The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music does the assassination of JFK bring to mind for you today on the 50th anniversary of his death?

November 22, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (below), or JFK, in Dallas, Texas.

WH/HO Portrait

It was a momentous event in so many ways for the country. And like many of you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news flash of his shocking death.

One of JFK’s legacy, one deeply encouraged and acted on by his First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was to revitalize the American art scene and enhance it with involvement and help from the government.

That so now irks the conservative philistines who want to zero out the budgets for NPR, PBS, the NEA and the NEH, who want an ignorant citizenry that will buy into their distorted lies and mean-spirited stupidities.

But how fitting for the New Frontier was that quiet cultural revolution promoted by JFK during his short tenure in The White House.

Artists responded enthusiastically to JFK and his death. How I recall the music that was put together quickly and performed on the then relatively new medium of television. I think the requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi were performed and broadcast, as was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” – a favorite of JFK and a work that was given its world premiere by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet in 1936. Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” were also performed.

Here is a link to a great story on NPR about what music was played in JFK’s hometown of Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Erich Leinsdorf:

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/21/246328972/moved-by-kennedys-death-the-boston-symphony-played-on

I remember the specific works that for me struck the right chords, so to speak, about the murderous death of the President.

One was the Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below). The whole work is so beautiful and gentle, peaceful and calm – and how we all needed beauty and gentleness, peace and calm, that awful weekend — and it was completely unknown to me.

faure-1

I liked all the movements. “In Paradiso” was one. But I also liked the “Pie Jesu” and the “Libera me.” But what stuck me most and keeps resonating is the “Sanctus.” Here it is in a YouTube video, and be sure to read the comments from other listeners:

The other work I remember from those events is the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms (below). I had known it before. But this was when it took on real meaning.

Johannes_Brahms

I remember hearing and loving the movement “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” But the part that really got me choked up was not that one or the Funeral March or even the fabulous “Here on Earth We Have No Abiding City,” with its fabulous fugue “Death, Where Is Thy Sting; Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?.”

It was the final movement, “Blessed Are The Dead for Their Works Live on After Them.” I loved the secular, but respectful and even loving quality of the text and of course the music. That allowed it to appeal to the entire nation and to all people everywhere around the world, regardless of their faith or beliefs.

It seemed so fitting and so true, then; and it still does now.

Here it is:

What works of classical music come to mind for you when you think of that awful day in Dallas and terrible weekend in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson’s next “house concert” is this Saturday night and features America classics for voice and solo piano by Gottschalk, Foster, Ives and Joplin.

July 30, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Classic American songs and solo piano pieces will be featured this coming Saturday at one of the appealing “house concerts” by keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below), an early music expert who also founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians,  and tenor Peter Gruett.

The concert is at 7 p.m. at Stephenson’s home at 5729 Forsythia Place, on Madison far west side. Admission is $35 per person. Refreshments will be served.

Reservations are required: You can make them by sending an email to trevor@trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.

I have attended several of these concerts, and I can attest that they are both fun and informative as well as thoroughly enjoyable and congenial in a pleasant and comfortable, informal setting (below).

Here is a more detailed description of the concert and program written by Stephenson:

“Please join us on Saturday evening, August 4, for a program of American music featuring works for solo piano as well as songs for tenor and piano.

“We’re delighted that outstanding tenor Peter Gruett (below) will join us — many of you have heard Peter frequently with the Madison Bach Musicians.

“I will play Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s other-worldly F-sharp major piano arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (from “Union,” which Gottschalk (below) performed for Lincoln at the White House during the Civil War); two piano rags by Scott Joplin (the “Sycamore” Rag and the “Wall Street” Rag); and Charles Ives’ “The Alcotts” movement (at bottom) from his Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord.”

Peter will sing selections by Stephen Foster (below), as well as Ives, and other masters.

I will play on two of the historical pianos here at the house — the Victorian English Parlor Grand (c. 1850), below top; and the English Cottage Upright (c. 1840), below bottom.

I’ll also talk about the spirit of the age in the late 19th century, the process of rebuilding these wonderful pianos, and the historical tunings (forms of Well Temperament) that we’ll use for the concert.


Classical music: EMI releases a compilation inspired by the bestselling “Fifty Shades of Grey” novel trilogy.

July 8, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

What is the difference between erotica, soft-core pornography and romance novels?

I’m not sure that I know. I guess it’s whatever is steamy and turns you on — or off.

But I am sure it doesn’t matter a whole lot when it comes to the publishing phenomenon of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy (below), by E.L. James, that has been flying out of bookstores all over the country. Tongues are buzzing, or is it wagging, about the books and their subversive taboo sensuality. (Sounds a bit like all those must-read banned books from the 1950s, no? Are we that bored again in our real lives?) 

So far, it largely seems a women’s phenomenon. Even President Barack Obama said he didn’t know about them, but added in good humor that would ask First Lady Michelle Obama if she had a copy on the night stand at home in The White House.

So far, The Ear has seen no news of her response.

It’s probably safer that way, especially in a campaign year, no?

Apparently, the novels make references to or could suggest quite a lot of classical music. (So, will some libraries ban the music just as they have already banned the novels?)

So now the record label EMI is cashing in on the phenom books by releasing a bestselling “50 Shades of Classical Music” anthology as part of its downloadable “50 Best” series — for $5.99 It has 15 tracks of the music specifically mentioned in the novels plus another 35 tracks that maintain — should we say, prolong — the same kind of experience and atmosphere.

Here are links with more information:

http://www.sacbee.com/2012/07/02/4606087/emi-classics-releases-50-shades.html

http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2012/07/04/check_out_fifty_shades_of_classical_mu

“Experience the Dark Side of Classical Music” runs the advertising.

Hmm—sure sounds tempting. Sexy, even.

So here is a link to the Official Site:

http://www.greatestclassical.com/

It sounds crassly commercial and exploitative – kind of like the books themselves – but maybe that is a wrong or hasty assessment.

What do you think of the books and the idea of a classical music anthology inspired by them?

The Ear wants to hear.


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