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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Oddly, given my love of Sergei Rachmaninov, it's odd that I've heard this particular work of his only a couple of times, and not at all in the last five or six years. "The Rock" is a tone poem Rachmaninov wrote early in his career, when he was just twenty years old. The piece is surprisingly impressionistic and colorful for a composer who would later be known for achingly lyrical post-Romanticism, but the work also displays Rachmaninov's skill for orchestration, all the more surprising for a composer so strongly associated with the piano (contrasting with, say, Franz Liszt, whose orchestrations were occasionally bound by his deep understanding of the piano).

The Rock is partially based on a fragment of poetry:

The golden cloud slept through the night
Upon the breast of the giant-rock

The piece also draws (according to the composer) from a Chekhov short story in which a man, stuck in a blizzard, tells a young woman the story of his life and his struggles. There is certainly that kind of brooding at work here in this piece...but of course there's brooding. We're talking about Sergei Rachmaninov here.

Here is The Rock.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Something for Thursday

I just read a short while ago that Valerie Heywood, a violist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, recently passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Harper served with the orchestra as principal violist from 1991 to 2017, and she remained with the orchestra after stepping down from the Principal Viola chair. The viola has always been my personal favorite of the string family for a number of reasons, but I am chiefly drawn to its mid-range tone between the soaring heights of the violins and the tenor body of the cellos. The viola tends to be overlooked a lot of the time, and while the concert literature abounds with great concerted works for violin and cello, there are fewer such pieces for the viola, so when the violist gets a chance to shine, it's usually a special moment. The solo viola is used to amazing effect in Berlioz's second symphony, Harold in Italy, but that work isn't a concerto designed to exhibit the violist's skill but rather a symphony where the solo violist is an extra, added voice that adds perspective to the symphony's action.

Here, offered in remembrance of Valerie Heywood, is the Viola Sonata in D minor by Mikhail Glinka. Thank you for your musical gifts, Ms. Heywood.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

After the month of dark and grim and scary and brooding music, let's return to something a bit lighter, shall we? This duofold selection is one of the most beloved opera extracts of all time; in fact, this selection is so popular that it has almost completely overshadowed the actual opera from which it comes. The Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper is nine minutes of pure delight. The opera was written by Jaromir Weinberger, a Czech composer who later emigrated to the United States. Weinberger was apparently prolific, but only this particular opera lives on of all his works, and that only occasionally. The Polka and Fugue is a mainstay of concert halls and recordings, though. It's quite an orchestral showpiece and a complex bit of contrapuntal writing (apparently a particular strength of Weinberger as a composer), and this performance especially puts the "showpiece" aspects of the work on display. You should listen to this with the sound up a bit, if you can; this is vintage Chicago Symphony Orchestra when Fritz Reiner was at the helm. The former trumpet player in me thrills at these old recordings, hearing Adolph Herseth soaring above it all. Just try not to dwell too much on the fact that the photo of Reiner on the video itself shows him as he apparently always looked: as if the joy was a concept completely alien to him. Reiner was by all accounts an absolute tyrant on the podium, and if there are any personal stories about him that show his warmth and humor I've yet to read them, but the man was able to pour warmth and joy and humanity into his musicmaking.

Enjoy the "Polka and Fugue" from Schwanda the Bagpiper!

Friday, November 01, 2019

Bad Joke Friday

A curious new establishment sprang up on the summit of Mount Olympus overnight. Where once the Gods would sit, there was now a fast-casual bakery-cafe featuring salads, sandwiches, bagels, and soup in bread bowls, staffed entirely by satyrs playing reed pipes. The Era of Zeus was over. The Pan Era had begun.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Something for Thursday (Halloween edition!)

Yes, it's Halloween today! Oooooooh! Anyway, I wrote an article for The Geekiverse the other day summing up a selection of eerie, scary, and spooky classical and film music selections, some of which have previously run on this blog; go check it out for some good stuff!

But we also need something here, so--if I've done this correctly--we should have embedded below a playlist of the album The Truth and the Light, which takes Mark Snow's wonderfully ethereal and haunting music from the first few seasons of The X-Files and combines it with sound effects and snippets of dialog to make a pretty compelling soundscape. Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

UPDATE: The list I embedded wasn't satisfactory (the album tracks are supposed to lead into one another, and whoever put the tracks on YT included long pauses), so I've embedded a different version that may or may not play the next track automatically. Sigh....

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday


OK, we're gonna stretch the idea of the tone poem to its breaking point here: it's an entire scene from an opera! Specifically, the wonderful opera Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber. This opera is often cited as the first true opera of the Romantic era, and in its pages one finds (in addition to wonderful music) a lot of ideas about musical storytelling and motif that would later be taken to their logical apotheoses by Richard Wagner. Der Freischutz tells the story of a marksman who, in order to win a shooting contest, enters into a contract with the Devil for seven magic bullets. The first six will kill anything the hunter wishes, never missing their targets; the seventh, however, will be under the control of the Devil himself.

One of this opera's most famous passages is the scene in the second act where our hero, Max, goes to a wooded glen--called the Wolf's Glen--to meet with the Devil and contract for the casting of the magic bullets. This scene is stark and horrific, and Weber's scoring of the scene has been called "the most expressive rendering of the gruesome that is to be found in a musical score". Even now, two hundred years after the opera's composition, the Wolf's Glen scene is unnerving stuff. Here it is, and Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Tone Poem Tuesday

Time for a departure for this series: instead of an orchestral work, a solo piano work! This is the Piano Sonata No. 9 by Alexander Scriabin, a single-movement work that is highly unsettling and even delirious as it moves through its eight minutes. The piece's dissonance and reliance on trills throughout creates a strong feel of unsettling unstability, so much so that the work took on the nickname "The Black Mass," as a counterpart to an earlier of Scriabin's that was subtitled "The White Mass".

