Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The music of "The King's Speech"

Last night seeing "The King's Speech" -- I expound on the experience on the, ahem, Leonard Pennario Web log -- I was struck by their choice of music. The original music seemed to me as your usual piano-based movie score, so bland you hardly noticed it. Perhaps it was that way on purpose.

But boy, when the King gave his speech, they gave you that glorious Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh.

Is there any better music in the world? That Allegretto, it builds to the point where it gives me a kind of vertigo. It is as if the sky and the ground are switching places.

And when the King of England, played by Colin Firth, was speaking as an exercise while listening to music, the music was the heated, breathless overture to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."

Again you are thinking: Is there any better music in the world?

Then at the end of the movie they bring in the slow movement from the "Emperor" Concerto. I started to cry. It had nothing to do with the movie. It is just that I always cry when I hear this music. It is as if it pulls the tears out of me. It is nothing I can control.

You also hear Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. And part of Brahms' "German Requiem."

A strange aspect of all this is that "The King's Speech" deals with the rise of Nazism, this evil force. That is the king's big challenge, having to confront the prospect of war with Germany. So it says something that there is all this German music. Maybe it is supposed to bring out both sides of the German people. Maybe it reflects that the British royal family was German, and the confusion and sadness of that.

Then again, maybe it is just that this music belongs to the whole world.

I think that is the explanation I like best.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Newman's own

Last night I had the best time at my office party. And one highlight was, I was talking to my friend Jerry's girlfriend Melinda, and she told me that when she was a kid she met Alfred Newman.

Of course Howard is there with me and he is bouncing all over the walls and he could not shut up about Alfred E. Neuman. But this was Alfred Newman whom Melinda was talking about. The movie score composer.

He wrote the music to "Wuthering Heights" which is the reason the 1939 version is the only one I love. All others are intolerable to me because that music is not there.

That ending.. Gaaaaaaa....

When movies were movies. When music was music. When screen deaths were screen deaths.

Where was I?

Alfred Newman. I could not believe Jerry's girlfriend Melinda had met him.She was a kid. I Googled Mr. Newman and he died in 1970. He married an actress and Goldwyn Girl -- now there is a title -- named Martha Louise Montgomery. She was from Clarksdale, Miss. They had five children. His nephew is Randy Newman. One of Alfred Newman's sons is some kind of musical figure too but it is too late tonight to get that all straight. I do not want to do research on a night like this. I want to wallow in "Wuthering Heights."

It says something about the way movies were back then that the music to "Wuthering Heights" that I love so much was nominated for an Oscar, it did not win. Back then you had serious competition. It was up against "The Wizard of Oz" and also "Gone With the Wind." "The Wizard of Oz" won.

What a year for movies, 1939. Here are the Oscars. Brooding, black-and-white "Wuthering Heights" won for Best Cinematography.

Here is something that you could not make up. Alfred E. Neuman ...

... was in fact named for Alfred Newman, in a roundabout way. There was a character in a drama named after the composer, and the cartoon was named after the character. They changed the spelling. You can sort it all out here.

So there is a connection. Who knew?

I wonder how Alfred Newman felt about that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Looking for a chateau...

... 21 rooms but one will do!

Pursuant to my last post I went and listened to Byron Janis reading his story of Chopin and the supernatural.

It was not everything I thought it would be but I stuck with it, I will say that for Byron Janis and his storytelling skills. The episode took place in Paris in the 1960s -- 1967, I think -- when Byron Janis and his wife went forth from Paris to visit a Viscount in his country chateau. And mysterious things develop. I mean, don't get your hopes up, there are no ghosts or anything, but a couple of Chopin waltzes mysteriously turn up.

One of them is the beautiful Waltz in G flat.

But whatever, you know? A lot of the story was eclipsed in my mind by one thing:

I envied Byron Janis' wife, pictured with him above. Not because she was married to Byron Janis or anything, just because she apparently had nothing to do but hang around with him and go out to this chateau of an afternoon.

She is not like me. She does not have to get up for work. All she does is follow Byron Janis around.

No boss yelling at her. No deadlines.


La la la la la la la.

So that was one thing. The other thing that struck me was that Byron Janis seems to be, ahem, a bit of a crackpot.

Well, who among us is not?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The student of Horowitz, 2

One thing I love -- love! -- about the Internet, about Blog-O-Land, is that you toss something out there on the way to bed, you do not really think about it, and the next morning surprises are waiting for you.

Last night I just ruminated a bit about Byron Janis when I was sitting around in my pajamas and this morning, I get this note from my friend Steve Baker who is now, ahem, Senior Director of Marketing at the San Diego Symphony. Steve is a great Facebook friend because he is intense and loves music. And he told me that on the Vanity Fair Web log site you can hear Byron Janis reading an excerpt from his book which is "Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal."

These are great days for books on pianists, you know? We recently got "My Nine Lives," by Anne Midgette and Leon Fleisher, and now there is this memoir by Byron Janis. Also I wonder about the memoirs of Earl Wild. I know he had been working on them. I think they might be out. Anyway, it is great that the public cares so much about these people, these pianists.

Back to Byron Janis. I had not known about this book and I have to say the title intrigues me. What, is he talking  with Chopin? Does Horowitz visit him in his dreams and impose more lessons on him? These are questions that will have to be answered.

I have to mention this, Vanity Fair proves what I said yesterday, that you never hear Byron Janis' name without Horowitz's name being right there next to it. There it is, first sentence: "Renowned concert pianist Byron Janis -- the first student of Vladimir Horowitz at age 16 -- has made quite a remarkable career..."

Working on my book on Leonard Pennario at least I do not have to worry about his being eclipsed by some teacher. Well, no one eclipsed Pennario. But that must be a particular kind of bummer, you get identified with some teacher at 16, for Pete's sake, and in a way it is downhill from there. It has its advantages, sure. But I do wonder how Byron Janis, a bright and interesting man in his own right, feels about that tie with Horowitz being his biggest credential.

