Category Archives: Classical music

Wolf and Nabokov on red hats, madness, and death

Monsaingeon’s wonderful Richter documentary features the legendary pianist accompanying Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Hugo Wolf’s ‘Feuerreiter.’   I don’t like vocal music much but the piece came to mind today and I searched for the lyrics.  The first stanza is a knockout and the rest could be ripped from the front pages if front pages still existed to be ripped.

Sehet ihr am Fensterlein
Dort die rote Mütze wieder?
Nicht geheuer muß es sein,
Denn er geht schon auf und nieder.
Und auf einmal welch Gewühle
Bei der Brücke, nach dem Feld!
Horch! das Feuerglöcklein gellt:
Hinterm Berg,
Hinterm Berg
Brennt es in der Mühle!
See, at the window
There, his red cap again?
Something must be wrong,
For he’s pacing to and fro.
And all of a sudden, what a throng
At the bridge, heading for the fields!
Listen to the fire-bell shrilling:
Behind the hill,
Behind the hill
The mill’s on fire!
— Translation by Richard Stokes

The story canters on and it doesn’t end well for our redcapped protagonist.  There’s a rough (and admittedly forced) parallel in Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’ where a King-in-mind-only abdicates to eventual academe, a hapless assassin, and his own hand.

He never would have reached the western coast had not a fad spread among his secret supporters, romantic, heroic daredevils, of impersonating the fleeing king. They rigged themselves out to look like him in red sweaters and red caps, and popped up here and there, completely bewildering the revolutionary police. Some of the pranksters were much younger than the King, but this did not matter since his pictures in the huts of mountain folks and in the myopic shops of hamlets, where you could buy worms, ginger bread and zhiletka blades, had not aged since his coronation. A charming cartoon touch was added on the famous occasion when from the terrace of the Kronblik Hotel, whose chairlift takes tourists to the Kron glacier, one merry mime was seen floating up, like a red moth, with a hapless, and capless, policeman riding two seats behind him in dream-slow pursuit. It gives one pleasure to add that before reaching the staging point, the false king managed to escape by climbing down one of the pylons that supported the traction cable.

Regrettably our national fire is more of the Wolf stripe.  The mill burns to the ground with untold consequences to the many  where Nabokov’s paler flame is shaded to only take the life of Kinbote/Botkin. We are left to wonder and fear whether a “a bigger, more respectable, more competent Gradus” is in our futures.

Hear Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore perform it below with evocative added graphics and translation followed by a rehearsal of the same piece with Richter.

Youtube Channel: FiDiTanzer528

Youtube Channel: kadoguy

The time is out of joint: Chris Impey on the tick-tick-tock of the stately clock

Steven Weinberg wrote a famous book, “The First Three Minutes” on the early stages of the universe.  The same universe became transparent to light some 370,000 years later.  There are other landmarks in post-Big Bang time going down to bewildering fractions of a second.

But the early universe was very hot, very dense, and gravitationally very different from the comfortable-to-us 1 g we experience today on the surface of the earth.  Einstein has convincingly shown that spacetime is accordingly divorced from that human experience.   Clocks, for example, are affected by gravity and satnav constellations have to take this into account.  Did the first three minutes flow the same way three minutes flow in the here and now?  I sent that question to Chris Impey’s online office hour and he kindly answered.  It is a tantalizing response and one that will require substantial further study to fully appreciate – perhaps finally diving into the guts of GR.   It makes me wonder even more intensely why we anthropomorphize those intervals the way we do.

Youtube Channel: Astronomy State of the Art

Composer Toru Takemitsu has set the general idea to music.

Youtube Channel: Orquesta Sinfónica de Xalapa

 

World Piano Day: Deutsche Grammophon’s virtual festival

COVID ravages the world. America bails out Boeing, Wall Street, and if all goes to plan, assorted chunks of 45’s cancerous financial empire. Meanwhile, Germany rolls out support to its artists and musicians, a nod to what that nation holds dear and what it finds worth defending.

In honor of a plague-affected World Piano Day, the German record label Deutsche Grammophon virtually brings together a number of celebrated pianists to help us remember that our mostly corrupt, degraded, and base species nevertheless has had moments of glory.

