Thursday, December 25, 2014

On the first day of Christmas

 At Mass today we got to sing the medieval chant "Puer Natus Est in Bethlehem." I was able to find it on YouTube, sung by the Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.

Such a beautiful melody! The chorister next to me pointed afterward to the date of the music. It is from the fourth century.

This is the reason I get myself up early on Christmas morning, which trust me is not easy. Getting up is worth it to hear beautiful music. To be able to sing timeless chants, thousands of years old. We got to sing four verses of this chant and when it was over we all kind of sighed.

So beautiful!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Met tenor meets a theater organ legend

Listening to theater organ legend Jesse Crawford today I went foraging on YouTube to see if I could find the Christmas music that was on the records I was playing. And I found a performance he gave in 1929 (I think) with the tenor Richard Crooks.

That is a name widely forgotten today, Richard Crooks. I might not have known about him had Leonard Pennario not mentioned him to me. Pennario had a picture of himself with Richard Crooks and so we were talking about him.

Richard Crooks was big at the Metropolitan Opera. I love how he also sang with "The Poet of the Organ," as Crawford was called. What a beautiful voice Crooks had. What a beautiful recording.

That name Crooks is beautiful too. It is like something out of Dickens. When my husband's mother was still alive she told me that when she was a little girl she used to work in her father's cigar shop on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo. She said she used to roll the kind of cigar known as crooks.

I am sorry, I had to throw that in! When else would it be relevant? When Howard's mother passed on, I wrote her obituary for The Buffalo News and I put in what she had told me about the crooks because I thought it was so sweet. At the funeral the rabbi read the obituary aloud to the congregation and he made that little detail sound thrilling and important and historic.

Like the voice of Richard Crooks!

With the great Jesse Crawford.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Opera's most harrowing scene

Last night I went to see Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites" performed by Buffalo's Opera Sacra. That is Poulenc up above with his puppy dog. I do like picturing composers with their pets.

 I have written about "Dialogues of the Carmelites," here and there. I had never seen it. Years ago I remember my father telling me about it, about how it was about this group of nuns who went to the guillotine in the French Revolution. He told me how they died singing the "Salve Regina," how each time you hear the guillotine there is one fewer voice.

After seeing that last scene last night I wrote about it but it did not get it out of my system. You keep thinking, this happened! And the music makes it so intense. The first time the blade comes down, the chant stops as the sisters falter. And then it starts up again in a higher key.

I read that the nuns saw their martyrdom as a sacrifice to offer up in atonement for the sins of France and to ask God for an end to the Reign of Terror. Ten days after they died, the Reign of Terror did come to an unexpected stop.

The nuns are saints, known as the Martyrs of Compiegne, and their feast day is July 17.

There are a few stunning videos of this scene up on YouTube. There is a beautiful moment near the end when the last sister in line to die, the country girl Sister Constance, suddenly sees Sister Blanche, who was frightened and had deserted the order. That is one reason this opera gets me, I identify with Blanche, I am nervous, I am a worrier. Anyway, Blanche steps forward from the crowd and for a moment everything seems to stop.

Earlier in the opera you see that Constance is this chatterbox who annoys Blanche. It makes what happens between them at the end so touching. There are a number of ways you can play this final scene, imagining the characters various ways.

In this Metropolitan Opera performance from the 1980s, Blanche is the great Maria Ewing and her reappearance takes a different turn. Jessye Norman as the Mother Superior makes me cry. I think most people would view this performance as one of the greats.

The nun with the cane! One of the nuns in real life was 78 years old and could hardly walk. Apparently a guard knocked her down and she told him calmly that she forgave him and would pray for him. Another sister who gets to me in this Met staging is the one who starts losing her nerve and raises her hands over her head.

Another detail to watch for: the guy in the mob who surreptitiously makes the sign of the cross. In real life the normally jeering crowd did fall silent as the sisters died.

Here is another staging. Someone wrote this comes from the Canadian Opera Company -- like the Met up above, some years ago. I love the beautiful, very French-looking Mother Superior. Sister Constance is Harolyn Blackwell. I cannot describe this so I will just post it. The sound is low quality but watch it anyway.

It is described by many as the most harrowing, horrifying scene in any stage drama -- opera or play.

But how beautiful, too. What a tribute Poulenc created to this group of saints.

Martyrs of Compeigne, pray for us!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Classical gas

Saturday afternoon, and I am listening to "Tannhauser" on the radio from Bayreuth, and getting work done in the kitchen, as my father used to before me. My dad always used to listen to the Saturday afternoon opera and bake cookies, even before he was married and my brothers and sisters and I came along.

Anyway, I am enjoying "Tannhauser." And then the first act ends, and the announcer comes on. They talk about how this production, by Sebastian Baumgarten, is in its fourth and final go-round at Bayreuth. The announcer goes: "It ever really jelled with the public, set as it is in a bio gas factory."

In a bio gas factory??

I guess this is better heard than seen!

Because as I am listening I am seeing the production pictured above (as I did, once, in San Diego).

Instead of this (the Baumgarten production):

Kind of funny, come to think of it, making the Wartburg a corporation. That seems to be what they are doing, anyway.

But you get the idea you have seen all this before. Everyone wants to do something to be different, you know? A lot of the time with Wagner this seems to me like a mistake. Wagner meant these operas, such as "Tannhauser," in a medieval context. Take them out of the Middle Ages and you waste them.

Plus, someone has to say it:

Big yawn.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Strauss Frau

Yesterday as we brooded over the story of Richard and Pauline Strauss, I was curious to find more pictures of Pauline de Ahna Strauss. This extraordinary woman, in the words of liner note author extraordinaire Robert Jones.

Let us devote to her a photo page.

Above is Pauline in Richard Strauss' now obscure early opera "Guntram." They met when she played this role, which was Freihild. This opera sounds like a Wagner knockoff. We will have to explore it.

