Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Inextinguishable

The broad philosophical theme behind this dark symphony is what Nielsen called the indestructability of the life force. He wrote, " This symphony is meant to express the appearance of the most elementary forces among humans, animals and even plants. In case, all the world were to be devastated by fire, flood and volcanoes, all things being destroyed; then, nature would still begin to breed new life again. Soon, the plants would begin to multiply, the breeding and screaming of birds would be seen and heard, the aspiration of humans would be felt. These forces, which are 'inextinguishable' , are what I have tried to present".
It is a musical drama in which the key of E Flat Major representing life wins an ultimate victory over an unstable D Minor tonality representing chaos and destruction. In the finale, we come across two timpanists who steam in from both sides of the orchestra thundering furiously. Their cannon fire is in strict canon.
Notable recordings are those by Michael Schonwandt conducting the Danish National Radio Symphony, Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Birmingham Symphony.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD9I-UiYfW8

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMZ7OzNNaLM

The best film I have seen this year. I had not seen this since 2008. Move aside Ghost Writer and Shutter Island. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett score. Alexandre Desplat with his brilliant musical score has left me speechless. David Fincher has directed this film based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's story of a man born under unusual circumstances.
It is a brilliant movie. It is a beautiful and masterfully constructed film. It is about a man who is born in his eighties(a monster) and ages backwards. There are many heart tugging moments in the film particularly in the final hour in this 166 minute masterpiece.

Nielsen's Fifth


I finished listening to the Nielsen fifth today.
It was written in 1922.
It is written for strings(violin, violas, cellos and contrabasses),3 flutes, 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets(B Flat Major and A major),2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 french horns(F Major),3 trumpets(B Flat Major),3 trombones,tuba, pair of timpani,cymbals,snare drum,triangle,tambourine and celesta.
This symphony was influenced by the traumatic effects of post first world war in Denmark. It depicts a great battle etween the forces of order and chaos. A snare drummer takes the symbolic chaos trip and keeps interrupting the orchestra playing ad lib and out of time with the intention of destruction. It is to Nielsen's credit that he makes him almost blend in with the universe without sounding ugly. The rest of the orchestra keeps fighting back in six sections of the symphony while the drummer struggles on and he eventually fades with the glorious conclusion as order prevails over chaos.
I have heard Michael Schonwandt conduct the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra today. The sound is rich and effective; good interpretation, I am also attaching a good conclusion of the symphony by Blomstedt and San Francisco. My favourite remains Jascha Horenstein with the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London on Nonesuch Records with the beautiful Saga Drom that I hold as Nielsen's greatest composition.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nICOABymhhs

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Graduation Afternoon

A story by Stephen King from his collection ' Just After Sunset'. It is about a girl Janice on her boyfriend Bruce Hope (Buddy's) graduation afternoon in New York City. The story is about Janice not expressing her love totally to Bruce and missing the opportunity of telling the one she is fond of what he means to her until the moment is gone and perhaps there is none other to follow. As things are taken for granted by all around us, a nuclear bomb explodes in New York that afternoon and soon it will all be over for Janice and the world around her as she starts thinking many thoughts in a flash. The story is not written with much feeling and it will get only a B-. Some of the passages worth reading are:
" She has ime to think before an enormous spark lights up there."
"Now huge black blisters are erupting in the red mushroom, giving it hideous features that shift and change - now a cat,now a dog, now Bobo the Demon Clown- grimacing across the miles above what used to be New York and is now a smelting furnace. A nuke. An almighty big one. No little dirty backpack model."
"Janice's vision has either been stolen by the brightness of the fireball, or the cloud has bloted out the sun. Maybe both."
"She thinks about the hike Bruce and his friends won't be taking. She thinks about the party they won't be attending tonight. In a little while, she may be able to teach,what is left of her eyes, not to look".

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

DeMille's Samson and Delilah



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5T-K1rY26Y



Cecil. B. DeMille has directed this masterpiece in 1949. This story is adapted from the Biblical Book of Judges. Samson is the strongest man of the Israelite tribe of Dan. They are enslaved by the Philistines. He falls in love with the Philistine Princess Cemadar and is engaged to her. She has designs for Ahtur and betrays him. At the wedding feast, there is an ensuing struggle between Ahtur ad Samson and Cemadar is killed. Her sister, Delilah, who loves Samson secretly, now plans vengeance against him. She seduces Samson into revealing the secret of his strength that lies in the untouched locks of his hair as a covenant from God at his birth. She then betrays him to the Philistine Chief, Saran of Gaza by giving him a potion in his drink so that when he is unconscious, she cuts the locks off and deprives him of his strength.She is not aware that Samson is put in prison and given many hardships and his eyes are gouged out. Delilah's heart softens and she loves him more strongly than earlier. She repents and asks for his forgiveness. Samson forgives her and prays to God to give him patience and his strength back. As the seasons pass, his hair grows and so does his strength to the ignorance of the Philistines. DeMille's epic is kown for the spectacular toppling of the Temple of Dagon that brings down the pillars on Samson, Delilah and all his enemies culminating in a tragic end. Victor Mature is Samson. Angela Lansbury is Cemadar. George Sanders is Saran of Gaza. Henry Wilcoxon is Ahtur. Russ Tamblyn is Saul. Olivia Deering is Miriam. Hedy Lamarr is Delilah. The colour still looks magnificent when you see it on the television. Victor Young's music is heavenly. There is not enough praise that can be showered on the magnificent Academy Award nominated music score by Young. In particular,the superb echoing horn motif for Samson and the unforgettable sensual loveliness for the strings and harp in the Delilah theme.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Things They Left Behind

A short story by Stephen King from his collection, 'Just After Sunset'. The story is about an insurance under-writer named Scott Staley who works in an insurance company called Light and Bell on the one hundred and tenth floor in the World Trade Centre. On the fateful day in September 2001, he is plain lazy to go to work and bunks that day only to learn that none of his colleagues survived. Few days after the incident, he finds little things belonging to each of his colleagues, that he remembers from his office, start to show around his flat and whisper all the time. Once, he even decides to throw them away so he collects them and throws them in the trash can but when he returns home, they are there again. A well written story. Some of the passages:
"And I remember smiling at what she asked me: 'Are you safe?'It reminded me of that movie, not Jeremy Irons' or James Mason's 'Lolita' (thinking about Lolita, sometimes at two in the morning, came later) but the one where Laurence Olivier does the impromptu dental work on Dustin Hoffman, asking him over and over again, 'Is it safe?' (from 'Marathon Man')."....
"The relief of seeing him holding the sunglasses and looking at them, almost studying them, was like having someone scratch that exact place between your shoulder blades that itches"......
"When something goes wrong in your life and you need to talk about it, I think that the first impulse for most people is to call a family member".....
"I remembered her once telling me that 'Alice in Wonderland' was the first psychedelic novel".....
"How much of what they call 'survivor guilt' are you feeling?"...

The only salvation Staley experiences is when he starts giving away those things of the dead people to their near ones and relatives that they stop coming back to his apartment. One of the left over things is a clump of his colleagues' hair that is burnt and is smelling of jet fuel. That is his compensation for surviving.
The story gets an A-.

