Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"He'll save every one of us!"

So a couple of weeks ago I attended a special screening of a very special movie:


This was in conjunction with Buffalo's new comic-con, Nickel City Con, and what a night it was!

In 1980, at the height of the post-Star Wars science fiction film boom, a screen adaptation of Flash Gordon came out. An amusing irony of this is that earlier in the 1970s, a filmmaker newly out of film school named George Lucas had wanted to make his own adaptation of Flash Gordon, but he couldn't get the rights, so he set about creating his own original sci-fi space opera project. His work eventually did, in a way, pave the way for Flash Gordon's return to the big screen.

The late 70s and early 80s were a heady time for sci-fi at the movies, provided you liked what I often call "explodey spaceshippy goodness". After Star Wars, everybody wanted on board. There were low-budget flicks like Battle Beyond the Stars and Starcrash. Disney got on the bandwagon with The Black Hole, and there was even a sci-fi horror film, Alien (not a film I like, but I seem to be in a permanent minority on this) and sci-fi takes on the Western like Outland. On television there was Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. After Star Wars, Star Trek finally made its way to the big screen, and even James Bond got into the act in Moonraker.

Flash Gordon had been in development all along, stalled at various points as producer Dino De Laurentiis looked for screenwriters and then directors. He finally got the film made for a Christmas 1980 release, and I remember the keen anticipation for the movie, which in my fourth-grade class was at nearly pre-Empire Strikes Back levels. Every kid I knew was looking forward to the movie, both because of its sci-fi nature and because of its already famous soundtrack by rock band Queen. The movie arrived, everybody saw it, everybody loved it. I remember actually not being able to see it the first time we tried because the theater was so packed. Eventually I saw it either twice or three times, and then not again until college when we rented it and had a good time with it, and then not again until fifteen years or so later when I finally got a DVD of it. And now, on the big screen a couple weeks ago, at Buffalo's North Park Theater.

The screening was followed by a Q-and-A session with Flash himself, actor Sam J. Jones, which was an added enticement to trek across town on a weeknight to see a 37-year-old sci-fi flick. The evening turned out to be quite wonderful, with the only downside being the North Park Theater's air conditioning either being insufficient, or shut off, or simply nonexsitent (not sure which) on what was the first 80-degree day in Western New York. It was a really hot night in the theater, but for the most part I didn't care. I was seeing Flash Gordon again. A few previews (for documentaries, not blockbusters -- the North Park is an art-house theater most of the time), and then it was showtime.

How does Flash Gordon hold up?

Very well.

Now, I admit that "holding up" may not quite be the right way to look at things for a movie like this. Flash Gordon is most definitely of a specific time and place, and maybe you have to be pre-attuned to it to appreciate it. But I don't think it's particular dated in any way. It's cheesy in the best way of being timelessly cheesy. The movie was never intended to be taken all that seriously. What it gets so right is that even as the movie isn't taking itself too seriously, it doesn't allow the characters to fall into the trap of winking at the audience. There are no knowing smirks here, no mugging for the camera. Well, yes, there is Brian Blessed, who has made a cottage industry for himself of grinning wildly as battle nears -- witness his turn as Exeter in Henry V, and his glee during the St. Crispin's Day speech. And in Flash Gordon he is playing a Hawkman lord, almost portraying him as a Viking chieftain in his great hall with a tankard of mead in his hand. And who can blame him? He has to deliver the signature line "DIVE!!!" three times, and he also says things like "Impetuous boy! Oh well, who wants to live forever?" Blessed gives the movie its single over-the-top performance, and a lot of the reason it works is that nobody else is going over-the-top.

Everyone else, though, plays things straight, which is really the only way to go. Flash Gordon has to say things like "A rational transaction -- one life for billions!" Dale Arden has lines like "Keeping our word is one of the things that make us better than you" and "Just hold me two seconds, and then drop me so I can kiss the ground." There's nothing to do with dialogue like that but play it straight, and if Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson aren't considered great actors, so what? There's something to be said for being able to convincingly create a character whom I can absolutely believe would say things like "Oh Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!"

