Month: December 2017

#155 MOZART PIANO CONCERTO #9 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, K. 271 (“JEUNEHOMME”)

#155

MOZART
PIANO CONCERTO #9 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, K. 271
(“JEUNEHOMME”)

MARIA JOAO PIRES, PIANO
BERLIN PHILHARMONIC
TREVOR PINNOCK, CONDUCTOR

“one of the greatest wonders of the world”…

Mozart’s ninth piano concerto is often referred to, incorrectly, as the “Jeunehomme” concerto. The work is another rare example of Mozart writing with a performer other than himself in mind—in this case, a young woman, Victoire Jenamy. She was the daughter of Jean-Georges Noverre, the French dancer and balletmaster. Writers about music in the 19th century confused her name—Jenamy—with the French words for young man—Jeune homme—and the name has stuck to the work ever since.

In 1773, Noverre had a short stay in Vienna at a time when Mozart was briefly there also. This is where the two men met. At the time the concerto was written—1777—Noverre was much more well-known than Mozart. He was thirty years older than Mozart, had had a substantial career in Lyon and in Vienna, where he had been the dance instructor for the young Marie Antionette. Years later, when she became the Queen of France, she appointed him balletmaster of the Paris Opera.

Mozart would write, in 1778, music for one of Noverre’s ballets, Les petits riens, a work that is today in both the ballet and orchestral repertoire. Noverre’s daughter, Victoire, was apparently a fine young pianist, and Mozart, probably to further his own career by connecting with Noverre, wrote the E-flat major concerto for her to perform. Clearly, she must have been both technically and musically accomplished in order to play the work. Unlike the previous concerto (#8 in C Major, K. 246), there is nothing purposefully amateurish about this work.

Mozart was 21 years old when he composed this concerto, some nine months after K. 246. The grace and elegance of this concerto—like so many of the others!—is a bit overwhelming. The first movement, very unusual for the time, has the piano interjecting as soon as the work commences. Throughout the first movement, the piano and orchestra have a continuous dialogue. As a measure of how valued this concerto was to Mozart, he wrote two cadenzas for the first movement, giving himself a choice whenever he performed it. The whole idea of writing for posterity—and therefore, for future pianists who would play the work—did not even exist at the time.

Likewise, Mozart wrote two cadenzas for the second movement. This movement is one of only five slow movements in the Mozart piano concertos that is written in a minor key. The third movement opens—again, quite unusual for the time—with a solo piano rondo.

K. 271 is very highly regarded. Charles Rosen, an eminent scholar and wonderful pianist, called it “the first unequivocal masterpiece of the classical style.” The pianist Alfred Brendel calls it “one of the greatest wonders of the world.” Alfred Einstein, the musicologist, referred to the E-flat concerto as “Mozart’s Eroica”—referring to the Third (and first monumentally great) symphony of Beethoven.

This performance by one of my favorites, Maria Joao Pires, is superb. The Berlin Philharmonic—in what must have been an all-Mozart program—employs Mozartean-size forces. Often, one observes, in the performance of Mozart concertos, orchestras that are simply too large to reflect Mozart’s time or his intentions. The orchestral size here is just right.

First movement 0:00
Second movement 11:54
Third movement 23:45

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#154 BACH CANTATA #17, BWV 17 WER DANK OPFERT, DER PREISET MICH

#154

BACH
CANTATA #17, BWV 17

WER DANK OPFERT, DER PREISET MICH
(HE WHO OFFERS THANKS, PRAISES ME)

MOVEMENTS 1, 3, 5, 7 (of seven)

MUNICH BACH CHOIR AND ORCHESTRA
KARL RICHTER, CONDUCTOR

Written 1726

  MUNICH BACH CHOIR

Something to wonder about: in what way would Bach’s musical gifts have flowered in a non-Christian culture? Or maybe just a non-Lutheran culture? Or a non-18th century time period? Would he still be regarded (by many) as the greatest composer who ever lived?

Obviously, we can only guess. But it is impossible to separate Bach’s music from his faith. The vast majority of the Cantatas—a very substantial portion of his entire output, therefore—revolve around the Lutheran calendar, around the Bible, and around Bach’s personal faith experiences. I’m not mentioning this with any particular train of thought in mind. It is just that whenever I’ve been away from the cantatas for any time at all and then return to them, Bach’s Christian faith always confronts me.

