Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March Ketchup

Rules of Writing Even a Dog Could Understand
It seems I'm always playing catch-up...

One of the side-effects of practicing extreme procrastination, I guess.

The idea had been to write more in the blog, but instead most of my blog-writing has been happening elsewhere, since my last "new" post here: a recent concert with the Harrisburg Symphony had me writing about Shostakovich's 1st Cello Concerto and Beethoven's 2nd Symphony.

Plus this week's concert with the Doric Quartet at Market Square Concerts – a performance Thursday night (8pm) at Temple Ohev Sholom – got me involved in Haydn and Korngold and another Beethoven work, his A Minor String Quartet, Op. 132.

But as I look ahead, there's another Market Square Concert program next week with the Enso Quartet which had been postponed because of that January Blizzard (30” of snow, yeah?). It will now be held at Market Square Church which I prefer (better acoustics, as far as I'm concerned). While I'd written two blog-posts about the original concert (Ginastera 1st, Dutilleux's Ainsi la Nuit and Beethoven's Op.59/3) and prepared my pre-concert talk accordingly, because of the nature of the Enso's tour, they asked to change the repertoire to reflect what they'd be playing in April – still Ginastera, Dutilleux and Beethoven but Ginastera's 2nd Quartet and Beethoven's “Harp” Quartet instead.

So yeah, I'm writing a lot about Beethoven Quartets, lately. At least I was able to use the Razumovsky post for the Cypress Quartet when they came to town on their Farewell Tour, friends I will miss seeing – and most of all, hearing – after they disband at the end of June.

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On the novel front, I managed to finish Chapter 8 which concludes Part One (of four) of In Search of Tom Purdue and in the process created (for their few-hundred-words' walk-on) a group of middle-school band members who formed a group of imaginary super-heroes they call The Tonic Avengers, out to protect music from the likes of the Evil Schoenberg (and in the process, discover the body of Murder Victim #2, Belle diVedremo, Tom Purdue's publisher).

Then there was the introduction of the latest new character as I finish up the necessary exposition, a thinly veiled parody of a British television phenomenon I call The Kapellmeister, a Tempo Lord. He wears something that looks like an 18th-Century baroque court-musician's uniform but made primarily of tweed - oh yes, and a woolen scarf that, when stretched out, probably measures about ten feet long. I haven't quite figured out his mode-of-travel, perhaps a metronome, one of those old pyramidal jobs with the light that flashes the pulse though one could argue the oscillating pendulum-thingee could make a good rotor-substitute.

He also carries an all-purpose something-or-other called a Tonic Screwdriver and has a traveling companion named V7, a robotic chameleon that lives in one of his pockets. (To explain the V7, for those fans of K-9 who may not be into music theory, a V7 is the symbol for a Dominant 7th Chord which traditionally is expected to resolve to the tonic (or I) chord - ah, but it's the foiled expectations that keep the music going...)

And he's in search of something called the Belcher Codex, attributed to early American composer and singing-master, Supply Belcher, a contemporary of the better-known William Billings. But more of that in the next chapter – and I've realized I've reached a point where I need to do both more planning and research, both enemies of actual work.

That's been part of the problem with getting writing done the past couple of weeks – back trouble and the continued aggravation of Ye Olde Pulled Muscle aside – everything so far had been planned out in advance and while I know where things are going long-term, some of the short-term points along the way, not so much. That's the assignment for the rest of this week, along with preparation for the January-in-April Concert with Ginastera, Dutilleux and Beethoven.

And on top of that, I've solved a problem with how to start a new piece of music I have been putting off for years – and I do mean years – which since last summer has become more of a front-burner item, a basic structural outline having been established by late-June. To start work on that now would surely doom the novel to a hiatus it might not survive – but then, writing a novel no one will read might be a sacrifice worthy of a 21-minute English Horn & Orchestra piece no one will play. It's a toss-up...

On the other hand, I've put off putting off getting new glasses – no longer! It's probably been 10-15 years since I got the ones I'm wearing now and while my astigmatism is a wonder to behold (I think the optometrist was near despair trying to figure out my new prescription), I've decided to get a pair of reading glasses as well since one thing I've discovered is you can't move the screen on a laptop further back from the keyboard just to make reading it easier. Other than increasing the font-size exponentially, we'll see how this works out – they'll be ready probably later this week, maybe next week.

But for now, back to the drawing board to work out some details for the Adventures of Dr. Kerr and the Kapellmeister before I can begin Chapter #9.

