On Malcolm Arnold And Drinkin’

Malcolm Arnold. Dances: Scottish, Irish, Cornish, English. Sarabande & Polka from ‘Solitaire.’ The Philharmonia, Bryden Thomson. 1990

Most of my dad’s CDs, I went home and packed up early this summer. But a few of them have been in my own collection – meager in comparison to his – for years, including this one.

I stole this CD during my senior year in high school, when I played the bassoon solo in the second movement of Arnold’s “Four Scottish Dances” as part of this thing called All-State Band (I wonder if it’s still around?), where you go away for a few days, rehearse a few pieces, and then perform them for an audience of parents and band directors, mostly. Continue reading

Malcolm Arnold: That Vacuum Cleaner Sounds a Leeetle Sharp

Malcolm Arnold. Symphony No. 2; Concerto for 2 Pianos (3 hands); A Grand, Grand, Overture; Carnival of Animals. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley. Nettle & Markham Piano Duet. Conifer Classics, 1994.

The letter ‘A’ has been filled with oddball composers. Drunken composers, high-road and low-road and road-less-traveled composers. Serious, strictly classical composers and light, jazzy composers, melodic and not-so-much. Composers of pieces for typewriters and parrots and cows and four feet and fans. Deeply tormented and mostly fancy-free composers.

So it’s fitting to end with Malcolm Arnold, who unites all these things in one man. Or even in just this one CD. As the Guardian wrote in his obituary in 2006, “Arnold believed that music had to embrace all human experience, including the plain daft.” Continue reading

The ‘Noble Density’ and ‘Mellow Puffs’ of Vyacheslav Artyomov

Vyacheslav Artyomov. Hymns. Melodiya.

This is a CD I bought dad as a gift while I was living in Russia. This was something I did from time to time, bringing him music from whatever odd place I had been, in an attempt to confound him by finding something he didn’t already know about that he might like.

I bought this CD knowing nothing about its contents. This was the mid-90s, when the Internet was only just getting started – not even, really, in Russia – which hindered, ahem, research. And many of Moscow’s stores were still holding onto their actively anti-consumer past, making it hard for someone whose Russian was sketchy to solicit help. Such was the case with the place where I bought this CD, the exceedingly Soviet Dom Knigi (House of Books), located on the even more Soviet Noviy Arbat street. Continue reading

Arensky and the Lugubrious Cockroach

Anton Stepanovich Arensky. The Piano Trios. Beaux Arts Trio, 1995.

Rimsky-Korsakov, with whom Anton Stepanovich Arensky studied, dismissed the younger composer, saying, “In his youth Arensky did not escape some influence from me; later the influence came from Tchaikovsky. He will quickly be forgotten.” While this may not have proven entirely true, I certainly will not be dusting off this CD of Arensky’s again. Continue reading

Dona. Nobis. Pacem.

Bach. Mass in B Minor. BWV 232. Gachinger Kantorei, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart. Helmuth Rilling.

Bach. Mass in B Minor. Vienna Academy Chorus. Vienna State Opera Orchestra. Hermann Scherchen: Conductor.

Bach. Mass in B Minor. Robert Shaw. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus.

Today, Sept. 11, 2011, I want to skip ahead to Bach, just for a moment. We’re almost there, anyhow, only a few CDs away. The piece is the Mass in B Minor, of which dad had three copies (four, if you count the Robert Shaw version, which is so nice he bought it twice).

The last bit of this work, Dona nobis pacem, served as the conclusion to a concert at Trinity Church observing Sept. 11. The entire concert is beautiful; I listened to it archived here at NPR. The choice of this tiny piece of Bach to end it is fitting. Continue reading

Leroy Anderson: Meowing Violins, Three Grades of Sandpaper, and a Typewriter

The Typewriter: Leroy Anderson Favorites. Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin.

This 25-song CD gallivants through the short (four minutes or less), to-the-point, tongue-in-cheek popular orchestra tunes of Leroy Anderson.  Wood blocks imitate horses in “Sleigh Ride” (yes, that “Sleigh Ride”), and clocks in “The Syncopated Clock.” Violins slinkily meow in “The Waltzing Cat.” Sandpaper – three grades of it, coarse, medium and fine — gets its own ballet.

But, most of all, a typewriter (that would be an ancient device used for texting, somewhat like an iPhone only less portable, with apologies to Margalit Fox) plays a merry tune. Continue reading

Alkan: The White Stripes of Piano Composers

Grande Sonate: Les quatre ages. Sonatine. Le festine d’Esope. Marc-Andre Hamelin. Hyperion,1994.

So far, each composer in dad’s collection has been in one way or another more interesting than the last. It will be difficult for anyone to top Charles Valentin Alkan.

Alkan the man is a bit lost to the passage of time. From reading about him, I know he was born the same year as Wagner, in 1813. I know that in technique and form and sound and demands made on those who played his stuff (and length!), his music was far ahead of its time. That he was a master of the pedalier, a defunct bastard child of the piano and the organ requiring the use of feet as well as hands. Or sometimes just feet – his compositions include a set of etudes for feet alone and a duet for four feet. Continue reading

Asides: What Hugo Alfven and Mister Softee Have in Common

The main tune from Hugo Alfven’s first Swedish rhapsody has been used as an ice-cream “van” jingle in the U.K., as I pseudo-learned on Wikipedia while writing the previous post and confirmed with two days of obsessive browsing on the Interwebs. (A creepy version of it in music-box jingle form, at about 1:20 here, proves that it was at some point converted into creepy music-box jingle form. And a couple of links, to Angies Ice Cream Company and to a used Step Van site, confirm that it has in the past been played on ice cream vans.)

This seems much more cultured than the ice cream truck jingle I am most familiar with, the accursed Mister Softee tune. As the New York Times wrote when Mister Softee founder James Conway died in 2006, “Once heard, the song is not soon forgotten. For some listeners, it heralds summer. For others, it recalls childhood. For still others, it constitutes a form of torture.” Continue reading