Month: December 2007

Not a creature was stirring

(Click to enlarge.) Critic-at-large Moe is listening to Al Green: O Holy Night (MP3, 3.4 MB). He has had it up to here with all of your cat pictures. Nevertheless, he wishes everyone a peaceful holiday season. See you next year!

Update (12/25): In memoriam, one more song to the playlist:

Anita O’Day and the Oscar Peterson Quartet:
Taking a Chance on Love (MP3, 2.2 MB)

More on this after break, probably. But consider: two of the all-time great side-job accompanists—Rostropovich and Peterson—gone in the same year.

Where’s your Messiah now?

Reviewing three Christmas CDs.
Boston Globe, December 23, 2007.

This article was limited to recent releases, but here’s two other Boston-area holiday recommendations: A Christmas Album, by the Choir of the Church of the Advent, particularly Rodney Lister’s austere, modernist-by-way-of-Schütz Kings and Shepherds; and the Boston Camerata’s An American Christmas, which introduced me to one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, the George Elderkin revival hymn “Jesus the Light of the World.”

Silk purses from sow’s ears

We finish up the week’s holiday scribbling (previously: 1, 2, 3, 4) with a boar’s head carol, one of the oldest Christmas traditions there is. When super-intelligent aliens take over the planet and interrogate humanity about our customs, I imagine that the boar’s head will come up around Day 23 or so.

SUPER-INTELLIGENT ALIENS: OK, that’s all we need to know about the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Moving on. Now, this whole boar’s head thing….

HUMANITY: Oh, yeah. The boar’s head—for Christmas.

SIA: That would be the infant-in-a-feeding-trough holiday.

H: That’s the one.

SIA: Now, you’d cut the head off a pig…

H: Yep.

SIA: And you’d put it on a plate…

H: Yep.

SIA: And then parade it around the room and sing to it.

H: Yep, that’s pretty much it.

SIA: And why would you do this?

H: Well, I mean, we had to, didn’t we? That boar is vicious, with those tusks and all. And he’s constantly eating all the crops, isn’t he? We worked hard raising those crops. We had to kill him.

SIA: So it’s revenge, basically.

H: Yeah, I suppose.

SIA: Which you then made into a Christmas thing.

H: Yeah.

SIA: Like Die Hard, but with a pig.

H: Come on, man, you put it that way, it sounds stupid.

Voice and piano, with violin and cello obbligato. Why? Because I can. (Maniacal laughter, &c.) For my brother Dan and his new bride Jenn. (And Jessie, too.) Musically, this one is pure cop show. Not the “Dial ‘M'” cop show-as-slang-for-cool—I mean it sounds like the theme to a 1970s cop show. Sing it while riding on the hood of a speeding car.

Guerrieri: Nowell, Nowell (PDF, 176 KB; surprisingly appropriate MIDI here)

Food, Glorious Food

Today’s carol (previously: 1, 2) comes to us courtesy of 17th-century England, where carving a roast was apparently regarded as a descendant of jousting—an oddly Proustian trigger for chivalric nostalgia. For Karen and Mike (you can share some with the boys if they’ve been good). Tritones and augmented triads make everything festive!

Guerrieri: My Master and Dame (PDF, 99 KB; Cooperstown-Giant-authentic-sounding MIDI here)

Can I start you off with some drinks?

Today’s carol (previously) tells the heartwarming tale of a group of pushy carousers who demand nothing but alcohol. We have no need of your “food”! It might be nutritionally unsound, but I’ll bet a roast goose they gained less weight in December than I will.

For Jeana and Glenn, and critic-at-large Moe’s rural Midwestern counterpart Dougal. Musically: as if 19th-century wassailers were carrying around pocket transistor AM radios.

Guerrieri: Bring Us In Good Ale (PDF, 148 KB; Casiotone-esque MIDI here)

Knock knock

New England has been whomped by two major winter storms in relatively short order. The one on Thursday resulted in the cancellation of choir practice; the one yesterday resulted in the cancellation of church services and our yearly nursing home Christmas service and our yearly community carol sing. Apparently the pagan gods of nature are gaining the upper hand in the mythical War on Christmas. Look for Bill O’Reilly to denounce the singing of “Let It Snow” as an insult to Christian America.

Anyway, I took it as an opportunity to tinker with some original carols. My personal preference is for wassails—if you’re not sure what a wassail involves, the almost always suspect Wikipedia actually nails this one:

Wassailing is the practice of going door-to-door singing Christmas carols until paid to go away and leave the occupants in peace.

