August 2009 - Posts
Now that the New York Philharmonic is about to inaugurate a new music director in the form of American conductor Alan Gilbert , I wonder whether this could have any similarities to the extremely controversial Obama presidency . Gilert is relatively young , only 42, but hardly lacking in experience , having served for several years as music director of Sweden's Royal Stockholm Philharmonic , and orchestra with a distinguished history , and also as music director of the Summertime Santa Fe opera festival New Mexico, as well as appearing as guest conductor with the top orchestras of Europe and America .
But he's about to take over what is probably the most thankless job in classical music when he begins his tenure in New York in a couple of weeks . He will be under the merciless scrutiny of the world's leading music critics, both in New York and elsewhere , and be subject to constant flack .
But New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tommasini , who has chided the orchestra's recently departed music director Lorin maazel for his allegedly stodgy programming and sometimes his interpretations , seems to be very favorably disposed toward Gilbert , and approves of his innovative programming . But will the audience do so ?
No matter what a New York Philharmonic conductor programs, some one will complain . If he dies a lot of new music , many in the audience will complain bitterly, and Gilbert is a committed champion of new music . If he plays a lot of standard repertoire , critics will blast him for neglecting new music . Critics will either accuse you of being too pedantically literal in interpretation of the great masterpieces , or of taking too many arbitrary liberties with them and distorting the music .
You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't . Gilbert plans to program new or recent works regularly , and one hopes that the orchestra's audience , which tends to be rather conservative, won't vote with its feet and cause a drop in ticket sales , the last thing an orchestra needs today in America .
Already on the gala opening night , which will be telecast on PBS on September 16, he will do music by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, who has been appointed composer in residence with the orchestra , and the late great french composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 -1992 ), as well as the familiar Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz .
Only time will tell how things work out in New York . Gilbert is truly gifted conductor , and highly enterprising . Let's all wish him the best .
There's an intriguing article in today's Sunday New York Times arts and leisure section on a new recording of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelungen cycle , but one with a difference - the actor and director Sven-Eric Bechtoff reads the whole thing , playing each of the many different characters !
Critic and commentator Matthew Gurewitsch, who frequently writes on classical music for the Times , discusses this curious recording , which he came across by chance at the gift shop of the Vienna State Opera recently .
Bechtoff is an actor who also directs drama and opera in Europe , and he is responsible for the staging of the current Ring at the Vienna State opera, and has been appointed head of straight theater at the Salzburg festival, not far from Vienna .
The spoken recording takes only 6 hours in contrast to the sung performances of the Ring , which are perfomred over four days ,lasting about 16 hours ! Bechtoff changes his voice somewhat to portray both the male and female characters , gods, the lumbering giants, the ugly dwarves , and the Norns, who spin the rope of fate for humanity , etc , as well as the rambunctious and headstrong young hero Siegfried and Brunnhilde the Valkyrie .
Wagner wrote the libretto of the Ring in a curious sort of archaic German which sounds very strange to Germans . It's full of a kind of alliteration which almost sounds comical to them .
I've also seen the Ring story turned into a comic book, but I don't know if this is still available . Bechtoff's Ring is available from Col Legno records of Austria ; col-legno.com .
Now that a new season of classical music is about to begin , I thought it would be a good idea to talk about the current situation of this centuries-old art form , and to keep things in historical perspective . Critics , composers ,musicologists and other experts are always longing for the "good old days" of classical music , the so-called golden age" , when everything in classical music was supposedly so much better , and "all music was new ", and classical music was "still relevant and not marginalized ", amateurs played musical instruments and played chamber music with their friends and families for enjoyment , and the classical music business was not "commercialized" the way it is today .
Well , these things may be true up to a point . It's true that in the past , many people had pianos in their homes , and also played violin , cello etc and played chamber music for their own enjoyment . No doubt these people enjoyed this very much . Some people would also play the symphonies of Beethoven , Brahms , and other composers who will still alive or had only recently died on transcriptions for two pianos .