- Dick Strawser

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Cypress Quartet: Muss es sein?

Who: The Cypress Quartet
What: Beethoven's Op. 18/1 and Op.59/3 (The Third “Razumovsky”) with some of the Novelettes by Glazunov in between

When: Thursday, March 17th at 7:30
Where: Lutz Hall of Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA

Why: read on...

March 11th in San Francisco was officially Cypress String Quartet Day, proclaimed by the mayor's office, in honor of their 17th Annual Call-and-Response program in what will be their final season.

Like all good things, there comes a time, and the quartet has decided to disband at the end of this season with a final concert on June 26th.

That makes this appearance at Lebanon Valley College, part of their residency there, the last time Central PA gets to hear them live, almost 20 years after they first played there as part of the first Next Generation Festival which Ellen Hughes, then host of “Desert Island Discs,” an on-air host and producer at WITF, founded with pianist Awadagin Pratt.

Cecily Ward, Tom Stone, recording engineer, Jennifer Kloetzel, violist Paul Wakabayashi - 1997
I remember that first season when Awadagin and several of his fellow musicians played concerts across the region – I heard the one at the Rose Lehrman Center at HACC – and the quartet played Beethoven's Quartet, Op. 132, then joined Pratt for the Brahms Piano Quintet. I was amazed at their interpretation of the Beethoven, especially – how young people in the audience who probably never heard classical music live before sat in rapt attention, even (especially) during the famous “Heilige Dankgesang” that is the long, often challenging slow movement and which often challenges the attention span of seasoned adults in the audience. I was amazed to find out the group was brand new, not a year old, yet, and yet they played with a sense of musical empathy groups that have been together for decades would be lucky to have – especially with Late-Beethoven!

Things haven't changed much in those two decades since – except for a new violist a few years later and Tom shaved his beard. They've made several return appearances to the region with the help of Ellen Hughes' championing, and other presenters soon following suit. And not just bringing them in for a single concert on a series – there were residencies and frequent, often annual, returns, creating something of a second (or third) home for the quartet here. There were years I thought I had a subscription to their season, I would see them three or four times.
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And now they're making a sort of farewell round.

Last year was also a difficult farewell when Ellen died in June, a friend and colleague to many and an indefatigable supporter of the arts – all the arts, not just music – who, after leaving her desert island behind her, went on to write a regular-ish column for the Harrisburg Patriot-News where her interviews and insights into the performers attracted audiences to concerts, plays, exhibits and events across the region. In her few years as director of Market Square Concerts, she continued bringing performers to the area with an adventuresome sense in programming and educational out-reach.

Ellen Hughes 2007 (photo by Dan Gleiter)
The Cypress' program on Thursday, fittingly, is dedicated to the memory of Ellen Hughes. They called her a “fairy godmother” who was a mentor, adviser, admirer and even one of their board members. They have a long history together and I know how much Ellen appreciated the quartet and enjoyed their performances, their recordings and above all their friendship, something not always found in the music business.

As they say at the end of the press release, “The Cypress Quartet’s decision [to disband] comes after a great deal of reflection and discussion, and the quartet agrees that it is the right time for them to move on to explore new artistic territories as individuals. The members of the quartet are deeply grateful to vast numbers of fans, donors, fellow musicians, and presenters for all of their support of the Cypress Quartet.”

I hope you'll be able to join the Lebanon Valley College audience for one more chance to hear great music-making with this great quartet playing great music – and to take the chance to thank them (and Ellen, too) for having been there all these years.

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As part of their "Call & Response" series, the quartet commissions a work by a young composer to find a connection between traditional repertoire on the program and a new work they compose specifically for the Cypress Quartet. Here is Ellen Hughes interviewing composer Dan Coleman in 2000, writing a work connected to great quartets by Mozart and Beethoven and what it's like working with the Cypress Quartet.

Sixteen years later, Dan Coleman was also the composer for their last "Call & Response" series, with this photo taken on March 11th, 2016, in San Francisco.
Ethan Filner, Cecily Ward, Dan Coleman, Jennifer Kloetzel, Tom Stone

Their recording-set of the Complete Beethoven Quartets will be released by Avie Records this coming May.

While I would normally write something about the music they'll be performing, I can't compete with the “liner notes” that were written by none other than Joseph Kerman who, as they say, wrote the book on Beethoven Quartets, first published in 1966.

