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.