Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony, final movement

May 10, 2020 at 9:15 pm (Music)

I was working on something else when I came upon this. By the time it was over, I was in tears, and not fit for much else, for a while.

Thank you, Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony musicians, for this rare and precious gift.

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‘If you’re lookin’ for a miracle open your eyes; There was one this morning just about sunrise…’

May 2, 2020 at 10:51 pm (Current affairs, Music)

We’ve had day after day of wet, sunless, raw weather – suitable to the current mood of the world, I guess you could say. And then, this morning, this:

 

And this beauty, everyday yet extraordinary, unfolding against a  clear blue sky:

The title of this post comes from the lyrics to “This Island Earth.” Sung bt the Nylons, this has long been one of my YouTube favorites:

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Music, to bring beauty and solace into your day

April 11, 2020 at 6:47 pm (Music)

The “Romanza,” (third movement) from Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony

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The Adagietto, from Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony:

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Requiem, by Gabriel Faure:

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony No.41, “Jupiter”:

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Good Friday Music from Parsifal, by Richard Wagner:

 

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Music, for lifting the spirit

March 26, 2020 at 7:09 pm (Music)

Two sisters sing the Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach:

This has long been one of my favorite YouTube videos. In case you’re wondering, this entire opera is filled with gorgeous melodies. The Barcarolle may be the most beautiful; it is the most famous, at any rate.
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The Pie Jesu from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem. This is one of the most consoling, transcendent musical works that I know. The beloved Pie Jesu  is sung here by the Norwegian boy soprano Aksel Rykkvin. (Due to the fact that time marches on, Aksel is currently performing as a baritone.)


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This was a real find: Avinu Malkeinu, performed by the cantors of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City:

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Peregrinations and ruminations, for sustenance in tough times

March 19, 2020 at 3:01 pm (Art, Music, Nature)

Two days ago, a walk around the neighborhood was most salutary. While I didn’t take these pictures, I did see these flowers!

Narcissi

 

Vinca

 

Crocuses

 

Daffodils

 

Forsythia

But then you go inside and the same grim news awaits you… Or, rather, more and different grim news. But no, mustn’t dwell on it. Instead, be grateful for what we still have to sustain us:

Great books, like this one:

I just finished it, and I loved it. Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau is a character I will cherish going forward. It’s been a long time since I fell so completely in love with a character in a novel as I did this time.

I continue to enjoy the Darko Dawson series by Kwei Quartey. Dark is a many-sided, fully three dimensional creation. I cherish him also, as well as his world in Ghana.

Kwei Quartey and Louise Erdrich have both created worlds for me to lose myself in. Much needed at this time. I am deeply grateful to both these gifted authors.
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I am always finding new paintings that amaze me. I mean, look at this!

Scenes from the Passion of Christ by Hana Memling, ca1470

My post of March 12 featured this work by Annibale Carracci:

 

Boy Drinking – a show piece for Carracci’s technical expertise –  resided at the Christ Church Picture Gallery at Oxford University until approximately 11 PM on Monday, March 16. That is  the estimated time at which it was stolen, along with two other priceless paintings, one by Salvator Rosa and another by Van Dyck. Click here  for more on this theft.

Let’s hope for a speedy recovery of these priceless works of art.

As if the world doesn’t have enough to worry about right now, I know…

Finally, there is always music, as with this gorgeous Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti, whose sonatas I recall playing on the piano many years ago. (The visual, this achingly poignant Pieta, is by, once again, Annibale Carracci.)

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Further works of beauty, for Christmas

December 25, 2019 at 1:54 pm (Art, Christmas, Music)

Little Garden of Paradise, Upper Rhenish Master

Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor, Jan Van Eyck

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Gerard David

Virgin and Child, Stefan Lochner

Madonna of the Goldfinch, Raphaello Sanzio (Raphael)

Virgin of the Rocks,  Leonardo da Vinci

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Musical Interlude – and a Poetical Sentiment – at Christmas Time

December 22, 2019 at 2:23 pm (Christmas, Music)

A commenter issues a warning:

‘Monsieur le directeur: faites attention à votre pied.’

Another, in English, says much the same but adds: ‘History repeats itself.’ What history?

Well, it seems that Jean Baptiste Lully, composer of this irresistible ditty, was conducting in the same manner as Monsieur le directeur above, when he inadvertently stabbed himself in the foot with the long staff he was using. The wound became gangrenous. Lully refused to have the infected limb amputated and the infection spread, ultimately causing his death in 1687 at the age of 54.

