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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Symphony Saturday

OK, we really fell off the wagon here, didn’t we? So let’s get back into it with a two-week look at a couple of Alexander Glazunov’s eight symphonies.

I must confess a great lack of familiarity with Glazunov’s work. He seems to be one of those composers who lingers at the edges of the standard repertoire. For whatever reason, he hasn’t broken through into the first tier of composers, but neither has he lapsed into obscurity, either. From what little I’ve heard, his work tends to be right up my alley, with its scope and its lyricism. He seems to be somewhere between Tchaikovsky’s songs of sorrow and Borodin’s love of epic grandeur. Glazunov bridged the end of Russian Romanticism and the beginnings of Russian Modernism, and thus he seems to be roughly analogous to Sergei Rachmaninov.

This is Glazunov’s Fifth Symphony. I’ve played it several times over the last few weeks, and I find myself responding more and more to it. It has all the heartfelt singing and Russian brooding that you would expect and wish for from a Russian symphony written in the post-Tchaikovsky era, as well as an almost frothy confection in the scherzo movement that sounds almost like a children’s dance.

Here is Glazunov’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major.


Next week: Glazunov's 7th.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bad Joke Friday (the Kinda Clever Joke edition)

It's still Friday! And this one is actually not bad, in my opinion. And yes, it's a wee bit political.

Steve Jobs would have made a better president than Donald Trump.

But that’s a silly comparison, really.

It’s like comparing apples with oranges.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Something for Thursday

I don't recall if I've posted this before, but it's an interesting piece nonetheless: the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra by Alexandra Pakhmutova.

The repertoire for solo trumpet is pretty rich prior to, say, 1750, and then aside from the concertos of Haydn and Hummel it dries up spectacularly until the 20th century, when suddenly composers left and right were featuring the instrument. That's a shame, because it would have been wonderful to hear what some of the Romantic masters might have done with the instrument as a soloist. How great would a Dvorak Trumpet Concerto be! Alas.

Pakhmutova is a former Soviet composer whose work was well enough known in the USSR that she became Leonid Brezhnev's favorite composer, which is interesting enough. Her trumpet concerto is a complex work with some folk-like rhythms that put me in mind of the more famous Trumpet Concerto by Armenian composer Alexander Arutunian, although Pakhmutova's effort is more martial in nature and its melodies don't linger in the ear like Artunian's. Nevertheless, the Pakhmutova concerto is a fascinating piece, especially for the soloist, making a number of interesting technical demands and at times requiring tremendous skill.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

The waltzes of Johann Strauss Jr. are more than just waltzes. They're much more than just dance music for an elegant age now gone by; they all contain some of the most wonderful tone painting that I know. It's impossible to hear these waltzes and not get a feel for the culture in which Strauss was raised, with its attention not just to courtly elegance but also to the pastoral nature that surrounded the sparkling city of Vienna.

Here is one of the most famous of those waltzes, Tales from the Vienna Woods.

Friday, April 21, 2017

How revealing!!!

I've revealed the full cover art for Amongst the Stars, otherwise known as The Song of Forgotten Stars, book III! It's over at ForgottenStars.net, so go have a look!

The third volume is coming soon, folks!

Bad Joke Friday

Hey, anybody know what a will is?

Anybody?

Come on! It's a dead giveaway!

(via)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"It's time for the Jedi to end"

So last week the first trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi hit. Here it is!


I actually don't have a whole lot to say about it. This isn't out of any lack of excitement for the movie, although I was admittedly less thrilled than most with The Force Awakens. This trailer doesn't really do much more than it absolutely has to. It's a pretty middle-of-the-road, safe trailer, isn't it? It pretty much hits all the points that this movie needs to hit. We hear Luke Skywalker's voice, we see him doing a little bit of training Rey, and then we see some space battle stuff and some flying ships and the back of Leia's head and a brief shot of Kylo Ren. Oh, and Poe and BB-8. And Finn! Only one shot of Finn and he looks like he's still in the coma in which he ended The Force Awakens. Finn was huge in the previous film, so I wonder why there's so little of him here.