But here are links if you want to read a little bit [sic] more about the quartet and the music on the program:
...Beethoven's “Razumovsky” Quartets
...Glazunov and his “Novelettes” (keep in mind this post is for a 2010 performance in Lancaster)
...The Cypress Quartet at Lebanon Valley in 2008 (about the quartet but also a review of their Debussy performance that night)
...their first Beethoven CD – Op.131 & Op.135

At the end of this review, I wrote, “I'm also looking forward, hopefully, to hearing them perform and maybe re-record them a decade or so from now: it would be fascinating to hear how their perceptions change and mature with them.”

Oh, well...as Beethoven himself asked at the beginning of his last quartet's last movement, Muss es sein? Must it be?

The answer he gives (at 1:14 in the clip below) is Es muss sein! It must be. But at least "it must be" with joy and gladness for the times we've shared and moving on into the future with affirmation.
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- Dick Strawser

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photos lovingly ransacked from the Facebook pages of the Cypress Quartet and Jennifer Kloetzel; videos courtesy of the quartet's website, with more available on YouTube.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Cypress Quartet Plays Beethoven: What IS a Razumovsky, Anyway?

The Cypress String Quartet returns to the midstate for – alas – one last time. Since first appearing here nearly 20 years ago, they have returned frequently from their home base in San Francisco - some years often enough, between their Lebanon Valley College residency, or with the Pennsylvania Academy of Music in Lancaster, or Harrisburg's Market Square Concerts, I felt I was attending a season subscription series. Good times... good times...

But like all good things, the end is in sight, and since they have decided to hang up their bows, collectively speaking, in June, their final performance in Central PA takes place on Thursday, March 17th, 2016, at Lebanon Valley College's Lutz Hall at 7:30. The concert, by the way, is free.

It is also a tribute to another ending, a memorial to their friend and mentor, Ellen Hughes, who died this past June – but more on that in a subsequent post.

The Cypress Quartet finished recording their “Complete Beethoven” Cycle – you can find out more about that amazing project at their website, here – and they bring two of them to this program: one early, one middle (yah, maybe they'll do the Grosse Fuge for an encore...?). They open with Op. 18 No. 1 and end with “The Third Razumovsky,” Op. 59 No. 3. In between they'll offer some of Alexander Glazunov's “Novelettes.”

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(This post is about the final work on the program, one of the most popular of Beethoven's quartets and certainly one of the greatest, though it's pretty hard to narrow the whole bunch down to “one greatest.” Originally, this post was to accompany the Market Square Concerts presentation of the Enso Quartet which, alas, was postponed due to the January Blizzard that decided to tour the midstate that same weekend and left us with no less than 30” of snow. That concert has been postponed till April 6th at 7:30 at Market Square Church with hopefully better weather, but will bring with a change of program, not including Op. 59/3. But more on that later and elsewhere.)

So the question still remains, “What IS a Razumovsky, anyway?”

For those of you not familiar with Beethoven's Op. 59/3. here's a performance of the complete quartet (in one clip) with the Orion Quartet recorded at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 2008.
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Beethoven in 1806
In Mozart and Haydn's day, it was typical for composers to produce sets of quartets (and other works: think of Vivaldi's concertos published by the dozen) usually six or three in a group and each one designed to be a different “solution” to the question “how does one write a string quartet?” Sometime in 1805, Beethoven was asked to provide one of the great arts patrons of his day, the Russian ambassador, Count Andrei Kyrilovich Razumovsky, with a set of three - hence the quartets' collective nickname, The Razumovsky Quartets.

We don't know exactly when this request was made or if, as Beethoven wrote to his publisher in July of 1806, he'd already finished one of the three by then, but Jan Swafford, in his recent (and excellent) biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, mentions specifically he began work on them the day after his brother Carl's wedding to Johanna Reiss, a prophetic event considering how much time would be spent while he was writing the Late Quartets dealing with legal issues over the guardianship of his nephew following his brother's death.

If that's true, it means Beethoven composed all three of the Op. 59 quartets between May 26th and September 6th, 1806, when he again wrote to his publishers and said they were done.

While three months might seem sufficient time to write three string quartets, remember Beethoven was also composing the 4th Symphony, the 4th Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto during that same summer vacation, not to mention revisions on his opera Leonore (not yet called Fidelio) complete with two new overtures for it (the 2nd & 3rd Leonore Overtures) and other works that same year! Any composer would be delighted to have produced such masterpieces during a lifetime – but in one year?

