Dvorak’s Violin Concerto in A Minor

The first time I heard Dvorak’s “Violin Concerto in A Minor, Opus 53,” it was March 19, 2009. I loved it so much I played it twice in one day. Since then, I always keep an ear out for it. One day, I hope to own my own copy. It starts out very grand, and then somewhere in the middle it has this very cheerful-sounding section that I always recognize, whatever I happen to be doing with music as a background. It seems I’m always at the computer.

Many performers pick different sections to highlight. I prefer the complete version of all three movements. Here is a recording of the second and third movements:

Love’s Joy

This morning I woke up to Fritz Kreisler’s “Love’s Joy.” It’s just a happy, hopeful melody, and I love hearing it when it comes on the radio. What more can I say? Enjoy!

Here’s his performance of “Meditation on Thais,” from 1928. He died in 1962.

A Musical Joke

Haydn was well known for having a keen sense of humor. This I know from the few biographical snippets I’ve collected about him so far. In the “Surprise Symphony,” for example, there is a lovely slow movement. Just as listeners are getting comfortable with the beauty of that section and momentary quiet, all of a sudden, the other instruments join in again–loudly. All of this wakes up the sleepy audience (and perhaps a few of the musicians as well). In another of his works, all the musicians start to leave as they finish their parts–much to the surprise of the audience. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of that symphony. I will have to look it up. I really should play my Haydn double CD set again.

This weekend, I got a nice surprise. A Prairie Home Companion broadcast its annual joke show–a couple of weeks earlier than I originally thought. And I was able to listen to the entire show! Some jokes I liked, but others I didn’t. Here’s a musical one:

A note walks into a bar. The bartender says, “Sorry, I can’t serve you. You’re a minor.” (Get it?)

Don’t worry; comedy will not be my next career. But I did think it was cute.

A few days ago, I ran across this cool quote in my reading:

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” — Aldous Huxley, “Music at Night”

Another new author and composer to research…

Music in Different Words

Friday night, 1/21/11, as I was watching ABC World News and “Person of the Week,” they featured the story of Allyson Townsend, who interprets the words to many different songs in American Sign Language. She’s a second grade teacher in Texas. Many of her students are completely deaf. She has made music part of the curriculum where she can, and has a big following on her YouTube Channel. She is also getting her sign language interpreting certification, and one day hopes to interpret at concerts and other events. More power to her! She’s great. (Waving two hands in the air as applause!)

Here’s Allyson doing her rendition of Tim McGraw’s “Just to See You Smile,” and explaining how to sign to music, conveying the emotion:

I learned a bit of ASL at camp one year long ago, and later through former co-workers, who shared the book The Joy of Signing with me. Doing the two-handed signs was difficult. I haven’t had to use it in years, and I miss it.

A co-worker who was hearing-impaired once told me that she felt music through speakers and the vibrations in the floor. That inspired her to dance.

Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”

I have always enjoyed Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. It means even more now that I know the story behind it.

The composition was originally written for the piano in 1874, and then in 1922, Maurice Ravel arranged it for orchestra. I was listening to WGBH’S “Classical Performance Podcast”  awhile back, and the pianist Alexander Ghindin was featured, playing this piece. Here he is, in an excerpt of a 2007 performance. The whole composition is nearly a half hour long.

Every time I hear the opening notes, the “Promenade” repeated at various intervals, I think of all the visits I have made to museums over the years in various places, wandering the halls and going into the various exhibition rooms. Pictures is a tribute to Mussorgsky’s friend Viktor Hartmann, an artist who had passed away unexpectedly at a young age. The composer attended an exhibition of 400 of his works. When he returned home, he set the memories of the paintings and drawings to music. They include “The Gnome,” “The Old Castle Troubadour,” “Children and Their Parisian Nurse,” the polish ox art in the marketplace, “The Ballet of the Eggs and Shells,” “The Catacombs,” “Baba Yaga,” a Russian witch of folklore, and “The Stone Gate at Kiev.” The Kennedy Center offers a better background summary than I can.

Here is a bit of Maurice Ravel’s arrangement:

A brief search alerted me to books about Pictures, putting it in historical context. The 2009 novel of the same name by Sara Houghteling is inspired by the music, but tells a different story.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor

Today I listened to Minnesota Public Radio’s “New Classical Tracks.” James Ehnes’  CD was featured. He performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, which I might eventually buy when times are better.