This particular cantata, the English translation of which is He Who Offers Thanks Praises Me, is a good example of just how involved Bach was with the way his cantatas were interwoven with the Lutheran church services. In this case, the first three movements were performed before the sermon—always the actual centerpiece of the Lutheran service—and the sermon was followed by the final four movements. The texts utilized were Old Testament pre-sermon, and New Testament post-sermon. The general theme, as one could expect from the title of the cantata, is that man has an obligation to give thanks to God.

I am afraid that I am, once again, departing from my intention of noting a single “favorite” movement from each cantata with this posting. The odd numbered movements in Cantata #17 all have something irresistible about them. And since this recording—another great one by Karl Richter—is of such high quality, and with such fine soloists, I’ll just post the whole cantata.

Movement 1 0:00 CHORUS

WER DANK OPFERT, DER PREISET MICH – He who offers thanks praises Me

A marvelous contrapuntal, extremely energetic opening chorus preceded by an expansive orchestra section. Richter’s recording makes hearing every part, every entrance, crystal clear. It seems unlikely to me that even Bach’s choir could have replicated this display of choral technique by the Munich Bach Choir.

Movement 3 5:08 SOPRANO ARIA

HERR, DEINE GUTE REICHT SO WEIT DER HIMMERL IST – Lord, your goodness reaches as wide as Heaven

Continual descending and ascending jumps for both orchestra and soprano soloist, sometimes of more than an octave, musically unify this happy movement. Edith Mathis is the soprano.

Movement 5 9:35 TENOR ARIA

WELCH UBERMAß DER GUTE – What an abundance of goodness

Peter Schreier is the tenor soloist in one of Bach’s happiest movements (but, of course, he wrote dozens and dozens of them). This movement is characterized by instantly-executed subito dynamic changes, and some unexpected harmonic turns.

Movement 7 14:47 CHORALE

WIE SICH EIN VATER ERBARMET – As a Father has mercy

I seldom include the final chorale movement as a “favorite”—it is usually the shortest movement, and always involves 4-part, often in-tandem, choral writing. But there is a gracious quality about this chorale movement, and a phrasing symmetry that I have always enjoyed. It is one of my favorite chorales, despite its brevity and simplicity.

Photo is the Munich Bach Choir.

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#153 BEATLES PREFACE #3

#153

BEATLES
PREFACE #3

ALL (U.S.) ALBUMS LIST

Before I begin writing about Beatles songs, I’ll list here all of the Beatles albums in the order of their release in the U.S.

In subsequent postings, when I discuss each album, I will give the album, and every song on that album, a rating on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being highest. Before I do that, I should make two things clear:

• SHARING

As I’ve often stated, my goal for the Music I Love blog is simply to share the music that has made positive impressions on me over my lifetime. Like many a teenager in the 1960’s, the Beatles occupied a disproportionate amount of my listening time when it came to popular music. Many of us can measure our adolescent years via whatever Beatles hit was current, 1964-1970. A large majority of all 307 of their recorded songs are songs I can call my “favorites,” songs I know and love. I won’t just be listing tracks that happen to appear on albums, etc.

• RATING

How does one rate a Beatles album or an individual song? By what measure will I be measuring? And why rate things at all? Well, I’ll be putting my ratings “out there” to proffer an idea of what you might be able to expect if it happens that you don’t already know a particular song. Maybe it will be valuable. Of all the Beatles albums, I happen to feel that SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND is the Beatles at their consistently best. And, as a measuring stick of SPLHB, I would rate “A Day In The Life” as being a 5-star (5*) song. So, I will measure each album and each individual song against these yardsticks.

You may very well have other Beatles songs that you regard as “best”—I have no doubt that will be true. But I doubt if too many Beatles fans would regard “A Day In The Life” as being LESS than a 5-star song. Obviously, any rating of mine is only worth so much and certainly may not agree with anyone else’s—or yours. I will VERY MUCH welcome comments about how I am grossly underrating this song or wildly overrating that one!
_________________________________________________

The Beatles had 18 U.S. releases. I am also including a 19th called PAST MASTERS, and a 20th called BEATLES 1. PAST MASTERS was originally issued in 1988 as two separate discs (volumes 1 and 2) which, essentially, contained singles that had never been released as part of albums as well as some miscellaneous tracks. Later, PAST MASTERS was issued as a two-disc set in 2009. BEATLES 1 is a collection, marking the 30th anniversary of the Beatles’ breakup in 1970, of all 27 of their number one hits. With these two final releases, the Beatles recorded “history” is basically complete.

