Month: March 2009

"Knowledge of music… knowledge of literature… knowledge of… knowledge of… you’re an interesting man, there’s no doubt about it."

Our librarian friend (really, all of you should have a librarian friend) Rebecca Hunt alerted us to the news that Maurice Jarre has died at the age of 84. Jarre composed (and, uncredited, conducted) the score to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, a film regarded with sacred awe here at Soho the Dog HQ—in addition to Lean (the score to Doctor Zhivago was also his) Jarre penned scores for Luchino Visconti, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, George Miller, and even the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker trio (Top Secret!). Jarre won three Oscars and also accrued a fair amount of abuse—Irwin Bazelon’s film-music book Knowing the Score has some petulantly nasty things to say about Jarre. To me, that falls under the same banner as criticism of Ringo Starr—he’s the drummer in possibly the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time, he must be doing something right. (For the record, I like Ringo’s drumming a lot. Now I’m off topic.) Anyway, here’s Jarre conducting the Lawrence overture—one of the all-time great distillations of classical-music exoticism.

Ma di gaiezza il bel tempo fuggì!

It’ll be random, spotty posting until I get out from under a crush of deadlines. (For some reason, I’ve been walking around thinking March had about 42 days.) In the meantime, enjoy the late, great Giuseppe Sinopoli (who I would totally look like if I stopped cutting my hair) conducting the “Intermezzo” from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.

Glass and steel

Via Geoff Edgers, John Mellencamp on how the corporatization of America has wrecked the music industry. I agree with a lot of this, although I think it’s complicated by the fact that the rise of the popular music industry was also fueled by an economic quirk: the post-WWII increase in adolescent disposable income. Corporate money started flooding into pop music in the 1950s, even if the corporations had no clue about the content—it just took a while for technology to render that ignorance moot. And, for the record, I can sing the chorus to “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and frequently do, at seasonally inappropriate times.

The winners of the first Guthman Musical Instrument Competition were announced earlier this month. None of them, though, I’m betting, are as big as the Mid-Hudson Bridge, which Joseph Bertolozzi turned into percussion to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s journey up the eponymous river. (I’m still trying to imagine what that initial $2.2 million budget would have entailed.)

Singing astronomer! I’m a big enough nerd to get behind that. Have you ever drunkenly confused Messier and Messaien? I have. (Take a listen here.)

And “Beverly Hills Housewife,” David Hockney’s portrait of patron Betty Freeman, is expected to bring $7-10 million when it’s auctioned in May.

Rodgers and Hart: “Spring Is Here” (Jessye Norman; Boston Pops/John Williams)
Philips 412 625-2 (available in compilation)

Arrangement by the prolific Joe Reisman. It’s pretty brisk for spring here in Framingham—and the way things have been going, I’m expecting snow any day now. Sure, it’s not in the forecast, but around these parts, that means nothing. (Cornelius Cardew would have been a fantastic New England weatherman.) But those crocuses are going to bloom because it’s spring, dammit, and nobody tells crocuses what they can and can’t do.

OK, back to work. Seriously, wasn’t the computer revolution supposed to boost leisure time?

Manual transmission

Bruckner: Symphony no. 8
Mozart: Symphony no. 38 “Prague”

Staatskapelle Dresden
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Profil PH 07057

Travelling music in the official Soho the Dog 1999 Honda Civic as of late have been these excellent CDs, recorded live in 2002. We’ve been blasting this thing all week, to and from the store, to and from work, to and from various parcels of conservation land—today it was even warm enough to roll down the window and serenade the environs. Critic-at-Large Moe, it turns out, loves the stuff, as it seems to call forth ancestral memories of Medieval hunts, inspiring an unusually regal mien.

Noble mobile Brucknerian Moe.

What I like about this recording is that Haitink and the orchestra know when to just let the music sit there, a crucial part of successful Bruckner performance. There’s no getting around that much of Bruckner’s symphonies consist in large part of big, static chunks of music. Beethoven has his moments like this, of course, but Bruckner goes all out—where Beethoven uses Legos, Bruckner builds symphonies out of Duplo blocks. It is, I think, one of the things that people who don’t like Bruckner’s music don’t like about it. But if you try and massage that aspect of the music, you usually end up with a counterproductive see-saw. Haitink and the band build up a good head of steam, polish the balance, and then just let Anton be Anton.

Even more than Messaien, I think, Bruckner is the one composer whose music always immediately gives away his organist identity. Not just in the orchestration, although you can almost hear him pulling the stops every time he gears up for a big crescendo—8′ strings, add 4′ winds, start tossing in reed stops (trumpets and horns), a 32′ on the pedal, and finally mixtures of the higher winds. It’s that modular construction, letting a particular texture sound for a span of time, changing dynamic by changing forces instead of individual volume. (When Bruckner does subito dynamic effects, it’s usually by changing instrumental choirs, like shifting to a different manual.)

The “Prague” is a better pairing that one might think—the connecting thread being Bruckner’s hammered articulations in the 8th’s finale (an unusually pianistic texture for him) which nicely sets up Mozart’s motoric Classicism. The performance is dangerously energetic—it’s usually encouraging me to speed. I need to swap it out for something more serene.

"I took many a lump, but ’twas all in good fun"

Guerrieri: Clog Dubh Rag (2009) (PDF, 4 pages, 264 Kb; MIDI here)

This month’s rag (previously: 1, 2) celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in typically loud and chaotic fashion. The Clog Dubh Phádraig, the “Black Bell of St. Patrick,” is now in the National Museum in Dublin. William Wilde (Oscar’s father) described it thus in his 1867 book Lough Corrib, its Shores and Islands:

It was believed in the locality that this bell was a present from an angel to the saint, and was originally of pure silver, but that it was rendered black and corroded, as at present seen, “by its contact with the demons on Croaghpatrick, when the Apostle of Ireland was expelling them thence.”

One legend connects the bell with Patrick’s driving the snakes out of Ireland—the snakes were so persistent in their harassment during Patrick’s mountaintop hermitage that he finally threw the bell at them, which scared them sufficiently that they didn’t stop slithering until they were in the sea. (Hence the C strain, which makes liberal use of “Banish Misfortune” from the Petrie Collection.)