Fanfare Rondeau by Jean-Joseph Mouret…Composition #22/50: Keepin’ It Classy

The dashing composer Jean-Joseph Mouret

“Fanfare Rondeau” was composed by Jean-Joseph Mouret as part of his Suite De Symphonies in 1729 which makes this composition almost three hundred years old! It is certainly one of the oldest pieces of music that I have ever commented on in a post format such as this. In addition to that, “Fanfare Rondeau” is the only composition of Mouret’s to still be played today with any regularity. Thus, not only is this the oldest work to appear in any music series of mine, it also makes Jean-Joseph Mouret the original one-hit wonder! Like all of the music featured in Keepin’ It Classy, “Fanfare Rondeau” is a piece of music that you will recognize from the opening notes. In fact, although this composition was well-received at the time of its creation, it has become even more popular today because of its association with a famous TV show. So let’s take a closer look at this noteworthy composition and the man who created it. Here is the story of “Fanfare Rondeau” by Jean-Joseph Mouret.

During his lifetime, Jean-Joseph Mouret was quite a famous and popular composer. As a young man, he was noted for his quick wit, stylish disposition and the ease with which he moved in the social circles of the French nobility. While barely into his twenties, Mouret fell under the protective patronage of Anne, the Duchess of Maine. Anne was originally a member of the House of Bourbon, which was a powerful political family in aristocratic circles in France. In a marriage of political convenience, she became married to Louis-Auguste, the illegitimate son of King Louis XIV. The Duchess of Maine used her influential position to promote French culture and the Arts. She became known for the banquets she held and for the musical performances she commissioned. For the position of Surintendant de la Musique, she selected the young Jean-Joseph Mouret. He quickly fell into his role as a valued member of the Duchess of Maine’s royal court and created hundreds of compositions in her honour that became the featured music played during her feasts. Consequently, Mouret enjoyed much favour among the aristocracy and was able to live a life of relative luxury for a man who had no royal bloodline of his own.

(Agen) Portrait de Marie-Anne de Bourbon, princesse de Conti 1690-91- François de Troy – Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Agen

Because the vast majority of the music he created was never performed outside of the royal ballrooms of the Duke and Duchess of Maine, Mouret’s work never became popular in the larger, more commercial sense. In fact, the only time Jean-Joseph Mouret ventured beyond the protective confines of the royal household, his efforts met with disastrous results. At that time in France, the Catholic Church was a powerful presence in the political landscape. Consequently, religious observances were strictly adhered to by most everyone. For example, during the period known as Lent, all opera houses in Paris closed their doors out of respect for the Catholic Church. However, not everyone in France was Catholic, and it was felt that The Arts should continue during Lent as long as they were such that all performances had thematic aspects that respected the religious tone of the times. Thus, a series of public concerts were organized that became known as Concerts Spirituel. These concerts were originally organized by someone else but soon the series fell into financial ruin. In his position of Surintendant de la Musique in the royal court, Jean-Joseph Mouret was asked to come in and take over the leadership of these secular concerts. Mouret was delighted to have been approached and saw this as an opportunity to expand his influence beyond the walls of the royal palace. However, it turned out that the members of the nobility had sworn their allegiance to the Catholic Church, and they refused to follow their favourite composer into the public world of Parisian music. Not long after agreeing to head the Concerts Spirituel series, Mouret was forced to declare bankruptcy. It was a shameful and humiliating moment for Mouret. Afterwards, he was forced to return to his duties at the behest of the Duchess of Maine having had any political or career ambitions stripped from him leaving him effectively neutered in the eyes of those in the royal court. For the remainder of his life, he composed music for the Duchess and her friends…and never again for anyone else.

As mentioned, there is only one piece of Mouret’s entire musical catalogue that has survived the passage of time and that is a piece of music entitled “Fanfare Rondeau”. As you may know, a fanfare is a piece of music that is often played when someone of importance is being welcomed into a place where a crowd has gathered. In Mouret’s case, his “Fanfare Rondeau” was commissioned to announce the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Maine into the royal ballroom. In musical terms, a rondeau is a segment of music that is part of a sequence of structured movements called musical forms. Back during the Baroque Period of classical music, the use of the standardized musical form compositional structure was common practice. In that common structure, the rondeau was considered to be the first segment of the musical form (which often consisted of three to four parts). Thus, in his Suites de Symphonies, the rondeau was the introductory segment of the symphony and because it was being used to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Maine into the ballroom, the rondeau was also considered to be a fanfare, thus the piece became known as “Fanfare Rondeau”.

This composition was very popular when it debuted. It became the standard introductory fanfare used to welcome royal visitors into any royal court in France thereafter. But what ensured the continued relevance of “Fanfare Rondeau” no longer has anything to do with the shiny people of the noble class. Instead, what made this composition so well known and popular today was its selection as the opening theme for the PBS television series, Masterpiece Theater. The producers of Masterpiece Theater wanted to bring a sense of the importance of art and culture into the living rooms of regular Americans by showcasing some of the finest theatrical plays and movies available. In order to give their programmes a regal air, the producers selected “Fanfare Rondeau” as their show’s opening theme. Masterpiece Theater has been one of the flagship shows on the entire PBS network, and as such, the playing of “Fanfare Rondeau” has come to represent PBS, as a whole, in the eyes of the world. Although Jean-Joseph Mouret has long since passed away, his ability to capture the essence of upper class refinement in music has granted him a sense of immortality that finally extends his name beyond the walls of the royal palace of the Duke and Duchess of Maine in France. The proof that the name of Jean-Joseph Mouret lives on will be seen in the fact that you will know his music the second it begins. His “Fanfare Rondeau” has become synonymous with classiness and refinement. Undoubtedly, this would make Mouret proud.

The link to the video for the composition “Fanfare Rondeau” by Jean-Joseph Mouret can be found here.

The link to the video for the playing of the opening theme to Masterpiece Theatre on PBS can be found here.

The link to the official website for Jean-Joseph Mouret can be found here.

The link to the world’s greatest classical music station…Classical FM 103.1…broadcasting out of my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Entrance of the Gladiators by Julius Fucik…Composition #21/50: Keepin’ It Classy

Photo of Czech composer Julius Fucik in military uniform.
Composer of the Entrance of the Gladiators, Julius Fucik.

Julius Fučik was born in Prague in the Czech Republic in 1876 when that part of the world was still considered part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was born into a creative family. His brother was a musician and an opera singer and his nephew was a journalist and author who, as it turned out, was killed by order of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s when he was consolidating power and eliminating his political opponents. Julius Fučik grew up to be a composer who specialized in military marches. But, more specifically than that, Fučik was someone who helped revolutionize the very idea of orchestral compositions because he was enamoured with brass and woodwind instruments.

Sheet music for the composition: "Entrance of the Gladiators" by Julius Fucik

At the turn of the century, the vast majority of classical compositions were written for piano or strings or softer woodwind instruments such as the flute or the oboe. Fučik believed in the power and vibrancy of brass. Thus, he wrote many of his earliest compositions for trumpet, trombone and tuba. When he first debuted his brass-oriented works, audiences were taken aback at the forcefulness of it all! His compositions were loud and to some, even strident in tone. After his initial works were aired, it was suggested to Fučik that instead of performing for seated audiences, his compositions were better suited for military marches. With that in mind, Fučik joined the Austro-Hungarian military and soon rose through the ranks and became a military composer. From that point onward, his compositions were all written with the idea that they would be played during military parades (when the soldiers would exhibit their marching skills in a series of highly choreographed marching routines) or else as a way of inspiring troops before entering into actual battle. Of all the military marches that Julius Fučik composed during his lifetime, none was more famous or popular than the march entitled, “Entrance of the Gladiators”.

“Entrance of the Gladiators” has gone on to become one of the most recognizable tunes ever written in the history of recorded music. Even most children today know this song when it is played. However, the reason that “Entrance of the Gladiators” became so popular differs from the reason for its initial composition in a way that would horrify Julius Fučik if he were alive today. Over a century ago, making brass instruments the centrepiece of a classical composition was a novel idea. As mentioned already, Julius Fučik was one of the earliest composers to go this route. So, when he created “Entrance of the Gladiators”, he wanted to show off his skills a little, thus he incorporated a section within the piece that allowed him to demonstrate the capability of brass instruments to navigate the chromatic scales in music. Chromatic scales are musical notes that are situated at regular, consistent intervals from each other. An example would be when you sing do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do…the notes rise at regular intervals and fall back at those same intervals if you reverse the scales. Anyway, Julius Fučik decided to demonstrate how flexible brass instruments could be by having them play the chromatic scales forward and backward as the core component of “Entrance of the Gladiators”. When he debuted this composition, it was very well received and Fučik was rewarded with a military promotion as a result of his creative thinking.

