A River Franz Through It

Full disclosure: I stole this title from my brother. Good punnery should never go to waste in a Drafts folder, collecting a gentle sifting of e-dust.

I’d like to say that this post was inspired by the lovely river that meanders through my neck of the woods, or inspired by the electric green of spring brought on by lovely soaking rains.  In truth, it was inspired mostly by my washer and dryer and less by rivers and spring and rain.  This proves my point that even if you don’t listen to classical music, it will sneak up on you, and your home appliances are in on the conspiracy.

The first time I heard my washing machine chirp Franz Schubert’s Die Forelle (“The Trout”), I thought I was having some sort of aural hallucination.  Then the dryer did the same thing.  What a refined way to end all of the churning and spinning, instead of a pitch-less and, quite frankly, rude buzzing noise.  Way to go, Samsung! (Can I have my money now?)

It is widely agreed that Die Forelle is Schubert’s most popular art song, and it showcases Schubert’s inimitable gift of turning a simple story into something memorable and extremely pleasing to the ear.  The text was written by poet Christian Friedrich Schubart (yes, that’s an “a”) in 1782, and creates a lovely scene in which a fisherman pursues a rather quick trout, while the poet watches from the riverside.  Employing a strategy beloved by anglers the world over, the fisherman muddies the water, confuses the doomed fish, and catches it. (Schubart does have the good sense to describe the fisherman as being kaltem Blute, cold-blooded.)  Schubert set the poem to a most cheerful piano melody, in which the right hand leaps, trout-like, over sixteenth notes that purposely conjure the image of fish swimming and jumping in the river.

As listeners, we suffer the same fate as that poet standing at the riverside.  We’re drawn in to those alacritous notes and the (for once) cheerful-sounding German text just as he was enjoying a day off from rhyming words by observing an innocent fish bask in its watery paradise.  We’re so drawn in, in fact, that we may not notice when the piano emits some minor arpeggios and the vocal line lowers in register.

Doch endlich ward dem Diebe die Zeit zulang.
Er macht das Bächlein tückish trübe
Und eh ich es gedacht, so zuckte seine Rute,
Das Fischlein, das Fischlein, zappelt dran,
Und ich mit regem Blute Sah die Betrog’ne an.

At last the thief became impatient.
He maliciously made the stream opaque
And I thought, his rod quaked
The fish, the fish was writhing on it,
And I, filled with rage within, looked at the deceived.

We can assume the poet, shoulders slumped, walks back through the woods with his inner rage for company.  Our own inner rage can be directed at Schubert, who lured us in with his vivacious melody and assumption that we could not translate German.  Thus ends the tale of the trout, and the melody has become the Schadenfreude motif of the fisherman instead of the poet.

Here are three noteworthy recordings:

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Chorally Yours: Whitacre’s “Water Night”

Did you ever hear a piece of music that reverberated within every single cell of your body or caused each hair on your head to stand on end?  A piece of music that you craved over and over, and each time you listened to it you heard something new?

Today we’re taking an exuberant dive into the setting of Octavio Paz’s poem Agua nocturna, composed by the much-acclaimed Eric Whitacre as “Water Night”.

But first, a caveat.  My meager vocabulary, choral and otherwise, is not going to do this piece justice.  No amount of witticism or schmancy terms like “pan-diatonic” are going to convey to you, appreciated reader, just how much this music has changed the neurons firing in my brain.  All I can offer is what follows.

“Water Night was just one of those pieces,” Whitacre writes on his website.  After spending the day with his friend and mentor Dr. Bruce Mayhall and being convinced to finish his degree, Whitacre went home and opened his book of Octavio Paz poetry.

I can’t really describe what happened. The music sounded in the air as I read the poem, as if it were a part of the poetry. I just started taking dictation as fast as I could, and the thing was basically finished in about 45 minutes. I have never experienced anything like it, before or since, and with my limited vocabulary I can only describe it as a pure and perfect and simple gift. It has become one of my most popular pieces, and I’ve heard countless people who sing it or hear it describing the same feeling I had when I wrote it down. I remain eternally grateful for this gift.

