The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Memorial Day – a good time to remember the civilian dead as well as the military dead. The Ear likes Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” What music would you listen to to mark the holiday?

May 27, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2019, when the nation honors the men and women who died in military service. The Ear would like to see much more attention and remembrance paid to the huge number of civilians — much higher than military personnel and soldiers — who have died in wars and military service, whose lives weren’t given but taken.

In fact, why not establish and celebrate a separate holiday to honor civilian deaths in war? Perhaps it would help to know the detailed history and background of the holiday, since it is not as straightforward or modern as you might expect:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

What piece of classical music would you listen to in order to mark the holiday?

There is a lot to choose from.

The Ear especially likes “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by the early 20th-century French composer Maurice Ravel. It is a “tombeau” – a metaphorical “tomb” or “grave” used by the French to mean paying homage to the dead – in two senses.

Its neo-Classical or neo-Baroque style recalls the 18th-century world of French composers and harpsichordists including Jean-Philippe Rameau and Francois Couperin. But in a second sense, Ravel (below, in 1910) dedicated each of the six movements to a friend – in one case, two brothers — who had died during World War I. So part of its appeal is that it is a very personal statement of grief.

Here is more detailed background about the piece:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_tombeau_de_Couperin

The work was orchestrated later, which added sonic color but cut out two movements. The Ear prefers the original piano version, which seems a little more percussive, austere and straightforward — less pretty but more beautiful, and more in keeping with the holiday by evoking sentiment without sentimentality.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it in a live performance by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.

But there are lots of other works to choose from by many composers: John Adams (“The Wound Dresser” after poetry of Walt Whitman); Samuel Barber (Adagio for Strings); Ludwig van Beethoven (slow movements of Symphonies 3 and 7, and of the Piano Sonata Op. 26); Johannes Brahms (“A German Requiem”); Benjamin Britten (War Requiem);  Frederic Chopin (Funeral March from Sonata No. 2, polonaises, preludes and the “Revolutionary” Etude); Aaron Copland (“Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Letter From Home”); Edward Elgar (“Nimrod” from “Enigma Variations”); Gabriel Faure (Requiem and Elegy for cello); Franz Joseph Haydn (“Mass in Time of War”); Paul Hindemith (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d – A Requiem for Those We Love”);  Charles Ives (Variations on “America” and “Decoration Day”); Henry Purcell (“When I Am Laid in Earth”); John Philip Sousa (“Honored Dead” March); Ralph Vaughan Williams (Symphony No. 3 “Pastoral”); and many others, including Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a list from the British radio station Classical FM:

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/memorial/remembrance-day-music/war-requiem-britten/

Here is a list of patriotic music from Nashville Public Radio:

https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/classical-music-remembrance-and-loss-memorial-day-playlist#stream/0

Here is another list from an American source:

http://midamerica-music.com/blog/five-classical-works-memorial-day/

Here are more sound samples from NPR:

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104341851

And here is another one from Northwest Public Radio:

https://www.nwpb.org/2015/05/22/memorial-day-music-commemorate-celebrate/

What do you think of a holiday commemorating civilian deaths in war?

What favorite piece of classical music would you play and listen to as you mark Memorial Day?

Let us know, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The new opera “Fallujah” is based on the Iraq War. Will the Madison Opera or the University Opera be interested in staging it? Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear “Carmina Burana” performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Read three rave reviews.

May 1, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in “Carmina Burana” in the MSO’s spectacular season-closing program. Read three rave reviews by local critics:

Here is what John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/big-orchestra-monuments/

Here is what Greg Hettmansberger wrote for Madison Magazine and his blog WhatGregSays:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/farewells-to-a-season-and-some-friends/

And here is what Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/concert-review-mso-offers-spectacular-finale-to-season-with-respighi/article_3ac27a49-8212-5983-855b-245dd011deef.html

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says you can’t mix art and current events?

Especially if the current events also count as history, which has often been an inspiration for fiction and art.

Iraq and Afghanistan — the United States’ longest wars — are back in the news again making big headlines. And PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a story that never goes away.

