Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Roma Symphony of Bizet Thanks to Unsung Masterwork; we have a recorded version here. Bizet won the Prix de Rome in 1857. This required him to spend the next couple of years at the French Academy in Rome, followed by a year of study in Germany. He also did some touring through Italy, seeing places that he had not visited in his earlier travels in 1858 and 1859. In Rimini, he got the idea for this symphony. He made some sketches but had to leave them incomplete as his mother passed away and he had to rush back to Paris. The Symphony in C "Roma" is the second symphony written by Bizet. This is also in the key of C Major as his earlier symphony which he wrote as a student at age seventeen. Roma was written with plenty of interruptions between 1860 and 1871.Bizet was not too satisfied with it and made many revisions.All four movements were performed in his lifetime, but never on the same occasion. The full symphony in its latest revision was performed in 1875, after his death. This is the famous C Major Symphony performed brilliantly by Georges Pretre and the Wiener Philharmoniker. The Symphony in C is an early work by Bizet. For a student just seventeen years of age, it is a marvel of melodic invention and extraordinary handling of themes in the orchestration. It was written while he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire under Charles Gounod. It was an assignment. Bizet's creative work in his life was cut short by a premature death. He died of heart failure at the age of thirty six. Well, Mozart too was on earth for a period of only thirty five years. Both are extraordinary musicians, extremely gifted and talented.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Epic Messe Sollenelle by Louis Vierne Even in the world of classical music, not many people would have heard of Louis Vierne. Today, I came across his magnificent Messe Sollenelle written for two choirs and an omnipresent organ. I am going to explore all his organ symphonies very soon. I was reading about his life and what hit me most was the moment of his death. Vierne was the principal organist at the Cathedrale de Notre Dame in Paris for most of his sixty seven years in his life. He died while giving his one thousand seven hundred and fiftieth recital on 2nd June, 1937. Flashback: Despite holding a prestigious post, his personal life was full of turmoil. He had a troubled marriage. His wife left him after few years of marriage. His youngest son passed away from tuberculosis. His brother and his eldest son were killed during the First World War. He suffered with an accident where his leg had to be amputated from the ankle. He had to use wooden supports to retain his pedal technique. He was also born with a congenital cataract problem in one eye. At one point in time, he had to spend six months in a dark room in Switzerland recovering from a surgery which was eventually unsuccessful. In his sixty seventh year, he was a broken and depressed man. While giving his final recital, he felt uneasy and collapsed after playing the last note of the concert and died a few moments later. Vierne had always said to his friends that this is how he hoped he would die, at the keyboard of the pipe organ he loved. The bench that he sat on is on display at the Notre Dame Cathedral to this day. This episode in Vierne's life reminds me of a tango orchestra leader in Argentina who had told his friends that he would die playing his favourite instrument, the bandoneon. The name of that great musician was Anibal Troilo and he died after giving a concert in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vox Balaenae Vox Balaenae - The Voice of the Whale - was written by George Crumb, an American composer. It was premiered by the New York Camerata in 1971. In 1967, it was discovered by biologist Roger Payne that humpback whales actually sing and he published recordings of the vocalizations of whales. It was deemed complex. This helped to trigger the movement to save whales from poachers. I wonder if whales do not have the right to exist without their singing value. This world is mad and greedy. George Crumb was inspired after hearing those whale recordings of Payne but this work does not use those tapes. Crumb has tried to get that effect reproduced in musical form. He has composed this for three masked players who handle electrically amplified piano, flute and cello to generate sounds that bring to mind the images of the sea and the singing of the whales.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Zero Dark Thirty This is a great account of perhaps the most important man hunt in American history which took a decade of patience and plotting and instinctive speculation on part of a focused and obsessive CIA operative. The film covers the Navy SEAL Team 6 operation of May 2011 that killed Usama Bin Laden. Kathryn Bigelow has come out with another thriller after her brilliant `Hurt Locker' which shot Jeremy Renner into fame. This film has another impressive performance by Jessica Chastain as Maya, the CIA operative in Pakistan. This was the best performance by an actress in 2012. She was not even nominated. Meryl Streep was awarded for `The Iron Lady', playing Margaret Thatcher. Maybe, that was an author backed role and the jury tends to tilt towards such performances but Chastain's was the more sensitive one. A great statement by Kathryn Bigelow. She has got style. Chastain was acknowledged by the Broadcast Film Critics Association as the best actress. She is a versatile actress. I was impressed by her performance as Maggie Beauford in `Lawless'. As Maya