And yes, in Mozart's day , they tended to play only the latest music at what concerts were held by living composers . But consider these facts ; in that time there were only a tiny fraction of all the orchestras , opera companies and other groups which exist today . If you lived in the European equivalent of Podunk , your chances of ever attending a live concert were pretty much non-existent . If you were well-to-do and lived in such great musical centers as London, Paris or Vienna etc, you could hear plenty of concerts by the leading composers of the day , and if you a member of the aristocracy .
In the 18th century, the music-loving Hungarian count Eszterhazy lived on a remote but luxurious estate in the country , and had a small private orchestra of his own for performances, and regularly invited distinguished guests to concerts and opera, and chamber music there . The great Joseph Haydn was his Kapellmeister, or music director ,and was in charge of the orchestra, singers etc , and wrote much music for the count and his guests . Haydn was literally a paid servant, and had to wear a servant's uniforn !
Later , in the 19th century , there were more orchestras and concerts etc , and classical music became closer to functioning as it does today . But there were still nowhere near as many orchestras and opera companies . Composers from the past such as Beethoven Mozart and Haydn became a lasting part of the repertoire .
Then in the early 20th century , the recording of music was in its infancy . Such great singers as Enrico Caruso , Rosa Ponselle, Mattia Bastianini , Antonio Scotti , Feodor Chaliapin and others made recordings which are now considered classics , but before electrical recordings in the 1920s, it was extremely difficult to record orchestral music .
More and more music was recorded , on 78s , and then in the 1950s , the LP became established , and many operas were recorded complete for the first time, including Wagner's Ring . The compact disc became established in the 80s, and now the internet has made an enormous amount of classical music available to any one who enjoys classical music .
Now we have the entire legacy of classical music vavilable to us on CD, DVD, downloads , streaming , High definition broadcasts of opera in movie theaters and so much more available to us .
There are more orchestras and opera companies in America than ever before . Until recently , the only important centers for opera in the US were New York, Chicago and San francisco ; today opera flourishes, not without problems, in Pittsburgh , Washington DC, Seattle, Los Angeles , Dallas , Detroit , Houston , San Diego , Philadelphia , Boston , and elsewhere .
There are about 400 professional orchestras in the country , and many other smaller groups . 50 years ago, the only really world-class orchestras in America were the so-called "Big Five" , in New York , Boston , Chicago , Cleveland and Philadelphia . Now , there are so many world class orchestras here the term Big Five is obsolete .
If classical record stores are no longer as plentiful as before , we can choose from an infinitely wider selection of music on the internet than any record store could ever have room to stock . We can see an enormous number of live opera performances and concerts on DVD . There's an embarrasment of riches out there for us to choose from . It's all there for us . It's like being the proverbial child in a candy store .
There are many people who attend orchestral concerts and opera who love their old favorites by Tchaikovsky , Rachmaninov , Puccini , Verdi and others , and can't stand "modern" music ; in fact , not only is the music of Schoenberg , Berg, and Webern etc anathema to them , but they don't want to give the latest works by living composers a hearing . And the music of Schoenberg and his circle has been around for nearly a century !
They make a false dichotomy ; old music good , new (or modern music) bad . They'd rather be waterboarded than listen to the music of Elliott Carter , who is still very much alive .
Then there are certain prominent composers , such as Pierre Boulez of France , who is a dogmatic proponent of the most gnarly avant-garde music and who are angry that this kind of music is not performed more often and accepted by audiences .
Boulez is nearly 85 now , and started out over 50 years ago as an iconoclast who declared that " opera houses should be demolished " and that any composer who did not adopt his kind of mind-bendingly complex manner of composing was "useless " . He has mellowed somewhat , and still conducts music from the past , but has continued to compose in his own esoteric manner .
Boulez loathes certain popular composers of the past such as Tchaikovsky and Brahms, and never conducts their music . Too bourgeouis for him , too passe . Yet audiences continue to love it . But I don't think that old and new music are mutually exclusive at all .
I love music from all eras and want to hear both old and new music . I wouldn't want to be without either . There's so much wonderful music going back centuries to the present day . The music of such important living composers as Boulez , Carter , Hans Werner Henze , Harrison Birtwistle and others doesn't invalidate the music of Beethoven , Mozart and Brahms etc ; their music isn't dated or irrelevant in the least bit .
