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 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.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Yes, Welsh mythology and Star Wars toys TOTALLY go together!

So, for Christmas my sister gave me a really cool framed poster from Wales, depicting the country's map by the rich tapestry of its mythology. Last week I hung it on the wall.

I also put a small shelf I'd bought on the wall. I bought the shelf for the displaying of a bunch of my Star Wars spaceships.

I put them on the same wall, and it is awesome.

It's MY personal library and if I want a shelf of Star Wars ships right below my framed poster of Welsh mythology, that's what I'm gonna have! #starwars #poster #art #mabinogion

You might think that Welsh myth and Star Wars ships don't really go together, but it's my library and I say, they do.

Aren't they pretty! #starwars #SpaceshipsAreAwesome

Mabinogion poster. This was a Christmas gift from my sister. Hung it today! #mabinogion #poster #art #mythology

Oh, and here's a cool detail: a part of the poster depicts King Arawn at the hunt with his hounds. Check it out: they're greyhounds!

Detail from my Mabinogion poster: King Arawn hunting. His hunting hounds are greyhounds! #squeee #greyhound #mabinogion #poster

This led me to look up greyhounds as hunting dogs, which it turns out, they originally were...and that led me to introduce a new character to The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy. This is the first time I have ever directly based a character in a story of mine on someone I know in real life. So, if ever I get this enormous tome of a novel finished, you'll get to read (at least in part) the adventures of Storm, the hunter-greyhound of Clan Talonhearth! Based on Cane!

Forgot to post this pic of the dee-oh-gee earlier. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Symphony Saturday

For some reason that I'm not quite sure of, I've never warmed much to Brahms's Third Symphony (F major, op. 90). I've listened to it more in this last week -- as I write this, I'm hearing it for the fourth time -- than I have in the previous, oh, thirty years. I don't know why this is, and listening to the work now with older ears, I'm even less sure why this work has never moved me the way the First, Second, or Fourth have. The Third is...well, it's everything I expect to hear from Brahms, with moments of melancholy directly tucked amidst moments of lyrical charm. The Third is the most meditative of Brahms's symphonies, with the least amount of sheer bombast, which is saying something because if Brahms is anything at all, he is very careful about how he uses bombast. Bombastic moments in Brahms are usually brief and they're always well-earned. This particular symphony doesn't have much bombast at all. Maybe that's why it took me so long to warm to it; in my music-listening youth, I had that youthful way of gravitating toward bombast. But I don't think that's it, really. For every moment of Berliozian fire I've ever loved, there's a moment of Mozartean simplicity that I adore just as much, and to this day, one of my favorite memories of live music is hearing Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, back in the late 80s, and there you have a piece with no bombast at all.

Who knows. I'm probably overthinking it. No work of art speaks to everyone, and some works can't speak to us when we're in certain parts of our life. But when we come to another time, years later, perhaps we find something to love in a book, or a movie that we never liked before, or...a symphony.

So anyway! Brahms's Third. Again, conquering the First over a period of fifteen years seems to have allowed Brahms to make his piece with the symphonic form, as again he managed to write this work in a single summer, revising it a bit after the initial performances. Apparently some partisans of Richard Wagner -- with whom Brahms had a long rivalry, as it became clear that Wagner and Brahms were the two towering forces in the Germanic music tradition in the late 1800s -- tried to interfere with the performance, and duels were threatened. It may seem quaint, now, to look back on all the times classical music was at the heart of violence (would anyone ever riot at a Buffalo Philharmonic performance?), but only a little more than a century ago, this stuff was a big cultural deal.

Here's a fascinating article about the Third, which examines the work in the light of Brahms's friendship with Robert Schumann and his lifelong, unrequited love for his best friend's wife, Clara.

And here is the symphony itself. I'm glad to be able to hear it with better ears.

Next week, the Fourth and final of Brahms's symphonies.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bad Joke Friday

A visual pun, because (what with Mr. Rickman's passing) I have Harry Potter on the brain....

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Something for Thursday (Alan Rickman edition)

Always. #alanrickman

I hate that Alan Rickman died today. I hate that more than I hate that David Bowie died the other day, and I really hated that. I had something picked out for this feature, but I decided to postpone that in favor of a couple selections of music from Rickman films. He was a magnificent actor, and by all accounts, every bit as fine a person as he was an actor.

