Let’s ignore for a second the fact that the writing is AWFUL, that the plots never make sense, that the characters are hackneyed, that the integration of music into story is woeful, that the treacly overproduction of each and every song is an aural demoralization, and that most of the scenes are so poor that it makes me uncomfortable to watch them by myself. No, all of that is Glee’s own business, and it’s my fault for watching it.
But when Glee decides to put on a high school production of West Side Story, it gets PERSONAL.
1) Mercedes and Rachel are going up against each other for the role of Maria. And why is that? Is Mercedes really prepared to sing the high C at the end of Tonight? Has anybody on this casting committee bothered to consider the RANGE and VOCAL TYPE needed to play any of these parts??
2) Rachel’s statement that she would sing the “classic Maria song ‘Somewhere'”. Though there is a brief — and I mean brief — a cappella reprise of “Somewhere” by Maria at the very end of the show, the theatrical version of West Side Story assigns this song is to an off-stage voice. The actual actress playing Maria is onstage enacting the Ballet reenactment of the first act. Somebody please do your homework.
3) Dear Idiots: the melody of “Cool” has two notes on both of the first “Boy”s. Here’s what I’m talking about:
Here’s what you did:
And this was after Mike Cheng proudly announced that he’s been “working on his singing”. Sounds to me like he and everyone else at Glee needs to work a LOT HARDER.
4) Leonard Bernstein has not been mentioned once this season. Kurt name checked Stephen Sondheim in this past week’s episode. It’s not like a have a problem with that per se – I’m all for mentioning the hallowed name of Sondheim whenever possible – but the line he delivered made it sound like Sondheim was the creator of West Side, and yes, he was one of the creators, but I just don’t want Lenny to be forgotten in the hubbub, since if they’re going to crap all over his songs, they might as well help popularize his name/image/work among the younger generation. I don’t seem to recall them having mentioned him in connection with “Ohio” last season either.
So that’s why Glee is really the worst, and why it’s a crying shame that I’m going to have to keep watching it this entire season to keep them honest about their use of the West Side property.
Having said that, I will admit that Darren Criss is the perfect Tony.
Sometimes you’ll be standing around chatting with friends at a party or even strangers at the dentist’s office and the subject of Favorite Composers comes up. You’re stunned and thrilled and you run through 500 years of musical history in your head and inevitably the question arises: such-and-such a piece is one of my favorites but does that mean that such-and-such composer is one of my favorites? Did he even write anything else?
And usually it just seems too far-fetched or embarrassing or irrational, so another composer gets passed over – or worse, ridiculed – just because he had the misfortune of having a huge success at one point in his career, something most of us would kill for!
No more! Here are my top 10 One Hit Wonders:
1. Carl Orff (1895 – 1982)
For those who have ever even heard of him, Carl Orff is remembered solely for his cantata Carmina Burana. For the hundreds of millions of other people who have heard the opening of this piece (and, more and more frequently, parodies of it) in every action film trailer, they simply think of it as evoking the Epic.
And the piece really is on an epic scale: it’s well over an hour long and requires hundreds of people to perform it.
The classical elite tend to poo-poo it because it’s rough and raunchy and lacking in counterpoint and other niceties, but when it comes right down to it, it’s got some attractive tunes, interesting orchestration, and it’s certainly as entertaining a spectacle as you’re going to see.
Poo-poo we may, though, Herr Orff’s unseemly relationship with the Nazi regime, the details of which remain unearthed. Perhaps providing the anonymous soundtrack for a cavalcade of lowbrow genre pictures is an appropriate purgatory for such an icky person.
2. Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934)
To be fair, Gustav Holst is known for more than just The Planets. But only among two groups of people: 1) string orchestra students in middle school and 2) band students in middle school. OK fine, high school too. The former because of his endlessly charming St. Paul’s Suite and the latter because of his two folksy Suites for Military Band.
But to the rest of us (or, more accurately, to the rest of you), he is known for that cosmically delightful orchestral suite, The Planets. And why not? It was a very unique idea for a tone poem, it’s gorgeous, and it works equally well in the concert hall and the plane’arium.
It’s worth noting that the World Astronomical Society (or whatever it’s called) spurned another would-be One Hit Wonder when they downgraded Pluto to Dwarf Planet status. The Hallé Orchestra had commissioned a certain pretender named Colin Matthews to write a “Pluto” movement to “complete” the cycle of the planets. Your author is not ashamed to admit that he took a certain pleasure in this spurious composition being downgraded to Dwarf Music status.
