31 December 2009
My mother enclosed an old wallet photo with this year’s Christmas card. Atypically, she did not record the date on the back of this one, but she reckons it dates from either Kindergarten or First Grade.
That may have been the last occasion on which I wore a butterfly sans black tie. The picture was not new to me, but I had not either seen it or thought on it for a looong time. And now, it made me think immediately of a young photo included in the Captain Beefheart release, Trout Mask Replica, of a young Don [van] Vliet (the photo would have been taken earlier than the van was adopted):
Not a stratospheric year, but a tolerably good year; here’s hoping 2010 is better still.
30 December 2009
2010 could turn out to be The Year of Musical Visition from Elsewhere. Ivan Moody is projecting a visit to Boston to deliver the paper “Arvo Pärt: Aspects of Spirituality, Music and Text in the 21st Century” — and I hope the visit may be timed to allow his attendance at the Sine Nomine performance of the Opus 92.
And in June, flutist/composer Nicole Randall Chamberlain (with whom the recent concert in Atlanta was such an assured triumph) will be coming to Boston with her husband Brian (a guitarist, and also a composer). There must be playing, I believe . . . .
Audio of the entire 17 November concert can be harkened unto at InstantEncore.
29 December 2009
Boulez conducts Schoenberg I (5 discs)The Stravinsky & al. set I found for an irresistable price (< $17 including shipping), so I keenly await its delivery.
CD1: Suite op.29, Verklärte Nacht (string sextet), Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra
CD2: Die Jakobsleiter, Chamber Symphony No. 1, Begleitmusik au einer Lichtspielszene
CD3: Serenade op.24, Five Pieces for Orchestra op.16, Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte
CD4: Die gluckliche hand, Variations op.31, Verklärte Nacht (string orchestra)
CD5: Erwartung, Pierrot Lunaire, Lied der Waldtaude
Boulez conducts Schoenberg II (6 discs)
CD1 & 2: Choral Works
CD3 & 4: Gurre-Lieder, Orchestral Songs op.22
CD5 & 6: Moses und Aron, Chamber Symphony No.2
Boulez conducts Stravinsky, Messiaen, Dukas, Falla (4 discs)
CD1: Stravinsky The Firebird Suite, Pulcinella Suite, Scherzo fantastique, Suites 1 & 2
CD2: Stravinsky Petrushka, The Rite of Spring
CD3: Messiaen: Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, Couleurs de la cité céleste, Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments
CD4: Dukas: La Peri, de Falla: The Three-Cornered Hat, Harpsichord Concerto
Two items, interest in which practically drives satisfaction for the price all on their own, are the de Falla Harpsichord Concerto (which has been only a name to me these long years), and Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, which I first heard live in Rochester, played by the Eastman School Wind Ensemble. Such a vivid impression did that performance make, that a CD I afterwards bought of the piece (some conductor other than Boulez) seemed colorless in comparison.
27 December 2009
1. Stravinsky, Le baiser de la fée, Scene ii, A Village Fête (LSO, Robt Craft) [29/1172]
2. Shostakovich, Symphony № 4 in c minor, Opus 43, movement iii.
(Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [939/1172]
3. Captain Beefheart, “Sugar and Spikes” from Trout Mask Replica [881/1172]
4. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “The Air” from Uncle Meat [973/1172]
5. Prokofiev, Marche, № 1 from Ten Pieces, Opus 12 (Eteri Andjaparidze) [962/1172]
6. Nielsen, Suite from Aladdin (Opus 34, FS 89), vii. Negro Dance (SFSO, Blomstedt) [145/1172]
7. Elgar, Elegy, Opus 58 (Hallé Orchestra, Barbirolli) [276/1172]
8. Prokofiev, Piano Concerto № 2 in g minor, Opus 16, ii. Scherzo (Béroff, Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [614/1172]
9. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act III Scene vi, № 38 Romeo and Juliet, Lento (BSO, Ozawa) [74/1172]
10. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act I Scene ii, № 9 Preparations for the Ball, Andante assai. Scherzo (BSO, Ozawa) [50/1172]
11. Genesis, “Anyway” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [154/1029]
12. Stravinsky, De elegia prima from Threni (Robt Craft conducting) [241/1172]
13. Stravinsky, Canticum sacrum ad honorem Sancti Marci nominis, ii. Euntes in
mundum (Westminster Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia, James O’Donnell) [185/1172]
14. Sibelius, Öinen ratsastus ja auringonnousu (Night-Ride & Sunrise), Opus 55 (LSO, Dorati) [565/1172]
15. Prokofiev, Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64, Act I Scene i, № 2 Romeo, Andante (BSO, Ozawa) [37/1172]
16. Shostakovich, Symphony № 6 in b minor, Opus 54, i. Largo (Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [738/1172]
17. Prokofiev, Cinderella, Opus 87, Act II, № 35 Duet of the Sisters with the Oranges (Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy) [116/1172]
18. Vaughan Williams, Dona nobis pacem, ii. “Beat! Beat! Drums!” (Atlanta Symphony Chorus, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robt Shaw) [261/1172]
19. Prokofiev, Le pas d’acier, Opus 41, Act I, Scene i, Matelot à bracelets et
ouvrière (Cologne West German Radio Symphony, M. Jurowski) [529/1172]
20. Vaughan Williams, Symphony № 5, ii. Romanza. Lento (London Philharmonic, Haitink) [397/1172]
Elliott Carter The “difficult” quiet American composer reached 100 years (in 2008) and gained celebrity. Now he says he's old enough to write “simpler stuff.” It’s never too late.
