Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My fight with Kenny Rogers

Listening to Jussi Bjorling singing "O Holy Night" yesterday got me thinking again about my conversation last week with Kenny Rogers.

Ha, ha! Now there is a name that needs no introduction. I have to say "the great pianist Leonard Pennario" or "the great violinist Jascha Heifetz," but Kenny Rogers, everyone knows who he is.

Kenny Rogers is playing Buffalo tonight. I did an interview with him last week for work, i.e., for The Buffalo News. Let me say this right now, Kenny Rogers is a doll and were it not for my religious convictions and the fact that I am already married to Howard, I would cheerily be his sixth wife. That is how much I liked him!

The thing I will remember most about my interview with, ahem, Kenny, was our argument about "O Holy Night."

Before talking to him I watched this clip from a show he did in Toronto.

Hahahahaa... I love that video. I love the looks on the kids' faces. The apprehensive little girl in the middle is my favorite.

But back to "O Holy Night." Kenny Rogers was talking about it and told this story that was just completely wrong. Right away when he said the song "was commissioned as a Catholic Mass," you know you are in trouble. Sure enough, it goes downhill from there.

So I addressed this matter on the phone with Kenny. The whole story is here -- but in case the link expires, here is the pertinent portion, the "O Holy Night" portion.

“Kenny, I saw a clip of your Toronto show, and you said ‘O Holy Night’ was banned by the Catholic Church. I have to tell you – it wasn’t.”
“It was.”
“No, the Catholic Church never banned it, it was just some bone-headed French bishop –
“Mary. You telling me to change my show?”
“Well, I’m Catholic, and –”
“Oh, no! Catholic! Oh, no!” Rogers pretends to recoil. “The church has enough problems without –”
“The church is taking the heat for this one!”
Both of us are laughing now.
“It’s OK. They let it back in in 1921,” says Rogers.
“But they never –”
“Mary! Please don’t screw me up this late in my career."
Hahahahaaaa! (This is me talking again -- I do not know how to change the font back.)

A darling man, even if he is all screwed up on "O Holy Night." That: "You telling me to change my show?" I am still laughing about that.
I had never known much about Kenny Rogers aside from his songs. I had not realized he was so funny.
About "O Holy Night" -- a love it or hate it Christmas song, by the way -- when I wrote up my story I did not get into part of the business Kenny Rogers was talking about, which centered on the possibility that Adolph Adam, who wrote the music to the song, was Jewish. First there is no evidence that he was. For what it was worth, he had a Catholic funeral. Second, if he was, who cares. "O Holy Night" was never "banned." A French bishop said something nasty, is all I could find. And now that I read the account I found again, the bishop was not even named. So that is probably a myth too.
Good thing I studied up on all that!
I might forget the rest of the interview, but that argument, I will remember.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sing it loud

On my Leonard Pennario Web log I found myself reflecting on how much I love Jussi Bjorling singing "O Holy Night." This is one of the greatest versions of this hymn -- which was, I have to say, one of Pennario's favorites. Bjorling has that big, big voice. It is as if the song just pours out of him!

You can imagine a cartoon, this big bubble. Sing it, Jussi! How exhilarating it must feel to sing like that. To have the music just pouring out of you.

Also there is "The Boar's Head Carol" as posted by my Buffalo News colleague Doug Turner on Facebook.

Is that magnificent or what? I love that song. You picture them in a medieval feast hall, carrying in this boar's head.

Here is the version I grew up with. The recording of the song, not the boar's head.

And the inimitable Steeleye Span.

Christmas is a time to sit on our kiesters, as we say here in Buffalo, and waste time listening to music we know inside out, preferably with a cocktail in hand.

Bring on the holiday!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Krips boys

Today my mom had a record sitting on her record player and it was Henry Krips.

I had never heard of Henry Krips!

He is the brother of Josef Krips who was the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1950s. Henry Krips wrote waltzes and that was what was on my mother's record.

"They're nice waltzes," my mom said. As if, they're just OK.

Henry Krips made his fortune in Australia, I have since read.

The picture on the Seraphim album above is kind of flattering but good looks do not appear to have run in that family. In the picture on the back cover Henry Krips does not look nearly as good.

Henry Krips' son Henry leads some band called Wagons. That is he in the middle.

He looks like a genial chap!

I have to say though: I do not know what Henry Krips would have thought of this...

... but being from Buffalo, where Josef Krips is a name still known around town, I know what Josef Krips would have thought of it.

Not very much.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet singing in the choir

As I was writing on my Leonard Pennario Web log, a friend and I were sitting around the other night drinking wine and listening to the Roger Wagner Chorale.

There is Richard Wagner and then there is Roger Wagner.

And about Roger Wagner, do not knock the Roger Wagner Chorale until you try it.

I am affectionate toward Capitol Records artists because of Leonard Pennario, who made history as the chief classical pianist for Capitol in the 1950s. When Christmas comes I love the lush Hollywood scorings by Carmen Dragon. On the Pennario Web log today I posted "Deck the Halls." As one comment writer on the video said, "The most bombastic version of this song you will ever hear."

Miraculously, just recently, some other Carmen Dragon fan out there besides me has been posting new --well, new to YouTube -- Carmen Dragon Christmas recordings. His "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is a classic.

Bombastic, but at the same time tasteful. It will not irritate you. Carmen Dragon had that certain something.

So did Roger Wagner. His Roger Wagner Chorale's Christmas carols are so of their era, but they somehow stop short of becoming annoying. They are inventive and shining.

As luck would have it there are Roger Wagner Chorale Christmas songs also recently posted on YouTube.

This "O Tannenbaum" is sure to go viral!