Part of the “premise” for the quartets was Razumovsky's request to include in each of them “a Russian theme.” Some say Beethoven suggested this as a tribute to his patron but it doesn't seem typical of Beethoven to offer such a “musical device.” And, anyway, there is no outwardly Russian theme in the 3rd Quartet, the C Major. In the 2nd, Beethoven made use of an old folksong called “Slava!” (“Rejoice”) which has become more famous to Western ears through Mussorgsky's using it in the Coronation Scene of his opera Boris Godunov, first composed in the late-1860s, where it doesn't stand out as a quotation. By that, I mean Mussorgsky's music is so authentically Russian, no Westerner would notice this is an old folk-song. With Beethoven, so (if anything) authentically German, the sound of its incorporation within his style sticks out like a sore thumb and in fact the way he uses it, it almost sounds like he's deliberately having fun with it or even making fun of it, turning it into that most academic of formats and so antithetical to folk-song, the fugue – then especially when the tonic/dominant cadence gets so carried away, it sounds like its beating up on it and chasing it out the door. Perhaps by the time he got to the 3rd Quartet, he'd thought, “enough.”

The expansive opening movement, following a very enigmatic introduction – harking back, most likely, to Mozart's “Dissonant” Quartet, also in C Major – is more compact than the other quartets' but on the whole more approachable, too, as if he's letting listeners baffled by the first two off the hook with this one (or so it might seem).

As one of the early reviews said, "Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets, dedicated to the Russian ambassador Count Razumovsky, are also attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended." Perhaps the comparative tunefulness of the Third's opening brought a sigh of relief?

The second movement (beginning c.8:45), however, could have something Slavic about it – again, more likely Beethoven's impression of something Slavic – in the mood of the theme though its most memorable feature is the cello's steady pizzicato, almost like a tolling bell – and Russians did love their bells. That hasn't kept other writers from hearing something Spanish or even more exotic in it.

The third movement (beginning c.18:38), rather than being a typical scherzo, is more of a throwback to the graceful days of Mozart and Haydn, the previous generation, a minuet marked “grazioso.” But this sets up the finale more perfectly than a typical Beethoven scherzo possibly could.

And yet, this was even more of a throw-back, this time to the highly contrapuntal days of Bach and Handel of the 1740s or so when Fugue was king. (In Beethoven's day, Bach was little known, at least to the general public; Beethoven admitted more than once Handel was one of his favorite composers). The finale starts off with a vigorous (!) fugue and this dense and busy texture – a perpetual motion, at that – dominates the movement to the point it no longer sounds like an academic and old-fashioned dry-as-dust fugue, the kind of thing all students learn to compose but then probably shouldn't. While it's very different from the Great Fugue that originally ended the Op. 130 Quartet, it's still a marvelous show-case of compositional craft combined with musical ingenuity.

Ignaz Schuppanzigh
These quartets were composed with specific players in mind: the members of a string quartet led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, perhaps the best or at least the best known violinist in Vienna at the time. And this is an important distinction.

Before, Mozart or Haydn – or any number of those other composers the typical American audience is unaware of who were their contemporaries – wrote for what is called “the amateur market.” In the days before ipods and CD-players turning us into passive listeners, people were actively involved in making their own music and it was typical to assume the intended audience for a new string quartet was essentially the four people who played it and maybe their friends and family who sat in the parlor listening to them. (Think Schubert growing up in a household where his older brother played 1st Violin, he would play 2nd Violin and then Viola when another brother became proficient enough to play 2nd, and their father played Cello.)

Even given the level of playing available at a time before “amateur” became a pejorative term, how Beethoven wrote these new string quartets was something new. Not only was the playing level above the average amateur string-player, it required dedicated practice and rehearsal time and also expected more of its listeners. These were, essentially, the first professional string quartets on a “symphonic” scale – and intended for public performance.

And the level of technical challenge for the players led Schuppanzigh, on at least one occasion, to complain about a particular passage: “how do you expect me to play that?!”

While Beethoven's response is famous (and translated variously), we don't know what specific passage, much less piece, it was Schuppanzigh was referring to.

“What do I care for you and your damned fiddle when the spirit moves me?”

No aristocratically employed composer in Haydn's time would have gotten away with that...

The idea of “chamber music concerts” was also something new at the time. Before, an aristocrat might have some “house musicians” who would perform for their guests. Some even had “house orchestras” though now an orchestra like the one Haydn conducted at Prince Esterhazy's was a rare luxury: given the early-19th Century economy, it was more likely the musicians would double as house-servants and staff.

