OK gang, it’s time for some Halloween fun: which of these five fabulous divas makes the best Pirate Jenny?
1. Lotte Lenya
2. Nina Simone
3. Marianne Faithfull
4. Bea Arthur
5. Hildegard Knef
Before you cast you’re vote, I would just ask that you not to be swayed by the fact that three of these ladies have videos, one is singing in German, and one is singing an alternate (and far superior) translation of the text.
Only an evil genius would pit these ladies against one another.Â Happy Halloween.
In other news, I’m I’m busily assembling a new recording of a new piece I recently composed. It’s a cantata, a setting of the 46th Psalm using the rare and beguiling Young’s Literal Translation.
Making a recording takes a lot of money, so I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to try and raise some funds.Â Perhaps some of my readers would consider kicking in.Â I’d certainly be grateful, and at the very least, you’d get your own mp3 copy of the piece!
This list, #6 on our Top 10 Top 10, is kind of a free-for-all.Â I wouldn’t say it’s as vaguely defined as that last list, but it’s definitely more of a game game than trying to analyze who the most influential composers were.Â The idea is to pick composer whose overall output may not have been worthy of the greatest pantheon, but who did write one genre of music better than anyone else.
You’ll pick it up as you go along.
1. Johann Strauss Jr. (1825 – 1899) – Waltzes
Nothing beats a good old fashioned waltz.Â I use them in my own music all the time.Â And nobody ever wrote a better waltz than the great Viennese legend Johann Strauss, Jr.Â He was so passionate about three-quarter time that he even defied his famous composer father – in order to follow in his very footsteps (Johann Sr. had a banking career in mind for his sohn.)
He is rightly fÃªted every year on New Year’s Eve by the World’s Greatest Strauss Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic:
2. Charlies Villiers Stanford (1852 – 1924) – English Church Music
Leave it to an Irishman to best the English at their own game.Â The English choral tradition is a quite specific thing.Â There’s the whole issue of dueling churches, the Anglican and the Catholic.Â Certain composers specialized in one or the other.Â Certain composers were glad to be denominational mercenaries.
Another irony in my selecting Mr. Stanford for this particular honor is that I submit as his outstanding work a Latin Motet:
What I love about Weill’s songs is how sardonic they are.Â He displays a remarkably dark wit in the interplay of his spiky harmonies with the light lyrics (which he didn’t write).Â His music represents the gritty world that his characters inhabit.
I also like how many of his cabaret songs are real Cabaret Songs – that is, the lyric sets them inside an actual cabaret.Â It’s much like a Saloon Song.
Puccini appears on my lists of Top 10 Melodists and Top 10 Composers for Non Concert Settings (i.e. the stage).Â So, it should be pretty obvious why I would put him as the top opera man.Â I’ll be interested to see if the Wagner contingent mounts a strong defense.Â As much as I adore Richard’s music, I’d prefer to listen to it in smaller, concert-sized chunks.
5. Vladislav Zolotaryov (1942 – 1975) – Bayan Music
OK, so here’s a composer and an instrument that you’ve likely never heard of, but get ready, because it’s going to be way better than you expected.
Basically, it’s a Russian/Eastern European accordion, which differs from the regular accordion in some way or another.
[Now, apparently there is an alternate meaning to the word ‘bayan’ of which I’m wholly unaware.Â If you want to find out what it is, or what it might be, or what ‘bayan’ might autocorrect to in some bizarre google conspiracy world, you could do a google image search for ‘bayan’, but I strongly recommend against it.]
So, we’ve established that much.Â Everything I know about this composer’s biography comes from the liner notes of the one CD I’ve found with his music on it.Â Apparently his parents were prisoners of the Gulag and he was born in the northernmost region of northeastern Siberia.Â Great start.Â He excelled at the bayan, and got some training in music at a small conservatory.Â He was rejected several times from the Moscow Conservatory before he finally made it in to study composition.Â He committed suicide at the age of 33.
He composed a number of pieces for other instruments, but this is where he made his mark:
In many ways, I think the minuet was Haydn’s genre par excellence.Â These pieces were not written for dancing.Â They were written to add a dance scene into the dramatic flow of his symphonies (as I touched on in the discussion of Piazzolla in last list.)Â Haydn was a wry observer of human interaction, and he humanizes his noble acquaintances in these minuets.
We might hear the heavy brocade weighing down the upper crust, or see the lush curtains and the warm glow of the gaslit ballroom.Â We might sense the hesitations and embarrassments of the youth present, relishing their only opportunity for flirtation in a highly formalized milieu (then we catch them as they sneak out to the veranda.)Â There are the dancers who don’t quite know the steps and their bashful apologies; then there are the big fat ladies with two left feet who couldn’t be less aware.
It’s all just so funny and charming and gemÃ¼tlich:
OK, so there’s obviously a lot of things that Sufjan Stevens does impressively well.Â And in my opinion, there’s a lot of things he does better than anyone else.Â But in this category, he’s pretty much got to be the undisputed leader, right?
8. J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750) – Music for Solo Strings
I think Bach’s cello suites and solo violin sonatas & partitas are every bit as great an accomplishment as his works for organ and the big choral-orchestral combinations.Â Not only are they shockingly original and deeply emotive, but they link him to other European masters of the solo viol, like Marin Marais and the incorrigible Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe.
