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“La traviata” – Guiseppe Verdi

La_Dame_aux_camélias_d'après_Charles_Chaplin

             La Dame aux camélias

       Charles Chaplin (1825 – 1891)

                       _________

this version of La traviata has no
subtitles, but it should be remembered
that only a few years ago none of them
had, 
not even in opera houses

I learned to love La traviata on CD,
couldn’t 
either see the performance
then, 
now the internet supplies us,
gratis, with complete operas, from
very 
Gluck‘s to very Philip Glass
with the text 
translated throughout


a synopsis 

Violetta is a courtesan, a traviata, a
f
allen woman, who’s fallen all the way
to the top of Parisian 
society, she has
just recovered from malaise and is 
hosting a celebration, her salon 
entertains many who’ve been 
instrumental in securing her not 
unsullied reputation, it is the world 
of Marcel Proust

a new suitor arrives, Alfredo Germont, 
who pledges his love undying, she is 
eventually seduced, by his, no doubt,
impressive arias, croce e delizia, he
sings, she counters, agony and 
ecstasy, indeed

the ups and downs of love ensue,
Germont’s father objects to the match,
claiming Alfredo’s sister’s chances
at marriage would falter should her 
name, their name, be defiled, he 
convinces Violetta to leave Alfredo
for the sake of his family, whereupon 
everyone feels betrayed

Alfredo, Alfredo, she cries, di questo 
core non puoi comprendere tutto 
l’amore, Alfredo, Alfredo, you cannot 
understand fully the love I have in 
my heart, she moans, begrudges
 
but love conquers all in the end, 
though not life, as it turns out, Violetta 
succumbs to her malaise, which had 
all along been consumption, 
tuberculosis nowadays

you’ll see Spanish dancers, gypsies,
they are part of Violetta’s entertainment,
have nothing to do with the story,
otherwise the music itself tells all

the camellia, note, which you’ll see 
highlighted here and there, is a 
reference to Violetta’s inspiration,  
the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, 
or junior,  his La Dame aux camélias“, 
which the same author shortly 
thereafter made into an equally 
successful play, Camille” in English, 
the lady of the camellias, incidentally, 

Renée Fleming has taken over the role,
from Maria Callas in the Fifties, then 
from Joan Sutherland in the Eighties, 
she is the traviata for this generation

she is perfect, her arpeggios will 
shoot up your spine 

listen


Richard

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Concierto de Aranjuez – Joaquín Rodrigo (Cañizares)‏

el-jaleo-1882.jpg!Large

                                                  El Jaleo (1882) 

                                             John Singer Sargent

                                                   __________

 

not much is heard from Spain during
Western music’s Golden Ages, Baroque,
Classical, Romantic, Impressionist,
now even Pop’s, Rock’s, Punk’s, 
Rap’s,
Post-, in all their incarnations, Modern’s 

nor of Art, for that matter, where most 
of its bright lights seem to have fled 
to Paris for its freedom and inspiration
 
and where other nationalities, rather, 
sang or painted their praises more 
successfully – think of “Carmen”, for 
instance, of France’s Georges Bizet,
or, of course, Picasso
 
 
but listen to this wonderful concerto
Aranjuezwhich nearly single-handedly
should allow compatriots to claim their 
place among the very cherished elite
 
like Grieg did for Finland, for Poland, 
Chopin, for instance, who also, 
incidentally, found his fame in Paris, 
perhaps because France had only 
recently then become republic, if 
you’ll remember, maybe
 
 
the Concierto de Aranjuez is for guitar
and orchestra, an unlikely, though not
at all unwelcome, prime position among
a swell of other musicians, especially 
after listening to bassoons, for example,
take in front of them centre stage 
 
Cañizares, a flamenco guitarist of 
extraordinary gifts, deft fingers flying,  
fashioning frets into filigree, latticework,  
lacework, of irresistible artistry, does the   
coveted honours, along with an impeccable 
Simon Rattle wielding brilliant baton, 
while the Berliner Philharmonikerhowever 
improbably, make up the rest of this dream 
combination
 
this is one you won’t want to miss, I utterly,
and unreservedly, promise
 
enjoy it
 
 
Richard
 
psst: remarkably, Rodrigo, blind from the 
         age of three, having lost his sight to 
         diphtheria, wrote all of his music in 
         Braille, for it to be transcribed later
 
          to the question, how would you like 
          to die – he lived to be ninety-seven –  
          he answered, I think, cleverly, and 
          delightfully enigmatically, under no 
          circumstances

 

“Syrinx” – Claude Debussy‏

big

         Syrinx (1892)
 