(Imagine the downstairs world of Downton Abbey doubling as a small orchestra to entertain at the Crawley's dinner-parties – what instruments, exactly, do you think Carson, Mrs. Padmore or Thomas might play?)

But Schuppanzigh had created a professional quartet in 1804 (the cellist had once been Haydn's principal cellist back in the day of Prince Esterhazy's employment) and though their public concert-series only lasted through 1808 – it is assumed (and it's odd no one knows this for sure) Beethoven's Op. 59 Quartets where first heard during their 1807-1808 Season – it was an important ground-breaking event in the evolution of “modern music.”

These works were not conceived as amateur music-making but for professional musicians to play for a preferably paying audience. We have begun making the bridge between aristocratic patronage and the free-lance, professional musician.

Count Razumovsky hired Schuppanzigh to form a “house quartet” for him in 1808, intending it to be “the finest quartet in Europe.” It was then that the Count's new quartet played his new Quartets at his palace - rather frequently, one imagines.

Speaking of amateur, the Count was a talented violinist himself – being an aristocrat, he was, technically, an amateur, no matter how well he played – and he enjoyed “sitting in” with his quartet to play 2nd Violin. On those occasions he preferred to sit back and listen (and one wonders if he was capable of playing the 2nd Violin parts in Beethoven's newest works), a fellow named Louis Sina played instead (talk about playing 2nd fiddle...). You might wonder if the Count could hold his own in “the finest quartet in Europe,” but then would his employees say, “excuse me, your lordship, but maybe you should sit this one out and let Mr. Sina play?”

It's quite possible if Ignatz Schuppanzigh hadn't existed, the quartets Beethoven wrote for the Count might have been very different. In a way, the violinist was almost as responsible as the patron was in bringing these three masterpieces about. Something to consider...

By the way, there were only two musicians in Vienna who played in the premiere of every Beethoven symphony between 1800 and 1825 – one was Ignaz Schuppanzigh.

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So who was this guy named Razumovsky?

Andrei Razumovsky, 1776
Count Andrei Kirilovich Razumovsky was the Russian ambassador to the Imperial court in Vienna, beginning in 1792 after serving in lesser diplomatic posts in Naples, Copenhagen and Stockholm. His father had been Hetman in the Ukraine and had amassed a fortune, building splendid palaces in his country estate in Baturyn and in the capital, St. Petersburg (more about him and his brother, below).

Officially the ambassador only until 1807 when he retired, Razumovsky served as Chief Negotiator for the Russian Empire during the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), recreating Europe after the defeat of Napoleon, ending a generation of constant warfare that ranged across Europe from Spain to Moscow. For his services in this last diplomatic role, Tsar Alexander I gave him the title of Prince.

Today, he is best known as a friend and patron of Beethoven's who commissioned him to write three string quartets. The count was, as I mentioned, a capable amateur violinist and frequently played 2nd Violin in his own ensemble. After all, he'd played quartets under Haydn's tutoring in the 1790s but when Razumovsky asked Beethoven about lessons in composing string quartets in 1800, Beethoven, who'd just completed his Op. 18 quartets, declined and sent him to Aloys Förster who had been Beethoven's own mentor in the craft.

Called “an enemy of the [French] Revolution but a good friend of the fair sex,” Razumovsky had, as one person described it, the “pinched and malevolent face of a Russian police interrogator.” His manners were impeccable and he “radiated pride in all things: his birth, his rank and his honor, in his bearing [and] in his speech.”

Along with two other of Beethoven's aristocratic patrons – Prince Lichnowsky and Prince Lobkowitz – Count (later Prince) Razumovsky was one of the most extravagant princes “in a city full of the breed” (as Jan Swafford puts it so delightfully in his recent biography). The palace he built on an imposing hill overlooking a Viennese suburb – finished in 1808 – had a roof garden, a vast library, an art gallery as well as a hall just for the sculptures of Canova, one of the leading artists of the day, to say nothing of a fine music room.

Here, Beethoven was “cock-of-the-walk,” walking confidently through its halls and lording it over Viennese musical society as performer and seeming composer-in-residence. Unlike he relationships with Lichnowsky and Lobkowitz, Beethoven seemed to get on almost placidly with Razumovsky. In addition to these quartets, Beethoven also dedicated his 5th and 6th Symphonies to the count.

