Thursday, December 26, 2013

On the Feast of Stephen

 The Feast of Stephen is the second day of Christmastide and a lot of the holiday bustle is behind you. You are free to relax and enjoy!

Specifically you are free to relax and enjoy "Good King Wenceslas."

I like the Irish Rovers' version up above. I also like the song. As we continue to poke and probe into the history of famous Christmas carols, "Good King Wenceslas" was written by  British clergyman John Mason Neale.

There is this one Christmas carol site I will not link to because it describes "Good King Wenceslas" as "a delightful melody with horrible lyrics." What exactly is wrong with these lyrics? I was just wandering the house late last night turning out lights and unplugging the tree and stuff and singing this song to myself and thinking how good it was. I know bad writing. Heck, I have written bad writing. This song's lyrics are fine. Otherwise we would not be singing it, you know?

Well, as someone said the other day, the Internet is full of misinformation. Just on these Christmas carol sites, you read the craziest things.

Here are a few things that have emerged more or less with clarity:

Good King Wenceslas is Vaclav I, the Duke of Bohemia.

John Mason Neale also wrote the English words to "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." He did not write the melody! Some people are claiming he wrote the melody. The melody goes way back.

St. Stephen was the first martyr. He was stoned outside Jerusalem and died praying for his executioners. We celebrate him today, on the second day of Christmas.

As the snow in Buffalo lies 'round about.

Deep and crisp and even!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A gallery of great musicians and their dogs

This morning because of my Pennario project I found myself checking into something regarding the conductor Artur Rodzinski, and I happened on this treasure --

A trove of pictures of musicians and their dogs!

The pictures come from Life magazine. That is Maestro Rodzinski up above, with his wife, Halina. It is great how the dog is jumping into her arms!

Conductor Andre Kostelanetz had a great sheepdog named Puff.

I saved the best for last, tenor Lauritz Melchior -- hmmm, this is cool, all three of this musicians figured in Pennario's life -- and his wife and their Great Dane.

A big dog for a big voice!

The whole gallery is fascinating. There are a lot of actors and actresses I don't know, but just the styles, the elegance of the era draws you in.

Howard and I were laughing at Lauritz Melchior and the other Great Dane, Victor Borge.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

And called it macaronic

There is a wonderful term that means something is part one language and part another language.

It is macaronic!

As in the Christmas carol "In Dulci Jubilo," an ancient song I love, which, as the video's explanation points out, is part in Latin and part in German.

That is a pretty video. I like the pictures of Oberammergau where they hold the passion play. However I also have a taste for an "In Dulci Jubilo" that is more bouncy.

The voices from King's College Cambridge pick it up a little bit. You hear this Pearsall arrangement a lot and I mostly like it, except at the end, I think it goes off the rails a little. I don't like how it trails off and then ends on that questioning note. To me that ending does not work.

 Here is an ambitious and creative treatment by Michael Praetorius for eight voices, performed by the ambitious and creative group Chanticleer. Amazing! This arrangement has energy but also humor. Michael Praetorius was a wonder. Everything he wrote in my experience was vivid and interesting.

Here is a riotous Renaissance version of Praetorius' "In Dulci Jubilo," with the Gabrieli Consort. Wow, this is amazing! Those drums and fanfares!

OK, that does it. Now I have to go put up my Christmas tree.

This macaronic song talked me into it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Robert Shaw and Two-Buck Chuck

As we continue our research into America's great choral directors -- see Roger Wagner, from a couple of days ago -- there is no ignoring Robert Shaw, pictured above.

Or the fact that he was second cousins with Charles F. Shaw.

That is the Shaw of Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck!

Wikipedia says that Robert Shaw would vacation at his cousin's vineyard.

Now we see why the maestro was so good at the Christmas carols.

 Wassail was in his blood!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The master Christmas caroler

 As we gear up for Christmas we should pause in appreciation of the Roger Wagner Chorale.

You do not hear about Roger Wagner as much as you hear about Robert Shaw. Both are choral greats. But Roger Wagner, there was something special about his arrangements. They are like the Carmen Dragon arrangements I have mentioned. They are from the same era and the same wonderful label, Capitol.

Like the Carmen Dragon arrangements the Roger Wagner arrangements are boundlessly imaginative and never cloying. They are better than other people's arrangements. I have tried in vain to find a YouTube video of his take on "Deck the Halls." Other choirs' arrangements are flat-footed in comparison.

I love to listen to the Roger Wagner Chorale this time of year.

 I am a Wagnerian!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

'O Tannenbaum,' Historic Tannenbaum

It is fun to look into the history of Christmas carols. And today, it being the first Sunday of Advent and me struggling with the urge to put up my Christmas tree, I got thinking about "O Tannenbaum."

The tune is a 16th Century Silesian folk song, says Wikipedia. Silesia is where Germany and Poland meet, so naturally great Christmas carols will come from there.

Of course Wikipedia can't wait to tell you that it wasn't really a Christmas carol, that the words were just about a fir tree and its evergreen qualities, that it was about an unhappy love story, blah blah blah. People cannot wait to burst your bubble on stuff like this, you know? For instance they always want to pound it into you that when Mendelssohn wrote the melody to "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" he had nothing about Christmas in mind. That is another story for another day.

This is interesting, says that the Nazis used to promote "O Tannenbaum" as a Christmas song, or shall we say a holiday song, because it did not mention Christ and the Nazis wanted to secularize Christmas. I would like to see sources cited. On the one hand that is believable considering other things I have read about the Nazis and their antipathy toward religion. On the other, doesn't "O Tannenbaum" make you feel pretty warm about Christmas, whether or not it technically mentions Christ? I don't know if it would have helped the Nazis to promote it.

Oh well. Whoever did what, and for whatever reason, "O Tannenbaum" is a dandy song. I love my Christmas tree ...

... and I like how the melody goes back at least to the Renaissance. It is thrilling, the age of some of these Christmas carols.

I have always been partial to the Nat Cole version. And in German. You go, "King" Cole!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sweet singing in the choir

Going through my Christmas vinyl I found a record by the Offenbach Kinderchor, meaning children's choir. I do not remember buying it but here it is, and I put it on the turntable. It is an old Columbia record.

