Boston Symphony Tour, Day 9: Leipzig

Best wishes from Felix and me for a happy Jewish New Year (5779 on the calendar).

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Mendelssohn and me. (He’s in the back.)

Being here in Leipzig with the Boston Symphony, performing at the history-laden Gewandhaus, at this particular juncture is thought-provoking because of the confluence of time and place: the New Year and being in a city where the influence of Felix Mendelssohn is still palpable. Mendelssohn was the Leonard Bernstein of his era. Even more. A greater composer than Bernstein, he not only was music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, he raised its reputation to being one of the greatest ensembles in Europe and in the process, defined the role of the modern symphony conductor. When he died in 1847, still in his 30s, an entire continent mourned. [See Library of Congress article below.] Yet a proposed monument in his memory that was going to be erected in front of the Gewandhaus was mothballed, in part because of the instigation of Richard Wagner and his infamous diatribe against Jews. [See “Judaism in Music,” below]. As a result, it was not until 1892 before a Mendelssohn statue was unveiled. Then, in 1936, it was removed by the Nazis in the dead of night. [See “Cultural Liquidation in the Third Reich,” below.] An exact replica of the Mendelssohn statue was ultimate recreated and erected in 2008.

The point being, it is my hope for the New Year that the demonization of Jews, Moslems in Christian countries, Christians in Moslem countries, Latinos, African Americans, Rohingyas, LGBT, or of any other vulnerable group I might have unwittingly left out, will end. I know that’s a tall order, but at least we can start to turn the corner. It’s about time.

 

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Felix Mendelssohn monument, Leipzig

 

Library of Congress article about Mendelssohn and the Gewandhaus Orchestra

By late 1834, at the age of twenty-six, Mendelssohn had risen to the top of his profession, gaining the respect of his peers throughout Europe as the consummate professional musician: a leading conductor, brilliant performer and teacher, a composer of major status, and musico-historical scholar. In that year alone he had entertained and consequently declined several coveted positions including the directorship of the Munich opera, a professorship at the University of Berlin, the editorship of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, and a correspondent’s post with Robert Schumann’s popular Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. During this same period of time a concerted effort by several members of the board of directors for the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was underfoot to entice this prestigious figure as their conductor.

The Gewandhaus Orchestra, which began its first season in November of 1781, had developed over time into one of Europe’s prominent ensembles, attracting the most talented composers and virtuosos of the Classical era. It was under the leadership of Mendelssohn however, who served as director from 1835 to 1847, that this ensemble was transformed into a cultural institution. Idolized from the beginning of the 1835-36 concert season, Mendelssohn the conductor displayed an indefatigable passion in his quest for musical perfection, and established a broadened orchestral repertory that ultimately developed into the musical canon that continues to be the underpinning of concert life today; his outstanding musical accomplishments at the Gewandhaus were publicly acknowledged and supported by Schumann in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. He sponsored several premières including Schumann’s first, second and fourth symphonies as well as his own E minor Violin Concerto, and promoted fundraising through benefit concerts. Mendelssohn the composer and pianist also garnered the highest of accolades from his Leipzig following, performing his own piano concerti as well as those by Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.

 

Wikipdia article about “Judaism in Music,” by Richard Wagner

Wagner was also emboldened by the death of Mendelssohn in 1847, the popularity of whose conservative style he felt was cramping the potential of German music. Although Wagner had shown virtually no sign of anti-Jewish prejudice previously[3] (despite the claims by Rose in his book Wagner, Race and Revolution,[4] and others), he was determined to build on Uhlig’s articles and prepare a broadside that would attack his artistic enemies, embedded in what he took to be a populist Judeophobic context.

