Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Music at last! What a relief. I hate opera! Sometimes.

Writing a few weeks ago about what was once “new music”; I realized, not for the first time, that opera is a mental illness. A few days ago I listened to one of my favorite pieces, Brahms’ A major piano quartet, something even I played (badly) way back when. I staged a war between the old Arthur Rubenstein and the Guarnieri (Arthur’s second go at the piece, very romantic with a lot of rubato and Arthur clearly dominating the proceedings with many the tempo change mid phrase), the fantastic Sviatoslav Richter live performance with the Borodin quartet, an utterly demented and very thrilling performance, with the Borodins keeping up with Richter with ferocity (just barely in the orgiastic account of the final movement), the Domus quartet with Susan Tomes interrupting tea with just a few slices of mince tart and the great Hollywood Quartet with Victor Aller.

(this is another great performance, with the phenomenal Russian pianist Maria Yudina)

I read along with my tattered score and what was my response? “Thank The Dear there was no singing!” Music at last! What a relief. I’m sorry about the description at the head of this blog, I hate opera!

Sometimes. On Saturday, poor Mrs. Claggart’s Facebook page exploded with encomiums of varying hysteria to an Italian tenor named Mario del Monaco. (Mrs. Claggart has only three friends on Facebook, one of them “Mr. Bianco, IRS”. But she has 300,000 enemies, a category Zuckerberg’s elf invented just for her.) I had to wonder how many people had ever heard of Mario del Monaco? I know not many people currently alive heard him. Mrs. Claggart, when she was a boy, now that she’s a girl, heard him three times in two seasons before a nearly fatal automobile accident reduced his immense, deafening, nothing like it since volume, and prompted him to be more careful both about high notes, and his manner on stage, which became less obviously certifiable (though by the mid 1960’s he did regain some of that Twilight Zone Form adopted by the older Italian tenors). But there is a lot of Mario out there.

                                   (Mario sings "Ghost Riders in the Sky" in Italian)

He was a world star from the late forties and made a great many too closely miked records. Why, I knew a man who had perpetual ear ache. All in fear and atremble he went to his doctor. “Perhaps you’re having a stroke,” the doctor allowed reassuringly. Then the doctor settled back. “Have you been listening to Mario Del Monaco records?”

“Why yes, every night,” the patient replied. “For hours. My wife makes me use headphones” “Well, sir,” said the doctor, breaking out his old Calabash (this was when medical people smoked and died young), “there’s your answer. My wife dragged me to see this so called Del Monaco in Otello and though they all said he was sick and saving, I had a headache and hearing loss for a week. Switch to this young fella named Domingo. You can barely hear him, you’ll be good as new in a couple of days.”

Besides Mario’s commercial recordings (all on Decca except for an early EMI) there are tons of pirates. You can also see Mario. He journeyed to Japan with the Italian companies that ventured there every year starting around 1955. The cameras capture his exuberance. At the end of the Andrea Chenier with Renata Tebaldi, as they go off to the guillotine, he actually leaps toward the blade, loses his balance and falls off stage (and dances out to his deafening ovation like a champ). Audiences worshiped him (well, maybe not the English, they had Jimmy Johnston and Ken Clark for the big roles). The hysterical response given his Canio in Pagliacci there is amazing (but it’s a thrilling performance). He did a Carmen there with Giulietta Simionato, all the famous excerpts survive. In the final scene, failing to convince the obdurate Carmen to return to him, he beats his breast in heart break and frustration. I hadn’t seen that since my father did the same regarding me.

I played that excerpt for a couple of Manhattan litigators who said they were opera lovers. They roared with queenly hysteria. Luckily, I didn’t play the final scene from his Don Jose in Carmen at the Bolshoi, also a collection of excerpts with the great Russians, Irina Arkhipova and Pavel Lisitsian. There he screams, sobs, beats his chest, waves the knife and all but levitates when he finally runs to kill Carmen. What would those lawyers have made of that? And what would they have made of the Russian audience of dignitaries who riot after his Flower Song? (And yes, Don Jose sings it, not The Celestial Voice from Don Carlos, as James Oestreich seemed to think in his review of a recent Carmen in the Paper of Record the New York Times).

