#273 SCHUMANN FANTASIESTUCKE FOR PIANO, OPUS 12

#273

SCHUMANN

FANTASIESTUCKE (FANTASY PIECES) FOR PIANO, OPUS 12

DES ABENDS – IN THE EVENING
AUFSCHWUNG – SOARING
WARUM? – WHY?
GRILLEN – WHIMS
IN DER NACHT – IN THE NIGHT
FABEL – FABLE
TRAUMES WIRREN – DREAM’S CONFUSIONS
ENDE VOM LIED – END OF THE SONG

YEOL EUM SON, PIANO

Robert Schumann wrote these eight piano pieces in 1837 at the age of 27. They were inspired by the stories written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, who I’ve previously mentioned as being the source of Schumann’s inspiration for his large piano work, Kreisleriana (Music I Love #150). Schumann dedicated these Fantasy Pieces to an accomplished and attractive young (18) Scottish pianist, Anna Robena Laidlaw, who he had recently met and who, it is presumed, was the reason he started composing again after experiencing four months of compositional writer’s block around this time.

For anyone who closely follows the life story of Schumann, this occurred at the very same time Schumann was involved with Clara Wieck, his eventual wife and one of the century’s great pianists—who was also 18 years old in 1837, nine years younger than Schumann. I don’t know what this says about Schumann, or if it says anything at all. I’m just reporting the facts.

Long before Freud and the psychological concepts he set out became commonplace, Schumann was well aware—from a very early age—that there seemed to be two distinct personalities that were continually being expressed in the music he was composing. He even gave names to them—“Florestan” and “Eusebius”—with Florestan representing the passionate, aggressive extrovert side of his personality, and Eusebius representing the dreamy, subjective introvert. In the Fantasy Pieces, these two personalities take their places in the respective pieces, sometimes simply alternating within individual pieces. Schumann was about as explicit, concerning these two sides of himself, as he ever would be, in his description of the Fantasy Pieces:

#1 Des Abends – In the Evening. Schumann only titled this piece after it was complete—a common practice for him. He intension here was to introduce Eusebius, who he saw imagining the dusk.

#2 Aufschwung – Soaring. Quite obviously this is Florestan at the height of his passions.

#3 Warum? – Why? Here, Eusebius reflects on the passionate excess that Florestan has just displayed in Augschwung.

#4 Grillen – Whims. One of my students happens to playing this right now, and we observed the other day how UN-whimsical the very Teutonic opening of Grillen is! Florestan is out in front throughout, with Eusebius making casual observations here and there.

#5 In Der Nacht – In the Night. “Passion together with nocturnal calm” is a good description of In the Night in which Eusebius and Florestan both appear.

If you don’t know the Greek myth of Hero and Leander, I think it’s worth commenting on: in it, Hero is a priestess of the goddess Aphrodite. She dwells in a tower on the European side of the Hellespont (the Dardanelles in modern-day Turkey), a straight of water narrowly separating the continents. Leander falls in love with Hero the first time he sees her, and swims across the water every night to be with her. Hero lit a lamp in her tower each night to give Leander the “all-clear” signal. The swim would have been, minimally, at least one mile. Leander persuades, after some resistance, Hero to make love with him. “Their trysts lasted through a warm summer. But one stormy winter night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the breezes blew out Hero’s light; Leander lost his way and drowned. When Hero saw his dead body, she threw herself over the edge of the tower to her death to be with him.”

As we already observed in Des Abends, Schumann only thought up the title—and the association—of In Der Nacht after the fact, after the composition had been completed. But it certainly gives us an idea of the young Schumann’s way of thinking.

#6 Fabel – Fable. Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of Eusebius and Florestan.

#7 Traumes Wirren – Dream’s Confusion. Here, more than any other piece in the set, Schumann’s almost schizophrenic mind is audible: the dreamy Eusebius is simultaneously mixed in with the passionate Florestan. The work is rhythmically very intense.

#8 Ende vom Lied – End of the Song. Schumann regarded this final piece as being a mix of wedding bells—presumably Florestan—and funeral bells—presumably Eusebius.

There is in fact a ninth piece that is seldom played and did not make it into Schumann’s “final cut” of the Fantasy Pieces, just fyi.

These are really wonderful pieces, which can quickly become earworms—wait, what IS that I am humming?—that kind of thing.

Yeol Eum Son is a Souht Korean pianist, now 32 years old and living in Germany. She appeared as piano soloist with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 18, and has a string of competition successes, most notably being the silver medalist in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition. This performance of Schumann’s Fantasiestucke is taken from the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition. I find it extremely expressive, one of the best I have ever heard. Here are the timings:

0:00 Des Abends
3:16 Aufschwung
6:36 Warum?
8:08 Grillen
10:51 In der Nacht
15:02 Fabel
17:55 Traumes Wirren
20:29 Ende vom Lied

Pictures are Schumann and Anna Robena Laidlaw.

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#272 ALFONSO X CANTIGAS DE SANTA MARIA

#272

ALFONSO X

CANTIGAS DE SANTA MARIA

THEATRUM INSTRUMENTORUM
ALEKSANDER SASHA KARLIC, DIRECTOR

When Alfonso X, King of Castille, was dying at the age of 63, he made certain that an addition was made to his will: that all of the books of his enormous composition, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, be kept in the church, and that they would be sung on all the festive days honoring the Virgin Mary. This promise was kept for centuries after his death.

My interest in history is almost as deep as it is for music. Every work of music has a history and therefore is, because of that, automatically doubly interesting to me. In the case of some, like Alfonso X the 13th century king of Castille, my mind bounces back and forth from the music to the story to the music.

