31 January 2012

Just for the record

Progress on a Kyrie continues.

White Nights is not forgotten.

Despair is staved off for a season.

Wonderful, and wonderfully powerful, musical memories called forth by listening to some Tallis. And I really need to send the Passion off to Vegas.

At the close of the paragraph (not that any paragraph has here appeared), it’s all good.

BSO 21 Jan 2012

Chailly demurs, but the BSO rocks on:

[ link → review ]

30 January 2012

Valley of old-media references

That would be Billy Joel’s Glass Houses album. (No, I’m not throwing stones.) Before “Sometimes a Fantasy,” you hear a phone being dialed: you hear ten tones. So, those carefree days when, not only did you hit only ten buttons (even dialed is a throw-back term, yes?) in order to dial a number — but hitting ten buttons implied that you were dialling long distance.

And before “All Night Long,” that late-night-TV invocation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — those days before 24-hour, 400-channel cable TV . . . .

29 January 2012


“I’m the strange Dr Weird, and you’ve just entered the Vaults of Mindless Fellowship . . . .”

Finished watching, last night, the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring. So that I have now seen the entirety of the Peter Jackson trilogy.

Overall, my observations have remained consistent: I should not mind ways in which they modified the narrative for cinematic considerations, but the freedom which the screenwriters took to themselves, in playing fast and loose with the character of Tolkien’s dramatis personae, (a) resulted in gratuitous changes which were hardly ‘necessary’ for the movie(s), (b) made for weaker characters, and therefore for reduced power of the story and its arc, and (c) betrayed either a failure to have read and understood what Tolkien wrote, or a self-important disregard for what Tolkien, or both.

I suppose I do not necessarily lament the fact that the house at Crickhollow, and the episode of the Old Forest/Tom Bombadil/the barrow wight, were dropped. But one important aspect of the interlude at Crickhollow was, that Merry and Pippin joined in the quest knowingly and with assent. That got lost with Jackson’s decision to have the brace of young hobbits just stumble onto Frodo and Sam in the cornfield. In Tolkien’s narrative, Merry and Pippin were part comic foil, yes, but also informed participants, who mature along with (though at slower pace than) Frodo and Sam; and it means something when they are permitted by Elrond to complete the tale of nine for the Fellowship which sets out from Rivendell. Jackson reduces them to munchkins.

I’ve not yet made up my mind, yea or nay, about Jackson’s decision to show the narrative of Gandalf’s delay in (real-ish time) parallel with the hobbits’ journey to Rivendell. So put me down as considering the possibility that it’s all right. But, I wasn’t crazy about the written-in “duelling wizards” episode in Orthanc, for much the same reason that I wasn’t crazy about the “exorcism” fantasy imposed upon Théoden later on.

Similarly, not mad about the “evil-faced Bilbo” bit in Rivendell when the older hobbit glimpses the Ring on the chain around Frodo’s neck. Even less seemly (if that be possible) was Bilbo’s blubbering afterwards. It’s clear that the screenwriters have no sense of how they are dramatically altering the tone of Tolkien’s characters, because they have no better than a comic book concept of drama. They’re like kids who only work with stick figures, who have decided they are the ones to do a copy of a Titian.

One understands the arguments for making a fuller character in the movies of Arwen (who is off-stage for most of Tolkien’s narrative). But I think they ought to have been able to do that, without so radically rupturing Tolkien’s story of Aragorn and his path to the restoration of the unified Kingdom. Part of the collateral damage there (as I’ve observed before) is the diminution of Elrond . . . who just becomes a supporting actor in a Danielle-Steele-type love story where the two lovers are on pointedly different pages.

An equal but opposite horror, is how Saruman is made a much bigger cheese, practically a hand-in-glove lieutenant to the Dark Tower (where Tolkien’s story is much more nuanced, much more interesting). That the near-catastrophe on Caradhras is now attributed directly to Saruman is another instance of the screenwriters taking a rich narrative, and reducing it to two dimensions.

