November 2009 - Posts
To make a gastronomic comparison , you might say that popular music is musical fast food , and that classical music is musical slow food . Please don't assume that I'm trying to make an invidious comparison and snobbishly claim that classical music is "superior " to popular music , or that I'm trying to knock other kinds of music .
Just as there's nothing wrong with eating at McDonald's or Burger King , there's nothing wrong with enjoying pop music , or Rock , or whatever . But it's also wonderful to go to a fancy restaurant and eat gourmet food . But you don't have to be rich to enjoy classical music . Buying a CD of the music of Beethoven , Bach , Mozart or other great composers will set you back a lot less than going to one of New York's priciest restaurants , and unlike a scrumptious meal , you can enjoy it for many years .
I have sometimes enjoyed eating fast food ; I prefer Burger King to Mc Donald's , though . But why eat at McDonald's when you can enjoy gourmet food ? It's the same with me and classical music . Classical music is not written for casual listening ; it requires careful attention to appreciate . It's much more complex rhythmically and harmonically and in its overall structure .
Of course , there are many degrees of complexity in classical music ; Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or Vivaldi's Four Seasons are nowhere near as complex as say, a symphony by Bruckner or Mahler , composers who lived at a later time , and the music of Elliott Carter in our time is even more complex in many ways than Bruckner or Mahler .
And there's also the question of length . A typical pop concert will consist of a series of short songs . But a Bruckner or Mahler symphony often lasts well over an hour . Wagner operas are a musical marathon ; once I attended one at the Metropolitan opera , and the performance , including two intermissions , lasted from about noon until six o' clock ! So to listen to classical music , you have to develop what the Germans call "Sitzfleisch " , or sitting flesh , the ability to sit for a long time in one place and concentrate . And you think the Titanic was long ! Wagner's massive Ring of the Nibelung is a cycle of four operas performed on successive evenings lasting about 16 hours , not including intermissions , all one larger story .
There are also very short classical works , such as brief piano pieces which you will hear when a pianist gives a recital of varied works . And often in classical music , it requires repeated hearing to digest a work and grasp its structure and meaning . Some works are immediately pleasing , but others can be much more difficult to grasp . That's why recordings are so valuable . Many concertgoers find the atonal music of Arnold Schoenberg daunting or even downright unpleasant to listen to when they first encounter it at a concert . But with repeated hearings , it can start to make much more sense , and you can even come to enjoy it .
Some people may find the experience of dining at a fancy restaurant daunting too . How do you pronounce the names of those fancy French dishes and order wine without embarassing yourself in front of the waiter ? Escargot and Foie gras may even taste strange at first . But practice makes perfect .
HC Robbins Landon , who died in France last week , was an eminent American-born , European -based musicologist who devoted much of his life to furthering the cause of the great 18th century composer Joseph Haydn (1732 -1809 ) , who had hitherto been known for only a handful of the works in his enormous output . He was also an expert on Haydn's great younger contemporary and friend Mozart , and 18th century music in general .
Robbins studied at Boston University with the eminent Haydn scholar Karl Geiringer and moved to Europe to pursue research on that composer . He founded the Haydn society and was responsible for unearthing , editing and publishing much music by Haydn which had been neglected for nearly two centuries and which was gathering dust in archives and elsewhere in manuscript form .
Landon also enabled many of Haydn's works to be recorded for the first time , and co operated with the eminent Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati (1906 - 1988 ) on the landmark first integral recording of the complete symphonies of the composer , all 108 of them , for Decca records with the Philharmonia Hungarica orchestra . The complete boxed set is still available ; it had been released in volumes on LP in the 1970s .
He wrote numerous scholarly books and articles on Haydn's music , including one on the symphonies , as well as ones on Mozart . Landon's research showed that Salieri and Mozart , far from being rivals , were in fact on good terms with each other , and that Mozart did not die a pauper by any means .
Landon was also repsonsible for unearthing long-neglected operas which Haydn had written while music director for count Esterhazy on his remote estate in Hungary and were subsequently recorded during the 1970s under maestro Dorati's direction . Fittingly , Robbins died in the year of the bicentennial of Haydn's death . Thanks to his untiring efforts , Haydn is no longer known for a few popular works of his which managed to remain popular after his death .
The Kalevala is a fascinating literary work based on the legends of the Finnish people and was put into written form in the early 19th century by a Finn by the name of Elias Lonrot , who collected the ancient stories of Finnish heroes and sorcerors which had been passed down from generation to generation for ages among the Finnish people .
The Finns are one of the various peoples speaking languages of the Finno-Ugrian or Uralic language language family spread throughout Scandinavia , Northern Russia and western Siberia . Their close relatives the Estonians live directly to the south of Finland on the Baltic coast , and the Lapplanders or Sami people of Lappland in the far north of Scandinavia also speak a language related to Finnish . The Hungarian language , brought to Europe by a Finno-Ugrian people from western Siberia who settled in what is now Hungary in the late 9th century , is much more distantly related to these languages .
The Kalevala has been translated into many different languages , including English , and deals with the Finnish legends of creation and the various Finnish heroes and their mighty exploits as well as sorcery and intrigue among them . Jean Sibelius was inspired by his knowledge and love of this great national epic to write a number of works based on these legends . They include purely orchestral works and works for chorus and orchestra . All are extremely colorful and evocative .
