Monday, March 30, 2009

Carl Nielsens De fire Temperamenter, or Santa Cruz wears no shoes

I came to Santa Cruz expecting sun, ancient hippies, relaxed attitudes, and books, but not a symphony orchestra, so I was delighted to find that the Santa Cruz County Symphony was playing Carl Nielsen's Second Symphony, subtitled the "Four Temperaments."

That lively, harmonically interesting piece was a bit brassier than I remembered, but that could be because I was sitting close enough to the brass to easily have spit my gum into the tuba, had I chosen to do so.

The orchestra plays in a civic auditorium that is well set up for music but also hosts events of other kinds, including a women's roller derby game. The house was fairly full, and the evening's guest soloist, Chetan Tierra, who played Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, is a winner of international competitions, a performer at prestigious concert halls, and a Santa Cruz kid.

The audience had the endearing custom of applauding after the first movement of a piece rather than waiting until the end. But the evening's most memorable sight was a fellow concertgoer, a middle-aged gent wearing a T-shirt and pony tail, who attended the concert barefoot, a fact that neither he nor the friends with whom he conversed before the concert and during intermission appeared to find odd.

Could this start a trend? I will cast my eyes discreetly toward my fellow concertgoers' feet the next time I attend a concert in Philadelphia and report back on the results.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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31 Comments:

Blogger Dorte H said...

Oh, Carl Nielsen! He is indeed a countryman I am proud of :)
I think I have De Fire Årstider CDs in my car so perhaps I should enjoy them on my way to work.
You forgot to tell how you were attired, by the way ;)

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

I love the idea of the barefoot concert-goer. I do wish classical music had a less stuffy reputation - the music is so amazing, and it's often strangled by the images of people in penguin suits. (Real penguin suits would admittedly be pretty funny!) I'm sick of going to concerts and being the youngest there by forty years!

And if we're starting a branch of the Nielsen fan club around here, may I join?

His second symphony is not my favourite, though I do like it - I'm a brass player, so that probably has an effect. (Yes, I like Bruckner 9 as well.)
For Nielson, I think the timpani in The Inextinguishable (4) probably tips that one over, or perhap the 'un-subtitled' No. 5 with the snare drums. As a musical representation of life after WW1, it's extraordinary.

I think his 3 concertos are also extremely underrated. (I own all three with the Danish Radio Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt in a very good remastered version.)

And there's a decent biography in English by Jack Lawson.

Oh, were we supposed to be talking about crime fiction? Um, maybe one day I'll open a book to find a melancholic Nordic sleuth listening to Nielsen or Sibelius (the latter would require someone translate Finnish fiction though!) instead of 60s rock. Even Wallander prefers Callas to Birgit Nilsson...

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Lauren, that was indeed an interesting angle! Right now I cannot remember any Scandinavian sleuth who listens to proper music, but I am sure there must be some. Perhaps Arne Dahl, who - as far as I know - is on his way to the English-speaking world. Some of his police officers are quite literary, and I think there could be some classical music there.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I have not been listening to symphomic/classical/concert music long, but Nielsen is decidedly a favorite. I have a recording of all his symphonies, and I've attended performances of the Second and the Third in the past year in addition to Saturday's evening among the unshod.

I was conventionally attired by local standards: neat jeans, a sport shirt and sandals.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, I'd like to read Nielsen's autobiography. I've always enjoyed his good humor whenever I've seen him quoted, and I learned from the Santa Cruz program that he did in fact write an autobiography. Perhaps Dorte can translate it into English if no one else has.

I probably like the Third and the Fifth best, but I also enjoy the Second.

Sibelius is another favorite. I learned from an interesting guide to symphonic music by Ethan Moorden that Sibelius did not attain wide popularity until late and Nielsen not until exceedingly late. This might account for their absence from the popular imagination and from the listening repertory of fictional detectives.