So, here they are, with the years of their U.S. release:

1 MEET THE BEATLES                                                     January 20, 1964
2 BEATLES SECOND ALBUM                                                April 10, 1964
3 HARD DAY’S NIGHT                                                            June 26, 1964
4 SOMETHING NEW                                                               July 20, 1964
5 BEATLES 65                                                               December 15, 1964
6 EARLY BEATLES                                                              March 22, 1965
7 BEATLES VI                                                                        June 14, 1965
8 HELP                                                                                  August 6, 1965
9 RUBBER SOUL                                                            December 3, 1965
10 YESTERDAY AND TODAY                                               June 20, 1966
11 REVOLVER                                                                      August 5, 1966
12 SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND             May 26, 1967
13 MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR                                    November 27, 1967
14 WHITE ALBUM                                                         November 22, 1968
15 YELLOW SUBMARINE                                                January 13, 1969
16 ABBEY ROAD                                                         September 26, 1969
17 HEY JUDE (singles)                                                   February 26, 1970
18 LET IT BE                                                                            May 8, 1970
19 PAST MASTERS I and II                                                        1988/2009

 

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#152 BEATLES PREFACE #2

#152

BEATLES
PREFACE #2

• THEIR NAME

One of the American groups that the Quarrymen admired and emulated the most was Buddy Holly and the Crickets. The four future Beatles had all lived in a certain area of southeast Liverpool that was on the edge of a quarry—hence, their name. But as each of them grew older, and each one’s family moved from away from the area, the name Quarrymen no longer seemed sufficient. The Crickets—Buddy Holly’s backup group—inspired them to think of naming themselves The Beetles—or actually, The Silver Beetles. After a while, Lennon re-thought this: since the area around the Liverpool’s Mersey River, where all these competing rock groups were performing, became known as the Mersey BEAT—and since, in America, Allan Ginsberg was writing about the BEAT generation—Lennon thought the name Beatles could do double duty—the insect analogy and the “coolness” of being “with it.” So, the Beatles came into existence.

• ABILITIES

None of the Beatles had perfect pitch. All played and sang by ear. All had remarkable ears—George Harrison taught himself to play lead guitar by listening and playing along with countless guitar licks he heard on records. Of the four of the Beatles, Paul McCartney was the most naturally talented—an incredibly accurate musical mimic, an ability to simply play more musical instruments than the others, and a rudimentary knowledge of, at least, what various musical terms were supposed to mean. His father had been a musician in the vaudeville vein, and the vaudeville style GREATLY influenced McCartney (one immediately thinks of “When I’m Sixty-Four”).

John represented, in his life and music, the middle class—creature comfort—the intellect—and a disdain for technical precision. Paul, on the other hand, was working class—sentimental—a perfectionist. As guitarists, John felt most comfortable with rhythm guitar and its repetitive patterns. Paul was kind of a jack of all trades, and had skills the others did not have. He had not started out playing bass, but when another Quarryman left the group, that became his “thing.” He bought a small, violin-body shaped left-hand bass and that became his lifelong instrument trademark. One cannot think of the Beatles without seeing, in one’s imagination, Paul with his bass going out to the left, singing into a mic beside John or George, with their guitars going out to the right—symmetrical and usefully compact on small stages. George was technically more gifted than either Paul or John, and had a greater interest in guitars and guitar-like instruments (think sitars, later in their journey) than either of them.

John was far superior as a lyricist, Paul far superior as a composer. Unlike a commonly held idea that the Lennon and McCartney composed side by side, coming up with songs and lyrics as a team process (as actually seen in the Ron Howard movie, Eight Days A Week), their musical camaraderie consisted primarily of one person writing an entire song, and then coming to the other to finish things up, whether musically or lyrically—this was a dependence that was absolutely necessary for a “finished product.” McCartney, for example, created all the music of Eleanor Rigby, but could not think of lyrics that told the story he wanted to tell—of a wedding. He left it for John to do all of that. Similarly, “Michelle” was simply going to an instrumental until Lennon added lyrics. “When I’m Sixty-Four” remained just music in Paul’s head for 8 years before he asked Lennon for help with lyrics.

From the ages of 19 and 17, the two of them vowed that any work that either one of them was involved in writing, would be billed as Lennon-McCartney, even if one of them had created every single note and lyric. They absolutely saw themselves as a team.

