Saturday, June 15, 2019

Mozart and the Mass

The Gregorian Chant I wrote about last time has made me see classical music differently. Specifically it has made me see Mozart differently.

Every Thursday I have been going to chant practice. And I am starting to understand how Gregorian Chant is the purest form of worship. Just like Latin never changes, Gregorian chant never changes. And as the priest has pointed out to us, it is not passionate.

Now when I listen to Mozart church music I have to say, it is, well, rather passionate.

All these years I have been listening to him and I have not seen that. In the classical music world Mozart is seen, although I have not been on board with this, as one of the "cooler" composers, as in temperature. Beethoven is seen as hotter.

The other day I was listening to Mozart's Mass in C Minor, "The Great." Because of all the Gregorian chant, it struck me: Mozart burned hot.

Hotter than Beethoven. I am going to go ahead and say that.

Beethoven was more calculated in comparison. Mozart took it to the wall. The Mass in C Minor, it is like listening to "Don Giovanni." It is beautiful and I am not saying it is not devout. It is a hymn to his faith. But it is hot, is all I am saying.

I am going to do more research into the situation but I do remember understanding that in Mozart's time there was already this discussion going, about Gregorian chant, and what was appropriate. There was pressure coming from somewhere to stick with the chant and not to go with contemporary music, which was Mozart.

Mozart was not against the chant. There is a story I keep reading about how he said that he would have given up all his music to have written the beautiful Preface you hear in the Tridentine Mass. To be honest I would like to see documentation for that. I do not remember reading it in all my years of reading about Mozart. But everyone writes it and so it is likely true.

At the same time ... contemporary music written by Mozart is not the same as contemporary music we are stuck with these days like, oh, "The Servant Song."

Mozart can fill you with awe.

Listening to this I found myself remembering a famous line from the biography of Mozart written by Marcia Davenport. Other people have quoted this line to me too, which makes me think it is famous. Davenport was writing about Mozart's death, on Dec. 5, 1791. She wrote:

"Thus died this glory of Catholicism."

It is fascinating to imagine this music being heard in churches in the 18th century, with some of the faithful shaking their heads, thinking, the wheels have come off.

They might have been right. It is passionate music. Hot.

Still, so beautiful ...

Saturday, May 25, 2019

My Gregorian Chant adventure

ne thing is different at church and that is that we have a new priest and his name is Father Kluge. His last name means "clever" in German. And he is clever.

He has us singing Gregorian Chant!

It is even more thrilling than it sounds. It is as if we have turned the calendar back to the year 450 or thereabouts. Mozart is way too modern!

We have to get together and practice so that nobody's voice stands out. We are all supposed to be together and it is like swimming because you have to take deep breaths and try to make it all the way through a long and meandering phrase without a break.

Father Kluge had a great way of describing chant, how it can be like a butterfly, going this way and that.

Early last Sunday morning I was cramming because I had forgotten a lot of what we had practiced. So I was practicing beautiful Mass I, which is what we are singing, off of a YouTube video. I worked in this practice while I was brewing our coffee. We do pour-overs with a Melitta cone and the water drips through pretty slowly and so while I was pouring, I was watching the score on the video ...

.... and singing along.

Son of a sea cook, I overpoured Howard's cup of coffee! Coffee was everywhere!

But we did OK. Father Kluge was up in the choir loft directing us because one of our other priests, Father Justus, was the celebrant. That is us in the illuminated "O" at the top of this post! I was able to step back and take a quick picture.

We look good! And we sounded good, too. It was like we were in school all over again because we were all trying really hard and after the Agnus Dei Father Kluge gave us a discreet thumbs up.

A great moment!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The psychedelic art of classical music

I am coming to a new appreciation of the psychedelic classical music album art of the 1970s.

Part of that is from my Etsy store. These records go in and out of my life. But it is also true that they bring back memories.

Mozart's Greatest Hits.

I sold this one out of my shop not long ago. It was factory sealed. That was not my copy! My own personal copy has been played a million times.

There is this gem. I have this album and will be listing it tomorrow, I think.

Is that amazing or what? I part with it reluctantly. But I price my albums high enough so that they take a long time to sell. So with luck I will have years to enjoy this.

Then there is the great Mozart album at the top of the post. I have this album myself but I recently came into possession of a second copy and that one is for sale.

I have learned that the Mozart Serenade art was the work of the great Sandy Hoffman who is one of the artists rightfully lionized on the site "Groove Is In the Art."

That site also includes this gem.

And this masterpiece by Sandy Hoffman for a Shostakovich record. He was the greatest! Hoffman we are talking. Shostakovich was great but let us admit it, in this case you could argue that he could not hold a candle to his album art.

