Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Ignaz Pleyel

April 29, 2015

Ignaz Pleyel’s Symphony in G Major (Benton 130) went by me on WQXR (classical music in NYC) yesterday, and I was reminded what a fascinating character Pleyel is. This will lead us to shapenote singing and then, via the composer’s personal name, to the Jesuits and Krazy Kat.


Armenian days

April 27, 2015

Some time ago I came to consciousness in the middle of the night to intriguing music from WQXR (classical music from NYC): a collage of melodies, many hauntingly semi-familiar. Hmm, Charles Ives? Not any Ives I recognized, and quieter and less assertive than you expect from Ives. Unfamiliar and charming.

Symphony No. 50 Mount St Helens by Alan Hovhaness. And that took me to Armenians in the U.S., especially to the west of Boston (near where I lived when I was in grad school); to the Armenian diaspora; and to the genocide, a hundred years ago, that triggered the dispersal of Armenians.


Elsa Lanchester

April 27, 2015

In idle chat with Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky at breakfast on Saturday, Elsa Lanchester’s album Bawdy Cockney Songs came up, including the double entendre in “Linda and her Londonderry Air”. My grand-daughter Opal finds these songs entertaining, but we’re not sure how much of this stuff she gets.

From the album, two songs (“The Husband’s Clock”, “Lola’s Saucepan”):

Then I pointed out that beyond her music hall performances, Lanchester was a well-known actress (most famous for Bride of Frankenstein but quite accomplished in many other, less campy, roles) and also the wife of Charles Laughton, with whom she often acted.


Morning: Great American Dream Machine

April 26, 2015

This morning’s name: the television show The Great American Dream Machine. Bonus: grades of olives and their names.


Youthful enthusiasms

April 24, 2015

(About music rather than language.)

In the May Harper’s, an entertaining piece on “New Music” by Terry Castle — a literary scholar (specializing in the history of the novel) at Stanford, and sometime writer on popular culture. The Harper’s piece is about old music become new, focusing on Robin Williamson, once of the Incredible String Band.

Terry begins with a confession:

Is there anything more shaming than doting on the electrified English folk-rock of the late Sixties and early Seventies? It’s taken me, I confess, a dreadfully long time to come to terms with it — to acknowledge that I adore, nay, have always adored, the whole tambourinetapping, raggle-taggle mob of them: Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, John Renbourn, Shirley Collins, Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, Steeleye Span, Maddy Prior, Richard and Linda Thompson, Lindisfarne. I still venerate Jethro Tull and its leader, the psychedelic flutist Ian Anderson, unforgettable for his dandified overcoat, harelike skittishness, and giant comic aureole of red beard and frizzy hair. It’s like admitting you’d rather go to the local Renaissance Faire than hear Mahler’s Lieder at Wigmore Hall.

One is cruelly dated by one’s doting. The British fad for switched-on folk reached its apogee somewhere between 1968, when the Incredible String Band released its sitar-laced masterwork, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, and 1978, the year that the lissome but likely inebriated Sandy Denny, former lead singer of Fairport Convention, died of blunt head trauma after falling down a flight of stairs. Yes, one capered and twirled through it all. Alas, one is now fairly eldritch oneself — positively rime-covered.

I shared Terry’s enthusiasms then — and now as well. And I’m a dozen years older than she is. Rime-covered, indeed.


Spring Sonata

April 12, 2015

(About music rather than language.)

On the radio show Exploring Music by Bill McGlaughlin (from WFMT in Chicago, but I get it through WQXR in New York), this week (April 6 – 10) was Spring is Here week:

Spring is in the air as we celebrate the coming of flowers and sunshine from under the melting winter ice here on Exploring Music. Vivaldi, Strauss, Chopin and more.

Much wonderful music. For me, the highlight of the week was Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata” (Frühlingssonate) : the Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Opus 24 (1801).


Two obits

April 11, 2015

In my print copy of the NYT yesterday, two notable obits, for Ralph Sharon (the musician) and Richard Dysart (the actor).


No vowels

April 11, 2015

In the April 13th New Yorker, a Talk of the Town piece “The Musical Life: New Translation” by Alec Wilkinson about Cassandra Wilson:

The title of the Egyptian funerary papyrus “Book of the Dead” is more accurately translated as “Coming Forth by Day.” It was called “Book of the Dead” by Wallis Budge, who translated the manuscript for the British Museum, in 1895. “Coming Forth by Day” is also the title of Cassandra Wilson’s new record, which is an homage to Billie Holiday, who would have turned one hundred on April 7th.

The other morning, Wilson visited the Egyptian wing of the Met, waiting in the security line among schoolchildren on field trips.

… “I’ve been fascinated by Egyptology for ten years,” she said. “Ancient Egypt was called Kmt. Their language didn’t have vowels, much like Hebrew. The Greeks called the people from Kmt the Aegyptos. ‘Kemetic’ is how you refer to the culture. The Kemetics didn’t believe in death. They believed that you were always coming back and forth from the unknown to the actual. Going to the afterlife they referred to as ‘westing,’ since the sun set in the west. For me, the thought of Billie Holiday’s spirit being reinvented in the twenty-first century connected with the concept of returning, of coming forth by day.”

Whoa! The writing system is not the language. The Ancient Egyptian writing system didn’t have symbols for vowels, but the language certainly had them. Every language does.


Stan Freberg

April 8, 2015

In today’s NYT, an obit by Douglas Martin, “Stan Freberg, Madcap Adman and Satirist, Dies at 88″:

Stan Freberg, a humorist whose sprawling imagination fueled a multifaceted career that included pretty much inventing the idea of using satire in commercials, died on Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif.

… Mr. Freberg was a hard man to pin down. He made hit comedy records, voiced hundreds of cartoon characters and succeeded Jack Benny in one of radio’s most prestigious time slots. He called himself a “guerrilla satirist,” using humor as a barbed weapon to take on issues ranging from the commercialization of Christmas to the hypocrisy of liberals.

Freberg on a 1957 comedy album. Photo: Capitol Records.



April 7, 2015

Posting about Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music recently brought me to “Edelweiss” (the song) and Edelweiss (the plant).



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