Friday, August 31, 2012

Preview: "We'll live in Paris, together" -- a mystery theme and a mystery duet-fragment

Or, more properly, Andante sostenuto:

by Ken

For tonight's preview, we have a mystery theme, above, and a mystery duet-fragment, below. Before we proceed to it, though, I thought we might hear a somewhat fuller setting of our above theme -- starting a bit earlier in the piece and continuing on a bit longer, though still not quite to the end. We'll hear the whole thing (a whopping four minutes at its most drawn-out), properly identified, in the click-through. I think this is some of the most beautiful and moving music ever written, and its source is a piece that has a somewhat grudging place in the standard repertory but for a number of reasons doesn't get the respect I think it deserves.


We'll have these same performances, properly identified, in the click-throughd, so if you're not interested in hearing them blind, as it were, you can skip straight to there.

"Nous vivrons à Paris, tous les deux!"
("We'll live in Paris, together!")

HIM: We'll live in Paris . . .
HER: Together!
HIM: . . . together, and our loving hearts . . .
HER: In Paris!
HIM: . . . bound to one another . . .
HER: In Paris!
HIM: . . . for ever reunited . . .
HER [together]: We'll have only blessed days!
HIM [together]: . . . there we'll live only blessed days!
TOGETHER: In Paris! In Paris, together!
We'll live in Paris! Together!
HIM [approaching HER tenderly; soulfully]: And my name will become yours!
[then coming back to himself; half-spoken] Ah, pardon!
HER: In my eyes you must see well
that I am not angry with you.
And yet, it's wrong!
HIM: Come! We'll live in Paris . . .
HER: Together! &c.





Sunday, August 26, 2012

When Haydn met London (and vice versa), neither was ever the same again

HAYDN: The Creation, Part I:
Orchestral introduction, "The Representation of Chaos"

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, June 1986

by Ken

The symphony we're hearing this week, Franz Joseph Haydn's Drum Roll (No. 103), from which we heard the ingeniously alternating minor-and-major theme-and-variations movement in Friday night's preview, is from the second set of six symphonies the composer produced for his visits to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95. The 12 symphonies are known collectively as Haydn's "London" symphonies, or sometimes the "Salomon" symphonies, after the violinist-turned-impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who lured the 59-year-old composer to London in the first place, as the late conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999) reminds us in this little commentary recorded in 1992.
Maestro Tintner recalls the circumstances
of Haydn's summons to London

I'm not sure it's possible to overstate the explosive effect Haydn and the London musical public had on each other. Despite the composer's near-sequestration for nearly 30 years in Austrian backwaters running the musical establishment of the princes Esterházy, he knew he occupied an elite position among the composers of his day. But he had never experienced the kind of contact with the general music public that he did when he arrived in London. He seems to have been both startled and humbled to discover just how famous he was and just how much his music was loved.

Characteristically, Haydn responded, not by basking in praise or resting on his laurels, but by pushing himself further. His place in musical history would have been secure if he had written nothing from 1791 on, but the creative outpouring that was yet to come is kind of mind-boggling. He had, for example, already composed 90-plus symphonies, including dozens of masterpieces, but the dozen "London" symphonies are something else again. And as Maestro Tintner points out, it was his contact with the English oratorio tradition that planted the seed for the two great oratorios yet to come, The Creation and The Seasons. It was in fact Salomon who suggested the Creation to him as possible oratorio subject matter.

