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Archive for the ‘Ludwig van Beethoven’ Category

SOUNDTRACKJAN VOGLER AND ALESSIO BAX-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #128 (December 16, 2020).

This is the third of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. This was my favorite. The first was just piano the second was a quartet of strings.  But this one, a combination of the two, was the most exciting.  I love the way the cello (Vogler) played off of the piano (Bax).

For this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we pay a visit to the doctor’s office. Actually, the venue is called Rare Violins of New York and it’s something of a second home to cellist Jan Vogler, who pops in frequently to have the experts give his 1708 Stradivarius cello a thorough checkup. If your multi-million-dollar fiddle has a cough or the sniffles, or even needs a full-blown restoration, Rare Violins, which sits just a block away from Carnegie Hall, can help. The firm also has a lovely music room, kitted out with a fine piano – something Vogler lacks at his place.  With help from the fine pianist Alessio Bax, Vogler makes a convincing case for Beethoven as one of the great heroes of the cello. Beethoven, whose 250th birthday falls this week, wrote five cello sonatas, plus other works for the instrument, which, before his time, was primarily relegated to beefing up the bass line in various chamber music situations.

Beethoven, in essence, liberated the cello. Listen to how it dances and struts in the opening scherzo from the Sonata in A, Op. 69.

“Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69: II. Scherzo” starts with a piano and the cello quickly jumps back in.  The song builds and swells and then quiets down to a pretty piano and cello melody.

Like Jonathan Biss, these two are very chatty. They are mostly chatty with each other, but they do direct their answers to the camera sometimes too.

Up next is a short piece from the beginning of his career “12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus: Variation XI: Adagio.”   In this piece the cello “sings sweetly.”  Vogler says that Beethoven was friendly with a fantastic cellist and he may have inspired the composer to write more pieces for the cello.

Although the piece starts with a lovely piano intro and has several moments of just piano, the cello adds so much to it.

Before the final song the two talk about how the pandemic has changed them and what they are looking forward to doing when it is over.

And finally there’s the opening to Beethoven’s last cello sonata, which Bax — whose role is far more than just an accompanist here — says is compact with emotion, yet “stretches the boundaries” for the instrument.

“Cello Sonata in D, Op. 102: I. Allegro con brio” feels like a call and response–two instruments in conversation.  And they had a lot to say.

[READ: December 20, 2020] The Disaster Tourist

In continuing with my around-the-world reading, I picked up this novel that was originally written in Korean (translated by Lizzie Buehler).

This story sounded really weird and interesting.

Yona works for a company called Jungle which specializes in offering vacations in areas that have suffered a disaster.

On a disaster trip, travellers reactions usually went through these stages

shock; sympathy and compassion, maybe discomfortable gratefulness at their own lives; a sense of responsibility that they’d learned a lesson and maybe a feeling of superiority for having survived where others didn’t.

For instance, a tsunami had hit Jinhae–in an instant everything was underwater.  Yona travelled there because Jungle currently didn’t offer any tours there.  But they would soon.  Yona would give donations and offer condolences to the community.  Then she would create a vacation package that involved viewing the aftermath along with volunteer work.

Yona had worked at Jungle for over ten years.  She was something of a star.  But apparently, her star was starting to fade because she had all of sudden been asked to handle some customer service phone calls–never a good sign.

Things got even worse when a supervisor named Kim got on the elevator with her.  He said:

Johnson is asking me to send my greetings to you.
Who?
Johnson.  My Johnson. Kim pointed to his crotch.

At this point I had to wonder.  Is this level of harassment something that happens in Korea?  Is this  shocking incident for any reader?  Is this a hyper real fiction in which everything is just a bit beyond reality?  I don’t know.

Then Kim grabs her bottom and put his hand in her blouse.  The gesture suggested that Kim didn’t care if he was caught.

Yona was upset, but not because of the sexual assault. Because Kim was known to only target has-beens. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

This is the second of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

This is the first of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A Clockwork Orange soundtrack (1972).

I’ve had the CD of this soundtrack since the mid 1990s.  I recall playing it all the time.  I hadn’t listened to it in a while and it all came back as I listened again.

This CD is a collection of classical pieces, a few odds and ends and a number of pieces by Wendy Carlos.