Wagner claims that the work was written to:

explain to ourselves the involuntary repellence possessed for us by the nature and personality of the Jews, so as to vindicate that instinctive dislike which we plainly recognize as stronger and more overpowering than our conscious zeal to rid ourselves thereof.[5]

Wagner holds that Jews are unable to speak European languages properly and that Jewish speech took the character of an “intolerably jumbled blabber”, a “creaking, squeaking, buzzing snuffle”, incapable of expressing true passion.[6] This, he says, debars them from any possibility of creating song or music. He also states:

Although the peculiarities of the Jewish mode of speaking and singing come out the most glaringly in the commoner class of Jew, who has remained faithful to his father’s stock, and though the cultured son of Jewry takes untold pains to strip them off, nevertheless they shew an impertinent obstinacy in cleaving to him.[7]

The essay is riddled with the aggressiveness typical of many Judeophobic publications of the previous few centuries. However Wagner did introduce one striking new image, which was to be taken up after him by many later antisemitic authors:

So long as the separate art of music had a real organic life-need in it […] there was nowhere to be found a Jewish composer…. Only when a body’s inner death is manifest, do outside elements win the power of lodgement in it—yet merely to destroy it. Then, indeed, that body’s flesh dissolves into a swarming colony of insect life: but who in looking on that body’s self, would hold it still for living?[9]

 

Cultural Liquidation in the Third Reich, by Dr. Keith Barlow

THE night of November 9-10 1938, is widely known as the Pogrom Night. This was when nazis all over Germany burned down synagogues, ransacked Jewish businesses and attacked Jews in their homes, with the police arresting them en masse.

This was then the climax of a long period of hatred towards the Jews and the ferocious attempts of seeking to eradicate all traces of Jewish life, history and culture in Germany. Leipzig was no exception.

Not so widely known is that in the city, two years to the day before the Pogrom Night, the monument in honour of the prominent Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-47) simply disappeared overnight without trace from in front of Leipzig’s great concert hall, the Gewandhaus.

At this time, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, led by the prominent conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, was on what was viewed as a highly controversial concert tour of Germany, given the political situation there.

This included Leipzig. In the evening of November 9 1936, 80 years ago to this very day, the London Philharmonic Orchestra laid a wreath at this statue.

The following morning, it just wasn’t a case of the wreath no longer being there but the statue itself.

Apart from its foundations, consisting of a granite base which was sold off to a stonemason in 1942, nothing was left. What actually happened to the bronze statue remains unknown.

Leipzig has long had a rich musical tradition with many prominent composers having lived and worked there.

Mendelssohn too. He lived there from 1835-41, working as a conductor as well as composing, and again from 1845 until his very early death in 1847.

In 1843 he founded the Leipzig conservatorium — the first high school for music in Germany — in the building of the Gewandhaus. He became an honourary citizen of Leipzig in the same year where he died.

The statue was originally erected on May 26 1892, 45 years after his death.

It was removed in the absence of, and against the orders of, the then Lord Mayor of Leipzig, Dr Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, who was on a business trip to Finland at the time.

Goerdeler, who can be described as a national conservative, became lord mayor following a lengthy selection procedure by Leipzig City Council in 1930.

Being neither a communist nor a social democrat, he was not affected by orders expelling politicians from office representing parties which were banned after the nazis took over in 1933.

By the time they came to power, Leipzig, as with many other cities in Germany, had a thriving Jewish community with Jews being prominent in commerce and in the city’s historical and cultural life.

When they took over, a hate campaign against Jews was in already in full swing so as to eradicate all influence and traces of Jewish life in the city, as well as in the rest of Germany.

This included the changing of street names, the destruction of Jewish businesses and persecution of the Jews. Goerdeler, despite being surrounded by nazis, did what he could to prevent attacks on Jewish life in the city under extremely difficult circumstances. He became increasingly critical of the nazis’ policies towards the Jews.

It was in May 1936 when nazi leaders in Leipzig initially demanded the removal of this statue.

Goerdeler resisted this. Having consulted Berlin, he made it clear that the highest authorities in Germany were sceptical, obviously aware of any negative image Germany would get from this.

