Friday, August 30, 2013

Sunday Classics' Great Moments in Music History: Arnold Schoenberg, the movie mogul, and the mogul's "boys"

Schoenberg, seen in a 1910 self-portrait
(Yes, he was also a painter)

by Ken

Or we could call this installment of Great Moments in Music History: "The Day Arnold Schoenberg's career as a Hollywood film composer began and ended."

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading the second part of Arthur Rubinstein's autobiography, My Many Years. And as I also mentioned, Rubinstein seems to have known just about everybody in the world of the arts (not just music) through most of his career.

In October 1939, with Poland already fallen to the German Blitzkrieg that set off World War II, placing Rubinstein, his wife Nela and their children (just two at the time) in a dangerous status as Polish nationals, and with France already taking on an alarmingly anti-Semitic tone, the family advanced by several weeks their planned departure from their home in Paris for a U.S. tour. At Nela's urging, Arthur pulled strings to secure very limited space aboard a U.S. ship sent as "a rescue boat for their citizens in France."

In the course of their New World stay, which came to include a South American tour and then one in Mexico, the Rubinsteins watched with mounting horror as events in Europe unfolded and they knew that returning home would be impossible for at least the duration of the war. The family wound up settling in Los Angeles, where of course large numbers of European émigrés had found their way, many of whom were already acquaintances if not friends of the pianist.

Rubinstein takes note of the plight of the composer Arnold Schoenberg, who had been living in L.A. since 1934, for both political and health reasons. Schoenberg, Rubinstein notes, "gave us musicians quite a lot of trouble."
He was left without money after his dismissal from the University of California, simply because of his age. I joined a group of musicians who decided to help him. The best way was to obtain a commission for him to compose music for films. We were lucky to persuade one of the moguls of the cinema to receive the great composer and offer him a contract. Schönberg was not only willing to do it but became interested in the project. It became common knowledge how the interview ran:

The mogul says: "Professor, I have a film right up your alley. You will write the best music of your life for it."

Schoenberg says quietly: "I would like to settle the financial question first. I need fifty thousand dollars for my music."

The mogul raises both hands in the air. "But, Professor, we've never paid more than ten thousand to our composers.,"

Schoenberg protests: "It takes me a year to composer my music and this is the least I can ask for it."

"But, Professor," laughs the mogul, "why a year? You can write a few tunes and my boys will arrange it for the orchestras and they will do whatever you want."

"Your sons?" asks Schönberg.

"No. We have, at the studio, fellows who finish up the music overnight, arrange it for orchestra or other things. They know what they're doing."

The two men separated without understanding each other. His worried friends were of the opinion that he should have accepted the ten thousand, but the master made this sublime reply: "I cannot commit suicide by making a living on ten thousand dollars."
The moment I dearly wish there'd been cameras there to record is the one when, at least in Schoenberg's mind, the mogul's sons enter the discussion. I'm having more fun than I can tell imagining the "professor" asking, "Your sons?"


The first of the Two Piano Pieces, Op. 33 (1938-41)


Uh, dunno, not sure. Most of the ideas percolating would require quantities of either work or thinking (or, heaven help me, both), commodities that have been in short supply for me for, oh, I dunno, the last couple of decades?

But I'm thinking maybe we could ease into a closer look at the poor comédienne Nedda in Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci (which we've looked at parts of pretty closely, notably the baritone's remarkable Prologue, in the February 2010 post "The Prolgoue to Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci entreats, 'Consider our souls' "), the victim half of one of the theatrical literature's more explosive relationships. It's her successive scenes with the opera's two baritone characters which I want to get to, and that's one of those deals that's going to require abundant work and thought. Still, we might be able to ease into it, maybe by setting up the relationship with her theater-troupe director husband, Canio.