Three people in the circus ring: the ringmaster in a red coat and top hat, a man in a checker box suit doin a somersault and a lady in a yellow dress with black folks dots.
Thunder and Blazes is typically played as a way of introducing clowns when it is their turn to enter the centre circus ring.

However, not long after Fučik debuted his march, a Canadian composer named Louis-Philippe Laurendeau took the composition, increased its tempo slightly and created an altered version called “Thunder and Blazes” that has gone on to become popular the world over. Laurendeau’s version of “Entrance of the Gladiators” is the standard tune that is played at circuses, especially when the clowns are set to arrive in the centre ring. Whether or not Laurendeau intended to make a political statement by comparing soldiers and war to clowns and a circus is something that has never been made clear. But, the truth of the matter is that he took a military march and turned it into a child’s delight. “Entrance of the Gladiators” is a piece of music that you will know immediately when it starts to play. Chances are great that by the time you are finished listening to it, you will not be thinking of war and of conquest, but instead will be smiling and thinking of clowns. I don’t know about you but I prefer my music to inspire happy thoughts as opposed to hurtful, hateful ones, so from my perspective, Laurendeau has done a good thing here. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.

The link to the video for the composition “Entrance of the Gladiators” by Julius Fučik can be found here.

The link to the official website for Julius Fučik can be found here.

The link to the official website for Louis-Philippe Laurendeau can be found here.

The link to classical music station, Classical 103.1, located in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

In Flanders by Ivor Gurney…Composition 20/50: Keepin’ It Classy

In Flanders by Ivor Gurney…Composition 20/50: Keepin’ It Classy

Editor’s Note: I feel this post is a day late and a dollar short. It is November 14th today (as of the push of the “Publish” button). November 11th is known as Remembrance Day here in Canada. On that day there are many ceremonies held across the country to honour those who served in various wars under the banner of Canada and the Canadian flag. However, I am of the opinion that the act of remembrance is something that should be a year-long affair. After all, my ability to live a life of peace is a year-long affair. Therefore, I publish this post a few days in arrears of the official Day of Remembrance in Canada. My gratitude is not restricted to dates on calendars. Please enjoy these words in the spirit of remembrance in which they were written.

As of the writing of this post, I have been alive for fifty-eight years and not once in all that time has someone tried to kill me. At least to my knowledge. I have never pre-checked the food or drink I consume for poison. When I leave my house, I don’t look down for trip-wires or land mines. There has never been an assassination attempt made on my life as I shop in local stores or stroll along the shoreline of my town. I don’t personally know anyone who has been the victim of a suicide bomber. The truth is that every single day of my life I have known peace. Every single day. Without fail or exception. I have lived a peace-filled life for all of my fifty-eight years and for that, I consider myself extremely lucky.

Part of my ability to make this claim is based on circumstance. I live in Canada and have done so for my whole life. In the time that I have been alive, Canada has never fought a war on home soil. In addition, while there have been wars around the world during my lifetime, Canada has never declared war and become an enemy combatant in any of these conflicts, and therefore, there has been no wartime conscription in which I may have been swept up. This makes me a civilian. I am a civilian in a peaceful country. This allows me to go about the business of living my life without fear of being killed by someone who has set out to do me harm.

This sculpture is dedicated to those who served in the merchant marine. The sculpture sits on the boardwalk along the harbour in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

This makes the act of Remembrance different for me than it does for those who have served in Canada’s Armed Forces. It also makes it different for people like my ninety-one year old mother who still tells stories of German U-boats off the coast of Sydney, Nova Scotia during World War II when she was just a teenager. In fact, along the boardwalk by Sydney’s harbour, there is a commemorative sculpture that honours the men and women of the Merchant Marine. These brave souls sailed an armada of supply ships from North America across the Atlantic Ocean to England, thus circumventing attempts by German forces to erect a blockade of England and starve it into submission and surrender. My mother remembers it all, and for her (as well as those who have served in Peacekeeping missions around the world), the act of Remembrance is a personal and solemn affair. So, as I don my poppy and bow my head, I do so from a different perspective…gratitude.

Flanders Fields in Belgium during WWI.

I am thankful to everyone who bravely faced death so that I may not. I will never know what you know and I imagine that from your perspective, you consider that a lucky thing for me to be able to say. While I have never faced battle, I am under no illusion that doing so is like being in a video game or a Hollywood movie. I am sure that in real life, the enemy soldiers are not all poor shots. My only basis for claiming to have some sense of understanding of what it is like to be at war comes from what I have seen in news reels or documentaries, or else, that I have read from books, newspapers and magazines. For those of us on the civilian side of things, we owe a debt of gratitude, not only to those who fought in wars so that we may enjoy the freedom that we do today, but, also, to those with an artistic bent who painted pictures, wrote stories or composed music that described the hellish conditions of war for the rest of us. In Canada, the most famous example of this comes in the form of a poem entitled “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae. His poem is one that most, if not all, Canadian school children learn, and is one that is read aloud across the land on the 11th of November each year. Flanders Fields is an area of land not far from Ypres in Belgium. Not everyone is aware that many of the most horrific battles of World War I were fought in Belgium. The slaughter that was The Battle of Passchendaele took place less than half an hour from Flanders Fields. In photos and films that I have seen, it seems like the battlefields were not, in fact, fields at all. Instead, they were endless expanses of mud, pock-marked by shell craters deep enough and slippery enough to drown many a soldier seeking escape from being exposed above ground in No Man’s Land. I have only seen the photos, as taken by war photographers such as Canadian William Rider-Rider, but for me, those photos are enough to know that I would never have wanted to be there.

Poet/Composer Ivor Gurney.

But someone who was there was a young Englishman named Ivor Gurney. Gurney was a gifted poet, musician and composer when World War I broke out. At that time, it was considered every young man’s patriotic duty to enlist so he did. However, upon enlisting, Gurney showed the first of many indications that he was not your average soldier going off to war. Ivor Gurney enjoyed privilege in his teenage life, and so would have been automatically placed in line for the officer ranks. However, upon enlisting, Gurney asked to be registered as a Private. When asked about this decision in later years, Gurney proclaimed that it was the Officer ranks who always lead the charges out of the trenches, and from what he had heard of battles already fought along The Western Front, being first out of the trenches was often akin to a suicide mission. So, he opted for pragmatism in the face of insanity and stayed in the trenches as long as he could before emerging to fight. Between engagements, Gurney wrote poetry of the same sort that John McCrae did. He wrote of the horrific conditions he found himself in. He wrote about comrades held close and then lost in battle. He also wrote about the mundane things, such as the texture of his rations, the way cigarette smoke rose into the air and of his longing for his home.

This plaque is displayed at Westminster Abbey. It features the names of England’s sixteen great “War Poets”. Ivor Gurney is listed near the middle of the plaque.

Like many soldiers who survived WWI, Gurney got lucky, in a way, because of injury and by being gassed with mustard gas. In both cases, Ivor Gurney’s injuries allowed him to be removed from the front lines and placed in the care of hospital staff. It was while recovering from being gassed that Gurney actually met a nurse with whom he fell in love. Eventually, Gurney was given an honourable discharge on the basis of “shellshock”. At the time, not much was understood about what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. One hundred years ago, mental illness was something that wasn’t discussed in civilized society. So, when Ivor Gurney was discharged, he was unable to cope with civilian life and ended up being declared insane, and, as a result, was committed to mental health facilities for most of his adult life. While this may sound tragic…and, of course, it is…the fact is that the regimented nature of life in a mental institution helped instill a sense of discipline in Gurney. At the core of who he was, Ivor Gurney was an artist and a creator. With the majority of life decisions now made for him by hospital staff, Gurney was free to focus his thoughts solely on creativity. Thus, Gurney’s period of hospitalization ended up being the most prolific of his entire life. While a patient in a variety of psychiatric hospitals, Ivor Gurney created over three hundred musical compositions, as well as several complete volumes of poetry. One of his most famous compositions was called “In Flanders”. It was based upon a poem by his friend, fellow poet, F.W. Harvey. “In Flanders” is a lament by a soldier for the peaceful valleys of home in England. This poem/composition helped English citizens come to better understand the conditions under which the men in their lives fought and died. Ivor Gurney died at the age of 47. Like many talented artists, Gurney’s creativity was always tenuous in nature. To others, he always seemed to live on the very edge between brilliance and complete instability. As prolific as he was, there was an equal amount of his work that was incomprehensible, and that has only survived destruction because of how it provided a window for others to see into the madness that was Gurney’s mind. But, when the storms of his mind subsided long enough for his creativity to rise to the fore, Ivor Gurney produced some of the clearest and most articulate visions of the apocalyptic nature of war in the history of English music and literature.. Consequently, after his death, Gurney’s work was assessed properly in its complete depth and vast scope. Because of this re-evaluation, Gurney was accorded a much higher degree of respect for his work. This resulted in Gurney being acknowledged in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey as one of the sixteen greatest War Poets in English history.

