PatchChords: The Death Of Antony, Or The Death Of Handel

PatchChords
 

Imagine a world without performances of The Messiah, Samson, Jephta, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. It might have come to pass, were it not for the fortuitous outcome of one deadly duel in 1704.

Instrumentalist, composer, teacher and singer, Johann Mattheson, at age 22, was a fast friend of George Frideric Handel, although, by this time, a certain air of jealous rivalry had developed between them, owing to a long series of circumstances.

Their rivalry came to a head when Mattheson's opera, Cleopatra, premiered in December of 1704. Mattheson himself sang the role of "Antony", and Handel, stepping into the breach when the original conductor proved unavailable, lead the orchestra while seated at the harpsichord. Eventually, Mattheson played his character's glorious death on the stage and then moved over to the orchestra, where it was planned that Handel would yield his seat and conducting duties to Mattheson.

But Handel, his long-simmering jealous resentment boiling over, refused to budge.

Soon, blows were exchanged (to the delight of the audience, no doubt), and the two men took their argument outside, where they faced each other with drawn swords, each of them ready to skewer the other and settle their jealous feud once and for all.

And then…

As Handel's biographer, John Mainwaring wrote, "Mattheson made a push at him with a sword, which, being aimed full at his heart, would for ever have removed him from the office he had usurped, but for the friendly score which he accidentally carried in his bosom; and through which to have forced it, would have demanded all the might of Ajax himself". Another account of the incident suggests that Mattheson's sword hit one of Handel's large brass buttons and was snagged on it.

Standing outside the opera house, the two men ended up laughing and reconciling, and a friendship was restored, not to mention a musical life saved.

And it was all a matter of inches.

More, at the Library, about Handel

PatchChords: Totality In Music

PatchChords
 

Today is the day when a 70-mile-wide, 2,500-mile-long stretch of the United States will experience one of outer space’s most amazing events: a total eclipse of the Sun. So, what music does one choose to accompany such a momentous occasion?

The very definition of this event is the Moon blocking the Earth’s view of the Sun, so some lunar-inspired music would seem to be called for, the two most famous and obvious examples being Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Debussy’s (and other composers’) Claire de Lune.

Since this event will cause the sky to darken such that four planets (i.e. Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) will be visible, we could also consider adding the relevant movements of Holst’s The Planets to our list.

Let us not forget that our own humble planet Earth is also part of this unique stellar ballet, so music inspired by our own planet, such as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, fits in as well.

And even though it is being relegated to the background of this event, let’s not forget to add some music inspired by our Sun. Thanks to the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey", Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra is a choice in many people’s minds for capturing the grandeur and spectacle of this event; the opening moments of the piece, appropriately titled "Sunrise", certainly feature the required fanfare, excitement and power.

Finally, a couple more suggestions:

…and even some original pieces have been commissioned for this event!

Happy listening (and watching!)

Frames Of Reference: “Twelve Angry Men”

Frames Of Reference
 

On a hot, rainy night, twelve nameless men, selected for a jury from various walks of life, wearily trudge into a room to begin their mandated deliberations, having just been presented with the sad facts of the case of a young boy accused of having stabbed his father to death. All of them seem to be in perfect accord, and some of them are very eager to leave the proceedings behind and return to their lives outside the court.

Then the jury foreman, perfunctorily, asks for votes for "guilty".

And then he ask for votes for "not guilty".

And from seemingly out of nowhere, one single, solitary hand is raised…

Over the next ninety minutes, the jurors revisit and question their seemingly foregone conclusions about the trial and about the boy's guilt, introducing into the proceedings outside research conducted by a juror, and broad assumptions which, it could be argued, go beyond the legal definition of reasonable doubt and would never be allowed, were the situation a real jury one. Technical and legal criticisms aside, however, the many different arguments by which each juror is swayed make for fascinating following and viewing.

As the film begins, above-eye-level cameras fitted with wide-angle lenses photographically represent and convey enormous distance between the jurors, in both the idealogical and spatial senses. But by the end of the film, telephoto lenses placed below eye level show each juror in closeup, which, along with the ever-increasing lateness of the hour and the steaming humidity and rain, create an almost tangible tension and sense of claustrophobia.

In the end, the film is a grippingly paced drama of one man's struggle to find truth against overwhelming opposition, and an overt glorification of the American jury system, not to mention twelve very different actors at the height of their craft.

Check out, at the Library, the film

PatchChords: Summertime…

PatchChords
 

Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.

William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (I.1.1-6)

As we observe midsummer night, thoughts turn to music for the summer…

Felix Mendelssohn, a child prodigy, quick to artistic maturity as if destined for a short life, was born into a family devoted to, and with a great affection for, the works of William Shakespeare, especially A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And, in 1826, not yet 20 years old, he set his ideas of the play’s imaginative content down in music.

On August 6, 1826, he completed an overture in sonata form. The soft chords evoke the mysterious magic wood, the fairies that flitter through it, the proud lovers, and the raucous and grating sound of Bottom the Weaver in a donkey’s head.

Eventually, he orchestrated it, and, much later, in August of 1843, he was commissioned by the King of Prussia to expand upon his overture and write full incidental music for the play. And the result is a brilliant joining of literary expression with abstract musical structures, resulting in some of the finest music ever written to accompany a spoken drama.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

William Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (V.1.2275-2290)

Printings, at the Library, of the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Recordings, at the Library, of the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

More, at the Library, about Mendelssohn

and…

More music recordings for the summer

More printed music for the summer

PatchChords: Music?! You shall be a butcher and follow my trade.

PatchChords
 

Introducing "PatchChords", a blog series about the Patchogue-Medford Library’s printed and recorded music collections.

 

Antonin Dvorak
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

Antonín Dvořák was born in a small village in Bohemia (part of the Czech Republic) in 1841, and he would go on to write music strongly influenced by his pride in both his Czech heritage and, indeed, his adopted country of America in which he spent several years as artistic director and professor of composition at the National Conservatory of Music in New York. So fascinated was he by the African-American and Native American music he heard that he wrote what could be regarded as the ultimate musical love letter to the United States, his Ninth Symphony ("From The New World").

But, before any of that could happen, there was the question of his musical education. And therein lies a tale. And as it now turns out, an apocrophyal tale.

His father, a butcher, innkeeper, and skilled zither player, was proud of the musical abilities his son displayed at the village school where he received singing and violin lessons. But when talk began of sending young Antonín to Prague for further study, his father, as the story goes, drew the line and, citing the family’s lack of money, decreed that his budding musician son become a butcher’s apprentice. And young Antonín, as the story goes, became apprenticed for two years of no doubt soul-killing musical deprivation and drudgery. And there, the story would have ended, were it not for an uncle who provided a tiny monetary allowance which sent young Antonín on his way to Prague and further musical study, paving the way for his prolific and storied future musical career.

As late as 1990, biographies of Dvořák continued to relate the story of his father’s mandate. However, subsequent biographical research by Dvořák researcher, Jarmil Burghauser proved Antonín’s certificate of apprenticeship, dated November 2, 1856, to be a forgery, dispelling a long-held myth that obscured the fact that Antonín’s parents both recognized their son’s musical talent from the first and joyously did all that they could to encourage it.

Influenced by the Bohemian folk melodies that filled his ears during his childhood, his music is inspired by Czech, Moravian, and other Slavic traditional music, with a basis in Slavic folk dance forms such as the dumka, odzemek, furiant, mazurka, and polonaise, embodying and advocating, in the early 20th Century, the modern Czech musical style.

More, at the Library, about Dvořák

Recordings, at the Library, of his music

Scores and other printings, at the Library, of his music