          Arthur Hacker
 
            __________
 
 
though Debussy would’ve called his
Syrinx “Flûte de Pan”, “Pan Flute”,
alas, the name had already been 
taken, he therefore came up with the 
much more inspired Syrinx
 
Syrinx, with the help of other nymphs, 
who’d come at her cry for help as she 
fled the god Pan, a pursuer, had been 
turned into a bush of reeds, its canes 
producing a song so sweet as to 
confound and disarm him, impelling
him to create of them that sublime 
instrument  
 
Hermes had been telling Argus, Argus 
Panoptes, the giant with the hundred 
eyes, the story about the pipes he  
was playing, an implement received 
from Jove, apparently, god of all the 
gods, who wanted him to kill Argus, 
for confining Io, who’d been turned 
into a heifer by Juno, Jove’s wife, 
who’d caught him chasing her, Io’s 
plaintive lows had been getting to 
Juno as Io fretted unfettered through 
the fields too close to Olympus 
 
when Hermes’ music finally closed the
giant’s last two eyes, he beheaded him,
but Juno, in merciful recognition of his
service, however ultimately ineffectual, 
set them into the variegated tail of the 
peacock
 
are you kidding me, I always think when
I read Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, and am
ever nevertheless entirely enchanted
 
a flute solo had not been composed in
over 150 years when Debussy composed
his Syrinx“, 1913, after C.P.E. Bach’s not  
at all unimpressive Sonata in A Minor 
of 1747, it duly set off a new life for the 
long overlooked flute, a reed which 
Mozart famously didn’t like
 
note the tonal, rhythmic, and repetition 
shifts from the rigid Classical model, 
where these are much more strict, 
Impressionism was not only breaking 
down pictures, the pictorial arts, but its
sound world as well, it was an utterly
new era, new sensibility, new zeitgeist, 
and you can feel it, though you might
not be quite able to immediately 
verbalize it, the arts were again, as
they ever ‘ve been, the canary in the 
gold mine
 
 
Richard
 
psst:
 
   The Transformation of Syrinx into Reeds 
 
Then Hermes thus: A nymph of late there was 
Whose heav’nly form her fellows did surpass. 
The pride and joy of fair Arcadia’s plains, 
Belov’d by deities, ador’d by swains: 
Syrinx her name, by Sylvans oft pursu’d, 
As oft she did the lustful Gods delude: 
The rural, and the woodland Pow’rs disdain’d; 
With Cynthia hunted, and her rites maintain’d: 
Like Phoebe clad, even Phoebe’s self she seems, 
So tall, so streight, such well-proportion’d limbs: 
The nicest eye did no distinction know, 
But that the goddess bore a golden bow: 
Distinguish’d thus, the sight she cheated too. 
Descending from Lycaeus, Pan admires 
The matchless nymph, and burns with new desires. 
A crown of pine upon his head he wore; 
And thus began her pity to implore. 
 
Now while the lustful God, with speedy pace, 
Just thought to strain her in a strict embrace, 
He fill’d his arms with reeds, new rising on the place. 
And while he sighs, his ill success to find, 
The tender canes were shaken by the wind; 
And breath’d a mournful air, unheard before; 
That much surprizing Pan, yet pleas’d him more. 
Admiring this new musick, Thou, he said, 
Who canst not be the partner of my bed, 
At least shall be the confort of my mind: 
And often, often to my lips be joyn’d. 
He form’d the reeds, proportion’d as they are, 
Unequal in their length, and wax’d with care, 
They still retain the name of his ungrateful fair.
 
                                                  Homer

Mary MacMullen – a trooper‏

Mary MacMullen

Mary writes

“Hello friends,

I’m backpacking around Bali for a month on my own and am blogging about it. I didn’t think I would be back in Asia just 2 months after returning from Cambodia but here I am!

If you are interested in reading about my trip, which is being posted in The Province Newspaper online, here it is;

http://blogs.theprovince.com/author/travellingmom1951/

Cheers!
Mary

Sent from my iPad”

Mary and I met about 40 years ago, when
Mary, Gary and I happened upon each
other, each on our own individual
missions, of exploring the German city
of Mainz, a length of it along the Rhine,
up front from the riverside hotel where
our crews stayed, we hadn’t known
each other before then

the sun was out, we were young, others
with us preferred to go have breakfast,
we opted for a cruise up the river

we got to Rüdesheim and Bingen, one
across the water from the other, we had
dinner in one, celebrated Oktoberfest
in the other, sitting across from three
older ladies who couldn’t speak a word
of English so we had to make do with
my meagre then German and singing
along with the other beer drinkers in
the full and boisterous hall

what an event

the ladies ended up walking us to our
last train home, all of us soulfully
singing “Happy Birthday to You”,
cause that’s all the ladies knew how
to sing in English

later we partied in the lounge on the top
floor of our hotel, the three of us dancing
up a storm on an otherwise quiet evening,
keeping the band alive, we were intrepid
and joyous, playing duly in the fields of
a not unapproving Lord

the next day our flight was delayed,
three hours, surely only through the
intercession of that same benevolent
heaven