“Basically finished in about 45 minutes.” Fact:  in college, it took me at least one week to write one mostly lousy 16-measure hymn.  Fact: despite my composing shortcomings, I am able to recognize that the music Whitacre wrote exactly matches Paz’s text.  “Sounded in the air” indeed. It’s stunningly beautiful.

Here is the text in its entirety:

Night with the eyes of a horse that trembles in the night,
night with eyes of water in the field asleep
is in your eyes, a horse that trembles,
is in your eyes of secret water.

Eyes of shadow-water,
eyes of well-water,
eyes of dream-water.

Silence and solitude,
two little animals moon-led,
drink in your eyes,
drink in those waters.

If you open your eyes,
night opens, doors of musk,
the secret kingdom of the water opens
flowing from the center of night.

And if you close your eyes,
a river, a silent and beautiful current,
fills you from within,
flows forward, darkens you,
night brings its wetness to beaches
in your soul.

Octavio Paz, 1914-1998
(Adapted by Eric Whitacre, Translation by Muriel Rukeyser)

Now listen to the Brigham Young University Singers, and read the text as you listen. (I’m not bossy, just excited.)

A few thoughts:  I love those opening measures.  I see them like a piece of obsidian- smooth, glassy, deep black.  The word “shadow” is beautifully jagged. The basses give “dream-water” perfect gravel.

Moving on, the diction on “solitude” is perfect- a gently curved “u” instead of straight and flat.  It’s extremely subtle but has a tremendous effect.  Can you hear and feel the slightest crescendo/decrescendo here? The tempo also picks up slightly, adding to the pulsating sound.

There’s nothing to say next except that you just heard the most brilliant chord ever written.  What better way to express the opening of one’s eyes?

Eyeschord

A beautiful, well-timed decrescendo takes us to “the center of night”.  The last measures, focused on “a river”, again pulsate with those tiny crescendos and decrescendos (“flowing forward” is flawless) and gets gradually quieter until the final word “soul”.  I want to hang onto that one word, that final chord, forever.

For those of you who have a hankering for a serious theory analysis of this piece, this Wikipedia page does a darn good job.  Thanks, Michael Scott, for the recommendation!

As you no doubt can tell, I am quite taken with this piece.  I’m perpetually in awe of the gift composers possess.  Whitacre achieves the remarkable in this stunning musical painting, paying great homage to a much-lauded and Nobel-winning poet, and giving us a timeless gift.

Jan, a Czech

Every weekday morning I wake to the usually mellifluous, occasionally clangorous sounds of WETA 90.9. As this daily routine occurs on Rooster Time, WETA wisely crafts its playlist for the early morning hours – only very occasionally is there something like John Philip Sousa summoning you awake (and possibly inducing violence). Unfortunately, it’s never as nice as the royal awakening Eddie Murphy enjoys at the beginning of Coming to America, which every classical music lover and comfort enthusiast would enjoy. Oh, plus the bath. My god, the bath!

My favorite part of my decidedly less regal routine is when I lay in bed and listen, half-awake, for a while when there is something particularly interesting or new to me on WETA. While my dog re-cuddles under the bed, hoping against hope that it was all just a horrible, horrible mistake and that bipedal idiot isn’t really going to get up when the sun hasn’t even yet elected to do the same! (to her everlasting credit, she gets into our routine fairly quickly). One day this week, the annoyingly-not-on-Twitter David Ginder played a piece for us by Leoš Janáček entitled, “Moravian Dances” and explained that Janáček had made a great study of the folk music of his native lands (he was born 1854 in Moravia, then a crownland of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now part of the Czech Republic) and used it in his compositions. He was a leading expert on this folklore and made the first recordings of Moravian folk music and published his adaptations and transcriptions. Since I am not an expert, I learned today that these are more closely related to Slavic music melodically and structurally; whereas Bohemian music gravitated towards its geographic German neighbors.