I love the Offenbach Kinderchor! They are like the Vienna Choir Boys without all that finesse. They are just 100 percent enthusiasm. These high-pitched voices, so sweet and funny.

In "Kling, Glockchen," the one kid takes a solo and it was startling, the sound was so immediate, even on this old record, that when he pipes up, you could swear he was in the next room.

I see my Offenbach Kinderchor album going on eBay for $7.95.

I am not sure where mine came from but I am pretty sure I got a steal!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Praetorius mystery

 Every Christmas there is one thing you have got to love and that is that there is Michael Praetorius, whom we know through "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," above...

... and another Praetorius, with an even more magnificent name. It is Hieronymus Praetorius! Here is a creative arrangement he did of "In Dulci Jubilo."

 ... and the two are not related!

Come on, you are saying. What are the odds?

It becomes easier to grasp when you realize that there was a Praetorious musical dynasty.

And it becomes even easier to grasp when you realize that Praetorious is a translation of Schulz. It says so on Wikipedia. Click on that link and look under "name."

God knows how that worked out, how Michael and Hieronymous plain vanilla Schulz wind up with that beautiful last name Praetorius.

Music is full of mystery!

Monday, November 11, 2013

My square new Christmas record

Today after work on the way home from the gym I stopped at Goodwill and bought the squarest Christmas albums I could find. I am organizing my church's Christmas caroling expedition and I want to be inspired.

I got the Roger Wagner Chorale which, Roger Wagner is no stranger to this Web log! That was fun and to my surprise it played OK on my ancient stereo.

I also got this amazing square album called "Songs of Christmas" by the Norman Luboff Choir.

It was only 50 cents. Plus who could resist that cover art? The album I got was older. It appears to be a 1956 original. But it is the same picture.

The Norman Luboff Choir sounds like the choir you hear singing at the beginning of "Gone With the Wind." They are that ancient- and square-sounding. And this album is a winner. It only skipped a couple of times in "The First Noel" and after that it was fine.

I looked up Norman Luboff. His choir made about 75 albums and toured from 1963 onwards into the '70s or something.

Here is a picture of the man himself.

It is sad but as was typical of that era he died of lung cancer, only 70. You see that again and again, these guys (and gals) holding cigarettes in their pictures, and they look all glamorous, and then they die of lung cancer. I think of Nat "King" Cole, always pictured with his cigarette. And Leonard Bernstein's wife, Felicia. She was always holding that cigarette and looking beautiful and then she died of lung cancer. Josef Krips died of lung cancer, too, I think. He was always smoking his cigars. I do not think a cigar now and then hurts someone but he smoked a lot of them. Anyway it is terrible to think about.

Dear Norman Luboff, he did a good job with his choir. I was just looking around on YouTube for something to share. A lot of recordings seem to have orchestra. My record is all a cappella! This sounds like what I have.

And this was funny, just the other day driving into work I tuned into the Christmas station and they were playing this "Twelve Days of Christmas" I loved. The dopes on the station did not announce who it was but now after listening to my square album I am 90 percent sure it was the Norman Luboff Choir. I was listening to it just now thinking, That is what I heard on the radio!

Bravo, Norman Luboff Choir.

We will carol in your memory!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Schwann song

Does anyone else miss the Schwann Catalog?

I know I do! When I was a little kid there would be Schwann catalogs kicking around my house. You could pick them up at record stores and I think they were free. Well, they had to have been free because knowing my family we would not have been shelling out for them.

You could look up any piece in the Schwann catalog and it would tell you what recordings were out there. It was much simpler than the Internet and more reliable. I love the Internet and it is good for a lot of things but I am sorry, the Schwann catalog kept better track of records than the Internet does. Now they are praised for their style, too, how about that?

There is some kind of Schwann catalog now. But it will cost you a fortune. I have spent so much money on my Pennario research that I just can't shell out here and there for all this other stuff. Our library never subscribes to anything that would save me money.

A few weeks ago I did buy an old Schwann catalog on eBay. It cost me something like $10 including shipping. Unbelievable, for something that used to be free. But I needed an old one so I could see which Pennario records were in print and which were not and who the competition was. And I just needed it laid out there who recorded what. It is really hard to straighten out all this information online.

Last night Howard was out late at Lounge Academy so I went to bed with the Schwann catalog.

Hahaha... even at the time I was appreciating how goofy it was, using this as my bedtime reading. I was sipping my yummy Peach Sleepytime tea, which I use to bring me down after working on my book for hours. And I am just turning the pages of this Schwann catalog, reading it like a novel. Getting a picture of the world as it was in 1965. I bought the oldest Schwann catalog I could find.

My mom used to laugh about how when I was a baby, I needed something in my crib to read or I would not sleep. She used to give me the Sears catalog. There are baby photos of me sitting in my crib paging through the Sears catalog.

Last night my last memory before falling asleep was dropping the Schwann catalog to the floor next to the bed, and hearing Howard walking in.

And so to sleep!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Van Cliburn's mother: 'Make it sing, honey'

Researching something just now, I stumbled on "Glimpses of Van Cliburn," in the New Yorker the day he died last February.

A writer recalls joining the Cliburns for the celebration of his mother's 94th birthday party. He wrote that the mansion was decorated "as if an inauguration were about to take place."

When Cliburn sat down to play "Happy Birthday," his mother said, "Make it sing, honey."

There is also an interesting section where Cliburn is young and the reporter sits down with him in Manhattan, in the Oak Room, and Cliburn talks about fame and his strange situation.

What a weird story Cliburn was, you know? I am glad I met him. I can't believe I was in that house, where they had that birthday party. How generous he was to invite us. I have pictures of myself with Cliburn from that week when I was in his amateur competition but they were pre-digital camera. One of these days when all my deadlines are met I will have to find them.

Meanwhile here is a picture I love, of Howard talking with Cliburn. 

And here we all are together along with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's concertmaster, Michael Ludwig. I have shared these pictures before and will do so again.

Ah, memory lane. I met Leonard Pennario a couple of weeks later. I wore that same dress! It was my favorite dress that fall. Anytime I had to meet anyone important I wore it.