L'Oiseau Du Feu - Igor Stravinsky conducting

A historical moment in London in 1965 where Igor Stravinsky conducts the passage before the finale of Firebird. Truly one of the greatest ballets written in the twentieth century. The finale brings tears to your eyes.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUwdyN27TWI

Friday, November 5, 2010

Limelight

Charlie Chaplin's greatest.
A Masterpiece.
The theme is glorious.
He has composed the music himself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl47EmHmSaY

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sinfonia Semplice - Carl Nielsen


Carl Nielsen is a central figure in late romantic Danish music. He was born into a poor family of fourteen children. During school holidays, he supplemented the family income by looking after geese. Music was an early interest. He used to bang out tunes on different lengths of firewood. He was also interested in literature, philosophy and languages.
Leonard Bernstein was enthusiastic about Nielsen's music and this symphony. He actually introduced Nielsen's music in America in the sixties for much later after Nielsen's death, his music was not known to the American audiences. The Sinfonia Semplice is the strangest of his six symphonies. At the time it was written, Nielsen was suffering from a heart ailment.
The work is a meditation on the transcience of life in the opening tempo giusto movement. In the Humoresque, there is sardonic humour and brooding. Occasionally, there is pure grotesquerie. Nielsen may be poking fun at the atonal music of Schoenberg and his followers. The woodwind instruments make rude noises and the trombones make loud glissandos representing yawning. The slow movement is dark and sombre. The finale is a bizarre theme and variations. The main theme goes through a chaotic series of grotesque variations. At one point, the theme becomes a waltz. The brass and percussion then batter it with brutal dissonant outbursts. The movement ends in glee. Nielsen may be dying but he is laughing at death with the bassoons.
This symphony was written in 1925. The structure and tonality of this symphony are both individual and unorthodox. The Danish critics called it an enigmatic work. This is a bitter and ironic work to complete his symphonic oeuvre. Nielsen was never able to make a decent living out of his compositions. When Nielsen began composing his last symphony, he wrote, "As far as I can see it, it will on the whole be different from my other symphonies; more amiable and smooth, or how shall I put it, but it is impossible to tell as I do not know at all what currents I may run into during the voyage."
Notable performances are by Michael Schonwandt, Leonard Bernstein and Herbert Blomstedt.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sinfonia Espansiva - Carl Nielsen


You cannot listen to Nielsen and not become a better person for it. This is one of the most humane symphonies. The first few notes hold you spellbound. Great hammer blows from the whole orchestra, abrupt and jolting like pokes of fortissimo that come as a shock. There is an odd rhythmic pattern to them; yet, you cannot tell when the next turn is coming. Each feels like a thunderclap. The music springs to life taking form right before your ears. The music soars and expands. It is indeed 'Espansiva'. You are on a roller coaster that swings you from side to side so that you never know exactly where you are going. You only feel the excitement of the thrilling ride. This title represents Nielsen's genius at creating music that continually expands itself like a breathing organism, unpredictable and forever forward. The opening movement as I said earlier is friendly after the introductory percussion onslaught following which there is a distinct Danish flavoured theme that opens the bluff. The second movement is a 'Pastorale'. Here, a tenor/baritone and a soprano thread through the instrumental patterns with pipe organ arpeggios in the background together with french horns, oboe and flute. The two soloists wordlessly intone an aura of landscape and panorama. The third movement is a neat scherzo with an opening statement on the french horns that concludes softly on the timpani, oboe and bassoon. The finale has a big, simple tune. More contrapuntal entries open up. The brass introduce an apocalyptic impulse into the continuity with a canon that is exotically harmonised with punctuated rhythms to end in a rapt climax. This recording is good with Schonwandt delivering a charged performance with the Danish National Radio Orchestra. The best performance of this symphony comes from Leonard Bernstein with the same orchestra and one of his early sixties' recordings with the New York Philharmonic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Die Zauberflote - Sir Colin Davis

Die Zauberflote was composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The work is in the form of a Singspiel that includes both singing and spoken dialogue. The opera was premiered on 30th September 1791, about three months before Mozart died. Mozart himself conducted the Orchestra Freihaustheater auf der Wieden, Wien. The librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder sang the role of Papageno.
This opera is widely known for its masonic allegory. For example, the opening bars of the overture are reminiscent of the second degree knocks on the door. Mozart and Schikaneder were masons. Throughout the opera, the masonic symbolism is easily seen and particularly during the trials in the Temple of Wisdom.
The Queen of the Night's aria , 'Der Holle Rache Kocht in Meinem Herzen' is the most well known of all time and is the greatest aria written ever for a coloratura soprano. This difficult aria demands a two range octave and a lyric soprano voice dramatic enough to convey the emotional brevity of the scene.
If Mozart had attended the performance of Diana Damrau under Sir Colin Davis and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, he would have shed tears of ecstacy. I am convinced that this is the best and most complete experience of this opera that we could get. This production gives detail that is astounding. Enormous work has gone into the elaborate costumes and stage designs. They are briliantly captured by the camera. The lighting gives nuances between the night and daylight scenes. It seems very natural. Sir Colin Davis has brought magic to this Zauberflote.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvuKxL4LOqc

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stationary Bike

Stephen King's short story. (B-).About an ad painter Richard Sifkitz whose cholesterol levels go very high due to obsessive Krispy Kreme hogging. He is advised strict diet and rigid exercise by his Dr. Brady. He decides to go down to his parking lot basement and exercise on his stationary bike. Whenever he sits on the stationary bike and starts to pedal, he falls asleep and the stationary bike takes over giving him an eerie ride by the countryside, a ride ridden with guilt and complexes and bizarre unfolding of events. There are some brilliant passages in this short story such as:
"Once upon a time, back in the seventies, you could get away with a cholesterol reading of 240, but of course back in the seventies, you could still smoke in the waiting rooms at hospitals".
"Once you are past forty, it gets harder every year. After forty, Richard, the weight sticks to your arse like babyshit sticks to a bedroom wall".
"That was in the fall of 2002, a year after the Twin Towers had fallen into the streets of the Financial District and life in New York City was returning to a slightly paranoid version of normal.. except in New York, slightly paranoid was normal".
"Except when he went down the next day, there was no need to paint the beer cans out of the picture; they were already gone".
"And the taste in his mouth was oily and dusty, oily on his tongue and dusty on the insides of his cheeks and his teeth, and his back hurt, it hurt LAMF that stood for Like A Motherfucker".
"My last chance to avoid the ending everyone expects in stories like this".
"Despite whatever the Hindu philosophy might be, Richard Sifkitz believed you only went around once".

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dvorak: New World and Bernstein

I got this yesterday. The New York Philharmonic recording of 1962. I have been stung by it. I have heard at least twenty performances of this symphony and the only one to surpass Bernstein is Istvan Kertesz with the London Symphony also in the sixties. Since then, there have been umpteen performances but none worth the weight with the exception of Carlo Maria Giulini , Zubin Mehta, Herbert Von Karajan, Witold Rowicki and Rudolf Kempe. Prior to Bernstein and Kertesz, an electrifying rendition exists and it is by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC.
Just one point in why I find this performance so great. New York plays with great elan and Bernstein is the pioneer in recognising the first movement exposition repeat. No one before him acknowledged that.
The more I listen to Leonard Bernstein the more I realise that he has left his definitive stamp on quite a few recordings. This is one of them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rest Stop

This is a short story by Stephen King from his compilation, 'Just After Sunset'. This story gets an 'A'. It is about an English professor, John Dykstra who encounters his alter ego split personality Rick Hardin at a rest stop when he goes to pee and stumbles upon a foul man abusing a woman in a ladies bathroom. This English Professor who cannot even swat a fly gives the ramming of his life to this abuser. Here are some brilliant passages: He walked across the parking lot to the building, the heels of his cowboy boots clocking. John Dykstra never would have worn faded jeans and cowboy boots but Hardin was a different breed of hot rod. Unlike Dykstra, Hardin didn't care much what people thought of his appearance.... There was a slap,followed by a thump, a muffled meat thump. Dykstra realized he was listening to the unremarkable sounds of abuse.... He could actually see the red hand shape on the woman's cheek and her head bouncing off the wall of beige tile.... Lee (the abuser) took off the queerly delicate spectacles and put them on the pavement. Hardin immediately stepped on them with the heel of one boot. There was a little snapping sound and the delicious grind of glass.

