Thursday, November 29, 2007

Complications, musical and otherwise

Gudrun Wagner is dead ( lux perpetua luceat...). Here is Mostly Opera's mostly excellent coverage of the matter.

While there is some dissent on this matter, I really don't think this changes the dynamic of the ever-looming Bayreuth succession crisis. I have my reasons, though.

First: Gudrun had been pretty well shut out of the succession with the prior, disputed election of Eva Wagner-Pasquier. There had been fears that Katharina would be just a front, but the introduction of Thielemann (and that finance guy) into the mix produced another variable that suggestion that Gudrun would have some influence, but not an overwhelming amount.

Second: If Eva Wagner-Pasquier was acceptable last time, before Wolfgang Wagner invoked his lifetime tenure clause, then why wouldn't she be acceptable now? She hasn't done anything that would make one doubt her ability to accede to the Festspielleiter position (or, make you doubt it more, as the case may be). Katharina botched Meistersinger. In Bayreuth. While her father was alive. Just say that to yourself. The fact that it could happen in those circumstances is nothing short of amazing, but the fact that it did - and that she was still kept in the race - is nothing short of inconceivable. It was not Eva's to lose, it was Katharina's to win, and - if I had a vote - she wouldn't have won in my book.

Third: if the stories of Gudrun being the power behind the throne, so to speak, are true, perhaps Wolfgang will come around and be more reasonable about all this after her untimely death. A bit more give on his part will ensure that it stays in the family, as I can see the various authorities getting tired of playing out Wagnerdämmerung every time the Festspielleiter position is up for grabs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Music for emotion

I am, as a rule, not the first guy to get emotional - to say nothing of actually draining some saline out of my ocular region - but, after seeing these posts*, I figure that it couldn't hurt listing some of the music that brings some emotions to the front of my mind.

Gustav Mahler, Symphony no. 2
Really, the whole thing gets me in a charged state of mind, but the final chorus, "Aufersteh'n, ja, aufersteh'n wirst du," can really stick me.

Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung
The Immolation Scene in particular can be a tough one, especially when the soprano can actually act and the conductor knows what he is doing with Wagner's music. It might be the most profoundly affecting music for me.

Francis Poulenc, Dialogues des Carmélites
The last scene, with "Salve Regina," is affecting enough, but when Blanche comes in at the very end, "Deo Patris...," that has some emotional content.

Gabriel Fauré, Requiem
Two words, "In Paradisum."

Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello suite no. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 (Prelude)
The way that the hard-driving rhythm becomes that sweet melody can really hit me on the right day. There about fifty pieces of which I can think, all of which have affecting content, by Bach.

Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem
I'll second this one, from beginning to end, especially Otto Klemperer's recording on EMI. In "Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras," right around RN 206-207, where Brahms gives the indication Allegro non troppo, the strings get that driving theme, and the basses kick into "Die Erlöseten des Herrn werder wieder kommen," is one of the most unabashedly joyful moments in music, to my mind, and I'm no Brahms fan.

Gustav Mahler, Symphony no. 8
Pretty much everything from "Komm! hebe dich zu höhen Sphären" through "Blicket auf" to the conclusion does me in.

There's more, but I wouldn't want people to think that all I do is sit around listening to Gustav Mahler and weeping softly.

*Heather Heise (5 October), Tim Mangan (19 October), Lisa Hirsch (19 October), and Alex from Wellsung (21 October)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

But, of course...

Pliable's On An Overgrown Path deserves the attention of almost any serious reader and lover of music, and it deserves whatever accolades can be given for his coverage of Hugo Chavez' "Bolivarian Revolution," especially as the musical world swoons over Gustavo Dudamel.

Perhaps my love of Wilhelm Furtwängler should be tempered for this reason, and - as I have said here - some recordings, like that 1943 Bayreuth Meistersinger, are problematic for me - maybe that's right; however, I cannot help but think that Dudamel is a servant of a state verging ever nearer to totalitarianism and repression. Supporting Dudamel, his youth orchestra, and other Venezuelan cultural products is akin to saying that we love the produce of a nascent dictatorship, even if we don't so much care for the dictator. While Mr. Dudamel should not be made to suffer for being the product and superstar of the music-education program of Venezuela, we should not get in the business of supporting Chavez or the end-results of his projects until it becomes clear that Chavez is committed to democracy and human rights.

I would, in addition to the Thielemann Pfitzner/Strauss disc, recommend Valery Gergiev's recording (live broadcast, and not - to my knowledge - commercially issued) of Pfitzner's Violin Concerto, op. 64, with Rainer Küchl as soloist from 2004.

Exploring Webern in-depth

Thanks to Alex Ross' new book (which is wonderful, by the way), I am exploring Anton Webern more deeply than I have in the past. Pierre Boulez' wonderful DGG box, the Complete Webern, makes for an economical and great way to get into Webern.

Having entered modern avant-garde music through Boulez' own compositions (especially Le marteau sans maître and Pli selon pli), Webern's grammar is not entirely surprising. There is, though, a wonderful economy of form with Webern's music that is not necessarily there with Boulez (and certainly not there with someone like Luciano Berio). Webern seemed capable of compressing the works down to their essence, which talent must have come as quite a breath of fresh air after Mahler's expansive compositions and some of Schoenberg's more massive works (Gurrelieder, anyone?)

While it is too early to form a comprehensive judgment, I will say this: Webern is an underrated Lieder composer.