It would be nice to find a picture that gave her a less severe look at her face. Oh, man. Look at this. Richard and Pauline, around the time that they met! Look at that baby face on Strauss. It gives you a whole new image of his personality.

This came from this Web log Interlude. It has an interesting account with the byline of Georg Predota of the romance between the Strausses. The author writes:  "When Richard composed his autobiographical tone poem “Ein Heldenleben”, the Hero’s companion is clearly modeled after Pauline. Strauss writes, “It’s my wife I wanted to portray. She is very complex, very much a woman, a little depraved, something of a flirt, never twice alike, every minute different to what she was the minute before."

By all accounts they really did love each other, you know?

A painting of Pauline.

A pretty picture.

Mr. and Mrs. Strauss.

They do seem to have loved each other, you know?

No explaining the heart!

Monday, September 29, 2014

The riches of 'Great Men of Music'

On my Leonard Pennario web log today I bragged about scoring a whole bunch of Time Life Great Men of Music at Amvets. What a haul!

Is there anything more irresistible than a big pile of classical records you do not really need? It was like Christmas. I did not want to come up to bed because I was sitting on the couch with Mahler and Strauss.

As I confided on the other web log, I love these sets for their booklets. CDs, because of their size, cannot have these luxurious booklets, with big photos to feast your eyes on, beautiful layouts that you can read comfortably while they are spread out on your lap. It fosters concentration, you know? You sit there with the booklet in your lap, or simply the record jacket in your lap, and that is where you remain, glancing at it now and then as you listen.

The Strauss record tells the story of him and his soprano wife, Pauline. It is very nicely written, by someone named Robert Jones. Did he go to Bob Jones University? Wherever he went it speaks well for their writing program, unless he is like me and just writes what comes out of his head.

Anyway, he writes about how Pauline would harangue Strauss but Strauss apparently enjoyed it, took it in some kind of humor. At the end of Strauss' life:

Back in Switzerland, Strauss battled kidney infections and coped with Pauline, whose fits and rages made them unwelcome in one hotel after another. Finally they found sanctuary at the Palace Hotel in Montreux, the only establishment willing to tolerate this extraordinary woman. Andit was there that Ricahrd Strauss composed his last tribute to music, to the soprano voice, to Pauline, and to his own life: the Four Last Songs. Amazingly, they were equal to the greatest music he ever created.

In May 1949 Strauss returned to Garmisch, having the previous year been cleared by a court in Munich of any taint of collaboration with the Nazis. Seriously ill, he was put to bed, suffering from a kidney stone that at his age was inoperable. Before he sank into his final coma he quoted a line from "Tristan": "Greet all the world for me." And to Alice Strauss, his daughter-in-law, he observed, "Dying is just as I composed it in 'Death and Transfiguration.'"

Richard Strauss died peacefully in his sleep on the afternoon of Sept. 9, 1949. He was 85. At his cremation three days later the trio from "Der Rosenkavalier" was sung.

Pauline Strauss -- that strange woman with the voice that haunted the pages of her husband's music, that termagant whom nobody but Richard Strauss understood -- lived for less than nine months after his death. At 87, on May 13, 1950, Pauline followed her faithful Richard into eternity -- in a towering rage, one likes to think, at having been kept waiting.


It is funny, whenever anyone preaches to us about composers and their muses no one ever mentions Strauss and his wife. I had no idea she was that bad, you know? I mean, to be run out of hotels! But how interesting. All you hear about his Robert and Clara Schumann. I want to hear about Richard and Pauline Strauss. This booklet said he wrote that passionate song "Cacilie" the night before their wedding. To have a song like that ....

... written about you!! Wouldn't you die??

Hahaha... that pianist is scrambling ... but we get to hear Jussi Bjoerling. That high note at the end!! Have you ever heard anyone hold it that long? The guy is like a steam engine. Maestro, you go!

Where was I?

Oh yes. Anyway this is why I buy these box sets.

I will post other things I discover.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Paging Dr. Klemperer

My Pennario research touches on Otto Klemperer because Klemperer conducted when Pennario first performed, as a teenager, with the Los Angeles Symphony.

Anyway. Long story short, I found this from a tribute to Klemperer by Harold Schonberg:

..If the German tradition was paramount in Klemperer's approach, his intellectual background was wide enough to encompass the entire ethic of the Western world. The late Wieland Wagner once summed up Klemperer:

"Classical Greece, Jewish tradition, medieval Christendom, German Romanticism, the realism of our own time, make Klemperer the conductor a unique artistic phenomenon."

Well, yeah, I guess that just about covers it.

You have all that stuff down, I guess as a conductor you are just about set!

Apparently Klemperer as a conductor was very exacting. Schonberg tells the story of how William Steinberg recalled momentarily forgetting a couple of the tempos from Wagner's "Lohengrin," after which Klemperer held him in contempt for months. Klemperer had these extremely high standards. It is no wonder he liked Pennario.

Above is a picture of young man Klemperer. There are a bunch of them out there like that, in which he looks kind of like Gustav Mahler. Cute, you know? You are used to pictures of old man Klemperer, thus.

And thus:

No photo page of Klemperer would be complete without a shot of his son, Werner, as Colonel Klink.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau told a tremendous story about Otto Klemperer in his memoir "Reverberations." God, it was funny. It was about how the singers had a complaint about Klemperer's tempo in Bach. I think it was the St. Matthew Passion. And Fischer-Dieskau drew the short straw and had to bring up this delicate matter with Klemperer.

And Fischer-Dieskau had it in his head, because he was young and you do dumb things when you are young, to tell Klemperer he had dreamed that he asked God some things about the tempo. It was something like that. I will have to look it up.

In any case Klemperer snarled to him that he, too, had had a dream about God.

"And God said, 'Tell me, Dr. Klemperer, who is this Fischer?"

The greatest thing about that story is of course that God addressed Klemperer as Dr. Klemperer.

