Archive for the ‘orchestra’ Category

Life~Trouble~Tragedy~Music!

April 13, 2019

In chapter 18 of King of Soul, we encounter one exploration of how music arises from human life.

In the year 1969, Professor Victor Komienko explains to his Music Appreciation class how a certain kind of music may arise:

“The University is the Defender of  high standards in all of the arts; music is no exception. In the slings and arrows of outrageous  intrusion, the best standards of the ages are maintained at the Conservatory, or as we have here, the University. This is a college where the fundamentals of performance are passed on to the next generation of musicians, and where time-tested principles of effective composition are taught. At the same time, the Conservatory—or  University—retains and extends those foundations, so that appropriately innovative works can be brought forth.” Dr. Komienko looked up to the top row of the auditorium; he surveyed his class purposefully from the top row down. The baton in his hand tapped out a quick little rhythm on the podium.

“Do you have any questions so far?”

Teddy, halfway up the center aisle, raised his hand.

“Mr. Scher, of course you would have a question.”

“How do you feel about electrified instruments?”

“You are asking about electric guitars?”

“Yes, sir.”

“As you know, electric guitars have a high profile in contemporary popular music. As for their use in the classical legacy, we have not yet seen it. I will say, however, there is an indirect influence insofar as some of the big jazz bands of the 1930’s, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.  The electric guitar, used primarily as a rhythm instrument, has become a standard part of their jazz arrangements.

“George Gershwin has included in some of his compositions rhythms and melodic figures that originate with the Negro music, which has been brought over, as we know, from Africa. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is the most notable example of this influence. The sound of the electric guitar itself, as an instrument, has not yet been heard to any extent that I know of.

“Traditionally, the guitar, unamplified as an acoustic instrument, has found an honorable place in the classical repertoire, most notably in the works of Spanish composers such as Segovia, and  Rodrigo.”

Teddy Scher raised his hand again.

“Yes?” Dr. Komienko responded, with a slightly disconcerted tone.

“Have you heard that the London Symphony has performed with the Moody Blues?”

“I have heard that they have done that. I have not heard any of the recordings. Thank you, Mr. Scher, for bringing that to my attention. We must, however, move forward with our syllabus now. Today, we will listen to a selection from the Italian Baroque period, Vivaldi’s Summer movement of the Four Seasons.

“The composer wrote notes to communicate to the orchestra the character of the music. In this case, Vivaldi had written a poem, which included the image of a shepherd boy being frightened by the fury of a thunderstorm. Vivaldi evokes, in the music, the fearsome effect of that storm. Additionally, he wrote at the top of this score—the piece you are about to hear—this musical instruction: Tempo Impetuoso. What does that tell you? Let’s listen to it, and perhaps  we will comprehend just what the composer was indicating by the use of that descriptor, Impetuoso. I do believe, Mr. Scher, that you will agree with me after hearing it, that, in some ways, Antonio Vivaldi was a forerunner of the rock music genre, which is driven, in its 20-th century heart, by that”—the professor raised his hands, indicating quotation marks with his fingers—’electric guitar you mention.’

“Of course, there were no electric guitars in Vivaldi’s day. However, in this case—the piece you are about to hear—I believe that same impetuous spirit of a present-day  lead guitarist was resident in a virtuoso  solo violinist of that day, whoever he might have been at the time.

“The violin concerto—commonly  called  Le Quattro Stagioni, or the Four Seasons—was originally named by Vivaldi, in 1725, as Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’ Invenzione , or translated, The Contest of Harmony and Invention. Perhaps, as you listen to this selection from it, you can surmise why the composer considered this work to represent a contest—or a sort of dual—between conventional notions of what music should be, as opposed to what music is as it is created and performed by the impetuous innovator—in this case, the soloist. Such  is the perennial contest, from age to age, between art that is generally acknowledged as appropriate and new art that is thought to be too disruptive.

“Now listen, and hear if you can, , the composer’s prescient gleaning of what music might become two and a half centuries later.  Arnold, please roll the tape. . .”

