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Sunday, September 26, 2004
  Sonata in D Major, K. 119
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 22-23

After the uxorious King and his homely Queen (she is, in my eyes, very beautiful) have long receded in our history we are left with their servant's sonatas which had helped remove tedium from their hours. Three years saw each of them pass: 1757, Scarlatti; 1758, Barbara; 1759, Ferdinand. Through Ferdinand's horrible mourning there remained the sixteen volumes Scarlatti had given to Barbara as remembrance of the smile that had played on her lips. What criticism we have of their kingdom must wait until after we have listened to their romance.

The bell-like D Major chord that opens this sample reminds me, as it would remind any cellist, of Bach's sixth suite. It is not likely that solo 'cello music was in Scarlatti's ears. However, while waiting for an oil change I was reading this score and heard the piece as a work for string orchestra. In the background was the mechanic's angry AM radio worrying over the legacy of George W. Perhaps the White House should hire a harpsichordist.

What I like about this adventure in D is the theme after the first big stop. My attention tends to stray a bit whenever I get to this point in the piece and I hear this tune somewhat obliquely. It never fails. Something about this moment in the piece encourages the listener to include the room in which they are listening.

Read also about John Sankey's edition of the sonatas. 
Thursday, September 23, 2004
  Orfeo ed Euridice Act II, Scene 1, (excerpt)
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 17-21

It seems that I like the Beggar’s Opera less the more I do not listen to it. For me, it has come to represent that moment in the creative flow of music when our efforts turn away from a lyrical, growing complexity capable of engaging our full imagination. It is a spiteful neglect that indulges our hurtful appetites. Yet, somehow, we work through those celebrations of bad taste and find ourselves again preoccupied with a clarity of line and simplicity in construction that inevitably leads to increasingly complex events.

As they say, reform was in the air when the shrewd Mr. Gluck wrote his Orfeo. Gluck’s unification of the opera paved the way for Berlioz’s strange dream and the Wagnerian epic. The composer Gluck brings to my mind, however, is Edgar Varèse. If this excerpt is a fair example of his work, Gluck, like Varèse, was thinking in densities. As he might have admitted, Handel’s cook wrote better counterpoint. Gluck was interested in mass.

What I like about this return to the underworld are the repeats in the Presto at track 19. Even though Mr. Gluck took the dal segno away from singers, there remained a good use for repeats in the orchestral sections.
Monday, September 20, 2004
  Guest Artist Concert #1
Contemporary Performer's Workshop
Andrea Lee, violin
Patricia Wood, piano

Because I think it was wonderful, I am unable to offer you any opinions. More accurately, as the host of this performance I thought it was great before it started. My interest here is simply to document this performance.

The Contemporary Performer's Workshop is a nonprofit organization with the mission to "explore and promote the use of modern music in the curriculum of beginning string education." As the director of this group, my favorite project is the Guest Artist Series. Four times a season we hire a string player to give a recital which includes a piece by me (a living composer the students know) or another living composer. The guest artist is also asked to close the program with a piece in which the students are able to come on stage and play along. In recent history, this has been a blues chart of some sort.

Yesterday was the first guest artist concert of this season. Andrea Lee and Patricia Wood performed the followed pieces:

Apostrophe, for solo violin by Isaac Watras
Humoresque by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky/Fritz Kreisler, arr.
Rondo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart/Fritz Kreisler, arr.
Liebeslied by Fritz Kreisler
Danse Espagnole from "La Vida Breve" by Manuel de Falla/Fritz Kreisler, arr.
Méditation from "Thaïs" by Jules Massenet
Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Saraste
You Do for voice and guitar by Andrea Lee
Blackbird by the Beatles
You're Gonna Miss Me by B.B. King and J. Taub, performed with CPW students.
  Cincinnati Symphony Orhestra concert review #1
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b by Beethoven
Kullervo, Op. 7 by Sibelius

Paavo Järvi, conducting
Charlotte Hellekant, mezzo-soprano
Jaakko Kortekangas, baritone
Estonian National Male Choir, Ants Soots, director

Last Friday night I walked across Washington Park to hear the CSO's first concert of the season. My good mood was easily encouraged by their performance of an old standard. And I was perfectly unprepared for the strange story and broad orchestral writing of Sibelius' neglected Opus 7.

Kullervo was an ambitious project for Sibelius. Once completed, instead of setting a standard it served that composer merely as a learning experience. Though its author turned it aside, it has since found friends. Professor Gann described the work's history in the notes. (I like to read them after the concert.) What he did not mention is how bizarre the piece is as an opener to the orchestra's season. The story of the soon-to-be-suicidal Kullervo unwittingly doing harm to his sister while wearing blue stockings is a real downer. That the story was presented so well made it all the more unsettling.

