Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Great Bruckner Interpreters

In the history of recorded music of Anton Bruckner, various interpreters have shown their mutual affinity for him. Their conducting styles may have varied but the depth of their commitment was consistently sublime. Some conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Otto Klemperer and Karl Bohm were born before Bruckner's death. Klemperer, in his early days, was associated with another giant, Gustav Mahler who had met Bruckner and was influenced by the Master while developing his own distinct style. He gave that reverence to the medium of symphony as his highest form of expression. Karl Bohm was encouraged ten years after Mahler's death by Bruno Walter, a disciple and a Bruckner advocate. Wilhelm Furtwangler studied with Felix Mottl who was one of the composition pupils of Anton Bruckner. Another great Bruckner conductor, Jascha Horenstein collaborated with Furtwangler earlier in his career and prepared festival concerts. It is a well known fact that both Furtwangler and Klemperer had to face staggering challenges while continuing with their careers. The troubles were of a political nature in the case of Furtwangler while for Klemperer, there were a chain of physical mishaps and with little political influence also taking its toll. It had a negative impact in terms of health and his public image. Klemperer had an iron will and he was determined to survive through numerous afflictions. Everything was going against him and yet, he triumphed. These are my Bruckner conductors in order of preference - Sergiu Celibidache, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Otto Klemperer, Eugen Jochum, Lovro von Matacic, Volkmar Andreae, Hermann Abendroth, Gunter Wand, Franz Konwitschny, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Sir Colin Davis, Bernard Haitink, Zubin Mehta, Takashi Asahina, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Daniel Barenboim, Jascha Horenstein, Karl Bohm, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Carlo Maria Giulini and Christoph Eschenbach.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Des Knaben Wunderhorn is a set of twelve songs written for a baritone, a soprano and orchestra by Mahler. They were completed in 1905. These old German folk songs narrate about a boy's magic horn. These were folk poems from Germany that were edited by Von Arnim and Clemens Brentano. The anthology included poems on songs made by wandering soldiers and they were mostly about love and innocence. They became a strong part of Romantic nationalism in literature. Goethe recommended that this set of poems be part of every household in Germany. Mahler gave these lieder a dual setting. He composed nine of them for piano and voice and twelve songs for voice and orchestra. The songs are - "Der Schildwache Nachtlied" – The Sentinel's Night Song "Verlor'ne Müh" – Labour Lost "Trost im Unglück" – Solace in Misfortune "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?" – Who Thought up this Song? "Das irdische Leben" – The Earthly Life "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" – St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish "Rheinlegendchen" – Little Rhine Legend "Lied des Verfolgten im Turm" – Song of the Persecuted in the Tower "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen" – Where the Fair Trumpets Sound "Lob des hohen Verstandes" – Praise of Lofty Intellect "Urlicht" – Primeval Light "Es sungen drei Engel" – Three Angels sang a Sweet Air The ideals of German national romanticism held that whatever was not corrupted by the ill effects of modern civilisation was instrumental in the nation's recovery and not many people are aware of the fact that the Brothers Grimm started their collection of German fairy tales under the inspiration and guidance of Clemens Brentano. From this collection of songs, Urlicht was incorporated into the Resurrection Symphony in 1894 as its fourth movement. Es Sungen Drei Engel found its place in the Third Symphony and was written for boys' chorus besides an alto singer. Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt also is found as the germ of the Scherzo in the Resurrection. while Absolung im Sommer is also adopted in the scherzo of the Third Symphony. Das Himmlische Leben was re-orchestrated and became part of the Fourth Symphony's finale. It was removed from the Wundehorn collection of songs at a later time. Here is a performance of these songs by Cleveland Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.