27 January 2012

Two choral songs from The Grauniad

“I believe in an America
where millions of Americans
believe in an America
that’s the America
millions of Americans
believe in.
“That’s the America I love.”
– – – –
“In an appalling departure from the norm,
this anthem has no text.
It remains unclear
if ever it had.
We apologize for any inconvenience
this anomaly may cause.
Have a nice day.”

On the eternal

As long as people have occasion to be annoyed with something or someone, Protest Songs will possess a feeling of immediacy.
Separately . . . I think I hear Sting singing, I hope Newts legs dont break, walking on the moon . . . .

25 January 2012

Just saying

My head-on-pillow listening of late has been Tallis, and I am finding myself strongly drawn to get a Kyrie setting started.
And a Sanctus.

The continuing downward spiral

Finished watching The Two Towers last night.
The screenwriters (all four of them, good gawd) treat the characters (small c) as marionettes, and obviously haven’t read the source books with attention, as their string-twitching antics, through all their narrative additions, embellishments, and curlicues, violates the characters’ Character (big C). I don’t see how Jackson justifies both striking material from Tolkien’s books (“there isn’t time”) and inserting numerous, lengthy abominations (the whole Danielle-Steele-style enlargement of the Aragorn-&-Arwen subplot, here monstrously morphed into a love triangle with Éowyn).
The entire tone of Faramir’s encounter with Frodo and Sam is marred, quite apart from the laughable insertion of schlepping the hobbits to Osgiliath. There seems almost no point in pointing out for the nth time that a character’s soul has been entirely made over, but let’s say it here for Faramir. The incident at the forbidden pool has been reduced to a cartoon (not the only instance in these movees).
Théoden (I’ll say again) has been horribly reduced in stature.
Oh! Another unnecessary and foot-shooting insertion: Aragorn falling off a cliff, dragged by the warg. As if Legolas and Gimli would just look down from the top, sigh, and go about their business – the walkers who together with Aragorn had tracked the hobbits clear across the Eastfold. Say it again: the screenwriters suffer either from irredeemably tin ears, or from poor reading comprehension, or both.
Another Oh, they couldnt be bothered to read the book theyre adapting, could they? moment was seeing – elves come to garrison Helm’s Deep. Just makes rags of the author’s idea of The Last Alliance, doesn’t it? Apart from that fatal incompatibility: elves joining in battle not with dúnedain but with the Rohirrim. One could forgive the occasional suggestion that the screenwriters just dont get it, but when they completely eviscerate the source novel so that all that is left is a pulp comic book . . . .
I mean, Frodo putting a sword to Sam’s throat, at that early point in the journey? It’s the Middle-Earth equivalent of idiocy in the script. And there you have it: that gauges the entire enterprise. They couldnt be bothered to understand the book they were being paid to adapt. Asses. Arrant, ham-fisted asses.

22 January 2012

Brilliant line . . .

. . . read in an informal on-line movie review:

Of course, the plot was full of holes, but it could have been so much worse.