Mary has done, and is now continuing,
an exploration of Southeast Asia,
remarkably, on her own, first Cambodia,
now Bali, read all about it in her blog,
it’s riveting, you’ll want to be also 63,
already or all over again

her blog is wonderful for even just its
pictures, bright, sun-filled, glorious, but
she writes also like a trooper, you’ll be
completely enthralled, inspired

bookmark her site, she’s got a lot more
coming, to be dooby sure

Richard

on odes

                          "The Daphnephoria" - Frederic Leighton

The Daphnephoria (c. 1875)

Frederic Leighton

________________

odes, with their suggestion of music
– despite a history of merely words
spoken in the intervening interim,
counting on meaning and rhythm
without music’s attendant tonality –
go back to the Greeks, the Seventh
Century, BCE, Sappho, for instance,
one of history’s most honoured
women poets, surely quite an
achievement for her in an age of
predominant, indeed
disenfranchising, masculinity

the ode was meant to accompany
tributes to people, events, things,
thereby acquiring an element of
acclamation and praise within its
dimensions, Pindar, ca 552 – 442
BCE, wrote odes for heroes of the
original Greek Olympics, for
instance

by the time of Horace, 65 – 8 BCE,
odes had become stylized,
independent of music, here’s one,
not inappropriately in this season’s
vernal context, to spring

odes remained spoken throughout
their resurrection in the wake of the
rediscovery of the Ancient World
during the Renaissance, onwards
through some famous Romantic
ones, Shelley, for instance, Keats,
up to even this one, by Stanislaw
Barańczak
, which I found in the
New Yorker
, April 20th, a gem, I
think, and in the very spirit of our
Age of Irony

Plywood

O plywood, second best to the real stuff,
believe me, one day I will say “Enough”

to my stooping shoulders, my slouched spine;
my sloped shape and your stiff boards will align,

and you’ll see how my backbone will unbend
and I’ll be standing straight until the end

of my makeshift but rectilinear
prayer, one stiff-backed as a chest of drawers

when we shove heavy furniture around;
I will rise from the dead, though on what ground

and which I, I don’t know; I’ll stand erect,
though my vertebrae’s hierarchic sect

won’t outlive plywood, no, it just can’t win
against that vertical eternity, so thin

and yet so sturdy in its ersatz pride;
as if the moon had shown me its dark side,

I lean, my ear glued to a cupboard’s back,
and I can hear its hollow and exact

hymn to its own cheap immortality;
no, wait, I still can straighten, still can be

square with this upright world (you knew I could),
just as plumb as four planks of real wood.

Stanisław Barańczak

(Translated, from the Polish,
by Clare Cavanagh and the author.)

__________

though you mightn’t’ve caught an “Ode”
in the title, the clue to its essence is in
the initial “O”, an acclamation

and yes, “O, Canada” is therefore also
an ode, as would be most anthems

incidentally Beethoven put the music
back into the form with his incendiary
use of Schiller’s poem for his vocal
triumph in his ninth Symphony, An
die Freude
“,
the Ode to Joy,
incomparable in this rendering for
an improbable 10,000
, yes 10,000, just
click

Richard

Beethoven’s tribute to spring

Sandro Botticelli - "Primavera"

Primavera (1478)

Sandro Botticelli

_________

if there’s a musical work to perform for
spring what Botticelli‘s Primavera
does with painting, celebrate it, that is,
for the ages, it must be Beethoven’s
“Pastorale”, German for “Pastoral”,
Symphony, usually referred to thus,
with the accent on the last “a”

the composition is expressly narrative,
Beethoven even sets the scene for every
movement, five of them

1 Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside
2 Scene by the brook
3 Merry gathering of country folk
4 Thunderstorm
5 Shepherd’s song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

he is manifestly using music as language,
descriptive language, you can nearly hear
the flowers grow, you can most definitely
imagine them, you bristle at the crack of
thunder

the subject isn’t specifically spring, but
the spirit is undeniably so, the spring of,
indeed also, the spirit, the buoyancy of
youth

it’s 1808, Beethoven is at the height of
his euphoria, his admiration, and
celebration, of physical nature, he’s
sowing his wild oats

later he’ll address the metaphysical,
but for now he’s still bursting with
unmitigated life, his spring

