Thursday, August 30, 2012

Condi at the keyboard

Being an, ahem, Republican, I caught some coverage of the Republican convention. Come on, why can't I say I am a Republican? I understand that Van Cliburn is a Republican and no one says boo to him.

Anyway what I am getting at is, they had an interview with Condoleezza Rice and she said she was practicing the piano a lot recently.

I always liked that Condi Rice played piano.

Especially because she gets it. I remember a long time ago, they interviewed her in Vogue magazine. The interviewer said something about, "It must be relaxing to play the piano."

And I always recall her clipped response:

"Playing Beethoven and Brahms is not relaxing."

Amen to that! That told me everything I need to know.

Here is Miss Rice playing Dvorak with an ensemble:

You should see the snotty comments on YouTube: "She is not a musician." Etc. It is all political. She is darned good. Our country could hold our collective head up with pride that we had a Secretary of State who could hold her own in a Dvorak quintet.

Here Condi is playing Brahms for the Queen of England.

How cool it was for us, having a Secretary of State who could travel around and play chamber music.

We are not going to get lucky like that any time again soon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We check in with Stephen Hough

At the same time we worry about our old pianists it is a good idea to keep tabs on the younger ones, the musicians who, God willing, will be among us for a long time.

With which, I checked in to see how Stephen Hough is doing.

It has been too long since we got to look in on Stephen Hough's Web log in the Telegraph. I love it but my life is in such terrible disarray that I do not check it as often as I would like. Especially if you are at work, there is nothing like checking Stephen Hough's Web log and there is Hough in his hat, and something interesting he has written, complete with, I don't know, 550 comments.

So, that having been said...

What has Mr. Hough been up to?

Click, click, click....


There is an exploration of Debussy and Ravel.


There is "Becoming Jewish and Staying Catholic."

Reminds me, I am not the only Papist in the music biz!

That post is about how the Catholic Church has its roots in Judaism. I have not waded through all the comments but I would love to weigh in, if no one else has, about how going to the Tridentine mass I am reminded every Sunday of this ancient connection. We have the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, this prayer sequence before Mass. It is one of my favorite parts of the Mass. And the prayers come from the ancient psalms.

"I will go unto the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth."

And there is this beautiful line about "Why art thou sad, O my soul, and why dost thou disquiet me?"

This is all in Latin, of course. Well, actually, if you poked your head into the church, you would hear nothing. Everyone is just kneeling there and it is silent. But it is going on all the same. Catholicism, a most mysterious religion!

I love these particular prayers because it reminds you of how far back everything goes, that the events in the Gospels were predicted by the prophets centuries before. That it goes WAY back.

You do not get these reminders in the new Mass in the, ahem, vernacular. The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar were lopped off.

Anyway, I wish I could comment all this, but I cannot because I do not have a Telegraph password and I cannot imagine the red tape involved with trying to work all that out.

And so...

No comment.

No comment, no comment, no comment!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The heart of Texas

I am depressed hearing that Van Cliburn is sick.

It looks pretty bad. People do not say someone is resting comfortably unless things are bad.

What is with this summer? First Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and then Marvin Hamlisch and now we have Van Cliburn to worry about. Now this, as Howard would say.

That is a strange trio, you know? Fischer-Dieskau and Hamlisch and Cliburn. All of them are like Leonard Pennario in that there is no one else with their last name. All unique and quality musicians, too. And all of them people I love.

I have been affectionate toward Van Cliburn since I entered his amateur competition and was at his house. That beautiful house, overlooking Fort Worth, Texas. Who would ever have thought Texas would be a pilgrimage destination for pianists? He was so nice at the competition and a few years later we discussed the idea that I would return and make my comeback.

He is a darling man. Graceful and courteous and generous. I got the idea that a long time ago he gave up the idea of having his own life and just kind of resigned himself to belonging to everyone.

Perhaps he will get better. Sometimes people do.

I will say my prayers and hope.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hip to be square

We spend a lot of time in church reading square notes! That music up above is the Gloria we are currently attempting at Mass. It is from the 11th century which is one big reason I love it.

On the other hand it is kind of a challenge and I have reason to believe that we have room for improvement. The last few lines are in particular a minefield. I always think of skiing. Especially the concluding "Amen," it reminds me of an Olympic slalom, all the twists and turns. And in the medieval notation with those square notes it is not immediately clear. Wait till you get to that part in the video. You will see!

