Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the feast of Stephen

Today being the Feast of Stephen it is traditional that we listen to this.

Sorry, I could not help that!

St. Stephen was the first martyr and he was stoned to death. That is a picture above of the event, painted by Annibale Carracci in 1603-1604. Because he was stoned, St. Stephen is the patron saint of stonemasons.

There is the famous St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.

Mozart and his wife, Constanze, got married there and toward the end of his life he was the organist there. When I visited Vienna I grew emotional seeing this big, dark, age-old church. Fanning out from the church were all the narrow streets I had read about in books about Mozart's later years. It was so strange to see the building where he had been living where he died. And you could see the street where his in-laws lived.

Here is a video of St. Stephen's Cathedral where you can hear the bells of the beautiful old church and then glimpse part of a performance of Mozart's Requiem given there on the 200th anniversary of his death. On that same night in Buffalo they performed Mozart's Requiem in St. Joseph's University Church. I remember because I was there. But this is the greatest thing: In Buffalo it was an actual Requiem Mass said for Mozart's soul. I am not sure if that was true in Vienna, in St. Stephen's Cathedral. I hope that it was.

The Mass at St. Joseph's University Church was in Latin but I was not into the Latin Mass back then so I do not remember much about that. What I remember was how dreamlike the night was. I went by myself and did not tell anyone. I was secretive about it because I had called in sick to work in order to be able to go.

Then I got there and I was astonished to see this huge crowd. My parents were there! Looking back I think it was because the Mass was in Latin and my father loved the Latin Mass and never got a chance to attend one. In the vestibule I ran into my Aunt Marie, too. She said, "Your Uncle Joseph is out parking the car."

How wild, practically my whole family was there! Not only that but the huge crowd was surprisingly diverse. Probably the crowd was mostly white and Catholic but there were also Jews, Indians in turbans, Rastafarians in dreadlocks. People were crammed into the aisles standing and some people cried.

Buffalo! We are over the top with everything!

In Vienna at St. Stephen's Cathedral they had Arleen Auger and Cecilia Bartoli but they did not have what we had, I will tell you that.

All this reminiscing about the night of Dec. 5, 1991, all because today is the feast of St. Stephen. Everyone knows that because of the famous carol "Good King Wenceslas" and its first line, "Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen."

Wenceslas was the patron saint of Bohemia and he was martyred, murdered by his brother Bohuslav. I had not known that! These saints and their violent deaths!

This folkie neo-medieval version of the song has great graphics.

Here is a spirited take by the Irish Rovers. Loreena McKennitt does it well too on her album "The Winter Garden." What a sweet old melody this carol is. I can see how no one can resist it. And it cries out for that medieval treatment.

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together..

Good words, too.

Here is a classical performance with sweet illustrations.

Ha, ha! Here is Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney with a comic book. Beautiful!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Max Reger in Manhattan

I wish we had a midnight Mass in Buffalo in Latin but zut alors, we do not. They have one in Manhattan, at the Church of the Holy Innocents. The celebrant is this priest named Father John Zuhlsdorf whose Web log I like.

More importantly, they are playing our "Marias Wiegenlied," by Max Reger!

It is in the pre-Mass music program, starting at 11:30.

Perhaps they are performing it right now!

See, we knew quality when we heard it.

There is Reger up above as a young man.

I do wish I were in Manhattan tonight.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Yesterday at Mass they did a chant that I love, the "Rorate Caeli."

Anyone who loves early music, the greatest thing you can do is go to Latin Mass, which is what I have been doing for two years now. It is to the point with me where the music is starting to get into my soul, and the chants are beginning to take on associations for me the way they did for people years ago. I hear the "Rorate Caeli" melody and it means this time of year. I hear the "Vidi Aquam" and it brings thoughts of spring because that is what you hear at Easter time.

There is something about that "Rorate Caeli" melody I love. "Rorate Caeli" translates to "Drop down, dew, from heaven.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Be not angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity: behold the city of thy sanctuary is become a desert, Zion is made a desert. Jerusalem is desolate, the house of our holiness and of thy glory, where our fathers praised thee.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

We have sinned, and we are become as one unclean, and we have all fallen as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast crushed us by the hand of our iniquity.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

And it goes from there. I think it comes from Isaiah. If you want a full translation, which I can totally understand, you can find it here.

Part of the beauty of that chant is how it goes on and on. I had it on the brain all day yesterday after hearing it. It is traditional to sing the "Rorate Caeli" on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

The "Rorate Caeli" is included on the "From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral" CD pictured above. It's funny, until I went looking for a picture I could not think where I had heard this recently. That is where! There was a lot on that CD that I love but the "Rorate Caeli" got me especially.

It is so strange how a melody can be so simple and still be so moving and give you such a sense of timelessness. Once in a while books come out that try to explain why music affects the human mind. I always avoid those books. I do not want this figured out!

I love the mystery.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From Beethoven to the natives of Truk

At the same time we celebrate Beethoven's birthday today we mourn the situation in Honolulu. Poor Honolulu! It appears the city is in trouble with violence and gangs and on top of everything else it might be losing its orchestra.

It all comes to my attention because our music director here in Buffalo, JoAnn Falletta, is also the music director of the Honolulu Symphony. They are giving a free concert in Honolulu of the Beethoven Ninth to say "thank you" to everyone who has supported them, and the rest of the season appears to be canceled.

I feel sorry for Honolulu. I had not realized their orchestra goes back to 1900. That is older than ours! It is older than most orchestras.

Perhaps the city's situation sounds worse than it is. I am holding out hope for that. Here in Buffalo we are always seeing our town described in dire terms that are not true to life.

But the comments on that story I linked to above! Someone writes:

Kids continue to speed like idiots and kill...the police are doing a great job of shooting at everything that moves but can't stop Micronesian, Marshallese, natives of Truk, and who knows where else, from trying to steal, stab, and otherwise make our community a hell for drug awareness, that is all it is, makes us aware that we have a drug problem. At least some of us can enjoy some peace and quiet in a darkened hall and listen to some talent.

What are these natives of Truk? That sounds like something out of "Star Wars."

It does not sound good!

And as far as sitting in peace and quiet in a darkened hall, it looks as if that is coming to an end.

We will have to monitor this situation.

Meanwhile back to Beethoven. Before Cole Porter's "I Love You" there was Beethoven's "I Love You."

Listen to it here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Opera Man

It is great to see an opera singer revered in the Wall Street Journal as a paragon of fitness! Yesterday they were interviewing Nathan Gunn about his workout.

That is the column: "What's Your Workout?"

Just a couple of weeks ago the column was our very own Terrell Owens, of the Buffalo Bills.

Now it is Nathan Gunn. And sure, as Wikipedia notes, Mr. Gunn has been known for his physique. Sure, he made that People magazine list of sexiest men alive.

Still, it is opera! I like it when opera makes it into the mainstream.

Here is a sexy scene involving Nathan Gunn in "An American Tragedy." Warning: Whatever you do, do not read the comments! They are filthy!

