Clapping Along to Strauss

Heard about this on NPR’s Performance Today while driving home from work last Monday.  Apparently, every New Year’s in Vienna, a concert closes with this piece, with the audience clapping along and the conductor encouraging it, as seen here.  What fun!  I’d love to be in that audience, wouldn’t you?

Words and Music

A fascinating and wonderful article ran in the Guardian last week.  The author eloquently ruminates over the parallel evolution of literature and music in the 19th century, and laments a perceived divergence since the 20th.  His descriptions of the intertwined nature of the two media are divine:

To read Molly Bloom’s great gush of resigned affirmation with which Ulysses ends and then set it beside the equally self-actualising fatalism in which the final adagio movement of Mahler’s ninth symphony (marked on the score “very slowly and held back”) culminates, is to feel yourself in the presence of artistic twins whose birth is separated by only a few years.

That’s beautiful. 

However, I’m inclined to disagree with his thesis.  I don’t think novels stagnated with modernism.  The author does a disservice not only to postmodernism, which took literature to its boundaries far more so than the atonal experiments of modern classical music have done, but he seems to neglect anything in recent literature that doesn’t fall neatly into his categories.  If literature stopped evolving with, as he asserts, Joyce’s Ulysses, then what are we to make of, for example, the magic realism of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude?  Isn’t that a rich literary experiment representing a bold break with the status quo? 

Literary fiction also seems far more responsive to the nuances of genre than serious music is, though I admit I’m far less literate in music than in prose.  Still, what modern symphonies can equal, say, the quality and variety represented by the range between Slaughterhouse-Five, Lonesome Dove, and Herzog

And this is to say nothing of the comic novel.  Where in the musical pantheon is the equivalent landmark to A Confederacy of Dunces

This is not to belittle the greatness of music, including contemporary music, but I still feel that this article fails to do the depth of innovation in recent literature justice.

The Rabbit of Seville

A follow-up to a post a couple of weeks ago, about a Bugs Bunny version of Wagnerian opera.  Here, we see his take on Rossini:

Incidentally, ever notice that these old Warner Bros. cartoons all had musical names? 

  • Looney Tunes
  • Merrie Melodies
  • Silly Symphonies

Kill the Wabbit!

One of my earliest exposures to classical music was the Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?”  Does this get played anywhere, anymore?  Do kids today get to see this?  Shoot, two generations of kids grew up knowing the theme from Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” because we all heard Elmer Fudd singing it here as “Kill the Wabbit!” 

Wikipedia’s article on this one is really good; it gives all the original operatic influences that are lampooned in the animated short, and lauds it superlatively:

Originally released to theaters by Warner Bros. on July 6, 1957, What’s Opera, Doc? features the speaking and singing voices of Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan as Bugs and Elmer respectively. In 1994, What’s Opera, Doc? was voted #1 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by 1000 members of the animation field….

In 1992, it became the first cartoon short to be deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress, and thus was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Three New Videos of Mozart’s Symphony 41

I enjoy classical music on YouTube, especially when video creators are thoughtful enough to put long works in multiple movements together on playlists.  It’s nice to hear a single performance that way, rather than having to string together videos from different sources on your own.  Oddly, perhaps music’s greatest symphony, Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, no. 41, has never had a decent single performance together that I’ve been able to find. 

But now three have gone up in just the last few weeks. 

First, this audiophile gives us the four united movements in videos that feature the written score:

Next, this classical-leaning fellow illustrates his four videos with paintings of the mythological Jupiter, king of the Roman gods:

Continue reading

Baroque Meets Buddha

Several years ago, I subscribed to an online streaming music service, so I could listen to music while I worked.  This service would choose and play new music based on previous preferences I rated on their web site.  One track they picked for me over and over again is below. 

Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”

On the way to work Thursday morning, I heard this little peice on the radio.  I wasn’t paying much attention to the DJ’s introduction, so when the music started and I was into it right away, I tried to remember what he’d said about it.  The words “Grieg,” “piano,” “wife,” and “anniversary” came to mind.  Googling those terms that afternoon told me that the song I’d heard was “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen.” 

