“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”
Plato

Monday, May 21, 2018

Jakob Gimpel Plays Johann Strauss: With the Help of Tom the Cat

   Every now and then I find myself reminiscing. This, I'm told, is a symptom of age. Never mind, I say. As long as I don't stay there in the past, it's okay to visit. And if I'm repeating myself, well just nod politely and pretend interest.
Jakob Gimpel
   When my undergraduate piano teacher, Muriel Kerr, died, her replacement was Jakob Gimpel. Gimpel was a distinguished Polish pianist with an established European career, although he lived in Los Angeles. I hadn't heard of him, though, until I met him that fall of 1963 when he took over Kerr's studio. I hadn't heard of him, but I had indeed heard him without knowing it.
   Gimpel was the go-to pianist in Hollywood. He provided the piano in "Gaslight," in which he appears on screen, "Possessed," "Letter from an Unknown Woman," "Strange Fascination," "The Story of Three Loves," "Planet of the Apes" and "The Mephisto Waltz." But perhaps most notably were his performances in two Tom and Jerry cartoons, one of which, "Johann Mouse," won an Academy Award for best short.
   I had been admiring Gimpel’s virtuosity, albeit unwittingly, since childhood. Some afternoons in the summer of my tenth year I would be allowed to visit a school friend, Marlene Harkelroad, who lived on my street several houses down. Her family owned a television, a rarity in those days. My mother was suspicious of the contraption, so these cherished occasions would be rare. Marlene and I watched “Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade” and ate along with one of the sheriff’s many cartoon characters, Crusader Rabbit. The sheriff was a remarkable man, as he could see into TV land and would know if we had finished our milk and made our beds. If we were good, that is, if we didn’t talk back to our mothers, Sheriff John played special cartoons for us, one of which was  “Johann Mouse.” 
"Johann Mouse"
   Narrated by the distinguished actor Hans Conreid, the cartoon begins: "This is the story of a waltzing mouse. His name was Johann and he lived in Vienna in the home of Johann Strauss."  Jerry is the waltzing mouse who can’t resist coming out of his mouse hole when Strauss plays the piano. While the maestro is away, Tom, a cat with homicidal aspirations, learns to play the piano in six easy lessons in order to entice jerry back out into the open. It’s Jakob Gimpel who provides Tom’s virtuosity with his own extravagant arrangements of “The Blue Danube,” “Kaiser-Walzer” and “Trisch, Trasch Polka.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was Tom’s remarkable piano playing—after only six lessons—that gave me the courage to stamp my little foot and demand that I be allowed the same. If you've made your bed and finished your milk, you can watch some of it here: Tom and Jerry

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Khachaturian Toccata: Polyrhythms

   
Aram Khachatrurian



A student writes that she struggles in Khachaturian’s Toccata with the polyrhythms in the slow section—mainly measure 110.
Khatchaturian Toccata MM 109-110
   Without seeing what she's doing, I can only make some general suggestions. I'm guessing her problem is with the combined rhythms and not so much the technique. That is, she is able to play the hands separately.
   On the first beat of M 110, notice that the right hand is duple, the 16th-note triplet equals one eighth. So in the RH you have the equivalent of 2 eighths. Against that in the LH you have an eighth-note triplet, which makes this first beat 2 against three:
Khachaturian Toccata M 110
Try it that way first, then add the extra 16ths. The hands come together pretty much as printed, at least close enough.

   The 3rd beat of M 110 is also 2 against three, but with 16ths, so it feels faster. One way to solve this is to first set a constant eighth-note pulse and fill in the spaces once that pulse is in your bones:
Khachaturian Toccata M 110
   I'll keep you posted as to whether this helped.