You will find one demonstration of this phenomenon here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaoqCARilbA 

 

King of Soul

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Appalachian Spring

March 17, 2019

We are reminded that life is good when bright sunshine lifts the  slumber out of these old brown hillsides.

We know life is good when ten-month-old granddaughter contributes smiles to our quiet enjoyment.

Then she leaps with joy in her jumperoo.

Just outside the glass door, Appalachian Spring bursts forth in sunshine, warmth, and quiet celebration of a winter that is gone, gone, gone, and again I say unto thee, gone!

Gone with the snow, gone with the tragi-tales of our human’s wintr’ous struggle . . . at least for a season, at least for today, at least for a few moments. . . while spring tumbles in outside . . .

And lo, what is this amazing sound on the  inside?. . .  here in the inside of our mountain home . . . Harken: Violins, clarinets! cellos, flutes, even trumpets sending out yon first tender shoots of sonorous celebration, as first strains of mountainside spring penetrate the forest floor outdoors, accompanied orchestrally by vibrant  woodwinds and reeds. They agree to ascend  in jubilant rondos, ultimately trotting toward some old Shaker praise.

Life abounds with simple gifts if you wait for them, and even more sweetly if you have worked for them.  Now we pause to appreiate their arrival as the shoots come burstin’ out all over!

Yes, Life is good when bright sunshine lifts the slumber out of these old brown hillsides.

And reflections unfold in memory of springs long ago. . . a different time, a different place. . .

Many and many a year ago I was a clueless college student way down south, down in the bayou country where the coming of spring was too soon overtaken by the fierce heat of summer.

I would escape the routinous sweating of  academic chores. Slipping into the cool music listening room at LSU Student Union, I’d request a big vinyl platter whereon was somehow wondrously tracked the sedate, celebratory strains of Aaron Copland’s masterpiece orchestral work—Appalachian Spring. At that time I listened to Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. This morning, however, the quick search lands us on:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMaAe2aH6pw   

AppSpring2

While listening, I am remembering . . . escaping through miracle of sound-tracked vinyl, that early-’70’s sweltering Southern day. I would dream, it would seem, of days ahead when I would experience Appalachian Spring, the real thing!

AppSring1

And now that I have seen, oh, forty-or-so of these Springs, as an inhabitant, I find myself once again sacramentally satisfied with the blooming outcome.

I was pleased when, 39-years ago, my chosen bride of Appalachia (a New Jersey transplant)  bloomed forth in her wonderful hips and delivered the beginnings of our family.

According to that first child’s  January birthday, it must have been about this time of year—early spring—when we conceived him.

Sap’s rising, yes indeed . . . was then, is now.

‘Tis true. Life is good when again you celebrate Appalachian spring’s crawling-in. The season sneaks in through splashing outside sunshine. While tiny granddaughter babbles here on the floor,  we revisit our  old musical companion once more: Appalachian Spring.

King of Soul

Upon Hearing yon Folk’n’Class Ensemble

February 15, 2019

Here be my silly February poem;

I don’t know where it cometh froem

except I saw it somewhere online

n thereby did watch it more than one more time.

If you as a yankee doodle

are going to not now be foodled—

if u going to make any sense of this,

you’ll have to click on du UTuub soundtrack, dis:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un9sXWWuChU

GuitarAcordi

Europa Europa where are ya

Ensemble Ensemble how are ya

Kumbaya Kumbaya who are ya

Strumma strumma votre guittara

Oh I remember Carlos Montoya,

‘though I grew up wit Tom Sawya.

Who’d’ve thought it

Who’d’a thunk it

to see him plunk it

while accordion dun wunkit

and orchestra delunk it

like Jordan when he dunk it.

Europo Europo wherefore art thou Europo

Could a rose by any other namo

sound so sweet as dis singing guittaro

caressed by yon blowing bandoneono

pluck’n forth allegro non troppo

while Europa fluttereth ah tiempo

n thereby revivin’ Europo du resonato.

Oh, I feel  Europo oughta be sustenuto!

