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Category: Richard Wagner

String Quartet in B flat, Opus 55, no 3 – Haydn

queen-marie-antoinette-of-france-1783.jpg!Large

                      “Queen Marie Antoinette of France (1783) 

                                Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

                                              ___________________

first of all, let me grievously repent an
egregious confusion I probably left
in my last diatribe, I said that the second
movement of the Opus 54, no 2 sounded 
to me like a minuet, I had, through 
embarrassing inattention, confused its,
however unmemorable, adagio with that
of this Opus 55, no 3, which I’d listened 
to in too quick succession, driven as I 
am by my thirst for epiphanies

the Opus 54, no 2 will do, but I’m not 
going back for seconds, nor to the 
Opus 55, no 3, though here’s where  
I flaunt nevertheless Haydn, not to 
mention Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, 
all the way to eventually Bruckner, 
Brahms, the extraordinary Richard
Wagner, passing through Schubert,
Mendelssohn, the Strausses, father
and son, and the unrelated Strauss,
Richard, another incontrovertible 
giant, and I nearly left out the 
unforgettable Liszt, all of them 
forefathers of our present music

you might have noticed that these 
are all Germanic names, obedient 
to the Hapsburg empire, with 
Vienna as its supreme cultural 
capital, and it was that 
Austro-Hungarian dynasty that
indeed nearly single-handedly 
secured our Western musical 
traditions

a few Italians are remembered,
from the 18th Century, Scarlatti 
maybe, Boccherini, Albinoni
but not many more 

no one from France, but they were 
about to have a revolution, not a 
good time for creative types,
though, incidentally, Haydn was 
getting Tost, to whom he was 
dedicating his string quartets for 
services rendered, to sell his stuff 
in very Paris 

then again, Marie Antoinette, I thought, 
was Austrian, an even archduchess, 
and would’ve loved some down-home 
music at nearby Versailles

so there you are, there would’ve been 
market

the English had Handel, of course,
who was, albeit, German, getting 
work where he could when you 
consider his competition, he was 
too solemn and plodding by half,
to my mind, for the more 
effervescent, admittedly Italianate, 
continentals, Italy having led the 
way earlier with especially its 
filigreed and unfettered operas

but here’s Haydn’s Opus 55, no 3
nevertheless, the best Europe had
to offer, socking it to them

Haydn’s having a hard time, I think, 
moving from music for at court to
recital hall music, music for a much
less genteel clientele, however 
socially aspiring, we still hear 
minuets, and obeisances all over 
the place, despite a desire to 
nevertheless dazzle, impress

then again, I’m not the final word, as
my mea culpa above might express, 
you’ll find what eventually turns 
your own crank, floats your own 
boat, as you listen

which, finally, is my greatest wish


R ! chard

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Symphony no 13 in B-flat minor, opus 113, “Babi Yar” – Dmitri Shostakovich

Babi_Jar_ravijn

             the ravine at Baby Yar 

                     ___________

Shostakovich’s Symphony no 13
“Babi Yar”, to me is not a symphony, 
it’s a cantata, a text with accompanying 
orchestra, which is what we have here

does it matter, perhaps not that much, 
but it’s like going to a restaurant where 
you’re looking to enjoy what they’ve 
posted on their website but when you 
get there they tell you they’re out, you 
can only have what they’re serving 

unless it’s sensational, you’re put out 

Shostakovich’s Symphony no 13
“Babi Yar”, is not sensational, not only 
too mired in local history, no matter
how horrid, how very horrid, but too, 
musically, not inspired 

note that with voice to concentrate the
composition, the orchestra becomes
just backdrop, no more of 
Shostakovich’s signature obbligatos, 
that gave distinction and significance 
to individual orchestral players’ lone,
often poignant, complaints

the choice of a bass to anchor the 
enterprise is especially, I think,
unfortunate, like putting all your eggs 
in one basket, that basket lugubrious
and forbidding – I thought of Taras 
Bulba, or Alberich, the gnome in
Wagner’s “Ring”, singing – the jokes in 
the second movement, “Humour”,  
go flat, people wouldn’t laugh, but 
tremble rather before the domineering 
patriarch, oligarch, the composition
needs the grace, the lightness, the 
breath, of a female figure, voice


Bach is famous for cantatas, but what
came up for me was Carl Orff‘s 
incomparable Carmina Burana“,
written in, coincidentally, 1937, from 
medieval texts the composer had 
found, in Latin, describing, in lurid 
lyrics, the spirit of cloistered monks
during the Medieval Era 

you’ll enjoy the translation of the 
Latin into English here, something I 
hadn’t experienced before, giving 
a whole new meaning to the word
“monastery”


R ! chard

Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony no. 2 in B major, opus 14 – “to October”

carpenter-1929.jpg!Large

    “Carpenter (1929) – note the industrialization 
                                       of the subject, however 
                                       Cubist, for better or for 
                                       worse

