Archive for Sep, 2011

C minor

C minor

Hello and welcome. The key for this programme is clearly the one Beethoven wrote his 5th in. It’s C minor. C minor is a very grave key – one almost might say ‘the grave’. If you want to make a weighty statement about the problems of life you write in C minor. It could be said that C minor is German. It is Nietzsche; it is Schopenhauer. It is dialectic. It is Beethoven’s 5th symphony.

Beethoven – 5th Symphony 1st movement

Yes, the serious, questing side to Beethoven epitomises C minor. That was (as if it needed announcement ) the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.   Here’s more Beethoven: 2 sonata movements. The first movement of the Pathetique piano sonata starts with a heavy C minor chord. It says, ‘Listen to me! I have something important and serious to say.’

Beethoven –  Pathetique Sonata 1st movement

The next first movement is from Beethoven’s last piano sonata. It, too, starts with the human intellect stating that there’s a problem. And the rest of the movement wrestles with it.

Beethoven –  Opus 111 1st movement

The restless dialectic of C minor. That was the first movement of the last piano sonata that Beethoven ever wrote, Opus 111. Superstitious cricketers might have something to say about that opus number.  I think we’ll move away from the very weighty dialectic to another pianist who made C minor his own. Sergei Rachmaninov. He appropriated the key pretty effectively with  his second Piano Concerto; the first movement leaving us in no doubt that he understood C minor’s character – although he sidles in with chords of F minor to trick the unwary.

Rachmaninov – 2nd Piano Concerto 1st movement

That was part of the 1st movement of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Let’s move away from big works for the moment and go to our Bach Prelude and Fugue for this programme.  I’ve chosen the pair from Book 1. The Prelude in C minor is a 2-part invention, in other words 2 voices share and alternate the musical ideas.

JS Bach – Prelude in C minor Bk 2

And the Fugue has a very brief morose subject.

Bach – Fugue in C minor subject

“I’m not happy”, it states, but the 4 voices in the Fugue never tell us why.

JS Bach – Fugue in C minor Bk 2

Chopin’s C minor Prelude is one of the most famous in the set of 24. It picks up on the idea from Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata we heard earlier: start by plonking down a heavy chord of C minor. “I have something of importance to say”.

Chopin – Prelude in C minor

Fading away into wistfulness, Chopin’s P in C minor. You’ll be pleased to know that there is a lighter side to C minor. – and I’m going to show you some in Mahler of all the composers. In his Resurrection Symphony whose serious discourse is largely in C minor, he uses the key to great effect in describing St Anthony’s sermon to the gaping fishes in the 3rd movement. C minor has its ironic side.

Mahler – 2nd Symphony 3rd movement

The first section of the 3rd movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.  Moving from irony to another smaller work in C minor. Here is the C minor Song without Words by Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn – Song without Words in C minor

When Mozart comes across C minor, it induces in him a tendency to write tunes that turn in on themselves, complex (for Mozart) statements. Here’s an example in the 1st movement of the 24th Piano Concerto.

Mozart – 24th Piano Concerto 1st movement

The working out of the complex tunes that C minor induces in Mozart.  And if you want another example of this effect of C minor try Mozart’s Quintet for winds and piano. There’s an amusing passage in EM Forster’s novel Howard’s End in which the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is described. Have you ever thought of it in these terms? ‘The music started with a goblin working over the universe from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures. It was that that made them so terrible to Helen.  They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. Helen could not contradict them because, once at all events, she had felt the same. And had seen the reliable walls of youth collapse. Panic and emptiness. Panic and emptiness. The goblins were right.’

Beethoven – 5th Symphony 3rd movement

The 3rd movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Did the imagery from EM Forster help? We return now to weighty matters – funerals. The slow movement of Elgar’s 2nd Symphony – his tribute to a king. C minor an appropriate key, but also taking advantage of the key’s close connection to E flat major, the heroic key. Both keys have 3 flats.

Elgar – 2nd Symphony 2nd movement

Heroes and funerals in Elgar’s 2nd Symphony slow movement. We’ll be having a hero and a funeral to end the programme. But let’s have something upbeat now;  something noisy, something to wake us up, something fiery, something angry, something C minor, something Chopin.

Chopin –  Revolutionary Etude

Chopin’s so called Revolutionary Etude; really a study for the left hand. Two deaths to end the programme with: one anticipated by a minor composer and one imagined by a major composer. Our minor composer is Arthur Sullivan who, I have no doubt, was influenced by our major composer, Beethoven, when he wrote the March to the Scaffold in his Yeomen of the Guard.