Bloody Spartacus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2CqtNeRK_w

This is a television drama sponsored by Starz, a U.S. based Pay Channel in January 2010. Thirteen Episodes make the Season I. It is AAA.
The series portrays the historical figure Spartacus (played by Kirk Douglas in the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece) now played by Andy Whitfield in this well directed television drama.
Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator around 70 B.C. who created lot of problems for the Roman Republic in masterminding a severe uprising by rebel gladiators against them. The drama brings out the early life of Spartacus. The drama is restricted for solo viewing and not with the family. The violence and nudity scenes are plenty and done in good taste. The drama does pound you savagely.
Andy Whitfield is supported capably by John Hannah, Lucy Lawless, Peter Mensah, Manu Bennett, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Erin Cummings and Jai Courtney. Joseph LoDuca has given good percussion strong music for the drama series.
A prequel titled Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is scheduled for January 2011 with six episodes followed by shooting for the Season II . The shooting had stopped after the first season as Andy Whitfield was diagnosed for Hodgkins Lymphoma and post treatment for the cancer, he will be back for the filming. Unfortunately, the world lost Andy Whitfield! It is sad indeed.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wachet Auf

A cantata completed by Johann Sebastian Bach on 25th November 1731. Popularly known as 'Sleepers Wake'. Beautiful. This has inspired A Whiter Shade of Pale of 1967 by Procol Harum that John Lennon ticked as the greatest rock and roll song perhaps ever written.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyWOIKCtjiw

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Roman Polanski has done it again

Few years back, I was mesmerised by Roman Polanski's 'Pianist'. It was refreshing to see 'The Ghost Writer' this year . I saw it twice in three days and this film replaces all before it as the Film Of The Year. Truly Hitchcockian. What attention to details! Build up and suspense is truly magnetic. Embellished by an outstanding musical score by Alexandre Desplat. Hear it. Roman Polanski has handled this script with an ease like Alfred Hitchcock would have done with Saboteur and The Man who Knew Too Much. I was first bowled over by Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Tenant'. This film is in the true tradition of how a tale has to be told even if the tale has political overtones. Any other director would have found the going dry and tough. Ewan Mcgregor, I always felt had the potential to deliver; and he has done greatly. Pierce Brosnan is adequate. Good supporting work from Timothy Hutton, James Belushi and Tom Wilkinson. Let me get back to Polanski who is the Master Director here and excellent work by Aexandre Desplat. The visuals are breathtaking and perfect for the sombre mood of the script. The music is a perfect fit to this suspenseful cocktail of a tale. Polanski was born Rajmund Roman Liebling in Paris and his family moved to Poland for business where the second world war saw his parents being sent to the prison concentration camps where his mother died. His father and himself survived the Polish holocaust. He made his mark on Polish cinema with 'A Knife in the Water' in 1962. His work in the American scene started with films like Repulsion(1965), Cul-de-Sac (1966), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Rosemary's Baby (1968),Macbeth (1971),Diary of Forbidden Dreams (1972),Chinatown (1974),The Tenant (1976), Tess (1979), Pirates (1986), Frantic (1988),Bitter Moon (1992),Death and the Maiden (1994),The Ninth Gate (1999),The Pianist (2002),Oliver Twist(2005), To Each His Own Cinema (2007) and The Ghost Writer (2010). The case against him for raping a young girl apart, he has inherited the spirit of Hitchcock in his style of film making.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoTUX6ZKke0

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Bridge Over Troubled Water

A Simon & Garfunkel masterpiece.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYKJuDxYr3I

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Gingerbread Girl

This story by Stephen King is AAA. Very well written about a woman who has lost her daughter recently and takes up running obsessively, so much so that even her husband gets fed up of her. She leaves him and starts living in her father's beach shack at Vermillion Key. The story unfolds with how she runs into a neighbourhood psycho and how her running habit and strong legs come in handy to save her life. Some pages are brilliantly written, such as .. "when the front door slammed and Em knew he had really left, that abnormal brightness in the world started to turn gray and she realized she was on the verge of fainting. She could not afford to faint. If there was an afterlife and she eventually saw her father there, how could she explain to him that she had wasted her last minutes on earth in unconsciousness? He would be disappointed in her. Even if they met in heaven, standing ankle-deep in clouds while angels all around them played the music of the spheres (arranged for harp), he would be disappointed in her for wasting her only chance in a Victorian swoon." The story telling is well paced and makes you bite your lower lip with the frenetic tempo and taut suspense. Real good narration.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mahler's Farewell

The conclusion of Mahler's Farewell Tenth.. One of the most beautiful strains of music ever penned. Philadelphia under Eugene Ormandy (1964).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdxCIfGimCI

This symphony was written in 1910. Mahler's final composition. I call it 'Farewell'. Mahler never managed to complete the orchestral drafts except the whole first movement and the first twenty eight measures of the third movement. The rest was in piano edit. The work was cut short by his premature death at the age of fifty from a streptococcal infection of the blood. Mahler saw it coming and right from the first measures of his Death Ninth Symphony, he is saying his goodbyes to the world and communicating with His Creator.
Mahler was obsessed with death throughout his life. He resigned from the Wiener Opern in 1907, his forty-seventh year. His elder daughter died that year in New York. He was slso diagnosed with a blood infection and a heart disease. he lived the remaining four years under the shadow of death. Yet he lived his life too. He planned a career in the New World where he was excited with his tenure as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. But again in 1910, his emotional life sank in turmoil. He discovered that his wife Alma was having an affair with the architect Walter Gropius. He even went to consult Sigmund Freud in Holland. During this period, in a span of few weeks, he completed the blueprint for the tenth symphony. In the winter of 1910-11, he went back to a further revision of the already completed Death (Ninth) Symphony. So, the tenth remained a skeleton and he spoke of it as a 'work fully prepared in the sketch."
Most conductors perform the first movement Adagio alone. The English writer Derryck Cooke completed the first performing version(there is another by Remo Mazzetti, Jr. under the guidance of Leonard Slatkin). This is not the version that we hear nowadays as this was revised by Cooke and the final script came out; was performed first by Wyn Morris and the New Philharmonia in London on 15th October 1972.
Here is the first radio broadcast on my birthday in 1960 of Deryck Cooke's version played by the Philharmonia London under Berthold Goldschmidt. Cooke also had a short life like Mahler as he passed away in 57 years.Deryck Cooke never claimed that he was completing the symphony. Cooke says, "Mahler's music, even in its unperfected and unelaborated state, has such significance, strength and beauty, that it dwarfs into insignificance any uncertainties." When the first realisation of the tenth was broadcast in 1960, Alma Mahler created trouble and stayed future performances legally but after four years she gave permission (Ormandy/Philadelphia version) and when she heard the music for the first time, she was so moved by it that she removed her ban and gave the rights of performance to Cooke's transcript. The sketches of this symphony were written by Mahler at Toblach in the Italian Dolomites. The crisis in his life brought about a formidable masterpiece.
http://www.viddler.com/explore/DeryckCookeWeb/videos/1/

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Sounds of Silence

This Simon & Garfunkel masterpiece of the late 60s was used in a film, 'The Graduate' to a nicety. Christopher Nolan has missed out by not using this great song in his film 'Inception'. Those who have seen and really understood this film will know what I mean. Superb lyrics and a superb composition.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvsX03LOMhI