What I appreciated most about Flash Gordon, though, was its look and sound and feel. The movie is nicely paced, even at a less frenetic pace than we're used to in films of this genre today. There are several interwoven storylines going on here, and nothing ever outstays its welcome (maybe the Zarkov "reprogramming" sequence). Best of all, though, is the way the movie looks. For another entry in the post-Star Wars sci-fi craze, Flash Gordon has a look all its own. Except for early on, there are no glittering starfields and its spaceships don't look like real machines. The view of Earth in the opening scene itself is highly stylized, like a globe floating in space, bearing no resemblance to the famous blue-white marble of the Apollo photos. And once we get to Mongo, everything is vibrant, brilliant color, with swirling clouds and Art Deco war rockets and a towering glittering city that looks like the sinister version of Emerald City in Oz. The costumes are ridiculously ornate, as are the settings -- even the muted appearance of Arboria, the moon of the tree-men, where everyone dresses like a late-70s disco version of Robin Hood. Flash Gordon wears its comic-book origins on its sleeve, going so far as to use actual comics imagery during its opening credits, sometimes in so close a resolution that you can actually see the dots of the color halftoning in the old printing process for comics.

And then there's the soundtrack, which might be the film's most famous element. This was when Queen was hitting it big in the US (I remember hearing them each week on the Top 40 show with Casey Kasem). It's interesting to me that a movie which puts its origins in 1930s and 1940s comics and film serials so in the forefront -- even more than Star Wars had done -- choose an entirely different approach with its music than Star Wars, in which John Williams was at least partially channeling the spirits of Golden Age composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Instead we get a rock-and-roll score by the greatest "showman" rock group of all time, with those pounding chords that introduce the main song, more lyrical passages along the way, and then a rock score for the big battle in the sky. Rock-and-roll action music, swirling passages of chords reflecting Mongo's visuals, and there's even a gonzo version of the Wedding March for Ming's wedding to Dale. There is an orchestral score as well, by Howard Blake, that melds pretty seamlessly with the more bombastic material by Queen, the thundering rock drums and the blazing guitars. I wonder if Queen would have returned for the sequels that once seemed inevitable (and were never to be), or if the producers would have engaged a different rock band each time out: Flash Gordon II: Ming's Return, featuring a score by Rush!

I love this movie. It's a glorious, fun throwback movie of pure adventure and good humor. There are earnest heroes and skeptical allies and a scary villain (OK, his slightly Asiatic appearance as he is made up in the movie is admittedly problematic) and a mad scientist and a girl who is never entirely deprived of agency or reduced to mere damsel-in-distress status. Add to that all the neat visuals (really, no sci-fi movie has every looked like this again, even if the ships and the Hawkmen don't move with the same convincing style as the ships in Star Wars, but really, that's an awfully high bar to set, even today), an incredible rock-and-roll score, and a script that is cheesy as hell but is also occasionally downright witty ("I knew you were up to something, Aura, though I confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia."). Really, what more would I have wanted from a night in the theater with a big bucket of popcorn when I was nine?

And what more would I want from a similar night in the theater now?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

John Williams may be the most famous film composer in history, but he has also done a fair amount of composing for the concert hall. This piece is a good example. His concert work tends to be slightly programmatic, often taking inspiration from real-world things (particularly nature), but that tends to be as far as these things go. This piece was inspired by a book of photography of trees (a particular item of inspiration to Williams), and it's a fascinating listen: fifteen minutes of mainly sustained slowness, but with moments of real drama and yearning lyricism. The work does not allude to any of Williams's film work, but for the experienced Williams listener, his voice can be most definitely heard.

Here is John Williams's Heartwood.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Larry Havers, 1946-1967

Fourteen years ago I wrote the following on Memorial Day, and I wanted to revisit it. It's about the Vietnam Veteran whose name I remember, despite the fact that I had no relation to him and clearly never knew him, because he was killed four years before I was born.