Here he is as Lancelot in "Camelot." I am having a great time here, I will tell you, with my mini-Nathan Gunn film fest!

Oh, wait! "If Ever I Would Leave You."

I was waiting for this one.

OK, back to opera. Nathan Gunn was Papageno too.

Nathan Gunn almost never eats breakfast. That is what I read in the Wall Street Journal! When he does it is just a cup of yogurt or a piece of bread. He likes to eat steak and zucchini.

This whole adventure has been worth it because it has led me to a site called Barihunks. That is baritones who are hunks.

So many ways to while away a winter evening!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Liszt list

Yesterday I was listening to Leonard Pennario playing Liszt's "Dante" Sonata and I found this wild Franz Liszt site.

This guy goes on this rant about Liszt. He titles it: "Liszt: Romantic Leader and Mystical Pioneer."

He writes: "Liszt is unique, and his immense influence is unquestionably monumental."

There follows a whole laundry list -- Liszt, ahaha -- of reasons including this one which I love:

He was one of the first modern conductors, breathing life into a score in lieu of merely beating time, thus focusing more on fluid expression rather than a cold metronomic beat. While a metronome may have its place in certain circumstances, over use and strict adherence drains a performance of its humanistic beauties, especially works from the Romantic era. Unfortunately, there are still many performers today that roboticize Romantic music. Just because we live in a progressively industrial and computerized world doesn't mean we should abandon our humanity. This is not to say that all works must abandon the metronomic beat, as it certainly is mandatory with certain works, such as Ravel's Bolero or Shostakovich's third movement from his 8th Symphony for example, but when performing romantic works that breathe with passion and intense mood swings it's imperative to feel the beat with one's heart and not one's mind. So, perhaps many instuctors today should heed Liszt's advice - don't use a metronome!

You get this:

He was the first and true inventor of atonal music, well before Schoenberg.

(Thanks a heap, Liszt.)

This is a great graf as we say in the newspaper business:

It is evident that many rivals and turncoat friends did a great injustice to this man. None of them; Hanslick, Clara Schumann or Joachim to name a few, were as magnanimous or gifted as he was and perhaps they resented it. Like the high praise Liszt once received from Clara until he became a superstar, when she completely reversed her opinion - adding how she loathed how the frenzied women fell at his feet.

It goes on and on. I love it when people attack a subject with such passion and this guy does.

Warning: something goes wrong with the music. It starts sounding like roller rink stuff and then it freezes like that. Eventually you have to leave the Franz Liszt site for that reason.

But it is fun while it lasts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hugo Wolf's death notice, and other treasures

I found this fascinating site you can waste hours and hours with. It is Roger Gross, Ltd! This site can make your work day go whooosh, right down the tubes.

Mr. Gross sells all kinds of musical memorabilia: signed photos, autographed programs, announcements, whatever.

Up above is a signed picture of Leonard Pennario. Writing this book I would have thought I had every picture of him that existed but I do not have that one. I love it. Look at his hands. I loved his hands.

Here is a great oddment: Brahms' funeral notice.

An elaborate Benjamin Britten autograph is going for $2,500. Britten wrote out part of "Peter Grimes." There is a photo of Britten attached. Interesting, you do not often see pictures of Old Benjamin Britten. You usually see Young Benjamin Britten.

It is fun to look through the site and play "The Price is Right" with yourself. Whose autograph is more expensive, Pennario's or Istomin's? The answer is Pennario (she said with satisfaction).

I think at $175 this elegantly autographed picture of Franz Lehar is a bargain.

I mean, think, you routinely shell out $175 for your water bill, your car repair, etc., and never think anything of it. Instead you could be owning an autographed picture of Lehar! You could put it up on your wall and look at it over coffee in the morning.

Pennario's picture is also going for $175. It is funny that with all the ever-shifting laws of supply and demand they are at the exact same level.

Here is something atmospheric: Hugo Wolf's death notice. If you were going to have the death notice for anyone that would be up near the top of your list. Look at that picture of him.

The Hugo Wolf death notice would run you $875 but it is priceless in my opinion.

The Johannes Brahms death notice, by the way, is $2,500.

I wonder what is the most expensive item on this site. I will have to go back and look, when I am not in such a hurry. Oh, look! Here is a signature by Beethoven and this has to be a contender.

BEETHOVEN, Ludwig von- STUPENDOUS large pencil signature on the verso of a letter written by his attorney Dr. Johann Baptist von Bach "You can keep the bow for the coming half year Otherwise, one might raise some objections. From 1st October, 1818 until 1st April, 1819. Under Beethoven's signature is written in German "presented as a souvenir to Mrs. Elizabeth Schmetzer by A. Schindler (Beethoven's friend and biographer Frankfurt a. Main in March 1855". This is on a sheet matted together with a noble stone print of Beethoven. Overall 14 1/2 x 19" It is EXTREMELY SELDOM that full signatures of Beethoven appear.
........................................... $19,750

When Beethoven's friend Schindler was involved you never know. Still I would imagine this signature has been verified.

Fascinating stuff. Unbelievable.

We could do many follow-ups on this site and I am thinking we should.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'A bon viveur of the best kind'

I do not like to write about the newly departed two days in a row. We do not want to become the Obituary Web Log. (Although that would have a neat acronym, OWL.)

But I learned of the passing of the great Haydn and Mozart scholar H.C. Robbins Landon and it hit me like a ton of bricks. That is H.C. Robbins Landon up above. I learned of his death from the critic Norman Lebrecht's Web log. Norman Lebrecht is now my Facebook friend, to my delight and astonishment! But that is a whole other story.

I paid tribute to H.C. Robbins Landon a while back on the other Web log. Wow, that was over a year ago. I guess I was ahead of the curve.

"He was a bon viveur of the best kind." That is what my new friend Norman Lebrecht wrote to me on Twitter.

That is a wonderful thing to say about someone!

I grew up reading H. C. Robbins Landon's books but I only learned recently what an entertaining character he was. As I wrote on the other Web log, I loved reading interviews with him. He attacked his scholarly pursuits with such gritty humor and passion.

When he was telling of releasing the first recording of Haydn's "The Creation," he recalls seeing: "hard-bitten New York s.o.b.'s with tears streaming down their faces."

He also talked about how he found Haydn manuscripts. He said you would see bats flying out of these old castles in Dracula country and those would be the places that had Haydn manuscripts in the attic.

I think about that whenever I think about bats. Which is often because my husband is refurbishing this old house across from Buffalo's City Hall, a house we call Big Blue...

... and very often we see bats orbiting it. So when you think about it, I think about H.C. Robbins Landon quite a bit.

Norman Lebrecht always has the dirt, which I love, and I had not realized what he writes on his Web log, that H.C. Robbins Landon supposedly used to frolic naked in his pool with research assistants and guests. How sensational! When I was in California with Leonard Pennario we were in the hot tub together but we were not naked.