25 December 2009
“The top official in California’s Sonoma County has rescinded a ban on stars and angels on Christmas trees in county buildings”:
Public defender Barry Collins, who is Jewish, erected a Christmas tree adorned with a star in the lobby window of his office. He called the ban ridiculous and said his office’s mission was to represent those whose constitutional rights are infringed.
— An eighth-grader’s response to an initial hearing
of Elliott Carter’s Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretiam spei
All music — all art, all entertainment — requires empathy . . . .
— from the introduction to Jazz
(Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux)
I adamantly believe that rock in all of its forms is a critical problem which our civilization must get to grips with in some genuinely effective way, and without delay, if it wishes long to survive.
— curtain line to chapter 5, “Jazz and the Blues,”
from The Secret Power of Music (David Tame)
A tango is a sensual experience. Doing a tango with Al Pacino — I’ve never recovered.
— Gabrielle Anwar, recollecting work on Scent of a Woman
The tango is vertical rape.
— Astor Piazzolla
24 December 2009
23 December 2009
Overall, how do you think you can define “high art” (if it’s even possible in the first place)?
Over years I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that it’s not possible. There’s just too much blurring of the edges to be able to formulate a precise definition - and since philosophy hasn’t succeeded in producing an entirely satisfactory description even of what ‘art’ is, the notion of ‘high art’ gets dragged along into the general muddiness of that. Which all sounds rather unhopeful - and yet, curiously enough we find the term useful, and often we seem to understand each other when we use it. I'm reminded of the concept of ‘Reynolds number’ in physics. It’s a value you can calculate related to the flow of a fluid - a low value implies that the flow will be smooth, while a high value implies turbulence. It’s ever so rough and ready, and the boundary is terribly blurry, but even so it’s proved to be a useful way of talking about fluid flow.
The most useful (I don’t say ‘precise’ or ‘complete’) description of artistic activity I’ve encountered so far comes from Susanne Langer’s book Feeling and Form. She suggests that artistic activity involves the creation of ‘symbols of feeling’ - so the idea is that the artist makes these symbols (in paint, or music, or whatever), which we can then contemplate and, at least potentially, experience a similar feeling ourselves. If for the moment we take this as a starting point for a definition of art, then I suppose ‘high art’ or ‘fine art’ would involve the creation of an object whose primary purpose was entirely devoted to this process - that is, the communication of feeling, through symbols, to the viewer or listener. This distinquishes it broadly from craft-objects such as chairs and teapots, whose primary purpose (however beautifully they’re designed) is to assist in the process of sitting and tea-drinking.
And that all sounds well and good, until we start thinking about the blurry overlap areas - like the painting whose sole purpose is to decorate a room tastefully, to match the furniture; or a Morris chair which is best enjoyed as a piece of abstract sculpture because it’s so uncomfortable to sit on.
So I think we search for a rigid definition in vain, because the concept will always keep ducking out from under our grasp and spreading into awkward places. But we’ll still keep talking about it because it seems to be broadly useful despite its soap-in-the-bath ungraspability.
22 December 2009
“I did have one question, however: Is Frank Zappa Day just today? Or every Dec. 21 from now on?”
And, separately, from the Department of Confectionary Importation:
When I’m with you, I get a chocolate feeling . . . .
With an auspicious and a dropping eye,
With mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage,
In equal scale weighing delight and dole . . . .
Interrupting this festive season, comes word that “Annetta Gomez-Jefferson, a member of the faculty at The College of Wooster from 1974 until her retirement in 1995, died at her home in Wooster on Dec. 16.”
While I was at Wooster, Annetta was chairman of the Theatre Department (I can still hear her gravelly voice advising someone, “Don’t call me a chairwoman, and for God’s sake don’t call me a chair, either”). I was in the Music Department, and the occasion for our paths crossing was (predictably) an inter-departmental project, an ad hoc production of Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat (a modest affair which did not use the entire ensemble, instead employing the trio arrangement of the Suite). By chance I stumbled on a small group of people preparing to audition for the spoken roles, and on a whim I auditioned, myself. I was appointed to the title role.
Annetta remembered this little stage business a couple of years later when she was planning a Wooster production of Amadeus, and she felt that she wanted a musician to play the role of Salieri. As there would necessarily be dissatisfaction among the students actually majoring in Theatre, at someone outside the department being cast for so juicy a role, Annetta had a directing student of hers ‘groom’ me for the audition. I should never have made anything out of the role without Annetta’s patience, her active assistance, and her belief in what little stage talent I managed to evince.
I have too little to say of Annetta, apart from my gratitude for the short, sharp impact her warmth and professionalism had upon me at a formative stage. I know there are many students who worked with her longer-term, whose benefit from working with Annetta must have been several orders higher.
Also while I was at Wooster, Annetta produced Hamlet, not absolutely complete, but with fewer cuts than many another director might have opted for; and in full keeping with Wooster’s place as my alma mater, it was the first live production I had ever seen.
Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, Annetta.
Reunion concert ten years after:
According to the wikipedia article [ link ] the ‘old’ video was uploaded to youtube in 2006, receiving 10 million hits; and the CEO of Atlantic Records signed the group (Straight No Chaser) to a five-album contract.
