Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On the road


“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there"
“Where are we going man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.”


The cover of the Penguin Classic edition of On the Road uses a detail from 'The Athletes Dream' by Larry Rivers from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. More Kerouac here, and support other music blogs here and here.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Lone voices - Peter Maxwell Davies


Many people think of Peter Maxwell Davies as a Scottish composer, but in fact he was born in Salford in Lancashire. And I'm adding to the confusion by featuring a CD of his music titled A Celebration of Scotland for the simple reason that it contains some of the most beautiful music ever captured on disc. The riches are too many to list. But for starters try the haunting Farewell to Stromness and Yesnaby Ground for solo piano played by Max, the ravishing Lullabye for Lucy sung by the Choir of St. Mary's Music School, Edinburgh, and the extrovert An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise complete with George McIlwham playing the highland bagpipes.

Originally released as a Unicorn-Kanchana vinyl LP in 1988, A Celebration of Scotland was captured in stunning sound in the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh by recording engineer Antony Howell. It, thankfully, remains available as a CD, snap it up while you can. And this post brings a neat symmetry to the path as we are off to Scotland (where we lived for six years in the 1980s) after hearing Jordi Savall and Rolf Lislevand in this evening's Snape Prom. So I'll be celebrating Scotland (and Sufism at the Edinburgh Festival) instead of blogging for a few days. More on Scottish musical connections in Farewell to Stromness.

Lone voices showcases music not featured in the 2008 BBC Proms, discover more lone voices here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, August 18, 2008

The best composer of our times?


'The best composer of our times is Ernest Bloch' - Pablo Casals

As the string quartets of John Cage, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Elliott Carter enjoy critical attention one wonders whether Ernest Bloch's main stylistic error was to have been born in Switzerland. With some justification Casals can be criticised for ignoring modern music, and he once unashamedly said 'I have finally come to a definite conclusion: I will have nothing to do with what is called "contemporary music"'. But Casals' opinion of Bloch was shared by another great cellist, Colin Hampton, who, as a member of the famous Griller Quartet, was part of the classic 1954 recording of the Bloch Quartets seen above. Hampton unequivocally endorsed Casals' view writing that '(Bloch's) string quartet No 1 is to me one of the great works in this world. It was a logical conclusion, as far as I am concerned, to the Beethoven quartets. I would put Bloch in front of Schubert and Brahms anytime.'

Read more on the Bloch Quartets here, and, yes, I know the composer took American citizenship in 1924. Meet another neglected Swiss born composer here. And, no, it's not Arthur Honegger, who was also championed by Casals. And are thirteen forward-looking twentieth-century string quartets neglected simply because the composer was a woman?

Lone voices showcases music not featured in the 2008 BBC Proms, discover more lone voices here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The ladies have the last laugh


When I went in search of Pablo Casals last week I repeated Stravinsky's dismissive comment about the young wives of Casals and Zoltán Kodály. I am now indebted to the excellent Through These Ears for telling us that the ladies, in fact, had the last laugh. Marta Casals Istomin (seen above with her husband) went on to become President of Manhattan School of Music as well as holding many other distinguished posts before retiring in 2005, while Sarolta Kodály Péczely is a visiting professor of voice at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest, an institution whose faculty has also included Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Jenő Hubay, Ernő Dohnányi, Leó Weiner, Dávid Popper, Bence Szabolcsi, Sándor Végh, Imre Waldbauer and Ede Zathureczky.

When will they ever learn?
Photo with full acknowledgements from Joys and Sorrows, reflections by Pablo Casals edited by Alert E. Khan (Macdonld ISBN 356030482) - out of print but well worth buying from specialists. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Praise to the Holiest


Turn on the car radio after a glorious day on the beach at St-Hilaire-de-Riez. What is on France Musique? Offenbach's Gaitée Parisienne or Bizet's L'Arlesienne? No, it's the closing pages of The Dream of Gerontius and just a few bars tells me that it is Glorious John Barbirolli's radiant recording with his beloved Hallé and Janet Baker. The music hits me like a punch in the solar plexus and I have to pull the car over.

