Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sibelius Swanwhite

"Swanwhite" is a play by August Strindberg for which Sibelius wrote the music in 1904. This symbolic tale has evil, represented by a wicked stepmother who is defeated by the good Princess Swanwhite. Sibelius composed fourteen numbers from which he subsequently compiled a concerto suite in seven movements. He composed these pieces between 1906 and 1908 to accompany the music scene . Gothenburg Neeme Jarvi

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

This film was ably directed by Richard Brooks in 1958. Perhaps Paul Newman was not so deep and penetrating in his performance as maybe Brando was in a Streetcar Named Desire but, it was a super performance nevertheless. The film actually was carried by a superlative performance by Burl Ives as Big Daddy. Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie and the cat also delivered one of the finest performances of her life. She looks stunningly beautiful in the film. She is struggling to find her bearings amid family strife. She is both fragile and strong. She knows what she wants but she also wants support of her husband. Great cinema brings about realism in a deep sense. It is about exploring the truth behind the human conditions. This film brings it out.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pianoforte and Aleksandr Scriabin

I came across a brilliant discourse by Stuart Scott on how Aleksandr Scriabin made a great name for himself as a concert pianist. He managed this in a period when Rachmaninov, Arensky and Taneyev were playing and the public were used to hearing such giants of the keyboard. This fact ndicates that Scriabin was backed with some calibre. There are sufficient comments by musicians who knew Scriabin or worked with him or heard him play testifying his abilities as a performer and composer. A point has to be noted that Scriabin never played music of any other composer after his conservatoire recitals and he was never without critics whose bad reviews were because of their dislike of his music and his piano technique. After his last piano recital in Moscow in 1915, Grigori Prokofiev wrote in the Russian Musical Gazette said, “What makes Scriabin’s music ravishing is simply the enchantment of his performance. The tone is marvellous, despite a continuous sharpness, even clanging ‘mezzo piano’, but he achieves extraordinary effects. Don’t forget he is a wizard with the pedal, though his ethereal sounds cannot quite fit the hall. He breaks the rhythmic flow and something new comes out each time. This suffuses the performance with freshness. Never has he played his Fourth Sonata with more mastery or sincerity as he did yesterday. What power he put in the theme in the second movement! Yet the actual sound was not big. The secret is in the energetic rhythm”. It is well known that Scriabin did not play a piece in the same way at each performance. He played according to his mood declaring that “a piano composition is many facetted … alive and breathes on its own. It is one thing today, and another tomorrow, like the sea. How awful it would be if the sea were the same every day and the same forever, like a movie film!” It is also well known that Scriabin’s playing was extremely free as far as rhythm was concerned. In 1916, N. N. Cherkass, published a book entitled, “Scriabin as Pianist and Piano Composer”. Here he pointed out the reasons why he thought Scriabin was a bad pianist, but the book does contain a certain objectivity which is useful to a musicologist. Scriabin would use the pedal to help create the desired effect for his compositions. The pedal was a necessity for his slow changing harmonies. The use of the pedal in his music was not for a legato effect, but mostly for sustaining harmonies. It is clear from Scriabin’s compositions that he was a master when it came to pedal techniques and tonal balance. There is no doubt also that he created a great impact on his audiences with his magnetism. When Scriabin died, Rachmaninov gave a series of recitals in memory of his friend.Rachmaninov’s playing was that of a nineteenth century virtuoso whose performances were always controlled and refined, technically brilliant with a good sense of form. As if seeking a logic in Skryabin’s harmonic structure, Rachmaninov artificially condensed the tempi. Although Skryabin’s beginnings were Chopinesque, he soon developed a highly individual style in his compositions.As a teacher, Scriabin insisted that the first quality to be sought for in performance was intoxication. He captured the imagination of his followers and held his audiences captive. His recitals were events not to be missed. They caused excitement in the musical world and he was hailed as a star, not only by the public but by fellow musicians, some of whom were of an older generation. He possessed all the basic qualities of a concert pianist. His memory and technique were excellent. He learned things quickly and had a good sense of pitch. His pedal effects were outstanding. He had small hands and that his right hand troubled him occasionally but it was never too serious to cancel a performance because of it. What he lacked in his right hand, he made up for in the technique of his left. His phrasing was subtle and he worked on tonal shadings. As with his approach to sound, Scriabin had a new approach to rhythm.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Giuseppe Martucci D Minor Piano Concerto No. 1