The early albums, as we’ll see, consist of a smattering of original Lennon/McCartney songs as well as many of their favorite covers. As time went by, it would soon be that everything they performed was original.

I’ll close this preface with a link to the Ed Sullivan appearances. I’ll have more time to talk about Beatlemania, as it was experienced in the U.S., when I post MEET THE BEATLES.

I was twelve years old in the winter of 1964. I had just played in a piano competition in Chicago—about a six hour drive from our home in Dayton—and so, much to my lifelong regret, I was stuck in the car, with my mother driving us home, on the night of February 9, when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show. I was already a Beatles fan, even before they stepped foot on our shores, and had really wanted to see them.

ED SULLIVAN SHOW – FEBRUARY 9, 1964

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#151 BEATLES PREFACE #1

#151

BEATLES
PREFACE #1

Continuing from post #113 in Music I Love…

Before listening and thinking about all the songs the Beatles recorded from 1962 to 1970, it will be helpful to say a few things first. I’ll break this long “preface” into three parts.

• U.S. ALBUM RELEASES

The Beatles recorded 307 songs on 18 albums. Seventy of these were “cover” songs, 237 were original—mostly Lennon/McCartney—songs. Just for the sake of clarity, a “cover” song is a song previously written and recorded by another artist or artists, and then recorded, in this case, by the Beatles. As I’ve previously mentioned, the order of album releases and the contents of each album were different in the U.K. and the U.S. up until the release of SGT. PEPPER. This was caused by the hesitancy of U.S. record distributors, 1962-64, in acquiring the rights to sell Beatles’ records—they felt the Beatles were probably a passing fad and not worth the financial risk. However, at the same time that they were passing on the Beatles, the Beatles were causing the same kind of fan pandemonium in Britain in 1963 that they ultimately caused in the United States. It took some persuading, capped by three appearances (two live, one taped) on the Ed Sullivan show here in the US, for the record companies to see the financial light in terms of the profit potential in distributing Beatles records in the US. Capital Records, which was the U.S. arm of EMI—the large British record label which “owned” the Beatles—finally said “yes”, and MEET THE BEATLES became their first Beatles release.

Although I know I have some readers of my blog outside the US (primarily in Turkey), as well as readers who are much younger than myself—both of which would probably not be familiar with the U.S. release chronology—I think that the majority of my readers will have purchased their Beatles albums in the order I’ll be presenting them, the U.S. order. In any event, I will be commenting about every song the Beatles recorded, regardless of where and when the song (or album) was released.

In addition to the albums, I will also be talking about a number of Beatles singles—the ones that propelled them to U.S. fame, but did not appear on albums until much later. Leaving a discussion of these singles out would be senseless.

• MONO/STEREO

Beatles aficionados know that quite a few of the Beatles’ earliest recordings were done in mono sound. A number of mono and stereo releases of the same song have been available. In some cases, more than one “take” of a particular song is also available. I won’t be entering the mono/stereo debate. Rather, I’ll just be commenting on the songs as most of us heard them on the radio and then on our record players. If details of how a particular recording session of a particular song are interesting, I will include that.

• SPOTIFY

Recently, I discovered that, although Beatles songs—tracks released for public consumption—are not available on YouTube, they ARE available in their entirety on Spotify. If you are familiar with Spotify, you know it is an app that one downloads, installs, and then uses either in a “free” or “premium” (not free) version to listen to hundreds of thousands of tracks, from all genres of music. You do NOT have to have the Spotify app, in either of these versions, on your computer to listen to the albums I will be citing. What should happen is that when you click on a link, a new browser tab will open—what you will be looking at is called the Spotify Web Browser. You will be able to pick and choose whatever you want to hear for as long as you wish. When one track is over, it will automatically advance to the next. If you DO already have the Spotify app on your computer or phone, it WILL NOT open when you clink on my Spotify links. You would think that it would, but the Spotify people have designed it otherwise. So, you truly do NOT need the Spotify app already installed on your device. Just click on the link.

If you’d like to try it now, this will be the first link we will be referring to, later in our MEET THE BEATLES post:

And just as a reminder—or caution—the recommended web browser to using is either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox or Apple Safari or Opera. Internet Explorer has fallen far behind these others in being able to communicate well with many web sites. If you attempt to use Internet Explorer with these Spotify links, you will get an error message and will only be able to hear 30 seconds of any track.