Sullivan – March to the Scaffold, Yeomen of the Guard

The Prisoner Comes in C minor from the Yeomen of the Guard by Arthur Sullivan. In fact , he didn’t come – he’d escaped. We end with our major composer, Beethoven, writing the funeral march to end all funeral marches (but actually spawning many other C minor funeral marches – think of Siegfried‘s, for example). Beethoven, C minor – the same thing. Here’s our last hero, our last funeral. The 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. I regret that I cannot play the whole piece but I’m sure you’ll get the flavour of it from this last section.

Beethoven – 3rd Symphony 2nd movement

Gentle listener, you are probably the first person who has ever sat through 1 hour of continuous C minor. I wonder how you feel? Well, chin up! We’ll have a major key next time. We ended with the Funeral March for a Hero 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, known as the Eroica. Goodbye from me, and goodbye from C minor and goodbye from Keynotes.

 

Musical Theatre and me

I grew up with musicals. Soon after my parents migrated to the sun of Southern Rhodesia in 1958, they were brought into the Gilbert and Sullivan culture of first term productions at Plumtree School, a high school for boys. First it was assisting the main producers (Barrett and Turner) and then the baton (literally) was handed to Harold and Felix, and they continued to have a major hand in musical productions at the school until their retirement in the mid-1990s. School boys would come to our house to practise their parts. Trebles learning to be Mabel (beautiful Mabel, I would if I could but I am not able), seniors becoming the dastardly Dead-Eye Dick (silent be, it was the cat!), Curly, Henry Higgins – characters and their music night after night. Watching rehearsals was part of the entertainment for young Westwoods. My mother at full stretch controlling a chorus of boys being girls (20 lovesick maidens we-ee.) and farmers and cowboys or Japanese noblemen (if you want to know who we are…….), while dad would demonstrate to Henry Higgins how to threaten and cajole everyone (why can’t a women be more like a man?), and to Jud Fry how to nauseate Laurie. We saw the scenery go up, we saw the make-up go on. We copied the dances in the school quad. We peeped through the doors watching the audience’s reaction to the ‘business’ our parents had devised. Dad would often write new words for the patter songs, full of local allusions, Rhodesian and Prunitian.

Mum and Dad had records of musicals such as The Boyfriend, Oliver! and The Sound of Music. Noel Coward songs were to be found on the piano.

When I was 11, my piano-playing skills were good enough for me to be brought in as second pianist for The Yeomen of the Guard. Nepotism or not, I was IN! Now I saw the making of a musical theatrical performance from within. Every tune and page turn is with me still. The C minor of the march that precedes the (thwarted) execution now appears in Keynotes C minor.

The next year I was a high school pupil and became a love sick maiden myself. The music of Patience is some of the best in all G&S. 1968 was flower power time and somehow, even at a  boy’s school in break-away Rhodesia, it was not completely irrelevant. ‘Exactly so.’

1969 saw a break with tradition as Oklahoma! took the boards and my parents had to change style, and many more sets were required. Again it was the girls’ chorus for me with my unbroken voice. I mugged up all the music and arranged a piano medley for myself to play at the End of Term Concert at the end of the year. My voice lasted one more year and as a sister or a cousin or an aunt in HMS Pinafore with top B flats at the end of Act 1, I appeared for the last time in a musical. After that it was back into the pit on the new-fangled electric piano. This was when the art of arranging and adapting began for me, especially when I took up the clarinet at the time of My Fair Lady in 1972. I listened to the record of the film version and notated the clarinet bits for myself to play. That musical went on tour round the country (anti-clockwise in armed convoy) so we were all word and note perfect. In 1980 I played the oboe in the pit band in Bulawayo for a professional production of the show. It was my intern year yet I was able to play 9 nights on the trot! So that show is deeply embedded in me, too.

After school, musicals and I have continued to be friends. I listened to every show I could on the radio while at university in Cape Town, recording programmes and notating the songs from the 20s to the (then) 1970s so that I could play them on the piano. When writing skits, this long list of songs comes in useful. A chronic paediatric bed shortage in hospitals in Cape Town takes ‘Words!Words!Words!’ from My Fair Lady and becomes ‘Beds, Beds, Beds!’. Registrars carrying lists of patients for whom they cannot find beds excites a version of “‘I’ve got a little list’ from The Mikado. And I have whole musical on diarrhoea! ‘How do you solve the problem Diarrhoea?’