The “story” with regard to Alfonso X is, I think, an admirable one. He was a Renaissance man well before the actual renaissance—but he was much more than that, too. It would be centuries before a comparable man—Frederick the Great of Prussia—would replicate the kind of qualities that came naturally to Alfonso—warrior, legislator, diplomat, astronomer, poet, writer, and—the reason I am posting him—composer.

Alfonso (1221-1284) was king of Castille, Leon, and Galicia—about half of modern-day Spain—for the last 32 years of his life. His life as a ruler was characterized by much shrewd and beneficent diplomacy, the forming of alliances, and military victories.

What makes Alfonso remarkable is his thought, and how his thinking was put into action. Alfonso was a scholar and a lover of the arts. At his court were learned scholars—Jews, Muslims, and Christians—in all disciplines. Under his direction, major works were compiled—the GENERAL ESTORIA, a monumental history of the world; the SIETE PARTIDAS, an extensive collection of laws; the LIBROS DEL SABER DE ASTRONMIA, a work of encyclopedic length containing all that was known about astronomy; and even a LIBROS DEAJEDREZ Y TABLAS—the book of chess and backgammon.

Alfonso is known to history as “El Sabio”—Alfonso the Wise. Musicians know Alfonso as a composer. As a young man, he fancied himself to be a troubadour (who also happened to be king), composing love poetry and writing music to accompany it. From the beginning, he saw no reason why dance should not be an integral part of musical performance—his music is the easiest to imagine dancing to of any other composer’s music of the same time period.

The broadness and vision of Alfonso’s musical thought is evident in the multitude of instruments that are involved in the playing of his music. Miniatures depicting Alfonso’s music in performance include the fiddle, the rebec, the gittern, the lute, the psaltery, the zither, the harp, the shawm, all manner of flutes, the trumpet and horn (such as they were in those days), bagpipes, the portative organ, and a plethora of percussion instruments. Of all the composers up to his time in history, it seems clear that Alfonso thought in terms of the larger ensemble.

More than 400 monophonic compositions comprise the Cantigas de Santa Maria, many of which were written by Alfonso. The veneration of Mary reached its peak in the 13th century, and the Cantigas are the outward expression of that love. The Cantigas de Santa Maria came to be regarded as the greatest expression of Spanish worship of the Virgin. The musicologist Higinio Angles noted in the preface to his edition of the Cantigas that even if no other Spanish music of the period survived, this would have been enough to put Spanish music on a par with the music of the other cultured countries of medieval Europe.

I’m only linking to seven of the Cantigas here, performed by the estimable German early music group, Theatrum Instrumentorum. This recording was made exactly twenty years ago. The selections I’ve chosen are, I think, particularly joyful. Just to the diversity of instruments involved in the longer selections. A taqsim was a melodic musical improvisation that would precede a well-known song: in the fourth selection, for instance, you can see that there are two taqsims in the course of the composition.

I don’t know if you have any preconceived ideas about medieval music, but if you do, these works by Alfonso X might
completely blow them away.

Pictures are of Alfonso X and the Spanish map of the 13th century.

PROLOGO

A SANTA MARIA DADAS

TAN BENEYTA

TAQSIM – DES OGE MAIS – TAQSIM – ROSA DAS ROSAS – COMO PODEN – SANTA MARIA, STRELA DO DIA

TAQSIM – MACAR OME PER FOLIA – COME DEUS VYNNO D’AGUA

TANTO SON DA GRORIOSA

MIRAGRES FREMOSOS

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#271 PER SONAT featuring SABINE LUTZENBERGER SIX SELECTIONS

#271

PER SONATA
featuring SABINE LUTZENBERGER

SIX SELECTIONS

[We are leaving for southwestern Turkey—Bodrum—early tomorrow. I am not sure what my internet access will be for the rest of the week. So, I wanted to get one more post in before we leave. I hope you will sample some PER SONAT and Sabine Lutzenberger.]

There are quite a number of people—among the general public as well as performing musicians—who regard concert halls as museums for sound, who feel that classical musicians are simply keeping aural artwork—sound creations—alive. The logic of this is inescapable, of course—that IS what classical musicians do. But of course, it is more than that, since music—all music—is more than just sound, it is the conveyance of emotion. And in particular, emotions that were current in the time and place a particular composer lived. The emotions present in Haydn are no less real than those of, say, Corigliano just because one is old and one is new. So, keeping those emotions alive—through sound—is indeed what classical musicians do.

But, there is a dividing line somewhere among classical musicians. All performers love the music they perform, that’s a given. But there is also, for a majority of performers, the idea that their performances will be acknowledged, that there is—they hope—an inevitability about the praise that will come their way through their performing—however large or small that is—that their self-worth and their very ideas about themselves will be reaffirmed publicly.

The two exceptions to this—in my opinion—would be those who perform absolutely brand-new, contemporary music, for whom no audience has developed, and for whom—possibly—no audience will ever develop. These performers perform for the love of performing and for the simple (and pleasant) experience of being the conduit for new sounds.

The other exception would be those who perform “early” music—music from the Middle Ages. Dedicating one’s life as a musician to the performance of music which reflects emotions that were current 1,000 or more years ago—and for which the 2018 “market” is small indeed—can only reflect a selfless kind of love for the music being performed. The best performers of this kind of music DO become known—there is public acknowledgement for them, too—but acclaim of any kind cannot be even a primary motivation for them. Their inspiration comes from the music alone. Early music is not a heavily populated field in the classical music world.

One such group that specializes in the performance of music from the Middle Ages is PER SONAT.

