Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Blocks, Blocks, and More Blocks

A hundred more blocks arrived today, and now my collection includes examples of compound time:

My meter dice allow me to make different time signatures, and I can generate lots of rhythmic ideas:

I abandoned my search for line-shaped objects to serve as bar lines, and mounted some hand-drawn bar lines on blocks; but then I printed some bar lines, which do look a little more spiffy:

All 134 blocks fit into a tea tin (and I used the 135th to decorate the top of the tin)!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

I was ALSO dreaming of the number three

This morning Michael told me that I woke him up in the middle of the night to tell him that I was also dreaming of the number three. Perhaps it is because I have been plotting a way to use rhythm cubes to explain compound time.

I'm anxiously awaiting a set of 100 unpainted half-inch cubes to arrive in the mail. I want to use them to make comprehensive set of rhythm cubes, complete with ties, and triplets. I will, of course, post the results. Colored cubes are fun, but I think that plain wooden cubes might get the point across more effectively.

I also plotted out a set of meter dice that correspond to basic meters. These dice could be used in combination with the rhythm cubes to generate random rhythmic ideas for pieces of music, or they can be used to explain meter to students.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Helping kids learn to count with blocks!

I made a teaching tool to help my beginning students understand rhythmic notation.

I bought a set of 70 very inexpensive wooden cubes, and, using the eighth note as the smallest unit, I taped groups of them together and labeled them with their corresponding note values using Finale-printed notes (eliminating the staff lines, and setting the page size to 150%). My main goal was to have my students see and feel just how many eighth notes it takes to equal a half note, or how two single eighth notes and a set of two beamed eighth notes are equal in value.

I'm considering making a set to explain compound time, and am still trying to figure out how to incorporate the idea of the pesky dot into something that would make sense to novice music readers. I will be adding sixteenth notes soon, but I'll have to wait until I have more blocks (only half my order arrived).

A crude version of this worked well with the one beginner I taught today. I'm looking forward to how this more elegant set works with the beginners I'm teaching next week!


Now with sixteenth notes, dots, and rests, not to mention proper glue!

I made a PDF of the notes and rests that you can use for your own set of blocks. You can find it here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Stephen Malinowski's Animations for Haydn's Opus 20 Quartets

Haydn's fugal writing is simply extraordinary. My first encounter with it was while singing his Creation when I was thirteen (hence the un-schooled term, which comes from "He sole on high, exalted reigns"), and I have thought of his fugal writing as "exalted reigns" ever since. Here's a post I wrote in 2007 about those "exalted reigns."

Here's Malinowski's Haydn Opus 20 playlist (so far, it is a work in progress).

Monday, October 14, 2019

Jessye Norman Sings Les chemins de l'amour

I feel fortunate to have had opportunities to hear Jessye Norman sing in concert, and feel fortunate to still be able to hear her sing by way of recordings. There are really no adequate words to describe Jessye Norman as a singer and as a musician, but I believe that this performance of Poulenc's "Les Chemins de l'amour" shows her at her most spectacular. It moves me deeply. It leaves me speechless.

The Sigal Music Museum!

Marlowe Sigal's amazing collection of musical instruments, which was formerly housed on Gray Cliff Road in my home town of Newton, Massachusetts, has a new home in Greenville, South Carolina. Sigal's contribution to the museum is so great that the Carolina Music Museum will be changing its name.

I wrote a review of Sigal's book, Four Centuries of Musical Instruments in April of 2015, and wrote about visiting his collection a month later.

When I learned of Mr. Sigal's death in 2018, I hoped that his collection would be able to be preserved intact. What we saw of his collection on our visit took up a full basement (floor and shelves on all the walls), most of the first floor of the house (including the organ that was built into the house), and four or five large rooms on the second floor.

Here's an article about Mr. Sigal's gift in the Greenville Journal.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Rewind: Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day with Traditional Music and Dancing

Ben takes us in the vault to share this performance recorded by KYUK in Alaska.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Listening to Beethoven String Quartets "einmal anders" with Animated Graphical Scores

Go ahead and watch before you read further:

I have enjoyed Stephen Malinowski's animated graphical scores ever since they first appeared on YouTube. I used them in my music appreciation classes to help students who didn't read music follow the scores of pieces we were studying. I imagine there isn't a reader here who hasn't come across one of Malinowski's animations in these musical internets. It's hard to imagine the amount of thought and time and work and love that he has put into this project.

This Beethoven String Quartet project is a collaboration with the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet. He used the Beethoven cycle they recorded for Arte Nova in 2010.

During my decades (!) of being a CD reviewer, I combed through at least a dozen sets of Beethoven Quartets with score in hand. My task was to evaluate the playing and the quality of the recordings and write about the differences between this or that interpretation. Sometimes those differences are difficult to put into words, and sometimes those differences are extremely difficult to put into words. From what I have heard so far (and I'll be listening one quartet at a time, just like you) the recordings are expertly balanced (am I just hearing the viola in this movement from Opus 18 no. 2 more because I can see it--"dressed" in green--or has the engineer brought up the level on that voice when it should be heard?). The playing is excellent, and the interpretation seems to be more equally-voiced than those first-violin-dominant recordings of yore when microphones and mixing boards were far less sophisticated.

Through his work as a composer, as a person fascinated by graphical representation of music (which many of us did by hand with graph paper before we had computers), and as a pioneer in applied computer graphics, Malinowski has found a direct way to explain the way pieces of music work from the inside, and in real time, so that people without any musical background can have a more complete sensory experience with these quartets than they would listening to a recording on its own.

For those of us who get non-computer-aided stimulation from reading scores, I can say that what Malinowski has represented graphically with color, light, and shape, is right on the money. Or non money, because he distributes it for free.

He writes about his methods here.
You can find the complete Beethoven Cycle (on YouTube) here.
And you can follow links from this page that show the history of Malinowski's work and the tools he uses (and has used over the years) to do it.

If you want some more guidance, you can go to my 2010 post about listening to Beethoven String Quartets.

I just learned that Malinowski has just started working on animations of the Haydn Opus 20 Quartets. Coincidentally my Haydn Quartet Project quartet (playing through all the Haydn Quartets in order with a group of quartet novices--people who have never played in a string quartet before) is finishing up Opus 17 and embarking on Opus 20 soon.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Rewind: Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “Gwen Ifill, Ferguson, and Race in America,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

In Praise of Martin Stock

It’s hard to believe that I would be writing a blog post about the value of the German film composer Martin Stock’s ambient piano music, but when our two-week-old granddaughter is having baby tummy trouble and needs to be comforted, it does the trick. And it calms parents and grandparents too. The odd thing about listening to this music (on shuffle via our daughter’s Alexa machine) is that it allows you to still have thoughts (the quality of which I won’t evaluate in this Stock-stunned state). Normally when I listen to music, I think mainly about the music, and can’t think about much else. This music plants itself firmly in the background, which, I am learning, has a purpose.