I think in heaven He is doing that now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beethoven meets "Sex and the City"

 "Ever thine.

 "Ever mine.

 "Ever ours."

That letter to the Immortal Beloved does have a certain ring to it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Three Flying Dutchmen

Pursuant to the other day's post about the San Francisco Opera's "The Flying Dutchman" I thought I would check out a few "Dutchmen" on YouTube. What a miracle YouTube is! Entire operas are posted there. Some even have subtitles. I also have fun looking around Google for "Flying Dutchman" art. There is a whole galley, I mean gallery, of Flying Dutchman ghost ships.

Meanwhile, the opera. There were several versions that were just plain wacky that I weeded out.

But this Leif Segerstam version looks pretty good. It has some beautiful video effects of water and ghostly ships. I have watched sections of it including the ending and I am going to sit down one of these days and watch the whole thing. There are no subtitles so you might have to haul out your old garage sale Wagner libretto book. But you almost do not need to follow it word for word. You can get the idea what is going on.

This stage production with Jose van Dam is kind of spare but spare is not bad, you know, when it comes to "The Flying Dutchman." It is better to leave a lot to the imagination than to destroy it.


I like some things about this Bayreuth production with the great Simon Estes as a very cool Dutchman. He has a great voice and when he sings that he is the Flying Dutchman he is in chains. And they have a kind of cool set with these creepy hands closing around him. Kind of cool! See, I am no prude.

However ... the ending!

They alter the orchestral ending so you do not hear that music of redemption that I described the other day. What in the world? I did not know you were allowed to do that. And in Bayreuth!

At the beginning of the video they sanctimoniously flash the master's signature! He did not write it like this, did he? Did he supply some kind of alternate ending? I never heard that. And it changes the meaning of the opera. It is as if Senta dies for nothing. That tender music at the end is there to tell you what happens and without it, the opera is just a horror story.

Fie on this Bayreuth ship of fools. Fie.

May they wander cursed around the Internet forever, never able to sign off!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Composers and cats

Because of our new cat I am wondering what musicians in history had cats. It is hard to think of any specifically. Richard Wagner had a big Newfoundland dog, at least for a while, named Robber. He had Robber at the time he wrote "The Flying Dutchman." Mozart had a dog and a bird.

Howard says we do not hear about musicians having cats because probably they all did. Cats used to be part of the landscape because they roamed free and you needed them for the mice that were and are around. Everyone had them! That is what we figure anyway.

Now I am looking for more details.

Ah! Alexander Borodin had a lot of cats. And one of them, Ryborov, could go ice fishing. He could fish through holes in the ice.

I bet our cat could do that if we were Russian!

Borodin is on a list of famous cat lovers including Pope Benedict XVI and Edward Lear, two of the greatest gentlemen who ever lived. Edward Lear had a tabby cat and, speaking of music, it was named Foss. I interviewed Lukas Foss once! I wish I could have mentioned that.

You might guess that Maurice Ravel loved cats and you would be right. He had Siamese cats, so says this list. That is Ravel up above with a cat! Here is another picture.

John and Cynthia Lennon had up to 10 cats. No word on how many cats he owned with Yoko.

Pope St. Gregory the Great had only one possession, so says the list, and it was a cat. He would pet the cat while meditating. 

And perhaps while creating his famous Gregorian chant.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

An old song re-sung

 One reason I go to the Mass that I do is that we tend to sing old hymns and not new hymns. Here is something I learned recently: The only time you sing in the vernacular is at the end of the Mass! Before that it is all in Latin.

Today our closing hymn was the old German hymn "Maria zu lieben." In English it was "I Love Thee, O Mary," something like that. The English words kind of went off the rails as the song continued, as these old hymn lyrics often do. One line ended "when tempests draw nigh." That kind of thing.

But still, you get to sing that great melody! It is like a Christmas carol. I don't know where exactly I know it from. I think when I used to play the organ at church as a kid, I found it in an old hymnal and I used to play it. It is not as if I grew up with it.

It seems to be an old folk song because I found it in this folk song archive.

On YouTube it is hard to find a decent recording. May I take a moment to kvetch: It is very hard to find a decent recording of any Marian hymn. Over the last few decades the Catholic Church fell out of the kitschy tree and hit every branch on the way down. Hahaa... that is a phrase I copped from my old housemate Daryle who would say that something fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. In this case it is apt!

With which, the version above was the best I could do.

Catholics around the world should demand that it be sung at their Masses.

You can say it's a folk mass!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An opera that is better heard than seen

Today while I was running dumb but necessary errands I caught the end of the San Francisco Opera's production of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman."

That last scene!

It made me think of that time I was driving and had to pull over to hear the end of "Die Walkure." I turned off the car in the parking lot of PetSmart and I gave myself over to this last scene. I had not really listened to this opera in years. But I used to love it as a teenager. And I was surprised at how vividly the lines came back to me. I started saying them to myself before the singers sang them.

The Dutchman: "Segal auf!" Calling for the sail, then the anchor.

"Sag Lebewohl zum Ewigkeit den Landen!" I don't know if I have my endings and whatnot right but it is chilling: "Say farewell forever to land!"

And the orchestra, rising and crashing like the waves. Imagine it. Imagine the Flying Dutchman, the ghost ship. Catching bits and pieces of the opera beforehand it was as if I could see it. Imagine being the Norwegian sailors, you have heard about the Flying Dutchman, it's this legend, and all of a sudden ... it appears one night. No, it can't be. Yes, it is. It is.

This terrible ghostly gray ship!

I love those choruses, the sailors trying to act as if everything is all right. But it is not! This is a very good ghost story, you know. It is really frightening. I will have to link to this essay I read about how Wagner was in a shipwreck, how he learned what it was like. He put that all into that music.

 Then at the end, Senta the captain's daughter, giving herself up to save the Dutchman. I had never seen the opera when I was a teenager. But I saw it in my head and it was better than any production. The daughter, this beautiful young woman, standing at the edge of the sea, in a white gown, her hair blowing. Like something out of Charlotte Bronte.

