Thursday, April 9, 2020

Charles Ives Composes The First 'American Symphony'

Repeat post from Oct. 24, 2015

One of the things I love most about going to the Houston Symphony Orchestra's concerts at Jones Hall is their pre-concert talks they generously give before each concert called 'prelude'.

The fetching Mrs. B and I have learned so much from these talks about the great composers and their music.  There have been many great lovers and teachers of classical music giving these talks, but none better than the man giving the prelude talks this concert season, The Houston Symphony's 'musical ambassador' and assistant conductor, Carlos Andres Botero.  This man is so positive, enthusiastic, friendly and informative with his obvious love of the music and the composers, that it is conveyed to all those attending the pre-concert talks.  You can tell that by the smile on everyone's face in attendance during his lectures.

HSO Musical Ambassador Carlos Andres Botero
This 'prelude' talk on October 17, 2015, Maestro Botero talked about American composer Charles Ives and his Symphony #2 that we were about to hear on the first half of the concert.  

Charles Ives was an American Romantic/modern composer born in Danbury, CT in 1874.
Charles Ives  [1874 - 1954]
Maestro Botero related that up until Charles Ives lifetime classical music from American composers was considered inferior to the music that was composed from the great masters of Europe.  

So, the American composers mostly followed the ideas and sounds from the great composers of Europe.  For the most part they didn't develop an American symphonic sound, an American symphony as such. 

It actually took the Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, using folk songs, Native American music, and old Negro spirituals, that he learned from his visit to the United States from 1892-1895, to compose his "New World Symphony" #9 in the late 19th century.

Charles Ives in his first symphony followed the German Romantic model of Brahms and others in his first symphony.  He would quote ideas from Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak in this composition. 

But Ives was a great patriotic American and did want to compose an American symphony that would show his pride of America, and show that an American composer could compose an American symphony not inferior to the great masters of the West.   

He did this in his second Symphony he composed sometime between 1897-1902 [and it took 50 years to be performed in its entirety before a concert audience].  

While for the most part Ives still followed the Brahms German Romantic model in this symphony, what he did to make this an American symphony was that he weaved into this symphony brief  moments of American folk tunes, religious hymns, gospel music, etc.  In fact there were 15 different "American tunes" that he gave quick glimpses of in this symphony.  Carlos Andres Botero gave a great analogy saying that it was like if you were listening to classical music in your car and somebody came along in another car with music blasting of some other music [rap, or country, or pop] and while it passed your car you would get a brief sound of that other music weaved into the classical music you were listening to; and then that sound would quickly go away, and you would only hear the classical music, as the other car left.  

In his talk, Carlos Botero gave audio examples of first some of the American tunes [like hymns, etc. as they would be sung] then of the brief moment that it sounded like in Ives symphony.  While I didn't recognize some of the religious hymns, I knew my wife did because I could hear her humming as the music was playing.  Mr. Botero then played songs everyone knew, like "Camptown races" and "America the Beautiful" briefly quoted in the symphony and everyone laughed when they heard "Turkey in the Straw".  Maestro Botero, in his pleasant Colombian-American accent then asked if we [the patrons in attendance at the prelude talk] could help him with the pronunciation of a song that he played for us, also included briefly included in Ives Second Symphony.  That American song was...reveille.  :-) 

To make sure everyone knew this "American Symphony' was not just any symphony, Ives ended it in a surprising dissonant chord that you probably have never heard to end a symphony.  This was his punctuation mark to emphasize that this was a different symphony-the first American symphony composed by an American composer. 

The symphony does not have a specific key as each movement is in a different key. There are five movements in Ives Symphony #2:  1. Andante moderato,  2. Allegro,  3. Adagio Cantabile,  4. Lento maestoso and 5. Allegro molto vivace.  

Remember you must listen closely as some of the hymns or other American tunes or quoted very briefly and sometimes in variation of the original theme.  You should have no trouble hearing reveille near the end of this American Symphony that I bet will make you smile.  

Please turn up the volume to enjoy the first American symphony composed by an American composer-Charles Ives.  

Charles Ives: Symphony #2:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Happy Passover!

On this Wednesday April 8, 2020, at sundown [until Thursday, April 16] Jews around the world will be celebrating the first night of the eight days of Passover.  We do so with the Passover Seder.  Of course, with Covid-19 still hovering over the world, many of the family Seder's will not be able to be in person.  Hopefully, this is just a one year temporary situation and next year we will be back to normal.