Anyway, I never met H.C. Robbins Landon but I am going to miss him.

You have to believe that right now Haydn is shaking his hand.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Goodbye, gospel man

It is funny, the people who cross your path. During the months I was out in California with Leonard Pennario, we went to Steinway Day, a gathering of Steinway dealers and artists. We sat at this table that included another pianist. His name was Larry.

I could not remember Larry's last name and I had never heard of him. But everything turns out to be written down somewhere and just this morning I was working on this one chapter of my book that deals with this Steinway Day event, which was quite the experience. And I found an old account of it I had typed up when I was back in California. And there was Larry's last name, Dalton.

Hmmm, I thought. I should call him sometime. He was sitting next to me at that dinner and I remembered how nice he had been, also that he respected Pennario so much. And this was a memorable evening we had shared. It might be interesting to get in touch with him and see what he remembered of it, see what his impressions were of Pennario, this great pianist who was then in his last days.

So I got on the Internet and I looked up Larry Dalton.

And I find Larry Dalton is dead!

I could not believe it. He was not that old! The obituary gave his age as 63. I thought he was younger than that, even, but 63 is not old.

It happened earlier this year and I guess it was sudden. Someone wrote that he was in excellent shape and his death came with absolutely no notice.

Dalton lived in Tulsa, Okla. I remember that from the dinner. Larry and I did a lot of gabbing while Pennario sat there disapprovingly. Pennario wanted me to focus on him. Well, he knew I loved him.

At one point we had a situation because Dalton asked Pennario for an autograph and there was a mix-up. I got mixed up and told Pennario that Dalton's first name was Jerry. In any case the autograph was made out to Jerry and there was a Jerry across the table who pocketed it. And when I tried to get Pennario to write out another autograph to Larry, not Jerry, he got all snarky about it. Well, the story did end happily with Dalton getting an autograph. I wonder where it is now.

Googling Larry Dalton just now I still wrote "Jerry," not "Larry." I could not believe that. I will never learn!

Larry Dalton was a gospel pianist and he was renowned in his field. His Web site puts it that he is a pianist "whose roots go back to revival meetings in Big Stone Gap, Virginia." I have never heard of Big Stone Gap, Va., but if you are that kind of a pianist that sounds like a good place to be from, I will say that. By the way it is strange how people's Web sites go on forever. Larry Dalton was probably the only person who could get in to edit his Web site so he will live on there forever, always in the present tense.

There are all kinds of tributes, mostly on Christian music sites. Here is a memorial someone put up on YouTube to Larry Dalton. It is kind of touching. I am a trad Catholic and my personal tastes run more to Mozart and Gregorian Chant. But I respect our American gospel tradition. There is nothing else in the world like it.

Here is Dalton rocking out to "Summertime."

And there I was at Steinway Day, sitting between these two dead pianists.

Life is short, you know?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

No angel

Wow, I had not realized Max Reger was such a baddie! Yesterday our good friend Prof. G wrote in his own inimitable way:

He was a wild man who ate, drank, did drugs, and composed, all at a tornadic rate. His excesses killed him at 43. He also fought with everybody and wrote some very scatalogical letters. You might have cringed from him if you had encountered him. He pilloried critics in his violin sonata, Op. 72 by composing motifs using the notes AFFE (ape in German) and SC (E flat), H (B natural), AFFE (sheep in German). I mention all this because his life makes zippy reading and his behavior reflects pre Great War German neurotic hysteria.

Ay yi yi!

Well, one thing I can say for Max Reger, he would have liked me.

I just know it!

Even if I have never met that type, I know that type.

As far as whether Max Reger was a devout Catholic, now I will have to double check that. It was one of those zillions of things I read somewhere, or thought I read somewhere. So thank you, Professor, for calling me on that.

We have covered interesting ground this week! Uncovering the dirt on first Carl Maria von Weber and now Max Reger.

I just looked up Max Reger on the site Instant Encore. Poor Max Reger! He did not have one fan! So I signed up as his fan.

I also found the Max Reger Foundation of America. The president of the group has a marvelous name, Inky Song. And two of the directors are Gunther Schuller and Milton Babbitt. Milton Babbitt a biggie in the Max Reger Foundation, I do not know why that surprises me but it does.

The Max Reger Foundation has a link to Max Reger High School in Amberg, Germany. How about that?

Continuing to wander the Internet, I found Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jorg Demus performing a beautiful little Christmas song, under two minutes long, by Max Reger. What a lovely slide show, with a translation and everything.

What gentle, softly rocking rhythm on the piano.

And that last line: "Ganz sanft im Schlaf behueten." The roses protect that Baby Jesus in his sleep. I love the last three notes the singer sings.

Hmmm. Maybe Max Reger was devout after all! It would be strange to think that someone who was not could write such heartfelt sacred music.

Oh, look! Under the comments on the video, the person who created the video says the same thing.

She writes: "Changed my mind about Max Reger."

One song can do that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Max factor

Max Reger is a polarizing composer. You either love him or you hate him and there is nothing in between.

The other day I was talking with a co-worker and we realized we were on opposite sides of the Max Reger chasm. Guess what side I was on?

You're right! I am a Reger lover!

That is a picture of Max Reger up above. Here is another picture of him.

They look exactly alike! It is not like Mozart where no two pictures look alike. You would know Max Reger if you ran into him on the other end of the world, that is for sure. All the pictures of him look exactly alike.

I am not sure why people do not like Reger but I can guess at a few things. He wrote for the organ, a not-hot instrument. He was a devout Catholic, big yawn to everybody but me. He was, face it, not good-looking. And his tastes can be, shall we say it, overblown.

But I love him!

One piece by Reger I love is his set of variations on Mozart's A Major Piano Sonata. His tastes are just so far afield from Mozart's! By the end, the thing is all billowing and overblown but I am sorry, I love it. There is just something sincere about it that calls to me. Here is a bit of it played exquisitely on two pianos. Wow, that sounds like fun! Anyone want to play that with me?

The other day I was listening to Max Reger's Maria Wiegenlied, or Mary's Cradle Song. It is perfect for Christmas. Here it is in a solo version but I just heard it on a new CD from Oxford, the Magdalen College. They sing the song all in unison and it is haunting. I love the twists and turns the key takes. And I love its simplicity. It is hard to write something simple. That is true in writing, too. I always have to remind myself that just because it is simple does not mean it is not good.

I just think that is first rate. What a beautiful song. Here it is sung by Renee Fleming in the Mainz Cathedral.

Max Reger uses that German carol "Joseph, lieber Joseph Mein" that Brahms uses in his "Geistliches Wiegenlied," or sacred lullaby, for mezzo soprano, viola and piano.

It is interesting how that song's gently rocking melody inspired both Brahms and Reger.

Both masters, I say.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lift every voice and kvetch

There are all these music popularity contests these days and here is a dandy. NPR has been announcing a contest for the 50 Greatest Voices of the Century.

