Friday, January 31, 2014

Books on Piano, Part 1: Josef Lhevinne's "Basic Principles of Pianoforte Playing"; Introductory Series by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Books on Piano: Part 1
Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing
(1924; Dover 1972)
Author: Josef Lhevinne
An Original Introductory Series by Payman Akhlaghi

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 31st, 2014, under Books on Piano: Part 1....

I'll start this series by introducing one of the most succinct and insightful books on the art of piano that I know of, Joseph Lhevinne's 1924 "The Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing". Republished in 1972 with a foreword by his wife and colleague, Rosina Lhevinne, it has remained as relevant as ever to understand some of the fundamentals of a healthy, musical, and beautiful technique. Written by a legendary virtuoso (see H C Schonberg's "Great Pianists"), it's a no nonsense summary of hands-on advice for making progress in this art, sound in theory, practical in approach. Don't let the little size of the book or its simple language fool you. This is a rare record of a first-rate pianist's mind and practices expressed in most clear terms.

My Favorite Highlights
- The fundamental elements of a beautiful tone:
* Flesh of the fingertip as a soft mallet;
* The relaxed wrist as a shock-absorber;
* Playing the key "on the fly".
- Approach to practicing scales.
- Advice on the choice of tempo.
- Emphasis on developing a sophisticated sense of rhythm.
- Emphasis on accuracy and Ear training.
- Biographic memories of Anton Rubinstein among others.

Quote:
"Music is painted upon a canvas of silence. Mozart used to say, "Silence is the greatest effect in music." The student, however, does not realize the great artistic value of silence. The virtuoso whose existence depends upon moving great audiences by musical values knows that rests are of vital importance. Very often the effect of the rest is even greater than that of the note. It serves to attract and to prepare the mind. Rests have powerful dramatic effect."

-- © 2014, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"; The Pleasures of Entertainment; Extended Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Pleasures of Entertainment
Extended Film Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 2)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PACompsoer on January 29th, 2014, under Will "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", directed by Kenneth Branagh, deliver?

I found "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", directed by Mr. Kenneth Branagh, to be an engaging thriller, one that appreciates the value of the human side to any story amid the purely visual and sonic elements, notwithstanding its essentially overused plot line. Unlike many recent releases in the spy genre, the film realizes that the action scenes succeed if the audience cares for the characters in the first place; if shots and scenes are clear in detail and are allowed to develop for adequate perception; if streets chases and fist fights stand in relieving contrast to moments of tranquility say in a forest; and if the plot makes any sense at all. Hence, to say that Mr. Branagh the thespian outdoes Mr. Branagh the director is more to highlight the very unique and irreplaceable niche that this fine artist occupies in performance arts, rather than to underappreciate his sophisticated cinematic skills.

The film credits the recently deceased author Tom Clancy only for the characters, and his presence is felt in their humane three-dimensional feel and motivations, and in the many turns of the story. Compared to an earlier Clancy adaptation, it lacks the stylish and outlandish look of "Clear and Present Danger," one of my favorites. One could also miss the sympathizing bashfulness of Mr. Harrison Ford's version of a mature Ryan, and the striking novelty of events and locations in that earlier film. However, Shadow's immediate touch of the camera style, framing and edit, besides its consistently fine cast, make up much for such comparative disadvantages. Chris Pine in the title role is as good in his intimate moments as when he's on the run. Kevin Costner brings his signature focused dignity to an underdeveloped role. Keira Knightley sprays her scenes with the delights of youth, while seasoned ballerino Mikhail Baryshnikov saturates his short cameo with demanding dignity. Mr. Branagh's stares and accent inflections would suffice to sum up the sophistication of his performance technique.

The music by Mr. Partick Doyle, with a long history of successful collaborations with the director, is atypical of the composer, as it steers away from his earlier lyrical tone and symphonic sound toward the looped accented rhythms and short fragmentary melodies, which have become the de facto vogue for the genre. Market requirements are understandable, yet given my background in music, I can't hide my secret wish to see more of his previous language to reemerge in later films.