I've been listening to a superb 8-CD set containing many of Sibelius' most important works , including the symphonies , conducted by the distinguished Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund with the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Bournemouth symphony of England , with Chruses from Finland and Estonia and leading Finnish singers , part of the many new CDs at my local library .
Among them are the Kullervo symphony for chorus , orchestra and vocal soloists , based on one of the stories from the Kalevala . The first syllable rhymes with pull and that first syllable is accented , like all words in Finnish .
Kullervo is a reckless and headstrong young man and something of a womanizer . He seduces a young woman who unfortunately turns out to be his long-lost sister whom he had never met before , and he had not known her identity . She commits suicide , and Kullervo goes off to war to try to forget the traumatic experience and dies in battle . It's a stirring and elemental work filled with that unique forboding nordic atmoshpere of Sibelius' music .
The work lasts about 70 minutes and is in five movements ; the first and fourth are purely orchestral . Despite the successful premiere in 1892 when the composer was only 27 , he withdrew the work and it was not perfomed again until the 1970s , when it finally became part of the repertoire . The recording in this EMI set is the first made of the Kullervo symphony , and there have been several subsequent ones since that time by other conductors such as Sir Coloin Davis and Neeme Jarvi .
Other characters in the Kalevala are the vigorous and heroic old man Vainemoinen and the Nordic Don Juan Lemminkainen , both of whom inspired Sibelius . The Lemminkainen legends are a suite of four colorful orchestral works recounting the adventures of this character . The most famous part is the "Swan of Tuonela " , which depicts the Finnish hades , or Tuonela , where an English horn solo depicts a lonely swan floating along the waters of the Finnish underworld ; it's absolutely haunting .
In Finnish mythology , Luonnotar is the daughter of the heavens who gave birth to the sky and the earth after living for centuries in the void . In her loneliness she prays to the supreme God Ukko to help her during her endless and pointless existence . Eventually a duck which had been searching in vain for a place to lay its eggs settles on her , and when the eggs hatch and after the nest falls into the waters , the shells become the sky, the stars and the moon .
Luonnotar is written for soprano and orchestra and retells this legend with some of the strangest and most haunting music you'll ever hear . Tapiola , the last important work Sibelius wrote in the 1920s , after which he retired from composition for the next 30 years until his death in 1957 at the age of almost 92 , is a powerful and distrubing portrait of the vast and impenetrable Finnish forests . This weird and terrifying orchestral work will send shivers down your spine .
Tapio is the God of the forests in Finnish mythology . There are no easily recognizable melodies and the work is dark and eerie , reaching a thunderous climax as a huge storm breaks out in the primeval forest and from then the music gradually fades out into silence . Few composers have expolited the many colors of the symphony orchestra with the skill of Sibelius ; the Kalevala inspired him to make the most of what an orchestra can do . You won't soon forget the works based on this great epic .
Here's an interesting story about the great German-born horn player Bruno Jaenicke (1887 - 1946 ) , who was principal horn of the New York Philharmonic for many years and played under such legendary conductors as Arturo Toscanini , Wilhelm Furtwangler , Willem Mengelberg and many others .
I found it yesterday at the interesting website hornmatters.com , which features shop talk for professional and aspiring horn players (highly technical ) , but has much interesting talk about horn lore , and everything relating to this facinating instrument and music and musicianship in general . According to the story , Jaenicke was playing the horn concerto no 1 by Richard Strauss , one of the best-known concertos for the instrument , in 1931 at a New York Philharmonic concert in Nobember 1931 . The conductor was the once famous Viennese-born conductor Erich Kleiber (1890 - 1956 ) , father of the late , great conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930 - 2004 ).
Unfortunately , Jaenicke was suffering from a bad cold at the time , but still went onstage to play the concerto . But the performance was a disaster . Jaenicke was suffering badly from the sniffles and played very badly , missing scores of notes , something which he ordinarily would not have done since he was a consummate master of his difficult instrument .
He got through only the first two movements , but stopped the performance and went off stage in utter dejection . According to repoorts , he trashed his instrument ! The concerto is otherwise not particularly difficult compared to some other solo works for horn , and is studied by every horn student . The incident actually made it into Time Magazine , and you can see this at hornmatters.com .
Playing the horn is not for the faint-hearted !
Conducting orchestral concerts is a demanding job , but conducting opera is in many ways even more difficult . It's been compared to a three ring circus , with so many things going on and where anything can happen . Not only do you have the orchestra , but singers who have to move around on stage and who can be highly tempermental , but a chorus , and sometimes a ballet for parts of certain operas .
There's so much rehearsal and advanced preparation involved , working with the singers , the director of the production , who directs the opera pretty much the same way a director stages a play , and so much more . There are reharsals with the singers and the rehearsal pianists without the orchestra which the conductor oversees . Then the conductor rehearses with the orchestra alone . Finally , all come together to rehearse .
Then come the dress rehearsals where the opera is performed more or less uninterruped . Even more work is required for a new production of an opera , which replaces the previous version and has new sets , costumes and a different director with a different concept of the opera . Or when a new opera is being premiered or being done for the first time at an opera houise some time after the premiere elsewhere .
