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.