Thank you for great music and for the serendipity of good radio. As Pope Pius XII said, 'My son, that is a sublime masterpiece'.

+ In memory of Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé Community, who was stabbed to death on 16 August, 2005 while at evening prayer in the Church of Reconciliation. Cardinal Kasper said of Brother Roger "Every form of injustice or neglect made him very sad". Visit the green hill called Taizé here and its music here.

Sweet brother, if I do not sleep
My eyes are flowers for your tomb;
And if I cannot eat my bread,
My fasts shall live like willows where you died.
If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,
My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.

From For My Brother: Reported Missing In Action, 1943 by Thomas Merton


The photos of sunset over the sea at St-Hilaire-de-Riez and of Brother Roger's simple grave in Taizé were both taken by me and are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

More than a jazz pianist


Bill Evans was born on 16 August, 1929. Read why he was more than a jazz pianist in Ligeti's Etudes fit the Bill.
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Music grows old only if neglected


Music grows old only if it is neglected – like a woman who is no longer loved. Take an interest in her, and she will become young again ~ Wanda Landowska

Wanda Landowska (photo above) died on 16 August, 1959 in Lakeville CT. She was born in Warsaw in 1879 and studied in Warsaw and Berlin before taking up a teaching position at the Schola Cantorum in Paris at the age of just twenty-three. The harpsichord manufacturer Pleyel had exhibited an iron-framed instrument at the 1889 Paris Fair and, at her request, they manufactured a custom harpsichord for Landowska to use in large concert halls. With its massive cast-iron frame, numerous stops and sixteen-foot register the instrument’s only link to the classical harpsichord was its name. But Landowska’s highly inauthentic Pleyel is probably responsible for the popularity of the authentic harpsichord today.

Landowska is remembered for her pioneering advocacy of Bach, and in 1933 she gave the first complete modern performance of the Goldberg Variations on a harpsichord. But she balanced her early music activities with contemporary music and Manuel de Falla’s 1926 Harpsichord Concerto and Francis Poulenc’s Concert champêtre were written for her. She fled from France before the German occupation of Paris in 1940 and settled in America. She recorded the Goldbergs and both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier for Victor in the 1950s at her home in Connecticut and these recordings are highly recommended in their current ultra-low price releases.

Forget about authenticity or fashions. Landowska's Bach is sensational music making. Her attacking style coupled with the iron-framed harpsichord and constrained sound quality means this is an much John Cage (who died exactly thirty-three years after Landowska on 12 August, 1992) as Johann Sebastian Bach. An important historic document, great fun and essential for any CD collection.

‘The critics who continue to maintain that music is a transitory art and subject to fashion are no better than the natives of the Fiji islands who kill their parents as soon as they start to grow old. If a work was once really alive and fulfilled all the conditions of life when it was new, there is no reason for it to die’ ~ Wanda Landowska

Now read about another great musician who has fallen victim to fashion.
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Friday, August 15, 2008

The answer is Antal Dorati


Can anyone explain why huge numbers of Americans are currently arriving on the path from searches for the term 'Maestro Dorati'? I'd love to think there has suddenly been a revival of interest in this great musician. But I think it is something more prosaic such as a crossword clue. If so congratulations to the compiler on their excellent musical tastes. That's Antal Dorati above; by a weird coincidence he also featured in a quiz On An Overgrown Path back in 2005.
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Stockhausen in Miles mode


Email received - 'You've probably seen this in today's Guardian, but in case you haven't Stockhausen's son (photo above) in Miles mode sounds interesting, especially considering his father's influence on On the Corner. By the way, greatly in your debt re: Raphaël Imbert's excellent Bach-Coltrane album; jazz needs more records like this rather than the same, old, tired takes on hard-bop/post-bop/songbooks that were done better (and were much more sincere) 25-50 years ago. Speaking of jazz, have you ever checked out NYC's WKCR-FM 89.9? If you like Charlie Parker, Phill Schapp's Bird Flight program should not be missed: (And their classical department is quite good, too-- they play whole albums regularly!) Apologies if this is old news to you. Keep up the good work; thanks for sharing your sophisticated ears. Regards, Tim.'

