Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reality Check on Charting in the Classical Recording Biz

My jaw is still pretty well dropped after reading this article by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post this afternoon.

The Running Joke about Television in 1962

Fifty years later, has it come to pass?
I knew nothing at all about television--other than the running joke that this fabulous new medium would thrive on how-to and pornography programs--but in June 1962 I taped the three experimental half-hour shows or pilots, that WGBH had suggested.

WGBH, Channel 2, was Boston's fledgling public TV station. It didn't have much mazuma and was mostly run by volunteers, but they had managed to cobble together a few hundred dollars to buy some videotape. Russell (Russ) Morash, producer of Science Reporter would be our producer-director, and Ruthie Lockwood, who had worked on a series about Eleanor Roosevelt, would be our assistant producer. Ruthie scrounged up a sprightly tune to use as our theme song. And after considering dozens of titles, we decided to call our little experiment The French Chef until we could come up with something better.
From My Life in France by Julia Child

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Banjo and Fiddle à la Lucy

Lucille Ball obviously isn't playing in the above clip, but the way she holds the fiddle (nails aside) and the bow, shows that she might indeed have taken violin lessons at some point in her life.

And here she is playing the banjo (or looking like she's playing it).

Here's her comedy with a cello.

This clip has bits from the above episode, partially shot in color by an audience member at the "club." The color bits are edited into the video. And there is some more color footage from the "I Love Lucy" here too.

Friday, January 29, 2010

More Photos of Amanda Maier and her Family

Amanda Maier's great grandson Fridtjof Thaidens sent more family photographs! He also identified some of the people in the photographs in a previous post about Amanda Maier. If you haven't read it yet, make sure to read this post about her as well.

Amanda's father, Carl Edward Maier who like his daughter passed the "Musik-direktor" exam in Stockholm (1852). He was the son and grandson of a schoolmaster in Riedlingen in the former kingdom of Wuertemberg in Germany.

Amanda with her eldest son Julius Jr., Fridtjof Thiadens' father.

Julius Jr. with his Norwegian wife, and Agnes Roentgen in New York where they lived from 1908 to 1913. Julius Jr. was the second violinist in the famous Kneisel Quartet, from 1907-1912 traveling through all of North America playing the Stradivarius that he inherited from his grandfather, Engelbert Roentgen Sr.

The two sons of Amanda in Woodstock USA 1947:  Julius Roentgen Jr. (with the violin) and Engelbert Roentgen Jr. (with the cello). At the beginning of World War I Engelbert escaped to America. He subsequently returned with the U.S. army to France, playing as cellist for the generals, and as trumpeter for the troops. He worked all his life in America, mainly as first cellist in the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

A Clavichord Changes Hands in 1781

Stephen Hough and Pianiastic Gaydar

I don't know if I agree with his argument, but the comments on this article by Stephen Hough are fascinating.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thank You Howard Zinn

Nobody lives forever. But Howard Zinn, who lived until today, and made the very most of his 87 years, will (in a way). He changed the way we look at history, and the way we think about history. He redefined the meaning of activism, and was the most eloquent of critics. His work will always be current, even if he is no longer here to do it himself.

I was introduced to the work of Howard Zinn by David Dubal. After he told me about A People's History of the United States, I immediately went to the library to find it. On the same shelf (in the Zinn section), I saw a small play called "Emma" which I hoped would be about Emma Goldman, one of my personal heroes. It was. I was very excited. I checked out both books, and read the play first.

The Emma Goldman in his play was the Emma Goldman I "knew" from reading everything she ever wrote and everything written about her. The play was deeply musical, but it needed actual music. I wrote to Howard Zinn and asked his permission to make the play into an opera, and he was very excited about the idea.

I sent him tapes of scenes as I did them (with me singing all the parts), and he was very encouraging. He loved to hear Emma sing (even if it was with my voice). When the opera was finished (it took nearly a year, and hundreds of email messages) he tried to get it performed in Boston, but was discouraged to find that nobody, even his close friends, even people who closely associated with the play, would take the financial risk to produce an opera by an unknown composer. I tried everything I could to have a performance in Illinois, but I didn't have success here either. I even sent a score and parts to an old friend who teaches music at a high school in Newton, Mass (the city where I grew up, and the city where Howard lived), but nothing came of it.

We donated the score and parts to the Emma Goldman Papers Project at the University of California, Berkeley, and put PDF files of all the music (full score, piano score, and parts) on the Werner Icking Music Archive with the hope that someone would consider performing the opera. I had hoped that it would be performed during Howard's lifetime, and it makes me very sad to know for sure that it is no longer a possibility.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work on this project with Howard.

Here's more about Emma.

