Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The music of "The King's Speech"

Last night seeing "The King's Speech" -- I expound on the experience on the, ahem, Leonard Pennario Web log -- I was struck by their choice of music. The original music seemed to me as your usual piano-based movie score, so bland you hardly noticed it. Perhaps it was that way on purpose.

But boy, when the King gave his speech, they gave you that glorious Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh.

Is there any better music in the world? That Allegretto, it builds to the point where it gives me a kind of vertigo. It is as if the sky and the ground are switching places.

And when the King of England, played by Colin Firth, was speaking as an exercise while listening to music, the music was the heated, breathless overture to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

Again you are thinking: Is there any better music in the world?

Then at the end of the movie they bring in the slow movement from the "Emperor" Concerto. I started to cry. It had nothing to do with the movie. It is just that I always cry when I hear this music. It is as if it pulls the tears out of me. It is nothing I can control.

You also hear Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. And part of Brahms' "German Requiem."

A strange aspect of all this is that "The King's Speech" deals with the rise of Nazism, this evil force. That is the king's big challenge, having to confront the prospect of war with Germany. So it says something that there is all this German music. Maybe it is supposed to bring out both sides of the German people. Maybe it reflects that the British royal family was German, and the confusion and sadness of that.

Then again, maybe it is just that this music belongs to the whole world.

I think that is the explanation I like best.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Newman's own

Last night I had the best time at my office party. And one highlight was, I was talking to my friend Jerry's girlfriend Melinda, and she told me that when she was a kid she met Alfred Newman.

Of course Howard is there with me and he is bouncing all over the walls and he could not shut up about Alfred E. Neuman. But this was Alfred Newman whom Melinda was talking about. The movie score composer.

He wrote the music to "Wuthering Heights" which is the reason the 1939 version is the only one I love. All others are intolerable to me because that music is not there.

That ending.. Gaaaaaaa....

When movies were movies. When music was music. When screen deaths were screen deaths.

Where was I?

Alfred Newman. I could not believe Jerry's girlfriend Melinda had met him.She was a kid. I Googled Mr. Newman and he died in 1970. He married an actress and Goldwyn Girl -- now there is a title -- named Martha Louise Montgomery. She was from Clarksdale, Miss. They had five children. His nephew is Randy Newman. One of Alfred Newman's sons is some kind of musical figure too but it is too late tonight to get that all straight. I do not want to do research on a night like this. I want to wallow in "Wuthering Heights."

It says something about the way movies were back then that the music to "Wuthering Heights" that I love so much was nominated for an Oscar, it did not win. Back then you had serious competition. It was up against "The Wizard of Oz" and also "Gone With the Wind." "The Wizard of Oz" won.

What a year for movies, 1939. Here are the Oscars. Brooding, black-and-white "Wuthering Heights" won for Best Cinematography.

Here is something that you could not make up. Alfred E. Neuman ...

... was in fact named for Alfred Newman, in a roundabout way. There was a character in a drama named after the composer, and the cartoon was named after the character. They changed the spelling. You can sort it all out here.

So there is a connection. Who knew?

I wonder how Alfred Newman felt about that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Looking for a chateau...

... 21 rooms but one will do!

Pursuant to my last post I went and listened to Byron Janis reading his story of Chopin and the supernatural.

It was not everything I thought it would be but I stuck with it, I will say that for Byron Janis and his storytelling skills. The episode took place in Paris in the 1960s -- 1967, I think -- when Byron Janis and his wife went forth from Paris to visit a Viscount in his country chateau. And mysterious things develop. I mean, don't get your hopes up, there are no ghosts or anything, but a couple of Chopin waltzes mysteriously turn up.

One of them is the beautiful Waltz in G flat.

But whatever, you know? A lot of the story was eclipsed in my mind by one thing:

I envied Byron Janis' wife, pictured with him above. Not because she was married to Byron Janis or anything, just because she apparently had nothing to do but hang around with him and go out to this chateau of an afternoon.

She is not like me. She does not have to get up for work. All she does is follow Byron Janis around.

No boss yelling at her. No deadlines.


La la la la la la la.

So that was one thing. The other thing that struck me was that Byron Janis seems to be, ahem, a bit of a crackpot.

Well, who among us is not?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The student of Horowitz, 2

One thing I love -- love! -- about the Internet, about Blog-O-Land, is that you toss something out there on the way to bed, you do not really think about it, and the next morning surprises are waiting for you.

Last night I just ruminated a bit about Byron Janis when I was sitting around in my pajamas and this morning, I get this note from my friend Steve Baker who is now, ahem, Senior Director of Marketing at the San Diego Symphony. Steve is a great Facebook friend because he is intense and loves music. And he told me that on the Vanity Fair Web log site you can hear Byron Janis reading an excerpt from his book which is "Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal."

These are great days for books on pianists, you know? We recently got "My Nine Lives," by Anne Midgette and Leon Fleisher, and now there is this memoir by Byron Janis. Also I wonder about the memoirs of Earl Wild. I know he had been working on them. I think they might be out. Anyway, it is great that the public cares so much about these people, these pianists.

