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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo is loitering around this Saturday morning, drinking coffee and waiting for the temperature to get up over the freezing mark before he goes out and deals with the leaves.  As regular friends of the decanter may have read here previously, there are three big silver maples and an oak between the street and the sidewalk in front of Port Swiller Manor.  I have found over the years that it’s best to clean up under them in four stages – a preliminary sweep after the initial drop, usually at the end of October/beginning of November; a second sweep the week before Thanksgiving; a third sweep either  Thanksgiving weekend or the next one following; and a final sweep once the oak finishes shedding (it’s always last).

In the meantime, since I’ve been on my anti-“holiday” hype jag recently, I thought I would share one thing I do enjoy about this time of year, and that is hearing the Salvation Army bells ringing at the local groc store.  Especially after dark, for some reason.  I don’t really have an articulate explanation for this, but that tinkling presses a certain button of satisfaction somewhere within ol’ Robbo’s soul.

So there you are.  Regular ranting will resume almost immediately.

Did Bach’s wife write his finest works?

Well, how do I put this subtly?  No.

I vaguely recall reading something about this theory a couple years ago.  Although it got laughed at, it seems to have raised its head once again.

At least according to the article, the only “proof” that Anna Magdalena Bach, a known copiest and musically intelligent herself, is that (get this) some of Bach’s manuscripts appear in her hand and at certain points she seems to have fiddled with them a bit. 

Iron. Clad. Case.

Not.

But of course, in the world of modern academics, which thrives on adolescent-level emotion, sensationalism and identity-driven politicks, inconveniences such as the need for objectivity and lack of proof simply get tossed aside.

Then there is the “impact” of this supposed revelation:

[Sally] Beamish [a British composer who will be presenting a documentary on this “discovery” in the near future] said the theory raised important questions about female composers, and had huge implications that could “transform” the confidence of young women hoping to make it today.

“What I found fascinating is the questions it raises about the assumptions we make: that music is always written by one person and all the great masters were male by definition,” she said.

I simply cannot conceive how wretched it must be to have a mind that occupies itself with such hobgoblins.  Is Mizz Beamish really so insecure that she can’t contemplate the transcendence of musick by, for example, Bach and Mozart without worrying about such “assumptions”?  Can she not appreciate said musick for what it is in itself without raising such questions?

Cor lumme, stone the crows.

And as for “huge implications”, as regular friends of the decanter will know, teh Middle Gel is a young woman who has very real aspirations to “make it” in the musick business some day.  I can promise Mizz Beamish that teh gel has no need of such half-penny sociological twaddle in order to achieve the confidence that she has.  Instead, she’s got to where she is through talent, dedication and hard work.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has duly noted all day that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, one of the most decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars.  Obligatory  illustration:

J.M.W Turner, "The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the Victory"

J.M.W Turner, “The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the starboard mizzen shrouds of the Victory”

 

I’ve not much to say this year except to urge my fellow port swillers to raise your glasses to Lord Nelson and the stout British Tars who believed in him.  Three times three and no heel taps, Ladies and Gentlemen!

And for those of you of a somewhat more pious bent, I give you Papa Haydn’s “Nelson Mass“:

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Teh Middle Gel mentioned this evening the fun she and her choir mates have in singing an 8-voice setting of the “Ave Maria” by Gustav Holst.   Ol’ Robbo had had no idea that Holst, who is a bit out of his normal musickal grazing grounds, had ever done such a setting.  Indeed, beyond “The Planets”, I’m not sure I would know a work by Holst if I tripped over it.   So I of course had to dial the thing up and listen.   Here you go.  It certainly will never replace my favorite Renaissance and Baroque settings, but it is pleasant.  And I can understand why a bevy of young singers would enjoy it:

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Surrender_of_General_BurgoynePray allow ol’ Robbo to draw the attention of all you Revolutionary War geeks out there to the fact that on this date in 1777, British General Burgoyne surrendered to American General Gates after the Battle of Saratoga, and on this same date in 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at teh Siege of YorktownSurrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

I don’t have much specifically to say about either fight, really.  I just like the coincidence.  Plus, I’m a fan of the works of John Trumbull and like having an excuse for putting up a couple of them.

