June 20 birthday of compser, Infernal Galop.

I’m sure everyone has heard this piece, which is often referred to as Can-Can. It comes from Offenbach’s melodrama/operetta, “Orpheus in the Underworld.” It’s based on the ancient Greek myth in which Pluto, god of the underworld, captures Eurydice and takes her down to Hades. When she realizes she is dead, she sings “La mort m’apparaît souriante,” which roughly translated means, considering the context, “Death ain’t so bad when you’re married to a god.” The Galop is a dance conducted for the God, Jupiter, who’s bored at a party, and it succeeds in livening things up.

In 7th grade, my best friend and partner in comedy, Kerry Wade, sang a parody of the Galop to its melody. It went:

“Can-can, yes I can, I can-can, yes I can, I can-can, yes I can,
I know I really can, can-can, yes I can.” Repeat until laughter overwhelms you.

Here’s the full overture.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Offenbach

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Born today, June 19: Alfredo Catalani. “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana.”

I haven’t heard this piece since around 1984, when it was used in a French, nouveau noir, film called “Diva.” That film was the first time I’ll bet many Americans first heard it as well. It comes from the 1892 opera, “La Wally,” by Alfredo Catalani, born today June 19, 1854. I remember it grabbing people’s attention at that time, kind of like happened with the the 3rd movement from Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. La Wally is the heroine of the opera and the aria, “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana,” which means, “So that’s how it is, eh? I’m going to blow this popcorn stand.” Wally falls in love with her father’s rival. Dad is so angry, he makes her marry another guy. Later the son of the rival insults her, whom she tells her husband to murder. The husband tries to murder the other guy unsuccessfully and Wally has a change of heart. She goes to kill herself on a mountain, and the other guy finds her and declares his love. He starts back down the mountain and calls back for her to follow, but his words set off an avalanche, which sweeps him away. Seeing this happen to her lover, La Wally jumps into the avalanche and thus to her death. The opera isn’t performed all that often because of the difficulty of simulating the avalanche on stage. This aria, however, is still popular, which is part of the plot of “Diva.”

Music For Easter

Happy Easter. Even if you aren’t a believer, there is something wonderful and redemptive and renewing about the spring.


Bach: Easter, Mass in B minor



Bach’s Easter Oratorio: Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4



Mahler – Symphony No 2, Resurrection



Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus–Beethoven
Oratorio: Christ on the Mount of Olives–Hallelujah


Happy Saint Valentine’s Day

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I wanted to post these three excerpts that capture exquisitely (for me) the transcendent and healing power of love.  They are Carl Orff, “Amor Volat Undique,” “Stetit Puella” and “Dulcissime” from Carmina Burana.

Amor Volat Unique (Love Flies Everywhere)

“If a girl lacks a man
she misses all delight;
darkest night is at the bottom
of her heart.
This is the bitterest fate.

Stetit Puella (There Stood A Girl)

There stood a maid
in a red tunic;
when it was touched
the tunic rustled.
Ai!

There stood a girl,
like a rose;
her face was radiant;
her mouth bloomed.
Ai!

Dulcissime (The Sweetest Boy)

Sweetest one! Ah!
I give myself to you totally!

While reading about Carmina Burana today, I found out that Orff intended it to be performed with choreography, dance, interesting design and other stage action.  In 2009, I attended the 40th anniversary of the Oregon Country Fair.  This event was started in 1969 by Ken Kesey’s  Merry Pranksters, and runs for three days in a wilderness area of the Willamette Valley, outside of Eugene.  At this gathering of the heirs of the 1960s counter culture, 45,000 people come, many in costume, to spend three days listening to music, browsing booths where craftspeople sell their hand-made items, watching and performing music, getting massages, eating organic food, and generally being mellow.  As a stodgy, up-tight, 54 year-old guy from Washington DC, I was sucked in by the freedom and loving  atmosphere.

Here is an account written by one of the performers.

The last concert of the weekend took place in a large field at one of which was a large bandshell.  All weekend I’d listened to music of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, and folk and 60s rock and psychedelic traditions. So I was pleased to see the culminating event was to be a performance of Carmina Burana accompanied by a “Fire Choir.”  This was a group of volunteer musicians, actors, singers, acrobats and fire handlers.  It sounds a bit odd, but it turned out to be a really good musical performance (some of the vocal parts are notoriously hard to sing), and the performance at sunset with the fire handlers was, to use a 1960s term, groovy.  Here are two clips.

