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January 19, 2008

Explaining great music
Posted by Patrick at 11:01 AM *

A Tiny Revolution co-blogger Bernard Chazelle on the proposition that “the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th is the greatest piece of music in the Western canon.” Complete with lively YouTube video of the Berliner Philharmoniker playing it. Great breezy once-over of how and why it works, and of course there’s never a bad time to listen to the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th.

Comments on Explaining great music:
#1 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 12:02 PM:

I loved that post because recently I've been so caught up in baroque music that romantic music seems kind of indecently emotional--nice to be reminded of how great it can be, if you put the right ears on.

#2 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 12:05 PM:

For me, the last movement of the 7th is the one that stands out, and having read this, I'm now slightly embarrassed about that.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 12:07 PM:

And here I was convinced that the Habanera, 'L'amour est une oiseau rebelle que nul homme peut aprivoiser' from Bizet's Carmen was the greatest piece of music in the Western canon.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 12:08 PM:

Either that, or the aria 'La ci darem la mano' from Mozart's Don Giovanni.

#5 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Zardoz.

#6 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 12:52 PM:

Mmm. That's always been my favorite bit of Beethoven, especially after Immortal Beloved.

Incidentally, "Beethoven" is a trump card in Apples to Apples for my husband, especially when the adjective is "handsome." All because of Gary Oldman in Immortal Beloved. Evil Rob's most fond of the 9th, however.

#7 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 01:58 PM:

The closest I have ever been to heaven (thus far) was sitting on Hampstead Heath in 1976, listening to the "Seventh" at an outdoor concert. As the "Allegretto" started, twilight was just drawing in: that hyper-real light you get when the sky is purpling and the street lights are very distant. Gorgeous setting, gorgeous music. Good bottle of wine too, but that was just the icing on the cake.

#8 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 02:05 PM:

I've always loved this movement, even before I knew what it was. But I have a hard time comparing two pieces of music for the purpose of ranking, because I often think that the best piece of music is the one I'm listening to at the time, if it is good enough, and a lot of music is.

However, Beethoven may have some competition, at least in my opinion. If forced to, I would pick Giovanni Gabrieli's motet for 14 voices In Ecclesiis, with antiphonal choirs, soloists, and organs, with brass and strings. It's a real bear to stage as it is quite dependent on the acoustics of the space it is performed in. I still think that the 1967 recording in San Marco is the best, or at least the version I am most attached to.

(If your want to deal with Rhapsody, the album is available for download. The only other MP3's of this I was able to find weren't that good.)

#9 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 02:44 PM:

I don't know that anticipation is the primary thing that makes great music, but it's certainly one of the key parts.

#10 ::: Michael R. Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 02:48 PM:

I find myself distracted by Larry-the-Stooge's head popping up at irregular intervals until it becomes all about watching for his next appearance. Argh.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Thanks for the lin, Patrick. Beautiful music indeed. I wonder what he'd have thought of La Pastorale as visualized by Disney, or by Soylent Green.

Meanwhile, here is Ravel's Bolero, as visualized in 1973's Allegro Non Tropo.

Part One: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hiy1EZfVGYU
Part Two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ox2AyNUJiw&feature=related

#12 ::: Tom Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 03:04 PM:

This is always subjective, of course, and I could vote for the Allegretto as one of the greatest individual pieces in Western music, but for my money, the St. Matthew Passion is the greatest work in Western music. The opening chorus alone worth the price of any CD it's on.

#13 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Serge: OMG Allegro non troppo is on YouTube! OMG OMG OMG! My life is complete.

Although I have to steer clear of Valzer Triste, of course.

#14 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 03:15 PM:

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan @ 13...

Yes, you want to stay away from Valse Triste, especially if you love cats. And finally Debussy's prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqbGv9o7gdU&feature=related

#15 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 03:29 PM:

The Allegretto is one of two "default earworms" that play in my head whenever my brain requires a soundtrack to whatever I'm doing.

It would be nice to claim that it's because I'm a stone Beethoven fan, but it actually got in my head years ago from watching ZARDOZ too many times.

(ZARDOZ fans: We are few in number, but passionate in our intensity.)

The other default music in my head is "Putting On The Ritz." (Yep, saw YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN too many times. Also, the POTR version that was on heavy rotation on MTV, way back when MTV actually showed music videos.)