What we heard up top is the orchestral introduction to The Creation, "The Representation of Chaos," one of the most extraordinary depictions in the musical literature. (When has chaos ever sounded this beguiling?)


which we're going to hear by continuing just a few more minutes into the oratorio.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Preview: A "Drum Roll," please, as we prepare to ponder Haydn's amazing adventures in London

"The second movement is a set of variations, and the most original thing about it is that the theme of the variations is in the minor mode, but every second [section] is in the major mode. So the theme is minor, the first variation is major; the second variation is minor; and so on. I daresay that Gustav Mahler was particularly fond of this movement, because his own works show influences of that kind."
-- the late conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999), from a spoken
to Haydn's Symphony No. 103 (
Drum Roll)

by Ken

It's an amazing story, Franz Joseph Haydn's two trips to London, in 1791-92 and 1794-95, one of the most amazing in the annals of artistic creation, and I want to talk a little about it on Sunday. Perhaps not surprisingly, it's the subject that Georg Tintner raised at the outset of the little talk devoted to Haydn's Symphony No. 103, known as the Drum Roll (for its opening drum roll -- d'oh!) from which I've quoted the couple of sentences above about the slow movement.

As a matter of fact, it's that little talk of Georg Tintner's that prompted me to choose the Drum Roll Symphony, from the second set of six symphonies (Nos. 99-104) that Haydn composed for London, as our "sampler" of his London experience. And I thought we could start by listening to this alternating minor-and-major theme-and-variations movement, one of Haydn's great slow movements (and never mind that it's expressly designed not to sound like a slow movement). Since the movement turns out to be a showcase for the orchestra, I can't imagine a better orchestra to play it for us than the Concertgebouw.

Concertgebouw Orchestra, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded November 1976


As noted we'll be considering the phenomenon of Haydn's conquest of London, and we'll be hearing the whole of the Drum Roll Symphony.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Simon and Maria Boccanegra -- no longer alone in an unkind world

Plácido Domingo as the Doge and Ana Maria Martínez
as Maria Boccanegra in Los Angeles this past February

VERDI: Simon Boccanegra: Act I, Scene 1: Boccanegra and Maria, "Ah!" . . . Boccanegra, "Figlia a tal nome io palpito"
MARIA BOCCANEGRA: Father! Ah! Clasp to your breast Maria, who loves you!
SIMON BOCCANEGRA [simultaneously]: Ah! daughter my heart calls you!
[Orchestral outburst]
SIMON B: Ah! Daughter, daughter my heart calls you!
MARIA B: Ah! Clasp to your breast Maria, who loves you!
SIMON B: Daughter! At the name I tremble
as if Heaven had opened up to me.
You reveal to me
a world of unspeakable joy;
your loving father will create
for you a paradise;
the luster of my crown
will be your glory.

Leyla Gencer (s), Maria Boccanegra; Tito Gobbi (b), Simon Boccanegra; Vienna Philharmonic, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 9, 1961

by Ken

Above we hear the moment of recognition, which we heard in last week's Sunday Classics preview, "Together again, and all's right with the world -- more or less," introducing opera's two great recognition scene. We listened last week to the one in Richard Strauss's Elektra, when Elektra and Orest, over great obstacles and with great difficulty, finally recognize each other as sister and brother.

Now we return to the scene in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra when both Simon, now Doge of Genoa, and the young woman who has been known as Amelia Grimaldi, understand that she is in fact his long-ago-abducted daughter Maria. As I noted, we heard the actual moment of recognition last week, but we stopped short of the meltingly beautiful solo that follows immediately.

I described these two scenes last week as "scenes whose power over me undoubtedly exceeds anything I'll be able to explain," and in presenting the Elektra scene I didn't even try. As we approach the Boccanegra scene (having listened, in Friday night's preview, to that supreme expression of grief, the aria "Il lacerato spirito," voiced by her grandfather, Jacopo Fiesco, at the death of her mother, Maria), I will just suggest that while there likely are people who have never felt some version, albeit likely less extreme, of the feeling of utter-aloneness-in-the-world felt by both pairs of characters, and consequently truly don't experience a wrench of the gut at these instances of the character pairs, against all odds, being reunited with another person who is closely related to them, and more importantly entirely with them, on their side, available to kiss the booboo and make it better.

Before we proceed to the full scene, I thought we might hear just the final word of the scene. According to the stage direction: "MARIA, accompanied by her father all the way to the threshold, enters the palace. SIMON contemplates her ecstatically as she disappears," after which "he says one last time": "Daughter!" This last "Figlia!" could hardly be set more simply: dolcissimo (very sweetly) and very softly, the first syllable on the baritone's high F (not that high for a baritone, but right on the vocal "break"), dropping for the second syllable to the F an octave below.

