Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Symphony #45 (Farewell)
Franz Josef Haydn
Adam Fischer, conductor
Underholdnings Orkester


  1. FT,
    Your personal message to the blogsophere?

    If so, I can't say that I blame you. The blogosphere's has become wacky and toxic.

    BTW, I love Haydn's symphonies. Every single one of them!

  2. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

  3. Everything is subject to interpretation, is it not, AOW?

    I'm neither burning any bridges, nor slamming any doors, but yes, I am taking a break. How long I stay away is undetermined. The blog will remain open for additional comments on this, or any previous posts, but we will have to go into moderation in order to avoid what-I-have-come-to-regard-as The Public Toilet Effect.

    I wish there were some way to know precisely how many actually WATCHED and LISTENED to the many opportunities given to enjoy great music and fine drama, how long they stayed with each selection, and how many read the articles in their entirety or made any effort to understand and enjoy the poetry?

    So few have commented intelligently on these offerings, one can't help have the feeling that all these marvels have largely been presented to empty air -- at least in this particular venue.

    My purpose, of course, has been to try to make it abundantly clear that there is a great deal more to achieving success in the Art of Living than merely indulging in the recitation of acrimonious, too-often-redundant remarks about politics, while exchanging insults with those who disagree with assertions made and facts presented.

    It's been an uphill battle to say the least. )c:§

  4. Thank you, Aurore. I appreciate your interest in these things, although I was hoping others would see the irony and the humor in this particular selection. I've always wondered how the Esterhazy Court reacted after experiencing this unique work for the first time?

    Franz Josef Haydn was most probably the least neurotic and egotistical of all the important composers. The Esterhazy regarded him as a servant and kept him in livery. Instead of feeling humiliated, slighted and unappreciated, Haydn realized he had a good, secure position, and simply went in being Haydn. He never wasted a moment of his precious time railing bitterly against the cruelties of the world or injustices of Fate. Instead, he kept his nose to the grindstone, as it were, and gave us a tremendous body of work all touched by the mark of genius and composed with great integrity.

    What may be "heartbreaking" about this performance to me is that such a minuscule percentage of the great mass of humanity -- and even among the relatively small number who think of themselves as lovers of classical music --, realize the tremendous effort, will power, energy, subtlety, vivacity, devotion, tender affection, good humor along with extraordinary awareness of fine details and how each relates properly to the whole it takes to produce a performance of this high a quality?

    I always listen in part to at least three or four available examples of any music presented here in order to find one I believe best represents the work in question.

    If nothing else, the process of blogging has enhanced my own knowledge, and increased my appreciation of things I've known and loved nearly all my life, and I thank God every day for that.

  5. Not a facetious question, FT.

    What function does the conductor serve?

    Now clearly he has to keep that engine we call an orchestra under control but what defines a great conductor?

    Really, I'd enjoy your thoughts.

  6. Are you familiar with Lawrence Kramer, FT?

    I'm thinking of picking up his book, Why Classical Music Still Matters, Are you familiar with it?

  7. Ducky, I appreciate your question, and will try to answer it intelligently later. Right now, I must get to the pharmacy to pick up a Rx.

    Please stay tuned.

  8. Ellie Rosenfield said

    Why do you post things that most people have no interest in? Why should they? These relics from a distant past have no relevance to the problems we face today. How could they? They come from a time when most people were still oppressed and taken advantage of by royalty. This man Haydn was foolish for giving so much for such a puny reward.

    Maybe he was afraid of being killed if he didn't jump whenever they snapped their fingers at him, poor man? He was little more than a slave really. The kings and aristocrats had the power of life and death over their subjects and no one could even dream of getting justice in the courts,It's a good thing all that has been done away with.

    How could you admire anything produced under such terribly unjust circumstances? It's like trying to "see the good" in the Holocaust. How perverted could you get?

  9. Re: Ducky's question

    I've wondered the same thing, so I asked my son, who is a symphony orchestra musician.

    I asked it after a Christmas show when the brought out some mentally disabled people and allowed them to enjoy a moment in the spotlight where the conductor turned over his baton to them.

    The bulk of the conductor's job is in arranging and practicing.

    On stage, each musician is wrapped up in her own part, and it's not always possible for everyone to hear everyone else, so the conductor is kinda like a visual metronome.

    That's the redneck understanding. I'm confident FreeThinke will improve upon my amateur's understanding of it.

    BTW, I don't know jack about poetry, classical music or many of the other high-minded non-political things you discuss here, FreeThinke, but I always enjoy the posts and the conversation thread.