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Eine Alpensinfonie

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFvzAdbRfu8

Richard Strauss wrote this symphony for a hundred strings, thirty wind instruments, twenty french horns,six trumpets,six trombones, pipe organ, wind machine, thunder machine, heckelphone, four timpani, celesta, contrabassoon, four tenor tubas, two tubas, glockenspiel, tam tam - in all 180 players.
This is Richard Strauss' statement of Alpine nature and life to the Almighty Divine Architect of the Universe. It was written between 1911 and 1915. It had its premiere in Berlin on 28th October, 1915. Strauss is at the peak of his powers of orchestration. It is one of the most eloquent expressions of his musico-philosophical views. It is actually a symphonic poem in the garb of a symphony.It is played without pause but its various sections have been given titles - Night, Sunrise, the Ascent, Hunting Horns, Entrance into the Forest, Wandering by the Brook, At the Waterfall, Apparition, On Flowery Meadows, On a Mountain Pasture ( with the cowbells sequence), Lost in the Thicket and Brush, On the Glacier, Perilous Moments,On the Summit,Vision, The Fog Rises, The Sun is Clouded Over, Elegy, Calm before the Storm, Thunderstorm, Descent, Sunset, Epilogue and Night again.
Richard Strauss was one of music's greatest individualists.He created an aura around him.His concerts were attended not because of his compositions or his conducting but because he was Richard Strauss. He was an innovator and he lived during the cross-over point in the movements of art that is from romanticism to neo-romanticism and impressionism.
Richard Strauss owes much to Franz Liszt, the creator of the symphonic poem. Strauss considered himself an 'Ausdrucksmusiker'(Musician of Expression); if there ever was an 'Expressionism' as a movement in art or music, he belonged to it. The symphonic poem was an ideal medium for his romantic musical gifts. He musically describes not only what man does, but man's inner state of mind. Strauss saw man as a heroic figure. Critics had mixed reactions to some of his innovations. People did not adapt to change fast. When Berlioz and Franck used the English Horn in their symphonies, the critics said it was vulgar because Haydn and Beethoven did not use an English Horn in their symphonies. Meyerbeer and Bizet were criticized for using saxophones. Berlioz was also criticized for using an exceptionally large orchestra.
Strauss used some naturalistic sounds in this symphony such as cowbells and machines to create the sounds of wind and thunder. Mahler used cowbells before in his Tragic Symphony and his Seventh Symphony. Strauss' score was branded by some critics as a movie score. Some wrote, "this is really throwing the baby out with the bath water." When Strauss completed this symphony, he said, "Finally, I have learnt to orchestrate." The critics were arseholes who did not appreciate music. They only wanted convention that they could comfortably describe.
I say that it is a joy to discover so rich a musical masterpiece as this symphony that is Strauss' finest work.A great performance comes from Zubin Mehta and the Berliner Philharmoniker followed by Rudolf Kempe and the Royal Philharmonic succeeded by Strauss' own performance with the Bayerischen Rundfunks in his 1941 recording.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Robert Schumann Piano Quartet E Flat Major. Op. 47.

As the earlier piano quintet, this E Flat major quartet was also finished in the same year 1842 in the month of October.The quintet was finished a few weeks before this. Like the quintet, there are thematic links between movements.
The first movement - Sostenuto Assai - Allegro Ma Non Troppo:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_CjUaSGSm4

The Scherzo has two trio sections:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbt2REPg7do

Andante Cantabile is in ternary form. A moving rendition by the Meadowmount Quartet:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZMT36FKVuU

The Finale is in sonata form. After an introductory outburst, the viola states the lively theme. In a free rondo form, the finale has a lengthy closing coda section:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pxyfF5k8Xk

Monday, July 12, 2010

Schumann's Lively Piano Quintet in E Flat Major

This work was composed in October 1842. This is Op.44. Schumann was the first romantic composer to pair the pianoforte with the string quartet. In my earlier post, I have shared how Mahler wrote a single movement in his sixteenth year in A Minor.
This is the Allegro Brillante:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iuKARQpzLk

In Modo D'Una Marcia- Un Poco Largamente - A funeral march in C Minor:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9krhBwiJg9k

Scherzo - Molto Vivace - ascending and descending scales;two trios; a lyrical canon for violin and viola and the second one an accented perpetual motion:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jY3YeChYI8

Allegro Ma Non Troppo begins in C Minor and not the tonic E Flat Major. At the conclusion, this main theme is combined with the Allegro Brillante theme with a double fugue:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH3_uDyHIFc

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mahler's A Minor Piano Quartet - The Shutter Island

A spacious performance by the Quarto Quartet from Sofia
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIekvye53gg


This movement has been beautifully used in the latest Scorsese's masterpiece 'The Shutter Island.'

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHHdpb0-K0E

Gustav Mahler: Piano Quartet in A Minor - Single Movement

This movement in A Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello was written in Mahler's sixteenth year and it is mature beyond his years. Only this movement has survived as he destroyed the remaining movements. Mahler was studying in his first year at the Wiener Conservatory. When Mahler sent this work to his publishers, they rejected it. What arseholes! That led to Mahler destroying the other movements. This survived. This movement got its first performance in Wiener with Mahler on the piano on 12th September 1876 and it was laid to sleep until it got its next performance on 12th January 1964 in New York by Peter Serkin playing the piano with the Galimir Quartet. This piece was found among the effects of his widow Alma after her death in 1964 in a folder labelled 'early compositions.'
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyf64r4KvaI

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Death Knoll

Sergei Rachmaninov
Prelude C Sharp Minor Op.3 No.2
The Bells of Death
Vladimir Ashkenazy
AAAAAAA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKYkssqyYkc

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Star Trek

Since its creation by Gene Roddenberry, this series have become a legend. No denying the fact that it is a fantastic science fiction effort made for television and cinema.
Here is a peek at the original with the theme by Alexander Courage:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdjL8WXjlGI

Then came the great movie with Shatner, Nimoy, DeForest Kelley and Persis Khambatta with an additional superb work done by Jerry Goldsmith:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=456aIFMbXVQ

Then last year the movie on Star Trek is actually the one to be seen even before you see the television series because it gives you a peak at the prequel of how Captain James Kirk and Spock came about to the Enterprise. The music by Michael Gioacchino is magnificent and I will give the rating AA:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl6WUpyGnhg

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Fellowship of the Ring - Breathtaking!


This is the first part of the trilogy written by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892-1973). An English writer and a Professor at the Oxford University. He fought as a second lieutenant with the Lancashire Fusiliers during the First World War. He started writing the 'Lord of the Rings' in 1925.The synopsis of the Fellowship: In a small village in the Shire, a young hobbit named Frodo has been entrusted with an ancient Ring; he must embark on an epic journey to the depths of Mount Doom in order to destroy it with the help of his eight companions.This film made by Peter Jackson is an immortal legend in itself. This will feature in the top twenty films ever made. I had not read the book before I saw the film. Yet, I feel that I have read pages and pages as the film is so descriptive and expansive. I am fortunate to own the extended version of the complete trilogy. All parts are played to perfection by the cast and the casting is one of the best seen in years. It is a case of the best possible person for the part at every stage of the film. Special mention for Sir Ian Mckellen, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood. The film is a masterpiece and bears potential of outshining its contemporaries. The music of the film is its strongest point. Howard Shore has come out with a magnificent score. It is epic film music writing. I will call it breathtaking and will not hesitate to grant it Seven Stars!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci


I have always been fascinated by the beautiful aria, 'Vesti La Giubba' from this opera since the last thirty five years. But today, I heard the complete opera for the first time on the DVD video of Deutsche Grammophon Gessellschaft. It is a combination coupling disc with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. The singing is superb from Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas with the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Alla Scala, Milan under Georges Pretre. This is a 1981 Unitel performance. Superb. The opera has been filmed by none other than Franco Zeffirelli who made masterpieces like 'Jesus of Nazareth' and 'Romeo and Juliet'. He filmed the opera in an empty theatre creating a vision that maintains the sense of a stage seen from an auditorium.
If you are hearing an opera for the first time and you like a tragedy with a love triangle, then this is a perfect opera for you and a very good performance too on this disc. This is an opera consisting of a prologue and two acts written by Ruggero Leoncavallo. This opera remains one of the most popular works in the operatic repertoire.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This Titanic clash beats the latest one.