20 January 2012

Wide-ranging shuffle

1. 10cc: "Oh, Effendi!" from Sheet Music
2. Jethro Tull: "Singing All Day" from Living in the Past
3. Sibelius: Symphony 6 in d minor, Op.104 – iii. Poco vivace (Helsinki Phil, Berglund)
4. Chas Mingus: "The chill of death" from Let My Children Hear Music
5. Shostakovich: Preludes & Fugues, Op.87 15 in Db (Nikolayeva)
6. Chick Corea: "El Bozo" Part III from My Spanish Heart
7. Béla Fleck: "Cheeseballs in Cowtown" from Tales from the Acoustic Planet
8. Beethoven: Symphony 3 in Eb, Op.55, Sinfonia eroica – iv. Finale (Leipziger Gewandhausorchest, Masur)
9. Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony, ii. Lento (London Phil, Haitink)
10. Piazzolla: Verano porteño (Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica, from Eight Seasons)
11. Mompou: Prelude VIII (the composer performing)
12. Dire Straits: "Love Over Gold" (live) from Sultans of Swing: The Best of Dire Straits
13. Piazzolla: Café 1930 from Histoire du Tango (Gidon Kremer &al. from Hommage à Piazzolla)
14. Bob Dylan & The Band: "Maggie's Farm" from The Basement Tapes
15. Haydn: Pf Trio in Ab, XV/14 – iv. Adagio (Van Swieten Trio)
16. Palestrina: Credo from Missa Papae Marcelli (Oxford Camerata, Summerly)
17. Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit, iii. Scarbo (Abbey Simon)
18. JS Bach: Duet in a minor, BWV805 (Helmut Walcha, hpschd)
19. Ginastera: String Quartet 1, Op.20 – iv. Allegramente rustico (Ensō Quartet)
20. Sibelius: Symphony 4 in a minor, Op.63 – iii. Il tempo largo (Helsinki Phil, Berglund)
21. JS Bach: Fugue in Ab from WTC Bk I (Sergei Schepkin, pf)
22. Chopin: Pf Concerto 1 in e minor, Op.11 – ii. Romance: Larghetto (Martha Argerich & friends, Lugano Festival 2009)
23. JS Bach: Suite 5 in c minor for cello solo, BWV1011 – iv. Sarabande (Pablo Casals)
24. Shostakovich: Vc Concerto 2, Op.126 – ii. Allegretto (Jiří Bárta, vc; Prague Symphony; Maksim Dmitriyevich)
25. The Bobs: "Free Fallin'" from Rhapsody in Bob
26. Prokofiev: Vn Concerto 1 in D, Op.19 – ii. Scherzo. Vivacissimo (Dmitri Sitkovetsky, vn; LSO; Colin Davis)

19 January 2012

BSO 7 Jan 2012

Lehninger steps up to the plate, Hardenberger engineers a triple play . . .

[ link → review ]

18 January 2012

A quattro

Worked a bit on the new quartet to-day. There will be kind of a noodly bit. There will be a harp & frame drum duo. The alto flute and clarinet will have a sustained spiralish bit. And there will be A Groove.

And furthermore

As Jackson stages it, Sam has no time to take the Ring from Frodo, whom he takes for dead: he hasn't freed any more than Frodo’s wan face from Shelob’s webbing. The effect, when Sam comes to rescue Frodo from the orc tower, and Frodo despairs — “They've taken everything, Sam!” — is of a cheap conjurer’s trick: Sam has got the Ring! Poof!

Okay, started watching The Two Towers, more balderdash.

Treebeard hastily (!!) mistaking the hobbits for orcs is jaw-droppingly wrong, on many levels.

That Éomer cannot assure Aragorn that there were none but orcs that his men killed, is more butchery on Jackson’s part.

That the scene of Gandalf restoring Théoden should be staged like an outtake from The Exorcist is appalling, a vile low even for Jackson.

Alas! so much to object to, already, and it feels like the movie has only just started…

17 January 2012

Return part 2

If Tolkien had meant for the names Sméagol and Déagol to rhyme with beagle, I cannot think why he should have troubled with the accented é. Then, too, it’s clear from the way in which Peter Jackson uses calligraphy in the movies, that heavy metal bands make subtler use of diacritics.
Okay, at last I watched disc 2 of the extended edition of The Return of the King. Quick back-of-the-envelope comments:
I don’t see Viggo Mortensen ever becoming Aragorn; he just acts like Viggo Mortensen. Part of the blame lies with Jackson’s “adaptation” of the character.
One problematic result of Jackson’s tin-eared invention of having Sméagol-Gollum drive a wedge between and Sam and Frodo: after Frodo has sent Sam packing (“Go home, Sam!”), the pass into Mordor which Frodo and Sam required Sméagol-Gollum as a guide in order to find – lo! Sam manages to find on his own, eh?
Since we lose the narrative voice which subtly characterizes Shelob, she is no longer a malevolent intelligence, but simply a 1950s sci-fi movie monster.
The movie fails entirely to convey the psychic weight that Frodo endures in carrying the Ring. Related to this loss is the fact that movie loses all sense of the latent power of the Ring in the taming of Sméagol. Indeed, Gollum seems hardly “tamed” at all, least of all when he screams “Sméagol lied!,” signal testimony to Jackson’s tone-deafness.
That becomes a particular loss on the approach to Sammath Naur. There’s no pitiable side, he’s all Gollum, not the Sméagol-Gollum which Tolkien created.
In Tolkien’s book, the Eye was a supernatural force. In the movie, it’s a sort of Bat Signal atop Barad-dûr.
Many incidents which in Tolkien’s narrative have poetry and nobility, become weird, brief SFX show-pieces in the movie. Such as Éowyn slaying the Lord of the Nazgûl.
Jackson does like to add inauthentic plummets, doesn’t he? First Saruman, and now Denethor.

