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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for the ‘Music/Theater’ Category

Mozart and Constanza/A lovely Tale

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Mozart at his happiest? A little tale whose truth we will never know. But, whether it is true or not, it IS a lovely story.

If Mozart’s widow, Constanza, is to be believed, the happiest days of Mozart’s life occurred in 1780, when he was 24 years old and writing the music for “Idomeneo,” an opera that had its premiere performance in Munich on today’s date in 1781. Mozart had good reason to be happy. For starters, the best orchestra in Europe, the Mannheim Court Orchestra, had relocated to Munich, and that orchestra would be the pit band for his new opera. The lead role was being written for Anton Raff, a famous tenor of his day, and, even better than that, there were some exceptionally talented—and exceptionally good-looking—young sopranos in the cast as well. Mozart promptly fell in love with one of them, a strikingly beautiful diva named Aloysia Weber, but ended up marrying her sister Constanza instead. By contemporary accounts, Aloysia, with her high cheekbones and magnificent carriage, was close to the ideal beauty of the day. But Mozart came to appreciate Constanza’s more sympathetic personality, not to mention, in his own words, her “two little black eyes and pretty figure.” Mozart had written several operas already, but music historians are right when they say the canon of truly great Mozart operas begins with “Idomeneo,” an opera that must have been, literally and figuratively, a labor of love.

Song Writer, Hoagy Carmichael

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

November 22nd is the birthday of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, born Hoagland Howard Carmichael in 1899 in Bloomington, Indiana. Hoagy got his nickname from a circus performer who once lived with his family. Carmichael’s parents were a horse-and-buggy driver and a piano player for silent film, and his mother got him started playing the piano when he was six years old. Carmichael joined the Army one day before the end of World War I, then came home to Bloomington to play piano for high school dances.

On visits to Chicago, Carmichael got acquainted with speakeasy jazz and was a fan of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. The speakeasy scene set him up with a gig smuggling champagne, and he used the money to put himself through law school. Though his parents were supportive of his musical talents, Carmichael was eager to leave his poor roots, especially after his sister died from diphtheria — a “victim of poverty,” Carmichael said.

Law degree in hand, Carmichael barely got the chance to practice. He formed a band, began to write music, and by 1926 had penned his first hit, “Riverboat Shuffle.” After that, Hoagy dove into music full-time. His career took him to New York and eventually to Hollywood, where he wrote for soundtracks and appeared in many films.

His 1929 hit “Star Dust” quickly became a standard. By 1963, “Star Dust” had been recorded more than 500 times — the century’s most recorded song — and its lyrics had been translated into 40 languages. “Star Dust” was named by a friend, who said of the song: “That one’s all the girls, the university, the family, the old golden oak, all the good things gone, all wrapped up in a melody.”

Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” during a nostalgic visit to his alma mater, Indiana University, while recalling an old girlfriend. He said: “This melody was bigger than I. It didn’t seem a part of me. Maybe I hadn’t written it at all […] I wanted to shout back at it. ‘Maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you.’”

Louis Armstrong and American music

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

My friend, Dan Garshman, reminded me of this milestone.

Louis Armstrong and American music

On today’s date, July 6, in 1971, jazz great Louis Armstrong died in New York City at the age of 69. He was born in New Orleans, and for years, all the standard reference books listed his birthday as the Fourth of July, 1900. Well, it turned out that wonderfully symbolic date was cooked up by Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser. Louis himself wasn’t sure when he was born, so the 4th of July seemed as good a date as any, and was accepted as fact for many years. Eventually documents were discovered that proved Armstrong was actually born on August 4, 1901.

Armstrong earned the nickname “Satchmo”-short for “Satchelmouth”-and in later years he was affectionately dubbed “Pops.” If the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is to be believed, Armstrong was the central figure in the development of jazz in the 20th century.

In the 1960s, radical blacks criticized Armstrong as an “Uncle Tom” too eager to please white audiences, forgetting that it was Armstrong, alone among his jazz peers, who courageously criticized President Eisenhower for not defending the black children attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The British music critic Norman Lebrecht offered this assessment: “Armstrong never bowed his head nor sang from anywhere but the heart. He was a figure of enormous dignity and a musical innovator of universal importance.”

Acknowledging his influence in American concert music, composer Libby Larsen subtitled one of her works, a 1990 Piano Concerto, “Since Armstrong>”

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

The End of 2012––– November and December Redux

November and December, 2012, have been dismal, dreary months. November can be claimed (by at least some of us) as “d” and “d” because of the reelection of Obama and a failure to win the Senate. December is “d” and “d” primarily because of the hideous tragedy in Newtown/Sandy Hook where, on December 14th, twenty elementary school children and six teachers were killed by a twenty-year-old lunatic who started his day of slaughter in murdering his mother by shooting her in the face! He used several automatic weapons in his awful rampage. This gruesome event has called forth the anti-gun lobby who wish to ban all guns (can’t do as long as the Constitution is in force ––– although might not be long if our government continues to grow and control our lives) and the NRA idiots who continue to forster guns, hiding behind the Second Amendment, despite that no one can explain the need for automatic weapons for hunting deer.
A new committee has been empowered by the president to investigate gun violence and come up with recommendations. Both sides will chatter, some inconsequential, ineffective bill will be passed, and the mayhem will continue. Why? Because our government is made up of ill-educated ideologues ––– liberal and conservative ––– who don’t give a hoot and a holler about the fate of our nation, but rather how to get reelected and continue to make lots of money so he/she can retire in luxury.
Thus, the other crucial elements in this grotesque episode at Sandy Hook are neglected ––– the need for thousands of new beds for the lunatics that inhabit our society; the gross coarsening of our culture with its objectionable films/plays/games glorifying mayhem with firearms, knives, poisons, blunt instruments; the loss of courtesy in our dealings with our fellow citizens; the absence of dignity in our clothing, our speech, our music; the burgeoning drug culture in our society; and the abysmal lack of knowledge about our history and our traditions.
Perhaps 2013 will be a better year. I doubt it. I think there is no turning back from the debasement of our culture, the heavy hand of our government, and the dangers of the world beyond our borders.
More to come. I’m going to try to fill  up this blog before 1/1/13.

Two Examples of Fine Entertainment

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen and heard two memorable events in the theater.
Max Raabe and his Palast Orchester performed the high style and musical glory of the 1920’s and 30’s at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. This is the third time I’ve seen and heard this group. Raabe  and his 12 member band of superb musicians have been together for about 10 years. Raabe is a singer of great range who captures the cabaret music of Europe and the United States during the 20’s and 30’s with such songs as: “I Kiss Your Hand Madame,”  “My Little Green Kaktus,”  “Cheek to Cheek,”  “Night and Day,”  “I Got Rhythm,” and the unforgettable, “My Gorilla Has a Villa in a Zoo,”  and many more.
Raabe provides wry commentary before each song. He and the band have performed in many cities in the United States and  across the globe including Shanghai, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, Amsterdam, Rome, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo. When they return to Philadelphia, or wherever, don’t miss seeing them.

A totally different experience was Clybourne Park. It is a play about race, guilt, grief and loss. It is powerful. I saw it played at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia. It takes the 1959 play, “Raisin in the Sun,” and turns the story around telling it from the opposite angle, the angle of the people (the villains) who tried to keep blacks out of certain housing in the 1959 play. The acting is quite good. The play should not be missed. It is going to New York City next.


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