Their graphics are great even if they are kind of a pain to navigate. They throw the nominated singers' pictures at you and when you move the cursor over them, they jump out at you, along with their names. Then you click on them and hear their voices!

But you know what, these popularity contests, you can always see where they are headed. Right away, alarm bells go off in my mind because the greatest singer of the last century, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, has not even been nominated.

Which, I could nominate him, but then I do not want to subject him to voting and defeat by someone like John Lennon, you know? I have not checked to see if John Lennon is on the list but he probably is. I mean, the audience for this contest is just not such that it would vote in Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is on the list. That is something anyway. She is on there only as "Elisabeth" but once you click on her you see it is Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. And you hear a little of her singing Schubert's "An Die Musik."

But what about Richard Tauber?

Nope, not there.

Among living singers I would nominate Thomas Hampson but he is not there either. Booooo.

The W's are particularly discouraging. Not only is there no Fritz Wunderlich ...

... which, just listen to the first note of that link I just posted, and ask how you could exclude him, but there is no Dinah Washington. No Muddy Waters. No Howlin' Wolf! That is a picture of Howlin Wolf at the top of this post. I am sorry but he deserves to be on this list.

Rage, rage.

Popularity contests never wind up going the way I want them to.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The truth about Carl Maria von Weber

Since yesterday we have become the official clearinghouse for all things Carl Maria von Weber. Up above is a picture of a statue of Weber on the Theaterplatz in Dresden.

Yesterday our friend Prof. G wrote:

Apparently Weber, like JoAnn Falletta, played the guitar, along with being a superb conductor and pianist. He was also a good linguist. I imagine you know the story of how Beethoven once played host to Weber in a generous way...even though Weber was sometimes critical of Beethoven's music. It's interesting to hear the foreshadowing of Wagner's sound world in Weber's music, seeing as Weber died before Beethoven and Schubert.

He adds:

I wonder how many of the fashionable set who looked down on him and his profession ever did anything worth remembering. Hoch und Prosit to bohemians!

To which we say, Jawohl!

One day we will all go together to Ulrich's and toast Carl Maria von Weber. Ulrich's is a Buffalo tavern that goes back almost to Weber's time.

Our friend who calls himself Paladino writes:

Weber's father used some money loaned to Carl Maria to settle his own debts. Unfortunately, the money had been loaned to C.M. but the Duke of that province for the purchase of horses, and once the caper was discovered C.M. ended up borrowing more money and got in too deep. He was briefly imprisoned (at some Inn), after which the police showed up early one morning and escorted the entire family to the frontier with an order of banishment. C.M. eventually unloaded his errant father elsewhere and went on to greater things -- eventually. I read another accounting of this somewhere, which I will try to unearth in days ahead.

You do that, Paladino!

We would like that unearthed!

I unearthed an Internet profile of Weber that yielded several goodies.

This sentence for one thing:

Court life at Stuttgart was uncongenial to him, though he yielded to its temptations.

All kinds of images come to mind!

The profile also explains how Weber was related to Mozart's wife, Constanze Weber. They were first cousins! Weber's father, Franz Anton, was the brother of Fridolin Weber. He was Constanze's father. Also the father of Josepha, Aloysia and Sophie. Anyone who has ever read a book about Mozart knows who Fridolin Weber was.

So that is explained.

You know what I think is funny? When you are researching someone like Carl Maria von Weber and Google throws these sites at you saying:

"Carl Maria von Weber News. Carl Maria von Weber Updates. Carl Maria von Weber photos. Latest scoop on Carl Maria von Weber."

Ha, ha! They think they are the source of 19th century gossip. But they are not.

We are!

Here is a picture of Weber looking like quite the dandy.

And here is music from "Oberon" played on the banjo. There is a tremendous introduction:

Playing legitimate "Classical" music on the banjo was in vogue in the 1890's, and my great-grandfather Hezekiah Urastus Anderton was not immune to its influence. He was friendly with the composer's grandson, Zebulon Von Weber, who supplanted his income by making moonshine. Hezekiah was so grateful for this steady source of rotgut that he dedicated this film short to him.

Isn't that classic?

That guy was having his little joke, but I will say this, making moonshine does sound like a Weber thing to do.

Your source for 19th century gossip

It is great when you hear something about a musician that has not been written down. This week I am thinking of doing some name dropping and sharing some juicy tidbits I have picked up.

To start with it is not every day you get fresh gossip about the composer Carl Maria von Weber.

This happened last year or something. There is this orchestra at my church called the Camerata di Sant' Antonio. And its conductor is a young-ish gentleman named Christopher Weber.

I called Chris Weber, whom I did not know, to do a little interview with him for The Buffalo News. And because my church and the orchestra are so Italian, I joked with him about his German name.

And it turned out he was a relative of Carl Maria von Weber!

I liked him for not bringing that up right away. He did not mention it until it came up. And I liked him even more for telling me a little story.

He said that family stories had it that Carl Maria was kind of the black sheep. Being a musician was considered kind of disreputable and bohemian back then.

And when Carl Maria would come visit, a joke would go around the family. They would say to each other, "Carl Maria is coming into town. Someone go get him some clothes."


That is a picture above of Carl Maria von Weber, no doubt wearing clothes his family lent him when he was in town.

Fresh gossip about Carl Maria von Weber.

You heard it here!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ulysses, David Finckel and me

The stuff on the Internet! How does anyone get any work done?

Every day I feel like Ulysses who had his men strap him to the mast of the ship so he would not be able to heed the call of the Sirens.

I got that right, don't I? My knowledge of mythology is not great and most of it comes only from Schubert songs. People in Schubert's era, they knew their mythology. We are so stupid in comparison.

Speaking of which, back to me and the Internet. I have written before about the site Instant Encore and it is the source of constant distractions.

Because every day in my email it seems there will be something. If you sign up as a fan of someone on Instant Encore, the site lets you know whenever something new about that person is posted.

Now, I understand this can turn into a problem. So I have signed up as a fan of only three people. One is JoAnn Falletta, the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Because of my job as Buffalo music critic I like to know what is going on with her and what people are saying about her. Another person I signed up as a fan for is Leonard Pennario, because he was my buddy. But that is not too much of a problem because I am the only person in the world writing about him. I cannot believe the site even lists him!

The third person I signed up for is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau because he is a singer I am just crazy about. Now there is my problem.

You throw something at me about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I will stop in my tracks and look!

And they have a way of doing this so it is irresistible. You get this note in your box. "New Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau video! WATCH NOW." That "Watch now" and all you have to do is click. Who can resist? Not I.

Today it is this cellist, David Finckel, taking apart Fischer-Dieskau's vibrato. I am serious.

Finckel is this intense and intellectual guy sitting at the piano and he has this gizmo that measures sound vibrato. And he turns and says to you, "Today we take apart the vibrato of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the Schubert song, 'Du Bist Die Ruh.'"

Now he's got me! This is a song I love!

