Thursday, December 27, 2018

Christmas with Herbert von Karajan

My Cat Jeoffry listening to Leontyne Price.

On the third day of Christmas we consider the Christmas record I have with Leontyne Price and Herbert von Karajan.

You can hear the whole record on YouTube. But it is not the same as on vinyl! That is my carol and I will continue to sing it. Listening to the vinyl really puts you back in an earlier time. This record came out in 1961.

It runs off the rails now and then as Christmas records do. The arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High" goes a little nuts with the "Gloria." Well, maybe someone had one too many Tom and Jerrys. 'Tis the season!

I happen to think "We Three Kings" is a kind of overrated carol.

But there my criticisms pretty much end. The arrangements are wonderful, elegant in that wonderful way of the 1950s and early '60s. "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is a track I particularly love, with its witty accompaniment. You get "O Tannenbaum" with a verse or two in German because people expected it back then.

Conductor and diva must both have been happy with the record because in 1962 they teamed up again for "Tosca."

Herbert von Karajan gets a bad rap, you know? People would say he was bossy and a Nazi and vain and mean. Brooding about that just now I came up with this Guardian article that interviews a lot of people about him and most of them agree with me, that these allegations were unfair.

Who wouldn't, given this Christmas record?

Just listen to it!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

On the second day of Christmas ...

On the second day of Christmas I like to settle in and enjoy some Christmas music. Actually this year I have jumped the gun and have been listening to it for a while.

I sell Christmas records in my Etsy shop but there were a couple I could not quite part with. One was Joan Sutherland's Christmas album, including this witty and marvelous take on "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Do people still remember Joan Sutherland? I am so grounded in the '80s because those were the singers I grew up with and loved. Joan Sutherland was a big diva back then and she was married to Richard Bonynge who conducted this glorious Christmas record that I could not find it in my heart to sell on Etsy. It is not as if people would be lining up to buy it anyway and there I would be having to not play it and keep it perfect. That was what I told myself anyway.

Joan Sutherland also does a number on "O Holy Night." That is a song for tenors and sopranos, you know? You do not normally find mezzos or baritones singing it.

I have a kind of guilty soft spot for "O Holy Night." Leonard Pennario did too and I think of him, still, when I hear it. Yesterday I heard the great Leontyne Price singing it and I thought of Pennario double because he noted in his diary that he went to hear Leontyne Price sing and later he went backstage to greet her. He was a fan.

When I was a kid Leontyne Price WAS opera. No grand occasion was complete until they brought her out. But that is another story for another day.

For the Third Day of Christmas, perhaps!

We are just beginning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Jorg Demus' classic master classes

Ever since we discussed Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's spooky Loewe ballads, I have had the pianist Jorg Demus on the brain.

He gives some great master classes on YouTube and they are criticized.

People say he has a bad temper. There was one where I read that he was mean to women.

You know what? I watched the video and what happened was, Demus said to the young woman pianist something like, "You can show your great love for Maestro Demus by playing it now again without moving."

Things got better, but then he said, "If you loved me passionately, you wouldn't move a single bit, like a marble statue."

Man, you just cannot make a joke, you know?

It does not sound to me as if he has a bad temper. He just gives you your money's worth. You take a master class from a master, you expect fireworks. It is like when I went to Confession after a million years, I needed the priest to be a little stern with me.

Useful info from this master class, by the way: Maestro Demus says to find a tempo in which you will not have to slow down when you get to the tough parts. Find a balance there. That is a good thing to keep in mind when you attack something challenging.

Jorg Demus is not a name known to the general populace but if you were a classical music nerd in the '80s, which I was, you probably had this album he made with the soprano Elly Ameling. It was called "Schubertiade." I listened to it so much I have it in my head. Demus accompanied Ameling on all these beautiful songs, like this one. He also played Schubert waltzes and he played them sweetly, on an 1800s fortepiano.

I had the album and I actually had friends who had the album, too.

And guess what, there is a Jorg Demus Festival. It is in Freiburg. God love the man, he is 90 this year. And by the way I am listening right now to that song I just linked to, Ellens Gesang I. It gives me shivers. Beautiful. Elly Ameling was excellent, a superb singer. That and, that song gets to me, always.

Anyway, I salute Jorg Demus, whatever his master class style. To top off my admiration I have a picture of him with Leonard Pennario. Leonard was laughing at me because I was not half as interested in the pictures of him with movie stars as I was in the picture of him with Jorg Demus.

I could barely recognize Jennifer Jones but, "That's Jorg Demus?" I said. "I have his great Schubert album. Wow. Pass me that picture."

Now I am going to watch the rest of that master class.

And apply what I learn!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Carl Loewe's spooky, spooky ballad

As I continue my exploration of ghost songs I have been racking my brain trying to think of the title of this one ballad by Carl Loewe.

I had it on a record when I was a teenager and I remembered everything about it but the title! It was about a princess whose servant fell in love with her, and she dies, and he goes to where she is lying in her coffin. And he pulls her out and embraces her, and she comes to life -- but then things go terribly wrong and they are buried together alive.