Smoke

Czech out the Opus of our Messiah!

December 4, 2018

Messiah has come.

The people who walk in darkness (we) have seen a great light! Can you feel it? Open up your soul to the flood of good tidings.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH3T6YwwU9s

Listen to the great news–yes, Virginia, there is, in the universe, eternal presence of Joy. Yes, Roy, there is, in this world, a way of overcoming our bad decisions, bad government, terrible events, terrorist evil, massive tragedy, constant temptation, stupid politics, polarizing idiocy, universal iniquity, and even my own and your  very own personal sin. If you’ve never done anything wrong, just pretend I never sent you this opportunity to repent. But if you find yourself anywhere near feeling the urgency of Messiah’s message of deliverance, give it a listen. Watch and listen.

Consider leaving behind  your stubbornness to not believe. Go ahead and  accept that there is a Good Creator of this world, a Corrector of our climate-changed, polluting life within it. Believe there is a Deliverer–Messiah, King of Glory, who has come into human activity  to show us the way out of our stupidity and iniquity.

Believe it! Accept it. He’s looking for you, wants to sign you up for the Kingdom of Heaven that in the end prevails over the kingdoms, the democracies, the caliphates, the governments, the autocracies, the oligarchies, the dictatorships, the corrupt regimes of this world.

Watch this musical testimony about our ultimate triumph over injustice and enmity.

Be attentive to the counsel of ancient shepherds who beheld in the heavens never-before-seen signs of our ultimate delivery from pain and death.

If you will only believe the good news!

Victory, as demonstrated by Messiah–victory over the worst of the worst human suffering: torture, crucifixion, even death! It has been done already, and will be done again, inside of you. Go for it!

As bad as things are now, it’s not over yet. It’s not over ’til that alto lady sings:

“He was despised, despised and rejected, rejected of men. . . a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”

How many of us humans, through the history of mankind, have suffered the despisal of our fellow-humans? How many of us have endured rejection, how many have  been forced into immigrating from destructive human degeneracy, war, racism, holocaust, persecution, murder and mayhem ? How many have persevered through terrible sorrows. . . how many members of our human race have become “acquainted with grief” as Messiah himself was?

“Surely, surely he hath born our grief, and carried our sorrows!”

The savior of us all had to be a human acquainted with grief. We have no need for a jizya-wielding conqueror. What we require is a fellow-traveler–one who has been there, been here–in the world with us, and understands our plight.

“Emmanuel: God with us!”

‘We seek, we need, we long for–as the wise men of old–Messiah who overcomes suffering and death itself, and shows us the way out of our depravity.Hallelujah!

Can you comprehend it? Listen on. Listen to this musicated oration of our great message of hope for all men and women. . . the profound enactment of Handel’s Messiah, as only a bunch of passionate, young Czechs could perform it. Thank you, Vaclav Lucs and Collegium 1704 of Prague! Thanks for renewing our faith in the next generation of creators and musicians. They’re not all hung up on meaningless drivel and sensuous provocation.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH3T6YwwU9s

Watch; Listen to the urgent message of the Ages:  the angelic experience given to shepherds who, in ages past, laid the nocturnal groundwork for Georg Friedrich Handel’s revelation of  Messianic visitation: divine intrusion into the sordid affairs of mankind!

Divine intervention in our world. The centerpiece event of human history, between Moses and Mohammed–one man’s triumph over unbelief–one man’s victory over torture and death!

If you will but believe it, ’tis yours to enter into: triumph over the injustice and tribulation of this life! and ultimate entrance into eternity!

MsTrumpet

The trumpet shall sound, and this corruption of ours made incorruptible for all time. Listen for the call in this symphony of saved life, and in your own seeking Spirit!

King of Soul

Czech out the New World!

November 20, 2018

Antonin Dvorak was born in the Czech region of Europe in 1841. His life path brought the gifted musician through a trailblazing role as a composer of bold, new symphonic music at the Prague Conservatory,

In 1892, Antonin chose, like many other adventurous Europeans of that age, to travel to  the land of wide open spaces and wide open opportunity—America.

