Sunday, October 14, 2018

Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018)


Montserrat Caballé (who died a week ago yesterday, at 85):
"All the vocal virtues are here in abundance, giving us the
special thrill of hearing this music sung by a voice
of this size, beauty, and range of color
"


In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

by Ken

Above we've heard the beginning of Fiordiligi's Act II rondo from Così fan tutte, "Per pietà." And yes, this is the very beginning, following directly -- as we'll hear again shortly -- with no further orchestral introduction from a stretch of orchestrally accompanied recitative. We've listened to "Per pietà" more than once, and each time I've tried to convey in words how beautiful it seems to me, and undoubtedly failed each time. So let me just say now, I'm not saying that it's the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote, but then again I'm not saying it isn't. It could be. From which it follows automatically: Something that could be the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote is one of the most beautiful combinations of sounds ever imagined by the mind of humankind.

We heard this opening chunk of "Per pietà" in a December 2015 post, "Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings," in which we hacked the aria into a series of chunks and made our way through them, listening to the same two performances all the way. Both were from complete recordings of Così: Margaret Price's (with Otto Klemperer, for EMI) and Montserrat Caballé's (with Colin Davis, for Philips). Eventually we heard not just theirs but a number of other fine recordings of the full recitative and aria, but none -- to my ears -- as good as Price's and Caballé's. As I wrote at the time:
Margaret Price's Fiordiligi seems to me one of the great recordings of an operatic role, fulfilling this extraordinariliy demanding music with an equally extraordinary array of vocal resources, and singing it all with such melting beauty and depth of feeling. Note in particular the handling of all those vocal skips and leaps, like that octave-and-a-fifth drop in the opening of "Per pietà"; I've never heard anyone make them sound as humanly believable. At a certain point in her career Price sensibly retired this role to move on to other things, but while she sang it, she sang it supremely.

And I would say pretty much the same for Caballé's Fiordiligi. We were just discussing her in the context of Strauss's Four Last Songs, wondering at the beauty, mobility, and size of the voice, and also venting frustration about the careless way the voice was often used. She was an unexpected choice as Philips's Fiordiligi, and, as it turned out, a spectacular choice. All the vocal virtues are here in abundance, giving us the special thrill of hearing this music sung by a voice of this size, beauty, and range of color.

OK, THIS IS AN ODD WAY TO MEMORIALIZE A SINGER,
BUT LIFE WITH LA CABALLÉ WAS, UM, COMPLICATED


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Yet another digression that will be explained (eventually): Revisiting Sir Malcolm Sargent

MIDNIGHT UPDATE: Okay, I think we're just about there. For anyone who's been following along as this post filled out from its original "preliminary version," thanks for your patience and persistence. -- Ed.

It all started when I couldn't resist a too-cheap-to-pass-up copy of this 18-CD EMI set devoted to "The Great Recordings" of Sir Malcolm Sargent (from which some of the music files we're hearing today are drawn).

by Ken

Yes, as it says above, another digression, following upon last week's "'Spurn not the nobly born': No, not the proper post planned for this week, but we do make a little progress, and we hear some really nice music." And yes, we're still enmeshed in Wagner's Die Meistersinger, going back to September 23's "Still on the trail of our two classic Operatic Bad Days, we pause to sniff an elder tree."

In fact over the past week I've gotten enmeshed-er, which is far from an unpleasant thing, except for the expanses of lower-male-voice growling and rasping and grinding one is expected to endure -- and indeed lots of apparent Wagner fans smile and nod, as if this is perfectly normal and acceptable. Yikes! Of course in other Wagner operas the problem becomes even more acute, especially in the higher vocal categories: the heroic soprano and tenor roles (Isolde and Brünnhilde; Tannhäuser, Tristan, Siegmund, and Siegfried).


SO HOW DID SIR MALCOLM SARGENT (1895-1967) OF ALL
PEOPLE BECOME THIS WEEK'S DESIGNATED DIVERSION?