In conclusion, it's hard not to notice the nod to some classic elements from Hitchcock's oeuvre, beyond their already widespread absorption into the cinematic language. In this regard, the extended wrestling scene in a hotel room ends with Ryan's solo victory by suffocating the assassin, a direct reminiscent of how Paul Newman's character eliminates his "minder" in "Torn Curtain". (To others however, it might bring John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" to mind.) It's doubtful if Hitchcock would have approved of the direct depiction of extreme acts of violence using knives, as we see in the Shadow. But the portrayal of a heavy of the story as a mono-dimensional hardliner, and the structural dynamics of his demise at the end, further recall the epilogue of "Saboteur". Despite such explicit moments, the visual language does control detachment by resorting more to implicit depictions of violence in many other crucial scenes, including the denouement filmed in extreme long shot.

(*) IMDB.com and Wikipedia.org were consulted for the accuracy of the names.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pianist Menahem Pressler and The Beaux Arts Trio: An Appreciation; By Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Pianist Menahem Pressler and
The Beaux Arts Trio: An Appreciation
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 20th, 2014, under: Appreciation: Pianist Menahem Pressler and....

Last week, January 11, 2014, German-born Israeli-American Pianist Menahem Pressler played for the first time with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra [1], in a concert of Mozart and Shostakovich. He is 90 years young, and he continues to enjoy one of the longest and most prolific careers in classical music on record. Judging from the samples and an interview provided by the BPO, music aficionados may confidently expect a new period of sophisticated interpretations flowing from this living treasure.[2,3,4]

This took me back to ca. 1995, when I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Pressler live at Caltech, Passadena, on tour as the most senior member of his prized Beaux Arts Trio, in a concert that included, as I recall, works from Beethoven's Op.1 set and the Op. 97 known as the "Archduke Trio". The astonishing sense of intimacy, the immediate rapport between the players, and the sheer musicality of each performer and the ensemble, was a reminder of the unique place that chamber music holds in the classical repertoire and the concert culture, and what it had been meant to be in the first place. The music felt ageless, as Ms. Ida Kavafian, violin, Mr. Peter Wiley, cello, themselves highly accomplished musicians, absorbed and amplified the inspiration that was clearly coming from the smiling man at the piano. This was a music relevant to an audience two-centuries later on a sunny Sunday afternoon, thousands of miles away, across an ocean, and another continent.

The many achievements of Beaux Arts Trio have been noted elsewhere.[5] I for one have enjoyed for many years its recording of two wonderful Trios by Zemlinski, and a 14-year old Korngold, which you wouldn't have come across on a regular day even in history books. The ensemble retired officially in 2008, after 53 years of recordings and performances, a rare accomplishment for any institution of its type. That same year, a book was released about the pianist's life, career, and approach to music.[6]

Mr. Pressler (b. 1923) left Germany for Palestine, at the age of 16, alongside his family to escape Nazi persecution. He would later land in America as an award-winning concert pianist, ensemble player, and educator.[7] To me, that adds naturally another layer to his playing today with the BPO.

I conclude this Memo by a wish and an appeal for increased appreciation and support for chamber classical musicians across the United States, as they keep alive of one of most enriching and yet fragile forms of art ever produced by humankind.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Footnotes:

[1] BPO on Facebook.
[2] BPO on the 2014 Concert.
[3] Excerpt from Mozart Concerto No. 17, from the Concert.
[4] Interview with Mr. Pressler, German with Subtitles.
[5] Beaux Arts Trio on Wikipedia. Includes links to Ms. Kavafian and Mr. Wiley, once members of the Trio.
[6] Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching, Brown, W.; 2008, Indian University Press.
[7] Pressler on Wikipedia.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Photo: From 2012, Hamburger Abendblatt, via Google Search:

Friday, January 17, 2014

Pianist Cziffra's Fingering for the Rapid Octaves in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6; Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Pianist Georges Cziffra's Special Fingering for The Rapid
Octaves in Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, in D-Flat Major

A Short Essay by: Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Draft 3)

(*) First Published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 17th, 2014, under:
Pianist Cziffra's Fingering for Rapid Octaves in Liszt's Rhapsody No. 6.