Here are four renditions of this final bit. I'll identify the performers in the click-through.

The final "Figlia!"


Friday, August 17, 2012

Preview: Simon Boccanegra, "Il lacerato spirito"

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Fiesco in Verdi's
Simon Boccanegra in Madrid, 2010

[without chorus; see below for text] Samuel Ramey (bs), Jacopo Fiesco; Munich Radio Orchestra, Jacques Delacôte, cond. EMI, recorded April 1988

by Ken

In last week's initial installment of our look at the two great operatic recognition scenes ("Together again, and all's right with the world -- more or less") we heard a snatch of the scene from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra in which Simon, now doge of Genoa, figures out that the young woman known as Amelia Grimaldi is in fact his long-ago-abducted daughter Maria. Just as we did last week with the great Elektra scene in which Elektra and Orest, two of the children of the murdered king Agamemnon, are reunited, this week we're going to take a closer look at the Simon-Maria scene.

Tonight, however, we're backing up -- or perhaps backing forward, since the Prologue -- which contains "Il lacerato spirito," one of Verdi's supreme bass arias -- didn't exist until Verdi undertook a late-life revision of this problematic middle-eriod opera, working with a much younger writer-composer who was trying to prod him into resuming composition. That, of course, would be Arrigo Boito, the eventual librettist of Verdi's final masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff.

The aria is one of the most powerful of all musical expressions of grief, and is if anything that much more effective for coming from a gentleman who isn't really a terribly nice fellow, the Genovese Patrician Jacopo Fiesco, sworn enemy of the Plebeian corsair Simon Boccanegra. Fiesco is in fact Maria Boccanegra's maternal grandfather, and he has just left the bedside of his just-deceased daughter Maria -- yes, the mother of our Maria.

VERDI: Simon Boccanegra: Prologue, Fiesco, Recitative, "A te l'estremo addio" . . . Aria, "Il lacerato spirito"
[comes out of the palace and turns to look at it]: To you the ultimate farewell, proud palace,
cold sepulcher of my angel.
Nor was I able to protect her!
Oh cursed one! Oh vile seducer!
[He turns to the Madonna.]
And you, Virgin, suffered
her virginal crown to be ravished from her?
Ah, what was I saying? Madness!
Ah, forgive me!
The wounded spirit
of a despairing father
has been subjected to the tortures
of infamy and pain.
[Lamentations are heard from inside the palace.]
WOMEN: She is dead! She is dead!
The spheres open to her!
Never again! Never again will we see her on earth!
MEN: Miserere! Miserere!
FIESCO: Out of pity Heaven has given her
a martyr's crown.
Risen to the splendor of the angels,
pray, Maria, for me.

Alexander Kipnis (bs), Jacopo Fiesco; Berlin State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Erich Orhmann, cond. EMI, recorded Apr. 13, 1931

Giorgio Tozzi (bs), Jacopo Fiesco; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 9, 1961

Peter Mikuláš (bs), Jacopo Fiesco; BRTN Philharmonic Choir, Jaak Gregoor Chorus, BRTN Philharmonic Orchestra, Alexander Rahbari, cond. Discover International, recorded Mar. 7-15, 1994


A closer look at the reunion of father and daughter.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

In "Elektra," a "recognition" scene in which neither party actually recognizes the other