    I think you could make a happy of of no politics none of the time here.

  10. Hello again, Mr. Duck.

    I've not read Lawrence Kramer's book, but I will look for it at my local library.

    I have, however, read the British author and and critic, Norman Lebrecht's, book "The Life and Death of Classical Music,' and his wonderful "Why Mahler, How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World."

    Lebrecht is a controversial author, but he is passionate about his subjects.

    I'm reading "Why Mahler" right now for the second time.

  11. FT,
    Was Haydn known for using "gimmicks" to spark more interest in his music?

  12. The function of the conductor is best described in Nietzsche's "On the future of our educational institutions" that describes his effect upon the "nature" of the performance... much as Socrates presence at the Dionysia affected Euripide's playwriting.

  13. PART ONE

    Sorry to be so late getting back to you, Ducky. I'm trying to get away from blogging again -- at least for a while -- bur I didn't mean to neglect your interesting and important question.

    Very briefly, a conductor is to a symphonic or operatic score what an instrumental soloist is to a Partita, a Prelude and Fugue, a Fantasy, a Sonata, a "Character Piece," or a Set of Variations.

    A musical score is to a performance what a set of blueprints and architectural renderings are to a house or a school, a public library, a museum, a city hall, a railroad station, a cathedral, a church, a temple, a theater an opera house, a concert hall, a department store, or an office building.

    A musical score may come to life in the mind of extraordinarily gifted people who can look at the printed page or manuscript and hear it in or with their minds -- the famous "inner ear."

    Most of the important conductors -- and solo performers too -- have this happy faculty. To some it comes naturally, for others it develops as the result of a combination of talent and training. No amount of training, however, can compensate for a lack of talent.

    SO, a piece of music starts, as does everything else worth knowing, with an IDEA, develops in the MIND, and becomes a product of the IMAGINATION. The composer hears it in his head, and is able to transcribe what he hears in his imagination into manuscript. Publication may or may not follow.



  14. PART TWO
    Now a conductor studies a score, and makes decisions as to what it OUGHT to sound like in performance. This results in very specific directions as to how to being out the subtle nuances implicit in each theme, each leitmotif, and each phrase. He considers how these elements best fit into each SECTION, and then how each SECTION relates to the WHOLE.

    All that is elementary. The INTERESTING part comes with the awareness of instrumentalists, soloists and audiences bring to the considerable DIFFERENCES different conductors and soloists bring to the SAME score. Developing such awareness and appreciation for these subtle-but-immensely-important differences may be apprehended in a flash but more often becomes the work of a lifetime.

    Kurt and his son are partly right, but they haven't told us the whole story.

    Really good orchestral conductors like Herbert Von Karajan, Claudio Abbado, Gerard Schwartz, James Levine, Nicolas Harnoncourt, Raymond Leppard, Neville Marriner, Christopher Hogwood, Mariss Janssens, Gustavo Dudamel, and the better choral conductors such as David Willcocks, Richard Westenberg, John Nelson, and Robert Shaw, et al. would tell you that in performance they PLAY the orchestra or the chorus as though it were a single instrument under their complete control. Just as an organist plays an organ or a pianist a piano.

    Yes, all the basic ideas are blocked out in rehearsal, but in the world of professional concert music and opera, there is rarely much time to rehearse. It’s not like high school. EVERYONE involved must know his part backwards and forwards, and be extraordinarily ATTENTIVE and FLEXIBLE, because NO ONE -- not even the conductor, himself -- knows EXACTLY what will happen during a live performance.

    When everything goes according to plan more or less, we get a FINE performance, or a GOOD performance, BUT on the rare occasions when INSPIRATION strikes a conductor or a soloist something SPONTANEOUS and ELECTRIFYING occurs, and it is the CONDUCTOR whose understanding and inspiration INFECTS the entire ensemble with the kind of excitement that got everyone involved in pursuing music in the first place, and THEN we get a truly GREAT performance.

    Ergo, the conductor is MUCH more than a metronome. He, indeed, sets the pace -- an enormously important decision all by itself -- but he also VARIES the pace, and sends signals for an infinite variety of dynamic gradations, and other changes that may involve gradually slowing or loosening of the tempo (rubato, allargando, ritardando) or quickening (accelerando) and BREATHING between phrases.
    All these considerations greatly affect audience response to a peformance. If it’s merely expert, it’s often tedious.