Recently, I demonstrated the octave section of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 for a student, with an apologetic attitude for my limitations, as a sample of the bravura period of the composer. Thanks to an unmet friend Marija, I soon after revisited a video of a performance by Georges Cziffra, the foremost mid-Twentieth century Lisztian, whom I had known about since my teens when the late Kourosh Haddadi (کورش حدادی), my first piano teacher, introduced me to a tape of his Rhapsodies. Like other Cziffra performances, this studio recording  is a tour de force of passion, power and momentum, with a propensity to bring out the massive orchestral side of the instrument unreservedly -- read "fortissimo over a sustained pedal" -- when it's called for. Those qualities are also evident in another performance of this Rhapsody, about the same time, and apparently before a live audience.)


The latter part of the work is well-known for its rapid repetitive octaves in both hands, typically achieved by developing a "dropping wrist" approach, while keeping the hands close to the keyboard surface. There are pianists who can race through these passages flawlessly and at astonishing speeds, but I doubt if quite with Cziffra's ease of execution. This time, I noticed why.

Cziffra's relatively large hands suggest and allow him to employ an alternating 4th-5th finger technique for the outer notes when repeated, thus making it only necessary for the thumb to articulate twice as fast its successive attacks. That means a more quiet wrist, and a more relaxed hand, hence, more endurance and speed with much less fatigue. Also, as I had observed earlier, he plays the divergent chromatic run toward the end by using not only a 4-5 fingering, but also by employing the 3rd finger, to achieve a better legato.

Whether the technique fits most everyone's hands for these passages, or that it's worth the effort to re-finger the entire section if you already play the piece, I encourage every pianist to study and appreciate the ingenuity of this highly original pianist's technique. That's besides the fact that he also lets himself quite naturally to elaborate many of the passages, a tradition that Liszt himself subscribed to readily.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Legend of Hercules and Oblique Imagery; Review by Payman Akhlaghi (2014); Short and Independent Film Review

The Legend of Hercules (2014, 2D) and Oblique Imagery
A Short and Independent Film Review
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 2)

To my surprise, and despite their similar looks and techniques, Hercules was not directed by Zack Snyder, the creative mind behind the imaginative - if historically flawed -- "300" (2006). I had liked some of director Renny Harlin's earlier works including Cliffhanger (1993); and there are many things to enjoy in this film, as well, such as creative fight scenes, imagination set loose in visual graphics, beautiful color schemes, wonderful costumes, stylish camera angles, and effective underscoring by the Finnish composer, Toumas Kantelinen, which fits the genre very well.

However, the plot lacks in the dramatic power and depth of characters which would be necessary to engage the audience on a personal level; indeed, the film felt much longer than its 99-minute recorded time. The pace is too hasty yet without contrast, as if the idea has been to to jump from one battle scene to another; the voice of the cast seldom matches their excellent looks; and the sound design at some point creates an exhausting sensory overload that I found quite disengaging. These issues have become common to many heroic action and adventure films made today; in contrast, we may recall Kubrick's "Spartacus", a successful example for any such films, starting with its first rate screenplay.

The conception of Hercules by Zeus is an apt cinematic moment of the film, carried out with more of the basic cinematic and performance elements than the pervasive CGI. The treatment of violence is also noteworthy: thankfully, unlike the current norms of the genre, no blood gushes out of the necks and torsos, and acts of mutilation of the defeated warriors are demonstrated only by referential symbols, such as waving a hood in the air. This in itself creates a necessary sense of detachment, and it's a positive move toward a less literal, less violent, and less spasmodic cinema, and toward a more poetic, imaginative, and thoughtful language.

In fact, a less literal vocabulary of violent imagery has had a long history in sophisticated cinema. Robert Bresson (Lancelot de Luc, L'Argent) is a prime example among the master filmmakers who successfully employed only oblique references to violence. Fritz Lang could show a moment of death (Hangmen Also Die) by the close up of a hat stopping to roll. Hitchcock had a keen sense for controlling the audience detachment (distancing, in Brechtian language), even as the quite engaging shower scene of Psycho, despite its reputation as a literal moment of violence in cinema, aptly demonstrates: the edit and close ups, and the masking effect of the music, do not allow the audience to completely lose a sense of reality. Andrei Tarkovsky could dramatize the cruelty of pouring molten metal into the mouth of a victim by merely placing the sound of gurgling on the masked imagery of the violence.

