Eisler’s on the Come and Go: Eisler, Dylan, Guthrie, And a Question That Persists

Hanns Eisler is another one of those composers you think you’ve never heard of, but actually are sorta kinda peripherally acquainted with, in a “huh-well-that’s-useful-to-know-for-Trivial-Pursuit” kind of way.

He’s the guy – well, one of the guys — you can thank every time you get that Bob Dylan earworm, “The times, they are a-changin’” stuck in your head. Dylan cites as a big influence Bertolt Brecht, whose musical revue “Brecht on Brecht” he saw in 1963. Brecht and Eisler collaborated frequently, with Eisler setting the writer’s words to music. Song of the Moldau, which was featured in that revue, was one such collaboration. One of the lines in Song of the Moldau, at least according to some translations, is “The times are a-changing. The last shall be the first/The last shall be the first.”

But Eisler is more than just a one-hit pop-culture curiosity – he’s got quite a lot to tell us about our messed-up country. Continue reading

Dainty Flowers Amid the Cacti

Barber. Violin Concerto. Shostakovich. Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 99. London Symphony Orchestra. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg on violin. EMI Classics. 1992.

So when I set out to write this post uhhhhhhhhhh like months ago? Yeah months, the plan was to detail a sad/gallant tale of capitalism versus communism, of how strife produces beauty, to perhaps begin understanding why there are relatively few well-known American composers. And I guess it’s still about that, but after my customary bit of internet research, it also morphed into a little bit of a “trust, but verify” story, no matter how solid you may think your knowledge is.

The liner notes here detail how the Barber and Shostakovich works on this CD share the commonality of a “difficult birth, though the difficulties were as different in nature as the works themselves.” That bit about different difficulties has got to be one of the great liner note understatements of our time. Continue reading

Remember My Name: Fame and Mily Balakirev

Hoo, boy, the new wordpress media player sure doesn’t do all the things the old yahoo player did. Dear technology: sometimes, change for change’s sake isn’t good. Anyhow. I will try and go through all my old posts and update them, groan, when there is time. Meantime…

Here are some random facts about Mily Balakirev. “Who?” you may ask. Bear with me. Continue reading

Freud, Schmeud: On Bach’s Sons


More wigs!

Yet more wigs!








I started out listening to the seven CDs by Bach’s sons in dad’s collection with a bad attitude. I was like, this is going to suck, these guys are going to be mere shadows of Bach, and it’s still going to be Baroque, and I’m so, so tired of Baroque, and grumble grumble WHEN DO I GET TO BEETHOVEN? I was basically approaching it with the preconceived notion that, as Tim Page, the chief classical music critic for Newsday at the time, writes in one set of liner notes, “One need not be a strict Freudian to suspect that those members of Johann Sebastian Bach’s family who followed him into the music business must sometimes have had a rough time of it.”

But as I really started listening to these guys and reading about them, I realized that this wasn’t fair. Continue reading

Back to Bach: The Mysteries of the Musical Offering

Yeah, it’s been a while. What can I say? Three more Bach posts, though, and I’ll be on my happy way…to…well…Bach’s sons. Sigh.

Anyhow, here’s the first of the LAST THREE POSTS. This is about the Musical Offering, a piece Bach wrote quite late in life. I am basically parroting James Gaines’ book here, because he tells the story grandly, so if you find it an interesting yarn, go and buy the book and read all about it. Seriously. Continue reading

Harpsichord Zombies Have Bitten Me, And It’s All Good

I have previously made clear that the harpsichord works of Bach are not my favorite.

Yes, I am grateful to him for being the first to put the harpsichord center stage. James R. Gaines quotes Susan McClary in “Evening in the Palace of Reason” to the effect that Bach, in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, turned the harpsichord, heretofore “the ensemble’s lackey,” into the main attraction – and thereby made the piano concerto a possibility.

But gratitude for, you know, allowing the grand tradition of Western music to begin aside, Bach’s harpsichords grate. They noodle by, so much background noise, the classical music equivalent of, I don’t know, the loud tuneless Soca my neighbor is playing across the back courtyard/lot of weeds this Memorial Day weekend. Continue reading

If Bach Were Alive Today, Perhaps He Would Have Invented Dubstep

You know the sound that dog makes in that viral YouTube video when his master tells him that the chicken covered with cheese and cat treats has been devoured by the cat? That’s the sound my brain makes when I think about the fact that Bach lived and died before the advent of the modern orchestra.

Arrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooooo! for two reasons. Continue reading

I Have Got Bach Block

Bach Block: A version of writer’s block (itself defined by the Free Dictionary as ‘a usually [ed comment: uh-oh] temporary  psychological inability to begin or continue writing’) caused by Too. Much. Bach.

I’ve got it, and it’s what’s behind the lack of posts around here the last week or so. Well, it, and the ongoing renovation of my bathroom that has rendered me toiletlessly wandering the world, reliant on the kindness of strangers, away from my trusty home base setup. Continue reading

Albinoni: Think You Don’t Know Him? Two Words: Flash. Dance.

Albinoni & Vivaldi Wind Concerti. The King’s Consort. Director Robert King, Solo Oboe Paul Goodwin. Musical Heritage Society.
Tomaso Albinoni. Six Concerti, Op. 9. Musical Heritage Society.

Tomaso Albinoni is one of these pre-Bach guys that my 20th-century-music-loving self has been sort of dreading having to endure. But while these CDs are not among the 10 I would choose to take with me on an involuntary island trip of indefinite duration, there’s a great mystery here — and some good, soul-salving music, too. Continue reading