Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tone Poem Tuesday

As much as I love the Russian Romantics, the work of Modest Mussorgsky has always left me a little cold. However, it's the Halloween season, and Night on Bald Mountain is a staple of scary music, so...here it is.

Kind of.

I was driving home the other day and Night on Bald Mountain was on the radio, but it wasn't really Night on Bald Mountain. There was a vocal component to it that I had never heard before, and I ended up listening to the entire thing. It turns out that this was an earlier version of the work, called St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain. Confused, I looked the work up when I got home.

Mussorgsky's personal life was apparently something of a mess -- and by that, I mean, he was an absolute wreck. So much so that when he died young, he left behind piles of manuscripts in various states of completion and/or disrepair, which is why the most famous version of Night on Bald Mountain, the one that everyone knows, is actually an edit made by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. (Also, his famous Pictures at an Exhibition's orchestral version is by Maurice Ravel.) At some point, Mussorgsky made a version including child choir, standard choir, and baritone soloist. It's hard to figure out what is Mussorgsky and what belongs to later editors, but this version of the work is, to my ears, more interesting than the standard Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement.

And as a bonus, here's another Halloween-appropriate work, Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Something for Thursday

It's October and it's gloomy in WNY today so here's some of my favorite spooky movie music: Howard Shore's score to The Silence of the Lambs, which remains by far my favorite exploration of the Hannibal Lecter character and one of my favorite horror films.

(If I did this right, it should be an embedded playlist.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“She’s so broken insiiiiiide!” (or, why CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND is the best thing ever)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about to debut is second season! Huzzah!!

Rachel Bloom has been on my radar screen for quite a while. She’s a hilarious comedian whose main thing, at least as far as I’ve known, has been hysterically funny (and incredibly raunchy) music videos on YouTube and other places on the Internets. The first thing of hers I encountered? A song expressing her sci-fi fandom called “F*** Me Ray Bradbury”, which is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. (Of course it’s NSFW!!!)

Now, along comes Bloom’s show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which I knew existed but held off watching until the season was almost over because that’s what I do with new shows. I wait and see if they’re successful before I even try to jump on board, because unless the show is universally agreed upon as being superb, I just don’t want to get invested in shows that only get a single season. I’ve had My So-Called Life and Firefly and I still need to write a post appreciating Freaks and Geeks, but I don’t want another one-year wonder show. Unless, again, it’s awesome.

The good news is that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is coming back for Season Two. The better news? Well...this might well be a show good enough to watch even if it had only survived for Season One.

The show also filled a niche for us in that we needed a comedy to watch. Finding good comedies is harder than it sounds, and yet, we need some comedies to balance out some of the heavier-toned stuff we watch from time to time. So it was that I learned that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was doing well, and it was highly regarded, and I already knew that Rachel Bloom is the show’s major creative force, all of which are good signs.

The first episode opens in flashback to young Rebecca Bunch (Bloom), on the last day of summer camp. When we first see her, she is an extra in the camp’s big Summer Musical number, a fact which will inform quite a bit of what the series does later on. Then we cut to the obligatory Final Moments of Camp, when she is bidding farewell to her camp boyfriend, Josh. It’s clear that she’s really invested in this relationship, where Josh is not. They part, and then cut to years later in New York City, where Rebecca is an unhappy lawyer who is having enormous career success but is miserable. Then, by pure chance, she runs into Josh on the streets of NYC. Josh tells her how happy he is living in West Covina, California – and Rebecca, once again smitten with the boyfriend of yesteryear and deeply dissatisfied with her life in NYC, decides on the spot to move to West Covina as well, so she can pursue the great lost love of her life.

Rebecca gets a new job in West Covina, which is one of those suburbs of LA that is somehow just a few miles from the ocean but it takes hours to drive there, and she reconnects with Josh. She makes new friends in the bartender at the local athletic club place and a new best friend in the middle-aged administrative aid at her new law firm, a woman whose own home life is unsatisfying on its own terms and who ends up living vicariously through Rebecca’s various goofy schemes to try to get back together with Josh. Unfortunately, Josh is already seeing someone else, a yoga instructor named Valencia who seems horribly shallow. And the bartender guy, Greg, also has feelings for Rebecca.

