably culturally too self-righteous and unduly sensitive, making life extremely difficult for well-meant constructive criticism and democratic free speech.

The Catholic religiosity of the South American masses, with the Pope’s infallibility as an imitable paradigm, re-affirms this kind of ultra-nationalist nonsense. They want to be either loved or hated, nothing in between – even if you were to praise them ninety-nine percent, they get hugely massively hurt by one percent of disagreement as offensive criticism – enough to never speak to you again ...

I am reminded of the Narrator of the great Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis’ (1839-1908) masterpiece Dom Casmurro – the very first words of the novel describe the hilarious incident whereby a civilized high-powered “young man” sits next to him on the train to a suburb of Rio de Janeiro – this very polite young man tells our Narrator of his “ministerial comings and goings, and ended up reciting some of his verses.” All nice and very well … until our otherwise tired Narrator cannot help nodding off … The “Next day, he started calling me insulting names, and ended up nicknaming me Dom Casmurro”, which of course means Mr. Grumpy – the title of Machado’s Novel. (*)

Risking such, I shall say that Edu Lobo’s Valsa Brasileira (arranged for 2 guitars by J. Luiz, one of the Duo) was anything but a recognizable waltz (in the traditional genre of a Blue Danube …), equally the case of D. Lora’s (the other one of the Duo) Valsa, otherwise a very pleasant dainty composition dedicated to his daughter. Those two examples of a Brazilian ‘waltz’ leads me to surmise that perhaps after all a Brazilian-waltz is not a … Waltz, but just a formal excuse for some nice music-making.

I must also disagree with the Duo’s extreme enthusiasm and pride in the works of Paulo Bellinati (Bom Partido – a samba that did not sound like one …) and Jacob do Bandolim (Doce de Coco = coconut candy; arr. For 2 guitars by J. Luiz), the only interesting originality of which was its sudden abrupt ending!

The works of both composers as played by the Duo are no more than interesting warm-up exercises with skillful counterpoint in … presto moderato.

Gismonti – a Brazilian Gem

What I found most absorbing in the Brazilian second half of the concert was Egberto Gismonti’s extraordinary 7 Anéis = 7 rings (arr. for 2 guitars by J. Luiz), in G Flat – a hell of a job to reproduce on Guitar – accomplished by the Duo with seamless efficiency.

Gismonti’s said work begins very mundanely though pleasantly … suddenly, a strange few bars of what could only be described as … rain-drops in a rainforest, contrapuntally powerful enough to disturb the flow of the musical stream …

And the music is instantly transformed into an Amazonian landscape – the Amazon meandering through dark and dank forests, with little-seeming but significant harmonic interferences here and there – perhaps a monkey jumping through the trees – a snake appearing and quickly disappearing into the undergrowth, a huge flower blossoming for the first time in a decade … all happening on the shores of the huge river running in ostinato (repeating patterns) to the sea … a most original narrative scene I am certain unintended by a quirky musical genius of Brazilian music.

If nothing else, the revelation of Gismonti’s genius in this concert was a prize worth waiting for, offered by this joyous young Duo leading the creative life of a couple in honeymoon.

Dialectical Musical Divorce

I cannot wait for them to age and mature and … start bickering musically speaking, attempting to divorce – Marital Divorce in my books is always wrong if children are involved in the equation.

However, in musical terms, tense contrapuntal dialectical harmonies (marital feuds) and their nuptial resolution (unlike in life …) constitute the dynamic soul of any music in any national culture - Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) a-tonal creations while intellctually interesting are melodic disasters proving the point!

This guitar Duo may not want to, but could and I think must eventually expand its musical repertoire on the basis of enhanced individuality – not the two hands of the same person, but the skillful hands of two persons immensely talented.

The conjoined twins can be separated musically at the heart (though not in life of course – and art is definitely not life) but nevertheless stay simultaneously conjoined … in their minds.


(*) vide, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro, translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson, with a Foreword by John Gledson, and an Afterword by João Adolfo Hansen, Oxford University Press paperback, New York, 1998, p. 3.

In a pioneering paper titled Society and Ethics in Machado de Assis’s Rio de Janeiro and Charles Dickens’s London, read at the Brazilian Embassy in London (during the week of 18-22 June, 2007, celebrating the œuvre of Machado de Assis), the authoress Ms Nadia Kerecuk provides enough interesting material to make it the subject of a book.

And I am glad it has not occurred to Ms Kerecuk to call Machado the ‘Charles Dickens of the Brazilian literature’, as I think Machado possesses a certain stylistic sophistication of form and content matched only by Cervantes.

I myself have no hesitation in labelling Machado ‘the Cervantes of the Brazilian Literature’.

The received wisdom of the dictionary-meanings of the word casmurro are ones that quote Machado’s own title as … evidence; Grumpy, ratty, angry, bitter, unpleasant, a sour-puss really!

However, I think there is a complex subtle Machado-esque pun on casa=house, and muro=wall, producing House-wall, the equivalent in English of the insulting expression of a ‘Brick-wall’!

I would translate Machado’s title of the novel (Dom Casmurro) as Mr. Brick-wall.