The conductor has to deal with singers who often have their own ideas on how to sing the music and interpret it; sometimes there are conflicts between a strong-willed singer and an equally string-willed conductor . In most standard Italian operas , there are many different variables in performancde ; composers often tailored the music to a particular singer , making easier or harder versions of an aria . In 18th century operas , singers were expected to decorate and embellish vocal lines to show off their technique and imagination .
It's far from easy for a conductor to decide which version of an aria to do and what cuts, additions and alterations to make , and disagreements between singers and conductors are not uncommon . During a performance , the conductor must be constantly vigilant ; following and supporting the singers as needed . He must often give singers signals with his hand , or cues , to remind them of the right time to start singing , as well as with the chorus .
Anything can go wrong during a performance ; sometimes orchestra and singers aren't quite together and the conductor has to keep them ona tight leash like a dog walker with a group of pooches . In some operas , singers like to hold onto high notes and the conductor has to folllow them . I remember from my time a first horn of the Long Island opera how I always had to watch the conductor like a hawk so as to know exactly where to come in and to follow the singers .
Without a skillful and ever-vigilant conductor , no opera performance can succeed .
Now that I've had a chance to play the Rachmaninov 2nd paino concerto back to back with the Schoenberg piano concerto for my classical music listeners at United Hebrew , I can pronouce the experiment a success ! At least the lady whose favorite composer is the Russian sat through the Schoenberg concerto without walking out , which she sometimes does when she doesn't like something !
Not that she liked it . She didn't , which was no sursprise , as she hates "modern " music . But the others were game , even though they found it somewhat mystifying . I explained jokingly that as I was playing the Schoenberg first , that this is like kids being told by their mothers to eat their broccoli , cauliflower and other yucky vegetables at dinner first , before they eat dessert , and everybody laughed !
I gave them background information about Schoenberg , explaining how he had started out writing lush late Romantic-style music influenced by Wagner snd Brahms as a young man , but started experimenting with the abandonment of traditional tonality in the early 20th century , and single-handedly invented the 12-tone system of composition , where instead of the music being in a key such as C major or D minor etc , the composer puts the 12 notes of the scale from C to C in a specific order called a row , and how the music is no longer in any key . There are many different ways to manipulate the row ; it can be put in reverse , or retrograde , or you can invert it , changing the direction of the intervals of the row . If one note goes upwards in the original row, it goes downward in the inversion , or vice versa . You can also make the inversion of the retrograde . The row can also be transposed , so that the first note can be transferred to any of the other notes of the scale . There are countless different permutations of the basic row .
I also explained that if you give Schoenberg's music repeated hearings on recordings , what initially sounds chaotic and perplexing can start to make much more sense and you can get accustomed to it , and even enjoy the music . This is exactly what happened with me in getting familiar with Schoenberg's music , as well as with many other composers , not only modern ones .
But the lady with conservative musical tastes finally got to hear her beloved Rachmaninov concerto , and she was ever so happy ! It pays to eat your vegetables first !
Today I'm playing the familiar Rachmaninov second piano concerto - one of the miost popular works in this form for over a century , for my classical music listeners at the United Hebrew nursing home , as well as the decidedly less popular but not altogether neglected piano concerto of his contemporary , the controversial Arnold Schoenberg , father of atonal music .
Will my experiment work ? As I mentioned last week , there's one lady here whose favorite composer is Rachmaninov and who absolutely hates "modern " music . Rachmaninov and Schoenberg were contemporaries , born respectively in 1873 and 74 . The Russian died in 1943 and the Austrian in 1951 . Many concertgoers love to hear Rachmaninov at concerts and would rather be waterboraded than attend one where Schoenberg is played , but personally , I admire both composers and see absolutely no conflict between the two ; they aren't mutually exclusive at all .
But many advocates of complex atonal music , composers , conductors , theorists and critics , turn up their noses at Rachmaninov; to them , he is a reactionary who wrote hopelessly dated sentimental hackwork for the unsophisticated masses at concerts .
The eminent French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez , who is now 84 and the grand old man of avant garde music , wouldn't touch Rachmaninov with the proverbial 10 foot pole ; for him , even Schoenberg isn't modern enough ! As a young man he wrote an angry essay after Schoenberg's death denouncing the newly deceased composer as hopelessly outdated called "Schoenberg is Dead " . He was starting to write his own thorny and intimidatingly complex music , which he has continued to do to the present day , and which makes Schoenberg sound easy by comparison !
You can't please everybody ! But I asked the lady who loves Rachmaninov to keep an open mind and give the Schoenberg work a chance . She promised to do this . She laughed when I compared what I'm going to play this afternoon to mothers telling their children to eat their vegetables before dessert , and she laughed at my comparison . I'l tell you about the results of my experiment tomorrow .
Carl Nielsen (1865 -1931 ) is Denmark's greatest composer , and best known for his six highly original symphonies , although he wrote other orchestral works , concertos for violin , clarinet , and flute , two operas , chamber music , choral works and and songs etc .
Nielsen was always his own man . He never followed or started any "isms " , and is therefore a difficult composer to pideonhole . He always remained true to himself . And unlike his great Finnish contemporary and friend Jean Sibelius , his music did not really achieve international prominence until years after his death in 1931 . He was greatly honored and frequently performed in his native Denmark and neighboring Sweden during his lifetime , but almost totally unknown in America and other European countries ,with the possible exception of Germany until fairly recently .