More recently, Steven Spielberg, though known for the scary world of Jaw or the melting faces of the enemy in the Indiana Jones adventures, when dealing with a especially realistic, least cartoonish moment, shows a preference to draw upon more oblique imagery in his vast toolbox of cinematic vocabulary. To illustrate his mastery of audience detachment, or distancing, when it's called for, consider War of the Worlds, where the protagonist (Tom Cruise) is compelled to take the life of another human to protect his child: the brutal act is shown off screen, behind a closed door, implied only by sounds, and a visibly beaten father stepping out of the room.

(*) Disclaimer: When it comes to reviews, do not take any one person's word, even the best of them, just for it. I wouldn't. A variety of arbitrary factors might have affected any author without him knowing it, factors that had nothing to do with the film itself, from where he sat in the theater, to what happened before stepping into the theater, fatigue, problems with the language, distractions, personal taste, etc. Nevertheless, I hope you found the above memo useful.

Footnotes:
- The names and dates were checked against IMDB.com.
- Wikipedia was consulted for the exact term used in the case of Brecht.
- Robert Bresson was most appreciated in 1980's by philosopher Babak Ahmadi in a book in Persian on him. "The Wind Blows Wherever It Wishes".

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting: A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Humor)

Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting
A Note By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 9th, 2014, under:
Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting.


Reflecting on a conductor's task, I pondered not only the joys, but the risks and side-effects of the job, starting with the baton, well known for its boosting effects on the ego.

Long ago, it was the French Lully who stabbed himself in the foot while beating for his orchestra with a long staff; and he died shortly afterwards of infection. In one recent concert, pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy had to leave the podium [1] after piercing his hand with the tip of the baton; fortunately, by then rubbing alcohol and antibiotics were in common use. At the climax of a major concert, the audience gave a supporting ovation when the baton flew off of a most excited young conductor, and not to punish any member of his orchestra.

Giuseppe Sinopoli was hardly the first conductor to die of a heart-attack on the podium; indeed, Arthur Rubinstein [2] writes of an old friend of his with a similar fate decades earlier. Thus, not surprisingly is the case of an Iranian conductor, who reportedly complained of developing a gastric ulcer, not just proverbially, due to the inattentive members of his orchestras.

Some conductors always keep the baton in its casing when not in use. Some scratch their heads with it while thinking. A grandfatherly and otherwise graceful Robert Beecham,[3] didn't mind landing his baton hard, like a scepter, on a young fellow's skull to everyone's apparent amusement. When the music called, as in a Berlioz climax,[4] Charles Munch could seize the baton with both hands and bring it down like an ax on each emphatic beat. Furtwängler's hand and baton restlessly flapped and whipped the air.[5] Fritz Reiner barely moved the tip of his very white and long baton.[6] Then came George Prêtre,[7] who put away the baton, closed his eyes, and danced his way through the Offenbach before a smiling Berlin Philharmonic.

No wonder that Pierre Boulez did away with the baton, albeit for more sophisticated musical, pedagogical, symbolic, and almost ideological purposes.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Footnotes:

[1] A reference to the incident may be found here:
http://sarahhicksconductor.com/web/buzz_details.aspx?ItemId=628969

[2] See "My Young Years", Autobiography, Part I, by Arthur Rubinstein.

[3] Robert Beecham, Conversation and Rehearsal (1958), including the beating of the baton on the head of a young man in good humor:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKgG3nrzaqg

[4] Charles Munch in the Finale of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imPA6BfIeNQ

[5], [6], as well as [3], [4]: "Art of Conducting", DVD.

[7] George Prêtre, "dancing" to the Offenbach (1992):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbbfU0akfLE

(*) Consulted:
- www.Wikipedia.org
- Google General Search.
- Amcerican classical composer and UCLA Emeritus, Paul Reale, has a short humorous critique on conducting, which might still be available on his website:
http://www.minotaurz.com/minotaur/

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Page From My Life: December 5th, 1991, Vienna; A Memory by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

A Page From My life: December 5th, 1991, Vienna
By Payman Akhlaghi
(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on December 6th, 2013, under: A Page From My Life: December 5th, 1991, Vienna.