Even Håkan Nesser's Van Veeteren listens to Francisco Tárrega.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, I've read the three of Håkan Nesser's books that have been translated into English. Music is not a big part of them, and Van Veeteren does not listen to classical music beyond the one CD he slips into his car player once in one book. But there is hope.

In re proper music, I wouldn't mind a sleuth who listened to jazz in a way that betrayed intelligent awareness and seriousness of intent on the author's part and had something to do with the story. And I often find rock references too generic to mean much, but Jo Nesbø includes some funny and knowing references to rock music in his work.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, my recordings of the symphonies are by the Danish Radio Symphony and Herbert Blomstedt, which may be the only complete set. But the new music director of the New York Philharmonic is a Nielsen fan, or at leat has conducted some of the symphonies, so perhaps more recordings will follow.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Peter, I have the same symphonic set - I bought them after enjoying the concertos mentioned above. (Blomstedt, so Wikipedia informs me, is actually an American-born Swede.) The CBSO and Halle orchestras did a joint cycle at the beginning of the year which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 here. Somewhat uneven but generally very good. Grove Music informs me that "Composer-conductor Ole Schmidt made the first complete recorded cycle of the symphonies in 1973" but I've never heard them.

As for Nielsen's autobiographical writings...

a) Levende musik [Living music] (Copenhagen, 1925, new edn 1976. The most widespread English translation is by Reginald Spink.

b) Min fynske barndom [My Funen Childhood] (Copenhagen, 1927). The English - My Childhood - is also translated by Spink.

For a taste of Nielsen's writings (in English), see here: http://www.therestisnoise.com/2007/06/guest-blogger-c.html. Alex Ross's book is a great overview of twentieth-century music when you have a few weeks spare (it's very long.)

Nielsen's international breakthrough outside Scandinavia was as late as the 1950s, with a performance at the Edinburgh Festival, I believe. The Helios Overture is probably best-known, and was known sooner.

Sibelius was certainly better known in his (composing) lifetime, (Finlandia's been performed to exhaustion, alas) but not necessarily liked by the critics...Adorno wrote in 1938 that "If Sibelius is good, this invalidates the standards of musical quality that have persisted from Bach to Schoenberg." Sibelius faced several other chalenges - writing symphonies at the same time as Mahler, and living long enough to become cursed as overconservative.

As to *why* Nielsen and Sibelius had reception difficulties...I can only hazard a guess, but musicologists outside Scandinavia (mostly German) tended to be rather scathing about music with national characteristics or nationalistic overtones - unless, of course, it was German music. Their loss, really. I like both composers a great deal.

Oddly enough, the two are recorded together less often than one would think. Maxim Vengerov has done so with the violin concertos (Nielsen good, Sibelius OK), and Simon Rattle has done Sibelius Symph. 5 and Nielsen 4, but I haven't heard it. The Emerson quartet's CD "Intimate Voices" is a favourite of mine and throws in Grieg for good Nordic measure.)

*Takes off research hat* (did I ever mention that my PhD looks in particular at musical autobiographies and nationalism?)

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Dorte, I've read all of Dahl's novels available in German and enjoyed them greatly. There's certainly a lot of music around - Holm and Nyberg sing in a choir, Chavez plays guitar very well and ran a jazz club at one point and Hjelm is also a major jazz fan - but the classical variety is only incidental. (Though I think Hjelm listens to Glenn Gould on his commute at some point.)

Peter, if Dahl ever makes it into English as planned, his Misterioso has probably the best use of jazz for both plot and character that I've come across in a novel. Domingo Villar's "Water-Blue Eyes" doesn't do a bad job either, though the crime is a bit silly.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I suspect that the climate in Philadelphia would preclude barefoot concert attendance, other than summer months. Besides, aren't those mean streets dirty?

