#300 MICHEL LEGRAND FOUR SELECTIONS

#300

MICHEL LEGRAND

FOUR SELECTIONS

Growing up in Istanbul—which straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia—in a certain time period—the 1950’s and 60’s—it was impossible not to be hugely influenced by everything that touched on continental Europeanism. So, it was impossible for my wife Tiraje NOT to be intimately familiar with the movie music written by Michel Legrand, the prolific French film composer.

It is possible that you are familiar with Michel Legrand’s music without knowing his name. That was certainly the case for me until Tiraje came along. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was one of her favorite movies, and Legrand—whose jazz-tinged movie scores were known all over Europe, and who wrote the “Umbrellas” music—was one of her favorites as well. Through Tiraje, I became familiar with Legrand’s name—even though I had been hearing his music for years at that point without even knowing it. Legrand is kind of like France’s John Williams, but more elegant, more prolific—he’s written 200+ movie scores—and, as a composer, more self-reliant.

Michel Legrand (b. 1932) was just 22 when his I Love Paris album became one of the biggest selling instrumental albums ever released. Interestingly, he had studied at the Paris Conservatoire during his teen years, studying composition with Nadia Boulanger, the (very) famous teacher of dozens—scores, really—of great 20th century composers, including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Astor Piazzolla. By the time Legrand was 20, he was both an outstanding jazz and classical pianist, and a budding composer.

During Legrand’s younger years—in the 1950’s and 60’s—he frequently collaborated with jazz greats Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Stephane Grappelli. At various times of his life since then, he has also been conductor for the St. Petersburg (FL.), Vancouver, Montreal, Atlanta, Denver, and Pittsburgh symphonies. His musical pedigree, in both jazz and classical music, is impressive. He has worked—so it seems—with all the “big names” in both fields for his entire life. In addition to his composing, his arranging, and his work in jazz, he has also recorded over 100 albums, including many solo classical piano releases of such diverse composers as Satie, Gershwin, Amy Beach, and John Cage.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jacques Demy’s 1966 movie in which all the dialogue of the movie is sung—an innovation at the time—was Legrand’s ticket to huge international success. Other Legrand film scores, for movies you may already know:

Lola
Cleo from 5 to 7
My Life to Live
The Young Girls of Rochefort
How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life
The Thomas Crown Affair
Ice Station Zebra
The Picasso Summer
Pieces of Dreams
Wuthering Heights
Summer of ‘42
Brian’s Song (for TV)
Portnoy’s Complaint
The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing
Ode to Billy Joe
Other Side of Midnight
The Mountain Men
Falling in Love Again
Best Friends
Yentl
Never Say Never Again
Casanova
Angels in the Outfield

An impressive life’s work, isn’t it?  And this list is just a fraction of his creative output.  Legrand is still writing movie scores, and shows no signs of slowing down. He divides his time between France and the United States.

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Equally incomplete is the following list of “greatest hits”. These are the Legrand tunes known to all, and which I have found to be touching and beautiful. A melancholy sadness pervades much of Legrand’s music—a sadness that, inexplicably, feels good to vicariously experience.

I WILL WAIT FOREVER (in French)
from Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo

Still the best of the best? It tears your heart out…

_______________________________

THEME
from Summer of ’42 (1971)

_______________________________

WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND
from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Dusty Springfield

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WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? from The Happy Ending (1969)

Barbra Streisand

I slept in an attic during the summer of 1975, and listened to Barbra’s The Way We Were LP—with “What Are You Doing”—so many times. A really pleasant memory.  How great Streisand is at conveying the sentiment of a song.

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IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE…that I started these music posts a year ago this week. I hope they have acquainted, or re-acquainted, many of you with some great music. With this post—number 300—I am going to take a break. I intend to return. Happy listening, everyone.

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#299 FRANCK VIOLIN SONATA IN A MAJOR

#299

FRANCK

VIOLIN SONATA IN A MAJOR

FOURTH MOVEMENT

RENAUD CAPUCON, VIOLIN
KHATIA BUNIATISHVILI, PIANO

Generally speaking, the further we get away, in history, from the lives of even the greatest composers, we “know” them through fewer and fewer works. As an example, Mozart wrote 626 works. Even though the average music lover may indeed love Mozart, the odds are pretty high that he only knows a fraction of Mozart’s works, and perhaps a small fraction at that. These two factors—the more a composer wrote and the further back in time his life occurred–can be real roadblocks in fully knowing a composer.

I am only bringing this up because I am posting the Violin Sonata of Cesar Franck today. Franck was a very-known and highly respected French musician of the 19th century. He lived from 1822 to 1890. He had been born in Belgium, later studying and then living in Paris. He became known as the greatest organist of his day. He wrote nearly 100 works, representing all major genres—opera, orchestral, piano, organ, chamber, many songs, and sacred works. Many of his works are highly exciting, full of the richest harmony. Yet, we know him today, essentially, from just a handful of works:

• Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue for solo piano (MIL #109)
• Symphony in D Minor
• Panus Angelicus, a hymn setting for tenor
• Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra
• Violin Sonata in A Major

We should, of course, be very glad indeed that we have and know all that we DO have and know of Franck. My guess would be that in another hundred or two hundred years, this Violin Sonata may be THE work of Franck that survives in the collective musical imagination. The Violin Sonata is not just one of Franck’s greatest works, it is also one of THE great violin sonatas. It was written when Franck was 63 as a wedding present for the 31-year old Eugene Ysaye, the Belgian violinist, composer, and conductor. It is a work that is central in the repertoire of all violinists.

