Posts Tagged ‘orchestra’

From the Brave New World

November 23, 2019

I’m glad I got to hear that before I die.

That’s what I told Pat, my wife, immediately as we stood up to join a standing ovation for the Charlotte Symphony last night.

Pat makes all the arrangements, you see, for our concerts and outings and travels and every other adventure we’ve had in the last forty years.

So I thanked her for making it possible for me to hear Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony, in live performance, before I pass into eternity.

And I must say that the Charlotte Symphony’s treatment of it, under the guest conducting hand of Ilyich Rivas,  was masterful—very tender and very strong.

     http://www.charlottesymphony.org/

The oboe adagio in the slow second movement fully met my expectations, after having listened intently to the piece probably thirty or forty times as offered by the New York Philharmonic on youtube.

And those trombones in the final cadence did not fail to summon a tear from my eyes, as their vibrantly forthright sounding forth renewed my confidence in human excellence.

During the intermission I read in the program notes about Dvořák’s composition of that symphony—his No. 9—and its premiere performance in New York, in 1893.

DvNewWorld

The Czech composer had been recruited to our (American) National Conservatory of Music in 1892. His mission was to import a little of that Old World excellence to our New World.

And goshdarn! did he do it!

His New World Symphony ranks right up there as some of the greatest symphonic music ever to be composed on this side of the Atlantic. It’s right up there with Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

If you ever have an opportunity to stand in Prague’s Old Town Square and behold Ladislav Šaloun’s statue of Jan Hus, you may catch a  glimpse of the passion that must have driven Dvořák’s resolve to compose such an orchestral masterpiece.

I’m glad I lived to see it.

Since the music was composed in New York City, I will provide here this link to the New York Philharmonic performance of it:

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

In other news of my yesterday. . .

Earlier in the day I had finished reading Andrew Marantz’s excellent book analysis of contemporary alt-right online misadventures:

    https://www.amazon.com/Antisocial-Extremists-Techno-Utopians-Hijacking-Conversation-ebook/dp/B07NTXSP69

And I will offer as a closing thought, a quote from Andrew’s account of what he uncovered in the world of ultra right-wing fanaticism. Toward the end of his research project, Marantz arrived at an eye-opening discovery about the so-called media “gatekeepers” in our mad world of media, formerly on the airwaves ~~~ now online.

Because we do indeed live in a “New World”. . . a world that is continuously renewing itself, sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways.

In the quote below, Andrew Marantz is referring to the “gatekeepers” of our former (20th-century) times. They are primarily the major broadcast networks and news publications that came to dominate our public culture in the postwar 20th-century; but they have in this 21st-century been overtaken by the new superpowers of online media.

You know what I’m talkin’ about.  Their initials are FaceGooAmazTwittetc. One particular CEO of that cartel, the honorable Mr. Z, was recently put on the Congressional hotplate for public inspection.

As Andrew Marantz, the New Yorker writer, neared the end of his alt-right research opus, Antisocial,

  https://www.amazon.com/Antisocial-Extremists-Techno-Utopians-Hijacking-Conversation-ebook/dp/B07NTXSP69

He exposes a raw nerve in this,  our brave new cyberworld, a world in which the outmoded moguls of 20th-century media have been eclipsed by the new titans of 21st-century webdom.

Like it or not, these denizens of the updated corporate Deep must rise to the public surface to accept some responsibility for oversight in the polarizing electronic net that we’ve cornered ourselves into.

Here’s part of what Mr. Marantz has to say about it:

And yet this is the world we live in. For too long, the gatekeepers who ran the most powerful information-spreading systems in human history were able to pretend that they weren’t gatekeepers at all. Information wants to be free; besides, people who take offense should blame the author, not the messenger; anyway, the ultimate responsibility lies with each consumer. Now, instead of imagining that we occupy a postgatekeeper utopia, it might make more sense—in the short term, at least—to demand better, more thoughtful gatekeepers.

It’s a brave new world out there, boobie. Somebody’s gotta be brave, if not them, then who?

Us? But, but, as Pogo once said, long ago in the old media world: we have seen the enemy . . . and he is us!

King of Soul

From Andalusia to Zagreb

August 24, 2019

Breeze blew ‘cross Byzantium

   ages ago,

passing passion along from ancient souls

   o’er peninsulas and shoals.

