Classical Mac n’ Cheese

A new chapter in my family’s story has taken us over 800 miles from our previous home, down and down and down into the bucolic green and genteel part of our country.  Over the past few months of living in this New Place, I’ve found myself with head spinning and heart longing for the familiarity of my community, my family and my friends.  A fine thing, then, that our New Place is bucolic and genteel and brimming with life and “y’all”s.  Nonetheless, I’ve needed comfort more times this summer than I care to admit.

We all have our comforts, those lovely little things that cosset us when things “get weird”, to borrow a term from the American Psychological Association. Oftentimes that comfort is food, and oftentimes that comfort food is mac n’ cheese.  Whether the is-it-actually-food form out of the blue box or a schmancy sort laden with three cheeses, nothing assuages the psyche quite like that classic.

Which brings me to my actual point: there have been several classical pieces in constant rotation in my home that have served in the place of mac n’ cheese.  All of the comfort, none of the calories (my diet book is forthcoming!). (Kidding.)  When my spirit was/is low, hearing these pieces slowed the spinning of my head and the ache of my heart.

2x04_Good_Grief_(32)

You get the picture.

Anyway, let’s move on to more pasta and less cheese.  Gabriel Fauré wrote his lovely, mystical Pavane Op. 50 in 1887.  “Elegant, but not otherwise important,” remarked the composer in what was most certainly the catalyst for the “bewildered” emoji.  The piece was originally written for piano, but is most often heard in an orchestral arrangement featuring a small group of strings, winds and horns. Here, however, is a very enjoyable trio performance of flute, harp and viola.

Murray Perahia’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations never fails to clear my head.  Listening to it is like giving my brain a good spring cleaning, because the music is just that: clean.  Clean and lovely and rippling and vibrant. Note: adjective level exceeded.  While my Sibling will rally for Glenn Gould’s recording, you’ll find me firmly planted in Camp Perahia.  His fingerings are extremely light and crisp, which is exactly what the Variations require.  #Perahia2016 #TakingAmericaBach

Lastly, Renée Fleming’s recording of Debussy’s Beau soir has served me well these last few months.  Accompanied by the stellar Jean-Yves Thibaudet, her lustrous soprano sails through the poem written by Paul Bourget around the mid-1880s and set to music by Debussy not long after.  I first learned this piece in college and find the melody just as haunting today as I did then.

What classical music has met you well during difficult times?  We’d love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kaffeeklatsch!

One half of Sibling Revelry, and the husband of the other half, loves coffee. That would be the half with the pen at the moment. And by “loves,” I mean that a morning without coffee looks like a black-skied, dust-blown, radioactive post-nuclear apocalyptic hellscape. This magical elixir of the gods is the sine qua non of your wayward, deadbeat blogger.

Recently, I was in blissful attendance at a They Might Be Giants concert. That’s right, sports fans, the normally high-and-mighty Sibs occasionally doff their crushed-velvet pantaloons and change into street garb to blend in with the howling masses and investigate their strange, rhythmic musical traditions. Naturally one must wear a cloak and eyepatch in order to avoid detection.

Kidding aside, I adore They Might Be Giants and have for a very long time (to which the other Sib who used to share a wall with me will attest). I remain deeply inspired by their creativity over the years; well into their third decade of making music together, they have released no less than THREE albums in the last 15 months, each brimming with their usual wonderful weirdness. But I also deeply respect their musicianship and, certainly not least, incredibly deft and inventive ability to write melody. Without those two things, just being weird for weirdness’s sake…that doesn’t have any pull with me. These guys have the ability to get inside music (of truly any genre) and do their own thing with it. It’s quite rare. It’s genius at work, friends: not only in its individual parts, but the partnership at its core. And, to use that abused adjective, unique. I’d also say REM was always true to their own unique north star, yet the fame differential between the two is vast. And REM’s creativity in later years was, I’ll humbly say, nowhere close to the Johns. Those two things are probably related. A topic for a different day. Here is a great example for the uninitiated (one of 1,000 I might have picked):

After the concert, still radioactively aglow (I mean, they played the Fingertips medley, one of my all-time favorites. Oh, you don’t know what that is? Gee, let me see if I can scare up the studio version…….)