So, when it comes to Remembrance, I remain grateful for the life I am able to live. To those who fought in the trenches and on the beaches, in the air and on the sea, I thank you. I thank you, and in doing so, I acknowledge that I will never know what you know. My knowledge comes from the artists who painted pictures for the rest of us with their paintings, their poetry and their music. To them, I am thankful for their vision and their skill at providing a sense of the horror of it all and giving scope to the epic nature of what war truly is. But most of all, I place my hand over my heart in gratitude that someone like me should be so lucky as to learn about war through the notes of a song or the words of a poem while never having to have lived through it. As I write these final words, I do so without fear. I am as safe as one can be on this day. My to-do list today includes many things, but facing death from an enemy combatant is not one of them.

The link to the video for the composition “In Flanders” by Ivor Gurney can be found here. ***Lyrics can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Ivor Gurney Trust can be found here.

The link to the video of Leonard Cohen reading the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae can be found here.

The link to the official website for the museum at Flanders Fields in Belgium can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Juno Beach Centre in France can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Vimy Ridge Memorial can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission can be found here. (The CWGC acts to maintain all war graves containing the bodies of Commonwealth soldiers regardless of where they are buried throughout the world).

The link to the official website for photographer William Rider-Rider can be found here. *(Mr. Rider-Rider’s photographs account for many of the most famous and important photographs taken by a Canadian photographer during WWI).

The link to the official Government of Canada website for all things to do with Remembrance can be found here. *(This includes maps/links to all memorial cairns/cenotaphs in Canada, all soldiers listed in the Book of Honour at Parliament Hill and much, much more).

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Can-can by Jacques Offenbach…Composition #19/50: Keepin’ It Classy.

Editor’s note: Today’s post contains another one of those words that seems to have multiple spellings. I have seen the dance known as The Can-can spelled as I just did but also, Can-Can and, as well Cancan and cancan, The most common way seems to be Can-can so that is the spelling I am going with. Just so ya know. 🙂

German composer Jacques Offenbach.

Jacques Offenbach was a German composer who gained fame because of his creative work in France. Offenbach was known for writing operettas, most of which were comedic and dealt with the ruling aristocracy in France. At the time of his fame, he often directed his humour at the Emperor Napoleon. While Offenbach targeted the ruling class in many well-received plays, there was one that stood out from among the rest. It was an operetta called, Orphee aux enfers or, in English, Orpheus in the Underworld. This operetta was a take on the famous legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. In Offenbach’s take on the classic tale, Orpheus and Eurydice are a married couple who no longer like each other and wish to be apart. Orpheus discusses his frustrations with Pluto, God of the Underworld (who happens to fancy Eurydice). The two agree on a plan in which Eurydice will be bitten by snakes that Orpheus will release. When that happens, Pluto will rise up and take Eurydice to his domain in the Underworld. It will be a win-win for them both. Unfortunately for Orphues, he is not allowed to enjoy his freedom. He is plagued by a Greek chorus-like character aptly named “Public Opinion” who berates and badgers Orpheus to the point where he agrees to go into Hell to get his wife back. While in the Underworld, Orpheus witnesses the God and Goddesses behaving badly, which many took to be a reference to Napoleon and his court. In any case, as the finale of the operetta was being reached, a scene unfolds at a banquet for the Gods in which a new dance is debuted. It was a raucous, joyous, energy-filled affair that was received by audiences with rapturous applause. That dance was called the Galop infernal or as it became known, The Can-can.

Jane Avril. 1893.

In Offenbach’s operetta, The Can-can was a group dance for couples. Like all trendsetting cultural situations such as this, The Can-can became popular outside of the parameters of the play. It began to be performed in night clubs all over Paris. At first, this dance remained a couples-only dance in which four couples would perform it together in a circle facing inward, then outward and then, expanding out into a straight line. As the popularity of the dance continued to climb, certain dancers became experts in the performance of it. Initially, those who excelled were all men. The Can-can became known as an athletic dance best performed by strong, supple males. However, it was soon copied by females. These females knew that they could not match the brute strength of the acrobatic male dancers but they knew that they had an advantage that the men couldn’t touch, and that was their sexuality. So, before anyone knew it, The Can-can became a sexy, sensual, scandalous dance in which the female dancers would wear crotchless and/or thong-like panties under their skirts. The high-kicking finale to the dance was quite revealing, if you know what I mean. Consequently, as it was in the beginning for the male dancers, the same trend happened for the females that saw certain dancers become famous for their Can-can routines. One of the most famous of them all was a woman named Jane Avril.

French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Avril danced in nightclubs all over Paris and became quite wealthy and famous because of her Can-can skills. In fact, she ended up being hired as the permanent headlining act at the most famous Parisian nightclub of them all…The Moulin Rouge. Avril’s time at The Moulin Rouge was immortalized by one of France’s most famous artists, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Toulouse-Lautrec created over 700 paintings before his death at age 37. Unfortunately for him, he had a physical affliction that caused his legs to be abnormally short. Because of the social stigma he encountered in life, Toulouse-Lautrec developed an addiction to alcohol and, as well, to prostitutes. Monsieur Toulouse-Lautrec was known for his willingness to pay money for the attention of females so he became a regular customer at nightclubs like The Moulin Rouge. Once inside, the young dancers would make much of him and, for a brief while, he would feel happy and would be able to forget about his disability. In gratitude, Toulouse-Lautrec approached the owners of The Moulin Rouge and offered to create a series of professional poster-like paintings to promote the club. The owners accepted his offer. In the end, Toulouse-Lautrec created dozens of iconic Moulin Rouge posters, many of which feature a young dancer known as Jane Avril.

As has been the case with many composers of the classical era, Offenbach created hundreds of musical compositions of which he was very proud and for which audiences were generous with their applause. However, his Galop infernal became the musical creation that he is most famous for, whether he wanted it that way or not. It was said that Offenbach did not approve of the salacious manner in which The Can-can ended up being performed in venues like The Moulin Rouge but there was little he could do to stop the rise in interest once it became sexualized. While certainly not the first case of this sort, the evolution of The Can-can from how it was used in an operetta about Napoleon to how it ended up being marketed at The Moulin Rouge is one of the most famous examples of the advertising maxim that “sex sells”. Whether that should or should not be the way the world works is not up for debate because the marketing of healthy female bodies continues unabated a full century later. Whether it is a fashion runway, a “gentleman’s club”, an auto trade show or a venue like Radio City Music Hall in NYC (with The Rockettes), it isn’t difficult to find strong, healthy, attractive females moving about for money. Regardless of your view on this matter… you thank Mr. Offenbach for introducing his dance or do you curse him?…the fact remains that The Can-can is arguably one of the best known dance-oriented musical compositions ever created. For that, I think that Jacques Offenbach should be proud. It is not just anyone who can create something that ends up transcending time.

The link to the video for the composition, “The Can-can” by Jacques Offenbach can be found here.

The link to the official website for Jacques Offenbach can be found here.

The link to the official website for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec can be found here.

The link to the official website for Jane Avril can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Moulin Rouge Night club can be found here.

The link to the official website of the best classical music radio station….Classical 103.1….found in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo) by Pietro Mascagni…Composition #18/50: Keepin’ It Classy.

Cavalleria Rusticana (intermezzo) for violin by Pietro Mascagni.

If you have a heart that beats then the intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria Rusticana will fill it with sadness or with love or both. Many point to this wonderful piece of music as being the saddest, as well as the most beautiful composition ever written. As well as holding a special place in the annals of Italian opera history, the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana always holds a prominent place in the world of cinema. What is truly amazing about it all is that this composition was not played during a major portion of the opera from which it draws its name. In fact, the composer, Pietro Mascagni was so unsure of its merits that, at first, he refused to submit it for inclusion in the opera and had intended to throw it away as being unworthy. To Mascagni’s wife, who rescued the composition from within her husband’s desk where it had been hidden, the world owes her a debt of gratitude. For never in the history of classical music has something born of self-doubt given way to becoming such a masterpiece. Here is the story of the world’s most famous intermezzo, Cavalleria Rusticana.

Composer Pietro Mascagni.