Here’s an enthusiastic (if tongue-in-cheek) comment on this film clip:

‘Nice to see remaining film footage of this important historical event!’

And it is in point of fact an historical event. For a description of what actually occurred, read Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, by James R. Gaines. Oh, and the piece being played was composed by Frederick himself, an accomplished musician.

Here are three more beautiful works in honor of Christmas:

 

 

 

Christmas
by John Betjeman
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

 

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It began with the railroads: The Europeans, by Orlando Figes

November 29, 2019 at 9:25 pm (Art, Book review, books, Music)

What began was the nineteenth century culture of worldly sophistication and high art described in this incredibly wide ranging volume. Along with the new  ease of rail travel, cultural cross currents began to flow with increasing speed and receptivity, to and from numerous nations of Western Europe. The countries specifically referenced are Italy, England, Germany, Russia – to my surprise – and France, always France, the epicenter of it all.

The book’s full title is The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture. Figes chooses to tell his story through the lives of singer and composer Pauline Viardot, her husband Louis, and their friend and close associate Ivan Turgenev. (The great Russian writer was, in fact, in love with Pauline Viardot throughout his life. To an extent, she returned his affections, but would never leave Louis, with whom she had four children.)

Pauline Viardot, 1821-1910

 

Louis Viardot 1800-1883

 

Ivan Turgenev, 1818-1883

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I had gotten this far in composing this post before we left town for a few days. A recent photo in the  Washington Post served as a reminder that I hadn’t yet finished it:

Putin signing visitors’ book in Turgenev’s house

Ages ago, when I was trying to get more classics under my belt, I read Fathers and Sons and First Love. I recall especially being moved by the latter. In The Europeans, Orlando Figes tells us how Turgenev’s early writings in The Sportsman’s Sketches first secured his authorial fame. As with many out-of-copyright classics, various editions of this work are available for download on Amazon. I’ve read several of the stories and very much enjoyed them.

As it happens, copyright law, both within nations and international, is an important subject covered by Figes in his book. And as happens sometimes in books like this, it slows the narrative down to a crawl. It’s a case of an important subject that needs in depth coverage and one that at the same time isn’t – well, for want of a better word, sexy.

Still, all in all, this was a fascinating book, filled with illuminating facts about the flowering of high culture – art, music, and literature – throughout nineteenth century Europe. What fabulous gifts these people bequeathed to us!

 

 

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Schumann: The Faces and the Masks, by Judith Chernaik

February 4, 2019 at 10:00 pm (Book review, books, Music)

  As I write this, I am listening to Robert Schumann’s Romance for Oboe and Piano.

For about two weeks, I have been reading Judith Chernaik’s new biography of this great composer. Ron and I have been immersed in this wonderful music. In addition, I’ve been absorbed in the story of Schumann’s life. That life was a turbulent mixture of frustration, disappointment, elation, and deep love. And through all of it, glorious music, one piece following another, first almost exclusively for solo piano, then piano accompaniment for singers, then chamber groups and full orchestra.

Robert Schumann was born in 1810 in Zwickau, in the kingdom of Saxony, in Germany.

Robert Schumann’s birthplace, now the Robert Schumann House Museum. The author’s researches were greatly aided by the papers relating to Schumann collected and kept here.

Schumann’s exceptional musical talent having become evident early on, a teacher was found in Leipzig to take him in hand. This was the German pianist Friederich Wieck. Wieck believed that Schumann had ahead of him a great career as a concert pianist. Unfortunately, while experimenting with a device to strengthen his fingers, he injured himself irrevocably. He could still play, but his opportunity to ascend to the concert stage was gone.

(Although Chernaik includes this story in her book, there are those who believe that the problem with Schumann’s hand may have had another cause. Click here for more on this article from the WQXR blog.)

Despite this setback, Schumann continued his studies with Wieck, concentrating more now on composing. Wieck had a daughter Clara who was an extremely talented musician. She began giving concerts while she was still a child. As she entered adolescence, her gifts became even more pronounced. She and Schumann were inevitably thrown together on frequent occasions. He was nine years her senior.

Clara  was not only prodigiously gifted but remarkably independent. She was her own person, free from the usual restraints suffered by young girls. She was already acclaimed as an artist; she moved in sophisticated circles in Paris and Vienna. As a child, she was passionate and willful, with a wild temper and strong opinions.

