A very brief notion of the great bifrontal composer. Beethoven suffered from severely emotional philosophical contradictions (how could he not? He existed in a world in which the only prevalent philosophy was Kantianism ), however– at the very core, perhaps even subconsciously, he rejected the doom and gloom of the prevalent philosophies and sought desperately to worship something heroic, something great in the human.
That’s why “Fidelio” and the Ninth Symphony are such important pieces in his work not only musically, but philosophically as well. The search for heroism that began with the Eroica culminates in the Ninth Symphony, late as it was in his life (and at a time when he was completely deaf, where other composers would have despaired), Beethoven’s quest to find a reaffirmation of his hope in a benevolent universe.
I think it is telling that despite all the tragedy and all of the strife in his life, Beethoven as a composer never gave up the desire to constantly uphold that heroic vision, which reveals perhaps the innermost part of his character that he only revealed to very, very few people (after all, his closest friends knew him to be a very tender man, which he hid from most)— as Rand mentions in her treatise on art, “The Romantic Manifesto“, the artist is the man or woman who holds up a light to show not how things are, but how they should be according to the artist’s own judgment.
I have ordered Scott Burnham’s “Beethoven: Hero” from Amazon.com, and I will be writing a review of it here when I’m done!
A great place to eat and see live entertainment and have good food!
Come to Arias at Avos on July 29, 2012 at 4PM at Avogadro's Number (605 S. Mason) in Fort Collins. I will be singing alongside Antoine Hodge, Audrey Hurley and Jillian Antinora! Drop by for some good music, a relaxed atmosphere, and great food!
Let us pretend that one day you are browsing facebook and your friend, Maria Callas (hey, it’s fantasy, go with it) has posted this on her Facebook wall:
Now, you’ve got some thoughts about it. Perhaps you actually don’t like Maria’s take on Bel Canto, or you don’t like what she did with Norma and how heavily the scores were edited when she performed them.
You’re trying to think of a way to respond to your friend Maria, when suddenly another one of your friends jumps into the fray:
You give a heavy sigh and close your eyes. Now she’s done it, you think.
There are two ways this can go. The first way is that Maria will counter Cecilia’s argument, and the thread will become a duel of the minds- each side putting forth a thesis and trying to see if there is a fault with the other one’s thesis. Tempers might flare, hot arguments will be exchanged. Ultimately it will end with either Maria or Cecilia acknowledging that one of the other’s arguments was right, or they will end at an impasse, neither conceding that the other argument was stronger than theirs, but now knowing to a greater extent the fullness of the other’s stance.
The second way is more spectacular: Maria or Cecilia will explode, ‘de-friend’ the other, and even try to ostracize or even sabotage the other’s career, work opportunities, etcetera. If this way had an illustration, it would be this:
I like to call the first outcome the Duel Of Minds, and the second one I’ll simply call The Great Big Catfight. What differentiates a Duel from a Catfight? In my mind, the following:
1.- In a Duel, you know you are expressing an opinion out into the great big Ether of the internet, where it may float and land upon ears that do not agree with you. You know your opinion is going to be challenged, and you are prepared to defend your opinion with arguments geared to support your stance. In this kind of discussion, you aim to dismantle the other person’s argument.
2.- In a Catfight, you express your opinion and you expect it to be treated as a holy object: none may touch it, none may dissent, and the expression of a contrary view is a Holy Cats moment in which you let all hell loose. In this kind of discussion, you ignore the argument presented by the other person, and you are trying to dismantle the other person proper.
Now here is where we enter the realm of adulthood. You may be aware that there is an unspoken rule among people nowadays, and that rule is “be nice.” Politeness, we are told, is the ultimate expression of civilization. This is not entirely true, politeness is a consideration that we extend towards others, but of what does this consideration consist?
Is it possible, for example, to be considerate towards someone by being false to them? Is lack of honesty ever a value upon which one builds a relationship? After all, if politeness is supposed to be a consideration that one extends in a social context, then it means that we’re employing it in order to facilitate our relationship with other people. But nowadays the core of the concept of politeness has been melded with that of avoidance: certain topics are taboo or must never be discussed, one may not speak of things in depth out of fear of offending or upsetting someone.
This is where I take a very brief tangent and I talk of Aristotle’s conception of friendship. For Aristotle, friendship is an activity that requires mutual reciprocity on one level or another. Aristotle stratified friendship into friendships of utility, pleasure, and (the highest to him) virtue. The highest level of friendship is one in which both participants enjoy and love the character of the other. In the friendship of utility, reciprocity comes out of what each can do for the other; Frienships of pleasure rest solely on reciprocity of enjoyment, but it is the virtuous friendship that goes to the core of the individual. What is the core of a person’s character? Their values, their standards, their beliefs and their actions.
Can we have, then, the possibility of true friendship by practicing the Politeness of Avoidance? I don’t think so. I don’t think it is possible for someone to know your true character if you spend the majority of your time being someone other than yourself. After all, it was Aristotle himself who said that “he who is a friend to all is a friend to none.” Trying to be all things to all people ensures that, ultimately, you shall be nothing to no-one.
The revealing of character should happen in a contextually-appropriate environment, of course. You are not going to go on political rallies at work (unless your job is to be a campaign manager), and you shouldn’t be proselytizing to your coworkers, either. The context of the workplace is different from a personal interaction context. While you may not want to engage in soul-searching exchanges between your coworkers (after all, you haven’t chosen most of their associations, it is a necessity of your work environment), it might be productive to do so in your interpersonal time.
Our society as a whole values friendship only on a shallow level. The idea most of us have of friendship doesn’t advance further than Aristotle’s idea of Friendship of Pleasure: People who drink together, enjoy each other’s company and pursue common hobbies and interest. What I like to call buddies, acquaintances, but not friends. It is easy to cultivate buddies without knowing the character of the person involved, but the deeper friendship, the friendship that becomes something akin to ‘the marriage of true minds’, the highest stage of Aristotelian friendship, can’t thrive without that very crucial requisite. In order for there to be a relationship of equals and an appreciation of the other, one must first know who the other is.