3. George Enescu (1881 – 1955)
Befitting the title of this list, I know precious little about the lives of most of these composers. The one little insight that I have about Mr. Enescu is that he composed his big hit, the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 at the tender age of 18, it was a huge success, and he resented it for the rest of his life.
I would have to guess that Enescu is Romania’s most famous composer, largely because I can’t think of a single other one. Can you?
This piece is one of the many that make Pops Concerts worth doing.
First off, can I just say that (1844 – 1937) is pretty amazing lifespan? This guy overlapped with Robert Schumann and Steve Reich. Not to mention he would have been a full-grown adult when the electric light bulb was introduced and could have seen television prior to his demise (though one assumes he didn’t.)
Maybe it was all those electric currents in the air, or maybe it was when they finally got into his organ (the one he played. At church. This isn’t getting any better…) but there’s something so catchy about that Toccata from his Organ Symphony No. 5:
Since we engaged in some minor slander (or, at the very least, hearsay) concerning Carl Orff’s relationship with the Nazi regime, let’s take this chance to shed a softer light on Herr Biebl’s activites. Yes, he did fight in the German Army during WWII. However, he was drafted and his service lasted only a few months before he was detained and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Michigan for 3 years. So not exactly blameless, but no Carl Orff either.
His big hit, an all-male a cappella setting of the Ave Maria gained international attention because of Chanticleer. The recording I submit for your enjoyment comes not from their ultra-pristine reading of it however, but from the Dale Warland Singers. Perhaps those boys at Kurt’s new school will do it next on Glee.
7. Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805)
I am proud to count among my friends many superb cellists who may take issue with my calling Boccherini a One Hit Wonder. But that would be such egregious partisanship towards a ‘cello composer’ that I trust they won’t dabble in such provocations.
We non-cellists may recognize this, the so-called “Celebrated” quintet:
I almost included Pietro Mascagni on this list item with Leoncavallo, since their respective hits, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci are so frequently performed as a double bill. I decided not to include Mascagni though, not because of the overly fawning descriptions from the Wikipedia Mascagni-ites [ps. memo to those people: methinks the lady doth protest too much…], but because there is nothing in Caveleria that even approaches the worldwide recognizability of “Vesti la Giubba”:
Monsieur Dukas personally had a lot to do with his status as a one-hitter – like Brahms before him, he was such a perfectionist that he ended up destroying many of his works. With only a handful of published pieces, the odds were very low that any one of them would hit it big.
And none of them might have were it not for Walt Disney. Mr. Disney deserves a lot of credit for his imaginative choice of repertoire for the original 1940 Fantasia. His choice of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was obviously a win-win deal though – not that he could really enjoy his newly found popularity, but Mr. Dukas’ name does live on, and Mr. Disney got one of his most marketable images out of this particular episode.
As long as we’re talking about Paul Dukas, I should mention that his ballet La Péri is a personal favorite of mine, and I’d very much recommend it to fans of “Apprentice”.
10. Johann Pachelbel (1653 – 1706)
I couldn’t NOT include Pachelbel on this list, but I could at least make him last. Any string players reading this will know the reason for my ‘tude re: Mr. Pachelbel: we have been forced to play his mega-hit Canon in D at least since we were in middle school, but it feels more like since the dawn of time.
And if it weren’t so over-played, it would be an easy piece to love. It’s both festive and tear-jerky. Its incessant repetition makes it seem like it slips in and out of eternity. Ironically, its excessive length makes it seem like it lasts for all of eternity. But really guys, it’s not as insipid a piece as we’re all led to believe.
Now, for those of you who are just plain sick of it, allow me to refresh your years by introducing unto you the GREATEST WEB SITE OF ALL TIME. Some evil genius, possibly named H. Miller, has created a site devoted to the “warped canon” – midi versions of the Canon in every tuning system known to man!
So, how are we judging these composers? Is it by the quality of their “hit”, or by their other compositional achievements? Like I said, I’m not so familiar with many of these gentlemen’s oeuvres, so I’ve mainly based my collection on the quality of that one super-famous piece.
What qualifies as a ‘hit’ is also a slight conundrum. Obviously on this list, I have gone for mainstream awareness (“O Fortuna”) but I also included some pieces that are hits of a much more modest variety (the Biebl “Ave Maria”). So, take that all into account and argue amongst yourselves!
Should you accept this challenge, the choice is yours of how to proceed: make your own list of Top 10 One-Hit Wondrous Composers, or replace some of mine with your own suggestions. Just tell us who you are taking off the list, and be aware that you will really hurt their feelings.
I could hardly think of a finer pair of actresses to perform this classic of the American musical theater. This is one of my favorite Bernstein tunes of all time, and I think it was an inspired choice to include on your program.