• THE BEATLES STARTED AS A COVER BAND

It is absolutely imperative to know this about the Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney became friends as teenagers and began playing everything they could sometime around 1957—country/western, rhythm and blues, and American rock and roll. Neither McCartney or Lennon—or a bit later, when George Harrison was asked to join the group in 1959—did any of the future Beatles have any musical training—no instruction on any instrument, no ability to read music, no theory or composition training—nothing. Everything they were to do and accomplish was without these abilities, but rather through sheer natural musical talent, endless practice and perseverance. But more about this later…

The personnel in this group—The Quarrymen—changed pretty rapidly. George Harrison joined Lennon and McCartney as its youngest member. At this point, Ringo Starr was not yet a member of the group. As it happened, Liverpool groups, of which there were literally hundreds (about 260!)—and of which the Quarrymen were but one—the best of these Liverpool groups were popular as guest performers in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, which was, like Liverpool, another rough seaside port. The Quarrymen performed in these Hamburg clubs and became extremely popular and well-known there. They would perform for several months at a time, for 4-5 hours every weeknight and 6 hours every night. They logged hundreds and hundreds of hours performing covers of every conceivable style for audiences that ranged in size from a few tables full of patrons to 1,000 people in seats. The Quarrymen accumulated a repertoire of nearly 300 songs—all played (and learned), of course, by memory and with great precision.

Returning to Liverpool after each of these Hamburg excursions, they became more popular with the locals after each trip, soon becoming THE top band in Liverpool. In Liverpool—and in the north, on tours of Scotland—the Quarrymen were playing concerts at least every night, week after week, month after month—hundreds of concerts, from small venues to large.

Ringo joined the group last, in 1962, and he too became part of the Hamburg experience.

The point to observe here is that the Beatles were incredibly EXPERT and SEASONED performers by the time any of them were 22 or 23 years old. They were literally the best cover band in the world, maybe the best cover band that has ever existed. Two years later, when they stepped onto the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York, they were no amateur act—they were experienced performers, calm under any circumstance.

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#150 SCHUMANN – E.T.A. HOFFMANN KREISLERIANA

#150

SCHUMANN – E.T.A. HOFFMANN
KREISLERIANA

NICOLAS ECONOMOU, PIANO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composers have long looked to literature of varying kinds—poetry, prose, inscriptions, sacred texts, philosophical treatises—for their own inspiration. Perhaps no century typifies this tendency more than the nineteenth. Among the great composers of the first half of that century, Robert Schumann was in the forefront of composers who sought, and received, inspiration from literary sources.

We’ve observed that Schumann’s compositional career started with an amazing succession of works for piano. Those would be:

Opus Work

1 Abegg Variations
2 PAPILLONS
3 Paganini Caprices
4 Intermezzi
5 Impromptus on Clara’s theme
6 DAVIDSBUNDLERTANZE
7 Toccata
8 Allegro in B Minor
9 CARNAVAL
10 Paganini Studies
11 Sonata in F-sharp Minor
12 FANTASIESTUCKE
13 Symphonic Etudes
14 Concerto without Orchestra in F Minor
15 KINDERSZENEN
16 KREISLERIANA
17 FANTASIE
18 Arabesque
19 Blemenstuck
20 HUMORESQUE
21 Novelletten
22 Sonata in G Minor
23 NACHSTUCKE
26 FASCHINGSSCHWANK AUS WIEN

Of these 24 works, quite a few of them—the ones I’ve put in caps—have literary and extra-musical associations (some of which are of Schumann’s own invention!). Today, I’d like to feature Kreisleriana. My wife Tiraje plays this work very often—she’ll just sit down at the piano and start playing here or there in the long (30+ minutes) work. It was her continual returning to the work by which I came to love the work in the first place. Kreisleriana is a technical and expressive tour de force.

When talking about Kreisleriana, we need to know something about Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann. Hoffmann was a Romantic era author of fantasy and horror. He was also a jurist, a composer, and a first-rate caricaturist. Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann are based on Hoffmann’s stories. Hoffmann wrote “The Nutcracker and the King,” on which Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet is based. Delibes’ ballet Coppelia is based on Hoffmann imaginative stories. And so is Schumann’s Kreisleriana.

