The Music Goes ‘Round and Around (Reblog Review of Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia”)

A very nice review of Oliver Sack’s “Musicophilia,” in which I’m currently immersed. Take a swim through the ebb and flow of music playing in your mind.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I finally picked it up after finishing Oliver Sack’s autobiography.

Why do we make music? Why do we listen to it? What goes on in the mind when we listen to it, or create it, or when our ability to make sense of it breaks down? Sacks explores these and many other questions in his never-boring typical fashion–by presenting the case study of one of his patients or correspondents who has a condition related to music. In the first, a doctor who was hit in the face by lightning, has a near death experience and awakes with a passion for classical piano music, which he begins hearing. He believes it’s a gift, so he learns to play piano and read music so he can perform the music he is channeling and write it down.

We proceed to learn that music sometimes is heard before the onset of a stroke, after an accident, on being exposed to certain persistent sounds, as one goes deaf, and even for no particular reason. We learn of people who hallucinate music either at will or uncontrollably, some of whom are nearly driven mad by it, or others who find solace in it as their years dwindle and they become more and more isolated from friends or family. He also discusses the what’s of “earworms” and why we can’t sticky melodies out of our head.

The book resonates with me, not because I am plagued like some of his poor, or lucky patients, but because the enjoyment of music has played such a large role in my life. For example, as I’ve written elsewhere, while swimming countless laps in practice on my high school team, I would listen to overtures to Rossini operas in their entirety or passages from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 1. Why even today, at the pool, I couldn’t get the song, “Stranger to Himself” by the 1970s group, Traffic, out of my head.

Another interesting fact Sacks explains is that music “is constructed” from its constituent parts–rhythm, tone, harmony, melody, etc.–in different parts of the brain. A stroke in one hemisphere of the brain might make one tone deaf, while a stroke in the other hemisphere might destroy our ability to perceive rhythm.

How about you? Do you hear music all the time? Do melodies or tunes you’ve never heard before pop into your head? Are you a musician or not musically trained at all? Do you suddenly remember musical songs from childhood, and does anything trigger it, like Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past?” Please let me know in the comment section.

In the mean time, I hope you enjoy Tim’s review below and click on the link below to listen to a performance of the lightning-induced music of Dr. Tony Cicoria.

Tony Cicoria performs his “Lightning-Sonata” at Mozart House in Vienna

An Honest Con

MusicophiliaMusicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Oliver Sacks

Earlier this year, at the age of 82, Oliver Sacks passed away.  Along with Lewis Thomas (and, arguably, Benjamin Spock) he broke down the doors between the high priesthood of medicine and the poor supplicants who require medical help.

Sacks was a neurologist whose notoriety grew over the last 4 decades or so as he published case studies of his most interesting patients. If the old saw is that medicine is as much an art as a science, Sacks did his best to live up to that. His writing was never fussy and while he never

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Beethoven’s Remix (A Mass of Haiku) – Reblog from the preppie nihilist with my annotations.

Source: Beethoven’s Remix (A Mass of Haiku)  (Check out this writer’s poetry.)

Here are links to the work referenced a set of brilliant Haiku by a blogger you can find in the above link. Tell the Blogger what you think of his Haiku, and let me know what you think of these performances.

Beethoven Violin Sonata No 9 Op 47 “Kreutzer” (Anne Sophie Mutter, Lambert Orkis Zohari performing)

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 – I. Allegro con brio

Beethoven, Overture “Fidelio” Op 72 (Otto Klemperer conducts from 1961)

Beethoven Symphony No 7 in A Major Op 92 Allegretto (Simon Denis Rattle conducts)

Beethoven Symphony No.8 in F major, Op.93 1st Allegro vivace e con brio (Sir John Barbirolli conducts the The Hallé Orchestra)

“Hammerklavier“, Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 (Daniel Barenboim performing)

String Quartet No. 14 in C♯ minor, op. 131 (Alban Berg Quartet)

Summer Reruns–Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

(This is the one of my posts that has gotten the most hits.)

Johann Sebastian Bach is another one of those great composers whose music can serve as a starting point for someone interested in learning about classical music. I use the term generic term “classical” here to refer to all “serious” music, because as most of you know, Bach falls into the baroque period. Confused yet? I think I can be forgiven, because The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music lists among its definition for “classical”, “music of permanent value, not ephemeral.” The technical definition is to describe music that is concerned with form and proportion rather than emotion, and usually refers to the 18th and early 19th century. The Oxford manages to get a dig in at us hoi polloi: “Amongst less educated people, music with no ‘tune’ in it.” Those whacky Brits. How can you not love a country that gave us Shakespeare and baked beans on toast?


Baroque refers to the period of music immediately preceding classical, that is the 17th and early 18th century, usually from Germany and Austria. Baroque, from the French meaning “bizarre,” was applied to the fanciful wrought-gold and cherub adorned architecture of that time period. Bach was probably the most prolific composers (in more ways than one) of this period: he produced countless works for the organ, chorus, instruments and orchestra—-plus 23 sons. That doesn’t sound too impressive, except for the sons, but consider this, he wrote a cantata (in this case a sung mass) for every day of the year!

I usually think of music from this time period as being either stately—like Handel’s Water Music and Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos—or meticulous like Bach’s works for solo instruments such as the harpsichord, violin, viola and of course the organ. Bach wrote a lot of organ music, having been a church organist and director of the school of the church of Saint Thomas in Leipzig.

