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My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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The internet and the interpretation of music

The internet and the interpretation of music

One of the interesting things about the internet is that it lets people become more than passive listeners. Not that listeners were ever really passive. My recent research on letters by listeners to the violinist Bronislaw Huberman show that many listeners experienced intense feelings when listening to his performances. Yet there is something in the web that grants people the possibility to comment and even participate in the creation of meaning in the work of art.


 

Consider for example the video above. One can listen to Arnold Schoenberg’s famous Verklarte Nacht with a film added to it. The music and the film are edited so that they will fit together and create a new experience for us. The story in the file (a solider returning from war) is close to the program used by Schoenberg. I prefer the text by Dehmal, however, the idea of love that is united, is reflected from both the film and the work of the person who arranged the music and film. He or she made a very good job in making them work together.
 
The creation of meaning does not stop here. Youtube grants people the possibility to comment on the film. This often influences the way people experience it. Here are a few examples of comments that were written about this film: "Lovely and touching moments you’ve wed together there. Schoenberg’s score is sublime, and so is she! Love the overall tone and mood of your piece. Thank you.", "Wow. Very nice use of film & music together. I am impressed.", "My gosh that’s absolutely beautiful!!!! x", "Outstanding." These comments affect how people see the video. They see it differently after reading these positive comments, as they tell them to pay attention to the way the music and video are ‘wed together’.
 
Moreover, Youtube grants people the possibilty to embed the video in their blog or website and continue to comment on it, as I did here. This too has the potential to contribute to the creation of meaning. Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter help people to be active in commenting, spreading the meaning, and influencing it in different ways.
 
The composers and performers of the future will know how to use the web, not only for spreading their creations (such as see my compositions pages), but in encouraging individuals to comment and contribute to the creation of meaning. They will encourage people to add things to their creations and change them, while potentially giving credit to all people who participated. The artists of the future will not be individuals who only project meaning. They will make their ‘listeners’ respond, share and influence. It will be an endless creativity of groups of people.
 
The questions of copyright, as well as, who is granted the right to participate, will continue to be significant. And yes, there is a problem of copyright here. The person who made this music and video ‘marrige’ did not bother to write who are the performers and who made the video (only the following information is given: ‘A short film to music. 1940’s period piece’. This might mean that he or she are violating the copyright of certain people and it might be removed from Youtube. Pitty.
 
Indeed, the internet is one of the platforms that will probably change the rules concerning what is and what is not under copyright, and what is a violation in this respect. I can tell you that when I did research at the British Library, I found the issue of copyright very troubling. When I wanted to use excerpts of recordings in order to convey to my readers the foundings of my research. I hope that the rules of copyright will benifit in the future, not only the commercial firms, but also the listeners, scholars and all web participaters.
 

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Huberman and the Divine: letters from listeners

In the follwing post I explore some of the letters listeners wrote to Bronislaw Huberman. This is a continuation of the theme of the Divine that I wrote about with relation to a concert review by Max Brod and  a report by Edmondo De Amicis. These two posts and the following were written, more or less, as notes that I plan to use in a future article on this subject.

Eugenie Tulakova wrote to Huberman on 30.4.1929 (The Listner Speaks, p. 36 X A):
 
            Yesterday, listening to your sounds, the soul has trembled like a chord;
 
It has included everything: enthusiasm and suffering, and a wild wave of happiness. 
 
However, more than the sounds it was astonishing, that You, playing like a God, You, the exuberant genius, conqueror of nations, at whose feet the crowd is lying, richness and glory – You did not forget … of old little friends.
 
Here too, Huberman’s music signifies suffering and ‘wild’ emotions. The capital ‘Y’ in the word ‘You’ and the direct reference to God, clearly show a perceived relation of the violinist to the divine.
 
The following is a letter from Mrs R.B. dated 24 March 1932 (p. 56):
 
            Last evening for one blissful half hour I (an invalid) lay back on my pillows entranced, pain forgotten, everything forgotten but the one lovely picture which you were weaving with those unspeakable beautiful notes – a picture of the future of our weary world when the Divine promises are fulfilled and out Lord reigns, and all is harmony and beauty.
            I hope in the next world to be permitted to thank you adequately; I cannot find words here, but can only pour out my soul to God in hearty thanksgiving for such beaty as He has given us through you, and also in a prayer that He will reachly [sic.] bless you.
 
