Moondog (Louis Hardin): Invocation followed by Pastoral

Something rousing and reminiscent of a Roman costume drama followed by sublime sweetness.  

 

Invocation





Pastoral


 

Moondog – New Amsterdam

New Amsterdam was her name
Before she was New York
New Amsterdam is a dame
The heart and soul of big apple city

No matter what name she goes under
I dig her deeply and no wonder
For she’s been lovely to me
And I’m the better for having met her

New Amsterdam was her name
Before she was New York
New Amsterdam is a dame
The heart and soul of big apple city

No matter what name she goes under
I dig her deeply and no wonder
For she’s been lovely to me
And I’m the better for having met her

 

 

 

Moondog (Louis Hardin): Synchrony #2 & Vladimir Martynov: The Beatitudes

The reason I paired these two pieces for today’s post is because youtube automatically started playing the latter after I had typed in Moondog.  Scrolling through the list of Moondog’s works, I espied something performed by the Kronos Quartet.  Kronos has been around since 1973 and has been instrumental (no pun intended) in breathing new life into the string quartet form starting in the last quarter of the 20th century.  They accomplished this by adapting music from almost every genre–for example, “Do the Funky Chicken,” on their first studio album, “In Formation, ” (1982), “Purple Haze,” (1986), medieval music dating from the 9th Century, and modern composers like Riley, Glass, Reich, Feldman and Part.  Over 400 pieces have been written for them, and they’ve given over 3000 performances since their inception.  So maybe, I’ll feature some of their pieces in my next few posts.


I won’t say much about the Moondog, except, that it’s lovely, and you can hear the his fascination with the canon form. (Think “Row-Row-Row Your Boat.”)
 

After the Moondog finished, it served up Vladimir Martynov”s “The Beatitudes.” Martynov was born in 1946, was classically trained, and ended up in the The Alexander Scriabin Museum, which was the Russian equivalent of 20th century european electronic music centers.


He was much influenced by the serialist music and American minimalism, however, his interest in ethnomusicology and religious music, lead his music down a much more spiritual path than other composers of minimalism.


“The Beatitudes” was written in 1998 and was rescored by the composer in 2008 for the Kronos Quartet.

Being an American, I tend to gush enthusiastically at anything that’s new to me, and I splash the word “sublime” over a lot of things like I do ketchup. But this piece really is sublime.

 

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.

Béla Bartók: String Quartet Number 6

It’s been over 40 years since a friend in college told me about Béla Bartók’s string quartets. Up until that point, the only quartets I’d listened to were Beethoven’s Late Quartets (Opus 127-135). They were all I wanted–ever. My friend told me that Bartok tried in a number of movements to capture the sound and feeling of the night. I checked a copy of the quartets out of the library and tried listening to them. Even though, I was listening to Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern at the time, I simply found them incomprehensible. So, I’m going to sit down and give them a listen. There are six, so being cantankerous, I thought I’d start with the last one.

Here’s a description from Wikipedia of Quartet Number 6.

And here’s a fine youtube performance by the Takács Quartet.

Let me know what you think of it.

Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings

After Kristy dumped me early in the fall of 1975, I returned to spending most of my time with the arsty-campy crowd that gravitated to Mark Z*’s room in the French House. Almost all of the usual suspects had returned–Cynthia, the voice major, Michael, the Chinese/composition major, David, the intense Russian/German major, Thom Klem, and Lacy anwho was majoring in comparative literature and string bass. A new person also joined the group–a small, neat little girl named Elizabeth whose father owned a factory. She and Cynthia eventually became lovers.


David had moved off campus to a small brick rambler a few blocks behind the French House. We often went there to cook meals, drink, watch television, and drink some more. David was a polymath–every week he seemed to be studying another language. But he was practically-inclined as well: his father had taught him about electronics and how to work with wood. He built a massive bookcase on which he proudly displayed his books and records. He had fine leather-bound volumes of the works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy in Russian, Proust in French, and Nietsche in German. He also had a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and lots of wonderful art books on Kandinsky, Van Gogh, and Vermeer.

