Elephants are the largest animal that can also manage to be completely adorable. I once spent a very diverting 20 minutes watching a baby elephant play catch with its mother using a red ball the size of a washing machine.
Elephants are also deceptively intelligent animals despite their otherwise slow-moving, vaguely dopey appearance. They remind me of certain humans I know, come to think of it.
In any event, Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a whole suite of pieces about different animals. I have very happy memories of listening to this one as a little kid and giggling at the thought of watching elephants gracefully dancing to this melody.
Oh good. It’s the New Hampshire primary today. Anthems of joy.
If you detect snark in my voice, you’re half-right. I’m half-snarking. I love voting. Anyone who has read this blog knows I love voting. I am a votin’ fool. But these elections are starting to feel as drawn out as the commercial “holiday season” that starts …actually I think it just restarted itself. Our nation’s adrenal glands are already shot from the “soaring” rhetoric of these candidates’ speeches, fear-inducing attacks, and tear-jerky patriotism. I’m so very tired.
I’m also very tired of trying to keep track of who all is still in the race. Some of these candidates are easy to remember, being as they are America’s id on two legs. Some of these candidates are…not. Do you remember that luke-warm glass of water you drank yesterday? No? Well you drank one. You did. And you have no idea you did. Would you vote for that glass of water? What exactly are we talking about again?
Somewhere between Id Two-Legs and Somnolent Water Glass we have the rest of the field, many of whom are clinging on for dear life. But after tonight, we will have blessedly fewer to keep track of. My many sources (really only one source) tell(s) me that at least three candidates will have to drop out tonight because of their poor showing.
So get out there and vote, New Hampshire. Vote your conscience. And clear the field. The rest of the country thanks you.
On this day 227 years ago, George Washington was elected the first president of the United States of America. About a century later, a man from Nelahozeves, a town in the Austrian Empire, wrote a piece of music about the country. Clearly, the American experiment was somewhat of a success.
I don’t tend to like string quartets, but this is one of the loveliest and more fun pieces of classical music I came across last year. The first movement’s first 12 notes will get stuck in your head for days. The second movement (09:08) is a prime example of how to write a heartbreaking melody: keep it simple. The third and fourth movements are cheerful and lively. Whereas string quartets tend to make me feel claustrophobic, this string quartet feels like someone threw open all the windows on a spring afternoon.
Here in D.C., we sit in breathless, panicky expectation of a whammy of a snowstorm. It’s been a while since we’ve gotten some serious snow, so we are all tremendously excited and choosing to express our excitement through stock-piling essentials like steamer clams, green tea mochi, and cheese doodles…and then forgetting things like toilet paper and granola. But we got a little taste of the coming storm last night when thick, pebble-sized flakes of snow started drifting down after dark. I shuffled home through the gentle snowfall and stood under a streetlamp for a minute. The snow was beautiful.
Everything is quieter in snow. Snow muffles sound – car wheels, human feet- and in so doing encourages us to keep silent. Snow is the only weather event I can think of that makes no sound. You can hear wind, rain, hail, sleet…but you can’t hear snow. You’re one sense down, which naturally heightens all other senses to compensate. And we can’t help but plug that gap with our own, very personal, feelings. All of a sudden you want to relieve your childhood through sledding, or be a better neighbor through keeping an eye out for the homeless and getting them to shelters, or dive deep into spirituality and mysticism for which silently falling snow provides a natural backdrop.
But, there comes a point in every snowy day when you huddle for warmth and feel very much like the animal you truly are – an animal that is grateful for some shelter, and a moment of stillness in which to contemplate nature’s terrible, sacred beauty. This is what Gjeilo’s staggeringly lovely choral piece was written to celebrate.
Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.
Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thine eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.
I’ve been getting a lot of whining from certain people about how my musical tastes aren’t “melodic,” how I”m “obsessed” with “rhythm,” how “I” should “get out” more. I don’t appreciate your tone, and I find your statements outlandish, calumnious, and ill-informed. To prove it, I give you this Mozart thing. Here, you unwashed rabble. Have some damn melody (which, by the way, is supposed to start at 22:36, in case the YouTube video fails). But before you go, I will subject you to my favorite knock-knock joke.