Amerca2

Although his residence here was for only for a few years, that was enough time for the inspired Czech to catch hold of the American Dream; by skillful composition, he enunciated that dream in one of the most American-spirited pieces of music ever performed.

The symphony he composed here—his 9th—became known as the “New World.”

This transplanted Czech’s musical  gifting had propelled him to a podium of international renown, so the National Conservatory of Music of America recruited Dvorak as their Director. When Antonin left Europe in 1892, he was bound for the big apple— New York City, USA.

During that New World phase of his life’s journey, Antonin extended his westward adventure far beyond our Atlantic coast, into the very heartland of the frontier experience. In an Iowa community of transplanted Czechs, Antonin dwelt comfortably for a season with his countrymen.

That trip from New York out to our heartland and back must certainly have been a life-changing experience for the alert musician; the orchestral  piece he dreamed up— and then committed to musical score in New York in 1893— generates vivid images in my imagination. Whenever I listen to the New World Symphony, my mind fills up with excitement about the urgency and resourcefulness of our vast continent-wide expansion, which began in the farthest regions of an Old World and culminated in a New.

A recent New York Philharmonic performance of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, under the masterful hand of Alan Gilbert, presents a tender, and yet impetuous, rendering of the piece. An energetic portrayal of what Antonin had in mind when he composed his New World masterpiece.

AlanGilbert

Hearing this symphony summons adventures of travel in my imagination.

Embarking on a great adventure: this, it seems to me, is the theme of Dvorak’s  musical odyssey. In the early passages, I catch glimpses of a virtuoso voyage across the rolling Atlantic Ocean. . .

ShipSail

with the wind in my face and a sensation of sailing steadily toward some new venue of opportunities and bright horizons.

The bouncy flutes and piccolos set this course for my imagining.

Sailing onward through Dvorak’s audible vision, I hear a finely-honed orchestra moving melodically westward, inducing a sense of fair wind favorable terrain . . . past the Statue of Liberty, then disembarking in a bustling 19th-century New York port, negotiating the busy streets, through a dynamo of enterprising business and yankee industry, then rolling farther along, out of the city and into the countryside . . . moments of repose along the way . . . through coastal commerce past planted fields o’er dusty roads,  riding into green Appalachian hills,

Appalachian

over blue mountain ridges, catching a locomotive in Cincinnati, steaming past the fruited plains and barreling along across vast, wind-swept prairies:

The New World!

Along with the rhythmic locomotive journey through verdant landscapes, Dvorak’s bold, loud use of the trombones and trumpets provokes urgency, tension, danger at points along the way—then periodic resolvings through the ministry of exquisitely tender woodwinds—mellow oboes,

Oboe

resonant clarinets—and the declarative legato of French horns, backed up, sometimes boisterously, sometimes gently, with those ever-present violins and violas.

And low thumping bassos that stand as tall and deep as elms in the great American landscape.

These flights of fancy then deliver us into thankful moments of contemplation, yeah, even reverence for a Providential presence, accompanied by fluted tremelos, and blown deeper into the traveler’s soul by the vibrant contemplation of oboes, with resonant clarinets and mellowing horns. Excitement decrescendoes past repose, into full  contemplation, with the ultimate reward: wonder.

And by ’n by, sudden stirrings of urgency—yea, even danger and warning—from the bells of the trumpets and trombones, because that is the real world.

Always back to the real world. That’s the American way.

The real world of conclusion. A good thing can’t go on forever; it has to end at some point.

Oh, what a strong, bold brassy conclusion from our trombones and trumpets!

Brass

A great piece of Music!

But maybe you’d have to be there to catch my vision of it.

Or, maybe not. Next best thing:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HClX2s8A9IE

Glass Chimera

The two great between-war Rhapsodies

November 10, 2018

The greater rhapsody is the American one.

Composed by George Gershwin and performed in 1924, Rhapsody in Blue embodies the merging of our native black-born jazz with highbrow classical European instrumentation.