I don’t intend to review the classical pieces which are familiar and sound great.  But the Wendy Carlos pieces deserve mention.

Title Music from A Clockwork Orange” (2:21) (From Henry Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary).  It is fascinating to realize that most of the carlos pieces on this soundtrack are actually classical compositions that she has arranged for the Moog (I assume she is playing the Moog on these).  This piece starts with swirling sounds which turn into a fast melody with drums that are probably low synth notes.  There’s a sprinkling of very odd sounds thrown in the mix which really give everything an unearthly feel.

“The Thieving Magpie (Abridged)” (5:57) [Rossini-Rome Opera House Orchestra]

Theme from A Clockwork Orange (Beethoviana)” (1:44) In the movie, the main character loves Beethoven.  So there are a number of pieces from Beethoven that Carlos has arranged here.  This one sounds amazing in this gentle piece with that otherworldly synthesizer music and of staccato notes and chords.

“Ninth Symphony, Second Movement (Abridged)” [Beethoven-Berlin Philharmonic] (3:48)

March from A Clockwork Orange (Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement, Abridged)” [Beethoven] (7:00)  This is the most striking song on the disc with the synthesized “voices” singing the melody on top of a complex synthesizer pattern.  After two minutes it slows and changes styles dramatically becoming more of a march with whistles and chimes and again those haunting voices.  The end of the piece has a full choir of the haunting voices which sounds even more amazing.  I’m so curious how she did this.  Are there actual voices that she recorded and manipulated or are they generated from notes and manipulated to sound like voices?  It says articulations by Rachel Elkind [now Rachel Elkind-Tourre], so I guess she sang and was manipulated?

William Tell Overture (Abridged)” (1:17) [Rossini]  This piece opens with the familiar horns but as this incredibly fast paced track moves along you can hear the synth notes especially in the quieter middle part.  I wonder if those horns were real?

“Pomp and Circumstance March No. I” (4:28) [Elgar]

“Pomp and Circumstance March No. IV” (Abridged) (1:33) [Elgar]

Timesteps (Excerpt)” (4:13) This is the only fully original piece on the soundtrack.  It sounds like nothing else.  It is a gorgeous spooky composition of tinkling sounds, low gonglike sounds and celestial voices.  It grows somewhat menacing with lots of fast unique sounds skittering around a low throbbing bass.  She adds in sounds that seems sped up (which makes no sense really), but they do.  At one pint the two melodies seem to run counterpoint–low notes going in one direction, high notes in the other.

“Overture to the Sun” (rerecorded instrumental from Sound of Sunforest, 1969) (1:40).  I have always loved this middle-ages sounding song, but I had no idea where it came from.  Turns out it is by the band Sunforest and comes from their only album Sound of Sunforest, 1969.  They were an English psychedelic folk group.  You can play some of the album on YouTube (which sounds a lot like Jefferson Airplane).

“I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper” (rerecorded song from Sound of Sunforest, 1969) (1:00).  This song is also on the Sunforest album, although it sounds very different here.  I’ve always assumed this was some kind of fifties song and had no idea that this is probably the only place most people know it from.  It’s a shame this album is so hard to find.

“William Tell Overture (Abridged)” (2:58) [Rossini-Rome Opera House Orchestra]

Suicide Scherzo (Ninth Symphony, Second Movement, Abridged)” (3:07) [Beethoven] The perfect use of Carlos’ bouncy synths sounds.  It’s amazing to hear her layering sounds as the song gets very big and seems to get away from her into an almost chaotic conclusion.

“Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement (Abridged)” (1:34) [Beethoven-Berlin Philharmonic]

“Singin’ in the Rain” (2:36) [Gene Kelly].  This is a cute ending and seems to tie in to “Lighthouse Keeper” even though it clearly doesn’t.

This is a really fun soundtrack.  It is too bad that Carlos’s music is unavailable anywhere because it  is really quite eye-opening even fifty years later.

[READ: October 15, 2020] “The Well-Tempered Synthesizer”

This article is a book review of Wendy Carlos: A Biography by Amanda Sewell.

I don’t plan to read the book, but I found the summary to be quite interesting.