The world of classical music is vast ; it's an enormous palace with many , many rooms . There's room in it for the music of ancient masters as Palestrina , Monteverdi , Dufay , Gesualdo and others who lived in the remote past up to 500 or so years ago , and there's room for the latest music by contemporary composers . We are the richer for this , and should be profoundly grateful for the enormous variety available to us . We've never had it so good . Let's get rid of false dichotomies .
Can't carry a tune ? It's no fun . For me , active as a performing musician from elementary school days , and possessor of the rare ability known as absolute or perfect pitch , being tone deaf is difficult to imagine . Tone deafness is also known as Amusia .
It's the inability to hear differences in musical pitch and also to recognize melodies, among other things, but there are those who claim that no such thing as tone deafness exists ! Tone deafness also exhibits itself in the inability of these unfortunate people to keep in time and sing correct rhythms ( although some people who sing or play instruments have difficulty with this also ).
Ulysses S Grant once said that he knew only two melodies ; Yankee Doodle, and another he couldn't remember . The opposite of tone deafness is absolute or perfect pitch , which is the ability to recognize and name a musical pitch just by hearing it .
Relative pitch is the ability to recognize pitches if one knows the pitch of one note and can relate it to other pitches . If you play a note on the piano and a person can instantly tell whether it is a C, D, B, or whatever, that individual has absolute pitch . Some one with relative pitch could tell pitches from another with the knowledge of knowing one pitch, but could not tell merely from hearing one isolated note on the piano .
There has been a considerable amount of fascinating scientific research on the reasons for tone deafness, but so far there is no one clear cut explanation for it . I don't have the time to discuss this here, but you can google the subject . You can consult publications such as Scientific American etc.
There is a curious case of a tone deaf person who actually made a career as a singer and even achieved fame(or notoriety) . This was the singular Florence Foster Jenkisns , who was born in 1868 ,made recordings and actually sang at Carnegie Hall despite her almost total lack of musical and vocal ability .
In fact, she was something of a joke, even though she considered herself to be a serious artist . Her voice sounded dreadful ; she could not sing on pitch to save her life, and her ability to sing correct rhythms just about non-existent . But she was a great showperson , had her own accompanist, wore outlandishly gaudy costumes when she performed, and audiences loved her ! She would sing a variety of art songs , opera arias and other things on her recitals , and her dreadful voice can be heard on CD in the present . As the old saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction !
In researching this post , I discovered a website called nottonedeaf.com , which claims to offer corrective musical training for supposedly tone deaf people . I don't know how effective this training is , but tone deafness is certainly a fascinating subject .
Verdi's Aida has been one of the world's most popular operas since its premiere at the Cairo opera house in 1871 . The Khedive of Egypt had comissioned Verdi to write an opera , and Auguste Mariette, the renowned French Egyptologist , wrote the scenario for the story , although the libretto was written by the Italian Antonio Ghislanzoni .
The story contrasts the pomp and spectacle of ancient Egypt with the intimate story of the love between Radames, a young and ambitious Egyptian warrior , and Aida , an Ethiopian princes who has been captured by the Egyptians and is now the servant of Amneris, daughter of the Pharaoh , who is in love with Radames and Aida's bitter rival .
In the first scene , Radames and the high priest Ramfis are discussing the grave situation caused by the invasion of the Ethiopian army , led by its king Amonasro, who unknown to the Egyptians, is Aida's father . Radames hopes that the Pharaoh will choose him to lead the army and defeat the invaders.
He expresses his love for Aida in a beautiful aria "Celeste Aida" (heavenly Aida), and hopes to be united with her for life . But Amneris is determined to marry him in triumph and there is a bitter rivalry . Sure enough , Radames is appointed to lead the Egyptian army , and there is exotic ancient Egyptian ritual and dancing by the priestesses .
Amid the acclaim ,Amneris tells Radames to "Return victorious ". After the ceremonies, Aida meditates on the impossible situation she now finds herself in . She is torn between her love for Radames and her devotion to her father and the terribly oppressed Ethiopians, who are actually invading Egyptian soil to defend themselves .