Cliburn was a very interesting artist but, and I thought this through once, you would have to worry about this big gap in his life when he was not playing very much. Writers get around that by writing chapters in which he philosophizes, or they philosophize about him.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Contestants tackle Schubert on 'The Amazing Race'

Did anyone else catch the Schubert song-singing contest on "The Amazing Race"?

My sister Margie hipped me to it! I had not only never seen "The Amazing Race," I had never heard of it. Apparently it is a kind of obstacle course where teams race each other from place to place while having to complete challenges along the way.

On this recent episode they had to stop in Vienna to sing the famous "Die Forelle" ("The Trout") with the Vienna Choir Boys.

It's not perfect. The millions of viewers who aside from this show would never get to hear a Schubert song never get to hear this song the way it is supposed to sound. The one guy who finally sort of gets it together sings the song in a ridiculously deep register so it sounds silly. When he finally sings a verse in the right register, the music is blocked by a voice-over.

Perhaps the Schubert Club could get in touch with the show and suggest a follow-up.

On the plus side, any publicity for Schubert is good publicity. It is hilarious and heart-warming to see the show's contestants poring over the formal German score. This one guy has had a good shot at it but blows it and his team-mate yells it him: "You've come closer than anyone! Go and fix it and bring it back!"

I never heard this arrangement, with choir, and it is a lot of fun. There is a kind of thrill when the song finally comes together. Also you are just hit in the face by how good the Vienna Choir Boys are. They sound fantastic.

It's fun to see them giggling over the bad efforts. And to see the choirmaster shaking his head and saying, "Leider nicht gut."

Also a big Bravo to the show for attempting to show Schubert song singing as the essential life skill that it is.

In the link above, you will have to sit through some commercials but you can kind of skip around. The Schubert segment starts about 16 minutes in.

Here is a fine performance in case you want to practice.

Or just enjoy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Scholar defends Mozart's archbishop

I am being challenged on my post about Archbishop Colloredo, above, whom I called Mozart's mean archbishop. And I am going to look into it because the comment writer is Michael Lorenz whose Web site I love.

If he tells me to do more research I will do more research! I admire Michael Lorenz and am always honored to hear from him.

Was Archbishop Colloredo a villain, a major pain or at least a bad boss?

Or is he among the saints?

I will say one thing, if I was wrong about this, a million other people have been wrong too.

"Please do not repeat old nonsense," Michael Lorenz writes. If old nonsense this be, I am only the thousandth person to repeat it. Still it is easy to see how that can happen because after all, the version of events we are always fed began with Mozart himself.

It will be fun to see if we can defend old Colloredo.

Meanwhile, I have been sitting here on this rainy and brooding All Souls Day ...

... cataloging Leonard's records, a major pursuit in my life these days. Today I am going through his recordings of the music of Miklos Rozsa. I have all these letters written by Rozsa and Pennario and I am checking different things in these letters, pinpointing exact recording dates, things like that.

I sometimes look up peripheral people to see if they are still around, because then maybe I can get them on the phone or something, if they might be useful. I noticed that the liner notes to three of these records are by a writer named Christopher Palmer. He seems to have been an authority on Rozsa's music. So I Google Christopher Palmer. He is dead. He died a long time ago. Which is too bad because he was passionate about film music and under-appreciated composers.

Christopher Palmer's obituary in the Independent is beautifully written. and details his many accomplishments. In the middle of it, though, is this sentence I love:

"The errors he did not notice and allowed into print reached legendary status."

The writer said proof-reading was not the Palmer method. Which makes sense to me because on one of the Rozsa albums this one mistake jumped out at me and I had been wondering what the story was about it. Now I know!

Anyway, inspiration from all sides to check my work more carefully even on a Web log written in haste.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mozart and name days

Another thing I am learning from Paul Johnson's book on Mozart...

(The last one being the mean archbishop ...)

... Mozart would celebrate the name days of his female relatives by writing them pieces of sacred music -- an Ave Maria, a Magnificat, something like that.

Imagine being one of Mozart's relatives! It is your name day and you get an Ave Maria written by Mozart. Probably at the time they saw it as nothing special.

"What did you get for your name day, Sophie?"

"Oh, my husband gave me this great necklace, and this is exciting, my sister gave me a gift certificate to that new restaurant."

"But you must have gotten something else."

"Oh, right, a new Parisian hat! From my other sister."

"What else?"

"Let me think."

(Long pause.)

"You know what, my brother-in-law gave me a cute Salve Regina he wrote."

I want to start celebrating people's name days, you know?

Back when I was a kid and read about Mozart I kept reading about name days and I did not know what they were. Your name day is the feast day for the saint you were named after. That was what you celebrated back then, not your birthday.

My husband Howard's name day would be Oct. 19. Darn, I just missed it! I am going with St. Philip Howard, one of the martyrs of Elizabethan England.

Mozart's name day was Halloween. Oct. 31 is the feast of St. Wolfgang. St. Wolfgang was "one of the three brilliant stars of the 10th century." The Catholic Church, gotta love it!

It also worked so that you were christened the name of the saint whose feast day you were born on. Mozart was born on Jan. 27, the feast day of St. John Chrysostom. Hence his name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb (or Amadeus, or Theophilus, depending on what you read, I have never been able to get this straight).

What great traditions, all lost now. They have thrown out all these babies with the bathwater.

Haha ... Looking at the St. Wolfgang link I see someone had commented: "Dear St. Wolfgang, thank you for being the namesake of Mozart."


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mozart's mean archbishop

Pursuant to my post the other day about Paul Johnson's book on Mozart, I am still hardly into it but there are a few things that I did not know. Here is one.

The Archbishop who was famously mean to Mozart, Hieronymus Colloredo, disliked the old Latin liturgy and used to push for the vernacular. Who knew that? I did not.

You can tell a bad apple by that, you know? I am not saying everyone has to love the Latin liturgy the way I do but when someone is an enemy of it, watch out for that person. Anyway, I never knew that about that old Archbishop, and it makes sense, seeing that he was a baddie.