Let me quote from PER SONAT’s German website (thank you, Google, for translating…):

“Since its founding in 2008, the PER-SONAT ensemble has been dedicated to the task of exploring the music of the Middle Ages. Their focus is always on original sources and committed interpretations of medieval music. The ensemble members: Sabine Lutzenberger, Baptiste Romain, Tobie Miller, and Elisabeth Rumsey, all renowned protagonists of “early music,” are concerned not only with the greatest possible authenticity, but also with artistically lively, innovative and exciting performance practice. Their intention is to trace the spirit and life-world of man in the Middle Ages and to reconcile that remote sensibility with their music. In their quest to explore music that has been forgotten for centuries, they are continually breaking new ground.”

I first heard PER SONAT while jogging alongside the Bosphorus here in Turkey (where I am at the moment). I really liked their sound, and I especially liked Sabine Lutzenberger, their founder and lead singer. Other members of PER SONAT are Tobie Miller (medieval recorders, soprano), Baptiste Romain (fiddle, bagpipe), and Liz Rumsey (fiddle). I learned, after then reading about them, of the high esteem in which they are held in the rarified world of early music. They have recorded a number of albums of note of composers and music not heard at all today (Heinrich von Messen, Le Roman de la Rose, Walther von der Vogelweide) and some Middle Ages “superstars” as well (Hildegard von Bingen). I posted some time ago (Music I Love #83) PER SONAT’s recording of Vogelweide.

I’d like to present some of their recorded repertoire here, hopefully giving a taste not only of their artistry but also of the sensibilities of composers who lived so long ago and in such different circumstances than ours today. Sabine Lutzenberger’s voice, and the acoustic environment she is recorded in, are both quite pleasant throughout…

MACHAUT (1300-1377)

BIAUTEZ, FLECHE A OR POINTE (BEAUTY, GOLDEN ARROW)

VON MEISSEN, known as FRAUENLOB (1255-1318)

DIE KUNIGINNE VON SABA

ANONYMOUS

MEIN NERZLIEBES JESULEIN (live performance)

HILDEGARD VON BINGEN (1098-1179)

From the DENDERMONDE MANUSCRIPT (live performance)

WOLKENSTEIN (1376-1445)

KEUSCHLICH GEBOREN (live performance)

Photos are PER SONAT, and Sabine Lutzenberger.

BONUS TRACK!

I will be doing a separate post at some point on the German “electro-medieval, dark wave” band called HELIUM VOLA. It was a natural thing for this group, which has been around for about a decade, to invite Sabine Lutzenberger to perform with them. This is a short compilation of their collaboration from a live show. I love it and hope you will too.

 

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#270 THE GUESS WHO FIVE SONGS

#270

THE GUESS WHO

FIVE SONGS:

THESE EYES
LAUGHING
UNDUN
TO TIME
AMERICAN WOMAN

The Guess Who were a Canadian rock band. Their “prime time” was from 1965 to 1975, the year they dissolved. Formed as a garage band, their roster of players included Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, and their style ranged from pop rock to psychedelic rock. Canada has always taken great pride in The Guess Who. The group was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1987.

Randy Bachman—guitarist, singer and the “Bachman” of Bachman-Turner Overdrive—was a founding member of The Guess Who. The group had their first release—“Shakin’ All Over”, a hit only in Canada—in 1965. To create a little mystique about themselves—and hopefully to increase sales—they called themselves “The Guess Who?” The name—without the question mark—became permanent.

Burton Cummings, keyboardist and lead singer—THE voice of The Guess Who—joined the group in 1966. Although the group continued to have minor success in Canada, it was only when they acquired Don Hunter as manager and Jack Richardson as producer that their popularity dramatically soared. Their ballad hit “These Eyes”, released in January 1969, became their first million seller and their first single to penetrate the U.S. market.

The Guess Who’s prominence peaked around 1971. By that point, they had released all the songs I am linking to here, including the controversial “American Woman.” American Woman was, in the eyes of many, supposed to represent the Statue of Liberty. The song itself was seen as a less-than-subtle poke at America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. When The Guess Who were asked to perform at the White House for the Nixon family and guests–yes, this happened– they were politely asked to exclude “American Woman” from their set. (One has to remember Nixon’s fascination with Elvis–and vice-versa.)

For those who are familiar with Bachman-Turner Overdrive (“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” will be a future post), it may surprise you to know that Randy Bachman became a Mormon around this time. Disagreements about all kinds of things arose between him and Burton Cummings as a result of this, and Bachman ended up leaving the group. With his departure—and the absence of his in-your-face, driven guitar work—the group’s style gradually changed and their popularity declined. Hits from these final years included “Hand Me Down World” and “Share the Land.”

The band’s star now appears on Canada’s Walk of Fame. In 2001, the group’s members all received honorary doctorates from Brandon University in Brandon, Manitoba. This was a special privilege for Cummings, who had never even finished high school. The band’s original members reunited in the summer of 2003 in an outdoor performance for 450,000—the largest ticketed event in Canadian history.

These five songs receive a lot of play on my Ipod. If you are of a certain age, this will bring back some memories. Regardless of your age, though, The Guess Who simply made timeless rock music.

THESE EYES

Introducing Cummings voice to the U.S. market…

LAUGHING

Another Cummings’ soulful tenor ballad-singing…

UNDUN

From the lyrics –

Too many mountains, and not enough stairs to climb
Too many churches and not enough truth
Too many people and not enough eyes to see
Too many lives to lead and not enough time

It’s too late
She’s gone too far
She’s lost the sun
She’s come undun

A hip spelling of “undone” I guess – solidified Cummings as having one of the most beautiful voices in all rock music–as much a jazz singer as rock – flute solo here also by Cummings

NO TIME

My personal favorite – well-written, well-performed (this fuzzy and pseudo-psychedelic video aside)

AMERICAN WOMAN

Their controversial hit…

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#269 NURAY HAFIFTAS TURKISH ARABESQUE MUSIC

#269

NURAY HAFIFTAS, SINGER

TURKISH ARABESQUE MUSIC

I think I may have mentioned in a previous post my hobby, back in the 1980’s, of listening to shortwave radio—radio broadcasts aimed at North America from countries all over the world. Shortwave radio was, for nearly 70 years, THE medium for international communication. With the advent of the internet and streaming music, it has permanently lost its luster and usefulness. But it was thrilling to me back then to listen to music from other countries, and especially—late at night, with my headphones on—from Turkey. I was really attracted to all Turkish music, and in particular, to arabesque music.