My family have endured many Sunday lunches eaten to the sounds of musicals on Musical Memories presented by Rick Everett on Fine Music Radio. It is a standing joke that any song from Annie Get Your Gun or the sound of Ethel Merman’s voice cause loud groans and pleas for mercy! Yet my appetite for musical theatre remains strong. As the children have grown up I’ve watched a younger generation playing those parts, and listened to my own children in the pit orchestra.

The combination of clever or poetic words and excellent tunes that suit them, and the use of music to enhance almost any situation are, for me, what make musicals work. How to do it and who has done it well and why they have succeeded make a most interesting study, that does not diminish the delight I experience when it all works.

And now I have my own magnum opus – 3 Acts of ‘Love in a Time of Tuberculosis’. It has had a long gestation, perhaps starting when the songs from Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance sung by untrained young voices first stole into my callow consciousness in Plumtree where I was growing up as one of Cecil John Rhodes’ many children – but that’s the subject of another musical that is still to be written.

Losing F sharp major

This may sound dramatic. How can one lose a musical key? What door cannot be opened if one has lost this kind of key? Interesting metaphor!

My daughter was teaching herself to play Schubert’s wonderful Impromptu in G flat major. This rippling piece of contemplation with its brief but fully resolving shifts into the minor is one of the pieces I used to illustrate the link of the mirror keys of F sharp major and G flat major in the Keynotes programmes. The two keys sound exactly the same as they are based on the same note, G flat and F sharp being the same. in the Keynotes programme I link them to the infinite and the eternal.

It sounded as if my daughter had decided to simplify the piece by playing it in G major – exchanging 6 flats for 1 sharp.  I was hearing it in G major, a semitone higher. She was playing it in the written key. So I seem to have lost that piece’s emotional content. G major to me is light and bright, and this Impromptu cannot work for me in G major.

This evening I listened to some Haydn I had not heard before. The second movement of his keyboard trio number 26. Key F sharp minor. It was in G major (I thought). Very pleasant Haydn, relaxed but not deep. Unusual to choose G major for a second movement in a work in F sharp minor, but Haydn was an innovator. But then the music moved to the finale. In G minor! It could not be G minor in a Haydn Trio in F sharp minor, of course, but that was how I heard it and envisioned the notes of this minuet-rhythm music in a minor key. With that, I realised that I had been cheated of hearing the slow movement as Haydn had intended it. The only way I am going to hear it in F sharp major, the written key, is to digitally manipulate it.

I have subsequently done an experiment on myself: I sat at the piano and played the Schubert myself. With my fingers on the black keys as demanded by Schubert I heard it in G flat major. I closed my eyes and it was still in G flat as I played. Presumably the sense of where my hands were, told my brain to hear G flat as G flat.

Another nuance has appeared as she tries it out again. It sounded in G major before supper. When she went back to it after supper, it was in G flat. So – sated, I hear it differently!

Perhaps I should listen to the Haydn after a meal.

So perhaps I haven’t lost a key: it is intermittently missing…..

Love in a Time of Tuberculosis – synopsis

Characters are in Bold; song titles are in italics in this synopsis of the plot of LTT

(For samples of the songs, go to Synopsis with Songs page

The writer, Thomas Mann, sends his hero, Hans Castorp, for a three week rest 5000 feet up at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss resort of Davos.  There is apparently not a lot to this young German from a well-to-do Hamburg business family.  This, at least, is the view of some of those he is to meet on the Magic Mountain.  “ ‘Not very’ much that would distinguish him” is the opinion of the Italian humanist, Ludovico Settembrini. “In matters of love not made a start” states the mysterious Slav, Claudia Chauchat.  His soldier cousin Joachim Ziemssen, who feels trapped on the Mountain, calls him “a pampered child”.  “How will he cope ‘Up here’ where there is no hope?”, he asks.  Leo Naphta, the radical Jewish Jesuit, sees in Hans “a mind that can be moulded”.

On Hans’ arrival at the sanatorium in which Joachim is an impatient patient (Up here), the chief physician, Dr Behrens (‘Doctor’s orders‘), immediately diagnoses his ‘civilian’ approach to life.  “You would make a good patient”, he says.  Hans’ assertion that he is completely healthy interests Dr Krokowski, the psychoanalyst.