16 January 2012

Genesis of a quartet

Had dinner with Paul C yesterday, lots of good news.

At the end of February, Paul will play the Three Short Pieces (again! — you see, modest as these pieces are, wonderful that here’s an organist who keeps them in his repertory).

And he will have the ladies of the FCB choir sing the SSA version of the Alleluia in D.

We talked a bit about Sine Nomine (the choir who did such a splendid job with the Passion) . . . not news from last night, but Sine have settled on what they want to do (what they do best) which is High Renaissance . . . no particular plans for a return to the Passion, then (though you know that the conposer is apt to keep the hope alive, even on subsistence rations). But, says I to Paul, “A couple of weeks ago I had an idea of asking you if I could write a short anthem for Sine.” Could happen — or, even, will happen, just a matter of timing.

To the end of bringing stars & guitars back to the public . . . this Wednesday past I rang Peter H Bloom, and in the very nick of time: he took the call at the airport (he was about to fly back to Boston) — so, yes, we two spoke at the last moment before he becomes incommunicado over the flight. He said that he is glad to be on board for the revival of stars & guitars. (Yes, this is a most fortunate composer.) Timing is extraordinarily good . . . he and Mary Jane Rupert will be on tour from 26 February to 4 April (and then traveling again somethng like 11-15 April) . . . so (a) they are available for a 17 Apr concert date in The Town of the Pulse, and (b) they will be in mid-season form.

I then called Mary Jane, and I left voice-mail — and she got right back to me. She’s on board, too.

And, for the new quartet to be, Dan Meyers has also returned to me . . . and so Henningmusick will ride again.

15 January 2012

Who can knock spots off Yehudi Menuhin?

Why, Mr Eric Morecambe, that’s who.

“You seem to doubt my musical prowess.”

“I’ll go get my baton. It’s in Chicago.”

“I’ve seen better bands on a cigar.”

“The one we played before we went decimal.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, Grieg’s Piano Concerto by Grieg . . . .”

13 January 2012

This can be no coincidence

The musical instrument motif certainly waxed strong in this (’68-’69) season of The Avengers.  Last night I watched “Take Me to Your Leader” (an episode that comes in for especial vilification at certain websites, but no matter), which featured a chap with a clarinet rigged with a knife (I should like to see the mechanism for that prop . . . or maybe it was done with cuts [in the editing]), Tara playing (miming, of course, but decently) a bluesy trumpet lick, and Steed not at all succeeding in making anything like a sound out of a euphonium (when Tara tasks him with the fact that she’s seen one in his flat, he explains that it’s for holding flowers – brasswind-playing friends of mine, you didn’t just read that).
Of the three Tara King episodes I’ve seen thus far (and quite apart from all the musical bits/references) I actually like this one best.  I suppose I shall need to watch more . . . .

12 January 2012


I think I've invented a new vice: binge counterpoint.

Gears slowly turning

A curious chain reaction sprang from a misprision. Our own Dana, the chappie who boldly commissioned, and yet more bravely premièred, the Viola Sonata, mistook me when I mentioned a quartet in my Facebook status.  Reminded me, though, that I promised a cellist that I would send something, and that the something I had in mind is a string quartet adaptation of the cello ensemble suite, It’s all in your head (not that that’s a bad place for everything to be); I think, actually, that it should fit a conventional quartet quite readily . . . just need to do the puttering in Sibelius.
A pianist/harpsichordist now in New York, whom I met when we were both choristers at St Paul’s, has responded with mild interest to my suggestion of Lunar Glare. He’ll be in Boston in a couple of months, so we’ll see what he thinks then.
And . . . now plotting the return of Henningmusick to Atlanta.