And this is where the Duel of the Minds comes into play. We all have values, we all hold things to be either true or false for a reason (and some, without it.) While the Politeness of Avoidance is comfortable (and contextually appropriate in, say, work environments), it is not beneficial in the private aspect. A so-called friendship built on avoidance is a relationship built on things you are not. This type of relationship is superfluous and never beneficial. The only way by which you may know the character of a person, and whether or not they are admirable or deplorable is through finding out what their values, their principles and their standards are. This is done by asking, by talking, by discussing, and even arguing on a subject. This is where your values will clash, and you will have to consider the following through a process of introspection:
1.- What is my hierarchy of values? Which values do I hold as essential, and which do I hold as non-essential?
2.- What are his/her values? Which of those do they uphold as essential?
3.- Do their essential values clash with my essential values? Is there any overlap? How important is that to me? (which would bring the question: if it isn’t that important, then are these really my essential values?)
This is the process of getting to know a person. Whether it is done through simple talk on deeper subjects or through the Duel of Minds, there is always the risk that the person whom you liked so much at a superficial level might turn out to be someone you don’t end up liking or agreeing with. However unpleasant this outcome might seem, there is also the other outcome: You might find out that the person whom you liked so much at a superficial level is, in fact, someone who you like even more at the deeper level, someone who reaffirms your sense of life and gives you solace because you have found someone else who shares your core values.
A person who would prefer no unpleasantness might look at the equation and still see that the potential of unpleasantness means that it is not worth pursuing. But that is a fallacy that can be dismissed when you realize that nothing changes with that: that person will still have the same character. You just won’t know about it. Sooner or later, however, their character will be revealed, and you will find out that all you have been doing is postponing the discovery of a fact.
You might say that the only way to make true friends, then, is by being ready to venture into unpleasant territory.
Let’s return to our dueling divas from the beginning. Maria and Cecilia are at odds now, each has an opposite stance about their artistic principles. But it could easily be a contrast of religious positions, political stances and similar. What’s going to happen in this encounter? Well, that’s entirely up to our divas. If both Maria and Cecilia hold their artistic values as essential values, they might have tension between them depending on how high up in their hierarchy this value is. Maria might also find out that Cecilia is a staunch defender of individual liberties, for example, and for Maria that value is far more important than aesthetic distinctions (she might hold that individual liberty is what makes all other values possible)- and to her that is a value that is so important that it allows her to consider their artistic differences as less relevant. She might find in Cecilia a true friend, despite the differences.
Or, for example, Maria might find out that Cecilia is a staunch supporter of a dictator, at which point the possibility of friendship is out of the question.
It is possible for Maria and Cecilia to be acquaintances without being friends. It is possible for them to enjoy each other’s company in certain contexts, but they both have benefited from the knowledge of what each other’s values are- they know exactly what the boundaries of their relationships are. And sometimes, it might just be best to treat the person as a distant acquaintance and not deal with them at all if their values are antithetical to our own in a truly astonishing manner (for example, discovering that someone is a white supremacist.)
It is alright to be intense during a Duel of Minds, when values clash– our society encourages the avoidance of offending anyone, for anything, but the reality is that we can’t compromise on truly essential values, and we can’t mask what the nature of our character is. If we wish to make friends, we also need to be prepared to learn to regard people whom we might have once considered potential friends as nothing more than acquaintances (or out of our lives), or even come to regard a previously distant acquaintance as a good friend.
That being said, just like Maria in our example, you shouldn’t cast your opinions into the public and then expect no contest or discussion. By all means, be eager to step into the debate and match arguments- it’s the only way to know where anyone stands.
The Christmas season is about to end and the dawn of a new year looms before us. With a new year also comes a new recording and recital project.
I have begun work on my new CD, Emerald Songs, which will focus on the music of Ireland and Scotland. My resulting search for material has taken me on interesting paths, specially in the area of the lesser-known songs. It is during this research that I stumbled on the collection work of Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser.
Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, the daughter of two Scottish singers, was one of the many individuals who took interest in the ‘Celtic Revival‘, a variety of movements and trends, mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, which drew on the traditions of Celtic literature and Celtic art, or in fact more often what art historians call Insular art. An interest in the movement was also shared by William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, “AE” Russell, Edward Martyn and Edward Plunkett.
While touring Eriskay, Marjorie witnessed many Gaelic folk songs endangered of disappearing as a result of population decline, and, being herself a singer, began a personal project to record and transcribe the music of the Hebrides, which she then arranged for voice and piano or harp. One of these songs became widely known as the “Eriskay Love Lilt”. For her contributions, she was awarded with the Order of the British Empire (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), and an honorary degree of Doctor of Music from the University of Edinburgh.
Russian operatic tenor, Vladimir Rosing frequently performed Kennedy-Fraser’s songs in his London recitals during the 1910s. Dr. Per Ahlander, Research Fellow at The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanitie of the University of Edinburgh, indicates in the abstract of his paper titled ”Marjory Kennedy-Fraser (1857–1930): musician, cultural entrepreneur, suffragette and musicologist”, that after her death, Fraser’s œuvre was virulently attacked by trendsetting Scottish intellectuals, who accused her of having misrepresented Gaelic songs. Unfortunately Dr. Ahlander has not published his documented after the speech and I have not been able to find examples of the criticism.
Nevertheless, Fraser’s attempts to combine the traditional with modern harmonic arrangements, early use of gramophone in recording and exposure of the material to a world stage are Fraser’s greatest contributions. On the difficulty of adapting the songs, she wrote in the preface to her collection Songs Of The Hebrides:
“Unfortunately, all these scales, as sung by the people, differ slightly from anything we can convey by any system of notation as yet in use. If in noting them down and thus trying to preserve them by other than the traditional aural method we sacrifice something of their character in this respect, it is imperative that we go further and compensate for this loss by furnishing them with an instrumental accompaniment. If in the days of the Greeks it was found difficult, as Aristotle says, to grasp a unison melody at a first hearing, how much more must that be the case now that we have learnt to rely upon a harmonic accompaniment. A melody, to be fully appreciated by the Greeks, had to become familiar through repetition. The modern art of harmonic accompaniment greatly lessens the need of the familiarizing process, since it helps to reveal, at a first hearing, the salient points and characteristic features of a tune.”
