03 February 2018

Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't

To be clear at the outset:  I don't say that Woody Allen's Ĺ“uvre is uneven (maybe it is, maybe it isn't – I have not seen even half of the movies he's made) . . . only that I have had a checkered history of how quickly I appreciate the virtues of this or that film.  My "apperception curve" is a bit of a mess.  It is in fact to Allen's artistic credit that he sets out to do (often subtly) different things in different movies – witness four utterly different titles, which I appreciated warmly on first viewing:  Love and Death, Manhattan, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Crimes and Misdemeanors, & Shadows and Fog.  All right:  five titles.

One would think that, enjoying all of these as I ever have, I should know better than to approach a 'new' (i.e., to me) Woody Allen movie as if it ought to tick the same boxes as this other movie I already love.  Stardust Memories is my favorite example of a movie of which, when I first watched it (and in this case, on the big screen, back when it was first released), I did not think at all highly, but of whose greatness I later became irrevocably convinced.  The fact is, I no longer know what problem I imagined I had with Stardust Memories.

There may, simply, have been the contrarian impulse which had me wondering how everybody could think Annie Hall is such a great film.  I chalked it up to the first effort to shake off the clown outfit (not that he has not continued to be marvelously amusing) and direct a movie with a dramatic purpose;  I made some allowance for the numerous big (or soon to be big) names in various cameos – Christopher Walken, Shelly Duvall, Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Jeff Goldblum.  My chief quarrel was, I felt that the flashback montage at the end was the weakest ending since the police car in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  (Which is also less objectionable than I once thought, thank you very much.)  But once I absorbed the fact that the opening monologue was truly the theme of the screenplay, that Alvy/Max (like any of us) needs someone to love him, but there's something in him that works destruction upon a close relationship, I saw the flashback not as a faute de mieux closing, but as Alvy's regretful (and powerless) recollection of what he had lost.  Is all that was missing, an acceptance of Alvy Singer as a character in the drama, rather than the screenwriter playing himself?

In this spirit of readiness to have scales fall from my eyes, I shall soon give Broadway Danny Rose a second viewing.

01 February 2018

Grit and Leningrad

It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.
- Vaughan Williams

Quite regularly, the need for, or the non-'needy' application of, extramusical ideas upon music, without an overt textual component, and with no reliable guidance from the composer (sometimes, in ways that do not necessarily reflect discredit upon the composer, there exists disinformation) — quite regularly the topic arises for discussion among passionate music-lovers (and aren't we most).

Thinking this morning about the Leningrad Symphony, and the march interlude which "invades" the sonata-allegro design of the first movement, I consider the argument (in principle) between those who say that the feet on the march in that interlude are Russian (heroic defenders), or are German (implacable barbarian invaders). But what if it is just a march? ("just a march") Concede that, yes, obviously, the march is a reflection of the struggle of the City of Leningrad—but propose that there is no literal depiction of whose army is marching.

That it is music, not a "docusymphony."

One story about Stravinsky which I may have read in either the Eric Walter White or Roman Vlad books, but which I cannot find in a cursory search in volume II of the Stephen Walsh bio, tells of a Hollywood producer who talked to Stravinsky about a film score, and when the question of the composer's fee rose, the composer took thought for about how long it took him to write The Firebird, and quoted a figure which would have made it worth his time. Which the producer declined with a polite, "Thank you all the same, Mr Stravinsky."

For the moment, I am not interested in whether it is purely anecdotal, or whether it is anecdote but true in essence. I am instead thinking of the 1969 film True Grit (which had nothing to do with Stravinsky).

I first saw (I forget just when) the Coen Bros.' remake of True Grit, and liked it thoroughly and immediately; it is only last night that I watched the original. While it did strike me as somewhat dated (as what movie with John Wayne could not? Though he is not uniquely responsible for all the dated elements) I found it magnificently enjoyable. The score by Elmer Bernstein-without suggesting that it is ever otherwise than very good-at times struck me as "a poor man's Aaron Copland."

So I had a fantastic image of (as with the Stravinsky story, above) a producer approaching Copland, and being put off by the price tag, when in pops Elmer Bernstein saying, "I can get it for you wholesale!"

29 January 2018

(The dream of a young man in the woods, listening)

It works in both directions (if there are “directions”).  That is, when I walk again into those woods, and feel my feet cushioned by the fallen needles, I remember again the walk I took, on which I conceived the musical germ for Ear Buds.  But also, when I listen in my inner ear (as yet, the only way to hear the piece) my spirit is transported to those woods, even if I am seated in a cubicle on the 31st floor of an office building in Boston.

