Wednesday, March 28, 2012

'Used in Vienna'

Isn't it strange? Antonie Brentano, generally believed to have been Beethoven's Immortal Beloved, wrote to "Dear Abby" today from beyond the grave.

I read it this morning and all I could think of was Antonie. "Hugh" has to be Beethoven.

I am sure of it.

Here is the letter in case the link expires:

Dear Abby: I’m a 45-year-old married woman with four kids. I fell in love with a longtime friend, “Hugh,” two years ago. He’s single and has never been married.
I told him I want a relationship, but he says that since I’m married we can’t have one.  I told him I love him, but he’s not sure he feels as strong about it as I do. We have been spending a lot of time together and have started to get intimate.
I told Hugh I don’t want to just fool around—I want a commitment. He worries about my kids, and that if I leave their father they won’t understand.
My husband is very cold and distant. We don’t say much to each other anymore; we’re just two adults living in the same house raising our kids. We have gone to counseling, but it didn’t help. My husband says things are fine—but they’re not.
I’m angry because Hugh...

... is willing to fool around but not commit. He says this shouldn’t go on anymore and his heart isn’t in it. The fact that I’m married bothers him. I told him to wait and eventually my husband and I will divorce. I’m hurt by his decision to back out. I feel he wanted the intimacy but doesn’t want ME, and I feel used. How do I sort this out?
—Used in Vienna
OK, it was really "Used in Massachusetts." My imagination began running away with me.
The perils of being a music nerd!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

4 musicians forever young

It was a jolt the other day to hear that Byron Janis was what, 84?

I guess he is. He was born March 28, 1928. He seems perennially youthful for some reason. There is the fact that Byron Janis was the student of Horowitz. It is youthful to be perceived as somebody's student. Also that first name, Byron, makes you think of George Gordon, Lord Byron, the perennially youthful poet.

In Buffalo we have Mayor Byron Brown ...

... who seems perennially youthful too.

Other musicians who seem forever young even though they are not:

Andre Previn, here seen with Leonard Pennario.

Previn always looked the part of the hipster ...

... which makes him seem young.

Who else? Midori, of course.

Is she even 30 yet?

That is not to be confused with Midori the melon liqueur.

Ha, ha! Back to musicians who are forever young. Another one is Joshua Bell, the violinist. The other day I interviewed Joshua Bell and the story was going to be in the paper. And Friday, the night before it was in, I was out at happy hour with a few of my friends. And we got to talking about Joshua Bell.

"Is he even 30 yet?" my friend Judi asked.

And I said, "Gee, I think he said he was 44."

And all of a sudden I got all worried. What if I had misunderstood him? Because he looks so young. Was he 44? What if he had said he was 34 and I had not heard him right? How could Joshua Bell...

... be 44?

Finally my friend Judi Googled him on her iPhone and yes, he was 44.


You have to hand it to these musicians.

They are forever young!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The master at work

It is cool to watch Herbert von Karajan rehearsing with an orchestra.

There is a classic series of videos that shows him going over Schumann's Fourth Symphony the day before a recording. Part I did not allow embedding but Part II did. Get on YouTube, if you like what you see, and you can find the other parts. The whole symphony takes seven parts, or something like 40 minutes.

I was glued to it the other day and watched the whole thing! Then I watched a few sections over again. I found it that fascinating.

It is amazing, the things Karajan hears, and the ideas he has on how to fix them.

What is even more amazing to me is how gentlemanly he is. He is never impatient. He is humorous and respectful. You can tell he is always conscious that he is working with fine musicians. Frequently when he stops the orchestra he smiles. Even when he has to go over something a second or third time, he never becomes flustered or angry. Not even close to it.

Musicians must have loved working with him. I have not really read up on whether they did or not -- I just imagine they would have had to have loved it.

Not just every conductor should watch him in action. Every boss should.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The man for Mozart

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Josef Krips, erstwhile conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, here conducting the pianist Malcolm Frager. I have always liked Frager's playing, since back when I was a teenager.

I am into Krips because I just wrote this story about his years in Buffalo.

It made me kind of emotional to watch him in the video because I had been talking to people about him. His movements are so conservative. He inspires respect just by standing there.