This is a genre-composer combination on many levels: that is to say, not only do I think Mozart wrote the definitive collection of piano concerti, but I think that the piano concerto was the definitive Mozart genre.Â So chew on that one for a while.
For me, these are Mozart’s greatest operas.Â They have the beauty, the drama, and the songfulness of his operas, but they condense the plot into about 30 minutes.Â Who wouldn’t like that?
No but seriously, he wrote such a gorgeous score for Les Parapluies.Â And I know there’s a lotta h8trs out there, and h8trs gotta h8t.Â And I hate that Steven Sondheim is one of them, and that he said that he thinks this “just doesn’t work” or whatever.Â But then again, he was in Camp which might be the worst movie ever made, so with all due respect Steve, let’s just tone it down an notch, shall we?
I mean, come on:
This is easily the most ridiculous list so far.Â [Just you wait!]Â But I think it should make for a good game, because there’s at least three ways to play:
1) Make your own damn list
2) Replace the composer for the category.
Example: Khatchaturian was a way better writer of waltzes than Johann Strauss Jr. ever was! [as if]
or Thomas Tomkins was a much finer composer of English choral music than was Charles Villiers Stanford! [perhaps…]
3) Drop one of my category-composer combos and say that your guy did his thing better than mine did his.
Example: Conlon Nancarrow was a much better writer of boogie-woogie piano rolls than Kurt WeillÂ was of Cabaret Songs!
Having just returned from Hyde Park, I am charged with the unenviable task of decrying the current condition of the Quadrangle Club.Â In song.Â Be patient – this might take a little Weill.Â (lol — I kill me!!)
The Quadrangle Club is a place that used to exude a tremendous aura from its blunt haunches on 57th Avenue.Â For students at the University of Chicago it holds a tremendous mystique; one sees Professors, both feared and admired, enter the front door and what happens next is anybody’s guess.Â One of course assumes that some sort of perverse, Eyes Wide Shut scenario follows, but one can never be sure.
That is, until one gets the rare opportunity to enter the club oneself.Â For me, this happened when I was but a wee 1st-year college student.Â I had made the acquaintance of one of Hyde Park’s – and the Club’s – great movers and shakers, a gentleman by the name of Todd Schwebel, and I had quickly ingratiated myself into his Garden Party Society as a hired pianist.Â This was around 2001 or ’02, and the members of the Club had just reinstated the traditional “Revels” entertainment, to which Mr. Schwebel cordially invited me.
I’ll never forget that first night at the Club.Â It seemed as if the stale air, a potpourri of damp smoke and Beefeater martinis, had been awaiting my arrival for nearly a century.Â Old ladies passed by with immobile gray hair and sweetly pungent perfume.Â Bowties appeared in profusion.Â It was at that point that I knew my destiny lay at the Quadrangle Club.
I went back many times during my undergraduate years, and as soon as I became a staff member, I joined the club.Â One quickly finds out that the specialty of the bar is, fittingly enough, an old-fashioned.Â One also discovers that there really are no rules, no formalities, and no structure to the whole place.Â It’s just like the song says:
The stools at the bar were damped with rye,
On the dance floor, the grass grew high,
Thro’ the roof, the moon was shining green,
And the music really gave you some return on what you paid.
Hey Joe, play that old song they always played…
And then came 2008, the year in which the University of Chicago assumed control of the club and hired an outside management firm to run the place.Â And now, utter ruin.Â To quote Josh Schonwald of the Chicago Chronicle:
The green awning is gone. The landscaping is different. The facility has been deep cleaned, and many of the rooms have been replastered and painted. There is a new menu, with a new kitchen ethos toward fresher, more seasonal offerings. There are new plates, silverware and tablecloths. Even the servers look different; they still dress in black and white, but will wear bistro aprons at lunch and the trademark vests at dinner.
Yes, the Green Awning is gone.Â What were they THINKING???Â The Green Awning made you feel like you were Someplace and Somebody as you walked under it.Â I mean, tell me if this ain’t class:
[I have a secret theory that the Green Awning was actually stolen as a prank by the Faculty Club of Northwestern University (if they even have one) and that it is to be found hiding somewhere in Evanston.]
I had a long talk with the Membership Director the other day, Poor Girl, and explained to her that without the awning, the club has a very open, inviting entrance, and that that’s exactly the wrong direction for the club.
As for the supposedly new and improved menu, I suppose this must be what they’re talking about:
Ahh yes… finally soup served with the Appropriate Garnish.Â Not like the old days when it was invariably accompanied by a hyena carcass and earthworms.
The thing is, we all knew this was coming.Â The writing was on the wall: there was no more room for â€œthe profitless niceties of the home-away-from-home of the prewar gentleman-scholar.â€Â There were hints as early as July ’08, when I was part of the performance now known as “The Last Stand of the Old Q Club”.Â It was one of my finest cabaret performances, and played to a packed house.Â There was no Bilbao Song then, but let’s just say, it’s now a sort of unofficial anthem of the place, as far as I’m concerned.Â As the song says:
Now they’ve cleaned up and made it middle class
With parted hams and iced cream
Very bourgeois, very bourgeois,
Just another place to put your ass.
They’ve cleaned up all the booze and broken glass
On parquet floors, you can’t grow grass
They’ve shut the green moon out because of rain,
And the music makes you cringe when you think of what you pay.
Hey Joe, play that old song they always used to play: