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?