On 26 January 1933 she wrote to Huberman thanking his again for his concert from the Queen’s Hall. She wrote:
 
Music of that kind is beyond words, and converys Divine truths that can hardly be spoken, but if I may try to tell you how I read God’s message to me though you, it was this: - if God’s love gives us such beaty as that, then we can trust Him for all the rest, and need fear nothing, and we can face life with a good courage.
 
מה הוא כתב לה????
 
C. E. wrote to Huberman from Hague, 24 April 1932 (p. 58). He wrote that he enjoyed the ‘great Soul’, with a capital S, ‘who spoke straight to my heart.’ He described Huberman’s playing as ’sublime’. It is interesting that the writer of the letter confesses that he doubts ‘whether really was conscious of the gem he composed, but then he knew no Huberman to play it and show him what it contained.’ In other words, the performer may present something divine that the composer was not aware of while composing.
 
Neville Cardus, a noted music critic from Manchester wrote on 17 January 1936 to Huberman: ‘You purified me with your own suffering.’ (p. 77). I will elaborate on two concert reviews by Nevill Cardus in one of the following posts. The theme of suffering is discussed in my post on the review by Max Brod.
 
A letter from San Fransisco, California, dated 22 March 1936 contained a song from which the following lines were taken:
 
I listened in raptures as his every note
            Thrilled me like a song from a Nightingale’s throat.
It was Wonderful, Godlike, Exquisite, Grand;…
 
I do not wish to argue that all people have experienced music in general or Huberman’s concerts in particular, as a religious experience. Yet even some of the most restraint listeners could have been carried away by Huberman’s music, as is evident from the following letter. M. S., a noted music critic, writes on 28 Mach 1937 from Boston Mass. that he cannot find words to describe the spiritual quality of the experience of hearing Huberman and Schnabel play together in a concert. The critic confessed that he does not see himself as ‘a sentimentalist’, and he even regards with ‘a little skepticism or contempt … those who could partake of music as of a religious experience.’ (p. 89). Yet during the concert, only the intermission could help him re-gather his ‘forces so as to be able to listen to more.’ After listening to a piece by Mozart, it ‘finished’ him and he had to go out and miss the piece by Schubert. The writer of the letter admits listening to music as something ’self-sufficient … discoursing in its own language about matters entirely within itself.’ Nevertheless, in the Huberman-Schnabel concert, ‘perhaps for the first time, it began to take on a meaning outside itself and somehow more lofty.’      
 
A similar letter was written by a women living in Sydney, confessing on 3 July 1937 that her ‘friends have all called [her a] cold and heartless’ person. However, she realized ‘that "Only the Perfect is Real" and that "God is Perfection and Love", also that one must love the Highest when one "sees" it.’ She immediately confessed that she acknowledges ‘the final sense of liberation and ecstasy your music has inspired me with.’ (p. 90).  
 
L. R. from Camberwell, Victoria (Australia) wrote on 12 July 1937 that a radio broadcast of Huberman had awakened something in her. She confessed the following:
 
Have you gone to church often, because it made you strong and good? – You love kneeling before God and listening to the words of good counsel and kindliness. And then there comes a day when you realise, that you never really knew God at all. You just worshipped blindly. Of a sudden your eyes and heart are opened, and you see and feel God as He really is. Such a revelation was your music to me. (p. 92).  
 
L.R. admitted in the letter that she could not afford to but a concert ticket, so Huberman had sent her two tickets. After attending the concert she wrote to him another letter dated 16 July 1937: ‘That concert was the most wonderful thing in my life… Brahms Sonata … was played with God in your fingers.’
 
A letter from an admirer from New York dated 10 December 1942 (p. 112) argues that Huberman performance is ‘great’ in the sense that it is more than perfectly performed with ‘faultless intonation and with complete sincerity. The letter argues that this what makes Huberman’s performance ‘great is not descended from anything on earth at all but that it is a Chelek Eloha Mimaal – [in Hebrew:] a portion from God on High. It is a mysterious blended and glorious whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.’ The writer continued to argue that there ‘was a noble partnership in action on the stage of the Town Hall. The result was a great collaboration of the soul of Huberman, the genius of Bach and the mercy and loving kindness of God.’
 