The late , great Leonard Bernstein discovered Nielsen's music in the 1960s and became highly enthusiastic about it , performing and recording several of the symphonies and other works with the New York Philharmonic . Only then did the great Danish master's music take hold in America and elsewhere . And since that time , a number of leading conductors such as Simon Rattle , Esa-Pekka Salonen , Neeme Jarvi , Herbert Blomstedt , and others have continued to take up the cause of Nielsen's highly individual music .
Nielsen's six symphonies were composed between the early 1890s and the mid 1920s , and show his development from a fairly traditional late 19th century style influenced somewhat by Brahms to his own unique manner of composing ;he abandoned traditional musical forms and harmony and anticipated later 20th century developments . These symphonies are filled with energy and optimism even when they are full of violence and conflict .
The first is the most traditional of the six but still shows Nielsen's distinctive voice . Though nominally in the key of G minor , the fourth and last movement ends C major . This is one of the most important elements in Nielsen's music , and is sometimes called "Progressive Tonality " , in which a work ends in a different key from the one in which it begins . Hitherto it was taken for granted that a work would end in the original key . All of the six symphonies make use of this technique .
Nielsen's contemporary Gustav Mahler also used progressive tonality in several of his symphonies , but not as consistently as Nielsen . The second of the six Nielsen symphonies has the subtitle "The Four Temperments " . Each of the four movements portrays one of the four personality types of medieval theory which categorize different people ; the Choleric or angry and bitter type of the first movement , the gentle and easy-going "Phlegmatic " type of person , the gloomy and depressed " Melancholy " type , and the optimistic and enthusiastic " Sanguine " type of the last .
Nielsen was inspired to write this symphony after seeing paintings of these four personality types on the walls of a rustic inn in his native Denmark . Each of the four movements lives up vividly to the personality descriptions , ranging from unrestrained anger , a lackadaiscal quality , deep melancholy and vigorous enthisiasm .
The third , also in four movements has the somewhat enigmatic title "Sinfonia Espansiva ", or expansive symphony . This does not mean expansive in the sense of being lengthy , but more like the expression "being in an expansive mood ". The first movement is filled with energy and enthusiasm and has an almost waltzlike character at times ; albeit a rapid and vigorous waltz .
The second movement is quiet and meditative , and features a soprano and baritone who sing worldlessly in a dreamy mood . It's very beautiful ; almost ecstatic . The third movement is a kind of quirky intermezzo with some strange harmonic shifts , and the finale is pure optimism and joy . This reminds one of the statement some one once made about Nielsen's music ; it makes you want to go out and hug some one !
The fourth symphony ,written during the first World War , is called the " Unextinguishable " symphony . This is Nielsen's most dramatic work so far , and is filled with an almost unbearable tension and conflict , although it ends in triumph . The composer was alarmed at the terrible carnage and destruction of the war, and wanted to write a work which would portray the elememntal will to life , and the life force .
He stated that even if the world were destroyed , life would somehow continue , and eventually go back to normal . One of the composer's maxisms was "Music is the sound of life " . The symphony starts out in sheer panic ; the music cannot decide what key it's in . The key shifts moment to moment and sometimes there seems to be none at all . The four movements are continuous , without pauses . There are moments of calm between the manic energy where the music finally settles into a key , and the music gradually moves into the second , a kind of calm intermezzo featuring the woodwind instruments prominently . The slow and brooding third movement leads to the tumultuous finale, which is filled with an almost terrifying conflict ; two antiphonal sets of tympani fight a ferocious duel , battling each other like the loudest thinder you've ever heard . But the symphony ends proudly and defiantly , proving that life is after all , inextinguishable .
The fifth symphony is like nothing else ever written by a composer of symphonies . It has no title , and is in two large movements . Nielsen stated that the work represents a titanic struggle between good and evil , or chaos and order . The forces of inertia and chaos are in conflict with the forces of order and control .
The symphony makes extensive use of what is called "ostinato " in music , or a constantly repeated figure which seems to be "obstinate " . It begins quietly in a kind of music void ; nothing seems to be happening ; the strings keep playing weird noodling figurations . Woodwind instruments take up the ostinato figures . What on earth is going on ? Than a snare drum starts beating out another ostinato and going on and on . The music becomes ominous and threatening . But what is going to happen ? Everything is chaos .
Then suddenly , the snare drum ceases its mindless rat-tat-tat , and a beautiful lyrical melody is intoned by the orchestra ; it's in a recognizable key for once . But something ominous is happening ; all of a sudden the snare drum is directed by the composer to start pounding away at his instrument as if he had gone berserk, with absolutely no regard for what the rest of the orchestrea is playing ! A horrendous conflict ensues and the drummer must improvise his part on the spot . There is total chaos . But the is a tremendous crescendo in the orchestra , and the berserk snare drum is finally overcome .