Clara and Schumann fell in love. When Clara turned sixteen, they informed her father of their wish to be married. To their shock and dismay, he opposed the idea. In fact, he flat out forbade the union. Clara was a minor; despite her vaunted independence, she could not marry without her father’s consent. For four years he did everything he could to place obstacles in the way of their plans. (Meanwhile, at her father’s behest, Clara was giving concerts all over Europe, all the while earning good money.) Ultimately, Robert and Clara had to go to court and sue for the right to marry. This they did, finally becoming husband and wife on September 12, 1840.

It should be noted that while all this was  going on, both Robert and Clara were making strides creatively. She was constantly concertizing as well as  composing; he was composing as well as writing for and editing the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik (The New Journal for Music) which he had founded in 1834.

The first half of the biography is taken up with this crisis and its felicitous albeit hard won resolution. Incurable romantic  that I am, I was so outraged by Friedrich Wieck’s obstinacy and cruelty that I could barely contain myself. When the couple were finally wed, I cheered out loud!

Robert and Clara Schumann, 1847

As a married couple, Robert and Clara continued their relentless work of giving concerts, composing music, writing and reviewing the works of other composers, and having musical evenings in their home. Add to that the children: they just kept coming;

Six of the Schumann offspring; a seventh, older daughter Julie, was living with Clara’s mother at the time this photograph was taken. An eighth, Emil, died at sixteen months in 1847.

Clara was the more famous of the two during their lifetimes, but Robert had many advocates in the musical community. Among them were his close friend Felix Mendelssohn and the fiery pianist and composer Franz Liszt. But his greatest champion was Clara.

Plagued by ill health all his life, Schumann was at length placed in Endenich Asylum near the city of Bonn. One of his chief consolations at that time was to go into Bonn (accompanied by an attendant) and stare up at the statue of the city’s most famous son, Ludwig van Beethoven. After two excruciating years at Endenich, Robert Schumann died. The year was 1956; he was 46 years old.

Clara received constant support from other musicians during this extremely stressful time. One was the gifted young violinist Joseph Joachim. The other was a youth of whom great things were expected. His name was Johannes Brahms.

Johannes Brahms, age 20

The exact nature of the relationship between Clara and Brahms has been an  endless subject of speculation down through the years. One thing is certain: they both worked tirelessly to keep Schumann’s music before the public and to win for him the recognition he deserved. In 1877, Clara signed a contract with  publisher for a thirty-one part edition of Robert Schumann’s Collected Works. Brahms was a great help to her in this endeavor. The resulting volumes have been reprinted on numerous occasions. And Judith Chernaik divulges this welcome news:

A new scholarly multi-volume Urtext edition of the collected works, collating all the early publications, Schumann’s autograph scores, and manuscript drafts is close to completion.

Chernaik concludes with this statement:

The works contained in these volumes are Schumann’s enduring gift to the world.

Here is a large helping of that gift:

 

 

The lovely Traumerei was one of Vladimir Horowitz’s favorite encore pieces. I love the shots of the audience in this video; they are so deeply moved.

 

Schumann’s mighty Second Symphony. The sadness of the third movement is heartrending, yet the finale blazes forth in triumph! (Ron and I both have a special love for this work.)

 

Paradise and the Peri is a little known work of Schumann’s, technically termed a secular oratorio. I love  these few minutes of it:

 

Finally, the Piano Concerto in A minor.  As with all of his piano music, Schumann composed this with Clara in mind. Judith Chernaik says of this piece:

It remains to this day a joyful expression of love between a supremely gifted composer and an artist of the first rank, delighting listeners at the time and ever since.

This was among a handful of works that, many years ago. first taught me to love classical music:

 

 

 

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Despite glimpses of green….

January 21, 2019 at 3:05 pm (Art, Music)

Despite glimpses of green, despite the promise of sun ( though harsh and greatly weakened) soon to come, we are in the deep midwinter:

Music by Gustav Holst, to a poem by Christina G Rosetti.

The bleak midwinter calls forth a need for visions of beauty filled with color. Here are two:

Paradise Garden, Upper Rhenish Master, ca 1410-1420

 

Virgin Among Virgins, in a Rose Garden, Master of the Legend of St. Lucy, , ca 1475-1480

 

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