News includes Occupy Updates Daily; Fracking Threatens Farm and Food Safety; Massey Exec Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy; Obama Administration Sells More Drilling Plots in Gulf; Tobacco Companies Ordered to Admit Deception; Sea Levels Rising 60 Percent Faster Than Expected. Happenings include International Coffee Hour; Best of Rice and Spice; Open Mic at Gaia House; Winter Farmers’ Market; Vigil for Peace; Lights Fantastic Parade; Southern Illinois Gift Fair.
We start tonight’s show with Claude Debussy‘s Pelléas et Mélisande. Debussy began Pelléas et Mélisande in 1893, although he had wanted to write an opera for at least a decade prior. He wanted to do something completed different from what was then available – he had his own vision of “musical theater”. He was also tiring of the Wagnerian influence, and wanted to go in a different direction than that. With this opera, he succeeded.
Tonight’s recording is a 2000 recording that features Anne Sophie von Otter, Wolfgang Holzmair, Laurent Laouri, with Orchestre National De France and the Choeur de Radio De France, under the baton of Bernard Haitink.
For more info on the opera, check out my previous blog on the piece. (This way, I don’t have to be repetitive, since I wrote quite a bit that day).
For our next opera, we are going to hear a fairly recent recording of a great work by Giacomo Puccini, La Bohème. Puccini used a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa which was in turn based on a set of stories by Henri Murger. It was premiered in 1896, and is ranked as the fourth most frequently performed opera in the repertoire, with numerous great recordings available. Tonight’s recording is from 2008, and features the great combo of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, with Bertrand De Billy conducting the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus.
Our final piece of music is a four scene “drama with music” by Arnold Schoenberg. Die glückliche Hand (The Hand of Fate) was written by Schoenberg between 1910 and 1913, and was premiered in Vienna on October 24, 1924. Schoenberg was influenced in his writing by events that had occurred over the previous few years, and the underlying theme of the work is that man continues to repeatedly make the same mistakes.
The work is scored for one singing role, a baritone, along with two mimed characters and a six person chorus. Tonight’s recording is from 1981, and features Siegmund Nimsgern, with Pierre Boulez directing the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
We started tonight’s show with some Lefty Frizzell. There is a great deal of pleasure that comes with Lefty’s song-craft. His songs are the sort that are hard to forget, especially when combined with his manner of singing. When he broke onto the country music scene in the early ’50s, he at one point had four singles at the top of the charts, a feat which would not be equalled until the Beatles came along. Not only was his songwriting influential, but his singing style was as well, with John Anderson, Keith Whitley and Randy Travis credited as being among his direct heirs. So we heard a few of those classics: I Love You a Thousand Ways, The Long Black Veil (Lefty was the first to record it, and his recording was a big hit), Don’t Think It Aint Been Fun, Dear (Cuz It Ain’t), Look What Thoughts Will Do, and Give Me More, More, More (of Your Kisses).
We had an interesting anniversary this past week. The Beatles released the White Album on 11/22/1968 – 44 years ago this past week. The White Album marked a bit of transition for the Beatles, both in terms of songcraft (by this time they were writing completely independently of each other) and in terms of recording technology. In fact, I find one of the more interesting aspects of this album to be the clarity of the recording, as this marked the first time they were able to use 8 track recording board, which was quite revolutionary for a rock band of the era. Happily, these recording innovations come through with crystal clarity in the recent remastered version, and the result is a joy to listen to. So I thought I’d play a few cuts off of that masterwork: Back in the U.S.S.R, Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Yer Blues, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness is a Warm Gun, Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, Blackbird, Savoy Truffle, Cry Baby Cry, and Revolution 9.
Robert Schumann‘ doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for his overall contribution to music. He did not achieve widespread fame in his day, although he was a noted music critic in addition to being a great composer. But while he might not have the fame enjoyed by Beethoven and Brahms, he is nevertheless ranked among the most influential composers of the early Romantic Era. Evidence of his compositional skill can be found in his chamber works, such as the Piano Trio in A Minor, nicknamed “Fantasiestücke,” The Fantasiestücke is a set of four movements that he wrote in 1842, a year that he largely devoted to writing chamber music. The music is fairly loosely related thematically, which probably is due to Schumann’s experimentation with musical form, and his drifting away from the sonata format. 1842 was a busy year for Schumann, which some historians believe might have had a long-term effect on Schumann’s mental state, resulting in his 1844 nervous breakdown. Tonight’s recording is a 1996 recording by the Vienna Brahms Trio.
I derive a great deal of pleasure from playing the music of Thelonious Monk. He was one of those musicians who wore his personality on his compositional sleeve. You can immediately tell, from the first ringing notes of whatever song you’re hearing at the moment, that you are listening to Thelonious Monk – there is no mistaking his music for that of anyone else. This is especially true when he is performing his own music (as opposed to the covers of Monk’s compositions as done by notables such as Miles Davis). His piano style simply cannot be imitated – each note has a purpose, an individual statement to be made. He was not what we would call “avant garde”, yet his quirky writing style informs what we would hear from John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in the years to come. I also find it notable that he provided valuable experience to several young musicians who would go on to do great things, including Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Milt Jackson. We heard several songs from Monk: Bemsha Swing (from a live appearance in Tokyo in ’63), Misterioso (featuring vibes from the great Milt Jackson), Well You Needn’t (another live performance from a ’64 LA club date), and Ruby, My Dear.