Mysticism is not unapparent in the following letter by Samuel R. Wachtell from 17 January 1943 (Ibid.):
 
            Here is a dash of Nostradamus:
 
                        ( Bach
                        ( Beethoven
                        ( Brahms
 
            What had they in common last evening? Let us see:
 
                        ( Bach         
                        ( Beethoven       B. H. = Bronislaw Huberman
                        ( Brahms
 
The artistic solvent which sublimated these three different geniuses – the encompassing genius of – Bronislaw Huberman
 
The metaphysical connection between Huberman’s performance and the spirits of composers is present also in a letter by the conductor Wheeler Beckett dated 31 October 1944. He wrote to Huberman that during the performance of Brahms G major sonata, he ‘felt that the spirit of Brahms himself hung over you as you played and if so he must have been pleased to hear his inmost thought and feeling expressed.’ (p. 115)
 
A couple wrote to Huberman on 17 December 1944 that they try to attend as many concert of his as they can. They ended the letter with the following words: ‘God Bless you this season, Mr. Huberman, and may He deem it wise to give you years of further expression of His glory through your art.’ (p. 119).   


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Feeling bad about my concert review

Feeling bad about my concert review

Last week I attended an all Schoenberg concert in Jerusalem. I reviewed the concert in my blog and the review was not positive. Lady R, who is one of my subscribers, wrote to me arguing that she did not like my review. She claimed that it was too harsh. I used the word ‘murdering Schoenberg’ and she said that this was too much. She said that I should think about these young performers as if they were my children and avoid hurting their feelings. She told me that I do not want to be like the critic Hanoch Ron who is notorious for hurting performers’ feelings without justifying his arguments (Lady R did acknowledged that my criticism was not without explanations).

After writing the review, I noticed that another subscriber sent me an email (about a week before the concert) telling me about the concert, and that he got the information from one of the performers. This made me feel even worse, since I really do not want to hurt anyone, and especially young performers attempting to play Schoenberg.
 
As a result I lowered the tone of my review. I removed the ‘murdering’ and used ‘distorting’ and wrote that it was a students’ concert so that my review will be considered in proportion. However, the basic criticism stayed almost the same.
 
There is some difference between my criticsim and that of the critic Hanoch Ron. As lady R wrote, I do try to explain why I think the way I do about a concert. Moreover, I have about 60 subscribers and this is much less than the readers of Hanoch Ron. It should be remembered that I did mention the first violinist of the 2nd quartet, who played in a professional way. I liked how he performed. The idea behind the concert was brilliant and some of the lectures were better than others (I did not go into too many details since I preferred to speak about the playing). The whole idea of making such a project is great, yet I am not sure that the ideal place should have been the hall of Mishkenot Shaananim and not the School’s facilities.
 
After I changed my review, Lady R was happy from the result. The question of how to make negative criticism in a productive and not destructive manner is an important one. When I did a course on how to lecture in higher education, in Royal Holloway, University of London, we were told that a criticism should start and end with positive remarks. This gives the students a feeling that not everything is black. I truly think that what the student performers did has value.
 
As students, they probably were very busy with other duties. They may not have had too much experience with performing Schoenberg’s music. Some of the movements were reasonable. Nevertheless, I do think that with a few more rehearsals, and with listening to recordings, they could highly improve the result.
 
There is also value in presenting criticism to young performers. Without knowing where one can improve, one cannot advance and do it better next time. This, however, should be conducted in a gentle manner.
 
What do you think? Was my review too harsh? Is there a better way to write things when there is a chance that students will read it? Feel free to comment in the form below.

 


 

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Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Huberman and the divine: report by Edmondo De Amicis

Edmondo De Amicis
Edmondo De Amicis (1846 –1908) was an Italian novelist, journalist, poet and short-story writer. His best-known book is the children’s novel Heart. (source: wikipedia)

 
In one of my previous posts I wrote about Max Brod’s review of a concert of Huberman in Prague. In this post I will continue to review how Huberman was perceived with relation to the theme of the divine in music. The Italian journalist, poet and writer Edmondo De Amicis wrote in the summer of 1904 about an experience he had meeting Bronislaw Huberman (the text that was translated from Italian, appears in The listener Speaks by Ida Ibbeken (1961)). In the following excerpt De Amicis relates to the question of suffering during performance:
 
You have the glory – I said to him – dear Huberman – but what about your health? – "Good Lord – he answered with a smile – my health leaves to desire as the glory. But it is all the fault of the violin, I assure you. Unlike many others, who are excited before appearing before the public and quiet down as soon as they are there, I myself am quiet up to the last moment, and I become agitated when I begin to play. One would not believe it, don’t you think so? It seems to everybody that I am impassive, because I do not move when I am playing, except when necessary. But this relative immobility is the effect of a great effort, and the effort I am making to suppress my emotion reacts on my stomach and ruins it. All my suffering is restrained passion. But it is only just that I pay in some way for the inexpressible joy which my art gives me." – Well – I said to him – I have guessed it. (The Listener Speaks, p. 16A)
 
