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!