“To add harmony to an ancient melody is practically to produce a modern composition on an ancient foundation.”(Abdy Williams in ‘Internazionale Musikgesellschaft Journal.’) There is no traditional method of harmonizing old Celtic airs (although we know from old songs that the harp was used with them), there can therefore be no standard save that of individual taste.”
I am enjoying Fraser’s works, which I consider, as she quoted, new compositions based on ancient foundations (such as Britten’s work on folk songs)- I will be selecting a good number of candidates from Hebrides, and then turning my attention to the man many consider Ireland’s last and greatest Irish harpist-composer: Turlough O’Carolan.
This is a performance in a private home. Use the included URLS to contact the hosts. You must call ahead to attend.
Let your heart be filled with the sounds of Christmas at this year's Holiday Soiree on Saturday, December 17, 2011 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. This has become a wonderful holiday tradition for LOT and we are very excited for this year's celebration. The concert will feature wonderful Christmas music, both known and lesser-known. Singers scheduled to perform are: Emma Bailey, Eric Carter, Sarah-Nicole Ruddy, Robert Hoch, Leslie Kittel, Tessa McQueen, Tati Ogan, Meg Ozaki, Pablo Romero, & Anthony Varner.
The Soiree will be held at a private home in Loveland, complete with a 20+ foot tall Christmas Tree! Dessert and appetizers will be served. Admission is free, but the suggested (and greatly appreciated) donation is $25+ per person. All donations are fully tax deductible.
Space is limited, so please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-593-0085.
We hope to see you there and to share in this wonderful evening of holiday music and festivities.
This CD in many ways an homage to the musical legacy of three very different performers who, throughout the years, expanded my musical horizons in unexpected and rewarding directions: Julie Andrews, Nana Mouskouri and Loreena Mckennitt.
Julie Andrews was my first influence as far as holiday music went. As a kid, my first christmas album that was all my own was her “Christmas with Julie Andrews” in 1987, which was when I first heard In The Bleak Midwinter. Her rendition of it was simply spellbinding, and it has always remained with me.
Andrews is perpetually ingrained in collective memory due to her work on the screen and the musical stage. It was Julie Andrews’ voice was always spellbinding to me as a kid, and the arrangement complemented her voice so perfectly. From her, I learned the value of tastefully-done musical arrangements. Andrews also understands the proper use of power and simplicity- many musical performers, especially in holiday recordings, tend to spiral into extreme showmanship that, I feel, can at times cheapen the music. Andrews always sings with a reverent respect for the music, she comes across as a performer purely committed to the performance of the piece and the moment-to-moment context.
My second influence has to be Nana Mouskouri. The greek chanteuse who is one of the most successful female singers in popular music history with 400 million records sold throughout the world, in twelve languages, and over fifty years of uninterrupted career.
Perhaps relatively less known in the United States than in the rest of the world, where she was essentially a megastar. Nana’s looks weren’t friendly to the record executives in the United States, and thus she didn’t get as much exposure. Though in many ways she paved the road for the ‘girl with the glasses’ look that became cool in the 1990s and onwards— Lisa Loeb, for example, who is almost her spitting image credits Nana Mouskouri with inspiring her in both looks and music. Her sister admittedly had a better voice (she says this in her autobiography), but Nana still put herself through the Athens conservatory to study opera. There, she was kicked out because she was discovered singing popular music at a Greek nightclub.
From then on, though, Nana went on to make a name for herself in Greece as a singer. Eventually a young Harry Belafonte discovered her and brought her to the US in an LP titled “An evening with Belafonte/Mouskouri” where they BOTH sang Greek songs (it is charming to hear Harry Belafonte singing in Greek, and he does a very good job of it, too.)
She was invited to the variety show and talk show circuit in the US, and recorded an album with Quincy Jones: “The Girl From Greece Sings”- and the rest more or less became history. Nowadays Nana Mouskouri has a career and legacy that most singers could only dream of. Her Christmas album, however, was particularly charming for me— Mouskouri’s signature has always been her internationalism, her ability to sing (and speak) in multiple languages and access the musical lore of different countries and mesh it together into one single performance.
It was her that inspired my desire to learn multiple languages, and in her Christmas CD she brought all of her qualities to bear— with standard French, German, English carols mixed with traditional American spirituals (her own rendition of ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’), and, of course, the traditional greek Carol Ta Kalanda- also called Christos Genate, Kalim Imeran, or Kalim Esperan– the Greek carol I chose to sing for this CD. Without Nana, I would have never known of it. From Nana Mouskouri I learned the appeal of variety- while the standards are always good to return to, the music of the world is teeming with lesser-known gems that are simply waiting to be championed. Mouskouri’s courage rested in the sheer refusal to say ‘no’ to a good song, regardless of how obscure it may be.
My third and final inspiration is Loreena McKennitt, whom I like to call the Minstrel of Manitoba.
When Loreena was young she wanted to become a veterinarian, but she developed a passion for Celtic music and learned to play the Celtic harp. She began busking at various places, including St. Lawrence Market in Toronto in order to earn money to record her first album (Elemental, in 1985.) It was quickly followed by her first Christmas album, To Drive the Cold Winter Away, in 1987.
Loreena had her first breakthrough with her 1989 album, Parallel Dreams. Distributed through a network of small independent distributors, the album sold more than 40,000 copies within four months. Its success was surpassed by McKennitt’s fourth album, The Visit. Distributed by Warner Canada, the album sold over 600,000 copies (six times platinum) in Canada and received a Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy), as did McKennitt’s next recording, The Mask and Mirror, in 1994.
