Posts By: willcwhite

And now, statues of the Vienna Philharmonic

This creeps me out:


Do you notice the bizarre motionlessness of the players?  I’ve never seen anything so surreal.  How did Herbie get all of those musicians to remain so perfectly still for this performance??  Frankly, in certain shots it appears to me that these gentlemen are not even playing.  Take a look particularly at the brass fanfare at 0:31 — is the fourth trumpeter playing?  Woodwinds at 3:15 – is the principal flute playing?

Now check out the shot of the violins at 3:37.  When have you ever seen a row of violins in straight formation like this?  Yesterday while I was watching Karajan’s similar video of Dvorak 8, I hypothesized that they must have re-shot several of these segments after the performance so they could get the right camera angles (and ensure that the lighting was perfect for the glowing halo surrounding the orchestra).

The sound is, of course, über-Karajan — very precise, very aggressive and yet with a pristine wash over the whole texture.  This particular clip doesn’t reveal as much the very dishonest engineering job that was done to the balances — that is to say, the sound here is not really reflective of the actual performance of the orchestra, it was largely engineered in the control room.

The overall effect is a little bit terrifying.  The military-like rigid formations, the doctored, in-your-face sound, the halos surrounding Karajan and the orchestra — what was Karajan’s goal here?  Dare I say the whole thing is just a bit Nazi-ish?  Why would such a superb musician want to present his music this way?  I think we can safely assume that Karajan supervised every detail of these videos…

Now let’s compare.  Same orchestra, same hall, same time (give or take 1 year), but different conductor:


UNbelievable!!  Look at how much the musicians move when given the chance!  You’ll have to wait a bit, but look at around 1:40.  The orchestra looks like a living, breathing organism, completely invested and physically experiencing the music.  The sound is so much more open and real.  We get the impression that Kleiber loves the music and lets the musicians express themselves.  Look at how cheeky the oboist can be with his coquettish little solo at 1:52.  It’s inspiring.

I feel with Karajan that he cared less about the quality of the musicians (who cares, we’ll change it in the editing room) than the fact that they are a bunch of Aryan men who can serve as a set piece to maximize his God-like persona.  With Kleiber, I get the sense that all he cares about is that this orchestra is a body of musicians who are part of a vitally living tradition of playing the greatest works of all time.

Also, notice how Karajan does not allow the beautiful Musikverein itself to be filmed, lest the magnificence of Valhalla outshine Odin himself.

And then of course, there’s Lenny:


Need we say any more?

mais, in tempo

From the score of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, movement 4, we read the following instruction:

“Selon le caractère d’un Recitativ mais, in tempo”

My interest in this simple phrase is a perfect example of why I don’t exactly “fit in” to the classical music world.  That is to say, I just don’t think the people around me quite appreciate the linguistic deliciousness of the writing.  Look at it!  It’s basically in French, but with a Germanized (and capitalized, no less) Italian word, ending in an Italian phrase.  And what’s that comma doing there?  Shouldn’t it read “…Recitativ, mais in tempo?”  Is that some kind of a linguistic marker?  What’s going on here??

I suppose the fact that nobody blinks an eye when they see this marking is maybe just as interesting.  Musicians, and I want to say especially conductors, end up talking in this weird sort of lingua franca made up of terms from all the big musical languages.  I guess this just proves that the tendency has been around for close to 200 years.

Is this sort of thing not interesting?  Leonard Slatkin brought up this term in my conducting class the other day, but all he wanted to talk about was how to interpret these words musically!  I really wanted to get into this whole linguistic commentary, but somehow it seemed so totally inappropriate; thus was my enthusiasm stifled.

On a wholly unrelated note, it came out today that I am an unapologetic disliker of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 and you would think I had insulted somebody’s baby.  Just because half of my lunch mates were Italian, I don’t see what there is to get so excited about.  It’s not like I dissed Sergio Leone or something.  In fact, I’d gladly take a Spaghetti Western over that cerebral FF crap any day.  And I take offense to the immediate supposition that I somehow “don’t understand what it’s about”.  I understand perfectly well.  In fact, I would say I gave that movie every chance — I researched it, read about it, stayed awake during (most) of it.  What more do you want people?  It just doesn’t resonate with me.

Give me Pedro any day.

Madrigal a 5 voci

for Brass Quintet

This is a single-movement work in a genre that is sort of starting to define a large part of my output – let’s call it a “psychological tone poem”.  The idea is that there is a narrative program behind the music, but the music occasionally forays into areas beyond the possibilities of traditional narrative (as music is wont to do).  I suppose it’s sort of my spin on a Lynchian mode of story-telling, although I would argue that composers of art music have been doing this sort of thing for centuries.

I imagine this particular piece taking place in Northern Italy around 1600.  A noble family entertains themselves by singing a madrigal at the home.  The deranged son of this family becomes obsessed with the plot of this madrigal, in which a beautiful young princess is courted by a prince from far off but ends up dying at the hands of fate (or something… isn’t that basically what happens in all of these madrigals?)  One of the singing family members (the top soprano, no less) bears a strong resemblance to the beautiful princess in the madrigal story.  This is rather unfortunate for her, because the story of the madrigal becomes all to real in the mind of her demented young relative, who kills her in order to fulfill the story’s ending.  The natural harmonic playing of the horn is a major element of the piece, representing the deranged offspring and providing the opening horn calls as the murder is chased through the woods.

I wrote this piece on commission from a highly virtuosic chamber ensemble, the Gaudete Brass Quintet.  Unfortunately, the fact that this group does most of its concertizing in educational and church settings means that my piece hasn’t, uh, exactly fit into their programming schedule as of yet (which is probably for the best as far as their audiences are concerned).  Luckily, I had the chance to premiere and record the piece with a splendid group of students during the summer of ’10 at the Pierre Monteux School in Hancock, ME.  A special shout-out goes to the very able Mirella Gable, a horn student at Eastman for tackling this wicked and bizarre part!

