Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


This from the inconceivably looney Percy Grainger:

"Composers missing technique are for ever following the dictates of untamed technical possibilities instead of the instincts of their emotions."

But then again, he did make up his own weird language, wrote some totally bizzarre music, and was a devout lover of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (whose works prefigure Nazi Eugenics, and who married Wagner's daughter), and does entitle a chapter of his memoir discussing his wife: "The NordicNature of my Love for Her" so I am not sure how much he's to be trusted. The quote is nice, however.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Imaginary Opera Reviews

In a spate of insomniacal googling and surfing, I came accross a fantastic (and sadly imaginary) review of Jorge Luis Borges' Complete Novels It's a nicely executed Borgesian piece of flim-flammery, one that made me sad because it wasn't real. I wanted to read the novels.

So I challenge anyone out there to do the same for opera, and I'll give a prize to the most profound, amusing Imaginary Opera Review. Any takers?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Felsenfeld Movement

"Namesake", The New Yorker. A strange and wonderfully written piece by one Brian Gallagher, oddly enough, about yr. blogger--or at least my unweildy surname. Now I guess I cannot change it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Little Unexpected Humility

My screeds on this blog about rock musicians aiming for the gold standard of high culture without wanting to actually do the required work led me to read about the band Incubus' guitarist Michael Einziger, who is, apparently, hard at work on a symphony. I like his take: he couldn't play due to carpal tunnel, so he decided to learn about music five days a week, discovering there were "gaps" in his knowledge. And while the article about his progress on Billboard would not exist without his fame as a rock star (can you imagine an article that says "John Harbison Hard at Work on String Quartet"?), applause applause to Mr. Einziger for saying the words I've been waiting for the rock star cum composer to say. From the article: "The Grammy-nominated musician says he understands that the classical work's appeal should not depend on it having been written by a rock musician."

'...it has to stand up to the work of other composers as well ... and [is] a pretty hefty task for me to endure.'

Bravo. Can't wait to hear your symphony. Please send me the score if you like.

Oh, and please also tell the good folks at Playbill to settle on a spelling of your name.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


I do appreciate Lee Rosenbaum's response to my reaction to her post about Jerry Hadley's suicide. I've always maintained that the biggest advantage to blogging is the instant dialogue it affords. Plus it's always nice to know someone somewhere is reading.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Little Bit of an Overreaction

While I share many artists' frequent conetmpt for critics, I think that Lee Rosenbaum's words about Jerry Hadley take the matter a bit too far: she maintains that bad reviews were the cause of this singer's recent suicide that's left us all bereft. On one point she is correct, I believe: critics should savage with caution and not relish (Virgil Thomson believed this, though too little practiced what he preached); she is also right at being dismayed at the disproportionate in-print backlash against John Harbison's The Great Gatsby and Mr. Hadley in the title role--it did seem extra (and undeservingly) vehement. But to maintain that this should have been Mr. Hadley's Swann Song where instead, due to the unkind words of the critics, it was his last failure that caused him to desparingly take his own life is a little severe.

True, words can cause injury, but there is a whole history of bad reviews that never caused a suicide. Even among my friends, I've known some rather prominent people who were the butt of some critic's emnity and overzealous bile, and they still walk among us. This of course outlines one of many dillemmas that artists must face: you have to be sensitive enough to be tuned in and therefore excellent, and yet thick skinned enough to suffer the slings and arrows.

I did not know Jerry Hadley, but my guess is that his problems ran deeper than bad notices. My guess is that he was ultimately an unhappy person, a person with problems we will never understand, and it is tragic that these could not be better taken care of. He was in fact more than the sum of his resume, and his decision to take his own life will always remain a sad mystery except to those who knew him well in life. We love him for his records and performances, but we do not know him, and unfortunately never will.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Freudian Politics

In my vast insomniacal political reading (largely the cause of the insomina, some say) I came accross something too delicious to let go. Here's a line from CNN's Political Ticker, apropos of John Edwards; presidential campaign

"And even though Mrs. Edwards continues to be a very public face of the campaign, a top campaign aide bushed aside suggestions that she is becoming the dominant voice in the campaign."