Thanks for that Tim. Markus Stockhausen also appeared on the path recently in some other interesting company.
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Call me mellow cello


Sorry, but I couldn't help repeating this post from the Australian Chamber Orchestra blog. Anyone that calls my stories 'beaut' is guaranteed a link. Good on ya digger ...

'A Cello Coda - The excellent 'On an Overgrown Path' blog has a beaut story about Pablo Casals. A good way to end the week in which we wrapped up the Intense Tour with Steven Isserlis (a big fan of Casals - photo above). Read it here. '

Photo of Steven Isserlis is from Australian Chamber Orchestra blog - where else? Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Classical music moves on


Dance, mime, dramatic lighting, theatrical props and virtuoso musicianship all come together in Anders Hillborg's Clarinet Concerto which was given a scintillating performance by Martin Fröst (right above) and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel at last night's Snape Prom. Hillborg's Concerto is creating quite a stir on the current Gothenburg Orchestra tour, which is good news for contemporary music. But it is worthwhile remembering that the concerto was actually premiered by its dedicatee Martin Fröst with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra ten years ago.

Aspects of Dudamel Inc still leave me uneasy. But the performance of Anders Hillborg's concerto under his baton was part of an evening of memorable music making. Some tightening of the almost thirty minute long concerto could give it more shape, while elsewhere in the programme Dudamel and his orchestra sometimes produced dynamics more appropriate to the Albert Hall, where they played a BBC Prom previous evening, than to an auditorium 15% of its size. And I do wish the orchestra wouldn't start sorting out encore scores before the last scheduled work finishes. But all this was far outweighed by the outstanding playing which Dudamel drew from his orchestra.

John Cage once said - 'If my work is accepted I must move on to the point where it isn't' . Of course he was was right and classical music must move on. For some it will be dancing Swedish brass players, for some it will be media hype, for others it will be superlative performances of new music like Anders Hillborg's daring Clarinet Concerto. It's different strokes for different folks. Last night's concert had them all, and the usually conservative Snape audience loved it. Whatever your strokes, the good news, folks, is that classical music is moving on.

* I first came across Martin Fröst via his 2002 BIS recording of Schumann transcriptions with pianist Roland Pöntinen which provides my header image. A million miles from Anders Hillborg's concerto but still highly recommended. Wilhelm Stenhamar provided the orchestras' first encore, he was also the first artistic leader of the Gothenburg Orchestra - read more here.

Anders Hillborg's Clarinet Concerto played by Martin Fröst is available on an Ondne CD. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In search of Pablo Casals


~~ For me the existence of Pablo Casals is a source of joy. He is one of those artists who come to the rescue of humanity's honour ~~ Thomas Mann

Commequiers is one of those villages that you only seem to find in France. It is in the Vendée region in the west of the country, a short distance from the Atlantic coast. Despite being close to the fashionable resort of Les Sables d'Olonne this is rural France that time seems to have passed by. The timeless houses huddle around a small square in the centre of Commequiers. There is a bar and boulangerie, and on one side of the square is L'eglise Saint-Pierre with its wonderful new reinterpretation of an organ of the classic French school seen to the left of my header photo.

The Vendéee, with its history of political and religous activism, is a long way from Spain. But we made the journey there in search of a musician famous for expressing his beliefs through activism. Pablo Casals was born in El Vendrell in Catalonia, Spain in 1876. After studying in Paris he taught in Barcelona, and while there formed a long-lasting association with the monks of the nearby Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. Music has been central to the life of the monastery since the fourteenth century when the monks recorded pilgrim's songs in the Llibre Vermell, a revelatory recording of which recently featured on these pages. It was the fruits of the association between the young Casals and the monks of Santa Maria that had drawn us to Commequiers.