I have loved getting into the Tridentine mass over the last four years. For one thing the musical aspect fascinates me. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine myself in the 12th century. I love the ancient-ness of the rite.

Also I wonder about its influence over the great masters. One of these days (yeah, when?) I would love to re-read the letters of the Mozart family and look for references to what Mass was like for them. Did they sing Gregorian chant or were they singing only what was for them contemporary arrangements?

I do remember from reading the letters years ago that there was some discussion even back then about what music was pushing the envelope at Mass. Mozart liked to push the envelope.

Haha, say envelope and Mass in the same sentence and all I can picture is the collection basket!

Anyway, I wonder if Mozart ever sang this Gloria that we are struggling with.

I also wonder what Beethoven's Mass-going experiences were like. There is that similarity between the "Ode to Joy" opening and the Asperges chant that precedes the mass.

You have to figure whatever church music these great masters grew up with, it had to be a gigantic influence on them. Good thing they didn't grow up in the 1970s ... ha ha ha ha ha ha.

La la la la la la la.

Sunday musings....

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Merci, Muriel

There is a designer named Muriel Grateau and I salute her for what she says in this morning's Wall Street Journal. That is Madame Grateau pictured above. She is very Parisian and uncompromising!

"I don't listen to music when I work," she says. "Listening to music is an occupation in itself, and it would distract me too much to have it in the background."

That is what I think too.

There is this casual attitude everywhere toward music. I think it comes from having it instantly accessible on the radio, in the car, in stores, wherever you go. Also pop music drives the trend. Just the words they use. Tunes. Shuffle. My little brother George was laughing at the Shuffle concept. He said, these songs are so silly, so disposable, that it doesn't matter which one you hear when.

Sometimes you get terribly weird situations!

Once I was in a meeting, outside the office. I had my notebook on my lap. Something was distracting me and I did not know what. Then I realized it was very faint music, almost inaudible, trickling from a radio.

The music was so soft I could not make it out. But something in my subconscious was sure making it out because I kept focusing on it, even while I was listening to people talking and writing in my notebook. Whatever this trickle was, my mind could not tune it out.

All of a sudden, like a ghost, the music took shape and I heard what it was.

It was the slow movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony!

Trickling, ignored, from this radio!

That is why I do not like things like this programmed for 10 a.m., you know? Because people who do not know the difference will subject you to it. It drives me crazy.

And yes, like my new friend Muriel, I generally cannot listen to it while I work because I just end up sitting there. And that's as it should be.

Music should be celebrated, not used as wallpaper.

Merci, Muriel!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It takes pretty cats

 I was listening just now to this little piece by Aaron Jay Kernis. There is something pretty about it, you know?

Why can't more, ahem, modern music be pretty?

It could be more than that if it liked. And I am not saying all good music has to be pretty.

But you have to be able to write pretty before you can do anything else. Know the rules before you break them, as they used to say.

As Lester Young ...

... said, it takes pretty cats to make pretty music.

Nice job, Mr. Kernis.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Please, I don't want to be happy'

There is this charming new video I found with David Dubal talking. We have gotten to like David Dubal on this Web log whether or not we agree with him on every little thing. Most of the important things we agree on.

There is nothing like Dubal giving you a pep talk.

"Go buy that piano! Don't whine and say, I'm too old. And if you need to because everything is so instant, well, I would say take one year to learn one page of a Two-Part Invention. Then why not take a year for the second? Take a third year to put it together."

Then his voice drops as he imitates a complainer.

"What, three years to do one minute of music?"

"Yes, that's right, that what I ask, that's what I demand of you. Because I demand us to survive. I want us to survive. Let's take a look at the reality of the world. We are uncreative today but consciously, where we do live, that's where we do live, including that wonderfully unknown language which is so vital called the dream."

There is other stuff in here that made me laugh out loud. But I do not want to give it all away. For now, no Dubal video is complete without him running down modern technology and this one has a great sequence confronting that issue.

"There is no silence and every day they are inventing new machines to make us more anxious. We can't do without the computer or the iPhone." Then he goes on to add generously that  if used properly "they can be as helpful as any household appliance."

But then he attacks the notion that machines are always supposed to make us happy.

"Please, I don't want to be happy, I want to be Franz Schubert."

