Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Color and light

For some reason I like doing art.

I use the term loosely. I do not have any pretentions as an artist. But late at night, or of an afternoon when I have been busy with work most of the day, it is fun to sit down with watercolors and relax. What is it about watercolors? They are just so cheap and easy.

Especially cheap. I have this $5 watercolor set I have been working off of forever. That is it in the picture above! I also have a sneaking affection for oil pastels because they, too, are cheap. That masterpiece in the sketchbook visible in thePain back on the right was done with oil pastels.

Not only that but they were oil pastels I purchased in Tupperware at a garage sale! I think I paid a quarter. The brand is Loew-Cornell, which despite the patrician name is made in China, let's not kid ourselves.

I remember my mom telling me at that garage sale that buying the pastels was worth it just to get the Tupperware! LOL! Anyway, those are the pastels that painted that picture in the picture.

HOWEVER. Once at another garage sale I bought a little wooden box of oil pastels of the Van Gogh brand. Van Gogh is not an exalted brand. Looking it up, I see it is a "student brand." However. sets of 10 or something (mine has 15) go for a cool $30 or something. So when I get better at oil pastel I will let myself use the Van Gogh pastels instead of the Loew-Cornells.

I will be the Leonard Pennario of pastels!

Jeoffry also enjoys art.

Good boy! Good boy!!

We are artists!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Mozart's mysterious last year

I have been wanting to get my, ahem, Music Critic Web log going again. It has been what, a year?

This seems like a great time to do it.

There is a recent story in Britain's The Telegraph about Mozart and his last year. I saw it yesterday morning and put it aside to enjoy later that day, appropriately with tea. So I could take it slow and digest it.

I love reading about Mozart, anything Mozart. Just so you understand, being a Mozart nerd I awoke this morning and my first thought upon hearing it was August 4 was, this is Mozart's wedding anniversary. It is! He got married August 4, 1782.

About Mozart's last year, 1791, there is so much that will never be figured out. However this story is not going to put us any closer to figuring anything out, I will tell you that right now.

One thing right off the top, there is this portrait they say is of Mozart. I pasted it up above.

I know, Mozart was painted by a lot of incompetent artists, but even allowing for the artists' incompetence, that is not Mozart. I think it might be Beethoven. It does not look like Mozart at all. Mozart had blue eyes, for starters. And the fashions are all wrong too for Mozart's time. I think it is Beethoven. I am just saying.

That stupid play "Amadeus," we are going to spend the rest of our lives pointing out how so much of it is B.S., and the author does a good job of debunking it, even if he does not point out that the idea did not start with Peter Shaffer. However, there is this.

Mozart returned to Vienna after the premiere at the end of September. During the two months of his life, he was furiously productive, polishing off Die Zauberflöte, which proved an enormous hit – perhaps the biggest of his career – with a non-aristocratic audience in a large suburban theatre in Vienna. He also wrote the enchanting clarinet concerto and started work on a requiem, commissioned anonymously by a nobleman grieving for his wife.

Then it just goes on, la la la la la, as if all this is normal.

I am sorry, that business about the anonymous Requiem commission, that is not normal! It is not normal now, nor was it in 1791, for a stranger to appear at your door dressed all in gray, like someone out of a masquerade, and wordlessly hand you a commission for a Requiem Mass. Once again ...

Not. Normal.


Another thing, I am getting a little tired of people explaining to me patiently how under Joseph II, it was customary for people to be buried in unmarked mass graves. I have never read one other biography that ends with the person being buried that way. What other subject of Joseph II who was famous was buried that way? Name me one other person and maybe I will take this explanation more seriously. Maybe not. It depends who the person is.

Anyway, I have issues.

It feels good too be venting again!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

'Jupiter' ascending

I had too much fun the other night watching this new video on the finale of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony.

This is a symphony I have listened to my entire life but I have never looked at the score. As a rule I do not like looking at scores. I am afraid I am going to picture the score whenever I hear the music and for some reason I do not like that.

However. Comes a time, you know? I reasoned with myself that I had studied scores of Beethoven quartets and they did not ruin the quartets for me.

So, the "Jupiter." I know every note of it. I can hear it in my head, I mean, I can just mentally press "Play" and there it is. But watching this video I saw there were things that were going on that I had not noticed. It is a thrill just to see the logic of the thing.

And it's fun, how this guy's robotic voice just informs you what to listen for. He does not call attention to himself. He doesn't try to be charming or steal the spotlight at all from this magnificent work of art we are contemplating.

Richard Atkinson, is his name. I keep wanting to say Rowan Atkinson. That is Mr. Bean! That is someone else entirely.

Imagine Mr. Bean narrating Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. No. Do not go there.

Anyway, Mozart's "Jupiter" finale, annotated. Find time in your day for it.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

A haunting performance

At Kleinhans Music Hall yesterday we had the violinist Mayuko Kamio playing Mozart's "Turkish" Violin Concerto. As an encore she did this unbelievable piece, Schubert's "Erlkoenig" arranged for violin.

The concert went late and I didn't have time to Google around to find out whose arrangement it was. I wrote my whole review in 25 minutes, yikes! But now I am looking it up and it appears to be by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst.

That was my grandmother's last name, Ernst!

But anyway. Here is Hilary Hahn playing it.

The description says it is one of the most difficult pieces for solo violin because of all the voices. I did touch on that in the review. I did kind of sense how challenging it was. How could you not?