Artists include Maria João Pires 0:00 Víkingur Ólafsson 21:15 Joep Beving 40:38 Rudolf Buchbinder 01:05:39 Seong-Jin Cho 01:25:24 Jan Lisiecki 01:44:02 Kit Armstrong 02:14:19 Simon Ghraichy 02:46:18 Evgeny Kissin 03:17:43 Daniil Trifonov 03:26:00.

Update 3/31/20: Well, so much for DG’s benevolence.  The video has been marked Private.

 

Chicken in the deadpan pickin’ out dough: Lord Vinheteiro takes on Rossini

Move over Igudesman, make way Joo.  And roll over Beethoven while we’re at it.  He’s hampered by a broken hand at the moment but before he fell to a mechanical bull, Lord Vinheteiro had some fun with a rubber chicken.  Maybe more than is strictly legal.  Always great to see opera get it in the chops.

Youtube channel: Vinheteiro

 

Theme and Variations: Nahre Sol adapts and explains ‘Happy Birthday’

Pianist Nahre Sol delightfully explains sixteen levels of pianistic complexity in about ten minutes.  That doesn’t mean there are only sixteen but, damn, what a lower bound for the recreational pianist to aspire to!

Youtube Channel: Wired
and the separate Nahre Sol Youtube Channel

Sol is in good company.  Here are Mozart’s Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” which we know as something else.

Youtube Channel: Canacana Family

 

How to Masterclass like a Sir: Schiff teaches Schubert

I’ve studied Schubert’s Op.90 E-flat Major Impromptu off and on for years, long before I was ready for it.  In fact, I’m still not.  With expert teaching, even novices can use the great repertoire to learn and develop technique as a complement to scales, pedagogical exercises, and short pieces.  Up and coming pianist Martin James Bartlett has, at the age of 22, a mantelful of awards and a promising career ahead of him.   This Impromptu is no challenge for his considerable technique.  Nevertheless, Knight Commander András Schiff gently guides him towards bringing out the orchestral colors hidden in the piece, to bow a percussive instrument like a viol, and frees Bartlett’s voice without imposing his own will on the young musician.   Schiff’s legendary dry wit never oversteps into unkindness, except of course to the very late Carl Czerny who often takes it in the shorts in Schiff’s Guardian Lectures on the Beethoven Sonatas. It is gratifying to see that the steps to improvement at ones own level often recapitulates those of experts.   This is education at its finest.

Youtube Channel: Royal College of Music

 

Triple Point: N’Kaoua on Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner

Pianist Eric Ferrand-N’Kaoua discusses the mutual influences of three renowned composers and Liszt’s dual role as creator and transcriptionist.  Bugs and Elmer sneak around 10 minutes in … “O Bwunnhilda, you’re so wuvwee//Yes I know it I can’t help it…”

This revolutionary and/or romantic music is played  in the baroque Grand Salon of l’Hôtel de préfecture du Rhône in the city of Lyon.  The French know how to do government buildings.  English subtitles available through the Youtube cc icon.

Youtube Channel: EFNKPiano

 

Eight Songs for a Mad King

I don’t like vocal music and I don’t particularly like this all that much.  But, what a right proper anthem as the U.S. continues its descent into savagery with an unstable, unchecked Mephisto at the helm.

Eight Songs for a Mad King by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Performed by The Psappha Ensemble:

with Kelvin Thomas, soloist
Conrad Marshall – flute
Dov Goldberg – clarinet
Richard Casey – piano
Tim Williams – percussion / cimbalom
Benedict Holland – violin
Jennifer Langridge – cello

Youtube Channel: The Psappha Ensemble

 

 

A Major good time: ‘The Trout’ at RHUMC

From l to r: Benjamin Lash (cello), So-Mang Jeagal (piano), Kaelan Decman (double bass), Justin Woo (violin), Kevin Hsu (viola)

Amateur musicians are justifiably in awe of their professional counterparts.  We struggle with rhythm, tempo, dynamics, intonation, and sight reading.  They’ve mastered all that and more at an  early age.   It is all maddening especially the sight reading part.  I’d do a deal with Mephisto in a heartbeat if I could do that without actually working for it.  But, on the positive side, we schmoes reap the benefits of the pro’s superior talent and diligence in concert.   The USC Thornton School sent five graduate students to Rolling Hills last Sunday for a rollicking ‘Trout Quintet’ to a packed and savvy house.  Fine ensemble playing by a group that assembled and converged for this event.   It was damned hard not to hum along, especially with the fourth movement.  Video/audio to be posted if made available.