Archive for category classical-music
Not that Felix Mendelssohn, as he is mostly known, is unknown – far from it -
any look through a major city orchestra’s seasonal programme will usually have at
least one piece by him. This is because the composer that Wagner and co
thought was too conservative, had a very nice touch as far as accessibility is
concerned. He made tunes that people liked. He was a favourite of Queen Victoria of England.
He is considered to be an Early Romantic.
Born in 1809 to a Jewish family in Hamburg who later renounced their faith and became
Lutherans, he was a considerable child prodigy. He performed his first concert at nine
and wrote his first symphony at fifteen. At sixteen he wrote his String Octet in E flat
Major which is considered to show the full extent of his genius. He met Goethe at this
time who was hugely impressed with Mendelssohn who later set some of Goethe’s
poems to music.
His family’s change of religion didn’t save him from anti-semitism. This was a factor
in Wagner’s critique as well as him missing a senior post in Berlin. Later, under the
nazis, his works would be banned. Berlin’s loss was Leipzig’s gain however but this was
after he began visiting England in 1829 and where he became hugely popular.
After being a conductor in Leipzig he founded the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843 despite
offers and promises, which weren’t honoured, which attempted to lure him to Prussia and
Berlin. He died in 1847 – composer, musician, artist and voluminous letter writer.
Finding Mendelssohn recordings is, of course, a snip – they are everywhere so, what I’ll
do is recommend some particular works …
String Octet in E flat Major
Oratorio – St. Paul
E minor Violin Concerto
The Italian Symphony
String Quartet No. 6
Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor
Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night)
There is much, much, more.
Caravaggio: the ballet
I glanced at the cover of this DVD from Arthaus and noticed the names of Caravaggio and Monteverdi and thought ‘hmmm, interesting’. A little later I thought ‘not likely!’.
Caravaggio was a painter at the cusp of the 17th century. Viewed by some to be a father of modern art, he painted highly dramatic and ‘realistic’ religious scenes as well as other set pieces which included a number of ‘ripe’ boys. He was also, reportedly, an extremely unpleasant and violent man with a reputation to match.
His death in 1610, reportedly from a fever, is quite likely to have been
murder. As a matter of interest, Ruskin describes his work with the words ‘feeding upon horror and ugliness’… which not many people today would agree with.
And so, Monteverdi, a contemporary, was extremely unlikely to have done anything at
all about him, much less a ballet which he never did anyway.
Rereading the cover provided the answer – the music is based on Monteverdi and actually by Bruno Moretti. ‘By’ in the sense that vocal music was transcribed for orchestra with a view to dance… and added to.
And so to the ballet with choreography by Mauro Bigonzetti, and performed in Berlin at the Staatsoper (Dec. 2008). The first thing noticed is the light and darkness – a thing Caravaggio’s paintings were noted for – drama, is there onstage and nicely cut down on the set costs.
I don’t think the music is a success at all. It is rather ponderous with only a very few, small moments that are in any way a reminder of Monteverdi or suggestive of that time. One quite pretty slow bit is more reminiscent of Pachelbel (d 1706) than Monteverdi. The choreography is clever and proficiently performed in part but the story it tells seems rather watered down or extremely abstracted – like some Hollywood version of history that doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story … only this story isn’t particularly interesting.
The second act is more dramatic with some hint of inner turmoil of the man. The orchestra thunders away in great high-Romantic style and then passes to a quieter, more Monteverdi-like thing – there’s that light and darkness thing again. The choreography here is actually quite absorbing although the male-female duets are hard to fathom as far as the story goes. If the tales about Caravaggio are to be believed, he was more likely to be found on top of a page boy than a female, and also the tenderness expressed in the dance while quite beautiful, seems at odds with what was a violent (murderous, in fact) man.
View it as pure dance though, forget the Monteverdi bit and it is an interesting enough piece of dance.
This time let me do something a little different and introduce you
to a little known composer and then see what recordings we can find.
Herr Schutz was born in Koeritz, Sachsen-Anhalt (Saxony), studied
in Venice, spent time in the Royal court of Denmark, and finished
up as the hofkapellemeister to the local Count at Weissenfels, just
a little way from his birthplace. We’re talking German renaissance
here – 1600’s. He is regarded as the foremost Germanic (there was no
Germany then) composer before Bach.
Parenthetically, Weissenfels is a pretty place to visit. There’s the
river Saale at its foot and a grand Schloss on a hill, and a few
winding medieval streets in which can be found some buildings of
interest including the retirement place of Heinrik Schutz which now
is a little museum. Also interesting is a wonderful Baroque chapel
in the Schloss in which Bach is said to have played and where, the
story goes, Handel’s talent was discovered at the age of nine. It
should be stressed that you should only go to Weissenfels if you’re looking for
Heinrik Schutz’s music includes, of course, a fair amount of music
for the church and this shows off his Venetian teaching very
nicely. The pieces have power and delicacy and largely are
without the tendency towards stodge that can affect composers from
this region. He was also the earliest composer of German opera and
we might conclude that this was a direct result of his having, at the
very least, met Montiverdi, and most likely have studied under him.