Later , Amneris suspects that Aida is in love with Radames ,and deceives her by falsely telling that Radames has fallen in battle in order to test her cruelly . Then , in the spectacular triumphal scene , the Egyptians celebrate their defeat of the Ethiopians , and there are ritual dances and much pomp and ceremony .
The Pharaoh hails Radames for his victory, and expects him to marry Amneris . But Radames asks that the lives of the Ethiopian captives be spared and that they be set free . But Ramfis and the other prists are vehemently opposed , and warn of further Ethiopian invasions . Then, Amonasro, who has not revealed his identity as king, comes forth and says that the Ethiopians are willing to die anyway for their country ,and courageously defies his captors . Aida is startled to recognize her father, but he warns her not to give away his identity .
Later , Ramfis , Radames and Amneris are at a temple on the Nile and are awaiting the marriage ceremonies . But Radames still loves Aida, and hopes to flee from Egypt with her to Ethiopia . Soon after this, Aida comes on the scene and reflects wistfully on the fact that she will never see her beloved fatherland again, and the fact that she is doomed to lose Radames forever .
Then her father Amonasro mmets her , and he tells her of plans for a further Ethiopian uprising . Aida is terribly conflicted . What will she do now ? But Amonasro furiously tells her that she is no longer his daugthter, merely a slave of the Egyptians .
Then Radames joins Aida and urges her to flee with him to escape the Egyptians , and stay in remote areas of Ethiopia such as virgin forests where they will be happy together . He reveals military secrets to Aida about where the Egyptian army will be, but Amonasro overhears him and he realizes to his horror that he has betrayed Egypt. He gives himself over to the priests willingly .
In the temple, Amneris is urgently waiting for the verdict of the priests. She still loves Radames and does not want him to be executed for his betrayal . The trial takes place offstage . We hear the accusations against Radames . He is told to defend himself and clear his name . But he does not want to live longer and remaions silent .
He is sentenced to death by being buried alive in a crypt . Amneris rails furiously against the merciless priests . In the final scene , Radames is now confined to a crypt where he will eventually die . He feels reget at losing Aida, but is resigned to his fate . But unknown to him, Aida has secretly joined him in the death chamber, and the two sing a poignant duet while Amneris prays for them and the priests chant .
Aida has everything you could want in an opera ; melodious ,passionate and colorful music , exotic spectacle , love , conflict, jealously, betrayal and sacrifice . Many great sopranos of the 20th century have recorded the role of Aida, such as Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Birgit Nilsson, Montserrat Caballe, Leontyne Price and others , and such great tenors as Placido Domingo , Carlo Bergonzi and Luciano Pavarotti have recorded the role of Radames .
Eminent conductors who have recorded Aida include Arturo Toscanini (who had known Verdi personally as a young man), Herbert von Karajan, Sir Georg Solti , Riccardo Muti , Lorin Maazel and Claudio Abbado . There are also a number of live performaces on DVD . Check arkivmusic.com .
When Richard Wagner began to compose his vast operatic tetralogy The Ring in the 1850s, he used an enormous orchestra with an unusually large number of woodwing and brass instruments , plus several harps, as well as a large string section .
He conceived of a new brass instrument that would be a cross between the tuba and a French horn, with a body shaped somewhat like a tuba but with a thin-rimmed , funnel-shaped horn mouthpiece to express the majesty of the God Wotan and his dwelling Valhalla, and also to make more menacing sounds when necessary .
He had consulted the famous Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Saxe, creator of the Saxophone, but did not find an instrument maker who could realize his wishes until later, the firm of C.W. Moritz in Germany . The new instrument, or Wagner tuba, came in two sizes, the tenor and bass models .
In the Ring , Wagner calls for an unprecenedented horn section of eight , and from time to time, players 5-8 switch to the Wagner tubas . The Wagner tuba is not easy to play and is difficult to play in tune , but in the hands of a skillful player makes a rich, noble sound .
Later, other composers began to write for the instrument . Anton Bruckner, who idolized Wagner, used the tuben in his last three symphonies, ( nos 7-9 ). The great and solemn slow movement of the 7th uses a quartet of the tubas and was written by the composer in honor of Wagner, of whose 1883 death the composer had a premonition .
