Here’s an old shape-note hymn, “Star in the East” or “Brightest and Best,” from William Walker’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It’s actually an Epiphany hymn, but since “We Three Kings” is inescapable at this time of year, I figured I can post it for the Christmas season.
Southern Harmony is an interesting historical document, by the way. While it contains much worthwhile music, it also has such curiosities as “The Romish Lady.”
There was a Romish Lady brought up in Popery,
Her mother always taught her the priest she must obey;
O pardon me, dear mother, I humbly pray thee now
For unto these false idols I can no longer bow.
Assisted by her handmaid, a Bible she conceal’d,
And there she gain’d instructions, till God his love reveal’d;
No more she prostrates herself to pictures deck’d with gold.
But soon she was betray’d….
Betrayed by her mother, she is thrown into a dungeon by priests, brought before the Pope and condemned to be burnt to death. Such was the state of ecumenism in the 19th-century United States.
A couple years ago I posted a Halloween playlist focusing on eccentric music most people have never heard. This year I’m trying something a little different. Here’s some seasonally-appropriate piano music, some of which you may know and some of which may be strange to you.
Charles-Valentin Alkan was allegedly the only pianist of their generation whom Liszt found intimidating. A reclusive eccentric, he wrote uncompromisingly difficult music that only in recent years has begun to enter the repertoire. Here’s Marc-André Hamelin with the finale to Alkan’s “Symphony” for solo piano, which has been characterized as a “ride through Hell.”
Raymond Lewenthal, who kick-started the Alkan revival fifty-odd years ago with his Alkan recordings, plays the entire symphony here. It includes a funeral march followed by a macabre minuet. A couple more pieces: “Les diablotins,” featuring tone clusters long before Henry Cowell was born; “Scherzetto.”
Liszt’s various “Mephisto” waltzes are too obvious to mention. Instead, here’s his set of variations on “Dies Irae,” “Totentanz.”
Possibly the finest Halloween music ever composed is Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit.” Here’s Martha Argerich. (When Argerich was a student, her teacher at one point thought she had been slacking off and therefore assigned her “Gaspard.” Argerich didn’t know that it was nearly impossible and learned it in a week.)
(This brings back non-treasured memories. Early one morning many years ago, the jackass in the apartment next to mine set the building on fire in a bungled suicide attempt. Fortunately, I was awake and the fire alarm worked, and everyone got out of the building safely. The firemen had the blaze under control before the flames reached my place, and I was able to retrieve most of my possessions later. However, there was much smoke and water damage (I boasted that I had the largest collection of dirty books in town, none of which were pornography). One of the casualties was Argerich’s early Ravel record, including “Gaspard,” which had been on the turntable when the fire started.)
So you don’t like piano music, but you want to hear something beyond “Monster Mash”? Lee Hartsfeld has you covered. He’s recorded and restored ancient 78 rpm records of Halloweenish music and made them available to download here and here. And here. The selection is amazing — the first batch includes Leopold Godowsky playing Edward MacDowell and Zez Confrey playing Zez Confrey. There’s Cole Porter and Paul Whiteman, jazz and ragtime and novelty tunes and much more, some terrific, some ridiculous. It’s worth a download or three.
Does your Fazioli seem tame? Do you feel limited by your Imperial Bösendorfer? Try a 108-key grand piano from Stuart and Sons in New South Wales.
If you want the extended range but don’t have an extra $300,0001 handy, Modartt’s New York Steinway D goes down an extra octave to a very low A, and up a fourth to a high F. The additional notes aren’t particularly musical — the low ones are mushy and metallic, the high ones have barely any perceptible pitch — but they might occasionally be useful for musical eccentrics, and a virtual grand piano is a lot cheaper than the real thing.
Possibly of interest to those who make music with their computers or might want to do so: IK Multimedia is currently running a “group buy” of much of their software. If you purchase one of the eligible items, after you install and authorize it you can then download at least eleventhirteen twenty-four more software packages of equal or lesser price for free. I stretched my budget a bit to participate, but it will be a while before I know the new toys well enough to discuss. The “MODO” Bass, at least, I’m pretty sure I’ll use.
I got curious about the music software I most frequently use and noticed something odd. IK Multimedia is an Italian company. Applied Acoustic Systems is Canadian. Arturia is French, as is Modartt. Native Instruments and u-he are both German. My digital audio workstation is Logic, an Apple product, but Logic originally was developed by the German company C-Lab/Emagic, from whom I initially purchased it over twenty years ago. There are a lot of other music software developers, and it’s possible that there are some significant makers from the USA that I’ve overlooked. However, the synths and samplers I usually load in my DAW are all from foreign lands.