But on New Year's Eve, the last day of 1814 when the Congress of Vienna was in full swing (in so many ways), the Count was holding a lavish dinner with both the Austrian and the Russian emperors in attendance along with some 700 guests when, as Swafford describes it:

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“...a baking oven overheated unnoticed and fire got into the heating system. As the guests were eating, the palace erupted in flames... By the time all the fire engines of Vienna arrived along with thousands of Viennese, who enjoyed a good fire, there was nothing to be done. Gone were three blocks of mansion, the great stables and riding school, the chapel, the carpets and tapestries, the old-master paintings, the hall of sculptures by Canova. Razumovsky was found sitting stunned on a bench on his grounds, wrapped in sables and wearing a velvet cap.”
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an older Andrei Razumovsky
Despite the offer of a loan of 700,000 florins from the tsar (remember Mozart, in 1787, considered 2,000 florins a good year's income), Razumovsky never rebuilt his palace and he became something of a recluse, living in near-seclusion until his death in 1836, almost nine years after Beethoven died. Shortly after the fire, he was forced to disband Schuppanzigh's quartet.

It's interesting to note that Countess Lulu von Thürheim, Razumovsky's sister-in-law, kept a kind of tell-all diary about life in Vienna at the time, giving us much daily information about life with the Count and his friends without ever making reference to his musical interests. The name of Beethoven is hardly mentioned.

And yet, if it weren't for these three quartets, Count Razumovsky would probably be forgotten except to historical experts: he certainly got more than he paid for when he asked Beethoven to write them for him!

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For all his wealth, however, Andrei Kirilovich Razumovsky was a descendant of Ukrainian cossacks – his uncle Alexei was born to a peasant family named Rozum in 1709 and he was a shepherd boy who had a pleasant singing voice. He sang bass in the local church choir where the local sexton taught him to read and write. Then, in 1731, a colonel named Vishnevsky was traveling through the area on his way back to the court of the Empress Anna (niece of the late tsar, Peter I, known as “Peter the Great”) and, impressed by the young man's vocal abilities, took him back to the imperial capital to become a member of the palace chapel choir.

So, how did the nephew of a former Cossack shepherd become the wealthiest man in Vienna who commissioned Beethoven to compose three string quartets for him?

Alexei Razumovsky
In 1732, Alexei Razumovsky's musical abilities caught the ear of Princess Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna), the daughter of Peter the Great and cousin of Empress Anna, who would become Empress herself in 1741. When Alexei lost his voice, he was made an official court bandura player and later a manager of one of Elizabeth's mansions. During the brief reign of the infant Ivan VI, he became a favorite of Elizabeth's and named a knight (Kammerjunker in the old Prussian ranks copied by the Russian court). He was also instrumental in the palace coup that overthrew the child-tsar's regent to proclaim Elizabeth the official ruler. After her accession, he became a chamberlain and “general-lieutenant” and, after her coronation, a “court marshal” (different than what it sounds like in English...) meaning he was in charge of, among other things, organizing and supervising the imperial household. If there was any doubt as to his courtly authority, let's just say his bedrooms were adjacent to the unmarried Empress'. (He was, consequently, nicknamed “The Emperor of the Night.”) Several sources indicated she had secretly married him - morganatically, however, meaning he was not officially her consort nor would any children they might have be legal heirs to the Russian throne.

Kiril Razumovsky, 1758
Even though he was not politically involved in the Empress' court, he had influence. When he was made a Count in 1744 – and the Empress even went on a holiday with him which took them back to his native village where she met his family (imagine that homecoming!) – Alexei suggested restoring the old position of “hetman,” leader of Ukraine's Cossacks, a title which dated back to the 16th Century and which had previously been discredited and discontinued by the Empress' father.

To this position, then, the Empress later named Count Alexei's younger brother, Kiril, born in 1728 shortly before Alexei went off to pursue a career as a singer &c in the court chapel. Still in his teens and attending a German university, Kiril was named President of the Russian Academy of Sciences and, in 1750, Hetman of the Ukrainian Cossack's autonomous region known as the “Zaporozhian Host” which he continued to hold until 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great dissolved the post (and the Host's autonomy), making Razumovsky a Field-Marshall instead. He would die in January, 1803, in his palace at Baturyn, the old Zaporozhian capital, at the age of 74.