From Alexandria to Andalusia

   it blew the Medi stirring of our arcane East

   by westward winds past the European feast.

So it drifted between Aranjuez and Zagreb

   in periodic flow and ebb

   with rhythmic ebb and flow

   through passionnata on stringéd bow . . .

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g91kQyy4G7E.

   . . . at providential and the muse’ behest,

   and set in sculpting stone: eternal rest;

   portraying Piéta Jesu through Michelangelo,

  Pieta

   as still the women come and go

   ‘cross Eliot’s wasteland scenario.

From Ave Maria in Madrid

   this opus we/they did;

   even SaintSaens’ secular Swan

   summons that age-old bond:

   reflecting melancholic tension

   in existential apprehension

   again and again and again;

   the passion passes

   through striving laborious hands

   in colored or melodic strands.

On moonlit nights;

   sonata strains reflect the light

   from hand to frantic hand

   and back again.

Did history require

   two world wars

   and a string of smaller frays

   to say

   our living legacy dies daily?

Yet does our living tragedy thrive daily,

   in this human soul of frailty.

Why even a saintless ’60’s Superstar

   drove our anguished digression,

   our zeitgeist obsession,

   as passion passed through

   rejected hands again

   as passion passed through

   conflicted lives again

   as passion passes through

   immigrant pathos again

   and again and again

   to reveal those nail-scarred hands again

Again.

   Must be something to it;

   we should not eschew it:

Those despiséd and rejected ones of men–

   again and again and again:

   the passing man of sorrow,

   yesterday, today, tomorrow—

   the woman acquainted with grief,

   through death that steals in like a thief

   the stranger and the strange,

Again and again and again.

Must be something to it;

   we should not eschew it.

Glass half-Full

Felix’s Fortress Forté

August 4, 2019

While tuned into radio WDAV a day or two ago . . .

listening to Felix Mendelssohn’s 5th Symphony,

we suddenly discerned a developing  melodic surprise:

gentle strains of a classic religious tune, A Mighty Fortress is Our God . . .  drifting into the 3rd movement of the music.

Twenty-three minutes into this performance,

Orchestra

those first melodic snippets of Luther’s famous hymn—I heard, venturing in discreetly, during the slow Andante phase of Mendelssohn’s 1832 orchestral composition.  By the end of the piece, however, the understated entrance of that well-known melody had morphed into being the very core of the symphony’s dynamic, forceful conclusion.

This gentle arrival of a familiar melody that incrementally develops into a forcefully conclusive forté—this is a composer’s technique found in several classical music masterpieces. . . most notably Beethoven’s (last) 9th Symphony, and a favorite American piece of mine, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

In the case of Ludwig van Beethoven’s use of  a developing melodic theme that overpowers all other musical elements, Ludwig used his own emphatic original tune to fortify a potent message of popular 18th-century zeitgeistuniversal brotherhood. The words that Beethoven chose to accompany his theme had been composed by Friedrich Schiller, a primary 18th-century poet of the Romantic period in our western history.

In the similar case of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the composer employs a traditional religious melody—the “Shaker” theme, Simple Gifts, as a musical fulcrum for propelling the idea of mere simplicity into a commendable lifestyle.

The emphasis on simplicity is a powerful motivating factor in American history. The Puritans. for instance, who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, were fleeing an oppressive European religious straightjacket culture; they wanted to simplify their worship of God and to enable the practice of glorifying our Creator in community life.

Like Felix Mendelssohn, a great composer whose family heritage was Jewish,  20th-century composer Aaron Copland chose to utilize a well-established Christian melody as the basis for  fortifying a powerful musical masterpiece.

In other trends of this earthly life . . . in the realm of, let’s say, political compositions—as compared to musical ones—recently I read a book that represents a similar dynamic of compositional accomplishment. David Horowitz’s timely book, Dark Agenda brings to light a contemporary American Christian culture that is under attack from secularizing—yeah, even aggressively anti-religious—zealots.

Perhaps we simple-minded Christians of this era–as well as those more complex Reformed believers whose reforms originated with Martin Luther five centuries ago–will find fortifying encouragement and strong inspiration in these classically-inclined masterpieces:

~~ Felix Mendelsson’s 5th Symphony

~~ Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring,

     oh, and btw. . . honorable mention . . .

~~ Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

King of Soul

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

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