Richard

psst: see also his “Spring” Sonata, opus 24,
for still more, though less familiar,
vernal, purportedly, magic, Beethoven
didn’t name the sonata, his publisher
did, which is why the “Pastorale”
Symphony
sounds more springlike
than this other more direct, apparently,
offering

which had never been there, essentially,
Beethoven’s primary, anyway, intention,
however lovely the eponymous, the
titular, work
might have in comparison
proven to be

you be the judge, listen

R

septet / schleptet – Beethoven / Schikele‏

"The Swing" ("Les hasards heureux de l'escarpolette") -  Jean Honoré Fragonard

The Swing (“Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette“) 1767

Jean Honoré Fragonard

_____

though I’ve spent the last forty years
exploring Beethoven, I still haven’t
heard, much less seen performed
all of his music, unexpected gems
pop up still to prick up even my
weathered ears

but a septet this time, who’d ‘a’
thunk it

the opus 20, not unexpectedly, sounds
like Mozart, formal, musically inventive,
but not prompted by Beethoven’s later
transcendental passions, it was 1800,
he was still showing off his Classical
shoes, spinning andante cantabiles
out of minuets, for no less than Maria
Theresa in this instance, the Empress,
its august dedicatee, not yet having
profoundly outgrown them, the tiara,
the shoes, though you’ll find
expressions of his surpassing majesty
already throughout this masterpiece

six movements, for instance, uppity,
impudent, bold, an impertinence
towards imperial time and its
exigencies, unless it’s worth it, of
course, even in the case of my own
more relaxed schedule

but a precursor to his seven-part
C# minor String Quartet, opus 131,
for its breadth, for its ambition, for
the prefiguring of a monument, a
cultural institution, for its
proclamation of the advent of a
veritable sonic Parthenon

you’ll note a peculiarity, he uses
in the Septet‘s third movement
the same air that served him well
in his 20th piano sonata, opus 49,
no 2
, second movement – why not,
it’s his – an earlier composition
despite the later opus number

don’t ask

opus 49, no 2 has only two
movements, incidentally, like his
earlier opus 5, no 1, or his later
incandescent no 111, to shed light
on the chronology of his musical
evolution, his eventual historical
apotheosis

find the movement with variations
in the Septet, your body will tell
you, much like it does slow tempi
from fast ones, you merely listen
with your senses, not just your
ears, your unconsciousness, while,
distractedly, you’re, say, washing
dishes, you’ll say, hey, I’ve just
heard this before, but different,
only this minute

hence the term variation

compare this Schleptet in Eb major,
from Peter Schikele for fun, from
the year 2000, a spoof on Beethoven’s
Septet
in the identical key the
better to roast him, but in five
movements this one, in the Classical
style, but where the mood is neither
Classical, nor even Romantic, it’s
ironic, satirical, wry, even cynical,
note the slapstick tempo markings

I. Molto Larghissimo – Allegro Boffo
II. Menuetto con brio ma senza Trio
III. Adagio Saccharino
IV. Yehudi Menuetto
V. Presto Hey Nonny Nonnio

the voice, for better or worse, of our
time

Richard

the cadenza, from Mozart to John Mayer

"Dancing Senegalese Figures" (1967) - Gerard Sekoto

Dancing Senegalese Figures (1967)

Gerard Sekoto

_________

ain’t no sunshine since you’ve gone,
I wrote Apollo, who’s been in Mexico
for already nearly two weeks, turned
my yearning into thereby something
groovy, listen

again I was reminded of the role of
art in our lives, to not only entertain,
inspire, but to even comfort, heal,
invigorate

note the Classical structure of the
piece
, a driving and inflexible
rhythm, repetition of the theme, a
tonal melody, something you can
sing along with, Classical music’s
foundational Trinity

except for the cadenza, the solo
part, now described as a riff, but
which was already part of
concertos even by Mozart, which
is to say the late 18th Century,
listen to his 20th piano concerto
for instance, with cadenzas by no
less than Beethoven – between
11:50 and 14:15, then again between
30:05 and 31:30 on your time strip –
characteristically deep, intensely
personal and probing

the cadenza allowed the soloist in
a concerto to extrapolate, take
off in any direction singly,
sometimes written in by the
composer, but just as often not

in his cadenza, John Mayer breaks
two of the Classical imperatives,
tone, repetition, his cadenza is one
unrepeated riff, no repetition at all

but his rhythm remains unswerving,
categorical, Classical, get your cue
from the dominant drums,
irrepressible here as clockwork

for atonal similarities compare
Berg’s Violin Concerto throughout

for music, in other words, we’re still
reacting to the Classical framework
established by Haydn and Mozart,
variations on these rules are still
what we think of as music, we’re
standing on their shoulders,
working according to their
parameters, only the instruments
have changed, the guitar has taken
the place of the piano

but that’s another story

Richard