Perhaps he will talk about that in his book.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The student of Horowitz

The pianist Byron Janis has a byline! He was in today's Wall Street Journal talking about his teachers and how they promoted his creativity. That is a picture up above of Byron Janis with babes.

That is a cool name, you know, Byron Janis? Byron as in George Gordon, Lord Byron. Janis as in Joplin.


It is funny that no matter how old certain pianists get they are always identified forever and ever by who their teachers were. No one ever thinks about Byron Janis without thinking that he was taught by Vladimir Horowitz. So this whole Wall Street Journal story, you are waiting to see when he gets around to talking about Horowitz.

Which he does. He says Horowitz told him, "You want to be a first Janis, not a second Horowitz."

I wonder if that could ever come to pass. Whenever I think of Byron Janis all I think of is that he studied with Horowitz. That is the danger of having this big-name teacher.

I wonder what Byron Janis would have turned into without Horowitz. I mean, he still would have been good, right? You would think.

But he may have been different.

And when you heard his name, Horowitz would not be the first thing you would think of.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bad archbishop

How cool is the church I go to? Cool enough so that the priest's message in the bulletin this week was all about Mozart's nemesis, Hieronymus Colloredo, pictured above in his robes.

It is interesting that back in the 1700s there were already people wanting Mass in the vernacular and there was already debate about church music. I do not know about Joseph II and his desire for simplicity. I do not think I would agree with him.

About Mozart's Church Sonatas, I am not so sure. I know those sonatas pretty well. And the thing is, they can rock the house! I normally side with Mozart on most things but I do not know how these sonatas would sound after the Epistle, I have to say that.

Darn, I cannot find exactly the Church Sonata I am looking for on YouTube but this one is a pretty good example of what I mean. There is just all this energy.

About Colloredo, I never did get a good feeling about him and I have to say, I do not like him better after reading this.

OK, enough opining. Here is what our priest, Father Secondo Casarotto, wrote in the bulletin. It is called "The Good Old Days." You almost never get to hear music history from a Catholic priest's perspective so now is your fleeting chance. Grab it, I say!

When Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo was elected prince-archbishop of Salzburg, he
wanted to reform the liturgy. Even before the Council of Trent, musicians had started to
introduce elaborate music in the liturgy. In 1567, shortly after the close of the Council of
Trent, a diocesan synod held in Dilingen, Germany, issued the following statement: "We
permit ancient and vernacular hymns, especially those which our praiseworthy German
forefathers employed in major feast days and we approve that they be retained in church
and in processions."
Masses, especially in cathedrals, became full of extraneous music that added great
length in their duration and church services were becoming more and more reminiscent of
concerts. In a pastoral letter, the new Archbishop demanded, among others, that Mass last
no longer than one hour. This did not go well with Amadeus Mozart, then organist of the
Cathedral of Salzburg, who had composed a series of 17 sonatas to be played after the
Epistle and were no longer permitted in the Catholic mass.
At the same time, Joseph II, emperor of Austria, was centralizing his authority and in
1781 ordered that all Austrian bishops not follow any order from outside his empire (i.e.
Rome). The following year he ordered the bishops to swear "fidelity and submission" to
him and not to the Pope. Over time, Joseph continued to formulate his own church laws,
including sacramental fees, issuing liturgical decrees, even regulating the music to
accompany the mass. In his desire for simplicity, he limited church decorations,
processions, mass times, pilgrimages, veneration of relics, etc.
In 1781 Joseph introduced a recommendation that the German language be used in lieu
of Latin during the celebration of the Mass. Even though the archbishop of Vienna
rejected Joseph's idea of a vernacular Catholic liturgy, a new Catholic hymnal was
published in 1783 that included several hymns in German.
Archbishop Colloredo sided with a group of bishops who wanted to form a German
National Church. At the same time he continued to restrict the mass to one hour, banning
instrumental pieces (which he eventually permitted in 1787). Although not under Joseph's
rule, Mozart felt the effects of the emperor's desire for reform. He continued to compose
some instrumental music for masses, a movement expanded by Johann M. Haydn who
wrote more than one hundred Graduals. Mozart eventually fell in disgrace with the
Archbishop and one day, while in Vienna, he was kicked out on the street by one of the
Colloredo's secretaries.

The secretary that kicked Mozart was Count Arco. I do not have to look that up.

It is funny, the immortality these clerics have achieved.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Gypsy pianist

Gyorgy Cziffra, there is a life.

From what I see on the Internet you are now supposed to say, ahem, Georges Cziffra. But I am sorry, Cziffra will always be Gyorgy to me.

When he was a little boy he played the piano in a traveling Gypsy circus. Cziffra was Gypsy. From what I see on the Internet you are supposed to say, ahem, Roma. But again I am sorry, Cziffra will always by Gypsy to me.

Imagine playing the piano in a traveling Gypsy circus. Talk about The. World's. Coolest. Job.

Here is a video of Cziffra at 13. This kills me, you know? There are millions of obscure videos of all kinds of pianists turning up on YouTube except for Pennario, there is next to nothing. Pennario, this household name, nothing turns up. He is a shadow. A sphinx. Well, I digress.

When Cziffra grew up tragedy struck. The Communists in Hungary imprisoned him for three years. They tortured him and after that Cziffra always played with a leather band on his wrist because of injuries he received, also just to remember. That is the way Gypsies think!

Cziffra married an Egyptian woman. They had a son who apparently killed himself. That has to have been terribly tough on the old man. When Cziffra died at 72 it was from lung cancer and -- I read this -- "complications from smoking and alcohol."

I got onto all this yesterday because I was deep into my Pennario book and I was reading how Harold Schonberg, the New York Times critic, was praising Pennario's Tchaikovsky First and saying it beat out Cziffra's, which came out at the same time. Schonberg wrote that Cziffra's in comparison was flashy and vulgar. I felt bad for Cziffra. When Schonberg got his claws into you it was not fun.

Anyway, what hardships in Cziffra's life but also what beauty and drama and flair.

