Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dept. of Unfinished Business: Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!

"The people all said, 'Sit down! Sit down, you're rocking the boat!"
[Watch this Tony Awards clip based on the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls (which includes a full-cast version of the song "Guys and Dolls") on YouTube.]


Walter Bobbie (Nicely-Nicely Johnson); from the 1992 Broadway Cast Recording, Edward Strauss, musical dir. RCA, recorded May 3, 1992

Stubby Kaye (Nicely-Nicely); Original Broadway Cast recording, Irving Actman, cond. American Decca, recorded Dec. 3, 1950

David Healy (Nicely-Nicely); National Theatre Cast Recording, Tony Britten, cond. EMI, recorded April 1982

"Stand, Old Ivy! Stand firm and strong!"
[Watch the this whole scene from the 2011 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, albeit in murky video and audio, via this YouTube clip. ("Grand Old Ivy" begins at 2:11.)]


Daniel Radcliffe (J. Pierrepont Finch), John Larroquette (J. B. Biggley); from the 2011 Broadway Cast Recording, David Chase, cond. Decca Broadway, recorded Apr. 10-12, 2011

Robert Morse (Finch), Rudy Vallee (Biggley); Original Broadway Cast Recording, Elliot Lawrence, musical dir. RCA, recorded Oct. 22, 1961

Robert Morse (Finch), Rudy Vallee (Biggley); film soundtrack recording, Nelson Riddle, music supervision. United Artists, recorded 1967

Matthew Broderick (Finch), Ronn Carroll (Biggley); 1995 Broadway Cast Recording, Ted Sperling, cond. RCA, recorded Apr. 2, 1995

by Ken

It's just a coincidence, I swear, more or less, even as I was thinking of a way into this unexpectedly fraught question of when to stand up and when to sit down I happened to be gradually working my way through Thomas L. Riis's 2008 Yale University Press study Frank Loesser (in a $2 thrift-shop purchase of a pristine hard-cover copy). After all, on any given subject it's likely that we can find toe-tapping wisdom from the master.


COULD WE TAKE A QUICK SECOND LOOK AT THESE VIDEO CLIPS?

Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!

Coming later today (or maybe tomorrow):

No less an authority on standing and sitting down than Frank Loesser will help guide us through the surprisingly fraught question of when to do which.
#

Sunday, August 12, 2018

"An die Musik": How does a musical setting (of a "not strikingly original" poem) that's "conventional in every way save for its greatness" achieve that greatness? (Part C of A-B-C)

Or: "Speaking of Schubert's 'An die Musik,' Strauss's 'Zueignung,' and the Ariadne Prologue, a few (eventually) final questions, Part 1Yc" (following last week's Part "1X")

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! In the light of (another) day, I've brazenly added a sixth version, Christa Ludwig's, to the five performances we were already tracking through Graham Johnson's observations about "An die Musik."


In this continuation of the February 2012 master class at the Jerusalem Music Centre we dipped into in Part B, Graham Johnson works with Hungarian-born mezzo-soprano Hanna Bardos (with pianist Emma Walker) on Schubert's "Death and the Maiden."
TODAY'S A-B-C POST AT THE TIP
OF YOUR CLICKING FINGER


Part A (nos. 1-3 + other stuff)
Part B (nos. 4-7 + other stuff)
Part C (nos. 8-10 + other stuff)
by Ken

Once again, for reasons of capacity somewhere along the distribution line, presumably on account of all those damned (oops, that just slipped out) audio and other embedded files, I had to break this post up -- and broke it, for safety's sake, into not two but three postlets. In part B we left off with no. 7 (in my pedantically imposed numeration), the piano postlude to the first stanza of "An die Musik":
The piano postlude mirrors this descent in a succession of sequences of chords built around appoggiaturas which lean and sigh, tugging on the sleeve and pulling the heartstrings. A simple yet heart-stopping excursion into the subdominant subtly emphasises that this hymn of praise is also a type of prayer.

[We're going to hear that postlude again (and again and again and . . .) in the audio clips for no. 8. -- Ed.]