David’s record collection was awesome. Most were Deutsche Gramophon recordings of German music–Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. On our visits to his house he would pull out some new purchase and play it for us on his wonderful stereo, whose speakers he had built himself. David liked modern music as well, especially avante garde works and once drove us all away by playing some god-awful piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen, the most unlistenable composer who ever lived.

Someone in our circle bought a new recording of Thomas Schippers conducting Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. In the 24 years since then, this piece has become one of the most overplayed pieces, being used to flog almost every product or as the swelling background music in some poignant death scene of movies. Back then, however, no one had so profaned it yet, and it pretty much took our clique by storm. I immediately went out and bought a copy and spent a number of hours sitting in my room listening to it while bemoaning my fate at having been dumped by Kristy.

Barber originally wrote this piece as the second movement of his String Quartet, Opus 11 in the late 1930s. Arturo Toscanini liked it so much that he convinced Barber to rescore it for orchestra and he premiered it in 1938. It is probably the most-played piece by any American composer. It starts out quietly with a sad melody. The strings then begin to overlap one another as they building to a frenzied climax before finally returning to the sad melody of the beginning.

Re-reading the above, it seems I’ve painted a picture of myself back then as a morose, depressive type. Extravert Geminis rarely stay blue for long, however, and I spent many a fine moment hanging out with my clique. I use the term “extravert” in the Myers-Briggs sense of one who derives their energy from being around people. In many way, I remained shy and having been rejected by Kristy made me even more timid around women. That is probably the reason I ended up gravitating toward and spending more and more time with Lacy.

Lacy didn’t live in the French House but in another dorm in our large sprawling complex. As I said, she majored in comparative literature and string bass. She was thin and the sight of her hoicking around a huge upright bass when she performed in her orchestra was quite comical. I found her quite attractive. She had high cheekbones and cute freckly skin. What caught everybody’s attention, however, was her huge mane of fiery red hair. She wore it long and combed out, but it had a natural wave which gave her a kind of wild air. This was belied by her breathy, little-girl voice. People would stop and stare at her hair, constantly remark about it, or even just reach out and touch it, which I’m sure didn’t at all make her self-conscious.

Lacy had a sweet disposition, coupled with a wicked sense of humor. For that reason she liked hanging around the artsy-campy crowd that met in Mark’s room. I suspect that like me, she lived vicariously through watching the antics of the theatrical, extroverts in that group.

After Kristy dumped me (there I go again), I found myself talking more and more with Lacy at the cafeteria. Like me she loved literature, studying languages (French and German), and listening to good music. We had a lot to talk about. But I was so retarded, I never would have put the moves on her hat it not been for a Vittorio de Sica film.

Lacy liked foreign movies almost as much as I did, and we both got excited to learn that the local art-house cinema was going to show that Italian film maker’s latest film, “A Brief Vacation.” We didn’t go together, but we were surprised and happy to see each other at the cinema and I sat a few rows behind her.

This movie has to be one of the most poignant and heart-breaking flicks I have ever seen. An Italian housewife has a pig of a husband, disrespectful teenage kids, and lives near poverty in a tiny flat in some dreary suburb of a large industrial Italian city. She works long hours in a factory and then must come home to work like a slave. Everyone yells at her and treats her like a doormat.

She develops a cough and goes to the doctor. He diagnoses her as having tuberculosis. The National Health Service orders the standard therapy for her–rest and recuperation at a sanitarium in the Alps. There she blossoms–she reads books, people pamper her, she meets a young buck and has an affair, she gets involved in a protest to improve the working condition of the nurses and aides who work in the sanitarium. The ugly duckling becomes a swan. Cinderella finds her fairy godmother and marries the prince. One day on her visit to the doctor, he tells her she’s completely recovered and can return home. Her lover begs her to run off with him, but she decides she cannot. The final scene is burned in my mind–she steps off the train in a grimy station. Her family instantly launches into her, making fun of her new image and berating her for having abandoned them while she went off and pampered herself. The camera pulls away and we see a person very alone.