Cziffra wrote a memoir called "Guns and Flowers" which was clearly the inspiration for the rock band Guns 'N Roses.

Quite a life and legacy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh! Mr. Fleisher!

So I am reading the new Leon Fleisher book, which pianist Fleisher, pictured above, wrote with Washington Post music critic Anne Midgette. I am engrossed in the part of the book where Fleisher talks about meeting the woman who would become his second wife.

I enjoy that kind of reminiscence. I burned through Arthur Rubinstein's "My Young Years," I will tell you that right now. Although in Rubinstein's memoirs it did get to be a bit much.

One particular thing in the Fleisher book, I got a kick out of.

Fleisher writes how he is bowled over by this woman, Rikki, because she is beautiful and loves Bartok.

That is all well and good!

But then comes the, ahem, seduction scene. Which of course I am glued to. Fleisher shows up after a concert tour at Rikki's apartment. He brings a magnum of champagne and "Der Rosenkavalier."

Gotta love that!

I am thinking, sure, you think you love a woman because she loves Bartok. But oh boy, when it's time for amour, who's your friend? Not Bartok.

Richard Strauss, that is who.

How a guy who looked like him turned out stuff like this, this or this, we will never know.

But sometimes we are glad he did!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who's that guy on the cello?

As my vinyl kick continues... I love how the old record box sets often include lavish books with pictures. You cannot get these in CDs because CDs are just too small. The format does not work for luxury. The most beautiful box set still winds up with just a cheap little booklet with small disappointing pictures. You just cannot get around that!

As opposed to the big pictures and quality paper of the booklet accompanying this 2-record RCA Red Seal set I picked up somewhere, of Fritz Kreisler playing with Rachmaninoff.

It included the above picture of Arnold Schoenberg.

Schoenberg is the one on the cello! I am sorry, I stared and stared. I did not know that at any point in his life he looked like one of the old guys who hang out at the Rose Garden in Buffalo. The Rose Garden is an old German restaurant.

Look at him there with that little Tyrolean band! That is Kreisler, of course, on fiddle second from the left.

Would you fancy looking at another picture of Fritz Kreisler? Thank you, I do not mind if I do.

That picture was also in my booklet.

My friend Gary got me on to the idea of buying records for their booklets. He recommends buying those "World's Greatest Classics" series because of that. He got a Debussy set along those lines that included a booklet with a photo of Debussy after dinner, passed out at the table with an empty wine bottle in front of him, sitting next to a woman with a turban. Gary made copies of that picture for his friends and we all have them framed. We have never seen that picture anywhere else! And I cannot find it on the Internet.

Just one more reason to buy vinyl.

Here is Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid," arranged by Rachmaninoff, performed with unabashed smoldering passion by America's greatest pianist, Pennario. This is funny, my friend Larry, who made the video, pulled a typo and reversed two letters so instead of reading "Love's pain," it reads "Love's song." Either one is correct, say I.

Here is an annoying-but-sort-of-cool square Canadian-sounding video about Schoenberg cabaret songs -- songs I love and once binged on for about a week. This is the side of Schoenberg you do not often hear and naturally the side I like better than the one you usually hear about.

It is the Schoenberg from the above photograph!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A buried treasure

Today I was so jazzed from having sorted out my records that I went and listened, for the first time, to that Christmas record I was admiring yesterday. The one with the classic cover, pictured above.

What a kick! It is far and away my favorite Christmas record.

I looked on YouTube and someone has posted "Deck the Halls."  If that does not bring back the era of the silver screen in all its glory! I love how the tune suddenly veers into a whole different mood, the way it does at 1:20, around there. It is like "Gone With the Wind."

The arrangements are by the conductor, Carmen Dragon.

What is funny is, working on this book on Leonard Pennario as I am, a record like this makes me understand more where Pennario was coming from, being the pianist on the Capitol label. It would definitely make some stuffy people see you differently than if you were on one of the more "establishment" labels. Oiks and eggheads would just see a record of Pennario playing, say, Schumann's F Minor Piano Sonata and they would go, uh, I don't think so.

They lose! We know better now.

Carmen Dragon, pops conductor and arranger, was a big presence at Capitol. He was also a big presence in Hollywood. For one thing he wrote the score to "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

I looked up a picture of Carmen Dragon and found this snapshot.

Here is his very Catholic-looking gravestone.

Carmen Dragon rests in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery so, bingo, I guess he was Catholic. Did I really write "Bingo"? An appropriate choice of word there. 

If you are into cemeteries the way I am, there is this great site that tells you about the other faithful departed that rest along with Carmen Dragon in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery. Among them are Ritchie Valens; Ed Begley Sr.; the actor who played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," and Bob Hope. I had not known Bob Hope was Catholic. I also had not known who played Fred Mertz. His name is William Frawley.

Live and learn!

Or should I say, live and listen.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Viva la diva

The recent passing of the diva Joan Sutherland has gotten me wondering: Which divas are left from that generation?

We are talking people born in the 1920s.

I thought of Leontyne Price, above. She was born Feb. 10, 1927. Back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, Leontyne Price was opera. It was not a real opera event until they brought out Leontyne Price, and her voice, and her Afro.

Roberta Peters ....

... who sang a heck of a Queen of the Night is still among us. She was born May 4,1930. 

Gwyneth Jones...

... being born in 1936 is a little young for our purposes.

Who else??

There must be others.

This is a question to occupy you when you are stuck for a few minutes in an elevator or a bank line.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Schubert karaoke

"I've been stuffing myself with 'An Die Musik.'" This one commenter wrote that on YouTube and it cracked me up. That is a great way to describe binge listening! Which, you know I am no stranger to that.

The commenter also pointed out that "An Die Musik" is classical music's "My Way." That is a funny way to put it but it is true. It is the song every singer wants to sing, and every singer wants in a way to make it his own.

It is emotional looking at YouTube because there are all these amateur singers stepping shyly but proudly into the spotlight: "This is me singing 'An Die Musik.'" Young people, old people, some accompanying themselves on the piano, some grabbing a friend to do it.