But is Hans so simple and straightforward?  What lies beneath his soft, unremarkable surface?  Hans’ discovery that someone recently died in the room in which he is to stay for his 3 weeks triggers memories of two very different deaths he witnessed as a child.  “The Face of Death’s intriguing”, he says to the doomed Joachim.  Settembrini, ever the evangelistic rationalist, is convinced that the Magic Mountain and its indolent (‘Eat, drink and be merry’, ‘Partytime Polka’) and diseased (‘O how I love to cough!’) atmosphere are dangerous to young Hans and urges him to leave immediately (‘The Light of Human Reason’).  But Hans has had strange memories and feelings triggered by the sight of Claudia (‘Chechenya).

While walking in the mountains Hans comes into contact with his past again: Claudia, to whom he feels a paradoxical attraction, is seen again in the eyes of Pribislav Hippe, a boy he worshipped at school.

All these new experiences – the tuberculosis Rest Cure routines, the diseased and the dying (‘My friend and I’), the vagaries of Time, the feelings brought on by Claudia – excite his interest.  He prepares to leave as the end of his three weeks approaches but does he want to go?  The onset of a head cold allows him the illicit pleasure of taking his temperature.  What will ‘Mercurius’ reveal?

He has a fever!  ” ‘Young Hans’, get yourself the test”, urge the excited patients.  “’TB or not TB’- now there’s no question.”  That is the opinion of the burlesque trio of medical staff: Dr Behrens (‘The Medical Sleuth’), the Matron, Adriatica von Mylendonk and Dr Krokowski (Don’t be afraid of Freud).  “Who would believe I don’t want to leave…..” admits Hans, who now, as it turns out, has TB and belongs ‘Up here’.

In Act II, with the freedom granted him by Thomas Mann (‘Disease, deformity, disability and Death’), Hans embarks on a journey of discovery: Anatomy, botany, psychology, the to-and-fro ‘Great Debates’ between Settembrini, the ardent humanist, and Naphta, the religious zealot (‘Deo gratias’), and The Facts of Life (The Selfish Gene, A Brief History of Time). Simultaneously his Eros is burning, kindled constantly by the presence of Claudia with whom, as with Pribislav, he has hardly shared a word.

Liberated by the atmosphere of the Mardi Gras Carnival (‘Don your mask’, ‘The Carnival Punch’), Hans spurns Settembrini’s ‘wholesome advice’ and approaches Claudia (‘Sweet as a Peach’) in “a dream that shapes reality” (‘I believe this dream’).  His love, his newly-acquired learning and his tuberculous fever combine in an incontinent torrent of praise to The Beauty of the Body when he hears that Claudia will be leaving the Magic Mountain the following day.

Towards the end of the seven years covered in Act III (‘The Whirligig of Time’), Hans feels that he has ‘Been there, Done that’ but things still do not hang together (‘The Great God Dumps’, ‘Here I am up a mountain’).  All his experiential learning on the Mountain leaves only the tension of opposites.  Perhaps music can bring resolution.  But in his favourite music (Der Lindenbaum and Valentine’s Aria) is found only an invitation to suicide (a resolution of sorts) and a painful reminder of the loss of Joachim to Kaiser and Country.  To escape, Hans heads into the mountains once more.  Caught in a blizzard he has a vision that promises resolution of the opposing tensions (‘Betwixt and Between’): “It’s not Either/Or but Both/And”.

But all is not resolved for Hans.  Joachim’s death from tuberculosis has him exploring the world beyond the grave (‘Séance’)The Great Debates also end in death.  Seven years after Hans’ arrival the First World War brings an end to life at the sanatorium (‘For Kaiser and Country I go’).  We “say farewell” to Hans on the battlefield.  Seven years of effort on The Magic Mountain: “Where did it get you, we enquire?.

Love in a Time of Tuberculosis – synopsis with songs

Characters are in Bold; song titles are in italics in this synopsis of the plot of Love in a Time of Tuberculosis; For an audio snippet of the songs that are excerpted here, click on the arrow in the media box or the underlined link (depending on your browser).


The writer, Thomas Mann, sends his hero, Hans Castorp, for a three week rest 5000 feet up at a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Swiss resort of Davos.  There is apparently not a lot to this young German from a well-to-do Hamburg business family.  This, at least, is the view of some of those he is to meet on the Magic Mountain.  “ ‘Not very

much that would distinguish him” is the opinion of the Italian humanist, Ludovico Settembrini.  “In matters of love not made a start” states the mysterious Slav, Claudia Chauchat.  His soldier cousin Joachim Ziemssen, who feels trapped on the Mountain, calls him “a pampered child”.  “How will he cope ‘Up here’ where there is no hope?”, he asks.  Leo Naphta, the radical Jewish Jesuit, sees in Hans “a mind that can be moulded”.