Who in the world would think up a song like that?

Of course it had great appeal to me. I even illustrated it. I still have the drawing somewhere. It is stuck in this one notebook. I will have to find it and post it. My illustration showed the servant lifting the princess out of her coffin. I was very happy with how it came out and when I listened to the song, which I did frequently, I would look at it.

I am telling you, inside of every teenage girl is a Mary Shelley struggling to come out. I sure did love the macabre! Still do on occasion.

With which, I still have that record, but I have not been able to see my way clear to go looking for it. I couldn't remember even what the album looked like. The singer was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, naturally, but I couldn't remember the pianist.

Turns out it was Jorg Demus on piano. And that is the album up above. I recognized it as soon as I saw it online. I got that album on sale somewhere. I had never heard of Carl Loewe, but I loved Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and could not resist a bargain where he was concerned. And I liked Lieder.

And let me tell you, this record was a winner. I have not listened to this album for what, 30 years? But I remember "Die Uhr." And "Prinz Eugen." And Loewe's "Erl King" which is pretty cool, even next to Schubert's. And "Edward."

"Edward"!! That is another song for another day. We have to get to that one.

"Dein Schwert, wie ist von Blut so rot, Edward, Edward?"

I still remember that entire crazy song!! And I haven't thought about it for years!

But back to the song about the coffin. I see now it is "Der Gruft der Liebenden." That must mean "The Grave of the Lovers"? I never remember noticing the title.

Oh my goodness! Here it is on YouTube. No comments. I cannot believe that. Am I the only person in the world to recognize this song's greatness?

I am going to settle in and listen to it for the first time since I was 17.

The beginning. It is all coming back to me.

Those dreamy sleepwalking melodies.


Now I have to go find my drawing.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A British ghost song

Not to switch gears too violently, but the song the other day by Gustav Mahler, "Wo Die Schoenen Trompeten Blasen," makes me think of a song sung by Steeleye Span.

Perhaps you know Steeleye Span, the veteran British folk group. I got to know their records back in college when I was in the Society for Creative Anachronism, the medieval recreation group. A lot of my friends listened to them.

And there was this song that would get to me, "The Wife of Usher's Well."

It is a ghost story similar to the Mahler song. The Mahler song -- the words at least -- was also a folk song, which shows how much death was on these people's minds. Both the melodies are strangely dreamy, rather detached. In the Mahler the ghost's melody sounds like sleepwalking to me. The British folk song also follows a sweet melody. It makes the stories extra shocking, so it seems to me.

Here is "The Wife of Usher's Well." There are other performances out there but I like the one by Steeleye Span, the one I loved in college. It is from their album "All Around My Hat."

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A great ghostly song

Here is a wonderful song for October.

Mahler's "When the Fair Trumpets Sound" is a ghost story. If you are lucky enough to be hearing it for the first time I will not give away what it is about. I have found a video with a translation.

The singer here is Brigitte Fassbinder. She is kind of unpredictable in my experience and I have had my issues with her but she does pretty well here.

Normally all other things being equal I like Lieder better simply with piano. But in this case the orchestra is evocative of the trumpets and other sounds.

When I first heard this song I cried. There was something about the dreamy melody of the ghost. I love Gustav Mahler's "Knaben Wunderhorn" songs and this one is at the top of my list.

Take it, Ms. Fassbinder.

After you know what the song is about you can always try Jessye Norman's version. She sings the song beautifully.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Hear the tolling of the bell

I have been wanting to get this website up and running again and October is a perfect time to start.

It is a great time of year for challenges. I am doing Inktober for one thing. And you know what, as long as I am drawing an ink picture every day I am kind of in the mood for music too.

I think what I will do is link Inktober and music and explore some music that is, shall we say, inky.

One such dusky gem that comes to mind is Schubert's "Der Zuegengloecklein." I am sorry for all the vowels! I am too lazy to figure out how to type umlauts. The title, anyway, means "the little funeral bell." The accompaniment is beautiful, how you hear the soft chime of the bell, repeatedly. And the melody takes a cool twist at the end.

I loved this as a teenager and listened to it a lot, always with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. So here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau again.

Hyperion Records always had excellent notes to Schubert songs, by pianist Graham Johnson. My friend Peter and I used to listen to the Hyperion CDs and we would always laugh at the cover because you would see Graham Johnson at the piano, and his keys were sitting there on the piano right next to the keyboard.

Ha, ha! No one ever said, "Hey, Graham, as long as they're taking pictures, you might want to move your keys." No! Album after album, disc after disc, there they were.

Well, he had higher things on his mind. It seems Hyperion is posting his notes online so here are the notes to this one. "This hypnotic song," it begins. Hypnotic is right.

The notes say that the little bell was rung in churches when someone was dying, and it meant you were supposed to pray for that person. We should bring back that tradition. That is a Zugenglocklein at the top of this post! I did a search on the word and that came up.

The notes also reveal that the poet who wrote the words to this song was just 22, hence the poem was kind of immature. That is the advantage to being an English speaker. Bad poem, who cares? But here is the translation anyway.

Enjoy this October song!