Heat Wave Listening

Pretty hot here in Philly, and I am trying to progress on my song cycle for Collage New Music (October 15 premiere!). But still, I am always trying to do some listening. A few discs I’ve heard recently:

Haydn: Piano Sonatas II – Marc-André Hamelin. Hyperion.
It’s a safe bet you don’t have enough Haydn in your life, particularly the piano music. Here’s an excellent way to rectify that deficiency, part of a series of superbly performed and recorded albums by Hamelin surveying the piano sonatas. Known as a hyper-virtuoso, I didn’t find Hamelin’s skills intrusive. The uncannily glassy smoothness of the runs, the exquisitely balanced and articulated chords, the occasional exceptionally fleet tempo- all this seemed to serve the music rather than draw attention to itself. To very roughly generalize: Haydn’s sonatas are about intimacy and wit, rather than being pocket-sized opera arias or concerti, like some of Mozart’s sonatas, or heroically symphonic works like some of Beethoven’s. A tougher sell perhaps, but deeply rewarding.

By the way, at one time Hamelin played new music in a way that he has not for some time – a pity. But I am interested to see that he is releasing an album of Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus, maybe this portends a repertoire shift.


All Rise – Jason Moran. Blue Note.
Subtitled “A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller”, I felt that this album honors the pop side of Waller’s legacy as much or more than the jazz component, with vocals by Meshell Mdegeocello and arrangements that include virtuosic instrumental work but also have a few moments where, forgive me, the words “smooth jazz” came to mind. Sometimes it felt like he was simply referring to the source material rather than deeply engaging with it. I preferred the edgier moments when Moran’s playing takes flight. The album is brilliantly executed, but the jazz nerd in me prefers Moran albums like Ten and Modernistic.


Lulu’s Back in Town

Did you know you can see G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box on YouTube?  (I first found the movie on Hulu, for free; but when I returned to it, I was told I had to belong to Hulu Plus to access it. Not sure if that means your first time watching is free or if it was just a fluke. The music added to this silent film is better in the version on YouTube.) The film is based on Frank Wedekind’s play of the same name that was a source for Berg’s Lulu, and those who know the opera will be interested to see what is the same and what is different in Pabst’s version.

I was struck by how modern Louise Brooks’ face seems (she plays the title character) compared to other actresses of the era. Dr. Schön wears a monocle in the film, and I wondered a) doesn’t it hurt to have this hard object wedged between your cheekbone and brow? and b) how well does one see with a single corrective lens?
Of course, serious Lulu fans are aware of other sources relating to the opera. I am thinking of the comic book character Little Lulu.

Here are a few relevant scenes that provide alternative takes on the story. For example, instead of Lulu shooting only Dr. Schön, what if she took out both Schön and his son Alwa? (notice how Alwa becomes an Americanized “Alvin” in this version.)

An alternative vision of the murder scene (Schön’s ax is a nice touch):

In the opera, Rodrigo, the acrobat, plays no role in the murder scene, but here he is consulting with Lulu:

This next one clearly relates to Lulu’s unforgettable line addressed to Alwa, “Is this not the sofa on which your father bled to death?”

And let’s not forget Schigolch:

My musicologist friends who are interested in critical theory will enjoy reading about Little Lulu and Saussure.

Finally, there’s the possible source for the jazzy moments in the opera.

(Thanks to my dear friend Peter for his assistance in assembling this post.)

Tuesday evening miscellany

-I have finally gotten around to reading Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops. It truly does deserve all the accolades it received when it came out last year. The book is full of fresh insights buttressed by fresh research, all couched in elegant prose.

-Yes, I know the proper way to learn jazz repertoire is by studying the recordings – but for those of us who need a little help, there are transcriptions. I am enjoying reading the Fats Waller transcriptions in Paul Posnak’s collection of piano solo pieces, although enjoyable is not exactly the word for trying to reach some of Waller’s widely spaced left hand voicings. Perhaps I need some help of this kind.

-Dr. Guthrie Ramsey’s blog is now including posts by the professor of MusiQology himself, in addition to an archive of student contributions mentioned here previously. Dig the videos he has posted, including some Cab Calloway. He also found footage of the Nicholas Brothers together with Michael Jackson (I would not have guessed they were alive at the same time.) Congrats, Guy, on co-curating the Apollo Theatre exhibit which recently opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

-I have been meaning to write about these discs for a while now, and I do want to post about them in more detail, but let me give a quick mention here of Miranda Cuckson’s superb discs of violin music by Ralph Shapey and Donald Martino. Fascinating repertoire, commanding performances. Much more to say, coming soon.