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

‘If Mikhail Baryshnikov and Chris Brown’s Genes Were Combined in a Blender’

I am more than a year late to this, but it is so great that I am going to post it anyway.

This is a guy from Memphis named Lil Buck. He dances a style called Jookin’. The producer of a film about him described his style as per the headline of this post. Lil Buck himself says in the film that he gets inspiration from watching water, and that Jookin’ deserves to be in the same category as ballet and jazz. Yo-Yo Ma saw a video of him dancing, and then this happened.

A Forest of Violins and Bassoons

I am reading some E.M. Forster because the Interwebz tells me he’s quite the classical music maven, and I came across this happy little vignette in “A Room with a View” that must needs sharing:

“It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling wheron pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons.”

I gotta get me this ceiling.

Bach’s Influence, From Disco to James Bond

Bach’s influence is felt, to this day, everywhere. Not just in classical music, or in pop music, but in books, movies, art.

Back, gods, more than a year ago, I went to a Lyonel Feininger exhibit, because I had stumbled across an image of the painting above, titled “Newspaper Readers.” It caught my eye because I’m a journalist, and I’m tall, and, I don’t know, I like orange skies with yellow blobs floating in them.

At the exhibit, I stumbled into the realization that Feininger deeply loved Bach. Feininger, born in America, studied the violin as a child, and first made his way to Germany, where he would live for much of his life, to study music. Art became his primary calling, but he called music “the language of my innermost self.” Bach was especially an influence – to the extent that a friend presented Feininger with a fugue on his 50th birthday, inspiring him to begin composing fugues of his own. You can also see the influence of Bach on his paintings. Wrote Feininger, “Bach’s essence has found expression in my paintings. The architectonic side of Bach whereby a germinal idea is developed into a huge polyphonic form.” Continue reading

Let Us Now Speak Of Glenn Gould And Flesh Rubber

In the mythology of Bach, several people figure as Mnemosyne types, serving to remind humanity, “Oh yes, that Bach chap, quite the composer.” Without them, so the legend goes, we might have forgotten entirely about Bach, or at least about such-and-such work by him. There is Felix Mendelssohn, whose rendition of St. Matthew’s Passion in 1825 “brought Bach back to life,” James Gaines writes in “Evening in the Palace of Reason.” There is Pablo Casals, the aforementioned cellist whose interpretation of Bach’s cello suites has scared off many another cellist from attempting them. And then there is the pianist Glenn Gould.

As with any mythology, it helps that Gould, who died in 1982, was unapologetically a character. Continue reading

Oh The Horror! The Horror!

On my flight home to Arkansas for Christmas vacation, I started listening to the 12-CD set of Bach organ works in dad’s collection, “L’Oeuvre D’Orgue,” from Lionel Rogg. This was perhaps not the wisest choice, as I found myself being bombarded, on a particularly bumpy return flight to Newark, by BWV 565, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. You know, this:

Continue reading

Bach and Boogie Nights

Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. BWV 147.

I was convinced on reading the title of “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” – just the title, mind you, nothing more, not tune, not subject matter — that this cantata was somehow the basis for that corny song near the end of Dirty Dancing known as “Kellerman’s Anthem.” You know, “Join hearts and hands and voices, voices hearts and hands.” 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

Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, DMX, Al Capone, and My Grandma

Addinsell, Richard. Music of Richard Addinsell including Warsaw Concerto. Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Kenneth Alwyn. Martin Jones Piano. White Line MOR Classics, 1996.

I was like, “Who?” when I stuck this CD in. But only until about five seconds into “Warsaw Concerto,” at which point I was like, “Oh.” The opening notes to this  [Warsaw opening] are so familiar, I felt like Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV when he looks confused – and he does look remarkably confused for  someone wearing a helmet on his head, doesn’t he? — and says, “I sense something…a presence I haven’t felt since…” Continue reading