Just a few hints:
1) Please do not tamper with the lower part. It’s not just your average harmony. It is quite specific and quite specifically brilliant:
In the space of just a few measures, it goes from shadowing the melody a sixth below (“Why-oh-why-oh-why-oh”) to moving in contrary motion (“why did I”), and goes up this amazing contrapuntal arpeggio (“ever leave O-“), setting up the most extraordinarily beautiful double appoggiatura (“hi-o”) [like, ever]. And the intricacies only compound from there.
It is this lower harmony – let’s just go ahead and call it the “tenor” part, since that’s really where it lies – that gives the song it’s wistful, melancholic charm.
2) It is a well established fact that you guys auto-tune the shit out of this show. Maybe these kids really can’t sing in tune and you’re just doing your job, so OK. But please, if you’re going to auto-tune this song, and you’re going to do it in the key of Db (hint, hint), please auto-tune it so that the low C in the “tenor” part sounds exactly as flat and manish sounding as Rosalind Russell’s in the above (on the syllable “e-” of “ever”). Thanks.
3) If you’re going to continue into the “chatter” section of the song (and I certainly hope that you will), I’ll completely understand if you have to re-write the dialogue to suit the particular needs of your plot. This is assuming that the episode in question will contain a plot, which I understand is no small assumption given the typical episode of GLEE. However, I would suggest that you keep the spunky little jazzed-up arrangement of the main tune in the background:
4) Other than that, just have a great time and let these two magnificent ladies do their thing! Oh and try to at least approximate the original orchestration with real instruments. ‘K Thanks!
About 2 months ago, I received a request from some old friends/current readers for a comment on Glee, the FOX musical dramedy. As of then, I hadn’t seen a single episode. Thanks to the combined magic of iTunes and hulu, I’ve now seen a handful of them, including the final 6 or 7 of the season, and a smattering of episodes from the pre-mid-season break era (said to be the high point of the series).
So, basically it’s like this: Glee, for me, is sort of just good enough. There tends to be a bare minimum in terms of musical/writing/acting quality in a given episode to keep me coming back. But not much more. I don’t think the show ever really figured out the tone of the show. The writing is the main problem; it comes across as very glib much of the time, and what was an especially serious subject matter one week is really just glossed over the next week. The sort of “logic” behind the characters’ various motivations and interactions is dubious at best.
Some of the acting is quite good – Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester is really about as good as it gets. To me, she’s about the only thing that keeps the show grounded. The two male leads, Matthew Morrison as Glee Club leader Will Schuester and Cory Monteith as Finn Hudson, are just so much milquetoast. It’s just so network television that the leader of the glee club would also have to be the quarterback of the football team, and white, tall, vaguely handsome and like 10 years older than any high school student.
[Speaking of which, isn’t casting people in their mid-20’s as high school students so like 90210? Couldn’t they get someone even passably younger? Hunter Parrish how about?]
I think that the “Puck” character is pretty great too, and the rest of the assorted p.c. cast are up and down. Kurt, the gay boy character is definitely a talented kid, and special props go his performance of “Single Ladies”, even though he didn’t really do all the moves exactly like in the video, but then again, who can, aside from Beyoncé and those men? [And yes, those are men in the Beyoncé video, it says so on no less reliable a source than WikiAnswers, and not JUST the darker-skinned one either!]
The big problem for me is that the musical numbers are always too popified (even for me!), too auto-tuned, too over-produced. For me, the best of the musical numbers have been: Kurt’s “Single Ladies” dance, followed by the whole football team doing it (which, despite its incredibly obvious set-up was still hilariously funny), Kristen Chenoweth’s performance of “Home” from the “first all-white production of The Wiz” (p.s. mad props for using the original orchestration), and… that’s really about it. The Lady Gaga performances were pretty lousy, but then again, I’m not really a fan anyway.
Speaking of Chenoweth, I think her character is another high point in the series – are there any Strangers with Candy fans out there? Doesn’t the Chenoweth character just reek of Amy Sedaris’ Jerri Blank?
One thing that I will give the show points for: there are always actual human beings (high school students/that weird piano guy) playing backup instruments whenever singing is happening. Yes, the orchestrations often become quite enriched beyond the visible musicians, but they tend to be pretty self-aware of the absurdity when that happens. So, that’s good.
Things that were particularly cringe-worthy were: “The Lady is a Tramp” and Idina Menzel.
I’ll probably give Glee another shot when it returns next season, but I’ll likely not devote myself to the series and just wait to find out from other people which episodes featured particular highlights.