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The Well-Tempered Clavier and Other Music

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  • The Well-Tempered Clavier and Other Music

    Whenever I visit a forum, I check for a music section or thread:
    • The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I and Book II by Bach. Alexandra Coghlan does a good job describing how monumentally difficult what Schiff does is:

      Imagine an actor playing Hamlet. Then imagine him also taking every other role in the play as well – from memory, without an interval, alone on stage in front of an audience of thousands. That is what it means for a pianist to perform the complete Book II of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier at the Proms.

      24 Preludes and Fugues – almost three hours of intricate, inventive, elusive music – played as a single, continuous gesture is an almost unthinkable feat. But if we fetishize the spectacle of the thing, the musical circus, we miss the point of this thoughtful, sober, even understated performance by Andras Schiff.

      This isn’t the Hungarian-born pianist’s first solo Bach experience at the Proms. Last year he introduced Book I to the festival audience for the first time, and before that performed the complete Goldberg Variations. But Book II is a different beast. Harder, longer, knottier both in conception and execution, pushing the pianist still further. You only have to listen to the difference between the C major Preludes that open each book; the untroubled waters of Book I are ruffled and agitated in Book II, our starting point for this epic musical journey suddenly unclear.

      Playing a bright, resonant Steinway rather than his usual Bosendorfer (a concession to the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall), this was Bach with more boom and bloom than we’re used to from Schiff, but there was no expressive indulgence or romanticising to go with this broader tone. He used the pedal only sparingly – to give us the organ-like splendour and sonority of the E major Fugue, for example – and rhetorical intervention still more so – just the tiniest of flexibility in the aria-like C sharp minor Prelude offered a contrast to the unfussily metronomic delivery that dominated.

      As the cycle progressed and harmonies convulsed and coiled more tightly, rhythms shifting left of centre in fugues that straddle precariously across the beat, Schiff found new energy and clarity, always offering his audience a string through the musical maze. There was seriousness, undisguised complexity here, but also play – the ingenuous, nursery-rhyme innocence of the F major Fugue, the trickling sweetness of the G major Prelude. Here was all of life, and it was exhilarating, confronting and, ultimately, consoling – a musical meditation for our troubled times.

      You can find the rest of her article here.
    • Die Dreigroschenoper by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (The Ballad of Mack the Knife) is one of the most attractive songs I've heard in a long time.
    • Priez Pour Paix by Poulenc. Another attractive bit of opera.
    • I'll Be Home For Christmas by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent. This is sung by the baritone John Brancy. I meant to include it in my list of Christmas tunes a few months ago.
    Lest people think that because this is a philosophy forum they can only post music from genres like classical and opera, here are some other tunes I like:
    • Rumors of Spring by Carolyn Leonhart. How someone from Northern Canada usually starts to feel around this time of the year.
    • Autumn in New York by Carolyn Leonhart.
    • Alice by Tom Waits. I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like Tom Waits. Apparently he's associated with hipsters. I like him anyway.
    • Funk Flex Freestyle by Mysonne. I realize that there are dangers posting rap (Vallicella channels Aristotle about this somewhere on his blog), but I think rappers are also almost the only musicians talking about some issues. Listen to this one at your own discretion.
    • Alles wird gut by Bushido. Germany got bars too.
    • Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver
    • Pancho and Lefty by Willie Nelson
    Last edited by John West; 03-03-2019, 04:34 AM.

  • #2
    Anton Bruckner didn't compose symphonies. He created cathedrals of sound. His adagios are the best introduction. The Sixth Symphony contains one of towering tragic grandeur, perhaps even greater than Beethoven's funeral adagio in the Eroica(!!) The Zen Buddhist conductor, Celibidache, is the only one who actualized its shattering potential. I've owned at least 25 versions over the years. They call us Brucknerds. (Listen to the first movement. Bruckner was a huge influence on John Williams. Do you hear what I hear?)

    Klemperer is The Dude for Bruckner's Seventh. (Fun fact: he was Colonel Klink's dad. His Beethoven is mandatory.)

    There is nothing like the Eighth Symphony. The impotent tools of language should be tossed aside here. The adagio is a world within a world.