He also had doings with Gabrielli – a nice pair to learn from.
There is a small Heinrik Schutz festival in Weissenfels in October
with various small concerts.
Recordings: Perhaps the best thing is to send you along to the list
at Arkivmusic and also show you the one thing they have at Amazon.
Dancers Dream: The Great Ballets of Rudolf Nureyev – Raymonda
Another Nureyev DVD? Yes indeed! It is the 20th anniversary of his death
so I imagine we’ll see a few more around before the year has ended. Keeping
his memory alive, generally speaking, seems a good idea in any case – talent
should be remembered.
This is a documentary and outlines a production by Rudolf Nureyev
when appointed to the Opera Nationale de Paris. This was a controversial
appointment at the time and lots and lots of feathers were ruffled and in
the interviews that appear on this DVD the word ‘difficult’ comes up
quite frequently. How much of this was due to his illness we’ll never
know but the general consensus seems to have been that it was, in the end,
a great success.
The first ballet he put together was Raymonda, a ballet so difficult
that it is seldom seen and in this 1983 edition there were three months of
rehearsals needed. For one section alone there were two three hour
rehearsals a day – quite a challenge for the dancers.
On the DVD we see excerpts of the ballet danced by different people
and with comments by those worked with Nureyev. As such it is more a
record of the production and would go well with a DVD of the whole
A slightly sad comment was that what Nureyev wanted to do in the future
was conduct … to stand in the orchestra and watch the ballet before
him. (Baron K)
Rudolf Nureyev, DVD, EMI Classics
I was recently talking to people in their 20’s about ballet and
no-one had ever heard of him but I suspect anyone who goes to
watch ballet would have. Nureyev is not only in the pantheon of
greats as far as dancers go, his story is very interesting as well -
born in Russia in what might be called the boonies, attending
dance school, getting into the famous Kirov school and through his
dedication and hard work becoming a sensation. Then a defection to
the West in Paris and a glittering career in the West which ended
sadly with his death from AIDS.
This DVD includes excerpts from ballet and appearances from the
likes of Dame Margot Fonteyn, Dame Ninnette de Valois, Sylvie
Guillem, and many more. Ballet fans should have it. (Baron K)
Vivaldi, various arias, Venice Baroque Orchestra, Magdelena Kozena, Andrea Marcon, Archiv
As ever, a little dose of this sort of thing can disappear a
crazed disordered world and replace it with passion shown from
inside a graceful little silk-lined box – gestures and statements
are restricted and are only experienced by those who haven’t
become accustomed to the beratingly vulgar. Well, the Romantics,
riding on Beethoven’s back, didn’t like it much, but then quite a
lot of them were rather overblown and pompous, don’t you think?
This CD is a collection of arias from Vivaldi. The singing is
very spirited and the playing rather nice. Of course, as usual,
you have to forgive Vivaldi’s usual urge to make violins sound
like various other sonic happenings. I suppose it was a clever
parlour trick of the time (and later too – there’s never been a
shortage of audiences without taste).
G.F. Handel, Keyboard suites, Ragna Schirmer
A recent popularity survey in a major German store had the
recordings of Handel in the top three places. Montiverdi was in
This recording was in third place and I picked it out as it is
a little unusual – usually we get served Oratoria or best-of bits.
There are sixteen suites here, all performed on a modern concert
grand – three CD’s worth.
I suppose some will niggle about the instrument. Handel couldn’t
possibly have imagined what his work would sound like on this
instrument … but we can play at imagining what he might have
intended in terms of mood etc, and this is exactly what Ragna
Schirmer has done, and quite tastefully too.
An excess of pleasure
The winged lion,
The Palladium Ensemble,
Linn Records, 2008
17th Century Venice? Ah yes, past its prime then in
mercantile vigour, it was a supreme place for decadent
indolence – for party people of the costumed and (in their
eyes at least) refined kind. Sexual dalliance; an afternoon to
dress for the night – it was most likely accompanied by clouds
of ennui for them –unless! .. a new lover tonight! For us it
might be a picture of escape from the doleful bourgeoiserie
of what came later.
But the music and art of Venice at that time certainly didn’t
live under a cloud of ennui. The tracks on these two Cd’s are
sprightly and demanding, graceful and envigourating. Not that
we only have Venice on these discs – we have tracks from the
likes of Locke, Blow, and Purcell as well. The Italian (a
term still to come in those days) contingent includes Uccellini,
Marini, Vitali, and, of course, Vivaldi.
They are from tracks recorded in the early ’90’s at a
Hampstead church, and the environment might be a bit bright for
some tastes .. but the playing by ex-Guild Hall music
students The Palladian Ensemble (now The Palladians) is most
AN, Noises for Jurgen, Maxos
Well known cellist brings us another festival of bombast in her celebration of that little known composer Jurgen Mozart (no relation). Her previous scrapings were well and truly drowned out by the orchestra, but here everything is in reach and the rsult could be termed avant.