Giuseppe Martucci Work: Piano Concerto No.1 in D-minor, Op 40 (1878) Pianist: Francesco Caramiello Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra Conductor: Francesco D'Avalos Allegro Andante Allegro Besides being a composer, Martucci was a noteworthy conductor who premiered two Wagner operas in Italy. He was a favourite of Toscanini. He has also composed two symphonies besides his two piano concerti. Piano Concerto No. 1 was premiered in 1878 It is a work that is influenced by the styles of Mendelssohn and Chopin.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Third Man

The Third Man is always mentioned with pride and pleasure when Welles' name comes up. It is marvellous entertainment. There are many sequences which carry the stamp of masterful art. They are stylishly done by Carol Reed. Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard and Adala Valli have also put in great performances in the film. One of the classic sequences is the first appearance of Welles. The final shot is also well done. Welles plays Harry Lime, an American black marketer in Vienna who is in the business of selling diluted penicillin in Viennese hospitals. The build up of this character is a study specimen in character exposition and in the art of film making. The first half hour of the film discusses almost nothing except Harry Lime. When the character finally turns up on the screen, Orson Welles comes through in the play of dark and light sans makeup or any wig. The screen presents Welles as he is. This scene has given the film a mighty special touch. Welles' participation in the film is so brief that the Assistant Director, Guy Hamilton, filled in as Welles' double for some shots in the dark sewer. The reason being that Welles was busy filling up for his own production of Othello then. I recommend this film as a study film along with Citizen Kane. These two films are sufficient to give Orson Welles a legendary status. Anton Karas also achieved a legendary status for himself for the magnificent title music that is played even today with the same enthusiasm as it instilled in those days when the film was released in 1949.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Military Haydn by Jansons and Concertgebouw - A Definitive Performance

This is the hundredth symphony of Franz Joseph Haydn that belongs to his London edition. It is called `Military' as a result of the effects of percussion in the second movement and finale. I call this performance of Jansons and Concertgebouw Amsterdam the definitive because of the repeat which is honoured in the exposition of the first movement. Jansons is in full control of the dynamics of this symphony. There is also a solo trumpet that is kept off stage during the second movement. The percussion effects are great.At the end of the final movement, four percussionists march among the audience while playing to accentuate the military impact.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Definitive Le Sacre Du Printemps Zubin Mehta

Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam with Zubin Mehta on 16th January 2009. Zubin Mehta gave a splashy rendition with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1969 that established him as an international conductor. Mehta has always been a superb technician with a control over the playing but the excitement is never supported by an underlying vision of the score as it is with the Concertgebouw. This performance excels the work done even by the electric Boulez and masterful Bernstein.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Definitive Resurrection

On 29 August 1999, Zubin Mehta conducted Mahler Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)at the neighbourhood of Buchenwald concentration camp in the German city of Weimar with the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra playing together as an ensemble. Another amazing result was achieved by Mehta at the Mount Masada recording of the Resurrection. The Masada Mount live recording (open-air concert)is much better soundwise.The Mezzo sung by Quivar is relaxed and smooth. As can be expected from the locale settings, this concert is loaded with emotion with Zubin Mehta in full control. This performance is one to cherish and the one to have.