…I was reading old interviews, and what do you know, one of the Johns of TMBG (Linnell) happens to be a great admirer of the one, the only, the original melodic genius and prolific baby-maker, Herr Johann Sebastian Bach! A man whose praises have been sung, oh, from time to time here. No surprise, there’s a TMBG connection.

Linnell mentions Bach’s so-called “Coffee Cantata,” a very interesting and famous composition. The great JSB didn’t compose any opera (raising his estimation here yet higher), but the Coffee Cantata comes pretty darn close (coming back down). It’s not rock opera, it’s Bach opera! (cue laugh track)

The complete cantata will last longer than your morning cup, however good its first or last drops, at about half an hour. In keeping with opera’s insistence on over-dramatizing everyday life, the protagonist, Aria (snicker), loves coffee but her overbearing father won’t let her drink it. Causing her to exclaim (this should really be done from a fainting couch) that lack of coffee will cause her to shrivel up like a piece of roasted goat. Neat imagery. Seriously, you couldn’t think of anything else that might shrivel? (Bach didn’t write the libretto, so we are not insulting The Master). Here it is in German, with a translation:

http://emmanuelmusic.org/notes_translations/translations_cantata/t_bwv211.htm

My favorite line is probably, “You may not go to the window and watch anyone passing by!” You people need a hobby. And yes, I did mean, “YOU PEOPLE.”

Also in keeping with opera’s simultaneous insistence on ridiculously implausible solutions to the over-dramatized problems of life and love, Aria is placated when her father has three daily cups written into her marriage contract. No mention of roast goat, sadly.

Obviously our proclivities lay far away from stilted Europeans whining in high register about preposterous, self-created culs-de-sac of puffed-up emotion. BUT. It’s Bach, and all Bach is by definition worthy. Especially on (or around) the Kapellmeister’s birthday! Here it is, in full, sung by people who have clearly practiced facial expression at home in long hours before their mirrors, mirrors, on the wall. Cool set, though.

So let’s see if all the puzzle pieces fit here. We like Bach. We like They Might Be Giants. We love coffee. They Might Be Giants are obsessed with coffee. John Linnell wants to have coffee with Bach. Bach wrote a cantata with a coffee theme. Look, it’s a litter of puppies knitting sweaters for roosters!

Or, in other words, by rocket to the moon, by airplane to the rocket, by taxi to the airport, by front door to the taxi, by throwing back the blankets, hanging down the legs…

 

Bach’s Melodious Underpinnings

Once upon a time, there lived a German violinist named August Wilhelm.  In 1871, presumably having some extra time on his dexterous digits, he decided to write a piano and violin arrangement of the second movement of J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D.  By changing the key to C and transposing the melody down an octave, he was able to play using only one string of his violin.  Snicker, snicker…the G string.  And with that, Herr Wilhelm unleashed into the centuries a much-beloved Air punctuated with unavoidable jokes.  (I, for one, first heard such jokes in my college Music History II class.  We were super sophisticated.)

Bach composed his Orchestral Suite No. 3 around 1731.  In that time, orchestral suites were “easy listening” for parties and other occasions of entertainment.  This was not Bach’s preferred style of composing (remember, this is the man who gave us the Brandenburg Concertos and the St. Matthew Passion); however, he wrote four orchestral suites as acts of good faith to the Leipzig City Council.  Bach had a bit of a temper, and his relationship with the city council was often contentious. By contributing new music, his petitions for better wages and better teaching and conducting opportunities fell on open ears- a savvy move on Johann’s part.  Ah, were that the political climate of today!  Three of Bach’s four “acts of good faith” were written specifically for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a group of music students and aficionados who, under Bach’s direction, gathered together at Zimmermann’s Coffee House to crack wise and make music.  Bach devoted his time to this extracurricular activity from 1729 to 1741.

Interestingly, “orchestral” seems to be a misnomer, as the Suites are composed for small instrumental groupings.  The Third Suite is scored for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, and strings- with the exception of the Air, of course.

What I love about the Air is its dignity.  It’s slow but not stodgy, tender but not cloying.  In this beautiful recording on period instruments, the cello and violone provide this wonderful, velvety foundation and the violins and viola are refined and elegant.  Note the lovely additions of baroque organ and “archlute”.

