Rarely does a musical performance move me to tears, but today was worth memorializing. Seymour Bernstein, a pianist, composer, author, mentor, friend, colleague (do I dare put myself in the —league part of the word), posted a 1955 rendering of Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful Fantasia in C minor, K. 475. Immediately, it rang a bell. I’d watched Nadia Boulanger tutor a young prodigy about its harmonic rhythm, grabbing his wrist at a poignant point of modulation. The unexpected, of course, warmed my heart, not the labeling of a KEY transition. To be enlightened about the composer’s form and content, apart from a God-inspired place of origin could help guide a serious music student through thousands of notes. But was it enough?
Seymour Bernstein’s reading was beyond analyses because it naturally radiated though transitions of the most awesome kind. Where rests intervene, these must not be bogged down. They should travel over themselves with perfect buoyancy. One, a dramatic pause–another heart-melting, with various sections fitting together in a well-spun mosaic.
As I remind myself over and again, music is NON-verbal, so I won’t rival any distinguished music critic in my unswerving praise for Seymour’s performance.
From Seymour’s own program notes:
“This recording appears on my 2-CD set entitled RETROSPECTIVE. I
thought I had uploaded it to YouTube. But I was mistaken. Here it is at
last. I am not sure where the performance took place, but I believe it was
at my 2nd Town Hall recital in 1955. I would do some things a bit
differently now, but still this is a good performance of this profound
“Sir Clifford Curzon told me that he and Wanda Landowska put their heads
together to list what they thought were the greatest keyboard works in
existence. This piece was among the chosen masterpieces.”
And here’s the snatch from a Boulanger class as referenced, where she tells 10-year old Emile Nauomoff that a particular D Major modulation, “just IS,” and not be likened to a moment of tenderness, or an associated adjective. (I might disagree)
For me, emotion and meaning in music are inexorably paired.
“You and the Piano” with Seymour Bernstein