Day 73: Cold

HaydnCD73The current temperature in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at 7:30am on December 12, 2013, is 11 degrees. (Or -12 C for all of my European readers.)

That’s cold.

Typically, this kind of cold would stay away until late January or early February. This year, however, it arrived early.

It’s bad enough for a resident of Michigan in the 21st century. I wonder what Haydn did to keep warm in the late 1700s, early 1800s when he was composing the score for these folks song? Did he sit beside a roaring fire? Did he have candles blazing everywhere to give the illusion of daylight? Did he wear a coat and gloves all of the time? Did he exercise to get the blood flowing?

Did he have a daily routine?

Dickens_Gurney_headI often wonder how these creative geniuses did it under conditions we, today, would consider primitive. Charles Dickens, for example.

England in the mid 1800s couldn’t have been a picnic. Especially in the winter. It must have been so cold. And bleak. (The phrase “Dickensian” wasn’t coined for nothing.)

So how did he do it? Writers today have laptops and the Internet and central heat (or air conditioning) and electric light and the ability to travel to exotic locales to compose their novels.

Dickens had none of those things. He probably had an ink well, a quill pen, and cold fingers. (I picture Bob Cratchit huddled over a dying ember, rubbing his hands together for warmth.)

Yet, Dickens’ literary output was staggering, and remains among the most influential works in the world.

Same for Joseph Haydn. How did he do it? What were Continue reading

Day 72: Snow

HaydnCD72Winter came early this year.

I’m sure the Global Warming folks have a reason for the cold and snow that has gripped America’s Midwest. But, to my way of thinking, it has nothing to do with Global Warming.

It’s those Canadians.

It’s their fault.

We keep getting their weather streams, pushed down well into the U.S., turning Michigan into a barren, frigid wasteland in early December rather than waiting until, well, late December.

Come to think of it, Michigan is a barren wasteland most of the time.

So I guess I’ll just continue to listen to these Scottish Songs, and sip my Light Roast Coffee.

Once again, the CD sounds different today from what it sounded like yesterday. The singing is different. The songs are different. The tempo is slower.

I wonder if this was intentional on the part of Brilliant Classics, the label that produced these CDs. It can’t just be me hearing things differently every other day…can it?

After all, today’s CD features Continue reading

Day 71: Auld Lange Syne?

HaydnCD71Today’s CD is slightly different. It’s called Scottish Songs For William Whyte.

Now, to be fair, I don’t know who William Whyte is. (Or why he spells his name like that.)

I also didn’t know the song “Auld Lange Syne” was a Scottish song. Apparently, it is. Because it is the first track on the first collection of Scottish Songs for the aforementioned Mr. Whyte.

If you don’t know what “Auld Lange Syne” means, here’s its entry on Wikipedia. It’s from a poem by Robert Burns. All this time I didn’t know that.

Here’s something else I didn’t know: Robert Burns died quite young (age 37). Given his tremendous influence in the literary world, I thought he lived to be an old man. Thirty seven? Here’s what the Wiki article says:

Burns’s worldly prospects were perhaps better than they had ever been; but he had become soured, and moreover he had alienated many of his best friends by too freely expressing sympathy with the French Revolution and the then unpopular advocates of reform at home. His political views also came to the notice of his employers and in an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Crown, Burns joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers in March 1795. As his health began to give way, he began to age prematurely and fell into fits of despondency. The habits of intemperance (alleged mainly by temperance activist James Currie) are said to have aggravated his long-standing possible rheumatic heart condition. His death followed a dental extraction in winter 1795.

On the morning of 21 July 1796 Burns died in Dumfries, at the age of 37.

This type of discovery isn’t essential to my life. But it is Continue reading

Day 70: Old Kvetchers…and Birds

HaydnCD70Today’s Haydn CD (70 of 150) appears to be the last of the Welsh Songs for George Thomson.

I can’t say I’ll be sad to hear the last note of the last track fade away.

But I have quite enjoyed exploring these old folk songs scored by Joseph Haydn.

Almost as much as I enjoy listening to the old kvetchers here at Panera Bread.

One retired guy is Tony. Another is John. They’re fixtures as sure as the booths in which we sit.

I don’t know who their hangers-on are this morning. But Tony is waxing eloquent about some political issue or another. When Tony gets rolling, he’s a force to be reckoned with.

