Sunday, July 25, 2010

A strange, strange story

Lastnight at Artpark, watching "Amadeus," I got to thinking.

About the Requiem.

It is so fitting how it has the last Kochel number, 626.

Listening to the Requiem it seems pretty obvious that Mozart was writing it for himself. I do not think you need a fanciful mind to think that. It has this kind of terror in it, and then this consolation, that sounds like a man working through his own feelings about death.

Here is another thing.

There are scholars who try to tell us that Mozart was doing fine up until the end, that there was no reason he would have thought he was dying. And I know, because I've read all his letters, how he did not dwell on dark matters, he was thinking about his wife, about his kid in boarding school, etc.

But here is what is weird. Right when you come around to these scholars' way of thinking, there is that business about the Requiem. About the man in gray who came to his door and, probably, scared the daylights out of him. It would scare the daylights out of anyone, this nameless, faceless stranger asking you to write a Requiem. And here was Mozart, mentally ill from overwork and stress.

That story about the man in gray, nothing makes it work.

The scholars try to blow the cobwebs off it, say you know what, it was just that this nobleman, Franz von Walsegg. He lived in Stuppach Castle, near Gloggnitz. Which, only Germans could come up with such an address! I can say that being German.

Von Walsegg's wife had died, and he wanted to commission a Requiem for her and pass it off as his own. He was in the habit of commissioning music like this, music he could pass off as his own.So he sent this masked man to Mozart. See, kiddies? No worries. It can all be explained. La la la la la la la.

You know what?

That is one WEIRD story!!!!

Why do people insist on feeding it to us as if it were normal?

That is at least as weird a story as Salieri poisoning Mozart.

This von Walsegg, what the heck? Did he commission other composers? Cherubini, say, or Michael Haydn, or Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, did they ever get this man in gray knocking at their door? If they did, I never heard about it. Plus, what a weird way of operating! Why didn't anyone tell him to stop it?

Vienna has to have been kind of a small town the way Buffalo is a small town. People must have known each other's business. Why didn't it get back to Mozart, what was going on?

All these things, going through my head, watching "Amadeus." At the end of it, you know what was weird, I was crying. It had nothing to do with Salieri or anything. I kind of tuned out that part of the plot. It does not interest me that much. I just feel bad about everything that happened to Mozart, that he died like that. It was just such a shame.

And so weird.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Twisted sister

Just now looking around for this and that, I happened on this picture that was used on the advertisements for "The Piano Teacher," a movie that came out a few years ago.

Wow, was that false advertising or what?

Did anyone else see that movie?

What a doozie!

It was dark and strange and weird and twisted. And they hook you by showing you this slightly comic picture of two people indulging in, ahem, amour on a bathroom floor.


As if it is some kind of romantic comedy!

Whereas in real life, I mean in the movie, there was this woman, the Isabelle Huppert character, brooding to Schubert and mutilating herself. I had to write something about it in the paper and I can't remember what in the world I wrote. I do remember resenting the movie. It fed into the notion a lot of people have that people into classical piano are crazy.

There was some kind of romance between this twisted teacher and this younger guy, her student, but as I recall it lasted about five minutes.

We should sue.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yes or no?

What with all the musical matters facing the world today, I am sure most people would understand why, yesterday, I found myself mulling over a question in my mind.

Other women might want to answer this question. But men may take a crack at it, too!

Here is the question.

Ready, Freddy?

If you were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf....

... would you have married Walter Legge?

I say the answer is yes!

I don't care what people say about Walter Legge being an unpleasant human being. If I were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and had a voice like hers that deserved to be heard, I would have gone for it with old Walter. Who, being a powerful person, would be able to do things for me.

I guess they were happy together.

Never having read that Legge book I am not sure. But in that picture they look of one mind.

I say Elisabeth Schwarzkopf knew what she was doing.

She does look like a wise woman.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ciao, Sir Charles

Conductor Sir Charles Mackerras died today and millions of tributes are flying around but I liked this straightforward little number by my Facebook friend Norman Lebrecht.