Memorial Day, for all its solemnity, has for me always been something of a distant holiday, because no one close to me has ever fallen in war, and in fact I have to look pretty far for relatives who have even served in wartime. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War I, but both had been dead for years when I was born. I know that an uncle of mine served during World War II, but I also know that he saw no action (not to belittle his service, but Memorial Day is generally set aside to remember those who paid the "last full price of devotion"). My father-in-law served in Viet Nam, but my own father did not (he had college deferments for the first half of the war, and was above draft age during the second). So there is little in my family history to personalize Memorial Day; for me, it really is a day to remember "all the men and women who have died in service to the United States".

One personal remembrance, though, does creep up for me each Memorial Day. It has nothing at all to do with my family; in fact, I have no connection with the young man in question.

When I was in grade school, during the fall and spring, when the weather was nice, we would have gym class outdoors, at the athletic field. On good days we'd play softball or flag football or soccer; on not-so-good days we'd run around the quarter-mile track. But the walk to the athletic field involved crossing the street in front of the school and walking a tenth of a mile or so down the street, past the town cemetery. I remember that at the corner of the cemetery we passed, behind the wrought-iron fence, the grave of a man named Larry Havers was visible. His stone was decorated with a photograph of him, in military uniform. I don't recall what branch in which he served, nor do I recall his date-of-birth as given on the stone, but I do recall the year of his death: 1967. I even think the stone specified the specific battle in which he was killed in action, but I'm not sure about that, either.

That's what I remember each Memorial Day: the grave of a man I never knew, who died four years before I was born in a place across the world to which I doubt I'll ever go. And in the absence of anyone from my own family, Mr. Havers's name will probably be the one I look for if I ever visit that memorial in Washington. I hope his family wouldn't mind.

I looked online and found these images, first of Mr. Havers's obituary and then of Mr. Havers himself. The things you remember. I wonder what kind of man he was. This year he has been gone for half a century. His name is not forgotten.

Mr. Havers's service information can be found on the Virtual Vietnam Wall here. He was born 14 October 1946 and died 29 October 1967, in Thua Thien.

In memory of those who paid

An annual repost.

Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Know, all who see these lines,
That this man, by his appetite for honor,
By his steadfastness,
By his love for his country,
By his courage,
Was one of the miracles of the God.

-- Guy Gavriel Kay

"The Green Field of France", by Eric Bogle

Well, how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile 'neath the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enshrined then, forever, behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did they really believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying, was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly?
Did they sound the death-march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Symphony Saturday

I don't have a new work to post here (listening time was hard to come by this week), so I'll revisit something old. Here's one of the very greatest symphonies of all time, Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major. The Seventh is one of the towering masterpieces of all music (and probably of all human art), and the performance I previously used in this series was a brilliant one from the Proms concerts, performed by a youth orchestra of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians. That performance is wonderful, but it's interesting to hear the work as Beethoven might have heard it. Here's the same symphony, played on period instruments and using period performance standards by La Chambre Philharmonique.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

"The stars always exact a price": AMONGST THE STARS is out!!!

AMONGST THE STARS is out today! Details at! #amwriting #AmongstTheStars #ForgottenStars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #indiebooks

What are you waiting for? The book is available now! Find out what happens next in the saga of Princesses Tariana and Margeth and their trusty pilot, Lt. Rasharri!

Details at!

The Force will be with you always: STAR WARS at 40

D19 of #IGWritersMay: Novel aesthetics. I make no secret that at its heart, THE SONG OF FORGOTTEN STARS is really my love letter to STAR WARS. (This is a page from the book THE ART OF STAR WARS.) #amwriting #starwars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #Forgotten

I didn't see Star Wars on opening day. In truth I don't even remember exactly when I saw it, but it was later in the summer of 1977. We had just moved from Wisconsin to Oregon, and in that time I was not even aware of this enormous movie phenomenon whose popularity was sweeping the nation.

I finally saw it, though, with my sister, who is six years older than me.

I didn't like it.

It was very loud. It opened with big words flying through space and then there was loud spaceships and talking robots (one of whom only talked in beeps and whistles). There was a girl in white and a bad guy in black whose breath sounded weird. There was a desert planet with weird dwarf-creatures and a kid named Luke who lived with his aunt and uncle. (The uncle could be pretty gruff if Luke was goofing off, to which I could relate.) There were more loud spaceships and one really really big spaceship shaped like a giant ball. There was a guy dressed in black and white who helped the farm kid, and this guy had a giant ape-man friend. There were swords made of light and even more spaceships and a big battle in space.