I read in an old copy of The Buffalo Evening News (as The Buffalo News used to be called) that Krips would tell the orchestra before playing Mozart that Mozart would be looking down on them and that they had to play it the way Mozart would want it to sound. For him.

Krips loved to play with Leonard Pennario which is one reason I love him.

Another reason is that Krips loved the Tridentine Mass the way I do.

I will shut up now and just let you watch him conduct.

The master!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Brahms song heard 'round the world

A group of us are sitting here tonight obsessed with this one Brahms song, "Die Schwestern" ("the sisters"). It is a video on YouTube by Barbara Bonney and Angelika Kirchschlager.

My colleague Doug Turner posted it on Facebook. I am privileged to say my colleague because actually he is our Washington columnist which puts him over me. But anyway, he posted "Die Schwestern" and I watched it.

I wrote to Doug on Facebook that I love the song and the moment it goes sour, when you can tell there's trouble. That happens when the two sisters, who have always been buddy-buddy, suddenly love the same guy.

Not fun!  And there is that affectionately mocking Brahms piano accompaniment.

But anyway. Meanwhile Howard reads what I wrote to Doug, about the moment it goes sour. And Howard gets curious and watches the song himself.

And he is disappointed!

He said, "From what you wrote to Doug I thought one of them was going to fall off the stage or something."

Hahaha! No such luck.

But a good song all the same.

I love the idea that Howard watched it all the way through, being that he is not normally a Brahms song person. Even if he watched it thinking someone was going to fall off the stage, so what.

His life is the richer for it!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Crowning glory

I like everything about this video. I love the energy. I love how Friedrich Gulda is wearing that jazz-musician kind of headgear and how he conducts from the keyboard and how he plays along with the opening tutti. I like Gulda's assertive playing.

So cool! All of it!

And such a cool concerto. It is funny how the "Coronation" Concerto gets kvetched about. People see it is second rate. I love it. Other people do not. On the other hand it is neat that a composition from 200 years ago is argued about. It is great that people look at it and debate it.

Leonard Pennario, whom I am writing my book about, he loved to play this concerto. I have a recording of him playing it with an orchestra in Toronto and when my book is out, you had better believe I am going to drop that recording by helicopter all over the Western Hemisphere. Because it is that great.

Although there is only one Pennario, Friedrich Gulda is pretty good too. Martha Argerich was one of his students, which is interesting. And he had jazz musician friends, hence the headdress. I love some of the comments on this video. I have to say this: I am addicted to YouTube comments. I love seeing what people write.

One person writes, in a nod to Gulda's fashion sense:

"I didn't know Qaddafi was playing the piano until now."


Another comment I like:

"I can't believe that the received wisdom maintains that Mozart was having an off day when he wrote this wonderful concerto. What sh-t people think and talk!"

Well, it is good that people argue. It keeps us pure.

Warning: The video above cuts off at a heartbreaking point. You will have to search around YouTube for Part 2 of the first movement.

Meanwhile here is the slow movement. Mozart does so much with so little. I like Gulda's modest embellishments.

And the third movement. I have always gotten from this a kind of mocking tone. There is this triumph about it that I love. A kind of nyaah-nyaah quality. But that might all be in my imagination.

In any case a heck of a concerto.

And a heck of a performance.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

'Furtwangler's Love'

Forever, it seems, I have been wanting to watch this DVD kicking around called  "Furtwangler's Love."

Is that a catchy title or what? It is about the conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler and Elisabeth, his wife. I am sorry. I love people's private lives, I just do. I cannot help it.

The documentary interviews his wife, who is aged and looking back. It is kind of cool when she talks about how she met Maestro Wilhelm. Her husband had died in the war and she was wearing black all the time and her sister Maria finally tells her, "Put on these blue slacks and colorful top and come downstairs." Something like that. I am paraphrasing. But blue slacks figured in the picture.

Elisabeth put on the blue slacks and Furtwangler hit on her and the rest, shall we say, is history.

It is a good story but a few things take away from it.

For one thing, it kind of changes things that Furtwangler had a first wife from whom he was separated and meanwhile he fathered something like five illegitimate children. I had not known that! And I mean, to me, that takes away something from this supposedly amazing romance.

