Sunday, March 11, 2012

Great-Grandpupil of the Masters

Franz Lizst, Johannes Brahms, and Maurice Ravel

One of the reasons I was (and still am) excited about studying with Mr. LaRatta is that his teacher was Rudolph Ganz, who had studied with none other than one of my favorite composers of all time, Maurice Ravel.  Ganz was responsible for bringing many new works to the United States, including the compositions of Ravel and Claude Debussy.

Ravel even dedicated one of his works to Ganz, the Scarbo from Gaspard de la Nuit.  It is notoriously difficult to play. Ganz had confided to Mr. LaRatta that the Scarbo was probably dedicated to him simply because he was able to play it!  Apparently his hands were enormous.  "If he ever took my hand, I'd double check to make sure it was still there afterwards!" Mr. LaRatta recalled, raising his eyebrows.

You can imagine that I've been completely in awe that my teacher studied with Ravel.  But there was more!  During my lesson last week, Mr. LaRatta told me that Ganz had also studied with Johannes Brahms, and with Franz Lizst!  My jaw dropped.

(Incidentally, my other thought was, "When was this guy born?!"  I looked Ganz up after I got home and indeed, he was born in 1877.  Liszt passed away in 1886 and Brahms in 1897.)

Mr. LaRatta recalled a recital in which Ganz played works by Brahms, Lizst, and Ravel, describing it as "the most electrifying" concert he had ever attended.  To be in the presence of a concert pianist who had studied with all three of these tremendous composers must have been absolutely amazing.  Sure enough, Mr. LaRatta recounted an extremely emotional and powerful experience.

My head is still reeling that this is the absolute closest that I've ever come (and likely ever will come) to these three composers - Mr. LaRatta is the link!  In a moment of passion and whimsy I thought: You know what?  That means I'm studying with the pupil of the pupil of Maurice Ravel, Franz Liszt, and Johannes Brahms.  I'm a great-grandpupil of the masters!

Not that this newfound knowledge accords me any special status, or indeed, any merit at all.  What it does give me, however, is a profound sense of history and heritage.  My piano teacher is passing on to me what he'd learned from Ganz, who had passed onto him what he'd learned from the masters.  All I can do is to turn to those black and white keys and those black notes on white paper, practice my heart out, and try to make some good on this amazing legacy.