The energy and wit of the arrangement not only recommend themselves, but (I confess) made it possible for me to consider the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas” without shuddering. Straight No Chaser’s is “an adaptation of Richard C. Gregory’s 1967 comic arrangement of the song for his Williston Caterwaulers” (wikipedia).
Yes, wheels are turning.
21 December 2009
1. Palestrina, Sanctus from Missa Aeterna Christi Munera (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly) [572/1029]
2. Prokofiev, Piano Concerto № 2 in g minor, Opus 16, i. Andantino – allegretto (Béroff, Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [291/1029]
3. Jethro Tull, “A Song for Jeffrey” from This Was Jethro Tull [23/1029]
4. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Project X” from Uncle Meat [539/1029]
5. Genesis, “Duchess” from Duke [207/1029]
6. Murat Işbilem, “Gülümcan” from Istanbul Lounge [256/1029]
7. Vaughan Williams, Symphony № 9 in e minor, iv. Andante tranquillo (London Phil, Haitink) [505/1029]
8. Prokofiev, Visions fugitives, № 15, Inquieto (Eteri Andjaparidze) [986/1029]
9. Genesis, “In the Rapids” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [769/1029]
10. Shostakovich, Symphony № 13 in b-flat minor (“Babi Yar”) Opus 113, ii. “In the Store” (Maksim Dmitriyevich, conducting) [606/1029]
11. Ravel, Les entretiens de la Belle et la Bête from Ma mère l’oye (Jean-Philippe Collard & Michel Béroff) [395/1029]
12. Prokofiev, L’entrée des personnages from Scene i. of Le pas d’acier (Cologne West German Radio Symphony, M. Jurowski) [508/1029]
13. Shostakovich, Cello Concerto № 1 in E-flat Major, Opus 107, iv. Allegro con moto (Jirí Bartá, Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich) [387/1029]
14. Frank Zappa, “The Deathless Horsie” from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. I [508/1029]
15. Stravinsky, Scene iv from Les noces (Robt Craft, conducting) [242/1029]
16. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Louie, Louie (At the Royal Albert Hall in London)” from Uncle Meat [450/1029]
17. Jethro Tull, “Bungle in the Jungle” from War Child [134/1029]
18. Shostakovich, Symphony № 14, Opus 135, vi. “Madame” (Maksim Dmitriyevich, conducting) [615/1029]
19. Frank Zappa, “Bamboozled by Love” from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. III [120/1029]
20. Prokofiev, Folk Dance from Act II, Scene iii of Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64 (BSO, Ozawa) [49/1029]
21. Stravinsky, Part II, Grande sacrifice from Le sacre du printemps (LSO, Doráti) [525/1029]
22. Beethoven, Symphony № 5 in c minor, Opus 67, iv. Allegro (Gewandhausorchester, Masur) [820/1029]
23. Mannheim Steamroller, “Veni, Veni” from some Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album or other [961/1029]
24. Prokofiev, The Nurse Delivers Juliet’s letter to Romeo, Act II, Scene i of Romeo & Juliet, Opus 64 (BSO, Ozawa) [51/1029]
25. Hindemith, Part I(a) of the Konzertmusik, Opus 50 for brass & strings (members of the Ny Phil, Bernstein) [415/1029]
A couple of Saturdays ago:
1. Zappa, “Thirteen” from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. VI [917/1029]
2. Vivaldi, Le quattro stagioni, La primavera, i. Allegro (Gidon Kremer, Kremerata Baltica) [693/1029]
3. Bartók, String Quartet № 1, Opus 7, Sz. 40, ii. Allegretto (Emerson String Quartet) [713/1029]
4. Alihan Samedov & Sadrettin Özçimi, “Two Breathe” from Istanbul Lounge [935/1029]
5. Stravinsky, Gloria from the Mass (Westminster Cathedral Choir, City of London Sinfonia,Jas O’Donnell) [249/1029]
6. Mannheim Steamroller, “Carol of the Birds” from some Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album or other [132/1029]
7. Jethro Tull, title track from Broadsword [132/1029]
8. Nielsen, Symphony № 6 (Sinfonia semplice), iii. Proposta seria (Adagio) (LSO, Ole Schmidt) [666/1029]
9. Tallis, Credo from Missa Salve intemerata (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly) [474/1029]
10. Piazzolla, Invierno porteño (Winter in Buenos Aires) (Pablo Mainetti, Orchestra of Lliure Theatre, Josep Pons) [838/1029]
11. Shostakovich, Prelude & fugue in e minor from the Opus 87 (Tatiana Nikolayeva) [389/1029]
1. Stravinsky, Requiem Canticles, V. Interlude (London Sinfonietta, Knussen)
2. Tallis, Agnus Dei from Missa Salve intemerata (Oxford Camerata, Summerly)
3. Shostakovich, “The Dragonfly & the Ant” from Two Fables of Krylov, Opus 4, № 1 (Tamara Sinyavskaya, mezzo; Cologne West German Radio Symphony; M. Jurowski)
4. Mehmet Cemal Yeşilçay, “Amak-ı Hayal” from Istanbul Lounge
5. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 7, Opus 108, ii. Lento (Emerson String Quartet)
6. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 11, Opus 122, iii. Recitativ (Emerson String Quartet)
7. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Louie, Louie (At the Royal Albert Hall in London)” from Uncle Meat
8. Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra, iii. Elegia (LSO, Doráti)
9. Shostakovich, Symphony № 14, Opus 135, ix. “O Delvig, Delvig!” (Mikhail Ryssov, bass; Prague Symphony; Maksim Dmitriyevich)
10. Zappa, “Purple Haze” from The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life
11. Prokofiev, Cinderella, Opus 87; № 48, The Prince Recognizes Cinderella (Cleveland Orchestra, Ashkenazy)
