Friday, May 24, 2013

There's an app for that: new ways to experience the music of Beethoven et al.

Hello Gleaners! A long, holiday weekend is upon us. Will it be filled with leisure pursuits or projects you've been procrastinating about? First up, I'm so happy about Lydia Davis being chosen for the Man Booker International Prize of 2013. Well done, jury!
"Ach, why was I born too early for the coclear implant? And what's all this hoo ha about lead-based paint?"
Gramophone reports that a new app from Touchpress allows you to view a scrolling manuscript of the score of Beethoven's Ninth while listening to one of four recordings (Ferenc Fricsay with the Berlin Philharmonic, 1958; Herbert von Karajan with the BPO, 1962; Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic  [a 1979 film]; and Sir John Eliot Gardiner with his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, 1992). Alternatively, you can enjoy one of the recordings while watching the ‘BeatMap’—"a diagrammatic aerial view of the orchestra, with spots representing musicians that pulse as they play."
Fittingly, the article gives Lenny the last word: "After all this in-depth insight into manuscript choices, pitch considerations and metronome markings, comes a remarkable excerpt of Bernstein talking about the symphony in 1979. He roots the symphony in philosophy and faith in a deeply personal, open-hearted manner that I simply can’t imagine any of today’s musicians matching. Contrasting the hopes and prayers of prophets and poets with the 20th-century world around him, Bernstein concludes:
‘David, Isaiah, Aristophanes, Jesus, Schiller, Beethoven – how you must be suffering. Forgive me for getting carried away, I had meant to stick to the subject of dates and of Beethoven. But it is all one. Beethoven is struggle, the struggle for peace, for fulfilment of spirit, for serenity and triumphal joy. He achieved it in his music – not only in his Ninth but in all his symphonies, and in his quartets and piano sonatas, and trios and concertos. Somehow it must be possible for us to learn from his music by hearing it: no, not hearing but listening to it, with all our power of attention and concentration.’"
Beethoven's Ninth ends with a sublime and stirring choral movement that has inspired people the world over. Somewhat lesser known but equally uplifting is his only opera, Fidelio, of which we have the complete score.

"Tell me the truth, Alma, does this hat make me look soigné?"
It was the 200th anniversary of his birth last Wednesday, and poor old Richard Wagner didn't get so much as a Google doodle, despite revolutionizing the world of opera. Not that he was the life of the party. "He spoke incredibly much – and fast" wrote his contemporary Eduard Hanslick, "in a monotonous sing-song Saxon dialect and always of himself, his works, his reforms, his plans. If he mentioned the name of another composer it was always in a tone of disparagement." Luckily, Wagner's musical legacy outweighs his abrasive personality. (Today he would have about 14 friends on Facebook—or someone like me would be ghostwriting it.)
We currently have Die Walküre on CD and on DVD ("Ho jo to ho!") as well as Lohengrin on DVD—all of which make it easy to forget his quirks in the face of his musical genius.
Coda: Here's a fine video with Lenny talking about and performing the 9th's finale... for when you have a little time on your hands. What a cadre of soloists!


  1. Daedalus also offers a DVD version of the film "Humoresque", which I purchased for the exceptional violin playing of Issac Stern (hiding behind John Garfield). The climax (of the film and the music) is a pancakes-with-whipped-cream Liebestod that will leave the viewer drowning in Wagnerian passion.

    1. Case of Lazy Pinky Syndrome: it's Isaac, of course.

    2. Late-breaking news: after belatedly perusing Facebook, I saw that the Met posted a gallery of singers in Wagnerian roles on his b'day ( ... pretty fun.

  2. Admittedly, the idea of watching the orchestra seats light up while listening to Beethoven's Ninth is really cool, but I'm not sure putting this into an app was the best idea - since, I can't see this being something I needed to access frequently on-the-go. Haha! Perhaps I'm just too stingy with my app downloads.

    1. Oh yeah, I need my apps to find me a parking space. Beethoven can wait.

  3. I'm bemused by the recollection of dresser-sized stereos promising a lifelike concert experience, while today it's Beethoven in your pocket with a speaker the size of a salt shaker!
    No one talks about a lifelike concert experience!

  4. If Wagner would get 14 friends on Facebook, they might all be his lovers/mistresses. Was Alma Mahler one as well? (I know she was crazy about his music.)