Richard and Maria

In my classical collection I have a few stand-alone cds of Richard Wagner (1813-83). I am by no means a fan of German opera. I have seen pieces of his operas on DVD but well my only real knowledge is from Bugs Bunny. One of the cds is a sort of orchestral hits: overtures & preludes from the operas. 

The other is an lp to cd transfer of Glenn Gould’s piano transcriptions of things like Love-Death, The Siegfried Idyll. This is luscious romantic & well worth adding to your classical collection, if you don’t have it already. My partner has all the operas on DVD & CD so I’m saving them to appreciate in my old age.

Next to Wagner is another German composer Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) who is also noted for his operas, none of which I have in my collection or have knowingly heard. Wiki tells me he was a major influence on Wagner. In my collection I have three stand alone cds. Two are lp to cd transfers one of the opera overtures; the other are of individual concertos for Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn. Third is of Symphonies 1 & 2 with suites for him operas. Unlike Wagner, Weber actually wrote more than opera.

The music is romantic without being overwrought – no one would confuse Weber with Beethoven 🙂 I certainly enjoy them when they come in rotation to be played but I don’t feel the urge to play them otherwise, unlike Beethoven whose works I go back to frequently. 



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Verdi vs Bugs Bunny

Growing up in Cape Breton some group would bring in The Canadian Opera as a fund raiser every couple of years. As a result I was exposed to works like Strauss’s: Die Fledermaus one year & Verdi’s: La Traviata another year. I vaguely remember the costumes but that’s about all. I can’t even recall where they performed or if they did whole operas or sections or even if they had an orchestra with them or used pre-recorded music.

But my real introduction to opera was Bugs Bunny! Looney Tunes did a great series of ‘adaptations’ inspired by Rigoletto, The Barber of Saville & others. I have a memory of Bugs wearing a mantilla, rose between his (is Bugs male?) teeth to music from Carmen. Cartoons back in the day were more highbrow than I think they are today.

I didn’t turn me into a fan of opera by any means. It was good to be given the opportunity for something beyond top 10 radio hits but my attention was trained for 5 minute listenings not two hours of sitting & trying to keep awake. I eventually developed a liking for opera but it was never the driving force behind my love for classical music.

By Giuseppe Verdi (Italian 1813-1901) I have an mp3 cd with La Traviata, Requiem Mass & the Overtures. I’m no opera aficionado so who is singing the version I have isn’t that revenant to me. It is good enough for my listening. I’ve developed a like for religious music & enjoy his Requiem Mass. I did a little research to find out what some composers wrote outside of their genre. Verdi wrote vocal music only. The Overtures are excellent introductions to his other operas.

I think one problem with classical music is that it has become over-cultured with a sense that it is for an elite educated ear. Only musicologists are supposed to be able to understand & enjoy it. This same ‘elite’ attitude runs through poetry – if you don’t have a degree you can’t really appreciate or understand, say, Walt Whitman or T.S. Eliot – leave that to the professors or Bugs Bunny.

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Stravinsky Goes Hollywood

Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971): Russian but US citizen from 1945. His ballet The Rite of Spring (1913) transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure. I have an mp3 collection of his complete Ballets, Symphonies & orchestral music. Of course we have Walt Disney’s Fantasia for making Stravinsky almost a household name 🙂 I’m surprised Disney didn’t insist on royalties every time any version of The Rite gets played.

The ballet suites for The Firebird & Petrouchka are frequently performed as orchestral as well as ballet works. The only one I have seen as a ballet is the Rites. I was disappointed there were no dinosaurs 🙂 These three pieces have become classical war horses & I have versions interpreted by jazz, progrock & electronic musicians. 

The Rite is, to my ears, the most ‘radical’ of the works of his I am familiar with thanks to this collection. I had at one time an MHS cassette set of some of these pieces, which lost its tension. For the most part his work is pleasant with elements of jazz, traditional classical, Russian folk melodies running through it. The ballet music doesn’t really need the ballet to enjoy it – then again, I also have soundtracks to movies I have never seen.

I’ve watched portions of the ballets on TV, YouTube & each dance company & choreographer brings their own vision to the music anyway so the visual elements – movement, lighting, costumes – are always changing while the music remains relatively the same. The non-ballet works are interesting & the symphonies are sweeping & satisfying.

Reading about his life I was surprised to find out that he moved to the USA in 1939 & settled down in Hollywood! 

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Sibelius Smetana

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is a Finnish composer. I have as stand-alones Finlandia 2cds; Kullervo; Complete Symphonies 5cds; Violin Concerto. Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) is Czech composer. I have as stand-alone My Fatherland on 2 cds which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer’s native Bohemia.