Just now on my 1950s stereo I was listening to Hans Hotter singing it, is what got me going on this today. It is a marvelous version, luxuriously slow, with Hotter's silken deep voice.

This Web log is no stranger to my namesake Erich Kunz but I cannot remember ever hearing his version of "An Die Musik," and I found it unusual. I listened to it three times and I am still not used to it. Taken at a fast tempo with a sort of light orchestral accompaniment, it is jubilant and extroverted -- forceful, almost -- but in a way very moving. As if he is saying that music makes everything worth it.
Here is "An Die Musik" in a dramatic scene from a movie, sung by the dapper Jose van Dam.

And an old black-and-white filmed performance by George London. Or, as one commenter puts it, the Great One, George London.

Here I am, I should be working and instead I am listening to great bass baritones singing "An Die Musik."
And a tenor, Fritz Wunderlich. With sweet pictures and a translation. So beautifully done, as my Zumba teacher Eileen would say. "So beautifully done." That is what she always says, watching us dance.

Wow, look at this! A pianist has been nice enough to post the accompaniment so anyone can: tackle singing the song.

Schubert karaoke! I just tried it. I could not help it! Unfortunately I am more of a mezzo than a soprano and I found the high notes tough going. But it was fun. You find yourself standing up, taking a deep breath.

Here are the words in case you want to try. You can be like Eula Beal, the contralto pictured above! In the picture she is singing "Erlkoenig." But you, you will be singing "An Die Musik."

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt!

Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf' entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür!

To Music

Oh sacred Art, how often, when depression
and life's wild circle had ensnared my space,
have you aroused my heart to love's compassion,
have you removed me to a better place!

How often has the sigh your harp created,
a sacred chord of your enchanted mood,
to heaven's better times my soul elated:
Oh sacred Art, I thank you for that!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The latest Web logger

I am woefully behind!! It has been weeks since I wrote my last post. Fie. Fie on me! That must needs change.

But here is a comfort. Look at Alan Gilbert. He is the conductor of the New York Philharmonic!

And he is a Web logger, as of the other day. He has just launched a Web log on the Musical America site.

Lots of luck, Alan Gilbert! It ain't as easy as it looks. Note that he has already missed a few days. That is what I mean about his being a comfort.

Alan Gilbert's first post is a kind of dutiful and boring account of what he does during the course of a day, drop his kid off at pre-kindergarten, look over scores, drink coffee, whatever. I sort of skimmed over it.

"(I) spoke with Larry Tarlow, the Principal Librarian, asking him when I could expect the final installment of Wynton Marsalis’s revision of his piece that we are performing on Opening Night (September 22)..."

Better you than me! That is what I was thinking.

I am glad I am not the music director of the New York Philharmonic, you know?

It would be fun if Alan Gilbert relaxed into his Web log. If he started dumping on people who annoyed him, giving us little secrets on what really goes on at the New York Philharmonic, tells us the stupid stuff he is listening to that he would not normally admit to, why, then, we could get to like Alan Gilbert, our new Web log buddy.

My advice: Go for it, Mr. Gilbert.

Name names!


Settle scores!

We will be wishing and hoping.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The music of heaven

Pope Benedict XVI made some moving comments the other day about Mozart after hearing a performance of the Requiem. The priest at my church hipped me to them.

There is also an interesting essay on the Pope's thoughts on Mozart that touches on Benedict's feelings for how Catholic liturgical music has gone to pot in our current day and age. (That is my wording, not his. But it has gone to pot, I am sorry.)

In that essay here is one thing I love: seeing someone addressed as "Reverend Kapellmeister." It is like being back in the 18th century! That someone by the way is the Pope's brother.

Another thing I love: the name Hans Urs von Balthasar. That is a great name. It is like being back in the 16th century!

But seriously.

Anyone with deep feelings for Mozart has to deplore some of this modern stuff that I have seen described as folk-y or light Broadway. When you go to Mass you are challenged to believe what your brain is telling you is impossible. I will tell you this, I find it more difficult to do that when I am listening to crummy music. Maybe people smarter than I am can do it but I need that leg up I get from listening to something wonderful.

I loved Pope John Paul II but music has always mattered to me and in that respect, Pope Benedict is the answer to my prayers. The Catholic Church definitely needs a clean-up in the music department.

Tell 'em, Your Holiness!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Overrated? Underrated?

British concert pianist Stephen Hough, no stranger to this Web log, has a great thing going right now on his Web log about which composers are overrated and which are underrated.

That is a discussion that never grows old! We did a whole Sunday story about it once in The Buffalo News. That was when I got in trouble for writing I thought the Beatles were overrated. Wow, just the memory of that kills me. Before the story ran I went into the editor's office asking if I could pull it. I did not want to deal with the fallout.

She said, "No! That stays."

She was right. What the heck, you know? Sometimes you gotta be brave.

I like how Stephen Hough starts out his discussion, by defending Tchaikovsky. I was just thinking the same thing the other day, remember, about the "1812 Overture." Darn good piece, darn good composer. Not overrated in my not so humble opinion.

There are something like 100 comments on the Hough Web log as people weigh in. It is a lot of fun and in general the discussion is smart and entertaining. Although you know what, don't go on and say Mozart or Beethoven is overrated, you know? Glenn Gould sounded like an idiot making statements like that and anyone else does, too.

What an overrated/underrated composer discussion usually comes down to is distinguishing the first-tier composers from the second-tier. This is a parlor game that can eat up whole days. My mother and my brother George and I sometimes play that game.

George says that when push comes to shove, Mom thinks that Chopin, pictured above, is second-tier.

"Ask her," he says. "She doesn't like to admit it but that's what she thinks."

I like the one guy in Hough's discussion who declares that the modern minimalist composers are overrated. Say it! Tell 'em! To my way of thinking a lot of contemporary music will go down in history as a quaint fad that lasted longer than it should have.

It is fun to sling around opinions.