Love on the Rocks

Revels 2009.  Emma and Trip sing a beautiful ballad while “Marooned” (<– get it??) on the Galapagos Islands. Emma thinks only of the cold Chicago winters and the life of the mind; Trip thinks only of Emma. The brilliant lyrics for this song were written by a man I truly admire and am privileged to count as a friend, the writer Ted Fishman.

This is my second try at writing a real Disney-esque ballad. The first is here.

Ted’s lyrics:

Emma: Alone in my room, where it’s cold,
I feel ideas burning.
Alone in my room, there’s sunshine,
from the minds of great thinkers.

I sit happy there, in the stale air
Where my only care is for theory.
And here I walk on a tortoise stalk,
On this isle so bleak and dreary.

I miss Hyde Park, I miss the snow,
I miss Hyde Park, Professor’s Row.

The Quad with it’s faux Gothic gates,
The Reg and the late night debates.
Take me home from this tropical bay
To my city gray.

Trip: Out here in the sun, where it’s warm
Cool off, you’re overheating.
Out here in the sun, we have a chance
To live as God’s creatures.

This is no dead rock – it’s chocablock,
All around, life is revolving,
And here we walk on our tortoise stalk,
Down an aisle where we’re evolving.

Embrace my heart, embrace my soul,
Embrace my heart, lose all control.

Our minds in wide open space,
The world is a fine nesting place.
Shake away your tropical blue,
I love you.

E: Embrace your heart?
T: Embrace my soul!
E: But how to start?
T: Oh you will know

Both: We’re like minds about our affection.
We’re each other’s natural selection.
Wherever we roam, we are home.

No Belle and No Nobel Prize

Revels 2010.  In this song, a certain vain Professor Codswollop of the Molecular Biology Department sings about his longing to win the Nobel Prize and get the girl with his mad BioChem skills. His arch-rival professor, Anna Innana of the Environmental Feminism Department overhears him in the bushes and has her retort. My sincere thanks to the lovely Beth Barber for helping out on this video:

Prof: I was just sure when I went into this field that I would quickly rise to the top and soon be flocked by beautiful young admirers. But somehow, it just never worked out that way.

Oh the many hours that I spent pouring o’er my microscope
Oh the prospects dour, and yet, faced with doubt, in spite I’d hoped
That just one final chemical reaction
Would finally lead to my long sought for satisfaction…

I’ve always seemed to have trouble capitalizing on my superior intellect. Why I even remember back in college…

I saw this girl in my class one day
Let me tell ya’ pal — she was quite a gal
I said “Would you like to talk DNA?”
It was a real good line – it worked so very fine.

We met up in the afternoon to study chapter six.
I thought that she was sure to swoon — we’d be the next double helix!

We talked transfection, we talked transduction,
Conjugation, *replication*
I puckered my lips to try some suction and
She said her goodbyes,
So No Belle, and No Nobel Prize.

TA: But certainly the situation must have improved when you got to graduate school?

Prof: Well, not exactly…

There was this girl in my lab with me,
She was quite a dish — she had all you’d wish,
Style and flair and a Ph.D.
I could sense romance – I shot her a glance.

I showed her my experiment, she’d see I was a pro.
I chose deadly bacteriants to see how large they could grow.

She said, “My, isn’t that awfully precarious?”
“Babe, there is not to fear — I’m not some dufus here.”
I gave her a vile and asked, “Could you carry this?”
It splashed right in her eyes,
So No Belle and No Nobel Prize.

TA: But sir, I thought you nearly won the Nobel Prize at one point. What happened?

Prof: Well, let’s see…

There was this broad on the prize committee
Such a stuffy dame – it seemed such a shame.
I looked real close, and she seemed kinda pretty,
But she was so uptight, I had to be polite.

I gave my presentation on rare eukaryotes.
Much to my grand elation, it seemed I’d carry the votes.

I told this broad my work was real ethereal.
She seemed quite aloof, she required more proof.
When I said, “Would you like to see my genetic material,”
She kicked me in the thighs.
So No Belle and No Nobel Prize.

But the worst accident I ever had was meeting that hideous Professor Anna Innana. She has always stood in my way.

Anna: Now you’ve heard it from the source
From the big mouth of the horse.
He says I stood in his way,
Well, it wasn’t quite like that per se.

He was always hoping and pining for
A girl to fall into his lap, so you see that’s why
I was always running and trying to
Prevent yet another mishap with this hopeless guy.

He thinks he’s smooth, he thinks he’s cool
Well he’s as charming as a mule.
Nobel Prize! Well I declare!
He couldn’t win the science fair.

Him: This wretched shrew, she was always somewhere near
Her: The only thing on my mind was how to spare womankind!
Him: But then again, I can hardly blame the dear.
Her: Every discovery meant some poor girl’s recovery.

Him: She thought I was pursuing her, I must have drove her mad.
Her: What a chauvinist pig, I swear he almost drove me mad.
Him: Without my even wooing her, she’d seen I was quite the lad
Her: How could you dare, you unbearable, terrible cad you are!

Him: Finally I said, “Look, enough’s enough my dear”
Her: I’d had all that I could take,
Both: I’ve got my work to do
Him: And I’m sure you do to.

I’ve got to hurry back to my chromosome
I’ve found a new allele!
Her: What a schlemiel he was!
Him: She’s No Belle, but I’ll have my Nobel Prize
Her: Oh, how I despise him

Him: She’s no Belle but I’ll have my Nobel Prize!
Her: He’s No Belle and he’ll have no Nobel Prize!