Saturday, May 6, 2023

Mozart and the Chevalier de Saint George

The Internet has caught on to that I love classical music. And so I have happened upon things related to the 18th century musician who had the beautiful name of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint George.

One of these things is the movie preview up above.

I do admire the Chevalier as an exemplary man of his age. He was a fencer, a marksman, a violinist, a composer, a dancer, a glamorous figure.

However as the movie preview shows, there is this agenda attached to him, to tear down Mozart, to blame Mozart for various things that never happened. As if history is a zero sum game.

It is said that the Chevalier de Saint-George taught Mozart, that Mozart was his student. That is not true.

In the preview up above, you see Mozart screaming "Who the f--- is that?" after hearing Saint-George play. That never happened.

Also in the movie preview, you notice that the filmmakers have Saint-George playing in a modern 21st century style, nothing like the 18th century. Even without knowing anything about the particulars that would clue you in that this story has more than a touch of fiction.

This is all a shame and does dishonor to the real Chevalier.

He was, by all accounts, a noble figure of his era. He lived an epic life which included royal honors. And he was an accomplished musician. 

If his compositions are not as well known as Mozart's, there is a reason for that, and it is the same reason we hear little of most of the music written by Mozart's contemporaries. They are not the equal of Mozart's. It has nothing to do with race. Mozart was a freak of nature.

Music, furthermore, was not the Cavalier's only goal. Joseph Bologne put time and talent into becoming a champion fencer and marksman, along with mastering other pursuits. All Mozart did was music. Mozart's only teacher was his father -- he grew up living and breathing music. There was no fencing or -- well, Mozart did some target shooting, which was popular in Salzburg, but there is no evidence that he distinguished himself in that sport.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint George, had a difference balance to his life. He had different and more diversified goals. He soared like an eagle and achieved those goals -- and then some, as we say here in Buffalo. He became a kind of Renaissance man. He was a lot of things that Mozart was not.

There is a lot to admire in the Chevalier de Saint George, and as we marvel at his full and trailblazing life, we should never do that at Mozart's expense. Something tells me that the Chevalier would hate that. 

A musician himself, Joseph Bologne knew quality. A gentleman, he valued justice, fairness, and truth. I would love to think that he and Mozart sat down and had a glass of wine as friends. 

I can imagine both these fine gentlemen looking down on us now, shaking their heads.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Octaves of Christmas

New Year's Day this year was the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. That is a phrase I love, the Octave of Christmas.

I think of the first line of "Joy to the World." That is an octave! Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Handel just goes down that scale. It is an octave.

Also in "The Nutcracker," Tchaikovsky goes down the scale in the great Pas de Deux.

There must be other octaves of Christmas however I will have to think of them.

For now I am thinking of the 1,000-year-old carol we got to sing at church on the occasion of the Octave of Christmas, which was Sunday, New Year's Day.

That is it at the top! In English it is "Of the Father's Love Begotten." In Latin it is "Corde Natus Ex Parentis." That is what we sang.

That melody!

As someone wrote in the comment section of the above video: "Magical song!"

The melody just gets better and better as the song goes on and it has a haunting feel. The words lare beautiful. When I was singing it I thought about that.

"Psallat altitudo caeli, psallite omnes angeli..." My Latin is not great -- my Latin teacher father would be horrified! -- however I believe that says, "Sing heights of heaven, sing all angels..."

Sure enough! I just did Google translate: "Let the height of heaven sing, let all the angels sing."

Someone writes in the comment section:

Created: circa 4th century AD (between 348 and 413). 

Written by: Aurelius Prudentius Clemens

Country of Origin: Roman province of Tarraconensis (modern-day northern Spain).

Everything I know in life I learned from comment sections! This song is older than I thought. Our church song book said it was around 1000.

Who knows. It seems Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a poet, so perhaps he wrote only the words. The melody likely came later. Aurelius Prudentius was not only a poet, he was a lawyer, and apparently a good one. Also he was the provincial governor for a while. Later in life he renounced the vanities of this world, I am reading, and fasted and became a vegetarian. He wrote his Christian poems during this time of his life.

You know who that reminds me of, Clemens Brentano. Brentano was one of the most famous Romantic poets however he dropped all that and devoted the second half of his life to promoting the Catholic faith. That is a coincidence, another Clemens.