Leonard Pennario performed with Mackerras so Mackerras was on my radar because of that. You know what, though, you cannot get too worked up. Because, I mean, someone is always ready to go. These guys are old. It actually makes me tired sometimes to look at Twitter and see the most recent wave of mourning for the latest death. Every week it is someone else!

Pop music fans are starting to bear this cross too as many of their heroes are now entering their 80s.

Mackerras was 84, pretty much the same age as Leonard was. A good life, full of triumph and success. I do not think you can ask for more.

On this Web log we like to run pictures of old musicians when they were younger so here is a good pic of Sir Charles, once upon a time.

One thing, I had not realized Mackerras was born in Schenectady. That is not far from here! His family was Australian but his father was working over here for General Electric.

With every death you learn something.

I always associate Mackerras with Mozart and one thing I love that he did was the recording of Handel's "Messiah," rewritten by Mozart. A weird recording, as one commenter on this YouTube clip points out, but it shows Mackerras' spirit of adventure. My brother Tony gave this recording to me for Christmas one year and I love it. In farewell to Mackerras, here is the Hallelujah Chorus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Outlook hazy -- and hot

I am presently to go and see "Coco and Igor," the movie based on that book about Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky that we discussed some time ago. Ah yes, it was last December. The day of the first snow.

There is nothing snowy about this movie, I can see that already!

You can find movie trailers on YouTube and I have gotten into the habit of watching them. I just watched the trailer for "Coco and Igor" and oh, I have to say this. It looks like one gorgeous movie. The house is like out of "Brideshead Revisited." Coco's necklaces, her haircut, her dresses ...

... all look like things I can copy. I have the right kind of hair to pull off that hairstyle. Next time I go get my hair cut I am going to bring in a few stills from this film.

As far as our heroes themselves, Coco and Igor, I do not know about that. One problem I had with the book, which is by Chris Greenhalgh, was that I did not like either of them very much. The book was kind of torpid and languorous and in the middle were these two spoiled and selfish people. Well, that was how they struck me.

But as a buddy of mine and I were discussing yesterday, there is something cool in the idea that Coco Chanel had this thing going on with Igor Stravinsky. The situation is also kind of like the deal with Wagner and Mathilde Wesendonck, the romance that gave us "Tristan and Isolde." Someone should make a movie about them. I wonder if anyone has.

I love how in the trailer you see Stravinsky at a party suddenly noticing Coco and giving her a double take.

Cheri, who are you?

The whole thing looks extremely heated.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Morning music

Today on my way in to work I was not a happy puppy, it being Monday morning, and so I binge-listened to Schubert's "Das Lied im Grunen." It means "the song in the greenery," more or less.

I listened to the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf version.

But you can also listen to the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau version.

Or the Karl Erb version! Wow, this Erbal version takes it fast, I have to say that. This Karl Erb sounds like an interesting character. He was all self-taught and his voice struck many as strange. This record dates to 1927. It sounds newer. Oh, wait, that is because I misread it. It is 1937 when he made this record.

Ha, ha! I am listening to this thing and Karl Erb keeps screwing up. He screws up one verse completely and just cheerfully fudges it. But still, charming. Listen to the ending. This guy is a riot.

Karl Erb's birthday was either July 11 or 13. Which is now! It is good that we are listening to this. It is ordained.

Here is a picture of Karl Erb who sang "Das Lied im Grunen" fast and sketchily but well.

I have listened to "Das Lied im Grunen" thousands of times since I was a kid and I know it inside out but it worked its magic this morning. By the time I reached the office my brain had been reorganized and I could think.

Sure, there was other stuff I should have been listening to but that would just have to wait!

Pick a number, Penderecki.

You have to be careful what you listen to in the morning is what I am learning.

I do not want cymbals. When you turn on the radio in the morning they love to blast you with cymbals.

Or high, screechy violins.

Or show-offy piano. Or anything I do not like.

In the morning you have to be good to yourself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Joseph and his brothers

One more thing about "Amadeus" and then I promise we will drop it and go on to something else.