Oh, and just to add a bit more, it is said that at Yorktown the Brit fifers played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down” to show what they thought of the biznay.  Here’s a rendition snapped up more or less at random:

 

When ol’ Robbo was a lad, his grandmother gave him a collection of Revolutionary War songs put out by, I think, National Geographic.  (I still sing a few of them in the shower.)  One was a more folksy version of TWTUD (in point of fact, it was a different tune altogether from this) and had lyrics that went, IIRC:

“If buttercups buzzed after the bees/If boats were on land and churches on seas/If ponies road men and the grass ate the cows/If cats should be chased into holes by the mouz/If mammas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown/If summer were spring, t’other way round/Then all the world would be upside down.”

I know nothing about these lyrics except they were what the man sang on the record.

*Verified by the CDC.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Late last Saturday afternoon, as ol’ Robbo drove teh Middle Gel to a friend’s house downtown for a birthday party sleepover, he found himself listening to an excruciatingly beautiful performance of one of Vivaldi’s Opus I trio sonatas on teh local classickal station.   (The fact that Robbo drives a Wrangler while listening to classickal musick, by the bye, will tell you much about what a weirdo he really is.)

vivaldi trio sonatas opus 1Anyhoo, so moved was I – Baroque trio sonatas are perhaps my very favorite form of art musick – that this evening I hunted up the playlist from that afternoon and tracked down the CD from which the election came.  It’s Vivaldi’s Sonate Da Camera a Tre Opus 1, performed by L’Estravagante, a fairly new group which, it would seem, has not yet recorded very much.  (Yes, the cover art on the CD is somewhat cheesy, but I’m afraid that’s a reality of modern marketing, even for high art.)  Of course I nipped over to the devil’s website and bought a copy for myself.

This is a perfect example of what I was on about the other day regarding the glorious Golden Age of historically-informed performances in which we are fortunate to live.   It may not seem like much when one considers all the signs of the intellectual, spiritual and moral collapse of Western Civilisation that  dominate the headlines these days, but it is at least something.

You can insert a “fiddling while Rome burns” joke here if you like, but I prefer to think of it as lighting a single candle instead of cursing the Darkness.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Waiting around for the dew to dry up a bit before mowing the lawn this morning, ol’ Robbo finds himself sampling a track recommended by the Middle Gel, who is a huge fan of the Piano Guys.

“Evolution”  – There’s that word again.  Just the other day I believe I was ranting here about the whiggish implication in its use that Newer means Better.  When teh Gel told me about this video,  which (if you aren’t going to click it) is a mash up of the principle Batman themes going back to the old 60’s teevee series, I could not resist pointing out that the only real Batman among them all was, of course, the legendary Adam West.  (Okay, I’ll also give you Olan Soule, who voiced Batman on the old Super Friends cartoons.  BTW, did you know that Ted Knight was the narrator for those shows?)  In my opinion, once an actor and a role have reached a certain level of association, it becomes downright heretical to let somebody else play the part.  See Kirk, James Tiberius.

Not that I’ve really paid any attention to Batman’s later manifestations – I never saw any of the Dark Knight movies, for instance.  All of this fantasy/sooperhero stuff that seems so en vogue these days strikes me as extremely juvenile.  (Ducks.)

As for the musick?  Eh, it’s a nice sound and I can see why teh Gel likes these guys.  At her age, I probably would have, too.  But you know what Paul says about thinking as a child.**  These days, the stuff is really too fluffy for my taste.  (Ducks again.)

 

** [Ed. – Um, you put up a picture of a guy sitting on a potty in the post just below this one.]

UPDATE:  Aaaaand, in before the rain!

 

I posted below about Sir Christopher Hogwood and the rise of the historically-informed performance school.  Well, poking about on U-toob, I came across a splendid example of what I was talking about, members of Cafe Zimmermann (one of my favorite current ensembles) performing Marin Marais’s (1656-1728), “La Sonnerie de Saint Genevieve”:

It’s certainly not the greatest piece of musick in the world, but I’ve always found the play of invention over the endlessly-repeating continuo to induce a nicely meditative frame of mind.