Another of my favorite recordings is the fantastic duo of Bobby McFerrin (read more about his views on Bach’s “danceability” here) and Yo-Yo Ma.  They lend a unique and utterly gorgeous artistry to a melody that is often overlooked due to its familiarity.

Bach’s Air on the G string:  not just for wedding processionals and “Sounds of the Ocean” recordings!  We here at Sibling Revelry hope you’ll listen and enjoy.

Read On! A Classical (Book) Guide For Kids

At my house, amidst the buzzing-hive joy and chaos of everyday life, you will find two constants: music being played and books being read.  Every now and then, the twain meet, and we’re always happy to find a great children’s book about classical music.  I love them because they meet kids on their level, making classical music fun, interesting, and most importantly, approachable.  Here are three of our favorites.  We hope they’ll find their way into your home!

zinzinzinZin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! (Lloyd Moss, ages 4-8) For many years I listened to the rich baritone of Lloyd Moss, the much-beloved program host on WQXR. Little did I know that one day I would be reading his wonderful book to my children. Written in witty rhyme, the story highlights each member of an orchestra as they enter the stage for a concert.  Children will learn to identify each instrument, and may even remember the musical terms for each successive grouping (solo, duo, trio, quartet etc.). The Caldecott Honor-receiving illustrations by Marjorie Priceman are colorful and energetic- if you look closely, each player resembles their instrument! Two cats, a dog, and a mouse add to the fun with their onstage antics.

berliozBerlioz The Bear (Jan Brett, ages 4-8) Could there be a better name for a bear musician?  We were already big fans of this wonderful author and illustrator and were thrilled to discover her charming story about Berlioz, a nattily dressed, double-bass playing bear who is beleaguered by a strange buzzing sound in his instrument just before his orchestra is to play a big concert.  In Berlioz’s ursine group are a French horn player, a violinist, a clarinetist, bass drum player and trombonist.  After a hole in the road sidelines the bears’ “bandwagon” and threatens to make them late to their performance, many friends try to help…but the buzzing ends up saving the day!   I asked my five-year-old daughter what she likes the best about Berlioz The Bear, and she replied that seeing all the animals go into the town square to get ready for the concert is her favorite (Brett’s page-border illustrations add a particularly wonderful element to the story). She also likes that the orchestra plays “Flight of the Bumblebee” for their encore, noting that “it’s fast and sounds like a bumblebee”. It’s also a fitting homage to the hero of the story.

39aptsThe 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven (Jonah Winter, ages 4-9) Not only did Beethoven own five pianos, he owned five legless pianos.  Apparently the composer enjoyed composing on the floor!  Music history tells us that Beethoven lived in 39 apartments over the course of his life, but this funny, quirky story surmises exactly why he moved so many times (A stinky cheese smell? Fraülein Hausfrau couldn’t take the noise?). I crack up every time I see the illustration of baby Ludwig emitting some suspiciously famous-sounding cries: Wah wah wah waaah!  Barry Blitt’s illustrations are wonderful, and since Beethoven was such a genius it makes sense that he is depicted with an oversized cranium.

musiciansWhen we’ve worn these three ragged, I’m looking forward to diving into Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt (another artist fond of enlarging composers’ heads!). Short chapters and engaging pictures are sure to provide another wonderful window into the lives of composers.  Bonus: I learn a lot, too!

Happy Wednesday, dear Revelers!

There’s Always Room For Cello

“Ah, Juilliard.  It was like prison, but with cellos.”  ~Robin Williams

Yesterday, somewhat plagued by the darkness in this world and the mind-boggling disrespect mankind has for human life, I found myself listening to the Benedictus of Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace. Classical music is a balm to a ragged soul, after all.  The first few minutes, during which only a cello sings a mournful melody (with a touch of flute and other strings), are transporting.

Soul soothed, albeit temporarily, I began thinking about the cello and what a beautiful instrument it is, then wondered about its provenance…

The first cello-like instrument emerged in northern Italy in the early 16th century. Until then, the violin’s earliest precursor, the viola da braccio, was the instrument of choice.  Artisans such as Andrea Amati, Gasparo da Salò and Paolo Maggini wanted to expand the violin’s sound to deeper ranges, thus the instrument had to be built on a much larger scale and the violoncello (“big little violin”) was born.