I picked up the first CD I found at the library that had that track on it.  It was Grieg: Lyric Pieces (Performed On Grieg’s Piano),performed by Leif Ove Andsnes. 

This isn’t the dark romance of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata;” Grieg gives us a sprightly march that wraps us up in the ongoing fun of a relationship that’s as comfortable as it is exciting.  As with the heroic marches that we might expect to hear over the end credits of an action movie, there’s even a lilting slow section in the middle before the familiar melody bubbles back up to carry us to the tune’s satisfying conclusion.

Of ocurse, this is only one of 24 pieces on this album and, so far, the rest seem just as effectively accomplished. 

Read more reviews and listen to some excerpts at its Amazon page:

Mozart in The Shawshank Redemption

Below is a clip from a performance of Mozart’s masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro, featuring Renee Fleming, one of the world’s greatest living singers.  This is the song that was used for the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where the hero locks himself in a room and plays a record over the whole prison yard. 

Recommended Listening: Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade, Mvt. 8

Several years ago, I picked up a CD called Mozart for the Morning Commute, which as its subtitle claims, really is “a lively bit of traveling music.”  Each piece selected for this anthology is marked “allegro” or “rondo,” meaning that they’re all pretty catchy, having quick tempos and repeating, almost pop-like themes. 

Though this disc seems to be out of print, plenty of copies, both used and new, are available through usual online sellers, including individual tracks for download.  My favorite by far–one that I can just listen to over and over again–is track seven, the 8th movement of Mozart’s Serenade no. 7, named for the Haffner family that commissioned it for a wedding.  It’s a perfect example of what this collection was meant to capture: one can hardly listen to it without thinking of movement.  Its almost childlike in its simple exuberance, the sound of kids skipping through a sunny meadow in June. 

Unfortunately,I couldn’t find a clip of the exact version on this disc to use here, but the one below is pretty close: it really picks up at around 2:20, with the theme–which could rival the hook of any top 40 chorus–coming in first at 3:50.

31 Days of Mozart

This January 27th, Mozart will be 255 years old.  In celebration, the good people at KING in Seattle are putting on a month-long festival of Mozart.  The schedule is shown below, and links to their station.  I’ve listened to this station online for years, and love it, and the Mozart theme this month is splendid.  I find that, alas, the local classical music station has no such Mozart celebration going on. 

The library is holding a copy of Amadeus for me.  I’ve never seen it, and this seems like an apt time. 

Speaking of the library, one of the best audio books I’ve ever borrowed was their copy of Mozart: His Life and Music, a Teaching Company title by Professor Robert Greenberg.  I’ve listened to and enjoyed several of Greenberg’s lectures, but this one is my favorite.  It’s a fun, quick, and easy listen, that truly does justice to the great composer’s life.  Mozart’s love for wordplay really comes across in his letters.  Highly recommended.  Especially if your library has it! 

Egalitarian Majesty: Dvorak’s Symphony no. 7

My own sentimental interpretation:

The first movement of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 7 overwhelms us with its cosmic panoply of extremes.  It quickly sprints towards a sharp peak, only to reveal a range of ever-higher peaks beyond: the road map for this survey of the universe.  In less than eleven minutes, this movement cycles through a series of several scenes, each one a pairing of a quiet interlude with the climax towards which it grows: a humbling, noble declaration of grandeur.  The rippling waves of those stunning climaxes barely have time to fade, receding into faint little whispers of echoes, quaint reminders of the episode just passed, before they begin defying the law of entropy and sprouting again into the first steps in a chain reaction that will lead to yet another supernova. 

It would be hard to imagine a better summary of the sublime passion experienced throughout a human life. 

The second movement takes those meek, unassuming interludes from the first movement and develops them, amplifying them and giving them their due attention, teaching us that this, too, is a worthy aspect of life, and one worth celebrating.  For a quarter of the entire composition, we are invited to meditate on the lazy and mundane days we take for granted at the time.  This movement is the sound of Candide working in his garden.  But this is no mere peaceful reverie, for even here there are suggestive clues that remind us that, even if we do become comfortable during these easy times, they won’t last forever.  Drama will appear again soon. 

Movement three, however, takes this tour of life in a different direction.  Continue reading