The work is written in four movements, and features something called “thematic transformation” in which the composer transplants themes used in previous movements into later ones, “transformed” in some way. The piano part is especially difficult—Franck himself was not only a formidable organist, but his skills as pianist were virtuosic. As you will hear, the work is as much a performance challenge for the pianist as the violinist.

I first played the Franck Sonata with a roommate at Juilliard, who studied with the great Dorothy Delay—THE violin teacher of the last half of the twentieth century. Needless to say, those are sessions I will never forget.

The fourth and final movement of the Sonata is a real celebration of melodic joy. It is a work that is often used—in violin competitions, for instance—as a standalone work to show off one’s violinistic prowess. In this recording, the French violinist Renaud Capucon performs with the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili.

Capucon (b. 1976) is a musician who specializes in the performance of chamber music, and has recorded a great number of them to critical acclaim. Buniatishvili (b. 1987) is actually the bigger name of these two musicians. She has performed with orchestras all over the world, and is nearly as well-known for her social activism as she is for her onstage glamour. She is hardly boxed into simply being a classical player, either. Her collaboration with Coldplay on their “Head Full of Dreams” as well as her touring as piano accompanist for Olympic ice skating champions both give an idea of her musical versatility.

There are a number of recordings of the Franck Violin Sonata on YouTube, as might be expected for such a famous work. To my ears, this one is the right combination of forward thrust and romantic singing lines.

Enjoy one of the jewels of the violin repertoire, an elegant piece performed with elegance in an elegant setting.

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#298 ADELE HOMETOWN GLORY, SOMEONE LIKE YOU, HELLO

#298

ADELE

HOMETOWN GLORY
SOMEONE LIKE YOU
HELLO

Vulnerable…but confident, and powerful

When one listens to Adele, one cannot help but alternate between two modes of listening—much as happens when listening to any great artist. You are captured by her lyrics and by her music. She is someone who has lived what she writes, and she knows how to give poetic and musical utterance to her life experiences in a way that anyone can relate to.

And then there is her voice, a most marvelous instrument. In an effort to compare her to other British female singers—especially in the early days of her success (she is only 30 now)—British reviewers had a difficult time because her voice is truly unique. She says that she taught herself to sing “by listening to Ella Fitzgerald for acrobatics and scales, Etta James for passion, and Roberta Flack for control.” I would have to say that, as far as the comparison goes, Adele’s voice is a glorious mix of those singers. But I would also add that her controlled power, and the little vocal “flicks” she adds throughout her songs are all Adele. I would put it in caps, but it would seem like shouting—Adele has a wonderful voice.

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins was born in 1988 in London. Like a number of the female singers that I have posted in Music I Love, there was never a time Adele was not writing songs and moving in a musical direction. She has toured the world three times—at the expense of her voice, unfortunately. She’s had to undergo surgeries and periods of vocal cord rest just to continue as a performer. During her most recent tour, she said there would be no more touring. For selfish reasons, I hope that was an overstatement. I would really love, at some future time, to be able to hear Adele in person.

There are few—one is tempted to say “no”—awards Adele has not garnered. Among her many awards were Grammys in 2009 for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. I’ve not kept track of such things, but I don’t think anyone has earned more Grammys in such a short period of time. She won six alone for her second album, “21.” She has been named Songwriter of the Year twice. She is one of the most honored pop singers in history already at her young age.

It is an interesting commentary on her life philosophy, as well as the control she asserts over her own life and her own creativity, that she has only released three albums over an 11-year period. “19”, “21”, and “25” all take their titles simply from the age she was when she wrote the songs that comprise those albums. Her albums are musical portraits of her life.

As I imagine I have said at some point in my posts, I disdain the day in the 1980’s when dancing became a prerequisite for every singer and every group. That is an exaggeration, I know, but sometimes it seems that way. This is an additional reason I have such admiration for Adele—her concerts are just her standing there in the middle of a stage and singing. She sings. She is a singer.

Certainly one of the highlights of Adele’s musical life was the song she wrote for the James Bond film, “Skyfall,” a song that would gather yet more awards for her. She is married to charity entrepreneur Simon Konecki and they have a five-year old son. She has said that only when she became a mother did she feel she was doing anything worthwhile.

A couple of years ago, during the presidential campaign here in the U.S., Hillary Clinton was asked—not that it was in any way relevant to anything—what musical artists she liked to listen to. She immediately said Adele. The quickness with which Adele’s liberal leanings were pounced upon by the other side was breath-taking. She is an LBGT advocate and a very strong backer of MusiCares, a charity that supports musicians in need. She loves to meet her fans backstage, but asks that anyone wanting to greet her give $20 to SANDS, a charity dedicated to supporting anyone affected by the death of a baby. She keeps a low profile in her various charity-giving. Aside from her prodigious musical talent, she seems like the kind of person you’d like to personally know as a friend.

I’d like to link to a track from each of her albums, which are my favorite tracks on those albums. It would have been possible, of course, to link to versions of her songs that include the lyrics, but the videos I’ve chosen have high production values of their own—and great popularity, as you’ll see. So, for those interested, I’m including the lyrics here.