Also of interest this morning are the huge groups of birds that swoop and flip and land in the tree outside the window. A lady with her son a few booths up from where I sit said, “Are you guys watching the birds?” I don’t know to whom she asked that question. But I spent time this morning filming the birds and taking a few picture. The movie turned out great. But the photo didn’t do the scene justice.

I wonder if I can upload a video clip to this blog? Hmmm. I’ll give it a try.

Yup. It worked. Amazing.

What do you think?

Today’s CD feels and sounds different from yesterday’s. The music is more interesting. The singing is more pleasant. I’m not sure what’s different. (It has to be more than my ears.) But something is. I’m actually enjoying each of these songs today.

The musicianship is Continue reading

Day 69: Moons

HaydnCD69It’s been a crazy holiday season. Already. Still. I don’t know which.

My wife and I haven’t recovered from Thanksgiving yet, and here we are frantically working on Christmas cards, considering tree shopping tonight, and catching up on work (strategic plans, grading final exams, preparing two new classes to teach, this blog, screenplays, etc.).

So we try to steal a few minutes together here and there.

Like this morning, for instance.

Instead of me jumping out of bed before the suns rises, and heading to some restaurant or office to work on this blog before my real work day starts, I suggested we both jump out of bed under cover of moonlight and head to Denny’s where we can drink their excellent coffee all morning long, split a Moons Over My Hammy plate, and work on Christmas cards. Together.

Surprisingly, she went for it, which – if you knew my wife – is quite something. She’d rather keep her head on a soft pillow, with covers pulled to her chin, than do just about anything.

CardsBe that as it may, here we are. This is the view I see of her. But, still, she’s here. With me.

And I’m listening to Welsh Songs for George Thomson II.

Which is quite similar to Welsh Songs for George Thomson I.

Only less so.

I’m still having a hard time getting into the voices of soprano Lorna Anderson and tenor Jamie MacDougall. If you’ve read any of my blog posts prior to this, you know why: their vocal range is not in my sweet spot. Anderson doesn’t sound like Pilar Lorengar and MacDougall doesn’t sound like Nicolai Gedda. The former’s range – to my ears, anyway – sounds lower than soprano and tenor. The latter is right in the sweet spot for me. Continue reading

Day 68: Say Hello to Welsh Songs

HaydnCD68I was curious about something this morning: How big is the United Kingdom, especially Scotland (since I’ve been listening to Scottish songs for the past week), compared to the state (Michigan) in which I live?

The answer surprised me.

The United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) is 94,058 square miles. Michigan is 96,716 square miles. So my state (ranked 11th in size out of 50 in the United States) is bigger than all of the United Kingdom combined.

Lest you think I have a debilitating case of State Envy, if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you should know by now that I like to see things in context. If I can compare something unfamiliar (the century in which Haydn composed, for example) with something familiar (what was happening in America at the same time, for example), I can better understand whatever it is I didn’t understand before.

800px-Flag_of_Scotland.svgIn this case, I’m comparing the United Kingdom’s square miles to that of the United States so that I can better understand something (albeit a small thing) about the country or region from which these songs come.

The square miles of Scotland is 30,265, which is roughly comparable to the state of South Carolina (the 40th largest state) at 32,020 square miles.

800px-Flag_of_Wales_2.svgThe square miles of Wales is 8,016, which is roughly comparable to the state of New Jersey (the 47th largest state) at 8,721. Very cool flag, by the way.

While I’m at it, the square miles of Austria (Haydn’s birthplace) is 32,377, which is roughly comparable to the state of South Carolina.

I’ve always wondered why that region of the world (Austria, Germany) produced so many renowned composers, one after another, down through the centuries. Why did one of the (comparatively) smallest regions of the world provide the world with untold wealth from all of these brilliant Classical composers?

Doubt me? Take a look: Continue reading

Day 67: Thank You, “Wolfgang”

HaydnCD67I’m embarrassed. And somewhat pissed.

Last night, I forgot to rip more CDs from my Haydn Collection into iTunes.

In other words, yesterday’s CD was the last one from my wonderful box set by Brilliant Classics that I had on my laptop. I usually rip 8-10 at a crack just so I have a healthy reserve.

Wow. Time flies.

Fear not. YouTube to the rescue.