"Preis seinen Engel und sein Gebot!" Again I apologize if my endings are wrong, but it means "Praise your angel and his pronouncement!" And she says: "Here I am, true until death!" And she jumps.

What a scene! What a situation! You love it as a teenager. And as I listened to it today I saw it as I saw it then. It is all over in a flash then and the Dutchman is redeemed and you hear that ghostly call of the ship and then the music changes, it becomes magical and tender. You hear that music at the end of the overture too.. You see the sky clearing, the curse of the Dutchman evaporating, the mists rising, the stars coming out. The angels looking down. That is how I saw it as a kid and I saw it that way today too.

I am sure whatever the San Francisco Opera came up with was not as good as what was in my head. Let me check and see.

Sure enough, judging from this picture of Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman, nope, it wasn't.

He looks like a guy in a biker bar at closing time! Ha, ha!

But in all fairness, in the opera pantheon, "The Flying Dutchman" is a tough one to get right.

How can it live up to your imagination?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Beethoven's brother

One of the great, great portraits in music history.

If you were going to come up with the opposite of Ludwig van Beethoven surely it would be Johann van Beethoven, pictured above.

What, me worry?

There is a book waiting to be written about great artists and their brothers and sisters. Because lightning does not often strike the same family twice.

An uncompromising portrait of Ludwig, so we may compare and contrast.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Sixtus and Sixtus

Today is the Feast of St. Sixtus. That is he pictured above! And if you think the name Sixtus is cool you should see it in Latin. He was an early pope who was martyred and his name appears in the Roman Canon heard in the Tridentine Mass I attend and it appears as Xysti.


In the objective case, is my guess. It has been a while since my high school Latin classes.

With the "X" version I have no problem but when I see it "Sixtus" with an "S,"  I am sorry, all I can think of is Sixtus Beckmesser from Wagner's "Die Meistersinger."

May we present a very cool clip featuring Sir Thomas Allen? He follows in the footsteps of great comic Sixtus Beckmessers including, I am proud to say, Erich Kunz. And our Walther von Stolzing, Ben Heppner, follows in the footsteps of great big Walther von Stolzings.

I love when Sachs is singing his song about Eve in Paradise, and Walther whispers to Eva: "Why is your name in his song?"

And she says: "I've heard it before. It's not about me."


And later the idea of Eve in Paradise will work its way into Walther's Prize Song.

Anyway. I hope St. Sixtus had a sense of humor and does not mind this. The fact that his name appears on a fine Trappist ale...

.... suggests that he can take a joke.

Take it, Sir Thomas:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A view of the Schubertiade

A nice anonymous person leaving a comment hipped me to a story in the Guardian about the Schubertiade. Remember, the Schubertiade, who got in touch under byzantine circumstances.

The story is by Alan Rusbridger. My favorite part (I will cut and paste):

I get to meet the figure who has run the Schubertiade since its earliest days, Gerd Nachbauer. A neat, shy, reserved man of few words, he speaks in German, translated by his press officer – called Schubert, of course. (Editor's note: Hahahahahahaaaaaa!)

It's evident that he feels he has a settled, successful formula and has no plans to change very much at all. The audiences – mainly German-speaking, but with a significant British contingent – keep coming back. He can attract more or less any musical luminary in the world. He has no subsidy, the sums add up. Schubert sells.

Contemporary music? It's not really to the audience's taste, he explains patiently: that's not why they come. Is there anyone he hasn't been able to draw to Schwarzenberg, or its twin centre in Hohenems? He silently searches his mental Rolodex for any large musical fish he's failed to land. Eventually one word: "Pollini."

Who needs Pollini. Also, good on the Schubertiade for sticking with Schubert and with tradition. I did read elsewhere in the story that "anything goes" as far as the music, other than contemporary, I like to think. They have Britten and Ives. Nothing against them but I say stick with Schubert. It is the Schubertiade. Everyone is always trying to get you to change things, you know?

You are not going to do better than a song like this tiny exquisite gem.

Rusbridger should not have brought his wife to the Schubertiade. All she wants to do is make him go on hikes. It is interesting though what he writes, that the Schubertiade has a lot of British fans. It is mostly German and British.

I also like the observation:

"Schubert sells!"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mozart's wedding anniversary

Side-effect No. 1,468 that comes from being a classical music nerd is that you wake up on August 4 and think: Something happened today.

Ah! Mozart got married.

It is Mozart's wedding anniversary! And it was in 1782. I do not have to look it up! You may do the math and figure out what anniversary it is and if we should be giving him presents of tin, copper, aluminum, whatever.

Mozart and Constanze Weber were married Aug. 4, 1782 in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.

Mozart was so thankful that the wedding came about that he wrote his Mass in C Minor, known as "The Great."

 He did not entirely finish it but I can tell you, that is what happens when you are writing something for yourself and God and you do not have a deadline.

Constanze is often vilified because everyone is a little in love with Mozart but it is turning out that she was a good woman and a fine wife for Mozart, if you ask me. Heck, he seems to have loved her and there is no evidence that he ran around.

After he died she married the Danish ambassador, Georg Niklaus von Nissen.

We all know what Wolfgang and Constanze Mozart looked like. So above is a picture of them played by Stephen Haggard and Victoria Hopper in the 1935 movie "Whom the Gods Love." I read that book when I was a kid. It was in the library. I wish I had kept it. I do not think I will ever see it again.

Happy anniversary, Mozarts!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A good man singing Mahler

New singer I discovered: Christian Gerhaher.

You never hear of him here. I believe he is big in Europe. It is funny how much of a difference geography still makes. You would not think it would, but it does. There are giant singers in Europe I know very little about. Also giant competitions. They have these competitions like the Cardiff Singer of the World competition that just sound very alien to us over here.