I’ve known of Wendy Carlos for many years, primarily from her work on A Clockwork Orange soundtrack.  I remember initially seeing that the music was recorded by Walter and/or Wendy Carlos and assuming that they were siblings or spouses.  It was certainly a confusing listing and once that, it turns out, was rather offensive to her.

So I know a little bit about her personal story, but this review added a lot of details to her life that I didn’t know.

Most importantly is that none of her music is available online pretty much anywhere.  Even when people post it, it is taken down quickly. (more…)

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download (92)SOUNDTRACK: VÍKINGUR ÓLAFSSON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #63 (August 12, 2020).

download (91)Víkingur Ólafsson has a fantastic name.  But even better is his way of talking about the music he plays.  He adds so much detail and information about these songs that they really come to life.  I don’t often buy classical music anymore, but I absolutely want to get his new record of Rameau and Debussy pieces).

Ólafsson  has moved from strength to strength, releasing three terrific albums in a row (Philip Glass, J.S. Bach, Debussy-Rameau). And now that he has a young son, he wants to spend as much time with the family as possible these days.

So he tells us that he is leaving Berlin after living there for eight years, to return to Iceland with his wife and son.

He opens with a beautiful slow and stately piece from J.S. Bach (arr. Stradal): “Andante” (from Organ Sonata No. 4).  The piece runs about five minutes and after four slow lines, he throws in some amazing speed near the end.  he says that Bach is a good idea whether you are happy or sad–whatever it is, Bach makes things better.

Then Ólafsson offers a crash course in the fascinating music of Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claude Debussy, two French composers who lived nearly 200 years apart. Ólafsson connects the dots between the two seemingly strange bedfellows, illustrating his points with demonstrations on his Steinway.

Introducing Jean-Philippe Rameau, he says the music will go in a very different direction (than Bach).  Rameau was two years older than Bach and was dubbed the Newton of harmony.  He defined harmony and opened musical doors.

For Rameau: “Le rappel des oiseaux” (“The Recall of the Birds”) he says that he is playing two birds: one in his right hand and one in his left.  They are calling to each other–one imitating the other with perfect recall.  Then they take flight and we see the landscape under their wings.  When he plays it, it absolutely comes to life.

He says that was first piece of Rameau that he had ever heard.  The version he heard was by a Russian pianist who played it “more sad, more Russian.”  He plays it like that original version and you can hear the remarkable difference and how both versions work so well–although I like Ólafsson’s better.

Introducing Claude Debussy, he says it’a unusual pairing since they lived 200 years apart.  But Debussy’s idol was Rameau.  They were both musical outsiders, reinventing music, bringing life to a tired scene.

He plays a simple Debussy melody–harmony in space, a timeless beauty.  But Debussy did not like being considered an Impressionistic.  He was interested in the baroque, and there is a baroque structure to his music.

For Debussy’s: “The Snow is Dancing” (from Children’s Corner), he describes the driving rhythm that never stops as he explores harmonic inventions.  This song wa written for his four-year-old daughter as he was exploring the snow with her. You can absolutely hear the textures of the snow in the song.

Ólafsson has a penchant for making transcriptions, taking pieces written for other instruments and making them his own. He closes with “The Arts and the Hours,” his mesmerizing arrangement of a scene from Rameau’s final opera, which he plays as a farewell to his Berlin apartment.

Ólafsson says that he wrote his last masterpiece (an opera) a year before he died and he never heard it performed.  Indeed, it didn’t get a world premiere until 200 years after he died in 1960.  This is a transcription he made because he was jealous of all the conductors and orchestra players who got to play this music.   Rameau (arr. Ólafsson): “The Arts and the Hours” (from Les Boréades) is more loveliness from a composer who I feel may be quite under appreciated.

[READ: 2017 and August 15, 2020] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway

I read this book when it came out in 2017 but never posted about it.  Then I recently realized that Kinney had written two more Wimpy Kid books that I hadn’t read (and two books written by Rowley, that I don’t know at all).  So it was time to get Wimpy again.

This book is a Christmas book and yet it’s not a typical Christmas story–no annoying relatives, no bad gifts, not even snow.  For The Heffleys have decided to go on holiday for Christmas.    Their Christmas planning was going very badly (a funny picture of the tree on its side with Manny playing with tinsel), so when they saw an ad for Isla de Corales, where Greg’s parents went on their honeymoon, they decided to get out of town for Christmas and celebrate in the warmth of the holidays.