I continue to appreciate Paul Johnson's understanding of the Catholic Church. He writes himself that most biographers do not get this, and he is right. Fiction writers do not get it either and that can be even more annoying. A while back I read, or attempted to read, this novel called "Mozart's Last Aria." There were things about it I liked but the book was ruined for me by the author's dim grasp of the Catholic Church. It also seemed as if he were going to pin something on it. I don't know for sure because I ran out of gas with that book about 20 pages from the end. Here it was this whodunit and I never found out whodunit!

Back to Colloredo. His petty nastiness to Mozart will resonate with anyone who has ever had a bad boss. And because of it he has achieved a strange kind of immortality. He was a pain to this musician, Wolfgang Mozart, and to the whole family. For that reason, and only that reason, he is remembered. You can do a Google Images search on him, as I just did, and pictures come up. Along with pictures of Mozart.

When you are immortal, like Mozart, you are not immortal alone. You take a whole host of people with you into the history books.

Nobodies who would otherwise be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mozart steps again from behind the curtain

A new book about Mozart is like some kind of new drug. At least that is how I would imagine it would be were I, ahem, a drug user. What I mean is that it is a guilty pleasure.

Guilty, because I have been reading books on Mozart since I was 6. I mean that, I think 6 is when I started!

Howard said: "What is there going to be in there that you don't know?"

You never know!

Anyway, this new book is by Paul Johnson who writes short biographies. That is his specialty. I could learn a thing or two from him, you know? His "Mozart: A Life" tops out at 163 pages.

But already I am seeing things that are different and that I like. For one thing Paul Johnson does not seem as ignorant about the Catholic Church as a lot of Mozart writers do. You cannot write about Mozart -- or Beethoven -- and be a screw-up when it comes to the Catholic Church. The Church was central to Mozart's life. I like Paul Johnson for addressing this.

Here is another thing. Leopold Mozart considered his son a miracle and he actually saw him as an opportunity to evangelize.

Johnson says Leopold wrote: "If it is ever to be my duty to convince the world of this miracle, it is so now, when people are ridiculing whatever is called a miracle and denying all miracles. Therefore they must be convinced."

I am reading that thinking: Wow, the 18th century, and the Catholic Church was on the ropes same as it is now! I honestly had not known that.

Also, God love old Leopold, you know? This book seems more fair to him than some other books do.

I will be going into all this in more depth in my review for The Buffalo News, coming up soon. Meanwhile I can't wait to get through the rest of this.

Which reminds me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The toughest job in the music world

Who in the world needs this job? It is in Musical America. It is as an artist's personal assistant.

This sounds like a pretty eminent artist, but all that is clear is that the artist is based in Chicago. It would be a good guessing game to try to figure out who it is.

The personal assistant will be expected to:
  • Handle incoming and outgoing correspondence via phone, fax, mail, and e-mail
  • Maintain personal and professional schedules and coordinate with family, artist management, publicity team, presenters, and philanthropic organizations
  • Monitor and update professional website content (e.g. tour dates), bios, blogs, Facebook, etc.
  • Prepare newsletters, tweets, and other materials announcing upcoming performances, new podcasts, recordings, videos, etc.
  • Arrange travel, visas, and accommodations
  • Perform basic accounting tasks
  • Monitor merchandise inventory and fill customer orders
  • Assist employer and employer’s family with daily household tasks, errands, and basic home maintenance
  • Perform a variety of activities to allow the employer and the employer’s family to focus on their individual jobs and activities
These duties are enough to make your head spin! Basic home maintenance! Just that by itself, forget it.

Who in the world could do this job?

There was one time when I kind of hit it off with this one artist I was interviewing for The Buffalo News and he was suggesting that maybe I could be his personal assistant. A few emails went back and forth, enough to make me believe he was not totally kidding. I liked and admired this artist and I have to say I considered the offer. For about five minutes.

Then I realized it involved making travel arrangements.

"Oh, no," I said. "I'm not good at that."

"Well, it wouldn't be that difficult --"

"Oh, no," I said. "No, no. I really couldn't. I'm not organized enough."

What a nightmare, the idea of me making anyone's travel arrangements! He would be due to be in Portland, Ore., and I would have him in Portland, Maine. On top of all that stress I would have had to move to New York City, another minus. See, this was discussed. I told you he was serious.

Now reading this ad I am super glad I went no further with that idea. What an onerous job being a personal assistant must be. What a weight on the shoulders!

Oh, no thank you!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The pianist who played at his own baptism

How is this for a curiosity? Though we did not have dig deep to find it. It is sitting right out there on Wikipedia.

It is about Dinu Lipatti. That is Lipatti up above, with his wife, Madeleine.

"For his baptism, which occurred not shortly after birth as is usual, but when he was old enough to play the piano, the violinist and composer George Enescu agreed to be his godfather. Lipatti played a minuet by Mozart at his own baptism."

How odd!

I tried Googling around but all I found are those same clumsy couple of sentences, echoed over and over. The only other thing I found was in some book on Google Books, which said that Lipatti's baptism was delayed by the onset of World War I. That sounds kind of strange. In an emergency you do not have to be a priest to perform a baptism. So, most mysterious.

Why was George Enescu his godfather?

Also, what Mozart minuet did little Dinu play? I am imagining one of the first, K. 1 or K. 2. But you never know, being Dinu Lipatti he might have soared like an eagle and played, I don't know, the minuet from "Don Juan."

I cannot imagine we will ever clear this up. But just in case...

We should consult the Dinu Lipatti Society.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pianist says live music is dead

Remember my Web log buddy from Brussels, Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont? As I mentioned before he has a Web log himself. And he wrote something the other day I found fascinating. That is a painting above of Pierre-Arnaud crafting his screed. The artist who painted it has a wonderful name. It is Joos van Craesbeeck!

I did not agree with everything he said, but it would take a while to sit and figure out why. Meanwhile, I appreciated his honesty.

The office kept me really busy the last couple of days and so I only just now got around to glancing back at what he wrote. From what he says on Twitter it seems I am not the only one to take what he wrote and chew on it.

It is about live classical music concerts and whether they are outdated. Pierre-Arnaud says they are, and that the future lies in music we listen to in our own homes or wherever else we go.