If this is music that serves as furniture (was it Satie who thought about music as furniture? I am rendered immobile—bad pun—by this music, and looking it up in another tab on my phone is too much work) this furniture would be soft and supportive, with a womb-like contour. It would have clean wooden frames made from Kindergarten-room birch. And it would be 73 degrees and sunny, with a slight bit of misty humidity here and there, carrying the scent of lemongrass.

Is it musical Soma? I dunno. Listen for yourself and decide.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Whistleblower Complaint

Someone had to write it!

September 27, 2019

You can find a PDF on this page of the IMSLP, and you can also get one here. You can listen to a computer-generated recording here.

I would love to post recordings of actual flutists playing this piece (which is pretty cathartic to play). If you make one, please send it to me!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Gnostical Turpitude

Imagine my surprise and delight to find this lovely piece by Amanda Morrell after searching the internets for a definition of "gnostical turpitude" while reading Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading.

It captures the comedic pantomime quality of the novel beautifully.

Here's a link to more of her work.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Curious George Goes to the Conservatory (Marshall Fine, guest blogger)

by Marshall Fine after H. A. Rey
(Based on Scherzo from Shostakovich Symphony #1)

I have it on very good authority that the piece you are about to hear was written with help from a monkey.

Interested? Curious to know why?

One day Curious George was wandering down a city street, when he heard all sorts of noise coming from the music conservatory. He knew what music was, but was this music? And why was this noise being made at all, when every other building in the area was quiet? So he decided to go in at the big front door. Then he saw another set of doors--so he opened those too. It was a big concert hall. But instead of music, there was an ugly sound from the string instruments on stage:

(Shostakovich Symphony #1, Scherzo, first two bars)

“Hold it! Cellos and basses!” called the conductor, rapping the stand with his baton. “Can’t you people play together? Let’s try that again. Slower and not so loud.”

(Fig. 11 to fig. 12, cellos and basses only)

“No, no, no, it’s still not together,” the conductor complained again. “Do it again, please. Slow and soft this time. And make sure it’s clear!”

(last six bars before fig. 23, violas and cellos only)

Rap! Rap! Rap! The conductor stopped again. “Check the parts at break,” he growled disgustedly. “Let’s try another place. From 4 to 5. And make sure it’s in tune!”

(Fig. 4 to fig. 5, tutti strings)

It made such an ugly noise that Curious George clapped his hands over his ears and screamed as only a monkey can!

“What was that??” exclaimed the conductor. Then he turned and saw George. “You! Out!!” Poor George had to leave the concert hall.

He went down a flight of stairs, through a door, and found himself in a long hall with door after door stretching out on either side. Practice rooms, he realized. It wasn’t getting any better. The noise from all these rooms sounded just like the concert hall. In the first one he came to, he heard a piano, just banging chords at the bottom and top of its range.

(First three bars of fig. 22)

Interesting! He went in quietly and sat on the pedals, so that he could see what the player was doing. But the very next chord just hung on and on! The pianist looked down, saw George, and the next instant gave him a terrific kick. George fled in a great fright down the hall.

He stopped again to catch his breath and found himself in front of a violinist who was playing nothing but his open E string. (Beginning here and concurrent with narration: 2nd violins, from fig. 6 and cut off on cue) The door was ajar. He went in; luckily the violinist had his eyes closed. But soon enough he opened his eyes to look at his bow, and saw Curious George as well. (Cutoff cue!!) Once again George had to flee to evade a kick.

Then he found himself in front of a door behind which a snare drum was beating:

(Fig. 7-8, snare drum)

Next door to this was a pair of clarinetists. They were arguing over a tune.

(Fig. 8-9, clarinets. 2nd clarinet mistuned in B-flat)

“You’ve got the wrong instrument!” yelled the first. “No, you’re just plain out of tune!” rejoined the other.

Actually George was getting the hang of this music, so he pointed at the first one, whose clarinet seemed a little longer.

“Who the blazes are you?” the second growled at George; then suddenly he looked at his own clarinet and realized he did in fact have the wrong one. He changed instruments and they played again.

(Repeat excerpt, 2nd clarinet in A)

But then the argument broke out afresh! The second said, “It’s in three, like that drummer next door.” But the first replied, “No, it’s in four, can’t you feel the phrase?”

George didn’t know what three or four meant here, but he could hear that some notes still seemed out of tune. “Hu-hu-hu-hu!” he exclaimed, putting his hands over his ears. That sent the players mad! “Who asked you? Dirty monkey! Out!!” And again George had to flee.

This time he found himself in front of a larger room with a brass quartet, three trombones and a tuba. They were practicing long held chords. The tuba player was running out of breath before the others.

(Fig. 21-22, trombones and tuba only)

Manners, it seemed, were called for, so he did the same as he’d seen his master do: he knocked. The door opened.

“Who...who...” he fumbled out, in his most refined monkey talk. They introduced themselves, but George could not understand a word.

There was a word, somewhere, that meant he wanted to know something. There! he had it! “Why...why...” he addressed the tuba player.

But that was as far as he got! The tubist exploded, “It’s all about you, monkey. What gives you the nerve to teach us? Get out!”

At this point the conservatory director came up. Student after student had been to his office, all saying the same thing. The brass players laid their horns aside, took one limb each of Curious George, and marched him out the front door with the director leading the way. BUMP! OOF! he went flying and landed hard on the bottom step. And there he lay, hurting with pain and shame. Was this what music-making was like? Forget it!

Just as he had made his mind up to go home and never come back again, a young man came down the steps. “You must be the monkey I’ve just heard of.”

Curious George just nodded.

“You just come back in with me. I’ll hide you. Then you can tell me your story--oops, I mean, show me.” And he took George by the hand and led him back into the building.

George took the young man downstairs to the practice rooms. First he showed the young man the piano room. The young man nodded. “That’s called voicing. She’s just beginning. Her teacher says she has to learn to balance the notes in a chord. I know because I play piano too.”

Then George showed him the violinist’s room, where the poor boy was still trying to make a good sound on his open E. “His bow isn’t straight,” the young man explained. “His teacher sent him down here after only ten minutes of his lesson.”

Then they went to the clarinetists’ room, where the drummer was still hard at work next door as well, though he had changed over to a triangle.