I have this sense that we all could use a collective reminder that life goes on. This short little number by Aaron Copland should help. Nothing is more of a soothing balm as a Copland harmony. This piece is from his opera, “The Tender Land,” and features the hymn, “Zion’s Walls,” which Copland arranged.
Oh boy oh boy oh boy. I am such a RVW fangirl. The chord progressions he wrote open up a new dimension for me. It’s like the voice of the divine. It sounds very, very old but still vibrant. The “Fantasia” is the quintessential example of this. I will never forget the first time I heard it. I was driving in the car with one of my parents, probably my Dad, and it came on the radio. I was so entranced it was like I could see the music. It was so beautiful, it hurt. This is another one of those pieces that, for me, identifies and magnifies whatever mood I’m in. It is a magical piece.
Most classical music enthusiasts, or so I imagine, carry around in their heads at least a few names on a list of favorite composers who we believe are not as widely appreciated as they deserve to be. (If you are fortunate, this is balanced by a list of composers who aren’t as great as everyone else seems to think, since shunning the overrated ones helps offset the expense of buying CDs of the works by the people in the underappreciated group.) My roster for the first category is alas much longer than for the second, and right at the top sits Ralph (remember it rhymes with “safe”) Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Britain’s greatest symphonist.
Vaughan Williams wrote a plethora of wonderful music over the course of more than sixty years, but among it all his most enduringly beloved work is this one. There are very few compositions anywhere in the vast Western concert repertoire that surpass the sublime Tallis Fantasia for sheer beauty. It is neither ornamental nor ramblingly mystical, but both transcendental and sensible in a way that C. S. Lewis might be able to describe. Even after having sifted through dozens of renditions of this piece over the past few days while selecting a video for this post, when played well it still gives me chills.
This performance, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, was recorded in Gloucester Cathedral, the location for which the young RVW composed the Fantasia and where he conducted the premiere of the original version in 1910 (though they presumably didn’t play it in the dark on that occasion). While the direction of this video brings to mind Fred Astaire’s declaration early in his film career that “either the camera will dance or I will,” it aptly demonstrates the peculiar ensemble called for by the composition: a string orchestra, a quartet, and an additional group of players ideally to be seated well away from the others (often positioned in an upper gallery in performances in churches or halls so equipped). If the incessant crane and dolly shots in this video drive you crazy, there are literally hundreds of other recordings of the piece on YouTube, thanks in part to its popularity among high school and university orchestra directors.
The theme of the Fantasia comes from this tune by the incomparable Thomas Tallis, which appeared in Archbishop Parker’s Psalter of 1567
Oh you think this is, “In dir est Freude?” Oh aren’t you clever. And yet – it isn’t! Ha! Fooled you! Gosh, isn’t this blog fun. This is a secular madrigal written in 16th century Italy by Giovanni Gastoldi to the tune of IDEF. Lyrics and translation below. Google Translate turned this into gibberish, but, as you can probably guess, since it’s a peppy secular song in Italian, it seems to be about love and happiness. So that’s nice.
This piece was written two years before Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” to “discover” “new worlds.” (“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus ran into land that already existed filled with people who had been living there for eons” doesn’t make as easy or memorable a rhyme.) Regardless, it’s neat to hear music that was playing around that time.
Ok, perhaps I’m going out on a limb posting this as a Thursday song, but I have always believed film scores can fall into the classical bin. So there we go. Tune Sharks, meet Bernard Herrmann. Herr Herrmann composed this in 1958, towards the middle of his career. If this suite sounds at all sounds familiar or reminds you of something else, it might be because this was written three years before Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for “West Side Story.” Herrmann was a prolific film composer, first writing the score for “Citizen Kane,” most of Hitchcock’s films, including “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho,” and Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”
Now that I’ve left you with a few interesting factoids, I’m getting on a plane. Toodle-oo!