Passover is one of the most observed Jewish holidays that celebrates God's freeing the Israelites from slavery under ancient Egypt as described in the second book of the Bible  [Old Testament] - Exodus.  Many Christians also celebrate Passover and a Seder.

The Seder Plate includes roasted hard boiled egg; roasted shankbone; bitter herbs-horse radish [maror - chazaret]; sweet chaorset [nuts, apple slices, cinammon]; parsley [Karpas] which is dipped in salt water; matzah; and cup of wine.
At the Passover Seder the Haggadah [Jewish book for the Passover service] is read giving the order of the Seder [which includes drinking 4 cups of wine and the four questions traditionally asked by the youngest person able at the Seder table].   After the reading of the Haggadah, the Seder service ends and the meal begins.  I love the Seder service, but I really love when the meal begins as it means here comes the Matzoh Ball soup and the rest of the great feast.

I'll take the hard matzah balls and pass the matzah farfel please  :-) 
One of the traditional songs sung at the Passover Seder is Dayenu.  This is a happy, upbeat song in praise of God for all his blessings to the Jewish people, such as taking us out of slavery, giving us the Torah, etc.  Dayenu means "It would have been enough."   In the song, every time we sing the word Dayenu, it means we are praising God and letting him know that had he only given us one of his many blessings, 'that would have been enough'.  Jews are in awe and praise of God's continuing blessings to the Jewish people.

Happy Passover to all!


Next Year in Jerusalem!

Monday, April 6, 2020

Gentlemen and Scholars

I recently tweeted to someone that they were a gentleman and a scholar.  I really meant that to show appreciation to the person for the good works they do. That got me thinking to do a post on other people who I feel are gentlemen [or gentle women] and scholars.

What do I mean by being a gentle person and a scholar?  By a gentleman, I mean a man or a woman who is basically a nice person and who exhibits that niceness in their mien.  They are people who for the most part, tend to look at the positive and try to find the goodness in people, and they show respect to others, even [and maybe especially] to those who views disagree with their own

What do I mean about being a scholar.  Basically a knowledgeable person, especially knowledgeable about the area in which they are involved with.  I don't mean they have to be a genius, just an overall learned person that shows common sense.

I try myself to be a gentleman in my tweets and things I say.  As far as being a scholar....well, one out of two isn't bad. 

So, I would like to recognize a few people, men and women, who I would call being a gentleman/woman and a scholar.  In naming these people I mean no disrespect to those people I overlook-as I know there will be dozens of them. Hey, I'm old!  :-)   So, for all those people I know I have overlooked, I sincerely apologize. 

One other thing, in naming this list, it is my list of people who I feel are gentlemen [women] and scholars.  If you disagree, that is your privilege. Just my list!

Without further ado, here are some people I would call gentlemen/ladies and scholars [in no particular order]:

Guy Benson - political editor at TownHall

Dana Perino - host 'The Daily Briefing' Fox News

Melanie Lawson - legendary Houston TV News host on ABC

Hugh Hewitt - national radio host of the Hugh Hewitt Show

David French - Editor, The Dispatch

Salena Zito - journalist DC Examiner, CNN contributor

Jonah Goldberg - Editor The Dispatch

Lanhee Chen - Fellow Hoover Institute

Robert Costa - host of PBS Washington Week

Kathryn Lopez - NRO Center for Culture & Religion

Matt Lewis - Columnist The Daily Beast - CNN

Bret Baier - FNC host of "The Special Report"

Marc Vandermeer - Voice of the Houston Texans

Tom Zampino - Lawyer, poet, editor 'the Catholic

                                       and last but not least,

David M. Drucker - correspondent Washington Examiner, Vanity Fair

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Wishing A Blessed Holy Week For Christians and Happy Passover For Jews

I love this time of the year when the two great religions of Judaism and Christianity have celebrations of important, sacred holidays, Passover and Easter.

Passover begins on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, with Passover Seders celebrated at sundown.  On this year, with COVID-19 still hovering over us, of course most of the Seder's will have to be virtual services.   I can't wait for my Matzoh Ball Soup. [that my wonderful sister-in-law, Francine, will be making for us].    :-)  Don't worry, will keep the 6 foot separation in obtaining it.

The Passover Plate at the Seder

Easter, the culmination of Holy Week, will be next Sunday April 12, 2020.  

Today, April 5, 2020 is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week for Christians.  Holy Week will also include Maundy [or Holy] Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Wishing everyone a peaceful and a Blessed Holy Week, and a Happy Easter for Christians, and a Happy Passover for Jews