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November 2011 - Posts

Remember - Classical CDs And DVDs make great Christmas Gifts !
  It's almost holiday season , and once again , I'd like to remind  people that classical CDs and DVDs can make wonderful Christmas and holiday gifts . And they're a great way to encourage more people to make classical music a part of their lives .

  Instead of the same old ties and sweaters for Christmas , how about giving your loved ones the gift of classical music for the holidays ?  If you have children ,grandchildren ,nieces or nephews who have reached the age of say, 10 - 13 ,  why not use  gifts of classical CDs and DVDs to introduce them to classical music ?
When they open their gifts , tell them that classical music is awesome !

   For a starter , you might give some one the classic DG CD of the Beethoven 5th and 7th symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the late , great Carlos Kleiber , or colorful descriptive works such as
Debussy's La Mer, Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition , Ravel's Daphnis & Chloe ballet music ,
Richard Strauss tone poems such as Tilll Eulenspiegel , Don Juan, Also Sprach Zarathustra and Ein Heldenleben , Smetana's The Moldau , Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade , etc.  Recordings by such great conductors as Herbert von karajan , Leonard Bernstein , Sir Georg Solti , James Levine, Valery
Gergiev ,  Riccardo Muti , Lorin Maazel , Andre Previn , Sir Simon Rattle ,  Leonard Slatkin , Clauidio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim etc are reliable choices .

   Or piano concertos by Rachmaninov , Tchaikovsky , Chopin , Liszt , Mozart and Beethoven ,
symphonies by Dvorak , Rachmaninov , Beethoven, Tchakovsky , etc.  Violin concertos by
Tchaikovsky, Beethoven , Mendelssohn , and Sibelius etc.  Horn concertos by Mozart .

   For operas , on either CD or DVD , Puccini's La Boheme ,Tosca ,Madama Butterfly and Turandot ,
or Verdi's Rigoletto ,La Traviata , Il Trovatore , and Aida ,  Mozart's The Magic Flute , Don Giovanni or
The Marriage Of Figaro ,  Hansel &Gretel by the original and real Engelbert Humperdinck (ideal for kids),
Beethoven's Fidelio , Offenbach's The Tales Of Hoffmann , The Bartred Bride by Smetana ,
Yevgeny Onegin by Tchaikovsky , Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky ,  etc.

   You can't go wrong with the DVDs from performances taped  at Metropolitan opera performances ,
and for CDs ,  with recordings by such great singers as Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti,
Marilyn Horne,Placido Domingo , Renee Fleming etc .  It's best to get complete opera recordings which have a booklet with the original libretto and  an English translation plus the synopsis,; not all  do .

   These books are excellent  introductions to classical music and  fine  gifts :  The Essential Canon Of Classical Music by David Dubal , and Classical Music 101 by Fred Plotkin .  Someday , some one may be grateful that you gave  them the gift of classical music this way . You never know !
Posted: Nov 30 2011, 06:18 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Do We Really Need So Many Recordings Of The Beethoven Symphonies ?
  Decca records has recently released a new set of all nine Beethoven symphonies by the distinguished Italian conductor Riccardo Chailly , with the august Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig ,Germany , of hwich he is currently the chief conductor . So what else is new ?  There are countless sets of the Beethoven symphonies on the market , and quite a few which are out of print . Plus who knows how many which were recorded  individually , not as complete sets.

   Virtually every great conductor of the 20th century and the present one has recorded them , not always complete .  There are complete sets by such legendary names as Toscanini, Bruno Walter,  Szell, Karajan ,Solti
Bernstein , Klemperer,  Furtwangler,Solti , Karl Boehm , Willem Mengelberg , and  others who did not record all nine , such as Stokowski ,  Carlos and Erich Kleiber (father and son), plus more recent ones by such  eminent living or recently deceased maestros as Abbado , Muti, Gardiner , Mackerras , Norrington , Zinman, Barenboim,
Dohnanyi, Haitink, Harnoncourt , Rattle, and others .

   If you're looking for them complete or individually , where do you begin ?  The selection is bewilderingly large .
Do you want a recording by legendary maestros of the past despite the dated  recorded sound , or a recent one with
clear and vivid digital sound ? Do you want a recording on the instruments of the period , which have been revived in recent years by certain  specialist orchestras , or one with  one of the great mainstream orchestras of Vienna, Berlin, Dresden,Leipzig, New York, Chicago , Amsterdam etc ? 

   And  further , is it really necessary for so many conductors to record the Beethoven symphonies ?  There are so many of them. Some of them must be superfluous . The late Herbert von karajan recoorded the nine no fewer than FOUR times in his long and illustrious career , the last one in digital sound . These sets range from the 1950s to the 80s. 

   The answer is yes and no .  Maybe there are too many recordings, but  it's important that we have documentation about how the various conductors have interpreted these timeless masterpieces of the decades ranging  from the very first recording of the fifth by the legendary Artur Nickisch (1855- 1922)
nearly a century ago , in antiquated  acoustical sound , before the invention of electrical recordings in the 1920s to  such  prominent living conductors as Chailly , Thielemann, Rattle , and even  Gustavo Dudamel , who is only 30 years old , a baby by the standards of conductorial  longevity .

