Art, Music, & Film: November 2006 Archives

The Trout Quintet

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I am NOT a truefan of most chamber music. To my ear it tends to sound a bit thin, weedy, and forced. I suppose if I were actually in the chamber while it was being played, the effect would be quite different. But to listen to chamber music in the privacy of my own room on my stereo gives a kind of wan and weak portrait of the experience. It's rather like watching Opera on television, or worse yet, listening to an Opera on disc. This can be a satisfactory and satisfying experience for many, I suppose, but I almost never enjoy a recorded Opera (in its entirety) before I've had the chance to actually see the Opera performed.

I digress. What I wanted to do was say that if you also are disoriented, unmoved, indifferent, or positively antagonistic to chamber music, you might wish to give Schubert's "Trout" quintet a try. This is one of those rare pieces that, though only five instruments play, there is a depth of sound and of theme and motif that really shows what chamber music construction is all about. After a glorious, bright, and quickly moving first movement, there follows a somewhat slower, more meditative, "interior" second movement--a natural flow from the first and an obvious development of the themes. Again, the third movement is bright, fast, and almost strident, lapsing into a fourth, quieter, meditative line and culminating in the fifth movement that brings the light and darkness together into a brilliant synthesis and summary of the entire work.

Words are not really meant to describe music, they cannot do it justice. And my words are particularly inept because I have no real training at describing these things, nor do I have the proper training and terminology to express all that is present in the music.

What I must do however, is encourage anyone interested in classical music to listen, really listen to the piece. Not put it on as background music and let it go--rather listen to it and to what the composer manages to do with relatively few instruments.

Bright and brilliant, one of the few chamber pieces I actually choose to listen to over and over again.

Now, Erik can come and chastise me for succumbing to the lush Romanticism of the 19th century--but then, you'll get a better picture of what the music is all about. And I'm always ready to learn the error of my ways, even as I continue to like what I should not. But let's face it, it isn't Brahms--and it is on Brahms that Erik and I can agree nearly whole-heartedly.

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"Easy Listening"

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I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Yes, I even subject myself to stuff that Erik calls "absolutely gorgeous" and which I find essentially indistinguishable from cicada song except perhaps in volume. I want to learn to listen to new things and I readily admit some are beyond me.

But the horrible little secret that I don't even really try to keep from any one, is that I have a real liking for classics, remakes of classics, and certain varieties of what is variously called "Tiki-music" or "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music." (This does not extend to the wheezy electronic organ or skating rink music that sometimes accompanies these things.)

I brought some in to work to add to my iTunes and I know someone here who really enjoys "The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter" as much as I do. She made a comment this morning that hit the nail on the head for me. "It is somehow so soothing and calming." It is indeed, and I have no real explanation for why. I find certain composers and styles very soothing. There may be real virtuosity in the composition, but I regard the music largely as background sound--more than white noise, I think, because the sound probably helps even out the daily spikes in blood pressure that come when someone approaches your desk with something that is manifestly NOT your responsibility and begins to discuss the problem. (Or worse yet--it IS your problem/fault.)

So I admit, I like the light sounds of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Henry Mancini (in his own original compositions, not general in his reconstruction of others.) I like Rosemary Clooney, Early Frank Sinatra, and all the classics. I even like Bette Midler and Rod Stewart and Linda Rondstadt and Cyndi Lauper redoing "I Only Have Eyes for You," or "Stardust."

I don't listen to these things all the time. I also like Vivaldi, Varese, Ligeti, Ravi Shankar, Brad Paisley, Ultravox, Bill Nelson, Arvo Part, Aine Minogue, Loreena McKennit, and any number of other styles/types/artists. You might say I am catholic in my tastes. The less charitable would say (not without reasonable support) that I am undiscriminating in my choices. But there's a wide world of music out there and I have stopped trying to make a point by abhorring this or that popular artist or genre. Instead, I put on my headphones and listen to Tina Turner and am reminded for a moment of what beautiful things people can do and produce. And that is a comfort and a world that seems intent upon ugliness.

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Children's Cinema Offerings


This may be too late for some of you, but I post in hopes of alerting the rest as to the relative merits of three children's films I've had the duty to sit through this season:

(1) The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause--A mild entertainment--neither offensive nor particularly compelling. Whatever message is here is so coded and buried by all the fluff that surrounds it that it will at worst do no harm and at best encourage some form of family solidarity. The worst part of this is that family solidarity, as good as it is, is not the central message of the Christmas story.