The movement ends quietly , with the snare drum playing offstage in the distance , and a solo clarinet meditating on the struggle . In the second movement , which is in four sections, order seems to have risen out of the ashes ; the music is filled with Nielsen's characterisitc energy and optimism . Then a fugue starts , with a new theme ; the music has become ominous again and a kind of music hurricane breaks out , finally calming down into what is now a slow , solemn fugue using the same theme . But this leads to a return of the opening music ; now it develops white hot energy and an iron determination to avoid chaos at all costs . But the work ends in a fiercely triumphant and defiant mood , having modulated to the key of e flat major , which had never before occured in the entire symphony . The sudden move to an unprecedented tonality has an almost physically shocking effect !
Perhaps the strangest of the six is the last symphony , called " Sinfonia Semplice " (simple symphony ). But the title is purely ironic ; the symphony is anything but simple . It's also in four movements . At the time it was written , Nielsen was suffering from a heart ailment from which he eventually died in 1931 , and the work seems to be a meditation on the transience of life , albeit totally unsentimental . There is a misture of brooding and sardonic humor . The climax of the first movement has sometimes been called a description of a heart attack !
The brief second movement is pure grotesquerie . Nielsen pokes fun at the atonal music of Schoenberg and his followers . The woodwind instruments make rude noises and a trombone makes loud glissandos imitating yawning . Truly weird . The slow movement is dark and somber ; it's called " Proposta Seria ", or a serious proposition . The finale is perhaps the most bizarre theme and variations ever written . The main theme goes through a chaotic series of grotesque variations . At one point the theme becomes a trivial waltz , and then the brass and percussion instruments batter it with brutal dissonant outburnsts . But the movement ends with a kind of impish glee . Nielsen may be dying , but he's laughing at death . It ends with a giant raspberry from the bassoons !
There are many fine recordings of the Nielsen symphonies , including sets of all six by such eminent conductors as Herbert Blomstedt , Paavo Berglund , Esa-Pekka Salonen , Neeme Jarvi , Michael Schonwandt , and others , as well as single performances of them by Leonard Bernstein , Jean Martinon , Jascha Horenstein , Herbert Von Karajan, Simon Rattle and others . A good place to order is arkivmusic.com . But don't miss these unique and invigorating symphonies .
La Forza Del Destino , or the power of destiny , is one of Giuseppe Verdi's most gloomy and tragic operas even by the great Italian composer's gloomy and tragic standards . It's a sweeping and sprawling story of doomed love , obsession with vengence and the odd co- incidences and quirks of fate which dog people in life . But the music is passionate and unforgettably melodious .
The opera is set mostly in Spain and partially in Italy . Leonora De Vargas , daughter of the Marquis of Calatrava , is in love with Don Alvaro , a Spanish nobleman from South America who is half Inca . Leonora's father opposes marriage , but the two are planning to elope . So does Leonora's vengeful brother Don Carlos, or Carlo in the opera, as it is sung in Italian .
As the four act opera opens , Leonora is about to elope , but feels sad at having to leave her family and home forever . Alvaro enters at night and the two sing of their love , but the Marquis discovers them and is furious ; he orders his servants to arrest the "vile seducer " , and Alvaro throws down his gun to surrender to Leonora's father . But the gun discharges and fatally wounds the Marquis , who curses his daughter as he dies .
Leonore and Alvaro have been separated in the confusion , and her brother Don Carlos is now obsessed with finding both and killing them to avenge his father's death . He pursues them throughout the opera . In the second act , Leonore has come to an Inn in the village of Hornachuelos outside of Seville disguised as a boy 18 months after the tragedy , and her brother , disguised as a student named Pereda , suspects she is there .
At the inn , Don Carlos tells the crowd about his search for his sister and her lover but under the name Pereda , and a Gypsy fortunete teller named Preziosilla drums up support for the war between Spain and Italy with her spirited recruiting song . Leonore heads for distant monaastary at the foot of the mountains headed by the kindly Padre Guardiano . She explains her plight to the Padre and he and the monks grant her refuge . She will live the rest of her life as a penitent hermit in a cave nearby . No one is to disturb her , but she may sound a bell when death approaches so that she may confess and take the last rites .
The third act takes place in Italy during the war of the Austrian succession . Alvaro has enlisted in the army under the false name Don Federico Herreros and meets Don Carlos , who has also enlisted under a false name . Before their fateful meeting not knowing each other's identity , Alvaro sings a mournful aria meditating on his hard and tragic life as the son of a Spaniard and an Inca mother who had been executed for political reasons and his hopeless love for Leonorea , whom he now believes to be dead .
Alvaro and Carlos , not knowing each other's identity swear eternal friendship after Carlos rescues Alvaro from an angry quarrel during a fight between Alvaro and others soldiers while gambling . Suddenly , all are called to battle , and Alvaro is gravely wounded . In the next scene Carlos is overjoyed that his friend's life has been saved by the surgeon .
But he becomes suspicious after Alvaro had told him to burn some of his possessions in case he dies , and learns that Alvaro is in fact his sister's beloved . He now swears vengance . In the third act , Carlos confronts Alvaro and and the two fight a duel . The portarit of Leonore in Alvaro's possessions gave his identity away . But the duel is interrupted by a patrol team and Alvaro escapes to a monastary himself . Preziosilla tells fortunes for the soldiers and others, and a bumbling priest named Fra Melitone preaches a pompous sermon and is ridiculed by the soldiers and the townspeople .