Nevertheless, in September 1936, there was a massive press campaign in Leipzig against this statue.

This was supported by Goerdeler’s deputy, Rudolph Haake, a dedicated nazi.

Some time before the concert tour, Beecham approached Goerdeler and asked whether it would be possible to lay a wreath in front of the Mendelssohn statue and Goerdeler indicated that this would be welcomed.

However, while in Finland, Haake stepped in for him. It was he, in his absence, who ordered the removal of the statue on the grounds that as a Jew, said Haake, he “as such cannot be displayed as an exponent of a German city of music.”

Goerdeler, unable to secure its re-erection and despite his recent re-election as lord mayor, resigned.

Clearly, his status as lord mayor of a major city had by then crumbled to that of just being a figurehead.

Goerdeler, having earlier been deputy mayor of Koenigsburg (now Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation), had long worked in the field of local government.

He also served two short terms as the Reich’s price commissioner. Through all this he established wide contacts at the highest levels of industry in Germany.

It was on the basis of these contacts that he sought to build an opposition with like-minded people to Hitler.

After his resignation, he became director of the overseas sales department of the Robert Bosch company. This enabled him to travel abroad and expand his contacts.

The significance of his standing in such circles was such that had the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20 1944 succeeded, he may well have become interim Reich chancellor.

Despite strongly denying any involvement in this, he was arrested and hanged in Berlin Ploetzensee on February 2 1945.

Following the defeat of the nazis in 1945, Leipzig, being in the east, came under the part of Germany which was until the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949 under the Soviet occupation zone.

Despite immense difficulties following the war, the new lord mayor of Leipzig, Dr Erich Zeigner, and the Soviet military administration took the initial steps so as to restore Mendelssohn’s rightful place in Leipzig’s historical and cultural life. On October 2 1946, a plaque with key dates from the life of Mendelssohn was positioned in the very place in front of the ruins of the Gewandhaus where the demolished statue was originally erected.

On November 4 the following year, in commemmorating the centenary of his death, this plaque was replaced by a bust of Mendelssohn which was carved out of limestone.

In Leipzig during the GDR as well as since German unification, the city authorities have ensured that Mendelssohn’s rightful place in the music and cultural life of the city is fully honoured.

This is particlularly important as we are currently witnessing the forces of hatred once again on the march.

  • Dr Keith Barlow works for the German-Russian Centre Saxony on a research project of the history of the Jews in Leipzig.

 

For more on the life of a symphony musician: Symphonies & Scorpions

 

 

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Boston Symphony Tour, Day 8: Berlin to Leipzig

A Musical Challenge

There being no concert for us in Leipzig tonight and no insurmountable challenges from inscrutable bathroom fixtures, I turned my attention to communications sent me by a friend of mine from Boston and a cousin living in England. Each separately sent me the link to this provocative challenge thrown down by The New York Times, called “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music.” The Times asked a bunch of well-known musicians and music journalists the following question: “What are the five minutes or so — longer than a moment, shorter than a symphony — that you’d play for a friend to convince them to fall in love with classical music?”

Here’s the link:
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/06/arts/music/5-minutes-that-will-make-you-love-classical-music.html

My friend and cousin asked my opinion, which I offer at the end of this essay. But first of all, I think some of the responders were answering a different question than the one that was asked. The response many of them gave answered the question: What’s your favorite piece of music and why? Wrong question. In fact, as someone who has been as passionate about classical music and has performed as much of it as anyone for over half a century, I’d have to say that some of the choices in the Times article made me want to avoid listening to classical music like the plague.

I told my Boston friend and my cousin my personal choice. My Boston friend did not agree, which is very common for us, regardless of the topic. He wrote, “as seducers to classical music, from an emotional perspective, I’ll go with Bach double violin concerto, 2nd movement; or Beethoven 7th Symphony, 2nd movement; or Beethoven Violin Concerto, pick your five minutes.”

