Mercoledi Musicale

Last evening as we sat having our tea and biscuits after dinner and listening to the radio a piece came on that I immediately recognized but couldn’t for the life of me identify. It was an opera I should know well, it was in German but it just wasn’t registering. I hate when that happens. And quite frankly it worries me a bit. When the announcer identified it as the Quartet Wir ist so wunderbar from Beethoven’s Fidelio I felt even more frustrated – how could I not recognize one of the most sublime moments in all opera?

And a sublime moment it is. The situation is a complicated one: Rocco, the jailor, expresses the hope that his new assistant Fidelio (Lenore in disguise as a man) will become his son-in-law; Marzallina her new found love for her father’s assistant; Jaquino, her former boy friend, his jealousy of his riva; and Leonora (Fidelio) her anguish at the situation. Simple emotions: hope, love, jealousy, anguish; but clothed in one of the most glorious vocal fugues ever written.

Fidelio is an opera I’ve seen six times with some remarkable casts and productions but one of my regrets is not seeing the great Swedish soprano Elizabeth Soderstrom in this Glyndebourne performance. We just couldn’t get tickets for love nor pounds sterling and had to be satisfied with Frederica Von Stade in Monteverdi’s Ulisse. Not a bad seconds, in fact a great one, and I’m just happy that the Fidelio was filmed.

July 10th is Clerihew Day – what’s that you say? What’s a Clerikhew – left click on the link. It’s also Piña Colada Day – so break out the rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk.

Mercoledi Musicale

In which we once again look at a lost penny!

After the final chord, I looked up. The Master’s darkly glowing gaze was fixed upon me penetratingly. Yet suddenly a benevolent smile broke up his gloomy features, Beethoven became quite close, bent over me, laid his hand on my head and repeatedly stroked my hair. “Devil of a fellow” he whispered, “such a young rascal!” I suddenly plucked up courage “May I play something of yours now?” I asked cheekily. Beethoven nodded with a smile.

– Franz Liszt on meeting Beethoven

Though traditional thought says otherwise, Beethoven did smile and it would appear that on more than one occasion he laughed. In a post that begins with the excerpt I’ve quoted above from Liszt’s diary Professor David Dennis explains where our misconception of a dour, raging Ludwig Von came from. A quick left click on LvB above will take you to his post.

If another legend is to be believed LvB was also a bit of a penny-pincher and on one occasion when a brand new penny (groschen) fell down a drain he immediately sat down at the clavichord and expressed his rage in this little piece: Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice (Rage over a lost penny in the form of a caprice).

Of course this story is as unfounded as the “grumpy old curmudgeon” spiel. Beethoven called the unfinished piece a Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio (Rondo in the Gypsy style, almost a caprice). The “Rage” title does appear on the manuscript but not in Beethoven’s hand. It appears it was added by his friend and unpaid secretary Anton Schindler in one of his less than honest attempts to cash in on the unpublished manuscripts that he inherited on the composer’s death.

It is often played as a virtuoso encore piece by pianists as an excuse to show off their furious technical agility (a few names spring to mind). I’ve chosen the 1964 Kempf version because he treats it as what it is – a rondeau, energetic and full of humour and just a touch of romanticism. He shows his own genius without obscuring the genius that was Beethoven.

On this day in 1955: Israel obtains four of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

Mercoledi Musicale

I wasn’t sure what category this post was going to fit into.  It’s music but today is Thursday (though I suppose it could be Mardi Musicale for alliteration); it’s Robbie Burns Day which to some is a Feast and Festival; and for some reason I thought I had posted this video previously so there was a chance it was a Throwback Thursday.  Well a search indicates that the video that I made back in April of 2015 was never posted so it can’t be a Throwback.  Since Laurent will be consuming a dram of scotch (no rubbish Dr. Spo)  in honour of the poet tonight it qualifies as a Festival. And again it definitely is musicale of the highest order.