(2) Happy Feet: The one with the greatest potential for damage. Another of George Miller's nearly endless and endlessly preachy films. It seems that after Babe, Miller got up on his hobby horse and has been riding it into the ground ever since. Ostensibly the tale of the Penguin who is not gifted as other penguins are, the main messages of this film are dissent, disagreement, and headstrongness. Most children won't see it, but it is a two hour long polemic on preserving the fish for the starving penguin populations of Antarctica. In addition, it has some fairly strong anti-parental and anti-religious elements. Again, very young children won't catch on, but Samuel came out of the theatre lecturing us on the need to preserve fish populations for other animals. And while it is good to have one's consciousness of these things elevated, it does make for preachiness and polemic that are hardly worth the spectacle of dancing penguins, particularly when compared with . . . singing slugs.

(3) Flushed Away: The film that most amused me and featured the inspired talents of singing slugs and a city of sewer rats. A straightforward adventure film/love story with, as I said, singing slugs, some "adult" humor a la "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and a tight and clever plot line. One example of "adult humor--" La Frog is summoned by his British cousin Big Frog to help capture the heroes and play out his evil plot to drown sewer world and populate it with his voracious tadpoles. The French ninja-frogs show up and La Frog tells them, "Time for action, men." At which the dozen or so frogs raise their arms and say "I surrender." "Not that action!" (My sincere apologies to any French readers I may have.) There are other moments as well, but overall, it is fast paced, with amusing interludes featuring fleeing slugs, singing slugs, flying slugs, and yes, dancing slugs. Overall, it seemed pretty message free and a lot of fun. Recommended.

The other two films I can't really recommend because I was bored by the preachiness of Happy Feet and simply bored by The Santa Clause 3, neither charming nor inventive. But the latter has no discernible harmful message and the former has a strong but relatively coded anti-religious message that will be missed by pre-teens, and perhaps by some adults.

Now on the kid scale--Sam loved all three. I don't know which one he liked best because best usually means most recent. So your pre-teen child is likely to enjoy all three.

Oh, how I long to see a film made for adults!

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Evening's Entertainment


This evening we take Samuel to his fourth Opera this year: Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Delilah.

His previous operatic experiences: L'elisir d'amore, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Tosca. In addition last year he saw The Rockettes and Riverdance or Lord of the Dance (I forget which).

Next year he will see The Pirates of Penzance and Madama Butterfly and there's a good chance that he'll see the Khachaturian ballet Sparatacus.

I used to think that Orlando was pretty much a cultural wasteland. But I've discovered that while the pickings are a little slim compared to larger cities, there is much to be found if one looks. Given that both Opera and Ballet are largely dying arts to the Brittany generation, it seems good to give Sam some experience with these marvelous artforms before they completely vanish.

Most interestingly of all, Sam is absolutely riveted by the performances and seems very much aware of all that is going on. He reads the supertitles on the operas (which, by the way, I often have to do even when the Opera is in English), and is able to give a pretty good run-down of the story--which is not always such a good thing. I've no idea what we'll do when we get to Madama Butterfly, but we'll deal with that in its time.

To prepare for tonight's Opera Sam has been practicing the "Egyptian Dance" from Samson and Delilah as part of his piano practice. It's wonderful to see him so interested in these things and so well versed in them at so young an age. I think the first Opera I saw was when I was in college.

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Victory at Sea

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Film music has, for the most part, replaced formal classical music as the classical music of our time.

I'm presently listening to Victory at Sea and More Victory at Sea which had their origins as soundtracks to documentary films about WW II produced (I think) for television in the late 50s early 60s. What I think occurred is that Richard Rodgers composed some new material and reworked materials from his musicals into the soundtracks as appropriate. For example, "Beneath the Southern Cross" has a motif that is very familiar but which I am not able to place immediately, not being terribly conversant in musical theatre.

Whatever may be the case, there is some interesting music here that has stronger classcial music leanings than the music of most contemporary composers. Dissonance serves a real purpose in the course of the music rather than the ritual extolling of disorder commanded of the high priests of modern anarachy. There is form and function here, and while it doesn't have the strict structural elements of prolonged classical music, it does within each short piece contain both thematic and musical elements that hearken back to musical predecessors in ways that might be called "musical quotation."

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An Odd Day


Lunchtime, recording the listening for the morning:

4 different versions of O Mio Babbino Caro--including one by Charlotte Church
Visi d'Arte
Janet Baker's magisterial performance of the rather odd English Renaissance set piece (hard to call it an opera) Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

Bohislav Martinu's Symphony's 3 and 4

What I'd like to listen to and don't have available at the moment is Mendelsohn's "Overture to the Hebrides" and Rimsky-Korsokov's Scheherazade

Later this afternoon music by Casting Crowns, Out of Eden, and Selah, along with a compilation of "inspirational" songs by country musicians.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from November 2006.

Art, Music, & Film: October 2006 is the previous archive.

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