11 January 2012

Time to Write

Not too early to think of April, really.
Shh, don’t tell them yet, but I am hoping that I might prevail upon a certain flute-&-harp duo to revive stars & guitars for the King’s Chapel concert.
I should like to give How to Tell (Chasing the Tail of Nothing) another go, but – if we can get stars & guitars back on the slate, that’s a solid 20 minutes, and the King’s Chapel program must be kept to a disciplined half an hour: ergo, no capacity for the 11-minute How to Tell.
The solution, I am thinking, is a new 7-minute piece for flute, clarinet, harp & frame drum, latest whispers.
All right, let’s coordinate our calendars now . . . .

Wondering, in an off-hand way

. . . who might have been the first to substitute -no- for the second syllable of dynamite.

10 January 2012

Steed & Co.

Chances are, that back when I first saw any of the episodes of The Avengers, I saw some each of Mrs Peel and of Tara King.

Nowadays, I've re-settled into the show, first, via The Emma Peel Mega-Set. Over quite a gradual period, I much enjoyed digesting all those episodes. And I am only now re-visiting Tara King in the show . . . not very scientifically, either. I've hopped in at the middle of the sixth series. It wouldn't be fair to judge an entire series based on one episode – so this is not a sweeping judgment, just an initial response to the first two episodes of this revisitation.

The tone of the show has changed quite a bit. First I watched "Wish You Were Here," something of a camp homage to The Prisoner. Basil is rather a doofus; hard to imagine him at all in any episode with Mrs Peel. And – he nearly manages to escape! That he should come at all that close to escape (and so casually) is of course a stretch from the 'source' . . . but he is caught by the daftest of ruses (not, indeed, that any character in The Avengers has anything like the steely purpose of 6). Quite a bit of the action, actually, strikes me as uncomfortably Keystone-Cops-ish.

Still not sure quite what I think about Mother (who cuts a very different figure as I watch him now, compared to when I was a teenager).

"Wish You Were Here" may well have been meant as a light-hearted caprice, to be sure. "Stay Tuned" is altogether darker-hued; here I probably meet Father for the very first time in my own viewing history of the show. At the end, it is not at all clear how Steed solved his puzzle (nor indeed how he could have solved it). So in these episodes, at least, willing suspension is stretched a bit more.

With Tara King, there are camera shots which exaggeratedly exult in what we shall call her profile; costuming, too – half-open jackets which extend the outline of her prow. I bestow upon this editorial decision neither my blessing nor my curse; I only observe that there's been a change.

Observation will continue, to be sure.

09 January 2012

An Avenging Brasswind

(Just saw a euphonium in Steed’s apartment, that’s all.)

08 January 2012

You rang?

Google honors the centenary of Chas Addams.

Although I did not suit the deputy

. . . I sought the serif. (Gary Barwin talks about a club to which neither of us belongs.)

[Disclosure: I have played music of Gary’s, and Gary has played music of mine.]

07 January 2012

Haydn, and the Zeal of the Poodle

Our man in Texas relays an anecdote about “Papa.” He tells that he found it at a poodle lover’s website.

“The Clever and Zealous Poodle”

“The great Austrian composer, Franz Joseph Haydn, composed a piece of music about a poodle. In 1780, a military officer’s daughter from the German town of Coburg wrote a letter to Papa Haydn, as the beloved composer was popularly known. (Coburg is now part of Bavaria, but then, it was the capital of the small duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. One later member of the ruling family was Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. His descendants changed the family name to Windsor, in reaction to anti-German feeling among the British people fostered by World War I.)

“In the young woman’s letter, she told Papa Haydn how she and her lover, a young Captain, together with his Pudel and another friend, had taken a walk. The Captain had praised his dog’s talents and offered a bet that the dog would be able to find a Thaler (a silver coin of some value, from which the English word dollar is derived) that he would hide under a bush. The friend accepted the wager. When the dog was not looking, the Captain hid the Thaler. Everybody then returned home. The captain then said to his poodle, ‘Search, lost.’ The dog took off immediately along the path where the party had taken their walk.

