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!