Or . . . my friend Conrad L. Osborne has latterly published a piece in Opera News about Enrico Caruso, unlike anything you've read about Caruso, even if you've read everything there is, or was, to read about Caruso. I had this idea that we could poach some of that and interlace it with the actual recordings he cites as a sort of value-added enrichment. This takes care of a lot of the "thinking" problem, since C.L.O. has done most of that (all I'd have to figure out is how to poach it), but doing the audio clips and assembling texts and whatnot . . . I get tired just thinking about it. Meanwhile, as of now you can still read the piece -- which combines meaningful description of how that amazing voice worked and how its workings varied over time with a powerfully personal appreciation of the artistry that technique was put at the service of -- for free on the magazine's website.

UPDATE: It's Pagliacci!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Arthur Rubinstein offers compelling advice for young pianists

"Many pianists perform at their concerts music which they do not understand or particularly like, only because these pieces are much in demand and recommended to them by their managers. . . . My long experience taught me that your only way to success, young pianists, is to pour out your own deep emotion into the music you really love and understand."

by Ken

I admit it's taken me till now to read Arthur Rubinstein's two volumes of autobiography: My Young Years (1973) and My Many Years (1980). But I often think the passage of time gives us a better indication of the value of a piece of writing. (A slight caveat needs to entered about that word "writing" in the case of My Many Years, by which time the author had lost his sight. So the book was all dictated. Nevertheless, I have written, "Rubinstein writes," which seems to me a defensible liberty.)

I'm still only halfway through My Many Years (both of these are big books), but I've been sitting for a while on a passage from it so interesting that it cries out for sharing. We'll get to the full quote in a moment, but I've put the gist at the top, and I thought we would start with two pieces that could hardly be more different but that could both be counted on win audiences pretty much anywhere in the world over to his playing.

It should be noted that Rubinstein evolved enormously as a pianist, with a lot of the change which occurred at a surprisingly advanced age quite deliberate on his part, to fix what he had come to regard as a too easy approach to his playing, which relied on his natural musical instincts at the expense of close contact with the musical texts. We're going to hear performances "early" and late, though we need to be careful with that word "early"; his earliest recordings were made when he was in his early 40s.

DE FALLA: El Amor brujo: "Ritual Fire Dance" (arr. Rubinstein)

From the autobiographies we learn how much Rubinstein loved Spain and how much Spanish audiences, from the start, responded to his playing. With the composer's enthusiastic approval he made his own arrangement of the orchestral "Ritual Fire Dance" from Manuel de Falla's El Amor brujo. His Spanish audiences loved it, but so did audiences everywhere.

Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA-BMG, recorded in Hollywood, May 18, 1947

Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA-BMG, recorded in New York City, Mar. 23, 1961

CHOPIN: Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op. 60

Considering how revered Rubinstein eventually became as a Chopin player, it's interesting how long it took audiences to accept his way of playing Chopin. There were pieces he could always count on, though. We have the flashiest one, the A-flat major Polonaise, coming up. Apparently, though, his way with the Barcarolle rarely failed to melt audiences' hearts.

Arthur Rubinstein, piano. EMI, recorded in London, Apr. 18, 1928

Arthur Rubinstein, piano. RCA-BMG, recorded in New York City, Nov. 26-28, 1962


Friday, August 23, 2013

Postscript: Poor Arthur Sullivan never knew how well he had succeeded as a "serious" composer

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: The Mikado: Act II: Song, Yum-Yum, "The sun whose rays are all ablaze"

In the film Topsy-Turvy (of which I might say I'm not a big fan), Shirley Henderson fake-rehearses, then fake-sings, Yum-Yum's Act II spoken dialogue and song, "The sun whose rays."
YUM-YUM [looking at herself in her mirror]: Yes, I am indeed beautiful! Sometimes I sit and wonder, in my artless Japanese way, why it is that I am so much more attractive than anybody else in the whole world. Can this be vanity? No. Nature is lovel, and rejoices in her loveliness. I am a child of Nature, and take after my mother.
The sun whose rays
are all ablaze
with ever-living glory
does not deny
his majestry;
he scorns to tell a story.
He don't exclaim,
"I blush for shame,
so kindly be indulgent."
But fierce and bold,
in fiery gold,
he glories all effulgent!
    I mean to rule the earth,
    as he the sky.
    We really know our worth,
    the sun and I.
    I mean to rule the earth,
    as he the sky.
    We really know our worth,
    the sun and I.