He was the most famous (though not the only important) singer of Verdi’s Otello in the 1950’s (bravo, Ramon Vinay!) and one can see him in Japan, reportedly with the flu but the abandon, ferocity and breast beating heart break are all there (as are the renowned Tito Gobbi as Iago and the adorable Gabriella Tucci).

But those litigators would have laughed; it’s a peek into a vanished era. They would have been indifferent to the (eloquent) gestural vocabulary that is part of the acting of the principals and inclined to giggle at “acting” techniques designed for the stage and those in the far balconies not for the camera, and perhaps embarrassed that a group of adults could take an opera as seriously as Del Monaco and Gobbi and Tucci do. Had those wealthy consigliori to the 1% been inclined to father children, their teenagers would have been completely bored within minutes and soon would have been texting, sexting, playing video games and surfing the ‘Net simultaneously.

The Japanese use a three camera technique, borrowed from American sit coms; it works, even in a big theater. The cameras can get close enough for detail but one never loses that this is a stage performance and distance is important. When the cameras pull back one can see three mikes hung from the ceiling, mid house. They are to get the sound clearly on the tape not to amplify or help the soloists. How different from the multi mike and camera fraudulence on the HD broadcasts from the Met, which deliver a very difference experience from the one those sitting in the theater had.

These Japan performances (and the highlights from The Bolshoi) are probably best experienced from VAI (www.vaimusic.com). They’ve put archival films on DVD and cleaned them up as much as possible. All the Japanese films have Kangi subtitles with English subtitles under them, which takes some getting used to. The picture quality of the earlier performances is often somewhat washed out. Besides Mario, there are marvelous demonstrations by Carlo Bergonzi (an amazing Un Ballo in Maschera), Renata Scotto, Alfredo Kraus (an incredible Faust) and Antonietta Stella (my high school pals and I used to call her Toni Starr. I met her some years later and explained this would have been her Motown Name. She squealed with joy). Her performance of Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West is stunning, the only completely idiomatic and the best sung on a video in an otherwise somewhat ramshackle performance.

Mario also appeared on the RAI films that began to be made for Italian TV in the early fifties. They are lip synched but they are carefully prepared and feature singers who are forgotten now like Mrs. John Claggart and her twin and we aren’t even dead (who would miss Clara Petrella in Manon Lescaut and Il Tabarro or Carla Gavazzi in Cavalleria Rusticana? There is even a great Pagliacci with the young, gorgeous Franco Corelli, who, freed of having to produce his tone live, proves to be a wonderful and moving actor. Mario’s accident cleared the way for him to become “the greatest Italian tenor” in the world, and although he couldn’t count, phrase, and sing at the same time, liked to squeeze his nose, wiggle his jaw and do tongue exercises while others sang in live performances, the sound was thrilling. Mario hated him. Naturally. I hate a lot of people too. I understand).

(The Chenier doesn't translate from You Tube, this is from the Otello with Carteri)

Not all the RAI films are so effective. These involve one massive camera stalking the singers. The great Rosanna Carteri sings a spectacular Violetta in La Traviata but has a hard time lip synching, becomes self conscious and then, when the huge camera machine comes swooping in for her close ups, she starts to run away from it. She had charisma, though; if not there, in a performance filmed live in Naples by RAI in 1958. This is of Puccini’s usually dismissed La Rondine, but it is a very moving performance, conducted by a Puccini pal, quite old obviously, Vincenzo Bellezza, who understands the heart breaking nostalgia for a time lost that throbs under nearly every bar, unashamed to use string portamenti and a well controlled but large scale rubato to make these melodies soar (how plain so many sound elsewhere! Even Brahms would have cried). Carteri was very beautiful and is so full of longing and tears that the entire experience is unforgettable. This is also in excellent quality from VAI, distributing the Italian Hardy Label.

Wait have I become an opera queen again? I’ve relapsed!!! As Anthony Wiener knows, the Brahms rehab center did not take!!!