Finckel, sitting there cradling his cello, plays the first lines, which of course are silken, seductive, beautiful. He listens, blinking, watching the screen. And I guess you can see the sound waves vibrating. I don't know. I forgot to watch. All I was doing was listening. And, I have to say, enjoying the idea of someone else listening along with me. That never happens!

And the time is passing.

I see this is "Talk 19: 'Du Bist Die Ruh.'" Now I am thinking, what about the other 18 lectures? They must all be out there!

Woe is me!

That is a picture up above of the cellist David Finckel who sabotaged my morning. He is posing with the pianist Wu Han. They have recorded with violinist Philip Setzer. He is from the Emerson Quartet. And I love to talk about my worst interviews of all time. The great Mr. Setzer was one of the best. He probably does not remember it. But it was!

However that is another story for another day.

How am I ever going to get my work done?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hark, the herald

Hilariously crabby British Web log post about carol singing.

These British!

They would not last two seconds on our side of the pond.

Imagine, griping because a group of carolers is at your door singing "Silent Night." Here in Buffalo all we get is canned Christmas pop because anything else is considered politically incorrect. We are allowed "Feliz Navidad" because that is in Spanish and anything in Spanish is allowed. But it is this annoying song. At least the arrangement you always hear is annoying.

Another thing, try to organize a group of carolers. Just try. Every once in a while I think about it, because in my North Buffalo neighborhood you actually do see carolers, once in a while. But I usually think about it in July, when I do not have to consider the logistics.

The thing is, you would have to write out every verse and print it out so everyone gets a copy. Because I do not think most people can get through even the first verse of most Christmas songs. You would think they would be able to get through one verse of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" but trust me, they can not!

Someone in the Wall Street Journal worried years ago that America is letting go of its wide popular knowledge of, say, campfire songs and Stephen Foster songs. I think it is true of Christmas carols too. This is certainly a trend to track.

So I marvel at these Brits, sighing because the carolers who come to their door do not sing "Jesus Christ The Apple Tree."

Poor babies.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mysterious Mr. Masselos

It is funny, all these pianists I have never heard of! I was looking up Leonard Pennario's debut in this book called "American Chronicle: Seven Decades in American Life." For some reason they have his debut in 1939 which, neither he nor I could make sense of that.

Well, what the heck, we are lucky he is in there at all. Normally no books ever mention him!

But here is what I am getting at. Also listed as debuting in 1939 is this pianist William Masselos.

I have never heard of him!

That is a picture of William Masselos up above. Not a bad-looking gentleman except I wish I could find other pictures so we could get a couple of perspectives. Anyone can look good for one photo anyway.

Oh, look, here is another picture of him as part of the Alan Hohvaness Artistic Circle. Our man Masselos is in the back row, third from right. If you look carefully you can also see Merce Cunningham and John Cage.

Wikipedia says Masselos studied with two disciples of Clara Schumann at New York's Institute for Musical Art, now the Juilliard School. I had not known that Juilliard used to be called the Institute for Musical Art. Now I do.

Also I like the word "disciples" used in that context. Disciples of Clara Schumann!

Masselos was known as a champion of contemporary music and premiered Charles Ives' First Piano Sonata and Aaron Copland's Fantasy.

And how about this, he was born in Niagara Falls! His parents moved him to Colorado when he was a baby, but still. It's funny, any entry you see on this guy, in any listing, there it is: Born in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He died in 1992.

Here is Masselos on the organ playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Now that we know who he is.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Land of the Laendler

There is this great video of these people who learned to dance the Laendler by watching "The Sound of Music." And here they are dancing it at a wedding.

Everyone is applauding and laughing!

What a world, where you can get out there on the dance floor and bump and grind and no one thinks anything of it, but you dance the little Laendler and everyone screams with laughter! It sure makes you think, I will say that.

Mozart and Schubert used to write music for the Laendler. Mozart generally called his "German dances." People who love "The Sound of Music" should explore these other Laendler.

And, perhaps, learn to dance it themselves!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Will the real Von Trapp please stand up

This is off my usual beaten track, my usual beaten track being Schubert and Hugo Wolf, but I have been listening to the soundtrack to the Broadway musical "The Sound of Music." It has Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. There is some kind of anniversary. Fifty years or something. Who knows.

What I am realizing is I prefer Theodore Bikel to Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp.

Theodore Bikel owns that role!

There he is up above, with Maria and all the Kinder. Here he is with Maria.

Theodore Bikel loved playing Captain von Trapp. That is, ahem, what he told me. I interviewed him a few years ago. The down side of that is, I was really stressed out and out of it because I had three interviews scheduled that day. The interview with Theodore Bikel was the third, and it was so disastrous that it had a lasting effect on me: I instituted the Theodore Bikel Rule which I still follow. It is not to schedule more than one interview in one day.

But Theodore Bikel was gracious to me in spite of me not having done my homework. Not exactly "nice," but gracious.

One thing he told me was that once when they were all out eating, Richard Rodgers kept getting up and bowing whenever the sound system played one of his songs. He says Rodgers was bowing every five minutes.

Another thing was that Rodgers came up with "Edelweiss" at the absolute last minute. He felt the show needed that one song to anchor it. I read that the same thing happened with Andrew Lloyd Webber and "Evita." He felt it needed that special something. So at the last minute he wrote "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."

These signature songs, they were last-minute additions!

Anyway, Theodore Bikel further confided to me that "Edelweiss" was kind of a tough thing for him to swallow because being Jewish he had no great love for Austria, because of Austria's history of anti-Semitism. So it was goofy that at the last minute Richard Rodgers comes running up to him with this song.

Now whenever I hear this "Edelweiss" I keep thinking of my little heart-to-heart with Theodore Bikel. I still have it on tape somewhere. He also told me though that even though he had reservations about things like "Edelweiss," he loved playing Captain von Trapp, and he would have liked to have played it in the movie. Especially as the role went to Christopher Plummer who was vocal about not liking it.

Christopher Plummer ...

... what a snippy pain!

Theodore Bikel told me that the trouble was, he and Mary Martin were a kind of matched set. She was too old to play Maria in the movie so they had to get a new Maria. And that meant he had to go too.

That is too bad! Theodore Bikel would have been better in the movie than Plummer as Captain von Trapp. Bikel had that adorable German accent. He once played a Nazi in "The African Queen." And he looks good, too. Admit it.

Theodore Bikel owned that role.

He and Mary Martin sang this song "An Ordinary Couple" which was not in the movie. In the movie, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer sang "Something Good."

"Something Good" is better.

But still.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Richard Strauss - "Allerseelen"

Today is All Souls' Day so here is a song I have loved since I was a teenager. So romantic!

There is nothing like early Richard Strauss.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hugo Wolf

Today I was ranging around the Internet and came upon this photo of a monument in Graz, Austria -- I think -- to Hugo Wolf.

Hugo Wolf is a composer I love.

And I love his name in Italian. It is Ugo Wolf!

That is how the Italian photographer identified his photograph of the Austrian monument to Wolf.