Word up, homies.

There was something about the melody in the first Dance that captivated me. Now, this isn’t exactly a stretch. Your correspondent is someone who has listened to hours of Jodeln and Alphörner on YouTube, worn out CDs of traditional Bavarian music, etc. So the affinity for European folk music was already extant (which, as you can imagine, makes me societal anti-catnip – hence I only mention it from the safety of a blog). I mean, my favorite scene in The Sound of Music is when they dance the Ländler! By the way, if you’re looking for otherworldly yodeling (and I have a sneaking suspicion that, clandestinely, you are), look no further than Franzl Lang, the Bavarian Jodler-König (King of the Yodelers). And you thought Brian Wilson’s falsetto was impressive!

You want and need that hat in your life. Just look in the mirror and admit it already. I know I did.

Swerving from the rumble strips back onto the highway, there was something so simple, yet so culturally expressive in the first Moravian melody that Janáček brought to us. I kept humming it throughout my ablutions, listened to it in the car on the way to work, and although the Jodler-König’s highwire act has now replaced it in my head, I listened to it a few times at work as well. I learned from some digging that it is called “Fur coat” (Kožich). Janáček took it down in 1886 from someone named Jan Myška, in Petřvald (eastern Czech Republic, close to the Polish border, as I now know). I like how the tempo slows and the volume diminishes when the melody is played, and how eventually, there is a harp playing triplets underneath it. Sublime stuff. Here are the 5 dances, played (ironically) by the Slovak Philharmonic:

Two related points. One, Janáček is not exactly who springs to mind when thinking of classical composers, awash as we are in the three B’s and Mozart and the other giants of the genre. Sometimes that hierarchy is correct – I’m sure the Beatles were outranked at times on the charts by long-forgotten bands – and sometimes it isn’t. Discovering these “other” composers is a true delight. Without inflated reputation (“I’m supposed to like this, right?”) one feels free to simply explore and enjoy. There are vast worlds outside Vienna and Italy! Janáček’s Wikipedia entry notes that “Through his systematic notation of folk songs as he heard them, Janáček developed an exceptional sensitivity to the melodies and rhythms of speech, from which he compiled a collection of distinctive segments he called ‘speech tunes’. He used these ‘essences’ of spoken language in his vocal and instrumental works. The roots of his style, marked by the lilts of human speech, emerge from the world of folk music.” I mean, I just HAVE to know more about that.

On the other hand, since I don’t value every piece of music that Bach wrote the same, it also throws the truly great works in harsher relief – mere mortals can write beautiful music, like Janáček, but the Chaconne is not of this world.

Second, obviously at one point in time, the music of Europe’s hoi polloi was not exactly celebrated in classical music’s lofty capitals. It is to the great credit of Janáček and others (his compatriot Dvorak springs to mind, even Debussy weaving French children’s songs into some of his compositions) that they recognized the simple beauty in these dances and songs – that, in the final analysis, they were as deserving of a place in the musical firmament as anything else. Spruced up symphonically, of course, for their big début. You comb your hair before you go out, don’t you? Well, you should start.

And, if you follow the chronology closely enough (or, rather, not closely, since now I’m bloviating), that eventually gave us the great gift of the Jodler-König. For which every single person on Earth thanks you, Leoš.

Strike up a tune, Moravian minstrels!

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.

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.

Son of a Mendel!

Although I will assert that no one wears a forehead better than he, Felix Mendelssohn’s music has always left me rather lukewarm.  This predicament became clear a few years ago, when, after singing both parts of his oratorio Elijah, my one conclusion was that within the first syllable of Mendelssohn is “Meh”. (Which, in hindsight, is insane. Three words, soprano-sung: “Hear ye, Israel!”)

“Meh”, indeed.  Until recently, when over the glistening waves of Pandora a familiar theme was heard and I thought “I LOVE this piece!” A quick glance at the screen told me it was none other than the handiwork of Mendelssohn- the Allegro vivace movement of his Symphony No. 4 Op. 90 “Italian”.