Pietro Mascagni was just a young man in his twenties when he received word that a competition had been declared to find the best one-act opera in Italy. Mascagni, who had created nothing of note up until this point, was encouraged by his friends and family to put together an entry. So, with the help of two friends who created the libretto (the hand book given to audiences that explained the story of the opera as it unfolded on stage in song), Mascagni began work on an opera entitled Cavalleria Rusticana. Work by Mascagni on the musical score happened in fits and starts and with the deadline for entries fast approaching, he grew anxious and began to question the worth of his own material. It was during these final weeks that Mascagni withdrew the intermezzo he had written as being unworthy. His young wife, Lina, had listened to the intermezzo as it was being developed and thought it was incredibly moving. So, unbeknownst to Mascagni, she retrieved the forsaken composition and brought it to the attention of the librettists who, knowing more about opera than she did at the time, confirmed for her its worth. They, in turn, responded to Mascagni by insisting that the intermezzo be re-inserted into the opera. They even wrote a special scene specifically for it. In the end, Mascagni relented. The intermezzo was put back into his opera and, once completed, the entire opera was submitted on time for judging in the competition.

As it turned out, one of the main sources for Mascagni’s lack of confidence in his own work was due to the innovative nature of its theme. Italian opera had a long history of celebrating God and/or royalty. So, when Mascagni created an opera based upon the lives of ordinary people, it seemed completely unthinkable that such subject matter would ever be deemed as being appropriate for the great opera stages of Italy. But, the uniqueness of the storyline was what struck the judges. Cavalleria Rusticana’s story was, at the time, a completely fresh and original take on what an opera could be. In fact, it ushered in a style of opera known as verismo or “realistic” operas. Shortly thereafter, the sub-genre of verismo operas was solidified with the creation of the classic opera, Pagliacci. But, Cavalleria Rusticana came first and will always be noted for changing the face of Italian opera forever.

As the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana plays, the men prepare to duel and the towns folk gather, the scorned women comfort each other.

The title, Cavalleria Rusticana means “rustic chivalry” or, simply, the bravery of the common folk. In the opera (which was taken from a play of the same name by a writer named Giovanni Verga), Mascagni spins a one act yarn about mistaken love involving two men and two women. The story ends with one of the men taking out a vendetta against the other for an act of betrayal. Just as the two men prepare for their duel to the death, the intermezzo is performed. In operatic terms, an intermezzo is essentially an intermission or a filler scene that is placed between two other main scenes in order to provide a bit of comic relief or to allow a more minor character to add an extra layer of meaning and detail to the story through a plot device such as an aside. Intermezzos, by nature, are not usually that lengthy. So, while the two men prepare to duel, the towns folk gather, the scorned women talk and the full nature of the betrayal is made clear for all to see. All the while, Mascagni’s intermezzo plays on. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, what Mascagni first thought was unworthy turned out to be a work of incredible beauty. The intermezzo’s score was so touching that the first audiences to witness the opera were said to have jumped to their feet in rapturous applause. The emotional meaning being conveyed through Mascagni’s music enriched the drama that was unfolding on stage and brought it to a level that touched the hearts of all who heard it. While not the first example of a musical score being used to amplify the drama inherent in a story, the intermezzo for Cavalleria Rusticana is often held up as the gold standard by many other creative talents, as we shall soon see.

Just one of the great films made better for having incorporated Mascagni’s intermezzo into its soundtrack.

While Mascagni was changing the world of Italian opera forever with his courageous decision to make opera more accessible and realistic in the eyes of ordinary citizens, the impact of his bravery has rippled out throughout the centuries and can be seen in how the intermezzo was used in two very famous Hollywood movies. First of all, we have well known director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese is of Italian descent and was raised in a household that valued Italian culture. That culture included Italian opera. So, it was in an atmosphere of respect, pride and patriotism that he first heard Mascagni’s intermezzo played in his house as a child. The story of how Mascagni changed the nature of how stories were told on stage resonated with Scorsese. As Scorsese grew up and began to show an interest and an inclination toward filmmaking, the example set by Mascagni sat as a major influence. Thus, it was to the surprise of no one who knew him that Scorcese eventually came to incorporate Mascagni’s intermezzo into one of his own most famous films, Raging Bull. In Scorsese’s masterful hands, his movie opens with a scene of boxer Ray Lamotta alone in a ring. He is warming up for a fight. He is a solitary figure about to put his life on the line while the crowd cheers for each blow landed and received. All the while Lamotta’s character moves, Mascagni’s intermezzo plays. There is no other sound except for this beautiful music designed to describe with notes, a sense of courage summoned in the face of possible death. Many who watched this Academy Award winning film point to this opening scene as setting the rich tone for the entire movie and giving it the emotional heft it maintained throughout. Mascagni’s intermezzo was also used in the closing scene of another Italian-themed movie of note, Godfather-III. In that scene, Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, suffers an unthinkable loss as his daughter is killed in an attempt on his own life. To hold his dying daughter in his arms, while the intermezzo played, brought audiences to understand the full circle of a life lived in the Mafia. It is to know the most profound love and the most profound sadness at the same time. *I will play both scenes in the links to follow at the end of this post.

It is not always easy to be different. There is a certain comfort in not drawing attention to yourself by taking a path in life that is well trodden by others who have preceded you. It is much more difficult to create your own path. I feel that it was understandable for Mascagni to feel that lack of confidence that he did. As all creative types feel at one time or another, who are we to value our own thoughts to such a high degree? For Mascagni, who was only allowed entry into the opera competition because it was open for novice composers, to defy convention took great courage, indeed. It took cavalleria rusticana, as it turned out. I think it also goes to show the importance of having a network of support around you in life. If it had not been for the efforts of his young wife and his libretto-writing friends, Mascagni may have never had the faith in himself that he needed in order to complete his work and then, to actually submit it for scrutiny by judges who had a long tenure in the Italian opera community to which he was seeking to join. One never knows when something you do will change the world in a profound way but that was certainly the case for Pietro Mascagni and his intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, which many call the most beautiful composition ever created. Thank goodness for those who opt for the path less trodden.

The link to the video for the composition, Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo) can be found here.

The link to the opening scene from the movie, Raging Bull, can be seen here.

The link to the closing scene from the movie, Godfather-III can be found here.

The link to the official website for Pietro Mascagni can be found here.

The link to the best classical music radio station in the world…Classical 103.1…broadcasting out of my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas: Composition #17/50…Keepin’ It Classy.

In today’s post we are going to talk about the classic tale of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. For many of you, when I mention this story title, you are probably taken back to that famous segment of Walt Disney’s film, Fantasia, which stars Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who wages a losing battle against some magical mops because he had used a magic spell to get his work done instead of doing the work himself. If this is the image that you have then congratulations because what Walt Disney ended up doing with Fantasia was very innovative and important. We will talk about that in greater detail below. But first, did you know that the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is over 225 years old?! In fact, there have been three major iterations of this story spread liberally over those two and a quarter centuries. Each iteration was unique to the others, each was revolutionary at the time of its debut and each was extremely well-received by critics and public audiences, too. So, let’s travel back in time to 1797 and to Germany, where the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice truly begins.

The original author of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

In 1797, one of the world’s great thinkers, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was busy writing and speaking on matters of philosophy, politics, literature, music, religion, botany and much more. Goethe’s ideas ended up becoming some of the foundational precepts that have guided the development of western civilization. His novels are listed among the most important and influential in history. He is revered as a mentor to famed philosophers such as Hegel, Schopenhauer, Neitzsche and Carl Jung. In the field of The Arts, Goethe was acknowledged as a master of literary criticism and review, as well as that of classical music compositions by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler. Goethe was also a poet. In 1797, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a fourteen stanza poem entitled Dar Zauberlehrling. In English, we know the title as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The apprentice casts his spell. Goethe version.

Goethe’s poem tells the tale of a sorcerer who leaves the cleaning of his workshop to his young apprentice. Before going, the sorcerer leaves strict instructions with the apprentice to not touch any of the magical equipment that was located throughout the workshop and, most importantly of all, not to open the sorcerer’s spellbook and say any spells out loud. The sorcerer leaves the apprentice to his chores and exits the workshop. The apprentice gets to work but soon tires of his chores. Seeking an easy way out of having to do his work, the apprentice disobeys the sorcerer by opening his spellbook to look for a spell that would cause magic to do the work for him. The apprentice discovers a spell that he thinks might work for him. He states the spell aloud. Before he knows it, the mop begins to work on its own but, in doing so, it works too quickly and makes an even bigger mess. The apprentice panics because he does not know how to undo the spell and so he attempts to break the mop in half in order to stop it. But, breaking the mop actually causes new mops to spring up from the broken pieces. Now there are multiple mops all working frantically, much to the chagrin of the apprentice. In despair, the apprentice cries aloud for help. His cries are heard by the sorcerer who was returning to his shop. The sorcerer is able to stop the mops, undo the spell and save his workshop from further damage. The apprentice learns a valuable lesson in the process which is that if you want a job done well then do it right the first time. The life lesson contained in Dar Zauberlehrling resonated with German audiences who recognized that Goethe was using his poem to set out some rules for living a good and honourable life. This particular lesson spoke to the industrious nature of the German people and, as such this poem and the lesson it contained quickly became part of the fabric of German society.