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Recent Adventures

It's been a whirlwind at Casa Jaquandor ever since, oh, Labor Day weekend! September was an abnormally busy time at The Store for me (I worked more than 46 hours in two different weeks), I got sick in the middle of all that (one of those annoying colds that's only really bad for a day but lingers, annoyingly and hackingly, for two weeks afterward), and we took our annual trip to Ithaca in the midst of my first real vacation since last winter. Now we're more than halfway through October, and things are settling back to our usual Dull Roar. But what's been going on, you may ask? (Well, even if you don't ask, I'm telling you, because that's how I roll.)

:: I guess we'll start with writing: With The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book IV) off with beta readers and with two other manuscripts in a state of near-readiness for beta reads themselves, I've moved on to working through the manuscript for The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy, Book One (not the actual title). This isn't a full edit, per se, although I am making revision notes and will make one more pass through the manuscript when I'm done with this one. This is instead a refresher course of sorts as I get ready to draft Lighthouse Boy, Book Two, which is actually the second part of this massive book. This is my epic fantasy duology, although in light of it containing no actual magic whatsoever and the only real fantastic element being that it takes place in a completely fictional world, this book is more Dumas than Tolkien. I haven't read Book One in a long time, and before I write Book Two I need to refamiliarize myself with the minutiae of the story.

It's a big book, though! Did I mention that it's a big book? Because it's big! Here's me, holding the Blunt Force Trauma weapon of a manuscript (which is over 235,000 words):

And now comes...the doorstop. Time to start reading through Book One of The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title), as I ramp up to draft Book Two. This is the longest draft I have *ever* written, at around 230,000 words. Yipes! #amwriting #w

This being the case, I am not sure that I'll be doing NaNoWriMo this year. I am, in fact, leaning toward a year off before I come back in 2020.

:: Over the last couple of months, I've written things for The Geekiverse! Here are a few links:

Book review: The Throne of the Five Winds, by S.C. Emmett
Oh, snap! Thinking about the realities of a post-Thanos fingersnap world
The Real ranking of the Star Wars movies
Graphic novel review: On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden

More to come! I enjoy writing for The Geekiverse. It's a fun bunch of folk!

:: Thanks to a deal I spotted on eBay (thank you, email alersts!), I managed to snag a particular Holy Grail of mine in the bib overalls department: a pair of new, raw denim hickory striped Lee overalls. I've written before on how Lee overalls tend to be my Platonic ideal of the entire overalls concept, and while I already owned a pair like this (and love them!), that pair is very soft and well-worn. These...are not. I managed to win the auction to buy them, and once I got them I soaked them, dried them, and started wearing them. And they are fantastic.

Yup--new overalls! Vintage Lee hickory stripe, NEW WITH TAGS Y'ALL! I got the eBay alert and bid immediately. It was a bidding auction so I had to wait and watch for four days, and I turned sniper...but NOW THEY ARE MINE. #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls

New overalls II. Lee overalls are probably my favorite and my Platonic ideal of what bib overalls should be. #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #lee #leeoveralls #denim #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife #vintageoveralls

New overalls III: detail. Raw denim has such a nifty feeling to it. #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #lee #leeoveralls #denim #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife #vintageoveralls

New overalls IV: The entire bib pocket. Perfection! They don't make 'em like this anymore. (Well, they other countries. Japan, for example.) #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #lee #leeoveralls #denim #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overall

New overalls V: Back detail. Love the 'kite' shape there. #overalls #dungarees #biboveralls #vintage #lee #leeoveralls #denim #hickorystripe #denimoveralls #overallsarelife #vintageoveralls

:: I enjoy writing in public libraries more than anyplace else, except for my own desk in my own home library. My favorite local libraries that I enjoy the most are the one in my own hometown of Orchard Park, the Julia Reinstein library in Cheektowaga, and the Central Library in downtown Buffalo. While on vacation a few weeks ago I was able to also visit for the first time (after driving by a lot over the years and always thinking, "Wow, that's a cool-looking library") the Lancaster, NY branch. And it is indeed a lovely library!

At the Lancaster Public Library this afternoon for some writing. First time visitor to this library. It's quite lovely! #publiclibrary #supportyourlocallibrary

Had my first real writing session in a couple weeks today. It's taken this long to recover mentally from my September beat-down. Hoping to keep the keels even for a while! #amwriting #writersofinstagram #writerinoveralls #editing #overalls #dungarees #bib

Public libraries are always amazing places, to me. I don't remember ever not loving them, all the way back to when my parents would drop me off at a local library for a couple of hours while they went and did something at work or took a class or did something that they didn't need me around for. (You could get away with that in the 1970s, after all.)

:: I mentioned above our trip to Ithaca. More on that in another post.

:: And more doggo-related adventures!

Is that the park? #Cane #dogsofinstagram #greyhound #greyhoundsofinstagram #ChestnutRidge #wny #orchardpark #autumn #fall #nature #hiking #trees

I took Carla on a brief trail walk. She decided to jump up on this fallen tree. Cane does not do this, so it took me by surprise! #Carla #dogsofinstagram #pitbullsofinstagram #pitbullmix #pittie

More to come!