On December 5th, 1791, Mozart died at the young age of 36. Two hundred years later on that night, I happened to be in Vienna, when the end of "The Mozart Year" was to be celebrated by a ceremonial performance of his Requiem, conducted by Georg Solti at St. Stephen's Cathedral. I was among a sizable group of music lovers who stood outside of the cathedral, ignored the slippery snow and the cold, sipped on the free coffee they kindly gave away, and watched the ceremony on the large screen and speakers set up outdoors for the like of us. The first row inside was populated by the Austrian President, among others, so you may guess the rest.

I had known the piece from the excellent recording made by Sir Colin Davis and (I think) the BBC SO, so I could follow it pretty well. For a 20-something curious mind who had just left Iran, it was a night to be remembered.

Here's a recording of that night, without the recited sections of the liturgy, which were presented during the ceremony by the Bishop. Mr. Solti later recorded the piece as I recall with the same the soloists, a CD of which I own in my library.[1]

December 5th, 2013, Los Angeles

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.


Mozart's Requiem, K. 626, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Georg Solti, (1991, ca. 47')

[1] Note added as a reminder that even as many such as me pay for the music, it's prudent for both artist and publisher to leave links as this available on YouTube as a most basic way to spread the culture, and the music. -- P.A.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Two Poems on War: Tear Up the Drums & The Day After the War; Original Works By Payman Akhlaghi (2013, English & Persian)

Tear Up the Drums & The Day After the War
Two Poems by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

"کوس ها را تکه تکه کنید" و "از فردای جنگ بگو"
دو شعر از پیمان اخلاقی (2013، انگلیسی و فارسی) ـ

(*) Full Text. (*) متن کامل

Meditations on Life: Peace, Boredom & Excitement; Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Meditations on Life: Peace, Boredom & Excitement
By Payman Akhlaghi
(A Short Note, Draft 2)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PACompsoer on December 7th, 2013, under:
Meditations on Live: Peace, Boredom & Excitement.


Peace, that most desirable state, could soon become boring without physical excitement. The Greeks understood this basic principle; hence, the Olympics. But physical excitement ought not be confused with harming, let alone eliminating, another life, as the Romans did in the arena. There are some fundamental differences between "athletic competition" and "violent entanglement". The first affirms health and life in everyone, while the latter bagatellizes them in others. The first validates the necessity of flourishing each individual's natural ambitions and physical potentials, which ordinarily may be suppressed by the requirements of the social life. In contrast, the latter aims at establishing and sustaining one's superiority of power by all means necessary. The former integrates individual power into the social fabric; the latter isolates it as a threatening force against the rest of the society.

The athletic spirit helps converge and merge the softness of empathy with the roughness of reality, the mellow with the wild, making the wolverine into a whole human. The attitude of war, however, encourages the savage, the blind wolf within, at the cost of the whole human. Games help vent out excess aggression, sublimating the survival energy into a thriving factor of civilization. Wars destroy the long and hard earned products of that civilization.

Even as individuals may satisfy their need to physical and psychological assertion within the safety of individual exercise or competitive games, nations too may avoid the pitfalls of prolonged tranquility by increasingly organizing scientific races, artistic competitions, international athletic events, and other cooperative projects with a competitive element. Such activities could help secure lasting peace, even heal the wounds between nations formerly against each other, faster than volumes of binding contracts or the threat of force. Peoples in constant competition within a matrix of life and human dignity would jointly aim for excellence, and embrace the peace that allows it all in the first place, rather than taking it for granted and getting bored with it.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

The Curse of the Ninth: An Absurd Musical Trivium; Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

The Curse of the Ninth: An Absurd Musical Trivium
By Payman Akhlaghi (A Short Note, originally 2014, Draft 2)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 2nd, 2014, under:
The Curse of the Ninth: An Absurd Musical Trivium.


Although Mozart wrote 41 symphonies, and Haydn completed 104 of them, it was the unprecedented stature of Beethoven's symphonies, and the fact that he never finished a 10th, that would cause the subsequent generations of composers some real trauma.

Schubert died young with only 9 symphonies completed. Schumann made it only to the fourth. Brahms, an otherwise quick and daring composer, didn't start to write his first symphony until he was 21, and it took him another 21 years to bring it home. Eventually, like his friend Schumann, he only dared to write 4 symphonies. Bruckner almost made it to the end of his 9th, but he died before he could complete it. Sibelius's 8th symphony was left incomplete and missing. Dvořák managed to finish his 9th, and no more.