   The same is true of  the symphonies of other great composers such as  Haydn, Mozart , Schubert, Schumkann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak , Tchaikovsky , Bruckner ,Mahler , Sibelius, and Shostakovich and others .  There are countless complete sets of their symphonies plus individual ones .

   Again , we need  documentation of the way different conductors have performed them over the years .
But the good thing is that if you're a collector of classical CDs , you're not limited to  these famous established  orchestral masterpieces .  You can also  get recordings of  rarely performed yet  wonderful symphonies by composers such as Nikolai Myaskovsky , Franz Berwald , Franz Schmidt, Arnold Bax , Havergal Brian , Carl Nielsen , Karol Szymanowski , Albert Roussel , Alberic Magnard, Vincent D'Indy,
Sergei Taneyev, George Whitelfield Chadwick , Zdenek Fibich , Alexander von Zemlinsky ,
Paul Dukas ,  Carlos Chavez , Gheorghe Enescu , Alexander Glazunov ,  and so many other composers who  are not household names  but  definitely worth exploring .  Classical CD purchasers have never had it so good ! 

Posted: Nov 29 2011, 07:21 PM by the horn | with no comments
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How I Became A Classical Music Freak
  I just wasn't like most kids , who listen to Rock or Pop music from their earliest yeas because that's what they're surrounded by . In fact , I wasn't even particularly musical  until I entered my teen years . I had taken guitar lessons  as a kid , and  when I was nine , the band director  at my elementary school on Long Island was
trying kids out on different instruments to see if they had any aptitude ,as he was looking for new kids for his band .

  He gave me a French horn and tried me out , and lo and behold , he noticed that I seemed to have a natural aptitude  for this very difficult instrument  and  and  an inborn musicality as well .  I made swift progress on the instrument , and  continued playing it throughout  junior and senior high school , playing in  the band and orchestra , as well as the  band and orchestra taken from the best kids in the whole school district .

   But something happened when I was about 13 - I discovered  classical music through large collection of
classical LPs in my local library .  I had already heard a recording of  Wagner's Das Rheingold  which a relative had , and became fascinated by the  cool mythological plot of the opera , and Wagner's thrilling music , and 
that was the start of my lifelong love affair with the music of Wagner . 

   I began to take classical LPs out of my library , and discovered the music of  not only Wagner , but other giants such as Mozart, Beethoven ,Brahms , Berlioz ,  Schumann ,  and  many other composers .  There were a wide variety of  complete operas on LP , and I discovered that they came with booklets  with original libretto  plus an English translation . This was the beginning of my lifelong love of opera .

   Now I knew just what the characters were saying , and I  became familiar with Italian, French , German , and even Czech , which was stimulated my lifelong fascination with language and linguistics .
For a foreign language in junior and senior high school , I took German , and when I started to learn this language in class , I was already fairly familiar with the language and  had a good idea of how to pronounce it . 

   I  also began to take books on classical music out from the library , and devoured all the information I could get on the great composers , as well as great conductors ,orchestras , opera singers ,pianists,violinists and other musicians .  I was a classical music and opera freak now , and many other kids in school thought I was more than a little bit weird because I would talk to them about opera etc .
   When I mentioned in class to an English teacher that I was an opera fan when the class was discussing music , he looked at me as though he had just seen an alien ! 

   The  other kids may have thought I was weird , but I didn't care !   Classical music was now my life. 
I've never regretted it .

Posted: Nov 28 2011, 04:50 PM by the horn | with no comments
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An Orchestra Should Be Like A Chameleon
   Continuing my discussion of how orchestras sound , and the controversy over them allegedly all sounding alike ,  it should be remembered that major orchestras with year-long seasons play an extremely wide variety of repertoire, ranging from music by Bach,Handel , Haydn,Mozart , Beethoven and Schubert etc, to the latest works by living composers .

   This extremely diverse repertoire covers a vast range of music from different periods , nationalities and styles
ranging from  the 18th century to the present day .  Orchestras today also play music by composers of many different nationalities ; German, Austrian, French , American, Russian, Czech , Polish , Hungarian ,
Scandinavian  and other European countries, and even  ones from China, Japan, South Korea and Latin America . 

   So an orchestra has to be very versatile  and flexible, changing its sound and style  of playing  from week to week, and even within one program .  It should not have a one-size-fits-all  sound and  style which it applies indiscriminately to all kinds of music .  Mozart and Haydn should not sound like Wagner and Brahms ;  Richard Strauss should not sound like Debussy ,  Berlioz should not sound like Shostakovich etc.  Orchestras and conductors should also have enough knowledge to play  baroque music so that it does not sound like Rachmaninov .