Nothing epitomizes the holiday spirit quite like roving bands of musical extortionists, does it? Today’s offering, a stocking stuffer for my brother Tony, is pretty much all about how two-over-three rhythms sound somewhat inebriated to my ear.

Guerrieri: The Wassaile (PDF, 104 KB; curious-sounding MIDI here)

Stay tuned—a new wassail every day this week!

Update (12/21): the rest—2, 3, 4, 5.

It’s up to your knees out there

That was the awfully pretty view out my window this morning, but I think spending the night shoveling it all left too much of a brain fog for proper blogging. Nevertheless, here’s some topics I was thinking about delving into. Maybe I’ll get to the bottom of some of them at some point in the future. For today, I think I’ll eat a whole bag of potato chips. Realistic goals, you know.

  • The New York Philharmonic goes to North Korea. It sounds kind of like the highbrow version of a “Bad News Bears” sequel, doesn’t it? I always find these sorts of cultural exchanges fascinating, because you can make equally good arguments that they’re almost inevitably failures because, at the end of the day, they don’t really mean anything politically, or that they’re almost inevitably successful, because, at the end of the day, they don’t really mean anything politically. I’m curious to see just how much the view of this will hearken back to the Cold War: somebody’s always keeping those Soviet-era journalistic lenses well-polished.

  • The 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced this week. More and more, the lesson of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems to be that the surest path to artistic immortality is to a) get in on the ground floor of b) a medium pitched towards impressionable teenagers who grow up to be nostalgic critics. I mean, I like the Dave Clark Five, but were they really that good or that important? I’m starting to get the feeling that, fifty years from now, every single act who released a record between 1955 and 1970 will be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (And again, “Weird Al” Yankovic is passed over. For shame.)

  • Punkte and Circumstance. For future publication, I spent a good deal of this week studying Karlheinz Stockhausen; for future publication, I’m embarking on a study of Edward Elgar. Maybe it’s just the accidental juxtaposition, but I think there’s a particular connection between them that has a lot to do with how easily music can paper over awkward aesthetic impulses: namely, the fact that both composers rose to positions of public prominence at the same time the strong religious aspects of their music were publicly soft-pedaled. Elgar’s Catholicism was politely discounted for pretty much his whole career; Stockhausen’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink didn’t receive much mention until the late 1960s, when it became too front-and-center to ignore.

  • I’ll close with a commercial: here in Framingham, I live within shouting distance of about a hundred shopping malls, and if the traffic I have to crawl through when I’m not even going to the mall is any indication, there’s a lot of holiday-gift aggravation out there for the having. Why not just stay home and give everyone t-shirts? Not to be an insufferable shill or anything, but proceeds do go to a good cause. (Don’t like mine? Darcy’s are pretty stylish. And Matt has cornered the market on wearable puns—my favorite is “Fine and D’Indy,” with its subversive anti-anti-Semitic vibe.)

    Deck the walls

    It’s dueling art collector day on Soho the Dog!

    Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Woman in Profile (Jacqueline), a 1970 canvas that’s part of the Lazarof collection, a major trove of modernist art that was given to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this week.

    The “fractional and partial” gift, in which title passes to the museum over a number of years, includes 20 paintings and drawings by Picasso, seven bronze sculptures and a painting by Alberto Giacometti, 11 drawings by Klee, two versions of “Bird in Space” by sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and late 19th-century works by Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro.

    Not a bad haul for a composer. Yes, a composer—that’s Lazarof as in Henri Lazarof, longtime UCLA professor—though it would seem that the main wherewithal came from Lazarof’s wife Janice, daughter of noted LA philanthropist Mark Taper. LACMA has been very, very good this Christmas—the collection is one masterpiece after another.

    Now, yesterday in Milan, Sotheby’s was auctioning off some other artwork, as part of a sale of letters, paintings, and various other tchotchkes formerly owned by Maria Callas. And what did La Divina grace her walls with? Sad clowns!

    That’s a Clown by A. Morgante, which sold for 750 Euros—which, it should be noted, was well above the 350-500 estimate: the Callas mystique still holds. To be fair, there was quite a bit of worthy stuff—this Baldassare Carrari (free registration required) is rather nice—and maybe the clowns were Meneghini’s, anyway. (I see Maria walking through the house, passing the clown painting in the hallway, and, every time, giving it that dagger-sharp big-eyed Callas look.) But honestly, what is that tie made of? Lemon meringue? The eye of the beholder, indeed.