And why am I thinking of the piece?

Two or three years ago, a conductor I know suggested that, if there is room, Ear Buds might have a reading at an annual internal conservatory event.  It all depends on there being capacity, and there has turned out to be none the two previous years.  But it is again that time of year when (as I have been made cordially welcome) I might ping him and see how the slate for the present year’s reading may look.

You may recall also, Gentle Reader, that Ear Buds now exists in a scoring for orchestra.  And you are right:  it may be time for an equally discreet inquiry there.

28 January 2018

Food Cinema Marquee

Bun After Reading

Raisin Arizona

The Fig Lebowski

2001: A Spice Odyssey

Berry Lyndon

A Clockwork Orange

Dr Strangeolive

The Silence of the Clams

A Family Pluot

Raiders of the Lost Okra

Citizen Kale

Midnight in the Garden of Food and Evil

Feeding John Malkovich

I Am Ham

Die Chard

The Fifth Condiment

Earth Girls Are Greasy

Mustard and Commander

Grosse Pointe Blancmange

From Here to Edamame

When Harry Et Salty

The Adventures of Bacon Munchausen

Twelve Mangoes

The Jerky

The Man With Two Grains

Driving Miss Dairy

Flan's Labyrinth

Kill Dill

The Good, the Bad, and the Arugula

Asparagus Now!

27 January 2018

All for one, and Nun for two

Today, I followed through on the thought, and refined the cl/pf arrangement of Nun of the Above. (Probably, I should follow through further, with a fl/pf version for PHB.)

Why spend so much effort, on so slight a piece?

I like it. I look forward to playing it myself. To repeat, although it is a modest work, I own every note of it.

And, per a friend's query on another head, because—although I wrote the piece on the traditional model of performance before an audience—perhaps I should build a parallel body of work, which "performs" in an environment other than a concert space.

More on this hereafter. For now, rest.

25 January 2018

The Fourth Nun

Originally, I composed Nun of the Above for a planned concert of The 9th Ear. The plans ran aground, and when the next concert of the group-in-waiting may take place, no mortal soul knows.

But my equivocal Nun, it is (though I, Gentle Reader, be he that says so) a winsome little number which of a hearing strongly deserveth. She has already assumed a variety of shapes, both in fact (the flute version for Peter H. Bloom) and in fancy (cl/pf). And here I have already finally conceived a spatially displaced version, an electronic mix wherein will meet a bassist half the world away, and mine own clarinet in multiple takes.

This last is a most frankly whimsical thought which has sprung from the happy accident striking an acquaintance through Facebook with a writer and bassist of Bangalore. Is not the world become yet more wonderful, even than before?

Why, oh why should I take such trouble over a bagatelle?  Because I own it, every note, not a whit less than I own the obviously more substantial Symphony.

Because I don't record a note, unless I feel certain that it is the right note.

24 January 2018

Carrying on, as ever

This morning – at last, we might nearly say – I began to address the cl/pf adaptation of Nun of the Above.  I do believe I should make some registral adjustments, so that the right hand is not so nearly thoroughly underneath middle C;  and I can see some modest enhancements to etch in.  But overall, I want not to ‘over-engineer’ the piano adaptation.   The result will be a piano part on rather the simple side;  but of course, not all 21st-c. piano music need aspire to Finnissy (e.g.).

Will I ever play the piece as originally scored?  No knowing, no knowing.

Has the noble endeavor of Triad at last splintered upon the shoals of public indifference?  Let us hope not.

And in other reading today:

Spotify, from what I have found online, pays between $0.006 and $0.008 per play to the label and artist. 1500 plays works out to about $10.50.

All the indicators, then, are that if ever Henningmusick becomes a streaming commodity, it won’t exactly the composer’s fortune make.

A Nervous Romance. I was never crazy about Annie Hall, I quibbled with it here, there ... most substantially, I felt that the ending, the flashbacks to the good times with Annie, was a non-ending.

Revisiting it today, I wonder if the viewings of the past, when I thought poorly of it, I was too nervous.  Watching it now, less artistically wound up, I see the ending as the open-ended, wistful tribute of Alvy's. I permitted the movie to be itself, and I permitted myself to receive it on its own terms. There is much music, over the years, which likewise, I had to learn to leave be.