#16 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 03:40 PM:

Bruce Arthur @ 15... it actually got in my head years ago from watching ZARDOZ too many times. (ZARDOZ fans: We are few in number, but passionate in our intensity.)

Et tu, Bruce?

#17 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 04:03 PM:

Bruce Arthurs @ 15

I represent an even smaller group: I hated Zardoz when I first saw it, because of all the smug little touches and ostentatious directorial flourishes that Boorman put in. But the visuals were lovely (even the cheap special effects were mostly very effective) and the Beethoven made me more accepting than I otherwise might have been. So, a few years later, after VCRs became cheap, I watched it again, and was won over; all the things I liked outweighed the things I didn't*. Now I can see it as an excellent example of the work of a Young Turk with attitude enough to get in his way, and talent enough to bulldoze through the attitude. And I still love the music.**

* Fritz Leiber helped with a very astute and mostly very positive review.

** And the irony of seeing Sean Connery in a diaper. What's not to love?

#18 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 04:36 PM:

Another Zardoz fan. It probably helped that when I first saw it, I had been watching a lot of Dr Who (Tom Baker era), and therefore could forgive much (ignore the cheap sets, accept the story).

I actually read (and have a copy of) John Boorman's novelization of Zardoz. Like reading Clarke's treatment of '2001: A Space Odyssey', it explained much that the film left unsaid.

And of course, loved the music, and the giant floating head.

I had a friend who said his appreciation of classical music was owed to Bugs Bunny cartoons and pirate movies.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 04:46 PM:

Rob Rusick... My understanding is that Burt Reynolds was originally going to play Zed. Oh, and I have the novelization. And how is that for thread drift?

#20 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 04:57 PM:

Matt @2: I don't have the title to hand, but there's an anime series that uses that movement as a theme song. With words.

Fragano @3: I heard somewhere that the melody to the Habanera was by Yradier (of "La Paloma" fame), and that Bizet borrowed it, thinking it was a folk melody. I would find it hard to pick a favorite melody from Carmen, let alone pick the greatest piece of Western music.

B. Durbin @6: At the moment, my favorite LVB movement is the Andante from the 15th piano sonata. Beethoven, I've read, used to sit around making up variations on it for what might have been hours. He liked it too.

Serge @16: When I read that, I pronounced Beady's name as "Broo-chay." I'm bragging now.

Some writers were talking about their favorite piece of music. The first said he couldn't listen to "Melancholy Baby" without tearing up. The second said that he got weepy listening to "Mood Indigo." They asked their companion -- Robert Benchley -- what he liked. "Tea for Two," said Benchley. "Whenever I hear it, I pound on the table and sob!"

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 05:10 PM:

Kip W @ 20... Bruce is aka Beady?

Favorite piece of music? No specific piece. Pretty much anything by Debussy. Ravel, a close second. Prokofiev. Copland. Holst's The Planets - and The Right Stuff is to blame for that.

#22 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 05:19 PM:

Serge @19: So the casting was based on the moustache? I'd assumed he got Connery because he was Scottish (the movie was filmed in the highlands of Scotland, IIRC).

For an odd Zardoz reference, I give you Vartox (thread drift indeed).

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 22...

Vartox' home planet of Valeron, was destroyed in a cataclysmic event, he then became the super-powered hero of Tynola, a planet "trillions of light years from Earth"

Tynola? Not Tyrolia or Granola?

Burt Reynolds wasn't mustachio'ed in those days, but he had been in Boorman's previous film, Deliverance. I don't know why Connery got the job, but, hey, I'm not complaining.

By the way, I discovered La Pastorale thru Soylent Green. Come to think of it, I finally began to 'get' classical music in the early 1970s when many SF films were using classical pieces for their scores.

#24 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Many, many years ago, when I was in grade school, we had a music book called Songs for the Grades.

In this monstrosity they had a song in which some friggin' nun had put words to the Allegretto from Beethoven's 7th.

I got in trouble for a) refusing to sing it, and b) proclaiming that one unpublished thought by Beethoven was worth more than Sister Mary Pass-The-Candle-Half-Lit's entire life.