Well, I am a writer with the runs in any case. And we were talking about Mario. He did an outstanding Otello for RAI. But his best performance is in a stunning film of Andrea Chenier. The hokey storey is enacted with life or death intensity, and that extends to all the roles, even the smallest, played with almost Dickensian detail by those wonderful Italian supporting singers of that era (they’ve vanished, as have the stars – none have had successors). Understanding that there is no audience present and that the camera will come very close, Mario who was a good looking man, is utterly human, believable. He relaxes into a completely natural impersonation of the doomed poet. And he is matched by those great singers, Toni Starr and Giuseppe Taddei.

Let’s face it, there was nothing wrong with the composer, Umberto Giordano, that five more years in a tough American conservatory wouldn’t have fixed. Well, he wasn’t as great a tune smith as Cole Porter (who did time in a tough French conservatory, the Schola Cantorum) but in this opera he knows how to set up his tunes very effectively and the recitative beginnings to the many sections that will eventually almost flower into being memorable are wonderfully done. James Levine told me that Chenier was one of the hardest operas to do; Giordano does not use key signatures not because he couldn’t read music as the naughty have had it, but because he belonged to a political movement that disliked hierarchies of all kinds. But Mo. Levine averred getting winds and brass to deal accurately with music full of accidentals (signs that the note should be played up or down) was murder.

The RAI films can be found in good quality from Premiere Opera, and they have good prices, too! (www.premiereopera.com/)

Well, Sunday cleared the air for Mario. But opera? There is this gene (or is it a mixture of nature and nurture?) that makes some of us deeply sensitive to voices, so much so, that a timbre and manner we respond to, even on record, seems three dimensional to us. We can become obsessed with some of those magicians, to the exclusion of other factors that matter in opera. Mrs. John Claggart adores music. The sad thing about opera is that it is, I believe, very dependent on vocal capacity. This is not to say that a great conductor, a persuasive production, the music itself can't compensate for a merely adequate cast. I think sadly, that even adequate casts are rarer than they were in a time when singers were generally less well prepared musically and far less inclined to "act" whatever that may mean in opera. I see on the “Opera ‘Net” people claiming that Konzept style productions will bring youths into the opera house. I like some of those productions too. But if those youths have no response to the music, what is there to enjoy in a Konzept production? I have met many the intellectual (and great) musician who thought opera was worthless. Perhaps it is my weakness but I love it, not exclusively, but passionately. And that is why I am sad that there is such confusion, pretentiousness and fakery in the form today. I recently had occasion to listen to music by Carter and Feldman, what a relief that was! But would I want to be without opera? It is a dilemma and maybe I should shut up.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God.

(Rauschenberg Retroactivo l, 1964

I was thrilled to listen to Sony’s recent release of five CDs, called as a group, Prophets of the New. I found myself weeping hearing these, many of them never available on CD. Oh, by the way, I’m letting my twin, Albert, write this week. As a widder, I know the sorrow of loss. But he knows it better.

Prophets of the New may not be the most crystal clear title for this release. This is music that was new from the nineteen fifties to the seventies, by composers who were then in their primes. It’s sad to think that gifted creators such as Luciano Berio (1925-2003) are forgotten, that Elliot Carter became something of a joke among the ignorant, He died in 2012 at the age of 103. Between the ages of 90 and 100 he composed forty works (!!!) But the CD devoted to him is from the height of his creative energy and contains two of his greatest works, two of the greatest works in “serious” music. Morton Feldman (1926 –1987), eccentric and a proud New Yorker of a very specific sort, has only recently become a subject of great interest. He was an American original; his music has a profound beauty that no description can convey. One CD, alas too short, is conducted by Bruno Maderna, one of the great musicians to emerge after World War Two and a tremendous composer. Here he presides over some of the central pieces of this era, including Krzystof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, Karlheinz Srockhausen’s Kontra-Punkte, its piano solo played by another remarkable American composer-performer, Frederic Rzewski. Also there is an outstanding piece by the forgotten but important Earle Brown (1926-2002), one of the inventors of “Downtown”, and a piece by another immensely influential creator in the field of electronic music (musique concrete), Henri Pousseur. Finally, there is one of the great Columbia records (as it would have been known in the old days), superbly transferred, The Rite of Spring conducted by yet another great composer/performer, Pierre Boulez, with the Cleveland orchestra, and his stunning account of Jeux by Claude Debussy with the New York Philharmonic.