Monday, October 1, 2018

"Spurn not the nobly born": No, not the proper post planned for this week, but we do make a little progress, and we hear some really nice music


"Spurn not the nobly born," exhorts Earl Tolloller to the no-way-no-how-interested-in-high-rank Phyllis (who has much else to say and sing on the subject); here they're John Elliott and Kate Holt, in a 2009 Iolanthe production by Woodley Players Theatre (Stockport, U.K.). You won't hear much in the video clip, but naturally we've got a slew of audio clips --

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Iolanthe: Act I, Phyllis, "Nay, tempt me not, to wealth I'll not be bound" . . . Earl Tolloller, "Spurn not the nobly born"
PHYLLIS: Nay, tempt me not;
to wealth I'll not be bound.
In lowly cot
alone is virtue found.
CHORUS OF PEERS: No, no; indeed high rank will never hurt you,
the peerage is not destitute of virtue.
EARL TOLLOLLER: Spurn not the nobly born
with love affected,
nor treat with virtuous scorn
the well-connected.
High rank involves no shame --
we boast an equal claim
with him of humble name
to be respected!
Blue blood! Blue blood!
When virtuous love is sought,
the power is naught,
though dating from the flood,
blue blood!
Spare us the bitter pain
of stern denials,
nor with low-born disdain
augment our trials.
Hearts just as pure and fair
may beat in Belgrave Square
as in the lowly air
of Seven Dials!
Blue blood! Blue blood!
Of what avail art thou
to serve us now?
Though dating from the flood,
blue blood!
CHORUS OF PEERS: Of what avail art thou
to serve us now?
Though dating from the flood,
blue blood!

Elsie Morison (s), Phyllis; Alexander Young (t), Earl Tolloller; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 21-24, 1958

Mary Sansom (s), Phyllis; Thomas Round (t), Earl Tolloller; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1960

Elizabeth Woollett (s), Phyllis; Phillip Creasy (t), Earl Tolloller; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and Orchestra, John Pryce-Jones, cond. Jay Productions-Sony, recorded June 28-July 2, 1991

by Ken

No, as noted above, we have no proper post this week -- it just got too hard, and too stressful, and even though I got most of the audio clips made and had a pretty good idea (I think) of where and how the real post was/is intended to go, I just couldn't do it. (And after all, to anybody but me what does it matter?) Still, I've rallied enough to cobble together a sort of coulda-shoulda post-substitute, drawing on some of those already-made audio clips, which we'll hear in the click-through, but also with some additional clips made to order.

In the later stages of the time spent so busily not producing a post, I found myself reflecting me that the plight facing the operatic character we'll be hearing from in the click-through of this non-post, society's unyielding prejudice against persons of rank and privilege, isn't unique on the musical stage, which is how we come to be hearing from the implacable Phyllis and the imploring Earl Tolloller and chiming-in fellow lords.


JUST WHAT MIGHT A PERSON OF RANK ENDURE TO
OVERCOME SOCIETY'S SCORN FOR THE PRIVILEGED?


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Still on the trail of our two classic Operatic Bad Days, we pause to sniff an elder tree

Friedrich Schorr as Hans Sachs
We're early in Act II of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The scene is a street with houses on the left and right, separated by a narrow alley that winds toward the back of the stage. The right-hand house, grand in style, is the goldsmith and mastersinger VEIT POGNER's; the left-hand house, simple in style, is the cobbler and mastersinger HANS SACHS's. In front of POGNER's house there is a lime tree; in front of SACHS's an elder. -- As the act began, not long before, it is a pleasant summer evening, and in the course of the action of the act night falls.

At this point SACHS is in his workshop, unable to get out of his head the audition "mastersong" presented to him and his fellow mastersingers this morning, breaking all the rules, and yet, and yet -- Now, having just said good night to his apprentice, DAVID, he arranges his work, sits on his stool at the door, and then, laying his tools down again, leans back, resting his arms on the closed lower half of the door.