If you do not watch out it will eat your whole day!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A wake-up call

Yesterday on my way in to the gym to do Zumba I had the radio on and they were playing Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

Listening to it -- which I did, actively, even though like everyone else I have heard it a million times -- I started thinking how good Tchaikovsky was. I mean, here I am listening to this thing and enjoying it. It is such a kick, that music. And how it ends with the cannons and the church bells -- it could be awful and cloying but it is not, it works, it's fun.

But that is not really what this is about. Here is what this is about:

This is something I figured out when I was a kid and it is still true. We may call it, ahem, Kunz Goldman's Law.

The first thing that you hear in the morning will stick with you all day.

I go into Zumba class and here all this hip-hop and Latin music and whatever. And one problem with this Zumba music is how it sticks in your head. In class it is fun but when you wake up at night and this music is rolling around in your head, it can get annoying. But yesterday, the Zumba music melted away right after I left the gym and all that was left was the "1812 Overture."

After that I went garage sale-ing with my mom and we played the radio and different things came up, but when I went home there it still was, Tchaikovsky.

I went to hear Jackie Jocko down at the Hyatt but that "1812" stayed in my head.

When I went to bed it was still there!

The Germans call them "Ohrwuermer," or "ear worms," these tunes that get into your head and you cannot shake them. I think some people are more prone to them than others. I hear whole recordings in my head. It can be useful but sometimes it can drive you crazy.

And, so often, the thing on your brain will be the first thing you heard in the morning.

Be careful what you let in!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gustav Mahler tells all!

Yesterday I took my mom to a doctor appointment and lying on a table in the waiting room was this magazine!

I looked at the headline and all I could think of was: This must be some artist or actor talking about why he left the city of Vienna. I wondered why he would leave Vienna. I wondered what had happened to him there. I was reaching for the magazine, interested, when I saw the smaller headlines, and realized my mistake.

Oh, of course, Vienna was a woman. It was not the city.

Someone named a kid Vienna.

Then I felt stupid, thinking, what did I expect? Gustav Mahler discussing discrimination he felt he suffered at the Vienna State Opera? What?

Moments like this remind me of what a nerd I am.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Choose your poison

Probably all the Mozart fans out there have already seen this, but the New York Times did a story about a guy who has catalogued all the possible theories as to what caused Mozart's death.

Howard startled me by asking, "What's your favorite?"

I did not know!

Upon reflection I was thinking it might be that the Freemasons did Mozart in. I am not saying I think that is what happened, I am just saying that is my favorite theory.

I also think, as I wrote before, that the way that anonymous man in gray visited Mozart demanding the Requiem is a very strange story. I think the Times story was remiss not to mention that. To me that hints at some kind of foul play, I am sorry. It is funny, that story is established as fact but somehow we do not think about it.

Mostly what the Times story tackles are medical theories.

Kidney failure, pneumonia, stroke, congestive heart failure. It is amazing: There are at least 118 different theories.

What's your favorite?

Whatever it is, above is a cool picture of Mozart on his deathbed.

Here is his death certificate. The New York Times linked to it and I have been studying it.

"Nerd," Howard said when he walked in and found me poring over it.

But it fascinates me!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why children can't sing

Here is something unsettling, not that there is any shortage of that these days. This folk singer and scholar Dave Ruch, whom I interviewed last week, told me most kids can no longer sing.

"What I’m finding lately, in a shocking number of schools, is that the kids can’t hold a tune," Ruch told me. "It used to be 10 years ago, if I taught them a simple chorus of “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal,” they could sing it back. In the last couple of years, I’m in 100 schools every year, I’m seeing three or four times out of five that you ask a body of students, elementary school age, to sing it, they kind of half talk it and half sing it. The whole sense of melody is getting lost. I just think kids don’t sing as much any more. Where we used to sing playing in the sand or whatever, it’s not happening in the home."

Something to think about.

Well, this kid takes a good stab at it anyway. Ha, ha! Too funny.

Ruch is an encyclopedia of New York State songs and when I called him, he was driving across the state. Where else would he be?

He told me the "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal" song was written by professional songwriters in 1905.

Whereas this song, which I have always preferred, Ruch said is a genuine folksong that was old as the Civil War and was actually sung by the canalers, as he calls them.

There was that QRS recital at Kleinhans Music Hall years ago when Thomas Hampson sang that song as an encore, in this real ruffian's voice. Everyone went wild. He did it great.

The girls are in the police gazette
The crew is all in jail

And I'm the only son-of-a-gun who's left to tell this tale!

I am not sure he sang "son-of-a-gun." I do remember everyone loved it.

It is distressing that so many kids are growing up not able to sing. Dave Ruch told me that when he runs into a group of kids who are able to carry a tune, it invariably ends up to be because there is a music teacher who has them in a chorus and bends over backwards so they learn to sing.

And you know you will hear the chorus saying see, this is what happens when budgets are cut and music programs are eliminated -- but money is not the problem and it is not the answer. You should not have to learn every little thing in school, you know? Singing should be as basic as eating or whining, which I realize I am doing now but I think this is important.

I think the problem is, and Dave Ruch thinks so to, that kids don't pick up singing around the house anymore. For years now pop music has had little or no melody. I hear this stuff at the gym. I get a kick out of a lot of the songs in Zumba class. But most of them, like this classic, are more rhythm than melody. Ha, ha! I am watching that video and I cannot believe I know this song.

The worst stuff is the pop stuff they drone at you in the rest of the gym. Try listening to this thing. It just drones! The chorus. "I'm half way this and I'm half way that and I'm half way this..." It goes on forever. All current pop songs sound like that, in my experience, which, as I said, is substantial.

That's why kids can't sing, in my not-so-humble opinion.

It's too bad.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mozart goes East

Before I go to sleep I like to read, but sometimes it is hard finding just the right book. I do not want anything associated with work. Or anything that will upset me, or rev me up.

Last night I hit on "Coffee With Mozart," by Julian Rushton.