Anyway there was this Mahler song I needed to hear today, and so when I was at the gym I got on Spotify, and Spotify capriciously tossed Christian Gerhaher at me.

Spotify must have known what I would like. He is really good!

Although, you know, that picture. All his pictures on the Internet are so scruffy. What happened to black tie? What happened to concert finery? Was his luggage stolen?

Ah! They found it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Los Angeles and "The Magic Flute"

I was listening to the Los Angeles Opera's "The Magic Flute" just now on WNED. The staging seemed kind of boneheaded, from what I could make out. Just for one thing, they had the Queen of the Night as a spider. The Queen of the Night isn't supposed to be a spider.

The magic touches are real fun as you can see in this video.

You can get creative with "The Magic Flute." I am not being a grinch and saying you can't. You can do a million things with it. Artists including Maurice Sendak, whose work appears up above, have had a great time with it. If this production could have let go of that silly '20s look they were trying to get, it would have been magic.

But you have to keep the basics. It is a fairy tale opera and when you start making Tamino not look like a prince and Papageno not look like a bird catcher, you are losing something. And about the Queen of the Night, she is supposed to be beautiful and cool and fun to look at and eventually you figure out who and what she is. Her appearances are supposed to be show stoppers, and they usually are.

Another thing about the Los Angeles Opera production, I give the thumbs down to the snips they gave you here and there of Mozart's piano fantasies. You cut and paste this music like that, it shows your superficial "shuffle" relationship with it.


That opera's ending always gets me!

Maybe it's the triumph of good over evil. In the Catholic Church we are taught that good wins out in the end, that God will triumph over the forces of darkness, that the battle is already won. "The Magic Flute" is set in ancient Egypt so they are singing about Isis and Osiris. Anyway, good over evil, the sun coming out, everyone happy, the battle is won.

So it was with the Los Angeles Opera. At the end you just hear that chorus and you forgive everything. Maybe that was the point, who knows.

In this Metropolitan Opera clip the chorus in question starts at 3:39. That is Kathleen Battle as Pamina and she does a kind of neat feisty skip when she joins Tamino for their walk up to where Sarastro is waiting. Sarastro is Kurt Moll -- kind of handsome, I never knew what he looked like. This is several years ago and they don't have the L.A. Opera's special effects but it is simple and good. And the Queen of the Night is the Queen of the Night.

One of these days we will compare closing choruses of "The Magic Flute" in how it looks in various productions. Meanwhile, because this is a tough Monday and we need the oomph, here is an audio clip that gives you some translations.  This just has the music but I like what the poster wrote: "Turn up the volume more and more while listening."

Do it!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The secrets of Spotify

At the gym on my new phone I have been listening to Spotify. What an adventure!

Spotify shuffles everything. You can choose an album but you cannot choose the order in which you will listen to the tracks. That is one thing that makes it exciting. Go ahead, listen to Schubert's "Winterreise" or whatever, just accept that you will hear the songs in whatever order the robot decides to give it to you in.

Not only that, but the thing reserves the right to swap in other things!

Normally what I find they do is, they give you a few of the tracks off the album you wanted, and then it starts branching out. I was listening to my new favorite singer, Peter Schreier, singing, I don't know, Schumann. I found a Schumann album of his. They gave me a couple of songs.

Then I got Barbara Hendricks singing Bach cantatas.

Then Schreier and Edith Mathis singing the Bach "Coffee" Cantata.

Then one of Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes.

Periodically it would return to Schumann and give me some song out of the blue. It was out of order and jarring. But that is the game! That is what you have to expect and not let it bug you.

Sometimes giving you the Bach it would give you only the recitative.

At one point it picked me up and put me down in the middle of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger."

Another time I found myself listening to the first scene of "The Magic Flute." Schreier was Tamino and he was being chased by the huge snake.

It was not always vocals. Once I was given the last movement of the Bassoon Concerto by Hummel. That was fun, like Haydn, which is high praise in my book. Plus it is nice to know it. If your bassoonist friend announces that he or she is playing Hummel's Bassoon Concerto you may nod and say  truthfully: "Ah! A charming piece. I know it well."

Everything I heard was nice. Continuing on the second day I got more Bach, and Vivaldi, which helped to erase the cares of the day. The secret to Spotify seems to be to choose something initially that is high class and kind of arcane. Peter Schreier singing Schumann is not going to lead you into anything too weird. Whereas the other day, when I started with Jessye Norman singing Brahms, the robot insisted on giving me this jazzy version she did of the "Habanera" from "Carmen" and a few other pop things I could not stand.

Choose carefully, is my advice.

And your 40 minutes on the elliptical will fly past!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A letter from the Schubertiade

Some time ago at work, I began getting emails from a group called the Schubertiade. The messages were all in German. Even the subject line. I never had much time to figure it out or look at them closely but I enjoyed it, that I was getting these emails from the Schubertiade. That is a Schubertiade pictured above! It is a party in honor of Franz Schubert.

Maybe it was because I wished I could say I were the director of the Schubert Club. Maybe it was because I have written so often how much I love Schubert song.

Whatever, it would make me smile that I was on the receiving end of the Schubertiade emails, whatever they were saying.

And then the other day something happened. To my astonishment, the Schubertiade contacted me via traditional snail mail!

It was not just some robot on the Internet that had hooked me up with them. There was a human being behind this. Because here was this letter, and it had a picture of Schubert ...

... and it had my name with an extra "n" so it was "Goldmann." That was funny!

That meant that in Schubert Land someone was apparently dictating and said, "Mary Kunz Goldman." They got the Kunz right but they added an "n" to the Goldmann.

Plus it said in German something about if it were not deliverable to return it. The Schubertiade did not want this letter to go to just anybody. If I were not there to receive it, it would be winging its way back to Schwarzenberg where it is from.

I learned that because I have learned what the Schubertiade is. It is this magical sounding festival. Somewhere I read that it is the only festival in Germany, or Austria, or wherever it is, to operate without any government subsidies.

