The Lost Chord

Sunny and I walked by The Lost Sock Laundromat
this morning, and I started thinking about Arthur Sullivan’s
The
Lost Chord
.

Of course, I first started composing a parody about a lost
sock, but I didn’t get very far, and I think if I had
managed to get something to scan properly it wouldn’t have been a
very good parody.

But then I started thinking about the frequently expressed
criticism that a “Great Amen” is two chords, not one.

My guess is that Arthur Sullivan, who was one of the best-known
composers of his era, knew at least as much music theory as these
critics, and if he found that the poem spoke to him anyway, we
should at least give it a chance to speak to us.

Certainly we’ve all had the experience of remembering having
been inspired by an idea, but not remembering the idea. I have
it several times a week with this blog — I sit down and
remember that I’d had a really good idea on last night’s walk,
but not what the idea was. I don’t personally feel particularly
inspired by the idea that the angel of death will bring back all
my lost blog post ideas on my deathbed. But of course, my blog
post ideas may well be less inspiring than Arthur Sullivan’s
organ improvisations, or even Adelaide Proctor’s.

It’s not a particularly easy song to sing, even with the music
in front of you and an accompaniment, but Sunny and I managed to
remember most of the words and stumble through some approximation
of the notes in the half mile walk home. It’s really not a bad song at all.

There’s an arrangement (I think by Clifford Bevan) for Serpent
Ensemble. If you have serpent players who can possibly do
something like tuning the chords, it’s probably fun to play,
although like most serpent ensemble arrangements, it probably
involves the top voice squeaking too high and the bottom voice
grumbling too low and only the middle two voices actually have the
kind of
fun that people go into playing serpent for.

Lohengrin at Hynes Auditorium

I notice that Netflix is finally shipping me Lohengrin as
directed by Werner Herzog, so I’ll tell you about the only live
performance I’ve ever seen, to explain why I wanted one with a
real director.

It was sometime in the 70’s; I remember discussing it with
people I worked with in 1976, so probably then, although I did
stay in touch with those people for a while afterwards.

I thought the idea of Wagnerian opera was wonderful, but I’d
never had a chance to see one. I didn’t have an operagoers
income, but I decided that when the Metropolitan Opera was going
to do Lohengrin in Boston, I should buy a ticket
anyway. My sister wanted to come too, although for her it was both more
money than she really had and a fairly long drive into Boston.

We didn’t get the top price tickets, but they were fairly good
seats — pretty close to the front, with a pillar you had to
move your neck to see around occasionally.

James Levine had just become music director of the Met, and had
a fine reputation as a conductor. The orchestra in this
performance was wonderful.

The minor roles were also well-cast. I particularly remember
Mignon Dunne (Ortrud) fondly — I had previously seen her as a
magnificent Carmen who threw things. In this, she was a
magnificent Ortrud who threw things. I don’t know whether he
has a wider acting range than this, but it’s a pretty good skill
for a mezzo-soprano. In any case, the fact that we had no trouble
hearing either the mezzo or the baritone or the bass indicates
that a properly selected soprano and tenor should have been
audible.

They weren’t. James Alexander played Lohengrin. In addition
to being largely inaudible, even as close to the stage as we
were (probably closer than 80 or maybe even 90 percent of the
audience), his stagecraft left one wondering whether he knew
which end of the sword to hold on to.

Elsa was played by a singer whose name I’ve forgotten, but at
the time I was excited about hearing her because she had been a
good Countess in a recording of The Marriage of
Figaro
that I’d heard. I probably would have still
been excited if I could have heard her, but her Mozart soprano
voice was completely inadequate to the demands of singing over a
full Wagner orchestra in Hynes Auditorium.

The staging in general was pretty ludicrous. In the scene
where armed men break into Lohengrin and Elsa’s bedroom, and
Lohengrin needs to get his sword out of the chest, Wagner’s
stage directions say that Elsa hands it to him. They don’t say
anything about her needing to run around him to get to the chest
first so that she can obey the stage direction to hand it to him.
The staging of the subsequent sword fight would have embarrassed
any decent high school theater production.