FROM “19” – HOMETOWN GLORY

I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Missing out the cracks in the pavement
And turning my heel and strutting my feet
“Is there anything I can do for you dear?
Is there anyone I could call?”
“No and thank you, please Madam.
I ain’t lost, just wandering”

Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of this world
Are the wonders of now

I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque
I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades
I like it in the city when two worlds collide
You get the people and the government
Everybody taking different sides

Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Shows that we ain’t gonna take it
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united

Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met yea

Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of this world
Are the wonders of my world
Of my world, yeah
Of my world
Of my world, yeah

FROM “21” – SOMEONE LIKE YOU (over a billion YouTube views!)

I heard, that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re, married now

I heard, that your dreams came true
I guess she gave you things
I didn’t give to you

Old friend, why are you so shy
Ain’t like you to hold back
Or hide from the light

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited but I
Couldn’t stay away I couldn’t fight it
I had hoped you’d see my face
And that you be reminded that for me it isn’t over

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best
For you too, don’t forget me
I beg, I’ll remember you said
Shttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLQl3WQQoQ0ometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead
Sometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead yeah

You know how the time flies
Only yesterday it was the time of our lives
We were born and raised
In a summer haze bound by the surprise
Of our glory days

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited but I
Couldn’t stay away I couldn’t fight it
I hoped you’d see my face
And that you’d be reminded that for me it isn’t over

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Nothing compares no worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes their memories made
Who would have known how bittersweet
This would taste

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me I beg, I’ll remember you said
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead

FROM #25” – HELLO (over two billion views!)

Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet
To go over everything
They say that time’s supposed to heal ya
But I ain’t done much healing

Hello, can you hear me
I’m in California dreaming about who we used to be
When we were younger and free
I’ve forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet

There’s such a difference between us
And a million miles

Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Hello, how are you?
It’s so typical of me to talk about myself I’m sorry
I hope that you’re well
Did you ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened

It’s no secret that the both of us
Are running out of time

So hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Ooooohh, anymore
Ooooohh, anymore
Ooooohh, anymore
Anymore

Hello from the other side
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

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#297 BEETHOVEN SYMPHONY #6 IN F MAJOR, OPUS 68 (“PASTORAL” SYMPHONY)

#297

BEETHOVEN SYMPHONY #6 IN F MAJOR, OPUS 68

FIRST MOVEMENT

VIENNA PHILHARMONIC
LEONARD BERNSTEIN, CONDUCTOR

The first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony—which is subtitled a “pastoral” symphony, intending to bring to mind a walk in the country and a bonding with nature at its most felicitous—is certainly one of my favorite works of Beethoven. You may already know that Beethoven—especially as his hearing loss grew more acute, and he was feeling more and more isolated within himself—took to taking long walks in the Viennese countryside. A direct result of these walks was his sixth symphony, which has five movements—not three or even four—each one of which has a description given by the composer, having to do with some aspect of nature:

1st mov’t Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside

2nd mov’t Scene by the brook

3rd mov’t Merry gathering of country folk

4th mov’t Thunderstorm

5th mov’t Shepherd’s song—cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

I first heard the Sixth Symphony—and all the other Beethoven symphonies—when I purchased, as a teenager, the complete set of Beethoven Symphonies performed by the NBC Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Truthfully, I probably played each one a hundred times in my high school years. One of my favorite movements from all nine symphonies is this one. Can there be a Beethoven work so full of repose and serenity as the first movement of the Sixth Symphony?

Soylent Green…

I have another strong association with the movement, other than just repeatedly—hedonistically—enjoying the music, ever since I was a young man. Perhaps like me, you have also seen Soylent Green, the 1973 movie starring Charleton Heston and Edward G. Robinson (in his last film)? It was a post-apocalyptic movie in which the earth, in the year 2022 (!), is experiencing a permanent greenhouse effect, pollution is rampant, resources all over the earth are depleted, and euthanasia has become the standard and accepted policy to deal with an overpopulated earth. There is a euthanasia scene—Edward G. Robinson has reached the age at which he is required to go to a particular station in order to be euthanized. Each person has some control over what they see and hear as they die in a drug-administered death. Edward G. Robinson’s character hears, as he dies, the first movement of the Beethoven Sixth Symphony (as well as a couple of other selections—Tchaikovsky and Grieg—“light classical” was his music request) while simultaneously watching fields of flowers and other scenes of nature. It is a very moving scene—especially on the big screen—and its effect in the movie is underscored by the contrast, in the rest of the movie, with continual darkness and shadows. The way the world used to be—back in the 20th century and earlier—is now only seen in movie projections. The scene is not something one forgets the beauty of. The use of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in the movie was pure genius.

And of course—movies aside—the music stands alone as yet another great Beethovenian monument…

This performance by Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic is a fine one.

Here also is the Soylent Green clip, for anyone interested. Unfortunately, the colors in this clip are not as vivid as they were in the movie! Beethoven starts at 2:39.