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JS Bach

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L. van Beethoven

I will agree that those three compositions are sublime, the pinnacles of classical music. It’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful or moving. And if your friend happens to be a highly intelligent, sensitive, cultured person who somehow has not been aware of the existence of classical music all her/his life, maybe those compositions will be the very ones to open the doors to a whole new world of beauty.

But my feeling is that I doubt most people who don’t enjoy classical music (which is most people); who believe classical music is an esoteric conceit of highbrow, rich, elitists; who watch every college football game every Saturday on their iPhones; who schedule their day around The Biggest Loser; and whose closest contact to classical music is Randy Travis, will be moved by subtly nuanced strains of Bach and Beethoven.

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R. Travis

No, sir. The hook that will most successfully land the uninitiated listener requires irresistibly tasty bait. In other words, something big and brassy and if at all possible with loud drums. Something like hot Cheetos that’s so appealing it’s addictive.

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H. Cheetos

Here’s my choice. It isn’t by any means my favorite piece of music, but everyone who has ever heard it wants to hear more classical music: the opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.

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R. Strauss

Discussion over.

Or not. What do you think?

 

I’d also welcome your opinion of my short story series, MISTER E’S MYSTERIES. The critics have called them “sparkling gems of the mystery genre,” but what do they know?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 7: Hamburg to Berlin

Renewable Energy Renewed

A window seat on the upper level of our bus from Hamburg to Berlin was an ideal vantage point to view the rolling farmland of central Germany. At times, in the agriculturally unworkable strip of land between freeway and field, were mile after mile of recently installed solar panel arrays. Farther off, toward the horizon, were occasional clusters of windmills so imposing that even Don Quixote would have thought twice.

What progress we’ve made in the pursuit of renewable energy! During Mozart’s lifetime, the big technological breakthrough was the conversion from candles to oil lamps. Beethoven might have had a gas lamp at his disposal. In Brahms’s later years he might have marveled at the incandescent light bulb. (Believe it or not, systemic AC current was first demonstrated in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, of all places, in 1886!) And the rest is history. Twentieth and twenty-first century composers have had it easy being able to see what they were writing.

Some sources of the energy that have been used to provide humanity with light are: tallow, beeswax, olive oil, coal, whales, gas, fossil fuel oil, and nuclear combustion.  Now, with the urgency of reckoning with climate change, we’ve seen the rapid development of safely renewable sources of energy: solar, wind, and geothermal.

As our bus hummed along the autobahn, however, it occurred to me that up to this very day, there has been one source of renewable energy that has been providing light and warmth without interruption for all these centuries: Music. Scientifically, we’re told the energy in sound waves is far less than other forms of energy. But in terms of energy efficiency, when you consider the effect on the human psyche, from the individual level all the way up to the societal, it’s hard to imagine an energy source more powerful, more transformative, more sustaining, than music.

Humanity will continue to have this vital source of renewable energy as long as there are musicians to transform black dots written on a piece of paper into the sound waves of music. As the Boston Symphony once again demonstrated—after it’s long bus ride to Berlin with its performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony—music is a source of energy that can light up the world.

For more curious insights into the power of music, you may enjoy Symphonies & Scorpions

 

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 6: The Hamburg Challenge

Once again I am assailed by my old nemesis, contemporary shower technology, or as they say in German, Neuedouchebadkulturtechnik. The confrontation threatens to break my will. I approach the apparatus scientifically, admiring its sleek, deceptively simple lines, replete with hidden meanings.

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The inscrutable shower

After painstaking inspection, I identify the cylinder on the right as being the temperature gauge and the one on the left as the determinant of the rain shower versus the handheld shower.

But where is the On/Off switch? Without knowing that, what good is it to stand in a shower, no matter how long, if there is no water? I try everything I can think of, but to no avail. I’m determined, however, to see this through to the end. So I do what any enterprising American would do.

I call the seat of power. City Hall. The Rathaus.

