Sunday, June 19, 2022

The most amazing Mozart

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

It is All Mozart, All the Time!

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

This rule will not be violated!

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

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

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

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

That piece needs rebranding!

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

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

 

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

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

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

He brightens every day of my life!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Seduction Aria From Mozart's "Don Giovanni"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such fun!


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Beethoven Playing For Mozart

 


I love this old picture. I remember seeing it when I was a kid and today I ran across it on the Internet.

It shows Beethoven playing for Mozart. You have to click on the picture to see it bigger to get the look on Mozart's face. That artist did a good job! Mozart looks alert and interested but not threatened. He looks kind of cocky, the way he was in real life.

Then all the ladies. Artists love to draw ladies with their pretty hair and dresses. Especially if the artist is a woman. Women love to draw women.

It is fun how there is a crowd present.

Underlying it all is the mystery of whether Beethoven did in fact meet Mozart, or if he did not. He was hoping to study with Mozart. However then his mother died and his plans were undone. And when he got around to pursuing those plans again, Mozart was gone.

There is a chance however that Beethoven did meet Mozart. You have to doubt it, however, because you would think Beethoven would have mentioned it to someone at some point if it had happened. Or Mozart might have mentioned it. Especially Beethoven, though, you would think it would come up.

I have written a lot about this I know, but I think about it a lot... Those two.

In a book about Mozart -- I will have to link to it -- the Englishman Paul Johnson goes into great detail about that. I like how I am not the only one thinking about it. Johnson said that Mozart and Beethoven would go into eternity together, both magnifying the other. He said it better than that. I will have to look it up.

You almost have to think of them together, to compare and contrast. And you can say whatever about Beethoven admiring Handel more, or Cherubini more, or whoever more than he admired Mozart. He did not.

There was no way he admired anyone more than he admired Mozart. You can hear it in his music. There would have been no Beethoven without Mozart. Well, he would have written music, but he would have been different.

So that question is settled. Only one remains...

Did they ever meet?

If they did, it would be like the picture.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

We Critique Etsy's Mozart Commercial

Today I was looking over my Etsy statistics and saw a notice from Etsy telling me how they are working to find us as many customers as possible. There was a button you could click that said, "See what we've done."

I clicked it. Ask not what you can do for Etsy, ask what Etsy can do for you!

One thing they did was list commercials they ran, along with links so you could watch them. One of them, a commercial that ran in Germany, was titled "Mozart."

How could I resist?

That is the commercial up above. It's kind of fun. There is this kid who is playing the Andante from K. 545, the C major sonata for beginners that all kids play. Let me tell you this, I loved that sonata when I was little and I love it now, just as much, if not more. That Andante -- so beautiful!!

Keep in mind however, this is the, ahem, Music Critic web log. So I must criticize this commercial.

One, they go through all the trouble to let you glimpse the piano score, they should show us the right sonata. Instead they show us another Mozart sonata, in F. I forget the Kochel number but I played that as a kid too. I love that as much as I love K. 545. But show us the sonata the kid is supposed to be playing. Lots of people read music and they can tell.

Another criticism, they can't really give us the music Mozart wrote. You get a few bars over and over and eventually it lapses into this New Age-y thing.

Also in the commercial, maybe there is a language barrier -- it seems I understand German only when Thomas Hampson is speaking it. However I cannot quite grasp what makes this kid in the commercial so addled. He looks through the whole ad as if something is not quite right. You can play the piano, you're playing Mozart, life cannot be that bad.

Whatever, at the end you get the payoff -- he gets a Mozart gift! 



Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Close Encounter with Schubert Week

Every morning I put myself through Pilates and recently the Pilates routine has become easier.

That is because I watch these singing master classes. It is amazing, the stuff you can find on YouTube. You do not have to be a singer or a pianist to appreciate them, either. It is a wonderful way to learn your way around a Schubert song. Or whatever it is they are discussing.

The video above, all it is is Schubert. It is like being in heaven!

There is this thing called Schubert Week. It takes place in Heidelberg, as far as I can figure out. There is a hall oddly named the Pierre Boulez Hall and that is where this takes place. Thomas Hampson presides over it and he talks, at least in the above video, mostly in German.

I cannot always understand German in movies or when actual Germans are talking it. But I notice that when Thomas Hampson is talking German I can usually understand him. It must be because he is American and talks just a little more slowly and clearly. 

There are a lot of things I love about this video. I will get into a lot more detail about this in some future point, but for now I just want to say one thing I appreciate about this Thomas Hampson Schubert Week master class.

It is recent!

This video streamed live on Jan. 28, 2022. I am guessing the Schubert Week is tied to Schubert's birthday which is Jan. 31. So many things were canceled because of Covid however Hampson seems to have observed Schubert Week come hell or high water. 

Not virtual. In person!

I love that!

I am so sick of virtual this and virtual that. Not only that but these other master classes I am watching, they are usually eight or 10 years ago. That can preoccupy me. I start wondering what happened to these students who are singing in the master class. I think of them being older now. I think of the singer leading the master class. What is that singer doing now?