What comes through most powerfully in McKennitt’s work is her abilities as a composer, lyricist and arranger: her lyrics have reflected her interests in the poetry of W.B. Yeats, William Blake, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. And this is where my term of ‘Minstrel’ comes in: While McKennitt showcases many traditional pieces of Celtic, Mediterranean and Arabic roots, her own original work is also extremely rich and is up to par with the music.
A McKennitt album, specially starting with The Visit, is captivating for the music and the liner notes:
McKennitt is a world traveler and has a deep and burning passion for the places where the music originated. She shares her experiences and research with her listeners, often in the form of journals in her liner notes– a particularly memorable entry is under her original composition of “La Serenissima” in her CD Book Of Secrets, where she explores the history of Jewish settlements in the city of Venice (whose name of The Most Serene, La Serenissima, is but one of the many names this scintillating city has received over the centuries.) Reading her liner notes as a teenager in the 90s opened up my eyes to just how much there was out there to find musically- popular and classical alike. Loreena seems possessed by a constant passion and desire to constantly explore both the world and its music.
In 1998, McKennitt scored her biggest hit with “The Mummers’ Dance.” She became a hit in America, which led to The Book of Secrets selling more than four million copies. Unfortunately, her world crumbled that July when her fiancé, Ronald Rees, died while on a sailing trip with his brother and a family friend in Georgian Bay. Everything stopped immediately in order for McKennitt to grieve. Loreena did not return to the studio for the rest of the millennium, although she remained active in concerts, seemingly taking time to heal.
Finally Loreena McKennitt released her seventh studio album, Ancient Muse, in 2006. Nights from the Alhambra, a live CD/DVD performed at the fabled castle, arrived in 2007, followed by Midwinter Night’s Dream, a collection of holiday music. A Mediterranean Odyssey was released in 2009; the two-disc set included Olive and the Cedar, an 11-song compilation of some of her best-loved Mediterranean pieces, along with From Istanbul to Athens, which was recorded live on her 2009 Mediterranean tour. In 2010, McKennit returned with The Wind That Shakes the Barley, an album that found her revisiting the traditional Celtic style of her earlier work, coming full circle to her roots.
Loreena has released exclusively under her own label, Quinlan Road, and has earned her very respectable niche in the celtic-world circle. Her three Christmas albums, To Drive The Cold Winter Away, Winter Garden and Miswinter Night’s Dream are marvelous recordings- a mixture of traditional and original compositions. McKennitt’s arrangements vary in scope and mood, in To Drive The Cold Winter Away she affects a reserved, almost austere atmosphere with minimalist instrumentation. It is incredibly delightful and atmospheric, and her championing of the more traditional English seasonal carols as “To Drive The Cold Winter Away”, “The Seasons”, and “The Wexford Carol” can only enrich a listener. In Winter Garden she creates surprising twists, such as the mediterranean/arabic flair she adds to the familiar “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, which is a surprising and refreshingly successful invention. From McKennitt I learned the value of simplicity in arrangements, and of exploring less familiar options to a musical problem.
Our physical CDs are slated to arrive on the 9th/10th of December. To that effect, we’ve started taking pre-orders of the CDs in question. If you want to pre-order so that you can get “Once Upon A Winter” as soon as possible, simply follow this link to the store, and you will be able to purchase it with just a few clicks!
Everybody has specific things they remember fondly from the Christmases of their childhood. There’s the family gatherings, the jollity and good will; shimmering ornamented trees, the food, the laughter. For me, it has always been the music.
A large part of Christmas for me was underscored by the unique and characteristic songs of the season. The act of caroling (and, in my country, Las Posadas) - actively bringing music into other people’s homes as a sign of cheerful goodwill was an amazing thing to me. In an age where watching television has replaced singing around the piano as a family past-time, these songs not only carry with them a link to our childhoods but also a link to one of our most human characteristics: the desire, the need for music-making, and the desire to share the joy of it.
Once Upon A Winter, my first recording project, is my way of revisiting that special musical place that makes the season so memorable, and hopefully it is a way to provide you, the listener, with a similar experience. For this, my first CD, I have chosen a selection of carols and songs that may not be as well-known as (for example) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen or We Wish You A Merry Christmas, but rather I have chosen selections from all over the world to highlight the richness and variety of the Christmas musical tradition.