There is a series of these little books. I am looking on the back flap and there is also "Coffee With the Buddha" and "Coffee With Groucho." Ha, ha! I can tell you right off which one I would prefer between those two. Also there is Coffee With Hemingway, Marilyn, Michelangelo, Plato and Oscar Wilde.

They do not seem to have a concrete plan with this series!

"Coffee With Mozart" should actually be "Beer With Mozart" because in the book that is what he drinks. Well, in real life that is what he drank, along with the white wine that Beethoven liked too.

Last night all I read was the Foreword, by Sir John Tavener.

It is an unusual Foreword. Tavener, the well-known mystic composer, begins by recounting how when he was a boy, his "romantic and aristocratically beautiful godmother" took him to see "The Magic Flute."

He goes on to philosophize about how much he dislikes the 18th century as an era. Not me! I would love to go back and live one day in the 1780s. I love the fashions. At least the middle class fashions, not so much the sky high-piled hair and the powder, but ... OK, I love the men's fashions. Those knee breeches! Those stylish three-cornered hats. Mozart liked those fashions too, incidentally. We have that in common.

Tavener writes: "It seems unlikely that the most 'sacred' composer of the West should emerge in that dilapidated era. Using the term 'sacred' about Mozart may elicit some surprise..."

Um, no, it doesn't ...

"...but I truly believe that Mozart's 'The Magic Flute' connects to Krishna's flute, just as his music in general can be compared to that particular kind of sacredness one finds in Persian and Hindu miniature paintings. I am not, of course, saying that Mozart himself was fully spiritually developed. God used this frail man to communicate to the world the eternal vision of childhood, and the divine world of Lila, a Sanskrit term meaning 'divine play.'"

Uh, Siddhartha?

Come out from under the banyan tree?

I am sorry but I can imagine what Mozart would say reading that foreword.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A teachable moment

Listening to Ligeti the other day got me thinking about "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" which got me thinking about that music by Dukas that went into the first "Fantasia."

I realize how little I know that movie. I know "Fantasia 2" better because that came out just a few years ago. In the second "Fantasia" I loved how they put Elgar's famous "Pomp and Circumstance" march to a cartoon showing Donald Duck assisting Noah in building and managing the ark.

But that is a whole other story. Back to "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." In "Fantasia" they had the famous cartoon of Mickey Mouse as the poor apprentice who thinks he can get the brooms to do his work for him.

When I see that cartoon now I think how it is wasted on the young.

You have to be grown up for that cartoon really to terrify you. You do not have to be that grown up. Fifteen or so will do it. But you have to have been in a situation where things got seriously out of control. A time when you thought you were smart and turned out you were not.

Maybe you lied about something and it grew and you could not get out of it.

You cheated on someone.

Or here is a good one: Maybe, like the music suggests, you got into the occult. Once on Catholic Radio this priest told this story about a group of kids who were messing with a Ouija board and they hacked into something that terrified them and they all showed up at the rectory begging for help. O, to be a bug on the wall when they had to make that call. "Guys, there's this church down the street..."

That is a "Sorcerer's Apprentice" moment!

A teachable moment, we would call it now. Mickey Mouse gets his teachable moment!

The cartoon is so vivid. The shadows at 1:32. The look on Mickey's face at 1:40. Such care went into it. I remember reading how an animator who had worked on "Snow White" said that he and a whole team of people spent months working on just a brief clip that showed the Seven Dwarfs marching home from work and their shadows on the mountains. This clip must have taken the same kind of work.

The music is so vivid too. It is great how Dukas sets that theme up right away, in the first bars.

The best, or the worst I should say, is when everything seems to subside and Mickey chops up the broom and he thinks he has the problem taken care of. But then that theme gets going again, a couple of notes, then a couple of more notes -- and at 6:22 I believe it is, there's that rhythm back, and there's a whole army of brooms marching. I love that part!

As long as it is not about me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pedal to the metal

Yesterday I was underslept and punchy and began listening to this thing by Ligeti. The reason was, I got the schedule for the UB music series and I am serious, it was loaded with Ligeti. You can say this for Ligeti, he gets his share of the spotlight. You can not say that he died forgotten.

Gyorgy Ligeti, by the way, died in 2006. Here is a picture of the weird-looking old man.

You know you are punchy when Ligeti is sounding good to you. This one crazy video, I watched it twice. Then I watched it a third time.

Is this what music has come to?

What a crazy, absurd, robotic piece!

And a robotic pianist. She just sits there, her eyes half closed, punching away like a little machine.

Still there is something I like about it, albeit on a strictly mental level. I cannot agree with one commenter who calls it "divine." But her detached involvement with the piece, and the patter of her fingers over the keys -- I just can't look away, you know? The pianist's name by the way is Ching-Yun Hu. The etude is "Der Zauberlehrling" which means "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

I could see myself taking this piece on. That would be great for when it comes time, and it will come time, for me to make my comeback at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. I have the sneaking suspicion that in all competitions, if you play contemporary music, you have an edge. I should learn a Ligeti etude and polish it up like a sports car.

Ha, ha! Ligeti, it even sounds like a sports car. "I've bought this brand-new, high-performance Ligeti. It's gunmetal blue and it goes up to 150 miles an hour. I'm taking it down to Texas."

That is an idea!

I will be unstoppable, with my Ligeti.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ellen's songs

Also at Mass yesterday they did an organ version of Schubert's "Ave Maria." Classical music nerds, of whom I am one, we know it is one of three songs set to German translations of Scottish poetry from Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake." The "Ave Maria" is Ellens Gesang III, or Ellen's Third Song.

Here is Ellens Gesang I. I think it has a peculiar haunting quality. "Rest, warrior, the war is over." In this video, which is very well made with a translation, it is sung by Dame Janet Baker.

Here I sit, watching this song and sighing. Sometimes I think I have not matured beyond, oh, 16. I am not sure that Schubert ever did, either. Well, at least Schubert died at 31. At least he had an excuse never to grow up.