Here is a 2007 video of Sarah Chang performing it at Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic:

Music that Makes Me Smile

I love all kinds of music, and it makes me happy. It depends on what catches my ear on any given day. Today I played U2’s Rattle and Hum.

Ken Hedgecock of Classical Music Discoveries always says that classical musicians have to know every genre, depending on what’s scheduled for a concert that afternoon or night.

Among my many favorites is Marc Gunn of The Irish & Celtic Music Podcast and Pub Songs Podcast. He’s a great singer, and you can tell he loves what he’s doing. He brings a lot of other Celtic bands together. The fact that he loves life, and is a devoted husband and new father makes me smile. All the best to him.


Music to Wake Up By

This morning before getting up, I heard this piano piece called “Silhouette: Op. 8” by Antonin Dvorak. I had not heard it until now, and I just thought it was pretty:

Cinema Paradiso Reflections

Cinema Paradiso (1988) is my favorite foreign film, and one of my favorite films ever. It’s about a young Sicilian boy, Salvatore, and his lifelong love of the movies. He eventually grows up to be a famous film director. It’s also his coming-of-age story.

One of my former bosses told me about it, describing how much the film had moved him. I was skeptical. The few foreign films I had seen up to that point I didn’t like at all. One day he came back to the office after a meeting, handed me a free movie pass and said, “Here. I want you to see Cinema Paradiso. You never take a break, so take the afternoon off and enjoy.” I went the next afternoon, and loved it! I thanked him profusely for the movie pass, and it was the latest of many lessons in always taking time to smell the roses. Eventually I bought the video, and I still watch it whenever the mood strikes me. In 2005 or thereabouts, my aunt and I went to a Washington, DC theater to see the director’s extended cut. That version left an even bigger lump in my throat, but it was an even more satisfying story. Ennio Morricone wrote the music for the film. It is by turns, happy, wistful, joyous, sad, haunting, and everything in between.

The other night, I was listening to a podcast episode of Dr. Mark Malkovich’s program, “My Music,” on Rhode Island’s classical station Classical 95.9 WCRI FM. The program featured the music of pianist John Bayless, who covers many modern songs in a stylish, dignified way. He included the love theme from Cinema Paradiso on one of his CDs. Dr. Malkovich included that version on the program, and I kept playing it over and over. I  hadn’t realized how much I missed the tune. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Grooveshark lists more than 150 recordings of the melody; I listened to a few. Josh Groban sings the Italian version of the song on one of his newer CDs. Yo-Yo Ma has recorded an instrumental version.

I also went to YouTube. The first video is Ennio Morricone conducting, and a pianist playing the well-known melody. The second is a Polish orchestra performing a version for strings. Below these, I also include the English translation of the song. I don’t know which interpretation I like better.

Cinema Paradiso

If you were in my eyes for one day
You could see the full beauty of the joy
I find in your eyes
And it isn’t magic or loyalty

If you were in my heart for a day
You would have an idea
Of what I feel
When you hold me strongly to you
Heart to heart,
Breathing together

Protagonist of your love
I don’t know if it’s magic or loyalty

If you were in my soul for a day
You would know what is inside me
That I fell in love
At that instant, together with you
And what I sense
It’s only love.

As I reflect on the film, I think about how movies connect people, as pastime, entertainment, as a gathering place, as a shared memory. And I think about how nothing ever stays the same. I guess it’s never supposed to. “The only thing we can count on in this life is change,” another boss always told me. The theater where I first saw the film has closed, and much about the area is different now. I’ve gone through my own unpredictable career ride, friends have come and gone, and these two former bosses have since passed away. I miss them a lot.

But still, good things have happened to me in the years since, in spite of the challenges. I will concentrate on those.

Happy New Year!

The second day of 2011, and I’m not very organized yet. I have spent the evening listening to Christmas and New Year’s podcasts. I particularly liked that Classical Music Discoveries broadcast Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as its New Year’s podcast. It’s always a spirit-brightener. This time it was a performance from the Sydney Opera House.

What 2010 gave me musically was a chance to open my ears more.

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