Glenn Gould said something like this, of course, but I always had the inkling it was because Glenn Gould did not like performing on the concert stage. Could not hack it on the concert stage, in some cases. He did not need the money from the concert stage and he was able to perform in the solitude of the studio.

I do not get the idea that Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont has this antipathy toward the concert hall. He is arguing that he does not like being in the audience.

Anyway, here is what he wrote. See what you think.

Before you go, "This Brussels sprout is all wet," I get some of what he says.

I go to concerts as part of my job so I know what it is like not to be in the mood to hear the music they are playing in the hall. I can go him one further in that sometimes it can be something I am in the mood to hear, but I am working and I cannot exactly sit back and enjoy it.

About changing the ritual of the concert experience, though, I tend to think we should not. If you start listening to the changes people say they want to make, forget it, because these are the same people who, you could do anything, and they still would not go. People call it stuffy, but I like silence in the concert hall. We have lost silence everywhere else, including the library, you know? There has to be some last bastion and this is it.

Pierre-Arnaud said that other arts have made changes long ago such as the ones he is proposing. I don't think that's altogether true. You still go to a play pretty much the way you would go to it 200 years ago, unless it's full of special effects or something. Books are still remarkably the same. Even with an ebook you are dealing with words on a background.

One positive thing about concerts for me: The group experience is sometimes -- not always but sometimes -- thrilling. It can be great, as long as no one is annoying you or anything, to be in a hall full of people loving Mozart's "Requiem."

Anyway, I know, words, words, words.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts.

Thank you, Pierre-Arnaud, for yours!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Home on the range!

This is a wonderful piece of Americana, Bryn Terfel warbling "Home on the Range" in Central Park.

The people, all covered in slickers.

This opera singer on stage, telling people to sing together in harmony.

It is Americana but of course Terfel is Welsh. The Welsh have a corner on this stuff. Once I heard an all-male Welsh chorus. The sound was like something you could never make up and I ended up buying their CD. It was the only CD I ever bought after a concert. Then I never played it. I thought nothing could ever duplicate the weird sound I had heard and I did not want to try.

It is funny to hear Bryn Terfel in his stentorian way singing this old comic-strip song. Honest, I think of "Blondie." They would show Dagwood in the shower and he would be soaping up and singing "Home, home on the range! Where the deer and the antelope..."

On the YouTube video someone writes: "We consider this our state song in Kansas."

Anyway, Terfel sees the humor in it.

"All together!" he calls out.

Come on, sing it.

You know you want to!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mozart mystery lost in translation

Sure, I can speak some German, and read it pretty well.

But why read it when you can have the fun of hitting Google Translate?

I was honored again to hear from Dr. Michael Lorenz who sent a link to a story in Der Spiegel about Mozart's skull and about how the skull at the Mozarteum is not Mozart's.

I clicked on the link. I started to read it.

Then my eye slid to the top of the page. And I saw the button I was looking for:


It yielded this classic paragraph:

Legends of Mozart, and countless tough. In particular, the problem of every man's triad - the money, the woman's death - was romantically darkened by posterity, distorted speculative nachgemodelt spirit of the time, the cinematic gun robbers "Amadeus" was the most recent example.

"Legends of Mozart, and countless tough."

Could you make this up?

Monday, August 26, 2013

An unusual 'Swan Lake'

Silliness for this rainy Monday! We should make Monday silliness a theme of this Web log.

Judging from the comments on the video not everyone goes ape over this clip. But to me what is funny about this isn't the actual ballet so much as the elegant way that Ernie Kovacs introduces it. He sets it up perfectly and that is 90 percent of the joke.

Take it, Ernie.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Musicologist says Mozart skull study is hogwash

What is it about sunny Saturdays that makes me want to sit and contemplate Mozart's skull? I did that a few Saturdays ago and here I am again.

Remember the study by two French researchers on Mozart's skull, which is said to be in the Mozarteum?

Fellow Mozart fans might want to check the comments on that post. I had the high honor of hearing from the eminent Viennese musicologist Michael Lorenz that it is hogwash! It is most welcome to have my growing suspicions confirmed. Someone had commented wondering how Mozart fell and subsequently I had admitted that in all my reading on Mozart, I had never heard any fall mentioned. And the Frenchmen made allusions to "many falls."

What many falls? I was thinking, I knew Mozart rode a horse, but I had not ever read that he fell from it. Anyway that was one thing that made me wonder.

Dr. Lorenz, having researched the skull at the Mozarteum, has concluded that it has nothing to do with Mozart. Above is a photo of him making that announcement.

His research is a relief! I have to admit, I have never liked the idea of Mozart's skull separated from the rest of his skeleton and on display in a case. For some reason I have no problem with saints' relics but I feel as if Mozart is someone I know, and I think it is better that he is all in one piece.

Michael Lorenz is the author of the world's nerdiest Web log which I was thrilled to discover back in July. 

Coincidentally I was just thinking about him. I had signed up to follow his Web log and the other day I saw he had completed a post on esoterica involving the manuscript of Mozart's Requiem.  This entry is full of photographs of the manuscript and historical detail, probably far beyond the comprehension of most human beings but I am trying to set aside a couple of hours to give it my best shot.

Meanwhile, I trust him completely on the matter of Mozart's skull. It is hogwash.

No bones about it!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thomas Hampson Sings John Denver

 And Placido Domingo, and Denyce Graves, and Danielle de Niese, and other well-known names from the opera world also sing John Denver. Who would have believed it?

This CD "Great Voices Sing John Denver" apparently came out a couple of months ago and I cannot believe I have not heard more about it.

A dozen opera singers singing, together, "Annie's Song"! Oh, baby, it's a wild world. (There's an idea, Great Voices Sing Cat Stevens.)

It brings back memories of Sacred Heart Academy and the Pillow Room, where there were pillows on the floor and the nuns would have you sit on the pillows and listen to John Denver. The nuns loved John Denver. This was a hippy-dippy era. And let me tell you this, my obsession with Mozart and Schubert and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau did me no good. Ha, ha! It was a privilege growing up in an era that wacky, you know?

