The music of ruin

I was checking my iTunes to see if I already had a version of the “Turkish March” from Beethoven’s incidental music to The Ruin of Athens, Op. 113 (I’ll get to why I was engaged in this search later). Turns out I had four tracks with ruin in the track name or the album name:

“Ruint”, by Johnny Hodges with Duke Ellington, from Side by Side (see my ruint posting);

“Ruiner”, by Nine Inch Nails, from The Downward Spiral

“Don’t Ruin Our Happy Home”, from the “Odds & Ends” volume of Guilty: 30 Years of Randy Newman

“Ruination Day (Part 2)”, by Gillian Welch, from Time (The Revelator) (Have I mentioned how wonderful I think Gillian Welch is?)

And now one recording of the “Turkish March”, with more to come.

But five tracks scarcely scratch a micrometer into the surface of the ruin phenomenon; it turns out that the word is just huge in the music world.

If we could look for the word in lyrics as well as track, performer, and album names, we’d be totally overwhelmed. I happen to own a concordance to the 1991 Sacred Harp, so I can tell you that six (of 554) shapenote songs there have the word in them, and I have three of them on my iTunes, one of those (“Calvary”) in no fewer than eight different performances (it’s a big favorite of singers):

Beheld my soul in ruin lies (#484 Heavenly Union)
Where nature all in ruin lies (#300 Calvary)
He saw me ruined by the fall (#424 Sweet Union)

Then there’s:

Will you then to ruin run? (#322 Man’s Redemption)
– To save the lost and ruined nation (ditto)
And pity a ruined lost race (#104 The Lovely Story)
He saw me ruined in the fall (#275 Loving Kindness)

Moving onto the original search, now expanded to everything on’s music store under “ruin”: this picks up a huge pile of names, among them (in no particular order):

Performer: My Ruin, Ruins, Julie Ruin, Within the Ruins, Ruins of Beverast, Dead Girls Ruin Everything, Digital Ruin, Rockets to Ruin, Arise and Ruin, …

Album: Modern Ruin, Road to Ruin, Roads Bridges and Ruins, Love Among the Ruins, Ruin Jonny’s First Bar Mitzvah, How to Ruin Everything, Rage and Ruins

While we are fleeing the ruins: why, you ask, was I looking for Beethoven’s “Turkish March”?  Well, on Wednesday, Ned Deily came by with a present for me: some (amateur) LP recordings that he had laboriously turned into a CD for me. Recordings from almost 55 years ago. Recordings from piano recitals I gave at the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Arts (in Wyomissing PA — it’s a few miles west of Reading) in 1956 and 1957, when I was, omigod, 15 and 16.

Here’s a sample from ’57, a track with two parts. The first is “The Three Marias” by Heitor Villa Lobos, three miniatures (“Alnitah”, “Alnilam”, “Mintika” — the three Marias in question) on a Brazilian folk story, mostly in the piano’s higher register (the playing is preceding by a short but almost inaudible intro by me, so be patient). The second is a mystery Spanish Dance; if you can guess the composer (Ned, you’re disqualified), you’ll get a small prize — a copy of Gregory Corso’s  Gasoline (incorporating The Vestal Lady of Brattle Street), in which you can find not only “Song” (“I married the pig’s daughter!”) but also the sad “The Last Warmth of Arnold”. (Send answers to me by e-mail, not as comments on this posting.) Click here for the track.

(If you don’t like guessing games, you can hear the ’57 performance of Schubert’s Moments Musicaux No. 4: click here to hear the piece.)

A very strange experience, listening to this stuff after many years; the recordings have moved with me from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Massachusetts to Illinois to Ohio to California, and I hadn’t played them for some time. Hard to believe that I was that kid.

And the experience led me to try to reconstruct musical events from those years. A lot of it is still jumbled in my memory and full of holes. There was the recital in spring of 1956 (I’ve unearthed a program for it, so that much is fixed), a considerably more ambitious recital in the spring of 1957 (I think), and somewhere in there I auditioned for the Reading Symphony Orchestra’s summer Youth Concert, won a place, and performed with (I think) four others (a clarinetist and three pianists) in the summer of 1957. (The three pianists are important.)

I recall only snatches of the audition — with a screen separating me from the judges, their identities unknown to me until afterwards. One of them turned out to have been Vincent Persichetti, and I have just now replaced some now-gone LPs of his works by digital recordings on my iTunes.

(As a result of playing the recital recordings, I’ve also added some Paderewski and Villa Lobos to my iTunes.)

I’m not entirely sure what I played at the summer concert. Some Schubert Moments Musicaux for sure, and there were group performances, involving two and three pianos; there was a symphony arrangement in there for sure (but which movement of which symphony?). And I recall one of them as being, yes, the “Turkish March” from The Ruins of Athens.

On the other hand, I certainly played that piece, in a four-hand arrangement, with another Reading Eagle summer intern who started there with me in 1958 (Ellen went on to become an art historian, while I went on to mathematics and then linguistics; the other two interns did stay in the newspaper business). So maybe I have these things mixed up.

The “Turkish March” still evokes warm feelings for me, though objectively I understand that it’s a bit of military fluff, artistically nowhere near some of Beethoven’s other adventures in overtures and incidental music (in particular, the Egmont overture).

By 1959 I was reviewing the RSO summer concerts for the paper. Kids grow up fast.

And old folks do go on.

5 Responses to “The music of ruin”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    There’s a nice recording available of “As Três Marias” as played by Sonia Rubinsky (on Disc 6 of the Naxos piano works by Villa Lobos).

  2. How you do go on! « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

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    […] Gasoline Prize By arnold zwicky A little while back, I offered a modest prize — a copy of Gregory Corso’s Gasoline (1958), which has marrying the […]

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