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#296 SECOND BRITISH INVASION – THREE MEMORIES

#296

SECOND BRITISH INVASION – THREE MEMORIES

JOE JACKSON 1982
THOMPSON TWINS 1984
TEARS FOR FEARS 1985

I know I tend to sometimes get verbose when writing my posts. I do love to write. And more often than not—much more often than not—it is not enough for me to simply like a particular pop song. If I like something enough, I usually look into it pretty thoroughly, taking time to see what else about this group I may have missed—not to leave any stone unturned, etc.

But that is not true with these three songs, or with a lot of pop songs that I experienced in the early 1980’s.

Back in 1981, I had just gotten a teaching position in Sinclair’s music department and was beginning to see how really great it felt to be a part of students’ lives. Musically, I was at a point where I felt the need to establish my identity, both by playing concerts and through community music involvement. Jason, our older son, was 4 in 1982, Jonathan would be born in 1984. Being a father to young boys was off-the-charts wonderful. Tiraje was as beautiful as ever, and was enjoying motherhood as much as I was fatherhood. I was still churning out pages in my doctoral thesis, a project that was always receding into the future. This was a time in my life when I had to be content to listen to pop music only in the car, driving back and forth to work. No time to learn anything about the people I was listening to—even when I liked them a lot. It was a great time to be alive.

These are three songs that I liked a lot for their musical qualities—and still do. In addition to their musical appeal, though, I also have to say they do bring back a lot of profoundly good memories—especially those of walking to my car at 10 at night, driving home with the windows down and inhaling the spring air, of just feeling physically and psychically good and being aware of it.

But I have never to this day taken the time to learn anything much about these groups. What I do know is that they were all British. Joe Jackson’s work was often nominated for Grammys, I remember seeing that on TV. The Thompson Twins were, in fact, not twins, but a group that had taken their name from a British comic strip. I liked the harmonies of “Hold Me Now” and am still impressed with the vocal range of Tom Bailey, their lead singer. Tears for Fears, like the Thompson Twins, were part of what came to be known as the “second” British invasion, part of the “new wave.”

So, all I’m posting today are these three songs-slash-memories that I loved. Maybe they will have some meaning for you as well.

Photos: Joe Jackson, Thompson Twins, Tears For Fears.

JOE JACKSON – STEPPIN’ OUT

THOMSON TWINS – HOLD ME NOW

TEARS FOR FEARS – EVERYONE WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD

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#295 RICHARD WAGNER RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES

#295

RICHARD WAGNER

RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC
DANIEL BARENBOIM, CONDUCTOR

UNCITED PERFORMERS FROM “APOCALYPSE NOW”

I once read, at least thirty years ago, that of all historical figures, the only person to have had more books written about himself than Richard Wagner was Jesus Christ. I don’t know where I read that statistic. I believe my reading it pre-dated my owning my first computer, so I would have no record of it other than the memory. And I don’t know how accurate the statement was. All I know is that it stuck in my head. I do know that quick checks online reveal that many thousands of books have been written about him, not only in German and English, but in other languages as well.

So it is with a little trepidation that I am posting my first post of Wagner.

He was just a composer, how could there possibly have been—why does there continue to be—so much interest in him?—I can hear a fictitious student ask. Obviously, he was more than just a composer, he was intellectually brilliant and a force of nature temperamentally. Compositionally, he WAS in fact second only to Beethoven in his influence on the course of art music—and some would say that is a reversal of the true order.

With Wagner, we’re not dealing with an ordinary man and we’re not dealing with an ordinary composer—even among the great ones.

I always try to create a balance in my posts between offering information about a composer—his life, and how the details of his life impacted the composition of certain works—and offering some information about a particular work in question. With Wagner, that simply can’t be done in a single post. There’s just too much information. Here are some basics, in no particular order, starting with a couple of that you may already remember from your high school world history class:

• Wagner (1813-1883) is continually—and correctly—identified with anti-semitism. His life and his music were later closely identified with Hitler and Nazism.

• He proudly claimed to be the most Germanic of all composers, embodying in his music the very essence of the German people, Germanic history, and Germanic legend.

• His life was as tumultuous as can be imagined, characterized by political exile, turbulent love affairs, and extreme debt while living in opulent circumstances, often provided by others. He was regarded and acknowledged to be the great genius of his time, so it was considered an honor for those with deep pockets—especially King Ludwig II of Bavaria—to support him.

• His reputation as a composer is as a creator of operas. When one thinks of Wagner, one thinks of opera. His concept of opera, known as the Gesamtkunstwerk, revolutionized the form. A Gesamtkunstwerk was a “total work of art,” encompassing not only musical, but poetic, visual, and dramatic arts all rolled into one experience. He combined these elements into the four operas comprising his Der Ring des Nibelungen—the Ring of the Nibelung. In Wagner’s vision of the Gesamtkunstwerk, music was subservient to the drama—the verbal (sung) ideas and the stories they were depicting were the vehicles for the music, not vice versa. Wagner purposefully did not call himself a composer of operas, but of dramas.

• Wagner had his own opera house built at Bayreuth, Germany—built for the sole presentation of his operas, which continues to the present day. Hundreds of thousands of Wagner-lovers—a special category of music lovers, in my mind—have flocked to Bayreuth to hear Wagner operas every summer since the 1880’s. If one heard, at a typical Bayreuth Festival, only the four operas of The Ring, this would entail four days of concert attendance—people plan vacations around the Bayreuth Festival.