Wolf seems to get bashed a lot because people consider his songs boring, or tough to take. I disagree. Maybe I am made for this stuff. I like Chekhov plays too and everyone is always trying to tell me they are boring. I remember once watching "Uncle Vanya" and thinking, this could go on all night and I would love it, watching various scenes unfold, listening in on various conversations.

One song of Wolf I love is "Verschwiegene Liebe." That piano! Hypnotic! A beautiful video too, with translation. There is this girl who loves Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and she does beautiful videos to go with his performances.

Not that she loves Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau more than I do. No one loves Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau more than I do.

Where was I? Hugo Wolf.

Wolf wrote beautiful religious songs that put people from Scriptures into a context that is very loving and human. He was sometimes inspired by paintings and it was as if he could take a picture and put you in it, so you can feel what the people felt and sense what they sensed. One Wolf song I love and keep going back to over the years is "Nun Wandre, Maria," about Mary on the way to Bethlehem. You can feel how tired she and St. Joseph are getting. Not to mention the donkey she is riding on! I bet the donkey is getting pretty tired too.

I can't find that song on YouTube. I looked and looked. Alas!

So here is "Schlafendes Jesuskind," or "sleeping Christ child." I love how the song ends, with a kind of tender question.

Once I visited Hugo Wolf's grave in Vienna. It is surprisingly erotic. Most people do not warrant a gravestone like this! Here is a picture.

Hugo Wolf wrote a song called "Anakreon's Grave." In the song you kind of stumble on the grave, you wonder whose it is and oh, it is Anakreon's.

Winter, summer and fall the happy poet enjoyed
Now finally this stone protects him from winter.

That is my own translation of the last few lines. Isn't it beautiful? The poem is by Goethe. The author Robert Gutman used that quote to preface his biography of Mozart.

This is such a beautiful thing to be doing on an autumn night.

Listening to Hugo Wolf.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Richard Strauss, Deal Maker

Yesterday my friend Carl Herko and I got to kidding around about Richard Strauss and witty things Strauss, pictured above, said. Carl brought up the quote: "Never look at the trombones. You'll only encourage them."

After laughing about that, I was joking to him that we should come out with "The Quotable Richard Strauss."

With which, there is this site which gives you lists of people's quotes. Isn't this a tremendous era in which to live? You never have to do any work. You just hit a few computer keys.

The trombone quote is up there front and center on the Strauss page.

Then there is this:

“I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.”

Strauss was wrong about that. He was a first-rate composer. Another funny thing about that quote, I heard it attributed to W. Somerset Maugham who said it about himself as a writer. It seems to me I have heard it attributed to other composers too.

That might be one of those quotes that flies around. Like the famous, "There are just two kinds of music, good music and boring music." I have heard it ascribed to Mozart, Rossini and Duke Ellington, to name just three.

Back to the quotable Strauss. What else did he say?

“The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.”

Fine, that sounds good.

Wait, what's this?

“Building brand name is key. That's what America is all about." I did not know Strauss had opinions about America but I like that!


“We've actually been at the low-end of the Street range for the fourth quarter ... (and) felt that we had to go even lower, so we did -- a nine percent across-the-board trimming here for the fourth quarter, ... The backlogs are still very significant, but the current environment is just not allowing deals to get done.”

Hahahahaha! The thing about the brand names I maybe could have swallowed but not that second one.

There must be two Richard Strausses and the computer could not tell that.

“It's a wonderful networking opportunity. I've definitely furthered deals. I meet high-level and influential people here, and it's a good way to touch base." That is another quote from The Other Richard Strauss.

The other Richard Strauss must be something like Bruce Wasserstein, who warranted a big obituary the other day in the Wall Street Journal. I loved the obituary's headline: "Bruce Wasserstein, Deal Maker."

That is a great way to be remembered!

Hey, you never know, maybe the two Richard Strausses are the same person after all.

I seem to recall that Strauss was a Gemini.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The magic of 'Der Rosenkavalier'

We got a question!

Yesterday, Ola Fumilayo asked:

I have an unusual (maybe) question for you - help! My fiancee's parents are taking us to the opera this weekend, Der Rosenkavalier, his step-father's favourite. I love, am moved by and perform instrumental classical music (in solitude in my home usually), and could very easily deal with a Mozart opera (who couldn't), but I've really never been interested in opera at all.

This Web log can be moody and procrastinating about answering questions but Ola Fumilayo is an important person. She lives in Toronto and she does music boxes! And I get a kick out of her blog. It is all about being a music box girl in the modern high-tech world!

To my new friend Ola, I am flying out the door but I want to say a couple of things about "Der Rosenkavalier" in case you are leaving for New York today and will not get time to read this otherwise. I am imagining you are going to the Met because that is where "Der Rosenkavalier" is on stage, with Renee Fleming and Susan Graham.

I am so jealous! I was just looking at pictures of the production the other day and it looks beautiful. There is this author I might be talking to for my book on Leonard Pennario and she lives in New York and we were discussing getting together. If she is free this week I will take that as an excuse to go there to see "Rosenkavalier." That is how much I love that opera.

With which, here is my memo to Ola on what to keep in mind when you see "Rosenkavalier."

No. 1, try to think of opera as just like any other kind of music you listen to. It requires no special skill to enjoy. Approach "Rosenkavalier" as you would anything else -- a symphony or a Broadway show. The only secret is to be open to it.

Ola mentioned that she would probably be OK with a Mozart opera. It might help to keep in mind that Richard Strauss was inspired by Mozart when he wrote "Der Rosenkavalier." The tender 18th century atmosphere was a response to "The Marriage of Figaro." The whole opera reflects "Figaro" in a few ways. It is kind of genderbending -- you have a woman playing Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier" the way you have a woman playing Cherubino in "Figaro." And the character of the Marschallin was inspired by the Countess in "Figaro." They are both worldly women, complicated, with a tendency toward brooding and melancholy.

That leads me to something I love about both operas: Both of them are bittersweet in a way that I think is very difficult to achieve. You have to achieve it without trying, I think. The thing about "Figaro" and "Rosenkavalier" is, when I watch either of them, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. It is the way life is a lot of the time.

"Der Rosenkavalier" is, like "Figaro," full of rich music, but a lot of the music is shot through with a bittersweet quality. The famous "Rosenkavalier" waltzes -- that is something to listen to -- have a nostalgia about them. There are these sweetly dissonant descending tones you will hear when the Marschallin reflects on her life. They make you think of a clock running down, i.e. the passing of time, something we all face.

At the end of "Figaro," you have the Count forgiving the Countess. And at the end of "Rosenkavalier" you get the enchanting love duet between Octavian and Sophie, the young woman he grows to love.

There is a famous moment in that duet when the Marschallin has to give up Octavian. She walks in with Sophie's father and he says, "That's the way young people are." And she says, "Ja, ja." That is very famous. For every singer who sings the Marschallin, that is a big moment, how she crafts that simple "Yes, yes."

You can see that in that clip above.