The House of Wax

This flm was a remake of `The Mystery of the Wax Museum' that was released in 1933. It started the association of Vincent Price’s with horror and thriller films. Today, Vincent Price is always thought of as an actor who did nothing but horror films. Very few people realise that he had played the Master Builder's role in Ten Commandments to perfection. House of Wax was also Warner Brothers’ first ever 3D film. Another thing that can be mentioned here is the Director, Andre Van de Toth, shot the entire thing with the help of only one eye. Vincent Price plays an eccentric sculptor, Henry Jared, whose medium is the dummy made of wax. Jared is skilled at his work but the wax museum is not churning big money. This is because of Jared’s refusing to compromise his talents to make the kind of wax sculptures the public wants. Anthony and Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, and Marie Antoinette have some appeal for some people but the majority wanted sensational stuff. The public, as is the case in all ages, does not want sophistication and edification; it wanted crap! It wanted to see the gruesome.Jared’s business partner, Matthew Burke played by Roy Roberts, tries to convince him about the public tastes so that he can change his sculpting ways. Jared is unwilling and is looking for another interested partner but Burke is not in the mood for waiting for a long time. Burke’ wants to burn down the place and claim insurance. The place is under insuarnce for twenty five thousand dollars (quite a big amount in 1953). Jared is furious when he comes to know about Burke's plans.But Burke is keen to go ahead with his plan and he sets fire to Jared’s studio resulting in a tussle between the two men. Jared is knocked unconscious and sufferes severe burns to his face and body. Burke spends the insurance money and gives Jared up as burnt and dead. Burke spends on an actress,Cathy Gray played by Carolyn Jones. To take the story further, Burke is killed by a man in black whose face is burnt beyond recognition. The next victim is Cathy and she is strangled to death in her bedroom one night while her roommate Sue Allen played by Phyllis Kirk has gone out. Sue finds Cathy’s body and finds that the man in black is running away, escpaing through the window.Sue has a friend, Scott Andrews played by Paul Picerni. Scott is a sculptor and he takes Sue to a wax museum that has opened recently in towm. The owner of this `House of Wax', as it is called, is Henry Jared, reports of whose death were exaggerated in the papers. The fire had left him a cripple along with making his hands useless for sculpting. The exhibits in the museum are not his own creation as he supervises his apprentices, Igor played by Charles Bronson who was still going by the name of Charles Buchinsky and Leon played by Nedrick Young. When Sue sets eyes on the sculpture of Joan of Arc, she realises that it resembles Cathy. This adds up to the fact that someone stole Cathy’s body from the morgue a few days earlier and Sue becomes suspicious that this Joan of Arc waxwork could be the body of Cathy. She is also a little scared when she learns that Jared wants her as a model for his new Marie Antoinette. He wants Scott to do the sculpting. Sue is not the only one who is susoicious of the goings on at the House of Wax. Detective Sergeant, Lieutenant Tom Brennan played by Frank Lovejoy is actually investigating Cathy’s murder and the disappearance of her body rom the morgue. The Sergeant also realises that John Wilkes Booth in the Lincoln theatre drama resembles a city prosecutor who had vanished few weeks ago under suspicious conditions. He is also stunned by watching an exhibit in the crime section of the house of horrors that depicts the death by hanging of Matthew Burke, a case which the police department had been unable to solve. What adds up for the detective is that even Burke’s body had also gone missingfrom the morgue! One day, Sue sneaks in after the closing hours and checks out the wax figure of Joan of Arc and discovers that it is Cathy’s body when she checks under the dummy’s wig. She sees not find wax pate but a real head with blonde hair. Her discovery naturally lands her in trouble and she finds herself bound beneath a vat of boiling wax by Henry Jared.Scott and the detective are meanwhile on the rescue trip. The music score is provided by David Buttolph and creates the right support and effect for the plot and the 3D effectson the screen.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Daphnis et Chloe II Suite Maurice Ravel