Along the way, other things happen, too: Rebecca’s new boss suddenly starts to realize that he may be attracted to men as well as women. Rebecca’s college-student neighbor shows up...a lot. Rebecca’s relationship with her mother is revealed to be problematic. And so on.

If all this seems hard to follow, the show's theme song quickly clarifies some of it:

This all has the makings of dull melodrama, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. For one thing, it’s often hysterically funny. The writing on Crazy Ex Girlfriend is as sharp as anything I can remember on teevee, and what’s great is that all of the characters, every single one, is portrayed as a genuine person with real feelings and goals and desires. Even Valencia, the rival for Josh’s affections, is refreshingly complex. How easy and lazy would it be to have her be a shallow harpy? But that’s not what we see here. Valencia has some genuine issues of her own. She never becomes quite sympathetic, but there are times when the show acknowledges that if things work out the way Rebecca wants, Valencia will have to get hurt. And Rebecca herself has to acknowledge that.

Rebecca’s craziness is also depicted perfectly, with just the right amount of craze. She’s oh so close to being a creepy stalker, but for one thing, Rachel Bloom plays her so wonderfully, and for another, the show’s writers never let Rebecca go all the way into loony-ville. She is always aware on some level just how weird she must be coming off, and she is always aware of when she is nearing the line and never actually crosses it (until she is, well, pushed across it through no genuine fault or plan of her own).

What’s really impressive about Crazy Ex Girlfriend is that it acknowledges a truth about people that isn’t often realized: it’s hard enough in life to pursue what you want, but often the real challenge is figuring out exactly what we want in the first place. The first season seems like it’s heading for something like a happy ending, but the show doesn’t shy away from the fact that in a story like this one person’s happy ending is another person’s tragedy; but secondly, Crazy Ex Girlfriend is open about the fact that most of its characters don’t actually know or understand what it is that they are feeling.

All of that is well and good, but Crazy Ex Girlfriend is also a comedy show that wanders back and forth between wit and farce, and it handles each with ease. There are screwball things in every episode that could be right out of some 1950s romantic comedy, and Bloom has that wonderful quality of being absolutely willing to make herself the butt of every joke possible.

Oh, and did I mention that the show is actually a musical comedy? It is! And that’s the best part of it, really. Every episode features two or three original song (and usually dance) numbers, integrated into the action as well and as organically as any song (and dance) number from a classic musical. Bloom has been doing comedy songs for years, so it’s no surprise that she and her cohorts on the show are so easily able to nail this aspect of their show. What’s even more impressive is the variety in the numbers, from the sunny optimism of “West Covina!” to the sad torch song, performed by Bloom when Rebecca has really screwed up, “You Stupid Bitch”. Then there’s the zany “Heavy Boobs”, and my favorite, the take-off on Les Miserables’s “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, “Flooded With Justice”.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend is one of the most unique things on teevee right now. Oh my God, I think I like it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tone Poem Tuesday

American music before the rise of jazz -- roughly, prior to George Gershwin's rise to prominence -- presents a kind of odd musical landscape. The musical culture here was still greatly steeped in European traditions and formal approaches, and attempts to create a kind of "national" American music by grafting Native American songs and black spirituals onto European forms mostly resulted in works that are often interesting and even quite good, but never really great. There was good work being done in the USA in the late 19th century, but the work almost never rises above the level of the second tier of European composers of the day.

The most famous of these composers was likely Edward Macdowell, whose work was regarded highly in his day but faded as it became clear that MacDowell's work really did not advance music much at all, but rather looked backward toward traditions that were already fading. Still, MacDowell's music is hardly worthy of complete neglect, and gradually his work has seen more exploration and appreciation over time.

Here is Hamlet and Ophelia, a tone poem that began as two separate pieces that were later edited into one by the composer. MacDowell may not have been a terribly original composer, but he was a fine creator of moody Romantic music that is often tinged with idealistic views of old legends and beloved literature, and one hears all of that in Hamlet and Ophelia.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

Via Roger, who shared this with me on Facebook:

A duck walks into a pharmacy to and asks for Chapstick. When the pharmacist hands it to him, the duck replies, "Thanks, just put it on my bill."