12. Shostakovich, Symphony № 6 in b minor, Opus 54, i. Largo (Prague Symphony, Maksim Dmitriyevich)
13. The Bonzo Dog Doo/Dah Band, “I’m Gonna Bring a Watermelon to My Girl Tonight” from Gorilla
14. Bartók, String Quartet № 4, Sz. 91, iv. Allegretto pizzicato (Emerson String Quartet)
15. Prokofiev, Finale, Le pas d’acier (Cologne West German Radio Symphony, M. Jurowski)
16. Shostakovich, “Presentiment” from Four Romances to Words of Pushkin, Opus 46 № 3 (Mikhail Lukonin, Baritone; Yuri Serov, Piano)
17. Stravinsky, De elegia prima from Threni (Robt Craft, conducting)
18. Genesis, “Duchess” from Duke
19. Tallis, Credo from Missa Aeterna Christi munera (Oxford Camerata, Jeremy Summerly)
20. The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” from Remain in Light
A more startling (in an entirely good way) jump from the earnest Largo which opens the Shostakovich Sixth, than “I’m Gonna Bring a Watermelon to My Girl Tonight” could hardly be designed. Thence to the Allegretto pizzicato of the Bartók is subtler, but still gratifyingly pendulum-like. Perhaps a more striking ‘discovery’ was the drum-machine intro to “Duchess” emerging out of Threni. (As tracked on the album, it is the beginning of “Duchess,” but I am apt to think of more as an interlude between “Between the Lines” and “Duchess,” the latter really beginning right on the line “Times were good.” Not that anyone asked.)
Obviously, “Once in a Lifetime” was a game-closer.
20 December 2009
The running time of the Ozawa / Berliner Philharmoniker recording, made November 1990, Berlin Jesus-Christus-Kirche (with Andreas Schmidt singing the Romance and Troika) is listed as 19'46.
The running time of the Abbado / Chicago Symphony recording, made February 1977, Chicago Orchestra Hall (with instrumental versions of II bis Romance and IV bis Troika) is listed as 19'35.
Both of those certainly seem within composerly intent.
A wikipedia article claims that durations of performances of the suite last “20–25 minutes.”
If there are really recordings of Prokofiev’s Opus 60 out there which run 25 minutes . . . .
(* shudder *)
19 December 2009
—“Peorgie” Tirebiter, in High School Madness,
as cited in Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers
See how architects of the mid-20th century put their stamps on everything from glass houses to airports.They might have put their stamp on everything; but in the plural, putting their stamps on things suggests postage and adhesive.
— Aw, not now, Mudhead! They need me at the last meeting of the Philatelists Club.
— I didn’t know you masturbated.
Seth Colter Walls writes:
It’s time, finally, to separate the question of “Is today’s jazz good?” from the question “Is today’s jazz popular?”If we substitute the broader category music for jazz there, we have a distinction between two questions whose argument has a respectable pedigree, indeed.
He also writes:
At the beginning of the 21st century, the economic status of jazz is more like that of the symphony orchestra, only without the economic safety net of foundation funding that undergirds concerts featuring Beethoven and Brahms.This strikes me as at least partly ill-advised on Mr Walls’ part; the matter is not black-&-white in the way this remark of his suggests. There are composers today in the “classical” idiom who do not benefit from that “economic safety net” any more than jazzers do. The flaws in the analogy obviously spring from the false “equation” of an entire musical style (jazz) with one type of performing ensemble (the symphony orchestra).
And, by the way, there must be fifty symphony orchestras in the United States who have played either the Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris in calendar year 2009; where the volume of music recently composed for orchestra, but which goes begging for performances, must be considerable. Some of us do not have the economic safety net of foundation funding that undergirds concerts featuring the music of Gershwin, either.
And now: the man who once said, Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny . . .
The only photos I see of this piece of public art, flatter neither the artist nor the subject depicted:
Another headline for this story reads: Bust of Frank Zappa to grace Baltimore library. Obviously an unusually nuanced use of the verb “grace” . . . .
It was a fractal experience.
Call came to reschedule (a second time) a low-stress gig. Chap was matey and apologetic, and realizing that this was a piece of revenue being apparently deferred into the next fiscal year, told me to come get the check already, anyway. It’s a wee bit of Christmas, a wee bit early.
Finally a couple of days properly off. No grand prospects, but a posy of light tasks that need attention. Find a clarinet part for The Snow Lay on the Ground. Scare up some of the clarinet-&-organ pieces. Make that long-overdue editorial excision to the score and parts of Moonrise, and send pdfs to Brett.
Snow may be coming in; but it’s the Saturday before Christmas, and there’s a party. Will the weather interfere with the need for merriment?
17 December 2009
I had meant to make note (with which the title would, erm, resonate) that I’ve been sluggish in getting back to the blog. But I was too sluggish even to carry out that meager intenton. And instead, it almost looks like ingratitude to the choir.