It is funny to think of Schubert, frozen in adolescence, in love with the stuff kids -- smart kids anyway -- are still in love with. When I was a girl at Sacred Heart there were friends of mine into Walter Scott who read all his stuff. Being a loser I only listened to music. But they read Sir Walter Scott and I remember it affected them deeply.

Schubert loved "The Lady of the Lake" and I believe he also read "The Last of the Mohicans," by James Fenimore Cooper. I do know for sure that when he was dying he was asking his friends to get him more books by  James Fenimore Cooper. Doesn't it break your heart to hear that?

On a brighter note ... I am still looking at "Ellens Gesang I." Someone has written as a comment: "What record were these songs taken from? I don't want them. I NEED them!!"

I need them too!

I love the turn the song takes at 5:26.

Here is Ellens Gesang II. This is beautiful and haunting, too. That stark horn call.

The Internet is wonderful, you know? These videos are made by this woman -- somehow I know it is a woman -- who signs herself FiDiTanzer. I recognize that as being shorthand for Fischer-Dieskau Tanzer, Tanzer being "Dancer." She dedicates a lot of videos to him. I hope he at least acknowledges her sometime. I hope he writes her a little note and says thanks. Her videos are beautiful.

She also did that video of "Normans Gesang" that I love, also from "The Lady of the Lake." This galloper, as someone put it, is one of my favorite songs in the world. I loved it when I was a kid, my name being Mary and everything. And as I said, I never progressed past 17.

Back to Ellen's Songs. Here is what everyone is waiting for: Ellens Gesang III, "Ave Maria."

It is so sweet in German. I am a big lover of Latin and I respect that this song has taken on religious significance. It is such a reverent melody. And I love hearing it in church. But the Latin words just never scan right to this thing.

It sounds perfect just the way it is.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hymns, hers

Today was the Feast of the Assumption which means we got to sing a hymn dedicated to Mary. We sang "Hail, Holy Queen" which is a song I love. It got me thinking of the Marian hymns I love and that we really do not get to sing that much.

The hymn the organist played as the Mass was ending was "Daily, Daily Sing to Mary." This is such a square old hymn I could not even find a decent version on YouTube. This was the best I could do. But I like it faster and lustier. Are you allowed to say you want a hymn to sound lusty? You know I do not mean it in that way.

This is an old Bavarian melody. The Bavarians and Austrians came up with great church melodies. One of my all-time favorites, one I loved to rip into in my church organist days, is "God Father Praise and Glory." I just had to do research and the only way I could find it is by the German title, "Gott Vater Sei Gepreisen." Check it out. The chorus is great. "Holy God/Mighty God/God immortal be adored!" I used to love to sing that.

It is just a darn good melody, you know? Bouncy. Not boring!

I can say that also about "Hail Holy Queen," the old chestnut we sang at the end of Mass. It is hard to find any recordings on YouTube that are not kitschy or is not just some organist playing somewhere but here is one that at least shows what this song sounds like.

Before anyone else can throw this up at me, here are CPDRC Inmates singing "Hail Holy Queen." Hilarious! Millions of old Germans turning over in their graves.

And there is also this punk rock version. Ha, ha! There is something sweet about this thing. I know a lot of people would consider it disrespectful but I think the Blessed Mother is smiling on these kids. The way they do the last verse.

This being a classical music Web log now I am going to get nerdy. There is a song about Mary I really love and it is Hugo Wolf's "Nun Wandre Maria." It talks about Mary and Joseph on the donkey plodding toward Bethlehem. And you can feel how tired they are. I think Hugo Wolf gets that spirit across so beautifully.

Are we there yet? That is kind of what the song says. It keeps saying, soon you will be in Bethlehem.

Earlier when I checked there was no "Nun Wandre Maria" -- it means, "Now, wander, Mary" -- on YouTube but now there is! Honest, this song makes me cry. The real weariness is in the piano part. You can feel them stumbling, feel how tired they are -- man, woman and donkey. It is from Hugo Wolf's "Spanish Song Book." It is so beautiful. I think it is one of the greatest of German lieder.

This recording is not my particular favorite. I like the song to be more plodding, more inexorable. Well, that is the way we get about songs we love. It is better than nothing. I got to know this song from a recording by Judith Blegen. I bought this one Judith Blegen record when I was a teenager and it is still a record I love. That is it pictured above! I found a picture on the Internet.

Once I was interviewing this one singer and I told her, "You know what, your voice reminds me of Judith Blegen's." Because it did.

She said: "Oh, thank you! A few other people have told me that and it made me so happy!"

My, how way leads on to way! I never thought I would get onto all this today.

Happy Feast of Assumption, everyone!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Portrait of Fanny

Yesterday I began thinking about Felix Mendelssohn and then about his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel.

She married a painter named Wilhelm Hensel and here is what has always struck me about that: She was loved.

Wilhelm Hensel loved her.

He sketched portrait after portrait of her and in each one you can tell he could not get over her eyes. Above is one of his pictures of her. Here is another.

And another.

Fanny was a very gifted musician and it is strange to contemplate what her father supposedly said, that for Felix, music could be a life, but for her, it was an ornament.


Her middle name was Caecilie, and St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

In a way her parents must have known what they were getting into.

Here is a nocturne by Fanny Caecilie Mendelssohn Hensel.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Today I was listening to Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" -- or, if you want to sound like someone out of the Victorian age, which I often do, "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel." Schubert wrote this song when he was 17 and it is all about hormones gone wild. Gretchen is sitting at the spinning wheel and thinking about this guy who has knocked her socks off and she gets carried away and when she thinks of how he kisses her the spinning wheel stops. Then it picks back up, bit by bit, as she recovers herself.

Goethe wrote the poem but that was Schubert's idea, the sound of the spinning wheel and then the spinning wheel stopping. Above is a picture of the young Schubert. He has rather a charming look.

Renee Fleming does a good job with it. I like that spinning wheel moving fast. I don't like it when people drag this song. And here is old-time soprano Emma Eames. I am throwing this in because it has the poem and the translation.