RhapsClarinet

The other great rhapsodic composition of that time, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, created by the immigrant Sergei Rachmaninoff, represents a Russian music-master’s exploration of an Italian violin virtuoso’s experiments. It is also a great piece of music.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c33q87s03h4

Both rhapsodies are experimental, ground-breaking. Both are bouncy in their beginnings, disruptive in some transitional phrases. But both works resolve, rather suddenly, 2/3 of the way through development, to an exquisitely lush romantic theme.  The listener’s endurance in earlier discordant excursions through frantic forte poundings is unexpectedly rewarded with a sudden soothing melody. In both pieces, the earlier tensions disappear as they resolve,  melting into an absolutely beautiful melody.

And yet, both works return again to a frantic piano part before resolving again at the end.

Gershwin’s 1924 opus was intentionally concocted as a music experiment; it was commissioned by pioneering bandleader Paul Whiteman, and subsequently orchestrated by his jazzy arranger, Ferdy Grofé.

It turned out to be an extraordinary work of profound importance in the history of music.

By the 20th century, the hundreds-of-years old tradition of European classical music had reached an impasse. Composers were running out of ideas; they needed to break new ground. A morose preoccupation with dissonance and atonality threatened to turn orchestral music into academic drudgery.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Sergei Rachmaninoff fled Bolshevik Russia in 1917; in so doing, he also began a long process of escaping the heavy gravitational pull of a Continental musical death wish.

Europe’s rapid descent into World War I and wide-scale mechanized destruction was tragic.

America, on the other hand, was wide open with possibilities. Sergei traveled here and performed more and more frequently, accompanied by popular acclaim; ultimately he acquired US citizenship shortly before his death in 1943.

Before finally establishing residency Stateside, he had spent significant time in Dresden, Germany, and in Switzerland. While in Switzerland during the summer of 1934, he composed Rhapsody on a Theme by Pagnini.

It’s a marvelous piece of work.

Taking his inspiration from the great Italian violin virtuoso of a hundred years before, Sergei spun Niccolo’s multiple variations into an energetic iteration of thoroughly European rhapsody.

It was quite well done. . . profound, a notable accomplishment.

But Sergei did not have the benefit of one powerful influence that George Gershwin had been born into: a wide-open America with an entirely new beat, and worldview:

Black America.

America had given birth to Louis Armstrong, and  Louie— along with his ground-breaking black compadres— gave birth to jazz.

American jazz is what the Old World had been waiting for—though nobody knew—to get a new lease on creative life:

all that Jazz!

Atlantic City NJ honky bandleader Paul Whiteman was the pioneering musician who crossed the jazz bridge  that changed the world; later, he commissioned George Gershwin to compose Rhapsody in Blue, because Paul knew that something symphonically jazzy was needed.

And so Gershwin came up with Rhapsody in Blue.  The rest is history.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH2PH0auTUU  

And that’s why I say the greatest rhapsody was the American one, the Blue one, written by an American, in America. It changed the world of  music forever.

King of Soul

Beethoven

October 8, 2018

Before he raised the baton to conduct Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Christopher Warren-Green told us Beethoven was a revolutionary.

ConductorCWG

He matter-of-factually referred to the most disruptive orchestral composer ever as a revolutionary. And just before cranking up the Charlotte Symphony, Chris speculated that those infamous first-four-notes, da-da-da-Dahhhh, were probably lifted from a French Revolutionary song of that era.

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times, as Charles Dickens later wrote.

Forsooth, ’twas a very revolutionary time—1776-1820.

And Ludwig van Beethoven was right in the middle of it.

Right in the middle of a time when the 18th-century European order of things was being torn apart by radical new  ideas about the People running the show instead of the old fuddy-duddy royals who had been doing it for hundreds of years.

The young composer from northwestern Germany was indeed a musical revolutionary; he revolutionized music.

He turned the purpose of music upside down. Whereas the old order of things, financed by the royals, was all about making beautiful, harmonic, perfectly constructed sonatas and concertos to celebrate order and perfection—-

Ludwig, unable to ignore the terrible angst of that tumultuous age in which he found himself living, reflected—yeah, he even embraced—that disruptive spirit of the times.