Richard Strauss also used the tuben in his monumental"Alpine Symphony" and his operas "Elektra" and "The Woman Without A Shadow". Arnold Scheonberg also used them for the gargantuan orchestra of his great oratorio "Gurrelieder " ,written around the turn of the century .
The Wagner tuba should not be confused with the more frequently used Euphonium, or baritone , which is actually a smaller and higher-pitched relative of the massive bass tuba, and which does not use the horn mouthpiece . The Euphonium has sometimes been used as a substitute for the Wagner tubas when they are not available, but is not the authentic thing .
You can hear the Wagner tubas on numerous recordings of the operas and orchestral works just mentioned played by such great orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and others . For more information, check the very insteresting website Wagner-tuba.com.
A famous composer was asked by an orchestra to write a concerto for saxophone and violin , but he declined, saying that there was already too much sax and violins in the world .
The great pianist Sergei Rachmaninov was playing a recital in Carnegie hall with the renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler . In the middle of a sonata for violin and piano , Kreisler got lost and panicked a bit . He leaned toward Rachmaninov and whispered,"Where are we? ". Rachmaninov replied, "Why , Carnegie hall, of course !"
Many years ago in London , conductors of orchestras were often exasperated by what was then called the deputy system, whereby any musician in an orchestra could send a substitute to rehearsals if a better paying gig came up .
At each rehearsal for a concert, a conductor became terribly frustrated; to many musicians kept saying they couldn't make it to the next rehearsal . Then, the conductor noticed with relief that one musician had been there for all the rehearsals and thanked him, saying,"Well, at least you've been making to all of them". The musicians replied,"Too bad, because I won't be able to make the concert ."
A famous composer was angered by a terrible review for a new piece of his which a critic gave . Later, he wrote the critic a note . It read, "I am sitting in the smallest room in my house . Your review is in front of me. Soon it will be behind me".
Here are some wonderful answers on music appreciation exams collected by college music professors : On student evaluations of different works:
"The only problem with this piece is that you could get bored sort of easy ."
I will review two versions of Haydn's string quartet by two different composers: Juilliard and Quartet . I think the one by Juilliard is superior to the one buy quartet .
The next two songs were just about the same except for the actual sound.
"Also the special sound of vilins playing pissicatto blending the melodies to create a more vivily sound -the convination of vilin and flute -it was incredible."
"Between 1818 aqnd 1828 Schubert had nearly 100 works published- mostly snogs".
In the first movement, the violins are not as "solo" as one would believe them to be.
In the concert, the beginning of the sonata was slow , giving as the handout a intimidity of feeling .
Answers on tests : What is the Renaissance instrument that is like the modern guitar ? "A loot".
Our fugue is performed on what instrument ? "Harpsicordian".
Most music of the Middle Ages is Sacred/Secular (choose one) "Go Tell It On The Mountain".
Beethoven started out as a young musician .
Haydn was the servant of a royal family in Hungry .
What four institutions supported music in the Baroque era ? Church, nobility , municipalities , pheasants .
I've just read a fascinating book by the late American conductor ,teacher and arts advocate Sheldon Morgenstern called "No Vivaldi in the Garage - A Requiem for Classical Music in America" , published by Northeastern University Press .
Morgenstern (1938 - 2007 ) was a respected conductor and teacher who founded the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro North Carolina many years ago , was based in Europe for many years, and conducted all over Eastern Europe and elsewhere without becoming a superstar maestro with the reputation of a Bernstein, Lorin Maazel, leonard Slatkin or James Levine etc, even though he was highly respected .
No Vivaldi in the garage is both a memoir and a Jeremiad against what he considered the ills of the classical music establishment in America and the undeniably pitiful lack of adequate government support of the arts here . Morgenstern tells the absorbing story of how he learned to play the French horn in his youth and studied at Northwestern University ,later playing with the Atlanta Symphony before it became one of the top US orchestras .
Later, he studied conducting at Boston's prestigious New England Conservatory of Music and began to pursue a career on the podium, with many ups and downs . Morgenstern studied with many eminent musicians and strove to improve music professional music education.