I love how this girl sings it, when she gets to the part about "und ach, sein Kuss!" His kiss! The way she stands there. This is like a play. You have to feel the character. Which, let us not be naive, we all have. The pianist does a great job, too, with the last note.

This is a great song for young singers because Schubert was only 17 when he wrote it and it is about that time in your life. Here is a Russian girl singing it.

You have to wonder what Schubert would have thought at the idea of the song he wrote when he was 17 being sung 200 years later in Moscow, in America, everywhere.

You have to wonder what Schubert's family thought when they heard this song. His father, a schoolteacher, he was no dummy. He must have recognized something in it. Imagine how they looked at it going, holy cow.

What have we got here.

I am not giving this exhaustive thought today but it seems there were two composers who were perfect at 17, they were fully formed. Schubert was one and Mendelssohn is the other one I am thinking of. Mozart was great at 17 and wrote some beautiful things but he still had growing to do. Mendelssohn ...

... was himself.

To have written the music for "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at 17. That famous Wedding March.

His parents were more sophisticated than Schubert's parents but there must have been that look in their eyes too. Holy cow. What have we got here.

It boggles the mind.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Showdown in Toronto

To my ears comes news of a new piano competition in Toronto. It is the Chinese Cultural Centre Piano Competition! The sponsor is Yamaha. The big question is whether you have to be Chinese to enter. Every contestant they mention seems to be Chinese.

Rounds I-III take place in November in the P C Ho Theatre in Scarborough. That is a name I love, the P C Ho Theatre.

One of the jurors is John Giordano. I would love to go up to Toronto just to meet him. He has been the chairman of the jurors of the Van Cliburn Competition forever and he is from the Buffalo area. I spoke with him for my book about Leonard Pennario because Pennario judged that competition for so long. It is great, the thought of the Cliburn Competition being under the control of these two guys from Buffalo.

But back to the Chinese Cultural Centre Piano Competition. I am saving the best for last. The vice president of the competition has the most wonderful name.

It is Dr. Dong-Dong Dong!

Here is a picture of her. Dr. Dong-Dong Dong received her doctorate from Eastman.

As one of my friends says, it sounds like a doorbell.

Opportunity knocks!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A strange, strange story

Lastnight at Artpark, watching "Amadeus," I got to thinking.

About the Requiem.

It is so fitting how it has the last Kochel number, 626.

Listening to the Requiem it seems pretty obvious that Mozart was writing it for himself. I do not think you need a fanciful mind to think that. It has this kind of terror in it, and then this consolation, that sounds like a man working through his own feelings about death.

Here is another thing.

There are scholars who try to tell us that Mozart was doing fine up until the end, that there was no reason he would have thought he was dying. And I know, because I've read all his letters, how he did not dwell on dark matters, he was thinking about his wife, about his kid in boarding school, etc.

But here is what is weird. Right when you come around to these scholars' way of thinking, there is that business about the Requiem. About the man in gray who came to his door and, probably, scared the daylights out of him. It would scare the daylights out of anyone, this nameless, faceless stranger asking you to write a Requiem. And here was Mozart, mentally ill from overwork and stress.

That story about the man in gray, nothing makes it work.

The scholars try to blow the cobwebs off it, say you know what, it was just that this nobleman, Franz von Walsegg. He lived in Stuppach Castle, near Gloggnitz. Which, only Germans could come up with such an address! I can say that being German.

Von Walsegg's wife had died, and he wanted to commission a Requiem for her and pass it off as his own. He was in the habit of commissioning music like this, music he could pass off as his own.So he sent this masked man to Mozart. See, kiddies? No worries. It can all be explained. La la la la la la la.

You know what?

That is one WEIRD story!!!!

Why do people insist on feeding it to us as if it were normal?

That is at least as weird a story as Salieri poisoning Mozart.

This von Walsegg, what the heck? Did he commission other composers? Cherubini, say, or Michael Haydn, or Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, did they ever get this man in gray knocking at their door? If they did, I never heard about it. Plus, what a weird way of operating! Why didn't anyone tell him to stop it?

Vienna has to have been kind of a small town the way Buffalo is a small town. People must have known each other's business. Why didn't it get back to Mozart, what was going on?

All these things, going through my head, watching "Amadeus." At the end of it, you know what was weird, I was crying. It had nothing to do with Salieri or anything. I kind of tuned out that part of the plot. It does not interest me that much. I just feel bad about everything that happened to Mozart, that he died like that. It was just such a shame.

And so weird.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Twisted sister

Just now looking around for this and that, I happened on this picture that was used on the advertisements for "The Piano Teacher," a movie that came out a few years ago.

Wow, was that false advertising or what?

Did anyone else see that movie?

What a doozie!

It was dark and strange and weird and twisted. And they hook you by showing you this slightly comic picture of two people indulging in, ahem, amour on a bathroom floor.


As if it is some kind of romantic comedy!

Whereas in real life, I mean in the movie, there was this woman, the Isabelle Huppert character, brooding to Schubert and mutilating herself. I had to write something about it in the paper and I can't remember what in the world I wrote. I do remember resenting the movie. It fed into the notion a lot of people have that people into classical piano are crazy.

There was some kind of romance between this twisted teacher and this younger guy, her student, but as I recall it lasted about five minutes.

We should sue.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yes or no?

What with all the musical matters facing the world today, I am sure most people would understand why, yesterday, I found myself mulling over a question in my mind.

Other women might want to answer this question. But men may take a crack at it, too!

Here is the question.

Ready, Freddy?

If you were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf....

... would you have married Walter Legge?

I say the answer is yes!

I don't care what people say about Walter Legge being an unpleasant human being. If I were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and had a voice like hers that deserved to be heard, I would have gone for it with old Walter. Who, being a powerful person, would be able to do things for me.

I guess they were happy together.

Never having read that Legge book I am not sure. But in that picture they look of one mind.

I say Elisabeth Schwarzkopf knew what she was doing.

She does look like a wise woman.