Oh, and one more thing. My mother said to tell you that you have to listen up to the last few seconds of "Rosenkavalier." And she is right. It is magical. Do not slack at this point! Do not try to beat the traffic to the restroom!

I am going to try to get back to this later and add a few more things. In case I do not get to, here is one story that just came into my mind as I thought about this.

I read that the great conductor George Szell was once rehearsing the Cleveland Orchestra in Wagner's "Die Meistersinger." (Another opera, by the way, with that peculiar bittersweet quality.) And one of the musicians made a mistake. He apologized, saying it was his first time playing the piece.

All the musicians held their breaths, expecting Szell to blow up.

But Szell surprised everyone. He said quietly, "What I would not give to be hearing 'Meistersinger' for the first time."

That is how I feel about "Der Rosenkavalier."


Saturday, October 10, 2009

The lady in red

Today in between running errands I caught the part of "Tosca" that is close to the end, when Mario is about to be shot by the firing squad, and then Tosca shows up and tells him about how she has killed Scarpia and everything is about to be all right.

That is just like a woman! I almost had to laugh about that even though I knew the tragedy that was about to unfold. Tosca is like me! I am always breezing in telling people everything is going to be fine, I have fixed everything.

I hate that part of "Tosca" where you hear that calm music as Mario is led to the scaffold, or whatever it is called where they execute prisoners by firing squad.

Those calm rhythms. Everything is taken care of ... at least we think so, is what the music is saying. He is going to fake being killed. Everything is going to be all right. And Tosca is watching. There is this awful moment when she says to herself how handsome Maria looks.

And that calm phrase in the music just keeps repeating. Noncommittal.

Then you hear the shots.

This is awful but I had tears in my eyes.

That opera gets me!

I understand the Met production, which stars Karita Mattila and Marcelo Alvarez, raised eyebrows production-wise and got a few boos. For one thing the sets were "spare and soaring," according to Vogue magazine. Joan Juliet Buck, writing in Vogue, defended it. In England the Guardian also blames the audience for being provincial and too set in its ways to accept the staging.

Here is what I think though: isn't it funny that sets always get more spare? They never seem to grow more lavish. I would like to see a set designer make news by being more lavish and detailed than any set before. This minimalist stuff, we've seen it. It has been done.

That is Miss Mattila up above as Floria Tosca. Here is another picture that shows the set. It looks like "West Side Story." As if Tosca is sitting on a fire escape!

Both the writers I just linked to also speculated that the audience may have been offended by the half-nudity of the painting. Oh, please. That is all I can say to that.

Another thing about this "Tosca" is the director removed religious references. The church in Act I, I read, looks like a prison. And when Tosca kills Scarpia, she does not lay a crucifix on his chest the way the opera calls for her to do.

That is too bad. Getting rid of the Catholic references would take away from "Tosca"'s peculiar haunting quality. That part in "Vissi d'Arte" when she talks about leaving the flowers for the Blessed Virgin, are they going to take that out too? That is another part of the opera that gets me.

Everyone is out to make everything secular and the world is not the better for that.

Here is something funny about "Tosca." Mario ... quick, what is his last name? Cavaradossi.

It takes me forever to get that right.

And on the Huffington Post, lo and behold, the caption reads "Caravadossi."

No one can get it right!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

We have heard this before but still. Every once in a while it knocks you over the head, how so many young pianists these days are Asian.

I was just looking at the Stecher and Horowitz Web site because one of their Young Artists, Jonathan Coombs, is coming to Canisius College for a recital on Oct. 25. I do not know if Coombs is in the picture above or what. But if he is, we can be pretty sure he is in the bottom row, either on the left or on the right.

Six of the nine artists are Asian.

Six of them, although not quite the same six, are girls.

That isn't surprising. When you go to a piano recital at the University at Buffalo, there is always a large number of young Asian women in the audience. That is what Howard pointed out when we went to see our friend Stephen Manes. Howard said, he seems to have a strong following among Asian females. That is the situation at many piano concerts.

I am not sure why Asians dominate this field the way they do but I have a guess. I think that being relatively new to this country they have not yet been caught up in the general dumb-ing down of America.

So that is one reason. The Asian cultures seem to have a big love for Western classical music and they hold on to that.

We still have the question of why more girls than guys. Perhaps the girls are more resistant to slug culture. Or maybe it is that girls get the inside track. I am allowed to say this. Affirmative action gave me my first newspaper job, at the Niagara Gazette. The Gazette got some kind of kickback for hiring me instead of some guy.

On the other hand maybe no one is resistant to slug culture. I am watching this video on the Stecher and Horowitz Young Artists.

"It allows me to be in some place, like, that I cannot be anywhere else in the world. And just like, it's so sublime, like, it's just so great."

I don't care if you are a teenager. Learn to talk, you know?

The kid they are sending to us had better not talk that way.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

By George

Today I came across a beautiful Kyrie by the English composer George Malcolm, pictured above. It was sung by the Westminster Cathedral Choir. I am trying to find it.

While I was looking for it I found George Malcolm's obituary.

This is a very personal obituary. It includes the memorable line: "George Malcolm was a devout Catholic, and he never practised the homosexuality I am certain was part of his nature."

I wonder what made the writer so certain that he printed that! One thing I have learned in life is you cannot be sure that someone is homosexual. You can be totally sure, you swear it, your friends swear it, and then you find out you are wrong. That has happened to me many times.

Back to George Malcolm's obituary. Here is a tremendous paragraph:

At Balliol College, Oxford, Malcolm become famous as a roof climber, indeed notorious when he nicked a Christopher Wren-designed bauble from the roof of a rival college. Came the Second World War and he directed a RAF band, conducting a lot of light music and becoming a heavy drinker. In the 1940s, he fell from a second floor window, surviving with difficulty and facial surgery.

Also I see Andras Schiff...

.. left Hungary so he could study with George Malcolm. Wikipedia says so. What would we do without Wikipedia?

Darn, I cannot find that Kyrie! Well, here is George Malcolm playing Bach's Italian Concerto. It is better than nothing though the harpsichord sounds loud and jangly which, alas, harpsichords sometimes do. The recording process is not kind to them!

My search for the Kyrie continues.

Friday, October 2, 2009

From Australia to Russia

Today I found myself reading the obituary of the Australian pianist Geoffrey Peter Bede Hawkshaw Tozer. That is a picture of him up above.

Most people know him as Geoffrey Tozer but that is his full name, Geoffrey Peter Bede Hawkshaw Tozer. It says so in the obituary I just linked to. You have to get to the end to find it out, but that is what I did.

That is as good as Alicia de Larrocha y de la Calle.

It might even be better!

Mr. Tozer was only 54. He is not a big name on our shores but in Australia he is apparently huge. The obituary in the Australian is the longest obituary I have ever seen. And that includes former presidents. The writer was a former prime minister of Australia who as I understand it did a lot to forward Mr. Tozer's career. He obviously loved the artist deeply and there is something endearing about that.

