Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The 'O Holy Night' Smackdown

I have not written in this Web log forever. It is time to get it started again.

Last night Howard and I got listening to "O Holy Night." OK, I got listening to it and I foisted it on him. But Howard likes great tenors and that is who is on the Internet singing "O Holy Night."

Jussi Bjorling ... Like a steam engine.

Franco Corelli, I like the Italian twist he gives to it. Also how he can go forever on a single breath. Thrilling. He does not however sail up to that high note.

 Caruso could sing it standing on his head.

 You know what, Bjorling is this marvel, but I like how Caruso sings it. He has a sensual, laid-back quality that makes me see his appeal. You often do not get that from listening to old scratchy records.

And the second-to-last "Noel, Noel," he has the second answer the first. He has his own operatic concept of the song.

Sometimes it is a good idea to listen to some song you really know to get an idea of the artist.

Reluctantly we turn to living artists. Jonas Kauffmann is a latter-day tenor I love. Listen to how he ends the first verse. Also he takes the melody up at times when you would think he would be taking it down.

That is a powerful voice!

 And a friend loves Juan Diego Florez. I am rather partial toward him myself.

I still give the edge to my old hero, Jussi. That command that he had, I have yet to hear anyone top it. Still ...

Imagine having any of these gentlemen at your Lessons and Carols.

Swoon, swoon!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Finnish line

Last night at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra I got to hear the pianist Juho Pohjonen playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. Look at me, I could type Juho Pohjonen without checking it. And I am pretty sure I am right.

Not only that but last night I could type Eliel and Eero Saarinen without checking it! They are the Finnish architects of Kleinhans Music Hall. You know you are a true Buffalonian when you can type Eliel and Eero Saarinen without checking it.

Juho Pohjonen is also Finnish. Here in Buffalo we are in the middle of a celebration of Finnish culture. I love the Finns, I must say that. You picture them up in the frozen North with their umlauts and their wild language. In Buffalo we had Outokumpu American Brass. I think that is how you spelled it. I remember asking my mother, What is "Outokumpu," is it Indian or something? And she said no, it was Finnish.

My mother always knew everything!

Anyway Mr. Pohjonen, pictured above, played the daylights out of the Grieg Concerto as I wrote in my review. What a wonderful concerto. Writing about Leonard Pennario I think about it a lot because Pennario learned it when he was 12, in a week, and performed it from memory with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. You go, Pennario!

One thing I loved about Juho Pohjonen's performance was that afterwards he played a piece by Grieg called "Bridal Procession." I love these salon pieces. I say bring back these salon pieces by Grieg, by Edward MacDowell, by other composers we do not hear as much now as people used to 100 years ago.

Here is Grieg himself playing "Bridal Procession." It is actually "Norwegian Bridal Procession."

Hit it, Edvard!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Terror in the organ loft

I wrote before about the "Ave Verum Corpus" Gregorian chant that comes up now and then at Mass. This is the Latin text that Mozart famously set to music. But today we sang it as the Gregorian Chant.

What a beautiful chant!

The only trouble was, as I noted before, the women have to sing that one phrase by ourselves. We are always understaffed on days when this happens, I do not know why. Today it was pretty much me and a group of teenage girls. Nobody else was there. We got through it.

O Jesu dulcis
O Jesu pie...

And then the guys come in with us. Whew!

There are just these couple of lines the ladies sing by ourselves and it is tremendously stressful. At the end of the "Ave, Verum Corpus"  I turned to the teenagers and we all smiled and gave each other thumbs up.

"Good job," I whispered. I added: "This always makes me nervous."

That is the truth!

It is one thing to listen to Gregorian chant. It is another thing to sing it in your everyday life. With an entire church listening, I should put that out there too. It is beautiful but frightening to be in the organ loft during a Tridentine Mass. At the start, I always love that moment, all of us standing there waiting, nobody breathing, waiting for the priest to start us all off.

Then sometimes during the mass there is a screw-up. We might do the wrong verse or something and everyone looks at each other afterwards, and there are grimaces and rolling of eyes.

How did we mess that up??