I looked up Roger Wagner because I knew nothing about him other than that I have a picture of Pennario with him. Roger Wagner was from France. I did not know that! He seems to have been super-Catholic. The pope made him a Knight Commander in the Order of St. Gregory. Also the Roger Wagner Chorale made an important 1951 recording of a piece I love, Palestrina's "Pope Marcellus Mass."

He was also music director at a couple of Catholic churches. Imagine that, Roger Wagner as your music director! That sure does not happen much now. After Vatican II, Catholic church music fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Haha! That is a phrase of my ex-housemate Severin and I had to borrow it.

Roger Wagner's daughter Jeannine leads the current Roger Wagner Chorale.


That is so great.

Even with scratches and pops!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Live from the 9th century

It is Advent and so I am hitting the Gregorian chant. The "Rorate Caeli" is a chant I love.

It is haunting, that the Nativity was foretold in the strange and poetic words of Isaiah.

This is strange but I never thought about any of this before I started going to the Tridentine Mass ...

(cool video) ...

...just about, yikes, four years ago. How time flies! Now I have this new feeling about going through the seasons. I never knew the "Rorate Caeli" before but now when I hear it, it gives me the feeling of this time of year. Just like other chants and melodies now mean other times of year to me. Music I never knew before.

We also got to sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." I was thinking how old that song is! And most people know it. It is actually hard to find a version not sung by a rock or pop singer.

Most sources say that the hymn dates to the 12th century. However. However! The jacket to my record of the Roger Wagner Chorale says that hymn dates to the 9th century!

To the 800s! Imagine! You could go back in time to the year 850 and go into a cathedral and be able to sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel." "Veni Veni Emmanuel," that is. It is advised to learn the hymn in Latin because you never know when you might inadvertently wind up in the year 850.

So here, as a public service:

Veni, veni Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!

Veni, veni, O Oriens;
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.

Veni, Clavis Davidica!
Regna reclude caelica; 
Fac iter tutum superum,
Et claude vias inferum.

Veni, veni Adonai!
Qui populo in Sinai,
Legem dedisti vertice,
In maiestate gloriae.

If Mannheim Steamroller can do it so can we.

An incredible hymn. Timeless!

The Advent season has officially begun.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Turkey Day

It is great when you run into a piano performance that makes you laugh out loud. This is one.

Someone, I unfortunately forget who, posted this on Twitter a few weeks ago and I watched it and loved it and made Howard listen to it and Howard got a big kick out of it too.

"He's a monster," he said.

Fazil Say is a Turkish pianist and it is great how he views Mozart's "Turkish March" with such apparent affection. My friend the soprano Sebnem Mekinulov who has sung with the Turkish National Opera tells me that in Turkey there is also great affection for Mozart's "The Abduction From the Seraglio."

You would not think so, you know? Mozart's "Turkish" music reflected a craze in Germany at the time and politically correct people would say that this music reflected a Eurocentric view. But the Turks clearly know better.

Here is a fine glimpse of "The Abduction From the Seraglio" -- complete with translation -- from Turkey.

Ha, ha! I love at about 2:05 when the drama flies off the tracks. That is so Mozart! That sort of thing is always happening in "The Magic Flute."

Back to the Turkish March. I especially like what Fazil Say does with the bridge, how he turns it into something like the "Maple Leaf Rag." Listen to me, using jazz language. Bridge.

Lots of fun.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'The saddest music ever written'

Author Thomas Larson calls the Barber Adagio the saddest music ever written. That is a big claim to make but heck, it never hurts to make big claims.

A Facebook friend posted it and I had to listen. Larson makes a good point that that the mood "is rarely found and held in a piece of music." "Held" being the relevant word here. It is true that Barber does not lift that mood. Or change it, for that matter. As Larson says, "It dies of its own exhaustion." Then he says something about how we feel glad that it does.

That is the truth!

It is interesting to me to hear about this piece. I have heard it a million times and actually I would be happy if I never heard it again, you know? I mean, I feel I know it now.

One thing, they say it is the quintessential music to play at funeral services. I have never heard it at a funeral.

On the site where I found this, the comments have turned into a discussion of the saddest rock songs ever written. In classical music I think the competition is much more keen. I nominate a lot of Schubert. Or the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

With that music it is harder to say what gets you. To put your finger on it. This is funny, my mom and I were just talking about this piece last night and I was thinking how the clarinet was new when Mozart wrote this piece, and he sensed the instrument's bittersweet nature and built on that. He does the same thing in his Clarinet Quintet. Beyond that, I think the music creates a kind of conflict in you. It's sad but in a way it is not. So it pushes you and pulls you.

I mean, this song by Schubert ...

... it's a beautiful melody, a kind of sprightly piano part, a prettiness ... what is it?

Or a Chopin waltz, simply and beautifully played.

Pennario gets me thinking of this Schumann.

That piece kills me!

The slow movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony also kills me. Lots of Mahler ... and Richard Strauss ... and Beethoven ... and Brahms of course ... and Wagner, and even Bach. I could go on and on. We all could.

It is fun to think about the saddest music ever written!

Strange as it sounds.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

'They tend to freak out'

Rene Pape, pictured above in an undignified shot that I love, is this bass I like. And yesterday I was listening to his new Wagner CD. It has him singing "Wotan's Farewell" from "Die Walkure."

I can not listen to that music without thinking of two things I know I have written about. One was the time when my sister and I saw the opera in Toronto and both of us wept all through the last scene. We had a sodden Kleenex we were passing back and forth. It was pathetic! 

The other was when I tuned in to a radio broadcast. I had to pull over for the ending. This is not something you can drive through! I pulled over and I stayed there as the singers took their bows. And as he described the scene, the announcer began to weep. I will never forget that!

Anyway, yesterday I happened on this interview with Mr. Pape. Pape talks about his influences who include George London, Hans Hotter and Theo Adam. Hans Hotter is a singer I love.

Pape is asked if audiences for Wagner differ from other audiences.