   In Wagner , for example  or Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, the brass should have a rich , dark ,powerful yet  never coarse or raucous sound .  But the ideal brass sound for French music ,
Debussy and Ravel,  in particular, is quite different ;  a much thinner and more transparent sound ,  with  a fair amount of vibrato allowed .  But that kind of vibrato is absolutely wrong for the German and Austrian composers .

   Traditionally in the  20th century , Russian brass players  also use considerable vibrato , but  with a much  more powerful and even raucous sound which is appropriate for Russian composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich .   So a Russian orchestra will have the ideal sound for Russian music, 
a German or Austrian orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic will have the ideal sound for German music , and a French orchestra will have the ideal sound for French music.

   For Czech music , the Czech Philharmonic of Prague has the ideal sound for Czech composers such as Dvorak,Smetana, Janacek and Martinu .  It's difficult to describe in exact words, but when this orchestra plays Czech music , it sounds Czech . 

   Of course it's virtually impossible to get every orchestra to have  the absolutely right sound for each composer and national style ,  but  conductors and orchestra should strive to come as close as possible to  getting the sound and style as close as possible to what is appropriate for the music . In some cases, brass and woodwind players use different  makes of instruments at different concerts to try to adapt to the music .

   In some ways , this is rather like the way a skillful actor can do different accents depending on the nationality of the character .  You don't want an American actor who is playing the role of some German or Austrian aristocrat  to use his native Brooklyn accent !   This is why an orchestra should be as changeable as a chameleon .
Posted: Nov 27 2011, 11:15 AM by the horn | with no comments
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The Myth That All Orchestras Today Sound Alike
   For the past thirty years or so , many music critics and other experts (or so-called experts), have been complaining   that all or most of today's orchestras sound alike , and long for the "good old days" when different orchestras had their own immediately identifiable "sounds" .  Supposedly , there has been an internationalized homogenization of the way different orchestras sound , and the differences between German, French , Russian, Czech, English and American orchestras has disappeared, perhaps never to return .

  But this is a myth . It's absolutely impossible for orchestras to sound alike , as they consist of different musicians playing different makes of instruments in concert halls with different acoustics .  To my ears , the Berlin Philharmonic , the London symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic and other great orchestras do not sound alike at all .

   How did the myth of internationalized homogenization come about ? My guess is that it's a psychological  illusion based on the  knee-jerk assumption  that everything was "better" in the past of classical music .
Classical "declinists" are dime a dozen . They've been complaining about how standards of musical  interpretation and  musical interpretive flair have been declining ever since I became a classical music  lover over 40 years ago  in my early teens !  

   Another myth is the  notion that  "absentee music directors" of the world's great orchestras have led to all or most orchestras sounding the same . Supposedly , great conductors of the past who spent so many years building great orchestras  ,such as Stokowski in Philadelphia, Szell in Cleveland and Ormandy in Philadelphia, for example , and they  saw to it that their orchestras had "distinctive" sounds.

   Today, music directors supposedly jet all over the world guest conducting other orchestras , so they have failed to maintain their orchestra's distinctive sounds.  But this is a myth .  Today, top orchestras have very long seasons, from September through May , and many have Summer residencies at music festivals, such as the Boston symphony in Tanglewood .  It's impossible for one conductor to be there every week of the season .  In the past , many top U.S. orchestras had much shorter seasons, so the music director could  spend a larger chunk of it with his orchestra .

   Certain great European orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic still use  unusual makes of instruments which give their orchestras a distinctive sound.  Outside of Austria, for example, no orchestra uses the  Viennese  horn , which has a different construction and valve system .
American  and German oboists have totally different timbres . Many Americans do not like the German oboe sound at all , finding it unpleasantly reedy .  Chances are that a German oboe player would never win an audition for an American orchestra .

   Then there's the difference between the overall sound of an orchestra and the timbre of its individual instruments . The  great Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, for example , when music director of the famously plush -sounding Philadelphia orchestra  during the 80s  after decades of plauying under the late Eugene Ormandy , was  harshly criticized by many critics for having "destroyed"  the orchestra's distinctive plush sound , as he  preferred a leaner more sinewy  sound .  But he did not change the actual timbre of the orchestra's woodwind and brass sections, so the orchestra  didn't actually "sound" different .  To my ears from the recordings Muti and the Philadelphia  made, the orchestra still sounded fine .

   Often an orchestra's sound  will change over the years as its personnel changes with  principal players retiring .  A music director sometimes chooses principal wood wind  and brass players who sound different from  their predecessors .  But no matter how much the sound of an individual orchestra may change over the years ,  different orchestras around the world will always sound markedly different .

Posted: Nov 26 2011, 11:55 AM by the horn | with no comments
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German Government To Increase Aid For The Arts By 50 Million Euros
   Despite the terribly difficult economic situation in Europe , the German government has decided to increase its already generous funding for the arts by 50 million Euros , to the approval of  all political factions , right and left .
(what Europe calls right is pretty liberal by American standards !) . 