It is funny how you can dwell long and hard on Mozart and Salieri and their respective characters. There are people in life who are the Mozarts (not many of them admittedly) and people in life who are the Salieris.

However this also occurs to me:

There are a lot of people who are Joseph II's!

You know Kaiser Joseph II in this movie. Well, they call him "Emperor" in the play because what with everyone's historical ignorance these days, people get all bent out of shape over the word Kaiser. But Joseph II was the Kaiser (Kaiser being German for "Caesar," the way the Russians say "Czar") and Mozart wrote the Kaiser song about him.

Ha, ha! I love the line "Constantinople werde mein!" Meaning, if I were the Kaiser, Constantinople would be mine. That city would come with its problems, you have to say that. There is also "Die gold'ne Zeiten fuehrt ich ein!" "I would usher in the golden age." I love that too.

I also love the voice of that singer. Ezio Maria Tisi. I have never heard of him.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's voice sounds so light in comparison. We are having a Kaiser Song sing-off here!

Back to Joseph II. He is a marvelous character. In the movie he is played by Jeffrey Jones, pictured at the top of this post. Joseph II's signature phrase is a quiet: "Well, there it is." I remember when the movie came out that was a big hit and people would go around saying that.

Joseph II is a music lover and supports music and is, I believe, a genuinely good guy. However after a point he just does not get it.

We all know people like that! Greatest people in the world, but they honestly cannot tell why Mozart is better than, oh, Michael Haydn. Or, for that matter, Salieri! Such as the classical radio station announcer I heard once blithely telling us that if we heard Mozart and Salieri side by side we would not be able to tell the difference. She was not an idiot or anything. She was a Joseph II!

You do not want to argue with the Joseph II's in your life because they are so charming and they are big supporters of the arts and what the heck, we love them anyway. There are also Joseph II's in other areas: painting, literature, whatever. Sometimes they are your boss, the way Joseph II was in effect Mozart's boss.

There will always be Joseph II's and when you run into them there is only one thing to say:

Well, there it is.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

32 Short Films About Antonio Salieri

Continuing yesterday's ruminations...

It is strange, how because of Mozart, Salieri has achieved a kind of immortality.

I do not think it is the immortality he wanted but it is an immortality all the same.

That is Salieri pictured above. Here is another picture.

You get a good idea of what he looks like, that is for sure. Although judging by the fashions both pictures date from after Mozart had come and gone.

Salieri was respected during his lifetime. Here is something the play puts backwards: "Amadeus" has it that Salieri was secretly in love with his pupil Catherina Cavalieri. In real life he was not so secretly in love with her. She was "his mistress," is the way they always put it. Mozart mentions it in his letters. That era seems to have been something like ours, with lots of people shacked up with each other. Catherina was Salieri's "shacked-up honey," to use that Dr. Laura term I love.

Salieri taught Beethoven and Schubert and other greats. And here is something I saw on Wikipedia: He rarely charged for lessons. Unless a student was extremely wealthy, his lessons were free. He did that for philanthropical reasons. Today we would call it "giving back."

Such a strange story, that he poisoned Mozart. Probably it did not happen. But you never really know! People were talking about it at the time. Mozart had an idea he was poisoned. Salieri was rumored to have confessed on his deathbed. Beethoven and his friends gossiped about the situation. It is in Beethoven's conversation notebooks.

And could his free lessons have been a way of atoning for such a terrible crime? Admittedly I am letting my imagination run wild. But people could have thought like that back then.

Reading up on "Amadeus" I have noticed that not many people writing about the play mention this stuff. They say it is "very loosely based" on the actual Mozart and Salieri. It is not that loosely based. It is not as if Peter Shaffer dreamed this up, as if he sat down and wrote a play about, oh, John Adams poisoning Thomas Jefferson.

Another thing, though it is right there on Wikipedia, few people seem aware that the idea was not new when Shaffer explored it. Everyone gives credit to "Shaffer's genius" in coming up with the idea behind "Amadeus." I am not saying Shaffer is not a genius but he did not come up with this idea. There was the Pushkin poem "Mozart and Salieri" that came out just a few months (!) after Salieri died. It was described as a fable about envy, just like the Shaffer play. And Rimsky-Korsakov's opera, "Mozart and Salieri," set to the poem. How come nobody stages that opera? I never read about it being performed and I would be curious to see it.