All this takes me back to when I was very young. My parents took us to some kind of toy sale and there was a coloring set featuring drawings from "The Yellow Submarine." I went home with it but I had no idea what "The Yellow Submarine" was and though I colored the drawings they kind of creeped me out.

Now I look at these things differently.

What a wonderful world of color and music!

You have to keep your eyes open when you go to Goodwill.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Met Opera's "Die Walkure" - Gods and seesaws

Saturday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera simulcast of "Die Walkure." I have gone out of my way not to read any reviews of it because I wanted to think my own thoughts.

Somehow "Walkure" has become one of my sacred cow operas, one of a handful that I am very particular about. I think it began when my sister and I went to Toronto and saw it at the Canadian Opera Company. We had lost our dad not that long before that and we were totally not ready for what Wotan's Farewell was going to do to us. All through that final scene we cried and cried, passing a single soggy Kleenex back and forth. We were still crying as we left the opera house.

Because we were so undone we went for a glass of wine, and we spied Wotan and Brunnhilde a few tables away, quarrel forgotten, eating Buffalo wings. How could you not cheer up, seeing that? Now I think I would go up and say hello, say something. But I was shy then.

I have another "Walkure" story that I know I have told here before. That one involved the Met and James Morris as Wotan, not that I was there, but I feel as if I was.

Anyway, I come to this opera with a lot of baggage. The good news is, I was drawn into what I saw yesterday. I got a kick out of Greer Grimsley's Wotan. He has a mighty fine voice, and with his looks and his manner, he puts his own spin on the part. An American spin, I want to say, though I know he is from New Orleans, a city I love, and the power of suggestion is strong. He looks like a handsome biker. There is this quick clip from "Rheingold" --


 -- that I found today and adore. You can really see his personality there. That rakish smile, irresistible. And a creative take on the part. Jamie Barton, as his wife, is a kick too but maybe too much, a little too funny. You have to watch it. Seeing this gives a new dimension to "Walkure," where these two singers are together again.

In "Walkure" things are less sunny with these two and he is more world weary, as Wotan should be. I loved him, how can you not? But he does not yet have the overwhelming .... can I use that cliche word gravitas? It makes me laugh but maybe I have to ... that Wotan should have, that the big Wotans of history had. The big Wotans of history. They cast a long shadow, terrible to any singer these days. I do not envy present-day Wotans, I will tell you that right now.

You have big powerful supermen like Hans Hotter. He picks Brunnhilde up in his arms as if she is nothing. Just doing what needs to be done.

As does Donald McIntyre, here with the beautiful Gwyneth Jones.

(You do not want to know how long I wasted on YouTube today.)

That last clip, from a Bayreuth production, really got to me. They just took it to the wall. The sweat and tears on Wotan's face, the intensity and drama. The flames and the smoke.

That brings me to a problem I had with the Met production. The staging was too complicated. They had this set of sort of seesaws -- I think they used that word -- that was supposed to stand in for the Valkyries' horses, or something. It did not work, at least from where I sat. Maybe if you were at Lincoln Center the seesaws worked better. To us in the movie theater they just looked like seesaws.

Not only that but at intermission we had to try understanding how they worked. They had stagehands explaining them. If there is one thing I hate it is someone trying to tell me how they stage something, how a movie was made, anything like that. Now when I watch the actual production I am thinking about how they did it. What a pain.

And for what? There was one cool scene that had you looking down on Brunnhilde as if from above. I think that is it at the top of this post, though it is hard to make out. But otherwise the last scene could have been staged a lot better. And as Brunnhilde settled into her resting place, it looked for a moment as if she were pitching backwards. You do not want that.

You want flames and smoke. It is not rocket science. Wagner will do the rest.

Well, at least this production was not horrible like this other one I wrote about this other time. Let us hash over the other singers. Brunnhilde (Christine Goerke) was too cartoon-ish for me at the start but I warmed up to her. There is this haunting scene when she appears to Siegmund as a portent of his death. The music grows trance-like as she tells him who she is and what her appearance means. There is a moment when he meets her eyes, sealing his fate. Goerke was lovely in that scene, just devastating.

Tomorrow I will research other singers singing that scene. There go another five hours, you know?

Siegmund and Sieglinde, I liked them both. Sieglinde was just beautiful, I mean she looked the part. Eva-Maria Westbroek, her name is. She was glorious.

And in the all-important role of Hunding, Sieglinde's Neanderthal husband -- a part I love, and that my father loved before me -- was   ...let me check ... Gunther Groissboek. I am a complete Gunther Groissboek fan from this moment on. He has this marvelous voice and he knows how to use it, which is often out of a corner of his mouth. A spectacular Hunding, spectacular.