This was the kind of thing I worried about when I was invited to join the choir at church. I know what goes on in organ lofts.

It is not pretty!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pope Francis speaks of Wagner opera

Alex Ross over at the New Yorker is working on a book about Wagner and his effect on culture, and he wrote something very cool about Pope Francis and his knowledge of Wagner opera.

Mr. Ross put a link on Twitter which, it is great when something good comes out of Twitter, you know?

He writes in his story that His Holiness especially liked the conductors Wilhelm Furtwangler and Hans Knappertsbusch. Fu and Kna -- remember?

"He mentions the Furtwängler La Scala Ring and the 1962 Knappertsbusch Parsifal as prized recordings. He is known to be a Furtwängler enthusiast; earlier this year, Angela Merkel presented him with a Furtwängler box set. But he also makes a broader point about intellectual rigidification and self-deception, using Wagner's works as points of reference: “When does a formulation of thought cease to be valid? When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself. The deceived thought can be depicted as Ulysses encountering the song of the Siren, or as Tannhäuser in an orgy surrounded by satyrs and bacchantes, or as Parsifal, in the second act of Wagner’s opera, in the palace of Klingsor. The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.”

Pope Francis, talking about Parsifal in the palace of Klingsor! And he has favorite Wagner conductors!

This is Francis we are talking about, not my man Benedict XVI!

They are the same generation though. Gentlemen of that era knew about music and the finer things.

Read the whole column. It's not long, and it's free.

By the way I agree with Pope Francis: the church must recover genius.

Let's start by getting rid of all the folk guitars.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How Beethoven liked his coffee

My friend Steven who is a classical music nerd par excellence alertly snapped a picture of a cafe sign in Southern California. That is it above. The coffee shop is Peet's in Cotati. Calif.

Who knew that about Beethoven, that he measured his coffee beans? Not many people, I will tell you that right now. And many may call this information a hill of beans but I say fie. Fix that number in your mind, 60. Anyone who knows how to wake people up as creatively as Beethoven did surely knew a thing or two about caffeine.

Bravo, Peet's! Peet's is a California chain and I am not sure they are all as musical as this particular branch. But you can become a Peetnik on their Web site.

Steven also admired this sign at Peet's promoting the joy of saxophone duets. He is a former saxophone player! But that is another story for another day. Perhaps tomorrow.

After I have measured out my 60 beans. Tomorrow I am going to test Beethoven's formula.

I will report!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Mozart and Coltrane effect

A while ago Google asked me if I was interested in Mozart and I replied yes. So now I get updates every day concerning Mozart.

Is this a wonderful world or what? I love technology.

Today's Mozart update comes from Britain and concerns Mozart, pictured above, and John Coltrane, pictured on this fine 1996 commemorative.

Their music, researchers think, can prevent epileptic seizures.

The Coltrane piece, his extended take on "My Favorite Things," is something I am intimately acquainted with. Years ago when I worked at the Niagara Gazette, I had a half-hour commute, and I had this piece in cassette. I used to stick it into the cassette player and it would pretty much take me to work. It would be ending right as I was pulling into Niagara Falls.

The obvious question in the research is, of course, does any intelligent music have this effect. They compared the Mozart and Coltrane only to silence. I would imagine that the idea is to engage your brain, to distract it from the seizures. I am only guessing but that seems to be what the research is driving at.

Or perhaps there is a kind of hypnotic effect. I mean that in a good way, not a sleepy way. There is something in the music that entrances you and carries you along. Mozart will do that.

Anyway, you may catch up on this groundbreaking research on Mozart and Coltrane here.

Hahaa.. Google just asked me: Are you still interested in Mozart?

Um, yes!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Haydn and nobility

Today at church we got to sing Haydn's "O Esca Viatorum." It must have something to do with this Mass this week although as usual I am too lame-brained to figure that out. I do know because of my other Web log that we sang it a couple of years ago in this same week.

"O Esca Viatorum" is listed in our Cantate Omnes choir book as "Traditional." I realized some time ago it was by Haydn. Singing it today got me remembering what tipped me off.