Nevertheless, because of my trick memory, I can't forget those words, and to this day that movement is ruined.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 06:29 PM:

Kip W #20: That may well be the case.

#26 ::: Graham Sleight ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 06:29 PM:

I adore Beethoven's 7th, especially in the recording by Carlos Kleiber; but I'd suggest that any list of greatest pieces of music evah would also contain the five-themes-on-top-of-each-other finale of Mozart's 41st.

#27 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 07:05 PM:

Anna @ #13: Yeah, the Valze Triste is impossible to watch without me getting teary. But at least there's the rest of the movie to cheer you up.

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 07:15 PM:

I don't have a lot of formal training in classical music, just the usual* "music appreciation" classes and the occasional trip to the symphony, plus listening to a lot of records and radio shows as a child. So my tastes are more eclectic than educated, though for about 10 years or so Eva and I had season tickets to the Symphony here in Portland**.

So maybe it's just my lack of education, but I can't really compare composers of very different styles, e.g, baroque composers like Vivaldi or Bach with a late Classical / early Romantic like Beethoven. But, yeah, I'm always ready to listen to Beethoven. Though I've only heard the 7th live once, I'd say it ranks up there with the 4th or the 9th.

* at least, usual for when I grew up.
** While Jimmy DePreist was conductor and music director, so there were a lot of interesting and lesser-known works on offer.

#29 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 07:33 PM:

B.Durbin @ 27...there's the rest of the movie to cheer you up

True, especially the framing device that spoofs Fantasia's, with the greasy conductor rounding up little old ladies to force them to play in his orchestra. But its version of prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune is so sad, especially when the old faun just gives up.

#30 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 07:51 PM:

Jim @ 24:

Textual underlays to instrumental music are an abomination unto the LORD. Thank you so much for witholding it, forever if need be - you are doing a great public service.

#31 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 08:30 PM:

Serge @ 21:
"Kip W @ 20... Bruce is aka Beady?"

Way back when I first got into sf fandom, I used my first and middle initials, B.D., instead of my first name. So people who knew me back when, like Kip, still sometimes address me as "B.D." or "Beady".

The reason for using initials back then was that it was a time when "Brucie" was a meme used in jokes -- Johnny Carson did it frequently in his monologues -- to indicate that someone was effeminate/pansy/gay. Since I was already someone with low self-esteem and lacking in "machismo" characteristics, I used "B.D." to avoid that extra little bit of humiliation.

(To Carson's credit, when someone named Bruce wrote him a letter about the use of "Brucie" as code for homosexual, he read the letter on air and stopped using the meme.)

I eventually got secure enough to start using "Bruce D. Arthurs" on a regular basis, and pretty much dropped the middle initial a few years ago.

#32 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 08:46 PM:

Graham @ 26: I adore Beethoven's 7th, especially in the recording by Carlos Kleiber

The version I am listening to right now.

I always loved that piece, even before I knew what it was, but it never became an earworm until I heard it played over the closing moments of Irreversible*. Now it carries, in my mind, such a weight of sadness that it is difficult to really listen to it without getting a little teary myself and yet, according to iTunes, I have listened to it nearly 3 times as much as any other bits of Beethoven except the first movements of the sixth and ninth and the third movement of the fifth symphony.

* I absolutely do not recommend that anyone watch Irreversible. This does not mean that I think it is a bad film - quite the opposite - but it is a very difficult film to watch; one that many, many people are nauseated by.

#33 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 08:48 PM:

I'm not sure the Allegretto outweighs the first movement of the same symphony in greatness, much less that it's the greatest music ever written. Beethoven is the greatest of composers, however, that I'll agree to.

I can't tell which Karajan recording of the LvB 7th is used in the video clip; I own the 1962 version, which is fantastic, the best I've heard except for possibly the famous Toscanini with the NY Philharmonic from 1936, which I had on vinyl but don't have now.

The 7th is probably my favorite of the nine, the other contender being the Eroica. Neither the 5th nor the 9th are superior to those two, in my opinion.

#34 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 09:02 PM:

Tom Brandt@ 12: The St. Matthew Passion is, for me, one of the greatest artifacts of mankind full-stop.

James D. Macdonald @24: In 4th grade (I think) my horrible, horrible elementary school did that to the whole Nutcracker. Awful. To this day I remember the "words" to the overture. Bah, hiss and boo!

