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

Monday, August 27, 2007

Answering the Dog

So yes, the academic year not only approaches but, for me, has begun (I taught my first classes of the year, in a daze, this morning), but even so I'll take the bait and try to answer some of SoHo's interesting questions:

1. What's the best quotation of a piece of music within another piece of music?

I've always liked the allusion to Beethoven in Brahms' First, or Mozart's quote of himself in Don Giovanni, but I have to go with the Star-Spangled Banner in Madame Butterfly.

2. Name the best classical crossover album ever made.

Elvis Costello and Anne-Sophie Mutter, or Renee Fleming's Haunted Heart. I am not totally partial to either, but these are, for me, the "best."

3. Great piece with a terrible title.

Rage over a Lost Penny (A joke, please)

4. If you had to choose: Benjamin Britten or Michael Tippett?

Benjamin Britten, though I'd not want to part with The Rose Lake, the Double Concerto for String Orchestra, or The Knot Garden.

5. Who's your favorite spouse of a composer/performer? (Besides your own.)

Phillip Glass' (now, I hear) ex, Holly. Met her once, thought she was absolutely lovely. But Peter Pears rates.

6. Terrible piece with a great title.

Nimrod Varations

7. What's the best use of a classical warhorse in a Hollywood movie?

That famous aria from Carmen in Magnolia, or Michael Moore's use of Beethoven's Ninth in Farenheight 911. I suppose Fantasia doesn't count.

8. Name the worst classical crossover album ever made.

John Denver and Placido Domingo, which I purchased in a gas station between Malibu and Santa Barbara.

9. If you had to choose: Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye?

Sam Cooke

10. Name a creative type in a non-musical medium who would have been a great composer.

Either Orson Welles or Paul Thomas Anderson. Or Tennessee Williams. Or Balanchine. Or Bergman. Does Adorno or Romain Rolland count? Also, Kierkegaard. But most of all, Marcel Proust.


For opera nerds: If you had to choose:
a) Lawrence Tibbett or Robert Merrill?

The latter

b) Amelita Galli-Curci or Lily Pons?

The latter

For early-music nerds: Name a completely and hopelessly historically uninformed recording that you nevertheless love.

Beechum's Messiah, though Furtwangler's Ninth is so wrong yet hopelessly right. And Simone Dinnerstein's Goldberg Variations, not to mention the really obvious Glenn Gould reading(s) of the same piece. I mean that these recordings don't lay claim to a certain level of scholarship--no doubt they all knew what history meant, and chose to follow a different set of instincts.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Coming Soon!

Felsenmusick will undergo a totally foxy redesign. Don't touch that dial: should be within the week. You won't recognize me!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

SoHo the non-Dogmatic

Like everyone, I am following Matthew Guerreri's blog with astonishment: he does, as Alex says, seem to be wired into his own rather brilliant information feed. I'd like to reprint something he wrote and comment:

"Rudolf Serkin, infamously, once played the entirety of Bach’s Goldberg Variations as an encore. “When I finished,” he remembered, “there were only four people left in the hall—Adolph Busch, Artur Schnabel, Alfred Einstein and myself.” Did the value of Serkin’s recital dwindle along with the number listening? Hardly. My sanguine view of the survival of classical music is reflected in that illustrious trio staying in their seats. There will always be an audience whose demand for the music will remain purely functional, immune to fads, buzz, trends, what have you. Will it be smaller than the audience for this month’s pop sensation? Probably. Does that matter? Nope."

This comes at the end of another weighing in on The Death of Classical Music, in his way using a kind of post-Veblen economic measuring stick. He makes his usual salient points, rounded off here, and I'd like to add my own few cents. I am reminded of the movie 24 Hour Party People, director Michael Winterbottom's paean to the rise and fall of Manchester's rave culture(with the ever-acerbic and self-lacerating Steve Coogan as entrepeneur Tony Wilson). In the movie, he organizes a show of the Sex Pistols just before they hit, and though few are in the audience, most of them went out and started important bands. Same is true of the Velvet Underground: they had a mighty listenership which was small but full of people who went out and innovated in their name. This is a sort of defense of insider art: quality of audience can sometimes trump quantity. Looked at from an economic standpoint: if myself, you, and Bill Gates are in the room together, our average net worth is something in the billions. In other words, sometimes it is important to have a smaller, potent bunch than a larger group of near-participants.