I guess I am old now. I owned all these records. Then, some were released by RCA, and I wore them out. I bought the Berio and Carter three times on vinyl. They were released in the mid and late sixties when I, a fool, thought I might be able to live somehow in music, making music. For some of that time I was at The California Institute of the Arts where I studied with the formidable Schoenberg pupils, Leonard Stein and Dika Newlin, more doctrinaire than the Master himself, and frightening.

But in memory, I adore them, and Dika was an incredible person, an amazing woman, a genius, who like too many of us (including we who are less gifted) lived too long and died struggling to keep that spirit, that energy, which gets buried under the detritus of having to live among the pigs, vital, ageless, alive. Before then I had studied in Philadelphia and even, in 1965, met the amazing Stockhausen, when he was in residence at the University of Pennsylvania (where I don’t think he was much liked). I listened to him lecture and shook his hand, a fat boy still, with no evident promise but I felt – dimly – the electricity. Of course in that Philadelphia orbit were three composers that I know were great, largely forgotten now. One is George Crumb still alive and living around the corner from me. He’s 83. There was the complex and influential George Rochberg (1918-2005) and the profoundly kind Vincent Persichetti, 1915-1987 (sadly, none included in this package but copyright probably creates problems for republishing their music on sound documents, and who would buy it?) It’s rather brave of Sony to release these CDs. I don’t know if they will sell, but anyone who doesn’t listen to them is the poorer for it.

(Jackson Pollock, The Flame)

Unfortunately, Art in America first of all, had become a minority preoccupation by the time most of this music was written. “New Music” was a phrase that for those modest numbers hugging their Dvorak LPs, kissing their Haydn busts, automatically condemned what these men were doing. They were among the first generation in the history of art to be blamed for their genius, shrugged off, often without even a listen. Those who had certainly had to listen to the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony quite a few times before “getting it” and feeling comfortable with it, hated that Carter or Feldman or Berio required – and rewarded – the same kind of concentration. Though there were Newspapers still and people actually read them, and all had arts pages, sadly, then as now in the few starving survivors, mostly manned by fools, their only hope was to become trendy, which didn’t always last. Opera lovers, notoriously the most unmusical and certifiably philistine group (“All I want to know is did she sing and hold that unwritten E flat.”) had no interest at all.

American concert audiences, probably the most conservative in the world, would talk through newer music or walk out on it. It was at a New York Philharmonic concert that Morton Feldman met John Cage. They were both so disturbed at the audible hatred of a Webern piece the orchestra had dared play, they had walked out and encountered one another, both upset, in the lobby. As happened in that vanished, magical New York, Cage took Feldman into his circle of friends, all artists, and helped Feldman move more easily on the path he was exploring already. Cage did Feldman that greatest service one New Yorker can do another; he found him an affordable apartment (next door to Cage, in fact). But he also articulated what Feldman was feeling. One of Cage’s dicta was "getting rid of the glue so that the sounds would be themselves”.

It’s the sort of thing that happened in New York into the early 1980’s. Not impossibly expensive to live in and so full of gifted people one was apt to trip over them and start a conversation. For someone who aspired to be an artist it was the most stimulating, the craziest, the most intense laboratory in the world. I had that experience myself when I moved there, dead broke, after graduate school at Yale, in 1974. Within months it seemed I had met everybody. Some people I already knew, but I literally collided with Wystan Auden in the street on East Fourth, I met Leonard Bernstein in an elevator. I bumped into Alan Ginsberg at an airless, seedy party in the West Village, given by a crazy neighbor of mine on Waverly and Bank Street who he only knew vaguely and when it seemed all was lost, rather than make excuses and flee (as some had already done) he started to “jam” his poetry, an incredible experience.