When the lights came up, there was a stunned silence in the theatre. I had tears in my eyes and when I looked over at Lacy, she looked up at me and I saw she was crying. I hurried over to her and she hugged me and sobbed. We went to a quiet café and talked and then she and I walked back across campus holding hands. She remained my girlfriend for the next two years.

Eventually, I learned the secret of her timidity. Her parents had divorced and she had a an older brother who had developed schizophrenia. He had started out a genius, but then had a psychotic episode. He ended up living at home. That was one of the first broken families I had ever spent any time with (the divorce rate was much lower back then) and attitudes toward people with mental illness was even worse that it is today. So much pain hung in that family, and I admired how Lacy took it in stride.

I don’t remember any more why we broke up. That was over 30 years ago. Being the type of person I was back then, I can well imagine that I found some excuse based on “my needs” or some reason why she didn’t measure up to my standards. This is the curse and blessing of middle age: we’ve learned how to be nicer people, but we remember all the people we’ve hurt along the way. Hope I haven’t damaged my karma too much.

Buy CD or MP3 of Samuel Barber’s Adagio

Miklós Rózsa: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22 – IV. Allegro Feroce

This is day 18 of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April. During this month, I am curating a collection of “classical” music pieces, which are lesser known or by lesser known composers (to me at least).  Today’s composer is Miklós Rózsa (1907 – 1995).

Miklós Rózsa was a Hungarian composer better known for the 100+ high-quality soundtrack he cranked for films.  Among his work in that field were Spellbound, El Cid, and Ben Hur.  As a youth, I was completely spellbound by the last two films and had copies of those recordings.  I loved the pageantry of Ben Hur, especially, but little did I know Rózsa led a double life as as serious composer as well.  In fact, before getting intrigued by film in 1934, he had a promising career as a serious composer and an early composition Theme, Variations, and Finale, Op. 13, (1929) was conducted by such notables as Charles Munch, Karl Böhm, Georg Solti, and Eugene Ormandy.

After he made his names in film, he became quite sought-after, but he was able to stipulate in his contract with studios that he be given 3 months off every year, which he could devote to his “serious” musical pursuits.

Even though my dad was the son of Hungarian immigrants and boasted of famous Hungarians, I never heard him mention Rózsa .  And, I’ve never listened to Rózsa’s serious music either until today.  Pity, because this fourth movement of his String Quartet Number 1, it quite interesting.  Rózsa had good relationships with and wrote pieces for many famous musicians of his day including Heifitz (violin) and Starker (cello).  I hope you like today’s piece.

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Great Fugue, Opus 133

I’ve devoted the last several posts to Beethoven’s late string quartets. The reason is that they came into my life in the fall of 1973 and I became fixated on them. I’m sure a musicologist could write reams on each one–not only by analyzing their structure but also on how their influence shows up in the works of later composers. In Stravinsky’s book, Themes and Conclusions, for example, he notes how Wagner wrote glowingly of the quartets, and how some phrases turn up in Tristan und Isolde.

Beethoven wrote The Great Fugue as the finale for his Quartet in B Flat Major Opus 130. He had written that piece under commission to Prince Nicolas Glitzin, whose father was the Russian ambassador to Vienna in 1826. It turned out to be too “dissonant” for the listeners of the time and for performers too difficult. For that reason, Beethoven’s publisher suggested he write a different finale, which he did for 15 ducats. He later wrote a piano duet arrangement of the fugue, which was later published as Opus 134. Supposedly, that piece is impossible to play, yet here’s a version for two pianists:

It is funny how what is one century’s dissonance is another century’s perfection. Parts of the first section–the overture–of this piece sound like they come straight out of the fourth movement of ninth symphony, where the full orchestra plays fast and loud while the entire chorus repeats the Freude schoene Gotterfunken stanza. All four instruments play such different melodies, in different rhythms, but the raw emotion that comes through is breathtaking. But after that, it slows and then slips into the fugue, which though similarly complex, has a lighter feeling to it. He does bring back the statement from the opening of the movement once. However, for the most part, the last section of Great Fugue skips along at a brisk 6/8 rhythm, and he ends on a triumphant up-bow.