Now, unlike shows where the place is far worse than the advertisement shows, Isla de Corales proves to be a wonderful paradise.  However, the place has now been divided into the mild side for families and the wild side for couples.  Obviously, the wild side is better but the Heffleys have no way to get there.

But before they arrive, they have to get there.  Their entire trip to the airport is one terrible moment after another–bad traffic, lost luggage, late shuttle.  Not to mention terrible lines and a hilarious pile of confusion at the security line–I love that it’s not Greg’s fault that things went so badly but the Heffleys had to pay for it anyway.  And of course Manny is a nightmare. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #914 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE CALIDORE STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #843 (April 22, 2019).

Whenever I hear a wonderful string quartet, I yell at myself for not listening to more classical music.  I’m not sure why I don’t–I just like my rock too much I guess.  But these 18 minutes of strings are really fantastic.  And I’m adding The Calidore String Quartet [Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello] to the list of quartets I particularly admire.

The blurb is great for unpacking what’s going on, so I’ll let it do just that.

The [string quartet] genre was born some 250 years ago and pioneered by Joseph Haydn, but composers today are still tinkering with its possibilities. Consider Caroline Shaw. The young, Pulitzer-winning composer wrote the opening work in this set, First Essay: Nimrod, especially for the Calidore String Quartet [back in 2016].

Over a span of eight minutes, the supple theme that opens this extraordinary work takes a circuitous adventure. It unfolds into a song for the cello, is sliced into melodic shards, gets bathed in soft light, becomes gritty and aggressive and disguises itself in accents of the old master composers. Midway through, the piece erupts in spasms that slowly dissolve back into the theme.

I love the pizzicato on the cello–there’s so much of it, from deep bass notes to very high notes.  Including the final note.

Their new album explores composers in conflict.  In the case of of the next song, loveless marriage.

The Calidore players also chose music by the quirky Czech composer, Leoš Janáček who, in 1913, set one of his operas on the moon. He wrote only two string quartets but they are dazzling. The opening Adagio, from “String Quartet No. 1, ‘Adagio'”, is typical Janáček, with hairpin turns that veer from passionate romance to prickly anxiety.

This piece is much more dramatic with powerful aching chords ringing out.

Reaching back farther, the ensemble closes the set with an early quartet by Beethoven, who took what Haydn threw down and ran with it. The final movement from Beethoven’s “String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4, Allegro – Prestissimo” both looks back at Haydn’s elegance and implies the rambunctious, even violent, risks his music would soon take.

2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.  They are celebrating by playing all of his string quartets in various cities.  He says that this piece is the most exiting part.

I love the trills that each instrument runs through in the middle of the song.

All of these pieces sound amazing.

[READ: April 22, 2019] “Cut”

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

There are so many great moments in this story that I feel th eneed to quote so much of it.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VANILLA FUDGE-The Beat Goes On (1968).

I thought the first Vanilla Fudge album was odd–covers of contemporary songs done slowly and with little resemblance to the originals.

Well, this second album was downright bizarre.

It  doesn’t really have any “songs.”  Rather, it’s more of a collage–a history of recorded sound as interpreted by the Vanilla Fudge.  There’s a few snippets of classical pieces, some rocks songs, historical vocal recordings and final words from the guys in the band.  All sandwiched between snippets of them playing The Beat Goes On, the Sonny Bono song.

It’s a weird enough record on its own, but when you read just a little but about it, it gets even weirder.  According to the Wikipedia entry:

The group was at odds with producer George “Shadow” Morton during recording, as Morton made his own concept album without significant input from them. In the liner notes of Sundazed Records’ 1990 CD reissue, the band denounces it as a failed experiment on the producer’s part.     ….
In his autobiography Stick It!, Carmine Appice declares: “Even listening to it now – which, let me tell you, I rarely fucking do – The Beat Goes On sounds like an album that Spinal Tap would be wary of making.”

The album opens with an instrumental “sketch.”  It is primarily the Vanilla Fudge keyboard sound with some occasional piano and guitar sounds washing in and out.

After a recording of Thomas Edison reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb, a ponderous voice says PHASE ONE and they start with the first iteration of “The Beat Goes On.”

