Sunday, September 27, 2009

MIT Chapel Concerts

(updated on October 1, 2009)


I'm happy to announce a new series of noontime organ recitals in the MIT Chapel. I am coordinating the series, which is under the aegis of the MIT Office of Religious Life.

The fall series will comprise five consecutive Thursdays, Oct. 22 to Nov. 19, inclusive. The concerts will be from 12 to 12:30 p.m. I will play the first two concerts (Oct. 22 & 29); the organists for the other three concerts will be Joshua Lawton (Nov. 5), Paul Cienniwa (Nov. 12), and Lee Ridgway (Nov. 19).

The Chapel organ, built by the Holtkamp Organ Company in 1955 (their Op. 1674), is an exquisite example of the organ building of that era. It remains unaltered and, thus, is one of the most important historic organs of that period of American organ building. The instrument is wed felicitously with the acoustics and architecture of Saarinen's renowned chapel.

The Chapel organ dates from Holtkamp's finest period: the tenure of Walter Holtkamp, Sr. (1894-1962), who was president from 1951 till his death in 1962. Many important installations date from this period, including the organ at Crouse College (Syracuse University), as well as our own Kresge Auditorium.

For more information on different ways that you might support these concerts, click here.

To hear this beautiful organ in a worship setting, there is a non-denominational prayer service held every Tuesday morning from 8:30 to 8:50 (preludes at 8:25). I am the organist for this short but meaningful service.

Photos by Leonardo Ciampa (29 September 2009).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mark Twain V

All publishers are Columbuses. The successful author is their America. The reflection that they -- like Columbus -- didn't discover what they expected to discover, and didn't discover what they started out to discover, doesn't trouble them. All they remember is that they discovered America; they forgot that they started out to discover some patch or corner of India.


[Henry H. Rogers said:] "Business has its laws and customs and they are justified; but a literary man's reputation is his life; he can afford to be money poor but he cannot afford to be character poor; you must earn the cent per cent and pay it."


Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men, and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities which we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists of just that. Our heroes are the men who do things which we recognize with regret and sometimes with a secret shame that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.


Oxford is healing a secret old sore of mine which has been causing me sharp anguish once a year for many, many years. ... In these past thirty-five or forty years I have seen our universities distribute nine or ten thousand honorary degrees and overlook me every time. ... This neglect would have killed a less robust person than I am, but it has not killed me; it has only shortened my life and weakened my constitution; but I shall get my strength back now. ... Now then, having purged myself of this thirty-five years' accumulation of bile and injured pride, I will drop the matter and smooth my feathers down and talk about something else.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Italian (& Hungarian) sides of Joe Maneri


I know many of you have been waiting for a (to use one of Joe's favorite adjectives) heavy-duty post from me. Certainly the man whom I said was both "one of the greatest musicians of our time" and "like a father to me" was someone about whom I would have something to say.

Well, I still can't bring myself to write it.

A book could, and should, and will, will written about him. Several, I'm sure. But to reduce him to one blog post? It would be easier to arrange a ten-minute piano work entitled, "Highlights from Beethoven's Last Five Piano Sonatas."

I did, however, find a journal entry that I wrote several months back. It is not even the tip of the iceberg -- it is a snowflake on top of the tip of the iceberg. Still, I think begins to hint at the immensity of my feelings:

3 April 2009

Today was the day that I learned that Joe had a heart attack two weeks ago, and now has congestive heart failure. So it's only natural that I wanted to get some thoughts on paper.

I'm sure I will write something about Joe. And I'm sure it will be viewed by some as a student's adulation for his teacher, something not "impartial."

Well, I will tell you this:

If you went to the home of the greatest Italian chef who ever lived, and you tasted the greatest ravioli ever created by the hand of mankind, and if your reaction was, "Those ravioli are pretty good," that is not impartiality. That is inaccuracy.

If I use superlatives to describe Joe, it shows that he must be very great. If he were not very great, why would I want to write about him? And why would I write with superlatives if he were "normal"?

For to state that "Joe Maneri was within the range of normal" would be an inaccuracy. He was well beyond the range of normal. The only honest thing is to describe a great man with great terms. If through my writing the subject emerges as someone "great," that is not my fault. I am merely reporting a fact.