Wikiwand defines arabesque music as follows:

“Arabesque is a term created by Turkish musicologists for an Arabic style of music created in Turkey. As with Arabic music itself, its aesthetics have evolved over the decades. Although melodies and rhythms are predominantly Byzantine and Arabic influenced, it also draws ideas from other aspects of Balkan and Middle Eastern music, including bağlama music and Ottoman forms of oriental music. Arabesque music are mostly in a minor key, typically in the Phrygian mode, and themes tend to focus on longing, melancholy, strife and love issues.

A very small percentage of Arabesk is exclusively instrumental. For the great majority of it, a singer lies at the center of the music. Male singers dominated the genre in its early years, but female singers probably predominated during its peak years of popularity. A common theme in Arabesque songs is the highly embellished and agonizing depiction of love and yearning, along with unrequited love, grief and pain. This theme had undertones of class differences in early 1960-70s, during which most of the genre’s followers -mostly working class to lower middle class – identified themselves with. Turkish composer (and, I am adding, conductor and world-class pianist) Fazıl Say has repeatedly condemned and criticized Arabesque genre, equating the practice of listening to Arabesque tantamount to treason.”

Fortunately for me, I am not a Turk by birth, so my attraction to arabesque music cannot be considered treasonous.

There are political and cultural reasons, as well as musical, for why arabesque music is frowned upon by some—Fazil Say is hardly alone. In the early years of the Turkish republic, arabesque music was seen as regressive—a cultural, “eastern” holdover from a previous era, embodying everything the newly westernized nation of Turkey (in the 1920’s and 30’s) was seeking to abolish. Arabesque music’s resurgence into what it is today is largely a result of a huge seismic shift that has occurred here in Turkey over the past few decades involving millions of rural migrants moving from eastern Turkey to Istanbul, previously the most westernized city in Turkey. For this and other reasons, Turkey’s overall political climate has shifted far to the right. As a consequence, arabesque music is associated with the less educated, conservative segment of Turkish society—which is sizable.

But, as I’ve said many times before, music is about sound that expresses emotion. Where it has come from—its particular etymology—may be interesting, but is not germane to appreciating it. The notion, mentioned above, of unrequited love, grief and pain, is something that one picks up on easily while listening to arabesque music, even without knowing the language.

I am not qualified to comment on what aspect of the Turkish experience this represents—and how, musically, such music sprang from the collective soul of a people—all I know it is there it is to hear. For many years, this characteristic was present in many Turkish movies as well, all meant for popular consumption. A stock movie plot had the heroine committing suicide—or some other tragedy occurring—at the movie’s conclusion.

So, to get to today’s post: during one of my first stays in Turkey—when TV was received through an external antenna—no cable—it was hard to avoid seeing, on the few channels available, videos of arabesque singers. One that particularly caught my attention was Nuray Hafiftas. As I was to learn, in the hierarchy of arabesque singers, she was nowhere near the top. There was, though, something about her that I intuitively felt was archetypal about arabesque music.

Although I had been planning a Nuray Hafiftas post for a long time, what really prompted me into doing so this morning is learning just yesterday that Nuray Hafiftas had recently died of cancer. She was only 53. I was surprised, when hearing this, how piercing it was to me to learn this. So, as a small remembrance of her, I will offer a few of her songs.

I don’t think arabesque music is an acquired taste—I think you’ll know within 30 seconds whether you’ll ever like—or love—it.

SEN KUCUKSUN

EYYAH GONUL

BIZIM ELLER

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#268 MOZART DIVERTIMENTO IN D MAJOR, K. 131

#268

MOZART

DIVERTIMENTO IN D MAJOR, K. 131

NEVILLE MARRINER, CONDUCTOR
ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN’S IN THE FIELDS ORCHESTRA

Four horns! Plus a lot more….

Aside from playing Mozart Piano Concertos and Sonatas while growing up, my acquaintance with Mozart—in his totality—came about in two spurts later in my life—and is now ongoing. While studying for doctoral oral exams a long time ago, I listened to some of Mozart’s “greatest hits” works—symphonies, chamber works, concertos for instruments other than piano, and so on—things that I might get asked about during the exams. Then, sometime around 15 years ago—and especially while I was making the 100-mile round trip between Dayton and Cincinnati while teaching at CCM—I made it a goal to listen to everything he had written (626 works!). It was great driving therapy.

It would be nice, I suppose, and convenient—if I could just quickly rattle off my favorite Mozart—maybe ten or twenty works—or even, being very liberal, fifty or so. But the truth is, it is far easier to list works of Mozart that I don’t care for.

There are not many.

One of my favorites, then—among hundreds of favorites—is the Divertimento in D Major. A divertimento was a work specially composed for a particular social event—not exactly background music, but also not serious, stop-what-you’re-doing-and-listen-to-this music. It was music composed for a small ensemble—not orchestra size, but bigger than, say, a string quartet. It was meant to be entertainment, not heavy-duty.

“Divertimento” was the most commonly used term for these multi-movement works, they were also known as serenades, cassations, and notturnos. Sometimes divertimenti were played outdoors.

This particular divertimento is in six movements, and was composed when Mozart was 16 years old. It is a work in “concertante” form. This means that Mozart contrasted one group of instruments (violins, violas, and bass–the strings) with another group (flute, oboe, bassoon, and four horns–the winds).