I came very late to classical music and am still learning. One useful tool for me has been NPR's Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Lauren, I really hope the English Arne Dahl´s are on their way. I´d like to reread them in order, review them and discuss them with my blog friends.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

The sixties' look is coming back in full swing, Peter! Get your old tie-died shirts out! ;)

*laughing* I was anxious to get your commentary on my commentary, although it was made on a subconscious level. I have become what I've read and seen for so many years. Scary, eh? :))

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, you wear an impressive research hat. Feel free to don it any time. It's no surprise that a certain wariness about nationalistic music may have set in after World War II, but perhaps times are safer for such music now. I heard the Philadelphia Orchestra play Shostakovich's Seventh not long ago, and I thought the piece, with all its drama, might make an especially accessible introduction to concert music to intelligent but unschooled listeners such as myself. And yes, I can understand, too, why some Germans might not have wanted to encourage the national aspirations of Finns and Danes.

I have read that Sibelius did not attain widespread popularity until well after he stopped composing, and that Nielsen's Second enjoyed a good reception except in Berlin, where Hanslick hated it. This puts the work in good company.

Adorno may not have been as acute a listener as he fancied himself. I have read also that views of Sibelius may halve been skewed by the ubiquity of some of his short pieces and the scant availability of some of his symphonies. He lived longe enough to have gone in and out of fashion any number of times, but I certainly can't imagine the Fifth and the Seventh Symphonies being regarded as conservative.

Thanks for the information on the Nielsen books. The Santa Cruz program quoted a funny autobiographical remark from Nielsen about his own birth that included his mother's banging her head on a tree in relief. And one has to have a certain fondness for a composer who says he got the idea for a symphony while drinking beer and looking at satirical pictures in a pub.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, I took a quick look at Arne Dahl's Web site and realized I had seen it before, along with the news that English translations of the books were to have begun appearing in 2008. I should see if publication has begun. Your description is highly enticing.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, this is an outstanding guide to symphonic music for experiences and inexperienced listeners: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Music/Reference/?view=usa&ci=9780195040418. The title is A Guide to Orchestal Music: The Handbook for Non-Musicians, and I misspelled the author's name earlier. It's Ethan Mordden.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And you're right: weather; hard, dirty streets; and patrician mores all militate against bare feet at Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, except possible outdoor summer concerts at the Mann Music Center.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Dorte H has left a new comment on your post "Carl Nielsens De fire Temperamenter, or Santa Cruz...:

"Lauren, I really hope the English Arne Dahl´s are on their way. I´d like to reread them in order, review them and discuss them with my blog friends."


Have you discussed the Danish originals? Such discussions could be good material for elementary Danish lessons.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

PM, one might argue that the Sixties never left Santa Cruz or at least that they're departing slowly.

Do you mean HAL comment was subconscious? If that's the case, your subconscious is working in a way Walter Mosley would admire.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

If it hadn't been for the pony tail you could have asked him about the Black Sox Scandal. SJJ could only get jobs in the California bush leagues after his exit from MLB.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Peter, the Blomstedt is not the only complete set of the symphonies available at present. I think the Schmidt is still in the catalogue, also Ormandy/Bernstein, Berglund, Schonwandt, Tuxen/Jensen, et al. But I must give a nod to the Bis label, whereon may be found the six symphonies and the three concerti, Gothenburg SO conducted by Neeme Jarvi and Myung-Whyn Chung, fine performances overall, some outstanding, brilliant Bis sound, and all on four cds. In short, the best of at least three worlds and a bargain to boot. Of my three sets, this is the one I'd hang onto if I had to make a reluctant choice.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Dorte, I know what you mean - a lot of what I read isn't available in English, and it makes discussing things with friends rather tricky. Hopefully Dahl with appear eventually, as lesser books have certainly been translated.

Peter, while I can just about manage to understand basic Danish if I'm not in a hurry (thanks Dorte for the bilingual help on your blog!), I have a lot more trouble with Swedish, and I'm not sure Dahl's prose is the best place to start...if the translations I've read are anything to go by, his writing can be quite challenging in places. (It's certainly distinctive among the large number of Swedish-German translations I've come across.)