And when they heard it sounded forth in the 5th Symphony, the royals hardly know what to make of it.

Beethoven was like the Elvis of his times, except he had an entire orchestra behind him. Multiply Elvis’ chutzpah by the number of musicians in an orchestra. That was the effect of Beethoven on the world of music.

And on the world itself, as thousands of performances since then have revealed.

Or, If not Elvis– think of  Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rich Mullins or whoever expresses your disruptive angst and propels it into an awareness that the world is forever changing.

Like it or not, the world changes; sometimes that transforming is not pretty. Sometimes it is even disruptive, destructive, revolutionary. Music–and art generally–needs, in order to be valuable, to reflect the times we live in, and the changes that need to happen–not portraying a rose-colored-glasses dream that masks the profundity and excitement of living on this dangerous planet.

It would have been very hard, you see, for the young German prodigy to adopt the comfortable precision and beauty of his courtly predecessors—Mozart and Haydn. Au contraire, Ludwig caught hold of the gritty thrust of those revolutionary times. He deeply felt that terrible, violent wind blowing out of France; and he did, as any self-respecting genius would do, transform that terrible zeitgeist into revolutionary Music.

A truly new music, never heard before.

Unlike like any orchestra ever heard before.

Better to make disruptive music, than impose bloody revolution.

CharlotteSymph

Be like Beethoven, not like Robespierre.

Work together like a revolutionary Symphony.

Teach the world to ring out Liberty!

King of Soul

The New World

July 4, 2018

The New World

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HClX2s8A9IE

The coming of the New World dawns slowly; soon and soon very soon its urgency is, was, and will be proclaimed with bold horns and wind.

Listen!

Strings vibrate with anticipation, mounting intensity, declaring themes of freedom.

Flute gently flows; bassoon resonates with agreement

Woodwinds

while horns flourish, air tubes tremble.

Quiet strings set a tone for oboe’s innocence, double reeds  inhaling human breath, portending meditations of possibility, proclamations of potentiality, yet quelling quietly the revolutionary air we breathe in smooth  strides of tender melody;

Oboe

Bows sweep up the fervency of this New World and now the golden door swings open, accompanied by bold trombones, to awaken huddled masses yearning to be free!

Strings, undulating in support, inspire a melting pot of symphonic unity, the Union resounding. Harmony ripening establishes a beachhead of audible beauty with well-tempered passion. Strains of melody  wave like amber waves of grain. Themes of freedom abound in the harvesting of human liberty, melding with the promise of a New World; it arrives so fragile, and yet so  bold.

Oboes dance with joy; bass viols celebrate the depth of profundity;

Bassos

Oboe re-enters with contented notes while swaying strings agree. Conductor Alan Gilbert affirms,

AlanGilbert

then urges them on with baton uplift, so horns part the ready sea of sound with their bold fanfare. Strings conclude with soft sleepy assent.

Dream on, America!

A pause.

Sudden ascension disrupts slumber with vigorous alarm, restive rhythm overtaking repose. Go West, young man! Flutes flutter in resonating encouragement; bold horns proclaim valor and future victories yet to be seen over perils yet unknown.

Rounded melodies bring forth renewals of resolve, heaps of purposeful harmony, mountains of good will, joy abounding, with triumph of compassion and reigning in of passion, to squeeze compelling music out of skeletal staffed spheres written upon pages of Dvorak’s painstaking work.

Anticipation is building. Culmination coming. Tremolos of trials intervene.

Haste and urgency suddenly are the order of the day. Trombones resound with trouble in their snouts— not trouble they have made,

Brass

–but prescient tremors of trials yet to be born, paths yet to be traveled, mountains to be climbed, trails to be trod, skies to be bright-lit with sun, then clouded with rain bringing nourishment to rivers swift, streams flowing with exploration, as cello bows stride with expansion, across the wide prairie, through the dark forest, vivacious sonorities ascending into skies of blue, purple mountains majesty and amber waves of sound.