Yes, four horns. The work may have been written for a wedding, or it may have been written for some important social event in Salzburg. The presence of four horns is extraordinarily unusual, and by itself suggests that we don’t know enough about the work’s circumstances. Just HAVING four good horn players available for a performance in Salzburg—let alone for a performance at a social event—would have been unusual.

This recording by Neville Marriner and the AOSMITF is, like all Marriner recordings, urbane and polished. I love the entire work, each movement. But, I would specifically recommend the first, second, and sixth movements, which occur, respectively, at 0:00, 5:14 and 24:19. This is happy, carefree music that absolutely should not be dismissed either because it is not “serious” or because it was written by someone so young.

It may interest you to know that Mozart was not fond of the sound of the flute. Yet the flute plays a prominent, and oh-so-happy role here—as it does in countless other Mozart works.

The first and sixth movements feature those four horns. The second movement is a string serenade of exquisite calmness.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes there are individual moments in pieces that appear so beautiful as to take one’s breath away every time you hear them, regardless of how many times that is. In the sixth movement here, that moment occurs for me is the eight seconds (!) between 28:26 and 28:34—the aural equivalent of a sugar overdose, or the visual experience of seeing a field of sunflowers. These measures may do nothing for you—but they are one reason I keep returning to K. 131.

Happy listening (and that’s what it will be).

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#267 KIM CARNES BETTE DAVIS EYES

#267

KIM CARNES

BETTE DAVIS EYES

Billboard’s biggest hit of 1981 was “Bette Davis Eyes” sung by Kim Carnes. The song ranked #12 on Rolling Stones top 500 list and it became the number one song in 21 countries in the summer of 1981. It was written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon. After the song won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year and Album of the Year, Bette Davis herself got in touch with everyone involved with the song, thanking them for making her “part of modern times” and someone her grandson could now look up to. 🙂 In what Carnes now considers a career highlight, she Carnes performed the song live for Davis at a tribute to the legendary actress held just before her death. The list of awards “Bette Davis Eyes” won is really quite long.

Carnes’ (born 1945) raspy voice was not new to audiences in 1981. She had been in the music business from the late 1960’s and had enjoyed a successful recording career from 1974. She had notably worked with, and written for, David Cassidy of Patridge Family fame in the 1970’s. Carnes and her band rehearsed “Bette Davis Eyes” for a mere three days before their momentous recording session—with no overdubbing.

Carnes lives in Nashville, and continues to record successfully. In spite of her large talent, though, it is not likely she will ever repeat the phenomenal success of “Bette Davis Eyes.”

On a personal note, long before the song was popular—in fact, in my first acquaintance with Tiraje—I told her that she had Bette Davis eyes—which is true. So, the song, when it came out, became one that had extra meaning for us.

Photos are Bette Davis, Kim Carnes.

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#266 SIMON AND GARFUNKEL 15 OF THEIR GREATEST HITS

#266

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL

15 OF THEIR GREATEST HITS

THE LATE 60’S, REDUX

Let me preface this posting with a quick reiteration of something I’ve said before, but which I feel is necessary to underscore from time to time. And that is, that even though I have very specific and often poignant memories associated with all the popular music I post, every song I post here is music that I love—my attachment to everything is primarily musical. The specific circumstances in my life that I associate with every song I love could have been totally different, but I would not love any song any less. It has ALWAYS been about the music. Even though I sometimes remark that or that song might occasion a walk down memory lane, it is not for that reason—at all—that I post popular music. The music I love is MUSIC that I love.
_______________________

Regardless of your age—but particularly if you are in your 60’s or 70’s—Simon and Garfunkel were probably some part of your life. For me, their prime-time years overlapped my high school and college experiences. I would boil their considerable success down to two ingredients: Paul Simon’s song-writing—which was (and is) impressive by any standard—and Art Garfunkel’s silky high tenor voice.

I first heard Sound of Silence on a dreary Saturday mid-winter afternoon in eighth grade. I was immediately attracted to the simple two-part harmony and lyrics which drew me in like a fish on a hook. I think it was probably The Boxer that formed the other bookend, in 1971, of my Simon and Garfunkel acquaintance.

As it happened in my own life, I spent 1970-76 in New York City. Although one absolutely need not have any “New York” experience to fully appreciate S&G’s music, I would have to say that there are many facets to Simon’s song-writing that are intrinsically part of living in and around the NYC area. Included in his songs were subtle references to the sun setting “so high”—obscured by skyscrapers, counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, and visiting the Central Park children’s zoo. And also overt references such as the 59th Street Bridge or being the only boy in New York.

These and other New York-specific things give one a dual perspective of Simon and Garfunkel—that they were troubadours for the world, expressing feelings in music and poetry that the whole world could relate to. And, being New York City boys, they had a certain perspective on the world that could not help but come out in their music.

Simon and Garfunkel met in elementary school in Queens, New York, in 1953. By the time they were in high school, they were playing and performing together under the name Tom and Jerry in material that was reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. After high school, they went their separate ways, but regrouped in 1963 when they were signed to make a duo album with Columbia Records. Their first album, “Wednesday Morning” did not sell well, and the duo once again broke up. Their previously recorded “Sounds of Silence,” however, became a major hit in the United States in 1965. They released a second album, started extensive college touring, and after their music was featured in the movie The Graduate, they enjoyed great success, not just in the U.S., for the rest of the 1960’s.

S&G’s rocky relationship was no secret to the music tabloids, or to the music-loving public in general. They finally broke up in 1970—having won 10 Grammys. They reunited—for an evening, anyway—to perform in New York’s Central Park to an audience of half a million. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide; their Bridge Over Troubled Water album ranks #51 on Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums List.