Dussek's Tribute to Marie Antoinette

The piece is also know as "Le mort de Marie Antoinette" or "Le tableau Marie Antoinette." Marie Antoinette was a pianist from Vienna who had the bad luck to marry into the French royal family at the wrong time. The program for this piece is taken from the information on YouTube (so you can listen from here without missing any vital programmatic information).

The wigged pianist is Richard Pohl.

The Queen's Imprisonment (Largo)
She reflects on her former greatness (Maestosamente; doloroso)
They separate her from her children (Agitato Assai)
The Farewell of her children (Andante)
They pronounce the sentence of death (Allegro con furio)
Her resignation to her fate (Allegro Innocente)
The situation and reflections the night before her execution (Andante agitato)
The Guards come to conduct her to the place of Execution
They enter the Prison door March (Lento)
The savage tumult of the rabble (Presto Furioso)
The Queens invocation to the Almighty just before her death (Molto Adagio Devotamente)
The Guillotine drops (yes, at the point of the keyboard-wide glissando)
The Apotheosis (Allegro Maestoso)

By the way, it seems that she never did say, "let them eat cake."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ralph Kirkpatrick on Rhythm

From Ralph Kirkpatrick's biography of Domenico Scarlatti:
It must not be forgotten that the ear is not necessarily a mathematical instrument. What is important to the ear is not necessarily measurable in terms of the metronome: it is what sounds ordered and exact. Like the eye, the ear is constantly capable of being tricked. As visual impressions constantly have to be corrected to ensure their desired effect on the eye, straight lines altered into slight curves in order to appear straight, so aural impressions, constantly qualified by varying musical elements and by acoustical effects, frequently need adjustment to meet the terms of the ear. The ear does not demand literal exactness any more than the eye demands geometrical precision. It demands the impression of a constant and unchanging set of proportions and dimensions, even though they may frequently be at variance with the physical reality.
You can hear him demonstrate his ideas about rhythm here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Julia Child's Reaction to Failure

Failure is a harsh word. It is a four-letter word with a three-letter appendage. I don't like to use it, and I don't like to experience it, though I have. Noble and stoic reactions to failure are, I suppose, something that should be admired. But my deepest admiration goes to Julia Child, and the way she describes her reaction to not being able to answer some written questions on her final exam at the Cordon Bleu. The scene is touched upon in Julie and Julia, but only Julia Child's own words will do for me. This is an excerpt from My Life in France.
My disgruntlement was supreme, my amour-propre enraged, my bile overboiling. Worst of all, it was my own fault!

I despaired that the school would ever deign to grant me a certificate. Me, who could pluck, flame, empty, and cut up a whole chicken in twelve minutes flat! Me, who could stuff a sole with forcemeat of weakfish and serve it with a sauce au vin blanc such as Madame Brassart could never hope to taste the perfection of! Me, the Supreme Mistress of mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, charcroutes, blanquettes de veau, pommes de terre Anna, souflé grand Marnier, fonds d'artichauts, oignons glacés, mousse de faisan en gelée, ballottines, galantines, terrines, pâtés . . . Me, alas!

Later that afternoon, I slipped down to the Cordon Bleu's basement kitchen by myself. I opened the school's booklet, found the recipes from the examination--oeufs mollets with sauce béarnaise, côtelettes de veau en surprise, and crème renversée au caramel--and whipped them all up in a cold, clean fury. Then I ate them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

J.J. Rousseau's Dictionary of Music

I imagine you will want to spend hours looking through this English translation of Jean Jacques Rousseau's famous musical dictionary

Drat! I have places to go and things to do, so I had better bid Rousseau's dictionary "adieux" (for now). "Jargon," the entry that follows "Jar" is quite interesting. Everything here is interesting . . . Perhaps I might take one more peek.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Kitchen, Julia Child's Kitchen

What a thrill to watch tapes of the first French Chef shows and see that they could easily have taken place in our kitchen. We even had a brown GE oven (circa 1959) like that one until about two years ago.

For the proper musical ambiance, listen to the show's first theme song which starts about 17 seconds in. WGBH obviously modernized her kitchen by the time she made the egg show, and eventually they changed theme songs when they went to color. The music starts at about 29 seconds.

And now you can watch Julia Child playing around with editing a videotape of an orchestral concert:

Photos of Amanda Maier

Thanks to André and Frederik, our blog-reading friends in Sweden, we now have a motherlode of photos of Amanda Maier to supplement this earlier post about her, and a huge thanks to Amanda Maier's great grandson Fridtjof Thiadens for identifying the other people in the photographs.

(There's sure to be some kind of a story behind this one.)

(Amanda with violin, the soprano Louise Pyk standing, the pianist Augusta Kiellander at the piano, and Amanda's father Carl Edvard Maier standing.

