Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy birthday, Wolfgang!

As a child, the only classical music I'd ever heard was in Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry cartoons (Rossini's Barber of Seville, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture, Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor; first movement) and of course the theme song of "The Lone Ranger" which I later discovered was Rossini's "The William Tell Overture." Rossini must have been pretty popular among the Saturday morning TV crowd.

Even when I taught myself piano and guitar, I wasn't learning classical music, mostly tunes like "Camptown Ladies," "Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot" and "Bill Bailey"...hardly Wolfgang material.

The first time I actually studied "real" music was in 1996 when I finally decided to pursue my life-long dream of taking piano lessons. I was in my 30s and doing recitals with seven-year-olds Yes, it was embarrassing, but I was learing Bach, Beethoven, DeBussey, Chopin and of course, Mozart. I was in heaven.

Needless to say, I really got into classical music. It was a part of the music world I had never known and I wanted to learn everything about it. I was learning to play several of Bach's inventions and preludes, as well as Beethoven sonatas and Chopin etudes. I enjoyed Prokofiev, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, etc. I couldn't get enough. I started a CD collection of classical music and listened to music constantly.

Learning piano and studying classical music inspired me to learn the cello, so I started to take cello lessons, too. Yo-yo Ma was an inspiration. He still is. (He played at Obama's Inauguration! Wow!)

I'm not one to do anything half-heartedly, so I took a music theory class at the local college. It was challenging to say the least. One of our assignments was to compose an original piece of music in the style of Bach. We also had aural training where we learned to hear pitches and listen for intervals. This helped me quite a bit with cello. Unlike the guitar which has frets and you know where to place your fingers to play a chord and notes, the cello is almost totally played by "ear."

During my classical music phase, I attended many concerts and recitals. We saw Barry Douglas when he was on tour playing Beethoven. He was playing all 32 Beethoven sonatas (in different venues) and the five Beethoven piano concertos! I saw him play The Emperor...unbelievable! I've seen such noted pianists as Andres Schiff, Helen Grimaude, Christopher O'Reily, Frederic Chiu Emanuel Ax...and the jazz stylings of Billy Taylor and Ramsey Lewis.

The concert that meant the most to me was in 1998 when we went to Denver to see Yo-Yo Ma play the Dvorak cello concerto with the Colorado Symphony. It was the one of the best days of my life. He received seven curtain calls! I will never forget that night as long as I live. I first fell in love with Yo-Yo when I saw his short films about the Bach cello suites on PBS. I bought all six videos. Here's a link if you want to know more about these wonderful films. But I warn you, if you watch them, you will never look at Bach and his cello suites the same way again. They are a true inspiration, even if you don't know anything about classical music.

Here's an article about Yo-Yo's Bach film project:

Today, I'm still playing the piano. I'm working on Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata, some Scott Joplin ragtime music, Bach's A-minor two-part invention and Mozart's piano sonata in "C" Irving Berlin tunes and traditional hymns.

Anyway, back to Mozart. I highly recommend the film "Amadeus"... an amazing movie showcasing the talents of Tom Hulce (as Mozart) and F. Murray Abraham (as Antonio Salieri). Winner of eight Oscars, the film was based on the play by Peter Shaffer. It tells of Salieri's jealousy and hatred of Mozart, and his anger with God for giving this wonderful talent to an unworthy, spoiled brat, when he, Salieri, desired nothing more in the world than to glorify God with music. The film is Salieri's confession to a priest:

SALIERI: My plan was simple. It terrified me. First I must get the death mass and then, I must achieve his death. His funeral! Imagine it, the cathedral, all Vienna sitting there, his coffin, Mozart's little coffin in the middle, and then, in that silence, music! A divine music bursts out over them all. A great mass of death! Requiem mass for Wolfgang Mozart, composed by his devoted friend, Antonio Salieri! Oh what sublimity, what depth, what passion in the music! Salieri has been touched by God at last. And God is forced to listen! Powerless, powerless to stop it! I, for once in the end, laughing at him!

An amazing film. Ya gotta see it!

Here's a link about Mozart if you want to know more about this gifted composer:

Happy birthday, Amadeus!

1 comment:

Luana Krause said...

FYI: I created this post as a draft on Monday Jan 26...but published it Jan 27 (Mozart's birthday). It shows on my blog that it was posted the 26th. Okay. Whatever.