    SO, without the CONDUCTOR to provide all these subtle inflections and variations in tempo and dynamics (degrees of loudness and softness), the performance MIGHT hold itself together, but it would lack any kind of speific CHARACTER, which in the final analysis is the ONE thing that matters most.

    I hope that answers your question, Ducky?

  15. A very astute observation, Thersites. Thank you.

  16. FT,
    You mentioned: The composer hears it in his head, and is able to transcribe what he hears in his imagination into manuscript.

    You might find this recent article of interest: How Scientists Recorded the Music Inside One Woman's Head.

  17. As to the books of Lawrence Kramer, Norman Lebrecht and other such authors, I have not read them. Although I earned a master's degree in Musicology, I have read very little ABOUT music,because I have been much too busy for the past sixty-fve years LISTENING to it, ENJOYING it, STUDYING it, WRITING it, and PERFORMING it.

    Not to be disrespectful, but I feel about music much the same way I feel about literature. I want to read BOOKS, not to read critical analysis OF or ABOUT books.

    Music is a form of LITERATURE, and can be appreciated the way one may appreciate a novel a poem or a short story.

    One needs to develop the HABIT of EXPERIENCING these wonderful things for ONESELF. The earlier this begins the better. In this way one develops a LOVE through FAMILIARITY. UNDRStANDING develops over time with more and more experience.

    This is not to dismiss the value of teaching. If a serious involvement with any subject is desired, it's very important to learn the basics, know the history, master the techniques and expose oneself to many different points of view.

    No matter how much natural talent -- even genius -- one possesses a certain amount of very specific training is needed in order to develop it fully.

    HOWEVER, if there is no INSTINCTIVE attraction to a subject, it's unlikely that true mastery informed by deep affection and dedicated effort could ever be achieved.

    What we learn by rote has POTENTIAL value, but it won't be realized unless and until the effort catches fire. Then and only then can the devotion that comes from love and understanding develop.

    Ellie, I hope some of this discourse got through to you? You are something of a mystery to me. I've been following you ever since you first appeared at AOW's the other day, and from what I've been able to gather, your thoughts are all over the map.

    I long ago gave up trying to make "converts," but i still hope obviously intelligent individuals like you might benefit from exposure to points of view you may regard as "foreign."

    I can't repeat Walt Whitman's motto often enough, because it's wisdom is elemental.


  18. Thanks, as always, for your interest, AOW. I would never call Haydn one who resorted to "gimmickry," but like most people of immense talent and protean capability he had a lively sense of humor. I'm not sure, but it's possible he may have written the "Surprise" symphony, the Clock" symphony and the "Farewell" symphony to amuse himself at his audience's expense.

    The aristocracy who sponsored and funded such as Mozart and Haydn was for the most part as dull, and rudely unaware of their incredible genius as the Church officials were of what they had in the presence of J.S. Bach.

    I have long had a sneaking suspicion that most creative artists , composers, authors and poets worked PRIMARILY to please THEMSELVES.

    Ducky mentioned Gainsborough and other magnificent portraitists of the 18th and 19th century as profiting immensely from their work. The implication was that this enabled them to iive "The Life of Riley."

    Now THAT is something I intend to read about, because I never knew that HOWEVER, a quotation I saw many many years ago about Goya in one of those wonderful "coffee table books" providing many examples of masterpieces in the art of painting in fine, colored photographs. Underneath Goya's portrait of The Duchess of Alba the caption read, "Despite his having received a Royal Commission, the artist still managed to reveal his subject as a woman of harsh and biting disposition."

    I see good deal of that in Holbein's portraits of Henry, VIII too. The kind was "a deeply unpleasant man" and his character could not help but reveal itself in any true likeness. It's a wonder Holbein was allowed to keep his head attached to his body. Only Henry's monstrous ego, insensitivity, maniacal self absorption, and lack of human warmth could have saved Holbbein.

    In general we remember the artists and their work far more than we remember their patrons, and certainly more than we do the conquerors, the tyrants, the generals and the bloody battles fought.

    To the best of us, the creative geniuses represent the best in human achievement, the tyrants, the conquerors -- and certainly the politicians -- the worst.

    I, personally, don't care much for the philosophers and theologians either. They tend for the most part to be an insufferably dreary and depressing lot.

  19. Interesting question about the purpose of a conductor. When I went to school I was exposed to many, and a few of them were great; it makes a huge difference. A conductor is certainly not useless.