 

On Hans’ arrival at the sanatorium in which Joachim is an impatient patient (Up here)

,

the chief physician, Dr Behrens (‘Doctor’s orders‘), immediately diagnoses his ‘civilian’ approach to life.  “You would make a good patient”, he says.  Hans’ assertion that he is completely healthy interests Dr Krokowski, the psychoanalyst.

But is Hans so simple and straightforward?  What lies beneath his soft, unremarkable surface?  Hans’ discovery that someone recently died in the room in which he is to stay for his 3 weeks triggers memories of two very different deaths he witnessed as a child.  “The Face of Death’s intriguing”, he says to the doomed Joachim. 

 

 Settembrini, ever the evangelistic rationalist, is convinced that the Magic Mountain and its indolent (‘Eat, drink and be merry’,

 

 ‘Partytime Polka’) and diseased (‘O how I love to cough!’) atmosphere are dangerous to young Hans and urges him to leave immediately (‘The Light of Human Reason’).

 But Hans has had strange memories and feelings triggered by the sight of Claudia (‘Chechenya).

While walking in the mountains Hans comes into contact with his past again: Claudia, to whom he feels a paradoxical attraction, is seen again in the eyes of Pribislav Hippe, a boy he worshipped at school.

All these new experiences – the tuberculosis Rest Cure routines, the diseased and the dying (‘My friend and I’), the vagaries of Time, the feelings brought on by Claudia – excite his interest.  He prepares to leave as the end of his three weeks approaches but does he want to go?  The onset of a head cold allows him the illicit pleasure of taking his temperature.  What will ‘Mercurius’ reveal?

He has a fever!  ” ‘Young Hans’, get yourself the test”, urge the excited patients.  “’TB or not TB’- now there’s no question.”

That is the opinion of the burlesque trio of medical staff: Dr Behrens (‘The Medical Sleuth’),

the Matron, Adriatica von Mylendonk and Dr Krokowski (Don’t be afraid of Freud).

“Who would believe I don’t want to leave…..” admits Hans, who now, as it turns out, has TB and belongs ‘Up here’.

In Act II, with the freedom granted him by Thomas Mann (‘Disease, deformity, disability and Death’),

Hans embarks on a journey of discovery: Anatomy, botany, psychology, the to-and-fro ‘Great Debates

between Settembrini, the ardent humanist, and Naphta, the religious zealot (‘Deo gratias’), and The Facts of Life (The Selfish Gene,

 A Brief History of Time).  Simultaneously his Eros is burning, kindled constantly by the presence of Claudia with whom, as with Pribislav, he has hardly shared a word.

Liberated by the atmosphere of the Mardi Gras Carnival (‘Don your mask’, ‘The Carnival Punch’)

, Hans spurns Settembrini’s ‘wholesome advice’ and approaches Claudia (‘Sweet as a Peach’) in “a dream that shapes reality” (‘I believe this dream’).

 

 

His love, his newly-acquired learning and his tuberculous fever combine in an incontinent torrent of praise to The Beauty of the Body when he hears that Claudia will be leaving the Magic Mountain the following day.

Towards the end of the seven years covered in Act III (‘The Whirligig of Time’), Hans feels that he has ‘Been there, Done that’ but things still do not hang together (‘The Great God Dumps’, ‘Here I am up a mountain’).  All his experiential learning on the Mountain leaves only the tension of opposites.  Perhaps music can bring resolution.  But in his favourite music (Der Lindenbaum and Valentine’s Aria) is found only an invitation to suicide (a resolution of sorts) and a painful reminder of the loss of Joachim to Kaiser and Country.

To escape, Hans heads into the mountains once more.  Caught in a blizzard he has a vision that promises resolution of the opposing tensions (‘Betwixt and Between’): “It’s not Either/Or but Both/And”.

But all is not resolved for Hans.  Joachim’s death from tuberculosis has him exploring the world beyond the grave (‘Séance’)The Great Debates also end in death.  Seven years after Hans’ arrival the First World War brings an end to life at the sanatorium (‘For Kaiser and Country I go’).  We “say farewell” to Hans on the battlefield.  Seven years of effort on The Magic Mountain: “Where did it get you, we enquire?.

 

 

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