HANS SACHS: How sweet the elder smells,
so mild, so strong and full! --
It relaxes my limbs gently,
wants me to say something. --
What is the good of anything I can say to you?
I'm but a poor, simple man.
If work is not to my taste,
you might, friend, rather release me;
I would do better to stretch leather
and give up all poetry. --
[He tries to work, with much noise, but leaves off, leans back once more, and reflects.]
And yet, it just won't go. --
I feel it, and cannot understand it --
I cannot hold on to it, nor yet forget it;
and if I grasp it wholly, I cannot measure it! --
But then, how should I grasp
what seemed to me immeasurable?
No rule seemed to fit it,
and yet there was no fault in it. --
It sounded so old, and yet was so new,
like birdsong in sweet May: --
whosoever hears it
and, carried away by madness,
were to sing it after the bird,
it would bring him derision and disgrace! --
Spring's command,
sweet necessity
placed it in his breast;
then he sang as he had to;
and as he had to, so he could --
I noticed that particularly.
The bird that sang today
had a finely formed beak;
if he made the Masters uneasy,
he certainly well pleased Hans Sachs!
-- English translation (mostly) by Peter Branscombe

Friedrich Schorr (b), Hans Sachs; London Symphony Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded May 10, 1930

Franz Crass (bs), Hans Sachs; Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Kurt Eichhorn, cond. EMI, recorded c1971

by Ken

Two weeks ago I set out to explore some of what I'm calling Operatic Bad Days ("On an operatic bad day you can sometimes see forever -- but oftentimes not"), offering as a sort of model, though a far from ideal one, Sir John Falstaff's massively self-pitying monologue at the start of Act III of Verdi and Boito's Falstaff, after dragging himself out of the Thames, decrying our "Thieving world! Villainous world! Wicked world!" (Eventually, believe it or not, this is going to tie up with our still-ongoing discussion of the underlying link between Schubert's "An die Musik," Richard Strauss's "Zueignung," and the Prologue to Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos.)

Then last week I revealed ("Promissory note for one of our still-to-come Operatic Bad Days") that one of the OBDs I'm targeting takes place in a Wagner opera -- maybe Tannhäuser, maybe Tristan und Isolde, maybe Die Meistersinger, maybe Parsifal, or maybe even Lohengrin. In the process last week we heard a lot of music, and if you haven't taken it all in, it's still there.


I STILL FEEL BAD FOR NOT TALKING ABOUT LAST
WEEK'S PERFORMANCES, BUT I HAD MY REASONS


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Promissory note for one of our still-to-come Operatic Bad Days

Along the way, we hear how Wagner made it
possible for folks everywhere to get married


MONDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Okay, I think we've got something more like a post. There's still work to be done, notably the addition of texts, but for now, whew!
TUESDAY NIGHT UPDATE: I wound up substantially rejiggering and in some aspects entirely reconstituting the Tristan and Meistersinger lineups, in addition to adding the promised texts for each, so progress is being made. I feel a keen need for fuller context-setting of the "days" dramatized in these excerpts, but fear that trying to plug the gap will lead to utterly exploding the post. Hmm. Still to come for sure: texts for Lohengrin [done!] and Tannhäuser.
WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: I've not only done the Tannhäuser texts but popped in as-brief-as-possible situation-setters for Tannhäuser, Tristan, and Meistersinger. At least for now, I think we're there, wherever "there" is, except for whatever cleanup of the wreckage I'm able to undertake.



by Ken

Last week we started talking about Operatic Bad Days ("On an operatic bad day you can sometimes see forever -- but oftentimes not"), looking first at the case of Sir John Falstaff (courtesy of Maestro Verdi), dragging himself out of the Thames to drown his sorrows at the Garter Inn. Sir John, I think we can agree, got what he deserved and deserved what he got, but not so much with the two OBD sufferers whose cases always crowd my mind. By way of setting the mood, while I struggle with what was supposed to be an "easy" post, here's a tease. [SUNDAY UPDATE: Now filled out a little more!]

