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.