I was hefty and clumsy and ethnic looking as Feldman was, gay, as he was not, my close acquaintanceships and friendships led not to bed (though for the beauties of both sexes and all proclivities that did indeed happen) but to other meetings and other friends, endless conversations, five a.m. cups of coffee and a run to one’s makeshift job (I was a messenger for a time!!!!), quiet visits to crazy galleries where one could study the work, groups congregating at Village spaces where strange music in sort of but not quite a pop style  (my era was the height of “Downtown”) was played and one always got to know the artists. I met Patty Smith and her insane but remarkable circle at a gathering of that kind. Her intimate, Robert Mapplethorpe lived across from me when I moved to Chelsea, then rather a dangerous neighborhood.

(Morton Feldman and John Cage)

Perhaps I find Feldman so hypnotic because while he transcended all of this to create mysterious works that were instantly unforgettable. I also think I understand the clash between a strong ethnicity, inescapable for him (his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, my father’s family were Southern Italian immigrants and we both grew up in almost entirely ethnic communities).

The Sony CD has three works, two of his greatest shorter pieces (he went on to become notorious for the length of his later compositions). At Cal Arts he was put down. Like most of these composers he rejected serialism and “undue” intellection. "The point is to erase in one's memory what happened before,” He said often. (Later, the theorists at Cal Arts developed a respect for him). He went on an interior journey to search out the sounds somehow ricocheting through his brain, through his being. That meant rejecting or trying to, most that was standard practice. "I don't know what a composer is," he once said. "I never knew as a young man, I don't know now and I'm gonna be fifty next month." 

His lectures (I went to some in New York) were very eccentric affairs and sometimes, I think, he was teasing an earnest audience that wanted “meaning” or safety. Art, he knew, isn’t about safety, it’s about danger. It’s not about knowing in advance but discovering during and perhaps understanding later. And music is the most powerful and dangerous of the arts. “I'm not creating music,” he said in a lecture, “it's already there, and I have this conversation with my material, you see” The music used in Rothko Chapel, which is the first piece on the CD devoted to him, is "already there”. He felt a kinship with Mark Rothko, both from Eastern European Jewish stock, both, though especially Rothko, concerned about what exactly art tells us, how we perceive it, whether meaning can ever be pinned down.

(Rothko, Underground fantasy (subway)

(Rothko Chapel)

Feldman “eases” into Rothko Chapel, meditating for ten measures. The five note chord in measure 11, played by the viola, celesta and vibraphone, is repeated eight times in various contexts in the course of the piece. That gives the ear a frame of reference, a map of sorts. Many of these composers repeat a great deal, changing sonority or the configurations of the chords. Feldman’s reiterations don’t seem to be building, there is no pressure, but with the inevitability of an object not at first perceived but always there and suddenly understood, in measure 314 a “quasi Hebraic melody” is sung by the small chorus. It is simple, beautiful and seems “new”, but it is actually very similar to the chords played throughout the piece. Feldman creates a small miracle of a work in which there is a quality of freedom from time in the chords that are repeated, and a piece that ends with a “line” that has a set shape. It’s astounding and moving at first hearing and more remarkable in repetition. 

(Frank O'Hara at MOMA looking at the camera with Sol Lewitt and Jeff Koons)

For Frank O’Hara, is a piece of very quiet meditation, repetition and silence; it’s as though Feldman were summoning an evanescent presence. “I prefer to think of my work as between categories,” Feldman said. “Between time and space. Between painting and music. Between the music’s construction and its surface.”  O’Hara wrote that he tried to keep "lies and evasions" out of his poetry. Feldman remarked on O’Hara’s "all-pervasive presence that seems to grow larger and larger as he moves away in time". O’Hara died at forty. Walking on the beach at Fire Island, he was hit by a dune buggy.  

After these pieces that haunt the memory, which are very moving, there is a wonderful study in sonority, rhythm, repetition and variation for percussion called, ironically, The King of Denmark. The playing of Max Neuhaus is stunning.  