WAGNER: Tannhäuser: Act III Prelude


Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1961

Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded June 2001

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 13-14. 1972

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde: Act III Prelude


Symphony of the Air, Leopold Stokowski, cond. RCA, recorded 1960-61

Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber, cond. Recorded during a live performance of the opera, Oct. 7, 1973

Staatskapelle Berlin, Wilhelm Furtwängler, cond. From a live performance of most of Acts II and III, Oct. 3, 1947

WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Act III Prelude


London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, cond. EMI, recorded January 1974

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. From a broadcast performance of the complete opera, October 1967

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded during concert performances of the opera, Sept. 23-27, 1995

WAGNER: Parsifal: Act III Prelude


London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, cond. EMI, recorded January 1973

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Hans Knappertsbusch, cond. Philips, recorded live at the 1962 festival

Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI, from a recording of the complete opera, June 1984

THEN AGAIN, IN CASE YOU THINK YOU'VE STARTED
TO SENSE A PATTERN HERE, THERE'S ALSO THIS


Sunday, September 9, 2018

On an operatic bad day you can sometimes see forever -- but oftentimes not

"Wicked world. -- There's no more virtue. -- Everything's in decline."
-- A man who knows a thing or two about, you know, things

A man staggers up to an inn . . .

The exterior of the inn, which along with its name bears the motto: "HONNY SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE." A bench beside the door. It's the hour of twilight.

Our man is seated on the bench, meditating. Then he stirs himself, pounds on the bench with a big fist, and turning toward the interior of the inn calls to the host.


by Ken

Even if we make clear that by "an operatic bad day" I don't mean a bad day for the audience (of which I often feel I've experienced not just my own share but a whole bunch of other people's) but a bad day for the main character(s) onstage, it may seem oxymoronic to be talking about "operatic bad days." Aren't they mostly pretty rotten? Isn't this what opera is usually about? Isn't it a significant part of what we normally think it means for something to be "operatic"?

The kind of bad day I'm thinking of, though, isn't just a day when everything seems to go wrong, even disastrously wrong. I'm thinking of the kind of day when the victim realizes that he/she has played a major role in setting off the unfortunate chain of events, and as a result, despite a certain lack of totally accurate perspective, owing to the inevitable bleakness of spirit, sees truth(s) stretching out as far as the imagination can see.

The part about the victim realizing that he/she has played a major role in setting off the unfortunate chain of events clearly excludes out companion today. In Sir John Falstaff's imagination nothing is his fault, and never mind that it was his own crackpot scheme to seduce one or maybe two of the merry wives of Windsor, not even for libidinous satisfaction but to tap into their not-so-merry husbands' coffers to provide himself with a bit of working capital, blindly falling into separate traps set by both the women and men of Windsor, that resulted in his being dumped unceremoniously into the Thames in that giant basket full of rank laundry.


SIR JOHN'S FEELING OF VICTIMHOOD CERTAINLY
IS EPIC, THOUGH -- RUNNING DEEP AND, ER, WIDE


Monday, September 3, 2018

Sunday Classics' "Sicilienne"-style sendoff for Chuck McGill -- as prélude to a tasting table of morsels from Gabriel Fauré

Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't watched any Better
Call Saul
episodes since before the Season 3 finale



The McGill brothers, Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean), are seen here in . . . um . . . well, not-that-much-happier times -- this scene is from "Klick," the final episode (No. 10) of Season 2 of Better Call Saul.

by Ken

It's kind of embarrassing that it wasn't till the premier episode of Sieason 4 of Better Call Saul that I registered the death of Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), the big brother of our new-old friend Jimmy McGill, previously known to us, in Breaking Bad, as his later self, Saul Goodman. I mean, flashing back even in my dim memory, I had to have known from the Season 3 finale that Chuck was a goner in the fire that consumed his house. Still . . . . I guess I couldn't believe that the show's creative team, headed up by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, would let go of such an extraordinary character (which everyone on the creative team has told us in interviews was heavily influenced by the extraordinary and largely unexpected qualities Michael McKean brought to the role), with so much about him still to be explored. And I guess I had enough faith in the devious story-telling skills of Vince, Peter, and their team that I wasn't prepared to believe Chuck was really gone until the proverbial last nail was pounded into the coffin.

However, from the start of Episode 1 of Season 4, it became clear that Chuck was indeed kaput, gone, good-bye. Naturally one of the first things I thought of was -- well, here's how I put it in that unprecedented Monday edition of Sunday Classics of Feb. 23, 2016, "Special late-Monday Better Call Saul edition: Chuck McGill plays the Fauré Sicilienne!" (Set in front of Chuck on his baby-grand piano was an edition of the Sicilienne for violin or flute and piano.)