Observe his flame,
that placid dame,
the moon's Celestial Highness:
There's not a trace
upon her face
of diffidence or shyness.
She borrows light
that, through the night,
mankind may all acclaim her!
And, truth to tell,
she lights up well,
so I, for one, don't blame her!
    Ah, pray make no mistake,
    we are not shy;
    we're very wide awake,
    the moon and I.
    Ah, pray make no mistake,
    we are not shy;
    we're very wide awake,
    the moon and I.

by Ken

I don't want to get into an extended discussion of the above "performance." I grant that it does try to do something with the song (after doing whatever it did with the spoken dialogue, which seems just a way around dealing with its over-the-top giddy content), more in fact than most performances of it I've seen and heard, but when the singer can't sing the song, it doesn't count for much.

It's possible to react as one commenter does:
The sheer fragility in Ms Henderson's performance is heartbreaking and just downright beautiful. Yes, there are more exacting performances of this piece, but none touch the heart the way this one does. Probably one of the most moving scenes in any film.
Or it's possible to suggest that among those "more exacting" performances would be an entire category of ones by singers who can actually sing the piece.

I'm sorry I can't embed the young Valerie Masterson's performance from the 1966 D'Oyly Carte company Mikado film. It isn't acted at all, and as a commenter comments, "She looks like a sexy extra from the original Star Trek series . . . what a hairdo!" But at least you can close your eyes and hear the genius of Arthur Sullivan, lifting a potential cartoon character into the realm of the sublime. (In a moment we're going to hear Masterson sing this extraordinary song even better, in the later D'Oyly Carte audio recording.)

There's a lesson here, which I want to draw in returning to last week's post, "Dance a cachucha! Returning to the Gondoliers Overture." And that lesson is: Contrary to popular impression, the Gilbert and Sullivan operas are hard to perform well -- extremely, and sometimes even excruciatingly hard.

That is, if you actually want to perform them well.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dance a cachucha! Returning to the "Gondoliers" Overture

APOLOGIES FOR THE LATE POSTING: I really wanted to do something more with this post, and I just wasn't getting it done. Finally I decided to go with what I had more or less ready, reserving the right to return to the subject.
MONDAY NIGHT UPDATE: With time to reflect, I've revamped the post to include vocal texts. After all, if I'm inviting you to listen, really listen, to the various performances, and I am, I am, the texts could help, and even raise questions like: For which recordings are the printed texts most and least necessary? -- Ken

Dance a cachucha!
Dance a cachucha, fandango, bolero,
Xeres we’ll drink -- Manzanilla, Montero.
Wine, when it runs in abundance, enhances
the reckless delight of that wildest of dances!
To the pretty pitter-pitter-patter,
and the clitter-clitter-clitter-clatter --
clitter -- clitter -- clatter,
pitter -- pitter -- patter,
patter, patter, patter, patter, we’ll dance.
Old Xeres we’ll drink -- Manzanilla, Montero --
for wine, when it runs in abundance, enhances
the reckless delight of that wildest of dances!

D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1960

New D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and Orchestra, John Pryce-Jones, cond. TER-Sony, recorded June 23-27, 1991

Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Mar. 11-15, 1957

by Ken

No, this isn't the post I promised, or had in mind in Friday night's preview. Instead, I thought we'd just listen to some music. One thing that I did promise is that we were going to work back to the Gondoliers Overture, and that we are going to do.