OKAY, LET'S GET BACK TO IT!

"An die Musik": How does a musical setting (of a "not strikingly original" poem) that's "conventional in every way save for its greatness" achieve that greatness? (Part B of A-B-C)

Or: "Speaking of Schubert's 'An die Musik,' Strauss's 'Zueignung,' and the Ariadne Prologue, a few (eventually) final questions, Part 1Yb" (following last week's Part "1X")

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! In the light of (another) day, I've brazenly added a sixth version, Christa Ludwig's, to the five performances we were already tracking through Graham Johnson's observations about "An die Musik."
"In reality, the song is a dialogue between the voice and the pianist's left hand, the quasi-cello bass line of the music. The right hand is the true accompanist and mediator in this heavenly conversation; it pulsates in a way which is crucial to the mood of the song although the listener may only be subliminally aware of its magic."
-- from Graham Johnson's commentary on "An die Musik," in
the
Hyperion Schubert Edition (©1994 Graham Johnson)

Part of a February 2012 master class at the Jerusalem Music Centre in which Graham Johnson works with Hungarian-born mezzo-soprano Hanna Bardos (and pianist Emma Walker) on Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" -- and among many interesting points gives her his thinking about tempo and composers' metronome markings (and what he considers the understandable but often misplaced desire to manufacture "drama"), offering her the opportunity to persuade him otherwise! (We'll see and hear a good deal more of this in Part C.)
TODAY'S A-B-C POST AT THE TIP
OF YOUR CLICKING FINGER


Part A (nos. 1-3 + other stuff)
Part B (nos. 4-7 + other stuff)
Part C (nos. 8-10 + other stuff)
by Ken

This isn't the time or place for fooling around, so let's just pick up right where we left off in Part A, at no. 3: "After 'wilder Kreis umstrickt' an eloquent little falling chromatic motif in the left hand (a single bar) is a prelude to the magic which will lift the spirits (and the vocal line) into higher regions."

Before we go on, however, one question: Does it occur to other listeners, with regard to the observation of Graham's requoted above, "In reality, the song is a dialogue between the voice and the pianist's left hand, the quasi-cello bass line of the music," that others of the pianists we've been tracking -- perhaps all of them? -- make more of this in their performances than Graham does in his?

Anyway, onward!

[4] "At this point a generous and eloquent four-bar phrase takes wing ('hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb entzunden'), this time without the dallying on long low notes which has characterised earlier phrases. It is as if the whole song has caught fire and is aglow with the warmth of the music itself."

"An die Musik": How does a musical setting (of a "not strikingly original" poem) that's "conventional in every way save for its greatness" achieve that greatness? (Part A of A-B-C)

Or: "Speaking of Schubert's 'An die Musik,' Strauss's 'Zueignung,' and the Ariadne Prologue, a few (eventually) final questions, Part 1Ya" (following last week's Part "1X")

EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! In the light of (another) day, I've brazenly added a sixth version, Christa Ludwig's, to the five performances we were already tracking through Graham Johnson's observations about "An die Musik."
"The poem . . . is not strikingly original . . . . [T]he setting is conventional in every way . . . save for its greatness. Sincerity and heartfelt devotion seem to emanate from every note, and also a type of exaltation which enable us to glimpse for a moment the transfigured state, remarked on by his contemporaries, in which Schubert wrote his music."
-- from Graham Johnson's commentary on "An die Musik,"
in Vol. 21 of the 37-volume
Hyperion Schubert Edition

"In reality, the song is a dialogue between the voice and the pianist's left hand, the quasi-cello bass line of the music. The right hand is the true accompanist and mediator in this heavenly conversation; it pulsates in a way which is crucial to the mood of the song although the listener may only be subliminally aware of its magic."
-- also from Graham Johnson's commentary

TODAY'S A-B-C POST AT THE TIP
OF YOUR CLICKING FINGER


Part A (nos. 1-3 + other stuff)
Part B (nos. 4-7 + other stuff)
Part C (nos. 8-10 + other stuff)
by Ken