• Wagner’s operas number thirteen. Most are lengthy. They range in duration from Das Reingold at two hours and forty minutes to four hours and thiry-five minutes for Die Meistersinger. Attending a Wagner opera often means an earlier start time and later end time for a single performance.

• Musically, Wagner’s music became a pivotal point, a hinge, in the history of music—not just art music. His use of chromaticism and quickly changing tonal centers led to a reconsideration of the way musical form had been regarded and utilized. There would have been no Mahler or Bruckner—or essentially any twentieth century composition—as we now know it, anyway—without Wagner. Tristan and Isolde, a love story based on the Arthurian story, is perhaps Wagner’s most-loved opera with the general public, and is often cited as THE work on which this hinge first moved.

• Wagner’s wife, Cosima, had been both the married wife of the famed conductor Hans von Bulow and the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt when Wagner started a relationship with her. She gave birth to their daughter, Isolde, while still married to von Bulow.

• Both Wagner and Cosima were prolific writers. The strongest literary and philosophical influence on Wagner had been Arthur Schopenhauer, in whose works he identified with a deeply pessimistic view of humanity. Throughout his life, Wagner called his acquaintance with the writings of Schopenhauer the most important event of his life.
__________

These bulleted items are, as you might imagine, only the barest, thinnest outline of this man who became so pivotal in the history of music and the history of Germany—and by extension of both, the history of the western world. And, as is always the case, there is no need to know any of this to appreciate his music. Which brings up my next point.

It will come as no surprise, even to those who know no more about Wagner than what I have just written, that Wagner is a complex personality—regarded by some as despicable, and equally by others as admirable. His life exemplifies the truth—if we hadn’t grasped it already—that we will often find goodness and evil residing in great men, sometimes in equal proportion, just as can be seen as a general characteristic of all people. Part of the experience of growing up—it was certainly part of MY growing up experience—listening to great performances of great music written by great composers—is the gradual, but continual, realization that many of these men had flaws, some them pretty serious. Separating, in one’s mind, a man’s behavior from his abilities is an ongoing—and inevitable—part of music appreciation.
__________

Wagner’s Ring cycle included, as its second opera, Die Walkure—a story that was based on Norse mythology. In Norse mythology, a valkyrie is one in a group of female figures—goddesses—who decides which soldiers die in battle and which live. Die Walküre’s best-known excerpt is the “Ride of the Valkyries”. It is one of a handful of Wagnerian works that have become part of our everyday life, tunes that we recognize but often don’t know why.

But many readers may indeed know why you know this music. You may remember Francis Ford Coppola’s movie “Apocalpyse Now,” one of a number of Vietnam films that came out in the decade after America’s involvement in the war had ended. In it were displayed many horrors of the war, including a particularly brutal American helicopter attack on an innocent Vietnamese village. If you remember this scene, you also remember the music that accompanied it was The Ride of the Valkyries. I’m including a link to that to jog your memories.

Barenboim’s performance with the Berlin Philharmonic is quite exhilarating.

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#294 ROLLING STONES (I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION

#294

ROLLING STONES

(I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION

This may be a strange post, and it might not give much “satisfaction” to some readers.

I’ve mentioned before my aversion to the Rolling Stones. While we all think that our own particular musical taste is THE right taste to have—that OUR preferences and aesthetic choices are just so right that how could anyone disagree?—the fact is that we all hear music through different lenses. I would not (and do not) expect my opinion on the Rolling Stones to change anyone else’s opinion. I just have not been equipped with the proper lens—aesthetically or intellectually—to appreciate the Rolling Stones, so I have never understood their popularity.

I was discussing this with my good friend Dean a month or so ago—he had asked me, “Hey Bob, where are the STONES in your music-i-love blog??—and I was telling him that, with regard to the Stones, the best—and fairest—path I could take would be to listen to ALL of the Rolling Stones, to get the broadest possible overview, before posting anything about them. (I was hoping, I guess, that through such a thorough approach, I would come to appreciate their music, and that I would also be able to talk more intelligently about the super-group.)

I’m afraid it just hasn’t worked out that way. The other day, I was cleaning the kitchen (in Tiraje’s absence) and I decided, what better time to get to try to appreciate them than while I was working up a sweat! “Alexa, play Rolling Stones!” I commanded. And, as Alexa always does, she first presented all of the Stones’ best-known songs before working her way into those that are less well-known (at least to me). I wrote down all the songs I was already familiar with (this was a pretty long listening session):

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
19th Nervous Breakdown
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Angie
Get Off My Cloud
Lady Jane
Let’s Spend the Night Together
Paint It Black
Ruby Tuesday
Sympathy for the Devil
Under My Thumb
The Last Time
Pain in My Heart
Heart of Stone
Brown Sugar
Beast of Burden
Have You Seen Your Mother
Not Fade Away
She’s a Rainbow
Wild Horses
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Time Is On My Side
Jumping Jack Flash
Gimme Shelter
Start Me Up

Since these two dozen songs represent the best of the Rolling Stones, their “greatest hits”—and since these songs also represent them over two decades—in which I didn’t hear any stylistic changes—then it seems fair to say—and logical—that one is not likely to hear anything significantly different—or better—by listening to every track they recorded on their 26 studio albums. At least that is what I am guessing.

