This work, the Ballade in A minor for orchestra, was commissioned for a choral festival at the urging of none other than Elgar himself, who saw the young composer's talent. The Ballade is an energetic and lyrical work of late Romantic warmth.
Tuesday, July 07, 2020
I've featured the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) before, and with good reason: he was a fine composer whose work deserves to be better known. Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer of mixed race (a white mother and a Creole father). As a British composer living when he did, Coleridge-Taylor composed in the style of late Romanticism, and his work--full of dense orchestrations and dramatic mood-shifts--anticipates greater English masters like Edward Elgar and Arthur Bax. Coleridge-Taylor unfortunately died of pneumonia when he was only 37, yet another voice whose works of comparative youth tantalize at the depths that might have been plumbed in later years if not for illness.
Monday, July 06, 2020
Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest of all film composers, has died. He was 91. His music was often expansive and melodic, evocative and emotional. I often find his work hard to characterize, to be honest, but his finest work is often meditative and introspective. He often took a non-intuitive approach to scoring certain films, like his famous work on the "Spaghetti Westerns" of Sergio Leone. He wasn't about to strive for the Americana-west sound of an Elmer Bernstein or a Dmitri Tiomkin
One of the finest albums of film music I know is a collaboration album he did years ago with Yo Yo Ma, performing selections from his film scores. I cannot recommend this album highly enough, especially if you're new to Morricone and you have no idea where to start. That can happen with composers as prolific as Morricone was.
Farewell, Maestro. Your music will linger!
Saturday, July 04, 2020
Of all Independence Days, this one is something else, isn't it? I personally find it hard to celebrate this year, for oh so many reasons. About the most positive feeling I can muster this year is a grim resolve, the vow that no, this ain't over, not by a damn longshot. I'm not giving up on my country forever, but it's hard right now to see it ever becoming the land to which it aspires (and, for a certain population, believes it always was until something went awry, hint hint wink wink nudge nudge as to what that might be).
Anyway. Happy birthday, America.
America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.
--The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin
Friday, July 03, 2020
Yesterday was a pretty busy day in my world, as I was getting ready for a nice long weekend. Ahhhhhh!!!
It's Independence Day Weekend, when we're supposed to be celebrating America. In 2020 that's...well, frankly, it's a pretty tall order. The American brand is not having one of its best years, but it can at least be hoped that perhaps this year is something of an acceleration year as the country starts to again pivot toward the country it should be.
Anyway, here's something purely American: Wynton Marsalis playing some jazz. It's a piece called "Perdido". Written by trombonist Juan Tizol, it's a jazz standard that goes all the way back to Duke Ellington. I'm not always the best jazz listener, but the big band stuff from that era usually makes me happy, and Wynton Marsalis is, of course, a genius.
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
David Baker (1931-2016) was a Black composer who was a deeply skilled jazz musician and teacher whose career spanned decades, first as a jazz musician playing the trombone. An automobile accident left him unable to play the trombone, so he switched to the cello and ended up at Indiana University. His first teaching job, in the mid-1950s in Missouri, ended with his resignation when he married a white opera singer. Missouri still banned inter-racial marriage at that time. Baker would not return to the classroom for more than ten years, when he finally arrived at Indiana University. There he started the university's Jazz Studies program, which he chaired for more than 40 years. All through this he composed influential works in jazz and in the interstitial area between jazz and classical music.
This work, his Fantasy on Themes from the Masque of the Red Death, is a short and interesting work of modernism. It opens with a long roll in the snare drums, and it is full of interesting sonic effects, including the use at one point of a wind machine. Several melodies are present, most recognizably the famous chant of the Dies Irae, a theme used to enormous effect previously by composers like Berlioz and Rachmaninov. I enjoyed this piece a great deal, but I'm also interested in listening to more of Baker's music because there's not a lot of jazz here, and jazz was apparently his guiding star, musically-speaking.
Sunday, June 28, 2020
Tastes change as we get older, don't they? There are many foods I loved as a kid that I find myself kind of grossed-out by when I sample them as I get older (most of it mass-produced sweet shit, so this isn't a bad thing). On the flip side, there are quite a few foods that I disliked in my younger years that I find myself coming to like a great deal. Many of these are vegetables, which is a good thing! I don't see myself ever turning the corner on broccoli--that one will always be a bridge too far for me--but over the last ten to fifteen years I've taken more and more a liking to olives, mushrooms, and even asparagus! Preparation helps a lot: I'm not likely to ever like steamed asparagus much, but grilled asparagus, brushed with olive oil and dusted with kosher salt prior to grilling? That's good stuff.