All of that, and I didn't understand a lick of it.

In my defense, I was all of five years old at the time.

Until Star Wars, my movie experience was pretty much limited to stuff like Bugs Bunny Superstar and Disney live-actions like The Shaggy DA (which contained a hoot of a pie fight). Then there was this movie with loud spaceships and robots and a farm kid and a bad guy in black and...well, I had no idea what to make of this movie.

Luckily for me I had my sister, who is six years older than me.

She went all-in for Star Wars. She ate it, drank it, breathed it. She talked about it a lot, and gradually her enthusiasm began to win me over. She explained the story to me because I hadn't understood it all that well, and I decided that I wanted a part of her enthusiasm for my own. So I went with her to see the movie a second time.

I have never ever ever recovered.

I've been thinking a lot about Star Wars as it nears and achieves 40 years, and I find myself relating to it most as a storyteller myself. As a writer I tend most to look at Star Wars through the prism of story. Many stories have had a deep effect on me, on the stories I want to tell, and the way I go about telling them, but none moreso than Star Wars, even as the Star Wars story itself has changed over the course of its four decades. Most of the core ideas are still there, though, as Star Wars is now no longer in the hands of its creator, George Lucas. Star Wars is still a tale of heroic adventure unfolding in the sky. It is still a tale not just of the wars but more well-focused on the people fighting that war. It is a tale of improbably redeemable villains, of the way our paths mirror those of our parents, and of finding love in the face of desperation. It is a tale of family.

I can't help thinking in most, if not all, of these terms every time I write a story, no matter which genre it's in. Star Wars made me want to be a storyteller (what is playing with action figures, if not storytelling?). It also taught me that stories can focus at times on more mystical matters, and it taught me that story is an excellent way of addressing the challenges people face in their hearts. Most importantly, though, Star Wars taught me about heroes and quests and the wise elders who try to guide the heroes on their way.

Other stories have come since Star Wars arrived, and many have come to places almost as near to my heart. It's not only stories, either; it's all of creative art, really:

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles
The Lord of the Rings
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
My Fair Lady
Much Ado About Nothing
The House with a Clock in its Walls
The Lions of Al-Rassan
Mary Stewart's Arthurian trilogy (plus The Wicked Day)
Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique
Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in E minor
Invisible Touch by Genesis
Once and Again
Princess Mononoke

These are all things -- and there are more -- that are at the center of my creative life, but none has ever quite dislodged Star Wars as my Prime Mover. Star Wars is, and continues to be, my Platonic Ideal of what story is.

Even so, I haven't always kept as close an eye on Star Wars as a massive universe as many. I've read only a small handful of all the many novels and comics written over the years, and I haven't played any of the video games. For me, my appreciation focuses pretty exclusively on the movies themselves, and not just the wonderful Original Trilogy but also the admittedly uneven -- but still, in my eyes, uniquely compelling -- Prequel Trilogy and even to a smaller extent the recent "Rebirth" movies, The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Those form the core.

Star Wars is as strong now as it ever was, and it is very likely even stronger. It has more fans than ever, and it is now in the hands of a corporate power whose pockets are deep enough to maintain it at a very high level for decades to come. More fans are created every day, it seems, and yet...I do have to admit to feeling a certain level of possibly grumpy oldsterism. Sure, you kids can love Star Wars and in fact I hope that you will, and that your love for Star Wars will lead you to other things. But I came in on the ground level. My memories may be hazy, but I do remember a time before Star Wars.

I believe that every story one writes -- or rather, every story that I write -- should be, in one way or another, a love letter, either to someone or something. The Song of Forgotten Stars has many influences, but it is ultimately my love letter to Star Wars. If not for Star Wars, there's no way I would be writing this story. It's not just about the internals of Star Wars, though: it's about the way Star Wars impacted me and shaped my life and helped reflected certain relationships in my life. Put it this way: There's a reason why the two main characters in my Forgotten Stars books are two Princesses, one of whom is six years older than the other. It's a dynamic that makes sense to me on a lot of different levels.