The last act takes place five years later , opening at the monastary of Our Lady Of The Angels where Padre Guardiano is the father superior . Alvaro is now a monk called Rafael and is beloved for his kindness to the poor . Padre Guardiano chides Fra Melitone for his impatience with a crowd of beggars asking for food .
Don Carlos arrives and confronts Alvaro for the last time , challenging him to finish their duel . Alvaro is reluctant at first and tries in vain to placate the vengeful Carlos . But when Carlos taunts him with his Inca heritage he resolves to fight , and the two rush off to a suitable area .
In the final scene Leonore comes out of her cave and meditates on her tragic life in the famous aria "Pace Pace Mio Dio " (peace, peace , my lord .) She longs in vain for peace . She hears the sound of approaching footsteps and retreats into the cave . Alvaro wounds Carlos fatally in the duel , but he refuses to perform the last rites as he feels himself unworthy . Alvaro calls the person he believes to be a hermit out of the cave , and the two recognize each other . But Carlos stabs Leonora fatally before dying himself . Alvaro curses his fate , but Padre Guardiano comforts him by telling him that they will be united in heaven .
Pretty gloomy stuff ! Not a pretty story at all . In the original version of the opera , Alvaro jumps off a cliff to his death in despair instead of the quiet ending where Guardiano states that Leonore is now in heaven . But Verdi's passionate , sweeping and melodious score makes this tragic tale bearable . The scenes of comic relief with Preziosilla and Fra Melitone help also . The opera has something of a superstitious reputation among singers , and Pavarotti never sang the role of Alvaro because oif this . And during a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1960 , the great American baritone Leonard Warren (1911 -1960 ) , who was one of the foremost Verdi baritones of his day , died onstage from a cerebral aneurism while singing the role of Don Carlos !
There are a number of complete recordings of this powerful opera conducted by the late Giuseppe Sinopoli on DG, the recording I've currently been listening to , James Levine , Riccardo Muti , Tullio Serafin and Valery Gergiev , who recorded the original version for Philips records and a few others . The role of Leonore has been recorded by such greats as Maria Callas and Leontyne Price , Alvaro by Placido Domingo , Richard Tucker , Carlo Bergonzi , and Carlos by Sherill Milnes , Tito Gobbi , Leonard Warren and Renato Bruson , all great Verdians . Sinopoli himself died of a hear attack in 2001 while conducting a performance of Verdi's Aida in Berlin . Is there really a curse on this opera ?
There are no easy answers to this question . It's no secret that audiences at orchestra concerts in America tend to be middle aged , and that the audience seems to be graying . It's different with opera ; more and more young adults and even teenagers have been becoming opera fans , which is wonderful .
Ticket prices may be a problem ; they aren't cheap . But the same is true for broadway shows and other kinds of music . The lack of music appreciation classes in our schools , except for some , may also be presponsible for the problem of attracting new audiences . Another problem may be that classical music isn't easy listening and casual entertainment . It requires careful attention in order to enjoy it .
In a time where people's attention spans have supposedly been decreasing, for a variety of reasons , getting more people to listen to lengthy and complex symphonies by Bruckner , Mahler and other composers is a daunting task . How might our orchestras and opera companies go about attyracting more people , young or not so young ?
Possibly advertising campaigns on television or elsewhere , but this would be expensive . Or sending more advertising material through the mail . Of course , many people would just throw thiese ads out as junk mail . But possibly , some people who have never been to concerts might look at these and say to themselves , "Hey, maybe I should try a concert by my local orchestra . It might be a cool experience ".
If we could restore music appreciation classes to more public schools , it might interest more youngsters in classical music . But that's a very big if . Unless these classes are taught well by teachers , and ones who have a true zeal for trying to reach kids , they can be deadly dull and turn kids off to classical music for life .
Some orchestras offer special concerts for schoolage kids , but if more and more orchestras did this , it might help also . And I've been mulling over an idea for some time about starting an organization devoted to increasing audiences for classical music by inviting the public to open forums introducing people to classical music where they can hear introdictory recordings of famous classical works ranging from around the time of Bach and Handel , the early 18th century , to the present day .
Audiences would be free to make comments and ask questions , after which they would be given more information on how to go about learning more about classical music and getting tickets for performances and obtaining classical CDs and DVDs, plus books etc , as well as websites to visit .
And above all it's vital to debunk myths about classical music , such as the ridiculous notion that it's stuffy , boring and elitist . This is a deadly canard .
This Friday , for my classical music program at United Hebrew Geriatric Center in New Rochelle , I'm going to mix two composers where were close contemporaries but whose music is radically different - Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 - 1943 ) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874 -1951 ). I'll be playing the controversial Austrian composer 's piano concerto , his only one , and after , the famous piano concerto no 2 of the late Romantic Russian , the second of his four ..
The Rachmaninov concerto has been played to death , but Schoenberg's is understandably not heard so often . It's a 12-tone work , but not at all unpleasant to listen to if you give it a chance . But unfortunately , the Austrian revolutionary's music is extremely difficult to sell to audiences , which tend to want to hear what they know and love .
There's one lady in my audience who loves Rachmaninov ; he's her favorite composer . But she hates most "modern" music , even works which have been around for as long as Schoenberg's , a composer who died nearly 60 years ago . But the other people who come to my Friday program are generally open to whatever I play for them .