He founded the Eastern Festival of Music in Greensboro, North Carolina where promising youngsters would study with famous musicians during the Summer and the faculty members played concerts in the festival orchestra .
He was active duting the music season conducting orchestras in Spain, Poland , Hungary and what used to be Czechoslovakia for many years, and had a home in France ,where he died in 2007 .
In his book, Morgenstern takes shots at many prominent classical musicians- cellist Yo Yo Ma, conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and others, castigating them for their inflated performance fees and alleged lack of commitment to music education and artistic integrity.
Yet, several years ago, Barenboim founded the East/West Divan orchestra, a youth orchestra mixing tanented young classical musicians from Israel and Arab countries, and working closely with the training of the musicians and striving to build a peaceful bond between young Israeli and Arab classical musicians . Not too shabbgy .
He accuses some famous conductors and musicians, not all named, of mediocrity and even incompetence , and castigates contemporary composers for failing to write music which audiences can enjoy and deliberately writing impossibly esoteric music .
But you can't argue with his lament for the pittance that the US government provides for the arts in America, and he observes that each taxpayer contributes 37 cents each year for the National Endowment For The Arts .
Sour grapes ? Perhaps . But Morgenstern's book is compelling reading .
It's almost time for the new classical music season to begin , and the world's countless symphony orchestras ,opera companies and other performing groups are raring to go . Despite economic difficulties and all manner of troubles throughout the globe , these great institutions remain a bastion of joy and hope in an often violelent and chaotic world .
The whole classical music world is looking forward to the inauguration of American conductor Alan Gilbert as the new music director of the New York Philharmonic next month on September 16 . It may be America's oldest symphony orchestra and is actually older than many of Europe's orchestras, but it's no dinosaur .
Maestro Gilbert and distinguished guest conductors will present a series of concerts with the most varied and interesting programming any one could want . Although some conservative audience members may be reluctant to listen , there is a healthy amount of music by some of today's most important contemporary composers, and many interesting works which are rarely heard at concerts .
But the beloved masterpieces of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Tcahikovsky , and other familiar names are still very much there . The season will open on September 16 with a gala concert which will feature the Berlioz "Symphonie Fantastique" as thje main course . Though a popular staple of the repertoire now, this was once considered a fiendishly difficult avant-garde work in the 1830s, when it was premiered .
The opening work will be a world premiere by the distinguished Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg, who has recently been appointed the Philharmonic's composer in residence, and the middle work will be the beautiful cycle of songs for soprano and orchestra "Poemes Pour Mi" , by the great French composer Olivier Messiaen .
The glamorous and golden-voiced soprano Renee Fleming will be the vocal soloist, and the concert will be telecast by PBS. Don't mis this !
As usual, many of the world's greatest conductors , instrumentalists and singers will appear with the orchestra throughout the season, including eminent such eminent maestros as Kurt Masur, Neeme Jarvi , Christoph Eschenbach , Riccardo Muti, and Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev and others .
Great pianists and string players such as Garrick Ohlsson, Yefim Bronfman , Pinchas Zukerman , Leif Ove Andsnes, Joshua Bell, Vadim Repin, Emmanuel Ax and others will appear, to name only a handful.
There will be works by distinguished living composers as Magnus Lindberg, Christopher Rouse, George Benjamin , and others, and works by composers such as Alexander von Zemlinsky, Gyorgy Ligeti, Anton Webern , Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Chrales Ives, Bohuslav Martinu and other composers who are not easy listening by any means , plus a Stravinsky festival .
There will be a variety of radio broadcasts and telecasts, and internet streaming . Some critics and commentators have attacked the New York Philharmonic for its supposedly "stodgy" programming and hidebound conservatism , but the fact remains that no orchestra in the world offers more diversified and interesting fare .
The other day, while looking over the very interesting website abruckner.com , which contains a dicography of Bruckner recordings , articles about the composer and much more , I noticed that a 1995 film about the composer is now available there on DVD .
This looked most intriguing . "Bruckner's Decision , directed by Jan Schmidt-Garre , is a somewhat fictionalized story of a crucial time in the life of the great Austrian composer , organist and teacher .