Crescendo coming, but abruptly arrested with woodwind moments of repose. Questions arise of when and where conclusions can occur with so much going on. And how can this orchestra it end? when we have only just begun—we have not yet spun upward in fulfillment of all we had hoped for.

When where and how could this would this, should this New World arrive at such suspension of tension in frantic strains strung out upon  the peaks of human achievement and then laden into craters of creation at tranquility base? and now suddenly resolving to conclude in bold trombone harmonies with brassy bravado faithfully at their side and bountiful background violins striding o’er the airwaves in intense kinesis. Oh say do those star-sparkling trumpets yet arise! to conclude our tumultuous philharmonia with triumphant trumpet harmonia. . . but now fading into silence.

There you have it, y’all. The New World as Antonin Dvorak conceived it in 1893, and New York Philharmonic performed it in 2016.

King of Soul

from Ridiculous to Sublime

September 28, 2016

A couple of nights ago, I briefly tuned into that  greatly over-hyped debate. Donald was blathering about Hillary’s emails and she was going on and on about his failure to release tax returns.

Nothing new here, just more of the same old same old blah blah.

So I ditched it, and went back to what I had been doing before, because, I thought, this is ridiculous.

Well then a day or two rolls by.

This afternoon, while listening to WDAV on the radio, my soul was stirred profoundly by the hearing of an amazing selection of music. And I found myself wondering, what is it about this music that moves me so much?

I don’t know, but I can tell you one thing. This music it is sublime.

What is sublime? you may wonder. I cannot adequately explain to you what the word sublime means, but I can show you where the meaning is clearly demonstrated if you will listen to this:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOofwWT3Edc

As the changing drama within the music builds up, pay particular attention to these     minute-time points in the video: 2:58, 4:00, 5:55 and 8:32.

I recently read something about how or why  this artistic dynamism moves us so much. In his book, A Secular Age,

  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002KFZLK2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Charles Taylor says . .

“. . . such art can serve to disclose very deep truths which in the nature of things can never be obvious . . .”

This music is, after all physical analysis is said and done, merely a pounding of wood and metal beneath the orchestrated hands of trained men. How can it be, then, that it moves me so?

To try to understand why or how, you might as well try to comprehend how or why, over two centuries ago, some men and women like you and me had a luxurious building constructed and then  walked around on its mosaic floor like they owned the place and then later a bunch of other stuff happened and things changed and it got covered up for a long time and then one day some other people came along and dug it up and said . . .

“. . .well, gollee, what do you know about that?”

“Gosh, Jeb, it’s a mystery to me.”

RomanAthens

Glass Chimera

No Time for Melody

March 20, 2016

Symphony

These moments in a grand concert hall before the orchestra performs are like no other. Onstage, a half-hundred or more musicians dutifully make last minute preparations while the assembling listeners anticipate the unveiling of their symphonic presentation.

There are, it seems to this viewer, as many ways of making musical preparation for such orchestral events as there are musicians. Violinists are fine-tuning their instruments; many of them dance their fingers rapidly across wooden neck boards, rehearsing that difficult passage in the allegro or that five-measure solo transition in the andante. Beneath bright stage lights, brass-blowers sit together in the back row busily manipulating key-stops on gleaming metal; in the middle of this instrumental world oboes, clarinetists and bassoonists blow into their various tubed configurations with steadily progressing precision. Over in the back corner, percussionists tap, turn and tinker on this, that or the other big drum or little sound-making something-or-other. Polished wooden basso fiddle bodies shine under the lights; soldierly stand-up stringists stand beside them thumping and thinking very hard about that bottom line in the booming rondo or overture that is yet to come. The flutists’ silvery cylinders glint with theatrical brilliance as their masters breathe virtuosity into them. A lovely harpist plucks perfectly strung-up sounds.