The highlights of Casals public career as a cellist, which lasted from 1891 to 1946, included playing Richard Strauss' Don Quixote with the composer conducting, and performing chamber music in a trio with Alfred Cortot and Jacques Thibaud. Casals was a passionate opponent of Franco's regime in Spain, and shortly after the Second World War he withdrew from public performances on the cello in countries that recognised the fascist dictatorship. Fortunately Casals left an important recorded legacy, particularly the Bach Cello Suites which he recorded for HMV between 1936 and 1939, and these have been lovingly transcribed by Ward Marston on an excellent Naxos Historical 2CD set which should be in every record collection. These document a master musician working in a style that has now become deeply unfashionable. This is passionate Bach, many would call it romantic Bach. Vibrato is, today, also a victim of fashion. But Casals' rich, sonorous, but not omnipresent vibrato is something beautiful to behold. He wore his heart on his sleeve and once said "the art of interpretation is not to play what is written".

Casals has never been short of detractors. His outlook on life, as well as his playing style, swum against the tide. He was a believer who said "I see divine origin everywhere: in music, the sea, a flower, a leaf, an act of kindness. In all those things I see the presence of what people call God ... The sounds created by a Bach or Mozart are a miracle that nobody can explain without thinking of something infinitely good - something divine." When asked for his opinion of rock and roll he described it as "Poison put to sound - a brutalization of both life and art". Arnold Schoenberg's transcription of a harpsichord concerto by the 18th-century Austrian composer Georg Matthias Monn known as the Schoenberg/Monn Concerto was dedicated to Casals. But he never performed it as he felt out of sympathy with its style.

His sometimes reactionary views left Casals an easy target, and after watching a television programme programme about him, Stravinsky remarked: "That was an interesting programme. In one scene the cellist and a sort of Hungarian composer, Zoltán Kodály, are seen together with their great-granddaughters, at least that's what one supposes until one learns tat they are their wives. And what were the two racy octogenarians talking about? Well, they were saying that the trouble with me is that I must always be doing the latest thing. But who are they to talk, when they have been doing the same old thing for at least eighty years! Señor Casals also offered us an interesting insight into his philosophy - for example playing Bach in the style of Brahms."


There is some truth in this typically waspish Stravinsky anecdote. But was the Russian composer also a little jealous of the cellist's amorous liaisons, which included a relationship with a young pupil in Catholic Spain in the early 1900s when such things were shocking? Was Stravinsky unaware that Casals was responsible single-handedly for the rehabilitation of the Bach Cello Suites as repertory pieces after he discovered a score in a bookshop in Barcelona in 1889? Did he know that the Catalan was the first cellist to perform the Suites as complete works rather than individual movements?

The case for Casals' defence is strong and his credo as a musician is difficult to fault - "Music must serve a purpose; it must be a part of something larger than itself, a part of humanity; and that, indeed, is at the core of my argument with music today - its lack of humanity. A musician is also a man, and more important than his music is his attitude towards life. Nor can the two be separated." But we must be careful of deifying Casals. Like all great artists he was flawed and was sometimes guilty of failing to practise what he preached. He was vocal in his condemnation of Spanish royalists but built himself a palace fit for a king at San Salvador in Spain; a palace which, ironically, he did not see for the last thirty-four years of his life due to his self-imposed exile.