I saw this on Twitter. Thanks to whoever drew it (it was uncredited when I saw it). #alanrickman

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mr. Bowie

This one-off video, made at Live-Aid, was the first time I ever heard David Bowie. I will never not love this.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Brahms’s reputation as a brooding and introspective composer probably seems hard to justify, if the only work of his with which you are familiar is his second symphony. This work, almost unversally considered to be one of the sunniest of his pieces, has many typically Brahmsian moments of solemnity, but they are almost always deployed in service of a more genial outlook. The feeling is almost of a composer, freed of his self-doubts after finally managing to lay the ghost of Beethoven to rest – that vexing ghost who had partially kept the First Symphony from seeing the light of day for over a decade – and bring his own powers to bear. The facts of the work's composition bear this out: while the First took him fifteen years to write, the Second poured out of him over the course of a single summer.

I don’t have a whole lot to say, analytically, about Brahms’s Second. It’s been one of my very favorite symphonies for years—hell, decades, even. I remember finding a vinyl record of it in the band room in High School and putting it on the record player out of curiosity, and being entranced by the symphony’s opening, which seems mysterious at first but soon clarifies – almost immediately – to an entry into a world of sonic optimism and light. Those opening horn calls, with their question-and-answer nature, eventually building to a wonderfully ethereal moment when the violins begin to sing – this is amazing stuff.

Of particular interest in this entire work are various things Brahms does with rhythm. There are interesting syncopations throughout the symphony, and many places where Brahms shifts things rhythmically just enough that you sometimes lose the feel for where the bar line is and where the actual beat is falling (especially in the third movement, which alternates between charming minuet and energetic scherzo). And if you’re a brass player of any sort, the last movement is for you. I was always disappointed that I never got the opportunity to play that movement, just for its last two minutes alone.

Next week: Brahms's Third, which is the one I've heard the least. I have some homework to do!

Friday, January 08, 2016

Last Night's Sky

A stunning sunset greeted me as I left work last evening, and by the time I drove home, the sky had caught fire. The first photo is right outside the front door of The Store, and the second is near my home, fifteen minutes or so later.

Sunset 1 #sky #sunset

Sunset 2 #clouds #sunset

Bad Joke Friday

And we're back! So what's the over-under on weeks until I reuse a joke without realizing it?


Thursday, January 07, 2016

Something for Thursday

Let's start the year! Specifically, the Oak Ridge Boys. Now, this group has been around forever; I remember hearing "Y'all Come Back Saloon" on my parents' record player when we were living in West Virginia, 1978-1979. (Love that song, by the way.) "Elvira" came along a few years later, and was a big hit, with its catchy tune and the crazy way it features the group's bass singer, who gets to respond to the rest of the band's "Giddyup!" with "pa-OOM pa-pa-OOM pa-pa-OOM pa-pa-MOW MOW". This is one of those ear-wormy songs that can lodge in your head, but it's also fun to listen to.

The sound on this particular performance isn't the best, but I like the multi-camera footage that highlights the way each one of these guys looks different (and only one of them actually looks like he should be singing country), and for some added humor, check out the band's guitar player during the first minute, when he realizes he's on camera and gets a little too "into the moment".

Here's Elvira. Papa-oom-mow-mow!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Morning Sky

The sky this morning. Note the crescent moon in the upper right....

Morning sky (note the crescent moon, upper right) #sunrise #sky #clouds

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

National Whipped Cream Day

I know, the day is almost over, but I didn't want to let the day go by without a recognition of National Whipped Cream Day! I've no idea why a day honoring such a wonderful substance would be January 5, but hey, who cares. I love the stuff (The Wife, sadly, hates it), and for a lot more than just a thick upper layer for pies to be forcefully applied to my face. Whipped cream has long had an honored place in my family as a cat treat, for example. Anyway:

Here are five things to know about whipped cream.

Here is Alton Brown's recipe for whipped cream.

Here's some background, with outtake photos, of the famous cover art to the Herb Alpert album Whipped Cream and Other Delights.

Finally, want to play that weird Pieface game that's all the rage right now, but you can't find it? Allow me to demonstrate an alternative!

Whipped cream is great stuff!

Another in honor of National Whipped Cream Day! 😆 #whippedcream #yum #cartoonfilter #overalls #vintage #HickoryStripe #lee #pieintheface