Luckily, I heard Elliot Carter’s Variations for orchestra (1956) and Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano with two chamber orchestras (1961) live, fairly often. The first time I heard the Variations for orchestra I was stunned and overwhelmed; every time thereafter the thrill was renewed. This is an incredible eruption of musical energy, phenomenally organized and controlled, but not to the point that its wild fires are doused. It’s not a typical theme and variations piece but rather an explosion of creative energy that after study one realizes is carefully organized. There is indeed a theme, though it doesn’t appear at first, and there are two contained musical gestures that Carter called ritornelli. They reappear, varied, but give the work a shape and certainty, while the theme when it is finally stated in full is changed in a dazzling variety of ways. Depending on how one “sets” one’s brain one can hear this work as a coruscating display of harmonic and instrumental variety, from chords that haunt the memory for days to instrumental combinations that are sheer magic. Or one can experience a gorgeous outpouring of tunes, parts of tunes, melodies that expand and contract, making it seem one of the most beautiful works for full orchestra ever written. It is all that and more, and is stunning as performed and recorded here by the New York Philharmonic under Frederik Prausnitz.

The Double Concerto seems to have begun in Carter’s mind as a serious work but in his notes he quotes the great satirist, Alexander Pope, as an actual inspiration. Musically, it is an amazing achievement, antic, odd, haunting, edgy and very beautiful indeed. Carter’s balancing of the two solo instruments and his handling of the orchestras is astounding, and live, the range of color, the wit, the emotion is overwhelming. This is also a great recording. Paul Jacobs, harpsichord, was the keyboardist of the New York Philharmonic. He was both a great musician and a great player. He would be an AIDS death; his many recordings, most on the Nonesuch label when it was run by Theresa Stern, are phenomenal but most have vanished. The pianist is the phenomenon, Charles Rosen, a wonderful player, but the greatest American music critic ever to have existed (he died in 2012 at 85). Ironically, his roommate at Princeton was another great music critic, Michael Steinberg! Neither saw precisely the lives they would have at that time.

The third work here, The Piano Concerto (1964-65) is somewhat thornier, yet those opening chords always thrill me, and the way thematic material develops through this virtuoso piece (spectacularly played by Jacob Lateiner, who commissioned it, with the Boston Symphony conducted by Erich Leisndorf) is finally thrilling – and moving -- as the piano, solo, simply fades away.

Carter was kissed by the muse: Charles Ives encouraged the boy to be a composer (Ives sold insurance to Carter’s family!). He studied with the great and ignored American symphonist Walter Piston at Harvard (as did that third important music critic, Peter G. Davis, still writing brilliantly, and for a long time the only knowledgeable voice at the New York Times, then, increasingly, the only knowledgeable voice about music in New York, magazine and city), then, of course, like so many Americans, with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (searchers after little known but very beautiful music should seek out the small body of work left by her sister, Lily, who died young). Aaron Copland was a passionate admirer of Carter’s and Igor Stravinsky thought he was the great American composer of his generation (The Piano Concerto is dedicated to Stravinsky on his 85th birthday). 

Just a few words about the Berio CD. Of course, it contains the four movement Sinfonia with the Swingle Singers and the New York Philharmonic under the composer. This is a work very much of its time but it’s also irresistible. The singers mostly speak both carefully chosen and randomly heard lines accompanied ingeniously by the orchestra. It’s most famous movement is the third, where the accompaniment is Berio’s version of the Third Movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony, where with sudden side slips, quotes from other composers leap out, the most instantly recognizable is a bit of Ochs’ waltz from Der Rosenkavalier, but Bach and Debussy and Schoenberg, Stockhausen, Posseur and Berio himself put in appearances as well. Berio was close friends with Umberto Eco (author, among much else, of The Name of the Rose) and read Joyce (quoted in the third movement, along with Samuel Beckett and Frank O’Hara, along with sentences and catch phrases from the Harvard students Berio spied on). Berio describes the whole work as a river in his notes. It’s an early postmodern collage of music, verbal images and odd displacements that deliberately overloads the senses, and like any substance that does that, it’s delectable. Also on this CD is the marvelous Allelujah ll – best heard live because five instrumental groups are distributed around the hall. But the CD is wonderfully recorded and Berio’s co-conductor is Pierre Boulez.