I also know, from reading a lot about the making of Star Wars over the years and about the life of George Lucas in particular, that the way by which a creative work comes into existence is often a messy one. Lucas's manner of creation is eerily similar to my own, or maybe vice versa. Lucas is someone who starts out by following ideas in any direction they might go, and only gradually whittles things down and discards this notion or that idea until a streamlined story starts to emerge. I work the same way, at least in part. My rough drafts are often very messy and they always contain entire ideas that I remove entirely, for one reason or another. Lucas has done so much mixing and matching of ideas over the decades (remember that for him, Star Wars is 47 or 48 years old, depending on where he dates The Beginning) that he at times seems to be misremembering his own history. I know how he feels. There are times when an idea seems so organic that it's hard to claim it for my own. Even if it is.

So thank you for forty years, Star Wars! And may the Force be with you, forevermore.

Something for Thursday (40 years of STAR WARS edition)

A longer post about Star Wars is forthcoming later today, but for now, let's let John Williams (and Michael Giacchino) show the way! Happy birthday, Star Wars!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


HOLY CRAP THE SOON-NESS YOU GUYS!!! #AmongstTheStars #ForgottenStars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #indiebooks #amwriting

Nobody Did It Better: Thank You, Sir Roger Moore

Sir Roger Moore has died.

I've loved all the James Bonds, to be honest. My favorite is George Lazenby, but I appreciate each and every actor who has played the part. There is a special place in my heart for Roger Moore, though, because he was my first Bond, and you don't forget your first. That initial Bond experience for me was Moonraker in 1979, and I've been a James Bond fan ever since.

Here's Moore as I first saw him:

Oddly, Moore's first film as Bond is the Bond film I like the least -- in fact, I dislike Live and Let Die so much that to this day I do not own a copy of it, and I don't think I ever have. This isn't Moore's fault, though. He's actually very good in the movie, and my distaste for it is based on other complaints. Moore's reputation as Bond is unfortunately skewed: many see him more as a comic figure, when the Bond films had a lot more broadly comedic moments than in the Connery (or Lazenby) years. (Witness Jaws flapping his arms after his ripcord breaks in the clip above.) It always struck me as unfair to blame Moore for faults in the writing of the scripts, to be honest, and the Bond films of the 70s were all written with that kind of broad comedy that often bordered on outright slapstick. This started with Sean Connery's last turn in the role, Diamonds are Forever, and didn't end until 1981's For Your Eyes Only toned things down significantly. That film and its successor, Octopussy, are two of my absolute favorites, and I even have a soft spot for the troublesome A View to a Kill, which starts trending to over-the-top comedy again.

Witness this clip from For Your Eyes Only, when Moore's Bond gets the drop on a vicious hit-man who has been dogging him throughout the film:

That is as lethal a moment as anything that Connery's Bond ever did, and it's worth noting that no matter who plays him, James Bond is rarely that cold. But Moore could play it.

Moore's Bond was an enormous part of my geek childhood, and I wouldn't be a Bond fan if not for his work. So thank you, Sir Roger Moore, for your wonderful work, and I hope there are some wonderful ladies and nifty Q gadgets awaiting you!

Tone Poem Tuesday

I've featured this before, of course, because Alexander Borodin is a relatively newly-discovered favorite composer of mine. But I find myself returning to this work often, not only because of its beauty but because of its depiction of two groups of people, traveling opposite directions on the same road, meeting each other and spending a bit of time before departing again as peacefully as they met.

Borodin described the work thusly:

In the silence of the monotonous steppes of Central Asia is heard the unfamiliar sound of a peaceful Russian song. From the distance we hear the approach of horses and camels and the bizarre and melancholy notes of an oriental melody. A caravan approaches, escorted by Russian soldiers, and continues safely on its way through the immense desert. It disappears slowly. The notes of the Russian and Asiatic melodies join in a common harmony, which dies away as the caravan disappears in the distance.