In all honesty, how could I hold up the mission we hold so dear here at Sibling Revelry (in case you haven’t memorized it, we strive to make the wide world of classical music approachable and enjoyable for all mankind) while disdaining a composer who is generally quite popular?  It was time that I learned something from my own blog.

Felix spent the better part of 1830-1831 in Italy, indulging his admiration of Italian art and culture and honing his skills as an amateur watercolorist. Unfortunately, his impressions of Italian music were quite opposite. “I have not heard a single note worth remembering”, he lamented in letters to relatives and friends. The knife was further twisted upon discovering that the orchestras of Rome were “unbelievably bad”.  As homage to the country he had come to hold dear- and perhaps to compensate for its one flaw- Mendelssohn began writing his fourth symphony in Italy in 1832 and completed it in Berlin in 1833.  He was never fully satisfied with it, however (even refusing to have it performed in Germany) and gave it at least two revisions: one in 1837, and again in 1847, shortly before his death at the tender age of 38.  It was finally published four years later by one of Mendelssohn’s teachers, Czech pianist Ignaz Moscheles.

The Allegro vivace is just that: fast and lively.  Some musicologists say it was inspired by Felix’s time in Venice.  Metered in 6/8, it is bright, flowing and nicely textured.  I particularly like the little “chat” between the strings’ line and that of the woodwinds’/brass.  You may very well recognize the opening theme, as I did on that day when the “Meh” was taken out of “Mendelssohn”!

I’ve chosen three performances to contemplate.  The first is the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein and his usual exuberance.  The second performance is the Orchestra of Aix, chosen because of the glaring difference in tempo. The third is a live performance by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, conducted by Paavo Järvi.  I hope you’ll enjoy this musical painting very much!

“This is Italy! And now has begun what I have always thought… to be the supreme joy in life. And I am loving it. Today was so rich that now, in the evening, I must collect myself a little, and so I am writing to you to thank you, dear parents, for having given me all this happiness.”  ~Felix Mendelssohn in a letter from Venice to his father Abraham, October 10th 1830

Mendelssohn Sym 4 Allegro vivace Mendelssohn

Score-ally Yours, Part III: Atonement

Upon going over my list of favorite film scores, I quickly discovered that you really cannot write cogently about the music belonging to a film that you’ve never seen.  I can’t, anyway, so I trimmed my list and will reveal the discarded titles at the end of this little series.  As Barney Stinson would say, “Wait for it…”.

In the meantime, however, I’m happily writing about award-winning composer Dario Marianelli and his clever, artful and compelling score to the film Atonement.  Set in WWII-era England, the film stars James McAvoy (sigh) and Keira Knightley as ill-fated lovers Robbie and Cecilia.  As a card-carrying member of The Book Was Better Society, I will say that I found the movie quite depressing and enjoyed Ian McEwan’s novel more only because you simply cannot replicate the intricacy of an author’s artistic hand and mind in a movie.  Nonetheless, the score made a lasting impression.

I’ve picked the movement “Briony” to focus on because it showcases Marianelli’s inventiveness at weaving together note and plot.  The opening measures don’t feature instruments at all- you hear the delicate, earnest clink of typewriter keys, which then meander their way through the rest of the few minutes in a percussive form before neatly polishing off the piece with a swipe and a tearing off of paper.

I was so struck by this because The Typewriter is an integral character in the movie. Robbie’s fervent lines to Cecilia, dashed off with impassioned anticipation and never meant for the eyes of conniving younger sister Briony, caused the cascading string of events that forever changed both their lives.  I love how Marianelli decided to use typewriter keys as an instrument and giving them a very unique spotlight.  The entire piece is very hurried and staccato, portraying just the right sense of urgency.  It’s delightful and a bit mysterious.  Enjoy!

