Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Now a more obscure composer, and a symphony that's not a traditional symphony! Hooray!

Karl Goldmark was a Hungarian composer whose music was quite popular in its day, but not as much since. He's one of those composers who isn't quite good enough to make the "standard repertoire", but he's also too good to deserve being heard as infrequently as he is today. He lived a long life (1830-1915), and he wrote a lot of music, and what little I've heard of it is genial music in the fine Germanic tradition of his day. I suspect that Goldmark's obscurity today results from a usual source: he was a very skilled composer who nevertheless never seems to have really pushed the limits of the art of his day. That all sounds very unfair, to be honest, which is why I'm featuring Goldmark today. I myself only encountered him via the local classical radio station on the drive home one day, when the announcer said something like, "If you're a casual fan of classical music, it's possible you haven't heard of this composer, who was very popular in his day!" I suppose Goldmark might be considered a latter-day Salieri.

Anyway, the Rustic Wedding Symphony consists of five movements, the first of which is a theme-and-variations rather than a traditional sonata-allegro movement. The five movements are titled March, Bridal Song, Serenade, In the Garden, and Dance. The structure is reminiscent of Berlioz's approach to the symphony, but there are no supernatural demonic forces at play here, just good, jovial Hungarian music.

This particular recording is an older one, but it's vibrant and fun to hear. So go check out some Goldmark! He's waiting.


Next week...I don't know. I haven't decided yet!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Something for Thursday

I watched the movie High Society over the weekend (it's on Netflix!). I grew up with this film, in some ways, because it is a favorite of my parents'. Oddly, it took years before I saw it all the way through and in correct sequence, because if you grew up with movies on teevee (usually late-night or on independent stations), you typically saw movies chopped up, with entire scenes missing and sometimes out of sequence. It wasn't until home video that I saw High Society as it was made.

How is it? Well, it's good. I like it, but it doesn't hold up as well as I'd hoped. It's a literal remake of The Philadelphia Story, but converted into a musical, featuring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong as the main musical attractions. (Grace Kelly sings briefly, and Celeste Holm joins Sinatra in a song, but that's all for "outside" talent.) The songs are all great, and the acting is pretty well top-notch, even if I'm not sure that Crosby and Kelly are really cut out for the types of roles they have here. In fact, I generally tend to the belief that whatever charms Crosby had -- and they were many -- being a romantic lead wasn't totally in his wheelhouse. Plus, the story suffers a bit as key scenes from the original Philadelphia Story script are omitted in favor of songs. And then there's a general whiff of period-realistic sexism. I'm generally good at maintaining my sense of period, but some of this stuff really rankles me (and bugged me as a kid, in all honesty). When Seth Lord says: "What most wives fail to understand is that their husband's philandering has nothing whatever to do with them!", I just want to punch the guy in the kidneys.

But...oh, those songs! Here are a few. First is Bing Crosby with "Samantha". In the movie, Crosby plays a songwriter, and this is apparently one of his tunes:


Then "Now You Has Jazz", as Crosby explains the makings of jazz to the rich folk of Newport, RI:


Earlier in the movie, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm have this wonderful comedic song, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". They are reporters sent by a gossip magazine to cover Grace Kelly's wedding, and they're getting a big inside look at the lives of the rich.


And finally, my favorite song in the film. Crosby and Sinatra are at a party, both have had too much to drink, and this song happens. From what I read recently, this song actually got put into the film during production when someone pointed out that they had Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the same movie and yet they hadn't thought to include a duet for them. I love the last lines here: "Have you heard / it's in the stars! / Next July, we collide with Mars!"


Monday, February 01, 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Symphony Saturday

UPDATE: Original video replaced, as the video I had used first was removed, for some reason....

Yes, I forgot to post this last week. This whole "two major writing projects in full force at once" thing is working out well for the two projects, but not so much for the poor blog. But anyway!

Here we have Brahms's fourth, and final, symphony. This one is the most brooding of the four, and I always find that it feels "bigger" than it actually is. There's an epic scope to this symphony that I think partly outstrips the amazing Symphony No. 1, and a more overall sense of mystery to this work. Brahms plunges us into melody right away, with no introduction whatsoever, and it's a melody that seems to be always try to catch its breath as it yearns upward and falls back. (We're in E minor, by the way, which seems to be a favorite key of mine. Lots of folks swear by D minor, and there's a lot of wonderful music in D minor, but E minor is at the heart of some music that is very near and dear to me.)

The second movement, the slow movement, opens with a "stately brooding" theme, intoned by the horns. In doing a bit of homework for this post I learned that this theme is in what's called a "hypophrygian" mode, but in all honesty...at this distant remove from my musical education, I honestly can't say what that means. "Modes" are similar to scales, but they generally pre-date the development of our now-familiar major-minor scale system, so when we hear modal music, it tends to sound somewhat otherworldly in our ears, as if from a far deeper time than music we're accustomed to.

This symphony's third movement is one of my favorite things Brahms wrote. It's the only straight-up scherzo in any of his symphonies (although some of his third movements have scherzo-like sections). Brahms eschews the traditional triple-time for this scherzo, though, choosing instead to use a simple 2/4, and he writes the opening theme so it descends twice onto a portentous chord, which has the effect of stopping whatever momentum we start with. This stop-start feeling that winds through the movement is Brahms at his infrequently-genial best.

Then there's the fourth movement. Brahms breaks away from the symphonic pack again here, abandoning sonata or rondo forms in favor again of something older: a passacaglia. Now, again, I'm not entirely clear anymore on what a passacaglia is -- it involves a series of variations over a repeating pattern in the bass. It's a demanding movement and not really the easiest of listens, in terms of its form, but it is amazing nonetheless, what with those shimmering opening chords and then the start of the variations, immediately afterward.

Brahms's symphonies are full of hard moments, but just as many wonderful ones. Years ago, when conductor Semyon Bychkov was finishing his tenure as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, he concluded his final season with all four Brahms symphonies over two programs. I was fortunate to attend both programs, and that deep delving into the symphonic language of Johannes Brahms was one of the more deeply satisfying musical experiences I remember.

Here is Brahms's Symphony No. 4 in E minor.


Next week: something a little more obscure...and waiting in the wings, a Czech master....

Friday, January 29, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

I bought the world's worst thesaurus yesterday. Not only is it terrible, it's terrible!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

Overheard at the National Funeral Director Convention:

FUNERAL DIRECTOR ONE: I don't know, Fred, do you think glass caskets will ever be viable?

FUNERAL DIRECTOR TWO: Remains to be seen.