"Wagner audiences are special, I think," he says. "It's their music -- but in a positive way. It's a passion. Everyone feels extended -- musically and physically -- after five hours or whatever of a Wagner performance. So people tend to -- how should I put it -- well, freak out at the end."


I guess I am Exhibit A!

The other main thing I got from that interview is that Pape has a dachshund named Wotan.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening

On my Leonard Pennario Web log today I allowed myself to gloat over that Leonard was just included in the new Penguin Guide to the 1000 Finest Classical Recordings.

He was listed along with the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky for an album that, originally released on vinyl, looked like this:

My gloating led me to this site where someone is kind enough to share Piatigorsky's autobiography, "Cellist," chapter by chapter.

Unfortunately it does not seem to go up as far as the years when Piatigorsky and Pennario were collaborating, though I have not had time to take a good look. I also could not get the photo gallery to work.

But as I hopefully clicked on Chapter 30 I found this classic, pardon the expression, story:

Once, in a small town in Ontario, there was a party after the concert. I brought my cello and was still wearing full dress.

After being given a cooky and tea I apologetically told the hostess that I must leave soon because my train departed at an early hour the next day. She said that she would help me disappear unnoticed and that a car would be waiting for me in front of the house.

It was a dark and cold night, and the snow was deep. As I walked out of the house, I saw a car with motor running and, grateful for such promptness and consideration, I put my cello in the back seat and settled myself in the front next to the driver, who was a woman, she had a hat covering half of her face.

"It's so nice of you," I greeted her, but before I could tell her the name of my hotel the car sharply shot away and with unexpected gusto, rattling, and skidding sped along the deserted street. The car coughed and jerked and it moved away from the road and brushed into a snowbank, bounced off, and headed into another one. Stunned, I did not utter a word.

Soon there was no road at all, and I saw the car sliding downward toward a forest. My silent and unperturbed lady drove the car straight into the woods, where it finally stopped, sunk in the snow. Only then did I see the face of my driver. Really it was not a face, but a huge grin that covered everything that originally might have been a human face. Mute as before, she got out of the car and crawled under it.

Bewildered, but elegant in white tie and patent-leather shoes, I stood there not knowing what to do. After several vain attempts to communicate with her, I left the lady and my cello and rushed up the hill toward the road to look for help.

Soon I saw a truck coming. I stopped it and explained my predicament to the driver. He was willing to help and said that with his chains and other equipment he hoped that he could pull the car up onto the road. We gently dragged the woman out from under the car, and with her peacefully at my side the truck driver towed us to the hotel.

As I entered the lobby, I saw the anxious hostess and a number of her guests. I was told that the lady was a mental patient. Related to the hostess, she had attended the concert and came to the party with her nurse and doctor, from whom she managed to escape.

Since that ride I am much more careful, and only if a lady driver is pretty will I entrust myself into her care for a journey in the dark.

Ha, ha! I love musicians telling strange stories and that one is a gem. The way he tells it! The car shooting away with unexpected gusto. Then, how she calmly drives into the woods.

Dear Gregor Piatigorsky. No wonder Leonard loved him.

I am looking forward to combing through the rest of this book!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finding Mozart wanting

It is fun once in a while to see something from a totally different perspective from yours.

I just had that experience with the church music of Mozart.

I love Mozart's church music. Just today I heard the famous Alleluia from "Exultate, Jubilate." I love that piece, the joyous faith that shines through it.

Once I wrote about how much I love the "Coronation" Mass.

And then of course, the Requiem.

Then I see this write-up in this Catholic encyclopedia site.

They generally praise Mozart, calling him one of the greatest geniuses of history. They sum up his childhood, his works, his operas. Then ...

Mozart's individuality was of an exquisitely delicate, tender, and noble character. His operas, "Don Juan", "The Magic Flute", "The Marriage of Figaro", "Cosi fan tutte", "La Clemenza di Tito", on account of their melodic beauty and truth of expression, have as strong a hold upon the affections of the musical public today as they did at the end of the eighteenth century. His instrumental works continue to delightmusicians the world over. As a composer for the Church, however, he does not, even artistically, reach the high level he maintained in other fields. In his day the music of the ChurchGregorian chant, was practically ignored in Germany, and sadly neglected in other countries. Mozart had but little knowledge of the masters of the sixteenth century, and consequently his style of writing for the Church could not have been influenced by them. The proper of the Mass, which brings singers and congregation in intimate touch with the liturgyof the particular day, was rarely sung. The fifteen masses, litanies, offertories, his great "Requiem", as well as many smaller settings, most of them written for soli, chorus, and orchestra, in the identical style of his secular works, do not reflect the spirit of the universal Church, but rather the subjective conception and mood of the composer and the Josephinist spirit of the age. What Mozart, with his Raphaelesque imagination and temperament, would have been for church music had he lived at a different time and in different surroundings, or risenabove his own, can easily be imagined.


(This is me again, though the type is still changed.)

It is funny, some talking head out there regretting that Mozart did not live up to his potential as a Catholic composer.

You have to respect someone coming from completely another viewpoint like that! Even though I do not quite agree with it. I have wondered about Gregorian chant, about how much Mozart and Beethoven knew of Gregorian chant. I have had my hunches but I have not had time to research it. Perhaps this answers that question!

But you know what, in light of the music I grew up with, it seems unfair to find Mozart's Church music wanting. To say it does not reflect the "Universal Church."

I suppose "Table of Plenty" reflects the Universal Church. Because we still hear that all the time, you know?

I grew up with "Blowin' in the Wind" played at Mass.

It is funny, no one criticizes this stuff, but oh, they throw the book at Mozart.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cold comfort

Buffalo got its first frost today. I saw it when I went out to get the papers.

Then when I went inside and opened the papers what did I read about was the Beethoven frost bed! That is it pictured above.

