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.

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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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Mad Men

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

Wait a minute…that sentence sounds awfully familiar. But I digress.

He said “Never judge a book by its cover”.  Ah, that most familiar of platitudes, that wolfish yet wise advice in fleecy sheep’s clothing.

Today I’m going to toy with that advice a bit and reveal why we Revelers shouldn’t judge composers by their lacy cravats, their square-toed, brass-buckled kicks, their prim tailored tweedy suits, their fits of tubercular coughing (okay, maybe not that).

Why? Because they were mad men all.  Here are some fascinating bits to absorb about composers you love.

Beethoven liked each cup of coffee he drank to be made with exactly 60 coffee beans. Today we affectionately call that “obsessive-compulsive disorder”.  Eins, zwei, drei, vier…

Éric Satie wrote three short piano pieces called “Flabby Preludes For A Dog“.  Surely he was being modest with his choice of adjective.

Mozart had a pet starling that could sing the theme of the last movement of his Piano Concerto in G Major, K. 453.  I mean really…are we surprised?  Someone please buy me that bird for my birthday.

Bedrich Smetana spent his last months in the Prague Insane Asylum where he died of a progressive paralysis, possibly caused by complications from syphilis.  And there’s really nothing more to say after that.

When American composer Paul Creston needed an extra boost of energy to stay up late, he would smoke coffee grounds in a pipe.  Clearly, drinking from a mug was just too lowbrow; however, he did compose a concertino for the marimba, which is just amazing (?).

J.S. Bach spent time (one month) in prison .. where he wrote Das Orgelbüchlein.  And what have YOU done, Bernie Madoff?

Berlioz wrote the majority of the Symphonie fantastique while high on opium.  Did he not heed Nancy Reagan’s advice?  I love the timpani and I love Leonard Bernstein, so here’s the fourth movement.

Tchaikovsky wrote the “Pas de deux” from The Nutcracker as a bet. He said he could write a piece whose main theme was a simple descending major scale. He did it and won. Na zdorovye!

Chopin‘s heart is buried in Warsaw…and the rest of him can be found in Paris at Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Now THAT is true allegiance!

Rimsky-Korsakov heard/saw music as a stream of colors.  I can only wonder if Flight of the Bumblebee gave him a gorgeous, staggering migraine.

Richard Wagner liked to wear pink silk underwear.  Consequently, anyone singing the role of Isolde must don the same unmentionables.  Oh, that heartrending Liebestod!!!!!!

And that’s your dose of random fascinating facts for the time being.  You’ve missed me, haven’t you?  Revel on!

What Does “Classical Music” Really Mean, Anyway?

After viewing this clip, I really think you have to ask that question. A shared ethos that ElderSib and I have is that, for us, classical music can (and maybe should) be distinguished from the context in which it’s played. Which is to say, you can just strip away all the sociological detritus that has piled up on top of it, to the extent that “classical music” connotes white-tie events, inscrutable music theory, annoying piano teachers who make your fingers curl into unnatural shapes, etc. ad infinitum. Which is to say again, formality and all its concomitant, stifling rigor.

Those elements cannot be fully dissociated from classical music, of course, but the way I see it, they are but one element of the whole. And not even the most important one. Frankly I don’t know how to give words to what I do find to be the most important elements (and I don’t know that I want or need to), so I’ll blindly wave around at it by saying it is the capacity of music – the music itself – to move us, both in creating it and hearing it. We try to leave the other stuff in its rightful place and focus on that.

Catchy Khachaturian

These days, it is almost impossible to escape the vise-like grip of endless, pointless news about a certain person of Armenian descent whose last name begins with the letter K.  Just the thought of said person conjures bile in my throat and commands eye-rolling of the sort your mother warned you about.

Do you feel the same way, chèr reader?  Classical music has the balm your soul needs. Yes indeed, classical music has its very own Armenian (though Soviet-born, raised and devoted) whose last name begins with the letter K, and I daresay you will not lose precious brain cells by paying him mind.  I am pleased to make your acquaintance with Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) and his catchy, whirling “Waltz“, which is the first movement from Masquerade Suite.  Khachaturian composed the Suite as incidental music for the play Masquerade, written by 18th-century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov (who at the tender age of 26 met his demise in a duel).

I never tire of listening to this piece.  The color is so rich that it’s hard to imagine that Khachaturian initially had great difficulty writing it.  Two images come to mind when I’m listening to it:  first, Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner waltzing in The King and I (I was fascinated by her satin-drenched hoopskirted ballgown as a child) and second, the Haunted Mansion at that fun little theme park in Orlando.  You know those dancing ghosts are Khachaturian fans!  The three-quarter meter is fun to conduct (which is something I do privately because I am not Leonard Bernstein) and when the secondary theme begins you can sit down and enjoy a vodka cocktail before the waltz resumes.  Right around the three-and-a-half-minute mark, there is the slightest tenuto, which makes you feel almost as though you are at the edge of a waltzy cliff…and then you have the most glorious 40-second fall and the cymbals are your safety net.

So on this Day of Days (National Sibling Day, yippee!) I challenge you, readers and revelers, not to a duel (poor Lermontov!) but to a listen or two or three to this wonderful composition.  I’d love to hear about the imagery it conjures up for you.

Khachaturian conducting publicly, something SibOne is not entitled to do.

Khachaturian conducting publicly, something SibOne is not entitled to do.

Stepping Into Oz

When I think about it, I conclude that I’ve been listening to classical music my whole life.  I have tiny memories of the classical station playing in the car when I was a kid.  I remember my parents’ albums stacked neatly in a cabinet:  Beethoven, Vivaldi, Pavarotti singing Verdi.  My mind further conjures memories of seeing and hearing a small orchestra play Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, complete with narrator.  That was the first time music taught me something, and an oboe is still a duck to me. 😉

So it’s always been with me, even during brief abandonments in high school and college. Somehow my fingers always returned to 96.3 on the radio.  I love classical because it IS like stepping into Oz.  I definitely enjoy my share of current popular music.  But nearly all of that share leaves me underwhelmed and sort of gray.  And then I hear Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” or Eric Whitacre’s spine-tingling “Waternight”.  Color, color, color.  Beethoven is still raging over that lost penny.  Crazy, crazy color.

Welcome to Sibling Revelry, in which my brother and I will be chatting it up about all things classical and taking complete liberty to digress, which is one of our shared talents. We love classical music and we hope you’ll enjoy reading all about it!