Last week we had an overview of "An die Musik", drawing on the above-sourced commentary on the song by Graham Johnson, who in addition to being one of the day's most acclaimed accompanists served as both artistic director and album commentator for Hyperion Records' invaluable Schubert Edition, a gathering of all the composer's songs in 37 volumes -- by comparison, setting aside the zillion other records he's made, the other song-compendia he's undertaken for Hyperion (of Brahms, Schumann, and Fauré and Poulenc and a number of less prolific French composers) seem like just another day's work. (Hyperion has enlisted other pianists for other song compendia, including Liszt and Richard Strauss.)

I said that this week Graham would be leading us through the song, and so he will -- through its entire vast spaces -- all of three minutes, and at that in strophic form, meaning that its two stanzas (or strophes) are essentially identical musically. And so, while we have a number of issues, both substantive and procedural to address, I thought we would plunge right in with the first of ten specific points Graham makes. (I should add that the pedantic numbering of those points has been added by yours truly, to help us keep track of where we are in this broken-up format.)


WELL, BEFORE WE PLUNGE IN, MAYBE WE SHOULD
HAVE ONE MORE BIT OF OVERVIEW FROM GRAHAM

In reality, the song is a dialogue between the voice and the pianist's left hand, the quasi-cello bass line of the music. The right hand is the true accompanist and mediator in this heavenly conversation; it pulsates in a way which is crucial to the mood of the song although the listener may only be subliminally aware of its magic. Except in the postlude to each verse, these chords have no special thematic significance, but the piano needs to repeat notes in order to sustain a harmonic background, and the accompanist has to find a means of allowing these chords to 'happen' without appearing to strike each one individually -- something which would break the music into a succession of pedantic downbeats. Underneath what should be a gliding stream of harmony, the left hand sings its heart out, warming the voice into action.
©1994 Graham Johnson

AND SHOULD WE MAYBE HEAR THE SONG STRAIGHT
THROUGH AGAIN? YES, I REALLY THINK WE SHOULD


Sunday, August 5, 2018

A poem that's "not strikingly original" in a setting that's "conventional in every way save for its greatness" -- let's welcome back Schubert's "An die Musik"

Or: "Speaking of Schubert's 'An die Musik,' Strauss's 'Zueignung,' and the Ariadne Prologue, a few (eventually) final questions, Part 1X"
"The poem . . . is not strikingly original . . . . [T]he setting is conventional in every way . . . save for its greatness. Sincerity and heartfelt devotion seem to emanate from every note, and also a type of exaltation which enable us to glimpse for a moment the transfigured state, remarked on by his contemporaries, in which Schubert wrote his music."
-- from Graham Johnson's commentary on "An die Musik,"
in Vol. 21 of the 37-volume
Hyperion Schubert Edition

"I always think of this song as a prayer, an expression of deep gratitude, felt deeply at a time when there is so much suffering elsewhere."
-- Lotte Lehmann, in her introduction to her broadcast
performance of "
An die Musik" on Oct. 8, 1941


Lotte Lehmann, soprano; Paul Ulanowsky, piano; with spoken introduction by the singer. American radio broadcast, Oct. 8, 1941

by Ken

Yes, we're still technically engaged in the stretched-out post that began last week with "Speaking of Schubert's 'An die Musik,' Strauss's 'Zueignung,' and the Ariadne Prologue, a few (eventually) final questions, Part 1." If the classification is important, we might call this "Part 1A," or maybe "Part 1X" (as I've styled it provisionally above), since it's not only an interlude of sorts but actually a prelude to the interlude -- it won't become clear, or clearish, till next week, why suddenly we're listening to Lotte Lehmann's October 1941 broadcast performance of the song.

My original thought, when I decided we ought to spend more time with "An die Musik," was to make this a brief pre-post to a later-today fuller follow-up post devoted to this unique Schubert song, to be finished up in time to get to a Sunday-afternoon walking tour. However, to give myself a better shot at getting to the tour and getting some Saturday-night sleep, I decided to cut myself even more slack and defer the fuller rehearing of "An die Musik" to next week, which then will be Part I-don't-know-what in this series.