   This is wonderful news for Germany , but  a wake up call  for the U.S. government , although it will no doubt be unheeded by by the  philistines  of the Republican party .  It's absolutely disgraceful that the U.S. government provides such a paltry amount of help fr the arts in America , and classical music in particular bears the brunt of its  stinginess .  The government takes less than a dollar from each individual taxpayer to support the arts , and this  munificent sum amount to about 140 million dollars , less than it takes to support the
disastrous and futile Iraq war for ONE DAY ! 

   And there are many Republican politicians in Washington and other prominent conservative leaders who want to  abolish the National Endowment For The Arts .  But here is what one of Germany's leading politicians said
about the  increased  aid for the arts in Germany , and  since I know German well ,here is my translation :
   " What lasts is culture .  Whether it is the cathedral of Cologne ,  the folk songs of our nation ,
Goethe's Faust , this Parliament building or Beethoven's Ode To Joy , culture is what actually remains and lasts . It is the foundation of our society  . It gives people orientation and identity , and
fosters the courage to live and  joy in living . This is why it is appropriate to discuss it in the council
chamber .  It belongs here ."

   If only we had more  American politicians like this !   You can read about  this story at .

Posted: Nov 25 2011, 04:28 PM by the horn | with no comments
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December Opera News Magazine - Beginning Of The Saturday Radio Broadcasts
   December is around the corner , and the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan opera broadcasts are about to
begin with Handel's  Rodelinda , starring Renee Fleming .  The  broadcasts can be heard on radio stations around the U.S. through the end of the season . If none of your local radio stations carry these broadcasts you can hear them on the internet at  the website of wqxr, or on .

  The gorgeous American mezzo-soprano Joyce Di Donato is on the cover , and  Opera News features editor
interviews her .  She will be one of the starts of the Met's new production of the artificially constructed opera "The Enchanted island" , based on Shakespeare's The Tempest , and  put together from a variety of opera arias by such great baroque composers as Handel ,Rameau and others .

   Musicologist Ellen Rosand , an expert on baroque opera , discusses the new production . This is an example of a baroque "Pasticcio" , or an artificial opera made by cannibalizing music by a variety of different composers
rather like the Frankenstein monster !  Renowned countertenor David Daniels is also interviewed . In case you're new to opera , countertenors are male singers who are trained to sing  operatic roles too high for the normal male voice in falsetto . This may sound strange at first to you at first , but it's easy to get accustomed to this kind of singing .

   Pianist and opera expert William R. Braun has an interesting article which gives advice for young,
aspiring opera singers on which arias to choose for entering vocal competitions , which are one of
the main ways of launching operatic careers .  Another interesting article is by James M. Keller,
program annotator for the New York Philharmonic , who discusses how many operatic and classical music terms are commonly misused by people .

   Each of the broadcast operas for the month has a list of the cast, conductors, directors and designers etc, plus a  synopsis and interesting background information about the operas and the composers.
In addition to Rodelinda , the December broadcasts include the new production of Gounod's Faust,
Puccini's Madama Buitterly , and Donizetti's La Fille Du Regment (The daughter of the regiment).

   The magazine's roving opera reviewers have reviews of recent performances from the Met, including the new production of Donozetti's Anna Bolena , Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann from the Chicago Lyric opera , the world premiere of Heart Of A Soldier by Christopher Theofanidis from the San Francisco opera, which is based on a true story about the 9/11 catastrophe , as well as performances from Vienna , Zurich, Stockholm and London .

  The new live recording of Rossini's monumental opera William Tell from Rome is reviewed in the CD review section , as well as a new recording of Donizetti's rarely performed Linda Di Chamonix from London, and aria recitals by such top stars as Anna Neterbko , Rene Pape, and Angela Gheorghiu .

   DVD reviews of live performances include the  new opera Anna Nicole by English composer Mark Anthony Turnage , which believe it or not is based on the life of the late Anna Nicole Smith !
Plus Wagner's Flying Dutchman, from not inappropriately , the Netherlands opera ,and Janacek's Jenufa from the Madrid opera . 

   There are reviews of three interesting new books ; one about opera fans in Argentina , home of the world-famous Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, a book about the last years of Sergei Prokofiev ,when he returned to the Soviet Union after many years of living in Europe and America , causing him to run afoul of  the conservative musical tastes of  Stalina dn the Communist party , and a study of opera in the novels of such great french writers as Balzac, Proust and others .

   For more information on the broadcasts and the Met's HD broadcasts in movie theaters , check .

Posted: Nov 24 2011, 06:57 PM by the horn | with no comments
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When It Comes To Interpreting Music , Classical Musicians Have No Constitution
  Composers, music critics, musicologists ,performers and fans are forever arguing over how music should or should not be interpreted .  In many ways , this is similar to the way politicians , pundits , commentators  and  private citizens in America are forever arguing over the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution .

  In classical music , there are those who insist on  strict observance of  the composer's directions in the written music , and those who believe that musicians should be allowed considerable leeway in  realizing  those  written instructions .  In other words, the strict  observation of the founding father's "original intentions" (whatever those were), or a "living constitution".  The problem is that the written music can only tell the musician so much ; there is plenty of room for the performer to personalize the music . 