The Chorus sang well enough, but stood in sections facing the
conductor, even when they were allegedly imitating a bunch of
happy guests at a wedding.

The first thing most reviewers mentioned about this production
was that there was no swan. It was just a spotlight in the
reeds at stage rear. I suppose better acting could have made
you believe that the characters were seeing something
transcendant in that spot of light, but I didn’t.

I had studied the libretto carefully before going to see my
first Wagner opera, and it reminded me that the chapter that in
literature and music textbooks is called “Romanticism”, in
history books is often titled “The Rise of European
Nationalism”. In Lohengrin’s farewell speech, he says:

Deutschland sollen noch in fernsten Tagen
des Ostens Horden siegreich nimmer ziehn!

Never, not even in the most distant future,
shall the hordes from the East rise up in victory against Germany!

I thought it would be appropriate for a modern audience to hiss
and boo at that point, but I couldn’t hear the words well enough
to know when it came. I don’t know a lot of German, but both
Deutchland and Horden are in my vocabulary.

So in conclusion, when the Met decided a couple of years later
to discontinue touring to Hynes Auditorium, I wasn’t
disappointed, and I had the impression that a lot of the people
who said they were hadn’t actually ever attended a performance
there. If you search the Times Archive, you will find
complimentary reviews of this production, but they all have
bigger names in the star roles. If the Met touring company had
put enough energy into casting and staging it would probably
have been more successful, although I doubt that Hynes
Auditorium would have ever made anyone’s list of the great opera
houses of the world.

Chopin Preludes

[circle of fifths]

My sister’s party yesterday was a success. She starts it by
playing about an hour of piano music. This year the big piece
was a selection of Chopin Preludes.

I knew there were 24 of them, in all the major and minor keys.
I hadn’t realized he had arranged them in the Circle of
Fifths.
The book starts with C major and A minor, and goes
around until the end is F major and d minor.

This March is Chopin’s 200th birthday, and she’s planning a big
all-Chopin concert for February 21, which may feature a
performance of all 24 preludes, but she hasn’t learned them all
yet, and in any case, she had other music she wanted to play for
her one hour. But she played a good chunk, and some of the ones
she skipped, she played the beginning and end of so that we
could hear how they fit with the ones before and after.

People who experience music or literature as excerpts from an
anthology often don’t get the idea of many short works being
part of a larger whole. I’d never realized that before about the
Chopin Preludes, and I know lots of people who never saw it
about the Morley Canzonets.

Another concert excerpt

I did take pictures of the tree, and I’ll figure out how to let
you see them tomorrow, but I don’t have time to struggle with
wordpress and images right now, so here’s another vocal from
Thursday’s concert. Come,
Sirrah Jack, Ho
is about the joys of smoking. It’s
one of the ones people use to teach voice independance — the
middle line is really hard if you haven’t gotten the idea that
your voice is completely independant of the others. But if the
other parts are together, and you just start your part one
quarter note after there’s, it turns out to be easy.

Here’s Come,
Sirrah Jack, ho!
the
sheet music
if you want to play it yourself.

A good three-voice vocal from Thursday

No, just because we had 20 pieces on our program
doesn’t mean I’m going to get 20 posts out of it, but I will
give you some highlights. And tomorrow it’s likely you get
pictures of the Christmas tree, which I’m about to go buy.
After all, if someone’s going to try to both blog and celebrate
the season, you have to expect blog posts that fall out of
celebrating the season.

Love
learns by laughing
was the ending number. A
friend who saw the program posting emailed me that her recorder
group always ends with that when they play Morley. We agree
that its a really good ending number. The
sheet music
is on SerpentPublications.org
if you want to play it yourself.

How it went yesterday

Yesterday, of course, being the concert
I’ve been telling you about for a couple of months.