(These people were probably Swedish relatives or friends. Amanda's mother was the youngest daughter of Anders Nillson Sjöbeck, blacksmith of the village Tirup near Landskrona. All Sjöbeck's were blacksmiths, farriers, veterinarians and served in times of war in the South Skaane cavalry- and dragoon regiments since the 16the century.)

This portrait must be of Amanda Maier with her soon-to-be husband Julius Röntgen. Here's another photo of him.

(Amanda was already Ill here.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rameau-ver the Top

. . . and again in costume

Friday, January 15, 2010

Easley Blackwood on Having Perfect Pitch

I started piano when I was 4 years old and had perfect pitch immediately. I remember thinking all through my early teens that since I was able to recognize every note as it went by, that I must be hearing everything. I remember one day in Boulanger's class, this must have been about 1955 or 1956, she stopped a student at one point and said, "What key are you in?" The student was perplexed and couldn't be sure. And she said, "What kind of a chord are you playing right here? Just what is that succession of chords that you just played?" The student replied, "Well, I just played a German VI followed by a I, VI, IV." She said, "You see, you do know what key you're in." Then I thought, hey, that's interesting. That fellow identified what key he was in not by knowing all the notes he heard, but by a chord progression. I suddenly realized, wait a minute, I'm hearing all the notes, but I'm not hearing the chord progressions.
This is from a interview with Easley Blackwood ("easily" one of the greatest intellects ever to mess around with music) talking with Bruce Duffee at Classical Connect, a nifty music-related site filled with thousands of excerpts of recorded performances (you can use the site as a pot-luck browsing radio using a feature they call "serendipity" if you don't mind having a piece end suddenly and morph into a new one), interviews with composers and performers, and some interesting forums.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Piccolo Amore

Could you even begin to imagine tuning this?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Many Ways to Help

It doesn't matter which organization you use to donate money to help the Red Cross in Haiti, but doing something to help really does matter.

Take your pick here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Grouches of the World Unite!

There are things to complain about everywhere. Here's the portal to Complaints Choirs of the World. Just click on the video links--subtitles are provided (Thanks Christian!).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Commedia dell'arte

We own much of what we know
about the Commedia dell'arte to
Maurice Sand, the son of George Sand,
who wrote a terrific book of character
sketches for the stock characters we
have all come to know and love from
their appearances in various forms
of entertainment throughout the

Roberto Delpiano (what a wonderful
name) has made a great website about the
Commedia dell'arte
using Sand's illustrations.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Noble Advice

Charles Noble offers some excellent advice to young musicians. Much of his advice makes sense for not-so-young musicians as well. And some of it might even make sense to non-musicians.

One thing I would add is something that Charles demonstrates consistently. Being able to express yourself in writing is a very valuable skill for musicians to possess. It is sometimes hard won, but it is a skill worth developing.

It is very easy, in our current lax educational environment, for high school musicians to "get by" on their talent, and make it through high school without understanding the mechanics of grammar. It is very easy for non-musicians to do it as well. Many high school teachers don't realize (like my teachers didn't realize) that making a life in the musical world involves much more than playing well. The advice I would add to Charles' list would be to go out of your way to learn how sentences and paragraphs are put together. Demand as much from your English teachers (in college as well as in high school) as you demand from your music teachers, and repay them for fulfilling your demands by putting serious time into improving the mechanics of your writing.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

"Before the heart can remember, the mind must forget."

Here's an excerpt from a wonderful article on musical interpretation by Byron Janis:
Thinking is creativity's worst enemy. When I first sight-read a score, everything seems so right, so natural. The notes seem to be playing themselves and the music flows. Why? Because I am not thinking. Inspiration has been my guide—the adventure of a first time. Then comes familiarization, the learning process where, until the piece is well in hand, thinking is allowed. After that, interpretation—choices must be made, but you are finally free to feel and use your creative instincts. And, at last, creation—how do I make the music sound as it did when I didn't know it? The great poet Yeats spoke of this dilemma so beautifully in his poem "Adam's Curse":

Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Before the heart can remember, the mind must forget. And, when I least expect to, I will suddenly start playing that piece, again without thinking, as I did in the beginning when I first sight-read it. That is when it happens—I have finally discovered my "moment's thought."
You can read the whole article here. Of course the article isn't nearly long enough, but fortunately Janis' memoirs will be coming out in the fall. I'm excited about that. Here's something Janis wrote about visiting George Sand's grandaughter at Nohant fifty years ago. Is it fall yet?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Sweetzels Spiced Wafers (really great ginger snaps) at Big Lots

I love a good ginger snap.

Our family found a box of these in Big Lots the other day, and the other night we decided to do a "taste test." Hands down, these were the best of all possible ginger snaps with a complicated flavor that stays with you, etching its way deep into your memory of all things Fall. Heated in the microwave for a very short while (we learned the hard way), they become soft and chewy like the greatest gingerbread.