    Bruckner begged G-d to let him finish his Ninth Symphony. G-d complied. Only three movements were necessary. This is the best performance of that dark night of the soul. (Furtwangler deserves an honorable mention.)

    If spending time with Bruckner isn't on your bucket list your list is incomplete. (And Mahler. This is an amazing survey of his work.)

    In the category of killer rock songs with Biblical themes :

    Samson and Delilah: "If I had my way, I would tear this old building down."

    "Just a song of Gomorrah. Wonder what they did there. Must have been a bad thing ..."

    Estimated Prophet is either about Deuteronomy 13 or I saw it live a few too many times. (About 100 shows between 85-95. I'd trade all my tomorrows for another run at Alpine Valley.)
    Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 03-05-2019, 04:37 AM.


    • #3
      On the Eccentricity of Bruce Springsteen: Case Studies & Analysis

      An Artist's perception of his own work can resemble Bizarro World. Consider The Boss. Some of his "greatest hits" were never released. Artists can be their own worst critics, especially perfectionists.

      This catchy gem had Top 40 potential in the way Pearl Jam's biggest hit was Last Kiss. They share a vibe. Yet it missed the final cut. This is why some of us endured Indiana Jones-like odysseys to acquire Springsteen bootlegs back in ye Olden Tymes, before everything was released in box -sets of outtakes.

      Rendezvous was never included on a studio album. Seriously. It's Badlands-tier. Thundercrack is primal, wacky, and MIA. Once you process that Santa Ana was a mere demo you'll be ready to entertain conspiracy theories or Freudian hooey as explanations. Wait. You're still at base camp. The next example is a doozy.

      Stolen Car is, IMHO, Springteen's greatest moment in the studio. (AKA Son You May Kiss the Bride.) Life-changing. Art. "No matter what I do or where I drive nobody ever sees me when I ride by" captures a chilling sense of life's transitory, ghostly quality like James Dean stopping at A Clean, Well Lighted Place. Yet the version that landed on The River could most charitably be described as filler. What. was. he. thinking.

      Unsatisfied Heart is as rough as rough drafts come. Haunting story: "Once I had a home here. My salvation was at hand. I lived in a house of gold, on a far hillside. I had two beautiful children, and a kind and loving wife ... One day a man came to town, with nothing and nowhere to go. He came to me and he mentioned something I'd done a long time ago." Achingly beautiful chorus. What could this have become? Why would you abandon this?

      The "official version" of Racing in the Street isn't even a shadow of this ... masterpiece. (Clearly some of the lyrics hadn't jelled.) There's an urgency, a fury, a sense of desperation, a magnificence never surpassed by anything on Darkness on the Edge of Town.

      The River should have been a triple album. Restless Nights is a surfin' safari. Depriving the faithful of Loose Ends was theft. Grab a towel. Clarence's solo will melt your face.

      Johnny Bye Bye was a b-side with a stone-cold groove few tunes attain. 112 seconds of Satori.

      The studio version of Incident on 57th Street contained, only in embryonic form, The Beast it became live.

      I met Springsteen after a solo acoustic show in 96. I paid a few weeks' wages for a seat in the orchestra pit. Paul Molitor was in the front row behind me. I teased him about having a crappy seat. I told Bruce, "You know how you just made a concept album inspired by The Grapes of Wrath? You should do one based on Duck Soup." He laughed. He's always laughing.


      • #4
        Your writing style reminds me of Jay Nordlinger's 'Impromptus' column in the National Review. That's a good thing, by the way.


        • #5
          Dang. Outed again. I never wanted to write for that liberal rag. I wanted to help The Boss. If I'd been at the helm, turkeys like Born In the USA and Hungry Heart never would have seen the light of day. The plot thickens. What became of these:


          Because the Night

          The Promise

          In what fallen, twisted world is Stray Bullet an "outtake"?! This is Stolen Car-tier.

          Back In Your Arms

          Did Springsteen consider Hungry Heart & Born in the USA better songs than the ones I've cited? That's like Shakespeare preferring Titus Andronicus to the rest of his plays.