(Fig. 8-9, clarinets 1-2 and triangle)

“My God, what an interesting rhythm! I wonder...I think I can make something of that.” Then, bypassing the brass room, the young man took George to a back staircase, where they went up and listened through a door without opening it. It must have been the back door of the concert hall, for there was the same thing as George had first heard...

(Repeat first two bars)

...the music was still falling apart the same way no matter how they rehearsed...

(Repeat the last two bars before fig. 5, tutti strings)

...the conductor was still yelling that it was out of tune! And no one came by to disturb them.

“Upstairs, come on now,” said the young man. I know a room where I can hide you. It’s my teacher’s office. He has not been pleased with me. He doesn’t understand the music I’ve been writing lately. But come, he is not here anymore today. We will stay tonight and you can show me what to write. A satire on this place. I’ll get even with my teacher, and I’ll get you even with the people who kicked you around.”

And that was what they did! Young Dmitri Shostakovich wrote, and played, and wrote, and played some more, always based on the noises George had heard; and whenever he did something George liked, George would let out a robust “Hu-hu-hu-hu!!” They produced this piece in a day and a night; and then the next morning he set George free outside the conservatory to return to his master.

The rest, as everyone who knows Soviet music recognizes, is history.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the piece written with the aid of Curious George: the Scherzo of Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Symphony.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Marshall Fine Sonata for Double Bass on Jason Heath's Contrabass Conversations

I just found this podcast episode that features a performance my brother Marshall's excellent 1997 Sonata for Bass and Piano.

You can listen to it here. The piece begins at 6'26" and goes for about 40 minutes.

John Chiego, bass
Deborah Heath, piano

Recorded live at the University of Memphis on February 14, 1998

Homage to A.T. (13:06)
Scherzo: La Vendetta (5:12)
Warrington-Variations (20:55)

You can read some posts I have made about Marshall here.

We are working with the music library at the University of Memphis to make Marshall’s unpublished manuscripts (like this piece) available in their collection.

UPDATE: I found program notes (written by Marshall in the third person).


The Bass Sonata op. 90 (1997) was written especially for John Chiego and his “TK” (Thomas Kelischek) bass, which could play a tone-row in natural harmonics, all the way up to eleventh partial). Having been moved by Chiego’s complaint that few composers (mainly bassists) seem to have the courage to write at length for it, Fine had in mind at the outset to create a piece of major bass repertoire. But what he actually achieved is nothing less than the largest piece ever written for bass (the actual premiere was timed at about 39 minutes). The difficulty of the sonata is also notorious; though Fine worked closely with Chiego, rewriting, providing ossias or adjusting tempi, he kept receiving reports that other bassists such as the legendary Frank Proto were still complaining. The premiere by Chiego, on February 14, 1998 at the University of Memphis, so far appears to be the only known performance.

The end movements are tributes to women composers--mostly from Memphis though one from elsewhere, the folk singer Joni Mitchell, is also given tribute--through thematic allusions.

Ann Taylor, whose violin miniature Gerald’s Tree (on Georgia O’Keefe’s painting) is part basis for the sonata-form first movement with introduction, was a violinist in the Memphis Symphony Orchestra from 1979-1994. Fine had actually played the piano part of Gerald’s Tree for Taylor at its premiere by the Mid-South Composers Forum. Fine preserves the whole piece inviolate (merely adding his own interludes to develop the material) as the ostinato-based main theme and the harmonic-filled second theme, and then blends in with it for his closing section Mitchell’s theme, loosely based on “Songs to Aging Children Come”, a fitting choice since it well described the 41-year-old composer in his own perception, and is based on agonizing Neapolitan relationships. The recapitulation further darkens the prevailing mixolydian D of Taylor’s piece to a chromatic D minor, producing a funereal atmosphere that persists to the end.

Darlene Warrington was an amateur composer whose student piece, Mixdorian, came to Fine’s attention in 1985 (at which time he played it with their composition teacher Donald Freund on one of his studio recitals). Evidently it impressed Fine--though it took another twelve years to expand it into the variation finale of the Bass Sonata. Fine uses only the opening section of Warrington’s work and evolves eight variations: a humoresque that turns the theme’s very first phrase into a palindrome, a scherzo, a fierce march, a “Ricercar a Dodici Toni” (twelve-tone ricercar) based almost exclusively on bass harmonics, a dirge, a romance, a fanfare with bass cadenza, and a sonata-form final variation heavily influenced by bop jazz. It turns out that Taylor’s material is compatible with Warrington’s, and accordingly the three themes of the first movement are blended in, each paired with a motive of Warrington’s.

The second movement, La Vendetta, is the only one not based on music by female composers; instead it is a humorous portrait of Chiego in rondo form. The nature of the “vendetta” is musical. “In two of the episodes,” Fine admitted, “I decided to make the bass behave as outrageously as he had on the occasions that inspired them, taking quick fixes on the music that was performed in context of these tirades.” In the first, he did this by borrowing the theme from Hindemith’s sonata op. 11 no. 4, paired with a motive from the Beethoven overture Coriolan--to which is also added a soggetto cavato motive derived from the name Rosenbaum (a former, brief-tenured faculty violist). The last episode uses a small motive, the final flourish at the end of the “Firebird’s Variation” from the Stravinsky ballet. As Fine relates the story, it appears that Chiego misinterpreted a gesture by Fine and flew into a rage at him during a rehearsal. “It was over some intonation between the bass harmonic and the piano, something insoluble. So I decided to satirize it by blowing up the intonation problem from a microtone into a whole step.” This is done by making the motive--in extreme augmentation--the object of a violent polytonal argument between the bass and piano. That Fine was able to give his judgment on such absurdities so diplomatically--that is, in musical form, and in such high artistic value--is something for which he was never given credit. In any event, there is no doubt that it kept Fine and Chiego fast friends.

Alpine Adventures Online

Michael and I just read the ninteenth-century novella Bergkristall by Adalbert Stifter. We read it in an English translation (as Rock Crystal) by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore. The story takes place in (mostly) the area between two small Austrian towns that sit at the foot of a snow-capped mountain. The physical description of the area, and the cultural matters between the two towns reminded me of the culture of Schladming, the small town where I worked from September of 1980 through August of 1981. It was still a small town then. Everyone knew everyone.

I was curious to see the location of the two towns in the story, so I looked for them in Google Maps. The town called Millsdorf (literally Mill-town) is purely fictional, and the other, called Gshaid, has a name similar to a town in the region around Schladming. From that, I imagined that the mountain might have been the Dachstein, the mountain the loomed large over Schladming, because it is the only glacier in that part of Austria.

I wondered if there might be any connection between Adalbert Stifter and Schladming.

And then I found a street named after him there!

I did a search for Stifter and Ramsau, the plateau above Schladming that leads to the Dachstein, and I found this:

The plot thickens. This fantastic writer was also a painter.