Anyhoo, I post this clip mostly to assert that this kind of performance was simply unpossible to find back in the day and that, if you heard the piece at all, it would likely be at the hands of a twenty-odd piece string section that could only get through it by playing both more slowly and more rigidly.

Enjoy!

(Oh, and speaking of Cafe Zimmermann, if you haven’t got their collection of Charles’ Avison’s Concertos after Scarlatti, I certainly encourage you to snap it up instanter.  I promise you won’t regret it.)

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The passing this week of Debo, Dowager Dutchess of Devonshire and last of the Mitford sisters prompts this article in today’s UK Telegraph:  The Mitfords and the Kardashians: class vs trash.  

They dazzled, outraged and added immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation; only a churl could fail to shed a nostalgic tear for the passing of Debo Mitford. The death, aged 94, of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the glamorously posh, gloriously eccentric Mitford Girls, marks the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

Times change, modern mores evolve, and if it is true that every generation gets the celebrity dynasty it deserves, then we must (however reluctantly) pass the baton on to another clan of strong women. Yes, Kardashians, it is your time to shine.

Most of the rest of the article really boils down to comparative trivia.

Apart from the headline (which she probably didn’t write) and the second paragraph quoted above, the author remains fairly ambiguous about whether this change is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.  Needless to say, ol’ Robbo thinks it a perfectly Horrid Thing, even while he believes the author to be spot on.   “Evolve” is misused here, however, because to the average person it implies to get better.  I’d have said metastasized.  Show me the evidence that things – politics, culture, morals, civility et al. – have got better.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Know what this reminds me of?  The evolution (there’s that word again!) of the Official Preppy Handbook.  The original was a (very gently snarky) compendium of rock-solid Old Guard New England Upper and Upper-Middle values and standards.    The new one is an abomination of post-modern nouveau chic (a lot of which, come to think of it, applying to the Kardashians).

I don’t really know what else to say about it other than Gawd help us.

UPDATE:  Apropos musickal riff, inspired by RBJ.  Enjoy!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

HogwoodOl’ Robbo is saddened to learn of the death, at age 73, of Sir Christopher Hogwood, founder of the Academy of Ancient Musick.  Requiescat in pace.

As regular friends of the decanter know, ol’ Robbo despises much of our current so-called culchah, even that part of it allegedly devoted to the higher arts.  However, one aspect of it that makes him very grateful for having been born when he was is the modern proliferation of the so-called “historically -informed” school of Renaissance, Baroque and Classickal  musickal performances, played on either period instruments or modern replicas.  I believe it’s fair to say that Nikolaus Harnoncourt was the original  historically-informed warrior, but Hogwood, along with Sir John Eliot Full Of Himself and Trevor Pinnock, was definitely in the first wave of musicians to exploit the breach made by Harnoncourt in the wall of stuffy, stilted, heavy-handed 20th Century treatments of these periods.  Nowadays, the wall has collapsed completely and there are more crack historically-informed ensembles than ol’ Robbo can even count, much less keep up with.

Indeed, the AAC isn’t even really among ol’ Robbo’s favorite ensembles  these days, but I still feel the need to raise a glass to it and to its founder.  In my misspent yoot, I spent a lot of time listening to the Old Gentleman’s collection of Baroque and Classickal records, almost all of which had been recorded in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  Even then I could grasp the stodgy, slow, turgid, over-instrumented feel of these recordings, and in a way understand why the musick they performed was dismissed by some as clockwork, soulless and boring.   In this mode, Bach sounded mechanical, Handel sounded pompous and other composers sounded bizarre.

I can’t remember my first exposure to a genuine period performance but I can remember my reaction, which was something along the lines of, “Whoa”.   It was something equivalent to seeing all the gunk cleaned off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time.  Since then, I haven’t looked back.

Incidentally, teh Middle Gel’s choir director served in Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, and also in The Sixteen, so I am quite happy that she is being trained vocally by a fellah who gets it.

UPDATE:  Now with spelling and grammar and stuff!

 

 

 

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