The Clash of the Titans (Original): An outstanding film made by Desmond Davis in 1981. The latest may be in 3D and fully decorated by computer graphics but the narration in this film is attractive and Laurence Olivier as Zeus makes this presentation an unforgettable one.I strongly recommend this fantasy classic. Ursula Andress is Aphrodite. Maggie Smith is Thetis. Harry Hamlin is Perseus. Burgess Meredith is Ammon and the beautiful Judi Bowker is Andromeda. The clash between Kraken and Medusa is awesome. Above all, Herbert Spencer's direction of Laurence Rosenthal's score of the film with the London Symphony players is simply magnificent particularly the Pegasus theme and the love theme of Perseus and Andromeda. A sure winner.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Haydn's Final London Symphony

I just finished hearing Haydn's London Symphony played by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sergiu Celibidache in 1950. Many people laugh at the tempi and call it lethargic but I enjoyed the performance thoroughly with Haydn taken at a lugubrious and spacious pace. The Berlin strings are superb even with the age of the recording. 'London' Symphony No. 104 in D Major is Haydn's final symphony. It is the last of the twelve 'London' symphonies. It was composed by Haydn while he was living in London. it was premiered at the King's Theatre on 4th May 1795. Haydn wrote: "I made 4000 gulden on this evening; such a thing is possible only in England." The work is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A Major, two bassoons, two french horns ( In D Major and G Major), two trumpets (in D Major), timpani and strings.
It is a magnificent work. Celibidache is superb in his historic reading.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Zany ... and yet the game is not afoot like Brett

Even in film making, there is such a thing as blasphemy and this film Sherlock Holmes) comes close to that borderline. Guy Ritchie has done this in bad taste. When you read Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes, you place actors like Peter Cushing and the definitive Jeremy Brett. Neither Robert Downey Jr. nor Jude Law come across as Holmes and Watson. The story is gripping with Lord Blackwood and Professor Moriarty. Mark Strong has done a superb job as Lord Blackwood but the remaining cast falls by the wayside. Rachel McAdams is a disappointment. The only winner in the film is Hans Zimmer with an outstanding musical score. He has worked hard in vain on such a sorry project. The film is zany and yet the game is not afoot as with Jeremy Brett and the Granada television project. That is the definitive Holmes.. any time. At best, this is bad time pass!

DSCH : TENTH


Shostakovich wrote his tenth symphony in 1953. This was the year Stalin died. The work is in E Minor. The personal statement dimension is confirmed by Shostakovich's use of the initials DSCH (D, E Flat, C, B Natural in German notation) in the Allegretto movement. Robert Layton has written in the GRAMOPHONE, "few works give a deeper insight into the interior landscape of the Russian soul."
The first movement's tragic brooding and the third movement's melancholy define the symphony's mood. Against this mood, the whirlwind scherzo is set. The finale is a sprinting dash. An end to this symphony caused a critic to dub the symphony 'an optimistic tragedy.' The Allegro is a tribute to Stalin. Brutally, the music suggests banality of evil.
Karajan's reading with the Berliners is a great one, for me the definitive.He first conducted this symphony in Berlin in March 1959. In November 1966, he made his first recording of it. The Moscow performance which followed that in May 1969 was a sensation. Solomon Volkov, who wrote 'Testimony: The Memoirs of Shostakovich' says that the concert was a siege; tickets were impossible to get. Police, mounted and on foot, surrounded the theatre. Mariss Jansons was in the audience there and he recalled, "The Berlin Philharmonic played at 200 per cent. It was an unbelievable occasion." Shostakovich was also in the audience. He was so moved that he joined Karajan and the orchestra on stage after the performance.
The 1981 recording of the symphony came at a special time. In the wake of serious illness in 1976, Karajan returned to music with renewed intensity and Berlin, which he had guided for over a quarter of a century, was at the very peak of its powers. The performance as per Karajan was to some extent to share the idea of a struggle to survive in a world beset by menace. In the Allegro section of the finale, Shostakovich's incredibly quick metronome mark was now taken literally, something few orchestras could contemplate, let alone manage. Already in his 1966 recording, Karajan had shown that he had the measure of this symphony.
In the first movement, he gives an atmosphere described as unremitting and in the finale, the Berliners leave no doubt as to their virtuosity. The Berlin Philharmonic is beyond compare when it attacks the Allegro and the horn solo which introduces the Allegretto is hot. Karajan takes the climaxes more relentlessly than any other conductor. His account has the greatest impact. Karajan once told that he would have liked to be Dmitri Shostakovich had he been a composer.

Here is a Munich performance of Shostakovich Tenth by Sir Georg Solti

http://youtu.be/DVKHZZyQ3P0

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dickens' Carol


No one talks about this book. No one talks about this movie. I will talk about both of them. I had read this book in my school days. Then I let it go. It came back to me last year when I was revising my nephew's English literature lessons for his tenth exam.The lesson had such an impact on me that I waited for Zemeckis' film to release last Christmas so that I could see it in 3D. Alas! I missed it because the film ran only for about a fortnight at the Imax in Hyderabad and I could not catch it thinking that it would run for a long time.
I strongly recommend that every person who loves a classic must read this book of Charles Dickens at least once in his lifetime. I finally got a pirated DVD version of this film and saw it at home and I would go a step further to say that any person who loves a classic must see this film.
Dickens wrote this magnum opus in 1843. What a century this nineteenth was! A classic composition. Even after 167 years, we marvel at this book and learn lessons from it. What more can I say about Charles Dickens? Personally, Oliver Twist is my favourite. Followed by this.
The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis and Jim Carrey is superlative as Ebenezer Scrooge. There have been umpteen versions of this film and none comes even close to this version. Though this is animated but it is more lively than livelier! Hats off to Zemeckis and Jim Carrey. This 3D film was made through the process of 'performance capture', a technique Zemeckis has previously used in his films, 'Polar Express' and 'Beowulf'.
Worldwide, this film has done business of 318 million dollars and in Hyderabad it has not even played for 318 people at the Imax. What a shame! I guess the people in Hyderabad have no spirit of celebration and sharing! All I know is I will not miss this in its re-run on Imax 3D.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The greatest of all Clarinet Concerti


Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K.622) written in 1791 is the last of the Mozart concerti and mainly the notes are written in the bass register, written for Basset Klarinett. Up until 1791, no one knew what the bass clarinet looked like and it came as a shock to see a long instrument with a bulbous bell on the end. This work shows the depth of Mozart's mature style. At the peak of his compositional abilities and just weeks before his death, Mozart composed this concerto. He wrote it specifically for his friend and fellow mason, Anton Stadler, a clarinettist, who owed him $25,000 equivalent of that time and never paid it back to him. As a result of this non payment, Mozart was hand to mouth in his last ailing days.
This recording by Bernstein with Peter Schmidl and the Wiener Philharmoniker is all eloquence and brilliance. I haven't heard a single bad recording of this concerto by any soloist or orchestra, be it a chamber or larger ensemble. Here, Peter Schmidl has an emotional relationship with Mozart right from the first note. Bernstein carries off Mozart with competence in this rendition of the greatest of all clarinet concerti along with a crisp performance of the twenty-fifth and the twenty-ninth symphonies.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