Score-ally Yours, Part II: Dances With Wolves

Having spent a little bit of time on horseback in the Absaroka Mountains/Shoshone National Park part of Wyoming, I tell you with unbridled (pun intended) passion that there is NOTHING like being under an endless sky, in velvet quiet, surrounded by nature. Nothing.  If everyone could experience that, Big Pharma would be out of business.  It was a life-changing experience for me, and one that my husband and I still talk about with regularity some five years later.

That said, when I’m in such places I often wish that the appropriate film score was pouring forth from an invisible orchestra, just to engrave the memory upon my brain a little more deeply.  Today’s selection is in honor of America’s wilderness and our Reveling cousin David, because this is his favorite movie of all time.  I should also note that my Sibling and I believe heartily in the conservation of wolves and Native American culture and history.

English composer John Barry wrote the compelling score for Dances With Wolves and won a well-deserved Academy Award for his work.  Like my beloved Ralph Vaughan Williams, Barry was noted for his liberal use of lush strings.  I like that he would watch films before composing a score, therefore really allowing the music to be molded to and woven into the storyline.

“The John Dunbar Theme” perfectly captures the exhilarating feeling of being out on the American plains.  It’s romantic and contemplative, stirring up the spicy scent of sagebrush and the feeling of the wind at your back. I hope you will enjoy listening to it as much as I do.

On Needing A Classical Woot Beer

OK, that joke may be a little inside even for us. The Sibs both babysat a pair of brothers in years gone by, the younger of whom had an adorable speech impediment even at age 5 or 6 or so, such that his r’s became w’s (it’s called a “rhotacism,” and with its long ‘o’ is not to be confused with “eroticism.” Check that, those two probably do meet up somewhere, but I won’t be the one to find out where.). Anyway, this little creature sauntered up to the counter at a swim club one fine summer morning and announced, “I NEEEEED a woot be-aw!” It was quite hilarious, and at least one of us never forgot it. Poor kid, having been exposed to the double barrels of these Sibilant Siblings, he’s probably carjacking someone right now.

Well, in adulthood (defined by Will Truman as, “I wear suits and stuff”) we can still have desperate need of a woot beer, and many other things besides. One of those, of course, is a particular piece of music, or passage within a piece of music, or a few notes within a passage of a piece of music (yes, that’s right). Today, for me, with grey skies blanketing the city and a steady drizzle on (vastly preferable to hazy humidity), I suddenly had a burning need to hear Sergei Rachmaninov’s prelude in G minor.

It is a rousing, stirring, yet supple piece of music. Here is the one and only Vladimir Horowitz playing it with verve and precision; the former is especially wonderful, as he seems to nearly break the piano! I also like Horowitz’s deliberate tempo; I have a recording of Ashkenazy playing it, which I love, but he blazes right through it. Horowitz builds the power of the piece with his pregnant pauses. As did the Pied Piper. Try listening to this and not wanting to march with some colorful, highly festooned European military unit before World War I!

The prelude is numbered 5, out of 10 in Opus 23, though it was written first. Ashkenazy’s take: “an unmistakable Russian intensity, strong lyrical melodies, and changes of character that range from sublime sweetness to passionate virtuosity.” That about encompasses it, Volodya.

And what of the man who wrote it? Schonberg’s treatment of Rachmaninov is fascinating. Among the more memorable (pun) tidbits:

His memory was not only all-encompassing; it was actually frightening. He could hear a piece of music–a symphony, say–and play it back not only the next day but the next year or the decade after that. He had the kind of musical mind that automatically absorbs sound-impressions or sight-impressions. From ear and eye to brain and fingers was an instantaneous process.

The rest of the chapter, dealing with why Rachmaninov is unfairly maligned by critics and historians, is a worthy read. I agree with his statement that Russian nationalism is present in Rachmaninov’s music. From the first listen on, I seem to hear some sort of thundering pan-Slavic melody in this prelude. Wikipedia backs me up–apparently Soviet troops were treated to a rendition by Emil Gilels during World War II, to remind them what they were fighting for (memory skills! no?). Ashkenazy also clearly agrees.

Rightly or no, sometimes it is a woot beer-level listening need.

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!