The soloists sounded as beautiful as they looked. It was their acting, restrained though it was, that served as an effective guide to the listener's imagination. And the exotic, sinister sound of the Finnish language was powerfully accomplished by the Estonian National Male Choir. However, in spite of the large numbers on stage, the strength of Kullervo is the writing for the strings, especially the violins.

I walked home feeling bad for Kullervo, a child ill-nurtured, / early rocked in stupid cradles.

Thursday, September 16, 2004
  The Beggar's Opera, Scenes 11 to 13.
John Gay (1685-1732)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 12-16

Mr. Gay would have enjoyed the joke of being granted a spot on the list of great composers. As a composer, he has left us nothing of substance to ponder. Mr. Gay's influence, and the reason to consider him here, is much like the influence rock music would have centuries later. For example, because of Gay, Handel would write The Messiah. Because of rock, Miles Davis would produce Bitches Brew. Both of which, depending on your mood, can be good or bad.

At least one of tunes, "My heart was so free/ It rov'd like the Bee" is charming until we remember that it is parody. Parody is fine, as long as the listener is in on the joke. Hearing this tune as part of this anthology simply causes one to wonder how the remarkable achievements of the sixteenth-century madrigalists could be so thoroughly forgotten in a little more than a hundred years. Or why the English did not seem to care.

What I like about these melodies, which is more to the credit of English folk tunes than Mr. Gay, is the way they are able to easily loll around in duple time. What I like about the opera, not having the luck of seeing it, is that is a good read. Though none of the text is as memorable as, "Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear/ And he shows them pearly white/ Just a jackknife has Macheath, dear/ And he keeps it out of sight.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
  Cleofide, Act II, Scene 9: Digli ch’io son fedele
Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 7-10

It is a shame that the name “Faustina” is no longer popular with expecting parents. A woman with a name like that is likely to get what wants in life. Unlike Fracesca. Fracesca Cuzzoni, you may recall, was Faustina Bordoni’s sparring partner. While Faustina’s beauty and strength are projected through time by her adoring husband’s music, Fracesca ended life as a lonely button saleswoman.

There are many cases where a composer should share the credit for their compositions. The milieu in which this aria grew was as much an influence on this score as Johan Adolf’s imagination. The fierce competition and fickle audiences would make for a great movie. Sadly, the one we have, Farinelli, is not without considerable flaws.

What I like about Hasse’s aria is the way the change to minor in the second stanza is reinforced by a change in meter. In a way, our protagonist is happy to be weeping so the shift to minor is a light one. Tears in triple time are just the thing. Furthermore, this contrasting section forces the dal segno which gives our soprano, Maddalena Bonifaccio, a chance to add a few notes.

Read also about Kyle Gann's latest gig. I have tickets to that concert and I am a big fan of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It is interesting to note that Nancarrow found inspiration in the CSO's rendition of The Rite of Spring. Pavo Yarvi brought bunches of young people into music hall with that head banger last season. 
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
  La serva padrona, Recitative and Aria: Ah, quanto mi sta male/Son imbrogliato io
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 7 Tracks 1-6

With a soft thud somehow audible though most of Europe, the Baroque era came to an end as J. S. Bach’s neck muscles lost the strength to hold his mighty head aloft and, consequently, his forehead came to rest on the edge of his writing desk littered with out-of-fashion fugues. In spite of the many professors who repeatedly tell their students this was not how it happened, college and graduate school exams reinforce the sense of this thud when they divide music history into two parts: before and after 1750. Radio stations lend a hand as well. Since they are usually playing music since 1750 and overplaying their limited libraries of earlier music, many listeners may never hear a piece too far from that date. These are listeners (driving to work in the dark AM) who may be underestimated by the radio DJs. In many cases, these are DJs whose sense of history is often burden by music degrees.

Which is why it is delightful to me to find the first example of classical music in this anthology to be by Pergolesi, a guy who died in 1736.

What I like about the recitative and aria from his funny intermezzo is the recitative. Perhaps I am sensitive to it because I still have Saul ringing in my ears. However, the question marks outlined by the strings at track 2 add depth and comedy to this flexible, speech-like song. 
Sunday, September 12, 2004
  Saul: Act II, Scene 10, c) No. 68, Chorus: O fatal Consequence of Rage
George Frideric Handel
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Tracks 27-29

I would have loved to have heard the clatter of Saul’s javelin. Such a violent and disorganized percussive event would have been a fine segue from his argument to the chorus’ lament. The out of control stick would be a perfect symbol of Saul’s loss of reason. The mere presence of the weapon would be enough to unsettle the audience. And what percussion player (I see him in a cheep tuxedo) would not love to throw the javelin against the wall? But, Handel had better taste.