In previous posts I have mentioned the efforts of George Thomson to published folk songs from the British Isles in a form that would be appropriate for “respectable” drawings rooms of the early 1800s.  He had collected melodies and lyrics from Scottish, Irish and Welsh sources including some 25 that he had received from Robbie Burns. He ordered adaptions – mostly for the popular combination of piano, violin and violincello – from  Joseph Haydn, Leopold Kozeluch, Ignaz Pleyel and Beethoven. All in all 150 song adaptations by Beethoven of Irish, Welsh and Scottish songs have been preserved.

Beethoven’s settings of Scottish Folk Songs was published in Berlin in 1822 with lyrics translated into German.

In 1818 Thomson published Beethoven’s op 108 Scottish Songs (Schottische Lieder) which contained twenty-five melodies that the composer had adapted – remarking that this was a less pleasant work for an artist but surely a good work for business.  He was to arrange 175 pieces for Thomson based on folk melodies that had been collected from various sources throughout Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  One hundred and fifty of them were published in various anthologies – twenty-five were left unpublished.  Amongst the 1818 songs was Faithfu’ Johnnie with lyrics attributed to “Mrs. Grant”, and it is presumed that is Anne Grant of Laggan* who both collected from and wrote poetry inspired by the Highlands.  The melody is of an unknown origin and in several music books is simply listed as “old Scottish melody”.

Here is that “old Scottish melody” with lyrics by Mrs Grant in an arrangement by Ludwig von Beethoven sung by the great Janet Baker accompanied by Yehudi Menuhin (violin), George Malcolm (piano), and Ross Pople (cello).  Not a bad pedigree for a folksong!

When will you come again, my faithful Johnny
When will you come again, my faithful Johnny
When the corn is gathered, when the leaves are withered
I will come again, my sweet and bonnie, I will come again

Then winter winds will blow, my faithful Johnny
Then winter winds will blow, my faithful Johnny
Though the day be dark with drift that I cannot see the lift§
I will come again, my sweet and bonnie, I will come again

Then will you meet me here, my faithful Johnny
Then will you meet me here, my faithful Johnny
Though the night be Hallowe’en when the fearful sights are seen
I will come again, my sweet and bonnie, I will come again

§ An old dialect word meaning “sky”.

So to all my friends who are celebrating Burns Night and to all of you who aren’t but wish you were and just to all of you I wish:

Sláinte Mhath! – Good Health!

*Anne Grant is a fascinating woman and her short biography on Wikipedia is worth the click.

On this day in 1858: The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is played at the marriage of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Victoria, and Friedrich of Prussia, and becomes a popular wedding processional.



Lunedi Lunacy

Another bit of musical mashup lunacy thanks composer/conductor/educator Akira Miyagawa:


And as we try, fruitlessly, to train the Hounds from Hell a video that could explain a bit about the dachshund credo – and wait for the very end:


On this day in 1884: The first volume (A to Ant) of the Oxford English Dictionary is published.

Mercoledi Musicale

Well Sidd listen to both Beethoven and Mendelssohn and decided that a bit of choral music wouldn’t go amiss. So Beethoven it is!

Composed with a dedication to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, it uses two of his poems as subjects for a brief cantata. It was premiered in Vienna in 1815 but wasn’t published until 7 years later. That young scamp Felix Mendelssohn was to use the poems as inspiration for his concert overture of the same name. It’s the better know of the two – which could account for Sidd’s choice! He can be a bit perverse that way.

Grosser Chor des Berliner Rundfunks, Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin                                    
Helmuth Koch, conductor 1970                                    

Though we’re praying for “calm seas” when Goethe wrote his poem that was the last thing a sailor wanted – sailing ships needed wind.  We could do with a little less.

Calm Seas (Meeres Stille)

Deep stillness rules the water
Without motion lies the sea,
And sadly the sailor observes
Smooth surfaces all around.
No air from any side!
Deathly, terrible stillness!
In the immense distances
not a single wave stirs.

Prosperous Journey (Glückliche Fahrt)

The fog is torn,
The sky is bright,
And Aeolus releases
The fearful bindings.
The winds whisper,
The sailor begins to move.
Swiftly! Swiftly!
The waves divide,
The distance nears;
Already, I see land!

November 6 – 1917: World War I: Third Battle of Ypres ends: After three months of fierce fighting, Canadian forces take Passchendaele in Belgium.

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