The symphonic poem created by French composer, Paul Dukas, as seen in a version played in later years by The New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

For 100 years, Dar Zauberlehrling by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the definitive version that the world knew. But then, someone gazed upon this story with new eyes and came up with a completely original take on Goethe’s classic tale. In 1897, a French composer named Paul Dukas began creating works that he called “symphonic poems”. In simple terms, what Dukas decided to do was to create a musical score to accompany famous poems, speeches and dramatic scenes from plays. In this instance, he created a short symphony in which his notes and chords acted as the words of the poem. His music told the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in dramatic crescendos and quiet lulls. Dukas created a libretto to go with his symphony. *(A libretto was like a theatrical programme or small book that was given to audience members. For The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Dukas wrote out the words to Goethe’s poem so that audience members could follow the “action” and understand why his music rose and fell as it did). While the scoring of written works was not originated by Dukas, his version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a huge hit and became the gold standard by which other musical scores were measured. In fact, the score for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice became the most popular work that Paul Dukas managed in his lifetime.

Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who casts his own unfortunate spell from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as seen in the Walt Disney movie, Fantasia.

Fast forward to the 1930s. Walt Disney was at the forefront of a new technology called movie animation. Instead of using film in the traditional way that was used in Hollywood, Disney and his team of animators had perfected a way of turning thousands of drawings or cells into a form of moving picture as well. In the late 1920s, Disney unveiled one of the first animated short features in the world. It was called “Steamboat Willie” and featured a character that came to be known as Mickey Mouse. Disney’s innovation struck a chord with the general public. Encouraged by the positive reception “Steamboat Willie” had, Disney and his team decided to reach higher and to go further than any animator had ever done before. This resulted in full length animated movies such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, along with Sleeping Beauty. When audiences saw these new movies, Mickey Mouse drifted into the background in terms of popularity. But Walt Disney was a loyal man and had a soft spot in his heart for the character that allowed his creative dreams to come true. So, Disney decided to create something original as a vehicle to rejuvenate Mickey Mouse’s image. The idea that Walt Disney had was to create a short movie that would be part of a series called “Silly Symphonies”. In this short movie, Disney decided to attempt something that hadn’t been done before…he wanted to pair animation with established pieces of classical music. For Mickey Mouse’s short movie, Walt Disney chose the Paul Dukas score of Goethe’s story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As the animation was filmed, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra played the Dukas score. Soon, the fully scored, animated short movie that became known as Walt Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice was complete. The only problem was that by the time they were finished, Disney was over budget. Way over budget. He was informed by his accountants that there was no way he would ever recoup his investment because the audience for short films was dwindling. Disney’s success with Snow White had changed viewing habits. Audiences now expected longer, more detailed stories. Cursed by his own success, Walt Disney had two choices: abandon “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or else, use it as part of something longer…something more in keeping with a full length movie. As we know, Walt Disney stuck to his creative guns and, instead of placing his short film in a warehouse to be forgotten, he went ahead and created eight other “Silly Symphonies’ using the same animators and same orchestra. With nine animated scores finished, Walt Disney assembled them all in one unified movie and called it Fantasia.

Walt Disney and the animated character that started it all…Mickey Mouse.

Fantasia was a huge hit with critics and modern audiences alike. It remains one of Disney’s most popular movies even to this day. There are two reasons why Fantasia has come to be regarded as one of Walt Disney’s most important and innovative films. First of all, he accomplished a very important thing by taking classical music out of the concert hall and introducing it to a mass audience who, otherwise would probably never have been exposed to the works of Igor Stravinsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, Tchaikovsky and so on. Secondly, Fantasia caused Mickey Mouse to become a popular character again. In doing so, Mickey Mouse became the “face” of Walt Disney’s world which he envisioned as being much more than simply a movie animation studio. Because of the popularity of Mickey Mouse, Disney World came to be built, whole lines of merchandise were created and sold and much, much more.

The man, himself, Paul Dukas.

Our world is made better because of people with a positive creative vision. All throughout its history, the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has resonated in a way that few stories have. It was first a poem that was used to instill proper human virtues for living a good and proper life. Then, that lesson was taken further a century later by marrying a musical score with a literary work. Half a century after that, the idea was taken a final step further when a literary work with a musical score was provided with animated visuals to aid in the telling of the story. So, read The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as a poem, listen to it as a symphony or watch it as an animated film. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Paul Dukas and Walt Disney have all brought their own brand of genius to bear and we are all the better for it.

The link to the video for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as it appears in the movie, Fantasia, can be found in two parts, here and here.

The link to the official movie trailer for the original 1940 version of Fantasia can be found here.

The link to the official website for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe can be found here.

The link to the official website for Paul Dukas can be found here.

The link to the official website for Walt Disney can be found here.

The link to the classical music station that streams live to the world from my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada….Classical 103.1 FM….can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Sabre Dance by Aram Khachaturian…Composition #16/50: Keepin’ It Classy.

As a creator of artistic content, I always find it interesting to see how my work is received once I press the “Publish” button and send it out into the world. In the blogging world, I am definitely a small-timer but, I have had one post that has done very well in terms of “the numbers”. The post in question was one that I wrote several years ago, not long after the lead singer of The Tragically Hip. Gord Downie, had passed away. The featured song was “Long Time Running”. *(You can read that post here). In that post, I spoke about how we invite public figures into our private lives. I spoke about how the guys in The Hip turned out to be pretty much what we thought they were when all was said and done. They were a band of brothers who cared about each other and who all walked away when Gord said it was time. Their departure, while sad, was satisfying nonetheless. I contrasted the story of The Hip with that of Canadian Olympic darlings, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. While at the Olympics in South Korea, those two crafted a love story for the ages. We were all convinced that they would win Gold and then return to Canada, get married, have what amounted to a royal wedding and go on as Canada’s sweethearts for eternity. But as we all know, their relationship was not what it seemed. Unlike The Hip, Tessa and Scott were never in love. In fact, Scott had been dating another woman all throughout the glory days of their career. When that news broke, as a nation we felt let down and disappointed. So anyway, I wrote the post, said what I said and like all other posts, I hit the “Publish” button, sent it off to the world and expected around 30-50 people to see it and a handful to comment. That is what usually happens to my stories. And that is ok. But something unusual happened to the Long Time Running post…it caught on somewhere out there and has turned out to be my most popular post (in terms of views) of anything else I have ever published. In fact, the numbers for that post dwarf everything else I have done. Of the approximately 20,000 total page views my stories have had cumulatively over the years, Long Time Running accounts for almost one third of that total all by itself. It is as close to going viral as a guy like me can get. And yet, I can’t really explain why this post caught fire when so many other posts have gone by the wayside. But, it has.That’s one of the funny things about being a content creator, you can never be completely sure how your work will be received. You can have an idea as to whether or not your work has artistic merit but, as far as popularity goes, it is often just as surprising to us as it may be to you when something takes off and comes to define us in a way. The story I have just told is a much smaller version of what happened to today’s composer, Armenian-born Aram Khachaturian. Here is what happened to him as a result of him creating a dance called The Sabre Dance.

Khachaturian’s story is one that is best understood within the political context of his times. Khachaturian lived his entire life either in the shadow of Russia or else, in Russia itself. As you may know, Russia’s history is characterized by the constant ebb and flow of its territorial ambitions. The countries that exist in close geographic proximity to Mother Russia all have felt the impact of its presence over time. In some cases, that has meant Soviet occupation of their neighbours. In other cases, it has meant that Russia has allowed their neighbours to claim a sort of independence but, because of economic and military pressure, the reality is that Russia’s neighbours often end up operating as more of a branch plant than they do an independent state. Another aspect of Russian history that is undeniable is that the power structure within Russia has usually been that of an authoritarian dictatorship. Strongmen rule, from Stalin through to Putin. As a consequence, those on the outside of the inner circle of power tend to jockey for favour. It isn’t very often that anyone has the courage (or foolhardiness) to challenge Russian leadership from within. To do so has historically been akin to political and personal suicide.

Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian.