#35 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 09:19 PM:

I think the worst part of adding lyrics to music or otherwise changing art around for kids is that most kids have never known the original. In seventh grade, my English class read A Christmas Carol. A play version, not the novel-- it did nothing for us. We all knew the Disney version, the Muppet version, et cetera, and so one more adaptation? Nope. There were also short stories cut from novels, but the plays were just... no.

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 09:49 PM:

I'm so glad I don't have to pick the one piece I think is the single greatest one ever written. Why do we always have to RANK everything?!?!? Honestly.

Proclaiming one best one means all others are somehow less worthy. Why not just enjoy them in all their diversity? Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium" is a great piece of music in a completely different way than the Beethoven music. I like both.

#37 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 10:10 PM:

I'm not sure I agree with the anticipation point. This music was just... eh. Didn't do much for me. Granted, I was not listening with my whole brain, and while the music seemed a little familiar I couldn't place it, but it didn't grab me the way a few trumpet notes in Handel's Royal Fireworks Music did. It may just be that I am extremely brass-oriented.

#38 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 10:18 PM:

Diatryma, I'm terribly brass-oriented myself. After years and years playing in the school band, I went to my first real orchestra performance in college... and was annoyed that all I could hear were a load of undistinguishable strings, instead of the real instruments.

I've since acquired more appreciation for violins and what not, but I still rather feel that they need some good solid trumpets backing them if they're going to twiddle on for more than a minute or so at a time.

#39 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 10:24 PM:

Diatryma, Fade: I'm a bandswoman too, and always will be. The Dallas Wind Symphony is our friend.

Xopher: Have you sung "O quam gloriosum"? I sight-read it yesterday. I don't think I'll love it as much as "O magnum misterium," but it's awfully nice.

#40 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 10:24 PM:

Just look at the number of instruments. If you want a violin section, you're stuck with at least fifteen violins. French horns? One per part. Say what you want about subtlety; I like balls-out brass.
That is apparently the technical term. Things one learns from band directors....

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 11:33 PM:

TexAnne, yes, I've sung that one too. It's nice, but not quite as nice as OMM.

#42 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 12:56 AM:

Xopher, #36: Hear, hear! My reaction to being asked to pick "my favorite" anything is generally, "You want me to pick ONE?" followed by hysterical laughter.

#43 ::: JerolJ ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 01:42 AM:

I love classical YouTube clips like this; I'll be playing the Allegretto for days now. But the most moving piece for me will always be Elgar's Cello Concerto (performed by du Pre of course). And on alternate days, Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks".

#44 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 08:08 AM:

TexAnne @ 39... I'm a bandswoman too

Seventy six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand
They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos;
the cream of every famous band.

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 08:27 AM:

Xopher @ 36... Lee @ 42... Yes. There is no such thing as the Best - in any sector of human affairs. There is only what's best for you, what resonates best with who you are and what you need, and even that best may not be true, depending on what your needs are at specific times.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 10:51 AM:

I miss Classic Arts Showcase. It used to be on our cable lineup, then Comcast rearranged everything to make place for other networks and the Showcase disappeared, here anyway. It was neat, seeing excerpts from those old concerts, and some modern things, such as a strange Russian rendition of Bolero that involved a stairway that went on and on.

#47 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 11:40 AM:

Serge @21: Yes. He was also called Bede, on days when he was venerable enough. The Right Stuff was a lovely movie -- not quite as good as the book -- but the music was kind of maddening, in a way. It would mimic a stretch of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto, for instance, then the composer would suddenly get an attack of conscience or something and turn right at Albuquerque.

James @24: The Book of a Thousand Songs has quite a number of anonymous songs written to well-known classical music. To some extent, that stuff is a hoot. Silcher did it to a passel of Beethoven themes from instrumental pieces, and Hermann Prey recorded some of them as a sort of lark. The vocal version of the finale of the seventh is at least impressive in carrying off what must be a real tongue breaker. (I've had a spot in my heart for Barbra Streisand ever since I heard her sing a version of Chopin's "Minute" Valse, up to speed, with perfect clarity and precision.) On the other hand, whenever the Manhattan Transfer starts one of those self-referential 'tributes' to a jazz standard ("Oh, Lullaby of Birdland, what a song / We could sing it all day long" or whatever), I tune right out. Maybe if they sang in a language I didn't understand I could listen.

