All posts by Bob Christiansen

Red and Green Before Orange and Black

I actually enjoy listening to Christmas carols in July or August, when they are totally fresh and weirdly entertaining. I’ll second the vote for “Past 3 O’Clock,” one of my all-time favorites and expand out to other languages. Placido Domingo singing “La Virgen Lava Panales” and any good performance of “Riu, Riu, Chiu” are always enjoyable to me, and don’t even get me started on the Poznan Nightingales singing Polish carols!

In Company With Ives

“Are my ears on wrong?” said Charles Ives to his nephew, and I repeat in response to the movie musical list. Not that I quibble with any that are on it, but I will send up a quiet, lonely voice in favor of “Moulin Rouge.” It can stay at number 25, that’s fine, but I found it surprisingly entertaining in a totally offbeat way.

It certainly can’t translate to the community theater circuit, because so much of it involved computer enhancements and scenes that only work with modern video techniques. For that reason it doesn’t really fit into the standard genre of movie musicals. I’m also finding that too much time and culture change have passed to let me really enjoy those old classics. Not that I’m jaded, I just find the sensibilities of the 30’s and 40’s stilted and uncomfortable.

Or maybe my ears are on wrong and I just love the unlovely, like “Ishtar…yes, Ishtar.” I liked that too, though not enough to want to own the dvd.

Pluto, The Bringer of Ice to the Party

The International Astronomical Union has been meeting in Prague over the past week to determine, among other things, what is and what is not a planet. Today the assembled astronomers voted and the official definition is now “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a … nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

What this means is that Pluto is out. It is automatically disqualified because its orbit crosses that of Neptune. This also means that Gustav Holst had it pegged when his Suite for Large Orchestra, “The Planets” ended with Neptune. Since Pluto is now officially a “dwarf planet” (new designation) that also means that its name has been changed to Sneezy.

Music Hath Charms

I was watching Robin Williams’ movie “Bicentennial Man” the other night, enjoying, among other things the spectacle of a robot telling jokes in a rapid-fire, robotic manner.

There was one scene early on where the robot (Williams) is sitting down in the basement, listening to an old Victrola playing “O Silver Moon” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka.” I always knew that aria could make metal cry!

Go for the Overture, Stay for the Show

Don’t get me started on Gilbert & Sullivan…or rather, please get me started on G&S! Rex mentioned the North Star Opera production of “Iolanthe” which has probably the best overture of the lot. That’s because its the one that Sullivan actually wrote himself and is a self-contained gem. Most of the others, delightful as they are, are pastiches put together by, mostly, Edward German from the best tunes from the operettas. Sullivan trusted him to do a good job of picking the top melodies and saved himself some extra work.

Quiet Please!

I’ve toned down my original ambition to convert most of my LPs to CD and just have been working on those that will NEVER be commercially available. “Swingle II: Love Songs for Madrigals and Madriguys” is one of them, and thanks to eBay and a factory-sealed record, “Traditional Welsh Songs by Meredydd Evans” is another.

The problem is the noise…I have to go down to the subatomic waveform level with my pencil tool to take out the most egregious pops, and leave the lesser ones because I’d be working forever! It’s amazing how much noise we put up with in the LP era, or turned around, how we have come to expect the background silence of the CDs.

Speaking of silence, I saw that Clarabell died last week. I was watching that final Howdy Doody Show when, at the end of the show he whispered, “Good Bye Kids!” The effect was astounding: it was like Marcel Marceau getting in a sudden shouting match with Teller!

Public Perceptions Then and Now

I’ve been reading Sinclair Lewis’ “Main Street” and have been struck by a couple of things. First, his descriptions of St. Paul and how familiar it is, even after 86 years. Nothing puts me into a story as much as being familiar with the locale, and having the main character stand on Summit Avenue and look out over Lowertown to the bluffs of the Mississippi really makes me know her.

Second, his mentioning of the music performed at a graduation party. Lewis talks about “Carmen” and “Madame Butterfly” and the “Soldier’s Chorus” without ever mentioning Bizet or Puccini or Gounod, or even that they were operas. His readers knew all that in 1920…they didn’t have to be told. I don’t think that any author today could make that comfortable assumption.

And Let's Not Forget the Schuberts

I had a piece yesterday for violin and piano, “The Bee” by Franz Schubert. No, not THAT Franz Schubert, the other one; the one that constantly gets lost in the shadow because he apparently only wrote one piece…namely, “The Bee!” This Franz Schubert was born in Dresden in 1808, and is sometimes referred to as “Francois Schubert” to try to avoid confusion. (It almost never works).

I’d love to learn more about FS2, and whether there are any more pieces buzzing around the apiary…anyone?

Beethoven, Puccini AND Rodney Dangerfield

I just saw “Fidelio” for the first time, in an impressive performance from Covent Garden, stretched over a couple days, inbetween walking the dog and cooking up a mean Kung Pao Pork. If you haven’t yet made the jump to an online movie rental service yet, let me give you one more good reason: operas (and operettas). Who said you have to be limited to Caddyshack and The Crimson Pirate…I’ve recently gone through almost all the Gilbert and Sullivan available (don’t miss the Canadian performance of Mikado) and I”ve got “Idomeneo” and “Tosca” in my queue (also Caddyshack and The Crimson Pirate, but we’ll talk about those another time). Bernstein’s “Candide” and “Trouble in Tahiti” are coming up as well. I mention this because opera is so much a visual medium, and I’m delighted with all that’s available with the click of a mouse. I may not be ready to iPod, but I can Netflix with the best of them!