Thursday, February 23, 2012

For Mozart fans, a trip back in time

Luckily I did not give up surfing the Internet for Lent. Because I found something really cool.

It is the Mozart Society of America!

You can join it for $40 a year. I am so there. And here is another thing. You do not have to join the Mozart Society to take advantage of some of its amenities.

There are Mozart Resources Online.

And this is really great: You can tap into all these ancient biographies of Mozart! They are there, in their entirety, awaiting your perusal! Click on this link and then look on the right. There is this column with all these old books and papers listed. Click on any one and it will be there all written out for you.

I loved the name Thomas Busby so I clicked on his "Life of Mozart" (London, 1798).

Fascinating! You have to love the old language.

Life of Mozart,
The celebrated German Musician.
Among the illustrious individuals, who by their superior abilities have ornamented and improved the
world, how few have dared to defy the obstacles which envy, arrogance, and contending meanness
opposed to their progress! or indignantly to break the shackles which indigence imposes, and dart through
that obscurity too well calculated to scatter and quench the rays of genius!

And the ending:

Thus have I traced with a faithful though faint pencil, the prominent features of this eminent
musician. And the picture of a mind so highly qualified to ornament and delight society; a mind rich in
talent, cultivated by study, and recommended by a heart, amiable, liberal, and just, cannot fail to impress
the reader with an adequate idea of the exalted merits of Mozart. Drawing his attention with sage
indifference from the emptiness of superficial grandeur, and fixing his eye on real greatness, he will be
filled with those sentiments of respect and admiration ever due to such rare and shining productions of
China-terrace,   Vauxhall-road                                                                                 THOMAS BUSBY.

In between, such lines as:

"His mind was by no means unlettered..."

"But let me ask: had not the active and penetrating Joseph the ability better and less tardily to
appreciate the merits of a man so distinguished in genius and in science?" Busby is blaming Joseph II, the Kaiser, for not having made Mozart's life easier.

And I love this: "His auditors at all times listened to him with admiration: but whenever he played extempore, and indulged the spontaneous and uninterrupted sallies of his fancy, which he sometimes would for more than half an hour, every one was seized with the most enthusiastic raptures, and acknowledged the unrivalled resources of his imagination."

I cannot wait to work my way through these and see what I can find out that I did not know. It would be interesting for starters to see what they say about Mozart's death, what rumors were flying around then. Also it is interesting to see how that era viewed Mozart in contrast to Haydn, say, or Beethoven. Also to see how they viewed Mozart's Catholicism, and Freemasonry, things like that.

Things are referred to differently. In Busby's book "The Magic Flute" is "Le Flutte Enchantee." "The Abduction from the Seraglio" is "L'enlévement du Serail." Mozart himself is identified frequently in these early books as "Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart." Especially in the German books. A few of the books are in German.

I love to look at things through the windows of a different era.

What a resource!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't stop the Carnaval

Thinking about Mardi Gras today I got thinking of Carnaval, about the old tradition from back when most people really did do Lent and had to deprive themselves. The Carnaval -- literally carna-vale, goodbye to meat -- was your last hurrah before the lights went out.

Which made me think of Schumann's "Carnaval." A piece I have played!

There is this terrible story about how Schumann was suffering one of his bouts of insanity and his family had to go looking for him while the Carnaval was in progress. Imagine, all these people in masks and he was out there among them in his pajamas. His "dressing gown" as they put it in the biography I read. It is like something out of a strange movie.

On a brighter note there is this cool video up of a dozen great pianists playing "Paganini," the real finger-busting section of "Carnaval."


And there is more! "Carnaval" will be coming out of your ears.

Which is at it should be.

Because tomorrow the fun is over.

Catholicism ... it ain't no good life, but it's my life...

Monday, February 20, 2012

February dreamin'

Writing about spring on my other Web log I found myself thinking of this song.

This is one of the beautiful videos by this wonderful YouTube video maker who styles herself FiDi Tanzer. The FiDi must stand for Fischer-Dieskau because she is a fan of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as I am. Wow, look at the cute pic of Fischer-Dieskau on her YouTube page! That hat! You go, Herr Fischer-Dieskau! You are styling!

I am loving that video up above. FiDi Tanzer always includes exquisite pictures and she also includes translations, which I love.

Ah, spring!

We can dream!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Church in the lurch

My aware and alert friend Prof. G posted on my Facebook wall this story on the decline of liturgical church music. It is by Joseph Cullen, choral director for the London Symphony Orchestra. Just on my Facebook page it has been getting amazing comments.

Facebook is funny because you get all kinds of people interacting who are from sectors of your life that would not otherwise interact. So there is this lawyer friend of mine conversing with people I know from church and a dear friend from my teenage years, and a wonderful woman I used to work with, etc.

All of us kvetching about church music!

I got a kick out of reading the comments on the story that Prof. G sent. But a few things started bugging me. For one thing I think it is silly how worked up people get about making sure that everyone in church sings. I remember when I played the organ, that was always a big deal, you had to get the people singing.

Now a change has come. I go to the Traditional Latin Mass, and I like to sing, and so I do.  have the Credo down, and the Gloria, and other things. And a lot of other people sing too.

But I think people are wrong if they think if you do not sing, you are not participating. There are Sundays when I have not been able to sing, when I have lost my voice for some reason, and I do not find my Mass experience less for that. I do not like this attitude that holds that just because you are not making noise you are not praying, you are not participating. Technically the choir is supposed to be doing the singing. That is to free you just to sit back and soak it all in if that is what you do.

Every time I hear someone railing about how people should "participate" at Mass, it kills me.

You can participate just in your own head!