The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is probably one of Bach’s most famous and accessible pieces. It gets played a lot around Halloween in the U.S., because some idiot used it the soundtrack for some horror movie years ago. The opening part, the toccata, for that reason now sounds ominous and full of sturm und drang. The fugue is a form of composition that has several “voices” or melodies that start in succession, almost like a round, but then which interweave with one another according to strict rules of harmony. This is why the music to me sounds meticulous or mathematical. The modern philosopher, Douglas Hofstader, wrote a huge tome called Godell, Escher, and Bach in which he analyzes the structure of the fugue, almost ad nauseum.

Another place where the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor turns up is in Walt Disney’s film Fantasia. Leopold Stokowski orchestrated the piece and the Disney cartoonist used the technique of aurora borealis to represent the different voices of the fugue. It’s sort of boring really, and to my mind, kind of emasculates this piece.

Of course, as an adolescent, I was drawn to the toccata, but eventually I came to love the fugue as well, which is actually quite beautiful and sweet compared to the strong emotions in the toccata. In my high school French class, I met a fellow student, named John Claeys, who was a gifted artist and could play the organ by ear. One of his hobbies was collecting decorative molding from abandoned Victorian houses in our county. His basement bedroom looked like something out of a horror film itself, with its dark paneling. John had even found an old upright pump organs on one of his forays and installed this in his lair. He was able to figure out the fingering for part of the toccata and took great pleasure wheezing it out on that old organ.

John and I made a horror movie for our French class with his dad’s super eight camera. I played a crazed madman, who at one point runs out of control in my mothers black 1968 Volkwagen beetle and dirves it over a cliff. John sacrificed one of his plastic car models for the actual crash and burning of the bug. The only thing it had to do with French class were the hand-written dialog cards, which said things like sacre bleu! Of course, we used the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for the soundtrack.

In 1972 or thereabouts, an organist named Virgil Fox, decided to adapt techniques from The Grateful Dead and give concerts with psychedelic light shows. He came to a small private college in my home town and I dragged John along to the concert with me. It was absolutely captivating.

Fox must have thought he was the reincarnation of Franz Lizst: he strode onstage wearing a black cape, which he whirled off as he sat down at his instrument. He played a huge five-manual (keyboard) organ and between pieces he would explain to the audience exactly how each piece was constructed and how complex it was. One piece, I think it was the Gigue Fugue, required him to play four melodies, one with each appendage simultaneously. The crowd—and I—went wild and after he finished he played a number of encores. After each set of applause would die down, I would stand up and scream “Play Toccata and Fugue in D Minor!”. After his fourth encore, and dripping with sweat, he yelled back “OK!” Needless to say, I was transported when he played it, and though somewhat embarrassed by my behavior after all these years, I still enjoy this piece.

Debussy’s beautiful 3:28 for the Tuesday – May 5th

I’m in hot Florida this weekend, so it’s nice listening to this “cool” music.

One journey to classical music

Before Tuesday makes you run, please use 3:28 for this beautiful, somehow hypnotizing and relaxing piece. Claude Debussy’s “Des pas sur la neige” – s’il vous plaît!

More on Debussy in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Debussy

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188 de ani de la premiera Simfoniei a 9-a de Beethoven

188 Year Anniversary of the premiere of Beethoven’s 9th. What a gift from the gods.

I love it all, but the 3rd Movement is exquisite and often overshadowed by the 4th.

Masterwork: Aeolus Quartet Plays Bartók 6

I feel ashamed for not listening to Bartok’s String Quartets until 40 years after a college friend told me about them. It’s shameful because my father was Hungarian and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and his Roumanian Danses are two of my favorite works.

Here’s #1:

Bartok’s String Quartet #1

Here’s a great post on Bartok.

Our Invisible Cities

Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia Hungarian militiamen parade alongside a German tank in Budapest, 1944. Source: Wikimedia

MASTERWORK: The Aeolus Quartet Performs Bartók’s 6th String Quartet

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center

Quartets by Haydn or Mozart are straightforward affairs.These works can be difficult to play and interpret, but at least know both the composers and the musical tradition that they represent. Move even a bit east of Vienna, though, and the familiar rhythms of the West become choppy and asymmetrical, strange Magyar harmonies matched with even stranger accents and beats.

The Aeolus Quartet (currently in residence at Juilliard) discussed their own struggles with the Hungarian tradition in Bartók’s melancholy Quartet No. 6 this past Thursday at Lincoln Center’s Public Library for the Performing Arts. Inspired by a performance in Cleveland that matched Bartók chamber works with songs by a Hungarian folk ensemble, the…

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A to Z: Z is for Zacara da Teramo

A2Z-BADGE-0002015-LifeisGood-230_zps660c38a0 Today is the 26th and final day of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge in which I attempted to blog every day (excepting Sundays) throughout the month of April. For this challenge, I curated a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).The last composer in this series is Zacara da Teramo (estimated birth between 1350 & 1360 and death between 1413 & 1416).

Though Antonius Berardi Andree de Teramo is the composer’s Latin name, he was referred to, though not by himself, as “Zacara.” This is kind of sad, considering Zacara means “a small thing of little value,” which was a cruel reference to his small stature. He rose to great heights, however, composing music that was the bridge between Medieval and Renaissance music. He came from Teramo and seems to have composed all his life. In mid-life, he went to Rome where he became a Papal secretary to Pope Boniface IX until 1404. He served the next two Popes, Innocent VII and Gregory XII during the Western Schism. His music shifted around this time and in addition to sacred music, he also wrote secular pieces that were highly satirical.


Another odd fact about him was that he only had a total of 10 digits on his two feet and hands. This is documented in a painting and in certain documents.


Here are two pieces to round out the month. Enjoy.

Ciaramella by Zacara de Teramo




Zachara : Credo Deus Deorum




The composer’s Wikipedia entry: Zacara da Teramo

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