#48 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 11:54 AM:

Anna @13: I thought the Valse Triste number was effective in Allegro non Troppo, but it's not what I think of when I hear the song. It helps that I was familiar with it already, having been attempting the piano version for years by then. It was the theme song for "I Love a Mystery" on the radio, which Mom used to tell me about.

Dido @34: The Nutcracker Suite certainly does attract popularizers. Maybe Spike Jones did it best, in a distinctly kid-oriented version. I broke the first set right after getting it home, but have been more careful with the replacement I managed to find. More recently, I lucked onto Freddy Martin and his Orchestra performing a modern version of the suite "in dance tempo." I'm not sure what that makes the original ballet, but the swing versions are kind of endearing in a nutty sort of way.

I can't help wondering if he's related to Skip Martin, whose "Sheherajazz" is the all-time champeen screwball of crossover treatments of classical standards.

#49 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 12:15 PM:

And similarly (to ballet music in "dance time"), who needs to popularize the Nutcracker for crying out loud? It's the very definition of ubiquitous.

We got a new pianist in one of my ballet classes a few years ago who started playing the Waltz of the Flowers for the pirouette combination and (it was Aprilish) our teacher, also a dancer in the company, instantly stopped her. "No. Not that. Anything but that." So we got Minkus instead.

#50 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 12:38 PM:

Kip W @ 47... the composer would suddenly get an attack of conscience or something and turn right at Albuquerque.

I do have little grey rabbits in my backyard, and roadrunners and wiley coyotes sometimes show up at the wall, but no Bill Conti. Maybe he went the other way.

I wonder. His cut-and-paste approach to scoring movies is less prevalent than John Williams's, who for example quoted Le Sacre du Printemps as C3PO and R2D2 wandered around Tatooine?

#51 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 02:16 PM:

That movement of Beethoven's Seventh was on the soundtrack for my student film!

It's not too far a stretch of imagination to believe that another movement inspired Jerry Goldsmith's score for Patton.

#52 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 02:23 PM:

I like Duke Ellington's swing Nutcracker a lot. And then there's The Hot Mikado.

#53 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Speaking of film scores, has anyone seen Cloverfield? In keeping with the movie's concept, it's entirely unscored--until the end credits, where there's suddenly (and kind of jarringly) an epic "Overture", as it's apparently called, one of the greatest monster movie themes I've ever heard. It sounds a bit like if Ennio Morricone had scored the original Godzilla (sans Raymond Burr), and it's by far the loudest part of the whole movie.

#54 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 03:26 PM:

#46--my sympathy, Serge--Classic Arts Showcase (see here for local channels) is pretty much my default setting for those times when I want the TV on just for the noise--although since I almost always get sucked into watching bits of it, it can turn into a lovely distraction as well.

If you can, you all should watch, just once.

The piece using Ravel's Bolero that you mentioned is "Stairway to Lenin", from Zbig Rybczynski's The Orchestra. It's not describable, because the bare description does not come close to covering what's going on there.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 04:03 PM:

fidelio @ 54... you all should watch, just once

Yup. And watching "Stairway to Lenin" is definitely more entertaining than one of the channels I now have, which seems to be a Catholic network that broadcasts either the musings of a one-eyed nun, or the blood&thunder sermons of a creepy bishop.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 04:06 PM:

ethan @ 53... 12 Angry Men did the same thing, if I remember correctly, but without Godzilla. And, not long ago, while watching Hitchcock's The Birds, I suddenly realized that it had no soundtrack at all.

#57 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 04:52 PM:

In movies, what bugs me is the utter ubiquity of "Carmina Burana" choirs for every cheap moment of action, horror, video game special effects, etc. And I used to *like* Orff pretty well.

Beethoven's 7th has always been my favorite of his symphonies, though it's not enough of an earworm that I can call up any specific movement when somebody mentions it.

As for other faves, aside from a lot of Prokofiev and Impressionist composers I absorbed from early youth, I love the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (discovered, along with medieval and renaissance music, while I was in college and busy ignoring most of the Seventies Rock around me).