Ravel's score for his Daphnis et Chloe ballet is full of masterful ochestration as is exemplified in most of his works including his adaptation of Mussorgsky's `Pictures at an Exhibition'. It is scored for a large orchestra that includes a piccolo, flutes, oboes, English horn, clarinets, bassoon and contrabassoon, french horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas, harps, three timpanists, a wind machine, divided strings and four-part chorus. It took Ravel a long time to complete Daphnis. He began writing in 1909 and completed in 1912. Ravel looked at himself as a failure for not having produced works of significance in his life. Ravel wrote in his diary that his intention in composing Daphnis was to write for a large musical fresco with dedication to the Greek narrative rather than being archaic. He wrote that he wanted to write the music symphonically as per a tonal scheme, using very few motifs. Ravel has assigned set motifs and instruments to signify all the main characters. Their repetitive nature makes the score almost a symphonic one where motifs are being developed organically. The inspiration seems to have come from Saint Saens' Samson et Dalila, Borodin's Prince Igor and Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade. Ravel has managed to maintain a vast range of spatial effects and musical textures by repeatedly dividing the strings into eight parts. He is also using the function of mutes frequently. Strings are sometimes playing on fingerboards. There are few instruments that are even placed behind the stage. The chorus in the whole ballet ( not in this Second Suite) is instructed to sing from behind the stage with closed mouths - something that Holst liked and used in his Neptune in his Planets Suite. The vocals are wordless. The closing moments of Daphnis bring to mind the constant pounding rhythms reminiscent of the industrial sounds coming from several factories which intrigued Ravel. The tonal centres have a wide range. The key signatures also have a range from about six flats almost to seven sharps. Daphnis is a score that can be noted for its revolutionary rhythms. Much of the Dance Contest music is written in 7/4 time with the first couple of measures shown as (3+4)/4 for guiding the players. The Bacchanale is in 5/4 time. Each measure is divided by a bar line which is dashed into (2/4+3/4). The dancers found it easy to keep memorising the name of the choreographer `Ser-Gei Dia-Ghi-Lev' to remember the beat. They have to accelerate into a rhyhthmic 3/4 before the thrilling climax at 2/4. There are many accents that are unprepared in the entire score with sudden tempo adjustments to be made. There is never an indication of a steady pulse. The dancers had to keep their score in their heads with simplified methods of their own in order to get the feel of the music and coordinate their moves accordingly. If the dancers found this complex, then what do you think was their reaction when Le Sacre du Printemps came on to the French ballet scene the very next year? This is a great read by Seiji Ozawa and Paris Conservatoire. I am also impressed by the performances of Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Georges Pretre with the Vienna Philharmonic and Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Die Geschopfe Des Prometheus

The Creatures of Prometheus (Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus), Op. 43, is a ballet written by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1801. It was first performed at the Burgtheater in Vienna and was given over twenty performances. The overture to the ballet has become a part of the concert repertoire. Beethoven also used music from this ballet in the final movement of his Eroica symphony and in his Eroica Variations for pianoforte. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a definitive performance. Other good performances are by Berlin Philharmonic and Karajan and the same orchestra with Claudio Abbado.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Blessed Revenge (Mokhtarnameh)

I would like to begin by saying that Hazrat Mokhtar has been portrayed, by the pigs who uphold the religion of Islam and call themselves Muslims, as a Liar and a Godless person. Numerous hadises have been fabricated against the name of Hazrat Mokhtar with the sole purpose of demeaning his character. Allah will bless him and overlook any shortcomings he had in his life as he had the spine and guts to stand up to the oppressors and crush their balls. What an uprising that was and what a blessed purposeful revenge to destroy the plotters behind the bloodbath of the Prophet's household! Abu Ishaq al-Mukhtar bin Abu Ubaida ath-Thaqafi was born when the Hijrat began. Though Hazrat Mokhtar was a couple of years elder to Imam Husain, he held the Imam to be his master. He proclaimed his love openly for the family of Imam Ali. Mu’awiya had Hazrat Mokhtar imprisoned in Kufa much earlier to the battle of Karbala. It was after the martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.) that Hazrat Mokhtar could esacpe from the prison with the hep of his cousin Zaedeh. When he learnt about the cruel incidents that Imam Husain was subjected to, he took an oath that he would bring the murderers to book. Initially, he joined hands with Ibn az-Zubair and helped him fight against Hussayn bin Numair. Then, he made Kufa his stronghold and collected people to form a group whose priority mission was to seek revenge for Imam Husain’s blood. Among them was Ibrahim bin Malik al-Ashthar. Ultimately, both al-Mukhtar and Ibrahim were killed but not before they were successful in their uprising and in the killing of all major perpetrators behind the crimes committed in Karbala. Hypocrisy reigned supreme after the death of Hazrat Mokhtar as it reigns supreme even today. Another observation is that the denizenry of Kufa could never be trusted. They have been an accursed lot. Mokhtarnameh is a magnificent television series produced by Sima Films based on the life of Hazrat Mukhtar Thaqafi. The direction by Davoud Mirbagheri and the performance by Fariborz Arabnia who portrays Hazrat Mokhtar are excellent. The music supports the drama capably with a haunting title theme. I have not seen a comprehensive television series drama with a historical and a psycho-analytical approach such as this. This is perhaps the greatest drama filmed on not just the Iranian scene but the world scene itself. The other two dramas that have had an impact on me have been the BBC War and Peace, 1971 version and Spartacus, 2009 version. Here is the concluding Episode XL