Now that we have covered all this ground, it is time just to listen. The recording above, it seems just to be a husband and wife recording it in an attic. That is also in the comments. I like how the singer just sticks to the melody. I also like how they show the music and the translation.

Here is the schola of St. John Cantius where I virtually attended Christmas Day mass this year.

You feel you can hear all the centuries echoing in this song.

One thousand six hundred years!

Just listen...

Saturday, December 31, 2022

'What are you doing New Year's Eve?'

 We all love that wistful song "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve"? Today I began thinking about it. I was wondering who wrote it. I did not know.

It turns out it was Frank Loesser, who wrote "Guys and Dolls."

Loesser apparently wrote the words and the music, as was his wont. He was a genius, you know? His songs were wonderful and he wrote them all on his own.

On Wikipedia I read that Loesser did not intend the song as a holiday song. He imagined it being sung by someone madly in love who wanted to nail down New Year's Eve early.

The lyric does go, "Maybe it's much too early in the game."

And: "Here comes the jackpot question in advance."

So you could imagine the person singing this song in, say, April or May. I met my husband in March or April, thereabouts, so I think of that. It would be as if I asked Howard when I met him what he was doing New Year's Eve.

Wikipedia said that Loesser would get mad if someone sang the song at holiday time.

Whatever, I like the song in December.

Who doesn't?

Sunday, December 11, 2022

The ghost of Christmas past


 I am leaning toward the old 1950s Christmas records. Like my old Carmen Dragon Capitol Records Christmas.

And this one!

This 1956 album is not like Carmen Dragon. Carmen Dragon was pretty adventurous. These arrangements by an outfit called the National Concert Orchestra are pretty straightforward. It is not like Carmen Dragon's "O Tannenbaum" that sounds like something out of the 1939 "Wuthering Heights."

However this album has a nobility about it as great Christmas albums do. There is nothing wrong with not reinventing the wheel. Just play the song.

OK, wait, "The First Noel" kind of goes off the tracks. They are messing with the harmonization. However they got back on track.

It is so soothing!

Speaking of which, a lot of people in the comments love the old Christmas cards on the record jacket cover. They miss those old-fashioned Christmas cards.

You know what, just start sending them again.

Let's turn back the clock!

Friday, December 9, 2022

A Mantovani Christmas

 There is this really enjoyable YouTube channel I came across and immediately subscribed to.

It is "Christmas Records"!

I was listening to one record on that channel and way led on to way and I ended up with this one by the Mantovani orchestra.

This is funny, originally the video I listened to was the entire album. Now I can only find this snip, at least on this channel. It does not even sound very Christmas! However you do get that wheezy old Organ and Chimes sound. Although I did not grow up with that I have grown affectionate toward it.

There, that's better. Scratches and skips, but still ... Mantovani, Christmas carols!

People back in the day, I mean the 1940s and 1950s, they would sneer at Mantovani. I know that from my research on Leonard Pennario. I learned a lot about attitudes of that era. Josef Krips, when he was the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, he would sneer at Mantovani. Everyone did.

However now I will tell you this: I adore it!

The "Hark the Herald," the second song on this album, it sounds like out of an old movie. A wonderful burnished nostalgic sound!

Mantovani was classified as Easy Listening. This music is more subdued than the beautiful Carmen Dragon Christmas album I refer to often on this Web log. 

However the arrangements are creative and well done. Plus we could use more easy listening these days. At the Hyatt on Friday as Howard is setting up to play happy hour, I am subjected to the kind of "holiday" music on the sound system that, I do not even know how to describe it. I guess it is modern, I mean "artists" who are active this year. I hate to complain however after the fourth or fifth number it gets to me -- I mean, you have no hope at all that the next so-called song will be better, and it just goes on and on.

"Christmas .... Christmas ...." These awful songs. You just want to hit these people!

Everyone talks about the predictions of the book "1984" but nobody ever mentions the tinny horrible music. Orwell specifically mentioned that. That particular tradition has come true, that is for sure.

I think it was actually designed to ruin Christmas, to make us hate it and want it to be over. But anyway.

At least we have these old records! And they are all over the Internet.