Well, I did not know at first it was by Haydn. But as we sang it, it kind of gives you a thrill, because the melody is so beautiful, so noble. Today it kind of gave me shivers the way it always does.

I remember thinking, there is something about the architecture of this piece, I would bet it is the work of a master. Beautiful as many traditional melodies are, this had a different cast. It is like identifying a painting. You look and say: ah, that has to be Rembrandt. Listening to "O Esca Viatorum," trying to sing it well, I thought, I would not be surprised if it were Mozart. But it was not quite Mozart. It was a little different.

Haydn! I did a search on YouTube and sure enough.

Haydn has that noble streak that Mozart, for all his greatness, does not quite have. It is a strange thing about Haydn, he knew Mozart was superior. He said so, with touching humility, toward the end of his life. But he did have this special something that was uniquely his. The St. Anthony Chorale that inspired Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," that is that nobility. And of course the Kaiser hymn that became the German national anthem.

Here is "O Esca Viatorum," sung beautifully by a choir that, alas, is not ours.

Mozart does have a kind of similar nobility in a few pieces I could name and one of these days I will have to get to quoting them. But it is not quite the same.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Stand facing the orange

Today looking in my "Joy of Cooking" for a strawberry jam recipe, I found myself thinking of George Szell. You know, and his friendship with Irma Rombauer, who wrote "The Joy of Cooking."

I explored this appetizing topic once before. And suddenly, as I stood facing the stove, I found myself hungry for new details. I dried my hands and got on Google.

Well, guess what. There were no new details!

If you Google Rombauer and Szell nothing comes up, other than my Web log post. That picture up above is of Irma, left, and her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker. I can find no pictures of Irma Rombauer with George Szell, alas.

I guess I own this issue!

Which made me think I should write on it again. I did more fishing. And eventually something did come up. You have to read the fine print! It is part of a tribute to Irma Rombauer written by her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, on some ancestry site.

In later years there were other gay musical gatherings at Mother's, especially while she served on the board of the St. Louis Symphony. Some of these occurred in seasons during which the podium was occupied by a series of guest conductors. Most of these visitors were European. Virtually all had few close friends in the city, were not averse to an informal home-cooked meal, and enjoyed a quiet encounter with sympathetic people who could in some instances literally speak their language-or, rather, one of their languages. This pleasant contingency brought us, among others, Georg Szell, Molinari, and the Arboses, with their great friend Alfred Cortot. Cortot especially delighted the company with his parodies of nineteenth-century bravura pieces, executed with the dramatic help of a large navel orange, which he rolled sonorously over the keyboard.

That is pretty cool, Cortot and the orange. That is an old vaudeville trick, playing the piano with an orange. Lang Lang does it on YouTube with Chopin's "Black Key" Etude. Ha, ha!

But to have the pianist Alfred Cortot rolling an orange around, that is classic. Especially in Irma Rombauer's living room!

Here he is without an orange. Imagine him with one.

Googling around about Cortot and the orange I find nothing.

Perhaps I can own this issue too!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mozart earns pope's imprimatur

Yesterday I was gratified to learn that Pope Benedict XVI shares my taste in music. Benedict said in remarks this weekend that he admires the specific Mozart piece I have admired on this Web log, the "Coronation Mass."

I read it on the Una Voce Buffalo Facebook page, about Benedict's remarks. It is good to hear from Benedict again, you know? I always liked how preoccupied he was with music.

Allow me to quote:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Benedict XVI, emeritus pope and theologian, reflected on Saturday on classical music as an "encounter with the divine," saying listening to Mozart helps him experience "very deeply the Lord's presence."

Benedict's reflections came at a ceremony where he received honorary doctorates from the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and the Krakow Academy of Music for his promotion of respect for the traditions of sacred music in the Church.

Since retiring from the papacy in 2013, Benedict has dedicated his time at the Vatican to prayer, meditation and classical music. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who served as the Vatican's guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, he used to relax at home by playing his piano, with Mozart pieces a frequent choice.