So it was in this political and cultural environment that Aram Khachaturian became interested in music. Although born in Armenia, Khachaturian grew up with the hope of training in Moscow with the best Russian composers of the day such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev. So, Kahachaturian moved to Russia and enrolled in the best music schools. Soon, he became known for his ability to compose scores for ballets. At that time, most ballets and theatre productions were not pure dramas based on whatever topic the creator desired. Instead, most creative productions adhered to the political parameters as set out by overseers in the Russian parliament. This was true of a ballet that Khachaturian scored that was called Gayene. Gayene was a ballet that told the story of a farming collective in which the heroes of the story displayed “proper Russian virtues” and the villains of the play did not. There is a love story in which the female lead (a woman who works on the farming collective) falls in love with the Russian district commander. Her husband, who plots against the collective and, by extension, against Russia, gets his comeuppance in the end. As Khachaturian was scoring the various scenes in this ballet, he did so as he always did…he created his best work for each scene so that at the end of the ballet, authorities would approve of his work and that he might be able to rise in the ranks of the Russian musical establishment. One of the scenes that he scored was a fight scene. In that scene, Khachaturian created a piece of music that has come to be known as “The Sabre Dance”. At the time of its creation, “The Sabre Dance” was merely another musical patch on a patchwork quilt that was the entire score of the ballet. However, just like me and my post, Long Time Running, upon its release, “The Sabre Dance” took on a life of its own. It was given an enthusiastic reception by audiences and by Russian leaders alike. Over the course of time, it has become known as Khachaturian’s signature composition despite the fact that it was never considered special by him nor was it even something that he was particularly proud of. But, as history has proven time and time again, content creators are not always in control of which works become popular and the extent to which this popularity may grow. The fiddler doesn’t always call the tune.

This is the sort of slapstick comedy that “The Sabre Dance” has come to be associated with, much to Cram Khachaturian’s chagrin. LOS ANGELES – SEPTEMBER 15: Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz and Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo in the I LOVE LUCY episode, “Job Switching.” Original air date is September 15, 1952.

Like so many of the compositions profiled on Keepin’ It Classy, I know that you have heard “The Sabre Dance” before. Its popularity has grown beyond the borders of the Russian sphere of influence and has become known all around the world. The tempo of “The Sabre Dance” is fast-paced, almost manic. It has been used in numerous movie scenes, as well as television shows. In almost every case, “The Sabre Dance” has been the soundtrack of a chase scene or a comedy scene. In fact, if you are familiar with the iconic TV scene from “I Love Lucy” in which she and her friend are working at the chocolate factory and are frantically trying to package the chocolates that are coming out on the conveyor belt faster and faster…well, that is the kind of slapstick scene where “The Sabre Dance” is used most often. The fact that his composition, which was never intended as being used for comedic purposes, has ended up being viewed in that regard around the world was, initially, a source of shame for Aram Khachaturian. He always considered himself a serious composer. In his career, Khachaturian composed the scores for dozens of ballets, as well as many pieces of stand-alone music in the classical genre. He went on to be promoted to the top cultural post for music in Russia for several decades. In his Armenian homeland, Khachaturian is considered the greatest composer in that country’s history. There are statues erected in his honour there. And yet…..the work that he is most known for is a throw-away score for a minor scene in a minor ballet.

A rather grand looking statue of Aram Khachaturian in Yerevan, Armenia.

In the end, Khachaturian came around a bit in his thinking with regard to the cultural impact of “The Sabre Dance”. As most creative types can agree, the process of creating something out of nothing is what motivates us. If that “something” can bring pleasure to others then, so much the better. Although Khachaturian always maintained that he created more impressive and substantial compositions, he came to appreciate the pleasure that “The Sabre Dance” brought to others and, in doing so, brought a measure of peace to his own mind. Popularity is a fickle mistress. But, as his career wound down, Khachaturian was content with his body of work and did not let the opinion of others define himself in his own mind. I have always maintained that being able to look back upon a lifetime of work and be proud of what you have achieved is all that one can truly wish for. To achieve such a thing is an accomplishment of immeasurable value.

The link to the video for the composition known as “The Sabre Dance” can be found here.

The link to an official website for Aram Khachaturian can be found here.

The link to the best classical radio station around…Classical 103.1 in my very own hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada…can be found here.

Keepin’ It Classy: #15/50: Beethoven Funeral March Number 1 by Johann Heinrich Walch.

These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.

Death is a natural part of life. We are all born and one day, we will all die. There is nothing as constant and safe a bet in all of human history than the fact that one day we will all die. Death comes for ditch diggers and astronauts, poets and hotel maids, it comes for Kings and Queens as well. When commoners die, friends, colleagues and family members gather to pay their respects, share some favourite memories and then, to join together in prayer and song to help send the newly departed on their way to the afterlife (if one believes in that) or to eternal nothingness and slow decay (if that is what you believe as well). Every town and city has a funeral home of some sort. Funerals happen all of the time. They are so common that, in fact, most of us pay them no heed as they occur. We live and then we die. Death is really nothing out of the ordinary.

Except when it is.

The funeral procession for Queen Elizabeth of England.

As I write these words, it is Monday, September 19, 2022 or, as history will remember it, the date of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II of England. Most of us live our whole lives in a form of relative anonymity. Not the Queen. She has sat on the throne of England and, by extension, many countries around the world that England has colonized, for seventy years. Her life was impactful in very profound ways. Her image is known by millions of people around the world. Her legacy of service before self casts a nostalgic glow over a world and a time that many deem as being simpler and more humane. She did not live in relative anonymity. She was one of the most recognizable people in the whole world. And yet, Death still came for her, too. But, while Death came, it did not take her away in silence. The Queen’s death has instantly become an event that will go down in the annals of British history. Thousands of people have stood on the side of the road or have turned to their televisions and computers to watch her coffin pass through the streets of various English towns and cities. Many have left bouquets of flowers and/or jam sandwiches at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Even more will watch her funeral service as it plays out today. Through it all, the Royal Family will mourn in a public manner as befits their status as the head of the nation. And yes, there will be music, too.

Throughout the course of the history of Classical music, there have been many occasions in which composers have created works to be played during the funeral services for members of the nobility. In a previous post, we have discussed funeral marches that were composed by Frederic Chopin and by Edward Elgar *(You can read these posts here and here). Both of those famous funeral marches will find their place in today’s events in London as part of the ceremony honouring Queen Elizabeth. There is a third famous funeral march that is well known in England and which will probably be played today but which is erroneously entitled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”. First let me tell you why this march is so famous in England and then, I will tell you a bit about why the title is misleading.

A cenotaph in England. Walch’s funeral march often follows the playing of The Last Post.

“Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is a march of remembrance that has been played in England for decades as part of that country’s Remembrance ceremonies held each year to honour those soldiers who have fallen in the fields of battle in various global conflicts. It is always played after the Last Post sounds and, as such it has become part of the soundtrack to the British way of life and is always viewed as being a respectful and honourable piece of music. The thing that is misleading about the title, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” is that this composition was not written by Beethoven at all. Instead, the music for this composition was written by a German conductor and composer named Johann Heinrich Walch. Walch had a history of creating funeral marches that commemorated the end of wars. He created a piece called “Pariser Einzugsmarsch” at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. This piece of music was also played for Adolf Hitler as he watched German troops marching through the streets of Paris in 1940. The march that has come to be called, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was written when Walch was working under the auspices of the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg who, as you may know if you are a history buff, was a link in the hereditary chain between the British Monarchy and the aristocracy of Germany that had existed for centuries, including during WWII. The famous “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” was thought to have been originally written by Walch for Prince Albert who was Queen Victoria’s consort. Prince Albert was the Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha at the time. Since then, this composition has been played at the funerals of King Edward VII, British Prime Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as having been played throughout the procession that saw Queen Elizabeth’s coffin pass through the streets of England.

The man, himself…Johann Heinrich Walch…composer of the erroneously titled, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”.

So again, as was the case with the funeral marches written by Chopin and by Elgar, I urge you to click on the link below and give Walch’s composition a few moments of your time. I write with great confidence when I say that I am quite certain you will hear this piece of music played at some point in the funeral proceedings. And if it is played and there are credits displayed on television that call this piece “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1”, I hope that you will all wag your finger at the screen and state aloud that you know the real composer is Johann Heinrich Walch and that you read it first on Tom Macinnes’ little blog series called, Keepin’ It Classy.

I will end by offering a simple wish for Queen Elizabeth and all others who happen to share her death date today…thank you to each of you for being part of our world for as long as you managed. Many blessings to you and those you love as you transition from life to death. May whatever happens next be painless. Let it be a form of release. God Bless you all.

The link to the video for the composition, “Beethoven Funeral March Number 1” by Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.

The link to the official website for Johann Heinrich Walch can be found here.

The link to the classical music radio station found in my very own town of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada…Classical 103.1…can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Keepin’ It Classy…Composition #14/50: Enigma Variations, Op.36, No. 9 “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar.

These are the stories behind the world’s most memorable classical compositions.

HRH Queen Elizabeth. This was her official portrait taken in honour of her 70th year as Queen of England.