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Hamburg Rathaus

I’m expeditiously connected to a low level technocrat, and explain the situation in my admittedly imperfect German: “Mein Herr, bitte. Douchebad, abiert, oder schloss?” (Or is it schluss? No matter.) “Ja, oder nein? On, oder off, bitte?”

He clearly understands my question because he responds immediately: “Kind sir,” he says, “You must swivel the left hand horizontal cylinder anti-clockwise for the handheld shower and clockwise for the rain shower.”

Danke shön,” I reply. And it works. I’m wet.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Happy ending.” But no, my travails are far from finished. Because, you see, there is this conundrum: How to dispense the soap and shampoo?

Before I go any farther, let me say I’m all for saving resources and have no issue with reusable containers of soap and shampoo. But shouldn’t there be a clear and simple, user-friendly indication of how to get at it? Am I wrong here?

So I try pushing and pulling and twisting and tugging. I can’t bring myself to believe they expect me to slice it open with my razor, though I consider it. On the container I spy what look like, what might be some tiny instructions. I have to editorialize here: A lot of people, like me, need eyeglasses to read things. But does anyone wear glasses while taking a shower shower? Anyone? Don’t they understand this?

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Instructions without glasses.

Undaunted, I get out of the shower dripping wet, put my eyeglasses on, and get back into the shower. Unfortunately, my glasses fog up almost immediately so I have to wipe them off over and over again in order to read the minuscule instructions. It is with a degree of irony that I read on the dispenser: Smart Care System. I must not be a member of that club.

 

It is also of small comfort to read that the soap ingredients contain Fair Trade Cane Sugar. The hair conditioner contains Fair Trade Brazil Nut oil, but I don’t expect to get that far in a single day. The rainforest will be regrown by the time I finish my shower.

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Along with the Smart Care System logo is a drawing of a hand holding the dispenser. So I grasp the dispenser, just like in the picture. Nothing.

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What the hell? I think. Go for it. With one last desperate paroxysm of rage before admitting defeat, I give the dispenser a vicious squeeze. Out squirts the soap, like from an upside down mustard container. Would it have been so difficult to write the word SQUEEZE in big letters? Or even write: PRETEND YOU’RE EATING A HOT DOG? Or how about ON and OFF—pick any language—for turning on the water?

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But no. Today, the world is all about style. And I’ll remember this.

Until we meet again.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll love MISTER E’S MYSTERIES. Guaranteed.

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 5: From Here to There

A classic day of HURRY UP And WAIT.

Our itinerary is simple: an hour-and-a-half flight from London to Hamburg. Plenty of time for rest and/or sightseeing. Right? Wrong.

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First of all, we have to deliver our luggage to the hotel lobby between 10:30 and 11:00. Then a one-hour bus ride at noon to Heathrow, where we twiddle our thumbs and other digits for an hour-and-a-half while we wait to board the plane. Then we wait another hour in the plane before finding a slot in the runway and taking off. Then the flight itself, during which something they call a cheese sandwich is served. Then another hour between deplaning and getting to the Reichshof Hotel. I would say, without a doubt, the highlight of my day is riding on the smooth and silent Mercedes Benz bus from Hamburg Airport to the hotel. That tells you what kind of day it is.

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We arrive at our hotel at 7:00PM. (Perhaps you have astutely added all those hours up and say accusingly, “Hey, wait a minute. You can’t fool me. It should only be 6:00PM, not 7:00.” And I would politely say to you, “Sod off. There’s a one-hour time difference between London and Hamburg.”)

So, no time for sightseeing. In fact, exhaustion has set in. Ronan and I go to the Chinese restaurant next to the hotel. It’s not bad, but wouldn’t you know, when we go to pay, the credit card machine has run out of receipt paper.

HURRY UP And WAIT.

Waiting around with nothing to do? Start with Volume 1 of MISTER E’S MYSTERIES to pass the time!

