The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Did she know or didn’t she? Here is the factual background about a flawed diva if you go to see the movies “Florence Foster Jenkins” or “Marguerite”

August 19, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This week, The Ear saw the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a story about the amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins (below, in the 1920s in a photo from Getty Images), who was famous in the early- to mid-20th-century for singing terribly, painfully and laughably off-key but who nonetheless pursued performing in public and sold a lot of records.

Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1920s GETTY IMAGES

During the Wisconsin Film Festival, The Ear also saw a French movie, “Marguerite,” with a similar story line and main character.

Of the two, he much preferred “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Meryl Streep (below) plays the flawed diva with total commitment. The Ear suspects it will garner Streep, who did her own bad singing to perfection, her 20th Academy Award nomination, even if she doesn’t win a fourth Oscar.

British actor Hugh Grant might also be nominated for his supporting role as the British out-of-work actor who becomes her protector, promoter and caring love partner St. Clair Bayfield.

In additon, her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who could also receive an Oscar nomination, develops into a memorable secondary character.

The English script — directed by the talented Stephen Frears –seemed more tightly written with better characters and dialogue than the French one, which dragged on too long and seemed forced in its ending, although both movies share similarities in their endings.

But to be honest, with both of the films The Ear had a major problem with suspending disbelief.

He just can’t believe that Jenkins didn’t know how badly she sang.

You can hear her butcher the famous and difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Anyway, the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR, or National Public Radio, has provided an excellent background piece, a very factual biography of Jenkins, that also asks famous singers whether it is possible for Jenkins not to have known how flawed her singing was.

All The Ear knows is that if he played the piano that badly, he sure wouldn’t go perform a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Here is a link to the blog piece by Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/10/488724807/killing-me-sharply-with-her-song-the-improbable-story-of-florence-foster-jenkins

Now if you go to either or both movies, here is what The Ear wants to know:

Which film about Florence Foster Jenkins did you prefer, and why?

And do you think it is possible to sing as badly as Jenkins did without knowing it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which political campaigns have used classical music?

August 14, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

In the past, the music that political campaigns used was often jingles that reminded one of Madison Avenue advertising, even when they were composed by Broadway song master Irving Berlin.

These days, it seems to The Ear that most political campaigns use rock, pop or country music.

Sometimes folk music.

Never jazz.

And, one supposes, you will never hear the blues since that would be a pretty downbeat message for politicians.

But leave it to our friends at WQXR-FM, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, to offer some samples of political campaign music, including some that used classical music.

Ike campaign political campaigns and classical music

Donald Trump (below), the current Republican nominee for president, has tried to use the famous opera aria “Nessum dorma” (None Shall Sleep) from “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini.

Donald Trump thumbs up

Fittingly, in the opera the moving and beautiful aria is sung by a prince to woo a Chinese tyrant or despot.

The Ear especially loved the way it was used so appropriately during the carpet bombing of Cambodia by the U.S. in the movie “The Killing Fields.”

Trump used one of the best versions available – sung by Luciano Pavarotti, one of which has 38 million hits and which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

But the Pavarotti estate refused to grant him permission to use it and asked him to cease and desist. Good for them.

Now Trump uses something in the public domain: the Overture to the opera “The Thieving Magpie” by Giachino Rossini.

Anyway, here is a link to the story:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/6-us-political-campaigns-set-to-classical-music/


Classical music: Meet Korean pianist Ji-Yong and see the back story to the great TV piano ad for Google Android apps.

February 29, 2016
3 Comments

ALERTS: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is a FREE recital by the UW-Madison percussion studio. Sorry, no details about the program. Also please note that the joint faculty recital on this coming Saturday night by flutist Stephanie Jutt, oboist Kostas Tiliakos and pianist Christopher Taylor has been CANCELLED. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you’ve seen one of The Ear’s favorite TV ads these days.

He finds it to be both very eye-catching and very ear-catching. It is called “Monotune.”

It is about the Google Android apps and it features the well-known young Korean pianist Ji-Yong (Kim) playing a section of the emotionally ferocious and technically difficult last movement of the famous “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven on a regular Steinway piano and then an on a specially build “monotune” piano where all the notes are the same – specifically, Middle C.

The ad emphasizes difference and complementarity of difference – and provides a good metaphor for social diversity too. So The Ear bets that it wins some awards in the advertising profession.

Here is the YouTube video of the ad:

Making of the Android App ad included building a special piano that could be tuned so all notes play a middle C. Here is the fascinating back story:

From the playing The Ear thought: This is a serious and accomplished pianist – not some second-rate hack brought in for an ad. He is expressive but not self-indulgent or flamboyant like, say, the Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

He was right.

Ji-Yong is a serious pianist and former impressive prodigy, so maybe the Android ad will further his career with many new bookings. He deserves it. The Ear sure would like to hear him live.

Here are other samples of his playing:

Here he is playing the complete Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Ear likes his lively but convincing interpretation of Baroque music on a modern piano:

And here he plays the opening movement of the virtuosic “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, by Beethoven:

Along more miniature and less heroic lines, here he plays two favorites from Robert Schumann’s “Scenes From Childhood” – first “Of Foreign Lands and People” and then “Träumerei” or “Dreams,” which was a favorite encore of Vladimir Horowitz:

Finally, here is a pretty amazing YouTube video of him as a young prodigy playing at the Miami International Piano Festival in 2008. He is performing a difficult work, the Andante and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, by Frederic Chopin:

What do you think of the Android ad?

And what do you think of pianist Ji-Yong?

The Ear wants to hear.


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