Then comes what is now probably the fourth surprise already.  The track is titles “Eighteenth Century: Variations on a Theme by Mozart: “Divertimento No. 13 In F Major”” and it’s 45 seconds of Mozart on harpsichord!  It’s followed by a 45 second version of “Old Black Joe” by Stephen Forster, this time sung quietly with acoustic guitar and bass.

That was meant to represent the nineteenth century.  The twentieth century has a bit more diversity with Cole Porter, Glenn Miller and Elvis.  There’s rags on piano with a trap drum.  “In the Mood” sounds like it’s in a roller rink and “Hound Dog” sounds really tinny and awful.  The music is played perfectly, but the quality of the recording is deliberately (I assume) poor.

The next section is called The Beatles, because they clearly didn’t record enough Beatles on their first album.  But this time they do it more like the originals, not like the Vanilla Fudge.  In less than two minutes, they run through excerpts from “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “I Feel Fine,” “Day Tripper,” “She Loves You,” and “Hello Goodbye.”   Except that for the final track they sing “You say hello and I say goodbye…”  And they laugh into…

PHASE TWO.  This has another version of “The Beat Goes On” followed by six minutes of Beethoven (if you;re keeping track, Beethoven was before the 20th century).  They play “Fur Elise” & “Moonlight Sonata” on keys with bass.  But it builds up with rocking drums and   build rocking with drums and keys and guitar.  It gets crazy fast and loud.

Then another version of “The Beat Goes On” followed by another version of it (the original would have switched sides at this point.

PHASE THREE is called “Voices in Time” and it is literally 8 minutes of historical recordings by: Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy.

Then on to PHASE FOUR which after one version of “The Beat Goes On” is talking sections with the band members.  They are labelled “Merchant/The Game is Over”

Vinnie on guitar says a few things concluding with “As life goes on, the beat goes on.”  Tim on bass does an “interview” in which he (or someone) asks him questions which he answers–about sex, politics and ice cream among other things.  He sounds pretty much  like an ass.

Carmine says “I play drums.  Listen to my drums if you wanna hear me talk.”  And finally after some Indian style music comes Mark the lead vocalist.  He uses his time to read a bit of the Bible, a passage about Moab.

The whole business ends with the longest yet version of “The Beat Goes On.”

The CD comes with a Bonus Phase.  There’s a cover of The Beatles’ “You Can;t Do That” and an original  These two songs are certainly the highlight, especially their original song “Come By Day, Come By Night.”  I love the bassline and choral voices.  This really points out what a waste it was not to record their own songs.

The sixties were a weird time.

[READ: July 22, 2017] Some Recollections of a Busy Life

The beginning of this book includes Dave Eggers’ essay that was in the New Yorker, July 20, 2015 issue.

Read about it here.

T.S. Hawkins was Dave Eggers’ great-great grandfather.  In 1913 Hawkins wrote Some Recollections of a Busy Life and printed 300 copies.  Now 102 years later, Eggers was able to use his press to get it reprinted,

What’s even more disconcerting is that we’re prepared for the book to be 102 years old, but it starts with Hawkins talking about what it was like seventy years ago.  So the beginning of this book is actually set in the 1840s and 50s.  He was born March 6, 1836 in Missouri about 12 miles from the Mississippi River. His grandfather had been from Virginia and then moved to Kentucky and then on to Missouri.

He is writing his recollection not believing that the general public would care about them but he hopes his children and grandchildren might be interested in the changes which have taken places over the years of their grandfather’s life.

He grew up West of the Mississippi with no railroads and no telegraphic or telephonic communication with the rest of the world.  News in the East took weeks to reach them.  Electrical lighting was a thing undreamed of.  They made their own soap with the ashes from their fires.  Their clothes were homemade. (more…)

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19893 SOUNDTRACK: TEDDY ABRAMS-Tiny Desk Concert #491 (November 30, 2015).

teddyTeddy Abrams is a young piano player (he was 28 in 2015) and he was recently made conductor of the Louisville Orchestra.  Here’s some fun details from the Tiny Desk blurb:

For his first week on the job in Louisville, Abrams played jazz piano in the streets and took his orchestra players into nightclubs and African-American churches. PBS made a web series on his first season.  Earlier this year, he put two first symphonies on the same program — Brahms’ First and a debut symphony by Sebastian Chang, a composer still in his 20s — just to gauge audience reaction. Abrams filled the hall by giving out free tickets to first-time symphonygoers. He was happy to hear that many of them liked the new piece best, saying they appreciated hearing the composer introduce it onstage.