So, I think I gave them a pretty good shot at re-shaping my opinion. But I have to say, I definitely still don’t get it, I still don’t understand the Rolling Stones success. Which has been, to understate it, pretty incredible–they have won every music award and honor in the pop music world that exists, and they continue to tour to sold-out audiences all over the world. Still, there is no aesthetic level on which I can appreciate them. So, it must be me. I’m not trying to be simplistic—and certainly not argumentative—but I can only guess that the Rolling Stones were, from the start, selling attitude, personified (for decades now) by Mick Jagger’s swagger.

I understand that their music is rooted in rhythm and blues. And, that perhaps one is “supposed” to relate to the style, not to individual performances, in order to appreciate the Rolling Stones. BUT—in my opinion—other British bands of the time who had similar roots—the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, the Animals, the Spencer Davis Group, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames—had, each one of them, better song-writing skills and always something aesthetically pleasing to offer. And this is not to mention half a century’s worth of American R&B artists.

Aside from their generally thin, repetition-laden song-writing, I’ve also never been able to relate on any level to Jagger’s voice. There have been other unique voices in rock music—Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Axl Rose, Randy Bachman and dozens of others—who, in spite of—or in addition to—their vocal uniqueness were still eminently listenable. But not so with Jagger—for me. Even the ballads the Stones sang—great ballads like Ruby Tuesday, Angie, and Time Is On My Side—would have better served by a better singer.

Ok, I’m sorry to dwell on that. As I said, I guess I just don’t have the appropriate aural lens through which to hear the Rolling Stones. When the rest of the world is going one way and you’re going the other, one tends to feel the need to explain….

__________

HOWEVER…the Rolling Stones’ first huge hit—“I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”—was something I DID find—and still find—quite appealing, on musical grounds.

I have mentioned in other posts about the use of the “fuzz box” in some 60’s music—Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky (Music I Love #121) and The Carpenters’ Goodbye to Love (MIL # 43). The “fuzz box” was the invention of Nashville recording engineer Glenn Snoddy. The Gibson (guitar) Company found out about his invention, bought the rights to it, and proceeded to manufacture the Maestro Fuzz-Tone.

It is THAT sound that is the iconic opening of “Satisfaction”—one of the first and certainly the best-known, instantly-recognizable use of the fuzz box in pop music history–it is that sound that hooked me, along with many millions of other pop music fans. Musically, “Satisfaction” alternates between two chords. It is not at all complex, but that—and the fuzz box—are, I believe—the reasons for its musical success.

I happened to first hear “Satisfaction” in the spring of 1965. I was just finishing seventh grade. I was standing in the unfinished basement of our small suburban house in the late afternoon, sunlight was streaming through the small windows near the ceiling, at ground level. When I first heard the opening—Keith Richards’ fuzz tone—I stood still and had to listen to every word of the song. Surprisingly, I caught a number of them on first listen:

When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man come on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination

When I’m watchin’ my TV and a man comes on and tells me
How white my shirts can be
But, he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarettes as me

When I’m ridin’ ’round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m signin’ that
And I’m tryin’ to make some girl, who tells me
Baby, better come back maybe next week
Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak?

The lyrics and the fuzz tone had my undivided attention. For whatever reason, I did not find Jagger’s voice objectionable in “Satisfaction.” I bought the Stones’ Out of Our Heads album and wore it out. But try as I might, I could not get the same kind of satisfaction (sorry…) from the album’s other tracks. That ended up being the only Stones album I would purchase.

Nevertheless, “Satisfaction” will be a song I will always love. I’m very thankful for that fuzz box. Can you just IMAGINE that lead-in being played by ANY other instrument? The song would be totally deflated…

I’m open-minded when it comes to music. So I can’t rule out yet another attempt to “get into” the Stones. Just don’t anyone hold your breath, though…and I’m sure you won’t

Everyone has their own “Satisfaction” memory. I hope this brings yours back for you.

And please, if anyone wants to, convince me I am wrong about their music.

 

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#293 RAVEL PAVANE POUR UNE INFANTE DEFUNTE (PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS)

#293

RAVEL

PAVANE POUR UNE INFANTE DEFUNTE
(PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS)

BERTRAND CHAMAYOU, PIANO

(Images: Diego Valezquez “Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa”–the young Ravel–Winnaretta Singer, the Princess de Polignac.)

An early masterpiece…simplicity and magic

A pavane was a very slow processional dance that was common in Renaissance Europe. When Ravel was 24 years old and still studying at the Conservatoire de Paris under Gabriel Faure, he wrote the Pavane for a Dead Princess for solo piano. It is the earliest masterpiece among his compositions for piano.

The piece was not meant to be a tribute to, or evocation of, a particular princess. Rather, it is meant, as Ravel himself said, as “an imaginary remembrance of a pavane that a little princess [infanta] might, in former times, have danced at the Spanish court.” Ravel had a passion for all things Spanish, as did a number of other French greats—Debussy and Chabrier among them. The 1659 painting by the great Spanish artist, Diego Valezquez—Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa—served as inspiration for Ravel’s Pavane.

An interesting sidebar to Ravel’s Pavane has to do with its dedicatee, who herself was a princess—but not by birth.