That is my life, a series of strange coincidences.

The frost bed is on display at Miami's Art Museum. What this one guy did was, he -- let me quote the Wall Street Journal.

"Inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven's death during a snowstorm in 1827, Florida-based artist Enrique Martinez Celays has created 'Schneebett' ('Snow-bed') -- a series of rooms, one of which, refrigerated, contains a bronze bed blanketed with a thick layer of frost.

"Outside 'Schneebett,' a video performance of one of Beethoven's late quartets is playing. Inside the initial corridor, a compression system and cooling tower buzz loudly. the sonic clash is intentional: 'Not only was Beethoven deaf toward the end of his life, but his head was ringing,' yet he composed until the end, says Mr. Martinez Celaya, who sculpts, paints, photographs and writes. The piece was first shown in 2004 in Berlin."

I like any sign that Beethoven is remembered or thought of -- any way, anytime, anywhere.

A Miami paper, or Web log, or something -- the reason I wonder is, it misspells "Nietzsche" -- interviews the artist here. I like the artist. He seems to like Beethoven.

I wonder if this installation made it into "Beethoven in America," this book I was just reading about. It tracks Beethoven's image in America. Of course, this work of art was in Berlin first.

I am looking at this book, which is by Michael Broyles.

"Most importantly, this book is addressed to anyone who wonders how this man reached the pinnacle of American cultural recognition and what it is exactly he represents," he writes.

It looks kind of interesting but it is not exactly addressed to me. I do not wonder about stuff like that, I have to say. I have never wondered how Beethoven reached the pinnacle of American cultural recognition and what it is exactly he represents.

I just listen to him.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ivan the Terrible

On my other Web log today I got gabbing about this story by Turgenev, "The Song of Triumphant Love." I got thinking about it the other day because Halloween is coming up.

That story is the scariest story I think I have ever read.

You can read it in its entirety by clicking on the link. I recommend it! Well, maybe I should not recommend it.

As I wrote on my other Web log I was so scared that the night after I read it I could not sleep and was too scared even to get out of bed.

What got me reading that story was a CD that matched the story up with music that appeared to go with it, some of it by the singer and composer Pauline Viardot, who for a while was mixed up with Turgenev, although I have not gotten around to researching the details. Oh, look, the English critic Jessica Duchen has written a book apparently about the two of them, "Songs of Triumphant Love."

Maybe this is a romance I should read about!

I wonder if it was as frightening as that story!

This being the wonderful age of the Internet you can peek at excerpts of the book here. Now I am not sure if it is a novel set in the present day, affected somehow by, God forbid, that story "The Song of Triumphant Love." Whatever it is, it looks like an interesting project.

There is also a ballet, "The Song of Triumphant Love."

Not sure I would want to see it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Benedict, Bruckner and beer

Remember a while ago when we talked about Pope Benedict XVI and his knowledge of music?

His Holiness is at it again!

Just the other day he listened to a performance of Beethoven's Ninth and Bruckner's "Te Deum." That is Bruckner up above in an old photograph I like. After listening to the piece Benedict got up and talked. Here is the transcript from the Vatican that was sent to me. I am lucky! Whenever anything happens in the Vatican someone buzzes me, I will have you know.

VATICAN CITY, 22 OCT 2011 (VIS) - This evening in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, the Bavarian State Opera gave a concert in honour of Benedict XVI. The programme included the Ninth Symphony and the "Te Deum" by Anton Bruckner, played by the Bavarian State Orchestra and the "Audi Jugendchorakademie", conducted respectively by Kent Nagano and Martin Steidler.

At the end of the performance the Pope rose to thank the musicians. Listening to Bruckner's music, he said, "is like finding oneself in a great cathedral, surrounded by its imposing structures which arouse emotion and lift us to the heights. There is however an element that lies at the foundations of Bruckner's music, both the symphonic and the sacred: the simple, solid, genuine faith he conserved throughout his life".

"The great conductor Bruno Walter used to say that 'Mahler always sought after God, while Bruckner had found Him'. The symphony we have just heard has a very specific title: 'Dem lieben Gott' (To the Beloved God), almost as if he wished to dedicate and entrust the last and most mature fruit of his art to the One in Whom he had always believed, the One Who had become his only true interlocutor in the last stage of his life", the Holy Father said.

"Bruckner asked this beloved God to let him enter His mystery, ... to let him praise the Lord in heaven as he had on earth with his music. 'Te Deum laudamus, Te Dominum confitemur'; this great work we have just heard - written at one sitting then reworked over fifteen years as if reconsidering how better to thank and praise God - sums up the faith of this great musician", Pope Benedict concluded. "It is also a reminder for us to open our horizons and think of eternal life, not so as to escape the present, though burdened with problems and difficulties, but to experience it more intensely, bringing a little light, hope and love into the reality in which we live."

A pope who knows about Mahler and Bruckner and Bruno Walter, how cool is that?

I would love to sit down with him and music-minded friends like Norman Lebrecht and Prof. G who comments on this Web log, and others who care about this kind of thing. All of us with a couple of pitchers of beer and what a round table that would be.

Wow, I had better watch what I say. A long time ago, just fooling around on the Web log, I wrote that it would be fun to have a beer with Norman Lebrecht and lo and behold, it happened.

All of us having a beer with the Pope could happen!

Here is Bruckner's "Te Deum" with Jessye Norman and Samuel Ramey, the Chicago Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Quite a piece. Bravo, performers!

Bravo, Pope Benedict!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The prince of passion

This morning on my way to church I tuned into the classical station, and this outrageous piece poured out at me. It was intriguing at first, and I liked it. Then this chorus came in, and it was just too much.

"Oh, no," I said. And I turned the radio off.

Then after a few minutes I turned it back on.

The piece was still iffy but then it seemed I was making out something I knew. It was the old "Crusader's Hymn," this German medieval hymn I know from church.

