Monday, May 30, 2016

Confessions of a Frustrated Republican

My father was a lifelong Republican.  Unlike some who are born into rich Republican families and vote to preserve their inheritance and privilege, and unlike those who are born in limited circumstances, raised as Democrats, but switch to Republican once they’ve attained wealth, my father held to his conservative beliefs and suspicion toward government from a childhood spent in poverty, through an adulthood where he rose through the middle class, and into the relative wealth of his last years.  As with his parents, his Republicanism was rooted in a hatred of Franklin Roosevelt’s policies and the man personally that bordered on the pathological.  Given my admiration for FDR, you can imagine some of the “discussions” we had around that subject.  (My dad had a grudging respect for Harry Truman, and it annoyed him when I pointed out that on many domestic issues Truman was a good deal more liberal than FDR.)

There were times, however, when my father veered from Republican orthodoxy.  He derided the religious right as “Jesus freaks” who had gained too much prominence in the Republican Party, just as Barry Goldwater had complained.  Nor did he care for the party’s recent penchant for immigrant bashing.  As far back as the 1960s, he had great respect for Cesar Chavez, sympathy for migrant farm laborers, and felt if Americans had become unwilling to pick fruit and perform other “menial” tasks for low wages, we should welcome people into the country who would.  As someone who grew up on a farm, my father knew what it was like to have to rise before dawn, pitch hay, pick eggs, and milk cows - only to be kicked by a cow that wasn’t in the mood.  He saw U.S. born Depression-era farm hands treated like dirt and knew it was worse for migrants, even in the best of times.  Between the migrant farm issue and the Vietnam War – which my father came to regard as a mistake – my father decided to support Robert Kennedy in 1968.  He had been very impressed with how RFK’s reaction to Martin Luther King’s assassination helped prevent violence in Indianapolis.  Then RFK was assassinated.  My father told me he decided to sit out the 1968 election because he didn’t like Humphrey and he thought Nixon was “sick” mentally.

The above paragraph, however, should not detract from the fact that the bulk of my father’s political beliefs were conservative.  During the 90s he railed against Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes and delighted in reading the Ken Starr report aloud.  My father was an NRA member and favored their view of the 2nd Amendment, despite the fact that his own brother accidentally shot himself.  He hated Welfare. 

Two weeks before he died, my father called me to wish me a happy birthday.  During our conversation (which tended to ramble in later years as my father’s hearing deteriorated), he told me he was favoring Kasich in the primaries and that under no circumstances would he vote for Donald Trump if “that asshole with his whore wife” is nominated.  “I’ll just stay at home like I did in ’68.”  I listened to his statement and said little – knowing his decision would hardly make a difference as he lived in California which is certain to vote Democratic.

As it turns out, my father will not vote in the upcoming election – but not for the reasons he outlined.  But I suspect my father’s not the only Republican to view the ascendancy of Donald Trump with disdain and alarm.  And I suspect there are many Republicans who will sit home on November 8th. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Pianos of Vladimir Horowitz

It’s interesting how, in this information age, so much misinformation can proliferate unchecked and uncorrected.  This is as true in Classical Music as it is in politics, and nowhere more than at Google’s Classical Music Recordings Group.  This is, for example, the group with several members who unwittingly perpetuated the Joyce Hatto fraud.  Most of the group’s members are dilettantes who fancy themselves as experts in music, and several of them are unschooled in the basics of social conduct.  A few are actual musicians - some of whom remain as professional musicians and others who've gone on to other professions.  I made a few posts to the group about a decade back, realized what the group was dominated by trolls, and quickly disassociated myself with them.  But I occasionally view posts (“lurking is the Internet term) as there are a few members who occasionally post about upcoming recordings.  A recent post concerned the piano used by Vladimir Horowitz as his 1986 Moscow recital, the recording of which was recently reissued.  One poster complained about the piano’s “tinny” sound, and speculation arose as to whether Horowitz was using a piano supplied by the Moscow Conservatory, as pianos were notoriously poorly maintained in the USSR. 

There is no equivalent to Politifact in Classical Music.  So, in this instance, I will provide the facts - just the facts, and not my own personal opinion on the quality of Horowitz's pianos.  Accurate information about Horowitz’s pianos has been publicly available for decades now.  The pianist's tuner, Franz Mohr, gave a rundown about the pianos used by Horowitz in his book, My Life with the Great Pianists, which was published in the early 1990s.  I expanded on Mohr’s information when I put together the Horowitz FAQ section of the pianist’s informational website, from which the information below is adapted.

The Pianos Used by Vladimir Horowitz

Early in 1934, as a wedding present, Steinway presented Vladimir and Wanda Horowitz with a Steinway Model D, Serial #CD279503 (the "C" denotes for pianos deemed worthy by Steinway for Concert use. The "D" indicates the size of piano, in this case, nine feet long).  This piano was kept in Horowitz’s homes (he moved several times before purchasing a townhouse on Manhattan’s East 94th Street in 1939) and not used for concerts or recordings.

In the early 1940s, this piano was replaced with CD314503. This is the piano Horowitz kept in his New York townhouse, and used in recitals and recordings from 1974-1981 and 1985-1987.  This is also the piano which has “toured” Steinway dealerships in North America and been used in a few recordings over he past 25 years – although it has been reworked so extensively it bears little resemblance to the piano that Horowitz knew. 

CD186 (Steinway often dropped the first three digits with "CD" pianos) was selected by Horowitz for his return recital in 1965. (He described the tone as "more mellow [than CD314503], more like the human voice.") CD186 was used for subsequent concerts and recording sessions until it suffered catastrophic failure in late 1972 and was retired from professional use.

CD223 was kept at Horowitz’s summer home in New Milford, Connecticut. It replaced CD186 for Horowitz's last Columbia sessions in late 1972/early 1973.

CD75, built in 1911, was found by Franz Mohr, Horowitz's tuner, in Steinway's basement and restored by him. Horowitz used the piano from 1981-1983.

CD443, Horowitz's last piano, was selected by the pianist for home use, to avoid the inconvenience of hauling CD314503 from Horowitz's second floor living room when he went on tour. At first Horowitz had reservations about the piano's action (which was rather heavy) but came to love the instrument so much that, when he briefly considered concertizing in 1989, he planned to take CD443 with him. This piano was used for recording sessions made at Horowitz's home in 1988 and 1989.

Incidentally, for his first four Columbia Masterworks recordings, made between 1962-1964, Horowitz used a piano supplied by Columbia’s 30th Street Studio. However, when he returned to studio recording in 1969 (all of his 1965-1968 recordings were compiled from live appearances), he found that the piano he’d used for the earlier sessions had been tampered with by Glenn Gould, and was no longer palatable.