Saturday, May 28, 2022

A queer divine dissatisfaction

In 1943, shortly after the extremely successful premiere of Oklahoma!, its coreographer Agnes de Mille met her friend Martha Graham in a Schrafft’s restaurant for a soda, and she wrote about part of their conversation:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
I imagine this well-worn quotation, which I found over at The Marginalian is familiar to many people, but I only just heard it today. And it came from the mouth of violist Carol Rodland, who was being interviewed on the Violacentric podcast.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Is Wagner Addictive?

I have always thought of Richard Wagner as being extremely manipulative, both as a human being and as a composer. Perhaps the ability to manipulate is a large part of his skill. I have been "taken in" many a time, but I have never lapsed into fanaticism. Fascination, maybe.

I thought I'd share this extremely interesting perspective on Wagner from VAN Magazine. Lawrence D. Mass, the co-founder of GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) is being interviewed here, and he brings up a lot of food for thought.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Reviewing Reviews of Augustin Hadelich

Augustin Hadelich is now a musical household name, but I remember when knowing and loving his musicianship was like being in on a special secret. One of the great joys for me during the early years of Augustin Hadelich's career as an adult musician (I was, unfortunately, not aware at the time of the career he had as a child) was telling everyone I knew about him. Writing about Augustin Hadelich's recordings for the American Record Guide was a great pleasure.

HAYDN: Violin Concertos 1, 3, 4
Augustin Hadelich, v; Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Muller-Bruhl
Naxos 8.570483 60 minutes

It would be very easy to love Augustin Hadelich’s violin playing simply for his crystalline technical facility or his always-interesting singing sound, but I am partial to his long and deep sense of phrase, his sensual relationship to the pitches that really ring on his instrument, and his fresh approach to Haydn. There is something about his playing that excites my “inner violinist” (something that always seems to be at odds from my “outer violinist”) in a way that no other violinist excites it. There is something unique about Hadelich’s playing: perhaps a purity of intent, or a direct line to what is essential in music. It is difficult to describe, but it is easy to recognize.

He is able to let phrases soar in the air, making great and graceful arcs, and then lets them land lightly, yet decisively. Hearing him play Haydn makes me happy; not a giddy kind of happy, but a balanced kind of happy. While the music is playing, I have a feeling that all is right with the world.

This recording is one of his prizes for winning the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Another prize is the use for four years of the ex-Gingold Stradivari violin, the instrument that he plays on this recording. Each component of the trio of Haydn, Hadelich, and Stradivari brings out the best in the others, and Hadelich’s stunningly-beautiful cadenzas reflect (and sometimes even improve upon) the best moments in these concertos.

I am impressed that he chose these three Haydn Concertos for his Naxos recording. Even though they are extremely difficult to play, they do not appear to the non-violinist to be virtuosic pieces. Aside from the First Concerto in C, these works are not very popular pieces in the solo violin literature. Violinists and people who play with violinists know that they all require a tremendous amount of musicianship and technical strength to play well, and they also demand an excellent accompanying orchestra, which Hadelich has in Helmut Muller-Bruhl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra.

I know that after hearing this recording you will agree with me that the future of great violin playing is safe and very bright in Augustin Hadelich’s 24-year-old hands.

September/October 2008

* * *

TELEMANN: Twelve Fantasies for Solo Violin
Augustin Hadelich
Naxos 8.570563 65 minutes

I admit that I was was rather surprised at first to see these Telemann Fantasies as Augustin Hadelich's choice for his second Naxos recording, one of the prizes given to him for winning the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. I had heard of these pieces, but, like a lot of people (and even a lot of violinists) had never heard all twelve of them played end to end. Because these Fantasies are mainly considered student works (by those who consider them at all), they are performed more often (if they are performed at all) by students than by professional violinists. If they are performed by professional violinists, the violinists are often early music specialists who play them on baroque period instruments.

Hadelich's Telemann is brilliant, intelligent, historically informed, and definitely modern. He offers these pieces as works of serious musical substance, shattering the long-held prejudice that Telemann must have been a a second-rate composer because he wrote so much music that is playable by people with an amateur's level of technique.

Telemann, who wrote these Fantasies in 1735, reached southward towards Italy for some of his influences. There are movements in these pieces that sound a lot like Corelli, particularly the Gigue of the Fourth Fantasie, which gives the solo violin its own accompanying bass line. Many movements of these pieces are written in a German rhetorical style, some use what sounds like a lot of counterpoint, and some exploit the violin's virtuosic qualities. No two are alike, though parts of some sound a bit like Telemann's Twelve Fantasies for solo flute that were written a couple of years earlier.

These pieces have obviously not enjoyed the place in the solo violin literature held by Bach, but they do offer a really attractive alternative to Bach. I ordered the sheet music immediately after my first hearing of this recording. I hope it arrives soon.

Perhaps Hadelich's background as a German-speaking person growing up in Italy adds to his deep understanding of the German-Italian nature of these pieces. Whatever the reason, this recording is a pleasure to listen to this wonderful music and stunningly-beautiful violin playing again and again.