Inside the envelope was a brochure. I kept seeing the name Peter Schreier. That is a tenor I love! And funny, just last week that had occurred to me. I found myself at the gym listening to him singing Schubert and thinking how great he was, how I had always underrated him. I mean look. Well, maybe don't look. He is just so square looking. But listen.

Now I get this mailing all about him.

What's it all about, Alfie?

Furthermore I had assumed Peter Schreier was dead because, I mean, everyone's dead.

So there I have it, this festival I had never heard of, featuring this singer I thought was dead. All focusing on Schubert. Unlike the Schubert Club these people actually perform Schubert.

I might just have to go!

Friday, July 11, 2014

5 classical pieces with unfortunate titles

"That's so beautiful, what you're listening to," your friend tells you. "What is it?"

Uh... uh ...

Don't you hate it when a piece of music has an embarrassing name? Here are 5.

1. Dvorak's "Dumky" Trio.

2. Tchaikovsky's "Doumka."

3. Completing this "dumb" trio, Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks."

4. Gustav Holst's "The Mystic Trumpeter" (and his now forgotten cousin, John Alden Carpenter's "The Anxious Bugler").

5. Let's be honest. Elgar's "Nimrod."

Monday, July 7, 2014

Mahler's birthday

It is the twilight hours of the birthday of Gustav Mahler. He was born July 7, 1860. Mahler was older than you think, you know? If I did not think about it would have thought it was later than 1960.

Here is what a lucky dog I am, I work in a place where somebody reminds you when it is Mahler's birthday. The Gusto editor sent me a message about it.

"Happy Gustav Mahler's birthday!" she wrote!

Since then I have been passing that greeting on to other people.

Here is a picture of Mahler out walking with his wife, Alma.

And Mahler at his desk.

Here is a Mahler song I love, "Scheiden und Meiden." Saying goodbye is so sad!

It is one of the "Knaben Wunderhorn" songs, the settings he did of strange old German folk songs. There are a lot of things I love about this song. The galloping rhythms. The song mentions riders on horseback. The creative piano accompaniment. Judging from the pictures that is Leonard Bernstein on piano.

But most of all I love the ending. So cathartic! Scheiden und Meiden tut weh! It hurts to say goodbye! It hurts! It hurts! What else are you going to say, you know?

Ade, Gustav Mahler!

It hurts to say goodbye!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One chant on my Top 10 list

 Sometime soon I am going to make a list of my Top 10 chants. This will be one. We got to sing it in church today and next time we do it I will be ready!

There was one time a while ago when the choir was singing this. The women were supposed to come in by ourselves singing "O Jesu dulcis," and then the men joined in at some point. I forget at what point the men joined in because all I remember is that when we got to those words, "O Jesu dulcis," the other women dropped out for some reason -- there were just a few of us, and they must have been hesitant or confused or something. And there was my voice, solo, carrying over the church. Hahahahaaa!

My grandmother used to be the soprano soloist at St. Boniface Church on Buffalo's East Side so it is in my blood to rise to the occasion in such a situation. Still it was startling. That is why God created choir lofts, so people are not staring at you at a moment like that.

The chant:

Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine,
vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine,
cuius latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine:
esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine.
O Jesu dulcis, O Jesu pie, O Jesu, fili Mariae.
Miserere mei. Amen.

Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary,
who having truly suffered, was sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
whose pierced side flowed with water and blood:
May it be for us a foretaste of the Heavenly banquet
in the trial of death.
Oh dear Jesus, Oh merciful Jesus, Oh Jesus, son of Mary,
have mercy on me. Amen.

Most people including me know the Mozart version better. You know I am partial to the Leonard Bernstein performance but here is another one I love, by the Westminster Cathedral Choir. It is funny how the slideshow continues after the performance ends. But that is fine with me.

 It is so beautiful you need time to recover!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Julius Rudel, the doghouse, and me

I felt bad today about the passing of Julius Rudel, and so I am breaking my Web log silence.

Once I wrote about my interview with Maestro Rudel a long time ago in which I was something of, ahem, a ditz. Hahaha... I see I wrote that I demonstrated my familiarity with Hans Knappertsbusch, this Old World conductor, and that was what got me out of the doghouse. I remember exactly what happened.

What happened was, I asked Julius Rudel which conductors he admired growing up. And because I had made this ditzy mistake about Gregor Piatigorsky, which I would never make now thanks to Leonard Pennario, Rudel took it slow.

He said that there was one conductor he especially liked. And he said, "I'll spell it for you." Because I was this ditz.

I sat there, taking my lumps. Rudel goes: "K-n-a-"

And I said: "Oh, Hans Knappertsbusch!"

That was what got me out of the doghouse. After that the conversation was back to normal. It just happened I had a record by Hans Knappertsbusch when I was a teenager. And when I was talking with Rudel, it was as if my 14-year-old self were tapping me on the shoulder. "Pssst. Hans Knappertsbusch."

I wrote about Julius Rudel today in The Buffalo News. I hope it worked out OK because I wrote it fast and I was feeling sad.

I hate losing these old people. I hate losing our old music directors. And Rudel was so gracious, so gentlemanly. My parents rejoiced when he was appointed music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. I remember them gloating and dancing around. They loved Rudel and his Mozart and his Haydn.

As do we all.

The maestro will be missed.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A picturesque Humoresque

Just now after a hectic day of work, I found myself in a humor to hear Dvorak's "Humoresque," the little piece by Dvorak, played by Pennario.

Hahaaa... This one friend of mine who is a dear man posted this video and he unfortunately misspelled "Dvorak." But it is classic how he includes my Web site. He writes "www.Mary Kun," and then on the next line, "" I love that!

But back to the music.

Obviously I am biased but I have never heard this piece sound so beautiful as in this recording, which is off Pennario's RCA album "Humoresque." There were number of other Humoresques on the album, not just this one.