But anyway. Back to this CD. How in the world did they organize this?

The entertaining Web log Opera Obsession says Placido Domingo organized it. That would make sense. There is a picture of Domingo with his arm around Denver.

These crazy singers, you know? Judging from the YouTube video this disc has its fans. "Wirklich wunderbar," writes a John Denver listener from Germany.

Anyway, fascinating on many levels.

I get to write about this in The Buffalo News next week. I will link to it when I do!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Placido Domingo speaks out about critics

There is this book, "Living Opera," by Joshua Jampol. It is just a series of Q&A's but there are some interesting things in it. In other words it is like Goodwill. There is a lot to sift through but you find some good stuff.

One thing I liked is Placido Domingo, asked his opinion on critics.

"I have a lot of respect for critics when they have something constructive, something intelligent, to say. I don't like critics when they try to follow predecessors, the Bernard Shaw types, in being cruel, trying to be phony-smart. Yes, you can say things are not good; I don't mind. I might agree with them. That's one thing. But when they start to use cruelty -- and I'm not talking about me, I'm talking generally -- I have read a lot of them where they are enjoying themselves when they write. Sometimes also what you have is a review of eight columns, and seven columns -- if it's an opera by Verdi -- they are talking to you about Verdi, about Verdi's time, telling you about all the knowledge they have. Then, in the last column, they talk about the performance. And that's their review. If you're a writer, fine; write a book. But if you're a reviewer, concentrate on what you have to write. Even if it's a negative."

Well said, sir! Well said.

Grand opera this is not but here is some great vintage 1970s TV, complete with Sarah Brightman. The clip of Sarah and this other woman introducing the aria is priceless.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hugo Wolf and the music of the night

Our anonymous Hugo Wolf correspondent hipped us to the video up above.

A magical Wolf song!

And an enchanting video. It is by FiDiTanzer whose videos I have admired before.

I cannot imagine who would sing this song better than Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He brings out its gentle and beautiful twists and turns. You would think that other singers would take their cue from him and do that too but it is surprising how many do not.

The piano part to this song, too, so ingenious and lovely.

Anyway. This is really a video to watch at night so if it is night where you are, indulge. If it is not night, wait until it is, is my advice. Otherwise you could blow your whole day.

Once you get on a Hugo Wolf jag it can be hard to get off of it as is illustrated by this Web log.

We have been on one for a week!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Up late again, listening to Hugo Wolf

 The post the other day about "Anakreons Grab," the exquisite little song by Hugo Wolf, had unexpected consequences.

One, I have walked around for three days with "Anakreons Grab" on my brain!

Try that on for size. It is not fun! Going around the house singing Goethe poetry, your husband looking at you funny hearing German coming out of your mouth. Well, actually my husband is used to that, because I listen to a lot of German lieder. But the sweet chromatics of Wolf's work, that is something else.

Anyway, that was the first thing that happened. The second thing was, I heard from a person named Anonymous who is looking for a good recording of "Anakreons Grab" to introduce people to the strange and beautiful art of Hugo Wolf. If you read the comment on the previous post you will see that he is involved with a project to read Goethe's autobiography, in translation, in total, or something like that. You must excuse me. It is hard to absorb things when you have "Anakreons Grab" repeatedly playing in your head.

Apparently people of this person's acquaintance have trouble swallowing the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf interpretation of "Anakreons Grab." There is something off-putting about Schwarzkopf singing Wolf, he or she believes, something that is an acquired taste. Being that I acquired that taste instantly when I was about 12, I have trouble understanding it. But I believe it.

I have to say this though: I have been enjoying this conversation with Goethe fan Anonymous, and I went on YouTube looking for an "Anakreons Grab" that would not put off his or her listeners.

There are not that many performances on YouTube but the number grows daily. Anonymous set out some ground rules. Orchestral accompaniment was out, for one thing. Also you do not want anything that will alienate people. To me that disqualifies the video at the top of this post, by baritone Thomas Allen and piansit Malcolm Martineau. The performance is all right but who wants to sit there looking at that skull.

Hans Hotter is a singer I have loved since childhood ....

 ... but I am afraid his sound is rather vinyl and antiquated. Plus he might be forbiddingly German to people not into this stuff. The handsome Hans Hotter died only a few years ago, in his 90s. That was too bad because it was fun to see people interviewing him. They always called him "Herr Hotter."

I am enjoying that recording. What a deep, graceful voice. But onward.

Birgit Nilsson's recording on YouTube has the visuals going for it. It is kind of pleasantly ghostly with those twinkling stars.

But the sound is not great. And it is a live performance with too much coughing. Obviously this recording was made in Buffalo. There is that Buffalo cough.

I love that haunting little piano introduction, you know? That is genius, just those few notes. They draw you in, and it goes with the poem, that begins with a question. You have stumbled on this beautiful grave with the flowers blooming and the turtledoves singing and you wonder who is buried here.

We are still seeking the "Anakreons Grab" that will do for Anonymous. Let me see, let me see.

La la la la la la la.


What about this one?

 I have never heard of this singer, Lidia Vinyes Curtis, but I like how she sings "Anakreons Grab." She is natural with it and she seems to like the song.

Look at her when she recognizes whose grave it is and sings "Es ist Anakreons Ruh." You see it in her eyes! She is living the song. I like that. I looked her up. Her website says she is from Barcelona.

Perhaps Anonymous did not check out her video because of that microphone in front of her. I am not sure what that is doing there.

But anyway, Anonymous, might that work?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Schubert songs, complete!

It is great how there is always stuff on YouTube you had not known was there. Today I saw someone has been posting the entire set of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Schubert songs.

If I am correct this is the big one, where he just works through them one by one and it meant something like three big boxes of vinyl.

I do not quite understand why the person who posts these songs puts them together with weird clips from old movies, but whatever, you can always just not look. That was what I was doing.

Meanwhile, that drunken song I love, "Dithyrambe," the one in my Schubert Top 10, that is in one of the segments, and it is great to hear this particular recording after I do not know how long.

Up above "Dithyrambe" starts at 19:06.

I cannot wait to binge on all these songs.