It would be fun to go through some of these old Christmas records and listen to them and talk about them. I think I will do that now and then. Even though right now does seem early to me. Because I run Etsy shops and they are busy at this time of year, also because I go to the Latin Mass where we follow a medieval calendar, I think it has finally gotten into my bones that Christmas does not start until Dec. 25. However that horse is out of the barn. Christmas music is all around us. If you cannot beat them join them. 

We have bigger problems, you know?


Sunday, June 19, 2022

The most amazing Mozart

In pursuit of mental health, while I am driving in the car I have gone to a new format.

It is All Mozart, All the Time!

I have a huge collection of Mozart CDs and I just grab one and go. That is the game. I have not turned on the radio for weeks. Not for one second. You get used to the radio, you know, these talk shows and stuff. No more. No more classical station either. No radio.

This rule will not be violated!

The Mozart is proving an adventure. You have to be choosy about what you listen to in the car because you do not want to get into an accident such as could happen if you are listening to something you love too much, or something too intense. I listen to serenades, cassations.

However. The other day I wound up with a Piano Variations disc.

It is funny, here I have been listening to Mozart my whole life and yet here is some music I do not know. This one set of variations especially captured me. Well, I love everything on the whole disc. But the first one, that set amazed me. It sounded like Beethoven. Then it sounded like Schubert. At the end of it I just sat there in the car and I said out loud, "That was the most insane piece."

I had an idea what piece it could be, and I was hoping it wasn't because the title is ungainly. However sure enough, I was right. It was the variations on a Gluck aria called, ahem, "Unser dummer Pobel Meint."

That piece needs rebranding!

Can't we call it "Variations on a Theme By Gluck"?

The disc I was listening to in the car, Daniel Barenboim played it. There is this one variation that, I love how Barenboim plays it. It is ethereal and so beautiful. 


No other pianist does it justice that I can find. The Wilhelm Kempff at the top of this post, it's good, but he gallops through it. As does Andras Schiff. I'm not saying anybody is right or wrong, however I go with the Barenboim version hands down. Nice job, Mr. Barenboim, sir!

Mozart, he just never disappoints you, you know? It makes me think of a big house. You think you have seen it all and then you open a door and there is a whole new wing you never knew existed.

I was right about him when I was a kid. Did I recognize quality or what?

He brightens every day of my life!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Seduction Aria From Mozart's "Don Giovanni"

 One can while away hours watching performances of Mozart's aria "La Ci Darem La Mano," from "Don Giovanni."

The opera of operas! I have seen "Don Giovanni referred to that way and I cannot say I disagree.

What is fun about "La Ci Darem La Mano" is that it is plain and simple a seduction aria. Don Juan is out to seduce this peasant girl who is getting married. And you really don't need a translation of the words, you can tell darn well what is going on. It is the international language of love, as the old joke goes. And you know the exact moment when she makes her decision that yes, she will go with him. This is the kind of aria only Mozart could write because he knew his stuff. Beethoven, for all his genius, could not have written this. And actually he was kind of shocked by it.

There are a million performances I want to feature. They get like salt peanuts, you cannot stop with just one. It is a simple aria however there are so many ways you can go with it. Invariably, at least if you are going to do it right, it involves a certain amount of manhandling. On occasion I have gotten into it with someone in the comments section about that. Some high-minded person objects to what is going on and it falls to me to point out that I am sorry however it has to be that way.

The above performance is an absolute classic. The good old '80s, you cannot beat them, you know? Beautiful Kathleen Battle in her hot pink, and handsome Thomas Hampson who demonstrates many times on YouTube that he knows what to do with this aria.

The acting is wonderful on both sides. Miss Battle, her face says it all, how she's struggling, and when she finally gives in. A tremendous moment -- she leans back against Hampson. He's so much bigger than she is, and he uses his size to his advantage -- just stands there, sure of victory. I mean who could resist him. His hand gestures throughout are amazing, too. I have never seen a complete "Don Giovanni" with him as the Don and now I have to look one up.

Much praise to both of them for the ending! I will not give it away but my guess is you could not get away with it now. The audience goes wild.

I will have to post other performances. I limit myself today to one because otherwise it would become overwhelming and I would never write the post.

Such fun!