Back to Byron Janis. I had not known about this book and I have to say the title intrigues me. What, is he talking  with Chopin? Does Horowitz visit him in his dreams and impose more lessons on him? These are questions that will have to be answered.

I have to mention this, Vanity Fair proves what I said yesterday, that you never hear Byron Janis' name without Horowitz's name being right there next to it. There it is, first sentence: "Renowned concert pianist Byron Janis -- the first student of Vladimir Horowitz at age 16 -- has made quite a remarkable career..."

Working on my book on Leonard Pennario at least I do not have to worry about his being eclipsed by some teacher. Well, no one eclipsed Pennario. But that must be a particular kind of bummer, you get identified with some teacher at 16, for Pete's sake, and in a way it is downhill from there. It has its advantages, sure. But I do wonder how Byron Janis, a bright and interesting man in his own right, feels about that tie with Horowitz being his biggest credential.

Perhaps he will talk about that in his book.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The student of Horowitz

The pianist Byron Janis has a byline! He was in today's Wall Street Journal talking about his teachers and how they promoted his creativity. That is a picture up above of Byron Janis with babes.

That is a cool name, you know, Byron Janis? Byron as in George Gordon, Lord Byron. Janis as in Joplin.


It is funny that no matter how old certain pianists get they are always identified forever and ever by who their teachers were. No one ever thinks about Byron Janis without thinking that he was taught by Vladimir Horowitz. So this whole Wall Street Journal story, you are waiting to see when he gets around to talking about Horowitz.

Which he does. He says Horowitz told him, "You want to be a first Janis, not a second Horowitz."

I wonder if that could ever come to pass. Whenever I think of Byron Janis all I think of is that he studied with Horowitz. That is the danger of having this big-name teacher.

I wonder what Byron Janis would have turned into without Horowitz. I mean, he still would have been good, right? You would think.

But he may have been different.

And when you heard his name, Horowitz would not be the first thing you would think of.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bad archbishop

How cool is the church I go to? Cool enough so that the priest's message in the bulletin this week was all about Mozart's nemesis, Hieronymus Colloredo, pictured above in his robes.

It is interesting that back in the 1700s there were already people wanting Mass in the vernacular and there was already debate about church music. I do not know about Joseph II and his desire for simplicity. I do not think I would agree with him.

About Mozart's Church Sonatas, I am not so sure. I know those sonatas pretty well. And the thing is, they can rock the house! I normally side with Mozart on most things but I do not know how these sonatas would sound after the Epistle, I have to say that.

Darn, I cannot find exactly the Church Sonata I am looking for on YouTube but this one is a pretty good example of what I mean. There is just all this energy.

About Colloredo, I never did get a good feeling about him and I have to say, I do not like him better after reading this.

OK, enough opining. Here is what our priest, Father Secondo Casarotto, wrote in the bulletin. It is called "The Good Old Days." You almost never get to hear music history from a Catholic priest's perspective so now is your fleeting chance. Grab it, I say!

When Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo was elected prince-archbishop of Salzburg, he
wanted to reform the liturgy. Even before the Council of Trent, musicians had started to
introduce elaborate music in the liturgy. In 1567, shortly after the close of the Council of
Trent, a diocesan synod held in Dilingen, Germany, issued the following statement: "We
permit ancient and vernacular hymns, especially those which our praiseworthy German
forefathers employed in major feast days and we approve that they be retained in church
and in processions."
Masses, especially in cathedrals, became full of extraneous music that added great
length in their duration and church services were becoming more and more reminiscent of
concerts. In a pastoral letter, the new Archbishop demanded, among others, that Mass last
no longer than one hour. This did not go well with Amadeus Mozart, then organist of the
Cathedral of Salzburg, who had composed a series of 17 sonatas to be played after the
Epistle and were no longer permitted in the Catholic mass.
At the same time, Joseph II, emperor of Austria, was centralizing his authority and in
1781 ordered that all Austrian bishops not follow any order from outside his empire (i.e.
Rome). The following year he ordered the bishops to swear "fidelity and submission" to
him and not to the Pope. Over time, Joseph continued to formulate his own church laws,
including sacramental fees, issuing liturgical decrees, even regulating the music to
accompany the mass. In his desire for simplicity, he limited church decorations,
processions, mass times, pilgrimages, veneration of relics, etc.
In 1781 Joseph introduced a recommendation that the German language be used in lieu
of Latin during the celebration of the Mass. Even though the archbishop of Vienna
rejected Joseph's idea of a vernacular Catholic liturgy, a new Catholic hymnal was
published in 1783 that included several hymns in German.
Archbishop Colloredo sided with a group of bishops who wanted to form a German
National Church. At the same time he continued to restrict the mass to one hour, banning
instrumental pieces (which he eventually permitted in 1787). Although not under Joseph's
rule, Mozart felt the effects of the emperor's desire for reform. He continued to compose
some instrumental music for masses, a movement expanded by Johann M. Haydn who
wrote more than one hundred Graduals. Mozart eventually fell in disgrace with the
Archbishop and one day, while in Vienna, he was kicked out on the street by one of the
Colloredo's secretaries.

The secretary that kicked Mozart was Count Arco. I do not have to look that up.

It is funny, the immortality these clerics have achieved.