The obituary gave me a lot to think about. Here is one phrase I love.

When the pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, a mistress of Shostakovich, came to Australia in the 1990s, she said to her tour promoter, 'I want to hear the one who plays like a Russian’. And, of course, she meant Geoffrey.

"The pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, a mistress of Shostakovich."

I love that!

First of all I get a kick out of how these days, you never write, "Pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva." It is always "the pianist." As if, of course you have heard of her.

Sometimes in newspapers it gets so pretentious, as you read a long list of the pianist so-and-so, the painter so-and-so, the sculptor John Doe, the dancer Jane Doe. All those "the's." Think of the space you could save without them!

Back to the pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva. I love also the part about "a mistress of Shostakovich." As if, that qualifies her.

She slept with Shostakovich!

And Shostakovich would never have slept with her had she not been a great pianist, now, would he have? Therefore her opinion counts for something.

That is great old-fashioned thinking.

Here is a picture of the pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva who slept with Shostakovich.

Here is a severe Soviet picture of her.

I cannot stop looking at that picture! It is fascinating to imagine Tatiana Nikolayeva as one half of a smoldering Russian romance. I wonder when it was that she and Shostakovich looked at each other and something just happened.

Tatiana Nikolayeva died in 1993 in San Francisco after being stricken while playing Shostakovich preludes and fugues.

That is a most dramatic way to go.

I am not sure what Geoffrey Peter Bede Hawkshaw Tozer died of. The obituaries do not say.

Condolences to Australia.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Out with the old

Working on my book this morning I began growing nostalgic for those emperor-like, old-man conductors the likes of which we used to see. And everyone used to bow and scrape before them.

I was thinking at first specifically about Serge Koussevitzky. I love how he looked on the cover of Time! He may not have been able to get where he did without marrying into a fortune, but still. What presence he had.

Then there was this letter from George Szell so I thought about him.

The stories I have heard about him! Harry Taub who used to be the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's associate concertmaster used to play with Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. He told me that once Szell was unhappy with the violin played by one of the violinists. And the violinist went out and bought a new car. And Szell made him take the car back and buy a new violin instead.


Harry Taub said that illustrated the respect Szell commanded, that not only did the violinist immediately obey him, but the car dealer took the car back without a fight.

That is something!

Now we live in this age of the young, with the New York Philharmonic being handed over to Alan Gilbert. Here, watch Alan Gilbert: A Day in Pictures.

And the Los Angeles Symphony going to Gustavo Dudamel.

No doubt they are fine musicians, these young conductors.

But I miss the mighty maestros of yore.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A pianist after hours

Here is a story about the late Alicia de Larrocha y de la Calle, whom we paid tribute to the other day, from my friend Prof. G who is a font of all kinds of very useful knowledge. That is Alicia de Larrocha up above. I keep looking for a young picture of her but it is tough to find one. So that one will have to do.

I like her sparkly top and her pearls!

But back to Prof. G and his story. "The following story is true," writes the good professor, "but I can't reveal the source."

Fine! We like stories like that!

Take it, Professor.

A concert manager who had once hosted her in his city was visiting in a small finger lakes city where she was appearing. After the typically excellent concert, he went backstage to say hello and found out that no one had made arrangements to take her to dinner, or, for that matter, to do anything for her. She was going back to her hotel room for a bite to eat, nothing more.

The manager went to the conductor and asked whether he could take her out at his expense. The conductor and resident brass said fine. So he took her to dinner at a local restaurant where there was an upright piano. Talk got around to Granados and Madame de Larrocha went to the piano and played parts of Goyescas, among other things, for about an hour and a half (it was a slow business night). Punch line: When she and the concert manager were leaving, the restaurant's owner came over and said "Listen lady, if you ever need a job playing piano, come see me."

Ha, ha!

Quoth Prof. G:

I met Madame de Larrocha once and she confirmed the story and asked me to greet the manager is I ever saw him.

Lucky Miss De Larrocha, finding herself in conversation with our Prof. G.

With him you are never bored!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Adios, Alicia

Alicia de Larrocha y de la Calle has died at 86. I just read that on Twitter. I love her full name so I am writing that instead of just plain Alicia de Larrocha. Her mother was a pianist with the beautiful name of Maria Teresa de la Calle. Hence, Alicia de Larrocha y de la Calle. The "y" means "and."

I wish we had that tradition!

I would be Mary Kunz and Rodems Goldman.

Alas, it does not have the same ring.

De Larrocha y de la Calle's death was confirmed by piano historian and record producer Gregor Benko who was described as a close family friend. It makes me think of when I was in that situation, being the go-to person when Pennario died. There is a feeling of fulfillment in that, doing that for someone you love.

These great pianists, falling like giant oaks.

I had not realized de Larrocha y de la Calle was as old as she was. Reading her obituary I also had not realized she was only 4-foot-8! I knew she was petite, but that is really petite.

Recently I have begun listening more to de Larrocha y de la Calle's interpretations of Spanish music because Pennario's Spanish albums got me into that. But I always liked her Mozart, going back to when I was growing up.

To me this is a good piece to go out with.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Dead Composers Society

Just now on Twitter someone raised that complaint you often hear, that so much of classical music is by dead composers. She is a musician whose posts I enjoy, and I had just poured my coffee and not quite gotten down to work. So I wrote (ahem):

"I think instead of worrying that the music we love is by dead composers, we should rejoice that it holds up so well."

That is what I believe!

You know what, no one fusses over that people still read books by dead people. No one thinks anything is unhealthy about a drama troupe performing a Shakespeare play for the thousandth millionth time. How did the classical music crowd get saddled with this guilt?

If people want to hear Mozart's 39th Symphony 221 years after it was written, I see that as a great thing. It shows how well Mozart conceived it and how much we share with the people who have gone before us. I see nothing wrong with that.

I cannot imagine discriminating against a composer just because he is dead.

"Well, people should listen to music by living composers." I get that all the time.

Then get living composers to write music people want to listen to, you know?

Ha, ha! There are a couple of groups out there called the Dead Composers Society. There is one in Minneapolis and one in Santa Barbara. Both groups look young and hip. Cheers to them!

One of the groups has this logo:

The thing is, we are living in a funny musical age. Performance standards and music scholarship are tremendously high and the entire history of music is at our fingertips. We can listen to anything we want, going back to the Middle Ages.

At the same time we live in this dark age of music composition. So much of what is being written is so arcane or inaccessible that it appeals only to a small niche audience. The rest of us should rejoice that faced with this situation, so much of the music of the past is so immediate and relevant!

And more readily accessible, once you get into the groove of it at least, than a Shakespeare play. A Shakespeare play you have to study and look up words. But think about a Tchaikovsky symphony. Here is a work written more than a century ago, by a Russian, for heaven's sake, and to appreciate it all you have to do is sit there. You do not need a translator and the language is not archaic and it appeals to your 21st century mind.

I do not see why that is anything to fret about.

I thank God for these dead composers.