KULLERVO - A FINNISH LEGEND


It took me some time to introduce myself to this great choral symphony of Sibelius. No symphonic cycle of Sibelius is complete without Kullervo. In 1892, this was the first extensive work of Sibelius.Johan Julius Christian Jean Sibelius was born in Hameenlinna on 8th December 1865. He became the master of Finnish national music. His music created a new national identity for the tiny nation that had long been a part of Sweden and was then annexed to the Russian empire. Kullervo, Op. 7, is a monumental symphony. The first movement conveys a sense of drama and fate. The Kullervo theme is lucid as an idee fixe. The opening movement reflects a Brucknerian approach although Tchaikovskian influence is also detectable. The second movement has crisp orchestration. The third movement highlights the dramatic qualities of the work. The rhythms and discords in the music support the drama of the sister's extensive monologue and the following lament of Kullervo taken from the Kalevala legend. The fourth movement is martial battle music coloured with folk music allusions. The last movement is sombre. The music subsides as Kullervo falls on his own sword. In conclusion, the listener returns to where he started as the main theme of the first movement rounds off the work. My first introduction to this work was by the Turku Philharmonic under Jorma Panula. It is a great reading that sounds purely Finnish.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ein Deutsches Requiem


This is a masterwork by Johannes Brahms. His greatest work if you look at the dimension and magnitude.The death of Robert Schumann inspired him to write this. It was a way of giving condolence to those who remain behind on earth after their dead have passed on. Brahms intended this work as a celebration of all humanity even in the face of inevitable death. Brahms claimed that he could have named this his 'Human Requiem'with its focus on comforting the living. The music really comforts whilst still acknowledging the tragedy of death.
The word 'Requiem' usually refers to the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead which begins with the Latin phrase, 'Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis Domine' (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord!). Brahms conceived the extra-ordinary idea of creating his own text selecting Biblical passages that do not correspond to the funereal liturgy of any church.
Brahms gives a sombre colour to the first movement by omitting the violins, piccolo, clarinets and timpani entirely and by subdividing the violas and cellos culminating with the utterance of 'selig' (Blessed) to close the movement with harp accompaniment. The second movement begins with a slow march passage in triple meter. The violins enter for the first time and in a high register. The timpani quietly sounds out ominous triplets. The chorus sings in unison first softly then in full voice as the march theme is repeated. This is the music that Brahms had originally composed for and then removed from his early D Minor Symphony. One movement came here and the other three went to the Piano Concerto No. 1. The baritone solo begins the third movement in a dialogue with the chorus. This is a haunting movement. The fourth movement is harmonically in a new world. It is a gentle middle section to the whole work representing sublime tranquillity. The fifth movement brings out the soprano and the contrast to the third movement is striking. The baritone earlier represents grief, doubt and despair. Here, the soprano sings of consolation. The opening of the sixth movement reverts to the uncertainty of the third in harmonic progressions that accompany the baritone's description of the mystery to come, the harmonies ranging from C Minor to F Sharp Minor. Three trombones and tuba announce the great moment.The excitement is extended into a powerful fugue in C Major. A Stretto leads to a final and forceful statement. The final movement is like the first. The basic thematic cell is in double bass and cellos. The sombre orchestral colours of the opening are replaced by reinstatement by the clarinets, the second pair of horns and the violins. The final section of the movement is a magical reworking of material from the opening movement. There is a return to the home key of F Major as the sopranos soar to a brilliant high A Major just like at the end of the first movement. The harps enter and rise to an ethereal conclusion over the final choral murmurs of 'selig' (blessed).
The definitive reading has come from Herbert Von Karajan and the Wiener Philharmoniker in 1985. Other recommended readings are : Fritz Lehmann/Berliner Philharmoniker; Daniel Barenboim/London Philharmonic; Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony; Otto Klemperer/Philharmonia Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti/Chicago Symphony; Sir Simon Rattle/ Berliner Philharmoniker.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Turning Lead into Gold


A mystical tale about following recurrent dreams! This is the first book I have read of Paulo Coelho. After reading this book, I would say that it comes close to being a modern classic. The reason why it does not merit the status of a classic is because it falls short of a punch in the climax. The writing loses the intensity of the build up that has been promised at the beginning.The character sketches of Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd boy, the King, the Tangiers crystal seller, the Englishman, Fatima and the alchemist have been etched well. Coelho writes with wisdom and experience behind him. He has understood the pulse of the Spanish, the Arabs and the English quite well. While reading through this book, we also get enlightened about the art of alchemy.
It is a tender and gentle story. I will give you few glimpses: "People say strange things, the boy thought. Sometimes it's better to be with the sheep, who don't say anything. And better still to be alone with one's books. They tell their incredible stories at the time when you want to hear them. But when you're talking to people, they say some things that are so strange that you don't know how to continue the conversation." In one of the passages, Fatima tells Santiago, "The desert takes our men from us, and they don't always return..we know that, and we are used to it. Those who don't return become a part of the clouds, a part of the animals that hide in the ravines and of the water that comes from the earth. They become a part of everything ... they become the Soul of the World." This book teaches us how we all belong to the soul of the world which is in turn the soul of the Creator. It also teaches us that once we get on to the quest of our dreams, it is the soul of the universe that beckons us to succeed and inspires the environment to help us should we be true to our hearts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A haunting read


One of the most honest books I have read recently. I never expected Khaled Hosseini, an Afghani settled in America to write such brilliant stuff. He is so honest in his expression that sometimes you feel like strangling the protagonist of the story yourself. If a writer can achieve this, then he is a bloody good writer.
There were passages in the book that made me cry.
This book revolves around Amir, a twelve year old who is fighting with his feelings to gain favour in his father's eyes and mighty jealous of anyone else who shares that favour with him. He is an ordinary boy, a coward and a weakling but possesses enough talent to win the local kite fighting tournament in Kabul.
The depiction of peaceful seventies' days in Kabul and the post Russian and Talibani regime passages are brillianly written.
More than Amir, it is Hassan who is 'The Kite Runner' and his boy Sohrab who tug at your heart strings. Hassan is younger to Amir, hare-lipped, a low caste Shia Hazara servant who is mocked in the streets. This story is about these two boys who could not see what was going to hit them on the afternoon of the kite flying tournament. That incident shatters their lives.
This is one of the greatest tales of redemption that I have read.
Hats off to Mr. Hosseini. This is a master story written with pain and honesty.
I will give you few glimpses of this master work : "I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. ... Hassan and I fed from the same breasts. we took our first steps on the same lawn in the same yard. And, under the same roof, we spoke our first words. Mine was Baba . His was Amir - My name. Looking back on it now, I think the foundation for what happened in the winter of 1975 - and all that followed- was already laid in those first words. ... We crossed the river and drove north through the crowded Pashtunistan Square. Baba (father) used to take me to Khyber restaurant there for kabab. The building was still standing, but its doors were padlocked, the windows shattered, and the letters K and R missing from its name ( Excellent imagery, typical and reminiscent of most of the civil and war torn strife areas not only of Afghanistan but universally could be describing any place in the world and you will come across images like these)... After all, life is not a Hindi movie. Zindagi Migzara. Afghans like to say - Life goes on, unmindful of beginning, end, kamyab, nah-kam, crisis or catharsis, moving forward like a slow, dusty caravan of kochis." Well written.
Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan and his family received political asylum in the States in 1980. He is a doctor and lives in California now. This is his first novel and richly deserving of the San Fransisco Chronicle Award and being declared Bestseller by the New York times.
It is full of haunting images. It is lively, engaging and will definitely bring a tear or two to your eyes.
People living in the subcontinent would identify with the importance of kite flying and kite running during Tilsankrat and other days of the year. Run with this kite and read. You will not be able to forget this book.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dvorak's New World by Solti