By the time of Mahler the superstition must have taken some really strong roots. Mahler had written 8 symphonies, before he composed his symphonic song cycle, Das Lied von Der Erde. When he started working on his 9th symphony, however, he used to quip that he had indeed completed his 9th, meaning Das Lied, although he had not named it as such. But even he couldn't "cheat death": he wouldn't make it to complete his (officially) 10th symphony.

With such a background, we can only imagine how Shostakovich must have felt when he managed to complete his 10th symphony and still breathe, even survive to write his 15th. Later on, the prolific Hovhaness, as if in a gesture of defiance against gods, kept writing symphony after symphony, probably more than 70 of them.

Altogether, according to the logic of superstitions, those who wish to be on the safe side better brace themselves for the worst and consider some kind of insurance, if they're about to tempt the gods of music and embark on writing their 9th or especially 10th symphony. In other words, you're welcome to write your 10th, but you may do so please at your own risk.

While at it, if you are a non-musician, you may consider to wish your composer friends a life long enough to allow them to complete their 10th symphony, and beyond.

-- Payman Akhlaghi,
January 2nd, 2014, Los Angeles.

Notes:

(*) Sources for some names, numbers and dates: Wikipedia.org.

(*) Wikipedia also has a dedicated entry for this topic, which I did Not consult until after completing my short note. There you may see quotes by Schoenberg (which I didn't have in mind to include above), an analysis of the superstition, and a long list of "counter-examples": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_ninth

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

P.S. (11.04.2015) On occasion, classical music needs its own share of humor. Otherwise, for a serious discussion of Mahler by this author, see my graduate paper from 2001, Gustav Mahler's Everlasting Influence: A Brief Discussion of Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde, available at Scribd.com/PAComposer, and Academia.edu.


(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Use Words! Don't Strike! Even When Talking to a Rock...; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Use Words! Don't Strike! Even When Talking to a Rock...
A Short Note (Draft 1)
By Payman Akhlaghi

(*) First published at www.Facebook.com/PAComposer on September 2nd, 2013, under:
Use Words! Don't Strike! Even When Talking to a Rock...


In a most symbolic passage from the Jewish Bible (Numbers, 20), Moses is scolded by God for striking a rock for water, instead of only asking for it in words. This stands in contrast, however, to an earlier similar account -- also in the Pentateuch (Exodus, 17), clearly penned by a different author -- in which Moses strikes the rock as he has been instructed. Given the context and notwithstanding the differences, we might as well allow for the possibility that the two accounts might have been two variants of a single inherited story, remembered and recorded by their respective authors at two contrasting times and locations.

The account in Numbers reflects a refinement of culture, and language, at the time when it was written down. It signifies a culture that has come to prefer negotiation with words over negotiation by force. It suggests a more mature and subtle culture of communication -- by extension, a culture of diplomacy -- which could have shown its ramifications in matters of education and daily interactions, as much as in the affairs of the state. This seems to be consistent with the episode that follows immediately, during which the Israelites offer a persuasive case before another nation to allow them passage through their land; but the offer is rejected; so they travel around the land, without a war.

In contrast, the account in Exodus is followed by a highly descriptive narrative of a bloody war, albeit imposed on the Israelite, and which ends in their victory. From striking a rock to communicating with swords, the respective author must have breathed in a very different Zeitgeist than his seemingly later colleague, signifying an ongoing evolution in the Judaical thought even as the early periods, amid what the various stages of codification might imply.

But the inclusion of both narratives within the final edited version of the Pentateuch partly suggests an outstanding dichotomy that would continue to run through history, not only that of Jews, but also that of civilization: the question of Words vs. Force in times of conflict and the need for a resolution; even though the right choice has often been more than clear to the civil mind.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights resereved.

Sources Consulted:
(*) Exodus, 17:
- http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0217.htm
- http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+17&version=NIV
(*) Numbers, 20:
- http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0420.htm
- http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Numbers+20&version=NIV
(*) A guiding compilation of the two relevant sections:
http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/6998/why-was-god-so-upset-with-moses-for-striking-the-rock-the-second-time-in-the-des
(*) Recollections of lectures by Chacham Davidi, chief rabbi of Iran, 1980's.