If the gentleman in the pew behind me is not singing it does not cross my mind that he is not participating. This whole "participation" thing has led us down so many stupid alleys. It is why we have altar girls. And folk groups.

And the quality of the music does matter. It can help or hurt people's faith. That is just the way it is. Music affects us on all kinds of levels, in ways we do not always understand. That is the way God made us.

Oh well.

Do not get me started!

As we recalled on Facebook, this Web log visited this topic, of the awfulness of Church music, once before, when Riccardo Muti spoke up.

More people should!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The blogging life

There is one thing that always makes me laugh and brightens my day, and that is when Twitter or something tosses it up at me that some new person is starting a Web log.

The other day it was this pianist, Lara Downes.

Lots of luck, Lara!

People always announce their Web logs with flair and fanfare. Then you get all these Tweets: "New blog post!" Everyone comes out of the gate running.

Then ....

Downes has made things especially tough on herself by making hers these multimedia interviews with people. Do not get other people involved! Work alone.

But no matter how you do it it is not easy. Here is one thing I love doing, you will see on the Web site of a musician, or a string quartet, or whatever: "Blog." I love to click on the blog! Because usually it is a year out of date.

And I do not feel so bad about myself. It is tough! You have all these thoughts but when do you set them down, that is the question.

 I wonder how Jeremy Denk is doing. He has this blog, Think Denk. Let me see ... Aha, Jeremy's last post was at the end of January. And his last post before that was in November. Not easy!

Who else? Stephen Hough is pretty good at keeping up. He blogs through England's The Telegraph and manages usually to get something up every few days. That is Stephen Hough up above! I like to post pictures of Stephen Hough. I like his looks. Anyway I am wondering if maybe the Telegraph holds his feet to the fire. They do that to me at work. If they do, all the better. Tat is a good thing and keeps inertia from setting in.

Yes, a Web log, it ain't no good life, but it's my life! I laughed a while ago reading the results of this one Internet survey. They trotted out these results as if it were really big news: that people are less prone now to blog, and more prone to Twitter.

Big surprise, you know?

Twitter, you write one or two sentences, and you are done. It is not necessarily easy. I personally fall behind with it. There is not one thing that God has made that I could not fall behind with. But it is easier than blogging.

Blogging, the word even sounds like work! Like logging. You imagine dragging all these heavy logs. Or slogging, as in slogging through mud.

On the other hand, look at me today.

One way or another... I did it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Schubert in the Telegraph

Interesting essay about Schubert in the British Telegraph. The headline: "Schubert is needed now more than ever."

The essay points out that Schubert wrote a lot of his music while under threat from death, and death figures in his music as it figures in no one else's except maybe Gustav Mahler.

The part I am thinking of starts at about 1:28. By the time it gets to, oh, 2:25 I am falling to pieces.

That cross-handed passage -- you have the left hand crossing over the right, and this call-and-response pattern -- always makes me think of the dead. It is like voices from another world. Footsteps from another world. It kills me.

Imagine being Franz Schubert, seeing what other people do not see. Hearing what they do not hear.

I actually prefer this recording because it is calmer.

Back to the story. I always love reading the comments and in this case I am getting a kick out of the comments. I do not agree with them all, that is for sure. But these people over the pond in Britain sure take their music seriously. It would be a joy to interact with them. I never have the time so I will not but I would like to.

I would contest the one comment that says that it would not belittle Schubert and Mozart not to put them beside Bach and Beethoven among the truly greats.

I will tell you why it would not belittle them. That is because they would both be laughing at you too hard. Imagine not putting Schubert and Mozart among the greats. Mozart, for God's sake. Oh well.

And so to bed.

It is too late to fight!

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Impromptu a day ...

A new Twitter friend of mine sent me a link to this cool article by David Dubal about the happiness that comes from playing the piano. It is in a magazine called New Criterion.

I like David Dubal's opinions. I also like that quote at the beginning, "Play the piano daily and stay sane."

Just because of that, just now I went and played the piano! That is a painting of me up above, entertaining myself and my friends.

I played a Schubert impromptu, the one in triplets that has you sailing all over the piano, because I am getting my technique back into shape. Then I did that cool Beethoven sonata Op. 101. I did the first movement once through and then went through it again. It is funny, do that and the second time is so much better. The second time, I hit that last chord and let it fade out and then I thought: You cannot improve on perfection, you know?

But one thing in this story, this New Criterion story by David Dubal, that I really love is when he trots out that old saw -- that is a word I love, saw -- about how anything worth doing is worth doing well. And he says he sees things differently.

He writes: "Like Chesterton ...

... I feel that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing even badly."

I think he is right! Even if you are having a bad day and really goof up that Schubert, at least you are trying, and as Dubal puts it you "commune" with Schubert.

Schubert, as he looks down on you, probably does not care that you are playing his piece badly! Heck, he could not play his pieces himself.

He loves that you are thinking of him! And that you are taking time out of your day to give a, well, impromptu performance of his Impromptu.

Dubal has a lot of other stuff I like in that story including about how homes should have pianos instead of TVs. My brother George often says that. Howard and I love having pianos all over the house because our friends play them. Howard calls the Steinway the home entertainment system.

The story goes on and on which I love. What is the hurry, you know? It makes me want to play the piano a lot more than I am doing and it also makes me want to play reductions of Mahler symphonies and Wagner operas.

A great declaration:

"Almost everyone who plays the piano as a child and quits wishes they had stuck with it. But the present is here. Take charge. Go to concerts. Buy recordings."

I love that. The present is here.

Take charge!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Over the moon

The moon is full and I feel a song coming on.

And another!

And another.

And finally....