Casals left Spain and chose exile because of his commitment to human rights. But he was judged as lacking in this very area by another great humanitarian, Yehudi Menuhin, who tells this story: "Casals respected Furtwängler not only as a man of integrity but as a fine musician. So I asked Casals if he would like to record Brahms' Double Concerto with Furtwängler as conductor. "Yes, certainly," he said, but the correspondence dragged on for two or three years. Whenever I tried to finalize a date, there was always an obstacle. Finally I received a letter which, with disarming frankness, betrayed the limits of his indepence: "You will recall that I told you nothing would give me more pleasure than to record with Furtwängler. I still feel he is a man of integrity. However, I am seen by my colleagues as a symbol of anti-Fascism, and I would let them down if I played under Furtwängler. They wouldn't understand." In other words, he was prepared to let me know that he didn't have the courage of his convictions; so so long as those convictions were approved by his admirers, they were strong convictions indeed, but in other circumstances not strong enough to withstand guilt by association with a man wrongfully accused. It was an honest letter and a disappointing one".


After the defeat of the Republic in 1939 Casals left Spain. He settled first in France, and then in 1957, at the age of 80 settled in Puerto Rico after marrying his young second wife, who came from that country. Human rights remained a preoccupation and Casals held many views that were at variance with his conservative image. He was an early opponent of nuclear weapons and in 1958 issued a joint appeal with Albert Schweitzer to the American and Russian governments to ban nuclear tests, and he also expressed concerns about America's involvement in Vietnam. But Casals' refusal from 1946 to play in countries that recognised Franco's regime left him as a minister without a musical portfolio. He had composed an oratorio titled El Pessebre (The Manger) while living in Prades, France during the Second World War and in 1962 he embarked on a personal peace crusade conducting the oratorio around the world as his embargo on performance in countries recognising Franco's Spain applied only to the cello.

In some ways Casals' later years were a sad story that had many parallels with those of his detractor Stravinsky. The highlights were the remarkable festivals he established in Prades and Puerto Rico. But there were performances of El Pessebre in obscure towns with third-rate forces, as this story from Albert E. Kahn's portrait of Casals explains: 'In later years his wife Marta used to carry an oxygen mask with her in case of emergencies. Casals never used the oxygen himself at concerts, although it was required more than once to revive old ladies overcome with emotion. However, at one performance of his oratorio El Pessebre in Central America, the orchestra was mediocre and the chorus - mostly local singers - was willing but dreadful. Alexander Schneider had done his best in rehearsal, and at the concert Casals, then nearly nine-two conducted demonically to try and create an illusion of splendour from chaos. As the 'performance' proceeded, Marta Casals noticed with horror that her husband's face was growing redder and redder - not through fatigue, as she thought, but fury. Quickly Marta shoved the astonished Schneider on stage to conduct the rest of the performance. Dragging her husband off, she clamped the oxygen mask over his face while Casals slumped back in his chair, groaning repeatedly every time he heard a wrong note.


So far this path has visited Casals' cello playing and his oratorio El Pessebre. But we travelled to France in search of a little-know aspect of Casals, his sacred music. This was dedicated to the monks of Santa Maria de Montserrat who published it and performed his Masses and Rosary as part of the liturgy in their Abbey church. As part of an imaginative concert in Commequiers the Ensemble Vocal de la Cathédrale de Nantes directed by Louis-Marie Burgevin were giving rare performances of two of Casals sacred works. (The full programme of the concert can be found here.) Moreover, as if Casals was having the last laugh over Stravinsky from the great cello section in the sky, the programme also contained Zoltán Kodály's fine Stabat Mater. The two compositions by Casals were his Tota Pulchra and Salve Montserratina. Stravinsky they certainly are not. But these are beautifully crafted works that are none the worse for dwelling more in the past than the future, and the moving Salve Montserratina was quite deservedly given again as an encore at the end of the French ensemble's concert. These are scores well worth searching out by choirs looking for something different but accessible to add to their programmes. If the fine, but conservative in style, choral music of Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre can be so fashionable today why can't the choral music of Pablo Casals at least be heard?

Sadly you will have to take my word about the relative merit of Casals' music. With the exception of a few mixed choral programmes it is very poorly represented on the CD. The Escolania choir from Santa Maria de Monteserrat made a recording in 1987 (see sleeve below) which was also issued by Koch. But this appears to have been a victim of Koch's acquisition by Universal Music two years ago and has disappeared from the catalogue. His oratorio El Pessebre has faired little better, with a recording on the Naive label by Catalan forces under Lawrence Foster only lasting a few years before being deleted. Pablo Casals' sacred choral music is most definitely worth searching out; but, like us, you may have to travel to France to hear it.