It seems odd to mention what was going on in my life during the fall semester of my freshman year at university, when I first heard the Great Fugue. I had become so miserable living among science majors, that I decided to transfer to the extension of Indiana University near my home town. My plan was to go there for the spring semester and then transfer to the main campus in Bloomington the following fall. My parents were not happy that I was breaking the tradition of my three brothers going to Purdue, but I convinced them. For the most part, I paid for my education by working in factories during the summer, and I wanted to study something that interested me at the time. Not that science doesn’t; I just had more desire to learn about art, literature, and philosophy.

Thirty-eight years later, I can say that I would do it all over again. We have a lifetime to continue learning. Statistics say that most people will change jobs three to four times in their life. Since I left graduate school, I have had about 10 jobs in three or four different areas. I believe it was having developed a love of learning new things that allowed me to make the transition from one to another. How can you get bored when there is always something new to discover? This is what keeps artists going, I believe.

I’ll let Stranvinsky have the last word on Beethoven’s late string quartets:

“These quartets are my highest articles of musical belief (which is a longer word for love, whatever else), as indispensable to the ways and meanings of art–as a musician of my era thinks of art and has tried to learn it–as temperature is to life. They are a triumph over temporality, too, possibly a longer-lasting one, as events are threatening to prove, than other triumphs in other arts, for at least they cannot be bombed, melted down, or bull-dozed by progress.”

Beethoven Biography

Download MP3 or buy CD of Grosse Fugue in Amazon

Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet in F Major, Opus 135

Something troubles me in how Beethoven–and artists in general–appears in the media. Artists are always portrayed as having an imbalanced personality–being prone to fits of fancy, egotism, and violent outbursts–and they seemingly stumble along until God opens up the top of their head and pours in “inspiration.” From everything I’ve read by artists, you have to work years to master your craft before you have the ability to take that inspiration and package it into a great work of art.

Indeed, Stravinsky said of himself that he rarely started with inspiration. Instead, he began with the constraints and rules of music and the creativity came in as he used his tools and talents to discover the work of art. Ravel said it was a matter of mastering the craft so that you knew what to leave out as being extraneous, and spent hours working and reworking over his compositions. The best example is the sculptor who sees the work in the marble and discovers it by removing what is not needed.

There is a story about a rich man who goes to an artist and commissions him to paint a portrait of the man’s pet rooster. He leaves the animal with the artist, pays him a handsome sum and departs. Months pass. The rich man has not heard anything from the artist and so visits the artists studio. He asks whether the portrait is done. The artist tells him to wait a moment. He sets up his easel and canvas, and dashes off an exquisite picture of the animal. The rich man is furious. “You’ve kept me waiting for this long, doing nothing and now you spend five minutes and expect me to pay you all this money?” The artist tells the rich man to follow him into the next room. When he turns on the light, the rich man sees that the room is full of hundreds of sketches of chickens.

I’m also thinking of the Japanese artist who stares at the piece of rice paper before him as he paints the picture in his mind. It becomes a mental discipline. What’s interesting to note is that the medium he uses imposes that rule on him. Rice paper instantly absorbs the ink, so he cannot afford the luxury of making a mistake.

It would have been valuable if someone had explained this to me around the time I discovered Beethoven’s late quartets, in the Fall of 1973. Unfortunately, I shared the popular notion of how artists are supposed to behave. As I have confessed, I thought the way to create was to get drunk–thereby knocking down the barriers to feeling and emotion–and works of beauty would spill out. Fortunately after quite a long time of producing crap, I decided to change my tack. So, over the years, I’ve worked hard to improve my skills as a writer–by taking classes, by reading, and of course by just writing.

What I have learned now, by practicing Tai Chi by the way, is the need to balance the logical and emotive. Now when I have an idea, I can usually translate it coherently and if I can’t think of anything to write about, if I just sit down and start, usually something pops into my head.