[Youtube=”https://youtu.be/e0nR0ZBJ_Pw”%5D

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Respighi: Six Pieces for Solo Piano (Scherbakov)

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve not paid much attention to the work of Ottorino Respighi. Oh, I know he wrote “The Pines of Rome,” and “The Fountains of Rome,” and “Festivals of Rome.” For godssake, I even lived in Rome and have seen the pines, some festivals and hundreds of fountains. But if you asked me to hum something from one of these piece, I’d be hard-pressed.
Not that I haven’t heard them like, a thousand times, since they used to get played again and again on the local classical radio channels, especially on the call-in request shows.


If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? If Respighi plays in the background, did I actually hear it? He was 17 years younger than Debussy, and I tend to pigeon-hole him either in the Impressionist school, or maybe as an anachronism like Rachmaninoff–poised between Romantic and Cubist or Atonal music.


He was first noted for his violin and viola virtuosity, playing in string quartets as as principle violist in St. Petersburg, with the Russian Imperial Theatre. While in Russia he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, and later, living in Germany, reportedly studied with Max Bruch.


Returning to Rome, he taught composition at the St. Cecilia Conservatory, where he managed to weather the Mussolini years trying to remain a-political though he did promote his music for nationalistic purposes. At the same time, he championed more vocal critics of fascism like Aurturo Toscanini.


Today, I’m posting something I stumbled upon while surfing youtube. It’s six pieces for solo piano. From Wikipedia, I see that he wrote operas, ballets, symphonic works, quite a few chamber pieces. His list of works does not include any works for piano, so maybe I should update the Wikipedia entry. Do any of you know anything about his piano works that you can steer me to?


Here’s a piano sonata I just found.

Brahms, Dvorak, Mahler, the Byrds and Buddhas

There is a Theosophist saying (sometimes attributed to Buddha) that goes, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” The origin of the word Buddha means “to wake up” and people think of the Buddha as a great teacher. And what is a great teacher but someone who wakes you up? Why this is important to me is because, whenever I most needed it, a person has appeared in my life to either teach me or point me in the right direction. There have been three outstanding Buddha’s in my life.

In my junior year of high school, I became good friends with a classmate whose family was completely different from my own. They all listened to classical music, read The New Yorker, discussed classic works of literature, and studied languages. That’s where I first heard this Brahms trio:

They opened up a whole other world for me. I felt so uncultured in their presence that I devoted myself to turning myself into an “intellectual.” I read voraciously, bought tons of classical music, and studied the works of great artists.

This became a problem, though, when it came time to go to college. My three older brothers had gone to a state university that had good math and science programs and it was expected that I go there. What’s more my father was convinced that computer science was the wave of the future, so that’s what I declared as my major. I was profoundly unhappy. It seemed so dull compared to the world of art and literature I had come to love. That is when the first Buddha showed up.

One day after my biology class, the teacher singled me out from a lecture hall of over two hundred students and asked me to come to talk with him. He listened to me as I explained my dreams, ideas, and dissatisfaction. Then he told me that I had to look really hard into myself to find my true desires and then follow them. I was listening to a lot of Dvorak at the time.

At the end of the semester, I transferred to a liberal arts university and went on to major in French and then got a masters degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

That degree took me to Algeria in 1980, where I taught English at a technical institute. There I met another Buddha. The school provided me with an apartment, which I shared with a fellow ex-patriot from Michigan. He had lived there for several years and had figured out all the tricks to survive in a bureaucratic socialist country. He loved this Byrd’s album, which is a classic as it’s probably from the first country rock album.

From him, I learned how to be self sufficient, but he gave me another gift as well. One day, he told me that the Fulbright foundation was offering scholarships to do teacher training in English as a Second language in Italy. He knew of my love of Italian movies and told me to apply.

I applied–and won! For the next two years, I lived first in Naples and then in Rome and traveled extensively throughout the south of Italy. In Naples I met a woman, who was teaching English at the British council, whom I convinced to marry me. When my two years were over, we returned to the States and after getting another masters degree in educational technology, I ended up Washington, DC developing training programs in the late 1980s for a large development organization to teach people how to use an amazing new technology–email! I wonder if it was coincidence that I started listening to minimalist music like this piece by John Adams:

The organization had just started a fitness center.  After 10 years, I read an announcement in an email that came round about a new session of Tai Chi for beginners that would soon be starting. Something told me to go. There I met a remarkable man, master Quyen Tran, who had been teaching the class for some 10 years. Mr. Tran comes from Vietnam, and though one of the most important financial analysts at the our organization, he was a very humble and unassuming man. His teaching technique was as old as the hills–you follow a master, learn by doing, observing, and practicing. It is a type of teaching which has almost died out in the West, except in some of the trades. Once upon a time, this is how all knowledge was passed down. Not only is it a transfer of knowledge, it is the building of a relationship.