There are three sections of the text that Handel has presented with distinct musical events. The second, by Reason uncontroll’d! With ev’ry Law he can dispense; No Ties the furious Monster hold, has the repeated chords and quarter time groove popular in contemporary orchestral writing. There are times when modern composers seem to working their way back to this sound. As Ms. Sontag wrote, improving on the new by returning to the old.

What I like about this grand finale is the blindly going from crime to crime the singers describe. This, the most chromatic theme of the piece, is reminiscent of the text painting and weird chords of the 16th century madrigal composers. The tune that comes to my ears is Marenzio’s beautiful Solo e pensoso. Because of this unintended association and Handel’s incredible writing, the listener is able to end the second act with sympathy for the mad king.
Sunday, September 05, 2004
  Saul: Act II, Scene 10, b) No. 67, Recitative, Saul and Jonathan: Where is the Son of Jesse?
George Frideric Handel
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Track 26

I wonder how carefully Handel wrote his recitative? Not that there is something sloppy about his work, but this type of recitative does not seem to ask much of the composer. Singers generally seem to approach recitative with a rather relaxed regard for pitch. And, as it appears to have developed by the mature baroque, composers prioritized declamation over melody. In other words, rhythm over pitch. However, other than the close fit to the text, the rhythm of this recitative does not appear to contain many mysteries. In spite of these low standards, recitative is a fabulous legacy of the Baroque and a vital part of many an opera and oratorio.

The moments of recitative in an oratorio like this one are more than perfunctory, yet artful, plot developments. They prepare the listener for the wonderful choruses and arias by suggesting that we are always in music. They put in our ears the sense of people musically talking the way ballet puts motion in our arms and legs. With this belief in music the listener is well suited to hear about the fatal consequences of the plot developments.

What I like about this exchange of frustrations is that Saul and Jonathan, voice types notwithstanding, sound alike. Even though it is Saul who suffers the unreasonable anger, he is not set apart and viewed without sympathy. Handel's interest is more interesting than a display of violence.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
  Saul: Act II, Scene 10, a) No. 66, Accompagnato, Saul: The Time at length is come
George Frideric Handel
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Track 25

“Up, up and away,” said Saul when the time at length had come. At the end of the Baroque we see our angry king bounding up the C Major arpeggio with a confidence and verve unimaginable by Peri and his colleagues. Between those years and Handel’s productions, tonality came a long way in a short time. And the chords of this recitative have held their anger for the some three hundred years since.

“No longer shall the Stripling make His Sovreign totter on the throne.”

I often wonder if chords are the tail that will sometimes wag the dog. Chords, I feel, should serve the line. In fact, I might go as far to say that it is best when they are only a result of the line. I would go that far if we did not remember Artusi and how silly he seems to us now, saying what music should or should not be. In spite of my feeling toward chords I am sure there is a good piece of music out there that is nothing more than a bunch of chords.

At any rate, what I like about Saul’s fit is the artifice. The cathartic experience of observing his failure is good for all of us. In our own confrontations we can hope to hold ourselves with more dignity and wish that spite were made only for the theater.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
  Giulio Cesare: Act II, Scene 2
Recitative and Aria: V'adoro pupille
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 6 Tracks 20-24

In the 90's we saw Giulio hamming it up on the beach. This was a great moment to put in an anthology. It is the moment of his greatest defeat, the moment he is most in danger. Surrounded by his slain warriors, we see him on the l'infortunate arene just briefly after his enemies have past. What does he do? He wonders what Cleopatra is doing. It is inspired drama. Best of all we get to listen to a fair serving of bass-baritone singing. Up to this point in the anthology we have heard a number of men singing very high. It is wonderful to hear a bass-baritone happy to be Giulio Cesare.

Advance to the updated anthology and Cesare is about ready to take over Cleopatra's arias. This excerpt stops short of their duet, which is fine. I cannot imagine a good reason for Cesare to be sung by such a high voice. He is so compelling and Cleopatra so beautiful by contrast when the part is sung by a low voice. But this excerpt is really about her, not him.

What I like about her is the relaxed brilliance of her singing. The even pace of this aria is an important personality trait of Cleo's. We hear that she is a person in control, not hurried, and capable of large leaps and stunning high notes without breaking a sweat. Perhaps the only thing better than Giulio by the sea is Cleopatra playing dress-up on Parnassus.
In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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