Kiril Razumovsky's Palace, Baturyn
Count Andrei Kirilovich Razumovsky, Beethoven's patron, was born in 1752, when his father was Hetman, the second of five sons. When his father died, Count Razumovsky became one of the wealthiest men in Europe and lived the opulent lifestyle in Vienna, building his own grand palace there – at least until that disastrous New Year's Eve party in 1814. Little is known about the remaining 21 years of his life.

It intrigues me, though, considering how conscious the aristocracy usually is of family lineage and heritage, that Count Razumovsky, for all his wealth and charm, was accepted by the aristocratic families of Vienna who must have known, after all, his father had been born a peasant who achieved his social position all because his uncle had a pleasant bass voice and became the Empress Elizabeth's “Emperor of the Night.”

Well, never underestimate the possibilities of a good musical education, I always say...

Dick Strawser

Getting Back on the Bike

It seemed a good way to celebrate "Pi Day" - you know, 3/14/16 = 3.1416? (Though, theoretically, I'm more of a Phi Guy, myself - tune in again on June 18th...)

The funny thing is, as often as I've heard that expression about "getting back on the bike," I never actually learned to ride a bike...

When I started this blog years ago and called it “Thoughts on a Train” (without apologies to Samuel L. Jackson and a lively bunch of snakes), the intention was to write about a variety of things that caught my imagination, most likely about music – but I didn't want to give it a “musical” title since it would be more than just music.

Instead, I've hardly been writing here at all... and spending far too much time on Facebook, it seems, but that's another topic.

As a composer, I thought it would give me a chance to explore different aspects of music and creativity – the “how a composer works” kind of approach – but then gradually I began to compose less and finally, now, not at all. Once I was “laid off” in 2008, I found I had lots of time to compose and I did that regularly, finishing a Violin Sonata, writing two song cycles (one with orchestra, one with piano), a couple of short choral pieces, and starting a number of other works, large and small, chamber music or orchestral, all quickly abandoned.

When NaNoWriMo rolled around again – National Novel Writing Month in which would-be authors try to write 50,000 words of a novel in November – I decided now I had the time to focus on it, so I started doing that every year and making my goal if not always finishing the novel after the month was over.

While I was still employed, I'd started a musical parody of the opening scene of Dan Brown's best-selling thriller, The Da Vinci Code and enjoyed the process so much, though I hadn't read the book yet, I ended up doing a parody of the whole book which became The Schoenberg Code and which is still posted here on the blog in a revised version reworked in the months following my suddenly finding myself with so much free time.

It seemed logical then that I should do a parody of Brown's next thriller, The Last Symbol which became The Lost Chord. By the time I'd finished and posted that, I thought “you know, I could probably write one of my own,” so then I began what is a parody of the genre itself which I called The Doomsday Symphony. Some of the characters are Gustav Mahler, composer of a symphony that is stolen and which has potentially catastrophic consequences if it's performed on December 21st, 2012 (remember the Mayan Apocalypse?) and Beethoven and Mozart as a child - and involved time travel and a dastardly plot to kill the Great (though already dead) Composers.

You can read the novel in its entirety, here.

In the process, I had written what I describe as a “classical music appreciation comedy/thriller.” I'm not so sure it's a true parody (not of any one thing specifically) since so many thrillers I've read as “research” seem to be “parodies of the genre” already.

This, then, led to the inevitable sequel – well, not so much a sequel as the next in a series: I have this hero, a “classical music detective (by default)” named Dr. T. Richard Kerr (after the musical term, ricercar which comes from the Latin “to search”) and his sidekick, a young student assistant named Cameron Pierce (who remains the only major character in my novels whose name is not a pun) and a villain named Klavdia Klangfarben. Her name was chosen for euphonious reasons, “klangfarben” being the German term to describe a melody created through pointillistic orchestration in which “sound colors” create a varied... oh well, anyway, it's complicated but I liked the sound of the word and for some reason it always struck me as being “ominous.” (And Klavdia rather than Claudia, not necessarily as a bow to the only other Klavdia I can think of, the love-interest of one Hans Castorp in Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, Klavdia Chauchat.)

And there was the evil organization SHMRG which sounded like something evil straight out of James Bond. In reality, it's an acronym for a music teacher's way of discussing the elements of music as you listen to them, either by focusing on one element at a time or hearing something first that you then place into one of the elements' categories: Sonority, Harmony, Melody, Rhythm and Growth (or Form but who wanted to call it SHMRF?).