"Badass," I whispered to my friend Nisha, sitting next to me, between me and our friend Meghan. I am privileged to have not one but two friends willing to spend five hours at "Die Walkure."

One touch I loved -- it might be in the script, who knows? -- is how Hunding hangs his Neanderthal furs on Nothung, the magical sword stuck in the tree.

At intermission Grossboek confided that he had been tapped to play Wotan at Bayreuth. Do it. Do it! But at the same time I would also like to see Greer Grimsley tackle the part at Bayreuth. In another year or so he should be ready. He is 62 now but as Wotans go that is young.

I have multiple careers I will be following thanks to this production.

And multiple hours in store for me on YouTube.

God help me!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Los Angeles Philharmonic spotlights Pennario

It is about time the world joined me in waking up to the greatness of Leonard Pennario. It is happening.

The other day I rejoiced in France Musique's five-day exploration of the recently released Pennario RCA box set.

Today I got word that the Los Angeles Philharmonic is featuring Pennario in an upcoming exhibition!

This is great news. As I told the L.A. Phil staffer who reached out to me, Pennario was always proud of his association with that orchestra, ever since he made his debut there at 14, under the baton of the great Otto Klemperer.

The featured performance comes from the Los Angeles Philharmonic's archives and is of Beethoven's Triple Concerto. This makes me very happy because Pennario never made a record of this particular piece. He performed it only a handful of times -- three or maybe four, not more than that. Pennario was funny that way. It was totally normal for him to do a concerto only once or twice in his life, on demand. He had that capability.

I will present the rest of the details as they reach me. Either that or I will present them tomorrow when I have occasion to look them up in my overstuffed files. I was ready just now to start guessing who the two other soloists are in the concerto, but just so as not to confuse things, I will get the facts. This concert is on file somewhere in the other room and I will be able to tell you the who, the when, and the where, if not the how and the why.

This exhibition must be part of the orchestra's celebration of its 100-year-anniversary. They must be looking back on highlights.

What a lucky group of musicians to have Leonard Pennario living right in their back yard, and soloing with them on a regular basis. And to record with them, too, on multiple occasions. That fine record at the top of this post featured Pennario playing Rachmaninoff with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Erich Leinsdorf.

And there is this.

And many more.

How gracious of L.A. to remember L.P.

The name Leonard Pennario is being spoken!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

A French homage to Leonard Pennario

RCA's newly issued box set of Leonard Pennario's RCA years has made me really happy. Yesterday I saw that France Musique celebrated the release with a five-day tribute.

It starts out with Pennario's sweetly haunting performance of Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid" and goes from there.

In between the selections there are beautiful voices speaking in French which, je ne comprends pas, but I hear the name Leonard Pennario spoken and that is enough for me.

The French have a beautiful way of saying Pennario's name. "Lee-o-NARD Pennario" kind of comes close. That actually makes me laugh because this Italian historian here in Buffalo, Joey Giambra, he has been known to refer to Pennario as "the Nard" or "Nardu."

I have listened to the first installment and moved on to the second, which begins with Beethoven's "Fur Elise" and moves on to the Schumann Piano Concerto. No one in the United States would ever play Pennario playing Schumann.

Zut alors! I wish I could understand French better.

Pennario would have been able to understand it, no problem.

Oh well ... It is the thought that counts. I will be returning to this podcast, or whatever it is, with great pleasure. I will report on it.

To France Musique ...


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Arthur Rackham's "Ring"

I have been studying up on art and illustration and several artists and illustrators are emerging as my favorites. One is the British illustrator Arthur Rackham.

The name was new to me, I have to admit. But he is a recognized great and has been for a long time.

Talking about "Die Walkure" yesterday I seemed to recall reading that he had illustrated Wagner's "Ring" cycle. And sure enough.

You could fill whole Pinterest boards with this stuff and believe me, I will. But meanwhile ...

This appears to be Brunnhilde pleading with Wotan/

And the Ride of the Valkyries. Zowie!

I would guess this is Brunnhilde doing some soul searching.

Dover Publications has put out a book of Rackham's Wagner illustrations which I just pinned on Pinterest on a brand-new board I have titled Art Books I am Craving.

No wonder artists love Wagner. What images. Anything you want to paint, you can paint! It is all in there somewhere.

I do not know for sure that all visual artists love Wagner. But I have an ongoing list and so far the list has two biggies, both favorites of mine -- Pierre Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent.

Renoir painted Wagner's portrait.

If it looks a little funny it was a year before Wagner died and I do not think he was feeling too well. But I love the colors in the background and it does give you a sense of vivid imagination, both on the part of the musician and the artist.

One may while away hours contemplating such matters.

And one should!