But not all of the news has to do with politics, suicide bombings, increased troop commitments and fierce fighting in a civil war.

It also has to do with art.

Specifically, opera — that potent combination of theater and music.

The Long Beach Opera commissioned and recently premiered a new chamber opera based on the Iraq War and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), and us based on the life and work of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis . It is called “Fallujah” and it is the first such opera to be written. (A photo below is by Keith Ian Polakoff for the Long Beach Opera.)

You can hear librettist Heather Raffo and composer Tobin Stokes discuss the opera in the YouTube video at the bottom.

fallujah iraq opera Keith Ian Polakoff Long Beach Opera

It makes The Ear wonder if it might find its way into an upcoming season of the Madison Opera, which tends to use its smaller winter productions to stage works that are newer, smaller, more adventurous and more exploratory.

Or maybe the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music might find it a good choice for a student production?

Anyway, here is a fine write-up that you can find on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/18/470973622/an-iraq-war-opera-finds-a-vein-of-empathy


Classical music: Remember the Cellist of Sarajevo from 23 years ago? Now there is a Cellist of Baghdad. Read or hear all about him on NPR.

June 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

How music persists and endures in even the hardest and bloodiest and most unlikely of circumstances!

Perhaps you remember that during the Balkan wars, when Serbian snipers threatened daily life in Sarajevo, there was Vedran Smailovic (below), better known as the Cellist of Sarajevo, who defied the killers and resisted terror with beauty.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Now in the midst of the chaos created by religious conflict and the barbarism of ISIS comes The Baghdad Cellist. If you listen to the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him playing — and it seems to be music, an excerpt from the solo suites for cello, by Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the most universal of composers.

And why the cello in both cases? Perhaps, The Ear thinks, because it so approximates the human voice and seems a perfect stand-in for a human being in such inhuman situations. What do you think?

Cellist of Baghdad 3 at home

Cellist of Baghdad

Read or hear about Karim Wasfi, the extraordinarily brave professional musician who performs at the sites of terrorist car bombings and who was recently featured on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/2015/06/08/412284066/amid-violence-in-baghdad-a-musician-creates-a-one-man-vigil

 

 

 


Classical music: Iraq war veteran and writer Brian Castner will see “The Long Walk,” his memoir of his own experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), turned into an opera that will premiere in 2014 in New York City.

August 5, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

After a decade or more of Americans fighting wars, it seems almost inevitable.

Lots of people have talked about PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But not too many people have sung about it.

That could change soon.

Iraq war veteran and writer Brian Castner (below) will soon see his memoir “The Long Walk,” about his experience in dealing with war and PTSD, turned into an opera that is scheduled to receive its world premiere in 2014 at the American Lyric Theater in New York City which has commissioned the work.

Brian Castner

The Long Walk book cover

The composer is Jeremy Howard Beck and the librettist is Stephanie Fleischmann. They are pictured in the photo below with Brian Castner in the center.

The Long Walk USE big L-R. librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, writer Brian Castner, librettist Jeremy Howard Beck for American Lyric Theater

Recently NPR’s terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” featured a piece on the collaboration and subject matter. It included an overview with interviews and background plus an audio snippet that is also worth listening to

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/20/203681940/a-veterans-true-story-leaps-from-page-to-stage

And here is a link to another story about the project on Opera Pulse, an online website specializing in opera;

http://www.operapulse.com/opera-news/2013/02/12/american-lyric-theater-commissions-the-long-walk/

The Ear likes the idea. It is certainly is a different and more contemporary take on war and armed conflict than the romanticized and melodramatic versions one often finds in grand opera or even a lot of classic literature.

It seems more realistic and more in keeping with the current way that veterans wage armed conflict and then return home to a different, more personal and more difficult war.

The Long Walk poster by American Lyric Theater

We’ll have to see how good it is. (See the YouTube video at the bottom for the creators discussing the new opera.)

But if it holds up as a work of musical and theatrical art, it sure would seem a natural choice for Madison – perhaps the Madison Opera, which next season will stage Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” or at least the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which can afford to be more experimental and controversial.

What do you think of the idea or inspiration?

The Ear wants to hear.


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