The first four symphonies of Dvorak were rejected by himself as immature and were omitted from his list of acknowledged works. Hence, this symphony was known as No. 5 till 1955. Earlier, his sixth symphony was published as No.1, Seventh as No. 2, Fifth as No. 3, Eighth as No.4 and occasionally labelled as 'Pastoral'.
NEW WORLD : This descriptive title is illuminating for this symphony. First, it sticks in the memory. Secondly, it reveals ethnic negro melodies adapted by Dvorak.
In 1891, Dvorak received a telegram from a wealthy American woman, Mrs. Jeanette M. Thurber, asking him to accept the post of Director at the National Conservatory of Music in New York founded by her some years earlier. Dvorak refused at first as he was reluctant to leave his native Czechoslovakia but was tempted later by the very large salary. When Dvorak reached New York in the autumn of 1892, he was the centre of attention of all musical circles. Mrs. Thurber wanted that Dvorak , who had produced a truly national music based on the folk music of his own country, should show Americans how to do the same thing with their own folk music. A close friend of Dvorak, Henry.E. Krehbiel, wrote that Dvorak held it to be the duty of composers to reflect in their music the spirit of the folk music of the people to whom they belong, not by using those tunes badly as themes, but by studying their characteristics and composing in their vein. Dvorak strove hard in his New World Symphony to reproduce the fundamental characteristics of the Red Indian and Negro melodies which he found in America. Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's ' Song of Hiawatha' made a deep impression on Dvorak as his notebooks show. Mrs. Thurber would have liked to see him make an opera of it but this did not work out. However, a tune jotted down by Dvorak in December 1892 under the heading 'Legend' became the theme of the middle section of the slow Largo movement of the symphony.
Like many nineteenth century symphonies, the New World exemplifies the cyclic principle of connecting the various movements thematically. In the slow introduction to the first movement, there is presented on the horns an emphatic rhythmic figure consisting of a rising arpeggio followed by a falling one.
This recurs as a motto theme in all the later movements. It is answered by a springily rhythmic phrase on the clarinets and bassoons. The second subject is announced on flutes and oboes. Near the end of the exposition, the flute plays a third lyrical tune. This theme carries over into the development. In the recapitulation, the first subject is much condensed and the second is elaborated and there is a coda based on the motto. The repeat in the exposition of this movement has been honoured only by Istvan Kertesz,Leonard Bernstein and Carlo Maria Giulini.
The Largo is made up of two memorable tunes. The first is on the cor anglais and the second is on flute and oboe.
The Scherzo is in the traditional form with a trio.In its coda, the motto theme again occurs.
In the finale, the massive main theme is announced by the horns and later passed to the strings. The second theme is accompanied on the cellos beneath a long breathed tune on the clarinet. The cor anglais tune from the Largo is brought forward now on the flute. A phrase from the Scherzo now comes on the violins and the motto theme as usual on the horns. In the viola counterpoint to this passage, there is a resemblance to 'Yankee Doodle'. Some recapitulation of the finale's own material follows until the motto theme heralds the coda in a grand thematic apotheosis.It is a magnificent work.
The noteworthy readings of this symphony in order are: Istvan Kertesz/London Symphony; Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic; Carlo Maria Giulini/Chicago Symphony; Sir Georg Solti/Chicago Symphony; Arturo Toscanini/NBC Symphony; Jascha Horenstein/Wiener Symphony; Vaclav Talich/Czech Philharmonic; Rudolf Kempe/Royal Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta/Los Angeles Philharmonic; Rafael Kubelik/Berlin Philharmonic; Herbert Von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic.
The Kertesz set is the definitive for complete symphonies.The definitive version of Dvorak's New World Symphony is by Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic in the late sixties version on Columbia with the first movement repeat honoured and the climaxes being utterly blazing. Another performance that rivals Bernstein is by Istvan Kertesz and the London Symphony. This performance could also share the definitive stamp. I am attaching a Vienna Philharmonic reading of 1961 under Kertesz. Pay close attention to the intensity of the timpani. http://youtu.be/J10s82y28QY There are three other performances that have to be noted for excellent renditions of this symphony. They are Rudolf Kempe with the Royal Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Add to this the performances by Sir Georg Solti and Chicago as well as by Carlo Maria Giulini and Chicago Symphony.Royal Philharmonic Rudolf Kempe and Royal Philharmonic Paavo Jarvi.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Carl Maria Von Weber : Der Freischutz


German opera made its first mature gesture in Mozart, especially with Die Zauberflote. A little isolated progress was with Beethoven's Fidelio. Then it came to its first full flowering in Weber. The pinnacle was, of course, Richard Wagner. Wagner lifted the opera on to another plane. These statements will serve to put the operas of Weber into quick perspective.
Weber was born in 1786 and died of consumption at the early age of thirty nine in 1826. Thus, his own lifetime lay within the lifetime of Beethoven. He was musically as unlike Beethoven as a contemporary genius could be. Yet, he remains the germinating link between Beethoven and Wagner. In Weber, German romanticism came to a head; his operas are full of the legendary atmosphere, the ghosts and spectres and goblins and the natural mythology of German folk art. When you add a rich and colourful imagination, you have the ingredients of a Weber opera in a nutshell. You can sense it at once in the preludial bars of almost any Weber overture. He throws you at once into the lands of romance and fancy and emotional ardour. Usually, it is Nature which is more often the active protagonist and the constant backcloth.
Weber wrote extensively for the stage. It was in the theatre that his original genius flowered and grew to fulfillment. The overtures have maintained enduring popularity in the romantic orchestral repertoire. Weber is a complete master in the overtures. He spun poetic and intensely imaginative summaries of their drama. He followed the fashion of the day by writing his overtures after the rest of the opera had been completed so as to give himself more elbow room.
Der Freischutz is Weber's best and most convincing opera. The overture sets not only the natural scene but the whole atmosphere of romantic mystery, magic and superstition. At once, we are at the heart of the matter in the lyric melody for four horns at the opening and the strange dark modulations. The famous clarinet passage depicts Max as he looks into the depths of the Wolf's Glen. The principal allegro is based on Max's aria and Agathe's prayer. Weber's invention is at its imaginative best throughout. At the end, all will be well as the brilliant coda leaves us in no doubt.
Der Freischutz retains the spoken dialogue derived from the German Singspiel. In Euryanthe, Weber essays grand opera at its most complete. He foreshadows the Wagnerian music drama, leitmotifs and all. The libretto was written by Hermina Von Chezy who also wrote 'Rosamunde.' In Euryanthe, a brilliant opening leads to a magnificent exposition and development of the leading themes to end in great splendour and triumphant pomp.
Abu Hassan is a one-act Singspiel to a libretto adapted from an Arabian fairy tale. It is light heartedly humorous in a way which the German romantics seldom achieved. It has a touch of foreign colour.
Weber was indeed the epitome of that German romanticism which swept through the minds of young Europe at the dawn of the nineteenth century.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

THE GUNS OF NAVARONE


1961. First Rate Production. This film gets AAAAA rating for its great direction, great performances and great music. I consider Alistair Maclean's 'Where Eagles Dare' as his best work followed by "The Guns of Navarone' as a close second. Thanks to Adolf Hitler for providing all the drama as both are with the backdrop of Nazi bashing during the prime of the second world war.
Columbia purchased the screen rights to this work in 1957. It cost $16 million to make this picture. They got Carl Foreman to produce and write this project as he had done 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' earlier. Foreman had Cary Grant and Alec Guinness in mind for the roles of Captain Mallory and Corporal Miller. They were not available. He eventually signed Gregory Peck and David Niven. They were soon joined by Anthony Quinn as Andrea Stavros, Stanley Baker as Brown "The Butcher of Barcelona', Anthony Quayle as Major Roy Franklin and James Darren as Spyro Pappadimous. The female characters were added with Maclean's permission (not originally in the plot) in Irene Papas as Maria and Gia Scala as Anna. Much of the filming was done in the Aegean Sea.
J. Lee Thompson, an English filmmaker, was signed to direct this epic adventure. Thompson is noted for his brisk storytelling. Shooting began in April 1960 on Rhodes in the Dodecanese island area of the Aegean Sea. Interiors were shot in London's Shepperton Studios. Attention to detail earned the film an Academy Award for Special Effects. I am surprised the jury could not find anything else worth rewarding. It was a sacrilege done by them. At the Globe Awards, it won the Best Picture and Best Music. Dimitri Tiomkin has written a magnificent score and songs for the film.
It was the top grossing picture of 1961. It has taken its place among the all time classic action and suspense films. Everyone acted brilliantly. Special mention for David Niven who stands out.
Six people save the lives of fourteen hundred on Kheros island in Greece by destroying the Guns of Navarone wielded by the Germans.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Antonin Dvorak : Symphony No. 8. G Major. Op. 88