Originating with Jan LaRue (1918-2004) in his Guidelines for Style Analysis (I'm not sure when it was published originally, but I'm sure I was talking about this when I was teaching music at the University of Connecticut in the 1970s), it's an approach to help students and music lovers not yet versed in the technicalities of music to be able to describe what they're listening to and by gradually expanding their awareness, hear it with greater understanding and enjoyment.

Pronounced Shmurg, it just sounded evil. Under the leadership of another villain in The Doomsday Symphony, N. Ron Steele (if anyone remembers the Enron scandals of the '90s), it became a Wall Street corporation that is buying up music licenses, broadcast and recording rights, copyrights and patents so that it will eventually control every aspect of music throughout the world.

Only in my current novel-in-progress do I reveal that it's actually Steele, Haight, Mayme, Rook and Griedman. Their intent is to make classical music as accessible as popular music, regardless of its impact on its quality (the “dumbing down” of the Arts) so they can sell more product to more people. Eventually, Steele's goal is to be the first corporation to run for President (though that, it seems, is already happening in 2016).

Anyway, it turned out I had this great title, The Lost Chord and some great characters like Yoda Leahy-Hu of the International Music Police so I decided to rewrite my initial parody as a more “original” [sic] novel and so it became the second in my series with Dr. Kerr trying to solve a murder mystery that led to yet another SHMRG plot. It seemed logical, at the end, to bring in Klavdia Klangfarben who'd been left in limbo, so to speak, at the end of The Doomsday Symphony.

So I removed the original parody and replaced it with the new novel using the same title, The Lost Chord which you can read here.

This one involved a parallel plot set in the 19th Century involving the identity of Beethoven's “Immortal Belovéd,” and so this became the increasingly more involved subject of the third novel in which Klangfarben returns as the full-out villain trying to locate (and eliminate) all the heirs of Beethoven and the Immortal Belovéd – including a few Dr. Kerr and Cameron meet at one of those fabulous English houses like Downton Abbey where his friend LauraLynn Hardy (the heroine from The Lost Chord) is about to marry Burnson Allen. The house was designed by a devotee of the Fibonacci Series and so everything – and I mean everything – is dominated by the Golden Section.

This became The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben which as yet hasn't been posted on-line.

Finishing that before my impending heart surgery in November, 2014, I was already working out details for its sequel, despite the fact I was calling these three novels The Klangfarben Trilogy. Without giving away how I managed to eliminate the villain, let's say it could be awkward to bring her back for the fourth novel in the trilogy...

And so, while recuperating from a heart by-pass operation, I began mapping out the details of my fourth full-length novel (not counting the original novella, The Schoenberg Code). Like the others, it would be a “parody” on several different levels, and this one involved a bit of Proust, considering the importance of Time in the way the plot unfolds, borrowing elements from his In Search of Lost Time (formerly known as Remembrance of Things Past) or, in the original French, À la recherche du temps perdu. It became the story of Dr. Kerr trying to find an old friend who, for some reason, has disappeared or been abducted, a composer named Thomas Purdue.

And so, it had to be called In Search of Tom Purdue.

It has been a slow process, starting work on it back in the summer of 2015, mapping it out, filling in outlines with details – and especially names, like one villain named Perdita Vremsky (from perdita, the Latin for “lost,” and the Russian vremya for “time”) – and today, gradually nearing the end of Chapter 7 at 70,344 words.

(Yesterday, for a brief scene, I created a quartet of middle school music students who've created their own band of super-heroes, the Tonic Avengers...)

Since most of my day is spent novel-writing – and my productive “creative-time” is in the morning and (with any luck) into the afternoon – I have found it less likely I would write in the blog. I found it distracting me from the novel. And I didn't always want to be blogging about "what I wrote today."

I have been blogging about the music on the programs with the Harrisburg Symphony and Market Square Concerts – and I took the 12 Days of Christmas off to complete a short Christmas motet on “O Magnum Mysterium” which, unfortunately, I didn't think very practical (and, like everything else I've been composing, who would want to perform it, anyway?), so I never bothered transforming it from sketches to first draft.

And now another pair of concerts is coming up that need to be written about which means I need to take time away from the novel to get them done. And writing for the blog – this blog – even something that doesn't require research or planning or much thought at all, has not only taken a back seat, it's fallen off the train completely.

I should probably get back to blogging more or less regularly, perhaps in the evening, though my brain is usually not at its most creative, then. At least, it would keep me from watching too much television.

The problem has always been finding the Time to write – but perhaps the Time itself is not the issue?

- Dick Strawser