Here is In the Steppes of Central Asia.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Symphony Saturday

Sir Arthur Sullivan has a hallowed place in the history of classical music for his work in setting the librettos of W.S. Gilbert to music, resulting in the enduring operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which are probably the greatest musical achievement of Victorian England. Sullivan didn't just write operettas, however. He was a prolific composer who wrote a number of operas, oratorios, various orchestral works, and this single symphony, which he considered titling "the Irish Symphony". He didn't officially choose that title, and in fact it didn't end up being attached to the work on a de facto basis until after his passing.

The symphony is a youthful work and as such it is uneven and in places clearly inspired by Sullivan's musical models -- in this case, Mendelssohn and Schumann. Nevertheless, the piece is an engaging listen. I'm not familiar enough with Sullivan's more mature work to know if and where you can hear in his Symphony hints of what is to come later on when he writes, say, The Mikado or Iolanthe, but Sullivan's Symphony is a pleasantly typical Romatic-era symphony, with some moments of pleasing lyricism -- particularly in the opening, when a portentous opening in the low brass yields to an almost ethereal chord in the strings.

Here is Sir Arthur Sullivan's Symphony in E Major, the "Irish".

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Something for Thursday

I'm seeing this movie tonight on the big here are a couple of selections from that oh-so-wonderful camp classic, Flash Gordon!!!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Twenty Years

When we took our vows, twenty years ago today, she didn't like coffee and I didn't want a dog.

Go figure.

Happy anniversary, my love!

Twenty years ago today. Happy anniversary, my love. The sun rises in your eyes!

Happy Valentines Day to my beautiful wife! This was taken last summer. We probably need a photo of us with the dee-oh-gee....

Wife and Dee-oh-gee on a nice Christmas walk! #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #ChestnutRidge #OrchardPark #wny #winter

Posing with Patience (or is it Fortitude?)

The Wife, with horse. #eriecountyfair #Wife

The Wife enjoys a bit of quiet. #CapeMay

Pumpkinville: Happy wife, irritated Daughter

Guess what happened to me today....

Death by Kitteh

To the sea!

Nose to nose!

Hurry up and pay for the popcorn.

I Get Hit in the Face with a Pie (on National Pie Day).

Couples all around

Wife 2

Arrival at Pumpkinville

Spot the non-family member!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy exists somewhere in the space between tone poem and concerto, with its prominent and technical part for solo violin. It's not a concerto, however; its structure more casts it as a fantasy on a number of Scottish folk tunes. Bruch was a prolific composer in the Brahmsian tradition, although not much of his music is heard today. His Violin Concerto is a mainstay in the repertoire, and the Scottish Fantasy has not disappeared either. The nature of the work puts me in mind of Berlioz's great symphony Harold in Italy.

Monday, May 15, 2017

In other news....

Two developments:

:: Amongst the Stars: The Song of Forgotten Stars Book III will be available on May 25! As is my usual practice, the book will be in paperback first with e-books to follow a couple of weeks later. And I am planning to start selling signed copies of all my books through!

I'm calling it, folks! MAY 25 IS RELEASE DAY!!! #amwriting #ForgottenStars #amongstthestars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #indiebooks

Front cover:

IT'S MY FRONT COVER YOU GUYS!!! #amwriting #ForgottenStars #AmongstTheStars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #soon

Back cover copy:

ANNNNNND, the back-cover copy! I wrote the HELL out of this book, folks. I can't wait for it to be out there! #amwriting #ForgottenStars #AmongstTheStars #sciencefiction #spaceopera #soon

I've already posted the first two chapters to, and there will be a third chapter up later this week, probably Thursday.

:: The jury is still out on this particular development on the home front. I'm sure we'll get it all figured out, but for now, things are a bit of a whirlwind at Casa Jaquandor.

Meet the source of the whirlwind: Carla, aka Dee-oh-gee 2.0.

Carla. Sigh. #Carla #DogsOfInstagram

What is this 'popcorn' of which you speak? #Carla #dogsofinstgram

So there we are.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Symphony Saturday

I seem to recall once owning a set of Franz Berwald's symphonies. They made no impression on me whatsoever in the occasions I tried listening to them, and I'm not even sure if I still own the CDs. I'm not even sure what led me to listen to him again now, in 2017, but I did, and I'm glad I did so.