Allelujah ll has a lot in common with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gruppen but it is a sweeter work of great charm. Berio and Stockhausen also had a influence on various rockers in common. One of Berio’s students was Phil Lesh, the Gateful Dead's famous bass player, who almost followed Berio to study further in Europe but accidentally met somebody named Jerry Garcia. But Stockhausen triumphed in this regard: Frank Zappa praises him in his liner notes for Freak Out! His debut with the Mothers of Invention in 1966. Pete Townshend of The Who remarked on an interest Stockhausen, and Rick Wright and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd followed his lead. LSD was no detriment in appreciating the slightly mad German, Jefferson Airplane admired him. And greatest accolade of all, his face appears on the cover of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band! However, Stravinsky, after a brief period of being influenced by Stockhausen (as he was influenced by nearly everybody over close to a century), put Stockhausen down as a bore. It didn’t matter to Karlheinz who famously said:I was educated at Sirius and want to return to there, although I am still living in Kürten near Cologne.” On hearing this, the great conductor, Michael Gielen snarled: "When he said he knew what was happening at Sirius, I turned away from him in horror. I haven't listened to a note since", he accused the composer of "hubris" and "nonsense", though Gielen (a Moon Child) himself believed in astrology!

Sony has released two other CDs that are must haves for we insane collectors. One is Leonard Bernstein’s famous account of The Rite of Spring (in its original 1913 form) from 1958. This was a Bernstein specialty, as a young man he even prepared a score for his mentor Serge Koussevitsky of the Boston Symphony so the latter, baffled by the constant changes in meter could manage to lead it. Bernstein himself needed no such thing. His complete immersion in the piece not only yields a very accurate account but an orgiastic, mad ceremony of dementia, which puts a tremendous strain on orchestra and on recording team, luckily all are equal to it. Stravinsky said he loved what Bernstein did and maybe he meant it. Bernstein rides two horses in triumph: the modern aspects of the work’s harmonies and rhythms and its debt to high romanticism in sheer crazy abandon. In a sense, he catches and highlights Stravinsky’s debt to all those wild late romantics who could hardly contain their emotions, their madness, but at the same time exercises a razor sharp control. The wildness of this performance, its risk taking, its exaltation, its noise, its sudden sweetness and insinuation, these together are not to be encountered elsewhere. Sony has created an engaging package..

The other wonderful CD called Journeys is the Emerson String Quartet (assisted wonderfully by Paul Neubauer and Colin Carr) playing two sextets. One journey is outwards, Tchaikovsky’s popular Souvenir de Florence, (1890) played with rich tone and virtuosity, a sense of humor and the unabashed singing sense the second movement demands. The other journey is inward, Schoenberg’s gorgeous Verklärte Nacht – Transfigured Night from 1899, long before he had become the monster many still regard him as being (without knowing any of his music). This is the first time the quartet has played this piece.

Actually both works have something in common: they are about sex. Italy was where hordes of gay men from repressive countries went in search of young men and boys who were always accommodating and often on sale. There is an underlying seriousness in the work, also sweetness and longing. As it happens it is in D minor and that was Schoenberg’s favorite key. It is the key that opens Transfigured Night, which by the end of the work, where the problems of a passionate sexual relationship between a man and a woman are resolved has become D major. It is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel printed in the score (and in the Sony booklet).  Dehmel was the poet of the Strauss’ lied, Befreit. He was also tried for obscenity! Well, after all, the poem ends with the man placing his arms around the woman’s hips and…!

(by Frank O'Hara; there is a reference to Beethoven's Quartet no. 15, where the composer writes "muss es sein?" Then later insists, "muss es sein!" Frank isn't so sure it "must be so.")

I am stuck in
traffic in a taxicab
which is typical
and not just of modern life
mud clambers up the trellis of my nerves
must lovers of Eros end up with Venus
muss es sein? es muss nicht sein, I tell you
how I hate disease, it's like worrying
that comes true
and it simply must not be able to happen
in a world where you are possible
my love
nothing can go wrong for us, tell me

(Frank O'Hara)