Word was very encouraging from Sine Nomine’s initial rehearsal of the Passion; the piece seems immediately to have struck a warm friendship with a critical mass of the singers. The director (with palpable relief in his voice) told me he frankly expected to need to work harder to ‘sell’ the piece to the group.
The Ghost of Typography Past paid a call. During preparation for the first performance of the Passion (in March 2008 – feels longer ago than it actually is, I suppose) I became aware (and yet failed to take due note) of a missing accidental in the alto line on p. 17. I cannot say that I completely forgot about that ‘yet-to-be-done’ item, and yet its memory was too insubstantial . . . when I was proofing the score for pre-press, I missed it. It’s mended now.
Rather a larger issue (if it be an issue) is the text; it is a new-ish translation, although intended for general use – so what of permissions there? The good news is, that I am not heavily invested in that particular text; the potentially less-good news is, there would be labor involved with swapping in a PD version of the Passion narrative.
One does what needs doing, of course.
Was delighted to meet a harpist this past week; and I’ve promised to send her Lost Waters, and even stars & guitars.
My virtual acquaintance Alan Davis kindly sent me an essay he once published, “Reading Ruskin Reading Blake,” and reading it last night was like a lamp lighting up. Now what I mean is this: the rooms in the house where you live have lights in them, and you know where they are (without thinking where they are), and you know how to switch them on at need (without thinking how to throw the switch). Alan’s essay is like a light in a room I thought I knew well, but it’s a new light, and yet the lamp has always been there.
Getting back to work on Discreet Erasures. Must think realistically of pace, and estimated completion.
16 December 2009
12 December 2009
Night before last, I was awake at half past midnight. Not wide awake, and yet awake in the dead of night, and not quite tired enough then to return promptly to sleep. There was Sibelius in the CD-player (pre-conk-out music had been the Seventh Symphony, played by the Helsinki Phil and Paavo Berglund — and yes, I listened through to the end), so I decided to play Tapiola.
There was no question of nodding off to that wonderful tone-poem, of course. It simply struck me as the perfect opportunity to listen to it with complete concentration — and that this act of concentration would then leave me in a place more readily conducive to a return to sleep.
I did remain alert for the entire piece; and it was the best I have ever listened to it.
I’ve been reading — devouring, really — Simon Morrison’s book, The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years. And so last night, where I should otherwise have been very well content to listen to some more Sibelius via Berglund, I was keen to revisit Prokofiev’s revised Fourth Symphony (Opus 112). Well, I was tired. And although the night before, I had stayed awake through the whole of Sibelius’s Seventh, last night I got to bed later, had less steam . . . I faded mid-Opus 112, and the last I remember being aware of was a patch of the first movement.
And unlike the Tapiola incident above, last night I slept straight through to eight of the morning clock.
Late this morning, I cued up the last movement of the Prokofiev Fourth. Maybe that seemingly trivial departure from routine has done the trick (for every time before I have listened to the Fourth, it was all four movements in dutiful order). It surprised me how good that fourth movement sounded. Well, the file is open again on the Opus 112, I see.
“I heard them the other day on WGBH trying to raise money, saying give, give, give. I just think they want people to give before they pull the rug out from under them.”
An illustration of the value of Name: the two weeks prior, Sir James Galway and Joshua Bell filled Symphony Hall with audience. For this concert, there were many empty seats; and yet, Frank Peter Zimmermann gave the most superlative performance of the three guest soloists.
07 December 2009
. . . and opinions varied widely. Some argued that when you’re stuck, it’s best to let go and move on; others said that details were the most important part so they must be obsessed over.But these two points can be harmonized (to some degree). Even if you feel strongly that measure 53 needs something, now may not be the time that you discover that something. Make note that you want to go back to that spot, and go on. You can still make your way to the final double-bar. The thing is, not to get into the habit of feeling that the inscription of that double-bar “means” that you’re done — i.e., it can mean that, or it may be that you need to go back and “fix” measure 53 . . . and because your musical attention has been fixed on other matters, you may be fresher for the task of “repairing” measure 53. The other music which you have composed for the rest of the piece, may “unlock” for you, the puzzle of what you need to do with measure 53.
06 December 2009
05 December 2009
Two pieces I’ve been obsessed with lately are the Chopin Barcarolle, Opus 60 and the Rakhmaninov Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Opus 42, both of whose opus numbers are multiples of 6, of course . . . but the shared phonemes of Corelli and Barcarolle are a surprise in their mesmeric powers.
Doubt I should have known the name Mesmer had it not been for Poe.
Tomorrow is the first performance of the new polyphonic anthem I’ve written for Paul, and I get to sing along. What could be sweeter?
04 December 2009
Ramuz, who worked with Stravinsky in Switzerland, and wrote the libretto for L’histoire du soldat, leaves us this picture postcard of the composer:
Stravinsky’s writing desk resembled a surgeon’s instrument tray; now the order which the surgeon there sets out is one last chance he gives himself in his struggle against death. The artist too (in his way) is engaged in a struggle with death. These bottles of different-colored inks, each in its hierarchical place, play small part in a grand affirmation of a superior order. They keep company with different sorts and shapes of rubber and every kind of glinting steel object: rulers, scrapers, knives, pens, not to mention that particular wheeled instrument which Stravinsky himself had invented for the drawing of staves. One may recall St Thomas’s definition” beauty is the splendor of order.In his notes, Stephen Walsh adds:
The “wheeled instrument” was the so called Stravigor — a several-sized wheeled stavewriter (rastrum), which Stravinsky had invented in about 1911 and had tried to patent through Nikolai Struve before the war. It figures first in his sketches for The Rite of Spring. Thereafter he usually drew his own staves on blank paper, filling in gaps at angles to avoid waste.