Huberman’s playing, according to the De Amicis report, is a result of retrained passion and emotion. The consequence of this is great suffering that has implications on his health. Yet the source of this passion is not clear at this stage of the article. De Amicis, however, leads his reader to an impression that this passion is related to metaphysical entities. He responds to the passage I quoted above in the following:
 
Your quite attitude could not mislead me. I watched you intensely when you played. I saw when your eyes sparkled and when they grew moist, and I saw the shiver running through the muscles of your pale face. Sometimes, when you pressed the violin, you seemed to press a living and adored thing, which inebriated and tormented you; and when you took it from the shoulder, you made a movement as if you were tearing off a vampire sugging [sic.] your blood; and then you took it back to your breast and re-embraced it with even more passionate love and pressed it under your chin with the tenderness of a mother who presses her face against the face of her creature. Oh, I was not misled. I understood, I felt when from the depths of the soul welled up the lamentations, the sighs of love, of joy and sorrow, the sound of the nightingale and the voices of angels, which you poured forth into the theatre; and which out of your two thousand listeners made one single soul; a soul which palpitated, throbbed with you and which loved you.
 
Performance is not something that happens between a violinist and members of the audience. It is a meeting of metaphysical subjects. The violin is simultaneously adored by Huberman since it grants him moments of joy. Yet it also cases him great pain. Here again one accouters a romantic view of art that grants the artist both joy and suffering. Moreover, the audience is not a group of individuals that perceive the music in different ways. They are united by the elevated experience into ‘one single soul’. Huberman, as in Brod’s description, is a mere medium that communicates emotion, vibrations and energy from an active and divine source to the passive and astonished listeners. De Amicis ends his article claiming that he will always remember ‘the profoundest emotions which my heart received by that instrument which speaks most humanly about the most divine art.’

 


 

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A student performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartets

A student performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartets

Two days ago I stumbled upon a message via Titter saying that there will be a concert with the first movements of the four String Quartets by Schoenberg. After each lecture there will be a short lecture. I decided to attend the concert that occurred yesterday. The lecturers and the student performers were from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. 

The basic idea for the concert is brilliant: play only the first movement from each String Quartet and let the audience hear things that cannot be usually heard in concerts. There were two quartet groups. The first played from the String Quartets 1 and 3 and second group played no. 2 and 4. This could grant the listeners a perspective on the creativity and development of Schoenberg though most of his life. It also granted the students an opportunity to focus on a reasonable task.

It would not be fair to judge a student concert with the same criteria as with more professional performers. It is true that this music is not easy to perform. Nevertheless, there are some things that I would expect also from students of an Academy (this is one of the two highest education institutes for performers in Israel.


 

When the first quartet group started to play I felt physical pain. I know this music quite well from listening to various CDs. I especially adore the performances of the Kolisch Quartet (see the two videos below) and the Lasalle Quartet. I do not expect that the students will play on the level of these excellent quartets. However, I felt that they were simply distorting the music. It seemed to me that they were struggling to play the right notes. There was no groove and no sense of feeling to the various sections of the first movement of String Quartet No. 1. It seemed to me that they did not enjoy playing the music.

The second quartet group was better. I even had a few moments were I enjoyed to listen to the first movement of the Second String Quartet. It was easy to notice that most of the performers, if not all of them, enjoyed the music making. The first violinist (I am not sure whether it was Yuval Herz or Shachar Pooyae) was especially good. They too had some problems with intonation (especially when they started to play) yet the difference between the groups was prominent during the whole concert, especially due to the fact that they played alternately. However, with the second group one could start feeling an interpretation and ensemble playing. The problems of intonation were less important, since they gave the audience the impression that they feel and breathe the music. For me, this is much more important than aspects such as hitting right notes during performance. In short, Yuval Herz, Shachar Pooyae – violin, Willy Zaikin – viola and Daniela Shemer – cello, proved that students can make music on a high level. Yet, even this group had to stop playing in the middle of the performance of the Fourth Quartet. Next time, give the music a few more rehearsals and you will avoid such embarrassing situations.

