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Archive for September, 2013

Leonard Bernstein
(Wikimedia Commons)

For all the years that I’ve been doing classical radio (and it’s been a few), I’ve pushed back against this idea that somehow only folks with music degrees can Truly Appreciate classical music. It just isn’t so. At the same time, I have to say that music is like almost anything worthwhile – say, baseball or ballet – in that the more you understand about it, the more you love it.

So, about 6 months ago, I wrote about a few ways to build up your music chops. As I suggested then, one of the most enjoyable ways is through Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. These were – and are – not just for kids!

Bernstein’s YPCs were originally broadcast on CBS television from 1958 to 1972. Stop and think about that for a second. We’re talking classical concerts – with music education, no less! – on prime-time commercial television. Let that sink in, and ask yourself where you might find the equivalent today. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Back to Bernstein. Over the years of YPCs, he answered the kind of questions that make a real difference in understanding music, for people of all ages: What does music "mean"? What makes music symphonic? What’s a melody? What’s a mode? What’s sonata form?

When last I wrote about the Young People’s Concerts, some were available on DVDs – but only about half of them. It wasn’t at all clear what had happened to the rest, or whether we’d ever get to see them again.

Many of these programs are over a half-century old. It’s apparently taken some sleuthing to locate them. (I can understand that. I’d rather not discuss the state of my own personal audio archive, and it’s not 50 years old – yet.)

There are technical considerations, too. These programs were produced for the 1960s, when a 23 inch screen was as much as anyone needed for the living room. With today’s 6-foot wall mounted screens, viewers are more demanding than they used to be. The programs are no doubt suffering a little middle-age physical deterioration, too (aren’t we all). Thus they’ve had to undergo some digital alchemy in an effort to reverse some of that aging process, and bring them as close as possible to modern video standards.

I’ve just learned that the folks at Kultur, who brought out the earlier YPC set almost a decade ago, have finally finished rounding up and polishing the programs for a second volume. They say that they’ve now located and restored all the original YPC episodes. The second volume comprises 27 hours on 9 DVDs, bringing the total to a whopping 52 hours. List price for the second volume is $150. The new set will be released in about 7 weeks’ time (19 November 2013).

Further Exploration:

Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, Volume 1 at Arkivmusic

Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, Volume 2 (pre-release) at CD Universe

Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question (Harvard Lectures) at HB Direct

Disclaimer: WKSU receives no financial advantage from your use of any for-profit vendor(s) cited in this message. Recordings are available from a variety of sources, both local and online. Links are provided for your information and convenience. They don’t signify an endorsement.

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Teresa Carreño
Teresa Carreño

Maybe you’ve seen Jonathan Goldsmith as "The Most Interesting Man in the World," promoting a certain liquid product on television. It’s sheer fantasy, of course. But how about "The Most Interesting Pianist of the Present Age"?

That title went to a Venezuelan pianist in the late 19th century. The noted critic Hans von Bülow bestowed it. He declared that this pianist "sweeps the floor clean of all piano paraders who, after her arrival, must take themselves elsewhere."

Did you notice that pronoun? In an era dominated by male musicians, von Buelow said "her."

This phenomenon of the piano was Teresa Carreño. Rossini was mesmerized by her. The great American pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk called her a genius. Claudio Arrau remembered hearing her in his youth: "I don’t think I ever heard anyone fill the Berlin Philharmonic, the old hall, with such a sound."

As a child, Carreño took a few lessons from Gottschalk. Anton Rubinstein tutored her for a time in London. When she was a teenager, Liszt heard her in Paris and offered her lessons on the spot. Strong-willed even then, she declined his invitation, refusing to follow him to Rome.

Not only was Carreño an accomplished, powerful virtuoso pianist, she was quite attractive and possessed a gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice. She even conducted, and, for a time, ran an opera company.

Carreño wowed President Lincoln in a White House performance – but not before expressing her disapproval of the piano! As a virtuoso in Europe, she was just shy of canonization.

But Carreño was rather less than a saint in her private life, which really wasn’t very private at all. One German publication reviewed the "Walküre of the Piano" thus: "Frau Carreño yesterday played, for the first time, the second concerto of her third husband at the fourth Philharmonic concert."

In fact, Carreño eventually married four times. Two of her husbands were brothers. Legend has it that she kept a loaded pistol on her piano to ward off unwelcome guests.

A most unlikely friendship and mutual admiration developed between this enchantress and the staunchly conservative New England-born composer Amy Beach. Beach even dedicated her Piano Concerto in c sharp minor to Carreño.

Teresa Carreño may indeed have been one of the most interesting pianists of all time.

— Sylvia Docking

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