In a search for Stifter and Dachstein, I learned that Stifter was very close friends with Friedrich Simony, the first person to cross the Dachstein glacier (in 1842). It was through Stifter's writing and artwork that Simony, the Dachstein, and its environs became widely known.

This excerpt from Adalbert Stifter: A Critical Study by Eric Blackall does have a few spoilers, but it clearly identifies the Dachstein-specific inspiration for the story.

Here are some posts about Schladming, and here's a link to a post about a piece of music I wrote for wind ensemble called "The Dachstein."

Monday, September 16, 2019

"The Spider's Web"

I was thinking about the WGBH radio program "The Spider's Web" that I listened to (in both Boston and New York) during the 1970s, and I was, sadly, unable to find the recording they used of the theme song, which I believe was sung by Odetta.

A great big thanks goes to these girls, who are teaching others how to harmonize it on YouTube.

And here's a recording of the song by an unnamed grown-up, who, kindly, is sharing the words and chords online.

I wrote two posts about the radio show back in 2009.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Stand Hand 2.0

Here's an explanation for how to use the original (as of two days ago) Stand Hand.

You can find a PDF to print on sticky paper here.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Let's Read Zoom Mail with Ben!

This episode of "The Rewind" is incredibly exciting for our family.

Just think! Ben loved the WGBH TV show Zoom when he was a child, and now he gets to share that love as part of his job.

I watched Zoom when I was a child too. I happened, by sheer accident of fate (my best friend, who lived on my street, had a boyfriend who was the brother of one of the cast members) to become friends with the entire cast for the first season of Zoom.

I offer no spoilers for what you are about to see here:

You can read more about Zoom here. (Thanks, Michael)
And there's more Zoom-related lore here.

Stand Hand

Rather than telling my violin and viola students what not to do (like don't play with "pizza hand"), I have taken to asking for positive actions. I ask my students to look at their left palm while they are playing. This causes the wrist to drop and the arm to go under the instrument, which, in turn, causes the fingers to drop from above and the notes to sound in tune.

I made some hand-shaped stickers that I thought I could stick in my students' music in order to give them an easy visual reminder to look at their palms while playing. During my last lesson I decided to affix one of the stickers to my music stand. It didn't stay in place, so I stuck it onto an index card, which I clipped to the music stand.

It's my stand hand.

In this capacity it is useful for all occasions. It can be clipped to the stand itself or to a piece of music that is on a music stand.

I'm giving the stickers I made to all my violin and viola students! And I'm sharing the idea here.

You can find a PDF to print on sheets of sticker paper here!

(And for an updated version with clefs, go here.)

William Jay Sydeman in the IMSLP

While looking at the recent additions to the IMSLP I came across the familiar name of William Jay Sydeman. Sydeman was born in 1928 in New York. His career has taken him in and out of music (and the "in" parts include commissions from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Tanglewood Music Center). After an impressive career with all kinds of critical acclaim, he is now making some of his music available to download for free through this page the IMSLP.

You can listen to some of his music (some of it computer-generated) here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Vi Hart's September 11th Post "Never Forget"

When I say “never forget”, this is not a statement of will, not a command or a purpose or a political vote. When I hear “never forget”, when I hear it from politicians or see it posted by random strangers, I don’t hear a statement of purpose, egging us on to seek revenge for the secret benefit of greedy motivations. To me, it’s an expression of this thing inside me that has no better name. I will never forget. I couldn’t if I wanted to. And I find it comforting that we have at least some expression of this particular wound that so many share.

Never forget.

I wish we had better words, better actions. I wish I were more comfortable talking about my feelings. I wish I was one of the students who cried in front of the whole class when we heard the live radio coverage, when we heard the first tower go down, and then, unbelievably, unthinkably, the 2nd. I wish I was properly grim when I heard President Obama announce they killed the fucker who did this to us. I was happy. I cheered. I’m glad he’s dead, no matter how little it solves, no matter what my brain thinks about the whole thing.

Never forget.

I understand that many experience today’s 9/11 remembrances as a politicized thing that reminds them only of the worst of what became politically possible in this country following those events. That makes a good deal of sense, and I’m angry about those things too. But cynicism is easy and impresses no one. The fastest way to make a fool of yourself is by mocking someone else’s words because you don’t understand them.

Never forget, never forget, never forget.
Read Vi Hart's whole post here.

A la una yo naci

Every once in a while I become seduced by the Sephardic muse, and I have to make an instrumental setting of a Sephardic melody.

This traditional melody from Sarajevo, which I found in Isaac Levy's 1959 publication Chant Judéo-Espagnols (and first heard performed by Voice of the Turtle), is one of the most alluring songs in the book. The text of the original song translates "I was born at one, at two I grew, at three I took a lover, at four I married. Tell me, young girl, where do you come from? I want to know you. Tell me if you have a lover. If not, I want to love you."

You can listen to a computer-generated recording here, and find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP.

To learn more about Sephardic music and the history of recordings of Sephardic music, visit Sephardic Music: A Century of Recordings.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Kate Wagner Strikes a Familiar Note

This piece from The Baffler is well worth reading. It tells many truths about the business of music.

Here are some more Kate Wagner Baffler pieces, and here is her blog, McMansion Hell.

Friday, September 06, 2019

"Oh show us the way to the next little dollar…”

Oh moon of Alabama! (Just because . . .)




and Lenya again:

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The Rewind Episode 9: Ben takes us back to the beginnings of bussing in Boston in 1974

In 1974 I was a ninth grader in a junior high school in Newton, Massachusetts. I don't remember kids from Boston being bussed to my junior high, but I do remember that kids from Boston (I think Dorchester, but I'm not sure) were bussed to my high school. Looking at my 1976 high school yearbook, we had a black student union, which probably wouldn't have existed if it weren't for bussing. I had no way of knowing whether my school friends who were black lived in (mostly white) Newton or elsewhere. We were all just high school kids, and it didn't matter. I also had no idea at all that people were opposed to making it possible for schools in communities like mine to be integrated.

But looking through my yearbook with new eyes I can see that the sports teams and clubs in my high school had very few people of color. Maybe kids who rode the bus to school from Boston did not have the opportunity to participate in extra curricular activities, since they had to take a bus home at the end of the school day. There was public transportation, but it was a good 30 minute walk (a mile and a half) to get to the T station, and at least a 30 minute ride to get to Boston.

I am dismayed to see that there was only one person of color on the faculty of my high school (she taught social studies, but I never had her as a teacher). There were also two guidance councilors (one male and one female), and one custodian.


