Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

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Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Sep 16, 2009 10:41 am

I only know him from this Photograph by Richard Avedon of him in his Bathrobe and Pajamas, was he any good, are any of his recordings worth getting...
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by THEHORN » Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:13 am

I don't recall hearing any of his recordings as a pianist, but he
was supposed to have been a real virtuoso . He was also a
Hollywood personality, composer, author , close friend of Gershwin, and wrote classical works including a piano concerto as well as popular songs and Hollywood film scores .
He lived from 1906 to 1972 , and was a colorful and cantankerous character with a sardonic wit and also a depressive hypochondriac and pill addict .
He wrote several memoirs, including A Smattering of Ignorance,
Memoirs of an Amnesiac, and the Unimportance of Being Oscar .
Among his deliciously sarcastic quotes are : "Leonard Bernstein is revealing musical secrets which have been common knowledge for centuries ", "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin",
and "What the world needs now is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left ."
Levant studied piano with the once famous Polish pianist Sigismund Stojowski, and composition with Schoenberg.
He was also an accompanist for Al Jolson, and knew all the great Hollywood personalities and entertainers of his day .

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by violinland » Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:14 am

He was one of the greats in his day. If you look at Lance's Gershwin list there are two recordings listed. If you look at my post on that thread there are more. TO have not heard Oscar is not to have lived. I hope you enjoy your new discovery. He appeared in the Al Jolson show many times playing solos. Oh yes he was the most brilliant raconteur perhaps of all time.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:03 pm

violinland wrote:He was one of the greats in his day. If you look at Lance's Gershwin list there are two recordings listed. If you look at my post on that thread there are more. TO have not heard Oscar is not to have lived. I hope you enjoy your new discovery. He appeared in the Al Jolson show many times playing solos. Oh yes he was the most brilliant raconteur perhaps of all time.
I have known about him because of the photo for decades, it is because of Lance's Gershwin list that I found out he was a pianist, i'm always on the lookout for new people from the past, i'll check out some of his playing... :D
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Febnyc » Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:06 pm

That picture does him no justice.

I admired Levant's wit and brilliance. He was a frequent guest on TV talk shows in the 50s and always made me laugh. Besides, he was a true piano virtuoso.

Q: (from Jack Paar) Oscar, what do you do for exercise?

A: I stumble and then I fall into a coma.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by diegobueno » Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:19 pm

To George Gershwin he said "If you had it to do all over again, would you still fall in love with yourself?"

He said Gershwin could easily win the 50 yard dash, if there were a piano at the finish line.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by stenka razin » Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:37 pm

Oscar was on late night television as a guest for many years. His quotes are quite memorable:

What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left.

Underneath this flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.

There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.

The only difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Democrats allow the poor to be corrupt, too.

So little time and so little to do.

I'm going to memorize your name and throw my head away.

I once said cynically of a politician, 'He'll doublecross that bridge when he comes to it.'

I envy people who drink. At least they have something to blame everything on.

I am no more humble than my talents require.

Happiness isn't something you experience; it's something you remember.

Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood lies the real tinsel.

A dollar saved is a quarter earned.

and many more, that would not be appropriate for CMG.... :wink:

Levant was one of a kind and a forerunner for many droll humorists who followed him....O, I forgot, he was a very good pianist who recorded the Rubinstein 4th Piano Concerto, amony many other pieces. 8)
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Lance » Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:37 pm

The Horn described him very well. The photo is probably the worst I've ever seen of him. He smoked like a smokestack, had a real sense of humour (on stage), acted and played in some movies, and made some really fine recordings, not only of Gershwin's music but the Khachaturian and Rubinstein (No. 4) piano concertos with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting (for Columbia Records); solo music of Liszt, Falla, Poulenc, and many others. The one disc you may want to get is mid-priced on Sony Classical [42514], all Gershwin, including the famous 3 Piano Preludes. Above all, try to read all or any of his books. They are hilarious!
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Wallingford » Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:38 pm

I still have my VG+ condition LP of Levant's Favorites for sale.....it's mainly Debussy Preludes & CHildren's Corner excerpts, plus Albeniz' Tango in D and Lecuona's Malaguena & some others. Yours for three bucks plus postage.

