September 23, 2016


Which is to say, cinema pioneers moonlighting as famous composers.

Johann Sebastian Bach (Vladimir Gardin) gets Anton Ivanovich Voronov (Nikolai Konovalov) to lighten up in director Aleksandr Ivanovsky's popular 1941 musical Anton Ivanovich Is Angry. Voronov, a conservatory professor, is horrified that his daughter has decided to abandon classical music for a career in operetta; Bach steps down from a portrait in Voronov's studio to be a pragmatic voice of reason. (The film enjoys a rather nice score by Dmitry Kabalevsky.)

Gardin was a theatrical actor who jumped into the movies early on, producing, directing, and starring in silent-film versions of Russian classics. After the Bolshevik Revolution, he founded the State Institute for Cinematography (known by its Russian-language acronym, VGIK), one of the first film schools in the world. His 1923 film A Spectre Haunts Europe, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" that played up confluences with the October Revolution, featured a scene of a massacre shot on the Odessa Steps that almost certainly gave Sergei Eisenstein the idea of using the same location for the massacre in Battleship Potemkin.

Ludwig van Beethoven (Erich von Stroheim) tickles the ivories for a gathering of nobility in Sacha Guitry's star-studded 1955 Napoléon. After finishing the "Appassionata," Beethoven then begins to play a bit of the "Eroica" symphony, prompting the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise (Maria Schell) to throw an anti-Napoléon tantrum—which, of course, is when Francis II decides to tell her that her marriage to Napoléon has just been arranged. Napoléon has a grand but oddly Les-Six-esque score by Jean Francaix; appropriate, though, since the whole story is being told in flashback by the supremely, cynically bemused Talleyrand (Guitry himself).

Stroheim, despite only directing a handful of movies (and being studio-replaced on a handful of others), was one of the greatest filmmakers of the silent era, with his crazy-lurid Foolish Wives, his brittle, elegant version of The Merry Widow, and his masterpiece, the partially lost but unparalleled Greed. His later acting roles (Grand Illusion, Sunset Boulevard) fixed his image—a deadpan-stiff Austrian gravity. Napoléon was his last screen appearance.

September 21, 2016

September 20, 2016

Now and later

Reviewing Dinosaur Annex.
Boston Globe, September 20, 2016.

Once again reviewing for the Globe, at least for the time being—with a concert that, it turned out, was all about the time being.

September 19, 2016

September 17, 2016

Beatus cuius

Guerrieri: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob (2016) (PDF, 45 Kb)

New program year, new introit. This one recombines a gradually-unveiled 12-tone row into triads and near-triads, which then more or less skip down their own evolutionary path. I always like writing this way: you get cadences that are the harmonic equivalent of handbrake parallel parking. Sure, you could play the organ part on two different coupled manuals, but I kind of like having the hands crowding each other out. We'll give this one a run tomorrow morning. Seatbelts fastened? OK, then.

September 13, 2016


"Snapshot of the Duruflés arriving at Holiday Inn in Lancaster, c. 1966, photographer unknown. Left to right: Maurice Duruflé, Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier, Ralph Kneeram." (Source: Maurice Duruflé, 1902-1986: The Last Impressionist, edited by Ronald Ebrecht.)

August 05, 2016

148, 149, 150

Recent Score columns:

July 22, 2016: Remembering Justin Holland

A sketch of the guitarist, pedagogue, and activist (and birthday buddy).

July 29, 2016: George Butterworth, composer and casualty

Killed a century ago today, leaving a catalogue small, singular, and intense.

August 5, 2016: Beethoven's op. 11 (and Joseph Weigl)

And, for the 150th of these efforts, a look at the milieu of what is still (perversely, I know) my favorite Beethoven piece.

June 04, 2016

This I know

It seems that this space is destined to be updated only in transit. The last post (five months ago?! yikes) was written in the midst of a change of abode, and now we are preparing to move Soho the Dog HQ yet again. It's like our own Year of the Three Kings, except, instead of monarchs, it's places to live. Which means we're about to start living in the residential equivalent of... Richard III? I think that analogy ran off the rails somewhere.

At any rate: as proof that I have not been completely idle, the list of Score columns over on the sidebar there has been finally brought up to date. That's 141 installments (and counting) of oblique musicological speculation for your summer reading entertainment. I should also link to this article that Molly coaxed out of me for NewMusicBox, which ended up with a pleasant amount of break on its curve, I thought. Plus, there was this Messiaen introduction for Red Bull Music Academy Daily, which led me down the garden path of echoes between Messiaen's idiosyncratic theology and that of the Flemish mystic Jan van Ruusbroec.

Oh, yeah, and this went down, which at least resulted in some flattering sympathies from smart and nice people—thank you! Like I've said before: I have a knack for getting into careers in their categorical twilight. On the other hand, it does leave more time for composing:

Guerrieri: Shining Throne (Prelude on "Jesus Loves Me") (2016) (PDF, 48 Kb)

And a low-fidelity phone recording:

The registration is only a suggestion, i.e., what happens to work on my particular church organ. (I am, now and forever, a sucker for a good—or even not-so-good—celeste stop.)

And with that, it's northern-hemisphere summer. Whatever critical scrapes I manage to get myself into will be duly noted here. Or not—I picked up some Apuleius for a dollar at a library sale today, and, I have to say, it's a better-looking prospect than a lot else that's going on out there. But Apuleius probably always is.