We've started with the "Cachucha" from Act II, because it's the difference (or almost) between the original Overture imagined by Sir Arthur Sullivan, which ended -- most atypically for a Gilbert and Sullivan overture -- in a note of calm and poise and what I've called the "expanded D'Oyly Carte version," which basically tacked on . . . the "Cachucha"!

In a moment we're going to hear the Gondoliers Overture three ways, but first I want to invite you in listening to today's excerpts to really listen to what's going on. And I mean starting with the "Cachucha" (which, again, for the record, I'm told is more properly a fandango, which is also among the dances the revelers mention). On my scorecard what we've got above is a really good performance, an okay one (though it's "musical values" are often vouched for), and finally a performance that lifts the music, and the situation of the characters, into an unmistakably higher realm.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Preview: Working back from the "Mikado" and "Yeomen of the Guard" Overtures to "The Gondoliers"

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: The Mikado (1885): Overture

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: The Yeomen of the Guard (1888): Overture

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner, cond. Philips, recorded February 1992

by Ken

If you haven't been around Sunday Classics much, you may not be aware that I take my Gilbert and Sullivan right seriously. (See, for starters, the June 2010 post "The Mikado says, 'It's an unjust world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances.'") I don't think of their run of comic masterpieces, from Trial by Jury (1875) through The Gondoliers (1889), as frothy light entertainments of about a millimeter's depth. Oh, there's plenty of froth; I don't ever want to lose sight of how funny these pieces are, or can be. But even the humor seems to me to come from a very different place, and to work in a very different way, from that imagined by an awful lof ot fans.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Gilbert and Sullivan's gondoliers try to temper monarchy with republican equality

The Duke of Plaza-Toro and suite make their entrance in the Yale Gilbert and Sullivan Society's 2011 Gondoliers.
Flourish. A gondola arrives at the Piazzetta steps in Venice, from which enter the DUKE OF PLAZA-TORO, the DUCHESS, their daughter CASILDA, and their attendant LUIZ, who carries a drum. All are dressed in pompous but old and faded clothes.

DUKE: From the sunny Spanish shore,
the Duke of Plaza-Tor' --
DUCHESS: And His Grace's Duchess true --
CASILDA: And His Grace's daughter, too --
LUIZ: And His Grace's private drum
to Venetia's shores have come:
ALL: And, if ever, ever, ever
they get back to Spain,
they will never, never, never
cross the sea again!
DUKE: Neither that Grandee from the Spanish shore,
the noble Duke of Plaza Tor' --
DUCHESS: Nor His Grace's Duchess, staunch and true --
CASILDA: You may add, His Grace's daughter, too --
LUIZ: Nor His Grace's own particular drum
to Venetia's shores will come:
ALL: If ever, ever, ever
they get back to Spain,
they will never, never, never
cross the sea again!

John Reed (b), Duke of Plaza-Toro; Gillian Knight (c), Duchess of Plaza-Toro; Jennifer Toye (s), Casilda; Jeffrey Skitch (b), Luiz; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1960

John Reed (b), Duke of Plaza-Toro; Lyndsie Holland (c), Duchess of Plaza-Toro; Julia Goss (s), Casilda; Geoffrey Shovelton (t), Luiz; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royston Nash, cond. Decca, recorded Feb. 18-25, 1977

Kenneth Sandford (bs-b), Duke of Plaza-Toro; Jean Allister (c), Duchess of Plaza-Toro; Patricia Clarke (s), Casilda; Edgar Fleet (t), Luiz; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, James Walker, cond. Reader's Digest, recorded February 1963

Geraint Evans (b), Duke of Plaza-Toro; Monica Sinclair (c), Duchess of Plaza-Toro; Edna Graham (s), Casilda; Alexander Young (t), Luiz; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Mar. 11-15, 1957

by Ken

As promised in Friday night's preview, today we're going to poke around among the last of the unquestionably triumphant Gilbert and Sullivan creations, The Gondoliers. By this time the partnership was fraying seriously, and although the partners would come together twice more, to produce Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke, for many of us the serious creative line ends with The Gondoliers. Friday we made the acquaintance of the two gondoliers who are presumably the titular characters (rather than the entire ensemble of gondoliers, I mean).