The Story behind Mozart's Requiem

The mysteries that surround Mozart's final opus are strange to read about. It was a weird commission from an intermediary from the court of Count Von Walsegg. This composition was to be passed off as written by the Count himself and Mozart was supposed to fill in as a ghost writer. It was to commemorate the death of the Count's wife. It is well known that Mozart died after completing almost two-thirds of the music for the Requiem.He was only thirty five years of age. He died after writing just eight bars of the famous `Lacrymosa'. These were the last words that he put to music. Whatever the case may be, Mozart died writing what eventually turned out to be a requiem for himself. In the film `Amadeus', Peter Shaffer, the playwright for the film for Milos Forman, added a little fictional colour by shaping the commission to come from Antonio Salieri who is wearing a black mask. Salieri wants the credit for the requiem and in the bargain plots to kill Mozart. These are stories and conspiracy theories and Mozart's requiem cannot be taken for granted; it is better to hear the piece at its face value and grasp what Mozart is trying to accomplish in this work. Many people feel that he did not complete the requiem but he fact remains that the work was completed in the early hours of 5th December, 1791. Undoubtedly, there is influence of Haendel and Johann Sebastian Bach in this work. Not many people are aware that Mozart had re-orchestrated the entire Messiah oratorio of Haendel. The dotted rhythms in the requiem's first movement played by the strings, the initial fugue theme of Kyrie and Introitus have a deep influence of Messiah. There is a generous use of counterpoint that brings out about a feeling of archaism in the Requiem from its initial bars. Mozart added colour by adding basset horns, trombones and an organ continuo section. No one canm deny that there is plenty of heartbreaking music to be found in this master work. The Dies Irae does bring out its brimstone and fire and the Rex Tremendae brings out the awe and terror of the Book of Revelations in the choral writing. There is plenty of beautiful writing in the Recordare. This is pehaps the only part of the requiem that gives a glimpse of a world that is not besotted with lament or distress. The Requiem apart, Mozart was buried in the Sankt Marx Cemetery on 6th December 1791. It has been romanticised that Mozart was buried in a linen bag and not in a coffin. It is not possible as such burials were not permitted in the city of Vienna. As per popular belief, Mozart was also not buried in a mass grave but in Allgemeines Grab or a common grave. Yes, it could be admitted that the exact spot where Mozart was buried is questionable. The Mozart Memorial does ot actually mark the place of his mortal remains but the fact remains that he is buried somewhere in St. Marx's cemetery. Does it matter? His soul and his spirit will always breathe through the awesome music he left behind.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

L'Enfance du Christ - Hector Berlioz

This oratorio was not planned by Berlioz initially as one opus. It was conceived by accident and developed one piece at a time over a longer time period. The Flight from Egypt was written initially in 1850. Berlioz related the circumstances in which he wrote it in his 'Les Grotesques de la Musique. The Arrival at Sais was composed in 1853. The Song of Herod was composed in the early part of 1854. The Holy Family at Rest was written in 1853 and this piece's success motivated Berlioz to complete and enlarge the composition. He finally felt that he caught the right essence of this Biblical work. L'Enfance du Christ was given its premiere in Paris in December 1854 and was received successfully. This was a big change for him because his La Damnation de Faust was not so well received here eight years earlier in 1846. Berlioz was mostly drawing on his past memories while composing this oratorio. The memory that influenced him was his initial communion at La Cote Saint Andre. His teacher, Lesueur, introduced numerous oratorios to Berlioz on biblical subjects. The Nocturnal March makes up the first scene of this work and is orchestrated in a unique way. It is scored delicately for smaller ensemble. The setting depicts a Jerusalem street at night time. The march represents the patrolling of Roman soldiers. This piece forms an ideal setting for the scenes that have to follow, particularly the aria of Herod, his approach with the soothsayers and his edict of carrying out the massacre of all new born children. The Dance of the Soothsayers is also a short piece. This is Berlioz's most original pieces with a macabre and satanic impact. There are fluctuations in the tonal effect and the metre also alternates between quadruple and triple time. It has its influence from Gluck and Carl Maria von Weber. The Flight to Egypt is scored for a modest ensemble like the remainder of the work and it is quite subdued when it comes to tonality. The main theme of this Flight is taken from the Nocturnal March earlier from the work. The trio for a couple of flutes and harp depicts an Ishmaelite father who welcomes Mary and Joseph into his home and he gets his children to perform this trio to calm his guests down. It is one of the scanty instrumental pieces written by Berlioz to make up this work. Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire 1965/1966 André Cluytens, conductor

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sibelius - Sixth Symphony in D Minor

This is the first ever recorded version of this symphony Finnish National Orchestra directed by Georg Schneevoigt in 1934 Sibelius wrote on his Sixth Symphony: "Whereas most other modern composers are engaged in manufacturing cocktails of every hue and description, I offer the public pure cold water". Benjamin Britten also commented, "He must have been drunk when he wrote it." There is an irony when Sibelius describes his sixth symphony. It cannot be ignored that he had a predilection for liquor. There is no doubt that Sibelius has used strange kind of polyphony in his writing but this definitely ads to its distinct flavour. The whole symphony has to be played in the mezzo forte range and it cannot be too loud or too soft. Whatever the case may be, this is indeed a strange symphony coming out of the year 1923. It is a work that takes you back to an age before tonality and it uses strange modes and scales that can be termed ambiguous. The symphony involves heavy tension between C Major scale and D minor that has an inflected mode. It ends without an emphatic statement and this is what makes this symphony unique. Lorin Maazel with Vienna and Karajan with Berlin Philharmonic have brought this symphony out very well but my personal favourite is the performance by Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy. This could be described as music that may be self-effacing. The symphony intentionally does not leave any mark; it is like going or a walk in the snow and trying to cover up your tracks. Music critics have observed that Sibelius wrote this symphony without using markers of time and he left the musical imagination wide open. The rhythm is suspended while the strings play and in the flow of play by woodwinds. The rhythm is actually picked up and energised by repeated rhythm in the harp. In the second movement too, there is a strange layer of different kinds of time being kept. The scherzo generates some structural expectations. The finale picks up ferocious speed before subsiding in an uneasy calm in the final bars.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A History of the Parsi Community in India