Primary sources included:
- Joys and Sorrows, reflections by Pablo Casals edited by Alert E. Khan (Macdonld ISBN 356030482) - out of print but well worth buying at very low price from specialists. Not an autobiography, but, as the title suggests, a collection of relections which can sometimes be self-serving. Very good photos by Khan (see note below) which are the source, with full acknowledgement of the portraits in this article.
- Song of the Birds, sayings, stories and impressions of Pablo Casals edited by Julian Lloyd Webber (Robson ISBN 086051305 out of print) - an engaging little book which is essential to any music lovers' library. But, alas, the individual sources of the quotationss are not identified.

Additional notes:
- The programme for the Commequiers concert and the Escolania recording quite rightly list the composer as 'Pau Casals'. He preferred the Catalan 'Pau' to the Spanish 'Pablo', but his attempts to be known as Pau were frustrated by his agents who insisted that he was known worldwide as Pablo. In this article I have followed common usage.
- Full biography of Casals here.
- Read more about Marta Casals Istomin and Sarolta Kodály Péczely here.
- Albert E. Kahn, the American editor of Casals' book of reflections noted above, is a very interesting character in his own right. He was a Communist and political activist who was blacklisted by mainstream publishers for his outspoken views on the Cold War. His best-selling of books included Sabotage! The Secret War Against America (1942), and he also wrote a 'fairy tale' for adults titled Smetana and the Beetles. Read more here.
- Two paths converge in Prades in the French foothills of the Pyrenees. Casals settled there in exile at the end of the Spanish Civil War and established his famous Bach Festival there after the Second World War. The great Catholic monk, mystic and humanitarian Thomas Merton, who shared many of Casals' preoccupations with human rights, was born in Prades in 1915.


Photos of Pablo Casals by Albert E. Kahn. Header photo taken by me during a rehearsal of Casals' Salve Montserratina sung by l'Ensemble Vocal de la Cathédral de Nantes in l'Eglise Saint Saint-Pierre, Commequiers, France is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The sound of louder music


'A recording of overwhelming emotional power: the power of Bach combined with the great themes of Coltrane. The resulting sonorities are literally unheard-of: classical sound plus the mix of a pop album' - Raphaël Imbert's excellent Bach-Coltrane album which featured here recently hardly needs marketing-speak to promote it. But the promotional copy quoted above from the record label's website may be the tip of an iceberg.

My header image shows how the Grateful Dead's 1974 Wall of Sound redefined louder music. Even before that Stockhausen wrote Stimmung for six amplified voices. Then in the 1980s Xenakis decided that amplification was the only way to balance a harpsichord against percussion in Komboï. In the twenty-first century Jordi Savall uses subtle amplification for instruments such as the santur in his concerts of medieval music. And the new English National Opera production of Bernstein's Candide, transplanted from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, used sound reinforcement, which didn't please everyone.


Is amplification the next big thing for classical music? Will a generation who have grown-up on pop be turned on by classical music mixed rock style? Is there going to be a revival of recording styles that don't use concert hall perspectives, such as Decca/London's Phase 4 Stereo from the 1960s with its twenty channel console seen above? Is the sound of louder music the way to reach new audiences? Is this the end of silence as we know it?

Below is one of the classic Phase 4 Stereo releases which includes, as a filler, Stokowski's orchestration of Debussy's The Engulfed Cathedral (La cathédrale engloutie). Now read how Stokie's experiment with louder music in that work had to be abandoned when it made his orchestral players ill.