It’s February 2, on which day bloggers present favorite poems if they remember to. Since twenty-first century culture is permeated with malignant nonsense, it is appropriate to post some benign nonsense as an antidote. Here is the White Knight’s song from Through the Looking-Glass, first read by Sir John Gielgud, and then set to music by Gryphon.
Gee, what a thrill it’s been. Not every generation has the privilege of living the prologue to a dystopian novel.
A year ago, I didn’t think I could possibly ever have a lower opinion of the intelligentsia; I was wrong. To all the petty tyrants and their toadies, all the experts, all the journalists and pundits, all the criminals in office, all the profiteering oligarchs, all the sanctimonious scolds and everyone else who has made this such a remarkable year, I have one thing to say: go to hell.
Enough of that. On to the stuff that mattered in 2020.
The non-classical album I found most interesting this year was Atomic Ape’s Swarm (2014). The tunes range from quasi-surf to near-Klezmer, plus a quirky Django Reinhardt cover; if I had to name a genre, it would be the conveniently vague “cinematic.”
Gryphon’s Reinvention (2018) was a pleasant surprise but ultimately a disappointment. Three of the original quartet reformed a few years ago and drafted another trio of musicians to fill out the ensemble. However, the missing fourth member, Richard Harvey, was the best composer of the bunch, and he is missed. Reinvention is pleasant music, nicely arranged and well-performed, but the melodies don’t remain in my ears after listening. There’s nothing comparable to “Midnight Mushrumps,” “Estampie” or “Ethelion.”
Otherwise, I mostly listened to classical keyboard music: Bach’s forty-eight, Beethoven’s thirty-two, Alkan, Debussy, Szymanowski and Scott Joplin.
There was no Winfield this year, and no concerts worth attending in the area. There were frequent outdoor luncheon performances of lukewarm jazz during the warmer part of the year at the coffeehouse on the corner, which I did not appreciate.
I didn’t watch anything released this year, and watched very little overall. I did sample several episodes of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, which I’d been meaning to investigate for years. Amiable flake Justy Ueki Tylor joins the space force seeking the easy life, and through a bizarre sequence of events gets command of a battleship. It’s not clear whether he’s a genius or an idiot (probably the latter), but he survives and prospers by being luckier than Milfeulle Sakuraba. It’s a funny show, but Tylor remains a flake, and I lost interest.
Here are some Christmas carols that might not be over-familiar. The tunes are mostly Czech and Bohemian, plus a couple Polish and Hungarian. Ideally, I should wait until December 25 before posting them, but by then most people will be tired of Christmas music.
Quem Pastores Laudavere
Nesem Van Noviny
Menyböl ar Angyal
Dziasiaj w Betlejem
Pochvalen Bud’, Jezis Kristus
For the morbidly curious: The fiddle is the budget version of Embertone’s Joshua Bell Violin, and the harp is Modartt’s Concert Harp. For what I paid for it (I got it on sale for half-price), the fiddle’s pretty good, but it’s a bit awkward to work with and it’s sometimes difficult to get the sounds I want. I’m looking at this alternative, but that will have to wait until I can budget it.
While the point of the Hololive phenomenon eludes me, I do like the video of marching VTubers that Pixy found. In particular, I enjoy the tune, “みっちりねこマーチ,” or “MitchiriNeko March,”1 by one Chiemi Takano (Joedown). It reminds me of the Kuricorder Quartet in a playful mood. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a recording of it in the USA. The video is based on an earlier one featuring cartoon cats.
Though he hailed from the dusty plains of Oklahoma, Kendall himself was certainly no rube. He worked his way onto the faculty of Yale, where he profoundly influenced Bill Buckley among others. But while he had the intellect to work at the highest academic levels, he had neither the temperament nor the platitudinal capacity. Yale eventually paid him to forfeit his tenure.
Years ago, when I finally had a computer at home with Photoshop, I thought that I would at last be able to make color prints of the pictures I take. Ha. Thanks to the machinations of printer manufacturers, the final destination for all my photography is digital files. The article focuses on HP, but I can state that Epson and Canon are no better. I print maybe a dozen pages a year, and those are rarely pictures.
The local orchid organization is holding its annual show and sale this Saturday at Botanica in Wichita. There may well be some Dracula orchids for sale and possibly in bloom for the holiday. Here’s the flyer. (The orchid pictured is a Paphiopedilum.)
Here’s Don Ross with “Dracula and Friends, Part One.”
Ross, unfortunately, will not be at Botanica, though he turns up occasionally at Winfield.