Also, I've got the above-mentioned Rubinstein concerto.
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Sep 16, 2009 1:31 pm

Febnyc wrote:That picture does him no justice.
Avedon could be very brutal, this is an example if that brutality, Levant turned up in his slippers and bathrobe...
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Febnyc » Wed Sep 16, 2009 1:49 pm

Yes, Chalkie, he could, indeed.

I prefer to remember Levant thusly:

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by arepo » Wed Sep 16, 2009 2:23 pm

Just last week Turner Classics showed Chopin's "A Song to Remember" with Merle Oberon and Cornel Wilde.
I was surprised to learn that Oscar Levant had done all of the piano playing.
He was a staple of the Hollywood MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Sep 16, 2009 2:24 pm

I don't know how he was a pianist - I assume he was good - but he was a very funny guy, conversationally brilliant, like Our Mrs. Parker. Like her, Alexander Woolcott and Robert Benchley, he was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable, whose cultivated repartee was famous. Wiki has a nice article on him. As Frank wrote, I'd prefer to remember him by a different picture. That cruel Avedon picture had an agenda uncomplimentary to Avedon.
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by lmpower » Wed Sep 16, 2009 3:33 pm

It was mentioned that Levant was a guest on TV shows. I am surprised that nobody remembers that he had his own television program in the late 1950's. He appeared with his beautiful blond wife, June. It was obvious that he was a very sick man at that time. To call him neurotic would be an understatement. He could be very cruel to his wife on the air. The best part of the program was the high class guests. He would have folks like Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood and Romain Gary on the program. "A Smattering of Ignorance" was probably a good description of his knowledge. He was adept at dropping names. He once mentioned the name Rimbaud to Romain Gary. Gary responded "Le Bateau Ivre." Oscar seemed to draw a blank on that one. When he asked Gershwin why he always had to sleep in the top berth. Gershwin replied that was the difference between talent and genius. Another one of his memorable remarks was that Ravel was asexual. I don't know if that category is even recognized by Hollywood any longer. In spite of all of Oscar's flaws his show was one of the best on the air at that time. I thought that the pianist in "A Song to Remember" was Jose Iturbi. He was very big in Hollywood at that time. That was the movie that introduced me to classical music as a boy. Levant's performance in "An American in Paris" was outstanding. I recommend everyone see that film. It captured the true flavor of Oscar's personality.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Febnyc » Wed Sep 16, 2009 3:41 pm

I sure do remember Oscar Levant's show - and the marvelous guests he was able to attract. Thanks for the reminder.

For a trip down memory lane - there are a couple of videos on YouTube of Fred Astaire's appearance on the show. They're marvelous - the quality is very poor, but the brilliance shines through.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGNih0TWAQs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzGe_o2OsH0

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Sep 16, 2009 3:58 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:That cruel Avedon picture had an agenda uncomplimentary to Avedon.
Yes, it was the cruelty of that photo that had Levant fixed in my mind for almost thirty years, Avedon loved the power he had and often used it in a very negative way...he taught me a few good tricks but we disagreed on how much reality a Photographer should show when doing portraiture...Bailey was the same...
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Wallingford » Wed Sep 16, 2009 5:42 pm

A&E Biography did a '98 show on him. I've still got it on VHS (recently transferred to DVD-R).
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Sep 16, 2009 7:02 pm