In 1867 , Bruckner was well-established in the Austrian city of Linz as an organist and music teacher . He was 43 years old , and had not yet reached his full maturity as a composer . He was organist of Linz cathedral, and and is buried in a crypt at the monastary of Saint Florian there, which you can still visit today . At the time of the film , Bruckner's great symphonic masterpieces had yet to be written .
Yet he was considering a move to cosmopolitan Vienna , the ultimate city of music , and the capitol of the mighty Austro-Hiungarian empire , where great opportunities could await him, or abject failure . He did this , but not before having an emotional and spiritual crisis which caused him a nervous breakdown, a condition which the naive, sensitive and insecure composer was prone to . Here , he was considered something of a yokel from the provinces, complete with a rustic country accent .
In the film , Bruckner takes a mineral water cure at the spa Bad Keuzen , and meets Otto , a young Viennese architect (a fictional character), whom he befriends . He also meets his idol , the mighty Richard Wagner , played by Joachim Kaiser , a ruthlessly ambitious and worldly character , the complete opposite of the naive and otherworldly organist and teacher .
The film also shows Bruckner''s awkward and hopeless relationship to women . He never married , but was always falling for pretty young women whom he had no chance of catching as a wife .
I will have to see this film , availabnle from Arthaus DVDs. The soundtrack is from live recordings of Bruckner's symphonies conducted by the famous Romanian conductor and Bruckner specialist Sergiu Celibidache (1912 - 1996 ). You may find it intriguing also .
The great Austrian composer, organist and teacher Anton Bruckner (1824 -1896) was a profoundly religious individual whose vast , cosmic symphonies have often been described as mighty cathedrals of sound . He made the orchestra sound like a giant organ .
But unfortunately, he died in 1896, leaving his awesome ninth symphony without a completed finale , and a mass of sketches which long baffled musicologists . Bruckner dedicated the monumental work to "almighty God" , and regretted that he was about to die leaving it unfinished ; and until recently all performances of the work left it as a three movement torso ending with a powerful slow movement which the composer called his"farewell to life".
In addition, Bruckner's well-meaning pupils prepared a doctored version of the first three movements which ruthlessly watered down Bruckner's daring harmonies, which anticipate 20th century music to an astonishing degree . It was not until the 1930s that the unadulterated original version became the standard version .
Realizing that he would probably die before finishing the symphony, Bruckner came up with the idea of having his exultant hymn of praise to God (Te Deum), written years earlier as a makeshift finale . But this is not a satisfactory solution, as the Te Deum and the symphony are in different keys , D minor and C major respectively .
There is a somber , agitated and menacing first movement , and the scherzo comes second, as in Beethoven's 9th symphony . This scherzo is kind of bizarre, pounding, devilish dance with weird harmonies and an impish middle section before the return of the opening .
The finale, Bruckner's last completed movement , is impassioned and anguished , and builds to a shatteringly dissonant climax, but ends in calm resignation ; peaceful death after prolonged suffering .
It was long believed by musicologists that the sketches for the finale were not extensive enough or as continuous to allow a competion by another's hand . Bruckner had intended for a grand conclusion with a fugue using themes from the previous movements.
But since the 1980s, there have been completions of the finale which have been recorded several times but not widely performed . Right after Bruckner's death, some of the pages of the sketches were plundered from his apartment and have been scattered around Europe , but extensive sketches remained, and much of the movement was orchestrated up to the peroration .
The American musiclogist William Caragan prepared a completion, and this was recorded by the Israel conductor Yoav Talmi with Norway's Oslo Philharmonic for Chandos records of England . Later, two Italian musicologists, Nicola Samale and Giuseppe Mazzica, prepared a somewhat different version , and later colaborated with Australian and Scandinavian scholars for a second version, supposedly definitive .
A whole book could be written on the laborious attempts to fit the fragments of the movement together into a coherent whole ; it was something akin to the deciphering of the Dead Sea Scrolls .
Not every critic , musicologist or listener found the completions convincing or completely plausible, but many , including yours truly, found the music truly fascinating . The completed finale resolves the anguish and dread of the first three movements ; it comes as a relief to the almost unbearably tense earlier movements.