I’ve just read your review of the Ziloti concert in which Schoenberg conducted his Pelleas. I saw from what you wrote that you really like and understand the essence of Schoenberg—that truly outstanding artist of our time, and I therefore think that you would not be uninterested to know his latest work, wherein is most intensively displayed the whole extraordinary stamp of his creative genius. I’m talking about his [Pierrot Lunaire], which I recently heard in Berlin. Here’s something you “Contemporaries” ought to play! (Stravinsky writing to Karatygin, 26 Dec 1912)
At the theatre, Stravinsky was rehearsing Les noces. “I sat in the stalls with my score at the first rehearsal,” Monteux later recalled, “following every note. I had studied it thoroughly and I at once noticed that no one came in on time, chorus or soloists (Stravinsky at that time was not the conductor that he is today, having little or no experience with ensembles). The performance went through, and was a huge success with the Paris public, who always adored Stravinsky.” Monteux persuaded Diaghilev to give him a rehearsal of his own. “I worked with the chorus, who knew their parts perfectly; it suifficed to give them their cues at the right places. As for the soloists, they sang in any key and anywhere. They had to learn their parts. A few days after that rehearsal I had my first performance of Les noces. It went perfectly and I was satisfied, but it had not the scuccess as when conducted by the composer. C’est la vie! Ha ha!”
“Why do you change the rhythm so often?” somebody asks the composer. “Often?”—he is astonished. “I change it only when it is absolutely necessary.”
Assuming that a composer is at least entitled to like his themes (even though it may not be his duty to publish only what he himself likes), I dare say that I have shown here only melodies, themes, and sections from my works which I deemed to be good if not beautiful. Some of them were produced with ease; others required hard labor. Some are relatively simple; others are complicated. But one cannot pretend that the complicated ones required hard work or that the simple ones were always easily produced. Also, one cannot pretend that it makes any difference whether the examples derive from a spontaneous emotion or from a cerebral effort.
Unfortunately, there is no record that classic masters made much ado about the greater or lesser efforts needed for different tasks. Perhaps they wrote everything with the same ease, or, as one might suspect in the case of Beethoven, with the same great effort, as Beethoven’s sketch books prove.
But one thing seems clear: whether its final aspect is that of simplicity or of complexity, whether it was composed swiftly and easily or required hard work and much time, the finished work gives no indication of whether the emotional or cerebral constituents have been determinant.
It is necessary to remember that frequently the elaboration of unaccompanied themes and melodies in the examples I have shown required from three to seven sketches, while some of the contrapuntal sections were composed in a very short time.
It seems to me that I have anticipated the solution to this problem in the very beginning of this essay with the quotation from Balzac: “The heart must be within the domain of the head.”
It is not the heart alone which creates all that is beautiful, emotional, pathetic, affectionate, and charming; nor is it the brain alone which is able to produce the well-constructed, the soundly organized, the logical, and the complicated. First, everything of supreme value in art must show heart as well as brain. Second, the real creative genius has no difficulty in controlling his feelings mentally; nor must the brain produce only the dry and unappealing while concentrating on correctness and logic.
But one might become suspicious of the sincerity of works which incessantly exhibit their heart; which demand our pity; which invite us to dream with them of a vague and undefined beauty and of unfounded, baseless emotions; which exaggerate because of the absence of reliable yardsticks; whose simplicity is want, meagerness and dryness; whose sweetness is artificial and whose appeal attains only to the surface of the superficial. Such works only demonstrate the complete absence of a brain and show that this sentimentality has its origin in a very poor heart.
... When just drafted to a reserve company during the war, I, the conscript, who had had many a bad time, once found myself treated with striking mildness by a newly arrived sergeant. When he addressed me after we had drilled, I hoped I was going to be praised for my progress in all things military. There followed a blow to my soldierly keenness; surprisingly, the tribute was to my music. The sergeant, a tailor’s assistant in civil life, had recognized me, knew my career, many of my works, and so gave me still more pleasure than by praising my drill (even though I was not a little proud of that!). There were two other such meetings in Vienna: once when I had missed a train and had to spend the night in a hotel, and again when a taxi was taking me to a hotel. I was recognized the first time by the night porter, the other time by the taxi-driver, from the name on the label of the luggage. Both assured me enthusiastically that they had heard my Gurrelieder. Another time, in a hotel in Amsterdam, a hired man addressed me, saying that he was a long-standing admirer of my art; he had sung in the choir in the Gurrelieder when I conducted them in Leipzig. But the prettiest story last: a short while back, again in a hotel, the lift-man asked me whether it was I who had written Pierrot Lunaire. For he had heard it before the war (about 1912), at the first performance, and still had the sound of it in his ears, particularly of one piece where red jewels were mentioned (‘Rote fürstliche Rubine’). And he had heard at the time that musicians had no idea what to make of the piece — the sort of thing that was quite easy to understand nowadays.
It strikes me that I need not alter what I believe about the semi-ignorant, the expert judges; I may continue to think that they lack all power of intuition.
