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by Israel Kremen

cont.

CS: Professor Kushner, why does the classical music play such a big role in your poetry?
Where and when did you learn all of these musical terms, composers, orchestral instruments, so wide range of classical repertoire which you use in your poems all the time as your inspiration and your background?

BK: My childhood and youth were spent in Moscow side street near the "Clear Ponds." This was the conglomerate of old buildings tightly packed with communal sockets, connecting courtyards, every nook and cranny. Every morning, opening my eyes, I saw an yellow wall in my window, beyond which one could only guess the sky and the sun, which was peeping into the side street slit. The sky was sensed, first of all, in the birds' screams. There were a lot of them, unbelievably too many for the huge city. The birds sung, cried, twittered with different voices, and many other sounds of the big city entwined into one sound fabric: rings of the streetcars from the boulevard, car horns and motors, conversations of a passer-by under the window, and sometimes the shouting singing of an old-clothes dealer "We're taking junk!" In a summer one might hear  the music from  all the windows in the whole block. "Lilies, lilies, the first of May  flowers' bouquet..." This contrapuntal combination of sounds was tear up by the heavy chords of Commandor's steps: someone was attempted to play Prelude in C# minor by Rachmaninov, always stopping on the same spot in the very beginning... After all, when I was learning at the University, I found this music and performed the whole piece with all my windows wide open. Only then, an unknown musician stopped it forever. Though I myself felt not fully satisfied: was it fair to destroy his palace of 10 chords? All of these side street sounds had an effect, as an echo, on my American verses after 30, 40 and 50 years.

My love affair with music could be dated back to these same years of my childhood. My unforgettable grandmother, Sofya Moiseyevna, peace be with her, who loved me boundless, shared with me her passion to music. My grandma  (my mother's mother, whose grandfather was the 4th Lubavitche Rabbi, Shmuel Schneerson) played Sonatas by Haydn and Mozart, something from different operas. Homemade, in old bindings, music books consisted  of endless treasures... An actual Treasure Island was in rather cheerless world. As many other adults, my  father didn't come back from the War (WWII.)
My mother left alone with three children, and without a real profession. In such circumstances, my grandmother became the major support for the whole family, and the spiritual  basis for me.

All of this is another long story, but my love to music determined  my poetic worldview. "Verses without  music are dead" - I wrote once. The Muse and...without music? Is it possible?

In Moscow in the late 1940-ies -  early 1950-ies, I started learning to play piano on our old instrument, Blutner - together with learning to read - first, with a thumb, on which I've got a callus very quickly. Then, I started to use other fingers. My hands had natural mobility, and, somewhere  around the 7th grade, I performed Mozart's
Alla turca, after my grandma, but in such fast tempo that she was embarrassed. Unfortunately, I never studied music. So, I am still an anarchist in music. I recall that when I was 18, walking under someone's windows, I suddenly heard the melody played on violin! I did run home, and immediately performed this Romance for Violin and Piano in a sad G# minor. One month later we, my classmate and I, were going to perform this piece at the University. But there was a problem. "Forget 5 sharps! It's impossible to play in this key!" - told me the amateur violinist. I offered him (it was a joke, of course) to transpose it into enharmonic A flat minor key with 7 flats, but he became simply mad. As a result, we fell down to a banal key of A minor, with neither sharps, nor flats... Alas!.. Only the very well known fact that many big masters too often had the same problems with their contemporaries could give me some consolation. Among the old music, left after my father, there were many sheets of music called "Music for the masses" (popular music.) And among them there were Beethoven's Funeral March from his 12th Piano Sonata, transposed by someone from A Flat minor to A minor. Rachmaninov 's piece was subjected to even more harsh transformation: his Prelude in C# minor was transposed to C minor, and, also, the chords were tattered. It was absolutely impossible to play it this way: those idiotic holes incorporated into the dense and skilled Rachmaninov's texture prevented the fingers to go through. But this is not the worst example. A very famous editor, Carl Haslinger, when he published Schubert's Impromptu, D.899, No.3, for the first time in 1857, he transposed this piece from G Flat Major to the "more easier" key,
G Major, without any pangs of conscience.  And this Impromptu was performed in such crippled way even in the beginning of the 20th century (see Misha Donat, booklet to DVD "Alfred Brendel in portrait," BBC 1996.)

The friendship with remarkable musicians, especially strong in 1980-ies, was added to all of that, as well. Playing music and, sometimes, doing musical mischief, adorned our long warm evenings... And this too is obviously effected my poetic creativity.

A special joy I had when I wrote  my essays about music and musicians: about Salieri and Mozart (submersion into the 18th century), about Verdi and Bizet (submersion into the 19th century), and, finally, about my contemporary one, Isaak Schwarts. My essay about the Soviet popular songs I wrote after the publications of Vladimir  Frumkin and Vladimir Novikov about  famous and popular Russian bards.  I also prepared and have given lectures "Totalitarian State through the prism of the Songs for the masses", which I performed  at my University of Pittsburgh, standing next to the piano, and also at the Hanover College, Indiana. I wanted to write a long essay about Meyerbeer, but I had to write a very critical essay about 2-volume work of Solzhenitsin about 200-year history of relationship between the Russians and the Jews. It was unpleasant, sanitary work...

Many of my poems came to me while I was improvising on the piano, or, with the inner - in my Soul - reproduction of compositions, ingrained in my heart. Music opens invisible gates of interconnectedness of all essence, especially strong and universal, and interweaving the physical and the spiritual one, created by the Art.
As a matter of fact, we live inside of the gigantic and infinite multi-part fugue, where we entwine our own voices in it's stream. I tried to show this universal interrelatedness, this harmony of the matched and unmatched, the happiness of unexpected comparison in my gigantic cycle of Variations, by modifying manifestations of the unity with our Creator.  The Unity of His and our Love. His and our Creativity.

Hope that I answered to your question. Just afraid that it was too much in detail.

cont.




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Israel Kremen

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