By the end of the 16th century, a standard bass violin (violone) had been established and was often partnered with the violin in the music of that day.  Wire-wound strings were invented in the mid-17th century in Bologna and produced a much louder sound with more ring than the conventional gut strings.  It was then that the first real cellos were built and used for solo performances.  Violones were literally sawed apart and resized to fit the new design.  But by 1710, Antonio Stradivari unveiled what became the design and proportions of choice, and it is the famed luthier’s design which remains in use today.

By the turn of the 19th century, performance experience had led to refinements in design, including a higher string tension (producing a clearer tone), a thinner, taller bridge and a sharper neck angle.  The end of the 19th century saw the invention of the endpin for resting the cello on the floor, whereas previously the instrument had been held between the calves.  The endpin proved essential for stability and height during playing.  In the 1920s, steel strings gifted the cello with longer-sustained notes, clearer sound, and amplified volume.

In 2012, a Stradivarius cello built in 1707 and one of sixty surviving of its kind, sold at auction for well over six million dollars. Nicknamed “The Countess of Stainlein“, it was once owned by violinist Niccolò Paganini. In 1822, it nearly suffered an untimely and malodorous demise in a Milan city dump. In the late 1990s, it underwent a meticulous two-year restoration.

Perhaps the most widely known and beloved music written for the cello are the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by J.S. Bach.  Other landmark compositions include Dvorák’s Cello Concerto (a front-runner here at Sib Rev), Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1, and Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto in A Minor.  And for those of you who claim you have never listened to the cello, queue up “Good Vibrations”, “Eleanor Rigby”, or “Strawberry Fields Forever” for a classical sneak-up.

Lastly, after all of this highbrow music history, I would be remiss if I did not mention the phenomenon that is the styrofoam cello.  Far from the days of Stradivari, an ingenious student at the College of Ghent has found a truly unique way to amplify the sound of this lustrous and honored instrument.  Happy weekend, dear Revelers!

The Countess of Stainlein, one of sixty surviving Stradivari cellos.

The Countess of Stainlein, one of sixty surviving Stradivari cellos.

The Roots of Rhythm

It would be hard to gloss over the fact that the Siblings have apparently been on an extended Christmas break since, oh, say, December 11th or so. Suffice to say that one of us has a better reason than the other, who is merely procrastinatory. A word which he made up and offers to you as proof that good things come to those who wait.

We have many nascent ideas for posts, but the one I’ve apparently chosen to wade back in with is a little bizarre. Yesterday, while watching something on the teevy (I believe it was the masterful Sherlock, specifically the third episode of this latest “series” – our deep thanks to (a) the UK and (b) WETA!) there was a scene in which a heartbeat was played in the background. For whatever reason — because in my multiple decades, I’ve heard a heartbeat once or twice and faintly remember breaking down the various sections of an EKG in a biology class — yesterday I noticed that it appeared to be in waltz time: 3/4.  See for yourself:

About 10 or so years ago, I began realizing that I had a particular affinity for songs and compositions in 3/4 time, both pop and classical. I hadn’t really thought about why that might be the case. I think it was Elliott Smith’s music that first drew my attention to it, though it did not begin there. As many know, Elliott was a masterful songwriter, a uniquely talented guitar player (multi-instrumentalist, really), and beautifully gifted in both lyrics and melody. Besides the two waltzes on XO (Waltz #2 is better known than the gossamer, sorrowing-yet-angry, deep nighttime Waltz #1), many of Elliott’s songs are in 3, and are so well crafted that their meter is not obtrusive. He seems so at home in the meter, with the melody dipping in and out and over and through the beat, whereas something like James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” seems forced (it is a nice song, though). I think “I Better Be Quiet Now” is one of my favorites of Elliott’s.