But today, I'm talking about the tomato.
Like most people in this country, tomato-based stuff has always loomed large in my diet: pasta sauce, pizza sauce, and yes, ketchup. (I use ketchup less now than I once did, but I still like it on a burger and it's my dip of choice for fried potatoes of all kinds.) But raw tomatoes? I was always a hard "Nope" on those. I remember getting frustrated with my parents when they'd take my sister and I out for pizza and then order raw tomato slices as one of the toppings. Whenever I went to Subway or Burger King, I always ordered my sub or Whopper with no tomatoes.
I'm not sure really when I started reversing course on this stuff, to be honest. It's not a new development. At some point...I dunno, maybe I got a Whopper with the tomatoes left on and I didn't feel like complaining and I just went with it. Or I tried the tomato-and-onion vinaigrette thing that comes as a side dish with the Chiavetta's Barbecue Chicken dinner at the Erie County Fair and liked it. Or...well, I don't know. Most likely The Wife, observing one of her family's food traditions, decided on August to make BLTs for dinner, and I decided to just go ahead and try the tomato on the thing instead of just going with a BL, and discovered that it was actually good.
On reflection, it's interesting to note how many of my food-opinion reversals have arisen because I didn't want to be a pain in the ass to The Wife, who was being nice enough to make dinner. So, long story short, I've enjoyed raw tomatoes for a while now. (Although I haven't tried raw slices on my pizza. Maybe I should!)
One thing I never tried before, because I didn't know it was a thing, was the Tomato Sandwich. I'd never heard of such a thing until a week ago when I read this article on Food 52:
The tomato sandwich is, in my opinion, both under and over-appreciated, depending on the camp you fall into. Some just don't appreciate the magic of a perfect tomato sandwich, while others, like me, think about it more often than is technically healthy. (I figure if fantasizing about tomato sandwiches is among the worst of my vices, I’m probably okay.) When tomato season is in full swing I tend to have a tomato sandwich for lunch at least three days a week.
It’s nothing fancy, but over the years I tweaked until I came up with the tomato sandwich that best suits my taste: two pieces of whole grain toast spread with mayo and stuffed as generously as possible with slices of ripe tomato, plus some salt and coarsely ground black pepper.
I saw that linked on social media, read the article, and immediately thought, "I gotta try that." As luck had it, I read that article last Saturday morning, before our first trip of the season to the Hamburg Farmers Market (opened a month later than usual due to the damnable COVID-19), and when I saw a vendor selling tomatoes, I bought a couple because I just had to try that sandwich. How simple a concept, how elegant a recipe! Toasted bread, mayo, tomato slices, salt, and pepper. Even though the tomatoes aren't in season yet--I assume that Market vendor grew them in a greenhouse--I went full-speed ahead. I got the tomatoes home, sliced one on my mandoline, and assembled the sandwich.
Then I ate it so quickly I didn't even think to get a picture of it until I was done and basking in the heavenly flavor.
So here is yesterday's tomato sandwich. I had to make another one as soon as we got home again from the Farmers Market, this time having bought a quart of tomatoes.
This sandwich is utter heaven. The salt and the pepper and the mayo combine with the juices of the tomato to make the most wonderful sauce for the toasted bread, and of course there's the delightful coolness of the tomato slices themselves. After eating my second one of these in a week, I find myself wondering if in all the years of having BLTs each August during tomato season, my favorite part of the sandwich has actually not been the bacon after all.
All hail the mighty tomato!
Thursday, June 25, 2020
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Last week I featured a work by Florence Price, and this week I'm going to do it again, because Price was a fascinating composer whose work is increasingly captivating me. This is a three-movement orchestral transcription of an earlier piano work of Price's, called Dances in the Canebrakes. From what I have been able to piece together, Price wrote the piano version not long before she died, and the work was then later orchestrated by friend and fellow composer William Grant Still.
The work is not long, and its three movements abound with dance and jazz. I had to look up the word "canebrake", and it turns out to be a thicket of particular kinds of grass that grow tall and thick -- over two feet tall, actually. It's the kind of thicket that grows at the edges of ponds or slow-moving streams, and they are apparently quite common the southeastern United States, where Price spent a good deal of her life.
Now, why would one dance in a canebrake? I honestly don't know, but the image suggests a certain degree of abandon and a picture of summery heat as one dances. To be willing to dance in thick tall grass in an uneven spot where there may be water lurking beneath, one must be quite happy indeed, and this is a purely happy work. Price isn't doing any brooding here; there's dancing to be done!
Here is Dancing in the Canebrakes by Florence Price.