After his fortieth year, recognition on an international scale came to Dvorak in the 1880s. Brahms' assistance enabled his music to gain a firm foothold outside Bohemia, particularly in Germany. He had successful visits to England beginning in 1884. With the English tour gains, he was able to purchase land and a small country home for his family forty miles south of Prague. There, he composed his D Minor in 1885 and his G Major symphony in 1889. His D Minor was composed under the inspiration of Brahms' third. His seventh is a mature work of high and tragic intensity in the lineage of the German masters.
The G Major symphony is carefree and lyrical. I call it his 'Pastoral.' It is full of the folk spirit of the Czech countryside. He wrote this after he was admitted to the membership of the Emperor Franz Joseph's Czech Academy of Science, Literature and the Arts.
This symphony is constructed on a big scale for a large orchestra with a fully developed Allegro con Brio, an Adagio, a Scherzo with a waltz theme in the minor mode with a lilting Schubertian trio and a finale in variation form. Special attention has to be paid to the lovely and natural triplet upbeat and descending melodic sequence of the Adagio theme. The same theme becomes a graceful waltz in the third movement.
Like Mahler's Angelic Fourth, this symphony has its freedom from precedent of any kind. It is lyrically spontaneous though Dvorak laboured over his initial ideas and sketches, coming up with some of the finest touches and most salient melodic turns only after repeated attempts by trial and error. The sketch books clearly show the evolution of the theme that serves the finale variations of this G Major symphony. The piquant flute solo from the first movement's subject is split into two at the start of the finale with a brilliant fanfare in the trumpets. The theme is also presented in the lower strings with an occurence again of a descending melodic sequence. The sketch books of Dvorak as revealed by Jack Diether (Editor of Chord and Discord) show ten separate and different attempts to arrive at the right theme. Another good book that talks about these sketches is 'Antonin Dvorak - Musician and Craftsman' by Clapham.
When I first heard this symphony in the freshman year of my college in New Jersey in 1973, I was dumbstruck by the melodic beauty it possessed and how sublimely rustic it was. Very rarely, you are hit by pieces at first hearing. That was a rendition by the Boston Symphony under Charles Munch on RCA. I have not heard a better performance still. Other noteworthy readings are London Symphony under Istvan Kertesz, Philharmonia under Wolfgang Sawallisch, Hamburg Symphony under Charles Mackerras and Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA


Richard Strauss was musically influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche's writings. He greatly admired his philosophy, particularly the theory of 'Superman'. He believed in it. This belief led him to portray musically the lives of many superheroes and mostly it was he (autobiographical) in the garb of those heroes. These include Don Juan, Don Quixote, Till Eulenspiegel, Ein Heldenleben and Also Sprach Zarathustra.
He started writing this magnificent symphonic poem on 4th February 1896 and completed it on 24th August the same year. It had its first performance in Frankfurt-Am-Main on 27th November of 1896. It was based on Nietzsche's famous book - "a book for all and for none." Many criticisms were levelled at Strauss for attempting to write philosophical music. He replied, “I did not intend to write philosophical music or to portray in music Nietzsche's great work; I meant to convey by means of music an idea of the development of the human race from its origin through the various phases of its development, both religious and scientific up to Nietzsche's idea of the 'Superman'."
As a preface to the symphonic poem, there is printed on the flyleaf of the score an excerpt from Nietzsche's book - the first section of Zarathustra's introductory speech: "Having attained the age of thirty, Zarathustra left his home and the lake nearby and went into the mountains. Then, he rejoiced in his spirit and his loneliness and for ten years did not grow weary of it. But at last, his heart turned - one morning, he got up at dawn and stepped into the presence of the sun and thus spake unto the sun - ' Thou Great Star! What would be thy happiness were it not for those for whom thou shinest? For ten years, thou hast come up here to my cave. Thou wouldst have got sick of thy light and thy journey but for me, mine eagle and my serpent. But we waited for thee every morning and received from thee abundance, blessed thee for it. Lo! I am weary of my wisdom; like the bee that hath collected too much honey; I need hands reaching out for it. I would fain rant and distribute it until the wise among men could once more enjoy their folly and the poor once more their riches. For that end, I must descend to the depth as thou dost at even, when sinking behind the sea thou givest light to the lower regions, thou resplendent star! I must, like thee, go down, as men say - men to whom I would descend. Then bless me, thou impassive eye, that canst look without envy even upon excessive happiness. Bless the cup which is soon to overflow so that the golden water flowing out of it may carry everywhere the reflection of thy rapture. Lo! This cup is about to empty itself again and Zarathustra will once more become a man." -- Thus Zarathustra's going down began reflected in the dying pages of the score.
Will the mind of man ever solve the riddle of the world?
The World Riddle Theme with introductory bars on bass and pipe organ with the solemn motto C-G-C in various rhythmic guises pervades the whole symphonic poem through to its very end. The simple but expressive introduction grows quickly in intensity and ends majestically on the climactic C Major chord of the pipe organ and the large grand orchestra. A mysterious tremulando phase in the cellos and basses sets the atmosphere of the first episode in A Flat Major. The horns then intone the majestic Gregorian hymn, 'Credo in unum deum'. The next section is agitato with its ascending B Minor passage in the cellos and bassoons, the upper strings take over and the chromatic thirds of the answering woodwind is that of the great yearning from Von Den Hinterwettern to Von Der Grossen Sehnsucht. A rapid double glissando in the harp leads without interruption to the episode headed ' Von Den Freuden - und leidenschaften', a passionate animato. You will come across a melancholic cantilena in a tender passage and a motive that is expanded by the cellos and bassoons. The next episode, 'Von Der Wissenschaft' (Of Science) brings the fugue that is probably the most scientific musical form. Cellos and divided contrabasses open this episode with a fugato whose subject contains all the degrees, both diatonic and chromatic of the scale. Then, "Der Gensende' (The Convalescent) rises in B Minor on strings beginning in the cellos and violas. The subsequent 'Tanzlied' (Dance Song) with its laughing woodwind introduction leads to a waltz-like 3/4 movement akin to some of the best Rosenkavalier waltzes. In contrast, the 'Nachtlied' (Night Song) offers a very lyrical theme on a base of sustained chords. A low pitched bell peals fortissimo and the Nachtwanderlied (Song of the Night Wanderer) begins punctuated every four bars by the bell whose twelve strokes softly die away in a sustained decrescendo. Then comes the mystical conclusion that ends in two different keys. It aroused much controversy when the work was first performed. The trombones hold the chord C-E-F Sharp, the violins, flutes and oboes carry the Theme of the Ideal in B Major. The pizzicato of the basses sound repeatedly the C-G-C Theme of the World Riddle. Evidently, the great question remains unsolved. Magnificent.
The work has received its performance by almost every reputed conductor dead or living. I make a special mention of an extra ordinary performance by Zubin Mehta leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1969. David Frisina played the solo violin with aplomb. As a Zoroastrian, Zubin Mehta has grasped the entire content of Nietzsche and Strauss. He is a Parsi and has delivered a bravura performance. The other two conductors who surpass the rest are Herbert Von Karajan (with both Berlin and Wiener) and Fritz Reiner with the Chicago.