Given the Sherlock event’s sudden impingement on this three-quarters of an imponderable, today I did some light digging. Naturally, I’m not the first to notice or wonder about this. Here is one message board (aptly, at Drumforum.org) where a few folks weigh in; many of them estimate 3/4 or 6/8 time but others say 4/4. I wouldn’t think heartbeats could vary by rhythm rather than speed of that rhythm, but I am a doctor in no sense of the word. Except the sense of “Brain Donors” where I pretend to be one for nefarious purposes.

http://www.drumforum.org/index.php?/topic/20674-what-is-the-time-signature-of-a-heart-beat/

Many of the participants immediately use the question to suggest that music appreciation is rooted in physiological rhythm. I love the connection to jazz and swing, personally. But overall it’s a bit too much for me, because how do you explain speed metal? Or the diverse time signatures found the world over? I think you could posit a connection to biorhythms more generally than the waltz time specifically. But I do find the possibility of this connection intriguing. It may be nothing more than mere coincidence. But a nice one, at least. It reminded me of these Paul Simon lyrics:

This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain

A couple cursory searches did not uncover a lot of material on this subject. Perhaps some of our friends can help enlighten us. I will leave you with Erik Satie’s three wonderful “Gymnopédies,” which are written, of course, in my bizarrely beloved waltz time. Here played with bizarre cinematic accompaniment by Aldo Ciccolini, one of the best Satie interpreters for piano.

A Moving Picture: Classical Music in the Movies (Dead Poets Society)

[Today we inaugurate another series, another offspring whom we hopefully won’t leave starving in the streets to eventually attempt to rise up against the bourgeoisie: A Moving Picture, exploring the use of classical music in films great and bad, sweeping and small. Not to be confused with its enchanting sibling, Score-ally Yours. That one examines film scores, with more of an overall view of that element of a movie (and, I believe, scores written specifically for films). A Moving Picture will tend to look at moments where already-written classical music was used to great effect in a movie. Of course, we could have called it something else. Something dorky and fantastic. Velvet Seats & Velveteen Breeches. Celluloid in C Major. Fluffing the Sheet Music. Dorky and Fantastic.]

The impetus for the first post of A Moving Picture came in the form of something pretty well divorced from the world of classical music: professional ice hockey (thanks for the inspiration, Emily Wright!). What’s the link, you ask? Glad to share! Thanks for being so interested. Last night, the hometown team, the good guys, the boys in the red sweaters, the hockey players of our nation’s capital and (let’s admit it) our hearts, the Washington Capitals, won a pretty stunning home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (For the initiates, yes, they play hockey in Florida. No, I still don’t know why.) Finding themselves down 3-1 after the first period, the Caps stormed back to finish the 2nd period knotted up at 4-4. Team captain Alex Ovechkin scored the team’s lone goal in the 1st and added two more in the 2nd, giving him a hat trick. A pretty rare occurrence that is greeted with joy and gladness, particularly when it’s done by the guy who is the heart of the team in a few senses. So we go to the 3rd period. The bad guys score again to go up 5-4. With less than a minute to go, the Caps finally ‘capitalized’ to tie it up yet again, with the goal scored by – you guessed it – Ovechkin. Four goals in one night. It’s pretty freaking rare, much less in a very close game. We needed the captain to dig us out of a hole and help us get the win last night, and he delivered. He’s our boy and he’s unique. Even with everything we’ve ever watched him do on the ice that caused our heads to shake slowly from side to side, last night was special. The Caps went on to win – in a shootout, but still. I won’t forget that game for a long time indeed. What a joy.

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“Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen!”

Forgive the long detour. Hopefully you classical music fans made some mental jokes about Canadians taking slapshots in the teeth and eating donuts while driving a Zamboni hopped up on Labatt. If you didn’t, please take a moment to do so now.

That game last night, with all its attendant drama and triumph, reminded me instantly of a wonderful scene involving classical music in “Dead Poets Society.” If I was the type of person to make lists of favorite movies, that one would assuredly figure prominently. The story, the acting, the cinematography, the details of the locations and props…it is a very moving work of art, if I may be so grandiose.

And classical music makes several poignant cameos throughout the movie. Robin Williams’s character, John Keating, dangerous brigand and anarchist, is of course given to whistle Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” at whiles (it starts slow, give it a minute). This is a piece most people are familiar with, from the hands of a composer possessed of what Schonberg calls “a sweet, inexhaustible, supersensuous fund of melody.” Eminently whistleable. Fun fact: the overture has nothing to do with the War of 1812. Tchaikovsky had a rather turbulent personal life, owing to his closeted homosexuality amid the stiff mores of 19th-century Imperial Russia. He did marry, but it caused a complete breakdown that involved a suicide attempt, eventual cuckolding, and perhaps inevitably, the wife being placed in an insane asylum where she died after twenty-one years. Fun stuff. The 1812 Overture (in E-flat major, op. 49) tends to be dismissed in commentary on Tchaikovsky’s body of work – I suppose due to its popular appeal, appearance at fireworks shows, and frequent accompaniment by cannon. God knows, we wouldn’t want a thing like popularity to sully the art form!