Original (2/23/2016) caption: Sure enough, there's a piano in Chuck McGill's living room! Given the light level, don't hold me to it, but isn't this Howard (Patrick Fabian), the managing partner of Chuck's law firm, arriving for his "delivery for McGill" in tonight's Better Call Saul episode, "Cobbler" [Season 2, Episode 2]?

At the time I wrote in part:
If there's one thing probably none of us expected to see, it was Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) at the piano playing the piano part of Fauré's Sicilienne. But there it was, at the top of tonight's Better Call Saul episode, with something like this score page just visible to Chuck, and to us, with the little bit of natural light that found its way into his otherwise-dark living room -- Chuck can't, of course, have electric light.
Eventually, of course, Better Call Saul masterminds Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and their team would gradually fill us in, in their patented time-hopping, circuitious way, but at this point I don't think we knew much of anything except that there was all too clearly a huge something-or-someone missing from Chuck's life, and now suddenly we had him playing the piano, with the obvious indication that the missing something-or-someone had something to do with classical music, specifically either the violin or the flute -- the version of the Sicilienne Chuck was playing from was for violin or flute and piano. (It took two subsequent episodes in Season 2 and another in Season 3 to fill for us the void left in Chuck's life left by the implosion of his marriage to Rebecca, indeed a violinist. Ann Cusack, who has played Rebecca, was back for the first episodes of Season 4, in -- kind of literally -- the wake of Chuck's passing.)

And at that time we heard the Sicilienne three ways --

For violin and piano:

Krzysztof Smietana, violin; John Blakely, piano. Meridian, recorded c1993?

For cello and piano:

Steven Doane, cello; Barry Snyder, piano. Bridge, recorded in Rochester (NY), January 1992

For orchestra, with flute solo (no. iii from Fauré's Suite from the incidental music for Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80):

Orchestre de Paris, Serge Baudo, cond. EMI, recorded June 1969


WE HAVE ANOTHER VERSION OF THE SICILIENNE,
BUT WE'LL ALSO NEED TO BACKTRACK A LITTLE


Sunday, August 26, 2018

So I slapped on this CD I'd picked up -- and had to share this little Intermezzo, Cavatine, and Andante con moto



Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Jacques Février, piano. EMI, recorded Nov. 22-30, 1971

by Ken

Yes, I know we still have important work to complete on Schubert's song "An die Musik," Richard Strauss's song "Zueignung," and the Composer's memorable declaration in the Prologue to Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos that "Music is a holy art," dealing with the important (to me, anyway) questions: (1) What links them? (2) What the hell does it matter? The next, and hopefully final, installment is mostly written, though I suspect that a good part of what keeps me from trying to push it to completion is the fear that it isn't as near to completion as I'm pretending.

Meanwhile, did you listen to the little Intermezzo above? Is that beautiful or what? And did you note Yehudi Menuhin channeling an inner Gypsy I didn't know he had in him. That Intermezzo is one of three movements that grabbed my attention on a CD I slapped on while doing something-or-other at the computer -- all, interestingly, slow movements, from three different works by the same composer. And if you don't know who he is as we listen to the other two, so much the better, because if I hadn't known, I doubt that I would have guessed, and especially not from these slow movements, because even though this is a composer I'm reasonably familiar with, I don't have very good "markers" to identify his music, especially not music of this sort. Or rather these sorts, since these three slow movements are hardly peas in a pod.

So let's listen to a little Cavatine and a little Andante con moto.

Sonata for Cello and Piano:
ii. Cavatine


Pierre Fournier, cello; Jacques Février, piano. EMI, recorded Nov. 22-30, 1971

Trio for Piano, Oboe, and Bassoon:
ii. Andante con moto


Jacques Février, piano; Robert Casier, oboe; Gérard Faisandier, bassoon. EMI, recorded Jan. 20-21, 1964


"THE GUITAR MAKES DREAMS WEEP"

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?

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