Anyone who will include the "Crusader's Hymn" in a piece gets my vote!

So I stayed tuned in. I got to church and I had to get out of the car but I waited through the piece's ending, which was outrageous. The whole piece was just, I don't know, overblown? But I liked it too. I was drawn to it.

What was it? I found out. It was "St. Elizabeth" by Franz Liszt.

Liszt!! Of course! Today is his 200th birthday.

There was supposed to be a Google Doodle. Here is a picture I found of it, complete with cool photograph of Liszt.

I guess they got it in Europe and I was kind of excited about seeing it today. But I guess it is not on our continent. That Google Doodle of Franz Liszt, they regulate it like crack cocaine over here. Boo to Google. That is what I wrote on Twitter. Booooo.

They have no problems making Doodles to honor the guy who made up the Muppets and this woman who drew pictures for Disney -- that one was the other day -- but today, Google is Liszt-less.


The "St. Elizabeth" -- or "St. Elisabeth," I guess it would be in German -- I found at least a piano version of it on YouTube. That sweet thrilling old hymn I love starts at 2:10.

I like Franz Liszt. I love how you can see him in photographs. The camera, reaching into the past, showing us what Liszt looked like!

And his music. It sounds as if he had a spirit too big for his body.

You can see why Wagner admired him. Here was a guy whose philosophy, it seems to me, could be summed up as "Why stop here?"

Wandering the 'Net I see that Alex Ross from The New Yorker has written a neat Web log post about Liszt's "Christus" and Wagner's "Parsifal." This is funny, you always think of Liszt as a lot older than Wagner because Wagner married Liszt's daughter, Cosima. But Liszt was born in 1811 and Wagner was born in 1813.

No celebration of the artistry of Franz Liszt is complete without Leonard Pennario.

Franz Liszt's birthday is a wonderful birthday to celebrate.

Doodle or no doodle.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The trouble with CDs

Listening to my Wilhelm Backhaus CD I am becoming distressed by how the sound is cutting out now and then. Every once in a while the CD hits the skids and jumps or fogs out.

It happens right in the middle of the beautiful slow movement of the "Waldstein" Sonata. Among other places.


Compact discs are junk, you know? I remember when they were new and everyone was saying how long-lasting they were, as opposed to old-fashioned records, which could get scratched.

Records are far more durable. Plus you had control over what happened to them. If you took care of a record it would take care of you. If it got scratched, it was because of carelessness. And here is another thing: Even if a record got badly scratched, a lot of the record would still be good. When a CD gets inexplicably ruined, you just have to toss it.

Even cassettes, my brother George and I were talking about them with affection. Cassettes had longer life than CDs. Sure, tapes could break, but cassettes were designed in a way that gave them protection. They have a built-in case the way a turtle has a shell. If you were listening to one in the car, you could take it out and toss it on the seat next to you and most of the time it would be OK.

CDs are so vulnerable. You cannot just toss them on the seat and expect them to be OK.

You have to struggle to find the jewel case which, do not get me started on those. If you cannot find the right case, or maybe you are in traffic and do not have time to look, you have to put it into whatever case is handy. That is why a lot of my CDs are divorced from their cases or missing in action.

Also, liner notes.

No matter how lavishly they package CDs it always comes down to a flimsy paper booklet. Small, so the pictures are tiny. Not like those great old LP sets where you would be sitting there listening with the book on your lap, gazing at a giant-sized picture of Roberta Peters or Leonard Pennario or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I always did enjoy gazing at giant-sized pictures of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Pictures that were much bigger than this one:

CDs, cases, booklets, they are always getting separated and damaged and thrown to the four winds.

It's funny for me, looking back on recording technology. I have never known permanence. Records were already on the way out by the time I started buying them. Cassettes, I liked them, but they always seemed as if they were not here to stay.

Now, CDs, I can see them fading out too. I have a house full of them and I am starting to see they are fools' gold.

I mean, this Backhaus CD. I have listened to it only something like 100 times. It should not  be wearing out on me.

Meanwhile my records go on forever.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Confessions from the keyboard

I am reading a book I got at the University Women's Second Hand sale. It is the memoir of the great accompanist Gerald Moore, called "Am I Too Loud?" It is accompanying me through my life!

Today we would call Mr. Moore a collaborative pianist. But he called himself an accompanist, although he talks in the book about how he was an equal partner with the great singers he partnered on stage.

I have always wanted to read this book. And I was lucky to get it! I paid maybe $2 for it. The Internet makes it clear it is out of print. On eBay there is one for about $10 and otherwise they are all $50, $75, the sky is the limit.

Perhaps when I am through with this I will sell mine!

No, I do not think so. It is just too charming.

Gerald Moore's personality just jumps out at you.

About Feodor Chaliapin, the great Russian bass:

Fred Gaisberg suggested to me in Glasgow that we visit the singer's bedroom at noon to see how our hero was faring. There he was sitting up in bed with the only solid food he allowed himself prior to a concert: a boiled egg and coffee. The egg standing in its cup looked exceedingly minute by contrast with the enormous torso behind it. Each mouthful, one felt, had a long way to travel: up, up, precariously balanced on its spoon between the waistline and the lips, and then down, down a very long way before it reached its destination.  ...

And then I saw a tragic performance; Boris Godunov's death scene was enacted: a distant mumble like the growling of a double bass came from the depths of his being, as with beetling brows and mouth drawn down in despair I heard these anguished words, "M-m-m-m, they bring no salt with my egg."

They don't write like that any more.

Another quote on Chaliapin I cannot resist: "Chaliapin came in clad in a pair of shorts and a kimono round his shoulders. His torso was bare and was so white, so vast, it reminded me of a wall on the Acropolis."

I can see I am going to wind up copying out this whole book onto my Web log!