    As students we were unlikely to produce the kind of brilliant performance FT describes, so at that level a conductor's chief job is to clearly signal tempo (which varies, as FT mentioned) and phrasing so that very well synchronised ensemble can be achieved. In small groups (bands or chamber music) usually one player will make little visual signals for the rest to follow (James Brown famously used to conduct his groups with his bottom), or the members know each other well enough to anticipate each other; but when there are dozens of players this is impractical, so a dedicated conductor is required.
    To put it simply, everyone starting and stopping each note at the same time (where it is required) is just about the most important aspect of playing together. That's quite a surprising result! You might think that it sounds bad if your tuning's off or if you play flat-out wrong notes, but playing out of sync is even more distracting.

    So if everyone knows their part (rare in a student orchestra) and watches him, the conductor can vary the tempo and stretch phrases out to an amazing degree, as school's music teacher (among the best conductors, by happy coincidence) once memorably demonstrated. It feels amazing to play in perfect synchrony with dozens of other players through an extreme rubato -- it's really like being part of a single organism.

  20. Quite right, Jez. You've described pretty well by the way, the way small chamber music ensembles -- duos, trios, quartets, quintets, et al. -- do their thing. Everyone usually looks to the body language of the first violinist to guide them -- or the pianist when that instrument is involved. As I'm sure you already know, the piano is often the Central Figure in many of our greatest chamber works.

    In the baroque era, the harpsichordist playing continuo -- a quasi improvisational plucking supporting and filling out the basic harmonies suggested by the solo parts, also acted as the conductor. The notation for the continuo part was usually written as "figured bass" -- a kind of musical shorthand using a succession of numbers written above the bass line at strategic intervals to indicate the harmonic structure.

    In my salad days, when I played dance music with a small ensemble, and accompanied "pop" vocalists in bars and nightclubs, I resorted to a modern version of this called a "Fake book." The melodic lines of hundreds and hundreds of popular "standards" of the day appeared with symbols for the chords required printed above the notes. Not a respectable way to make music, but eminently practical when called upon to perform tunes you'd never heard before -- frequently the case with drunks in bars.

  21. Ahhh, fake book. Not respectable? It's pretty legit for jazz.


  22. It must be very different in England, Jez. Here such items are actually "illegal," although all of us "in the business" had them.

    Also, here no serious jazz musician would be caught dead using one, except possibly as a point of reference away from the keyboard. Most of the really good musicians are able to hear this stuff so clearly and so keenly they are able to keep it all in their heads.

    What-we-call "lead sheets" ["Lead" in this case rhymes with seed, breed, greed and deed, etc. not bread, fed, wed and dead. ;-] are something else. Accompanists to vocalists in small ensembles use them all the time. They're needed to stick within the confines of special arrangements made specifically for certain vocal personalities.

    I have never played authentic jazz. Whatever talent I have does not lie in that area. I enjoy listening, and marvel at the ingenuity and brilliant technique of the great jazz pianists and the uniquely appealing style of singers like Billie Holiday whose aura of vulnerability remains extraordinarily touching.

    I do not enjoy Coltrane. His music -- to me -- is all fits and starts. I sounds as though it desperately wants to go somewhere, but always winds up like a dog chasing its own tail. I'm not surprised that our friend Ducky likes Coltrane, because the music -- to me -- is ineffably dreary and ultimately depressing. I appreciate his talent, but see it as having gone largely to waste. The man's life was a tragedy. His music reflects and evokes his inner confusion and despair. Chilly stuff!

  23. Oh yeah, they're illegal. And they're not for the standards you know, they're for the ones you don't know. I guess the point is you shouldn't gig songs you don't know, but these things happen sometimes when you dep or at an informal jam.
    Coltrane's not my favourite, but did you ever hear Charlie Parker?

  24. Here are three jazz numbers that tell you a bit about the kind of things I enjoy when in one of my New York Smoky Night Club or Weekend Romance in the Penthouse moods:

    Shearing: I didn’t know what time it was

    Parker: I Got Rhythm

    Parker: Laura

    All in all I dislike the sound of the saxophone. It tends to be hopelessly vulgar -- crass, boorish and generally too incisive -- HOWEVER your friend Parker does great things with it. His Laura is a masterpiece of moodiness.

    Even so, when it comes to reed instruments, I'd rather hear Benny Goodman's clarinet any day.

    A question we might want to consider is “Why did Parker and Coltrane die at such tragically young ages, and why did George Shearing and Alberta Hunter (an early jazz singer whom I love to death) live n their nineties? Lifestyle? Attitude? Genetics” Or just The Luck of the Draw?”

    And MY! Haven't we strayed far from Franz Josef Haydn? ;-)



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