Chalkperson wrote: Bailey was the same...
Who? Who?
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by RebLem » Wed Sep 16, 2009 7:13 pm

lmpower wrote:It was mentioned that Levant was a guest on TV shows. I am surprised that nobody remembers that he had his own television program in the late 1950's. He appeared with his beautiful blond wife, June. It was obvious that he was a very sick man at that time. To call him neurotic would be an understatement. He could be very cruel to his wife on the air. The best part of the program was the high class guests. He would have folks like Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood and Romain Gary on the program. "A Smattering of Ignorance" was probably a good description of his knowledge. He was adept at dropping names. He once mentioned the name Rimbaud to Romain Gary. Gary responded "Le Bateau Ivre." Oscar seemed to draw a blank on that one. When he asked Gershwin why he always had to sleep in the top berth. Gershwin replied that was the difference between talent and genius. Another one of his memorable remarks was that Ravel was asexual. I don't know if that category is even recognized by Hollywood any longer. In spite of all of Oscar's flaws his show was one of the best on the air at that time. I thought that the pianist in "A Song to Remember" was Jose Iturbi. He was very big in Hollywood at that time. That was the movie that introduced me to classical music as a boy. Levant's performance in "An American in Paris" was outstanding. I recommend everyone see that film. It captured the true flavor of Oscar's personality.
Yes! As both an actor and a pianist.
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by ccar » Wed Sep 16, 2009 8:19 pm

To get a larger picture of Oscar Levant as a pianist there is a (still available) Pearl edition of American Columbia 1941-1947 recordings, with a wide range of small piano pieces - including Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovitch, Khachaturian and Jelobinsky.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Chalkperson » Wed Sep 16, 2009 9:07 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
Chalkperson wrote: Bailey was the same...
Who? Who?
David Bailey...when he first turned up in New York in the Early Sixties and started working for American Vogue, Avedon was ultra jealous, he called him (Irving) Penn without Ink...he was going out with Jean Shrimpton (The Shrimp) and worked closely with her and Twiggy, he, along with Donovan, Duffy, (Lord) Snowdon and (Lord) Lichfield was responsible for that whole Swinging London thing, he also Married Catherine Deneuve...we shared the same B+W Printer in London, I learned a lot from him, he was brutal, he got asked to Photograph Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders one day, she was in total awe because Bailey was THE 60's Photographer, his best friend was Mick Jagger and he's the photographer that Antonioni modeled Blow Up on, anyway, he took one look at Chrissie and said "Hey, Turkey Hands"...she burst into tears and fled...
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Lance » Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:28 pm

Here's a discography on Levant, both CD and LP, at least of items I have in my own collection. There is probably more but I have not yet discovered them:

CDs
•Sony 42514 - Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue w/Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy; Rhapsody #2 (Rhapsody in Rivets) w/Morton Gould Orchestra/Morton Gould; Concerto in F w/NYP/Kostelanetz; Variations on "I Got Rhythm w/Morton Gould Orchestra/Morton Gould; 3 solo Piano Preludes
•Sony 89326 [2 CDs] - Copland/Foss: Billy the Kid piano pieces (transcribed for piano)
•Sony 62750 - Cyril Scott: Lotus Land, Op. 47/1
•Guild 2256/57 [2 CDs] - Gershwin: Conceto in F w/NBC SO/Toscanini [Also on Hunt CD 534]
•Columbia/DRG - Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F w/NBC SO, A. Wallenstein, conductor + Levant's own piano solo compositions
•Nickson 032001-01 - Khachaturian: Piano Concerto w/NYP/Mitropoulos [from Columbia originals]
•North American Classics 4001 - 1937 Gershwin Memorial Concert, includes Levant at the piano
•Palladio 4132 - Anton Rubinstein: Piano Concerto #4 in D Minor w/NYP/Mitropoulos
•Pearl 0105 - Piano solo pieces by Poulenc, de Falla, Rachmaninoff, Jelobinsky, Shostakovich, Khachaturian (w/orchestra), Brahms, Chopin, and Debussy [all 1940s recordings for Columbia, from 78-rpm discs]