In contrast the Schubert Week is in the here and now. That Korean singer -- I think he is Korean -- singing the first of the "Gesange des Harfners," he was singing that only a month ago. That is a song I love, by the way. It takes me back to when I was a teenager. However this is funny, I was thinking today, I know it by heart but I never took it into my head to learn anything about it. The song's poem is from Goethe's "Wilhelm Meister"; I knew that, but I never knew what that story was, or anything about it. 

I find all this fascinating. I kept leaving the mat so I could rewind the video a few minutes and pick up something I missed. I would be drawn into a discussion about the difference between "allein" and "Einsamkeit."

"It is remarkable how many people are watching," Hampson says at some point, introducing the class.

I am late to the party, but I am one!



Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Mozart Manuscript For Sale

 



Online shopping is the greatest! I get on Abe Books looking for a score for Gustav Mahler's songs from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn." I have a few I want to try now that I, ahem, have this voice I never knew I had.

I end up wandering around the site for a few minutes and what do I see but a Mozart manuscript!

I mean a real one!

I cannot make out all the German right now but it appears to be to one of his canons. That is it up above. When I get a minute I am going to figure out exactly what this thing is because this is something we should know.

The price? US$ 391,686.64.

I love the 64 cents. Plus $21.73 shipping! Got to love that. It is coming from Germany.

Where's my checkbook?

You start thinking: I could sell my house, scrounge around, buy this thing. Imagine that. It would be just you and this Mozart manuscript. Your one possession.

You could take it out and look at it. Feel it. Your hands could touch this paper that Mozart touched. You would own this little piece of Mozart's life. 

You would not have to tell anyone you had it and so you would not have to guard it. No thief who broke into your house would recognize it as being of value. Oh wait, you would have sold your house, so that solves that problem anyway. There would be no house for anyone to break into.

$391,686.64. Plus $21.73 shipping.

It would almost be worth it!


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Me and My New Voice

I have a new hobby, classical singing. I try to get in some practice every day in addition to the piano.

Before we get any further: That is not me in the video! I just lifted this video off YouTube. I will get to that in a minute. First I have to start with what happened. What happened was, I have been singing in choir at church for some time, and two or three weeks ago, I asked Howard for some coaching. Howard is evolving into quite the fine tenor thanks to lessons he took with the great Andy Anselmo.

To be honest I did not expect anything to come of this coaching. I had always sort of assumed in my life that I was a pianist and not a singer, that I could not sing. My sisters sang. I would beg my sister Katie to learn Schubert songs so I could accompany her. She was not as motivated as I was but she did learn a few songs. We did "Der Musensohn" -- that is fun to play on the piano! -- as well as "Lachen und Weinen"; "Wohin?", a bunch of others. A few times I tried to sing them along with myself. But I always had this problem, I had this small range. Even in the alto book, the song would go up to an E above middle C, and I would be stuck, I just couldn't sing that. 

Speaking of which I think that is the case with most women. I am thinking that few people have much of a range. Howard sings on the app Smule, and I am unimpressed with most of the people he sings with. The women, especially, they sing songs that are good and low, with a range of only about five notes. If I were smart I would just do that. 

But now it is too late. To my astonishment Howard's coaching took exactly five minutes to work this magic on me. All of a sudden I could hit all these notes comfortably that I had ever hit in my life. That elusive E came into play, and E is for easy. The F above it is there too. And the G above that. It was something about the way I had held my mouth all these years. I had not been going at the note right. Suddenly singing these notes -- and the ones leading up to them -- is as easy as striking a note on the piano. You order them up and they are there.

What in the world, you know?

Anyway, it is like this new toy. I just have never sung these notes and now I just want to sing them! I went to choir practice and sailed up and down the warmup arpeggios. I sang this chant I could never sing before and I got tears in my eyes. I actually texted Howard from the choir loft before Mass and I told him that. I told him thank you. It has honestly changed my life.

So now I have this new voice and I have to work on it. I started singing a few songs. I do Schubert's "An Die Musik" and Schumann's "Widmung." Those are kind of my two. I know hundreds of songs by heart so I often try others as well.

Times have sure changed since I was singing these songs with my sister!

Number one, you can look on Youtube and find accompaniments. You have your choice of keys. It's not as easy as playing the accompaniment for yourself because you have to adjust to the pianist's tempo which can be strange, but you can stand and concentrate on your singing.

Another thing, you can find master classes! I looked for "Master Class Widmung" and immediately found two great ones, one featuring Sir Thomas Allen -- that is it at the top of this post -- and the other one the pianist Graham Johnson. I have listened to Graham Johnson's Schubert recordings millions of times. 

It was like heaven! This really good singer taking the stage, singing "Widmung," and right next to her you've got Thomas Allen, ready to give his insights. Howard came in to talk to me right as the singer was finishing the song, and I had to pause the video. It was torture, having to do that!

Anyway. I thought it would be fun to write about some of these online master classes. I certainly am coming at them from a unique angle. And this music I have been listening to all my life, I am learning it in a new way. So look for more of this in the future.

So much fun!