Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chaplin with organ

Went down to St. Thomas' Church, Whitemarsh, after work July 12 for one of the summer carillon concerts. (St. Thomas' has one of only nine carillons in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.) Amy Johansen, from Australia, played a vaeried, hourlong program that included some Gershwin songs; the horpipe from Handel's Water Music, minuets by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven; and even "Bridge Over Troubled Water," which I liked in her arrangement, despite feeling that I outgrew Paul Simon years ago. It was hot, but not overly so, and it was pleasant to sit out on the church grounds, read a book, watch the sun set over the suburban trees, and listen to the bells.

After the recital, everyone moved into the church for a showing of two silent Charlie Chaplin shorts — "Twenty Minutes of Love" and "The Immigrant" — accompanied by Kevin O'Malia on the organ. He brought out a wondeful sound from teh instrumetn that had me wishing he would perform there in recital. (We talked about it afterwards, and he seemed open to the idea. I suggested Nielsen's "Commotio.") I was tickled when he interjected snippets of Charles Ives' "Variations on America" into "The Immigrant," especially at the moment when the ship enters New York Harbor.

I was also happy to see Brother Gerry Molyneaux in attendance. I had took his film course whan I was a spohomore at La Salle, and I hadn't seen him in thirty-five years. Brother Gerry is a Chaplin expert — he wrote his doctoral dissertaion on City Lights — and when I learned about the films, I imformed him by email. He's a little plumper than I remembered, but he looked wonderful for a man who must be approaching eighty. (I was never sure of his age, but he was already celebrating his twenty-fifth anniversary in the brotherhood when I was in school. He's still teaching, too, and has no plans to retire.) He seemed delighted by the entire evening, including the carillon recital and the church setting. He called the organ platying seamless, and he liked O'Malia's get-up — Chaplin-like bowler hat, dark coat, bowtie, and Bermuda shorts. He said it captured Chaplin's comedy dynamic — dignity above the belt, strange things going on below — that I remmeber him talking about years ago. Now that I think about it, I realize he must have been a great teacher, because I remember much of what he said.

Good to see you again, Brother.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New column, at last

Today I posted my first column for the paper since April - a gap of nearly three months. (The link is at left.) The dry spell began after the previous reporter for The Springfield Sun resigned, and I spent close to two months writing news and features. After our new writer came on board about a month ago, I just didn't feel like it, which is always a viable excuse. I wish it had been an option in grade school.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Patriotic pap

Classical music stations go in for playing American music on the Fourth of July, just as they can't resist playing Messiah at Christmas or the Easter Oratorio at Easter. Unfortunately, much of the American music they play is not of the first rank, since most American music that would appeal to the classical radio demographic is not of the first rank. They subject us to a lot of stuff they wouldn't be caught dead broadcasting the rest of the year, such as the overblown symphonies of John Knowles Paine or William Henry Fry. Or they go in for the better, lighter fare from Gershwin and Copland, which is all very well, except there isn't very much of it, at least not enough to fill a whole day of programing.

Or they play a lot of Sousa. Now, I like Sousa, but while he's classic, he's not exactly classical, and the militarism bothers me. As I've noted elewhere, Sousa wrote great tunes that make up the soundtrack of American imperialism. I remember a few years ago, Bernard Holland, writing about Elliott Carter's Double Concerto for Harspichord and Piano, referred to what he called the "gray militancy" of the percussion parts. When I read that, I thought, you've got it all wrong: militancy is never gray. It's always cheerful, upbeat, happy. It's important that the boys are humming while they march to their deaths. Otherwise their heads would be too clear, and they might start thinking about why they don't want to go.

We do have one great piece of American classical music that pertains specifically to the Fourth of July holiday — Charles Ives's Fourth of July. It's so good you don't need the holiday as an excuse to listen to it, and yet I can't remember the last time I heard it on the radio. Brief as it is, it's much too raucous to show up on a wussy station like WRTI. And you'll never, ever hear it on the TV special from the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. So I took it upon myself to play it at home — my own sonic fireworks display, the louder the better. The only other American piece I listened to last Monday day was Elliott Carter's snappy little ASKO Concerto. Not really Americana, I grant you, but then, a lot of great American music isn't. It doesn't feel the need to be.

What did Bruckner want?

Oh, what to any of us want?

Benjamin Korstvedt has a clear and interesting article in The New York Times regarding the various editions of Bruckner's symphonies. It was helpful to me, since I've long found talk about Bruckner editions only slightly less confusing than the hubbub surrounding the chronology of the music of Charles Ives. The liner notes of every Bruckner album you buy have something to say the version used in the performance, and they all say the same thing: that the first published editions of the symphonies contain revisions and cuts that the naive, insecure Bruckner accepted on the advice of well-meaning but misguided friends, and only the editions based on his original manuscripts give us an clear idea of his real intentions.

Korstvedt says this is all hooey. Simply put, his contention is that Bruckner wanted and approved of the revisions that appear in the first published editions, and that the idea that he was somehow pressured into them against his better judgment is based on unprovable cliches about his character. This makes sense to me. I have the same problem, even at my lowly level. Whenever I go back over something I've written, I always find things that could be shortened, more felicitously phrased, or cut entirely. It's possible Bruckner felt the same way.

As a music consumer, though, I'm almost hoping Korstvedt is wrong, because my set of the complete Bruckner symphonies, with Eugen Jochum conducting the Dresden Staatskapelle, proudly avails itself of the Urtext versions edited by Richard Haas and Leopold Nowak — the very editions Krostvedt calls into question. So now, I ask myself, where do I go for my authentic Bruckner fix? And given the rage for the Urtexte that has ruled Bruckner performance since at least the 1960s, are there any recordings of the earlier published editions left in the catolog? Just how much more shopping and expense will Korstvedt's new scholarly fashion require?