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Tag: Richard Strauss

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

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                      “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

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

XXXVlll. First time he kissed me, he but only kissed – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXVlll. First time he kissed me, he but only kissed

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “Oh, list,”
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

________________________

had the sonnet allowed for more lines,
instead of its strict fourteen, this poem
could not ‘ve not become indecent,
“purple”, she says, indeed

nor, for that matter, more clear, Elizabeth
has succumbed to his one, two, three
kisses, enough to now call him [m]y love,
my own”

meed is a reward, and archaic

chrism is holy anointing oil, nearly also
now, but sacramentally, lost

so intimate a declaration as this would’ve
been unprecedented in 1845-46, when
these poems were written, though we’re
used to much more flagrant stuff nowadays

that this had been written by a woman
must’ve been nearly scandalous, though
such was allowing the Romantic Age, and
this “most flagrant” expression would
become eventually its very symbol, the
exploration of the human heart, the highly
intimate revelations of an individual soul

Elizabeth Barrett Browning holds the top
spot here, nobody does it better

in intrinsically less overtly graphic music,
Chopin

Richard Strauss does a similar thing in his
opera “Salome” several years later, several,
indeed, decades later, 1905, but in reverse,
Salome wants to first of all touch John the
Baptist’s skin, he won’t allow it, undaunted
she asks to touch his black hair, nor will
he allow that, she insists further on a kiss,
which doesn’t either come, the scene is
lurid and shocking

“nothing in the world is as red as your
mouth”,
she begs, “let me kiss it, your
mouth”

my dear, I cautioned

later she will dance the Dance of the Seven
Veils
“,
lately performed even, after the veils
are, one by one, off, naked

for which she gets John the Baptist’s head,
and finally gets her kiss

honest

the version I saw was unforgettable,
though it had taken a free ticket to
get me there

Richard

psst: you’ll note, incidentally, that this poem
is not an avowal, but a confidence,
spoken to us, not to him, a not
insignificant factor

Olivier Messiaen – “Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum”

just in time for Easter here is something from
Olivier Messiaen, whom I consider to be, after
Shostakovich, the most important composer of
the Twentieth Century, and may one day, with
more distance, prove to be, of the two,
preeminent 
  
Messiaen, a devout Catholic, wrote specifically
to the glory of the Catholic God, an interesting
return to the music of the Baroque period, and
earlier, when the Church sponsored essentially
all the arts  
 
perhaps Messiaen is also a precursor – the Et
exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum“, which
I’m presenting, or, in my humble Latin,”In 
is from 1964 – of the resurgent fundamentalism
we’ve been witnessing in all churches,
synagogues, mosques, in our own times
 
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum“, is
not at all Romantic, not even Impressionistic,
two world wars have been fought since, man  
has stepped on the unglorious moon, God even
died in the early sixties leaving us to reinvent
our own future, a time of youth and flowers,
and great indeed expectations, as it turned out  
 
the even profound assumptions of the earlier
order however, in the language of music
represented fundamentally by beat and tonality, 
hadn’t worked, couldn’t work anymore, having
been manifestly discredited, women had received 
the vote, financial and sexual independence,
traditional authority had been categorically
overthrown, there was no going back
 
 
Richard Strauss had already suggested this new
broader horizon, in 1896, with his “Also Sprach 
Zarathustra, a mighty work, made famous, even
unforgettable, by the movie  “2001: A Space   
Odyssey“, when the very sun bursts upon the
intergalactic universe to its interstellar strains
 
but Messiaen takes you even further into the
reaches of the infinite 
 
I couldn’t help thinking of a more adult Miró –
the individualized elements – but more profoundly 
metaphysical, I have rarely seen, heard, something
so transfixing, powerful, even the silences between
movements, there are five, are riveting
 
 
happy Easter

 
Richard