Assuming that the trailer is representative of the film, this movie has potential to end up being the most beautiful Star Wars movie yet, in terms of the visuals. There are some gorgeous shots here, my favorite being the distant shot of Rey practicing with her lightsaber on the island.

Luke is also apparently not faking his whole "depressed Jedi teacher" thing, as hinted in The Force Awakens. From what little we see or hear, Luke Skywalker sounds old, tired, and weary of the whole thing. I still don't know that I like this turn of events, and I remain convinced that surely the writers crafting this part of the story could have figured out a way to engage the emotions and have danger without undermining all the victories of the original trilogy. There's a sense here of, oh, as if Victor and Ilsa's plane at the end of Casablanca had to turn around and land again, due to engine trouble.

Also released was the first poster for The Last Jedi:


It's OK as well. Nothing earth-shaking. The lightsaber blade, with the starburst right at the pommel, is a callback to the famous Brothers Hildebrandt poster for Star Wars, way back in the day. The faces of Luke and Kylo Ren, looming over Rey, seem to indicate that they will be battling for Rey herself; she appears to be caught in the middle of these two men. This is all a lot of tea-leaf reading, I admit, but I'm not really wild about the notion of these films making us wonder if Rey will tumble to the Dark Side or stay with the Light. Again, we've seen that story before. But I could be wrong, and I'm willing to see.

I also find it fitting that Kylo Ren's face is notably smaller than Luke's, because Luke is the ultimate hero of much of Star Wars, and frankly, as a villain Kylo Ren is simply not that interesting to me. Finally, as a visual note from the poster, that starburst at the lightsaber blade's base is surrounded by a multi-ringed halo that seems suggestive to me of Captain America's shield.

So, a nice trailer and a nice poster. Red seems to be a dominant color this time out, with the red lettering of the Star Wars logo and the red background in the poster and even the planet in the trailer whose soil seems to be a red dust. Red is typically the color of the Sith lightsabers, so...well, again, we'll see.

Meantime, we're two weeks out from Guardians of the Galaxy v. 2....

Something for Thursday

One of my favorite piano concertos: Mozart, No. 22 in E-flat, K 482. It's very nearly perfect, so 'nuff said!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dogs and cats, living together -- MASS HYSTERIA!!!

Generally, Cane gets along pretty well with our two cats, Lester and Julio. Julio will actually walk up to Cane and head-butt him, where Lester's relationship with Cane has a little "sibling rivalry" thing going on.

Well, here's what happened tonight when Cane reached out and touched Lester.

Lester finds displeasure in the dee-oh-gee's touch. The dee-oh-gee, however, thinks that this is some fun shit. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound #Lester #catsofinstagram

Note that Cane is enjoying the hell out of this, and Lester is...not.

Angry kitteh is angry. #Lester #catsofinstagram

Poor Lester.

He stuck it out, though. When a cat doesn't want to leave the warm space they've found, it takes a lot more than a mischievous greyhound touching their butt to get them to move. Eventually, though, Lester put his ears back, said "Eff this", and ran upstairs.

Such is life at Casa Jaquandor!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

Some years ago I wrote about the Oliver Stone movie Nixon, which is a sort of companion piece to his JFK. As in the earlier film, John Williams provided the score, and it's an underrated standout in his long parade of amazing works. The opening track on the CD is, in my mind, a brilliant film music tone poem, called "The 1960s: The Turbulent Years". There are brief moments of lyrical optimism, but they are shot through with moments of militaristic menace.


Williams's score for the film highlights Stone's mood of inward-looking paranoia that dominates the film, and it accentuates the central tragedy that Nixon might well be the quintessential political figure for America in the last half of the 20th century. It's a brilliant score, and this track shows why.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

There's something NEW here, I know it!!!

The dee-oh-gee walks the same neighborhood every day, usually three times. He passes the same shrubs and the same trees and the same lampposts. And he stops each and every time to smell them.

Like this rock.