But the scene I called to mind was one with no spoken words. While Beethoven’s immeasurable “Ode to Joy” plays (lyrics from a poem by Schiller), Keating plays a riotous game of soccer with his students as the late autumn sunlight gradually fails, setting the woods aglow. When they score a goal, in their exultation they rush over and surround Keating, their leader, lifting him onto their shoulders and charging across the field as they yell in celebration, Keating’s arm raised in victory. It is a beautiful moment for which the welling emotion and glorious humanism of the “Ode to Joy” is quite meet. And a moment that fades all too quickly, as he warned his students on the first day of class.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

I love these graphical visualizations of classical music. Here is one of the “Ode to Joy,” which is part of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s final symphony, the mighty Ninth (D-minor, op. 125).

It fills the soul. “To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, roll on, float…on!”

Beethoven also appears later in the film when Neil Perry comes to visit Keating in his office: the second movement of the “Emperor” piano concerto (no. 5, op. 73) is playing.

Substitute Ovechkin for Keating in the Ode to Joy scene and you have a picture of how I felt last night.  So, to sum this entire ramble up in one barbaric salute to Ovi, the Great 8, YAWP.

All That Jazz

Without delving too deeply into my long absence from authorship (I was saving the world from something you’ve never heard of. Yes, I was wearing a cape.), I’d like to swerve out of our usual lane a little bit. But I’ll put the blinker on because that’s how society should function.

In this age of ego and id, classical music must at times seem like superego to many would-be listeners. Impersonal, formal, rules-obsessed, difficult. Michael Tilson Thomas’s recent Tilson Tantrum, while awesome, probably helps reinforce this stereotype. I understand the need for quiet and attention, but are we creating the world here and one errant slip of the baton will make water taste like liquid Roquefort? This criticism is even more emphatic for players of my beloved sport, tennis. Quiet, everyone! These delicate geniuses, these highly-paid professional athletes need absolute silence for their bodies to move properly! They should probably just play in semiconductor fabrication facilities in those white suits, or the Television Room in the Chocolate Factory. For the love of Pete, go to a minor-league hockey game. Somewhere between there and the hushed chapel of Wimbledon, you can still earn an honest buck swinging a tennis racquet.

Jazz, on the other hand, has never suffered from a lack of immediacy. Well, until we got to the really experimental stuff and washed-out smooth jazz Kenny G products of reverse peristalsis. So, ok, I’ll amend that to say, for most of jazz’s history, including the most important eras, jazz never suffered from a lack of immediacy. On this grey, freakishly warm day in November, I’ve been listening to John Coltrane’s “Dear Lord”:

It is hushed and yet immediate. A prayer needing no words, certainly not from this hack.

Now, I’m being purposely unfair to our beloved classical music in order to make a stylized point. Because there are plenty of composers whom I find full of iconoclasm, personability, connection, contrasts – human artists rather than vague painters of boring symphonic landscapes in Randomville-sur-mer, Europe. And there days when they speak to me as I hear Coltrane speaking in “Dear Lord.”

They are out there to find, and highlighting them is one thing I think we’re “doing” here. It’s also clear that the links and exchanges between classical and jazz go back to the latter’s beginnings, and have been rich and fruitful ever since. In trying to find a Wall Street Journal article on classical and jazz I made note of a while back, I came across something better: this article written by Chick Corea on Miles Davis’s setting of the second movement from Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” That concerto is one of the highlights of the classical guitar canon – very Spanish in its composition and execution, a wonderful journey of texture and emotion. The second movement in particular, which  is what Miles “covered”.

Chick Corea is, for me, one of the most unique musicians to whom I have ever had the pleasure to listen, whose work truly blurs distinctions and bends and twists definitions with grace and verve and precision and virtuosity. He ain’t classical, but he ain’t all jazz, either. Listen to his “Children’s Songs” album for an incredible demonstration of this. Here is the inimitable Mr. Corea on the Miles track:

There also was a sense of freedom. Evans had written a gorgeous score and the orchestra was reading notes. But Miles was improvising. He was making up phrases and melodies as he went along. It made me realize that the act of creation was a beautiful thing—that you could make up melodies out of the ether. Years later, in 1971, when I left Miles Davis’s band, I relistened to “Concierto” and was inspired that year to write “Spain.”