I told them about my plan to mix Rachmaninov and Schoenberg last Friday , and I asked the lady who hates modern music not to walk out , which she sometimes does when she doesn't like a piece I play there . She said she'll give it a chance . But at least she'll get to her her beloved Rachmaninov !
I compared the experience to kids being told by their mother to eat their vegetables such as broccoli at dinner before they get a chance to have dessert ! They all laughed at my comparison . I can't wait to see how they react to my experiment !
During Mao Zedong's disastrous "Great Leap Forward " many years ago , Western classical music , which had already been established in China for some years , was virtually banned , and performers and teachers were subject to brutal treatment in an attempt to wipe out western influences on the People's Republic of China . Many of these were sent to prison or forced to abandon their classical music activities and sent tor "re-eduucation " in the provinces and the countryside ..
But after the death of Mao in 1976 , European classical music made a comeback , and today it has achieved unprecedented popularity in the world's most populous nation . Aspiring young violinists , pianists and other instrumentalists vie for admission to the top Chinese conservatories in droves , and millions and millions of young and in some cases, not so young Chinese have been learning western instruments such as violin , piano and cello . Many have come to America to study at prestigious music schools such as Juilliard , the Curtis Institute and elsewhere .
Symphony orchestras have been springing up all over China , and the audience for western music is larger than ever . The young pianist Lang lang has become a classical superstar and has been making best-selling recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon record label , and many other Chinese pianists and other instrumentalists have been making international careers .
Compoers such as Tan Dun , Bright Sheng , Chen Qigong and others have been widely performed , and orchestras all over Euroope and America regularly perform their music , which aims to combine Chinese and western elements . Three years ago , the Metropolitan Opera presented the world premiere of "The First Emperor ", by Tan Dun , an opera about the 3rd century B.C. Ruler who united China . This was its first presentation of an opera by a non-western composer , and is currently available on DVD .
In recent weeks , the San Francisco , Atlanta and St. Louis Symphonies have been visiting Carnegie hall with programs mixing music by Chinese , European and American composers and also featruing western music based on Chinese subjects . This cross fertilization of classical music with Chinese influence could be a key elelment in renerwing the vitality of European and American classical music . There is no telling what will happen , but there is no doubt that things will be very interesting .
Symphony orchestras in the US and Canada emply an individual without whom they could not possibly function efficiently - the personnel manager . This person's job is to co-ordinate the orchestra's schedule and see to it that every musician knows when he or she is needed or not for this or that work the orchestra is playing , and to function as a liason between the musicians and the music director of the orchestra and the management .
Often , there is also an assistant personnael manager and other staff . In the smaller orchestras which don't have the enormous budgets of the top orchestras or a 52 week season , the personnel manager is sometimes a member of the orchestra . But with the major orchestras of New York , Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago , and Los Angeles and other major cities , this would simply not be feasable .
The personnael manager is in charge of co-ordinating auditions and supervising them when they happen , and is the individual to whom applicants for orchestral positions in the orchestra send their resumes . Also , this person is in charge of engaging extra musicians for individual pieces when needed , for example , extra brass players when works for very large orchestra are played or unusual instruments such as saxophone etc, which are not normally used , as well as engaging substitute musicians when needed .
For example , the Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss requires an enormous orchestra , including 12 off-stage horn players , extra woodwind instruments and other things . It's the job of the personnel manager to schedule the extra musicians .
Thr personnel manager is also responsible for co-ordinating transportation when an orchestra is on tour and works with the stage technicians to configure the seating for any given work and to inform the music director or guest conductors of any changes in personnel for a concert . It's a job which requires attention to countless details .
When I was auditioning for orchestras in the past , I got the chance to meet several personnel managers ; they greet the musicians at auditions and tell them what they need to do , such as telling them where the rooms for warming up are and bringing them out to play (behind a screen) for the audition committee when the dreaded time comes .
When it was time to appear before the audition committee , the members of the orchestra who listen to the auditions and decide the fate of the applicants , the personnel manager took me on to the stage of the concert hall and told me not to speak out loud so the committee would not know if I was male or female ; I could whisper to him if I needed to ask a question .
Usually , after about ten aoplicants had played , the personnel manager would gather them together to inform them about which , if any of the applicants had been advanced by the audition committee to the final auditions which determine the winner of the job . Often , none of the ten is chosen .
I'm not sure if things are run exactly the same way in European orchestras , although they no doubt have an efficient administration of their own .
It's a tough and demanding job and anything can happen , but no US orchestra could function without the personnel Manager .
I've been listening to a delightful CD on the Harmonia Mundi label of the four horn concertos of Mozart played by the brilliant and amazingly versatile musician Lowell Greer , who is one of the foremost performers on the natural , or valveless horn , which was the only way to play the horn until the invention of valves in the early 19th century , which enabled horn players to play all the notes of the chromatic scale . This is one of the many new classical CDs recently aquired by my local library .
Greer performs with the period instrument group Philharmonia Baroque orchestra , led by Nicholas McGegan , and actually built the natural horn he uses , modeled after the instruments of the period . The old-fashioned horn had none of the elaborate tubing you find on the modern horn , and came with lengths of tubing called crooks , which the player inserts into the instrument to change every time he would play a piece in a different key .