1. Veni, Veni Emanuel is a well-known Latin carol whose text goes back to the 12th century, and it is believed that the music comes from a 15th Century processional for French Franciscan nuns. It is a solemn and serene hymn, with suggested Gregorian influences. (Sample)
2. Noel Nouvelet is a lively 15th century carol from France. It was originally sung on the New Year instead of Christmas- the word nouvelet is from the same root as noël, both words meaning ‘new.’ The melody of the carol may have found its origins in the hymn Ave, Maris Stella Lucens Miseris. (Sample)
3. Dormi, Dormi is a traditional Italian carol with a recurring setting in many carols: the Virgin Mary sings her son to sleep. The lullaby alternates with a rather joyful and lively refrain. (Sample)
4. Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle is a very popular and lighthearted carol in Italy. It was composed by father Alphonsus Liguori to a poem by Pope Pius IX. This carol is associated with the zampogna or Italian bagpipe, which is often played in accompanying the carol. Liguori composed Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle In 1744, while staying at Convent of the Consolation in the small town of Deliceto. (Sample)
5. Stille Nacht is, perhaps, the most famous of Christmas carols. Composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, an Auztrian primary school teacher and church organist in the village of Arnsdor. While widely known in its present incarnation as a tranquil lullaby, Gruber’s original version was slightly more a playful and lively tune in 6/8 time. I chose the more serene of the two versions for pure personal preference. (Sample)
6. Lulazje Jesuniu. While looking for carols that were not as widespread in the United States, I came across this gentle Polish lullaby. In Poland, it is sung in church at a special moment during midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Composer Fréderic Chopin incorporated it into his Scherzo #1 in B minor, op. 20. (Sample)
7. The Carol Of The Birds - Noël des Ausels, a traditional French carol, is nowadays more commonly known as the Carol Of The Birds, as it was arranged by Chip Davis in his 1984 Christmas album. I wrote this short series of variations on the carol for the baroque alto recorder. (Sample)
8. La Marimorena is a typically festive, exhuberant Spanish carol. The word ‘marimorena’ translates roughly into ‘ruckus’, and the chorus exhorts the listener to ‘raise the voice/raise a ruckus’ because Christmas Eve has arrived. Many Spanish carols have a humorous touch to them, and this one is no exception- in different stanzas it tells us that Saint Joseph’s underwear has been gnawed by intruder mice, and that an old, pot-bellied man is feeding breadcrumbs to the Christ child from his frying pan. (Sample)
9. Ta Kalanda According to Greek tradition, children hit the streets to carol on Christmas Eve. They visit every house whilst singing the Kalanda- a traditional carol- while accompanying themselves with triangles and drums. A very festive carol, it is full of good wishes towards the dwellers of the houses- and often the children are rewarded for their singing with treats such as candy or money. I first heard this lively traditional Greek carol in Nana Mouskouri’s Christmas album, many years ago, and I fell in love with its candid simplicity. (Sample)
10. De Tierra Lejanacomes all the way from Puerto Rico. Sung from the point of view of the Three Wisemen, this carol is rich in rythm, almost begging you to dance along. (Sample)
11. Greensleeves To A Ground is a series of variations written on the 16th century melody “Greensleeves.” It first appeared in the first collection of “The Division Flute” from 1706, but it is most likely much older than that. Its composer’s name has unfortunately faded into anonymity. The Christmas connection to “Greensleeves” comes from William Chatterton Dix, who in 1865 wrote the text for the carol ‘What Child Is This’, setting it to the tune “Greensleeves.” (Sample)
12. Hush My Babe also known as the Kentucky Carol, was the last song in Isaac Watt’s collection titled Divine and Moral Songs For Children (1715.) Watts apparently drew on a traditional Kentucky mountain tune for his text, yet another traditional Christmas lullaby. (Sample)
13. This Endris Night is a traditional English song whose earliest manuscript dates from c. 1475. This lyrical and nuanced carol is unfortunately hardly performed nowadays, and for this recording I chose selected stanzas out of a total of fourteen. The opening line of the text, ‘this endris night’, means ‘the other night’ or ‘several nights ago.’ (Sample)
14. Ave Maria is a traditional Catholic prayer asking for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps the most famous setting of the Ave Maria is Franz Schubert’s musical setting- however, the piece was not originally a setting for the Ave Maria. It was composed as a setting of ‘Ellens dritter Gesang‘, a song from Walter Scott’s popular epic poem ‘The Lady of the Lake.’ The opening words and refrain of the song, namely “Ave Maria” (Latin, “Hail Mary”), may have led to the idea of adapting Schubert’s melody as a setting for the full text of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer. (Sample)
15. In The Bleak Midwinter was originally a poem by Christina Rosetti written in 1872, submitted to the magazine Scribner’s Monthly as a Christmas poem. It entered the musical world when it appeared in 1906′s The English Hymnal in with a setting by composer Gustav Holst. To me, this is one of the loveliest carols, and one that always embodies the ‘feeling’ of Christmas, musically. The first time I heard it, it was not the original Holst choral setting, but Julie Andrew’s rendition on her album Christmas With Julie Andrews. To this day, it remains my favorite version of the carol. (Sample)
I want to thank everyone who came to Immigrant Voices at the Mountain Grind, it was a very fun recital and it was great to be able to perform locally to such a welcoming audience. I also would like to thank Susan Volk for opening her corner of Cooper Creek Square, the Mountain Grind, to my recital. Her hospitality made holding this recital a delight. Thanks also to my accompanist, Joan Shaw, who performed with gusto and aplomb.
Last, but not least, thanks to all of you who came to hear us! I hope we’ll see you again at the time of our next recital.
Tenor Pablo Romero performs a varied selection of pieces in several styles and genres, ranging from Italian Romanticism, Latin America Classical composers, to Contemporary American composers and musical theatre. The songs are complemented by actual letters of immigrants from all over the world; the musical journey mirroring their journey of self discovery. Immigrant Voices is a celebration of America's heritage, of its present, and its future. $5 Cover Charge At Door
I would like to reflect a little upon one of my favorite characters in a Mozart opera– Don Ottavio. When examining the regular repertoire of Mozart tenors out there, the usual offerings are always musically satisfying, but often rather uninteresting as characters ( I have often commented that Tamino in Die Zauberflote is essentially rather gullible young man who ends up getting sucked up into a cult!) However, there are also characters that are interesting, but are often dismissed under wrong assumptions concerning the nature of the character. One of these poor fellows is Don Ottavio:
Don Ottavio’s age is a crucial part of how his character behaves, the consideration of his effectiveness is at the core of his actions. From a historical perspective, it would be natural for Ottavio to be an older man in relation to Donna Anna- in fact, he could very well be close to the Commendatore’s age, or slightly younger.
This choice, as mentioned before, makes sense from a historical perspective (it is hard to conceive that Donna Anna would have had much of a say in the choice of her fiancé at this point in history and social rank) but also puts a contrast between Don Ottavio and the titular Don Giovanni. Giovanni is young, strong and full of energy, whereas Ottavio is no longer the young man he used to be: his actions are covered with the extra layer of caution one is likely to acquire with age (if not through more judicious thinking, then at least out of self-preservation.) He is far from being Don Giovanni’s physical equal and to confront him without solid evidence (which he gets at the end of Act I) is to take unnecessary risks.
Age also changes the perspective from which he attacks his two arias. “Dalla Sua Pace” sung by an older Ottavio must acquire a certain melancholy: he wishes for nothing in the world except for Donna Anna to be happy, and his happiness is directly tied to hers. He is an older man who now must be more than a future husband to his distraught fiancée, he must adopt a paternal position (Don Ottavio as an older man is reinforced in Act I, Scene III, No.2 where Ottavio says “lascia, cara, la rimembranza amara: hai sposo e padre in me” during their duet immediately after discovering the Commendatore’s body) and his first thought is not one of avenging Donna Anna, but a gesture of affection and a mature reflection on their intertwined fate.
