Monday, June 26, 2017

Lilacs for Piano Quartet

A while ago the Musical Delights Quartet asked me to make a piano quartet arrangement of "Lilacs," a piece I wrote in 2005 for flute, clarinet, cello, and piano. I just found a performance of it on YouTube, which you can hear here:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Three Character Pieces (and one transcription) for Clarinet and Viola

Thank you to clarinetist Alan Schaffer and violist Heather Faust for such a terrific performance!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Count Emilio Guidoboni-Visconti

In his book about Balzac, Stefan Zweig introduces a most interesting musical character from history: Count Emilio Guidoboni-Visconti. The count was the husband of one of Balzac's lovers, and, according to Zweig, was a passionate violinist.
His real love was for music, and he was a character worthy of being immortalized in a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Though he was a descendant of the great condottieri, his greatest pleasure was to sit in a theater orchestra among the professional musicians and play the violin. At Versailles, where he had a house in the Avenue de Neuilly in addition to his palaces in Paris and Vienna, he would slink out every evening and take his place in the orchestra pit, and wherever he went he humbly requested the favor of being allowed to scrape away at the local theater. In the daytime he amused himself by playing at being a chemist. He would mix all sorts of ingredients, pour the result into bottles, and attach neat labels. Society bored him. He liked to keep in the background, so he was no bother at all to his wife's lovers. He was affable to every one of them, since they enabled him to devote his energies all the more uninterruptedly to his beloved music.
There is little to be found about this violin-playing count, but he does appear very briefly in Isabelle Aboulker's 1999 opera Monsieur de Balzac fait son theatre. He has one spoken line in the first act, and never returns again.

But Zweig, Balzac, and the Count have just led me to the music of Isabelle Aboulker, and I can, in turn, lead you there too. Aboulker's musical sense of humor reminds me a great deal of Seymour Barab's sense of musical humor.



Here's a whole recital of her songs set to text by Jean de la Fontaine, Jules Renard, Hans Christian Andersen (!!!!), Marie Curie, and Charles Cros, performed by soprano Elsa Tirel and pianist Eleonore Sandron.

What an excellent composer!



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stadtappelle Schladming!

When I taught flute and recorder in Schladming, Austria in 1980 and 1981, I played with the Stadtkappelle Schladming. Two of my flute students played with me. This video from the early 1980s shows the group at its very best (playing without music!) One of my flute students, Anita Stocker, is here, and it looks like the other flutist could be a teenage version of my recorder student Judith Pohle, or even Anita Ebenschweiger. The clarinetist who gets a few solo shots is Hans Plank, who was the director of the music school.



Here's a video from 1986:






Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Escalators, Elevators, Facebook, and Bloggery

I live in a city that doesn't have escalators. We used to drive for an hour so that our kids could have the fun of riding a department store escalator. It was a treat for them. It was a novelty.

This was long before anyone thought about the internet as we know it. It was a treat and a novelty to those of us who live outside of bustling cities. When blogging became a way to share writing on the internet, it was like the opening up of a door.

The early days of the musical blogosphere were a lot of fun for me. The 2017 bloggery experience is only a shadow of what it was in 2007. Most of the musical bloggers have stopped writing. Some of them started as a way to find community in a world that dismisses classical music as a "genre," and then left in favor of communicating on Facebook where you can have the illusion of a community without devoting the time and care that maintaining a blog demands. It is also very iPhone friendly. Blog platforms like this one are difficult to use on an iPhone.

I have been thinking lately about how similar a Facebook experience is to an escalator experience, and how the rest of the internet (i.e. the blogosphere) is more like an elevator experience.

You summon an elevator and after a short wait you enter one of a few enclosed rooms that can hold a few people. You might be completely alone, or you might have company. You might smile at the other people in the elevator, or you might avoid eye contact. It's your choice. You will forget about your elevator mates as soon as they get off, and they will forget about you just as quickly, unless you have some meaningful contact. Your journey feels safe and private, even though it may not be either. Still it is possible to travel through the tubes of the non-social internets in search of information and enrichment in a way that is enjoyable and self directed. Elevators are almost always located near stairwells, so you can choose whether to ride or walk.

Facebook takes you for an escalator ride. There is an element of danger in the escalator ride. The ride stimulates your attention to both the presence and absence of your physical self as you look at reflections of other escalators. I find that when I am riding an escalator I have a strange sense of tension and a deep desire to reach the point where the escalator stops and I can step off safely.

I feel a similar mixture of danger and desire every time I step onto the Facebook "escalator." Like an escalator in a big department store, Facebook literally directs your attention where its advertisers want it to go. Once you go on Facebook a few times and look at the ads that register as "seen" in your newsfeed, they come up more often. The walls of the escalator entices you with mirrors (analogous to the people who validate your existence and "like" what you post) and shiny objects: friends who post pictures, clever commentary, and links to articles that you can sometimes, but not always, access via Facebook (magazine and newspaper articles are often behind a paywall).

Your friends and their friends leave projections of their best selves for you to glance at and feel a momentary sense of connection with, only to be forgotten when the "ride" stops. Stores are designed so that you can't miss featured products because they are placed near the end of the escalators. We have come to accept that. On a Facebook "ride" you see images of promoted products again and again, and you accept their presence in your news feed as part of the experience. I seems like the price you pay for having friends on Facebook.


Saturday, June 03, 2017

Balzac

Michael and I are reading Stefan Zweig's biography of Balzac. I read it about twenty-five years ago, while I was at the height of a personal Balzac craze, and am enjoying Zweig's book with very fresh eyes. When I started writing music seriously around the time of my Balzac craze, I dreamed about setting one particular Balzac novel as an opera.

During these past twenty-five years I have written a libretto for the whole opera and music for the first scene. It is a crazy amount of work to write an opera, and it takes a crazy amount of work to try to get an opera performed. In my case all the effort I put into seeing even one of the four operas I have written on stage has largely been futile. It's a vicious circle: nobody in the field of opera wants to invest time and resources into the work of an unknown composer, and there doesn't seem to be a way to become "known" without having work performed.

I made a promise to myself not to write another opera until I had the chance to see and hear a performance of one of the operas I have written. But reading about Balzac and thinking about Balzac has motivated me to break my promise and get to work on my original opera idea. For me it is the work of writing that keeps me going, and even if the theater inside my head is the only one where it is played, that will just have to do.

I'm not saying anything here about the opera, but when I'm finished I'll put it in the IMSLP (my two published operas are probably the last pieces of mine that will ever be performed because they are buried in a publisher's catalog, and have expensive rental parts), and I will share it here.

Friday, June 02, 2017

(Mar-a) Largo al Factotum

With apologies to A.A. Milne, but it had to be done

King Don’s Christmas

King Don was not a good man—
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air—
And bad King Don stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King Don was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King Don was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King Don was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
by the antenna for the TV:
“TO ALL AND SUNDRY—NEAR AND FAR—
F. CHRISTMAS IN PARTICULAR.”
And signed it not “Donald J.”
But very humbly, “D.”
“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don was not a good man—
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now.”
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow—
The first I’ve had for years.”
“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don was not a good man—
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King Don said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”
“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife—
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red, india-rubber ball!”

King Don stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!
AND, OH, FATHER CHRISTMAS,
MY BLESSINGS ON YOU FALL
FOR BRINGING HIM
A BIG, RED,
INDIA-RUBBER
BALL!