The short answer is, pretty well. There were about 50 people, including 6 who came
because we told them to. They seemed happy — we felt completely
justified in doing our encore. I thought we lost them a bit in the
middle, but there weren’t any loud snores and they came back for the
end. I didn’t have any disruptive coughing fits, and although there
were some flubs, we didn’t completely lose it at any point.

We did take some pictures, but I don’t have them yet, because
they’re on someone else’s camera. I’ll probably get several
daily posts out of snippets from the recording, so today I’ll
just give you the one that has the best recorder playing on
it.

It’s the Ricercada
Primera
by Diego Ortiz. I’m playing my G alto recorder by
Ralph Netch. I decided last summer that I needed to get more
comfortable on it, so I spent the whole summer playing English
Country Dances on it, both using C fingerings and using G
fingerings, which involve playing up into the third octave.
The bass line is played by Ishmael Stefanov on his 5-stringed
fiddle by Alan Carruth.

I started working on this piece last September, when we’d first
scheduled the concert. I asked my recorder teacher what solo
recorder piece he’d recommend for a concert like this (we didn’t
of course know very much about the actual program then), and
this was what he suggested.

If I’d been using the 465 body, I’d have hit the low G, and I
was hitting it most of the time in rehearsal on the 440 body,
but I flubbed it in actual performance. But otherwise, this is
the kind of Renaissance recorder playing I’m capable of these
days. A year ago there would have been a lot more unintended
spaces and forced (and therefore sharp) high notes.

Gibralter and Christmas

We like to end the three-hour West Gallery Quire
meetings with something rousing that we know well, so that even if
we’ve been struggling with unfamiliar music where the words are on
a different page with the notes, we can go home feeling like we
sound good when we’ve worked through those difficulties.

Last Sunday we were concentrating on Christmas music, much of
which was new, and even the stuff we’ve been playing for years we
mostly haven’t played since last January. There are a couple of
rousing pieces suitable for ending on, but we’d sung those already
when it got to be time for the last number. So our director
suggested that we end with one of our really common (because it’s
really good) ending numbers: Gibralter.

The text is part of Isaac Watts version of Psalm
72
:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Does his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

People and realms of every tongue

Dwell on his love with sweetest song;

And infant voices shall proclaim

Their early blessings on his name.

Blessings abound where’er he reigns,

The pris’ner leaps to lose his chains;

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blest.

Let every creature rise and bring

Peculiar honors to our King;

Angels descend with songs again,

And earth repeat the long Amen.

Bruce was apologetic about Gibralter not being a
Christmas piece, but I said, “It has ‘infant voices’ and
‘angels’ — it’s a lot like Christmas music.”

He added, “Prisoners?”

I don’t see why you couldn’t make a really good Christmas card
with the prisoners leaping to lose their chains.

Final Program for Thursday Concert

It’s one of those jobs that expands to fill the time allotted
to it. But I just emailed the program to the director of the
series, who will print it, so it’s now cast in wax, if not
concrete.

We needed another round of cuts, which took some negotiating,
since all three of us had our agendas for this program, which
were close enough that we work together pretty well, but
different enough that deciding what to cut took some
discussion. One person objected to cutting any country dances,
but had no trouble cutting Christmas carols. Another person
thought cutting verses on Christmas carols would make the
program more esoteric for the audience. I thought there was too
much serpent playing, but would rather have cut the country dance
playing than the one Morley Fantasia which I’d worked hard on.
But I think everybody’s reasonably happy.

I think it’s going to be a good program. We’re calling it “I
will laugh without that care: Music of Celebration and
Fellowship from Renaissance England.” The Cantabile Band will
play and sing madrigals, country dances and fantasias by Morley,
Weelkes, Ravenscroft, Ortiz and others on serpent, five-stringed fiddle,and recorders.

If you can come, it’s
at 2 PM on Thursday, December 17, at the Boston Public Library,
700 Boylston St., Boston, MA, USA. The library is at Dartmouth Street T stop
on the Green Line. The concert will be in the Rabb Lecture
Hall.