There are big chapters of course relating to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, pictured here suavely with Moore...

... and John McCormack. That I have not gotten around to them yet is high praise for the book! There is too much other great stuff to keep me occupied.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf comes off as nice.

At a recent performance in Salzburg of 'Don Giovanni' all she could find to say to me was how marvelous Leontyne Price had been and that she had never sung opposite such a Donna Anna before. I told the American girl of this praise from the finest Donna Elvira of our time, but Leontyne said, "Elisabeth made it so easy for me by her encouragement and friendliness."

"The American girl." I love that.

I think you can find Gerald Moore talking on YouTube.

This is just one instance. He is playing Brahms' "Vergebliches Staendchen" and explaining it. Wow, this is fun. I love hearing his thoughts on this song. There is no video on this by the way. Which does not surprise me. Though there are plenty of videos of Mr. Moore on stage he writes that he considers television an abomination.

Dear Mr. Moore.

By the way here is the book's opening quote:

"Normally the most considerate of accompanists, on this occasion Gerald Moore too often overwhelmed the singer."
-- London Daily Telegraph, May 8, 1961.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fabulous Fabio

With my nose in my book, I am so out of things! And today in the Wall Street Journal I was reading Heidi Waleson's story about Fabio Luisi, above, the new conductor of the Metropolitan Opera.

I had no idea the Met had a new conductor, although I did know about James Levine's health problems. And I have never heard of Maestro Luisi.

Waleson writes that Luisi (I keep wanting to write "Bidini," I am mixing him up with Fabio Bidini,  the pianist coming to the Buffalo Philharmonic) ...

(and one day soon we must play the game of famous Fabios)

... has conducted a half dozen "Ring" Cycles. Good, good.

He was trained as a pianist. Good, good.

Wikipedia tells me they have three sons.

His wife is Bavarian. Like me! My ancestry is Bavarian. Well, part of it anyway. I am also from Alsace-Lorraine and, ahem, Baden-Wurttemberg.

Let us watch Fabio Luisi in action.

Sounds good to me!

Does anyone have a problem with that? I don't.

Luisi, buttering up New York, says in closing how much he admires the energy of the city.

"You can really smell and breathe it all the time, even when I take our dogs to the park at midnight. There's a feeling of wanting to be alive and productive for oneself, family, neighbors and society. In Europe, the growing tendency is, 'I don't care, someone will provide.'"

Haha! Buffalo has quite a bit of that "I don't care" attitude and rest assured, Maestro Luisi, there is a lot of that in New York too. We do not have a monopoly on it.

Do not start believing there are not slugs in New York and America at large!

But we should not scare off Luisi. He seems like a sweet guy.

He says, "Here, I feel the taking of responsibility. It's quite amazing for me -- as an Italian, especially."

Cute story.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We remember the vacant chair

Today is pianist Glenn Gould's birthday. He would be 79. That is too bad he is not around, you know? Glenn Gould would have made a great old man.

If he was as weird as he was years ago imagine how weird he would be now.

Plus it would be just interesting to see what would have happened to him. I bet he would be on Facebook. Just a guess.

I wonder how or what he would be playing on the piano, or whether he would be playing the piano at all.

I am ambivalent toward Glenn Gould because of all the press he gets over stupid things. Whenever you see a movie about him, or a trailer for a movie about him, they can't wait to start talking about his special chair or his heavy overcoat or any of that other dumb stuff that really has nothing to do with anything. It has nothing to do with anything but it is what he is remembered for.

Then the movie makers usually put Bach's "Goldberg" Variations on the soundtrack. Which, he played them superbly, but he didn't write them, you know? I see this sort of thing all the time in movies about conductors. They show some guy conducting, and then this Brahms symphony billows out, and you think: What a genius! But who is the genius -- the conductor, or Brahms? Who is it you are really falling in love with?

That having been said, as pundits like to put it ....

I like to watch Glenn Gould defending Richard Strauss. There was a time when you had to defend him.

This video has a song I love, "Cacilie." One of those great declarative Strauss love songs with an over-the-top piano part. Which, I have to say, Gould plays rather well.

Gould is kind of obnoxious and too sure of himself, and he felt free to broadcast boneheaded opinions. That comes from having a government behind you.

But I do get the feeling his heart was in the right place.

Plus I have to admit this, since I was a teenager I have had a weakness for his thuggy performance of the Mozart A Minor Sonata. So many pianists treat Mozart like glass. Gould does not, that is for sure.

Hahahaha... watch the bubbles in the video.

I think Glenn Gould would have liked them!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The music master

Recently I have been impressed by Pope Benedict XVI and his knowledge about music. I had heard he was an accomplished pianist but I had not realized until recently how he lives and breathes music.

You can tell when someone lives and breathes music, not that you find this type too often, when the person brings music into the conversation for no reason at all.

The pope does this.

Above his a picture of him listening to music alertly.

About a year ago he competently discussed Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy" in comparison with Arvo Part's "Cecilie, virgine romana." Amazing that anyone even knows what the "Choral Fantasy" is, not to mention "Cecilie."

I found the pope's erudite comments on this great Web log, Ignatius Insight, where you read all kinds of stuff that never makes it into the mainstream media. The mainstream media have no interest in anyone's views on Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy," let alone Arvo Part.

Ha, ha! Looking at I.I. just now, I see this quote at the top: "But there is no excuse for being unaware of Aquinas." I guess I have some reading to do! I mean, I know St. Thomas Aquinas was a saint, and that he was a great thinker, but that is about it.

On the other hand I know about other stuff and you cannot know about everything, you know?

Unless you are Benedict XVI.

The I.I. Web log also discussed how on another occasion the pope got up on his pope-box (sorry, could not help that) and gave a wonderful speech about Mozart. He was in Italy for a performance of the Requiem and in his talk he knowledgeably discussed how the Italian composers of the time influenced Mozart. He also quoted Mozart's letters. I have read that the pope writes these speeches himself. He does not have anyone else writing them for him.