When the dee-oh-gee intently smells the rock he pees on twice a day, I'm reminded of an exchange from the first episode of CHEERS: COACH: [answers phone] Cheers...yeah, just a sec. [addresses bar] Is there an Ernie Pantusso here? SAM: That's you, Coach. C

More often than not, after a lot of sniffing, he'll pee on the thing he's sniffing. Like this rock. And I know that the other neighborhood dee-oh-gee's are also peeing on this rock. Nevertheless, I always wonder about the intent way he has about sniffing this rock. Is there really any new information to be gleaned? Or is he gathering the same information constantly? Is it like Sherlock Holmes, stuck on an endless loop of visiting the same crime scene?

Anyhow, for some reason, it often reminds me of this brief bit from the pilot episode of Cheers:


"I smell something!"

"That's you, dude."

"Huh." [continues sniffing]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bad Joke Friday

Ayup:

Evidence has been found that William Tell and family were avid bowlers. However, all the league records were destroyed in a fire and we’ll never know for whom the Tells bowled.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Come on, ONE of you has gotta go!

This United Airlines fiasco is quite the thing, from the bizarre legality of a business being allowed to sell more of a product than it can actually provide (most other businesses would be accused of fraud if they tried that), to the police being deployed to enforce the whims of a corporation. For me, the most depressing aspect is all the people online excusing United's behavior, on the basis that "Them's the rules" and "It's in the fine print." Blind acquiescence to corporate authority cannot be that good a thing. (And I'll leave unmentioned the awfulness of some news media outlets deciding to dig into the passenger's past, as if that in any way excuses what's happened to him now. The whole "He's no angel, though" thing has got to stop.)

This fiasco has, though, prompted a lot of hilarious reaction from the Internet, and really, this post is just an excuse for me to post one of these. And here you go:


Well, look -- it's pretty obvious which of these guys is going to get "re-accommodated". Looking at the line of redshirts, do you notice anything distinctive about the third guy from the left?

Something for Thursday

I know it's late in the day, so here's something for the setting of evening and night: one of Chopin's most famous Nocturnes. Way back when I was taking piano lessons, I remember that I started working on this piece, but for some reason I don't recall, I never got it to the point that my fingers knew it. Alas!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

If you listen to this overture without knowing what it is, as I did the other morning when it came on the radio, you might think -- especially at the end -- that it's a very British work.


Something about that big rendition of "God Save the Queen" at the very end, I'm guessing! But...that's not "God Save the Queen". Nor is it "My Country 'Tis of Thee". Sure, it's the same melody, but in this case, the anthem is actually "Heil dir im Siegerkranz", which was the national anthem of Prussia during the life of composer Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), who wrote this piece. It's the "Jubilee Overture", which Weber wrote for a festival in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the ascension of King Frederick Augustus the First of Saxony. The European royal families were famously inter-related, so it seems somehow fitting that their inter-relations should extend to things like their anthems, no?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Improving the Books

There's a thing going around the Interwebs where it's said that you can automatically make any book better by inserting the sentence "And then the murders began" right after the first sentence. I didn't believe this, so I tested it on Stardancer:

Huh. That actually DOES improve rhe opening of STARDANCER! #amwriting

And...crap. I wanna read that book now.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

"Let me help" (Thoughts on "The City on the Edge of Forever", on its 50th anniversary)



Edith Keeler: And you, um, don't want to talk about it? Why? Oh. Did you... did you do something wrong? Are you afraid of something? Whatever it is, let me help.

Capt. Kirk: "Let me help." A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over "I love you."

Fifty years ago today, "The City on the Edge of Forever" aired for the first time. This episode of Star Trek is, for me, not only the best episode of any Trek series ever filmed, but it's also the best Trek story of all time. It's one of the great science fiction stories, one of the great science fiction romances, one of the great time travel stories, and its ending packs one of the greatest gut-punches ever.

If you've never seen it...you should. Really. The story doesn't really require a huge amount of knowledge of Trek. The Enterprise is investigating strange "ripples in time" that are emanating from a particular planet, and during one such jolt, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with an enormous overdose of a drug that drives him temporarily insane. He flees to the planet surface, and Kirk follows, with Spock and some others. They find themselves in the ruins of an ancient city, with one functioning artifact remaining: a giant portal which is actually a portal through time itself. McCoy, still mad, jumps through and into history, and suddenly the members of the landing party realize that the Enterprise is gone. McCoy has changed history so that the Federation never happened.