“Il Mio Tesoro”, on the other hand, becomes the moment of redemption for Ottavio. In the face of all the atrocities committed by Giovanni (and which link him to the original crime- the Commendatore’s death) he can no longer be cautious or hesitant- it is time for him to finally awaken and bring much-delayed justice to bear upon Don Giovanni’s head ( with perhaps the best moment for a full dramatic awakening of the character happening on the “vado” of “a vendicar io vado!” which culminates on a held high F, and which descends down an octave.) This is the moment in which Ottavio passes from reasonable doubt to absolute certainty, and it should reflect in the character’s expressions and movement, his sense of resolve has shifted from protecting and comforting Donna Anna towards full retaliation. In truth, Ottavio’s turning was triggered at the Don’s party, but this is the first time Ottavio has an opportunity to have a moment all to himself, dramatically.
Ottavio’s heroic purpose is not insincere, but fortunately he is spared having to deal with the Don himself: his purpose and morals are noble, but we have already seen the Don is most capable in a fight, and we get the impression Ottavio wouldn’t survive a duel with Giovani. Rather, the Don finds death comes to visit him as a result of his own actions— leaving Donna Elvira to find closure, Donna Anna to mourn, and Don Ottavio to hope perchance to marry her someday.
If Don Ottavio is played as a young man, I think it would be important to play him as a younger man to Don Giovanni: whereas the older Don Ottavio is at a physical disadvantage to Giovanni, the younger Ottavio would be at a social disadvantage. As a younger man Giovanni’s ‘friendship’ to him would become more of an older man(mentor) to a young man recently introduced to society (and perhaps even add an extra layer of deceit and cruelty to Giovanni’s actions, since he essentially might have befriended Ottavio in order to get to Anna.) Having Giovanni be Ottavio’s mentor figure would explain Ottavio’s reticence to act from a different angle—Ottavio has grown accustomed to Giovanni’s front as an honorable man, and is loath to think that someone who has been such an important figure to him could be two-faced. Also, being older than Ottavio, Don Giovanni is more established a name in their society of nobility than the younger man, thus making the prospect of accusing someone with greater influence a daunting one.
In both cases Ottavio is cautious and needs proof before he acts, but in each case it comes from a different perspective (or end of the age spectrum, as it is.)
The other issue at hand is that of social rank: Giovanni and Ottavio are both equals in rank, though we don’t know exactly how powerful each truly is (who has a greater number of land, riches, etc.) The nature of their stratified society makes dealing with Giovanni a more difficult matter, since although nobles could adjudicate to lower classes, targeting someone in the strata of nobility was tricky. Frank E. Smitha writes that “In Spain the landed aristocracy was holding on to its powers, and many if not most Spaniards clung to the values of the aristocracy. They believed that business was fit only for Jews, Arabs and other foreigners. (…) Spain’s nobility was one tenth of its population. They spent some of their fortune seeking government office, and in government, it is said, were thirty parasites for every man who did an honest day’s work. Some of the nobility maintained customs barriers as a source of revenue, taxing commerce and driving up prices.”
It is clear that Giovanni has been getting away with his trademark conduct for some time, and that he has not come to an untimely death only to the possibility of his influence. No amount of influence, however, can eventually keep his misdeeds from coming to a head—Don Giovanni as an opera demonstrates what is possibly the worst day in the life of the Don, but also the breaking point of the privilege which has shielded him for so long—he has accumulated outrage after outrage and strung them up through his life like a collar of pearls. The end of the opera shows what happens when the string breaks and the pent-up hatred he has accumulated runs unchecked: his enemies gradually hound him to destruction. The true catalyst (in the opera) of Don Giovanni’s misfortune is Donna Elvira, whose mixture of insane devotion and righteous revulsion allows Ottavio and Elvira to find an ally, and sets the Don’s doom in motion starting at the end of Act I, with the Don’s apparent victory (by escape.)
Ottavio at his very core is a noble character. He is not ideally heroic, as his caution robs him of the opportunity to end evil before it can cause more harm, but he nevertheless does not waver when he knows that his course is true. To portray him in weakness is to mistake the nature of his character: he is not a dashing personality, his most natural impulse is to protect, and it is this impulse that he eventually must overcome in order to champion Donna Anna.
Not An Ordinary Sunday: The Essence of Sunday In The Park With George
I have often regarded Stephen Sondheim as one of the most gifted and theatrically-savvy Broadway composers in the mid and late 20th century. He has had brilliant successes (Into the Woods, Sweenie Todd, Company) and he has had failures (Anyone Can Whistle) ~ though most of his one-time failures have returned as favorites (Anyone Can Whistle is a brilliant score.) The thing that compels Sondheim is always the mind- there is a powerful intellectual drive in his composition; he seeks to integrate everything into a complete work of art.
Sondheim seeks to balance substance with glamour, but he never condescends to his audience—musical innovation is first and foremost, the demands of the libretto and the treatment of character and language never take second place to ‘what is popular.’ It is in this that Sondheim is immediately cast as the opposite of Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose approach is antithetical to Sondheim: Where Sondheim seeks interesting complexity and artistic nuance, Webber paints everything with almost caricature-like broad strokes, where Sondheim seeks to explore moral and psychological complexities, Webber has little use for character development (except for his first major popular work, Jesus Christ Superstar, which had a solidity never again reprised) and instead prefers spectacle over substance.