In Hoffmann’s imagination, and in his stories, Johannes Kreisler was his alter-ego—a moody asocial composer “whose creativity is stymied by an excessive sensibility.” Schumann’s 8-movement work was subtitled “Fantasies for the Piano.” In these eight pieces, Schumann displays a remarkable ability to move very quickly from one mood to another. The individual pieces do not correlate to specific stories or episodes in “Herr Kreisler’s” life, but rather they reflect Kreisler’s state of mind–mercurial and ultra-sensitive. With the value of hindsight—knowing of Schumann’s own internal struggle with sanity and the two “characters”—Florestan and Eusebius—that inhabit his own music—it is easy to hear in the contrasting sections within each piece Kreisler’s manic-depression—which Schumann quite naturally could relate to.

Perhaps for this reason—and certainly because of the beauty of each piece—Schumann long felt that this was his greatest piano work. Of it, he said “the title conveys nothing to anyone but Germans. Kreisler is one of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s creations, an eccentric, wild, and witty conductor.” And to Clara, his wife: “I’m overflowing with music and beautiful melodies now – imagine, since my last letter I’ve finished another whole notebook of new pieces. I intend to call it Kreisleriana. You and one of your ideas play the main role in it, and I want to dedicate it to you – yes, to you and nobody else – and then you will smile so sweetly when you discover yourself in it.”

In fact, Schumann dedicated Kreisleriana to Chopin, his good friend and colleague.

There are a number of very fine renditions of Kreisleriana available on YouTube. Nicolas Economou’s is one of them. Economou was a pianist and composer who I mentioned recently as being the person who made such a fine transcription of the Nutcracker Suite for two pianos. His Kreiserliana is animated, propulsive and lyrical—everything that Schumann, Hoffmann, and “Kreisler” would have wanted.

Pictures above are a sketch of ETA Hoffmann, and Hoffmann’s sketch of “Maestro Kreisler.” I am not sure whether that is a pipe or a baton if Kreisler’s hand!

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#149 CHRISTMAS TWELVE FAVORITES

#149

CHRISTMAS
TWELVE FAVORITES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in the United States means that, for a two-month period every year, one is endlessly exposed to Christmas songs and Christmas carols—on the radio, on television, through all the media. And, since retailers took over ownership of the holiday—100 years ago?—the Christmas “season” seems to start earlier and earlier. Hearing this body of music when you are a CHILD—and participating in singing it—can make a very deep impression on you. And when you consider that what one hears is the very best of all the Christmas music that has ever been written—those selections that have risen to the top, so to speak, over time—it only makes sense that these musical totems become part of your—and a collective western world’s—psyche.

When the dross of seasonal retailing and December’s hustle is left behind, a substantial body of great music remains, standing all by itself in the world of musical genres. Christmas melodies are among some of the best ever written. Even if the Christmas tradition—and Christianity itself—have no meaning for you, this music is still eminently enjoyable.

I won’t be posting for the next few days, so I am offering up a potpourri from my favorite Christmas CD’s—which I listen to not only in December.

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CARPENTERS – IT CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR
Don’t skip over this one!  44 seconds of the arranging artistry and vocal skill of Richard Carpenter (no Karen in this)…

MARIA CALLAS – AVE MARIA (SCHUBERT)
SO nice…

JOHN DENVER – SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT
What a loss to the music world, his early death

MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER – DECK THE HALLS
Their first Christmas video that propelled them to annual seasonal success, 1984

DAVE BRUBECK – WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
It doesn’t get any more laid-back than this…from his great Christmas album

JOHNNY MATHIS – SLEIGH RIDE
Gets you in a Christmas mood even in July…

LUCIANO PAVOROTTI – O HOLY NIGHT
His irresistible voice…

PENTATONIX – ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH
Doesn’t make you think of angels or the Christmas story, but…really juicy harmony…

RANDY TRAVIS – OLD TIME CHRISTMAS
There are not many country male voices I like as much as Travis

NAT KING COLE – THE CHRISTMAS SONG
Always hitting the right note…

MERAL GUNEYMAN – HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS
From my sister-in-law’s A Christmas Memory album

NEVILLE MARRINER, ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN’S ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS – HANDEL HALLELUJAH CHORUS
By any measure, Neville Marriner (1924-2016) was one of the greatest conductors in the last half century…the communicative value of this recording is no different than hundreds of others he made with the ASMF…may he rest in peace

 

 

 

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#148 BILLY JOEL and ELTON JOHN

#148

BILLY JOEL and ELTON JOHN

JOEL: JUST THE WAY YOU ARE/PIANO MAN

JOHN: ROCKET MAN/PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM

Pairing Billy Joel and Elton John together just seems like a natural thing to do.