We mix our senses when we play music. We develop eyes that hear and ears that see. A string player's sense of touch, which would include a sense of space and distance (the distances that our arms move up and down the fingerboard when we shift), follows the dictates of our ears and eyes. But what about the musical associations with our senses of taste and smell? We do have a few commonly-used words in music that make reference to taste, like "dolce," which is Italian for a sweet you eat. When someone plays a note out of tune or with a bad sound, we often refer to those notes as "sour."

There is a body of scholarship concerning taste and music: The Taste of Music, which references Berlioz, and explanations regarding ways that the music you listen to (while you are eating) can change the way your food tastes. There's also a good article in Scientific American. I suppose for those of us who make the music we listen to ourselves, we can make musical choices that are in either good taste or bad taste.

Smell is complicated. People who have synesthesia can have hard-wired (from early childhood, I suppose) associations between sound and smell. Could you imagine what it would be like to have specific smell associations with pitches the way people with absolute pitch and synesthesia have specific color associations with pitches? If we experience more than one smell at a time, having that condition would bring the impact of dissonant harmonies to a whole new level.

If I feel a fugue coming in a piece of music I am hearing for the first time, I have been known to say, "I smell a fugue." I don't do it with my nose, of course, but I do it with the wealth of musical experience I have stored in my unconscious memory. Physical smell can surround us immediately. It can evoke memories. It can repel us. It can compel us. It can repulse us. It can move into the background, and we can become temporarily immune to it after a while. Sometimes we don't even know when it has gone away. (I lost my sense of smell once, and wrote about it here.) But smell that is not physical, i.e. the memory of smell, or the memory of a memory of a smell is something that "smells" musical to me.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is to share a passage from one of the chapters (Chapter 43, to be exact) that Robert Musil withdrew from the original publication of The Man Without Qualities. It captures, in a most striking way, the illusive quality of the smelling part of the imagination.
The repulsion was perhaps reminiscent of the frozen stiffness of chalk drawings, but the room also looked as if it might smell in a grandmotherly, cloying way of medicines and ointments; and old-fashioned and unmanly ghosts, fixated with unpleasant maliciousness upon human suffering, were hovering within its walls. Agathe sniffed. And although the air held nothing more than her imaginings, she gradually found herself being led further and further backward by her feelings, until she remembered the rather anxious "smell of heaven," that aroma of incense half aired and emptied of its spices which clung to the scarves of the habits her teachers had once worn when she was a girl being brought up together with little friends in a pious convent school without at all succumbing to piety herself. For as edifying as this odor may be for people who associate it with what is right, its effect on the hearts of growing, worldly-oriented, and resistant girls consisted in a vivid memory of smells of protest, just as ideas and first experiences were associated with a man's mustache or with his energetic cheeks, pungent with cologne and dusted with talc. God knows, even that odor does not deliver what it promises! And as Agathe sat on one of Lindner's renunciative upholstered chairs and waited, the empty smell of the world closed inescapably about her with the empty smell of heaven like two hollow hemispheres, and an intimation came over her that she was about to make up for a negligently endured class in the school of life.

In the original German:
Das Abweisende mochte dabei vielleicht an die gefrorene Steifheit von Kreidezeichnungen erinnern, doch sah das Zimmer auch aus, als röche es großmütterhaft verzärtelt nach Arznei und Salbe und es schwebten altmodische und unmännliche, mit unangenehmer Geflissentlichkeit auf das menschliche Leiden gerichtete Geister in dem Raum. Agathe schnupperte. Und obwohl die Luft nichts als ihre Einbildungen enthielt, sah sie sich von ihren Gefühlen nach und nach weit zurückgeführt und erinnerte sich nun an den bänglichen »Geruch des Himmels«, jenen halb entlüfteten und seiner Würze entleerten, an den Tuchen der Sutanen haften gebliebenen Weihrauchduft, den ihre Lehrer einst an sich getragen hatten, als sie ein Mädchen war, das gemeinsam mit kleinen Freundinnen in einem frommen Institut erzogen wurde und keineswegs in Frömmigkeit erstarb. Denn so erbaulich dieser Geruch auch für Menschen ist, die das Richtige mit ihm verbinden, in den Herzen der heranwachsenden weltlich-widerstrebenden Mädchen bestand seine Wirkung in der lebhaften Erinnerung an Protestgerüche, wie sie Vorstellung und erste Erfahrungen mit dem Schnurrbart eines Mannes oder mit seinen energischen, nach scharfen Essenzen duftenden und von Rasierpuder überhauchten Wangen verbinden. Weiß Gott, auch dieser Geruch hält nicht, was er verspricht! Und während Agathe auf einem der entsagungsvollen Lindnerschen Polsterstühle saß und wartete, schloß sich nun der leere Geruch der Welt mit dem leeren Geruch des Himmels unentrinnbar um sie zusammen wie zwei hohle Halbkugeln, und eine Ahnung wandelte sie an, daß sie im Begriff sei, eine unachtsam überstandene Lebensschulstunde nachzuholen.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Restoring Executive Order

My thoughts have veered away from things musical today, and I feel the need to share them.

After exploring a personal "cone of uncertainty" concerning how large and powerful the hurricanes that will hit the Caribbean and the Eastern United States NEXT September will be, I hope that the powers that have the means to control decisions about preserving what we can of our fragile planet do something soon. Our projected cone of uncertainty concerning the influence of our current US administration (on the whole world) might indeed end on January 21, 2020.

Here are examples of executive orders I'm hoping for that day:

Have a mandatory buy-back of all assault weapons, and make it illegal to own, sell, buy, or store them. Do the same with ammunition. Create an industry to safely repurpose the materials (you know, like plowshares). That creates lots of jobs.

Expand climate change research exponentially. Hire experienced scientists to investigate science fairs, "go fund me" and "kickstarter" applications of technology that wish to study ways of getting extra carbon out of the atmosphere. Put organizations in competition with one another. Give the initiative a date and a mandate, like we had for the genome project.

Mandate that corporations that make over a certain amount of money (you know, in the multi-billions and multi-trillions) to direct a significant portion of their profit (in the way of a tax) to the (above mentioned) effort to find solutions. Join the rest of the world in this effort, and get every corporation in the world to participate.

Mandate investment in renewable energy.
Reward investment in renewable energy.

Friday, August 30, 2019


I decided, for the third (and probably last) time, I guess, that twitter is not for me. The first true downward turn of my stomach happened when I saw a tweet by a twitter-active musician that read (and I paraphrase), "Success is not something that happens. It is something you have to go after." S/he clearly made this tweet without irony. I have never thought of success as something to go after and eventually achieve.