At the time he wrote the Pavane, Ravel had a patron in the person of Winnaretta Singer, the American-born heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune. Singer had one of the more unusual lives of anyone living in the era. She was lesbian, but married—twice—to French princes. The first of these princes discovered her lack of interest in men on their wedding night. The second marriage–to Prince Edmond de Polignac, a gay composer—was amicable and happy—a so-called “lavender” marriage between a gay man and a lesbian. It was somewhat coincidental, therefore, that Ravel dedicated the Pavane for a Dead Princess to an actual princess.

The Princess de Polignac’s salon was the heart and soul of Parisian artistic activity, a breeding ground of creativity. Ravel, Debussy, d’Indy, Faure, and Chabrier all wrote works that were first performed there. Literary talents gravitated to her salon as well. Proust’s evocations of Parisian salon life were all first experienced at the de Polignac salon.

She used her enormous wealth to support and encourage a great number of musicians and composers—Stravinsky, Satie, Poulenc (she commissioned his Concerto for Two Pianos), Kurt Weill, and de Falla. She was a patron and supporter of Isadora Duncan, Jean Cocteau, Claude Monet, Sergei Diaghilev, Colette, Nadia Boulanger, Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Arthur Rubinstein, and Vladimir Horowitz. Hers was truly the centerpiece of artistic endeavor in Paris from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries.

I did not mean to write more about de Polignac than Ravel, but it is all very interesting…

Ravel’s Pavane, being six minutes long, is often played as an encore. A communicative performance of it will leave an audience spellbound. Its simplicity, and Ravel’s luminous harmonies, are its magic.

Ravel orchestrated the Pavane some 15 years after writing it for piano. Both versions are popular. But many people—including myself—prefer the intimacy of the solo piano version, which I am linking to here.

Bertrand Chamayou (b. 1981) is a French pianist. His interpretation of French music is superlative. This is a fine performance of Ravel’s Pavane for a Dead Princess.

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#292 MOZART BASTIEN UND BASTIENNE, K. 50

#292

MOZART

BASTIEN UND BASTIENNE, K. 50

LEIPZIG RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
MAX POMMER, CONDUCTOR
BASTIEN: RALPH ESCHRIG
BASTIENNE: DAGMAR SCHELLENBERGER
COLAS: RENE PAPE

Innocence personified, cosmic talent exhibited…

Although written in 1768 when Mozart was just twelve years old, Bastien und Bastienne is—because Mozart was Mozart—actually the third opera he would write. It is a one-act comic opera, a singspiel. A “singspiel” was an opera characterized by spoken dialogue—in this case, in German—alternating with music.

Bastien und Bastienne was commissioned by the famous Viennese doctor, Franz Mesmer—whose name would go down in psychological history for his theory of “animal magnetism”—the theory that there is an inevitable attraction between animate and inanimate objects—when experiencing this magnetism, one would be “mesmerized.” The Mozarts, father and son, had crossed the doctor’s path on their “networking” visit to Vienna, and one of the results was Bastien und Bastienne, a thoroughly delightful, and relatively brief (at 40 minutes) work that had its initial performance in the garden of Mesmer’s significant estate. This was probably the only time the work was ever heard until the late nineteenth century. It is now numbered among Mozart’s 22 operas.

A synopsis of the plot—such as it was—shows that Mozart was already familiar with comic opera, plot intricacies, and how to depict these things musically—the kind of thing that would be impressive at any age, but is profoundly thought-provoking for someone who is just twelve years old.

The plot:

Bastienne is a shepherdess who fears that her “dearest friend”, Bastien, has forsaken her for another pretty face, and she decides to go into the pasture to be comforted by her flock of lambs. Before she can leave, however, she runs into Colas, the village soothsayer. Bastienne requests the help of his magical powers to help win back her Bastien. Colas (being a soothsayer) knows all about the problem, and comforts her with the knowledge that Bastien has not abandoned her, rather, he’s merely been distracted lately by ‘the lady of the manor’. His advice is to act coldly towards Bastien, which will make him come running back. Bastien is heard approaching, so Bastienne hides herself. Bastien swaggers in, proclaiming how much he loves Bastienne. Colas informs him that Bastienne has a new lover. Bastien is shocked and asks the magician for help. Colas opens his book of spells and recites a nonsense aria filled with random syllables and Latin quotations. Colas declares the spell a success and that Bastienne is in love with Bastien once more. Bastienne, however, decides to keep up the game a bit longer and spurns Bastien with great vehemence. Bastien threatens suicide, which Bastienne merely shrugs off. Finally, the two decide that they have gone far enough and agree to reconcile. Colas joins them as they all sing a final trio in praise of the magician.

There are, as you can see, just three characters. There is only a minimal amount of stage action, as well as minimal orchestral involvement—but the orchestra’s overture is a real gem.

Regarding the overture. As will surprise no one who reads my posts, I have a separate folder in one of my audio players devoted to the Mozart opera overtures. The overture to B&B is less than two minutes long. I have listened to it hundreds of times, I really love it. The very first time I heard it, I thought, “wait a minute, that is the theme of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony!” It is indeed the same notes, the same key. But it is also entirely coincidental. Beethoven simply could never have heard Bastien und Bastienne. It is just one of those coincidences of great musical minds thinking alike, I guess.

Of course, as with all opera, one need not know the plot or the language it is conveyed in to fully love the music. Here is the opera in its entirety. I am giving the timings of those parts that I find the most wonderful.