When Alex Ross' book comes out, you will all get to see who was at the premiere of Salome in 1906: some heavy hitters, making the crowd a more potent global force than, say, a huge concert of La Boheme in the park.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Elgar Variations

Allow me to take Anthony Tomassini's recapitulation of the Bard Festival, which is this year dedicated to Edward Elgar, to re-plug James Hamilton-Paterson's gorgeous Gerontius, a biographical fiction about that composer. This is an author who knows his stuff, music-wise (as evidenced by the hysterical conductor called Max in his novel Amazing Disgrace, who engages a rapt-at-attention dinner party with his breakdown of the use of Von Suppe's music in the Tom & Jerry cartoons). A little sample:

"A further surprise is Max's apparent disinclination to talk about music. This seems not to be the bluff, Elgarian defensiveness that insists on discussing horse racing while the avoided topic broods like a thundercloud above the table. Max's attitude is more tha of the man who doesn't wish to consider work outside office hours. This is awkward, since I am naturally eager to establish my own musical credentials, such as they are; although, I dare say there are not too many people who can sing most of I froci di Firenze. So I tell Max how wonderful I think his Schumann symphonies are, trying to sound thoughtful rather than fulsome. I say I am particularly impressed by his going back to the autograph of the Fourth in its 1841 first version, which is so much more spontaneous and transparent in texture than Schumann's overworked later version with its thick wind doublings.

'Oh,' Max Says modestly through a mouthfull of mutton (though I can tell he is pleased), 'I was only following the trail blaxed by Nikolaus.'

Harnoncourt, I presume, and am about to carry on with what Brahms said about these two versions of the D-minor symphony when Max abruptly changes the subject.

'You know the person I really admire?'

'Celibidace?' I hazard.

'Sergiu, yes, of course; but I was thinking of Adrian. My brother-in-law. I always wanted to be a palaeobiologist, did you know that? I realize Adrian's an oceanographer, whichis rather different, but he manages to do a lot of field work. I'm envious.' "

Gerontius, a fictional account of Elgar on a rare vacation late in life--when the world has passed him by--is done with the same twee-yet-deeply-serious spirit. I always thought Elgar a stodgy old Brit who could never quite get his mind around the 12-tone row, a composer for hats and tassles and little else. Gerontius makes him into an artist, a bohemian who, late in life, finds himself the rear guard as opposed to the soul of his own Queen and country as he once was.

All I can say is I hope the Bard gift shop is generously stocked. It's a delight, a serious and sad delight.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Death in August

As New York winds down (or up) for the start of the Fall--which for many of us means a return to teaching, to the season, to 9-11, to a cooling of the weather, to turning leaves--I am moved by Kyle Gann's thoughtful remembrance of Nancarrow, who died a decade ago. Has it really been that long?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Under the Gun

With two pieces due soon, classes starting in shorter order than I would like, and yes, nuptuals forthcoming (including my own--on the 30th of September I am lucky enough to be marrying one Elizabeth Isadora Gold, the writer) I fear a little Felsenmusick pause is in the offing. Read other music blogs in the meantime, and I will be back with fierce passion as soon as the heat breaks. When next we meet, I'll have a new piece for the brilliant choreographer Jenny Showalter, a scene from my opera The Bloody Chamber, some hot syllibi for a host of courses at City College, and a feature article on the great musical genius Carl Stalling for Symphony magaizine all put to bed.

See you all on the other side!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hitler, Music Lover

Apparently 100 or so records that belonged to the Fuhrer were recently discovered, and lo, his passion for music included the work of Jewish and Russian artists, the "problem" and "untermenchen" races. I love the article , especially when, in a final sweep, Alexandra Besymenski (the daughter of the man who, out of fear, held on to the collection for the whole of his life) points out the dictator's hypocritical frisson between his stated and acted-upon theories and his actual at-home tastes. And some of his best friends were Jews...

Friday, August 03, 2007

Le Nozze di Figar-D'oh

This is the best news I've heard in a long time. Now if only a few composers could make an appearance? I am surprised they've not called Philip Glass.