From my vantage point at the beginning of my seventh decade of being a human being, I can only think of spending my time trying to do my best work for the sake of doing the work as well as I can. If I feel that I have done good work on any given day, I have had success. If I have helped a student overcome an obstacle in a lesson, I have had success. If, while practicing, I find a fingering or bowing that works for a difficult passage, I have had success. If I play in a way that I feel expresses the way I want a phrase of music to go, I have had success. If I can accompany a violin or viola student on the piano and give ninety percent of my attention to the student (playing piano is still difficult for me), I have had success.

If I make it through another Haydn quartet with my ensemble of chamber music novices, we have achieved success. If I have solved a problem in a piece I am writing, I have achieved success. If I finish a piece and still like it when the process of writing is done, I have succeeded. If someone enjoys playing something I have written or arranged, I feel honored to have contributed to the possibility of their musical success. If somebody needs a piece of music for a particular ensemble or occasion and I have made it easily available to them, we have all succeeded.

If my students remain excited about music, I have succeeded in teaching them by example. If the musical community in my small and rural corner of the world becomes richer because of the work I do, I have succeeded in my quest to make the musical world I encounter a better place, one note at a time.

Related posts: Ambition, Humility

The Rewind Episode 8: Ben takes us to a 1967 draft card "burn in" at the Arlington Street Church in Boston.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Enigmatic Henri Eccles

"Just you wait, Henri Eccles, just you wait."
This was a household joke thirty-seven-odd years ago, back in the days when my father and his wife, Susan Miron, used to perform their viola and harp transcription of the "Eccles" sonata.

We know very little about Henri Eccles (also known as Henry Eccles). His father, Solomon Eccles (also known as Solomon Eagle), was a violinist and composer who burned all of his compositions when he became a Quaker in order to distance himself from the church music of the middle 17th century. Henri's older brother John (1668-1735) was a composer for the theater in London, and as Master of the Kings Musick he served William III, Queen Anne, and King George I and II.

Henri Eccles, who left London for Paris, published two sets of sonatas for violin and continuo, one in 1720 and the other in 1723. In a 1923 letter to the Musical Times, the British music scholar and critic W. Barclay Squire noted that Eccles appropriated 18 movements of 1720 set from works by Giuseppi Valentini and Francesco Antonio Bonporti.

The G minor Sonata is the eleventh sonata of the 1720 set, and if we take account of Mr. Squire’s observations, it may not have been written by Mr. Eccles. Still, this charming, catchy, and probably pilfered piece of Italian loveliness has remained in the repertoire of violinists, violists, double bass players, and cellists for centuries, making Henri Eccles a household name.

Look at the second movement of this 1713 Bonporti Sonata. Eccles might have supplied the continuo realization (see the link below for the 1720 publication), but he clearly lifted the violin line from Bonporti.

Given this pedigree of pilferage, I had to arrange it for string orchestra. There are copyist errors in the 1720 publication which are pretty easy to spot. It served me well as a basis for this arrangement. I hope that people will enjoy playing it and listening to it.

You can listen to it here, and get the score and parts here.

The music will also be available on this page of the IMSLP.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Peter Maxwell Davies Eight Songs for a Mad King

Peter Maxwell Davies, best known in recent decades for his lovely Farewell to Stromness, used to write music that was far from lovely. It was music that depicted insanity.

I first heard this piece performed at Tanglewood when I was a teenager, and I was able to talk about it (and many other things musical) with the composer. Knowing Max as I did, I believe he would want me to post this video (complete with score) here since we are (and not just those of us living in the US) faced with the presence of a world leader who acts like a mad king.

Here's another fantastic performance of the piece where you can see the masked musicians playing, and you can follow the text with subtitles. You can watch a discussion between Kelvin Thomas and Michael McCarthy about the piece here.

Here's a Wikipedia article about the piece, and, for the sake of comparison, we can see that George III was no match for Trumposaurus Rex (T-Rex!) in the madness department. The current US president even makes Peter the Great look like a statesman.

Ben shares a 1974 interview with a Boston-based suffragette with us

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Unfairness, Competition, and Self-doubt

I really enjoy reading the posts that young musicians put on Reddit. It almost makes up for the lost art of commenting in the blogosphere. The anonymous nature of the posts and replies makes it very different from the other social media forums I know where people discuss musical matters.

Musicians usually do not go onto Reddit looking for praise for the things that they are doing in their musical lives (like they do on Facebook), but many are looking for affirmation of their abilities. Many are young people looking for some kind of support from people outside of their regular musical lives (people other than their peers and teachers). High school can be a competitive musical place. So can college. People are often evaluated unfairly, and everyone is worried about having some kind of future in music, particularly if music is their major.

I remember the unfairness. I remember the competition. I remember the sense of self doubt that permeates during early adulthood and festers throughout later adulthood.

I can't do anything in my adult life about unfairness except to do my best to be fair. And I actually think that competition among students can be a positive thing, so I don't discourage it. Nobody was better, smarter, more fearless, or more imaginative, in my experience, than the musicians I grew up with. I imagine that for most adults nobody looms as large as their contempoary childhood heroes.

When I was young I thought I was the only person who lived with a high degree of self doubt. Everyone at Juilliard seemed confident about how good they were. They talked about it all the time, and they demonstrated it in the way they played. The people who had teachers who berated them rose to the occasion and used the experience as a way to become stronger. I kind of envied those people, because my teacher, Julius Baker, never berated anyone. He also never told me what I needed to do in order to improve. He always said that I needed to find my own way.

When I told my friend Seymour Barab this, he said that he never knew that Julius Baker was such a good teacher. I could not agree. I believe that the job of a teacher of conservatory students is to teach students how to be better at playing their instruments and to help them grow as musicians.

At one point I was considering leaving Juilliard. My friends at Juilliard who had been to regular college seemed so much happier and smarter than I was at the time. My father, having seen my SAT scores, advised me to continue at Juilliard.

One day I asked my teacher if he thought I had any talent. I asked him because he always talked about how talented the other students were, but never seemed to care about what I was doing. The only way I could learn from him was to study the way he played, and try to intuit his thoughts when he taught other students during the lesson time that I thought was meant for me. I had to clear the afternoon to get a lesson, and I spent most of those afternoons listening to other students play.

My teacher's response to my question was, and I can quote, "You will say that Julius Baker gave you the best advice of your life. Go see a psychiatrist."

I took his advice immediately. I hauled myself down to the school's office, and I got a referral to a psychiatrist, one Dr. Richard Kopff (!!!) who saw Juilliard students. I had to have a diagnosis made up so that my father's insurance would cover it, so I was treated under the generic label "anxiety nervosa."