Read it a couple of times...the typo plays!

Les Adieux

Jerry Hadley died this morning. Once again, the world weighs just a little bit less. I've been listening to Candide the past few days, and his rendering of "It Must Be So" is enough to send a chill. He will be sorely missed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Quick Question for the Readers

I am preparing a lecture on Wagner to be given in conjunction with the Kirov Ring at Lincoln Center, and am compiling a list of poets, painters, philosophers, writers, etc. who were known to be anti-Semitic. My list, so far: Wagner (of course), T.S. Eliot, Philip Larkin, Stravinsky, Chopin, Martin Luther, Webern, Strauss, PIcasso, Simenon. Can anyone add, and quick?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Another Legend Gone

Tenor Jerry Hadley shot himself in the head with an air rifle in his Poughkeepsie home last night. He is alive, but there doesn't seem to be much prospect for him; he is not expected to recover. I not only adore his recordings of Show Boat and Candide (not-so-guilty pleasures, I suppose), but also saw him in the second go-round at the Met of John Harbison's unjustly maligned The Great Gatsby. I remember thinking that his somewhat faltering tone (for which he got his share of poor press) was either wholly intentional for the role or a happy accident in casting. Whatever he did, though, was utterly persuasive: he made the gadfly Gatsby live, breathe, and sing.

So this is not an epitath: he is not dead, still lies with us. This is a commemoration of someone who obviously had greater problems than a warbling pitch--his legal troubles in the last few years drew more atention that his artistry. He will be missed.

He should be remembered like this, singing gloriously under Bernstein's baton. Or like this, aside Karita Mattila, under Abbado, singing Schubert.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Collector's Goodies

An old friend of mine from New England Conservatory, one Gabe Boyers, has commenced an impressive online business called Schubertiade (www.schubertiademusic.com) selling musical memorabilia. The catalogues are cabinets of curiosities: handwritten fragments from Britten, a record of Copland's piano music autographed from the composer to his friend Elliot Carter, a signed photo of Furtwangler given to Hitler, a collection of correspodence about a (sadly unrealized) American opera company which was to have G.W. Chadwick as its director, scads of Callas and Caruso items, etc. If anyone out there is seeking to purchase a gift for yr. blogger for all his months of entertaining toil here at the helm, I have a few suggestions.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Goodbye Ms. Sills

Once again, with the sad and premature death of Beverly Sills at 78, the world is lighter. Hers was an unmatched spirit, she will be greatly missed. And thank you Mr. Tommassini, for a deep and thoughtful notice. It's not enough, but nothing would be.

Burnt Satan

Today I inserted a disc of my own music--my piece All Work and No Play for piccolo and piano which Stephaine Mortomore recorded in Weill Hall a few weeks ago--and the GraceNotes query came up with a song called "Burnt Satan" by a band whose name I now forget. Does anyone on earth understsnd how this happens, how a home-brewed recording of a piccolo piece can net such a weird result?

More (Yawn) about THE DEATH

Once again, the Times plays Cassandra, once again heralding The Death of Classical Music. And in this article--ostensibly a review of Lawrence Kramer's book but more yet another thoughtless wailing over the dessicated corpse of a tradition (because, apparently, conductors don't rate boldface in the gossip columns)--the outsider's shrug is deafening. What I feel like they at the paper of record fail to understand is twofold: 1) that it is not the tradition that is dying but many of its institutions and 2) that they are partially responsible for its so-called death because they keep saying it is so. It has, alas, become fashionable to write with constancy and either relish or bile about The Decline--or to take Alex Ross's smart approach and declare the death of The Death; I wish I had his patience--and by doing so in such an overt and dramatic fashion, do these critics not realize that they have blood on their hands?

I know what it is: good, old-fashioned fear. As soon as these major instiutions close down, critics from papers are out of jobs. Please, if you know what is good for you, stop doing it, you are hurting it, you are helping to bring your own misguided prophecies to fruition.