I had the real pleasure of seeing them on their Reunion Tour–maybe ten years ago now–in Columbus. They were still exciting and expressive.

Paul Simon, in my opinion, is a fine poet. One can easily read, and be inspired by, the texts of his songs all by themselves, without music. And, there is no question in my mind that S&G simply would not have had the success they had—regardless of Simon’s song-writing ability—without the purity of Art Garfunkel’s voice.

It may seem like overkill or too much of a good thing (if such a thing is actually possible), but I’d like to link to FIFTEEN S&G tracks here. EACH ONE of these songs is expertly written—with regard for formal construction, timbre of instruments, and an equal repose between melody, harmony and rhythm.

Both Simon and Garfunkel continued to record—Simon especially—after their breakup. Both of them had notable songs and successes. I am limiting this post to what they accomplished as a duo. I’ll list these favorites in the order they came out, chronologically.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE

A generation’s shorthand for alienation. If their producer Tom Wilson had not taken the initiative to overdub a rhythm section over their previously-recorded folk song, it is doubtful we would even know of Simon and Garfunkel. This is the song that propelled their career.

HAZY SHADE OF WINTER

A great example of a marriage between lyrics and music. Written during the year that Simon spent in London, trying to make it there as a solo artist. “Time will go by and you won’t notice until it’s gone. Wasting time in the springtime of one’s life.” Realistic, but not cheery, lyrics.

HOMEWARD BOUND

Another song that Simon wrote while in London. He was waiting for a train in Merceyside—THE heart of British pop music in Liverpool—waiting for a train to go back to London and his girlfriend—when he scribbled this song down. He is the “one-man band” he is singing about. There is actually a plaque at the Widnes train station, commemorating Homeward Bound’s creation there.

I AM A ROCK

A plea to himself to avoid pain and brokenheartedness by avoiding emotional attachment. A sad song.

DANGLING CONVERSATION

Simon felt that both “I Am A Rock” and “Dangling Conversation” were pretentious, his poorest song-writing efforts. He felt they showed him trying to be literary and concerned with “high” thoughts. But the lush string orchestra here serves as a great backdrop to emotional turmoil a couple—who clearly have trouble communicating with each other. The mass popularity of both songs—the extent to which millions could relate to the very feelings he was expressing—attest to the fact that his self-analysis was incorrect.

59TH STREET BRIDGE SONG (FEELIN’ GROOVY)

Maybe the happiest song S&G did? The 59th Street Bridge in New York, also known as the Queensboro Bridge, is a NYC landmark. Many thousands of drivers, bike-riders, and joggers use it every single day. It affords great views of the city in all directions.

AT THE ZOO

Or maybe this was the happiest? A song about the children’s zoo in Central Park.

MRS. ROBINSON

Who can forget Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate? What a great movie. Dustin Hoffman’s debut, too, I think.

SCARBOROUGH FAIR – PARSLEY, SAGE, ROSEMARY AND THYME

To me, this song seemed magical, a natural and logical—yet completely unexpected—extension of what S&G had already been doing.

EL CONDOR PASA

I knew nothing about Peru when I was in high school, yet somehow this music transported me there. You could actually call this song a cover—it was written as part of an zarzuela (a Spanish operetta) in the 1920’s by Peruvian composer Julio de la Paz. Paul Simon added his own words to de la Paz’s melody.

BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER

It’s hard to say, but this may be S&G’s greatest song, or at least the one with the widest popularity. A full-throated ballad featuring Garfunkel’s voice, it never fails to make shivers run and up down my spine. Five minutes of bliss. GREAT pianist.

THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK

From S&G’s fifth and final album. Very poignant meaning: Simon wrote it when Garfunkel left him, alone in New York, to make a movie in Mexico. In spite of the wistful sound and cloud-like harmony, the lyrics tell of a young man who is really emotionally hurt. The Only Living Boy in New York was actually made into a (terribly reviewed) movie starring Jeff Bridges and Pierce Brosnan.

THE BOXER

One of my favorite S&G. The lyrics still get to me—at the time, they somehow typifying the loneliness of living in a really huge city, of feeling all alone.

In a clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving…

AMERICA

This is a song about searching. The Kathy of the song was Simon’s girlfriend at the time he wrote this song. If you’ve ever been on the New Jersey turnpike, the endless traffic and often surreal inhumanity of being part of that ebb and flow is something from this song you can relate to. It shows us—perhaps—that “America” is just a figment of our collective imagination.

FOR EMILY, WHEREVER I MAY FIND HER

Yet another crystal-clear example of Garfunkel’s sensitivity. What an expressive singer.

 

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#265 DEBUSSY REFLECTIONS ON THE WATER

#265

DEBUSSY

REFLETS DANS L’EAU
(REFLECTIONS ON THE WATER)

MARC-ANDRE HAMELIN, PIANO

The essence of musical Impressionism…

Impressionism in painting was an artistic movement that started in Paris in the 1860’s. It was characterized by intense colors and opaque renderings of the real world in paintings intended to give fleeting impressions of what the artist was visualizing. For many—certainly including myself—the impressionist painters—Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, and others—were the most appealing visual artists thus far in history. One can easily roll off the names of a couple dozen of these artists.

In music, for all intents, Impressionism is contained in the work of Claude Debussy. There were other composers who, in hindsight, qualify in a limited way as being “impressionistic”—Ravel, Dukas, Respighi, Albeniz, and Griffes. But the qualities of impressionism in the world of art that can be applied to music are best represented in Debussy. As the music world in the late nineteenth century was gradually moving away from music with clearly defined tonal centers—the kind of music that had predominated for nearly 300 years—Debussy became an unintentional leader of the future of music. There are many who feel that Debussy (1862-1918), who died early in the twentieth century, was the twentieth century’s greatest composer. The harmonic and formal ambiguities of his music fit the “impressionism” definition pretty well.