      Kazimir Malevich

             _________

Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 2 doesn’t 
sound like a symphony – one movement
only, a chorus – but was never meant to, 
it had been conceived as a piece in 
commemoration of the October 
Revolution, a significant event in the 
Communist cosmology, and
commissioned by that very polity, 
hence the name, to October

but later, the symphonic poem was 
included chronologically, thus no 2,  
in the Shostakovichian oeuvre – if 
you’ll excuse that pedantry, “oeuvre” 
being too sweet a word for me not to 
resist its austere territoriality – the 
Symphony no 2 in B major being 
first performed in 1927 

it starts a shade above inaudibly, which 
I often find irritating – unless, of course, 
it’s Wagner, or Richard Strauss, who 
knew what they were doing – suggesting 
something significant is rumbling, 
brewing on the musical horizon, after 
which we enter in a lively fashion upon 
a dance, full of folkloric flavour

but the harmonies are atonal, discordant, 
a society, however traditional, is in disorder, 
tonality, one of the stalwarts of Classicism, 
along with tempo and repetition, has been 
upended, distorted, the commune, the 
community, can, no longer unburdened, 
with only discordant harmonies, dance, 
though you can feel them trying

Ravel does something similar in his 
La valse“, where, with a distortion  
of tempo, the world is spinning  

with only a change in volume, intensity,
in Shostakovichthe music becomes 
martial, autocratic, peremptory, nearly 
even frightening

I found at this point that the subtlety of 
the move from the conviviality of dance  
to the aggression delivered by a more 
forceful music, marches and so forth,
lay in a mere alteration of the musical 
pulse, from seduction to, indeed, rape, 
in a simple change of rhythm – thus is it 
written in our very sensibilities 

a violin obbligato then intervenes, 
strangely, but welcome, in a piece of
brash, by this point, agitprop, but 
soon becomes as vociferous as 
earlier the crowd who wanted to, 
however awkwardly, dance

the obbligato, incidentally, instead of
an out and out solo part, as also with 
the piano in Shostakovich’s First 
Symphony, suggests the work of a
a community, a Soviet ideal, rather 
than that of an individual asserting 
hir particular predominance, if you  
listen between the lines

a particularly impressive chorus 
eventually delivers a tribute, a  
hagiographic poem, to Lenin, which 
Shostakovich abjured, but delivered 
nevertheless for the money, and for 
the influence, reportedly, however 
ignominiously, for he was young, 
not fully formed, innocent yet  

it resembles, of course, a cantata, a
religious chant – see Bach, one of the 
evident muses of Shostakovich – but 
which addresses here a political 
system, a cute trick of contemporary 
secular regimes, the several –isms 
within our post-religious ideological
societies 

watch for it

note the spoken, or rather, prosaically 
proclaimed last verses of the oration,
hortatory, don’t you think, or what

R ! chard

psst: incidentally, few composers are as 
          political, though few have been 
          under such ideological pressure,
          as Shostakovich

“Lohengrin”, Act 1‏

"Lohengrin" - Ernst Fuchs

Lohengrin (1977)

Ernst Fuchs

_______

this morning, requiring especially strong
medicine to get me through my day, I put
on Lohengrin, Wagner’s masterpiece,
directed by the thorny and unpredictable
Werner Herzog, from Bayreuth, the high
temple of that music, its very Acropolis,
1990, to lighten my load, to give me
mythic, maybe even Sisyphean,
perseverance, it didn’t disappoint

Elsa of Brabant is accused by Friedrich
of Telramund of having killed her brother,
who stood before both of them in line to
the throne, Ortrud, Friedrich’s wife, stands
silent throughout the first act looking
positively Machiavellian, Lady,
incontrovertibly, Macbeth

Elsa, summoned to plead her corner, tells
of a shining knight who appears to her in
her dreams, calls upon him to defend her
honour, he shows up at the very last
moment, on no less than a swan

he’ll only fight for her, he says, after she’s
offered him her anticipated kingdom, her
throne, her very honour and chastity, to
do with what he will, should he win for
her her cause, if she’ll pledge to never
ever ask about his origins, despite his
extraordinary entrance

she accedes, of course, though no other
knight, critically, has shown up to redeem
her

the shining knight conquers, of course,
but Ortrud, during the celebrations,
lurking ominously nearby, doesn’t give
the impression that anyone’s going to
live happily ever after, so long as
she can help it

it was the end of Act 1, I got up, made
a sandwich, I’d watch the following act
tomorrow, and so on, until the distant
end of that four-hour saga, to which
the epithet “Wagnerian”, for “epic”,
also, manifestly, belongs

wistfully I wondered about my own
knights in shining armour, who might
be my own guardian angels, entering
on fabled, maybe, even, swans,
concluded one of them had just been
Wagner, who’d turned, from heavy to
at the very least wistful, my day
around

wishing you Wagners

Richard