As a blogger, I try my best to stay one day ahead when it comes to publishing the content that you get to read. As a result, I spent yesterday morning creating the latest post in my Reader’s Choice series. When I was finished, the post was completed and all that was left for me to do was to hit the “Publish” button this morning and the post would have gone live as intended. At the time I was writing yesterday’s post, I had no idea that someone’s 96 year old Granny was on her deathbed halfway across the world. But, after having a bit of lunch and a spot of hot tea, I learned, what the world soon learned, that Queen Elizabeth had passed away. No matter what opinion one holds of Queen Elizabeth or of the British Monarchy, in general, her passing is big news. It dwarfs much of what is in the current news cycle at this moment. It certainly made what I had written yesterday seem irrelevant…at least in terms of publishing it in the midst of all this sadness and uproar caused by the Queen’s death. So, instead of simply hitting the “Publish” button this morning as I had intended, I am, instead, creating a whole new post for today because there is certainly lots to say about Elizabeth of Windsor, her impact and her legacy. So, for those keeping track, I will publish the Reader’s Choice post on Monday and am publishing a new post for Keepin’ It Classy today (which is Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 as I write).

Like most people reading this post, Queen Elizabeth has been the only Queen I have known in my lifetime. Prime Ministers and Presidents have come and gone but for seventy years, she has occupied the throne of England. Her longevity merits applause. When she was first crowned as Queen, she promised to devote her entire life to public service. That she has done. Queen Elizabeth began fulfilling that promise by working as a mechanic during WWII. In the passing years, she has gone on to head up hundreds and hundreds of charities and other organizations whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I grew up in a home in which the example of service before self was viewed as a great virtue. My mother, in particular, always devoted herself to the care of others as a registered nurse and then, after retirement, as someone who helped out in Seniors homes as well as in her church. I followed her lead by becoming a school teacher. Helping children and their families was a tremendous source of satisfaction and pride to me. So, when the news of Queen Elizabeth’s passing first became known, my initial thought was for my mother and those of her generation who placed so much emphasis on helping others based upon the Queen’s own example. Further to this, one of our family’s most steadfast traditions at Christmas time was to gather round the television at some point during the day and listen to the annual “Queen’s Christmas Message” from Buckingham Palace. It brought my family a great sense of peace to hear her speak and to know that she was present at the helm. The simple fact that she lived and was so steady a public presence for all of these years is much of what made her so important to ordinary folks like us. The political winds may have blown this way or that but the Queen was unwavering and steadfast and resolute in her demeanour. As long as she was there, our world would be alright. And now she is gone. A foundational pillar has been removed by death and the world seems a little shakier this day than it was before.

However, any sadness or trepidation that I may feel this morning is counterbalanced by an understanding that the legacy of Elizabeth of Windsor is complicated, at best. While there were many public declarations of sadness and grief from around the world, there were also many declarations of glee and exultation that she was finally dead. For as much as the Queen may have represented a sense of stability and calm to many of us she, also, represented oppression and privilege to many others around the world, too. Apparently there were fireworks and dancing in the streets of places such as Northern Ireland, a nation whose entire history is coloured red from the seemingly endless amount of blood spilled in conflicts with England (of which the Queen was head). Many countries in Africa celebrated the demise of a foreign ruler whose territorial ambitions caused untold hardship and deprivation to the local Indigenous populations. Even a country such as Jamaica is preparing lawsuits, as you read these words, against the British Crown for reparations for the slave trade a century ago. Part of the back story to the song, “No Woman, No Cry” by the great Bob Marley has to do with the consequences of British empire building upon the Jamaican population. *(You can read that post here). Finally, there are many younger people who have watched how the institution of the Monarchy reacted to the presence of strong young, intelligent, vibrant women such as Princess Diana and Meghan Markle. That they were expected to stand quietly by and temper their own enthusiasms rankled many modern women who took the view that Queen Elizabeth was a relic from a bygone era and that her demise may be what was necessary to start the modernization of the Monarchy that is needed if it is to remain relevant in an ever changing world.

Sir Edward Elgar…composer of the Enigma Variations.

I am sure that the debate over Queen Elizabeth’s legacy will rage on over the course of the next few days and weeks. However, my greater sense is that much of the politics of remembrance will give way to pageantry in the end. The British are known for many things and one of them is how to put on a good public show…whether that be for Royal weddings, funerals or coronations. So, I am predicting that the funeral for Queen Elizabeth will end up being one of the top stories from the year 2022. It will be a spectacle of emotion and expense. I also predict, with great certainty, that the Queen’s funeral will have a playlist and that one of the pieces of music on this playlist will be “Nimrod”, Variation No. 9 of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations Suite. There are many who state that, after the anthemic notes of “God Save the Queen/King”, which is England’s national anthem, the most patriotic English composition in history is “Nimrod” by Elgar. So, let’s talk a bit about Elgar’s Enigma Variations and why Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” is viewed as being so special.

One of the many examples of correspondence between Elgar and Jaeger regarding the Enigma Variations suite.

Edward Elgar is viewed as being the greatest English composer of all time. I wrote about him when we discussed his other great work, “Pomp and Circumstance”. *(You can read that post here). All throughout his life, Edward Elgar was plagued by periods of depression and self-loathing. One of the factors that helped to elevate him in the ranks of the great composers in history, besides talent, was that he was surrounded by a wonderful network of family and friends who all did a tremendous job at keeping his spirits up and helping Elgar to remain productive and to recognize the merit of the work he was creating. Edward Elgar, to his credit, understood who he was and how valuable his support network was to him in his career and in his personal life. So, in gratitude he created a suite of music that has become known as the Enigma Variations. There are fourteen individual variations that make up the entire suite. Each Variation is based upon some aspect of someone who was important to Elgar in his life. The tone of each dedicated variation was created to reflect some aspect of the relationship Elgar had with that individual person…some variations are more upbeat, some are more serious, some are romantic and so on. Variation No. 9 was dedicated to his long-time musical mentor and publisher, Auguste J. Jaeger. It was Jaeger, as much as anyone else, who was responsible for constantly reminding Elgar that he had worth as a composer and that his compositions were the equal of his heroes such as Beethoven. Jaeger was also one of Elgar’s most honest critics, often challenging him to work harder, to be better and to polish his work to an even finer edge. Edward Elgar came to rely on and appreciate Jaeger’s counsel. Thus, for Jaeger’s variation, Elgar created a soaring piece of music that is characterized by a consistent and steady musical structure, around which other chords rise and fall, building into a crescendo of fervor that never fails but to arouse an emotional response in the listener. Elgar entitled Jaeger’s variation as being “Nimrod” because, in German, the word Jager means “hunter” and in the Old Testament, the term “Nimrod” means mighty hunter before The Lord. When Elgar released his entire Enigma Variations suite, it was met with much approval from music critics, as well as from ordinary citizens. In time, Variation No. 9, “Nimrod” became the most popular of the variations. It has been performed at many prominent national events in England such as at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, the funerals of Princess Diana and Prince Phillip, as well, “Nimrod” is played each year at the London Cenotaph to honour those who gave their lives in the many wars in which England has fought. Thus, I feel relatively safe in predicting that “Nimrod” will be played at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, too. It is just seems like such a British thing to do.

I have to be honest and admit that I am not overly sad about Queen Elizabeth passing away. Like anyone in her situation, I do feel a sense of sympathy for her family members for which she was not their Monarch but, instead, was their mother or grandmother. I am sure that her corgis are wondering where she is as well. But, more than anything, I am somewhat anxious as to what the future holds for England. Even though I live in Canada, what happens in places like England and France and the United States affects us. We are countries built upon a foundation of western democratic principles. As we have already witnessed under Donald Trump’s tenure at the helm of the US, the ripple effects of political instability in the land of any of our allies ends up washing up upon our shores, too. So, in the case of England, I wonder what the political fallout will be from the leadership vacuum her death represents. One thing that I do know is that King Charles has huge shoes to fill. I sincerely hope that he assumes his place at the head of the monarchy with much confidence and helps to inspire a nation and a Commonwealth to move forward with common purpose. One thing I am sad for is that Queen Elizabeth’s death removes one more female role model from the world’s stage. Do we really need another old white man in a position of authority? In any case, the immediate future will unfold in a very scripted manner, according to the formal government plans announced yesterday. There will be much time set aside for reflection and for public mourning. Her funeral will take place a week or so from now. In that time, I believe that Elgar’s Enigma Variation, Op. 36, No. 9. “Nimrod” will have a prominent airing and will come to be the anthem of her passing. So please take a moment to click on the link at the bottom of this post and listen to “Nimrod” for yourself so that you will recognize it when you hear it played live in the days and weeks to come in London. As you listen to it playing, know that it was written for someone who was viewed as being a true and resolute friend to the composer. Now that same thematic quality will be applied to the Queen of all of England and the Commonwealth of countries, too. Regardless of the politics of the moment, I wish the Queen’s family peace and I wish her a joyous, relaxed reunion with her husband and all of the corgis who went before her.

The link to the video for the composition, Enigma Variations, Op. 36, No. 9, “Nimrod” by Edward Elgar can be found here.