However here is a confession: The one thing I am not curious about is Salieri's music.

Once, on our classical music station, someone said blithely, "If most people heard a Mozart piece and a Salieri piece, they would not be able to tell the difference."

Um, yes, they would.

Not to say Salieri is not smart. I am sure he was a brilliant man and way smarter than I am. But still, you could tell.

Another thing, a few years ago, Cecilia Bartoli came out with "The Salieri Album." It was a great idea, great marketing, and a lot of fun, but I will tell you one thing, I do not remember one aria off that album. Nothing grabbed you. When you are listening to even an early Mozart opera, say, there will be things that do not grab you right away but something will grab you, rest assured.

I was touched to read that Salieri is being honored by his hometown in Italy. They hold a Salieri Festival. That is a very Buffalo thing to do. Buffalo would do something like that.

I would like to stop by the Salieri Festival. but I would like to hear Mozart.

Could that possibly be arranged?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rock me, "Amadeus"

They are going to be doing "Amadeus" at Artpark and at Chautauqua and so I have been watching "Amadeus," the movie, bit by bit on YouTube.

You can find anything on YouTube!

I hated "Amadeus" when it first came out. I was in love with Mozart and I did not like how it treated him, with that shrieky laugh. But I remember when I was in California with Pennario, Pennario mentioned how he loved it. I did not want to fight about it with him, but secretly I did not change my mind. Until I recently I saw it. And I did like it!

It is a sexy and interesting movie.

I love the scene where the soprano throws her flowers at Mozart and you know they had something going on. That story was probably not true but there were probably stories like that that were true.

That scene where Mozart is writing music and absently pushing a billiard ball around the billiard table -- pictured above -- that scene rang true to me even 20 years ago.

The way Salieri describes the famous Adagio from that wind serenade.

"The beginning simple, almost comic, just a pulse.. basset horns.. like a rusty squeezebox. Then, suddenly, high above it... an oboe. A single note hanging there, unwavering. Until ... a clarinet took it over, sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey. This was a music I had never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God."

I realize this is probably famous and I am the last person on earth not to have appreciated it. But that is a good description of this music and what makes it magical.

Salieri should have been a music critic!

Few people can hear and appreciate music the way he did in the movie -- and put it into words so well.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The impenetrable Schumann

This is funny, a while ago I wrote about how in the Chopin/Schumann anniversary year, Schumann is getting short shrift.

Now I find the same thing happened 50 years ago!

I was slogging through all these papers working on my Leonard Pennario book and there was this thing from the New York Times, from February 1960. Harold Schonberg, the high-profile piano pedagogue, wrote it. Schonberg wrote:

"Both Schumann and Chopin were born 150 years ago. Of the two, it is Chopin who is getting the lion's share of the sesquicentennial observances." He talks about a bunch of Chopin record sets, and then notes: "Announced for release in the near future are Artur Rubinstein's disks of the Ballades and Scherzos."

How is that for a time capsule? Who does not have those records? And now they are so vintage.

Pray continue, Mr. Schonberg:

"No such elaborate commemorations seem tobe down for Schumann. The two-disk Capitol set of piano music, played by Leonard Pennario and entitled The Young Schumann, will probably be one of the exceptional undertakings of its kind during the year." Then he goes on to talk about what's on the set, the "Kinderszenen," "Carnaval," "Papillons," and the F sharp minor Sonata. He calls Pennario's treatment of the sonata "easily the most exciting of contemporary versions." I like that.

Schonberg says this sonata is "rather difficult to penetrate." That could be a reason Schumann takes a back seat to Chopin when it comes to their year. Although now that is me talking, not Schonberg.

The story has this smoldering picture of Pennario which, that is nice too.

Mostly though I just think it is funny how 50 years ago there was the same situation I am seeing now. I was reading what he wrote and kind of blinking. Deja vu all over again as we say.

Musical history repeats itself.