The Lotte Lehmann performance above is from the second of the 15-minute radio broadcasts the 53-year-old singer did on 13 consecutive Wednesday evenings in the fall of 1941, backed by trusted accompanist Paul Ulanowsky. The programs, generally consisting of three or four songs by a single composer (weighted toward his best-known, and introduced by the singer, as "An die Musik" is here), kicked off on October 1st with Beethoven. On October 8th, after "An die Musik," she sang the beloved "Serenade" from the Schwanengesang collection and, for a big finish, the harrowing "Erlkönig." (I'm thinking maybe we should hear the rest of this little broadcast group. Yes, stay tuned, I think we can work it in.)


IT'S LUCKY THAT THE E-ROOM IS MOSTLY CLEARED,
AS I'M ABOUT TO OWN UP TO A DEEP CHARACTER FLAW


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Speaking of Schubert's "An die Musik," Strauss's "Zueignung," and the "Ariadne" Prologue, a few (eventually) final questions, Part 1

"There is a realm where all is pure"

Funny business on the island of Naxos: Ernst Stern's design for the original (prologue-less) 1912 Ariadne auf Naxos
R. STRAUSS: From the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos:
The Composer, "Musik ist eine heilige Kunst"


THE COMPOSER: Music is a sacred art, which brings together all men of courage, like cherubim around a shining throne, and for this reason it is the most holy of the arts. Holy music!


From a performance at Buenos Aires's Teatro Colón conducted by Lovro von Matačić, October 1964
by Ken

From last week's post ("We have more 'An die Musik,' 'Zueignung,' and 'Musik ist eine heilige Kunst' -- but remember, this only sounds like a "good news" post"):
Just to touch quickly again on what I shorthanded as the "Reverse-Strauss" that's driving this series of posts: What's so wonderful about this excerpt, and indeed the entire comically, over-the-toply-serious character of the Composer, is that our real composer, Richard Strauss, mostly meant all of the things that come out of our over-the-top young Composer's mouth, but he would almost surely never have dared utter them "straight." Instead, as he and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal conceived the character, he can make these things not only resonantly beautiful but borderline hilarious.

I mean only to suggest here: What if it's the exact opposite? What if the sentiments truly are preposterous, and we only kid ourselves that they have some real-world applicability? Wouldn't that be a kick in the head?
By hook or by crook we're going to finish up with "An die Musik," "Zueignung," "Musik ist eine heilige Kunst," and the perspective I've been calling a Reverse-Strauss -- in last week's post and the previous week's ("Today's sacred word is 'heilig' ('holy' or 'sacred'), chez Schubert and R. Strauss -- make of it what you will"). I'm afraid, though, that the finishing up isn't going to happen today; I'm reckoning it'll take us another two posts.

And along this twisty way, we're going to be fielding some questions, starting with this one:

Q1: Who says that Strauss "mostly meant all of the things that come out of our over-the-top young Composer's mouth"?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

We have more "An die Musik," "Zueignung," and "Musik ist eine heilige Kunst" -- but remember, this only SOUNDS like a "good news" post

We have our missing recording of "An die Musik"!
So let's hear it along with its intended companion --





Pavel Lisitsian, baritone; Naum Valter, piano. Melodiya, recorded 1961

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Hubert Giesen, piano. DG, recorded November 1965

by Ken

Last week, for possibly predictably perverse purposes of your proprietor, we focused on three bits of music that almost inevitably suggest some connection to the proposition that life is good, life is worth living ("Today's sacred word is 'heilig' ('holy' or 'sacred'), chez Schubert and R. Strauss -- make of it what you will"). Our cases in point were the Schubert song "An die Musik," Richard Strauss's song "Zueignung," and the moment in the final minutes of the Prologue to Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos when the super-serious Composer of the super-serious opera seria Ariadne auf Naxos, in the countdown to its first performance (under troubled circumstances, to put it mildly, in the home of "the richest man in Vienna"), declares, "Music is a sacred art."