The lectures were not interesting. The big problem with the lectures was not the mistakes of some of the four lecturers (it is not Robert Kolisch, but Rudolf Kolish), or some of the things that I would never dare to write in public (the program notes actually argued that Schoenberg had a basic musical education! I hope that they meant that he was an autodidact), but they attempted to speak about the music by using anecdotic tales (the Second Quartet and Schoenberg’s wife’s affair with the painter Gerstel) or analyze the music in terms that simply no one could follow (these were moments were some of these people simply slept. The problem was that some of the people were music analysts themselves!). It was absurd that one of the lecturers quoted a letter from Schoenberg to Rudolf Kolisch were he argued that counting the tones in a twelve tone composition is speaking about how the music is built and not about what the music actually is. This was exactly the problem with the lectures. They did not grant the listeners any information that helped them enjoy the music in a better way.


The problem with such concerts is that they give a very bad reputation to the music of Schoenberg, to both the audience and the students. Although the basic idea of the concert was very good, I would recommend that the lectures be much shorter (originally planned for five minutes) and focus on one or two ideas that all of the audience can understand. I would suggest that the students will listen to recordings of famous performers and try to understand what this music is about, before attempting to play it in public.

In short, the feeling was not that of a concert, but of sitting and listening to a rehearsal of under-rehearsed music. I suddenly understood why Schoenberg insisted on many rehearsals. It was clear to me how a bad performance can distort the music. It does not matter whether you like or hate Schoenberg. Listening to an under-rehearsed performance of his music can leave you only with a very negative and general impression. It is simply not the same thing.

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A Schoenberg concert in Jerusalem

I just discovered via Twitter that there will be a Schoenberg concert tomorrow at Jerusalem (read here my review of the concert) . I am really starting to enjoy twitter. This social site and the Google Alerts really keep me updated on subjects that I am interested in. Since many of my subscribers are from Israel, I have copied some information about the concert (both in Hebrew and English). If you will come to the concert we might have the pleasure meeting there:

 

Arnold Schoenberg: Four Milestones

In collaboration with the Department of Composition & Conducting, JAMD

Wednesday, 4.11.09 at 8 pm

A survey of Schoenberg’s artistic development through his complete string quartets: live performance of the opening movement from each of the four quartets, illustrated with short lectures (in Hebrew) by the department’s staff. 

First movements of quartets no. 1, 3:
Hila Lifshitz, Barak Shossberger – violin
Daniel Tanchelson – viola
Bernice Keshet – cello 

First movements of quartets no. 2, 4:
Yuval Herz, Shachar Pooyae – violin 
Willy Zaikin – viola
Daniela Shemer – cello

Lecturers:
Ayal Adler
Karel Volniansky
Michael Wolpe
Menachem Zur

Admission free, please book in advance at tel. 02-6241041

 

ארנולד שנברג: ארבע אבני דרך

בשיתוף החוג לתורת המוסיקה, קומפוזיציה וניצוח באקדמיה למוסיקה ולמחול בירושלים 

רביעי, 4.11.09, בשעה 20:00

סקירת התפתחות דרכו האמנותית של שנברג דרך מכלול רביעיות המיתרים פרי עטו: נגינה חיה של פרק הפתיחה מכל אחת מארבע הרביעיות, ובתווך הרצאות קצרות (בעברית) מפי חברי הסגל בחוג. 

פרקים ראשונים מהרביעיות מס’ 3,1:
הילה ליפשיץ, ברק שוסברגר – כינור 
דניאל תנחלסון – ויולה
ברניס קשת – צ’לו

פרקים ראשונים מהרביעיות מס’ 4,2:
יובל הרץ, שחר פוייאי – כינור
ווילי זייקין - ויולה
דניאלה שמר – צ’לו

מרצים:
איל אדלר
קארל וולניאנסקי
מיכאל וולפה
מנחם צור

הכניסה חופשית על בסיס מקום פנוי, 
נא להזמין מקומות בטל’ 02-6241041

Read here my review of the concert.

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Share your formative performance experiences

Share your formative performance experiences

 
Most people who decided to dedicate their life to music have formative experiences as performers. You do not need to be a professional performer to have experiences as a performer that will stay with you all your life. I had such an experience when I played as a lead guitarist in a high-school rock band (we called ourselves: The Alleycats) , when I was about 15 years old.
 
I remember our first performance in my parent’s garden. There were about fifty people listening to our group. The band started playing and I improvised on my electric guitar. I remember the feeling of pressing the strings with my left hand. Each vibrato seemed like touching butter. It was physical pleasure playing these notes and I will not forget that I wanted to extend each note and each moment of this pure pleasure. I think that the whole experience was not more than one or two minutes, yet to me it seemed like eternity.
 