Happy listening!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A brave British pianist

The Liverpudlian pianist Paul Lewis, pictured above looking cagey, is in the Wall Street Journal today. I know, this violates my rule that holds that I talk only about musicians who are dead and irrelevant. And also I am not crazy about Paul Lewis' programming skills. The last three sonatas of Schubert, all on one program, too much, too much.

But I was impressed by something he said. Let me cut and paste, in case you cannot read it on the Journal's website. God love Lewis for speaking up, you know?

Unlike other pianists today, Mr. Lewis pays scant attention to newer music. "I'm cautious about my ability to commit to something that hasn't been written yet," he said of commissioning pieces. "I want to know what the music is first, because I have to be 100% with it. So that's why I'm reluctant. In recent years, I've played some Ligeti and delved into Kurtág every now and then. But it's not something I spend a lot of time in. Perhaps I should make more of an effort."

As John Otto, a dear departed Buffalo radio host, used to say: "Yes, maybe ... maybe not."

Why play that when you could play ...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Up late, listening to Hugo Wolf

 Hugo Wolf ... the lieder lover's composer.

"Anakreons Grab." The grave of Anakreon, the Greek poet.

"Spring, summer and fall the happy poet enjoyed --
"From the winter now, finally, this grave protects him."

 It is sweet to hear it up above sung by John McCormack. The song is in German. The poem is by Goethe. And you can hear Mr. McCormack's Irish brogue.

The Wolf song is so tender, as if you almost do not want to approach the grave.

And the beautiful harmony when the song goes: "It is Anakreon's grave." Anakreon's Ruh, literally, Anakreon's rest.

Why am I listening to this? I should go to bed. To seek my own Ruh.

And yet ... It is a kind of haunting song, isn't it?

The poem is kind of along the theme of Elton John's "Goodbye Norma Jean." Never knowing who to turn to when the rain came in. Robert Gutman, the author of a book I loved about Mozart, prefaced his biography with this poem. The Goethe poem, I mean.

It kind of fits.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

We brake for Mozart's skull

So here it is a sunny, cool, perfect summer Saturday. Want to guess what I am doing? Guess.

A.) Drinking Chianti at Buffalo's Italian Festival.

B.) Exploring farmers' markets for the perfect eggplants and tomatoes.

C.) Hiking the Niagara Gorge.

D.) Sitting inside reading up on the research French scientists have done on Mozart's skull.

Did someone say "D"?

We have a winner!

OK, in my defense, is does sort of look as if it could rain. And my window is open.

Plus ...

The business about Mozart's skull -- they are pretty sure it was his -- is pretty interesting. The Frenchies, whose names are Pierre-Francois and Bernard Puech, think that he died from a fall. Also there is all this stuff in there about his teeth. I guess most of his teeth had rotted out by the time he died. That was the way things were in the 18th century. In some ways it was not a pretty time!

It's funny, I have not read most of this stuff before. And I read a lot about Mozart.

As the Saturday passes.

La la la la la.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

No notes, no notes

Here is something funny but true: When I love a piece of music a lot, I find I do not like to look at the score.

I mean, if it were a piano piece and I wanted to play it , obviously I would have to look at the score. But if it's something I just listen to, I don't want to.

Because once you look at the score you will always picture it, and it changes the music for you. For me it does, anyway.

I just want what is in my head to stay in my head and I don't want to be picturing the score.

For instance I find when I am listening to, say, "Liebesbotschaft" from "Schwanengesang" -- God, it sounds as if I am naming a couple of auto parts, but it is a beautiful song, trust me -- I just do not want to get the picture of the notes in my mind, where I will never be able to get them out. It is like after you watch a music video, you will never hear the song the same way again.

I also think that is a reason when you are playing a piece you memorize it. You see it differently when the notes are not in front of you.

So I looked away just now as I played the video on YouTube.

Then I found this earlier Fischer-Dieskau recording where they do not show the score.

Eventually I will play the piano for this piece and then I will see the score and see the song differently. But for now, I want it the way it is.

What amazing pictures in this video, by the way. That baby-faced Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the first shot. Unbelievable, that he would grow up to be the greatest singer of the 20th century.

Look at that girl grinning behind him. Hahahahaa... you know who that looks like? It looks like me!

These are the rewards of not looking at the score.

You see things you never would have seen!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Cathedral Sparrows

The mystery bird got me thinking about the Regensburger Domspatzen which means the Regensburg Cathedral Sparrows. I believe they are the oldest children's choir in the world.

They are singing "For He Shall Give His Angels Charge Over Thee," by the great Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. That is Pope Benedict in the audience. Wow, he is a music person. He is just drinking it up!

Here they are in 1956, the Mozart 200th anniversary year, singing Mozart's "Regina Caeli."

The Regensburger Domspatzen grew more famous a few years ago because Pope Benedict's brother was for years their leader. There are the Brothers Ratzinger in the picture at the top of this post! He retired in 1994 but he was at the helm for a lot of recordings. And it was so funny, this CD of them turned up on my desk before Benedict XVI retired, and it was only when I sat down to write about it and had to get everything straight that I saw, in tiny print, that its director was Georg Ratzinger.

Good job, Georg Ratziner!

Perhaps he is directing them here, in Mozart's "Regina Coeli." This is a piece I love. It is so joyous! I get a kick out when it quotes Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Today, the funniest thing.

I am driving to church, listening to this new disc of various treatments of the "Ave Maria." This is life of a music nerd! And I come to the Gregorian chant "Ave Maria."

The chant I was listening to is the first piece in the video above. Anyway, I liked the sound of it and I think we had sung it once before at St. Anthony's, where I go to church. And I had thought it was so beautiful.

On the way to church I listened to it a bunch of times, even though after it was this Palestrina "Ave Maria" that I also loved. I thought for some reason: I should learn this Gregorian chant, I might have to sing it.

And it was funny. I mean, I wouldn't need it today, it's not as if it's May or anything. So I get to church, sure enough, it's not in the program, or whatever you would call it. At Offertory we do this hymn we often do. And at the recessional there is this Haydn hymn.