Header image of the Grateful Dead's 1974 Wall of Sound RatSound.com. Middle schematic of Phase 4 Stereo is from the Endless Groove. Phase 4 Stereo image is from a site with some real nostalgia for vinyl freaks. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Following Janacek's Overgrown Path


Back in 1972 I bought my first recording of music by Leoš Janáček, the gorgeous sounding and looking Decca LP conducted by the Belgian François Huybrechts seen above. Janáček died eighty years ago today on 12 August, 1928 and in commemoration Pierre Boulez conducts his music at the BBC Proms this Friday, 15 August. Janáček 's haunting solo piano work On An Overgrown Path (which is also translated as On The Overgrown Path) provided the inspiration for this blog which shortly celebrates a much more modest anniversary; the first post was uploaded on 24 August 2004, since when almost 1700 posts have hit cyberspace. It is a sign of our weird and wired world that if you type 'On Overgrown Path' into Google the first eight hits are for this blog and the ninth is for Janáček's divine composition. If, perchance, you are among the weird and wired who don't know Janáček's piano cycle please rectify the situation immediately with Leif Ove Andsnes' interpretation. Which takes us right to the heart of what this blog has been about for the last four years; Andsnes recorded On An Overgrown Path where music doesn't exist in a vacuum.

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In a Landscape


Number of recordings of John Cage's works in UK CD catalogue:

In a Landscape (1948) - 12
Sonatas and Interludes (1948) - 11
Bacchanale (1940) - 8
Five (1988) - 8
The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) - 7
Second and Third Construction in Metal (1940-1941) - 6
Four (1989) - 4
Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orcestra (1951) - 3

As John Cage would almost certainly have agreed, the numbers don't lie, and In a Landscape is surely his most accessible work. It was composed, together with his Suite for Toy Piano, at Black Mountain College, North Carolina in 1948. Cage was at the college to present a festival of music by Eric Satie, a composer whose influence can be heard in the meditative and hypnotic study for solo piano. Black Mountain College was recognised as one of the leading progressive schools in the States, and Cage taught there in 1948 and 1952. Lou Harrison was head of its music department in 1952 and he staged what is considered to be the first ever multi-media happening with participation from John Cage, Merce Cunningham, David Tudor, and Charles Olson.

John Cage died sixteen years ago today on 12 August, 1992 and is now recognised as being a major force in the experimental arts scene. Sadly the same cannot be said for Black Mountain College. Here is what happened when, then Hofstra University professor, Douglas Brinkley went searching for Black Mountain College in the North Carolina landscape in 1992.


'Exit 65, Black Mountain, North Carolina, was home of a celebrated experimental arts school of the 1950s. (We) raced into the Black Mountain Family Restaurant for coffee to go, planning to inquire about the location of what once was Black Mountain College, an educational community active from 1933 to 1956, hoping we might be able to pay the grounds an early-morning visit. I asked a tobacco-chewing old-timer in overalls and a Braves cap -Milwaukee, that is- whether he knew its location. "The only Black Mountain school I know is the primary school across the street," he snorted, scratching a U.S. Navy ancor tattoo that took up a good portion of his right arm.

From his loutish, unforthcoming reply, he immediately struck me as a person free of prejudice, despising all humans equally. Nonetheless I persisted, providing a brief précis of the famous experimental college where poets could study with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn and Robert Creeley, where Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg taught painting, where John Cage and David Tudor taught music and Merce Cunningham taught modern dance.

A dim bulb lit in the old-timer's memory palace, and at last he gave evidence that he understood what I was talking about. "We ran that bunch of crazies out of here forty years ago," he intoned as he spit tobacco juice into an empty jelly jar. "You won't find any of them fruitcakes around here. They're all dead from AIDS or are in prison, I'm sure," raising his voice loudly enough to burnish his well-established reputation as a local kingfish and a Jesse Helms follower.'