People have different experiences that they carry for many years. Often, these experience, which are related in various ways to performance, may change their lifes. I am very interested in such experiences and I would like to encourage you to share them with me and the readers of my blog.
 
 

 

Various performance experiences

The experience that I mentioned above is a very personal one and it is hard to communicate it to others. In fact, since it was more than 20 years ago (time flys…), it might have changed (Primo Levi speaks about the way our memories change). Your performance experiences might be very different. Here are a few possibilities:

Learning to play the piano as a child. Hitting the keys with your mother listening.

Playing together with a famous performer.

Playing together with someone dear to you.

Playing a certain of your favorite composer.

Playing at a certain important event (your marrige?).

The list can go on and on…


Share your experiences now

 
I would like to offer this blog post as a stage for musicians who had formative experiences during performance. Please consider sharing them with us. If you have an internet site with an About page (or a similar page on someone’s else website), please add a link to it so that people who read this post, will know more about you. Share with us your formative performance experience now (by filling the comments form below). Thank you!  
 

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Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

Max Brod on Bronislaw Huberman’s violin playing

 
Recordings give us some evidence of the sound that was produced in the first part of the twentieth century. In spite of the distortion of the recording mediums, often influencing tempo, pitch, dynamics, color and practically all musical parameters that were present in performance, there is a feeling that one actually is granted a rare glimpse into the past. Finding a rare recording of Bronislaw Huberman, for example, may be compared to discovering a rare old picture of one’s family member. Yes, it is black and white, and the focus may be distorted, yet it does seem to communicate something of the past. Nevertheless, even if we could travel in time, and sit in a concert of Huberman, a contemporary listener would not hear what previous generations heard. It seems to me that contemporary societies have changed to such a great degree, that they experience music in significantly different ways than in the first part of the twentieth century.
 


The brutal violence, such as stabbing, that occurred in some of Schoenberg’s concerts seem unbelievable in our days. The expectations, social behavior and experiences were very different, even in more normal concerts in the beginning of the previous century. 
 
In this and some of the posts of the following weeks, I will present concert reviews and letters from listeners in order to explore one theme that reappears in relation to Huberman’s performances: the experience of music as something divine. The almost religious experience of music seems to me something that is absent the life of most contemporary listeners.  
 
Max Brod, who is chiefly remembered as the one who translated the operas of Janacek and arranged that the writings of Kafka would not be lost, reviewed a concert by Huberman. The review entitled "Art as deliverance", is dated 13 January 1927 and appeared in the Prager Tagblatt (I found the translation of this newspaper clipping attached to it in the Felicja Blumental Library in Tel-Aviv). The review itself is very poetic and descriptive, as if trying to convey to the readers how it actually was to experience Huberman’s performance. Brod opened his review describing Huberman just before starting to perform:
 
He steps on the platform – bent, austere. Never have I seen so much suffering concentrated on the small surface of a human face. Strindberg’s "Poor humanity!" is written in all its depth of melancholy on this finely arched brow. Yet below it the expression of the eyes as they glance round is impassive, untrusting. The lips tightly closed together. The corners of the mouth are reminiscent of Beethoven in their tragic solitariness.
 
Brod wrote that the moment Huberman started to play, the ‘expression of wild suffering fades, the features relax into pure melancholy… The glance has lost its fierceness when the eyes reopen. Only the nervous eyebrows twitch, and the eyelids are as though under spell.’ Brod continued to quote (from memory) a poem by Hofmannsthal, and suggested that ‘All the sorrows of humanity find expression, as in a dream, in this playing.’ He went on in describing the essence of Huberman’s playing as he experienced it:
 
And now love springs up. Huberman plays nothing but passion and pain; but passion and pain may look up at times to their blue skies above. Here is the outpouring of a happy passion, the peace of a strong love. Even when Huberman paints happiness it is never playful, comfortable happiness. It is the happiness of a heart of passionate storms, brought beneath a blue sky of compassion.
 
Brod argued that under Huberman’s playing, Smetana’s "Fatherland" ‘had no longer its simple rustic quality, but became the desire and fulfillment of a strongly emotional, strongly inspired soul.’
 
A theme that appears in this review and reappears also in other sources is the impression that technical difficulties are ’swept aside and completely subordinated to the revelation of the music’s soul.’ Brod describes such technical passages as ‘daemonic speeding’, and ‘an ascent in search of God and deliverance’. He suggested that in Huberman’s performance, ‘one is at peace, one is awakened to the best in one.’ This echoes the romantic concept of the ethical power of music to improve people.
 