Hahahaa! I love that. I got to talk with David Dubal on the phone a few weeks ago, a startling episode in my life because I read all his books but just never imagined I would ever be talking with him. But that is a whole other story. Meanwhile, I keep thinking about what he said, what I wrote about that one time, about "Play the piano daily and stay sane."

I try my best to follow that advice!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beethoven in my purse

 I have been walking around with a movie in my purse. It has been there a week and today the library just sent me a notice it is overdue.

It is too bad I cannot get around to watching it! Because this movie looks really interesting.

It is Abel Gance's "Beethoven"!

Perhaps the title is "Un Grand Amour." It is one or the other.

To be honest I had never heard of Abel Gance and it is only this minute that I realize this is an old movie, from the 1930s. The movie jacket made it look modern and I was in a hurry as usual and just borrowed it without really looking at it. It did say Abel Gance was famous for a movie on Napoleon but still I did not think it was odd that I had not heard of this filmmaker. There are plenty of filmmakers I had not heard of.

The excerpt from above looks promising. And here is an excerpt from the movie I found just now on YouTube.

The comments on the site are full of arguments about the accuracy of the clip and debates about which organ they are filming and where. Oh well. Why should a Beethoven from the 1930s be less accurate than a Beethoven from now? In the 1930s they were closer to him time-wise. And closer to his era.

Has anyone out there in Blog-O-Land seen this film? I am going to renew it online from the library and try to carve out the time to see it.

Perhaps this will be my lucky week!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Everybody sing!

One more Salve Regina post because today is the Feast of the Assumption. And then we return to our regular programming, I promise.

There are these kind of flash mob, choreographed videos you find on YouTube and above is one from the Philippines, apparently from a prison, where people sing and dance to the "Sister Act" gospel version of "Hail, Holy Queen."

It is funny, they do this hymn in gospel style and it really does not change all that much. It's just at a brisk tempo. And I have sung it places where it has been sung just as fast.

One thing, though, this kind of dance video seems to be kicking all over the Internet. I must be the only person who does not understand them. I do not know where to begin to ask questions.

Is this really a prison?

Is it really in the Philippines?

If so, what do they do, get permission to do this song and dance?

They just suggest it, and get some kind of choreographer to put it all together, and then the prison head honcho says, "OK, sure, go ahead"?

Is that what happens?

This same gang, it seems, also did Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Someone wrote in the comments section: "They're having more fun than I'm having on the outside."

Whatever, at the end of their "Hail, Holy Queen,"  it is so sweet how they all get down on their knees.

I can't help thinking the Blessed Mother gets a kick out of it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Salve Regina 2

After that depressing peek yesterday into "Dialogues of the Carmelites" it is time to brighten things up with another "Salve Regina."

This is the tremendous old hymn that goes:

Hail holy Queen, enthroned above/O Maria!
Hail mother of mercy, and of love/O Maria!
Triumph all ye cherubim!
Sing with us, ye seraphim!
Heaven and earth resound the hymn!
Salve Regina!

Go on, sing it loud, sing it proud. You know you want to!

This is a rockin' old German hymn that I have loved since I was a kid. Everyone does. It is so much fun to sing. It is too high at the end for everyone but you get through it anyway.

And now what everyone is waiting for, the scene from "Sister Act:"

Monday, August 13, 2012

Enchanting chanting

Yesterday at church we soared like eagles and attempted the Gregorian "Salve Regina." Well, I attempted it. Everyone else knew it better than I did.

Which did not stop me from singing two lines pretty much solo. Ha, ha! We hit a part where the women were supposed to sing a line separately from the men and that is what I sang. Unfortunately none of the other women really stepped up to the plate and so there was my voice, echoing through the church.

That was a funny feeling!

Especially since I really did not know what I was doing.

I sang the lines: "O clement, o pia." That is "O clement, o loving." You can hear it from about 1:30 to about 1:38. Please note, this is not our performance! These are singers from somewhere else in this recording.

After Mass the organist, Josephine, and I got talking and we agreed it is too bad that the average person no longer knows any of these chants. I mean, I did not know the "Salve Regina." I know the prayer because it is my favorite prayer. I love the words: "Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope." But I did not know the chant melody.