Now what about today’s piece? The Opus 135 was the last piece Beethoven composed. Of it he wrote: “It will be the last and it has given me much trouble.” I find it a fitting capstone to a life devoted to creating works of beauty that are also intellectually satisfying. The first movement reminds me a bit of his sixth symphony. The second, marked Vivace, has a wonderfully syncopated section that he repeats a number of times. To me it has the cheery mood of a person in the full of life, not smug, but just happy to be alive and at having attained a few high spots along the way.

In the last movement, Beethoven alternates between two melodies with almost diametrically opposed feelings. The first is a happy, jaunty, youthfully fresh sounding piece. The second sounds fraught with pain and sorrow–almost like some of the bleak parts of Vivaldi’s Winter from the Four Seasons. Beethoven moves us back and forth between these two extremes and thank heavens as he nears the finish, he returns to the happy sounding one. On the last page, he introduces a pizzicato section and then resolves on a beautiful chord. Most satisfying.

Download MP3 or buy CD of String Quartet Op. 135 on Amazon

Ludwig van Beethoven: The Great Fugue, Opus 133

I’ve devoted the last several posts to Beethoven’s late string quartets. The reason is that they came into my life in the fall of 1973 and I became fixed on them. I’m sure a musicologist could write reams on each one–not only by analyzing their structure but also on how their influence shows up in the works of later composers. In Stravinsky’s book, Themes and Conclusions, for example, he notes how Wagner wrote glowingly of the quartets, and how some phrases turn up in Tristan und Isolde.

Beethoven wrote The Great Fugue as the finale for his Quartet in B Flat Major Opus 130. He had written that piece under commission to Prince Nicolas Glitzin, whose father was the Russian ambassador to Vienna in 1826. It turned out to be too “dissonant” for the listeners of the time and for performers too difficult. For that reason, Beethoven’s publisher suggested he write a different finale, which he did for 15 ducats. He later wrote a piano duet arrangement of the fugue, which was later published as Opus 134. Supposedly, that is impossible to play!

It is funny how what is one century’s dissonance is another century’s perfection. Parts of the first section–the overture–of this piece sound like they come straight out of the fourth movement of ninth symphony, where the full orchestra plays fast and loud while the entire chorus repeats the Freude schoene Gotterfunken stanza. All four instruments play such different melodies, in different rhythms, but the raw emotion that comes through is breathtaking. But after that, it slows and then slips into the fugue, which though similarly complex, has a lighter feeling to it. He does bring back the statement from the opening of the movement once. However, for the most part, the last section of Great Fugue skips along at a brisk 6/8 rhythm, and he ends on a triumphant up-bow.

It seems odd to mention what was going on in my life during the fall semester of my freshman year at university, when I first heard the Great Fugue. I had become so miserable living among science majors, that I decided to transfer to the extension of Indiana University near my home town. My plan was to go there for the spring semester and then transfer to the main campus in Bloomington the following fall. My parents were not happy that I was breaking the tradition of my three brothers going to Purdue, but I convinced them. For the most part, I paid for my education by working in factories during the summer, and I wanted to study something that interested me at the time. Not that science doesn’t; I just had more desire to learn about art, literature, and philosophy.

Thirty-eight years later, I can say that I would do it all over again. We have a lifetime to continue learning. Statistics say that most people will change jobs three to four times in their life. Since I left graduate school, I have had about 10 jobs in three or four different areas. I believe it was having developed a love of learning new things that allowed me to make the transition from one to another. How can you get bored when there is always something new to discover? This is what keeps artists going, I believe.

I’ll let Stranvinsky have the last word on Beethoven’s late string quartets:

“These quartets are my highest articles of musical belief (which is a longer word for love, whatever else), as indispensable to the ways and meanings of art–as a musician of my era thinks of art and has tried to learn it–as temperature is to life. They are a triumph over temporality, too, possibly a longer-lasting one, as events are threatening to prove, than other triumphs in other arts, for at least they cannot be bombed, melted down, or bull-dozed by progress.”

Beethoven Biography

Download MP3 or buy CD of Grosse Fugue in Amazon

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