In various parts of the review Brod seems to be embarrassed from the fact the Huberman is performing to a public: ‘Is not one brought to feel that the great artist is escaping from humanity, from us who listen, into the realms of his music? We are troubling him. The lights should be put out and he should be allowed to play in darkness, not to have to gaze our faces, faces unworthy of this music…..’ Brod argued that Huberman in not like a preacher who tries to convince his audience:
 
the characteristic attitude of Huberman at the peaks of interpretation [… is that] he turns away, we see him in profile, he lifts the violin high up, he turns right away from us into the background, as though he were playing to some invisible higher being, not to us; he is far away from us now, he has placed his fiddle as a barricade between himself and us. But it is then above all, in the liberation of solitude, that we feel nearest to him.         
 
 
The references to a ‘higher being’ and God, as well as the recurring theme of suffering (see the reference to Beethoven above) is part of a romantic conception of the performer who delivers art from God to passive listeners, that just happened to be there by chance. The performer is a medium that helps regular listeners to connect with higher spheres of existence. The passive listeners are exposed to beauty that was presented by the composer and delivered by the performer, yet the source of this beauty, is clearly divine.
 
Some of the notions described in Brod’s review appear also in letters written to Huberman concerning other concerts. For example, the notion of the audience becoming one soul is relfected in a letter written by S. R. W. on 19 October 1942 (The Listener Speaks, p. 111):
 
… the Chaconne … I never heard a greater performance than that of last night. The tones of your violin, in defiance of the law and nature of sound, seemed to gather power as they rose on the air. - It was an evening of enthusiasm and rejoicing. There was in the air that upsurge of good fellowship which draws men and women nearer together after withnessing a great event. 
 
The notion of the extreme demands of performance on Huberman is also present in the letter by A. J. W.: ‘It’s incredible how you survive one of your playings of Chaconne. You give your life away when you play it. None of us are worth it. I remain awed …. overwhelmed". 
 
I will continue to explore this topic in the next weeks when I work in the Huberman archive in the Felicja Blumental Library in Tel-Aviv. Subscribe to the Blog and be updated via email or RSS.
 
The translation of the German text was probably done by Ida Ibbeken who was the secretary of Huberman.
 

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The interpretation of Rudolf Serkin - lesson plan

The interpretation of Rudolf Serkin

Once a month I conduct a meeting which is part of ‘Beit-Midrash Musika’ in the Keshet community in Mazkeret Bataya (where religious and secular Jews educate the children together). The meetings are dedicated to musical interpretation which has many issues that are connected to the performance and interpretation of tradition in general. The people who come to this program are interested in both music and pluralistic interpretation of Jewish/Israeli culture. The next meeting is dedicated to the famous pianist Rudolf Serkin. I have included in this post a brief of the lesson plan and some videos of Serkin performing.  


The pianist Andras Schiff wrote that ‘Rudolf Serkin is one of the great unsung heroes among the giants of musical performance.’ Serkin influenced a huge amount of important pianist in America and beyond it. Most of the lesson is based on what I have read in the book Rudolf Serkin: A Life  by Stephen Lehmann and Marion Faber (Oxford, 2003).

Here is the lesson plan for the ‘Beit-Midrash Musika’ that I will do tomorrow.


lesson plan

1. Listening

2. Early influences: Swarzwald school, Schoenberg (objectivity, ‘ethical’ interpretation, total dedication to the composer, Society for the Private Performance of Music (1918-1921).

3. Berlin: turning away from Schoenberg, Adolf Busch, playing from memory, Sachlichkeit, unified tempo, clarity, going beyond sound.
 
4. Toscanini: ‘architecture with passion’.
 
5. Listening
 
6. Serkin’s attitude towards recordings, his attitude towards listing to recordings when building an interpretation.
 
7. Listening.

8. The way excessive practice influences one’s performance, Serkin relation to the musical score, Serkin’s ‘religious’ interpretaion of music, suffering as an ideal, choosing the difficult solution, practicing with physical pain. Conflict and tension when performing.   

9. Listening.
 


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Save the Music Library in Tel-Aviv - sign petition now!

A few heartless people in the Tel-Aviv City Hall aim to close the Music Library in Tel-Aviv (Felicia Blumental Library) by gradually reducting its budget. Please take two minutes and sign the petition here in order to help preventing this. Please forward the address of this page to as many people that you know so that they will sign and help.