The title, we might note, wasn't settled on by the creators until almost the day of the premiere, but I think they got it right. Unless the audience comes to like, enjoy, and care about Marco and Giuseppe, I don't think you've got a show.

But as I also mentioned Friday, there's a whole other strain of personages we hadn't touched on yet. Ergo, enter the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro, their daughter Casilda, "and suite" -- meaning their general factotum and drummer, Luiz.


Well, he is a duke, but from there his stature shrinks -- to the stature of near-complete gutlessness. As he has to explain to his daughter, Casilda:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Preview: G&S's "republican" kings vow, "For everyone who feels inclined, some post we undertake to find"

Pittsburgh Savoyards
MARCO and GIUSEPPE (alternating bars):
Replying, we sing
as one individual.
As I find I'm a king,
to my kingdom I bid you all.
I'm aware you object
to pavilions and palaces,
but you'll find I'll respect
your republican fallacies.
You'll find I respect
your republican fallacies.
They're aware we object
to pavilions and palaces.
How can they respect
our republican fallacies?
MARCO: For every one who feels inclined,
some post we undertake to find
congenial with his frame of mind --
and all shall equal be.
GIUSEPPE: The Chancellor in his peruke,
the Earl, the Marquis, and the Dook,
the Groom, the Butler, and the Cook --
they all shall equal be.
MARCO: The Aristocrat who banks with Coutts,
the Aristocrat who hunts and shoots,
the Aristocrat who cleans our boots --
they all shall equal be!
GIUSEPPE: The Noble Lord who rules the State,
the Noble Lord who cleans the plate.
MARCO: The Noble Lord who scrubs the grate --
they all shall equal be!
GIUSEPPE: The Lord High Bishop orthodox,
the Lord High Coachman on the box.
MARCO: The Lord High Vagabond in the stocks --
they all shall equal be!
MARCO and GIUSEPPE: For every one who feels inclined etc.
Sing high, sing low,
wherever they go,
they all shall equal be!
CONTADINE and GONDOLIERI: Sing high, sing low,
wherever they go,
they all shall equal be!
The Earl, the Marquis, and the Dook,
the Groom, the Butler, and the Cook,
the Aristocrat who banks with Coutts,
the Aristocrat who cleans the boots.
The Noble Lord who rules the State,
the Noble Lord who scrubs the grate,
the Lord High Bishop orthodox,
the Lord High Vagabond in the stocks.
Sing high, sing low,
wherever they go,
They all shall equal be!
Then hail! O King,
whichever you may be,
to you we sing,
but do not bend the knee.
It may be thou;
likewise it may be thee.
So hail! O King,
whichever you may be!

Leonard Osborn (t), Marco Palmieri; Alan Styler (b), Giuseppe Palmieri; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Promenade Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey, conductor. Decca, recorded Mar. 11, 1950 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

by Ken

I'm writing this post beforehand, obviously, but by the time it appears, I will have attended a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, and in pre-performance anticipation -- I don't remember the last time I saw The Gondoliers in the flesh -- I'm still able to feel excitement. (By, say, the 10-minute mark of the performance, I won't be surprised if I'm in a state of rage.) So I thought this we'd poke around this glorious piece.

In our opening excerpt above, from the Act I finale of The Gondoliers, with the brothers Palmieri now so closely joined that they take over for one another in mid-word (by the simple musical expedient of having the tenor and baritone swap out at each bar line), I've intentionally left out the question to which the brothers Marco and Giuseppe, are "replying . . . as one individual."