Joe and I spent many hours -- who knows how many? -- listening to and talking about Italian opera and song. Though Joe had a thoroughly German training with Josef Schmid (1890-1969), his heart and his upbringing were equally thoroughly Italian. At the time it was the furthest thing from my mind that I was "influencing him" in any way. I was simply sharing, and anyone who knew him knew that he was a limitlessly generous man who had a gift for drawing the loves and passions out of those around him. It was natural for his students and friends to share what was in their hearts.

Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana was an opera known and loved by countless Sicilians of Joe's parents' generation. Though many musicians and musicologists persist in thinking of this work as being "crude" and, in the worst sense of the word, "pesanty," Joe found much sophistication in it. I can still hear Joe singing the cello theme that opens Scene II -- that heart-breaking F# minor melody. There is a spot where Mascagni uses an F major 6/4 chord, with the cellos playing an open C. Quite a distant chord in F# minor. Joe told me, "When I first played that chord, I cried."

I had trouble holding back the tears when, following Joe's funeral, I was at the Maneri home, seated at the Knabe piano that used to be his mother's, with the old yellowed score of Cavalleria on the rack. I couldn't bring myself to play Scene II, but I played the Prelude. There are no words for the sadness I felt. I think I was sad in particular because I realized, at that moment, how sophisticated that music really is. Joe was right all along, yet the world was years from realizing it. The story of his life.

I often brought CDs of Caruso and Gigli, singing Verdi, Puccini, and of course Mascagni, but also Tosti. Many times did I play Tosti for Joe on one or another of the various pianos in the Maneri residence. On one of these occasions, Joe said to me, "You know, I have to tell you, I think that Paolo Tosti is really my favorite composer."

Joe once paid me a compliment that, at the time, I didn't think I deserved in the slightest way. Today, I think there may have been some truth in it. He said, "You've influenced my teaching. Before my teaching was too German. But because of you, I put more of the Italian in there."

Another composer whom Joe loved in a way that few people realized was Franz Liszt.

Liszt was a lot like Joe. Liszt had a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of all other music and musicians of his time. Liszt encouraged the musicians around him and treated them with the utmost generosity. Liszt pushed tonality ten or twenty years before the rest of the musical world as a whole started pushing it. Liszt plunged depths of spirituality and profundity, yet his detractors insisted he was "posing." All of that could be said about Dr. Maneri.

Once, I had a beautiful print made of Liszt seated at the piano (see image) and had it professionally framed. I don't remember the occasion; Joe's birthday, maybe? Anyhow, when he saw it, he went wild! He looked at it as if to know everything that Liszt was thinking at the time of the photo. It would be a little cliché to say that "it was like Joe knew him." What it was was: Joe really related to him. And he got very excited every time we talked about him.

Once, in class, Joe unexpectedly asked me to go to the piano and sightread (!) several of Liszt's late, mysterious piano works (Nuages Gris and one or two others). These works profoundly moved and fascinated Joe. After all, they were, in the best sense of the phrase, "ahead of their time."

I knew Joe since I was eight or nine years old, before he became my teacher. In September of 1989, during Orientation Week at the conservatory, many of the teachers gave a please-take-my-class demonstration. I could write a small book just about the demonstration that Joe gave that day! But I will mention only one thing which relates to the discussion about "ahead of one's time."

One very misunderstood aspect of Joe was his total humility, which to many seemed to be total arrogance. It wasn't. For instance, once in class Joe said (verbatim), "I'm so amazing it's scary, and I say that with the deepest humility." There wasn't a shred of arrogance in that statement. Joe gave every nanogram of credit, for every great thing inside him, to the Lord. If you knew him, you understood the simplicity and honesty of such statements.

Anyhow, here we were in September of '89 during Orientation Week. Joe's telling us the story of something that happened only a week before. He was cleaning out his swimming pool, and he combined chlorine with something else, and he couldn't breathe, and Sonja had to rush him to the hospital, and it took five hours for them to get him to breathe normally again. Joe then said -- and he couldn't say it without laughing -- "Had I died, ha ha ha, had I ha ha ha died, it would have set the world back 50 years."

That, too, was a humble statement. Joe was merely stating the truth.