Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween and I.T. (Infernal Technology)

Well, the best-made plans of trick-or-treaters oft get laid (in a manner of speaking).

I spent four hours today, delighted to have discovered a CD transfer of our 1979 performance of the opening scene from Johann Nepomuck Sauerbraten’s IL VAMPIRO and managed to upload it into my computer only to discover, never having tried this before, I have no idea how to get a sound-file posted on the blog. Oh wait, Blogger doesn’t support audio files, right…

Transferring it into a pretty nifty little video, however, with a couple of stills and lots of captioning to make it interesting turned out great until I found out the Windows Live Movie Maker software so highly touted by Windows, at least, is not a system supported by Blogger or YouTube or Facebook. So I will enjoy it on my own computer and tell you it’s really lots of fun…

But I couldn’t let Halloween pass without at least some suitable music, so to start off with, here’s something that sounds like what I felt like after four hours of playing with Windows Live [sic] Movie Maker (so far, Dead-on-Arrival) this afternoon...

Greg Anderson plays Ligeti’s Etude No. 13 (appropriately enough), "The Devil's Staircase."


One of the classic Halloween pieces is this paraphrase on the ‘Dies irae’ by Franz Liszt called Totentanz or “Dance of Death. The dies irae is the Gregorian chant for the “Day of Judgment, Day of Wrath” in the Roman Catholic Requiem text and any good and ghoulish composer from the 19th Century made hay with the dies irae at the drop of a… severed head, perhaps.

Pianist Benita Rose and conductor David Vaughan, former students of mine from the University of Connecticut, were all set to perform the work with the Willimantic Orchestra on Sunday but this kind of freakish snow-storm (perhaps you’ve heard about it) dumped two feet of snow and toppled many trees on the area, cancelling the concert.

So, in their honor, here’s a link to a period-instrument performance of Totentanz by Franz Liszt with pianist Pascal Amoyal and Anima eterna of Brugge (Belgium) conducted by Jos van Immerseel (note, for instance, the ophicleide which was what early-and-mid-19th Century orchestras used instead of a tuba). Since these videos are not available for embedding, follow these links for Totentanz Part #1  and for Totentanz Part #2.

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While most everybody has heard the ubiquitous Carmina burana by Carl Orff, very few would know the other parts of that choral trilogy and hardly anybody would know this piece, actually the last thing he completed, finishing it in 1972. It’s called De temporum fine comoedia which roughly translates as “The Play for the End of Time” and sets texts in Latin, Greek and German in a way that is more typical of Orff’s later style which, most definitely, is not the style we know from Carmina burana.

While I think the opening section with the nine sibyls is much scarier than the section with the nine anchorites, that’s the one I could find on YouTube, a recording with Herbert von Karajan and the Köln Radio Symphony Orchestra, choirs and soloists. Again, of the five parts of this section, only three are available in this country, why I don’t know. But here they are – hold on to your head.

(That is, if the embeds are actually visible - they're pasted into both HTML and Compose windows of Blogger but they don't always show up in the preview... No wonder I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Luddite...)

6) “Upote, maepote, maepu, maedépote… ignis eterni immensa tormenta” Never, never, in no place, at no time – eternal fire, measureless torment…
7) “Unus solus Deus ab aeterno in aeternum” God is One alone from eternity to eternity
9) “Mundus terrenus volvitur” The terrestrial world revolves (I’m pretty sure the next words are not ‘upper case’…)

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On the somewhat lighter side is this classic from the pen of Charles Valentin Alkan, composed more than a century before Monty Python. Here is his “Funeral March for a Dead Parrot.”

Here’s a link to a free download of the full score if you really want to follow along.
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For many people one of the most unsettling pieces of music in the 20th Century is Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, for any number of reasons.

For many other people, another very unsettling image is the Teletubbies. Daniel Capo has managed to combine the two in these videos of two extracts from Schoenberg’s Pierrot accompanied by my own translations of the texts.
Pierrot Lunaire Mondestrunken from Daniel Capo on Vimeo.

The wine we drink through the eyes / Flows nightly from the moon in torrents, / Like a spring tide Overflowing the far horizon. / Terrible and sweet desires / Drift in floods without number! / The wine we drink through the eyes / Flows nightly from the moon in torrents. / The poet, driven by devotion, / Befuddled by the holy drink, / Raises to Heaven his ecstatic head / And reeling, slurps up and guzzles / The wine we drink through the eyes.

And Mondfleck:
A snowy speck of shining moon / On the back of his black frock-coat, / So Pierrot sets out one languid evening, / Seeking fortune and adventure. / Suddenly, something’s wrong with his appearance, / He looks around till he finds it – / A snowy speck of shining moon / On the back of his black frock-coat. / Drat, he thinks, a fleck of plaster! / He wipes and wipes but can’t make it vanish! / And on he goes, his pleasure ruined; / He rubs and rubs till early morning / At a snowy speck of shining moon.

Pierrot Lunaire just got creepier... from Daniel Capo on Vimeo.

Well, that should do it for this Halloween.

Tomorrow starts November which is National Novel Writing Month during which I (and many other crazy people like me) will take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. I’ve done it four times already, and made the goal each time.

This time, I’m doing a complete re-make of The Lost Chord, keeping only the title, many of the characters’ names – how could I just throw away the likes of Yoda Leahy-Hu, Iobba Dhabbodhú, LauraLynn Harty, the villain Tr’iTone and numerous agents with musical puns for names like Kay Gelida Manina or Barbara Seville – but completely changing the plot and setting and divorcing it all from the parody it originally was (if it wasn’t exactly original) of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.

It begins tomorrow! Wish me luck!

- Dick Strawser

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