   If you look at the score of any orchestral work or opera, or  other music such as that written for the piano and chamber music etc , you will see  all manner of written instructions . Not just the notes, but  indications ,usually in Italian but not always , or how fast or slow to play a work,  the dynamics (loudness and softness ),
indications for the kind of  expressive character of the music ,  speeding up and slowing down (accelerando and
ritardando in Italian , and much more .

   In general , the older the music , the fewer the  written instructions .  For example , in the music of Bach , which comes from the first half of the 18th century, there is generally not much information about those
parameters I've just mentioned . But if you excamine the score of a symphony of Mahler, whose music was written in the late 19th and early 20th century,  there is an enormous amount of specific detail as to how to perform the music , even  paragraphs  with  special instructions .  One wag  said that "The only written instruction you don't find in a Mahler symphony is '  no smoking' !

   But there are other things that can't be  written out exactly , such as "rubato", or stolen time in Italian , or using  subtle flexibility of tempo for expressive effect .  The composer will sometimes ask for the performer or conductor to speed up or slow down , but rubato is much more subtle . 

   What's appropriate in the music of  one composer or period  may not be appropriate for  that of another composer or time .  Musicians are always talking about "the composer's intentions", but those are not necessarily written in stone, and composer do change their minds .  Sometimes performers will  add nuances not actually specified by the composer, but yet the composers approved of these anyway.

   In  other cases , performers have gone over the top and  committed the musical equivalent of painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, and  the composers were  outraged .  Composers have often conducted or played their own music ,  and  quite a few recordings by the composers themselves have been made over the years, those this gives musicians  clear guidelines . But even they have been known to play their music differently at different times,  with faster or slower tempi, for example .

   Tempo, or the rate of speed  at which a piece is performed , is one of the most controversial issues in classical music .  If you listen to different recordings of say, any given Beethoven symphony , not all use the same rates of speed , and there is considerable  difference from one recording to another . Timings for a long symphony by Bruckner or Mahler  can differ by as much as ten minutes or so  from conductor X or Y . 

   But what tempo or tempi are the right ones for any given work ?  There are no easy answers .
Beethoven, who was very concerned about  performers getting what he felt were the right tempi for his works ,  used the then recent invention of the metronome  to give performers guidelines so that  performances   would not be either too slow or too fast .  But even he is knwon to have changed his mind . 

   Sometimes musicians have been known to  play music at perversely wrong   tempi ,  usually too slow , although  sometimes to fast .  The great German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973 )  is known to 
have performed some works  by Beethoven and other composers in an extremely slow and ponderous , if undeniably majestic manner , in his old age , mainly because of his many health problems . In his earlier years , his performances were said to have been  full of impetuous energy .

   Perhaps  you  could say the the score is the Constitution for the performer ,  but  like  interpretation of the Constitution ,  the  controversies will never end .  But  it would be  terribly boring if every performance  of the same work were identical . Fortunately , there is no likelihood of this ever
happening .
Posted: Nov 23 2011, 06:33 PM by the horn | with no comments
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More On Wagner, The *** And Israel
   This morning I received an e mail from classical music blogger A. C. Douglas , who might be called the Andy
Rooney of classical music telling me that my story about how the *** played the music of Wagner constantly to the inmates of the concentration camps was a myth .  I don't know if this is the case , but it certainly sounds like something the *** might have done to torment them .

   A.C.'s blog frequently discusses  Wagner and  regularly excoriates  Eurotrash directors and stage designers for their  outrageous travesties of  Wagner's operas , and is always  thought-provoking  and stimulating even if you don't agree with him .

   Still , it's understandable that many Jews and even non-Jews are disturbed by Wagner's music because of all the baggage attached to it . Indian-born conductor Zubin Mehta ,  who has been closely associated with the Israel Phiilharmonic for decades and is its  music director for life , and  Argentinian-born pianist  and conductor Daniel Barenboim , a regular guest conductor , have come to grief trying to perform  Wagner
at concerts in Israel  with the orchestra because of the public outcry .

   Many  people  read Nazism  into  Wagner's magnum opus , the monumental  four  opera cycle  "The Ring Of The Nibelungen "  , which is based on Norse and Germanic mythology , and which features
the Germanic gods, goddesses , evil dwarfs who dwell inside the earth , water nixies, giants, Valkyries
and superheroes .  Plus a magic sword, and a  helmet which enables one to become invisible or change into  other shapes .

   But they fail to realize that far from glorifying  these gods and superheroes  and showing their triumph over  the Jews, the Ring  shows how Wotan , chief of the gods , and  the others characters are destroyed by  lust for power and riches .  The Ring is a story of all against all , and  how  the struggle to win the magic ring made of the gold of the Rhine which  confers  absolute power on its owner  destroys the gods and the other characters .  It ends with the so-called "Twilight Of The Gods". or Gotterdammerung .  It seems that Hitler never realized that Wagner's Ring Of The Nibelungen predicted his own  catastrophic downfall .