Amazing, this guy! And I applaud him also for taking on the sticky and problematic matter of reforming the music in the Catholic church which, face it, in the last few decades has pretty much descended into dreck. It is time someone showed leadership in this department.

Music is just so important.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A tale of two critics

Today in the Wall Street Journal there is an interesting column by Terry Teachout about a couple of critics who were, in retrospect at least, corrupt. Criticism is always an iffy job as we talked about the other day but these two took it to the extreme.

There was an art critic named Clement Greenberg who, a lot of painters he gave good reviews to gave him paintings in gratitude for the good reviews. In time he built up a collection worth a fortune.

Then there is the music critic Virgil Thomson, pictured up above, who became a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune in hopes that his name would become better known and more people would program his music. That in itself might not be a bad idea, but the word got out that Thomson could be "bought" if you played his music.

I have to say I do not have a lot of sympathy for either of these guys. Especially the art critic. Terry Teachout seems kind of sympathetic to Greenberg. He writes: "Nobody who knew the famously outspoken Mr. Greenberg at all well believed that his critical judgment could be swayed by giving him a painting. Moreover, the now-famous artists whom he championed were unknown when he first wrote about them, meaning that their work had little or no monetary value. But in the hard-nosed world of journalism, appearance and reality are inseparably entwined..."

What he did not touch on is that Greenberg could not help but influence the value of the paintings he was given. A word from a critic like that, if he was that important, could mean all the difference as far as whether a painting like this ...

.... was an, ahem, masterpiece, or whether it was trash. I mean, like a lot of modern art it could go one way or the other. Much depended on Greenberg's thumbs up or thumbs down. He was a big influence on the market. If Greenberg gave one of these artists a glowing review, the chances went up that if the artist gave him a painting it would wind up being worth something. Hence no big surprise, that his collection wound up being worth a lot of money.

Oh, the world of visual art. Do not get me started! That painting by the way is Kenneth Noland's "No One." It was the example used in the story.

Virgil Thomson, to me he illustrates the growing gap between composer and audience. I wonder how many people outside of a handful of us eggheads have even heard of him. I bet most eggheads have not even heard of him. That opera Terry Teachout mentions, "Four Saints in Three Acts," Teachout writes that it is one of the most important American operas of the 20th century. Fine, who has ever heard it?

I wonder if it is on YouTube.


Well, there are a couple of Virgil Thomson clips and here is part of a Mass he wrote.

That's not too bad, you know? That is just about the best you can hope for, that something is not too bad.

I am trying to think if my reputation as a critic has ever been compromised, if anyone will be picking me apart in the future the way we are picking apart Greenberg and Thomson.

Once I got a bouquet of a dozen roses from a band called Smokin' Butt whom I mentioned in a story. Ha, ha! The good news: Miss Kunz, you got a bouquet of roses! The bad news: They're from Smokin' Butt.

As I go on frittering away my Friday....

Should you want to do likewise, here is the story in the Journal.

Great stuff to chew on.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The closed stacks

It amazes me how in the Internet age you can find so much on the computer. For instance I love being able to paw through the archives of Gramophone magazine. And the New York Philharmonic is putting a lot of its old paperwork up in a searchable archive, too, which I find fascinating. And useful, too, for my book on Leonard Pennario.

What also amazes me though is the amount of stuff that is still kept under lock and key.

Earlier this morning, I am working away at the discography for my book, which is a huge task because Pennario made a million wonderful records, he was not just some schlep. One thing I love to do is track how the records were received -- when they were released, who said what about them. That is where Gramophone comes in handy, and the New York Times, etc.

But would you believe the moldy oldy Saturday Evening Post, oh, they charge you?

A search on Pennario's RCA box set of Debussy Preludes allowed me to view this stingy snippet from the old Saturday Evening Post.

“Whoever’s taste was reflected in the choice of Pennario for this assignment, it is poorly justified by the results," some critic is harumphing. "This record reflects Pennario's previous enterprises in that..."

Then it tells me: "Want to know how to read the rest of this book?" And they want you to pay for it.

Forget it!

As if I am going to pay to slog through this boring, snobby, ignorant, unoriginal, Eastern Eurocentric review.

Take it to your grave, you know?

Same with gray stingy old Harper's magazine.

On the bright side it is exciting to check back on the Internet from one week to the next and see what is appearing. Just because it was not there last week does not mean it will not be there this week.

It is something to look forward to when you wake up in the morning!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Earth to Mary

"Carmina Burana" is coming up at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and I am prepping for it. I must be the only person in the world who has to prep for "Carmina Burana."

 This is funny too. At work yesterday I ran into my friend Michelle in the newsroom and we were talking about what we were working on and I mentioned Carl Orff. And Michelle said, "Wasn't he known for teaching kids music?"

"Yes, he was," I said. I had just read about how Orff taught kids about rhythm, and this course he came up with is still used, etc. Then I stopped. "Michelle, how did you know this?" I asked. "I did not know this!"

I have just simply never gotten around much to Carl Orff, is all. I do not think I have to be ashamed writing that. When you are into music you have to get around to things. You need time. In my life I have squandered an inordinate amount of time on, say, obscure Schubert songs. There are only so many hours in a day, in a week, in your life. Plus I work a full-time job. So there are some things I have not heard.

The funny thing about "Carmina Burana" is everyone else knows it but me.

I mean, of course I know this.

But I did not know, for instance, this.

I am listening to it thinking: "Isn't that beautiful?" Because I am sorry, whatever your opinions on "Carmina Burana," it is. Orff got it right with this little aria.

Then YouTube starts tossing other recordings up at me. Sarah Brightman sang it. Charlotte Church. Barbra Streisand, for heaven's sake. All these popular popsters. How could I miss it? But I did.

