Reader Poll: Electronic Debussy versus Original–Syrinx, Sunken Cathedral, & Snowflakes are Dancing

See poll at bottom to vote.

Today I’d like to present three pieces by Debussy that I heard for the first time after moving into the French House, at Indiana University, in 1975. The inhabitants of the French house included several language majors, a number of musicians, some journalism students, and a number of other interesting characters of various ethnic, sexual, national and racial groups. Our two story dorm shared a common area with the Spanish House, who for the most part seemed more interested in Latin culture than, us francophiles. However, I enjoyed the mix of people, being exposed for the first time in my life to such diversity. This is where I learned the value not just of simple demographic mix, but rather the value of including different perspectives, ideas, experiences into the dialogue of human interaction. It made for a rich environment.

Music in the 1970 ranged all over the place from the psychedelia of the Grateful Dead, the Disco of Donna Summers, the satiric almost Weil and Brecht-like political and social satire of Frank Zappa to the burgeoning nihilism of Punk Rock. There was also a lot of cross pollination and breaking down of genre-barriers. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and Weather Report were fusing Jazz and Rock and Funk and World Music. Rock bands like Kansas and Yes were considered classically inspired since they used violins and had classically trained musicians (Rick Wakemen, for example.) With the advent of cheaper and cheaper synthesizers, even Classical Music was pushing the envelope with artists like Tomita doing covers of Debussy. Tomita, a Japanese went almost even further than Walter/Wendy Carlos (of Switched on Bach), not only doing note for note covers of Debussy, but also creating soundscapes with these new instruments.

Tomita came out with an album entitled, Snowflakes are Dancing, in 1974 that contained Sunken Cathedral, Claire de Lune and Dancing Snowflakes. I wanted to do a side by side comparison of the original version with Tomita’s version and ask you which you preferred.

For some reason I had it in my mind that Tomita also did a cover of the piece for flute entitled Syrinx, but I cannot find it online.

After listening to the original and the Tomita Cover of these pieces, please answer a poll question on which you prefer. Thanks.

Sunken Cathedral (original)

Sunken Cathedral (Tomita)

Snowflakes are Dancing (original)

Snowflakes are Dancing (Tomita)

Here’s the original Syrinx. If someone can find an electronic version of it, please let me know.

Syrinx

Heres’s the poll:

Johann Sebastian Bach: “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage!” from Christmas Oratorio, BWV.248

In January of 1974, I started my second semester of college at Indiana University at South Bend. I thought that this was a holding pattern for me: while taking a light load there, I’d apply to some serious schools. Notre Dame accepted me and was only about five miles from my house, but I couldn’t afford the tuition–$1300 each semester, which was exorbitant back then. I was attracted by Wabash College, a small liberal arts college in central Indiana. It had two claims to fame: it was located in the town where General Lew Wallace (who wrote “Ben Hur”) lived, and secondly for one of its former professors, a one Ezra Pound.

On my visit to Wabash, I learned that you could only live a fraternity house. I visited one and was shown around by one of the “brothers” who proudly boasted of the keg parties they had. It was obvious that the student body were probably prouder of “Ben Hur” than The “Pisan Cantos,” so I decided not to go there after all. Instead I put in the paperwork to transfer to Bloomington in the Fall. On an interesting literary footnote, Ezra Pound had been booted out of Wabash College after he was discovered with a young woman in his room. Seems like that should have counted for something. When he left he had this to say about Indiana: “Gosh, I won’t be so hard on European decadence next times I seez it!”

The spring semester at Bloomington turned out to be more rigorous that I had expected. My History of Western Civilization professor could read Greek, Latin, and Arabic and also taught at Notre Dame, as did my English teacher. My French professor was a sassy old “belle laide” from France, who had a voice that was half Edit Piaf and half truck driver. I tried my hand at art by enrolling in a design course where I learned the basics of oil and acrylic painting, etching, and print making. Finally, I took group piano lessons with a flamboyant old Swedish man named Einar Krantz.

The main campus of Indiana University has a fine music school and for that reason the library in South Bend had a good collection of classical albums you could check out. I must have been on a Bach kick that semester, because for some reason, one of the pieces I remember checking out repeatedly was Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248. This oratorio consists of six cantatas, which were to be performed one a day until Epiphany. I particularly enjoyed the first cantata on the album, which is “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage!” The old, biblical German goes something like: “Rejoice and be happy on this precious day.”

This cantata starts out with one of those joyous baroque trumpet blasts, full of trills, which is punctuated by thunderous rolls on the tympani. This gives way to an incredibly complex fugue in which the various sections of the orchestra and choir, given completely different melodies and rhythms, weave in an out of each other in a truly glorious way. There follow seven more movements that are either recitatives for various voices or choruses. These are more pensive in nature. In the final movement of the cantata, Bach quickens the tempo, and gives us a stately, intricate triumphal march that praises the glory of God and the beloved baby Jesus.

Looking back, my fascination with this most Christian of Bach’s work at that time in my life works surprises me as you will see in a future post.

Bach Biography

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