We're going to hear this chunk of the finale again with the question, from their Venetian friends, reinstated, but first I need to correct myself, because by this point Marco and Giuseppe have learned that they aren't actually brothers, that in fact one of them . . . well, let me not get ahead of myself. Let's go back to the opening scene, which we'll be talking about more and hearing in full on Sunday. For now we're going to skip to the brother's much-delayed entrance and their song of self-identification.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Verdi's Falstaff holds court in the Garter Inn

"Reverenza!": Mistress Quickly approaches Falstaff in the Garter Inn.
The interior of the Garter Inn.. FALSTAFF as always sprawled in his big chair in its usual place, drinking his Xeres. BARDOLFO and PISTOLA near the back near the door at left.

BARDOLFO and PISTOLA [beating their breasts in acts of repentance]: We're penitent, and contrite.
FALSTAFF: Man returns to his vices,
like the cat to fat.
BARDOLFO and PISTOLA: And we return to your service.
BARDOLFO: Master, out there there's a woman
who asks to be admitted to your presence.
FALSTAFF: Let her enter.
[BARDOLFO goes out and returns with MISTRESS QUICKLY.]
QUICKLY [bowing deeply to FALSTAFF]: Your reverence!
FALSTAFF: Good day, good woman.
QUICKLY: Your reverence!

Giuseppe Nessi (t), Bardolfo; Cristiano Dalamangas (bs), Pistola; Giuseppe Taddei (b), Sir John Falstaff; Amalia Pini (ms), Mistress Quickly; RAI Turin Symphony Orchestra, Mario Rossi, cond. Cetra, broadcast performance, 1949

Renato Ercolani (t), Bardolfo; Nicola Zaccaria (bs), Pistola; Tito Gobbi (b), Sir John Falstaff; Fedora Barbieri (ms), Mistress Quickly; Philharmonia Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1956

by Ken

As promised in Friday night's preview, when we heard Master Ford's deliciously awesome monologue from Act II, Scene 1 of Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, with a magical libretto by Arrigo Boito (who had also written the utterly different libretto for Verdi's Otello), today we're going to work our way through the scene.

The opera, you may recall, is constructed of three acts with two scenes each, all roughly the same length. The first scene of each act is set in the Garter Inn in Windsor, the roost of the aging Sir John Falstaff, who's dealing with a severe case of impecuniousness, and in the opening scene hatched a nutty scheme, based on his estimate of his supposedly awesome seductive powers, to seduce one or both of two merry wives of Windsor, Mistress Alice Ford and/or her next-door neighbor, Mistress Meg Page. He has sent them comically poetical love letters, identical except for the names, and unbeknownst to him this caper has become known to, well, pretty much everyone in the two, and rival revenge plots have been hatched. (We've focused on Falstaff before, but mostly heading forward toward the sublime final scene in Windsor Forest.)

So here we are back at the Garter, and what we've already heard above is the arrival, in full fawning mode, of the elderly Mistress Quickly, to launch the merry wives' plot.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Preview: "And yet they'll say that a jealous husband is a madman" -- meet Verdi's Master Ford

Bryn Terfel and Anthony Michaels-Moore as Falstaff and Ford in Act II, Scene 1 of Covent Garden's Falstaff, 2003

Excerpt 1 (three performances)
Is it a dream? or reality?
Two enormous horns
are growing from my head.
Is it a dream? Master Ford!
Master Ford! Are you sleeping?

Excerpt 2 (three performances)
The time is fixed,
the trick fullly planned;
you're cheated and swindled!
And yet they'll say that
a jealous husband is a madman!

Excerpt 3 (three performances)
I'll explode.
I'll avenge the insult!
Let it be praised forever
from the bottom of my heart: jealousy!

by Ken

Some of you will recognize the source of these wonderful excerpts, and I hope those of you who don't will enjoy them just as much. In a moment we'lre going to hear the complete excerpt from which this excerpt is excerpted, and then Sunday we're going to hear (I think) the whole scene from which that excerpt is excerpted.