But whether I am really so unacceptable to the public as the expert judges always assert, and whether it is really so scared of my music — that often seems to me highly doubtful.
1. Robert Fripp, “NY3” from Exposure [508/1029]
2. Frank Zappa, “RDNZL” from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, vol. V [560/1029]
3. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Cruising for Burgers” from Uncle Meat [171/1029]
4. Vivaldi, ii. Largo from La primavera, Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica
5. Stravinsky, First scene from Orpheus (LSO, R. Craft) [517/1029]
6. Stravinsky, Diaphona I from Threni (The Philharmonia, Simon Joly Chorale, R. Craft) [195/1029]
7. Shostakovich, g# minor Prelude & Fugue from Opus 87 (Tatiana Nikolayeva) [1013/1029]
8. Henning, The Mousetrap, Opus 91 (Henning, cl; Peter Cama-Lekx, va) [484/1029]
9. Vivaldi, iii. Presto from L’estate, Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica [769/1029]
10. Prokofiev, Rencontre avec des camerades from L’enfant prodigue (Cologne Radio Symphony, M. Jurowski) [561/1029]
The sequential ‘discoveries’ resulting from this game are sometimes awesome (I use the adjective advisedly). The g# minor Shostakovich Prelude hard on the heels of that excerpt from Threni is wonderful . . . and I should never have tried any such thing deliberately.
Funny that “RDNZL” came up again, but then, I had interrupted the shuffle from last time, and the occasional repetition is under the umbrella of random, I suppose.
“NY3” is exactly what was needed at eight a.m., of course.
02 December 2009
To: Bill O'Connor, MFA Gift Shop
Re: Classical Music Suggestions
Per your suggestion, I have assembled a list of classical music compact discs which I think both suitable to and saleable in the Gift Shoppe.
I understand that part of what the process depends on, is availability and vendor(s), so I will be happy to amend this list going forward. Take it as a starting point.
1. Holst, The Planets / Britten, Sinfonia da requiem
Sir Simon Rattle, conducting
Label: EMI Classics
2. Dvořák, Symphony № 9, From the New World / Suite for Orchestra in A, American
Libor Pesek, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Label: EMI Classics
3. Mendelssohn, Piano Concertos
Kurt Masur, conductor / Cyprien Katsaris, piano
4. Eight Seasons (music of Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla)
Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica
5. Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians
6. Mozart, String Quintets
Amadeus Quartet & Cecil Aronowitz
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
7. Prokofiev, Cinderella, "Classical" Symphony
André Previn, conductor / London Symphony
Label: EMI Classics
8. Shostakovich, String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 7, 8 & 12
Label: EMI Classics
9. Saint-Saëns, Piano Concertos
Charles Dutoit, conductor / Pascal Rogé, piano
10. Joly Braga Santos, Concerto for Strings in D, Concerto for Violin, Cello, Strings & Harp, &c.
Álvaro Cassuto, conductor / Northern Sinfonia
Label: Marco Polo
11. Saint-Saëns, Danse macabre, Phaéton, "Organ" Symphony
Charles Dutoit, Edo de Waart, Paul Paray, conductors
Label: UMVD Labels
30 November 2009
1. “Gülümcan” (Murat İşbilen) from Istanbul Lounge [256/1029]
2. LvB, Symphony № 9 in D Minor, Opus 125, ii. Molto vivace (Kurt Masur, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig) [9/1029]
3. Genesis, “Duke’s Travels” from Duke [211/1029]
4. Shostakovich, Passacaglia (Intermezzo from Katerina Izmailova) (Mikhail Jurowski, Cologne Radio) [366/1029]
5. Ibert, Valencia from Escales (Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony) [301/1029]
6. Franz Zappa, “Montana (Whipping Post)” from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. II (The Helsinki Concert) [480/1029]
7. Jethro Tull, “A Song for Jeffrey” from This Was Jethro Tull [23/1029]
8. Piazzolla, Invierno porteño, arr. Lluís Vidal (Josep Pons, Orquesta da camara Teatro Lliure; with Pablo Mainetti, Bandoneón) [837/1029]
9. Frank Zappa & The Mothers, “Amnesia vivace” from Absolutely Free [101/1029]
10. Frank Zappa, “RDNZL” from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol. V [560/1029]
11. Stravinsky, Interlude, Moderato assai from Orpheus (Robt Craft, LSO) [370/1029]
12. Shostakovich, String Quartet № 6 in G Major, Opus 101, i. Allegro (Emerson String Quartet) [746/1029]
13. Bartók, Intermezzo interrotto from the Concerto for Orchestra (LSO) [372/1029]
14. Jethro Tull, “Bungle in the Jungle” from War Child [134/1029]
15. Ginastera, Los peones de hacienda from the Estancia Suite, Opus 8a (Josep Pons, Orquesta Ciudad de Granada)
Pretty cheap way to smile for an hour and a half, I call it.
Although we didn't stop to listen (opera via radio is one of those highly specialized experiences for which we find we need very much to be in the right frame of mind), Irina & I heard the synopsis of Act I, and the first couple of minutes of the Overture to a Houston Grand Opera production of a new work by André Previn, Brief Encounter. It may well be all right; and from what little I heard of the music, I might wish that I had had both the time cleared for such listening, and the steam so that I might have attended to the piece. (Opera I generally find much easier to devote full attention to, when in the actual theatre.)