There is a fascinating article at musicweb international on the completions of the finale . Listening to Bruckner's ninth symphony , completed or not, is a truly mystical experience .
You hear the same old laments every day from music critics, composers and others about the the supposed "good old days" of classical music, when "all music was new music", classical music was still"relevant", musicians played with more "freedom", took liberties with the music, and had real individuality , and when great opera singers were abundant, as well as great conductors , pianists, violinists, and cellists etc , and when each orchestra sounded unique .
As opposed to the present day , where we perform almost nothing but the same old established masterpieces , musicians, whether conductors , instrumentalists and singers etc are so rigidly literal in their interpretations, sticking strictly to what is written in the score , and all orchestras "sound the same " etc. According to these eternal complainers , today's musicians offer nothing but "cookie-cutter interpretations , and each musicians is a carbon copy of the others .
Well, it's not really that simple and black and white . Far from it . Yes, it's true that much of what we hear at concerts and opera etc is music from the past . But that hasn't prevented an enormous amount of new music from being premiered in recent years by a wide variety of classical composers , and quite of few of these can't complain that their music is being neglected .
Certainly not Elliott Carter, John Adams, Philip Glass, Thomas Ades, Kaaia Saariaho, Hans Werner Henze, Harrison Birtwistle, John Corigliano, and many other prom,inent composers today . The popularity of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert , Wagner and Mahler hasn't prevented their music from being heard .
And the old lament that conductors and other performing artists "aren't interested" in new music , and just keep performing the same old familiar masterpieces just doesn't hold water . You can't accuse eminent conductors such as Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin, James levine, Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim, David Zinman, Christoph Eschenbach, Kent nagano, Marin Alsop, David Robertson, and Alan Gilbert of this , as well as pianists Peter Serkin, Pierre Laurent Aimard, Ursula Oppens, and others, to name only a few . There are plenty of great musicians today whose commitment to new music is unwavering .
As to the notion that performers today lack individuality and all perform music the same way , take two great violinists today just for comparison ; Itzhak perlman and Gidon Kremer . You couldn't find two more different violinists ; they're as different as steak is from lobster . Both great musicians and violinists, but their sounds and personalities are totally different .
And if performers today are so pedantically literal in interpretation, why are there so many reviews in which they are mercilessly lambasted for all the liberties they take with the music ? I wish I had a dollar for every review Iile this which I've read in the past 40 years or so . The controversial young Chinese pianist Lang Lang is always being picked on for his eccentricities, as well as many other younger musicians .
This shows the double standard critics apply to interpretation; great musicians of the past are praised for their interpretive quirks and individuality, and when contemporary ones show THEIR quirks and individuality , those same critics blast them for it ! Isn't this the most blatant hypocrisy ?
So I'm not so sure about the so called "golden age" of classical music . Of course, there were many truly great musicians in the past, and we have to be profoundly grateful for the many recordings they have left us . These are extremely valuable and instructive . But we shouldn't underestimate the many great musicians of the present day .
This Thursday August 20 , PBS will be broadcasting a Metropolitan Opera performance taped earlier of Rossini's La Cenerentola (Chen-er-EN-tola) from the Metropolitan Opera . This is the great Italian composer's comic take on the Cinderella story, albeit without the fairy godmother and the magic slippers .
The ugly stepsisters are still there, but the father is a lovable doofus , and prince charming has a valet who is in disguise as the prince through much of the opera , plus a wise old advisor who disguises himself as a beggar in the beginning of the opera to test Cinderella's kind heart .
There's plenty of tomfooolery , mistaken identities , confusion , and comic fun throughout this masterpiece of Italian comic opera , and Rossini's bubbly and irresistably melodious music will enchant you . Plus plenty of opportunity for the singers to show off their Bel Canto virtuosity .
In the cast are the rising young Lavian singer Elina Garanca (Ga-ran-cha), and the young American Bel Canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee as prince charming, and Alessandro Corbelli as the bumbling father . Check your local TV station ; this broadcast may not be shown everywhere in the US , but you can probably also see on the internet at Sirius.com .
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