Abraham Lincoln, a True Opera Lover (Really!)

This can serve for St. Valentine’s Day, and for President’s Day too!

Abraham Lincoln might have been a log-splitter who had been born in a log cabin; but, at some point in his adult life, Lincoln turned into a true opera lover. (Please remember, opera was what entertained people before movies came along.) In the month before he was murdered, Lincoln was at Ford’s Theater to hear Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (which had to have been sung in German, because there was no English-language performing version at the time).

More? Lincoln’s favorite opera was von Flotow’s Martha, which was performed as part of the festivities attending his second inauguration. Although German in language, Martha was French in style, with a setting and a plot entirely made up of English-Romantic story elements, such as the two bored upper-class girls who, on a lark, decide to enlist as hired servants. Yeah, right. Of course, one girl finds true love, fast. The upper-crusty beloved, of course, has agonies over his having fallen in love with a serving girl. But, how can our well-born heroine admit that she was an imposter? Or impostress?

Lincoln loved it. He most likely heard it in the original German, though Martha was such a wildfire hit that versions in French and Italian came quickly (with English a bit later). Even later, Enrico Caruso made parts of the Italian version popular hits on record from 1906 on.

More, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Happy Groundheifetz Day!

All children know that February 2 is the day that the Groundheifetz emerges from his burrow, and…

Well, as I said, everybody knows that.

I had a visceral bad reaction to most of the famous RCA stereo releases—on both sound and interpretative grounds—however, some of his early mono work is actually quite relaxed, and very musical (as well as collegial). Of that era, his Glazounov Concerto with Barbirolli and the LPO stands out.

So, Happy Birthday to a cultural icon—one whose name (as is the case with Einstein’s) is also a common noun.

As in, “He’s no Heifetz.”

Click the jump link for a 1949 Pabst Blue Ribbon magazine beer ad with Heifetz as a celebrity endorser. Continue Reading →

David Leisner: J.S. Bach, Chaconne from solo-violin Partita No. 2 in d

My most recent Music-Video Friday feature was Hélène Grimaud’s live performance of Busoni’s Chaconne for Piano in D minor (after J.S. Bach). I expect no argument when I say that that piece was as much about Busoni as it was about Bach; and further, that Ms. Grimaud’s scintillating performance was more at home in the musical world of the Europe of 1890, than of 1720.

I last covered a David Leisner recording here (a program with cellist Zuill Bailey). David Leisner is a magnificent guitarist, as well as a composer of great feeling and integrity.

#Humblebrag: I played a large role in the production of the première recording (for a label other than JMR) of Leisner’s Sonata for Violin and Guitar, including suggesting a transcription of a Handel sonata for violin and keyboard as the opening piece, and writing the liner notes. I was tickled for us all when Stereophile magazine (this predated my employment there) designated that recording as a Recording of the Month. Continue Reading →

Alexander Kerr, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Barber Violin Concerto

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Over the course of time I have owned recordings of Brahms’ violin concerto by at least 14 different violinists. For a few of those violinists, I obtained recordings of more than one performance. And for one performance, David Oistrakh’s 1969 away game with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, I collected multiple formats (LP, CD, and SACD), including at least half a dozen different LP pressings ultimately (and however multifariously) derived from the same original master tape. (OK, call me a bit barmy.)

The violinists whose Brahms concerto performances I purchased and kept (rather than passed along or donated) ranged from Kreisler and Menuhin and Heifetz and Kremer to… Uto Ughi. To say the least, Cavalier Uto’s career in the US has not been, um, huge. From the violinists whose names were not household, my favorite recording was by Hermann Krebbers. Krebbers, who was perhaps as little-known in the US as Ughi, recorded the Brahms concerto with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1973.

Please click on the jump link to learn the relevance of all that to Alexander Kerr’s truly wonderful Barber concerto performance with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, as well as an embedded audio-only YouTube of Kerr’s Decca recording of a charming Shostakovich film-score number. Continue Reading →

A Piece of the First Transatlantic Cable (1858)

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My musically-astute friend and I found ourselves in mid-October enjoying the environs of Bennington, Vermont. An artistically-astute friend had some time before emailed me, urging me to see the Milton Avery exhibit going on at the Bennington Museum, and the timing worked out. (There’s an image of a wonderful Milton Avery painting after the jump.)

In addition to the Milton Avery exhibit (which just closed), the Bennington Museum permanently houses the largest Grandma Moses collection this side of Proxima Centauri (those clever aliens bought in big, when the market was really cheap). I must confess that my reaction to Grandma Moses always was, “OK, yeah;” but, seeing the paintings live, there’s really a lot more going on than a person might have gleaned from LIFE magazine, back in the day.

There was a vitrine holding artifacts from Grandma Moses’ painting workbench. I at first was puzzled by the glass jar of silver glitter, but it then dawned on me that she must have used the glitter to make her snowscapes sparkle; and, sure enough, the proof was hanging on the walls. The Bennington Museum asks visitors to refrain from photographing the Moses pictures, in that the Museum sells books and postcards. I imagine those constitute major sources of revenue, and so of course I complied.

However, there was no ukase prohibiting (non-flash) photography elsewhere; and so, when I was brought up short by seeing, in a vitrine in the hall dedicated to material culture and technology, an item the claimed to be a piece of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, I snapped the photo you see above.

History of technology lesson and philosophical musings, after the jump.

NB, the first transatlantic messages were exchanged more than two years before Abraham Lincoln took office! Continue Reading →

A Summer Sunday’s Afternoon at Tanglewood

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On Sunday, August 14, the musically-astute friend I mentioned in the context of the Andris Nelsons Boston Symphony Wagner/Sibelius CD and I traveled to Lenox, Massachusetts, where the Boston Symphony makes its summer home at Tanglewood. The program consisted of Beethoven’s Op. 64 Coriolan Overture (1807), his Piano Concerto 3 (1800-1801), and Schumann’s Symphony 4 (1841/1851).

But of course, I could not resist indulging in audio geekery, in the process making a new pro-audio friend! Geek-bait photos, official concert photos, and a link to streaming audio of the concert, all after the jump! Continue Reading →

George Washington Carver’s List of Eight Cardinal Virtues

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Dear Friends,

I intend to use my blog as a way of sharing my love of music and the other arts, and also sharing my love of audio engineering and of home hi-fi equipment. I am not going to turn my blog into a political platform.

That said, while doing other research, I ran across a List of Eight Cardinal Virtues composed by plant scientist George Washington Carver (c. 1860—5 January 1943). Here they are.

  1.  Be clean both inside and out.
  1.  Neither look up to the rich, nor down on the poor.
  1.  Lose, if need be, without squealing.
  1.  Win without bragging.
  1.  Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.
  1.  Be too brave to lie.
  1.  Be too generous to cheat.
  1.  Take your share of the world, and let others take theirs.

The relevance to today’s headlines should be painfully obvious.

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