My sessions consisted of me coming in and talking about my teacher not showing up for lessons. Dr. Kopff did ask me about family things occasionally, and, since I was a young person, there was a certain amount of drama in my life to talk about. But I was pretty sure that Dr. Kopff assumed the reason my teacher didn't show up at lessons or teach me was because I didn't have any talent. I know this because I invited Dr. Kopff to come to a recital I played, after which the whole direction of our therapy changed.

I suppose the experience taught me that I did indeed have business staying in music, I didn't need a psychiatrist, and that my teacher's lack of interest in teaching me had nothing to do with my talent or lack of talent. Fortunately, during the course of my therapy (but not as a result of it) I found two friend-teachers (a flutist and a cellist) who were more than willing to make up for my teacher's inadequacy (out of the kindness of their hearts--no money was ever involved).

I believe both of them were "paying forward" musical kindnesses. I know I was extremely fortunate, and I continue to express my gratitude for what they did for me by doing what I can to help other musicians.

I actually have found my own way, but, thanks to Julius Baker, it is as a composer and as a string player who keeps a blog rather than as a flutist. I have found my own way the hard way. I am much happier now than I could ever have imagined being when I was a young adult, but it came as a result of building up my musical life from scratch ten years after graduating from Juilliard.

I did stay in touch with Julius Baker after leaving Juilliard, and I sent a tape of my violin playing to him a year or two after I started playing. He called me up to ask me why I was playing the violin. I explained why, and he said, "But you were such a good flutist." Too little too late, I say.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Leonard Rose and Leonid Hambro in 1951

My friend Danny Morganstern pointed me to this FANTASTIC recital recording from 1951, and now I'm sharing it with you. There's so much to love here.

Beethoven Sonata in D Major, Opus 102, No. 2
Debussy Sonata
Kodály Sonata, Opus 4
Brahms Sonata in F Major, Opus 99

I didn't know the Kodaly (it's not the famous solo sonata), so I enjoyed listening to the score, which you can find here.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Nuit de Vielle

You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP. And you can listen to a computer-generated recording here. The percussive flute sounds on the computer-generated recording are only an approximation. Hopefully I will have a humanly-generated recording to post soon!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Little Boccherini to Brighten Your Day

My friend Danny Morganstern just put this lovely vintage recording on YouTube:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Austin Kleon's Interview with Debbie Millman

I was delighted to listen to this episode of Design Matters, because I was delighted to get to know Austin Kleon. Kleon comes a world quite familiar to me. His father taught at a state university in the midwest, and he went to a state school for college. He talks about work in a way that people in my family understand work, as a verb rather than as a noun. He has had great success, but doesn't seem to dwell on the work he has done, at least in the interview.

He talks about blogging in the interview. And he writes about blogging. His website seems to be the place he blogs, which makes sense. Austin Kleon shares traits with various people in our family (music, drawing, writing, love of kids), which is probably part of the reason for my delight.

He talks about being a parent in the interview, and I enjoyed reading this article about being a parent. You might too.

I am also willing to wager (and I'm not a betting woman) that he is an occasional reader of Michael's blog.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Holiday Music for Strings

I just finished a group of string orchestra arrangements for our Summer Strings group to play during the winter holidays, and have sent those that use material that is in the public domain to the IMSLP. You can find the arrangements with their appropriate links here.

These arrangements all have a very easy "Violin 2b" part (for violinists to be) that sits entirely in first position and is devoid of difficult rhythms and difficult bowings.

I hope that these can be put to good use!

If you would like to have access to a larger body of arrangements, please send me a email message. Tell me about your ensemble, and I’ll send you a link to acces a HUGE Dropbox folder filled with goodies.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Maybe we need a little Hannukah right now

Now that the Summer Strings season is over, I'm putting together a group of string orchestra pieces to play with our ensemble during the winter, and we are calling our project "Holiday Strings." In the usual mix of Christmas songs and Winter songs arranged for string orchestra (with easy 2b parts for violinists and violists "to be"), I have included my 2009 song, "Hannukah Latkes."

When I wrote the words and music back in 2009, my intention was to be light-hearted and celebratory, but with a core of seriousness:
Oh give me
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
latkes cooked in oil.

Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright,
Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright!

Hannukah candles
lots of candles
eight bright nights of
Hannukah candles,
Hannukah candles,
Hannukah candles,
candles burning bright.

Eight days of oil, (and latkes!)
Eight days of oil, (and donuts!)
Eight days of oil, (and dreydle!

Hannukah reminds us that the villains who throughout the ages trying to destroy our people never will succeed!

Ages of strife,
Ages of strength,
Ages of faith,
Ages of life,


Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
Hannukah latkes, lots of latkes,
latkes cooked in oil.

Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright,
Eight days of light, Menorah shining bright!

But ten years ago was a very different time. Now "our people" means something different to me. It means something larger than a historical group of Jewish people struggling to maintain their way of life. I now think of American people of all "stripes" who are threatened by the random actions of mass murderers armed with assault weapons (and that is all and any of us) who are spurred on by the elected leader of the country.

"Our people," in this song, now means "We the People" to me.

Many of us were tricked into believing that this president, if elected, wouldn't do anything to truly destroy our way of life. But that assumption is looking "wronger" every day that this narcissistic trickster is in office. Every day brings another blow to the dignity that built this country and the strides we have made since the Civil War. Every day brings another blow the dignity that we built since McCarthyism and the fight for civil rights. Every day we live under the "rule" of this president is an assault on morality. It is difficult to be hopeful about the future. It is difficult to even imagine the future.

I don't believe that history actually repeats itself. But the present does mirror the past. And as mirrors go sometimes things are rendered backwards or inverted.

The Maccabees, if I understand the story correctly, were a small band of Jewish people who had to defend themselves in order to practice their religion. Looking in the mirror of history, what we have now are a small number of people (most republican members of congress, people who serve at the pleasure of the president (his staff), television and talk radio personalities and their employing executives, a relatively small number people who have positioned themselves to believe that they will reap rewards from the financial activities of this administration, a relatively small number of mean-spirited people who embrace racist ideology (for whatever reasons), and people who believe that their constitutional right to own a gun means that their ownership of weapons of war gives them power.

As we see on what seems like an almost daily basis, these people, spurred on by the triggering tweets that are fed to them every day by a person who is in a position of great power, feel they have a right to use those weapons of war on their fellow human beings. And then there are the (perhaps) hypnotized and (certainly) deluded followers who watch the television shows and celebrate the tweets who don't consider themselves to be racist or xenophobic.

But the villains are the people in power who allow weapons of war to be used by anyone who can buy them. This can't go on.
Hannukah reminds us that the villains who throughout the ages trying to destroy our people never will succeed!