Observed all at thece same time, the assembling orchestra appears to be a cacophony of disparate confusion. But as the moment of musical inception draws near, a subtle decreasing of the noise begins to take hold; the senseless soundings wane. A violinist stands, setting his bow to the instrument; then from somewhere inside the collection of sound-contraptions, a solitary musical oboe tone rises above it all, commanding the vacant air with a single, sustained A note. Immediately, as if they were waiting for some specific sound leadership, all the other members respond with their uniquely-voiced A-notes. As the volume of their first unison builds, harmonic thirds, fifths and octaves high and low emerge through the thick air of audience anticipation.

For only a brief moment this preparatory approach to harmony is heard. Then silence.

From behind the side-curtain, the bringer of Symphony walks into the midst of what had been quasi-musical confusion.

He is smiling. So are most of the audience. The thousand-or-so seated congregants express, with applause,  their approval of what is about to happen, implying also with their enthused ovation polite appreciation of what has happened in this large hall many times before.

A symphony. Tonight. March, 2016.

A moment later, in the midst of breathless silence, the Conductor raises his arms, lifting the baton high. Then abruptly he lowers them. And the chaos of sounds that had dominated the stage only a few minutes before has been instantaneously transformed into music, coordinated and arranged in order to express thoughts or feelings about the world.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the music composed for such an event as this was not the same as it is today. Mozart’s skill, for instance, plucked melodies out of thin genius-air and worked them into intricately woven musical masterpieces that beat through the air with perfect precision, like a clock on a Vienna tower.

In the 1700’s Mozart wrote music for an emperor. Emperors and empires imposed a certain kind of order on the world. Mozart’s music expressed that order in an exquisite way. His music was precision and perfection manifested in orchestral form.

A few decades later, Beethoven came along and rearranged all that preposterous musical order, catapulting thunderous innovations into it. Orchestral music, having found intricate construction in the hands of Bach, Vivaldi, Handel and others, had found its fullest precision under Mozart’s imaginative mastery.

But when the European world was shaken to its roots by the American revolution, French revolution, Napoleonic bluster and God-only-knows what other political and military juggernauts that were rolling like thunder across the civilized world at that time, a new kind of music was called for. A music that expressed not order, but disruption and passion.

And so there was Beethoven. The first eight explosive notes of his 5th symphony blew a hole in the old order and proclaimed a jousting field of new ideas, new forms of government, and new music. It was a revolutionary age. Even Mozart could get lost in the cataclysm.

Great Music captures the spirit of the times in which it is composed; it captures that spirit and interprets it as  audible, lyrical art.

Last night, we were in Charlotte listening to the Charlotte Symphony perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 in A minor. This interesting piece of music was, to my ear, a musical experiment. While a few of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos are widely acknowledged as masterful expressions of his musical romanticism, this third symphony communicates a timely, profound disturbance, more-so, I think, than compositional perfection. Sergei Rachmaninoff the early-20th century Russian composed in it 1936.

I call it an experiment because it seems to be a series of dynamic, instrumentally dissonant thrusts; they mount up in rhythmically disparate crescendos, but never  fully resolve in a way that I can thematically identify. In my ear,  it is a tensioned symphony in search of a theme. In search of, perhaps, a melody.

So I was trying to explain to my wife as we left why there’s no way Rachmaninoff could have absolved his musical angst in 1936 by resolving it inappropriately with a catchy melody.

He was living, for crying out loud, in Stalinist Russia; and not only that, half a continent away Hitler’s Third Reich was assembling, under the radar of the Versailles treaty, a massive wehrmacht war machine. In a few years the whole damn world, or half of it anyway, would erupt up in full-blown war. The only order that was emerging in 1936 was the construction of destructive war machines.

It was no time to celebrate an inharmonious world with pleasantries such as harmony and melody.

Here’s a YouTube of the Russian Novosibirsk Philharmonic performing the piece:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h44ZGVe4zCQ

Perhaps my cynical assessment of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 is shaded by my own artful projections. A few years ago, I wrote and published a novel, Smoke, which is all about the year 1937. That writing project was also an experiment, albeit a literary one, in telling the story about a young American who might have sojourned through Europe during that same time of imminent disaster foreshadowing World War II.

Smoke