With no choice but to try and put things right, Kirk and Spock follow, and find themselves in 1930s New York City. While trying to figure out what McCoy did and where he is, they enter the employ of a woman named Edith Keeler, a visionary who runs a soup kitchen. Kirk falls in love with her...only to have Spock discover that what McCoy did was prevent Edith Keeler from dying in a car accident. If she survives, she lives to found a peace movement that prevents America's entry into World War II, allowing the Nazis to win and take over the world.

Spock: Jim, Edith Keeler must die.

The story unfolds so organically that the episode feels longer, heftier, than its 50-minute or so running time. The episode feels large, and yet all of its key moments play out on an intimate stage, such as when Jim Kirk and Edith are walking along the street at night and Kirk tells Edith some things about the future, things that don't even strike her as strange to be hearing from this man she's just met. And the way she sizes up Kirk and Spock's relationship:

Edith Keeler: [to Kirk] I still have a few questions I'd to ask about you two. Oh, and don't give me that "Questions about little old us?" look. You know as well as I do how out of place you two are around here.

Spock: Interesting. Where would you estimate we belong, Miss Keeler?

Edith Keeler: [to Spock] You? At his side, as if you've always been there and always will. [to Kirk] And you... you belong... in another place. I don't know where or how... I'll figure it out eventually.

Spock: [to Kirk] I'll finish with the furnace.

Edith Keeler: [to Kirk] "Captain." Even when he doesn't say it, he does.




"The City on the Edge of Forever" involves relatively little action. It relies on its character work, showing us that Kirk is falling in love with Edith Keeler before Spock's discovery that she is the key focal point around which history will pivot. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Joan Collins likewise turn in amazing work in this episode. Collins's Edith Keeler is probably the woman in James T. Kirk's history, the one he could not save even though he desperately wanted to. Her death is the memory that he will carry with him forever. Shatner sells every single minute of this, never once over-emoting, never once going too far. His Kirk doesn't just fall for a pretty woman. Shatner portrays a Kirk who has just discovered, hundreds of years in his past, a kindred spirit. He has found someone whom he can understand and who can understand him. And when he realizes that he may well have to stand by as she dies...Shatner's portrayal of a man torn on both sides of the awfullest of dilemmas is so stark, so aching, that it always moves me nearly to tears.

And then the moment arrives.

The script's other masterstroke is that Spock can't determine when the awful event will occur. There is no "She dies on November 12, 1937." This isn't like Stephen King's (masterful) 11-22-1963, when we know exactly when the events are going to occur. Kirk has no idea it's happening, even as we do. He sees her coming back across the street. He starts out to help her...and then he stops. He knows. The moment is upon him, and it unfolds as quickly as it has to. No slow-motion here, no long-held gazes. It comes so quickly that for us, the viewers, it's almost like--what? Was that it? Oh my God, that was it. Over, that quickly.

But Kirk not only had to let Edith die, his choice -- his only choice -- was more awful than that. Because Dr. McCoy was there too, and he didn't know. They had just found him, seconds before, and now McCoy too is watching Edith Keeler walk into the path of the truck. Kirk can't just stand aside, or stand still, and watch Edith die, because if the script allowed him that much, he'd be able to say later, "I couldn't have saved her. She was too far away."

The script doesn't pull its punches. It doesn't give Jim Kirk that one possible out, that one possible way he can morally justify it all to himself.

Jim Kirk doesn't just passively allow Edith Keeler to die. Jim Kirk grabs McCoy and holds him back. Jim Kirk stops McCoy from saving her.

Kirk's choice is an active one.

McCoy doesn't know this. He doesn't know any of it. He only knows that he could have saved her. His voice fills with rage.

McCoy: You deliberately stopped me, Jim! I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?

And then Spock, summing it up so logically, so heart-breakingly, in a line that no actor other than Leonard Nimoy could have delivered:

Spock: He knows, Doctor. He knows.