#58 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:26 PM:

I won't be seeing Cloverfield. I've read several reviews of it by people who thought it was great, and their non-spoiler descriptions of it convinced me that it's not for me.

My boyfriend, who went with friends, got so doomsick from the hand-held camera that he vomited. As a person who found NYPD Blue a little queasy-making for that reason, that's really enough for me.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:28 PM:

Faren @ 57... I think they had finally given Carmen van Buren a rest a couple of years ago. Then not long ago I came across an ad using Orff and that's when I realized they were at it again.

At least they havem't run Copland into the ground.

#60 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:30 PM:

Serge @ #59: Don't you mean "they were orff again"?

#61 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:31 PM:

Serge #56: Huh, really? My memory of both of those movies is filled with music. But then I haven't seen either of them in quite a while.

Xopher #58: I loved it, but I can definitely see how it wouldn't be for everyone. My guess is you're right about it not being for you. And yeah, it is sick making--I'm not particularly prone to motion sickness, and I felt pretty queasy. Of course, my habit of sitting in the second row at movies probably didn't help. When I see it again I'll sit farther back.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:38 PM:

ethan @ 61... That is correct. No music at all in The Birds. And 12 Angry Men had no music except during the opening and closing credits - not that it needed any.

#63 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 60... Trying to tempt ne with a musical pun? Vade retro!

#64 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 05:50 PM:

I think Castaway is the same, with no music for the desert island scenes. I want to say there's music whenever there's people, but I may be wrong.

#65 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 06:18 PM:

Faren Miller #57: What you are referring to is the tendency of horror filmmakers to bugger Orff.

#66 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 06:25 PM:

Clifton Royston #60: They couldn't Handel the truth.


(To foreshorten any pun cascade, I point all to this link: http://www.classicalarchives.com/fun.html scroll down to 'Try reading this out loud'. The piece in question is a squib entitled 'The Musician Makes Himself Glière' by James W. Pruett, published in 1978 and placed in the public domain by the author.)

#68 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 09:41 PM:

I saw Cloverfield this afternoon, with a bunch of people from the con I'm at (ConFusion, in Detroit). They had warning signs out about the supposedly sickness-inducing handheld shots. We all thought the signs were another J. J. Abrams gimmick, but evidently not--when Scott Westerfeld came back from a bathroom break in mid-film, he reported that someone had ralphed right at the entrance to the men's room.

It didn't bother me in the least. Watching gur Oebbxyla Oevqtr pbyyncfr, that bothered me.

Clever movie. Miracle Mile meets Blair Witch. And, best 9/11 film ever.

#69 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 09:53 PM:

And, best 9/11 film ever.

I second that. And the rot13 bit, too.

#70 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 10:00 PM:

"Cloverfield will hurl you into adventure!"

#71 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 10:28 PM:

"Rachmaninoff Had Big Hands" was a hoot. Thanks for the link.

#72 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 09:18 AM:

Serge @ 56: And, not long ago, while watching Hitchcock's The Birds, I suddenly realized that it had no soundtrack at all.

...although there is plenty of birdsong. And if I recall correctly those sounds were orchestrated by Hitchcock's frequent scoring master, Bernard Herrmann.

Similarly, the lengthy opening sequence of Once Upon A Time in the West, during which one only hears such sounds as the creaking windmill and droplets of water falling on Jack Elam's hat, was arranged by Ennio Morricone, whose genius was to realize that the most effective score would be no "music" at all; he was reportedly inspired by attending an avant-garde concert "played" on a steel ladder.

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 10:17 AM:

Richard 72: Oh, then there WAS a score. It was just musique concrete.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 10:44 AM:

Richard Brandt @ 72... Mind you, I like movie scores, but it's interesting when someone does away with one and makes it work.

#75 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 11:36 AM:

re 57: I don't know why, but it seems like a few years back movie producers decided that "O, Fortuna!" was THE COOLEST MUSIC EVER. It has gotten tiresomely commonplace.

A few years ago one of local community choruses did Carmina Burana in the reduced version, where piano four hands subs for all of the orchestra EXCEPT the percussion section, which is just as big as in the full version. My son got to sing in it as part of the boychoir. Boy, it was a revelation. The pianos are much better than the orchestra, I suspect because the thing is so percussive.