in this film, she has done a strong portrayal of a stubborn and obstinate CIA operative who targets the couriers that Laden was using while working on a base from Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Twelve Years a Slave People who tell me that they came away from the cinemas depressed after seeing this film disappoint me because they have no appreciation of how a statement of truth and circumstances has to be studied in life and absorbed. Cinema is not meaningless entertainment. There are others who have called this film `a torture porn'. Such degenerates have to know what a good book or a good cinema is compared with the junk that they see on the torture porn sites and sado-masochistic websites. Hats off to Brad Pitt for going ahead and producing this film out of the book written by Solomon Northup and how cruel fate was to him in the 1841 Saratoga New York life. He was a free man who was abducted with deceit to be sold in the slave market. He survived for twelve years and this account truly deserves the best picture Oscar. Chiwetel Ejiofor also deserves the best actor. If I were in the jury, I would have given my nod to him than Matthew McConaughey for the Dallas Buyers Club. Hans Zimmer's musical score is riveting and haunting. I would not give much marks to Steve McQueen as a director but Chiwetel added intensity in the film along with Michael Fassbender. Even Brad Pitt is excellent in a couple of scenes in a cameo as Master Bass. This is a vivid tale, told with an amazing emotional intensity.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Solti - A Maestro and a Mephisto A musician has the privilege to kick ass if he is of the calibre of Solti. People romanticise about Beethoven; he would throw a chair or kick the teeth out of your mediocrity. There are few geniuses who have zero tolerance of mediocrity! Solti was born in Budapest in 1912. He studied piano, composition, and conducting with Bartok and Leo Weiner. He made his concert debut as a pianist. The Budapest Opera hired him as a conductor. In 1937, Toscanini selected him to assist at the Salzburg Festival. Before the Second World War broke out, Solti went as a refugee to Switzerland. He played piano again to earn. In 1942, he earned first prize in the Concours International in Geneva. After the war in 1946, the American military government invited him to conduct Beethoven’s Fidelio in Munich. The success of this performance led to his appointment as music director of the Bavarian State Opera. He carried forward the reputation of the Opera Company for the period of next six years. In 1952, Solti accepted took over as artistic and music director of the Frankfurt City Opera. He worked there for nine years. From 1961, he became music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and stayed there for a decade. He recorded the entire Ring with the Vienna Philharmonic, a historic undertaking which required seven years to complete and was the first complete studio recording. I personally feel that this Ring recorded in the sixties and Mahler's `Symphony of a Thousand' remain as definitive recordings of these works. Solti received knighthood in 1972 for his outstanding contribution to music. He was also honoured with a lifetime achievement award in 1996, one year before his death from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Solti has won thirty one Grammy awards. This is probably more than any other popular or classical recording artist.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Spy who came in from the Cold

The film holds you from the very first frame with the excellent music by Sol Kaplan and the strains of alto saxophone. The film is made on the exciting novel of John Le Carre. Richard Burton deserved an Oscar for his performance here as a disillusioned and dispirited British agent. He is made to act as an undercover agent behind the Iron Curtain - East Germany. His defection is staged but it goes sour as he is arrested and humiliated. He is actually used as a pawn to get a double agent reinstated in Berlin. The camera work by Oswald Morris creates an impact on the film in black and white. The film is very well directed by Martin Ritt. Claire Bloom plays a British communist who loves Alec Leamus (Burton)during the undercover operation phase. The double crosses are so well plotted by Le Carre who also wrote the screenplay for the film. Oskar Werner has played well as Fiedler and so has Peter Van Eyck as Hans Dieter Mundt.

Passions of Ralph Vaughan Williams ) This film was screened on the BBC Television in 2008 and a book has also been published describing the passion of Ralph Vaughan Williams with women that he was connected with during his life and the influence it had on his creative compositions and the ideas that were translated into musical thoughts. This is a brilliant documentary done by John Bridcut, giving details about Vaughan Williams' marriage to his disabled wife Adeline and his affair with the woman who became his second wife, Ursula. Bridcut neatly explains the effect these relationships had on the music and demonstrates this by playing some performances of his choral and orchestral works. The film was sot at Cadogan Hall in London and the music is covered by the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, directed by Richard Hickox. The singers are of the Schola Cantorum of Oxford. Among the contributors to this film is the (late) Ursula Vaughan Williams, who was interviewed shortly before she died at the age of 96 in 2008. Once you are through with the film, listen to his Pastoral Symphony. Here is his Third Symphony (called Pastoral)