However, we only heard two of the three song performances we should have, performances I've lived with so long and so closely that they're inextricably woven into my consciousness. The problem was that one of the two intended "An die Musik"s I had only on an old MK LP I've cherished for more than 40 years (since I plucked it out of a 99-cent bin in the old Sam Goody bargain store across 49th Street from the old West Side store), and at the moment I'm unable to make audio files from LP. Anyway, as I hope you've heard above, the Armenian-born Soviet baritone Pavel Lisitsian's "An die Musik" is now united, as intended, with the much-lamented tenor Fritz Wunderlich's, originally recorded as part of a glorious group of Schubert songs to fill Side 4 of his wonderful 1965 DG Schöne Müllerin (the way the Schubert song cycle, which now fits comfortably on a single CD, usually came to us in those days, on three LP sides).

Over this past week I've scouted for a companion to Jussi Bjoerling's March 1958 Carnegie Hall encore performance of "Zueignung," again with the limitation that it would have to come from my CD holdings, or possibly via digital download. We heard some pretty good ones last week, and I heard lots more this week, but just now we're not looking for pretty good, we're looking for magic. As often happens, though, the joke was on me. I found magic, but not with "Zueignung." Oh, I'd just heard a very very good one, but again, we're not looking for very very good. I couldn't be bothered to stop the disc after the very very good "Zueignung," and wound up hearing something like this:

R. STRAUSS: "Zueignung," Op. 10, No. 1,
plus a special bonus performance (at 2:09)


Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Geoffrey Parsons, piano. BBC Legends, recorded live at Summer Festival, Wigmore Hall, July 15, 1978


OHMYGOODNESS! ARE THERE ANY WORDS? WELL,
FIRST OFF, I HAVE TO EAT SOME UNKIND ONES


While I toil away at today's post, here's a preview

We have our missing recording of "An die Musik"!




Pavel Lisitsian, baritone; Naum Valter, piano. Melodiya, recorded 1961

"So what?" you say? Tune in later, and maybe I'll have been able to explain, maybe I won't. -- Ken

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Today's sacred word is "heilig" ("holy" or "sacred"), chez Schubert and R. Strauss -- make of it what you will

UPDATE: A second Fischer-Dieskau/Moore "Zueignung" added!

"An die Musik": Maybe we don't need words?
(But not to worry -- we'll have 'em eventually)



The man himself, seen here at home, is heard playing his own solo-piano rendering -- one stanza only -- of Schubert's one-of-a-kind song "An die Musik" ("To Music"), to conclude the Homage to Gerald Moore in London's Royal Festival Hall, Feb. 20, 1967 (as audio-recorded by EMI).

by Ken

I hadn't known when I started out that Gerald Moore, the one and only, was going to be leading the whole thing off, but when the above solo performance of "An die Musik" slipped provisionally into this lead-off position, it just seemed right. I hadn't expected either to be so affected rehearing this performance of an indulgent kind G.M. never would have given when he was partnering another performer, as he did so luminously with so many performers in his long and storied career. Nor, finally, was I prepared for the double take I did the third or fourth time I typed the date of the Homage to Gerald Moore concert. My goodness, that was more than 50 years ago! How did that happen?

For years now I've wanted to "do" G.M. in a post or posts, and have always shied away from it. Do I have to add that in all this time I still haven't heard another accompanist in his league? Oh, every now and then I hear a pianist who seems in that moment almost worthy of comparison. I settle almost-happily for that.


IF YOU DON'T KNOW "AN DIE MUSIK," BY ALL MEANS
SKIP AHEAD TO THE PERFORMANCES WITH WORDS


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1931-2018)



VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 5 in D:
i. Preludio


BBC Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond. BBC Radio Classics, recorded live in the Royal Festival Hall at the BBC Symphony Orchestra 50th Anniversary Concert of Oct. 22, 1980

by Ken

Goodness, we have so much work to do -- old business, specifically look-back business (hint: look again at just the opening images of last week's YouTube clips of performances of Mason Jones's woodwind-quintet arrangement of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin suite and note the immediately visible difference you can see), new business, future business, business-in-progress) that it would be hard to know where to start, if we didn't have some already overdue business, dating back to June 16 and the passing of Gennady Rozhdestvensky, at the age of 87.