Listening to this piece last night I found myself regretting it was not 150 years ago because then more people would know the song. I doubt that a lot of people in the hall knew the song because, even though it is one of Schubert's most famous songs -- probably the most famous -- people just don't know Schubert songs.

And even if you had heard the song before and recognized it, you would have to know the lyrics from verse to verse to follow what is going on. When Kamio got to the line where the little demon Erl King tells the child, "I love you," it was really cool and creepy.

My sister Katie who teaches German sent me this cool video. Now seems like a good time to share it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The book of Liszt

Yikes, I should just let this Web log go. I never write in it any more. I have been so busy and then often when I try to write the computer messes up on me and I end up walking away.

Maybe I should make a last stand. So often through the week I walk around with something on my mind I want to write about.

Today it is Schubert songs arranged by Liszt.

I have been working on a few of them in my spare time. I am doing "Das Wandern" and "Der Muller und der Bach" from "Die Schoene Mullerin." I also have "Wohin" lying around and that will be next.

The challenge with these pieces of course is that you have to keep them flowing smoothly at the same time that Liszt is bending and stretching your hand in all these different directions.

Listen to how Rachmaninoff pulls it off.

What a romantic he must have been, you know? The way he plays the Serenade. His hands are not always together which ordinarily would bug me but in this case you have to forgive it,.

And I like how he does "Das Wandern." A few other pianists I listened to were too clinical with it. Too staccato, too, with the introduction. I have listened to that song cycle millions of times and that intro does not have to be choppy.

Anyway we are back to the idea of David Dubal, play the piano daily and stay sane. I get my little half hour with these pieces as long as I have gotten in my other work. It is a kind of reward. It is funny because you walk over to the piano with a glass of wine and an hour later the wine is still sitting there. That does not happen too often!

You heard the man.

Play the piano daily and stay sane!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Sing it, Monsieur Souzay

Yesterday after church I stopped by Amvets and I bought one (1) record. It was 17 songs by Richard Strauss sung by Gerard Souzay. Gerard Souzay has made one appearance on this Web log before. But I really knew very little about him. I just know I love Strauss songs.

End result, as we say here in Buffalo, I have listened to the record twice. I just liked it.

Souzay does not have the passionate approach I love to certain songs, I found myself thinking as I listened. He is too... French. I read today that Souzay specialized in French melodie... the French answer to German lieder, which to be honest, I do not get the appeal of melodie too much.

But coming from this background he brings a certain something to the Strauss songs. If he does not "get" the raw sensuality of some of them he gets the wit of others. And...

Oh my goodness me.

Here I go looking on YouTube for some example of what I mean. And I find these films of Monsieur Souzay in what looks like the 1950s, singing this stuff.

This changes everything.

This guy is something! I listened to him singing "Zeuignung" -- it means "Dedication" -- and he's insanely good. Handsome devil, too. All this passion comes through that did not on this record I have, or else maybe I did not hear it. I will have to listen to it again.

Here he is with "Serenade." If you do not know this song, it is a very sexy song. He is inviting you to slip away with him in the dark, to be quiet so nobody hears, etc....

This song, like all of Strauss' songs, has a wonderful piano accompaniment. Souzay's pianist was Dalton Baldwin, excellent. Make sure you watch Souzay through the end of the video. The end of the song thrilled me when I was a teenager. "And in the morning, when the rose blooms, it will glow from the bliss of the night." Watch his face.

Wow, what a live one! You never see anyone going for broke the way he does singing these songs. He really feels it! He is thinking of every line of that song. In all my years listening to Lieder I have honestly never seen anything like this.

One person comments on the "Zeuignung" video, "I studied with him three years." How would you study with this guy? You would walk in and not be able to sing. Imagine him looking at you. Imagine him saying, "No, you should sing it like this." That French aspect I was criticizing before, he turned that into a strength, that is for sure.

Anyway. There is a lot out there waiting to be explored. And I will explore it.

Merci, Monsieur Souzay!

Merci, Amvets!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The 'O Holy Night' Smackdown

I have not written in this Web log forever. It is time to get it started again.

Last night Howard and I got listening to "O Holy Night." OK, I got listening to it and I foisted it on him. But Howard likes great tenors and that is who is on the Internet singing "O Holy Night."

Jussi Bjorling ... Like a steam engine.

Franco Corelli, I like the Italian twist he gives to it. Also how he can go forever on a single breath. Thrilling. He does not however sail up to that high note.

 Caruso could sing it standing on his head.

 You know what, Bjorling is this marvel, but I like how Caruso sings it. He has a sensual, laid-back quality that makes me see his appeal. You often do not get that from listening to old scratchy records.

And the second-to-last "Noel, Noel," he has the second answer the first. He has his own operatic concept of the song.

Sometimes it is a good idea to listen to some song you really know to get an idea of the artist.

Reluctantly we turn to living artists. Jonas Kauffmann is a latter-day tenor I love. Listen to how he ends the first verse. Also he takes the melody up at times when you would think he would be taking it down.

That is a powerful voice!

 And a friend loves Juan Diego Florez. I am rather partial toward him myself.

I still give the edge to my old hero, Jussi. That command that he had, I have yet to hear anyone top it. Still ...

Imagine having any of these gentlemen at your Lessons and Carols.

Swoon, swoon!