Elektra (Deborah Polaski) and Chrysothemis (Karita Mattila)
in Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Elektra at the Met, 2002
[CHRYSOTHEMIS rushes in through the courtyard gate, howling loudly like a wounded animal.]
CHYRSOTHEMIS: Orest! Orest is dead!
ELEKTRA: Be quiet!
CHYRSOTHEMIS: Orest is dead!
I came out -- they knew it there already. They were all
standing around and they all knew it already.
Only we didn't.
ELEKTRA: No one knows it.
CHYRSOTHEMIS: They all knew it!
ELEKTRA: No one can know it, for it is not true.
It is not true! It is not true! I tell you, however,
it is not true!
CHYRSOTHEMIS: The strangers stood by the wall. The strangers
who were sent here to announce it: two --
an old one and a young one. They had
already told everyone. They were all standing
in a circle around them and they all,
all knew it already.
ELEKTRA: It is not true!
CHYRSOTHEMIS: No one thinks of us. Dead! Elektra, dead!
Died in a foreign land! Dead!
Died there in a foreign land,
by his own horses killed and dragged along.
[She sinks down on the doorstep beside ELEKTRA. A YOUNG SERVING MAN hurries out of the house and stumbles over the sisters.]

Alessandra Marc (s), Chrysothemis; Deborah Polaski (s), Elektra; Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded February 1995

Deborah Voigt (s), Chrysothemis; Alessandra Marc (s), Elektra; Vienna Philharmonic, Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. DG, recorded September 1995

by Ken

My goodness, the things people do! To each other, I mean, though also to themselves. And no "others" are more readily in the line of fire than family.

As promised in Friday night's preview, today we're targeting the extraordinary scene in which a brother and sister are reunited, each thinking he or she was left all alone in the world to right the wrong of the murder of their father, Agamemnon, king of Myecenae, at the hands of their mother, Klytämnestra, and her lover, Aegisth (for the sake of sanity I'm going to try to stick to the German forms of the Greek names used in the libretto), following the king's return from the Trojan War.

There's so much we should be talking about here. About the creative breakthrough by which Richard Strauss, already a world-famous composer, had finally, and all at once, made his operatic breakthrough -- at age 40 -- with his previous opera, Salome. About the happy turn of fate that brought him together with the playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, after he had already begun shaping Hofmannsthal's adaptation of the Sophoclean version of Elektra. Very likely what Strauss wanted from him was his permission, not his collaboration, but he wound up getting both, and the start of one of the most remarkable collaborations in the annals of artistic creation. About how much the one-act Salome and Elektra have in common as well as how much they don't.

And certainly, within the drama itself, there's all sorts of stuff we should talk about. Like the specific human urgencies of each of the characters, with consideration of what first Sophocles and then Hofmannsthal and then Strauss-Hofmannsthal have chosen to include and omit with regard to the story.

But for today we'll keep it simple. The fundamental human reality is that Elektra's world has been permanently denatured by the murder of her father. In this respect she is fundamentally different from her significantly younger sister Chrysothemis, the closest thing she has at this point to another person in her life. Chrysothemis just wants to get on with a normal life. By contrast, as I like to think of it, if one were to suggest to Elektra, "Life goes on," she would be apt to reply, "Oh yeah?" or "Says who?" This is, I think, a wholly recognizable family dynamic -- capable of being explained in large part by the difference in age.

This is no ordinary family here in the House of Atreus, of course, but I think we can all readily enough appreciate familiar patterns of family dysfunction, even -- or perhaps especially? -- when they're carried to this extreme. We have two sisters who have experienced the events of their family's history, coming as they did at such different points in their lives, in very different ways. In Elektra's reality, the only hope for restoring her disordered world to any kind of order is for her brother Orest to return home from his long exile -- an exile designed to keep him safely out of the reach of his mother and her paramour -- so she can assist him in avenging their father's death.

It is, of course, that scene, the scene of Orest's return, a Recognition Scene in which, in fact, neither sibling does recognize the other, that we're looking at today. And I thought we needed to start today -- in the scene we heard up top -- with the added circumstance that makes it so much more likely that Elektra would fail to recognize her long-lost brother: She has been brought, kicking and screaming, to an understanding that he's dead.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Preview: Together again, and all's right with the world -- more or less

Father and daughter reunited: Plácido Domingo (playing baritone) as Simon Boccanegra and Maria Poplavskaya as Maria at Covent Garden, 2010

by Ken

This week and (probably) next week we're going to poke around two scenes I've had it in mind to present as long as we've been doing Sunday Classics, scenes whose power over me undoubtedly exceeds anything I'll be able to explain.

