Archive for October, 2005

Claude Debussy, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Performed by Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

This is a piece for orchestra played at a moderate to slow tempo, perhaps adagio. At the beginning a woodwind (a clarinet or a flute, maybe?) is the featured instrument. Woodwinds play featured solo parts throughout much of the work. Also, there are some nice bits near the beginning played by the trombones (or maybe baritones). Somewhat near the end of the piece, a solo violin plays a lovely part. But, mostly, it’s just the chamber orchestra painting lovely swathes of color, with gentle crescendos and descrendos

The woodwind part at the beginning of this sounds an awful lot like the clarinet intro to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (perhaps Gershwin was influenced by this work). Actually, a lot of this, the overall orchestral texture, in particular, reminds me of parts of Rhapsody in Blue. I guess, judging from its title, that this work is meant to be programmatic (do the solo woodwinds represent the fawn? (later I found out that a faun is a 1/2 human, 1/2 goat sort of thing; I think this piece sounds much better if it’s about a fawn (such as Bambi, for example)—fauns seem a bit twee)), but I just like its lush, gorgeous sound. This was recorded in 2001, when Michael Tilson Thomas was already musical director of the San Francisco Symphony, where I happened to live at the time (601 Van Ness! Apt. 1007! Right up the street from Davies Symphony Hall! Overpriced “junior” 1-bedroom apartment!). I would like to have heard him conduct it with the SFS.

“And I Bid You Goodnight”, from The Real Bahamas, Nonesuch H-72013. Performed by the Pindar Family and Joseph Spence.

Thursday, October 6th, 2005

This is an unaccompanied vocal work for two women and one man. One of the women sings the main melody, while the man sings sometimes as accompaniment to her and sometimes in counterpoint to her. The second woman, meanwhile, sings longer, slower-moving lines. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but the song seems to consist of only verses without a chorus or bridge. Perhaps some of the background singing, especially that of the second woman, is improvised, but not the main melody sung by the first woman.

At first, I didn’t think too much of this song. Maybe I didn’t like the singing. But it grows on you, and, after listening to it a few times, you’ll find that it will be running through your head quite often during your day. The melody (sung by the first woman) is simple, like a folk song (is it a folk song?), but beautiful. The man’s singing is interesting in the way that in interacts with the main line. The second woman, meanwhile, seems to be singing in her own strange, but darkly interesting, parallel universe. She sounds like maybe she’s the Holy Fool of their village (I don’t actually know for a fact that they live in a village, but, never mind)—a woman whose gnomic, cryptic utterances can’t be understood by the villagers most of the time, but which always reveal a dark, mathematical, Gödelian truth, regardless of whether they’re comprehended by others. And for this reason she’s both feared and revered. She sounds like she might be one of those blind, Zen masters who always live at the peak of high mountains in the Andes (or wherever those high mountains that blind, Zen masters live on are) that the heroes in movies always have to scale to receive the wisdom necessary to face their nemesis. Except that I get the feeling that she’d be too smart to bother with going and living on the peak of some high mountain somewhere.