All I can really do this morning as a compensatory gesture in Previn’s honor is, listen to his recording of Prokofiev’s Cinderella with the LSO (recorded in April 1983). Will Brief Encounter make it to Boston? Who would bring it here?
29 November 2009
Oxygen levels are getting yet more stringently reduced. It felt bad enough, that some radio stations had started the Christmas
But now, fewer than half the car radio presets are safe havens from Christmas schlock.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” can be a trial to endure singing them through; and sheer agony to endure listening to it. But the torture has risen to exquisitely sadistic heights in a reissue of a particularly insipid version sung by Frank Sinatra and sundry Sinatra offspring. This was really a dark corner of the studio vaults which should have been walled up after a jeroboam of Amontillado.
And yet, honestly, that is not the worst of it.
Is that not terrifying? Rum pa pum pum.
28 November 2009
Not a lot — call it a middling volume of detailed tweaks I’ve been applying to the score of the Opus 92 Passion, in preparing it for press over the past week. Not enough work to complain of, and in all events, the result is looking good.
Apologies to all the virtual friends to whom I promised discs. I will get to them, and yes, before the year is out.
One piece brand-new to me over which I enthuse is the Copland Organ Symphony. Our friend Ben knows why, though there is a timing reason why Ben doesn’t know (just yet).
Just landed (courtesy of Ben) is the Maazel/Cleveland recording of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet. More on this, later.
25 November 2009
“I have been here before,” I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were white with fool’s-parsley and meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer . . . .. . . first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago . . . I read this again, and then turned to the title page, on which I had inscribed the date when I first finished reading this volume: 10.ix.89 – a bit more than twenty years ago.
I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?There is probably some reason (maybe more than one) why I should re-read this. Waugh’s wicked satire has always amused me, but his more obviously satirical books are as fountains in a park, while Brideshead is a large, still lake. It is rich, it has an engaging yet not entirely comforting gravity, and when it is at its most charming, I feel almost a suspicion that I ought to weep. I’ve always enjoyed the book too well to bother with any screen adaptations of it, not that I have anything against Jeremy Irons. It is a romance, which I only now realize resonates with a book I came to half a decade later, Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance. Both books stir me with not-quite-governable musical impulses (though I don’t know that I shall write any resultant music related to either).
— Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.
But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.
— Can’t I?
I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.
— Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.
But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.
— But I do. That’s how I believe.
19 November 2009
17 November 2009
As a guest performer/composer, I richly enjoyed meeting with six composition students at Emory University yesterday. I talked a bit about Blue Shamrock before playing it. I was asked about the title. On one hand, I am sufficiently ‘out of practice’ in terms of explicating the titles of earlier pieces, that I almost just want the question to go away. But on t’other, here were students of my own craft, and part of the mystery of composition of which they are embarked on the study, is the ideas between title and music. I felt, then, that I owed them an answer, and (even) the right answer.
The shamrock part was easy, as the piece falls into three readily discernible sections, musically related, and even seamless, so relation to the modest three-petaled plant was obvious. But I wasn’t going to be let off that easy, and the question necessarily arose: Why blue?
Hadn’t thought about that in an age, but happily, I remembered (hurray for sometimes being able to think on one’s feet). The shamrock is normally green, but may it look blue? Both color and musical sounds are actual objects in the external world, yet quantifying how we perceive them, and comparing our personal experiences of them, can be problematic. Everyone unthinkingly knows grass to be green, and yet it sometimes appears a different shade (so that bluegrass is not merely a name for a musical genre, but has an origin in botany). And there are languages other than English where the speakers use their word blue for objects which in English we should describe as green. From one angle, green and blue are clearly different colors, yet there is not a firm ‘border’ between them.
Another aspect of the piece which I had not thought about for many years, but which came right back to me when asked, was a ‘scale’ I discovered . . . but I’ll leave that for another post.
Shortly, I have another workshop, this time at Georgia State; and my publisher tells me that I will receive as a gift a complimentary score for unaccompanied clarinet. An invitation to sight-read? Well, and why not?
And tonight, there is the recital, of course.
16 November 2009
15 November 2009
Thursday morning was such a blur, that (even though I have the poster taped to my cubicle wall) I had clean forgot about the fact that Paul Cienniwa would be playing the Three Short Pieces at the M.I.T. chapel that lunch-time. Happily, Paul thought to text me, and great was my joy at reading the message, and realizing that I could still make it over to Cambridge. There, I renewed and expanded an acquaintance with organist Leonardo Ciampa; and we two will get together to read some of my cl-&-org music in early December.
Later the same day, Paul played the same program in Fall River. He reports that it went well, and remarked of his astonishment that (apart from the all-inclusive applause at the end of the program), the audience applauded my modest Three Pieces the longest.
Happy to report the continuing renewal of musical partnership with organist Bill Goodwin; I will be a guest musician at First Congo in Woburn the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Response to the anthem-of-a-sudden, my five-part Tallis-esque setting of what is hopefully a public domain text by an obscure (unless you happen to be Unitarian) nineteenth-century minister, has been gratifying and immediate. It is on the slate for a 6 December ordination service.
Now, of course, to remove garments from the valise, hang them up, and rehearse Heedless Watermelon for its Atlanta debut.
Good flight, really. They gave me an extra packet of “mini pretzels” as consolation for when I asked for peanuts, and there were none.