LPs
•Columbia CL-1134 - "Levant's Favourites"
•Odyssey 3216 0169 - Rubinstein: Piano Concerto #4 in D Minor w/NYP/Mitropoulos + Liszt solo piano pieces
•Columbia MS-7518 - Gershwin: 3 Piano Preludes
•Columbia CS-8641: Gershwin Piano Concert in F; An American in Paris; Rhapsody in Blue
•Columbia ML-4096: Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat Minor w/Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy
•Columbia ML-4277 - Levant Plays Debussy (solos)
•Columbia CL-740 - Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor w/NYP/Kurtz; Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat Minor w/Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy
•Columbia ML-5094 - Levant Plays Liszt (solos)
•Columbia ML-4288 - Khachaturian: Piano Concerto w/NYP/Mitropoulos
•Columbia Special Products P-14192 - Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor w/NYP/Kurta; Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat Minor w/Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy
•Columbia ML-5324 - "20th Century Piano Music" - Rachmaninoff, Scott, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Mompou, Ravel, and Debussy
•10" Columbia ML-2156 - Honegger: Concertino for Piano and Orchestra w/Columbia Symphony/Fritz Reiner
•Columbia ML-4147 - Chopin Recital
•Decca DL-9095 with singer Al Jolson

A great pity Sony has never reissued the Honegger Concertino for Piano and Orchestra with Fritz Reiner!
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Chalkperson » Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:26 am

I ordered the Pearl disc and the Gershwin on Sony...Rhapsody with Rivets, interesting title, I wonder what Gershwin would think of Michael Daucherty's Motor City Triptych... :wink:
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by stenka razin » Thu Sep 17, 2009 1:15 pm

Thisa is how outrageous Levant was on the air:

'Between 1958 and 1960, Levant hosted a television talk show on KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, The Oscar Levant Show, which later became syndicated. It featured his piano playing along with monologues and interviews with top-name guests such as Fred Astaire and Linus Pauling. A full recording of only one show is known to exist, that with Astaire, who paid to have a kinescope recording of the broadcast made, so that he could assess his performance. This is likely the only Astaire performance to have imperfections, as it was live, and Levant would repeatedly change the tempo of his accompaniment to Astaire's singing during the bridges between verses, which appeared to get him quite off balance at first. He did not dance, as the studio space was extremely small. The show was highly controversial, eventually being taken from the air after a comment about Marilyn Monroe's conversion to Judaism: "Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her". He later stated that he "hadn't meant it that way". Several months later, the show began to be broadcast in a slightly revised format—it was taped in order to provide a buffer for Levant's antics. This, however, failed to prevent Levant from making comments about Mae West's sex life that caused the show to be canceled for good. Levant was also a frequent guest on Jack Paar's talk show, prompting Paar in later years to sign off by saying, "Good night, Oscar Levant, wherever you are."'

I remember Oscar, all too well. That was Levant. Was he over top........ :wink: 8)
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by lmpower » Thu Sep 17, 2009 3:19 pm

I really enjoyed watching the show with Fred Astaire. Oscar was very much as I remembered him with the heavy smoking and wild sense of humor. There was nobody else like him. He was uncommonly nice to his wife that evening. They could have violent spats that ended with her walking off the set. It is amazing that they stayed married for 33 years. Another atypical thing about this broadcast was the amount of music. That was undoubtedly because of the guest that night. There were times when Oscar had to be coaxed to play and even refused. I would love to see one of his encounters with a more substantial guest such as Aldous Huxley. A program with no music at all was more characteristic of the show.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by MaestroDJS » Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:40 pm

In his autobiography Harpo Speaks, Harpo Marx recalled life with Oscar Levant in the late 1930s:
Harpo Marx wrote:For one year and one month Oscar Levant declared my house his house. He ate my food, played my piano, ran up my phone bills, burned cigarette holes in my landlady’s furniture, monopolized my record player and my coffee pot, gave his guests the run of the joint, insulted my guests, and never stopped complaining. He was an egomaniac. He was a leech and a lunatic — but I loved the guy.