A Documentary on Igor Stravinsky

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky Born in Lomonosov, Russia on June 17, 1882/Died on April 6, 1971, New York. His father was a bass singer. Stravinsky took up music composition at the age of twenty and took lessons from Rimsky-Korsakov. His first major orchestral work, Fireworks, written in 1908 was heard by the impresario Sergey Diaghilev. He commissioned Stravinsky to write the Firebird ballet a couple of years later. The success of Firebird made Stravinsky famous. In fact, Fiebird could easily be called the greatest ballet written in the twentieth century after Le Sacre du Printemps. It is magnificent.The great ballet score Petrushka was written in 1911. His next ballet, The Rite of Spring, with its revolutionising rhythms and unsolved dissonances, was a landmark event in the history of music. The Premiere of the work in Paris resulted in an actual riot in the theatre. Stravinsky adopted a neo-classical approach to writing music for a while iin the nineteen twenties. His major Neoclassical works include Oedipus Rex and the Symphony of Psalms along with the Pulcinella Ballet. For those who are interested in exploring Stravinsky's music, these are his major works - Operas: The Nightingale (1914) Mavra (1922) Oedipus Rex, opera-oratorio (1927) The Rake's Progress (1951) Miscellaneous Dramatic Music: The Soldier's Tale (1918) Renard (1922) The Flood (1962) Ballets: The Firebird (1910) Petrushka (1911) The Rite of Spring (1913) Song of the Nightingale (1919) Pulcinella (1920) The Wedding (1923) Apollon Musagète (1928) Le Baiser de la Fée (1928) Perséphone (1934) Jeu de Cartes (1937) Circus Polka (1942) Scènes de Ballet (1944) Orpheus (1948) Agon (1957) Orchestral Music written: Symhony in E Flat Major (1907) Fireworks (1908) Symphony for Wind Instruments (1920) Concerto for Painoforte, Timpani, Winds and Double Bassoon (1924) Capriccio for Pianoforte and Orchestra (1929) Violin Concerto in D Major (1931) ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto (1938) Symphony in C Major (1940) Danses concertantes (1942) Circus Polka (1942) 4 Norwegian Moods (1942) Ode (1943) Symphony in Three Movements (1945) Ebony Concerto (1945) Concerto in D,Major for Strings 1946) Movements for Pianoforte and Orchestra (1959) Variations (1964) Choral Music written: The King of the Stars (1912) Symhony of Psalms (1930) Babel (1944) Mass (1948) Cantata (1952) Canticum sacrum (1955) Threni (1958) A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer (1961) The Dove Descending (1962) Introitus (1965) Requiem Canticles (1966) Two Bal′mont Poems (1911) Three Japanese Lyrics (1913) Pribaoutki (1914) Berceuses du chat (1916) 3 Shakespeare Songs (1953) In memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954) Abraham and Isaac (1963) Elegy for J. F. K. (1964) The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1966)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Zur Namensfeier Beethoven

Namensfeier 'Name-Day Celebration' Overture in C Major, Op.115 was completed in 1815 by Beethoven. It is not very frequenty played. Its title refers to the feast day of King Francis I of France. It is held on 4th October - this very day one hundred and ninety eight years ago. The theme that Beethoven uses at the beginning of the overture is indicative of the theme that was used to set Schiller's Ode to Joy for the D Minor Ninth Symphony some nine years later. This performance is a bravura one by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. Another good performance is by Klemperer and the Philharmonia.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Unfinished Oboe Concerto by Beethoven

Beethoven did not finish an oboe concerto; it was realized and performed in 2003. H. David Meyers played this concerto on June, 2010, with National Symphony Orchestra. Beethoven's Lost Oboe Concerto, Hess 12. Reconstruction of the Slow Movement by Charles Lehrer and Willem Holsbergen. Cadenza by Francoix Leleu. Performed by Nathalie Rompen (oboe) and PATRICK BATON. Concert Liege, March 24, 2011.