My favorite Beethoven movement is the scherzo from the 9th (though the adagio is right up there). As far as orchestral works overall, I simply love too many too well to pick one. For choral works it is even more hopeless (though the Victoria O Magnum Mysterium is definitely going to make almost anyone's top ten). However, I will say with complete confidence that Vaughn-Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is the most beautiful thing ever written for string orchestra.

re #1: One of the things that perplexes me is that I hear baroque music as intensely emotional. I've never understood the contrast on that basis between it and the romantic era; indeed, I tend to have to understand the difference entirely in terms of romanticism of form.

#76 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Just after my parents took me to see The Birds, a huge flock of (can't remember the species) descended on our Oakland Hills neighborhood and I fell sick with my one and only asthma attack -- brought on by having had two childhood illnesses very close together, not by traumatic stress or allergy due to the avian invasion. But Mom never wants to see that movie again!

Incidentally, there are a whole lot of robins flying around our place today, probably after fermented berries. But they don't look all that intimidating.

PS: Any more fans of Brahms chamber music out there? I like the small stuff much better than the symphonies.

#77 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 02:07 PM:

C. Wingate, #75: Allow me to note POINTEDLY that Vaughn Williams is a double unhyphenated last name. But I certainly agree that the Tallis Fantasia is one of the world's Great Things. I also agree with you about the obvious emotional intensity of the best baroque music.

#78 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 02:17 PM:

C. Wingate #75: I didn't mean to imply that baroque music wasn't emotional. I do hear a vast difference in the way that the emotion is expressed between baroque music and romantic music, and I tend to prefer the way baroque music does it, but if you don't hear it, I'm not sure how to explain it. I ain't no musicologist.

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 02:54 PM:

C. 75: Well, as far as music is concerned, we're kindred spirits. I liked Carmina Burana enough as a teenager that I memorized most of the words. It's now been abused so much that I react with distaste to hearing it on the television or radio. It's used much more in trailers (which generally have to come out before the movie is even scored) than in finished films, so you hear it on commercials all the time.

Other things similarly abused are the aria "Vesta la Giubba" from I Pagliacci, which is always playing in the background when a character decides to do something s/he's going to regret later, or for a mob hit (even Stargate SG-1 used it that way!); and that duet, I think it's from Lakme, which is used to communicate relaxed luxury.

I'm not going to agree that the Tallis fantasia is THE most beautiful, of course, but it would certainly be on the short list! I think part of how he accomplishes its wonderful sonority is by the layered complexity of the orchestral structure he uses; it's not just a string orchestra (you know, 1st and 2nd violins, violas, cellos, basses doubling the cellos), it's a string quartet surrounded by a small string chamber orchestra surrounded by a conventional string orchestra.

And when anyone says there's no emotion in Baroque music, I refer them to the chorus "All We Like Sheep" from Messiah (it's in the Easter section, which is seldom performed except for the "Hallelujah" chorus). The emotional contrast between the main body of that chorus and its coda is unmistakable.

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 02:56 PM:

Serge 79: I never saw that movie, and after watching as much of that clip as I could stand ("...mihi quoque ni-ter-" BACK BUTTON) I'm glad I didn't. What a piece of trash that was!

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Trash, Xopher? The movie has its quirks, true, but then again it is a John Boorman movie and no I will not bring up Zardoz.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 03:12 PM:

I was basing my opinion on the speech Arthur gives at the beginning of that clip, which is horribly written and abominably acted. I have not seen any of the rest of it.

I think Zardoz is a classic so-bad-it's-good cult movie. "Meditate on this at second level--Ommmmm!" It's to laugh at.

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 03:16 PM:

Xopher @ 83... One thing to remember about Excalibur is that, unlike Lord of The Rings, it is not a fantasy movie, but one about a legend, and played that way on purpose. I'm not sure my explanation makes any sense. Anyway. This obviously is a case of YMMV.

#85 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 03:21 PM:

Xopher @ 80: And when anyone says there's no emotion in Baroque music, I refer them to the chorus "All We Like Sheep" from Messiah

Exhibit A for me would be Pergolesi's Stabat Mater.

#86 ::: tom brandt ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 03:38 PM:

I love Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, but for me nothing tops Erbarme dich from the St. Matthew Passion for emotional impact.