"It remains indelibly impressed in my memory how, for example, as soon as the first notes resounded from Mozart's 'Coronation Mass,' the heavens practically opened and you experienced, very deeply, the Lord's presence," Benedict, 88, said during his speech at the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, a hill town near Rome where he had first stayed after resigning, citing age and frailty.

I love how the story says that since retiring, Benedict has dedicated his time to prayer, meditation and classical music. I hope that every once in a while he takes a taste of wine, too! And not just at mass I mean.

I also love another detail in the story: "Bestowing the honors was Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as St. Pope John Paul II's longtime aide and who was made cardinal by Benedict." I reviewed the book "The Pope's Maestro," by Gilbert Levine. Dziwisz figured big in that book. I feel I know him.

Most of all I love how Pope Benedict singled out for praise the same Mass that I did. Above is a picture of His Holiness at the Castel Gandolfo, reflecting on the greatness of Mozart's "Coronation Mass."

Great minds think alike!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A trip to Alt Nurnberg

Today is the Feast of St. John the Baptist and I always think of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger," which takes place on this day -- Johannestag, in Germany. Being close to the longest day of the year it is a magical day and it is celebrated with bonfires and general craziness. And "Die Meistersinger" takes place all in the course of this one long single day.

Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," which Nickel City Opera is performing this weekend, also takes place in one long day. It is not specified to be the Feast of St. John the Baptist but it could very well be!

"Die Meistersinger" begins with a chorale in honor of St. John the Baptist which I was unsuccessful in locating on YouTube. So I settled for the wonderful overture. The video below is a heated performance conducted by Rafael Kubelik. It has a beautiful slideshow of Nuremberg.

Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition of 1901 featured a German beer garden exhibit called Alt Nurnberg, or Old Nuremberg. That is Alt Nurnberg pictured above. My husband Howard's garage sits today where Alt Nurnberg was.

Here is a picture of lunch hour at Alt Nurnberg. It was a popular spot! It cost 25 cents just to get in and then your meal was extra.

Oh, man! I am watching the video of "Die Meistersinger" and it goes into the chorale!! I can't believe it!

Here I was just enjoying the music and the pictures and all of a sudden you see the picture of the church and there it is. The chorale that begins Act 1. The chorale in honor of St. John the Baptist. And in the background you hear hints of the "Prize Song" heard later in the opera. Try to take 15 minutes out of your day and watch this. It is like a mini-vacation.

Wait till you see the shot of the fireworks. They come right at the perfect instant.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Beer and the Monks of Norcia

Today arrived Benedicta, an uncompromising disc from the Monks of Norcia. That is it pictured above!

It is a kind of cool picture. And the music is, too. The Monks of Norcia sing track after track of Gregorian chant. It puts you into a kind of coma. I mean that in the best sense. More like trance. It puts you into a trance. Not the best thing for a Wednesday afternoon in the office but beautiful all the same.

I love when a previously obscure monastery comes out of nowhere and releases a CD.

Here are the very cool Monks of Norcia explaining what they do.

Those are some tremendous beards, folks.

And some tremendous chant.

And as if things were not perfect enough, they also make beer. Fifteen thousand bottles a month!

"Many people might not go to Mass, but by buying beer, they have a connection with us, which is safe for them, in a setting, over a product they feel comfortable with us, so there's a spiritual gain for them, even though they're not looking for it."


"I said, we make beer, immediately the person was interested and wanted to talk, and before we knew it we were talking about Christ and truth..."


"As many people have negative experiences with the Church, if they can have a very simple but positive exchange with a monk over something like beer, it does wonders to open them up. It's not like automatically they're becoming monks and nuns and priests, but it starts them on a path which we hope will lead them back to the Church..."

Marvelous monks of Norcia.

We drink to them!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The music of Lady Day

It is the Feast of the Annunciation, once known as Lady Day.

One chant traditional on this day is the beautiful "Rorate Caeli." It always makes me think of Advent because that is when I have heard it. In the comments section on YouTube you can see people wishing each other a Merry Christmas.

It is kind of thrilling for me to hear it now. Sort of the way it was fun a few weeks ago to go and have lunch in East Aurora where they put their Christmas decorations back up because a movie is being shot there. I have not been hearing these chants my whole life, but I have been for the last few years, and it is funny but after a while they become part of your life and you forget you did not grow up with them.