0:00 Overture
1:47 Bastienne
4:00 Bastienne
5:19 orchestra – Mozart could write a real country hoe-down!
10:07 Bastienne
14:58 Bastien
19:11 Colas – Mozart’s two dramatic (and later) G Minor symphonies prefigured here!
24:15 Bastienne – it is as though Mozart, in his mind, was as much a dancer as he was a musician…
33:19 Bastien and Bastienne duet – AMAZING orchestral/vocal interplay for a 12-year old

I guess it’s obvious I love every minute of this work. I hope you will too.

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#291 CAROLE KING IT’S TOO LATE

#291

CAROLE KING

IT’S TOO LATE

I was thinking yesterday about who I might like to post today. I thought of Bobby Vee—whose voice I liked and whose “Take Good Care of My Baby” was a song I really liked. I considered the Drifters, who brought back memories of the beginning of junior high school for me with their “Up On the Roof.” I’d also been thinking for many months about posting the Righteous Brothers, who had many songs I loved, one of which was “Just Once In My Life”–they were certainly a pop music leitmotiv of my adolescence. And, the whole girl-group phenomenon of the 1960’s is also something I related to—the Shirelles with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and the Chiffons with “One Fine Day”—truly one of my favorite songs. There were so many great songs from the girl groups.

And then it occurred to me that the common element among all these singers was Carole King. Carole King had written all of these songs.

Carole King is the most successful female pop music composer of the last half of the 20th century. Her enormous talent and ingratiating—humble, even—personality have justifiably earned her some of the highest musical honors—the Kennedy Center Award, an honorary doctorate from Berklee, the Gershwin Prize, an armload of Grammys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame—and most importantly, the love—real love—from an adoring public as well as from her fellow musical colleagues, of which there are many.

King was a New York City girl, and happened to grow up being friends with the likes of Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka. King—then Carol Klein—had dated Sedaka in high school, and she became the inspiration for his first hit, the one that established his future career, “Oh, Carol.” King was writing hit songs from the time she was a teenager. Her first huge success was the Shirelles singing her “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” written when King was just 18. It is interesting that for the first 15 years or so of her professional life, she regarded herself as a song-writer for others—not a performer in her own right.

It was with the runaway success of her second solo album, Tapestry, that she could no longer NOT perform, the demand for her was so high.

I’ve mentioned before this particular trait—if that’s the right word for it—I have regarding memories and pop songs. While I was a student in New York, I was ever the industrious musician, with every hour accounted for from the time I woke up until I went to bed. (Quite boring, in retrospect, and certainly the opposite of Tiraje, who was always about living life!) So, it’s all the more puzzling to me when I remember that there was one weekday in May of 1971 when I was home from school in the middle of the afternoon! I guess I must have felt some urgency about just “getting away from it all.” I lived six subway stops from Juilliard, and that was sufficiently “away.” There was no one home in the apartment. It was a very sunny May afternoon and I was gazing—at nothing in particular, across the Hudson River—out of the huge windows of the apartment I lived in, and “It’s Too Late” was playing on the radio. There was nothing about the song’s lyrics that I related to—although the lyrics are great—but the music was just so good, so well-written. I’ll always remember that particular moment.

But for me—and millions of other Carole King fans—our lives have been FILLED with moments that her music illuminated.

Here is a partial list of her songs (it has to be partial because it’s just so long):

Will You Love Me Tomorrow Shirelles
Take Good Care of My Baby Bobby Vee
Chains The Cookies, The Beatles
Loco-Motion Little Eva
Go Away Little Girl Steve Lawrence
Up On the Roof The Drifters
Hey Girl Donny Osmond
One Fine Day The Chiffons
I’m Into Something Good Herman’s Hermits
Just Once in My Life The Righteous Brothers
Don’t Bring Me Down The Animals
Pleasant Valley Sunday The Monkees
You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman Aretha Franklin
Crying in the Rain Everly Brothers
Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby The Cookies
I Can’t Hear You No More Betty Everett, Helen Reddy
If It’s Over Mariah Carey
It’s Going To Take Some Time The Carpenters
The Reason Celine Dion
Sweet Young Thing The Monkees
You’ve Got a Friend James Taylor

And then, of course, there are these King mega-hits, performed by the artist herself:

Beautiful
Been to Canaan
So Far Away
Now and Forever
Jazzman
Nightingale
I Feel the Earth Move
It’s Too Late

King’s 1971 album, Tapestry, was a phenomenal success, staying at the number one spot on the charts for an amazing four months. The album won four Grammys—Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year—King was the first woman to ever win that honor.

More recently, in 2014, King’s career was summarized well in a Broadway musical called “Beautiful” about her own life. Jessie Mueller won the Tony Award that year for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her portrayal of Carole King.

In the same way that George Gershwin songs represent an era of American history—the 1920’s and 30’s—Carole King songs do the same for the 60’s and 70’s, her golden decades. I imagine her songs will have the same kind of longevity that Gershwin’s have had. I could not write a better tribute to her than this one I found from when King was awarded the Gershwin prize:

“Carole King has been one of the most influential songwriters of our time. For more than five decades, she has written for and been recorded by many different types of artists for a wide range of audiences, communicating with beauty and dignity the universal human emotions of love, joy, pain and loss. Her body of work reflects the spirit of the Gershwin Prize with its originality, longevity and diversity of appeal.”

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