[For a quick and affectionate once-over of G.R.'s life and career, check out Chris O'Reilly's on the Presto Classical website. -- Ed.]

My first difficulty in memorializing G.R. is that from the time my musical awareness expanded beyond the borders of the continental U.S., he was always there, and I don't recall ever hearing a performance of his that seemed less than fully engaged, and I don't mean just in Russian repertory, of which he was, not surprisingly, a heroic proponent. (We'll come back to this point in a moment, in a number of ways, actually.) But it wouldn't hurt us to hear a sampling of that Russian repertory. Here's the glorious culmination of Part I of The Nutcracker, sounding as properly and organically magisterial as I've ever heard it.

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker, Op. 71:
No. 8, Scene in the Pine Forest
No. 9, Scene and Waltz of the Snowflakes
[at 3:39]

Bolshoi Theater Children's Chorus (in No. 9), Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond. Melodiya, recorded 1960


GEE, MOST OF MY G.R. HOLDINGS ARE ON LP,
AND IT'S SUCH A HASSLE MAKING AUDIO FILES

Sunday, July 1, 2018

'In modo di canzone': If it's singing we aim to talk about, how come we're listening to 'Le Tombeau de Couperin'? (Part 2)

With apologies for the sprawl of this post: I kept thinking I should really spin off a Part 3, but that seemed too easy a way out -- and likely would have needed to happen before we got to (ahem) "the point." Still, I probably should have. Sorry! -- Ed.

Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin, arr. Mason Jones

i. Prélude, at 0:00; ii. Fugue, at 3:35; iii. Menuet, at 6:30; iv. Rigaudon, at 10:34French Woodwind Quintet: Philippe Bernold, flute; Olivier Doise, oboe; Patrick Messina, clarinet; Julien Hardy, bassoon; Hervé Joulain, horn

Just the "Prélude," in the Jones arrangement

Quintette Les Cinq: Federico Dalprà, flute; Ian Barillas-McEntee, oboe; Letizia Elsa Maulà, clarinet; Georgie Powell, bassoon; Derrick Atkinson, horn (in the Jurriaanse Zaal, De Doelen, Rotterdam, Feb. 17, 2015)

by Ken

As I sort-of-explained last week in part 1 of this post, my path to Albrecht Mayer's 2013 oboe master class began with "a birthday-gift concert of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center," at which Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin (of 1914-18) was played in a version I'd never heard, bracketed -- in a program called Through the Great War -- between a pair of piano quintets I don't think I'd ever heard at all, Dohnányi's Second (1914) and Elgar's (1918).

To my considerable surprise it was not just a terrific concert but one of my great musical experiences, at a time when such an experience was as welcome as it was unexpected. I think I'd still like to write about it, because it struck at a whole bunch of issues that are of considerable importance to me, but it's not easy, since aspects of it are pretty personal, which amps up the difficulty of writing, as well as the personal unease about how much I want to share, especially at a time when I'm finding it hard to imagine that it would be of interest to anyone but me. My best hope is that it'll get a tiny bit easier once I have more confidence that there's nobody out there reading. (And if by chance there is somebody out there reading, can you explain yourself?)

So for now for the most part I'm going to table the concert itself, except perhaps to thank the Chamber Music Society, not just for the concert but for the birthday gift. You see, when I described this as "a birthday-gift concert of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center," what may not have been clear is that it was a gift from CMS -- owing, as best I can tell, to my having once bought a ticket directly from them (probably at a discount at that, if I know myself). I meant to drop the folks there a note of thanks, but somehow I didn't. So thanks, folks!


TOO MUCH TALK! LET'S HAVE MUSIC!