3 Etudes for piano by Bela Bartok

Etudes (French for “studies”) are instrumental works, usually requiring considerable athleticism or dexterity, intended to help develop particular technical skills at whatever instrument.  The great ones, like those of Chopin or Debussy, transcend the level of being mere exercises, and are great works of music, frequently preformed in concert halls.  Bartok wrote only these 3.  He performed them for the first (& last) time in 1918 to an unprepared and shocked audience.

This performance is by a young (age 25 at the time of this recording) Russian pianist Mark Taratushkin.  For whatever reason, even though I have heard various recordings of these works, his performance here really impressed me, somehow transcending the sheer virtuosity required.  Bravo!

pr. cl. (a CalArts optical printer film circa 1975-77)

I was a a student T.A. at Cal Arts 1975-1976, and I was tasked with instructing fellow students on the operation of the Optical Printer and the Oxberry Animation Stand (skills I acquired from the great Pat O’Neill, a mentor).  In the course of teaching Optical Printer techniques, the class did little film experiments (which I used to keep in film cans that I labeled “pr. cl.”, my abbreviation for “printer class”).  I left CalArts before the end of the 1976 academic year to work at Industrial Light & Magic on a film called Star Wars, and the classes were ably taken over by David Wilson.  One of the students in the class, Rick Blanchard, ended up with the “little experiments” and created this film.  Crazy, but I have no memory of how I ended up with a print of the film, which I had digitized a number of years ago, along with other films, and promptly forgot about.

CalArts optical printer, circa 1973:

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Tarantula (!) 1955 in QUAD-o-RAMA !!

Truncated and QUAD-o-RAMAed so that you can experience and enjoy this classic 1950s science fiction film in exactly 10 minutes.  Note the exclamation mark after Tarantula only appears in the advertising art but not on the main title of the actual film, a fascinating bit of useless trivia.

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Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G

A great performance by Yuja Wang, wonderfully photographed capturing all the major members of the orchestra. This bluesy jazz influenced work premiered in January 1932 with Ravel conducting the orchestra and Marguerite Long performing (the work is dedicated to her).  It is said that Ravel was influenced by Jazz idioms which were popular in both Paris and the United States.  Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered in 1924.  Was Ravel influenced by Gershwin?  Certainly there was some mutual admiration.  They met in New York in 1928, Gershwin age 30, Ravel age 53.  Gershwin supposedly asked Ravel about the possibility of studying with him… to which Ravel replied:  “Why would you want to be a 2nd rate Ravel when you can be a 1st rate Gershwin?”

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Ravel at the piano with Gershwin looking on.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Opening Montage

The Last Black Man In San Francisco (2019) is a beautiful elegy of a film, and offers a truly unique view of the City as captured in the brilliant opening montage, which sets the tone for the film that follows.  The film has a great score by Emile Mosseri, but the music used in the opening montage is actually by Michael Nyman – “MGV (Musique a Grande Vitesse” originally commissioned to celebrate the inauguration of the TGV North-European Paris-Lille line in 1993.  The film also features an astounding cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” featuring Mike Marshall (vocals) & Daniel Herskedal (tuba).  Just see the film!

Scarlatti Sonatas

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was born in 1685 in Naples, Italy.  Same year Bach was born!  And Handel!  He wrote operas, cantatas, symphonies, liturgical pieces, etc, and LOTS of keyboard music, primarily intended for harpsichord (or very early pianofortes).  When I say a lot, consider his keyboard sonatas:  he cranked out 555 of them.  Be amazed at Martha Argerich’s precision rendition of one of these works.