Berwald is a virtually canonical example of an artist whose work was obscure in his lifetime to the point of being almost completely ignored. Berwald, a Swede who lived from 1796 to 1868 -- a decently long life in that time -- couldn't even earn a living as a musician, instead making his way as a surgeon and then as a factory manager. Of his four symphonies, only the first was played during his lifetime. He didn't toil in complete obscurity; he had a few champions here and there, but virtually none in his own homeland.

His four symphonies certainly don't deserve their obscurity, and one wonders just why they were so roundly disregarded during his lifetime. They are not massive works, nor do they place undue demands on the performers; their harmonic language is interesting but would surely not have been unlistenable in a musical climate that was trending toward Tristan. The world of art is a capricious one, and it is hard to escape the notion that what separates those who achieve recognition and those who do not is some celestial roll of the dice. (Enduring legacy? That's another matter entirely.)

I present two of Berwald's symphonies here: the Third in C major, titled "Sinfonie singulaire", and the Fourth in E-flat major, called "Sinfonie naive". Both symphonies abound with life and rustic nature, and it's even tempting to hear -- since Berwald was Swedish, after all -- tantalizing hints of what would come decades later when Sibelius or Nielsen.

Here are the Third and Fourth symphonies of Franz Berwald.

Next week...I'm not sure. I want to do some more homework before I start in on Mahler.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Something for Thursday

It seems odd to me that one of the greatest Hollywood film composers, Jerry Goldsmith, had to wait until thirteen years after he died to get a star on the Walk of Fame, but there it is.

Here is some Goldsmith, who is almost always worth hearing.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Here is an oddity of sorts. I can't really say much about it, because I have found almost no information whatsoever about it online. It is a symphonic poem called Visions, by Jules Massenet. Massenet was a French Romantic who is best known for his operas, and for the "Meditation from Thais", which is one of the most famous solo violin works in all of classical music and a staple on "Music for a peaceful mood" compilations. Massenet was a gifted melodist whose work tends to exhibit high craftsmanship. Debussy eulogized Massenet thusly:

He was the most genuinely loved of all our contemporary musicians. His colleagues never forgave him for having such a power to please; it really was a gift. Massenet realized he could better express his genius if pastel tints and whispered melodies in works composed of lightness itself.

Visions is a late work in Massenet's life, and it was never published. How it saw the light of day, I have no idea; nor do I have any information about its composition or its inspiration. All I have here is, quite literally, the music, which is meditative and playful and ultimately dreamlike, with an offstage solo violin and an offstage soprano. It's a highly meditative work that seems a cross between Romanticism and Impressionism, or between the symphonic language of Europe in the 1800s and the glass-like textures of Ralph Vaughan Williams to come. There is something compelling about this piece, which I found simply by doing a YouTube search for "Jules Massenet". I ended up listening to it three times in succession as I worked.

Monday, May 08, 2017

And now, a sunset

Just because.

(And I guess it's not technically a sunset, but rather a dusk sky.)

Sky tonight #sunset #clouds #sky

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Symphony Saturday

Alexander Glazunov's seventh symphony is named the "Pastoral", and as such it evokes inevitable comparison with Beethoven's own Symphony No. 6. Glazunov's is clearly not the equal of Beethoven's, but how could it be? This is not to say that Glazunov's work isn't worth hearing, because it most certainly is. It is pastoral music heard through the prism of Russian Romanticism as opposed to Viennese Classicism. Lyrical, folk-song melodies abound, and the symphony often has that wonderful Russian feel of "sustained build". There always seems to be a spot in the best Russian symphonies when you can feel the energies gathering for an inevitable release. Listen in particular for some really thrilling writing for the timpani and the chant-like opening of the second movement, which sounds almost like a chorus of monks as they gather for prayer.

Here is Alexander Glazunov's Symphony No. 7 in F Major.

Next week: a small step backward, chronologically, to look at a Swedish composer with whom most are probably unfamiliar. (Including me!) And soon...Mahler.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Something for Thursday (May the Fourth edition)

It's Star Wars Day, people!

(Warning: This next one is for if you need TEN HOURS of the Cantina Band!)