One thing about Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that has always bothered me was the idea of the Kobayashi Maru test, the idea that a false scenario could somehow test a cadet's approach to a situation in which there is no possible "victory". In that movie, Kirk openly says "I don't believe in the no-win scenario," and later on, after Spock's death, he says that he has never really faced death. But in "The City on the Edge of Forever", he faces both a no-win scenario, and he faces death. The idea that Kirk can later on claim otherwise has always seemed deeply false to me. Maybe he's blocked the memory of Edith Keeler? Maybe it's so painful that he doesn't admit it in either case? Certainly Kirk never mentioned her again in any filmed episode or movie, which isn't that surprising given the tendency of teevee shows back in that period to not mention previous events much. But the story here, this love between starship captain and soup-kitchen owner three hundred years before his time, is so iconic, and it carries so much weight, that it's almost offensive to me to think that a James T. Kirk can exist who isn't carrying her memory around. Maybe better, then, if in reply to his son David's accusation that he never has faced death, Jim Kirk were to say, "There was one. She died saving us all, too."

But then, you can't have too many mentions, either. Trek would never again visit that City on the Edge of Forever, except in one episode of the animated series, and with good reason. No story involving the Guardian of Forever could possibly stand up to comparison with this one. Trek would not eschew time travel, by any means, but this particular means was left as a singular part of Trek mythology. I wonder if any Next Generation writers were tempted to visit it. I'm glad they didn't. It is interesting, though, that Jean-Luc Picard would get his own kind of iconic time-travel story in "The Inner Light", as would Benjamin Sisko in "The Visitor".

James T. Kirk is an explorer at heart, and an adventurer. But his experiences in the past, via the Guardian of Forever, have a profound effect on him. At episode's end, when he and Spock and McCoy return to the present with everything restored, the Guardian appeals to that part of his soul, offering to guide him and the others through history. What an offer to someone whose life is charged with boldly going! And yet, all Kirk can muster in that moment is a gruff, "Let's get the hell out of here."

"The City on the Edge of Forever" is the kind of story I dream of writing. For a single one-hour episode of a teevee show to hit so many emotional highs and lows? To linger in the memory as it does? I wonder if, as they were shooting it -- maybe at the first table read -- anyone either thought or muttered, "They'll still be talking about this one in fifty years."

Who knows? If my health permits, I'll still be talking about this episode when it hits one hundred.



Something for Thursday

Emmylou Harris just turned 70.

Like many a great artist, I actually haven't heard that much of her music over the years. As I've noted before -- just last week! -- my relationship with country music is complicated, and Harris isn't really the type of singer that one hears a lot on the country stations these days anyway. Her brand of folkish country doesn't seem to really ride alongside crap like "Red Solo Cup" and "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue", does it?

But while Harris has never really been on my radar in a big way, I've always been aware of her and her lyrical voice. Here is a small selection of songs. Note the presence of three duets. This isn't really an accident. Duets can be problematic for some singers, as they end up being mostly a song split in two, so that each singer can have equal share of the spotlight. Emmylou Harris has an instinctive sense of how to use her voice to complement that of her duet partner, whomever that might be. It's not just how to harmonize or how to balance out, dynamics-wise. She pays attention to her partner and, most importantly, her partner's phrasing. That's pretty amazing, because every singer phrases differently.

I may not have heard much Emmylou Harris over the years, but I've never once heard her and not concluded that she's amazing.

(For more, see Roger's post.)









Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Tone Poem Tuesday

I heard this work on the radio just the other day and I found it captivating. It is Im Sommerwind -- "In the Summer Wind" -- by Anton Webern.

I am honestly not sure if I have ever heard anything by Webern before. Primarily an early-20th century composer, Webern is known for being one of the chief students and followers of Anton Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, in which the traditional systems of tonality in Western music were finally broken down completely. I've always found twelve-tone music difficult, and in truth I have honestly never much explored it (and yes, perhaps I should). This piece is an early work of Webern's, written before he really took Schoenberg's twelve-tone lessons to heart, but it is still easy to hear the way it straddles the line between Romanticism and Modernism. This work is deeply steeped in the late Wagnerian sound, the post-Tristan period when a lot of music felt like it was simultaneously grounded and at sea.

Webern apparently felt that Im Sommerwind was not representative of where, as a young man, he wanted to go as a composer, and he shelved the piece. It went unperformed until 1962, fifteen years after the composer's death.