Both:

• are about the same age—Joel born 1949, John 1947
• utilize the piano as the central musical element of their music
• were classically trained as youths
• are rock and rollers
• are not musically monolithic—they both have lyrical sides to their creativity
• write their own material
• have an easy-going yet firm leadership style on stage
• are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Joel in 1999, John in 1994)
• have had records that appeared in the Top 40—Joel 33 times, John 50 times
• are extraordinary showmen – their have toured together, creating the longest running and most successful concert duo in pop music history
• have won, between them, 40 Grammys, 3 Academy Awards, 5 Tonys—and Joel was a Kennedy Center Honoree while John was knighted by Queen Elizabeth

It hardly seems necessary to introduce either Billy Joel or Elton John with brief biographies, particularly when they have both said that their music tells their life stories…But, just as a bit of a memory-jogger, here is a partial list of their respective hits:

BILLY JOEL
She’s Got a Way – Piano Man – Just the Way You Are – Movin’ Out – She’s Always a Woman – My Life – Big Shot – Honesty – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me – Don’t Ask Me Why – Allentown – Tell Her About It – Uptown Girl – An Innocent Man – The Longest Time – Leave a Tender Moment Alone – Keepin’ the Faith – Baby Grand – Modern Woman – River of Dreams – And So It Goes – New York State of Mind – Scenes From an Italian Restaurant

ELTON JOHN
Your Song – Friends – Levon – Tiny Dancer – Rocket Man – Honky Cat – Crocodile Rock – Daniel – Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Candle In the Wind – Benny and the Jets – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me – Philadelphia Freedom – Someone Saved My Life Tonight – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word – Little Jeannie – Blue Eyes – I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues

Everyone who listens to pop music has their favorites from each artist. Yet I would guess, in terms of deep and long-lasting musical impressions—from both Joel and John—that it is not this song or that song that we will remember most, but rather their combined oeuvres that dominated a time—the 70’s and 80’s. The sound of their unique voices and impressive piano playing blanketed those two decades in a very pleasing way.

It is difficult to limit myself to picking just one song from each artist, so I’m going with two from each, my favorite Joel and John songs.

JUST THE WAY YOU ARE (1977)
Inspired, just as Uptown Girl would be, by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll”

 

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#147 MICHAEL PRAETORIUS TERPSICHORE

#147

MICHAEL PRAETORIUS
TERPSICHORE

PRAETORIUS CONSORT
CHRISTOPHER BALL, DIRECTOR

COLLEGIUM TERPSICHORE
FRITZ NEUMEYER, CONDUCTOR

ENSEMBLE BOURRASQUE
BERTIL FARNLOF, CONDUCTOR

A slice of life in the Renaissance…

Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) was an extraordinarily prolific German composer and the greatest music theorist—someone who wrote about the art of writing music—of his day. He was born Michael Schultze—Praetorius (meaning “mayor”) was the Latinized form of Schultze. He lived and worked in Frankfurt, Wolfenbuttel, Groningen, and Dresden. He wrote an enormous collection of over 1200 chorale and song arrangements in the nine volumes of his “Musae Sioniae.” He wrote an almost equally large number of hymns and hymn arrangements for the Lutheran church. Praetorius’s Syntagma Musicum is a three-volume treatise summing up the writing of music in the seventeenth century. In volume two of that work, he lavishly illustrated and described many ancient, and all existing, instruments. This has become a very valuable source of musical knowledge of the past.

But Praetorius is remembered primarily for his TERPSICHORE, a collection of 300 instrumental dances—his sole surviving secular work. In Greek mythology, Terpsichore was one of the nine Muses and the goddess of dance. In Praetorius’s Terpsichore, one hears a virtual catalog of instrumental dance music of the late Renaissance. I hope my friend Eric Malson will not mind my mentioning that, as students at our respective undergraduate institutions, upon hearing Terpsichore in our music history classes, we both HAD to run out and purchase Terpsichore for ourselves, without delay!

One profound truth that I learned for myself early on in life is that music is a reflection of man’s environment. How can it be any other way? In terms of the “environment” of the late Renaissance—say, in France, Germany, and Italy—if all one listened to was the enormous amount of sacred music that was written for the church—i.e., “serious” music—one would never come to a true understanding of what real life had been like in the Renaissance—nor the degree to which music was interwoven with day-to-day life. The JOY that one hears reflected in Terpsichore is absolutely infectious. The endless rhythmic and melodic invention contained here is quite amazing. It should be noted that although Praetorius himself composed some of the Terpsichore dances, he was primarily an arranger of tunes that had been “public domain” for a long time, and these primarily from France.