Thanks to a cat named Wolfgang Amadé Mozart who posts Haydn music to YouTube, I’m able to listen to today’s CD ,anyway.

Thank you, Wolfgang!

Here’s what I’m hearing today:

Track 1 (“Jenny dang the weaver”) is the perfect way to start, especially after the Aural interruptus I experienced this morning after sitting down with my cup of Light Roast. “Jenny dang the weaver” plays from 00:00 to 02:15 and it’s a delightfully jaunty tune, shared by soprano Lorna Anderson and tenor Jamie MacDougall. The title, alone, made me laugh. Not quite out loud. But it was a good sturdy internal chuckle.

Here are the lyrics to and a bit of information about this improbable tune, once again from Continue reading

Day 66: A Wee Thing

HaydnCD66 Once again, the compositions on today’s Scottish Songs for George Thomson seem more palatable to me than what I heard the day before.

But I couldn’t tell you why.

It’s the same singers:

Lorna Anderson and tenor Jamie MacDougall, both of whom actually are Scottish. They have fine voices.

It’s the same musicians:

Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, which consists of:

Harald Kosik piano
Verena Stourzh violin
Hannes Gradwohl cello

As with the previous CDs of Scottish Songs for George Thomson, this one was recorded where it was likely first performed, or even composed: Haydn Hall, Esterhazy Palace, Eisenstadt.

Speaking of which, Continue reading

Day 65: “I wish my Love were in a Myre”?

HaydnCD65 If there’s one thing I’ve learned from listening to Scottish Songs for George Thomson it’s that the song titles are often quite intriguing, even amusing.

Track 20 (“I wish my Love were in a Myre”), for example. The hell does that mean?

I Googled the title and found the lyrics to this very old song on a site called The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive that appears to be a labor of love for a woman named Emily Ezust. The lyrics:

Again rejoicing Nature sees
Her robe assume its vernal hues,
Her leafy locks wave in the breeze
All freshly steep’d in morning dews.
In vain to me the cowslips blaw,
In vain to me the vi’lets spring,
In vain to me in glen or shaw,
The mavis and the lintwhite sing.

The merry ploughboy cheers his team,
Wi’ joy the tentie seedsman stalks;
But life to me’s a weary dream,
A dream of ane that never wauks.
The sheep-herd steeks his faulding slap,
And o’er the moorlands whistles shill,
Wi’ wild, unequal, wand’ring step
I meet him on the dewy hill.

And when the lark ‘tween light and dark,
Blythe waukens by the daisy’s side,
And mounts and sings on flitt’ring wings,
A wae-worn ghaist I hameward glide.
Come, Winter, with thine angry howl,
And raging bend the naked tree;
Thy gloom will soothe my cheerless soul,
When Nature all is sad like me. Continue reading

Day 64: Aye, More Scottish Songs For Bonnie Lasses and Lads

HaydnCD64I spoke too soon yesterday.

Today’s CD sounds as lugubrious as the first one I didn’t care for a few days ago.

I believe it’s the tempo that does me in.

These songs seem more melancholy than yesterday’s. So their tempo is slower.

Therefore, the tunes sound more like church hymns than rousing Scottish songs about wee lads and naughty lasses and tankards of ale and moors and whatever else the Scots sing about that I love so much.

Or, maybe not church hymns. Maybe less about the aforementioned wee lads and bonnie lasses and more about lost loves and faraway lands. I can dig such songs as well as the next Scotsman. But not entire CDs of them. (By the way, that’s why I think the first Hobbit movie was such a dud. If people had to hear one more interminable, droning song about misty mountains and dungeons and gold they would have jammed soda straws in their ears. A little goes a long way.)

Today’s selection of songs again features soprano Lorna Anderson and tenor Jamie MacDougall, both of whom actually are Scottish. They have fine voices.

The music is terrific, provided by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, which consists of:

Harald Kosik piano
Verena Stourzh violin
Hannes Gradwohl cello

As with the previous CDs of Scottish Songs for George Thomson, this one was recorded where it was likely first performed, or even composed: Haydn Hall, Esterhazy Palace, Eisenstadt.

I couldn’t find a post of this CD on YouTube. So you’ll just have to imagine it. Or buy it and listen to it yourself. It’s not bad music. In fact, it’s quite nicely done. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Or tankard of ale.