A few idiot critics slammed this record, mocking Pennario as in, "listen to him, playing these teaching pieces." But you know what, I am so entranced by how Pennario plays this piece, how unhurried it is, how unaffected and direct, I couldn't imagine any pianist playing it better. So I decided to look on YouTube for other pianists playing it.

I could find hardly anyone! Well, except for kids and students. Maybe the sour critics were right, they are teaching pieces. But a teaching piece like this is real music, you know? It is beautiful in the hands of a master and if you do not hear it played by a master you are missing out.

Other great pianists must have played this. I did a search for "Horowitz Humoresque." And "Rubinstein Humoresque." Maybe they played it, but they do not play it on YouTube.

Most of the performances you find are not even played by pianists. They are played by violinists. It is not the same!

Oh well. A lot of talk over a little piece. But so beautiful, as Pennario plays it.

Remember the Dvorak family album?

It is fun to leaf through while you listen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A song for Lady Day

I do not know about you but when I hear Lady Day I think of Billie Holiday.

So I was kind of surprised to read this morning on this priest's Web log that I look in on sometimes that there was, or is, a different Lady Day. That is today which is the Feast of the Annunciation. It used to be affectionately known as Lady Day. The Lady was the Blessed Virgin Mary (or BVM, to use an abbreviation I love).

All I can think is that when Lester Young gave Billie Holiday that nickname, this other Lady Day must have put the phrase in his head. Because once upon a time all these traditions were part of the public consciousness. Also Billie Holiday was Catholic and that might have fed into it too. I am not saying she was a churchgoer her whole life but she was baptized and had a Catholic funeral. I was at the Paulist church in New York City where her Requiem Mass was held.

Lady Day. Who knew it was in the calendar? All these beautiful traditions that lasted centuries and then just vanished, like that, overnight. You know what, if bad people had set out intentionally to obliterate all this stuff, they could not have done a better job.

Up above is a song by Lady Day.

And here is a song for Lady Day.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Master Class

The other day I wound up watching this master class taught by Jorge Bolet, a pianist I like. This is funny, I always said Bo-LAY. It is not as if his name came up in conversation a lot, you know? So I did not have a lot of practice hearing it or saying it. But anyway, in that clip, the British announcer says right away, very matter-of-factly: "George BOL-let."

George BOLLet it is.

A couple of things about this video. The kid is obviously very good, playing the Rach 3. While he plays it is fun to watch Bolet restlessly pacing around in the background. Pacing, thinking, brooding about what Rachmaninoff intended, what Rachmaninoff had in mind, how we may do honor to Rachmaninoff's vision. That is what Bolet is thinking.

Periodically he stops the kid. And this is the best: He tells this story at one point. "It is like the farmer, who was going to the market and ...."

And this kid's face is just this blank. He's looking at Bolet and you can tell he doesn't have the foggiest idea what this old mustachioed guy is talking about. He just knows he has to wait it out.

As Howard said, "You just have to eat it."

That is the truth, when you are a kid in a master class! You just have to take it. You have no choice.

I covered a master class once at UB that Leon Fleisher was teaching. Fleisher had stopped one of the kids and he launched into this sing-songy talk about Schubert and the maid of the mill. He returned to the subject later. "Now, Schubert's maid of the mill..."

Much as I loved him for bringing up "Die Schoene Muellerin" I was there with my notebook thinking: Are you on drugs?

Do you actually think these kids have the foggiest idea what you are talking about?

Mill, Schmill!

Back to Bolet. I was seeing how many master classes there are on YouTube, more than a few by him. Bolet was very pedigreed in the teacher department. He had famous teachers and he felt he had an obligation to pass on what he learned.

Lucky for us, you know?

I am game!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A great artist's 'last words'

Here I go again with my preoccupation with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. You know how YouTube tempts you away from your work by tossing up various videos you might like? That is what happened in this case.

I see "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Last Words" and that is it for me.

About whether these were close to his last words, I am not sure about that. Whoever posted the video naturally put everything else in the "about" section except what everyone wants to know, which is when the video was made. Well, I am still grateful to that person for posting. I imagine it was in the singer's last couple of years and I guess that is good enough for me.

It is cute how Fischer-Dieskau stayed so youthful looking. You can't see it in the still but if you watch the video, he's still very handsome, and very animated. He laughs a lot and he has a great laugh. He seems very... mirthful, is a word that comes to mind. I got that idea about Leonard Pennario, too, talking with him at the end of his life. He had had his share of emotional difficulties too but he was still laughing, and you got the idea he had laughed a lot. Very important in life, you know? I mean, look at these great artists. They needed something to power them through their lives and a sense of humor certainly helped.

 Tremendous laugh in this video when Fischer-Dieskau recalls the great Wagnerian singer Kirsten Flagstad. He recalls her in "Tristan and Isolde" -- these memories must date to when, as a young man, he sang Kurvenal in that opera, in the same production with her. Anyway, she would be sitting there backstage, knitting something for her grandchildren, and then came her cue, and she stood up (he stands up, imitating her), puts down her knitting and ... "dann kam Isolde!" Then came Isolde.

Hahahahahaha! He bursts into that tremendous laugh.

Anyway, I love this. And I have to agree with the top comment on the list.

"Rest in Peace," somebody wrote. "You were the best."

Monday, March 17, 2014

For the Feast of St. Patrick...

 ... we give you the No. 1 hit of 1917, the great Irish tenor John McCormack singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

His Irish accent is adorable. Listen to the flourish he gives to "perilous" in "Through the perilous flight."

There must have been a lot of patriotic fervor in the air because of regrettable World War I. The war must have been tough on a singer like McCormack who surely had a lot of German friends and colleagues.

He would live to see another war. Here is a rarity: McCormack in 1941, at London's Abbey Road studios, singing Bach with the great accompanist Gerald Moore. It was one of the tenor's last records.