Posted: Nov 22 2011, 06:27 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Strange Reasons For Shunning A Composer's Music
  People are strange creatures . They do things for the most irrational reasons . Among them are hating or shunning the music of a particular composer because of the kind of person he or she was .  Some people are so blinded  by their disapproval of composer X or Y as a person that they hate the music or even shuin it altogether .

  The composer most hated and or shunned is without a doubt  Richard Wagner , most controversial composer
of all time .  A notorious Anti-Semite , womanizer , serial adulterer ,deadbeat and megalomaniac .  Yet he wrote some of the most  breathtakingly beautiful , powerful and inspired music ever written . 

   To make matters worse , he was idolized by Adolf Hitler .  But is this Wagner's fault ? And did he actually share the same insanely bigoted and murderous beliefs as Hitler ?  It turns out  he didn't .  Yes, he disliked Jews , and even wrote a notorious  lengthy essay called "Judaism In Music" , which  says some rather nasty things about Jews , mainly about their supposed inability to create great and original art and music . 

   But did Wagner advocate genocide against the Jews or any one else ?  He did not .  He had a low opinion of them , but  he was no Hitler .  And  as the old cliche goes , "some of his best friends were Jews ".
Wagner had many Jewish friends and associates ,including the  once famous German-Jewish conductor Hermann Levi , whom he chose to conduct the premiere of his last opera Parsifal at  the Bayreuth festival in 1882 , simply because he realized  Levi's great ability as a conductor . And the son of a
Rabbi , no less !

   Ever since the founding of Israel in 1948 , the music of Wagner has been unofficially banned  there .
The Israel opera has never  performed any of the Wagner operas , and  the Israel Philharmonic's rare attempts to perform Wagner orchestral excerpts have met with loud audience disapproval .

   This is I suppose understandable , as some Israelis have been holocaust survivors who were subject
to the *** constantly playing Wagner recordings at the concentration camps , and  hearing the music brings back horribly painful memories for them .  Yet some of the greatest Wagner conductors of the 20th century and the present day are or have been Jews , such as the late Sir Georg Solti ,  James Levine and Daniel Barenboim .

   The problem is that Hitler read  so many things into Wagner that simply are not  there .  There are no Jewish characters in his operas ,  no discussions of Jews and Judaism , and not a single Anti-Semitic statement  can be found in any of the librettos .  Some  critics and musicologists have read  Anti-Semitism into  the plots and characters , but  this has all been highly tendentious .

   And Wagner was hardly the only composer to have been guilty of Anti-Semitism .  Ironically , the two most popular composers in Israel , Chopin and Tchaikovsky , were both anti-Semites !
  Some people ,such as a friend of mine , shun certain composers for an even less valid reason , merely because they were homosexual .  The best known example of this is Tchaikovsky , and my friend
won't touch his music because he was gay .

   But this is true of many famous  composers, living and dead  , such as  Aaron Copland,
Leonard Bernstein , Benjamin Britten , Virgil Thomson , Michael Tippett , Ned Rorem ,Samuel Barber,
Francis Poulenc and Hans Werner henze , to name only a handful .  So what ?  Why can't people just 
listen to their music purely as music ?

   Composers are fallible creatures like the rest of us .  They have been guilty of  being nasty people,
mean-spirited ,  greedy ,  envious and jealous ,  prejudiced ,  adulterers , less than  admirable parents ,
and  other common human failings .  But it's their music that counts !

Posted: Nov 21 2011, 06:10 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Please Sign My Petition To Get Help Four America's Orchestras And Opera Companies !
  I still need  94 more signatures to reach the goal of 100 at , in order to get things going for my petition to get government help to keep America's many struggling symphony orchestras and opera companies alive .  Just go to, look under my name, Robert Berger , to access the petition .

   We can't just sit there while the livelihoods of so many fine American classical musicians are threatened ! 
Something has to be done .  Since my first post on the petition, the Dallas symphony has joined the sad list of struggling American orchestras .  This is a major orchestra with a distinguished tradition .  

   What orchestra or opera company will be next ? Thanks for your support .  And please tell  your friends and
make them aware of the  classical music crisis in America .

Posted: Nov 20 2011, 12:11 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Why Conducting Is One Of The Most Difficult Jobs in Existence
   Oh to be the conductor of an orchestra ! What a glamorous profession ! You stand  on stage, front and center
in your tuxedo ,  and wave your hands around ,usually with a baton , and all of a sudden , a hundred musicians
begin to produce  magnificent sounds .  People love and adore you (not always) , and you have  limitless
power . 

   But the job is much,much more complex than that .  It requires years of rigorous training in  harmony,counterpoint , composition , learning to play at least one instrument proficiently , and so much more .
You have to have a mind-boggling amount of knowledge and technical skill .  You have to be a born leader ,
a  coach , psychologist ,  have the skill of a diplomat and often to be a kind of musical politician .  The job is physically  very tiring , and you get an enormous amount of aerobic exercise beating time , and this is very tiring  .  You have to  be as observant as a hawk  and have incredibly sharp ears .  You have to be a master at dealing with people tactfully .