Stephen Sondheim has often been accused of being ‘unmelodic’ and ‘tuneless’- but nothing could be further from the truth. Sondheim is melodic- in the same way Johan Sebastian Bach is melodic: melodic entities are interwoven with rich counterpoint, so often there is not one predominant “tune” occurring during one particular scene but several smaller melodies that are craftily interwoven… with a “tune” emerging at moments of special significance. In Into The Woods, for example, the patter and frenetic Your Fault, which is a rapid-fire exchange between all of the main characters trying to place the blame on each other, builds up to the emergence of the Witch’s “tune” The Last Midnight, her character’s exit song in which she exposes all of the moral fallacies of the other characters- the things they had tried to escape by shifting the blame.
The composer is no stranger to the leitmotif , a recurring theme, associated with a particular person, place, or idea- and his employment of it is another way in which he ties the psychological nature of his characters together. For example, in Into The Woods, Rapunzel’s seven-note vocalized leitmotif with which her character is inextricably linked is later shown to belong to the Witch, her adoptive mother, in the paranoid song ‘Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?’- showing the influence, mostly subconscious, that her constant message has had on her daughter. This eventually revisited and capitulated in the finale of the show by the Witch as she sings ‘Careful the things you say… children will listen’. The opening mini-leitmotif of “I Wish” (a sharp, rising major second interval) is both repeated and developed throughout the show at the same pace as the story explores the consequences of pursuing whims with thoughtless abandon.
A solid Sondheim musical is not something that is quickly consumed and thrown away as a divertissement, but often there are many things that are left to be discovered upon re-visiting the work. One of Sondheim’s crowning achievements is his musical Sunday In The Park With George, which might be called his Capriccio. Operatic composer Richard Strauss created an opera called Capriccio , which poses the question ‘Which is the greater art, poetry or music?’ This question is dramatized in the story of a Countess torn between two suitors: Olivier, a poet, and Flamand, a composer- with the Countess eventually serving as the allegorical combination of both arts and a metaphorical personification of Opera itself. It was Strauss’ love letter to his art form, and Sondhein’s Sunday In The Park With George is his Capriccio, but with a wider scope: it is his homage to the creative process itself.
The plot of the musical centers around pointillist painter Georges Seurat and his quest to finish his painting Sunday Afternoon on The Island of La Grande Jatte. Throughout the musical we are introduced to Georges’ relationships- his mistress (Dot), his mother, his ‘friends’, all of them exhibiting varying degrees of understanding (or lack thereof) concerning his burning obsession with his work: his mother does not understand him at all, his ‘friends’ (an artist and his wife) dismiss his work, the general public considers him an eccentric, whilst only Dot seems to realize the guise of his genius. Nevertheless, even Dot cannot cope with Georges’ constant battle within and without himself, a sort of self-motivated crucible to depurate his work to match his own standards of perfection. Dot feels ignored while Georges seems to focus on her solely as an object for color and light in his painting- and becomes patently upset with him when, instead of taking her out to the Follies one night, he recants with “… I must finish the hat…”
Georges’ hat is an example of the pull his vocation has on him- while reflecting on Dot’s abandonment of him for another man, he muses
I had thought she understood.
They have never understood, and no reason that they should.
But if anybody could . . . .
Finishing the hat–how you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world from a window
while you finish the hat.
Mapping out a sky . . . what you feel like, planning a sky . . .
What you feel when voice that come through the window
go, until they distance and die
Until there’s nothing but sky.
He delves deeper into the process- for Georges, drawing a hat isn’t merely a matter of drawing a few lines, but of
Studying the hat
Entering the world of the hat
Reaching through the world of the hat like a window
Back to this one, from that.
Studying a face . . . stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way, like a window
But to see . . . it’s the only way to see
The character isn’t simply copying what he sees. In fact, he is making his own recreation of reality, his own interpretation of the world he sees. Seurat, in Sondheim’s musical, is almost childlike in his capacity to be transfixed by the world around him, and transfixed by the light which makes all vision possible. Two women remark of him, “They say he prowls through the streets in his top hat after midnight- And stands there staring up at the lamps!”- to them it is an eccentricity that proves his insanity, but many who have studied painting recognize in this the first commandment of the artist: Look! This Seurat is fascinated with light, and so he studies it in all conditions. In her journal, Dot writes of him “So much love in his words. Forever with his colors. How Georges looks. He can look forever. What does he see? His eyes so dark and shiny. So careful… so exact…”
We are treated to several scenes in which Seurat sketches different characters- and inhabits them, either imagining dialogues between them (such as with the stray dogs) or repeating things they say verbatim (such as the old sailor), the artist’s hand moves with his mind, embracing the whole of the world in his fascination for existence. Perhaps the most touching moment occurs in an exchange between mother and son, where she finally breaks down her barriers and laments that things change, that there are towers where there were trees, and things are no longer beautiful. Georges replies like a true artist:
All things are beautiful, Mother.
All trees, all towers, beautiful–
That tower beautiful, Mother.
See? A perfect tree.
Pretty isn’t beautiful, Mother.
Pretty is what changes . . .
what the eye arranges
is what is beautiful!
The statement that “pretty isn’t beautiful- what the eye arranges is what is beautiful” is a powerful statement- prettiness is more often than not accidental. Beauty, Georges says, lies behind intention: what art seeks to communicate isn’t simply a pretty picture, but a deep philosophical statement that says ‘this is what matters, this is what must be!’. “You’re changing, I’m changing, I’ll draw us now before we fade” Georges tells his mother, his way of reaching in his own language—and she finally understands, saying “You make it beautiful.”
The power of artistic intention is stated at the very beginning of the musical, in the real Seurat’s own words: “White: A blank page, or canvas. The challenge: bring order to the whole through design, composition, tension, balance, light and harmony.” This is the theme that haunts the musical throughout its course- the pursuit and achievement of uniqueness and intention, the acquisition of beauty. It may be easy to think that for Georges, beauty is attained at the sacrifice of all of his relationships- but this is a false impression. Even though Dot and Georges’ relationship deteriorates to the point of her leaving him for the baker Louie, Dot never ceases to admire and love him.