Terpsichore went undiscovered for three centuries after it was written and compiled in 1612. Since its re-discovery, it has taken its rightful place in many listener’s “happy music” lists. Although not specifically written for the Christmas season, Terpsichore certainly does seem to fit with this festive time of year.

Three choices:

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#146 BRAHMS/SCHUMANN WIR WANDELTEN/WIDMUNG

#146

BRAHMS/SCHUMANN

WIR WANDELTEN
KATHLEEN BATTLE, SOPRANO
JAMES LEVINE, PIANO

WIDMUNG
EDITH WIENS, SOPRANO
RUDOLF JANSEN, PIANO

 

 

The lives of Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, who was 23 years Brahms’ senior, were forever woven together when Brahms knocked, unannounced, on the Schumann family’s door in Dusseldorf on September 20, 1853. In the weeks that followed this meeting, Schumann proclaimed in his influential music journal that Brahms would be the successor to Beethoven, so impressive were his compositional and performing abilities. Brahms, in turn, had called upon Schumann because he regarded him to be the greatest living composer, and sought inspiration—which he found—from the master.

Both men wrote scores of songs for voice. Schumann’s song cycles—Dichterliebe, Frauen-Liebe und Leben, and Liederkreis—have become collectively better known than Brahms’ songs. But Brahms continuously wrote songs his whole life, producing more than 200 of them. Song-writing—expressing poetry in music—was vitally important to both composers.

Two songs that I have returned to hundreds of times over my life are Wir wandelten—“We wandered”—by Brahms and Widmung—“Dedication”—by Schumann. I’d like to post them today with a minimum of commentary.

Brahms chose a poem by an anonymous Hungarian poet, which he read in a German translation. The speaker in the poem recalls taking a walk with a lover, but recalls no scenery and even no dialogue, only the mood:

WIR WANDELTEN (We wandered)

We were strolling, we two together,
I was so quiet, and you so quiet;
I would give much to know
what you were thinking then.

What I was thinking–unspoken
Let that remain! One thing will I say:
So beautiful was everything that I was thinking, so heavenly serene was it all!

In my head the thoughts
Were ringing like little golden bells;
So wondrously sweet, so wondrously lovely is no other sound
in the world.

I was doing some housecleaning in the basement back in the 80’s, listening to a cassette of the Brahms Requiem while working. As a “filler” on the cassette were a group of Brahms songs, sung by Kathleen Battle. When Wir wandelten started, I stopped what I was doing, instantly captured. I must have listened to it a dozen times in a row. In the years since, I often pick up the score–which I had to acquire–and play through the accompaniment–incorporating the vocal line–for 15 minutes at a time.  My favorite recording of the song is still Kathleen Battle’s. In the link below, she sings four Brahms songs—kind of a “greatest hits” mini-collection. Wir wandelten starts at 2:37. Battle’s tempo is on the slow and indulgent side—maybe James Levine’s call, who knows?—but all the better to revel in her beautiful sound, which I could listen to all day.

Schumann’s Widmung is a favorite encore piece heard in many a voice recital. It is uplifting and can be absolutely gorgeous in the right hands—or voice. Schumann, it has been observed, wrote in large “batches.” This is generally, but not exclusively, true. Most of his first works, up to about 1839, when he was 29, are works for piano. He spent the decade of the 1840’s writing mostly for voice—presumably inspired, or so we are told, by his love for Clara, his extraordinarily talented and intelligent wife. He followed these two ”batches” with orchestral and chamber music. The song, Widmung, with text by Ruckert, dates from 1840, at the outset of his burst of song-writing.

WIDMUNG (Dedication)

You my soul, you my heart,
you my bliss, O you my pain,
you my world in which I live,
my heaven you, to which I float,
O you my grave, into which my grief forever I’ve consigned.

You are repose, you are peace,
you are bestowed on me from Heaven.
Your love for me gives me my worth,
your eyes transfigure me in mine,
lovingly you raise me above myself,
my good spirit, my better self!

I first heard Widmung, sung as an encore, while a student at Juilliard. My classmate Barbara Hendricks—just before she became world famous—sang it on one of her recitals. The combination of her voice and Schumann’s song is something I can’t forget. I have already posted Edith Wiens singing in the Bach Cantatas. Her voice and tempo are so enjoyable in this recording of Widmung.

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