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, since we were attending a concert featuring a symphony by a Scandinavian composer, I'd have had to pronounce the name Shoeless Yoe Yackson.

I actually didn't know where Shoeless Joe had played after he was booted out of baseball.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Philip. I'll take a look. I wonder to what extent Nielsen is a repertory composer, even at this late date. The Free Library of Philadelphia's classical music database, for example, which includes multiple recordings of many works, has one each of Nielsen's first four sypmhomes, in the Blomstedt recordings, and none of the Fifth and Sixth.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, Lauren, that makes me all the more eager to see what his prose style is like.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Quite a lot to catch up with here.
Peter, I have not reviewed Arne Dahl´s books as I began blogging in January, and I had read nine of them prior to that. When I realized he was going to be translated, I decided to wait so I plan to reread the series in order when they appear in English.
Lauren, I have read most of Dahl´s books in Danish, but bought one in Swedish. Tough to read, even for me! If anyone wants to learn Swedish via crime fiction, I can recommend Camilla Läckberg and Mari Jungstedt - no disturbing vocabulary or complicated literary hints there ;)

March 31, 2009  
Blogger marco said...

On the subject of translations, I've just read Fred Vargas' Sotto I Venti di Nettuno (Sous le Viens de Neptune/ Wash This Blood Clean from My Hands) the novel you mentioned in your interview with Sian Jones. The Italian version chose to translate Quebec French with an invented Italian- full of Americanisms and awkward expressions which nonetheless sort of make sense. It is very well done, though it resembles an exaggerated youth lingo, but it works only because Quebec French is supposed to sound strange in the original also.



v-words: notion

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, it would be interesting to speculate about the reason's for the difficulties of Dahl's Swedish. In French, I have found long, complex sentences by far the chief difficulty.

I haven't read Camilla Läckberg or Mari Jungstedt in any language yet.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, I can't imagine a more difficult task for a translator than capturing the differences between dialects of the original language. It is no wonder that Sian Reynolds chose to leave out one or two instances of the mutual puzzlement between speakers of Quebecois and Parisian French.

I wonder how a Quebecois Francophone who also reads Italian would feel about the Italian's translator's decisions.

Sometimes a great v-word

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, you suggested this string was turning into a Carl Nielsen fan club. Do you know this site?

April 01, 2009  
Anonymous JL Granger said...

I have just learned of your blog and comments about our Santa Cruz County Symhphony concert in March. I am happy you attended and thought enough of the program to write about it.
I had the honor and privilege of studying with Herbert Blomstedt in the early 1980's. His deep commitment to Scandinavian music and particulary his love for Carl Nielsen was a revelation to me.
These days it is a challenge to program less known composers and still balance the budget with ticket sales.
Your comments are most appreciated and help keep an orchestra like Santa Cruz on the map.

Yours,

John Larry Granger
Music Director/ Conductor
Santa Cruz County Symhphony

June 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mr. Granger, yours must be the most surprising comment I have received since I began this blog three years ago. Thanks for taking the time to write.

Your having studied with Blomstedt explains much. I am relatively new to concert music, and I am still surprised at the degree to which a music director's preference can influence the repertory. Here in Philadelphia, Charles Dutoit is leading the Philadelphia Orchestra for now, which means lots of Berlioz this past season -- fine by me.

I am also surprised that Nielsen is not performed more often. His big, unusual sound and goood humor are ideal for capturing the ear of new listeners like me, and I was delighted to come across your concert.

The New York Philharmonic's new music director is a Nielsen fan, too, I think, so perhaps we are on the verge of a new era of Nielsen recording and performing.

Thanks again, and here's hoping I stumble across Nielsen's Fourth or Fifth should I visit Santa Cruz again. I also won't complain if you program some Sibelius.

Peter

June 27, 2009  

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