Her departure comes from the realization that her self-esteem was derived from her relationship with Georges, whereas Georges was autonomous. His pursuit of his goal hurt Dot, because she was co-dependent. In her departure she says “No, you are complete, George, you are your own- I am unfinished, I am diminished with or without you.” The problem is not Georges’, it is Dot’s. Instead of choosing to face it, she leaves with Louie to America, carrying Georges’ child. Georges’ mother eventually comes to understand him, even if his ‘friends’ do not- but it is irrelevant if they do or not, as Jules (the painter friend) clearly dismisses anything that is not fashionable and would never truly accept the artistic pursuit of uniqueness. Seurat would have gained nothing by attempting to pacify these ‘friends’ and work on conventional projects, and instead would have lost everything.
Seurat is thought to have altered the direction of modern art because of his extraordinary style. The painting at the center of the musical is a masterful application of color theory, in which tiny little dots of paint populate the canvas. Up close, they look like nothing more than a multicolored field of dots, but if you stand back the effect is breathtaking. In his painting, complex colors are created by the eye blending basic colors placed next to each other. To some, it might suggest that the painting was created with an almost deconstructivist perspective, but in the context of the musical and of Seurat’s writings it seems to acquire an almost joyous exhuberance- the joy of a man who understands how light and color work, and who enjoys demonstrating it in his works through his prodigious skill.
The climax of act one occurs as all of the characters converge on the park, erupting into a massive argument and chaos. Surrounded and affected by this disorder, it is at this crucial moment that he states the values that embody his ideal of art, after his mother calls to him, saying “Remember, Georges!”:
“Order!” he calls out, and the characters stand at attention. “Design” he continues, going through his list of crucial elements and rearranging the characters into their specific positions. As the list grows, and after “Tension”, an unresolved chord hangs over his recitation, increasing in stridence until he seals his list with the last word:”Harmony.” Sondheim resolves the chord into a peaceful repeated theme on the piano, and the chorus hauntingly sings the leitmotif that was heard at the beginning of the musical in the trumpet, now fully developed into the main ‘tune’:
By the blue-Purple-yellow-red water
On the green-Purple-yellow-red grass,
Let us pass through our perfect park,
Pausing on a Sunday…”
This is the completion of Georges’ quest, the achievement of beauty: his great work has been achieved. He joins into the song, singing triumphantly as if all struggles prior to attaining the Work were insignificant in the face of his achievement. The ensemble works itself into a grandiose crescendo, ending with
Let us pass
Through arrangements of shadows
Towards the verticals of tree
The goal of his quest is immortality: his painting, though initially lukewarm in its reception then, has now been assured of its timelessness- all of the characters, which are all of his relationships in one way or another, have become part of his masterpiece even when some of them had opposed it. Act one ends with a triumphant celebration of the intention of the artist, of his metaphysical statement. Sondheim could have ended the musical there with a wonderful note. However, he is not done.
After a benevolently humorous interlude in which the characters of the painting comment on ‘being frozen up here, forever’ (the painting version of Jules says ‘I hope my cigar doesn’t bother you… unfortunately, it never goes out’) act two takes place in the United States, in the modern day. The protagonist is George- the grandson of Georges Seurat, and an artist also fascinated with light. Unfortunately George has to deal with the red tape and the wrangling that plagues much of modern art nowadays- in which artists must become their own publicists, strike deals, bargain for commissions and connections, remarking “This is the state of the art, my friend.” Several chorus members also remark about the strange miasma that modern art has become, declaring themselves positively baffled by some of the trends. George himself has fallen victim to trends, with his “Chromolumes” having become repetitive incidents after the first original piece. His grandmother Marie, Dot’s daughter and his only remaining relative, is concerned for him. Old and feeble, and in poor health, she worries what will become of George, and why he is so sad. In the opening of George’s most recent Chromolume, it is mentioned that he and Marie will visit La Grande Jatte, where his famous grandfather was inspired.
Unfortunately, Marie dies before the trip and George finds La Grande Jatte to be a barren industrial park, no longer having the distinctive, scintillating presence from Seurat’s painting. Reading a book Marie had left for him – Dot’s journal- George proceeds to unwind his own crisis, admitting to himself
See George remember how George used to be.
Stretching his vision in every direction.
See George attempting to see a connection.
When all he can see is maybe a tree…
-the family tree!
George is afraid. George sees the park. George sees it dying.
George too may fade, leaving no mark, just passing through.
Just like the people out strolling on Sunday…
This crisis brings up the spirit of Dot, forever associated with La Grande Jatte (she is the woman in purple holding the parasol with a monkey on her leash). She speaks to him as if he were his grandfather, asking him “Are you working on something new?” “No,” replies Seurat’s descendant, “That isn’t like you, George” Dot says. George is so obsessed with finding the next new thing that he hasn’t truly delved within himself. His grandfather was a man consumed by a mission, because he found it deep within himself- George is yet to find that because he is too focused on the opinions of others and their judgment on whether his work is ‘new’ or not. Dot violently sings
Stop worrying if your vision is new.
Let others make that decision . . .
they usually do!
You keep moving on.
Look at what you want,
Not at what you are
Not at what you’ll be
Look at all the things you gave to me.
Just keep moving on.
Anything you do, let it come from you–
then it will be new.
Give us more to see!
George finally understands, and begins to read the words on the journal about his grandfather, “Forever with his colors…” he continues, as the characters of the painting emerge once more for a reprise of “Sunday.” All throughout the chorus, George reads the words left behind by Dot. However, this time the crescendo is different, and the characters retreat one by one until George is alone on the stage. He reads the final words on the journal: “White… a blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities.” He turns around to see that everything has become bleached into a white canvas, with the image of Dot disappearing slowly behind it. Whereas act one celebrated Seurat’s achievement of beauty, act two ends in a celebratory note to the spirit of future achievements, as George is faced with endless possibilities for his artistic endeavor- the horns repeating the interval belonging to the word ‘Sunday’ in salute and promise of the future.
I love Sunday In The Park With George because a masterfully created affirmation of the spirit of the artist, and the quest of all arts, and nobody else but Sondheim could have accomplished it so beautifully.