If you are playing a piece in C major , you have to insert a C crook ; for D major , a D crook ; for B flat , a B flat crook etc . The different crooks are of different lengths ; this determines the notes you can play . All the notes are produced by variations in lip pressure . The greater the lip pressure , the higher the pitch , the less pressure, the lower the pitch . So you can't play all the notes of the scale in whatever key .
The lowest note , way down there, is known as the fundamental . Then by variations in lip pressure you produce the higher notes . There are wide gaps between the pitches . The higher you go , the closer the pitches are . That's why playing the highest notes on the horn is so difficult ; there's much less margin for error on the series of notes . If you're off by just a tiny fraction of lip pressure , you hit the adjacent note . That's what happens when you hear a horn player at a concert crack a note .
This means that compoers of the 18th century couldn't just write any melodic line for the horn . They had to take the limitations of the instrument into consideration . But in the mid 18th century , horn players discovered a technique of cheating nature by inserting the palm into the bell of the horn further and closing it off in order to get notes outside the natural series of pitches . Now it was possible for composers to write more inseresting parts for the player in concertos and sonatas etc .
With valves , the player has all the different lengths of tubing available immediately , and can now play all the notes of the scale . It' s rather like going from a Ford Model T to a Ferrari .
But there was one problem . By closing off the bell with the palm to play the extra pitches avaialable , the sound of the note changed greatly . The "stopped " notes were somewhat harsh and muffled sounding . Later , when valved horns became the norm , especially in the 20th century , composers would specifically call for stopped notes here and there for coloristic effect , and this is specifically marked in the score and the horn parts .
Audiences didn't like the muffled sound of the stopped notes in the 18th century , so players developed a technique of disguising the sound of the stopped notes so that the difference between open and stopped notes was not so noticable . Greer shows his mastery of this technique on the recording . But in orchestral music , stopped notes are rarely used , and the parts generally not very interesting to play .
Among the greatest horn players of the natural horn era were Mozart's friend Joseph Leutgeb , for whom he wrote his horn concertos , and the Bohemian-born Giovanni Punto , who was the first superstar horn player , and for whom Beethoven wrote his sonata for horn and piano .
Mozart has a kind of joking relationship with Leutgeb , and liked to call him silly names in a good-natured way . He even wrote some of these teasing comments into the manuscripts of his horn concertos , calling Leutgeb a silly jackass , among other things !
There are many recordings of the Mozart horn concertos available , both on valved and natural horns , by such great horn players as Barry Tuckwell and the legendary Dennis Brain , Greer on natural horn , Hermann Baumann , Dale Clevenger , Alan Civil , Gerd Seiffert and others . No matter which version you choose , natural or valved , the Mozart horn concertos are delightful works . There are also two horn concertos by Mozart's great older contemporary and friend Haydn , and by Giovanni Punto and other composers of the era .
The latest news from the trouble-ridden but indestructible world of classical music mixes the good with the bad . Despite all the problems , this magnificent and centuries-old art form remains alive and kicking , and there's no cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth yet .
To start with the good , the New York City Opera's shortened season opened last week with a gala concert of operatic excerpts sung by some of its leading singers , and New York Times chief music critic is cautiously optimistic about the acoustics , which appear to have improved markedly . The David H. Koch theater in Lincoln Center , formerly known as the New York State theater , has had a thorough face lift . There are new seats , aisles between the rows of the orchestral level seats have been installed , the orchestra pit has been enlarged and elevators to it installed , and the widely disliked amplification system for voices , which had been installed several years ago in an attempt to boost the volume of singers boices has been removed .
The first opera of the season , "Esther " , by the late composer Hugo Weisgall has just been revived for the first time since its premiere here in the early 1990s , to considerable acclaim . But the future of this important part of New York's amazingly diverse and vital classical music scene remains uncertain .
The Honolulu Symphony orchestra in Hawaii is filing for bankruptcy and has not been able to pay its musicians for several months because of severe problems with debts . All of its scheduled concerts have been cancelled for the time being , and most of the orchestras 22 member administrative staff have been laid off . There are hopes that private donations will save the orchestra for the time being .
The Honolulu symphony describes itslef as the "oldest America orchestra west of the Rockies ", and has been in existence for 109 years . Let's wish the orchestra the best . In the past two decades , other American orchestras which have been forced to file for bankruptcy have included the San Antonio , Nashville , San Diego, Oakland and Colorado Springs symphony orchestras .
The distinguished American conductor Leonard Slatkin , 65 , suffered a mild heart attack during a concert with the Netherland's Rotterdam Philharmonic but was able to complete the concert . He suffered chest pains and doctors put in stents for his heart and is recovering nicely and is expected to return to work shortly . Slatkin recently became music director of the Detroit symphony orchestra and served most recently as music director of the Washington national Symphony and previously , the St.Louis symphony , as well as being a regular guest conductor with leading orchestras all over Europe and America , andonducting operas at the Met and other major opera companies .
Uner President Obama , the White house has plans to feature regular performances by prominent classical musicians , and the initial musical soiree there last week included such stellar names as violinist Joshua Bell , cellist Alicia Weilerstein and African-American piano virtuoso Awadagin Prat among others . This is an encouraging sign for classical music in America . Don't believe the notion that the classical music scene today is in any way "staid " or "irrelevant " !
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