It should probably also be stated that Debussy was not fond of the “impressionist” label. He much preferred to call himself a Symbolist, as he felt he had a much greater affinity for the Symbolist writers such as Verlaine and Mallarme than he had for the Impressionist painters.

Debussy was a major composer of works for the piano—some would say the greatest French composer for piano. He had not come from a musical or particularly well-off family. He grew up in Paris as the son of the owner of a china shop. His mother was a seamstress. His musical talent was recognized early, though, and he was given enough encouragement that he entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten.

Although he was always composing, his ambition was to become a virtuoso pianist. When he saw that this was not going to happen, he re-focused on composition, winning the Prix de Rome (a prize that we’ve touched on in these posts several times) at the age of 23. It is the shorter pieces in Debussy’s piano output that have gained the most notoriety—Clair de Lune, the First Arabesque, Pagodes, The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, and Golliwog’s Cakewalk among them.

Reflets dans l’eau (“Reflections in the Water”) is one of these very popular pieces. It is the first of three piano pieces from his first volume of “Images.” Written in 1905, it is an exemplary representation of what was considered “impressionistic” about Debussy—his use of non-functional harmony, ambiguous key signatures, a general sense of modality—and perhaps most of all, that continually-delayed feeling, so common in Debussy, of a piece only coming to a definite stop, of having a definite resolution, at the very end of the work.

The impressionist painters all had an obsession with light—the sun or the moon—and the way light was reflected on surfaces such as streetlamps and clouds. Debussy was able, in Reflections on the Water, to create this same kind of fleeting impression in music. hat he had a lifelong fascination with water is obvious from some of his other works—piano pieces The Isle of Joy, The Sunken Cathedral, Gardens in the Rain, and Goldfish, to list a few, and his monumentally great orchestral work, La Mer—The Sea.

One of the greatest experiences I was lucky enough to have as a student at Juilliard was to hear my classmates play. Once a month, my teacher Ania Dorfmann would have a master class in which her students would play for each other. In the early 1970’s, one of Madam Dorfmann’s students was the great Polish pianist Marian Migdal (1948-2015). We happened to share the same birthday, and he was as friendly as he was talented. Everything Marian played was golden, including his Reflections on the Water. His in-class performance was the first time I hard ever heard the piece. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the work! The tone colors that Debussy created in Reflections are astonishing.

Marc-Andre Hamelin is a French-Canadian pianist who is something of a throwback to the days of the nineteenth-century super-virtuoso. There is nothing written for piano that he cannot play. His repertoire is phenomenally broad, even for great concert pianists. This particular video of his Reflections on the Water is really wonderful.

Pictures: Monet’s Impression Sunrise, the painting that gave the name to the Impressionist movement; Debussy, Marc-Andre Hamelin.

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#264 BEETHOVEN SYMPHONY #9 IN D MINOR, OPUS 125, FOURTH MOV’T ODE TO JOY

#264

BEETHOVEN

SYMPHONY #9 IN D MINOR, OPUS 125
“CHORAL SYMPHONY”

FOURTH MOVEMENT
“ODE TO JOY”

CHRISTIAN THIELEMANN, CONDUCTOR
VIENNA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
VIENNA SINGVEREIN
ANNETTE DASCH, SOPRANO
MIHOKO FUJIMURA, ALTO
PIOTR BECZALA, TENOR
GEORG ZEPPENFELD, BASS

Although there may be other contenders—for the classical music tune that the most school children are familiar with even though they don’t know where it comes from—I am guessing that the “Ode to Joy” melody would win such a contest. It is the central theme around which everything else revolves in the fourth and final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Its simplicity—it moves up and down by scale degrees, making it easy to sing and easy to remember—has endeared it to many millions of music lovers, both serious and casual, for nearly two hundred years.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the prospect of writing anything about the Ninth Symphony. It is one of those cases where the more you know about it and the more you know about Beethoven, the less competent you feel in taking on the subject matter—there is just so much there. Beethoven finished composing the symphony in 1824, just three years—as it turned out—before he died, at the age of 57. It is such a towering masterpiece that its mere existence has intimidated all composers ever since.

I have always liked a good analogy. So–if one were to make an analogy, Beethoven’s Ninth would be the planet Jupiter. The works by the next two great symphonists (chronologically) after him—Brahms and Mahler—would be Saturn and Uranus. Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, and Schumann would be Neptune-sized; Dvorak and Sibelius Earth-sized; Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff Venus-sized; everyone else, Mercury. Or put another way, if it were a tree, Beethoven’s Ninth would be a giant redwood, and all the rest would be your regular forest pines and neighborhood oak trees. You get the idea. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was of such scope, and such depth—Beethoven’s compositional output, period, was of such breadth—that everyone coming after him did whatever they could to avoid the inevitable comparison.

Brahms postponed and postponed his own first symphony for fear of it being compared with Beethoven’s last symphony. Mahler, the great Austrian composer whose life overlapped the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—had deep and unshakable superstitions regarding the composition of his own ninth symphony which were related to his feelings about Beethoven’s Ninth. Upon finishing his Eighth Symphony—the Symphony of a Thousand (because of the large number of performers required for it)—he absolutely felt he would die at the conclusion of his next symphony—number 9. He felt that no self-respecting composer should attempt that magical number, it belonged to Beethoven. To do so would be, he felt, sacrilege, and would surely bring bad luck—it would bring death. He actually disguised his ninth symphony by naming it Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). Having felt he had thus cheated death, he went about composing his great own great ninth symphony. Halfway through the composition of #10, however, he did indeed die.

All of this is just to point out the stature of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and to give an idea of the esteem it was held in by composers who had to follow in his footsteps.