July/August 2009

* * *

Echoes of Paris
DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata; POULENC: Violin Sonata; STRAVINSKY: Suite after Themes, Fragments and Pieces by Giambattista Pergolesi; PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata 2
Augustin Hadelich, v; Robert Kulek, p
Avie 2216 70 minutes

There are many excellent young violinists around, but I can only think of a few young violinists who have the creative imagination to make well-worn pieces of the standard violin literature sound as fresh and as sturdy as Augustin Hadelich. He brings a great deal of intelligence, an uncompromising dedication to accuracy and beauty of sound, and a hearty dose of emotional idealism to his readings of the 20th century music on this recording.

He and Kulek present the Poulenc as a deeply serious piece (which it is), and seem to draw on images from Poulenc's other serious pieces (the emotional weight of Dialogues of the Carmelites comes to mind). In this reading of the Prokofiev, a piece originally written for flute and piano, Hadelich adds a surprising array of flute-like colors and articulations; something I have never heard any violinist do before. His tempo choices allow the piece to flow lightly forward, particularly in III, and he and Kulek keep II and IV very light and crispy.

These musicians play the Debussy Sonata as one continuous and remarkable 13-minute phrase, and they play Paul Kochanski's 1925 violin and piano transcription of Stravinsky's Pulcinella, the piece known (from Samuel Duskin's more popular 1932 transcription) as "Suite Italienne". The Kochanski version is much more colorful and much more difficult to play than the Dushkin, but the violinistic technical difficulties in this transcription all become expressive devices in Hadelich's hands. The microphones pick up the full range of bold and fragile nuances that come from the 1683 Ex-Gingold Stradivarius that Hadelich used until September of 2010.

May/June 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Adoration: "Das Über-Orgel-Stücke"

I came across this article by Felix Linsmeier in Van Magazine about Florence Price's "Adoration" today, and was totally tickled to be given credit in it for starting its new life in transcription. The above link is the English translation, and this one is in the original German.

More about Florence Price's life in Boston from Douglas Shadle

Here is the second part of Douglas Shadle's series of blog posts about Florence Price.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Listen to Paul Cortese play my Sephardic Suite!

The piece is in three movements, and you can find all three on this YouTube playlist if you want to listen without ads popping up in between. It is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Crossing eyes and dotting tees

During a lesson yesterday a student was having difficulty making sure to do a up-bow in a place where she had to move a finger down a half-step. I told her it was difficult, kind of like when you have your eyes crossed. And that morphed into “crossing i's and dotting t's.” After spell of even more confusion (and laughter), she isolated and combined the left-hand and right-arm motions successfully.

It occurred to me that I have never run across that inversion of the well-used phrase "dotting i's and crossing t's" before, so I thought I would share it here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Robyn Sarah's Music Late and Soon Audiobook

Robyn Sarah's memoir about returning to musical life after several decades away has now been released by Biblioasis as an audiobook. You can read my review of the book here, and find the audiobook here.

UPDATE: North Star Music has published two songs that I set to two poems by Robyn Sarah, which are now available through this page of the North Star website.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Masked Corks in Socks (Variation on a Theme)

[click for a larger image]

Socks, it turns out, do stretch out, so the Musical Assumptions test kitchens have been at work all week trying household objects to fix the problem of stability.

I tried using rubber bands and toothpicks to secure the corks into rows, but they didn't work as well as I hoped. Glue works much better (but you really do have to wait for it to dry, and I would advise using a strong glue).

I was disappointed that the cork-filled plain mask didn't work, but that would be too easy, right? It is also not very attractive, and it doesn't feel terribly comfortable.

KN94 and KN95 masks are perfect for glued six-cork stacks, but they are too short for glued eight-cork stacks. I found that it works perfectly well to cut off the ends of a KN94 mask, tape the mask shut, and insert it into a single sock.

[This is a variation of of the "DIY Corks in Socks Shoulder Rest" post I made last week.]

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Solving the Case (Bam Saint Germain Blue Stylus Contoured Viola Case problem that is)

I really like my Bam Saint Germain Stylus case, but it has a habit of falling over backwards when I take my viola out of it. It always has. I suddenly realized today that the strap that holds the case open is just a little bit too long.

I just happened to have a needle and black thread handy, so I put a few stitches in to shorten it. Now it stays upright when it is open!

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

More fun with pseudonyms!

My pianist friend John David and I have been playing these Bach Flute Sonatas (with violin and piano) for the past several weeks. I have been really impressed with the excellent realization of the continuo by Jean Albert de la Tournerie. It turns out, however, that Jean Albert de la Tournerie is a pseudonym for Berthold Tours. Tours (1838-1897) was a violinist born in Rotterdam. He studied composition with François-Joseph Fétis (who also taught Hector Berlioz), and also worked as a church organist and as a conductor. There is more in his Wikipedia article.

In some areas of these internets Jean Albert de la Tournerie is incorrectly given as a pseudonym for Albert J. Andraud, an oboist who has edited a great deal of woodwind music that is published by the Southern Music Company.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

DIY Corks in Socks Shoulder Rest

Instead of putting on a shoulder rest today, I grabbed my "bows down" DIY string-playing helper, and found that it gave me exactly the kind of support I need to hold the violin comfortably without compromising the freedom I feel when playing without a shoulder rest. So I grabbed some more corks, another pair of socks, and a rubberband, and came up with this.

This six-cork version works for violin, but is too small for my viola. Eight corks works (with the same socks) for viola. You need a bigger rubber band, though.

And using small rubber bands to keep two corks bound together can create a little more stability if the socks you use happen to be on the larger size.

UPDATE: Masked Corks in Socks (Variation on a Theme)