Also, it got so I preferred the character of Maria to Elisabeth. Apparently Furtwangler first wanted to marry Maria but Maria put him off. Maria sounded like a real woman about town. Elisabeth says at the start that Maria called her and said, "I'm falling in love with Furtwangler." But apparently not enough to marry him.

Could they make a documentary about just Maria?

It would probably be more interesting than this one. This one, I hate to say it, but it turned into a bore. I love Furtwangler as a conductor, I do. I will have to tell why one of these days. But this video bogged down and I have to say, I gave it the hook about half an hour into it.

One thing I did love: the repeated shots of Elisabeth's villa in Switzerland. The bright blue sky, the green grass, the birds singing. You should see this snowy windy, wet weather we are having in Buffalo. I just wanted to beam myself to that villa.

Can I have a video of just that?

Also there is this tremendous aside about how to Elisabeth and Maria and whoever else, "Fu" was Furtwangler and "Kna" was Hans Knappertsbusch. Who knew that? It was a kind of shorthand because their names were so long.

Ladies and gentlemen, Fu ...

... and Kna.

I will never be able to say their full names again!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fu fighter

Yesterday I said I would say what I like about Wilhelm Furtwangler as a conductor.

For one thing there is the snotty "shut up" gesture he makes at the start of this film.

For another there was this thing that happened to me when I was, I want to say 12.

My father played me this record he had of Furtwangler conducting Mozart's 39th Symphony. He knew I liked Mozart and so he sat me down and said, you should hear this.

And I loved it. And I decided I wanted to hear it every day. But my dad was possessive about his records and so I needed one of my own. So I went out and bought a recording, with Istvan Kertesz and the Vienna Philharmonic. It was on London's budget label and I could afford it.

I was happy and I went home and opened the record -- remember how it felt and smelled when you opened a brand-new record? -- and I listened to it.

But it was not the same as my dad's record.

My dad's record was better. It just was. I listened to my acquisition again and then I went downstairs and surreptitiously grabbed my dad's record, just to make sure. I tried to deny the difference. But it was there.

I liked Furtwangler's energy. I liked the drive he gave the music. Another thing I remember was the minuet movement. My new record truncated those top notes -- they were cut and dry, and I didn't like that as much as Furtwangler's more lush sound. You could disagree with me. There's a case to be made for either side. The point is, Wilhelm Furtwangler was the reason I learned that not all conductors were equal, not all performances were the same. I am affectionate toward him because of that.

Wow, just now I looked on YouTube and there is Furtwangler, conducting the mighty 39th. Is this one of the great symphonies of world civilization or what?All my life I have thrilled to this music. And I have to say, I still agree with my 12-year-old self. I love Furtwangler's take on this piece.

In the first movement listen to how slowly and luxuriantly the slow introduction melts into the main theme. You hear that from about 2:20 to, yikes, 2:55. Would anyone do it like that now? What bold and wonderful music making.

Here is the minuet movement of the 39th symphony in Wilhelm Furtwangler's hands.

I still feel the way I did when I was 12.

I want to listen to this every day!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Springtime in Paris

My friend Professor G posted this beautiful link on my Facebook page. It is of a Mass in a church in Paris.

The video is so beautiful. As the choir sings you see the children in the congregation. A baby sleeping in her crib. So pretty. At the Tridentine Mass people do not whisper and chitchat the way they do in modern Masses. That is one thing I like about it. I used to chitchat back in the day but as soon as I walked in to my first Tridentine Mass I knew right away not to.

They sing the same Kyrie we sing at St. Anthony of Padua Church here in Buffalo. 9 a.m. Sundays, folks. Come and sing that beautiful Kyrie with us!

They also sing the same Gloria. That is the Gloria of St. Gregory the Great that the great Ottorino Respighi works into his sparkling  "Church Windows." Listen to the end and you will hear that Gloria ring out. Isn't that marvelous over-the-top music? I know it well because the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra recorded it.

I love how in the top video, the choir and congregation alternate in the Gloria to make it a kind of call and response. Prof. G pointed out that they do that.

Can a giant hand pick me up and put me down in Paris so I can go to this Mass?

And after that I could hit a nice little place on the Left Bank. ...

Well, I am sure God would not mind.