   You have to be able to decipher orchestral and operatic scores , which  can often have twenty or thirty or more different lines of music going on simultaneously .  The individual musicians  are responsible for their individual parts , but you have to  know every one's part from the score !   And you must constantly be learning new works .  It's necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the many different instruments in the orchestra , strings,wood wind,brass, percussion etc ,  and to be able to  detect  when anything is wrong at a rehearsal ,such as problems with intonation (playing in tune) ,  to be able to balance the different sections of the orchestras so that everything can be heard clearly ,  and be able to win the
musician's respect , which is far from easy .

   You see , the musicians don't worship you the way audiences might .  They are very hard to please ,
and if you don't know what you're doing , they will see through you instantly , and give you a very hard time at rehearsals .  They have been known to make deliberate mistakes , such as playing wrong notes
to  see if you can detect them and deliberately play some notes out of tune ,etc if you're new to them .

   If you come across as incompetent at rehearsals, you're not going to be invited back to conduct them again .  Conducting opera is in many ways even tougher than orchestral  conducting . Here, you have to deal  with often tempermental singers , a chorus ,sometimes a ballet , plus  the director of the opera, who has the same job as the director of a stage play .  It's like controlling a three ring circus !  Anything can go wrong during a performance , and you have to be able to deal with whatever happens .

   You have to keep up with the latest developments in musicological research ,  and  constantly  study and restudy the scores .   You are often under constant attack by music critics who may be hostile to your conceptions of this or that work or disapprove of your choice of repertoire.   No wonder an eminent   musicologist once described conductors as "Generals on the battlefield of music " !


Posted: Nov 19 2011, 04:39 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Is There Enough "Diversity " In Classical Music ?
   At , blogger ,critic and composer Greg Sandow has a discussion about diversity in classical music , or the lack of it .  Of course, diversity is a controversial issue in America , and a bone of contention .
There is always some one who is complaining about the supposed lack of women ,blacks, Hispanics or Asian-Americans in this or that field . 

  Especially the supposedly "lily-white" field of classical music . Sandow  laments the  scarcity of blacks in
America's  hundreds of orchestras ,  as well as conductors  and soloists etc ,not to mention the scarcity of
blacks who regularly attend concerts and opera etc . 

   But is this the result of  outright racism  ?  The answer is no .  The fact remains that there have never been a
substantial number of blacks who have gone in for the necessary training to become classical musicians  and
aimed  at careers in the field .  No one and nothing in America is trying to  exclude blacks from  becoming successful classical musicians . 

  As I've pointed out before here , when any American orchestra has a vacancy for a position ,  auditions are held  behind a screen to prevent any possibility of discrimination based on race or gender .  The audition committee , that is the members of the orchestra who  listen to the applicants play and judge them, cannot see  if you are black or female .  Each applicant is given a number  so that  the committee  has no idea  who you are . Applicants are asked not to say anything in front of the committee , so they cannot  tell if you are make or female .  The orchestra's personnel director , one of whose jobs is to supervise the auditions, is next to you , and if you need to ask any question, you can whisper to him .

   The finals are out in the open, but by that time ,  there are usually only about four or  five  applicants are
left out of as many as 200 !   The audition committee  is not really interested in an applicant's skin color . The only thing that matters is how you play .  And whenever  there is an opening in an orchestra , the chances are that no  blacks will apply  in the first place .  But if there are any ,  they should not feel discouraged from trying, because their chances of getting the  job will be no worse than any one else's .

   So if there are any young aspiring  blacks  who love classical music and  have  real talent on an orchestral instrument, and no doubt there are some,  there is no reason for them to feel discouraged from trying  to  make a career in  this fiercely competitive but  potentially enormously rewarding field  .

    In my horn playing days ,  I auditioned for such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic , the New Jersey symphony , the Washington National symphony and others .  I don't recall seeing a single black applicant  at these auditions . 

   In order to  change this  situation , perhaps a national program to  try to  encourage young blacks to learn  orchestral instruments  would help , and to  provide them with financial aid to study at America's many fine conservatories  could  increase the number of blacks in our orchestras .

    However ,  there is a sizable number of  Asian-American and Asian-born musicians  in  our orchestras , as well  as  ones who have become prominent  solo musicians .   Most are  Chinese ,Japanese and Korean -Americans , as well as ones from japan and South  Korea, and there is a growing number of 
Chinese-born  musicians in them .  But this is because  of the widespread  exposure to classical music and   early training  among  Asian-American and Asian youngsters . 

    Ultimately , classical  music is a meritocracy - if the talent is there , so is the opportunity .

