'Your dream is your only scheme, so keep on pushing.' - Curtis Mayfield
Jascha Heifetz, violin; Charles Munch, Boston Symphony
Published: Dec 05, 2013
Weekend Classic: 76 feet tall. 12 tons. Mariah Carey in an almost-appropriate dress. All this and more thrilled the mob at Rockefeller Center and the millions watching at home as the 45,000 lights of The Christmas Tree were switched on. We live 50 blocks north of this public spectacle, but we could feel the tremors. We huddled together, fearful that Mariah and Jewel and Savannah Guthrie would come a-caroling. In case they did, we reached for something gorgeous to drown them out. Like this….
Franz Clement may not have been as great a violinist as Ludwig van Beethoven was a composer, but he was quite the celebrity in 19th century Vienna. He was director of the theater where Beethoven had premiered “Fidelio.” As a composer, he had some success. And as a former prodigy on the violin, he was known for his dazzling showmanship and his ability to memorize great chunks of music without apparent effort.
In the late fall of 1806, the 26-year-old Clement decided to sponsor a benefit concert. The beneficiary: Franz Clement. The program: Handel and Mozart. But Clement needed something more — an attention-getting premiere. So he asked his 36-year-old friend, Ludwig van Beethoven, to write a violin concerto.
There wasn’t much time — the concert was scheduled for December 23rd — but Beethoven rose to the challenge. Working with uncommon speed, he is said to have finished his concerto on the day of the performance. Some say that Clement had to sight-read the last movement that night — and that the ink on his score was still damp.
Beethoven’s premiere took second place to Clement’s showmanship. The violinist divided the piece, playing part before intermission, part after. Like a forefather of Jimi Hendrix, he performed a fantasia that night with his violin upside-down. In all the theatrics, Beethoven’s concerto was easy to overlook — critics called it common and repetitious.
Between 1806 and 1844, how often was Beethoven’s Violin Concerto played?
Beethoven died on March 26th, 1827. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people attended his funeral. Few were aware that Vienna’s beloved composer had ever written a concerto for violin.
Almost a decade after Beethoven’s death, Felix Mendelssohn brought the piece to the public’s attention. He understood what Beethoven had written: the only major work for violin composed since Mozart’s 1775 burst of five concertos. This time people heard it for what it was — probably the greatest violin concerto ever written. [To buy the Heifetz/Boston Symphony Beethoven Violin Concerto from Amazon and get a free MP3 download, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.]
Why the greatness? Simple. This is gorgeous, melodic music, from start to finish. The dark, brooding Beethoven? Not present here. This Beethoven is peaceful. He chooses only the most satisfying harmonies. His colors are bright. And he gives the soloist ample opportunity to shine — and, in the Rondo, the final movement, opportunity to thrill. No hype: For me, this is the most pleasurable 45 minutes in classical music.
What version to recommend? I grew up on David Oistrakh, but that brilliant recording is no longer available. I appreciate Isaac Stern’s interpretation, but understand that it’s controversial. Anne-Sophie Mutter made her CD when she was just 16; I don’t care how precocious she was, I prefer someone who’s had a bit more life experience.
Which leads me, inevitably, to Jascha Heifetz (1900-1987), generally known as “the violinist of the century.” No recording of the Beethoven concerto will ever be “definitive,” but his, made in 1955 with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, comes close. Also on this CD: Heifitz’s recording of the Mendelssohn — from 1959, again with Munch and Boston. Heifetz, you should know, was regarded as his generation’s greatest interpreter of Mendelssohn; there are those who think his version of Mendelssohn’s concerto is superior to his Beethoven.
Never has joy come cheaper.
I interviewed Maria Bello a few years ago. My male friends drooled — she’s even more beautiful than most Hollywood actresses. I found her smart and quick. Now I find her wise. Here’s how her piece in the Times starts:
When my 12-year-old son, Jackson, asked me if there was something I wasn’t telling him, I replied, “There are a lot of things I don’t tell you.”
He persisted: “What kind of adult stuff?”
This was the moment I had been anticipating and dreading for months. “Like romantic stuff,” I said, fumbling for words.
“What kind of romantic stuff?”
“Well,” I said. “Like how sometimes you can be friends with someone, and then it turns romantic, and then you’re friends again. Like with Dad and me. Or romantic like Bryn and me were, and then he and I became friends.”
“So are you romantic with anyone right now?” he asked.
No way would a reasonable person stop here. Click for the rest.
“None of us wanted to give our babies up, none of us. But what else could we do? They just said, ‘You have to sign these papers.’”
“Philomena” is tied with “Dallas Buyers Club” as the best movie I’ve seen this year. Another beyond amazing performance from Judi Dench. What’s it about? The less you know the better (whatever you do, do not read the Times review, which is an encyclopedia of spoilers.) Okay, this: In the 1950s, when she was 16 and unmarried and an Irish Catholic living in Ireland, Philomena had a baby. The nuns took him away from her. Half a century later, she meets a journalist who helps her search for her son. Many laughs await you, and many tears (seriously: I was a wreck for much of the movie), and just possibly a renewed sense of the magnificence of people. Well, some people.
Hunger Update: ‘There is virtually no more immediate way to affect the lives of the poor than to give to the agencies that help feed them, especially now when need has so greatly escalated.’
from The New York Times:
As a result of cuts to SNAP, the federal food stamp program, which went into effect on Nov. 1 (and precede further potential reductions of $4 billion to $40 billion), food pantries are already experiencing mounting burdens. One of the city’s largest, the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger in Brooklyn, has seen more than a one-third increase this month in the number of people coming in, compared with November of last year. Another, the New York Common Pantry in East Harlem, was seeing a 25 percent rise during the five months before the cuts.
Even before the cuts went into effect, matching supply with demand presented wounding challenges. According to a study of emergency food program participation released by the Food Bank last month, there are 100,000 more New Yorkers relying on these services today than six years ago, while there are fewer pantries to serve them. In another sign of distress, the term “emergency” now seems misapplied.
Madonna Badger: ‘I go to wherever the light is, because anything else is darkness, and it can be a deeply black darkness.’
You may not remember her name, but you know her story: On Christmas Eve, her house burned, and her three daughters and her parents died in the fire. Now Madonna Badger has written a piece for Vogue. It’s a tough read; prepare to weep. Prepare also to be surprised by what she has learned — and by what you can learn from her. Like this, about her trip to an orphanage in Thailand:
The garage behind the house in Stamford hadn’t caught fire, and I had stored old boxes of toys there that my girls had outgrown and a bunch of things I had saved for them for when they grew up. I took a bag of it all to Thailand, and on Christmas morning I gave the girls presents, and they were so excited. Thirty or so of them came and stood in front of me and prayed for me in Thai. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them we were all crying. When I looked into the girls’ faces, I saw my children. It broke me open in a way I still can’t fully explain. But if these little girls were living their lives with joy and happiness, I realized — and if they could give their love to me after all they had been through — how could I possibly feel sorry for myself? What they showed me was that what had happened to them had just happened. It wasn’t “done” to them, just as none of this had been “done” to me. I wasn’t being punished; I had not been singled out.
Obligatory Blog Roll
- Andrew Tobias
- Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Charles Pierce
- Letters of Note
- James Fallows
- Dominique Browning
- Andrew Romano
- Lux Lotus
- The New Yorker