Friday, January 13, 2012

Grab bag

I thought I was sick of "Send in the Clowns." I was sure if I heard it one more time I'd scream. But that's before NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour turned me on to Dame Judi Dench's performance at the BBC Proms in 2010 (Sondheim's 80th birthday celebration). What a consummate actress! To me she makes others who have done this number seem like rank amateurs.

New addendum to the ever-popular topic of custom bookends: behold these beauties made from vintage Harley Davidson gears! (

Choreographer Bill T. Jones chose "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man" from Schubert's song cycle "Winterreise" ("Winter Journey") as his selection for the NPR feature +Winter Songs+. And the story behind his choice was incredibly poignant.
"For me, it's the musical arrangement underneath," he told All Things Considered. "It speaks about a bleak landscape. And this bleak landscape takes me back to a day when I was in fourth grade out on the edge of town, looking at a snow-covered highway many, many yards away from my window — I should've been paying attention, but I was dreaming.
And then I saw a lone figure walking across on a very, very cold day; and you know how it is when the wind blows and you have to turn your back ... and I felt so sorry for that person, and then I realized it was my father. That my father, who was completely out of work, had been the director of his own business as a contractor in the heyday of the migrant stream back in the late '50s, but now that business had died. He was up in the chilly North with family, broke and sick, and he had to get to this very insignificant job in a factory, miles and miles away. A black man with no car, trying to hitchhike, and no one picking him up, and he has to walk that 10 miles to get to the factory. And I'm sitting in this warm classroom, getting educated, not paying attention to the teacher, and suddenly feeling torn between two worlds. And this music, when I hear it, I feel for my father. There's something about art that can be, yes, depressing, but helps us bear the pain through sheer beauty and intensity."
You can delve into this great work yourself with the historic DVD Schubert: Winterreise, in which Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (left) perform and discuss the cycle, including "The Hurdy Gurdy Man." Not only is the poor soul ragged and cold, they observe, but no one is listening to his song. Also included is a lovely concert performance of Britten's folk song arrangements. Below is a tempting excerpt from the DVD.


  1. Many composers died young, but I think the world lost most when Schubert left at 31, with his head "filled with music", as he was quoted saying. His String Quintet in C, like the Winterreise, remains indelibly burned in the memory of my soul. Heaven only knows what he would have done if he had the years that Mozart had.

  2. I immediately went to youtube to listen ... got the adagio w/ Rostropovich: exquisite. Thank you so much; hope we get it soon!

  3. I find that you did stunning decision the moment when you came up with this subject of this article of yours. Do you mostly create your articles alone or you work with a writing partner or an assistant?