#87 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2008, 07:01 PM:

Patrick at 77 and C. Wingate at 75: Vaughan Williams.

Faren Miller at 76: Yes to Brahms's chamber music, the cello and clarinet sonatas in particular. Do the serenades count? They're great, too.

Also, a belated shout-out to the band enthusiasts who chimed in earlier. I was in the MIT Concert Band for three weeks before I decided I didn't have the chops (on the flute, as it happens) but I snap up every recording I find, especially if it's something other than the Sousa marches and Holst suites everyone does (I love Sousa and Holst, but they are somewhat overexposed). The last few years have been remarkably good for band-CD collectors.

#88 ::: JennR ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 07:39 AM:

Chris @ 87: Holst (and Sousa) may be overexposed, but there's something to be said for a well performed Holst suite. It's not so easy that the band sleepwalks through it, and not so heavy that the audience doesn't 'get it'. A lot of contemporary Wind Symphony stuff is just plain weird (Ticheli's Postcard f'rex, especially at the beginning) or so tricky that the band is (to quote my director) so "ferociously counting" that they don't have time to enjoy what they're doing. Vaughan William's band stuff is relatively easy to play, but the stuff originally written for strings is a lot harder for a Wind Symphony to perform (don't get me started on Copland!).

#89 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 10:40 AM:

Grovel, grovel, grovel..... as an Episcopalian and chorister, I should be able to spell RVW's name correctly, but unless I'm looking it up at the time there's about a fifty-fifty chance. Another really complexly layered piece of his is Sancta Civitas, which I imagine is not performed too often because (a) it's one 30 minute movement, and (b) in addition to a full orchestra, it has two choirs and two soloists (the second sitting on his hands for about 29 of those 30 minutes). It's stunning, but it's a beast.

Speaking of layered complexity: by the purest chance I came across a recording of some of Georgy Sviridov's choral music. He was an odd duck, writing good Soviet noble worker's music by day, and then going home and writing Orthodox church music, which he mostly stuck in a drawer. I first came across him at a Baltimore Symphony concert which included the Little Triptych as part of the program. (My wife and I referred to that concert as "the gong show", because each of the three pieces conspicuously featured that instrument.) The other Sviridov piece which everyone records is the Three Choruses from "Tsar Feodor Ivanovitch", which are all hymns disguised as incidental music. So here I am looking at the first (listed simply as "Prayer") and thinking, "this might be nice to try at church." So I go to Mussica Russica, and sure enough, they have the sheet music, and I order four copies. (Unfortunately, they can't get most of his hymns; apparently his heirs are fighting over the rights.) Well. I open this thing up, and it lists the first piece as being for 20 voices. Hmmmm. It's divided into two choirs, and there really don't seem to be that many parts going on the first few pages; also, both choirs have the same parts. "This is odd," I think. So I keep going, and then I turn the page to the climax of the piece, and all of a sudden it looks like half of a page of Spem in Alium. Yes indeed, there are 20 parts, one staff, spread out from the top of the page to the bottom. "Drat," I say, because while we have twenty people in our choir there is no way that we can get them each to sing a single part.

This is really a golden age for classical recordings in general, thanks to the Slovak State Philharmonic and all those other middle European orchestras that will record anything. What is particularly striking is that they can play 20th century American stuff convincingly, which is not typically in the European orchestral milieu.

#90 ::: SI Rosenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2008, 05:06 PM:

Strictly speaking, Brahms' sextets are the greatest work of music in the Western canon. At least, if everything else of our species persished, and only the sextets survived, I've always felt that everything that needed to be said would have been said.

#91 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:03 AM:

I am so glad that I wasn't the only person to invoke Zardoz in this thread. heh.

#92 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 11:11 AM:

Earl Cooley... We're a bunch of sickos, aren't we?

#93 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Excalibur was full of Carmina Burana - well, it sounds medievalish, I guess. And it's no worse an approach on the Matter of England than, say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail - which comes to mind, since we're going to see SPAMALOT tonight.

Peter Schickele has a bit where he narrates an explanation of the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony as if it were a baseball game.

#94 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 24, 2008, 02:24 PM:

"Send more Chuck Berry"

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