This was going through my head constantly while working on this arrangement. And it gives me the strength to fight back, so I'm sharing it here today.

God help us all.

Monday, August 05, 2019

A few words from A. H. Sidgwick

At the start this coat was a glorious thing to face the world in: now it is merely an outer skin. At the start this stick was mine: now it is myself.
The passage from Sidgwick's Walking Essays made me think of his coat being, for me, like my instrument, and his stick being, for me, like my bow. First the bow was mine, and now it is myself.

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick, not being a string player, had other purposes though.
When it is all over the coat will go back to the cupboard and the curved suspensor, and the shirts and stockings will go to the wash, to resume conventional form and texture, and take their place in the humdrum world. But the stick will stand in the corner unchanged, with mellowed memories of the miles we went together, with every dent upon it recalling the austerities of the high hills, and every tear in its bark reminding me of the rocks of the Gable and Bowfell. And in the darkest hours of urban depression I will sometimes take out that dog's-eared map and dream awhile of more spacious days; and perhaps a dried blade of grass will fall out of it to remind me that once I was a free man on the hills, and sang the Seventh Symphony to the sheep on Wetherlam.
I imagine that this could have of been the passage that he sang to the sheep.

Just a hunch.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Ben, Barack, and Bell

Ben introduces archival WGBH video footage of Harvard student Barack Obama introducing Derrick Bell.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Up-bow Staccato, Down-bow Staccato, Paganini 5, and Locatelli 6

After having such a great time working through the different editions of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas that are in the IMSLP, I decided to look at the Paganini Caprices. My special goal was to play the Fifth Caprice with the bowing indicated in my edition in every measure. The indicated bowing: three down-bow staccato notes, an up-bow, three down-bow staccato notes, an up-bow, and then four down-bow staccato notes followed by four up-bow staccato notes, works beautifully for some measures, but it is clumsy and awkward in others.

Needless to say, I have failed at all my attempts towards consistency, so my only option is to do what feels most natural and most musical.

Paganini indicated a regular bowing of three down-bow staccato notes followed by an up-bow to be repeated throughout, which is easier on the brain (though not the arm) than doing the mixed bowing:

[click on the images for a larger view]

It was printed beautifully in the first edition:

but there is a little ambiguity about whether the second half of each measure has the same bowing as the first half:

The second edition, published by Ricordi in 1836, ignored the manuscript and the ambiguity presented in the first edition, and went for four staccato notes per bow in either direction:

The ambiguity in the first edition festered in later editions like this one from Breitkopf and Härtel:

This edition offered options:

And the more "modern" editions made the bowing that works sometimes, but not always to the best musical end, the rule.

This one was edited by Carl Flesch around 1900:

and this edition from 1922 was edited by Emil Kross

And now we get to the Locatelli part of this post. The Locatelli D major Cello Sonata is one of the most charming baroque pieces for cello. Here's the Allegro movement played by my friend Daniel Morganstern:

But we now know, thanks to the work of the librarians at the IMSLP, that the piece was originally written in 1740 as a chamber sonata for violin and continuo, and then transcribed as a virtuoso cello piece by Alfredo Piatti. Piatti's transcription begins with the Allegro of the original.

If you look at the image of the score below, you will see why I'm including this piece in a discussion about up-bow and down-bow staccato. I don't believe those chains of dots and slurs are bowing indications, but I could see why someone would!

Here's what Piatti did with the indications that look like the way people in the 19th century indicated the staccato stroke:

Anybody who has ever put bow to string would consider it awkward to play the charming opening phrase as a staccato passage, particularly at the not-so-speedy tempo that the harmonic rhythm of the piece suggests. Danny, being a naturally intuitive musician as well as a great cellist, ignored what Piatti interpreted as a bowing indication, and bowed it normally to give it a "gallant" feeling. I imagine that Piatti, who, like Paganini, wrote a set of Caprices, saw this as an opportunity to give cellists the technical challenge of trying to play lyrical passages of sixteenth notes with a good sound while bouncing the notes upwards and downwards across the bow.

Maybe they should spend their time practicing Paganini's Caprice No. 5 for that!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

All Night Long

Basil Deardon's 1962 adaption of Shakespeare's Othello is set in an all-night-long party in London to honor the wedding anniversary of Aurelius Rex and Delia Lane, Othello and Desdemona, respectively (and respectfully). If Verdi's Otello takes Shakespeare's English play that is set in Venice (and Cyprus) back to Venice, screenwriters Nel King and Paul Jarrico take the Boito/Verdi Otello opera, and bring it back to England. The action takes place in a tower-like building in London, and high-profile musicians take the place of courtiers.

All the principal actors play their roles as if they were the personalities in the Shakespeare play, making the politics and power struggles in music truly close "cousins." The quotation marks around cousins refer to the "Iago" character Johnny Cousins, who is a drummer and a band leader. He's the person throwing the party.

I will give no spoilers regarding plot, but if you know your Shakespeare, you will appreciate the way characters translate into a group of American musicians and their supporters who might be on tour in London.

The music was excellent. The first musician we meet is Charles Mingus, comfortably playing himself and his bass (he says that he is the first one to arrive and the last to leave). Then other musicians pour into the two-story loft with private rooms upstairs, and a roof that looks over the Thames. The staging is very Shakespearian. All the action takes place within the tower and happens in the span of a couple of hours.

Rex has a lot of Duke Ellington in him, and Rex = King is obvious. Here he is on the roof with the Thames behind him, looking very Venetian:

Here he is playing some Ellington on the piano:

So we have Paul Harris playing the character of Othello filling a role that might be considered analogous to that of Duke Ellington in the Jazz world of 1962.

Here's Rex in the loft with Delia (played by Marti Stevens), a singer who put aside her high-profile career to be Rex's wife:

The musicians asked her to sing "All Night Long," her signature song. Here's a closer shot:

And Patrick McGoohan, who plays the hell out of the drums and hell out of the Johnny/Iago character does some "work" on some tape as well.

Dave Brubeck is featured, along with other musicians who play in different configurations. In addition to Mingus and Brubeck (who play together for a bit), the other musicians who play themselves are Bert Courtley, Keith Christie, Ray Dempsey, Allan Ganley, Tubby Hayes, Barry Morgan, Kenny Napper, Colin Purbrook, and John Scott (who is an excellent flutist). The only time you don't hear the music is when a scene is on the roof or in one of the upstairs rooms when the door is closed.

I was as impressed with the set as I was with the music, the script, the direction, and the acting. Here's a shot of some of the artwork in the loft:

And we can't forget the square-looking music business executives who are at the party:

You can see the full cast listing from the IMDB. And if you have the Criterion Channel, you can stream it from there!