Dec 27

Robert Greenberg- The Music of Wagner ????

It is hard to dislike anything that Greenberg does, and this Teaching Company series is no exception. Many of us waited for years for Greenberg to produce this set of lectures, as I’m sure it did not come easy to him. Throughout the lecture set, you sense a very strong love-hate relationship with Wagner and Greenberg. This feeling is reflected in the cynicism found throughout each and every lecture, though usually presented quite humorously, like suggesting, when the sword was named Notung, that perhaps Wagner even had a name for his pillow. In his animosity against the person of Wagner, Greenberg has forgotten his comments on the operas of other composers. Almost every opera has a silly if not ridiculous plot. Almost every opera is inconsistent with real life. No opera is believable. One could crack insults at Verdi for writing an opera where a larger-than-life character becomes fatally obsessed over a lost handkerchief, or a Puccini opera where ladies die of consumption at precise moments and heroes magically appear at the right moment to save tragedy, or Mozart operas where heads of state are made to look like bumbling idiots, Queens of the night appear out of no-where, etc., etc. Greenberg seems to love the music of Wagner, but writhes in agony at the consummate anti-semitism of the composer. Greenberg certainly is correct when he spends lengthy hours describing Wagner as inconsistent, arrogant, self-adoring, egotistical, impetuous, racist, mean-spirited, and any other possible negative epithet. All of these are correct, and would Wagner be alive today, he would be regarded as a despicable Arschloch. Greenberg is quite informative in showing how the thinking of Schöpenauer and virile anti-semitism is reflected in all of the music of Wagner, and this was most informative.

Greenberg does a marvelous job of following the chronological history of Wagner. Of interest is his almost certain Jewish father, which Wagner probably was aware of in forming many opera characters with lost identity. Greenberg probably added too much comment regarding Wagner’s desire for German unification. Most German intellectuals were desirous of unification, just as France had accomplished earlier, and Italy was in the process of accomplishing. It is wrong to presume that what was right for France, England, the United States and Italy was wrong for Germany, and perhaps the world wars came partially as a result of this prejudiced exceptionalism of the rest of the world to German unification. Wagner reflected a German ethos rather than a personal arrogance in desiring to see a unified country.

Greenberg is correct when he repeats often that one cannot separate the man from his music. He is incorrect in not stating that perhaps the greatest insult to Wagner the man is for his music to performed by Jewish conductors (such as Levine) with absolute disregard for the “deeper” meaning in his writings. Such disregard is not only possible but necessary, so that even in an unforgivably flawed person like Wagner, there remains genius to be appreciated. I await the day when a Jewish conductor with an all-Jewish orchestra from Israel performs Parsifal at Bayreuth in a comic fashion.

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Dec 27

Walter Felsenstein Edition ????

This set consists of  Beethoven: Fidelio ????, Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen ???, Mozart: Don Giovanni ????, Verdi: Othello ?????, Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffman ?????, Offenbach: Barbe-Bleu ??, Mozart: Le Nozze de Figaro ????.

Felsenstein was the manager of the Comic Opera in east Berlin, and also the producer of these operas. There distinction with this set, is that the operas were all performed in German, though only Fidelio was actually written in German. They are also produced as movies for film. Oftentimes, the opera script was heavily edited, such as Fidelio, with a number of inessential sections removed. In the Tales of Hoffman, additional spoken material is added and acts 2 and 3 are reversed. The operas work unbelievably well in German, and the modifications mostly improve rather than diminish the operas. These recordings have as much a historical value as well as entertainment value. The first three operas above were in black and white and thus somewhat lacking in the best of quality. The latter operas were very impressive, and the Tales of Hoffman and Othello were competitive with the best productions of those operas. The singing and acting were superlative in all the operas. The only opera that I didn’t like so much was Offenbachs’ Barbe-Bleu, but that had nothing to do with Felsenstein or the production, as it was not an appealing opera compositionally.

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Dec 27

Widor Complete Organ Works, performed by Ben van Oosten ?????

Charles Marie Widor, principal organist at Saint Sulpice in Paris and the most distinguished organ position in all of France, commanded the international scene from the late 19th century up to his death in 1933. He had multiple distinguished students, including Louis Viernce, Dupre, Varese, as well as Albert Schweizer. Widor had a strong interest in the organ works of Bach, and these organ works definitely have the distinct imprint of Bach on them. These are very attractive works, and while his most memorable organ symphony is his 5th, it would be a disservice to one’s self to limit listening to only his 5th symphony, as the grand total of his ouvre is remarkable and worth listening to. This set consists of 7 CD’s, and Ben van Oosten does a marvelous and flawless job of performance. I have not heard other sets of Widor and so can’t offer comparison, though this set seems to have a high rating on most public forums.

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Dec 27

24 Pieces en style libre, 24 Pieces de Fantasie, Complete Organ Symphonies, by Ben van Oosten ????

Louis Vierne was an assistant to Charles-Marie Widor in Paris, and during the first third of the 20th century was a formidable organist at Saint Sulpice in Paris. He was legally blind, and had a fairly unfortunate life, being involved in an accident which injured his left leg, having an unfortunate marriage and social life, but otherwise commanding a great presence in the organ scene. His improvisations often became the subject of many of the compositions above. While he is distinctly different from Widor, there are many similarities in their compositional style, including a Debussy-style compositional trait of painting moods rather than distinctive tunes. The result is organ music that is very easy to listen to, yet compelling enough to never venture towards being boring. Vierne is unfortunately not well enough known, and his works are definite masterpieces worth belonging in a good classical collection. There are a grand total of 9 CD’s in this 3 set collection, and the performance by Ben van Oosten is most compelling.

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Dec 27

Rocky and Bullwinkle, seasons 1-4 ?????

It’s a cartoon, but it’s intended for adults as much as for children, so that both will appreciate and laugh at the jokes and antics. Bullwinkle is a moose without too much of a brain, and Rocky is his partner the flying squirrel, with only slightly more intelligence. Together, they fight the arch-criminals Boris Badenov and Natasha from Pottsylvania. Between the Rocky and Bullwinkle story is multiple other features, such as the fractured fairy tales, Aesop’s fables, Dudley Do-right, Mr. Know-it-all, and other small fragments, mostly featuring Bullwinkle. If you remember any of the Bullwinkle series, this is very much worth sitting through. Eventually, the last (5th) season will be made available. Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy most of the antics of the dynamic duo fighting crime and evil.

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