I love the Slavic patriotism that runs through the work of these two composers. Stirring epic melodies, masses of strings with what often sounds like thousands of musicians. With an occasional soprano floating in the mix. There is little North American classic music that has this sweep. Copeland manages that at times but not like these guys.

I don’t remember when I first heard Finlandia or The Moldau (from My Fatherland) but when I heard them on lps they were instantly familiar. I must have heard them as music in movies or on TV. Romantic, flowing, uplifting & with a definite sense of place – one doesn’t hear Finlandia & think – hey, this sounds like Peru.

Both were symphonic composers. Sibelius’s Violin concerto is a masterpiece. Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride is frequently performed. Neither dabbled in chamber music or piano pyrotechnics. This is concert hall, not drawing room, music that takes listeners on journeys on cool winter days along rivers & fjords. Grab your fur & hop on the troika.

out of the archives – written in mid80’s – original draft in dot-matrix print.  

Voodoo Secrets Revealed!!!

part 1

Pins went into his left ear, through his left eye, over the bridge of his nose, into his right eye & came out his right ear. Flecks of red at the tips. Was that blood? I looked closer. Rust. I turned the picture over. His name was neatly printed on the back – Donald McGraw – 1964.

The photograph was in a tin Players’ cigarette box. It was the last thing in a box of my past my mother had shipped to me for my birthday. She wrote it was time I took of the ‘museum.’ Now that she had grandchildren to keep track of I was responsible for my own past.

A bundle of old report cards, class photos. Even some scrap books I had filled with pictures I had cut from movie magazine of Annette & Haley Mills, a couple of Paul Peterson. Even then I felt he looked better than Annette.

The real find was several original Beatles’ fan magazines. These would buy me a house today, if I could find the right market. Under all this was the thin metal box. In the box was the hex I had cast on the boy who lived across the street.

Turning over the picture I peered at his face. I couldn’t remember how I got the photograph. It was a close up of his head & shoulder. He was wearing a dirty white tshirt. I could see it clearly in my mind. A dirty white ash & a dirty mouth. He was the first person I could recall calling me a fruit.

I was about twelve. We had just moved into the neighbourhood. He & his gang watched from across the street. They smoked & flicked the butts into the street.

“Hi kid! What’s yer name?” One of the the gang brawled from the porch.

I didn’t think of myself as a kid, so I ignored him. I was carrying in a cardboard carton of my treasured Hardy Bothers books. I knew instinctively this bunch of unwashed threats weren’t interested in books.

Donald was suddenly beside me. I could smell cigarette & cornflakes on his breath. I was a good boy. I would never smoke, boys who did that were trouble. I knew that. I glanced at him & went into the house.

“Ah shit. He’s a fruit!” Donald hollered to his gang as he want back to them.

My heart pounded. I hoped my Dad hadn’t heard, & hoped that he had, so he could do something to protect me. I didn’t know what a ‘fruit’ was but by the tone of Donald’s voice I knew it was something I would regret.

Any chance they got they would throw that word at me. If one of them was in the corner strobe when i was he would mutter it underlies breath. ‘Hey fruit fuck off.’ Riding my bike home I would hear the same. ‘Hey Fruit fuck off.’ Sometimes I wouldn’t even see which of them it was. 

Over the next year the antagonism got worse. At times I was trapped in Hell. I always found new ways to get to school that avoided him & his gang. Luckily none of them went to my school. The McGraw’s were just a poor Catholic family. As I look back now I realize how ordinary they were. A drunk father. Two unwed older sisters with babies. The mother cleaning houses & offices.

My family was the opposite. Clean. Protestant. Wholesome. I was a twelve-year-old, only-child. In the next three years they made up for lots time & I quickly had a brother & a sister. I wasn’t crazy about them but I was too busy hating & being afraid of Donald & his gang, to get too distressed about the instant family.

part 2 next week

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Rossini Sarasate

Gioachino Rossini’s (1792 – 1868) William Tell Overture has been seared into my memory thanks to the Lone Ranger & Bugs Bunny. Of course little of music in that overture actually appears in the opera. Imagine some soprano galloping to the galloping bit 🙂 I have that tucked away somewhere. 

On an mp3 collection I have his String Sonatas, various Overtures, Piano Music, Barber of Seville Highlights, La Boutique Fantastique, Matinees & Soirees Musical & the Stabat Mater. At one time I wanted to hear behind the big hit so I added these to broaden my knowledge base. This is all pleasant orchestral, the paint music is romantic, I love the Stabat Mater. But the string sonatas are my particular favourite.

The version here is my lp to mp3 transfer from an MHS edition which I really loved loved loved. This is sweet, playful, happy music. Music I loved so much that I have two other versions of it as stand-alone double cds. All three are different but the same, different tempos, sound quality but great. I’d say by whom but that doesn’t matter. These sonatas would be fine by any string quartet. Get them.

Near Rossini on the shelf is Spain’s Pablo de Sarasate (1844 – 1908). I have two stand-alones of his Spanish Dances on violin one & the other on piano. The dances are fiery, romantic & energizing. Some of them are immediately recognizable even if you don’t know who the composer is. I have various versions of some of them on classical guitar, by string quartets, orchestras, harp, mariachi bands, worked into progrock noodling, jazz guitar, flute, sax. Music for the ages.

Daily Delay

“The delay at the Bloor-Yonge station is static stacic static.”

Jan pulled her ear buds out to hear the announcement. Another delay! Oh, well, there never was a good time for the daily delay. Just what she needed. Keeping the subway running, people happy and people safe were a constant battle. Keeping them safe sometimes meant they would be unhappy. Delays made them very unhappy. 

She wondered what was it this time. Hopefully not another jumper. No, the delay wasn’t long enough for that. She listened closely to the dispatch numbers. They weren’t calling for the track clean up crew. 

The train started up. As it passed through bloor she saw police gathered around the men’s room door. Not worth getting off for. Crime on the subway wasn’t her beat. It wasn’t anybody’s beat. 

There was this code of silence around so much public petty crime. If they reported it all, the paper would be twice a large and there weren’t enough advertisers to pay for the rainforest it would take to keep up on all the pick-pockets, purse snatching that went on.

They saved that valuable resource for real crime. Murder or assault. Stealing candy bars from the Gateway wasn’t real enough, anymore. Plus the more of that petty stuff that made the press the less people felt safe. Everyone wants to feel safe in a city this size. Especially when they were crammed together on public transit. 

Though she never understood how some people found these things were so startling. It wasn’t as if assault was just invented. That this was the first time someone had been robbed.

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Rolling Rrrs

I’ve paired Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) German with Jean-Baptiste Krumpholz (1742-1790) Czech  for couple of harp concertos that are lp to cd transfers of MHS recordings. Both are charming, relaxing & at the same time playful. Different eras but, for me, they flow into each other nicely. I love harp music – my favourite being Mozart’s Concerto for Harp & Flute. These are delights.

Rolling along the r’s is Italian Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) Fountains/Pines of Rome & other orchestral work. As the titles might indicate these are impressionistic pieces. Some imitate, others suggest things like wind in the pines, birds songs, water splashing. Sections show up on 100 most relaxing classical music compilations. Meditative & relaxing they make good background music.

I was drawn by the cover of the the cd for Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940) Night of the Mayas. Solid black with the title in white. Tilting it I saw that the black was embossed with a day of the dead figure & I had to have it. Revueltas is considered one of Mexico’s greatest composers – I had never heard of him before – its not as if the western cannon of  classical music is limited to caucasian composers.

I  eventually added to an mp3 collection – Troka (orchestral pieces); & his String Quartets. The music is compelling, not at all what I expected in its lack of sentimentality but it does, at times, have an eeriness I enjoy. Folk melodies are woven in but not forced or patriotic. The work is modern classical so at time a but sonorous. The string quartets are emotional but also without the romantic sentimentality, say of Tchaikovsky. 

If you want a break from the European domination of classical music Revueltas is a good place to start. 

Plumbers 

“I always wondered why those guys got off?”

“What guys?” My dad put his paper down.

“You know, Donaldson and Hanson who they arrested for beating Mr. Razov. It was all over the paper than suddenly nothing. Seemed like they got away with it.”

“I guess there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges. Something like that. Its’ all so long ago now anyway.’

‘“Yeah but it just disappeared, you know, nothing in the papers after they were picked up. You’d think there would have a statement about charges being dropped.”

“Probably wasn’t a hot new item anymore.” My mother put some dishes in a wash basin. “Going to have to take these down to the laundry room to wash. How much longer before the new sink is ready?”

The doorbell rang. 

“Should be them now.” My Dad got up and let the plumbers in.

I immediately recognized Jim Donaldson. 

“You remember … what was his name?” 

My mother asked me as the plumbers put their tool boxes down. 

“Victor Hanson.”

“Oh yeah.” Jim reached out to shake my hand. “Keeping well? Heard to get a good job in the big smoke.” He half laughed. “Down home for awhile.”

“Just a a couple of weeks. Sad about Mr. Razov.” I watched his face for some reaction.

“Razov? Oh, yeah. Here let me help you with that.”

Two of workers were bringing the dishwasher through the back door.

“Let’s go into the living room. Leave these guys to their work.” My Dad patted me shoulder. “I’m sure these guys don’t need an audience.”




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