When Oscar wasn’t brooding, he was doing everything at once. Like the time I came downstairs and saw him reading from a book on the piano rack while he was playing Bach and listening to a new recording of a Beethoven concerto. He would sing along with the Beethoven, then sing a couple of bars of Bach, then read a passage out loud from the book. He’d chuckle over what he had read, wince when he hit a clinker on the keyboard, and close his eyes in ecstasy over a lovely phrase on the record — all damn near simultaneously.

Other times I’d bust in while he was practicing and say, “Hey, Oscar! Here’s a buck. Play me some Chopin.” Oscar would cut short the Bach or Rachmaninoff or Gershwin or whatever else he was working on, and play one of my favorite Etudes or Nocturnes — all the way through, and beautifully. He never failed to do it for me. He never failed to take the dollar, either.

At sight-reading music he was a wizard, absolutely inhuman. One evening I had the Kapinsky Trio, a famous concert ensemble, in to play for my guests after dinner. Oscar had never done chamber music, but he couldn’t resist giving it a fling. After the first piece he took over at the piano. I thought: For once you’re going to make an ass of yourself, kiddo. Not Oscar. He sight-read through volumes of Mozart, Schubert and Brahms — music he had never read before, much of it music he had never heard before. His playing was concert perfect. Piano blended with violin and cello as if the three had performed together for years. Those of us in the room who knew Oscar were proud of him, and not altogether surprised. The members of the Kapinsky Trio were knocked for a loop. They’d never seen such a phenomenon.

Toward the end of our stay in New York I went with Oscar to Harms, the music publishers. While we were there a stranger came in. Oscar recognized the guy and greeted him with the sweetest, sincerest smile I’d ever seen him give to anybody. The man was Russian, from his accent. They talked a while, then Oscar asked the guy if he wouldn’t please play the first movement of his Second Piano Concerto. Oscar said he’d heard it a few times and liked it, but he’d never tackled it himself. The Russian was happy to oblige.

Halfway through a passage, he stopped playing. He’d forgotten his own concerto. Oscar was so impatient that he pushed the guy off the stool, took over at the piano, and finished the movement — without once faltering or faking. “Bravo!” said the guy who’d written it. “Extraordinary!”

Finally Oscar introduced me to him. He was Sergei Prokofiev.
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by John F » Fri Sep 18, 2009 12:12 am

Oscar Levant the talker and memoirist was irresistable. His books "A Smattering of Ignorance" and "The Memoirs of an Amnesiac" are great reads - you just can't stop. (I don't have "The Unimportance of Being Oscar," but I should.) But I don't think much of his uptight piano playing, at least on records, except for the Gershwin numbers for which he had a special feeling. I bought the Rubinstein concerto for the repertoire, which no one else had recorded back then, but when a Josef Hofmann aircheck appeared in the 1960s, out went Levant - there was just no comparison. And I certainly didn't need Tchaikovsky or Grieg from Oscar Levant when I could have Horowitz and Lipatti. RIP.
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Lance » Fri Sep 18, 2009 1:17 am

No question about Levant as a truly viable artist in comparison to so many others. Iturbi almost went the same way, given Hollywood opportunities, films, etc., though Iturbi was much more refined in just about everything he played.

I quite agree about Levant's Gershwin, however. He was a natural for this music, especially given the close connections with the Gershwin family. There is nothing, really, in Levant's repertoire that I would place on the top shelf in terms of interpretation in comparison to his many peers. I think he wanted to be the celebrated pianist but other aspects of his life and career made him famous to the masses.
John F wrote:Oscar Levant the talker and memoirist was irresistable. His books "A Smattering of Ignorance" and "The Memoirs of an Amnesiac" are great reads - you just can't stop. (I don't have "The Unimportance of Being Oscar," but I should.) But I don't think much of his uptight piano playing, at least on records, except for the Gershwin numbers for which he had a special feeling. I bought the Rubinstein concerto for the repertoire, which no one else had recorded back then, but when a Josef Hofmann aircheck appeared in the 1960s, out went Levant - there was just no comparison. And I certainly didn't need Tchaikovsky or Grieg from Oscar Levant when I could have Horowitz and Lipatti. RIP.
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______________________________________________________