“In the meantime, by happenstance, a tailor, who was on a journey, had sat down in the shadow of the bush under which the Captain had hidden the Thaler. When the tailor saw the Thaler, he picked it up, and put it in his pocket. Soon thereafter, the Pudel arrived at the scene, smelled the Thaler in the man’s pocket, and flattered the tailor. The tailor, delighted at having found within an hour both a Thaler and a fine Pudel, took the dog with him to his lodging in town. The Pudel watched over the tailor the whole night. But early in the morning, when the door to the room was opened, he snuck out with the tailor’s trousers and brought them, with the Thaler still in the pocket, to his true master.

“This little adventure was set in verse with the title, ‘Der schlaue und dienstfertige Pudel’ (The Clever and Zealous Poodle). In her letter, the young woman asked Papa Haydn to set the verses to music. She described her limited financial means, and said that she had heard high praises of the composer’s good heart. So, she wrote, she hoped that he would accept the Ducat (another coin) that she had enclosed, as payment for the musical composition. Haydn immediately composed the music, and sent both the manuscript and the Ducat back to the young woman, along with a letter of explanation. Haydn wrote that he did not want the young woman to think that he would only use his talent for monetary compensation, especially for someone as charming as she. So, he asked for a pair of knit garters instead. The ribbons in red and white silk with a painted garland of forget-me-nots arrived a while later, and Papa Haydn preserved them carefully amongst his other treasured


Not at all unusually (for a composer, especially), I exult in seeking out music which I’ve never yet heard, to listen to: keeps the ears supple. And honestly, I just find that it is great fun.

So what has been “new” this week?

Ginastera’s two cello concerti, which sound both wonderfully his own, and as if he picked up where the second Shostakovich cello concerto left off.

The last four of the Op.4 La Stravaganza concerti of Vivaldi’s (I had started listening to the set late last year). In a nutshell: there's more where Le quattro stagioni came from.

Making my (very) gradual way through all the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.

The Opp. 4, 8 & 14 Романсы (songs) of Rakhmaninov. The Op.4 songs were written when the composer was from ages 17 to 20 or 21, yet they are entirely finished, and his mature style is right in there.

And a “new” performance of a piece I’ve long known: Maurizio Pollini playing Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata, Op.83. Revelatory.

And the year hath but begun . . . .

Only Not Matilda

Not really newyearsly, but my viewing the first day or so of 2012 included 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its famous “space ballet” employing The Beautiful Blue Danube waltzes, and Hitchock’s Suspicion, which (I don’t think I realized before) makes nice use of Wiener Blut. So I feel that I did get my traditional annual fill of seasonal dance music.

05 January 2012

Delayed diacritical critique

Sometime last year (may well have been long ago last year) I was in a shopping mall, and there was a kiosk with a shop name which I do not remember.
What I remember, though, is that the shop name was faux French, and that it was a perfect example of where an accent aigu does not belong.  If you are a French speaker and have tears, prepare to shed them now. May have been something like “Lé Parfum.”
Well, I pulled out my Droid to take a photo which I was going to post on Facebook.  But a security guard gent at the mall denied me permission to take a photo of the mall interior.  I made no fuss.
Why I’ve remembered this to-day of all days, I’ve not the foggiest.

01 January 2012

Hello 2012

No earth-shaking blog post to start, to be sure.

A rum thing, but it seems I can never have watched Die Hard properly, really, if I never realized the use it makes of the finale to the Opus 125, can I have?

At long last, I’ve watched Planes, Trains & Automobiles — in its entirety, I mean. Of course, I’ve seen clips, even longish stretches, over the years . . . never the whole thing from start to finish. The result (which does not really surprise me, though still preserves me in the virtue of Humility): a much better movie than I had ever given it credit for.

Spending a very mellow New Year’s Day (although I did get out for an hour’s walk). Much of the light listening I have done so far in this tender new year has been Federico Mompou’s own recording of his exquisite Música callada, that quiet masterpiece which has fixed me with its glittering eye.