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 4: London here and there

For these posts I try to think of something exceptional that takes place on the tour. Well, today I couldn’t think of anything. It was an absolutely typical day on tour, so maybe it’s very the typicalness that’s worth writing about, to give non-musicians a feel of what daily life on the road is like.

Breakfast in the hotel at 7:00AM. Ah, here was something exceptional! I ordered the grilled kippers. Where other than England, right? And worth it, too.

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Grilled Kippers

It’s a pleasant walk through Kensington Gardens from our hotel to Royal Albert Hall, so, the weather being salubrious, I took it. I got to the hall early, received my newly issued security pass at the artists’ entrance, and did some pre-rehearsal practicing of the nastier orchestral passages. The rehearsal, from 10:30-noon, went painlessly as we dusted off the Bernstein Serenade and Shostakovich 4th Symphony, which we hadn’t looked at since Tanglewood. Maestro Nelsons was in his usual congenial mode and things looked promising for the performance.

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An accommodating bird in Kensington Gardenes.

After the rehearsal, my good friend and colleague Ronan Lefkowitz and I went around the block from the hall to take in a photo exhibition at the Royal Geographic Society, then strolled back through Kensington Gardens for lunch at The Pavilion next to Kensington Palace. It had a distinctly Downton Abbey feel, but not nearly as expensive. Our intent after lunch was to see the exhibits in the Palace, but tickets were £25, a little too much for my wallet just to view the wealth of the kingdom.

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Luncheon at The Pavilion

So I went back to the hotel, which was only a few minutes away, did some texting home (now that, with the time difference, family members would be awake), and took a nap! Sleep at night has still been eluding me and I need to be awake for the Shostakovich!

At 5:30 I found an outdoor table at a better-than-average Italian restaurant near the hall. Unfortunately, the outdoor flies discovered my appetizer shrimp scampi, but as soon as I polished them off, the flies went off to greener pastures. The early dinner gave me plenty of time to get to the hall in time to do more practicing before the 7:30, but unfortunately, the glass of Sangiovese I enjoyed for dinner did me no favors getting through the concert. The coffee I had before going onstage did the trick, however, and I managed to get through the tortuous program relatively unscathed.

I’m always amazed at how large our tour audiences are, especially at Royal Albert, because of the masses of humanity it can accommodate. And also considering ticket prices! And also considering that Shostakovich Fourth Symphony is not the easiest meal to digest. But the place was full, and from the foot-stomping response, no one went home unhappy. Nor did I. Just tired.

For a more in-depth insider’s look at the world of the orchestral musician on tour, and some very atypical stories, you may enjoy Symphonies & Scorpions, set against the backdrop of two historic Boston Symphony tours to China.

“I would recommend this book to all inveterate travelers, as well as culture vultures – all those seeing adventure in faraway places, yet where people are, as Elias writes, ‘overwhelmingly friendly, intelligent, accommodating and caring.'” iBerkshires.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boston Symphony Tour, Day 3: Royal Albert Hall

“My God! What has sound got to do with music!”

That provocative statement (in its complete form below) by the uniquely creative and brilliant American composer, Charles Ives, may help explain why his music is not as popular as I believe it should be.

Yesterday, as the Boston Symphony forged through the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler—perhaps, at ninety-minutes the longest symphony ever composed—I had ample opportunity to wonder how it is we’re consistently able to fill Royal Albert Hall’s 5,000+ seats and thousands more who have the tenacity to stand throughout the ordeal. Mahler is far from my favorite composer, and the Third Symphony far from my favorite Mahler. Yet, his music is so adored by so many. What am I missing? I asked myself as I slogged my way through the half hour first movement.

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The BSO plays Mahler Third

 

The answer I came up with shocked me out of somnolence (jet lag, no doubt) during the second extended iterance of the pastoral offstage flugelhorn solo.

“My God! What has music got to do with sound?”