So I have my hymn book ready. But all of a sudden the friar stops, after blessing us. These are the visiting friars from Binghamton.

And he starts in on the "Ave Maria."

Did I call this or what??

Here was my payoff from listening to it all these times! Not that I could sing it that well, but still, better than if I had not been listening to it all the way to church.

The moral of the story: Learn your Gregorian chants!

You never know when you might need them!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


This morning on the way in to work I turned on the radio and came in on the middle of Beethoven's "Eroica" Variations.

I was thinking: God, I love that piece!

That fugue sounds like Bach. And that theme, it breaks your heart. That melody.

It just touches your heart as Beethoven can do.

I just found this recording of Glenn Gould playing it.

And here is part two:

Glenn Gould could not keep his mitts off anything and sometimes he wish he could, but you know what? I like that he shared my appreciation of this piece. Even thought I do think he is kind of, ahem, rough with it and he does not always bring out its beauty.

Well, at least he is not walking on eggshells. When I was a teenager I heard him playing Mozart's A minor sonata, and I remember I liked it because he didn't seem so darned careful, the way other pianists sounded. Sometimes it is nice to hear someone take chances. Mozart can take it. Beethoven can take it.

Today I just kept thinking about the "Eroica" Variations because I was just so enchanted by them all over again. I played them a few years ago. My teacher, Stephen Manes, he did a great job of guiding me through them, but he had never played them himself. I do not think he quite got why I loved them so much. But I just do.

They are superior to the "Diabelli Variations."

I am the opinionated voice crying in the wilderness!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The world's nerdiest Web log

I have found the nerdiest, most absurdly great music Weblog in the world. Next to mine, of course.

It is by a musicologist named Michael Lorenz and it has the greatest title: Musicological Trifles and Biographical Paralipomena.

I do not even know what Paralipomena are! I will have to look that up. I am guessing it is plural. We will hope for the best.


That is a picture of Michael Lorenz up above. Well, all I can think is that must be what he looks like. What he does is, he explores some highly esoteric aspect of some musician's life, and presents all kinds of proof of his research. You can click on things, say on some small scribbling Felix Mendelssohn made in the margin of his manuscript, or a Mozart family entry in the baptismal register of Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral -- and blow it up so you can study it more closely.

Nerd's dream!!

A few upcoming topics:

"Godchild of Maria Theresia Paradis." She was a pianist friend of Mozart.

"Unknown Trattner Documents." Therese von Trattner was a student of Mozart and it has been whispered, although without proof, that they were more than friends.

"Franz Wild: The Tenor Who Did Not Know When He Was Born."

There is a lengthy exploration of the background of Joseph Leitgeb, the horn player for whom Mozart wrote his great horn concertos. Lorenz mentions casually: "Although I have done more research than anyone else on  Joseph Leitgeb..." I believe it! By the way I have usually seen his name spelled Leutgeb. I am sure Lorenz deals with that.

Another irresistible essay: "A Child Named Christian Mozart."

(But what about George Mozart, Fred Mozart or Don Mozart? Huh, Mr. Lorenz? Huh? Huh?)

Here is another one: "Antonio Salieri's Early Years in Vienna." As is true in most cases there are all these maps, portraits and documents you are encouraged to blow up and study.

He should put this all together into a book. I have the perfect title: "The Ueber-Nerd's Guide To Classical Music."


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Three pianists face off

Because it is Pennario's birthday  ...

And because it is July ...

We give you Pennario, pictured above, playing Gottschalk's  "The Banjo." He begins at 7:25 in this video. Preceding him are Arthur Friedheim, on an old piano roll, and Eugene List.

Pennario's two albums of the piano music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk are not is prime legacy but they are wonderful and fun and tremendously virtuosic. Angel Records issued the first one, "The Union," in 1976 for the American Bicentennial.

If you look on the YouTube site and see the comments you will see my tendency to "get into it" over Pennario. I cannot see why some other nerds who post comments put Eugene List's version, or Arthur Friedheim's version, over his. For the life of me I cannot hear what they mean. I have tried and tried.

Pennario's virtuosity and jaunty joie de vivre, so perfect for Gottschalk.

The other two sound labored in comparison.

They are clearly sweating.

Anyway, I get into it over stuff like this sometimes when I should be working on my book.

It is an occupational hazard!

Monday, June 24, 2013

A musical time capsule

The miracle of Google Books! I have found the Book of the Programmes of the Buffalo Philharmonic Society for the Year of 1885.

Felix Mendelssohn was Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

Johannes Brahms was "one of the greatest of living composers and quite prominent in the departments of choral and chamber music."

There is music by Joseph Joachim Raff and Heinrich von Herzogenberg. I heard some Raff recently and it was very good.

Of Herzogenberg the program says: "As a composer he has been more or less known for some years, but it is only of late that the full power of his genius has asserted itself." That is our friend Heinrich pictured above. He was amazing looking.

There is also Norbert Bergmueller: "One at whose birth the gods smiled, but before his 26th year, he was already 'going the road which no one e'er retraces.'" I guess that means that he, ahem, died. Back then they liked to be more proper about things like that.

It is fascinating to look at old programs like this and think of how musicians wax and wane, you know?

At least we may begin to refer to Mendelssohn again as Mendelssohn Bartholdy.

Keep the past alive!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bizet meets Buffalo

On The Buffalo News' Gusto Blog today I wrote about the "Carmen" coming up in the Metropolitan Opera's High-Definition Summer Encore series.

Thinking about "Carmen" makes me think of my friend Gary.

Last summer, or maybe it was the summer before that, Gary joined a construction crew working on Grant Street on Buffalo's Lower West Side.

He saw the advantages to working on the crew. He said, "Now I can ogle girls freely."

Not only that but he was working near this business where every day the girls came out on break and sat around smoking, just as they did in "Carmen."

It was "Carmen" come to life! I braced myself for the worst. But luckily everyone came through that summer OK. They only narrowly did! There were some close calls as I remember.

I read somewhere that one of the biggest fans of "Carmen," when it first came out, was Johannes Brahms. He went to see it multiple times. I love that, the idea of Brahms going to "Carmen."

I can see what he liked about it! It is a first-rate drama.