We closed out the show with a few cuts from The Cure: Charlotte Sometimes (a single they put out in ’81, which has recently been reissued as part of the Faith remaster), Torture (from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me), and A Forest (from Seventeen Seconds).
News includes Israel and Gaza Cease-Fire Agreement; Firefighters in NYC Cited for Feeding the Hungry; Walmart Workers Celebrate Black Friday with Strikes and Protests; Teenage Girl Invents Solar Water Purification Jug; Keystone XL Pipeline Being Built; Small Business Saturday; Walmart Claims to Be Sustainable; Reverend Billy Sings about Sandy and Shopping; People Under 27 Have Never Felt Colder-Than-Average Month; Biblio-Mat Vends Antiquarian Books. Happenings include Thanksgiving at Rice and Spice; Vegetarian Thanksgiving at Gaia House; Alternative Gift Fair.
We started tonight’s show a little differently. From time to time, I will end the show with a shorter piece of music, often a set of lieder. Tonight, I will start the show with a shorter piece of music, a piece with significant meaning for the composer. Richard Strauss wrote his Vier Letzte Lieder (trans: Four Last Songs) in 1948, in the last year of his life. He was inspired by the poem Im Abendrot by Joseph von Eichendorff, and as a result of this inspiration set three additional poems by Hermann Hesse, Frühling, September, and Beim Schlafengehen, thus making the four songs that he set for soprano with orchestra. Tonight’s recording is a 1982 recording with Lucia Popp singing, and Klaus Tennstedt leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Our next piece is the first opera I ever attended personally. Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata was based on La dame aux Camélias, an 1852 stage play that was adapted from a novel by the same name by Alexandre Dumas. It was premiered on March 6, 1853 in Venice, with audience members jeering the casting of Fanny Salvini-Donatelli in the lead role of Violetta, as they thought that she was too old (38) and overweight to play the role of a young woman dying from consumption. The first performance met with mixed reactions, but after some revisions made in 1853 and 1854, the opera was re-presented with more success, largely due this time to the casting of Maria Spezia-Aldighieri. It eventually became immensely popular, and currently ranks second most often presented opera worldwide, only behind Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
Our next opera was Benjamin Britten‘s Peter Grimes. Britten was inspired to write the opera by a poem by George Crabbe, and requested that Montagu Slater write the libretto. The music was written between 1942 and 1945, and the opera was premiered on 7 June 1945. The work was his greatest success to that point in his career, and was the first of a number of English language operas that Britten would write, all written to be a feature for Britten’s partner Peter Pears.
Tonight’s performance is from 2004, and features Glenn Winslade as Peter Grimes, Janice Watson as Ellen Orford, Anthony Michaels Moore as Balstrode, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Mrs. Sedley, Jill Grove as Auntie, Ryland Davies as Rev. Adams, and Nathan Gunn as Ned Keene. Colin Davis leads the London Symphony Orchestra.
We started tonight’s set with a couple of pieces from Aaron Copland. His Fanfare for the Common Man was written for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1942, one of a number of such fanfares written for the Cincinnati Symphony as part of a series; Copland’s Fanfare is the only one of these works still in the repertoire. The fanfare was inspired by a 1942 speech by then-Vice President Henry Wallace, where he proclaimed the “dawning of the Century of the Common Man”. The fanfare was well-received, and Copland eventually made it part of his Third Symphony. Tonight’s recording was from the Detroit Symphony, and was directed by Antal Dorati
We then heard a recording, also from the Detroit Symphony under Dorati, of Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite. Copland wrote Appalachian Spring as a ballet in 1944, commissioned by the legendary choreographer Martha Graham. It premiered in October of that year, with Graham dancing the lead role. It won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945, and that same year Copland edited the work into an orchestral suite that preserved most of the music. That suite is the most commonly heard form of the piece, although the full ballet remains in the ballet repertoire. Among the many notable renditions of the piece that can be found is a 1959 televised rendition of the full ballet that features Martha Graham. (Note: it is broken up into four portions; I have linked all four portions below.)
After the Copland, we heard an extended set from Jimi Hendrx, whom would have turned 70 on November 27th. A good retrospective of Hendrix’s true legacy would ideally include both studio and live recordings, given the amount of effort and passion that he put into both (he was an innovator in the studio, yet his stage performances are the stuff of legend). So we started with some studio recordings, then went live:
- Are You Experienced
- Voodoo Chile
- From Band of Gypsies (the “Live at the Fillmore East” reissue)
- Hear My Train A Comin’
- Machine Gun
- Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
- From the Winterland box set reissue
- Tax Free
- Lover Man
News includes Occupy Updates Daily; Obama Places Low Priority on Climate Change; 77 Percent of Americans Think Fighting Climate Change Should Be a Priority; U.S. Solar Industry is a Job Creator; Chicago’s Urban Farm District Could Be Biggest in Nation; BP Agrees to Settlement. Happenings include Native American Feast at Rice and Spice; Open Mic at Gaia House; International Coffee Hour; Farmer’s Market; Winter Farmer’s Market; Vigil for Peace; Cleanup Day in Murphysboro.