This is the opposite of Ives’s thesis, but it doesn’t necessarily contradict it. What it means is that it’s the very sound of the orchestra that people love. In the extreme, here’s the blasphemy: It really doesn’t matter who the composer is or what particular composition is being played. All the business about melody, rhythm, harmony, counterpoint—you name it—is secondary to the combination of timbres so unique to the symphony orchestra. That’s the glory of it.

Even the majority of humans who do not care for classical music would have to admit that there’s nothing like the sound of a symphony orchestra because, frankly, it’s true. There’s no other combination of instruments that produce anything like the sound of a symphony orchestra. And how it got that sound, I thought during the violins’ extended hiatus of the fifth movement of the Mahler, is no accident.

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Gustav Mahler

It started out in the mid-18th century, when orchestras were essentially string ensembles. Sometimes a couple horns and oboes would be added for color. Then Haydn and Mozart came along, added things like flutes, clarinets, trumpets, and timpani. Then Beethoven, who brilliantly added trombones to the mix in the finale of the Fifth Symphony. Why the hell did he do that? He was deaf, anyway. It couldn’t be because audiences wanted to hear trombones, because they never had in a symphony and may well have hated it. Clearly, Beethoven, and others before and after him, perceived something very special about the sound that was evolving in orchestras that played symphonies. There was something in the combination of sound waves bombarding listeners that evoked the strongest emotional responses.

Why? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for fifty years. Some of it no doubt is cultural, in that we associate certain musical gestures with shared esthetic history. Some of it is probably neural: Certain combinations of tones activate parts of our brain in ways I couldn’t comprehend. But what I think might be the most important part of the answer—and might explain why people still come to live concerts even when they can stay at home and listen to the same music for free—is that the vibrations created by sound waves of a symphony orchestra have a profoundly stimulating physical effect on listener’s body. And it’s for this reason I came to this idea that sound and music play different, if complementary roles in responding to music. It may even explain why people adore the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, which I find pedantically stultifying in musical terms. When I think of them in terms of the sound, however, I begin to get it.

By the mid-19th century, the symphony orchestra, as it came to be called, a standard template of instrumentation—with plenty of variation, for sure—which has remained stable to this day, had been determined by composers to evoke the strongest responses among listeners:

Strings: Violins I and II, Violas, Cellos, Basses; Winds: Flutes (2 + piccolo), Oboes (2 + English horn), Clarinets (2 + bass clarinet), Bassoons (2 + Contrabassoon); Brass: Horns (4), Trumpets (2), Trombones (3), Tuba; Percussion: Timpani, assorted other instruments including snare drum and cymbals; Harp

So the next time you listen to a symphony, enjoy the music but savor the sound! There’s nothing like it.

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Charles Ives

Charles Ives (On the Distinction Between Sound and Music):

“A manuscript score is brought to a concertmaster-he may be a violinist-he is kindly disposed, he looks it over, and casually fastens on a passage: ‘That’s bad for the fiddles–it doesn’t hang just right–write it like this, they will play it better.’ But that one phrase is the germ of the whole thing. ‘Never mind, it will fit the hand better this way-it will sound better.’

My God! What has sound got to do with music! The waiter brings the only fresh eggs he has, but the man at breakfast sends it back because it doesn’t fit his eggcup. Why can’t music go out in the same way it comes in to a man, without having to crawl over a fence of sounds, thoraxes, catguts, wire, wood, and brass? Consecutive fifths are as harmless as blue laws compared with the relentless tyranny of the ‘media.’ The instrument!–there is the perennial difficulty–there is music’s limitation. . . . Is it the composer’s fault that man only has ten fingers? Why can’t a musical thought be presented as it is born–perchance a ‘bastard of the slums,’ or a ‘daughter of a bishop’–and if it happens to go better later on a bass drum than upon a harp, get a good bass drummer. That music must be heard is not essential–what it sounds like may not be what it is” [Ives’ italics] (Essays 84).

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