Tonight we're going to preview just the moments of recognition, and we're going to start with even more stripped-down versions.

1. Simon Boccanegra recognizes his long-lost daughter
MARIA BOCCANEGRA: Ah! Clasp to your breast Maria, who loves you!
SIMON BOCCANEGRA [simultaneously]: Ah! daughter my heart calls you!
[Orchestral outburst]
SIMON: Daughter, daughter my heart calls you!

Leo Nucci (b), Simon Boccanegra; Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Maria Boccanegra; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded December 1988

2. Elektra recognizes her long-exiled (and presumed-dead) brother
[Orchestral outburst]

Birgit Nilsson (s), Elektra; Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded 1966-67


which I've had it in mind to present as long as we've been doing Sunday Classics.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Classics: Dvořák's "Slavonic Dances": a world, or 16 worlds, in 16 miniatures

Probably the greatest Czech conductor (at least of the stay-at-home-Czech variety) of whom we have record, Václav Talich (1883-1961), conducts the Czech Philharmonic in Dvořák's Slavonic Dance No. 10 in E minor, Op. 72, No. 2 (a dumka), in this 1955 video.

by Ken

I've made this point before, but we need to make it again before proceeding to the Slavonic Dances, as promised in Friday night's preview (when we heard both the first of them in both the original piano-duet version and the composer's orchestration. Although it was obvious from the outset that Dvořák's Slavonic Dances were inspired by Brahms's Hungarian Dances, which proved a huge commercial success, what Brahms was producing was genuine trifles -- luscious trifles, but still (mostly) trifles, which doesn't seem to me at all the case with the Slavonic Dances.

I've also argued that the Hungarian Dances seem to me more effective, more atmospheric, in their original piano-duet form, where they really create a sound world of their own -- though necessarily a sound world limited by what you can get from four hands pounding a single piano keyboard.

An obvious example is the most famous of the Hungarian Dances. Note that the prevailing form in all these dances is our old friend A-B-A, most often either fast-slow-fast or slow-fast-slow, but in any case with a contrasting mood for the middle section.

BRAHMS: Hungarian Dance No. 5: Allegro

original version for piano duet: in F-sharp minor

Alfred Brendel and Walter Klein, piano. Vox, recorded 1956

orchestral version by Martin Schmeling: in G minor

Staatskapelle Berlin, Otmar Suitner, cond. Denon/Deutsche Schallplatten, recorded Aug. 28-Sept. 2, 1989

violin-and-piano version by Joseph Joachim: in G minor

Fritz Kreisler, violin; Carl Lamson, piano. Victor, recorded Feb. 17, 1916

Friday, August 3, 2012

Preview: Sampling the musical relish of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the first of Dvořák's Slavonic Dances, in C minor, Op. 46, No. 1.

by Ken

I could swear that we've sampled Dvořák's Slavonic Dances in Sunday Classics, but so far I haven't been able to find a link. (I really have to do something about updating the index.) I've had it in mind for a while now devote a post to these little treasures. I had fantasies of a really incisive in-depth listen, which might have been possible considering the miniatureness of the form. That's not going to happen, though, at least not this week.

I thought for tonight we'd just start at the beginning, with the blazingly proclamatory opening dance, with -- naturally -- its contrastingly tender central section. So here's how Dvořák composed it originally, for piano duet, and then how he opened it up into a new world of color and excitement when he orchestrated the Slavonic Dances.

DVOŘÁK: Slavonic Dance No. 1 in C, Op. 35, No. 1: Presto

Original version for piano duet

Michel Béroff and Jean-Philippe Collard, piano. EMI, recorded Feb. 9-12, 1976

Orchestral version by the composer

Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Jan. 4-5, 1963


Well, we're going to hear some more of the Slavonic Dances. Surprise!