Around this time I discovered Mahler’s 3rd Symphony and this wonderful 4th movement, which both grounds me and elevates me at the same time:

It turns out that Tai Chi has been the one activity that has really brought the two parts of my being-mind and body–together. You must use your mind and body together, and you can’t focus on anything else. The more I practice it, the more I find an increased ability to concentrate, to let go of stress, to figure the right way to treat people and the right answers to the problems and challenges that life and work throw up.

I’ve been doing it now for 16 years and people who know me will tell you I sometimes backslide and get insanely stressed out. But where would I be if I hadn’t found these Buddhas who’ve pointed me the way along this wonderful journey called life?

Béla Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances

In the summer of 1979, I rented half a small house south of Indiana University’s school of education where most of my classes took place for my master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of English as a Second Language. It was a great university in so many ways–it offered almost every language, a world class department schools of psychology (think BF Skinner), comparative literature, medicine, film studies, and of course, music.



The school of education sat next to the school of music where you could the strains of students practicing their chops floated out of nearly every every window of the great, tall round music building that housed nothing but practice rooms.

Every night you could hear either a symphony performance, a senior, masters or doctoral recital and there were plenty of record stores (vinyl) where you could buy anything you wanted. Every dorm on campus had a library with an amazing collection of records as well, so any piece I heard on the radio or in concert could be found somewhere.

I can’t remember who introduced me to Béla Bartók, Romanian Dances, but I am so grateful for whoever did.  It touched a nerve, or perhaps I was genetically wired to love Hungarian music.

My dad’s parents had emigrated from Hungary in 1904. Every Sunday after church and dinner, my dad would turn on the local radio station, WSBT, which devoted an hour each to “The Polish Hour,” and “The Hungarian Hour.” The Poles played polkas and the Magyars played soaring, soulful “gypsy” melodies. The theme for the Hungarian Hour was a schmaltzy violin backed by an orchestra and cymbalon (a cousin of the hammered dulcimer).  You’ve heard this melody if you ever had a friend to whom you told a sad story and they said, “Pity Party,” and hummed a few notes of the melody while running their index finger over the thumb like a tiny violin.  I’d heard the song in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I think, (thank you Carl Stalling), so I called up the radio announcer to ask what the name was.  He sounded surprised that anyone was calling to ask and in fact he didn’t know it, which I thought odd because, it was the theme song after all.  He took a moment to look it up and said it was called “You’re the Only Girl in the World For Me.” “What?” I thought. That’s so hackneyed.  Eventually I heard the melody pop up on the local classical radio station from Notre Dame University, and called that radio announcer.  He said it was Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen,” (Gypsy Airs), a piece which borrowed a few folk melodies from Franz Liszt‘s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13.

My father, when talking about famous Hungarians, would alway mention the Gabor sisters, Ernie Kovacs, and of course  Béla Bartók, so when I started really listening to classical music I was proud of my Magyar heritage and claimed him as my favorite composer.

The Romanian Folk Dances became and still are one of my favorite pieces of music by the composer.  What’s even more wonderful is that you can find many different versions of it for solo piano, violin, orchestra, among others, as well as the original field recordings Bartok made of folk songs from which he took the melodies for this work (and even a performance by Bartok himself at the keyboard.


Solo Piano (with Bartok playing)




Violin and Piano




Cello and Piano




Muzikas, Hungarian Folk Ensemble playing melodies of the Dances with Danube Philharmonia




Another version with piano and Muzikas Folk Ensemble

Which do you prefer?


For me, I really love the version at the top, which was released in 1979, and performed by I Musici:


I Musici

The the solo piano and violin are great, too. There’s one movement that’s really haunting with harmonics on the violin, that my friend David Hendrickson said was so piercing that whenever he listened to it he said if felt like someone was cleaning his ear with a Q-tip.

Since I posted the above, I found this original field recording that Bartok made in Romania.


It’s a amazing!

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