When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by Corlyss_D » Fri Sep 18, 2009 3:40 am

Lance wrote:No question about Levant as a truly viable artist in comparison to so many others. Iturbi almost went the same way, given Hollywood opportunities, films, etc., though Iturbi was much more refined in just about everything he played.
The only other pianist whose recordings my mother, Gieseking's #1 American fan, ever owned.
Corlyss
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John F
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by John F » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:43 am

By the way, Levant also contributed music for "Charlie Chan at the Opera" - he says he wrote the opera, what we hear of it, at the studio's request. A pastiche in the style of Tchaikovsky, par for the course in 1930s Hollywood. He isn't named in the movie's credits, which list Samuel Kaylin as "musical director" and Charles Maxwell as orchestrator, but I should think that was at Levant's request. No, it's not on YouTube.

And speaking of the movies, I enjoy him as Gene Kelly's piano-playing sidekick in "An American in Paris." They indulged him with a 5-minute dream sequence playing part of the Gershwin concerto - and conducting it too, and playing xylophone in the orchestra, and the tam tam and timpani too, and more:



He was definitely in practice then, c. 1950.
John Francis

IN278S
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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by IN278S » Sat Sep 19, 2009 11:45 am

An album missing from Lance's list is MS 6276 (Chopin, Debussy, Ravel) which is Levant's only stereo record. It came out in 1962 but it was recorded in the same sessions as the 20th century album from 1958, so if the session reels are still in Sony's vault maybe that record could be reissued in stereo. (I've never heard the CD with the Cyril Scott item; is it in stereo there?)

There's a CD of saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft on the Clarinet Classics label which includes the English Columbia recordings made by Wiedoeft with Levant, who had come to England as W's accompanist and stayed around awhile after W left. Those were the first records with Levant's name on the label, but he had already made some records for Brunswick as a member of Ben Bernie's band. His first recording of Rhapsody in Blue was also on Brunswick, and I think that's been reissued by Naxos.

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by david gideon » Sun Sep 20, 2009 10:25 am

A pastiche in the style of Tchaikovsky, par for the course in 1930s Hollywood. He isn't named in the movie's credits, which list Samuel Kaylin as "musical director" and Charles Maxwell as orchestrator, but I should think that was at Levant's request.
I don't think it sounds much like Tchaikovsky at all. It is considerably more contemporary. If I had to compare it to another composer, maybe Prokofieff in spots. But not Tchaikovsky.

And I'm sorry but you are mistaken about the credits, which read:
Opera "Carnival" by OSCAR LEVANT
Libretto by WILLIAM KERNELL
Orchestrations by CHARLES MAXWELL
The credits run over an audio excerpt from "Carnival".

The music tracks from the film performance of Carnival were issued on a drg CD (along with other music by Gershwin and Levant): drg 13113
And it turns out there's video of what looks like the entire film here: http://video.tiscali.it/canali/truveo/1587515138.html.

dg

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by John F » Sun Sep 20, 2009 10:55 am

My source, the Internet Movie Database, gives no credit for the opera - thanks for providing proper credits, presumably from the movie? As for the Tchaikovsky reference, that was by Levant himself, I believe; don't believe I've ever seen the movie or heard the "opera" myself.
John Francis

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Re: Anybody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by arepo » Mon Sep 21, 2009 9:16 pm

MaestroDJS wrote:In his autobiography Harpo Speaks, Harpo Marx recalled life with Oscar Levant in the late 1930s:
Harpo Marx wrote:For one year and one month Oscar Levant declared my house his house. He ate my food, played my piano, ran up my phone bills, burned cigarette holes in my landlady’s furniture, monopolized my record player and my coffee pot, gave his guests the run of the joint, insulted my guests, and never stopped complaining. He was an egomaniac. He was a leech and a lunatic — but I loved the guy.