Imagine back when people knew all these chants off the top of their heads. You would know when Mahler worked one of them into a symphony, when Verdi or Puccini or Respighi quoted one. You would recognize it. But alas, no more.

There are various versions of the "Salve Regina." It is a famous prayer.

There is one horrifying instance in opera where you hear it. At the end of Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites" the nuns sing the "Salve Regina" as they go to the guillotine one by one. This opera was unfortunately based on a true story. There were these nuns who were martyered in the French Revolution. Their feast day is July 17. What savage days. What an awful thing the French Revolution was. A terrible time and a big blot on the history of France if you ask me.

That is a Metropolitan Opera production with Jessye Norman as the Mother Superior. She has such presence. If I were, God forbid, in that situation, I would want Jessye Norman as my Mother Superior, I will tell you that right now.

Anyway. Not a good thing to watch before bed, you know?

I think I will go back to the chant.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

One singular, sensational talent

I feel bad about losing Marvin Hamlisch. I liked him. We got to know him here in Buffalo when he was our pops conductor, I mean the Principal Pops Conductor for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. He was funny and he was nice.

They let me write this tribute in the paper. For the front page! I do not write for the front page very often.

And then I wrote this post for the paper's Gusto Blog. It is 8 classic Marvin Hamlisch stories I chronicled in the paper over the years. There are others but you have only so much time in the day to dig them all up. Wow, these stories are funny. I mean what he said was funny. I was laughing through my grief as I put them together.

I have a few opinions on Marvin Hamlisch that might be considered controversial. One is that I think he is greater than Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim's songs get on my nerves. They are too often opaque and overwrought. Hamlisch's songs do not get on my nerves.

Hamlisch is also a better songwriter than Andrew Lloyd Webber. Look at "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina." The melody shoots its bolt at the beginning and then peters out. Whereas Hamlisch's "What I Did For Love" just builds gracefully and gradually.

"A Chorus Line" owes more to Marvin Hamlisch than to anyone else involved. If those songs had not been good, that show would have been nothing, I do declare.

There! I have had my say.

When I was at the radio station with Marvin Hamlisch on that day I wrote about in my story in The Buffalo News, I remember he was free with his opinions. He was preoccupied with the jazz the station was playing that day. He was critical. "Too much," he said. And: "Too busy."

He knew what was good.

I will miss him!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thoughts for a hot night

Who can sleep on these still and torpid nights? Here is something to divert you.

Go and get a big wine or water goblet.

Fill it with ice cubes.

Then pour in white wine to cover. You will probably need about five tablespoons of white wine.

Next, sit down and click here.

It appears to be the complete correspondence between Johannes Brahms, pictured above, and his friend Elisabeth von Herzogenberg ...

.... and her husband, the composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg. It is luxuriantly long and you may enjoy browsing it as you sip your chilled and watery white wine.

Elisabeth von Herzogenberg was a close friend of Brahms when he was older, which is why we used a picture up above of the old and bearded Brahms rather than the Clint Eastwood Brahms pictures ...

... we usually like printing.

I remember reading in Jan Swafford's book about Brahms, which I allude to quite a bit, that she was effervescent and charming and she had a slight stoop which somehow rendered her even more charming. I hope I remember the part right about the stoop. I have two copies of that book and I cannot find either one, can you believe that?

The more you love a book the more likely you are to lose it or ruin it.

Another thing about Elisabeth von Herzogenberg: She kept a sharp and protective eye on Brahms' compositions and he took her opinion seriously. Which, I question why he did that. Elisabeth loved and championed the music of Heinrich von Herzogenberg, her husband ...

and, I mean, it is better than anything I have written, that is for sure, but much as I respect Heinrich von Herzogenberg (and love his look) his music is nothing next to Johannes Brahms. That makes me question her judgment.

One other thing about Elisabeth. I seem to remember although now I cannot check the book to make sure (But I think I remember it right):

I seem to recall that she got Brahms to destroy a song or two because she judged to be inferior the poets who had written the words.


As if every song Schubert wrote were written to a great poem. He wrote some of his best songs to very pedestrian poetry. So what?

So now we are missing these Brahms songs because their words were inferior.

Thanks a heap, Elisabeth von Herzogenberg!

Oh well.

Maybe I need another five tablespoons of white wine.

Who cares about the Brahms/Herzogenberg correspondence, anyway?

We are better off on a hot night just listening to this.