Here’s the program,
and these are the lyrics
to all the vocal numbers. Most of the music is at SerpentPublications.org,
if you want to play it.

A Christmas Tale

I think I liked this
movie
as much as I did because it’s so much like a large
family-saga novel. You can get a review about how good the
acting, directing, costumes, and set decoration are lots
of places.

I’m going to tell you a story about the soundtrack, because I
think it illustrates how a good movie can be both better and
worse than a good novel.

One thing mentioned in the movie, which probably would be
expanded on at more length in a novel, is how musical the family
is, and how they all play instruments. The playing is only demonstrated
occasionally in the movie, but there is a lot of listening to a wide variety of
recorded music.

In one scene, there’s a background that sounds like Christmas
carols in English. When I watched the credits, it turned out to be English
Village Carols
, recorded live in the pubs around Sheffield,
England, where there’s an active tradition going back several
hundred years of singing carols in the pubs.

A friend of mine owns that CD, and he tells the story that he
was listening to it when a friend came over. The friend said,
“That sounds like a bunch of drunks singing Christmas carols.”

And then she looked at the liner notes, and exclaimed, “It
is a bunch of drunks singing Christmas carols!”

My point is that a novel would have a lot more explanation of
how some member of this elegant French family happened to be
interested in this off-the-beaten-track genre of music, and it
might well be part of the description of the various kinds of
tension between the various family members. But you wouldn’t
have anything like as much idea of what the music actually
sounded like.

I’d say this is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It
isn’t a typical Christmas movie, but it isn’t as depressing at
the one-sentence plot summary (A mother dying of liver cancer
(played by Catherine DeNeuve) celebrates Christmas with her family) would imply, either, so you might
enjoy it for Christmas viewing.

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Christmas Shopping Status

It’s a busy day (the afternoon at the Pub
Carol Sing
and the morning turning an old
client site
into a the
new wordpress-based site
).

So I’ll just tell you how the Christmas shopping is going.

I don’t do all of it online, but I have a firm rule
that I never go into any store that I don’t like. Which is most
stores during the Christmas shopping rush. After all, what would
I be doing buying presents for someone who doesn’t share enough
of my tastes to want something from one of the places I
like going to?

I don’t have that much to do, since I only buy things for my
mother and my sister. Occasionally the dogs, and occasionally a
stocking stuffer for someone else, but nothing very strenuous.

My sister’s birthday is December 15, so that means waiting
until the Christmas deadlines is out for her. And she’s a
musician who makes about 60% of her income in the month of
December, so I try to get her something for her birthday that
she can enjoy without spending time on it.

She doesn’t read this blog regularly, but there’s no
guaranteeing that she won’t peek at it sometime, so I can’t give
you details at this point. But I got her an article of clothing
similar to something I’ve really enjoyed wearing, and a book I’ve really enjoyed reading. Then she
asked for an LED
piano lamp
, so I ordered her that. I’ll be going down
there next weekend, so if the lamp arrives in time, that will be
the birthday present, and the surprise items will be the Christmas
presents. Otherwise the article of clothing will be the birthday
present and the book and the lamp will be for Christmas.

My mother pretends to not be able to turn her computer on, so
there’s no chance of her reading this blog item by accident, so
I can tell you in a little more detail about her presents. Her
asthma is even worse than mine, so I’m passing on the Asthma
book
I talked about a few days ago, and a roll of the surgical
tape
I’ve been using since I read it, and
I got her some Tea
Tree Therapy Eucalyptus Chest Rub
, which I use as a lip
balm.

Incidentally, using the surgical tape to keep my mouth closed
when I sleep is working well — I seem to sleep better and wake
up more refreshed.

I should still get something more major for her, maybe a
houseplant or a heftier, prettier book. And I don’t have any
good ideas for the dogs. But this is farther along than I
usually am at this time of the year.

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