“Nimrod” was used to great effect in the closing scene of the recent movie, Dunkirk. This score, in combination with Winston Churchill’s “Never Surrender” speech are part of the fabric of British history. The link to the video for this scene can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Royal Family can be found here. ***You may sign a Book of Condolence via this website.

***As always, all original work found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Wiegelied Op. 49, No. 4 or “Brahms’ Lullaby”…Composition #14/50: Keepin’ It Classy.

The stories behind the world’s great classical compositions.

Johannes Brahms.

Wiegenlied Op. 49, No. 4 or, as it is better known as “Brahms’ Lullaby”, is a composition that was created by the great German composer Johannes Brahms. Brahms is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time and is often included in a trio called “the three Bs”…Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. The story behind his most beloved and well known work….”Wiegenlied Op. 49, No.4” is a tale that is partially a product of the history of the times in which it was written (the mid 1800s), partially a product of how Brahms was trained in music as a child prodigy and finally, it is partially the product of how Brahms viewed women and how those views impacted his relationships with them all throughout his life. “Wiegenlied Op. 49, No 4” is easily one of the most famous pieces of music the world has ever heard. It is known everywhere on the planet. The singing of it between parent and child is a universal sign of deep love between the two. However, there is a story to be told of how this lullaby came to be. It is a story that, once told, will change the way you sing and/or listen to Brahms Lullaby. So, sit back and relax and get ready for the story of the most famous lullaby ever created.

Wiegenlied Op. 49, No. 4.

First of all, let’s talk about the title of this composition. In German, any composition that has “lied” on the end refers to a piece of music in which poetry/spoken word and music are being combined in an artistic manner. *(“Lied” rhymes with the English word, “seed”). The German word, “wiegen” roughly translates as “cradle”. Thus, the title “Wiegenlied” can be translated as “Cradle song”. Now that we have that out of the way, Brahms’ “cradle song” was written as a lullaby. In classical music, a lullaby is a genre of composition and, as such there are rules about how it is constructed and the emotions it conveys. This brings us to Brahms and the influence of how he was trained as a musician. When Brahms was a much younger man, he preferred composing music as opposed to performing it in public. However, many of his early compositions were viewed as possessing much potential but also possessing many correctable structural errors. So, when Brahms was tutored by seasoned classical composers, he was given a thorough grounding in the “proper” traditional structure of classical music as laid down by some of the early giants in the field such as Franz Listz and Josef Haydn. Johannes Brahms took to his lessons and quickly gained a reputation for creating works that were structurally sound but that used that solid musical structure in new and original ways. Thus, when it came time for Brahms to create his famous lullaby, he followed the traditional format of the genre but, true to his level of genius, he added a personal twist that elevated it into the realm of one of the all-time great classical works ever created.

The traditional format of a lullaby is that it has two halves and that each half expresses a deeply held but differing emotion. During the mid 1800s when Brahms wrote “Wiegenlied Op. 49, No.4”, lullabies were written primarily for females to sing. The reason for that was simply because the social mores of the time saw women as being the primary caregivers when it came to raising children. Thus, his lullaby was written for the female voice. In sticking to the traditional format for a lullaby, Brahms wrote the opening lines as an expression of love between a mother and her child.

Good evening. Good night.

With roses covered

With cloves adorned,

Slips under the covers.

The opening verse then concludes with the second half of this emotional exchange…the one that is filled with anxiety and fear.

Tomorrow morning, if God wills

You will wake once again.

When it comes to bedtime for babies, it was no different two hundred years ago than it is today in the sense that children need their sleep and mothers need their own restful time. However, what made it a much dicier and more precarious proposition back then was that the rates of infant mortality were much, much higher then than they are today. Back then, it was actually fairly common for babies to not wake up in the morning. So, for many mothers, the act of putting a child to bed at night also created a sense of danger. This meant that the act of singing a lullaby could possibly be the very last thing that many mothers would ever get to do with her baby. This emotion was revisited, night after night, for many months until the health of the baby became unquestioned.

The same sense of dread can be witnessed in the words of the famous children’s prayer, as can the format that sees the first half of the prayer being filled with love and the second half with anxiety:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

So, Johannes Brahms wrote “Wiegenlied Op. 49, No.4” for the female voice because it was traditionally mothers who saw to the bedtime routines of their children. He followed the structural format of compositions written in the lullaby genre. But, because he was known for using tradition as a springboard to creative innovation, here is the part of the story in which the creation of a children’s lullaby becomes a love story for the ages. It is a story that draws upon Brahms’ view of women in society and is based upon how he interacted with the important women in his life as a child/teenager.

Johannes Brahms grew up in a house that featured a mother and a father and two other siblings. From everything I have read, he was raised and cared for properly, wanting for nothing out of the ordinary. However, one thing that was clear about his childhood family home was that his mother and father were not truly in love with each other. Theirs was a platonic marriage. Some would even go so far as to deem it a loveless marriage. So, for much of his formative years, Brahms grew up never seeing his parents engage in affectionate behaviour of any kind. Consequently, he grew up believing that all women were reserved and stand-offish. That was until his early teens when he was hired to play the piano in what turned out to be a brothel. The brothel was billed as a theatre so Brahms’ parents had agreed to allow him to perform there because they assumed it would be before the usual music loving audience. However, instead of being on a stage before an adoring crowd, Johannes Brahms found himself beside a stage while women danced for the pleasure of a male audience. In time, the dancers at the brothel took to their innocent young pianist and began to shower him with good natured affection. Their affection was so completely different from how Brahms had watched his mother interact with his father that he didn’t really know how to respond. Thus, as Brahms grew into adulthood, he did so believing that women were either emotionally cold and reclusive or else, very promiscuous. In short, Brahms was confused when it came time for his own first serious relationship.

Bertha Faber…Johannes Brahms’ first love and the woman for whom Wiegenlied Op. 49, No. 4 was written.

That happened in his early twenties. He had begun composing cantatas for ensemble singing. In one of the choirs he was training, there stood a mezzo-soprano singer named Bertha Faber. In time, Bertha and Johannes began a friendship that extended beyond the confines of their choir practices. The two would share long walks and friendly dinners in public cafes. Soon, the sense arose that, perhaps, this could be more than simple companionship. But because Brahms didn’t really know how to go about exploring his feelings, Bertha took charge. On these walks she began finding quiet moments where they would stop and she would sing directly to him. One of the songs that she would sing was called “S’ Is Anderscht”. Here is where the story takes a magical turn. When you listen to “S’ is Anderscht”, you may detect some of the same notes and chords that are also present in Brahms’ Lullaby. That is no accident. Here is what happened. Even though Johannes Brahms felt genuine affection for Bertha Faber, his fear of commitment (based upon his parent’s chilly marriage) caused him to decide to break off their relationship after a number of years. Heartbroken, Brahms buried himself in his music. Faber, after a few years, met a new man and became married to him. A year or so after that, she gave birth to a son and then, a year later, was pregnant and about to give birth to a second child. It was while pregnant with her second child that Bertha was spotted by Brahms one day out in a public square. The sight of her instantly rekindled his feelings for her. They met and talked. Bertha brought him up to speed on the status of her life which, of course, included the fact that she was now married and was unavailable to Brahms. They parted shortly thereafter. They didn’t see each other again until one day just before she was to give birth. Brahms appeared before her with the completed lullaby in hand. What was special about this, beyond the fact that it was a thoughtful gesture, was that Brahms had taken the musical structure of the song Bertha used to sing to him when they were courting (“S’ Is Anderscht”) and embedded it within the musical structure of “Wiegenlied Op. 49, No.4” as a counter-melody. In this way, whenever Bertha sang the lullaby to her new son, she would be singing parts of the love song she once sang for Johannes Brahms back when they were young and in love. To place a cherry firmly on the top of the sundae that is this love story, when Bertha gave birth to her new son, she insisted he be called, “Johannes”.

So now, whenever you hear that well known melody that denotes the world’s most famous lullaby, I hope that you will hear it and feel it differently. “Wiegenlied Op. 49, No.4” is a musical composition that was built upon a foundation of the love that existed between a mother and her child, as well as the love that can exist between two soulmates. Brahms’ Lullaby is one of the world’s most popular pieces of music for a reason. That reason is love.

The link to the video for the composition, “Wiegenlied Op. 49, No. 4” can be found here.

The link to the video that explains the love story between Johannes Brahms and Bertha Faber better than I am able to can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Johannes Brahms Museum can be found here.

The link to classical music radio station, Classical 103.1, found right here in my very own hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***The header photo shows the beautiful city of Hamburg, Germany. This is where Johannes Brahms was born and where he fell in love with Bertha Faber. The link to the official website for the city of Hamburg, Germany can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post can be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022