The symphony is written in four movements, and requires about 75 minutes to perform. With the composition of his Third Symphony, which requires about 50 minutes, Beethoven had already broken the bonds of symphonic length and form. In the Ninth, he adds a chorus to the final movement, the first major composer to do so in a symphony, thus creating what was, in its time, the longest symphony ever written.

I cannot recall the first time I heard the “Ode to Joy” melody—it probably appeared in one of my earliest piano books when I was seven years old. It is a melody that I could hear forever and not tire of. I first heard the melody in its appropriate context—as part of a symphonic recording—in the Toscanini/NBC Symphony Beethoven set while I was in high school. Like all of my Toscanini LP’s, I played it until it was unplayable.

Here, I’d just like to cover some salient points about the Ode to Joy movement.

• At the time of the Ninth Symphony’s premiere performance, Beethoven had not appeared in public—because of his hearing situation—for twelve years. As with all of his major works, the premiere took place in Vienna. But Beethoven had to be persuaded to allow the premiere to occur there. By this time—the 1820’s—quite a bit of the music heard, in this most musical of all cities, was Italian—Rossini operas, in particular. Beethoven had preferred, and planned on, the work being premiered in Berlin to an audience that he felt would have a deeper understanding of Schiller’s text. In the end, he was petitioned—by popular acclaim of the notables of the city as well as the general populace—to go ahead with the premiere in Vienna, and that is what occurred.

• The premiere at the Theater am Kärntnertor involved the largest number of performers ever assembled for a symphonic performance. I think it is important to imagine this first performance: Michael Umlauf, the Theater director, knew how disastrous it would be for the deaf Beethoven to attempt to conduct at all—which is what both he and the public wanted—let alone such a colossal work. So, a kind of dual-conducting arrangement was fashioned in which the orchestra was advised (by Umlauf) to ignore Beethoven’s conducting and follow Louis Duport—the actual conductor of the Philharmonic—with Duport occupying the conductor’s podium and Beethoven standing in front of it. Beethoven, of course, was hearing his composition in his mind, and would set the tempos before each movement by beating a silent measure for the players and singers to see.

But, he could not help himself from becoming physically involved in the performance. A description has come down to us: “Beethoven himself conducted, that is, he stood in front of a conductor’s stand and threw himself back and forth like a madman. At one moment he stretched to his full height, at the next he crouched down to the floor, he flailed about with his hands and feet as though he wanted to play all the instruments and sing all the chorus parts.”

It was widely reported—enough times and from enough sources to appear credible—that, since he could not hear, Beethoven continued to conduct after the final notes were played. At that point, one of the female vocal soloists turned him around to acknowledge a staggering ovation from a packed house. The audience did not hold their applause to the symphony’s conclusion, though. They were stunned by every part of the symphony, and acknowledged Beethoven with standing ovations after every movement.

• Beethoven had hand-picked the four vocal soloists. It is interesting that the two female singers were very young women—ages 18 and 20—who would have only been known to Beethoven by the operatic reputations, not from his hearing them first-hand—Henriette Sontag and Caroline Unger.

• You may know the words to the melody as being “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” These English words were added to the melody in 1907 by an American, Henry van Dyke. This is the version found in countless hymnals around the English-speaking world.

• There have been far too many performances of the Ninth Symphony to celebrate this event or that circumstance to list here. Perhaps one performance in our recent collective memory is that of Leonard Bernstein conducting a multi-national orchestra, celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

• One interesting music trivia fact is that the length of compact discs—CD’s—was originally formulated to be 74 minutes long based on the length of time it takes to perform the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. The recording engineers at Philips and Sony felt that if a single CD could contain the Beethoven Ninth Symphony, that would suit everyone in the listening world. As a guide, they utilized the legendary 1951 recording of the Ninth by Wilhelm Furtwangler, which takes 74 minutes.

THE TEXT

• The Ode to Joy poem was written by the poet Friedrich Schiller in 1785. Beethoven added some of his own text additions to the poem. Clearly, to the deaf, lonely, and big-hearted Beethoven, the words of this poem, which would form the nucleus of the final movement of his final symphony, were important. The poem is addresses the unity of all mankind:

O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More songs full of joy!
Joy!
Joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Within thy sanctuary.

Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers,
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join our song of praise;
But those who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At natures breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He sent on their courses
Through the splendor of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
Like a hero going to victory!
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving father.

Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must he dwell.

• A formal analysis of the fourth movement has proven to be a subject of disagreement among music theorists and writers—and probably not of extreme interest to readers of these posts. I just want to give my own quick synopsis of the “Ode” movement as a possible listening aid.

0:00 setting the groundwork, reworking ideas from previous movements
3:16 first appearance of the Ode to Joy theme, low strings, unison melody only
4:00 first decorations of the OTJ theme, strings and bassoon
4:45 string orchestra – extremely lovely interweaving around the OTJ theme
5:26 full orchestra OTJ
7:55 melody sung by bass OTJ melody
8:40 soloists sing OTJ melody in ensemble, joined in by chorus
10:24 Turkish March – a different key, a laid-back version of the OTJ theme started by winds, then joined by tenor
12:00 orchestral fantasy involving music from previous movements
13:49 wonderful full chorus/orchestra treatment of OTJ
14:40 slower-paced choral/orchestra re-treatment of theme from first movement

From 19:00 to the end – Beethoven throws everything into the soup, snippets of the Ode to Joy theme continually interspersed in what can only be described as controlled frenzy.

Such brief remarks as these do not do justice to this remarkable movement, let alone the entire symphony. If you already know the Ode To Joy melody, this performance by the Vienna Philharmonic—some 187 years after they premiered it—should be a treat. If by chance you’re hearing it for the first time, it may be a revelation.

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