And speaking of inimitable, here is Miles’s interpretation of the second movement (16 minutes). The ‘Evans’ that Corea mentions is Gil Evans, one of the great jazz composer/arrangers.

And the great John Williams, with the ‘classical’ version:

Happy listening, cats!

By George, happy birthday!

Thanks to some wonderful selections today from WQXR (no, we are not remunerated for promoting the station: dreams take time to build), I found out that it is the 115th anniversary of George Gershwin’s birth.  Happy birthday, o American Master, from your jazzy, foot-stompin’ fans at Sibling Revelry. Here is a picture of the man lookin’ pretty dapper, and QXR’s tribute to his keyboard works:

George Gershwin in his youth on a ship's deck

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/gershwin/

Sib1 gave me a Gershwin CD many moons ago (when CDs were still a thing): an excellent recording of all the Gershwin classics like “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris.” In some ways, Gershwin (“Shwin” to those in the know) embodies some of the values we hold dear as appreciators of the fine arts (well, some of them. Others we grumble about, Walter Matthau-like). His translation of American roots and rhythms into the classical setting both renews and strengthens the art form. He’s a standout American in an art whose history is almost blindingly European (der, it was invented there). AND, he’s one of seemingly few classical composers who collaborated so memorably and effectively with his SIBLING: brother Ira Gershwin, who probably slept over.

Plus, talking about Shwin gives us a chance to plug the incomparable Gene Kelly, whose gleeful, silky, muscular, form-perfect dancing fills us with wonder and delight. Here he is in “An American in Paris,” in which the eponymous work has a starring role (music & lyrics by Sib2 and Sib1, Gershwin edition):

Is there not something so languorous, thick & muddy Bayou blues-y, about that main melody? Surrounded, of course, by much else of European origin. Kind of like an American in Paris.

And really, just for kicks at this point, there is a connection between The Shwin-Bone and Monsieur Horloger: Ravel traveled to the US in the early 20th century, where he met Gershwin and listened to a lot of jazz that he would then incorporate in his subsequent works. Like a Frenchman in New York.

Happy birthday, George!

Aux barricades, citoyens!

When I lived in Germany, a friend and I derived nearly unending delight from the German commentators of a tennis match who opened a segment with the greeting, “Liebe Tennisfreunde,” which could be either “dear tennis friends,” or, as I prefer because it’s even funnier, “dear friends of tennis.”

Dear friends of classical music and one of the most unpopular blogs on the Internet, I’m going to try and keep this brief (ha). Quite simply, here is a beautiful, intricate, intriguing, and, dare I say, half-smiling piece of music. It is called “Les barricades mistérieuses” and was written for harpsichord by the French composer François Couperin. The below version is arranged and played on classical guitar by, once again, the great Parkening.

Couperin was a Baroque composer, a contemporary of Bach, and lived from 1668-1733. “Les barricades mistérieuses” was written in 1717; despite its nearly three centuries of age, I think it is easy to hear some very modern, folk-y things in it – similar to the connection bluegrass players feel with Bach.

Speaking of whom, according to Harold C. Schonberg, Bach and Couperin are supposed to have had a long correspondence; sadly, none is extant. But Bach greatly admired and respected Couperin, whose music manuscripts Bach copied for himself by hand (an honor he also accorded Vivaldi). Maurice Ravel, Monsieur Horloger, celebrated the composer in his “Le tombeau de Couperin” – a mainstay of the WQXR playlist.

The meaning of the title of the piece is, appropriately, mysterious. I like the theory that the barricade is in fact referring to harmonic resolution. Which, you’ll notice, the piece never achieves for long. Some have also posited that the title refers to women’s chastity belts. That would explain the barricade, but not the mystery. I personally don’t find locked metal underwear all that mysterious. But even if the title doesn’t mean one particular thing, I think its open-ended nature fits the music perfectly and is nice fodder for rumination, lo these three hundred years later.

Enjoy! And to our friends in Russia, where we’ve yet to attract a single viewer, we say: спасибо, мы надеемся, что вам нравится музыка.