If I had my way the whole year would be Advent and Christmas. It is my favorite time of year even though I do love summer because I like running around in summer clothes.

The music of Lady Day.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Ode to joy

After hearing Beethoven's Ninth the other day I have been thinking about the "Ode to Joy."

I read how scholars think he was inspired by Mozart's K. 222, his "Misericordias Domini." Listen for it, you will hear it! And what is weird to me is, it sounds like Beethoven's orchestration. I have not sat down or studied the scores or anything. It just does.

 And you know what, I wonder if in turn Mozart were inspired by the ancient "Asperges" chant. The first notes are the same as the "Ode to Joy" which is how I was able to learn the melody.

Whatever the situation, as our Italian priest at St. Anthony's used to say, there is nothing new under the sun.

But there are great themes, handed down one master to another.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Pope Francis' favorite German conductor

From Vatican Insider: 

When the moment came to exchange gifts after their conversation in the Vatican Library, German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented Francis with three books of poems by German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, all of them original editions from 1905. Francis had recently quoted the poet – who is one of his favourites - in one of his speeches. “You know him,” Mrs. Merkel said to the Pope in German, as she handed him the gift, o which the Pope answered “yes”.

 Mrs. Merkel also gave the Pope a box set of 107 CDs with classical pieces conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler. “I don’t know if you will find the time to listen to these,” the German Chancellor said to the Pope. On the flight to Italy, she told journalists that Bergoglio is very fond of Furtwangler, whom he once described as: “Germany’s most brilliant conductor and the greatest Wagner and Beethoven expert.

His Holiness has good taste. I am a Furtwangler fan, too. And may I add that we have had several popes now who are music connoisseurs.

One of these days we will have to find out which conductors Pope Benedict loves. Well, I imagine he esteems Furtwangler too.

Here is an excellent video, in color, of the back of the maestro's head.

Monday, January 19, 2015

I Bought Me A Cat

What with our new cat Jeoffry, pictured above, I keep thinking of that great Aaron Copland treatment of the old American song "I Bought Me A Cat." Today it is time to listen to it!

I love the creativity on YouTube and someone put together this sweet video of the song performed by the great baritone William Warfield. That opening picture of the cat is priceless.

When I was a kid, William Warfield was a soloist in my Mozart Requiem recording and of course he was wonderful. Here he gets to kick back.

Take it, Mr. Warfield.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wolf's Three Kings

Bragging about my baking and the Three Kings bread I made that was such a hit at St. Anthony's, I got a song running through my head. And it was Hugo Wolf's "Epiphinias."

It is a sort of children's song by Goethe about the Three Kings. There is one line I especially love. It is in the second verse when the song goes, "There are three Kings. There are not four. If a fourth king were to be added there would be one Three King more."

Wow, listen to me, my off-the-cuff translation almost rhymes.

Wolf's setting of the song sounds to me kind of like Mahler. It is this spiky little march. So much fun. I chose this video for its images of the Three Kings, a theme I have always loved.

The singer is baritone Antonis Kontogeorgiou. I like him! The pianist is Diana Vranussi. Continuing with the credits, the painting at the top of the post is by a commercial artist with a wonderful name. It is Miki de Goodaboom!

First this sweet and ingenious song by Hugo Wolf and now this artist with this marvelous silly name.

How am I going to get any work done today?

Monday, January 12, 2015

An old song well sung

I have heard the title of the Christmas carol "Of the Father's Love Begotten" but I never gave it much thought until yesterday when we had to sing the melody in church.

We sang it as "Corde Natus Ex Parentis."

I love when Christmas carols go way back. "O Come O Come Emmanuel," I know, is extremely old. So is the tune to "The Friendly Beasts."

But this song, "Corde Natus Ex Parentis," it dates to the fifth century.  I love the lyricist's name. It is Aurelius Prudentius!

Above is a pretty treatment of the song in English. Here is a performance in Latin.

I would imagine this is the oldest Christmas carol around.

Whether or not that's true, it sure is beautiful.