Again, that beautiful accent. The word to listen for is "impassioned." He gives it that twirl.

A great Irish artist, on the feast day of a great saint.

Sing it, Mr. McCormack!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A 98-year-old pianist holds forth

Researching things Pennario on this snowy day, one thing led to another and I found this article from a couple of weeks ago about this pianist who is almost 100 years old, Frank Glazer.

Glazer recorded Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit" at about the same time Leonard did, which is to say the very early '50s. That is how I stumbled on him. He studied with Artur Schnabel. During World War II he had to leave Germany and he followed Schnabel to Italy.

God love this guy, you know?

He has done a lot of teaching including at the Eastman School of Music and more recently at Bates College, from whence I grabbed the picture up above. He talks in the story about how the teacher/student dynamic has changed. When he was a student, Frank Glazer says, you did not question your teacher. Now there is this informality which can be good or bad. He also says Schnabel used to tell you something only once and you had to remember it. Now, you have to tell your students stuff a hundred times.

He sounds like a very cool person. He was playing a program of Bach, Mozart, Ravel, Beethoven and Chopin. I wish I could have been there.

Here is Frank Glazer playing Mendelssohn's "Spring Song," a piece I love, at the very springy age of 85.

Mighty fine playing if you ask me.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bach's beautiful lullaby

Because the, ahem, Music Critic Web log ignores popular culture completely, we will skip over Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the Super Bowl (the fact that it stars Renee Fleming notwithstanding), and proceed directly to the Feast of the Purification, which is another name for Candlemas, which is today.

At Candlemas they remind you of the story of Simeon in the temple. Simeon was an old man who adored the infant Jesus and said that now that he had seen the Messiah that had been promised to him all these years, he could die happy. That is a painting of the incident above by Rembrandt. I never saw it before. There is something about it that gets you, you know?.

All I could think hearing the story of Simeon this morning at Mass was of this beautiful aria by Bach, "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen." It means "Fall asleep, you weary eyes." It is  from the cantata  "Ich Habe Genug" (which I like to translate loosely as "I've Had Enough"), that tells the story of Simeon.

This aria is incredible. I first heard it when I was a teenager and found a record of "Ich Habe Genug" on Seraphim. I knew nothing about Bach cantatas but I bought it because it starred Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, whom I loved. Then I took it home and played it and was just kind of standing there with my mouth open. That was the strategy behind Seraphim. EMI would put irresistible music on these cut-rate records, performed by their best artists, to get you hopelessly hooked so you would go on and buy their more expensive records. They put Leonard Pennario's Rachmaninoff Third on Seraphim for instance. They knew what they were doing.

Here is the song I heard. It sounds every bit as ravishing today to me as it did then. The ecstatic melody. The way the music falls at the word "fall." "Fallet sanft und selig zu." "Fall softly and peacefully shut."

The beautiful moment when the song ends and you hear those three notes on the organ.

Oh what the heck, words are superfluous. Here it is.

Simeon in the synagogue.

Johann Sebastian Bach.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gershwin's greatest song

 The other night a bunch of us were lying around listening to Guy Boleri playing the piano and he got on a Gershwin kick. And he played "Of Thee I Sing."

What a dazzling song, I was thinking. The beauty and dignity of the melody! The song starts with those gentle chromatic notes and then rises. So beautiful and bittersweet.

When it was over, as if reading my mind, my brother George spoke up.

"Gershwin's greatest song," he said.


Ella Fitzgerald gives it a nice uptempo performance.

 But I like a more slow and dignified performance of this song. Maybe it is the title. The version by Sarah Vaughan up above is not bad. But she fools around with the song's opening which I do not like. Sing it the way Gershwin wrote it, you know? You are not going to improve on Gershwin even if you are Sarah Vaughan.

I am a Sarah Vaughan fan with a lot of Sarah Vaughan vinyl. But I don't like this performance as much as many of her others. Still on YouTube it is the best I can find.

Oh man, listen to this. Here are outtakes from Sarah Vaughan's "Of Thee I Sing."

"I'm not with it tonight," she says. And: "I don't feel like being here. I'm just tired."

And: "There's a lovelight .... sh--!"

Am I a perceptive listener or what?

I knew something was wrong!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How Mozart caused Buffalo's Blizzard of '77

Son of a Clementi-playing sea cook, I fell off the Music Critic Blog wagon and I missed Mozart's birthday.

Well, that is OK because he did not celebrate it either.

He celebrated his Name Day which as we have already determined is Oct. 31, the feast of St. Wolfgang.

That is when people should celebrate! That is when the classical station should play Mozart all day long and when people should hold concerts and lectures.

The heck with Hallowe'en!

You know what, I would settle for any day as long as I could sit down and actually listen to something. I mean the way I used to when I was a kid. This is the problem with making music your business. You never get to listen to it just for the heck of it. Maybe you never will get to ever again.

When I was a kid I would put on my big '70s headphones and just be lost to the world. I knew all the Mozart piano concertos inside out and even though I played the piano I did not stop there. Playing the piano myself was never the point. I knew the string quartets inside out too, and the viola quintets, and the symphonies of course, and the serenades, and the violin and horn concertos, and the clarinet music, and a lot of the operas.

My sister was laughing to me the other day, "Mary, remember when you caused the Blizzard of '77?"

And I said: "Haha, yes, I remember that!"

That is the Blizzard of '77 pictured above, in a great shot from this site I found. You could touch the traffic signals! All thanks to me. What happened was, I prayed for a snow day, a day off from school, on January 27 because it was Mozart's birthday and I knew the classical station, WNED, would be playing Mozart all day. I used to pray for Mozart's birthday off every year but that year, 1977, I prayed particularly hard. And we got the day off.

Not only that but we got the next two weeks off! During which time I not only touched traffic lights, I listened to A LOT of Mozart.

You always wondered what caused the Blizzard of '77.

Now you know!