When Oscar wasn’t brooding, he was doing everything at once. Like the time I came downstairs and saw him reading from a book on the piano rack while he was playing Bach and listening to a new recording of a Beethoven concerto. He would sing along with the Beethoven, then sing a couple of bars of Bach, then read a passage out loud from the book. He’d chuckle over what he had read, wince when he hit a clinker on the keyboard, and close his eyes in ecstasy over a lovely phrase on the record — all damn near simultaneously.

Other times I’d bust in while he was practicing and say, “Hey, Oscar! Here’s a buck. Play me some Chopin.” Oscar would cut short the Bach or Rachmaninoff or Gershwin or whatever else he was working on, and play one of my favorite Etudes or Nocturnes — all the way through, and beautifully. He never failed to do it for me. He never failed to take the dollar, either.

At sight-reading music he was a wizard, absolutely inhuman. One evening I had the Kapinsky Trio, a famous concert ensemble, in to play for my guests after dinner. Oscar had never done chamber music, but he couldn’t resist giving it a fling. After the first piece he took over at the piano. I thought: For once you’re going to make an ass of yourself, kiddo. Not Oscar. He sight-read through volumes of Mozart, Schubert and Brahms — music he had never read before, much of it music he had never heard before. His playing was concert perfect. Piano blended with violin and cello as if the three had performed together for years. Those of us in the room who knew Oscar were proud of him, and not altogether surprised. The members of the Kapinsky Trio were knocked for a loop. They’d never seen such a phenomenon.

Toward the end of our stay in New York I went with Oscar to Harms, the music publishers. While we were there a stranger came in. Oscar recognized the guy and greeted him with the sweetest, sincerest smile I’d ever seen him give to anybody. The man was Russian, from his accent. They talked a while, then Oscar asked the guy if he wouldn’t please play the first movement of his Second Piano Concerto. Oscar said he’d heard it a few times and liked it, but he’d never tackled it himself. The Russian was happy to oblige.

Halfway through a passage, he stopped playing. He’d forgotten his own concerto. Oscar was so impatient that he pushed the guy off the stool, took over at the piano, and finished the movement — without once faltering or faking. “Bravo!” said the guy who’d written it. “Extraordinary!”

Finally Oscar introduced me to him. He was Sergei Prokofiev.
A priceless article. Thanks so much for posting it.

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Re: Any]"Gentlemen, Morebody know anything about Oscar Levant...

Post by NancyElla » Mon Sep 21, 2009 10:56 pm

Harry Ellis Dickson gives this recollection of Levant in his book "Gentlemen, More Dolce Please!": An Irreverent Memoir of Thirty Years in the Boston Symphony Orchestra:
It will probably come as a surprise to most people to hear that the music of Oscar Levant was once played by the Boston Symphony. In March, 1942, at a concert conducted by Richard Burgin, Levant was represented by two compositions, his "Overture" and "Dirge in Memory of George Gershwin." I do not remember the music, but I do remember meeting Levant after the performance in the conductor's room. After I was introduced to him and muttered the usual "bravo," he said to me, "Can I talk to you for a minute?" We went into the adjoining dressing room. I couldn't imagine what he wanted. We had never even met before. He came to the point immediately. "What did you think of those pieces?" he asked; and before I could answer, he continued, "Pretty lousy, huh?" I protested that one should never ask an orchestra musician's opinion about a new piece of music, for his is too involved in the mechanics of playing it, and besides, he cannot hear the over-all effect of the piece. "Then it was lousy?" he insisted.
"If you really want a humble opinion," I said, "I thought the "Dirge" was over-orchestrated. It seems to be a simple piece dressed up in too fancy clothes."
"Well," he said, "I wrote it for a very small orchestra, but blew it up for this performance. Pretty lousy, huh? Anyway, thanks a lot." And that ended our conversation and brief acquaintance.
"This is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great." --Willa Cather

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