I am the only one in the world who never heard it!

The only one!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An old song re-sung

Last night the most unbelievable thing happened.

My encyclopaedic knowledge of Stephen Foster songs came in handy!!

I met Howard downtown at the Hyatt after work so we could hear Jackie Jocko. Howard and I live like college students. We hook up. Anyway, we were listening to Jocko sing and play the piano. And sometime during the course of the evening this gentleman comes up with his wife. And he asks Jocko for "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair."

This guy and his wife, they were adorable. Looked to be in their 40s or 50s, and both of them half in the bag. The woman's name was Ginny, or Jenny, something like that, and she had light brown hair, and that was apparently "their song." The husband was Asian, Chinese I am guessing. Handsome and distinguished-looking. They were hugging each other and asking Jocko for "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair."

Jocko did what he always does and faked it. "I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair..." he started.

Then he dropped off and just played the music. I was sitting next to the piano and I chimed in.

"Borne like a vapor on the summer air!" I sang.

What a strange line that is, when you think about it. Ghostly! But beautiful.

The husband, the Chinese husband, lit up.

"That's right!" he beamed.

All my life I have waited for someone to appreciate me knowing this song!

Stephen Foster songs ... still relevant. I just wished we could have gotten to my favorite line, which is "sighing light the night wind and sobbing like the rain..." In a way it is a pity that "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" got trivialized because of the sitcom "I Dream of Jeanie." This is a weird song.

I am charmed by this arrangement by Ned Rorem.

It has a great unresolved ending.

I think Ned Rorem "got" this song.

It is weird.

But beautiful!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Oh, Mr. Paganini

Yesterday I labored, it being Labor Day, on my labor of love, which is the massive tome I am finishing up. Taking a YouTube break I found the video up above.

I would love to see more videos like this one! Well, it is not exactly a video, it is a set of performances by a bunch of piano aces of "Paganini," the knuckle-busting piece from Schumann's "Carnaval." I play this piece! So for once anyway I know what I am talking about.

It is fun just to sit back and listen to one after another and compare and contrast.

Guess which one I like!

Ha, ha! I am sorry, No. 7 is just superior, no way around it. But there are others I like. Barenboim's has a good excitement about it. There is something I hear often in Barenboim's playing that can get on my nerves which is, he fools around a lot with tempos and dynamics. I have this CD of him accompanying Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in a lieder recital -- picked it up for a quarter at a recent library sale -- and it drove me crazy, I just could not listen to it. Well, apparently Fischer-Dieskau was fine with it, so who am I. But still.

What I am getting at is, this thing about Barenboim's playing, this "listen to me" kind of thing, it works to his favor in "Paganini." I think it is because the piece is supposed to be about a self-centered virtuoso.

Anyway, lots of fun, this video. And great work avoidance on an onerous Tuesday.

When you are through contrasting Mssrs. Barenboim, Rosen and Pennario, you can avoid more work by watching this great classic clip of Ella Fitzgerald.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The first thing you hear in the morning

On Facebook a lot of people like to post music in the morning. I think they should be careful about that.

What you listen to in the morning cannot be just anything. You have to be careful!

For one thing it can set your tone for the day. When I am on my way to work I try to be particular what I listen to. If I am in the car it cannot be anything too deep. This is not the time for Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony or some soul-searching music by Schubert. If the classical station plays something too deep in the morning I get aggrieved. I try to keep CDs around for my drives in. My commute is short, usually only about 10 minutes. That is life in Buffalo!

This morning the station was playing Dvorak's Eighth Symphony. I tuned in during the last movement. So that was what I heard starting out. I was listening to it driving down Nottingham Parkway, and I was thinking about how there is one part in it that I always think Dvorak did not quite get right. He has this nice Brahms-like theme going and it's wonderful but for a minute there I always think it flies off the tracks. You can hear it here at 8:37, 8:38.

Ha, ha! That should be a whole separate post, criticizing the masters.

Somewhere during my drive it turned over to Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, Semyon Bychkov conducting. WNED-FM is going over former music directors of the Buffalo Philharmonic.

I was thinking, the "Italian" Symphony is tremendous morning music. It is bright and full of energy and gorgeous but at the same time you will not crash the car. The slow movement is calming but not wrenching. That was what was playing when I got to work.

I am trying to think of what else I listened to during the course of my day. At one point at work I was riled and had a few minutes to take a break so I admit it, I listened to Pennario playing his arrangement of the Emperor Waltz.

I often self-medicate with music, who doesn't? Listening to Leonard makes me feel good and I am happy that when he decided to make an arrangement of a Strauss waltz he chose the one that has always been my favorite. I like that nostalgic main theme, then those sweeping middle melodies.

What other music did I hear today? It is interesting to ask yourself that and try to remember.

I did not do much other listening during my work day because I was doing other work.

After work I went to Zumba class and danced to a number of songs including the fabled "Pause" by Pitbull that we have been discussing.

Between Zumba and my mom's house I listened to Schubert, that new CD I may have mentioned by Gyorgy Tchaidze. Schubert is probably too deep for the car but I stayed away from the "Wanderer" Fantasy and listened to the sonata and the short pieces and they made me feel good.

My mom and I went to the movies and saw "Larry Crowne" (bad title, hard to remember). The soundtrack was rock and none of it stuck in my head.

On the way home from that I did not feel I would do the Schubert justice so I listened to some piano music on the radio, I do not know what it was, but it was calming and sounded like bells.

End result, as say here in Buffalo ...

Guess what was on my brain when I walked into the house just now?

The Dvorak Eighth Symphony! The first thing I heard in the morning. That theme, I was singing it.

After everything else I heard! And you know what, that happens a lot.

Watch out what you listen to first thing in the morning.

Choose it wisely!