Posted: Nov 18 2011, 06:44 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Do We Really Need Beethoven Awareness Month ?
   New York's WQXR , America's foremost classical music station , has officially declared November to be
"Beethoven Awareness Month ".  On Facebook recently, a composer I'm a friend with there expressed his
disapproval , because according to him , Beethoven is overexposed , great as he is . 

   Possibly . I can understand his reaction . Beethoven's music has been popular wherever classical music is performed for 200 years or so .  He is a world cultural icon , and for a good reason , because he wrote some of the greatest music ever written , and his stirring and impassioned music still speaks to us today nearly 200 years after his death in 1827 .

   Orchestras all over Europe, America and elsewhere play his immortal symphonies , and concertos every season ; great pianists have  tackled his sonatas and piano concertos for generations , and his lone violin concerto is part of the core repertoire of all  great violinists . His 16 string quartets are one of the most important parts of the repertoire of all string quartets , and  his lone opera Fidelio has been in the repertoire of
all the world's great opera companies from the beginning . 

  Virtually all the greatest conductors have recording his nine great symphonies , some multiple times .
The list is a who's who of conductors ,living and dead : Furtwanlger , Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Stokowski ,
Karajan , Willem Mengelberg , Felix Weingartner , Bernstein , Eugen Jochum , Otto Klemperer, Carlos and Erich Kleiber,Solti,
Fritz Reiner , George Szell , and among the living , Daniel Barenboim , Bernard Haitink , Riccardo Muti,
Claudio Abbado, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Sir Colin Davis , Lorin Maazel and others .
Herbert von Karajan recorded all nine no fewer than four times over four decades !  Many of these recordings are still available .

   Yes, you might say that Beethoven's music is somewhat over-exposed .  There are so many other fine but not not nearly as famous composers who deserve to be heard .
For example , Albert Roussel, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Franz Schmidt,  Carl Nielsen , Hans Pfitzner,
Franz Schreker , Arnold Bax, Wilhelm Stenhammar , Frank Martin , Nikolai Myaskovsky,
Sergei Taneyev, Karl Szymanowski , Alberic Magnard , Franz Berwald , Bohuslav Martinu ,
Nikolai Medtner, to name only a handful .

   But when it comes to people who are  not fans of classical music , Beethoven awareness month is not a bad idea at all !   Countless people can recognize the famous melody of the "Ode  To Joy " from the 9th symphony , and can recognize the opening Da - da-da daaah  from the 5th symphony ,
but unfortunately , they've never heard the complete works   live or recorded , not to mention the other seven Beethoven symphonies and his numerous other works , which is a pity . They don't know what they're missing .

   You may remember the episode on the Simpsons when the famous architect  Frank Gehry ,who added his voice for the show ,designed a concert hall for Springfield .  When the Springfield symphony orchestra started to play
the 5th at the gala opening of the hall , most of the audience left immediately after the opening notes, because they thought there was nothing worth hearing after those notes !   They had them as their
ring tones .  And after that , the concert hall was unable to sell enough concerts in Springfield to stay alive , so the odious Mr. Burns bought it and turned it into a private for profit prison !

   This episode may be a rather exaggerated description of American Philistinism , but it makes a good point .  If only more people could get familiar with the music of Beethoven , not to mention  other greats such as Mozart , Chopin , Schumann , Tchaikovsky , Brahms ,Bach and others .  Dream on .
Posted: Nov 17 2011, 06:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Fragments Of The Never Completed Sibelius 8th Symphony Found
   The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865- 1957 ) completed seven symphonies in his long lifetime
but rumors of an eighth have left the classical music world guessing for decades .  Musicologists have never been able to get to the bottom of the story of  this mystery work . Was it ever written at all , or was it destroyed by the composer because he  felt it was not worthy of  survival ?

   Sibelius is known to have been a highly self critical composer , and  there are stories of him  burning a large
number of manuscripts in the 1940s at his country home Ainola ( EYE-no-la) ) ,named after his wife Aino .
Although he lived into his early 90s , Sibelius  more or less abandoned composition  for the last 30 or so years of his life .  Why ?  The reasons are not  100 per cent certain .  He suffered from depression and alcoholism ,
and may have simply written himself out . 

   Apparently , Sibelius labored on his eighth symphony for some years ; he had already promised the great Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky (1874 - 1951 ) the world premiere with the maestro's Boston symphony
Koussevitzky had been one the foremost champion's of his music for many years .  But nothing came of the sketches .  Were they destroyed ?

   But now the classical music world is abuzz with  stories about the discovery of what appear to be fragments of the  the work , and  the Helsinki Philharmonic under its music director John Storgards has just premiered
them .  Unfortunately , there is not enough surviving material to  make a completion of the symphony possible , as has been done with  with  10th of Mahler and the 9th of Bruckner .  If you would like to read more about this fascinating story , go to , which has  an English translation
of the article in Finnish in the Helsingin Sanomat , Finland's top newspaper .  You can hear the fragments, although some  people have complained that they were unable to hear it due to technical problems .  It should be appearing on youtube shortly .
Posted: Nov 16 2011, 07:14 PM by the horn | with no comments
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