I am doing research at this library (on Huberman) on a weekly basis. I can assure you that it contains cutural treasures such as the Huberman Nachlass as well as that of many other international and Israeli musical figures. We must spread this information and find as many people as possible that will sign the petition so that the Library’s cutural treasures will not be lost.

I suggested to some people who are concerned that it would be very useful to arrange a concert in protest of the decision. If you are a musician in Israel, please contact me if you are willing to perform in such a concert. If you are a musician out of Israel you may consider making an internet performance on YOUTUBE adding that it is for this cause (if you do so, let me know about it, and I will add it to my blog).

Here is more information in Hebrew:

בימים אלה נדונה בעיריית תל-אביב האפשרות של קיצוץ דרמטי בתקנים העומדים לרשותה של הספרייה למוזיקה (במרכז למוזיקה ע"ש פליציה בלומנטל). ייתכן מאוד שהתקנים ושעות העבודה שייוותרו אחרי הקיצוץ יורידו משמעותית את תפקודה של הספרייה לשפל שאינו מאפשר שירות  מקצועי  ואחראי; למעשה  -  בטווח קצר או ארוך קצת יותר  -  למצב שבו אין עוד טעם בעצם קיומה של הספרייה, ולסגירתה .

כל מי שנעזר בשירותיה של הספרייה למוזיקה, וכל מי שבקי בחשיבותן  בתפקידיהן המגוונים ובדרכים שבהן אמורות ספריות מסוג זה לשרת את הקהל הפוטנציאלי שלהן, מבין שצוות מינימום ובו שני ספרנים בלבד (ובמונחים יבשים של מצבת כוח-אדם  -  ספרן-וחצי ), הממונה לבדו על אוספים גדולים מאוד של ספרים, פרטיטורות ישנות וחדשות, תקליטים ,דיסקים, כמה וכמה ארכיונים (בהם ארכיון ברוניסלב הוברמן ועזבונותיהם של יהויכין סטוצ’בסקי ומנשה רבינא) ואוסף מיוחד של כלי-נגינה   -  צוות מינימום כזה אינו אלא ‘עלה תאנה’. בשעות  העבודה ובשעות הפתיחה המעטות שיאפשרו התקנים החדשים , הנדונים עתה בעירייה, עשוי צוות כזה לבצע רק מינימום של השגחה על הבניין ועל המלאי שבתוכו. הרי הספרייה, שצברה ותק וניסיון מאז שנות החמישים , אינה מתמקדת ב’תצוגת חומרים’ בלבד ולא רק בהשאלה-כשלעצמה. הקהל המגוון שלה (מתל-אביב ומחוץ לתל-אביב)  - סטודנטים שהספרייה מציעה להם, לא פעם , תווים והקלטות שאינם נמצאים באוניברסיטה ובמכללה; תלמידים במגמות מוזיקה; מורי מוזיקה בבתי-ספר ומורים לכלי נגינה; נגנים, מנצחים וזמרים וכן חובבי מוזיקה רבים נזקק כמעט תמיד לשירות מקיף, מה גם שחומרי הספרייה (שלא כמו בספריות ציבוריות כגון בית-אריאלה) אינם מוצגים, ואינם יכולים להיות מוצגים, באופן חופשי על המדפים. השירות המקיף כולל, לעתים קרובות, יעוץ, הפניה והמלצה מפורטת (איזה ספר , איזו פרטיטורה, איזו הקלטה, איזה ביצוע מוקלט, מתאימים לצורך ספציפי, למורה מסוים או לסטודנט מסוים או למבצע מסוים, והיכן מוצאים אותם), מתן עזרה בשימוש במכשירי ההאזנה, סיוע לתלמידים ולחוקרים בהתמצאות בחומרים שהספרייה מציעה.  שירות זה הוא לב-לבה של הספרייה למוזיקה; הוא דורש צוות סביר ושעות עבודה ופתיחה סבירות ; ויתור עליו  - כמוהו כסגירת הספרייה, ותקני-המינימום הנדונים בעיריית תל-אביב - אכן פירושם ויתור וסגירה .

אנו פונים לכל מקבלי ההחלטות בעירייה לשקול היטב את משמעותו של קיצוץ קיצוני ולא להוציא אותו אל הפועל .

אנא, צרפו את חתימתכם לעצומה זו . 

http://www.atzuma.co.il/musiclibrary

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Copyright Avior Byron 2020 .