More than a thousand years ago, Zoroastrian refugees fled out of Persia on account of persecution. They went to India and settled down mainly in the Gujarat region. They sought refuge from the local king there but did not meet with a favourable response. One of the priests among the refugees asked the king for a cup of milk that was filled to the brim. The priest then took a teaspoon of sugar and stirred it into the milk without spilling a single drop on the ground. He then told the king that if the refugees were taken into his kingdom, they will be like the sugar in the cup of milk and that they would blend in the land with the Gujaratis, while making the kingdom even more prosperous and sweeter. The king liked the analogy and allowed them refuge in his kingdom. All other groups of refugees that followed later were allowed to stay there. They went on to become India's `Parsi' community. Even after thousand years have passed, the Parsi community is still not large in number owing to the fact that they marry late and the average number of children per family unit is very small in number. Today, there are not more than seventy thousand Parsis left in India and that is just about 0.005% of the total population of the country. India has 1.2+ billion people and after China, it is the most populous place in the world. Whatever their number may be, the community has earned a good reputation for itself. You will not find a single beggar from this community and Parsis have left an unquestionable mark on the country's progress after independence. Just take a look around - The Tatas, The Godrejs, Homi Bhabha, the Wadias, Gen. Manekshaw and a list of many other eminent personalities.You will have to still come across a single Parsi who has been criminally punished for any major offence in India. My favourite personality is Zubin Mehta who has made a great impression on the international scene as a music conductor and director of several music associations and training schools along with his father, Mehli Mehta. Over hundreds of years, the Parsi community has done well in almost every field. To name a few, we can start again with Zubin Mehta, the world famous music director, the Solicitor General of India and the Chief Justice of India, General Sam Manekshaw, India's first Field Marshal, Farokh Engineer, the great Indian wicket keeper and Freddie Mercury of the band Queen. In terms of achievement wen measured per capita, the Parsi community has been the most successful so far. They have not looked after their own community members but they have also put back a lot in the wider community. They believe not only being the best in the world but that are also best for the world. The Parsis follow the Zoroastrian faith that was brought into this world by Prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra. It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world with an Ahura Mazda or a supreme being or God. It maintains the concepts of heaven and hell and good and evil. This religion established itself in the Persian Empire. It was followed by Emperors Xerxes, Darius and Cyrus the Great. Cyrus is credited with the composition of the first Bill of Rights in this world. It was called the Cyrus Cylinder and it is more ancient than the Magna Carta whose eight hundredth anniversary was celebrated recently. The very basis of the Zoroastrian faith is exemplified by three words - Humata, Hukhta and Huvarshta. They mean good thoughts, good words and good deeds. The motto of Parsi businessmen has been integrity in industry. Jaguar and land Rover has now been taken over by Tata Motors in the United Kingdom. The Tata Group was started by Jamshedji Naoroji Tata with his steel empire in Bihar. Today, Tata Steel owns the British Steel-Corus and is now one of the largest manufacturers in the world.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Seven Per Cent Solution This narrative is made up from Dr, Watson's reminiscences. This is from a novel written in 1974 by Nicholas Meyer. It was adapted on film in 1976 as a Sherlock Holmes adventure. The narrative involves recovery of Holmes from addiction to cocaine and Watson takes the help of famous Viennese Doctor, Sigmund Freud. It also involves prevention of a war in Europe through the opening up of a wicked kidnapping plot of Madame Devereaux. The film is very well directed by Herbert Ross and was scripted by Meyer himself. Nicol Williamson is brilliant as Holmes and you have to be fast on the uptake to hear all his dialogues. He really speaks at a feverish pace. Robert Duvall is quite good as Dr. Watson. Alan Arkin is sharp as Sigmund Feud and Vaness Redgrave is beautiful and sensuous as Madame Devereaux. Samantha Eggar plays Mary Watson. Charles Gray plays Holmes' elder brother Mycroft and he does that in the Jeremy Brett television series, too. Jeremy Kemp looks wicked enough as Baron von Leinsdorf. There is an interesting narrative in the end of the film when Freud hypnotises Holmes to find out why he chose to be a detective. It brings out his sad past and his fear of Professor Moriarty. The crux of the tale is that Watson deceives Holmes to meet Sigmund Freud to treat him for his delusions that are induced by cocaine. This is an entertaining film with some tense settings in both London and Vienna. It is an intriguing narrative and Laurence Olivier adds punch by playing Professor Moriarty. The film is a fine suspense thriller. The music by John Addison is great and makes the movie more interesting.