It turns out that they are only made in Pennsylvania in the Fall. Perhaps they made too many this year, so we got a Winter's supply for $2.00 a box at our East-Central Illinois Big Lots. If they make it to a Big Lots near you, and you really appreciate a great ginger cookie, make sure to get more than one box!

You can read more about these Sweetzels Wafers here and see some better pictures.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Patton in Jeans

Thanks to Phil Ford over at Dial "M" for Musicology for posting a link to Patton Oswalt's New Year's post. Oswalt is a young man, and he is quite funny, but he reasons like a young man. If I were a young man (in my 20s or 30s), I might find this bit of wisdom worthwhile:
"Life Is Short"

Is it?

As many people this phrase has helped to get out there, take a chance, grab their talent and make their lives, it's also led to some of the lamest decisions, failed marriages, sell-out careers and dumbass deaths in history.

Life's only short if you're dull or desperate. Take a deep breath, enjoy the present, and keep in mind that, unless you're plankton in jeans, you'll probably be around for 80 odd years. Don't make a limited splash in your twenties and live sixty years of diminishing returns. Build a foundation, and enjoy the whole thing.
Now I know that life is short, and the older I get, the shorter it gets. Perhaps his second paragraph should read "Life's only short if you're dull, desperate, a woman with a biological clock, or you are over 40." And what on Earth does he mean by "plankton in jeans?"

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Books About Music in the Petrucci Library

There are 108 of them in the Petrucci Library (to date). There are instrumental and vocal methods, (including the above method by Manuel Garcia and a viol treatise by Jean-Jacques Rousseau) books on harmony (including one by Tchaikovsky), history, orchestration, and composition), and much, much more.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Vegan Enchiladas: Our Family's Favorite

There is no photo here because when the four of us are together there are never any leftovers with this recipe! I have found that the most important thing is to use La Victoria enchilada sauce and Tumaros Healthy Flour White Tortillas. Some of the amounts I use vary, but this is what we had last night.

It takes about 30 minutes to put everything together (that includes time to cook the rice), and takes another 45 minutes to bake in a 350 degree oven.

1 cup uncooked medium-grain white rice
2 teaspoons vegetarian Better Than Bouillon vegetable base
2 cups water
1 chopped onion
3 large cloves of minced garlic
1 cup reconstituted textured vegetable protein, or two cups finely-chopped mushrooms (You can substitute ground beef if you like).
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 oz. tomato paste (about half of a 6 oz. can)
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn
1 package of eight Tumaros Healthy Flour White Tortillas
2 10 oz. cans of Mild Victoria Enchilada Sauce
Olive oil
Natural Unsweetened Apple Sauce

Sour Cream (or soy yogurt)
Shredded cheese (for those who eat cheese)

Combine the rice, water, and vegetable base in a pot with a lid, and simmer it for about 20 minutes. While the rice is cooking, using a large heavy pot, cook the onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and when it is a little bit brown, add the garlic. Brown the TVP or mushrooms, and saute for a few minutes, until everything is soft (or the meat is browned). Add the chili powder, the tomato paste, the cooked rice, and the beans. Add the frozen corn, mix everything together, and remove the pot from the heat.

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a rectangular glass baking dish (enough to cover all the surfaces). Open up the two cans of enchilada sauce, and pour them into a large measuring cup (at least that's what I do). Stack up the tortillas, and you are ready to assemble the enchiladas.

Using a large tablespoon, put some enchilada sauce on a tortilla, and rub it around. Add a few tablespoons of filling (you can use a lot--there's plenty of filling), roll it, and put the rolled enchilada seam-side down into the baking dish. Repeat this with the rest of the tortillas, until your baking dish is full. Pour the remaining sauce in the seams between the enchiladas and over the top. Cover very lightly with aluminum foil, and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

The foil is bound to stick to the tops of a couple of the enchiladas. Remove it slowly and carefully, perhaps with the help of a spatula or a knife, and serve these with apple sauce, sour cream, yogurt and/or cheese. For a bit more heat you can also use La Victoria Salsa Brava.

Variations: I sometimes add chopped green pepper to the onion and garlic. I sometimes use basmati rice or jasmine rice rather than medium-grain white rice. Sometimes I double the beans, and sometimes I add a bit of Salsa Brava to the filling.

Comparing Jasper Juringa with The Flying Dutchman?

I don't know about this. Patt Morrison writes that political leaders should be more like Sully and "The Flying Dutchman," but I don't think that Morrison would have made that comparison if he knew something about the character of the legendary Flying Dutchman who we musicians and music lovers know from the Wagner opera.

I believe that Jasper Schuringa is a real hero, and he deserves a far better life than that of the legendary Flying Dutchman (though the Wagner opera certainly has some fantastic music). Perhaps Morrison was thinking about the tobacco.