Abrams plays three pieces.  Two originals and one from Beethoven.  The first, “Big Band,” [from the blurb: swirls with jazz history. Hints of Thelonious Monk fly by, along with tips of the hat to the stride style from the early 20th century] is a fun and fast piece with Abrams playing fun and bouncy rhythms and very fast solo runs.  It’s infectious.

Abrams decided to begin the opening movement of Beethoven: Sonata No. 30 in E, Op. 109, I. Vivace, ma non troppo with a short improvisation, noting that the great composer was known for riffing at the piano for hours on end and was often getting into improvisation battles.  At he end, he says that we shouldn’t have been able to tell where the improv ended and the song properly began (although fans of the song could probably tell).  By the end of his life Beethoven was experimenting and some of his later stuff is pretty out there and modern.  That may be true if you know classical music, but it just sounded pretty to me.

He ends the set with a bluesy number, “The Long Goodbye,” [from the blurb: describing it as a slow ballad halfway between “My Funny Valentine” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”].  It is indeed a wonderful conglomeration of jazzy melodies.  A lovely and fun piece that is familiar but new at the same time.

[READ: July 26, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984

As 1983 opens, Schroeder finally goes on the attack against Lucy “I have resolved not to be so serious..I’m going to try to laugh more” and then he pulls the piano out from under her and laughs like crazy.

For the past few books there have been a lot of jokes with Schroeder’s musical staves like Snoopy crawling through them.  Most have invoked Woodstock interacting with them.  As Schulz tends to do he will go on tears were he makes similar jokes every day for a week and then drops the joke for a while.  There’s also been some strips with Woodstock singing .  In one of my favorite, he is singing and the rain comes and actually washes the notes away from the stave. Even funnier is in Nov 1984 whee the rain comes and makes the notes droop really low.

For Valentine’s Day this year, Linus did not send Sally a card and she is very upset. Charlie says he should punch Linus in the nose.  But he says instead that Linus should just walk into his fist.  Charlie holds out his fist but Lucy walks into it instead.  That’s pretty funny.

More abuse for Lucy comes from Linus.  he gets a small bit of revenge by using Snoopy as a strange catapult and launching a snowball at her.

In the summer of 1983 while Snoopy is on a hike with the troops, the birds Bill and Harriet run off and get married and they stay in Point Lobos. (more…)

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5dials34SOUNDTRACK: MATT HAIMOVITZ & CHRISTOPHER O’RILEY-Tiny Desk Concert #426 (March 14, 2015).

matthThere’s no introduction or fanfare for cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley’s Tiny Desk set.  They just start right in with a romping Beethoven piece.   I don’t know these two, but the notes say the duo has a new album out called Shuffle.Play.Listen., in which music by Stravinsky and Astor Piazzolla mingles with Cocteau Twins and Arcade Fire.  There’s no contemporary music in this set, but it’s very cool nonetheless.

The Beethoven piece sounds alive and wild and very modern.  The Glass piece is slow and beautiful  The final piece is lively and playful (with hints of darkness).  It introduced as reminding O’Riley of a scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being when Daniel Day-Lewis gets a quickie.

It’s especially fun to watch how animated Haimovitz is.  The set list:

  • Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 4 in C – IV. Allegro vivace
  • Philip Glass/Foday Musa Suso: The Orchard
  • Leoš Janáček: Pohádka – II. Con moto

[READ: April 6, 2015] Five Dials 33 Part II

After several themed issues of Five Dials we get back to the ones that I really like–random things thrown together under a tenuous idea.  It’s got some great authors and a surprising amount of large scale doodles–full page scribbles and some drawings that go from one page to the next (which works better online than in print).  Some of the giant illustrations also are fun–they are of jokey images like a memory stick that states I have only memories.  The art was done by JODY BARTON.

As with a previous issue there is a page of contributors and “The Unable to Contribute Page.”  These are journalists unfairly imprisoned (see more at cpr.org).  The Table of Contents is back, along with the FAQ: (more…)

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