* Photos were taken by me at the 2008 John Cage happening in Bruges, in fact I'm in the one below.
* In a Landscape is in the low priced Minimal Piano Collection

* Two of Cage's vocal works in that list of his greatest hits are on the CD featured in There is no difference between life and death.
* Quotation is from the highly recommended, but sadly out of print, The Majic Bus by Douglas Brinkley which has already featured on the path.
* Interview with Lou Harrison here.
* Primary sources included CageTalk edited by Peter Dickinson and The Roaring Silence, John Cage a Life by David Revill.
* And more John Cage resources than you can shake a prepared piano at here.


Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, August 11, 2008

Serenade to music


Sometimes we forget that it's the music that really matters. To remind us here is a photo I took recently in L'Eglise Saint-Pierre in Commequiers in south-western France. The Ensemble Vocal de la Cathédrale de Nantes directed by Louis-Marie Burgevin with organist Nicolas Daviaud (check out details of that beautiful new French classical style organ here) were performing the exquisitely balanced programme below. But I was in deepest rural France for a specific reason, find out why later this week.

Ave Maria - gregorian
Ave Maria - Tomás Luis de Victoria

Beata Virgo - William Byrd
Ave Maris Stella - manuscript of Limoges
Stabat Mater - Zoltán Kodály
Tota Pulchra - Pau Casals
Salve Montserratina - Pau Casals

Magnificat - anonymous
Concerto in E - Vivaldi/Walther (organ)
Credo - Vivaldi

Now read about a Bach chorale's secret French connection.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pictures from a demonstration


This photo was sent to me by a reader in New York. It was taken last week and apparently the ladies were rehearsing for a demonstration outside the Good Shepherd Church, New York, NY on December 5th.

Remember - the individual is sovereign.
Photo was taken in New York but is actually from Wikipedia. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dedicated follower of fashion


Vibrato isn't the only thing to have been abandoned at this year's BBC Proms as this photo of Charles Hazlewood conducting this evening's concert shows.

Even Sir Malcolm Arnold wore one.
Picture credit BBC TV. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

What a difference twelve years makes

I'm all in favour of diverse programmes, and today's concert at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester certainly had something for everyone. Funny to think that the Ligeti was composed just twelve years after the Rodrigo.

PärtCantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten
LigetiConcert românes
RodrigoConcerto de Aranjuez
Beethoven – Symphony No.7
CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy
Michael Seal – Conductor
Morgan Szymanski - Guitar


Arvo Pärt - what exactly is a classic?
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Death and transfiguration of the journalist


Is it surprising that we keep hearing of the death and transfiguation of the music journalist? Take the gushing profile above of Gustavo Dudamel by Guardian chief arts writer Charlotte Higgins which took up half a page in the paper's main news section on Friday.

Where are the insights that could not be gleaned from reading a few press releases? Where are the opinions from anyone other than three hardly objective members of the UK culture club, all of whom have booked Dudamel to conduct? Where is the balance among the fawning endordements? Where is the information that the author of the profile went on a trip to Italy to hear Dudamel conduct that was funded by his record label? Where is the information that the author of the glowing profile was also commissioned by the same record label to write the booklet notes for a recent Dudamel CD release?

Maybe the death of music journalism and its transfiguration into blogging has nothing to do with the often cited dominance of the internet. Maybe it's because bloggers (with a few notable exceptions) don't receive agent's press releases, don't receive free review CDs, don't receive complimentary concert tickets, don't get invited by record labels to write sleeve notes or travel to far-away places and don't have the direct dial numbers of culture club members in their BlackBerrys.

Now read about a great music journalist who wasn't afraid of having an opinion - even if it was sometimes wrong.
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Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympic fire and matters of conscience


That great musician and man of conscience Pablo Casals is seen above with his wife Marta meeting the Kennedys at a White House reception. There are two BBC Proms this evening and they both include music to celebrate the opening of the Beijing Olympics. The poetry of A.E. Housman was recited to some effect during the Prom on July 29 so I suggest the following words by Pablo Casals are read tonight before Chen Yi's Olympic Fire and Michael Torke's Javelin:

'An affront to human dignity is an affront to me; and to protest against injustice is a matter of conscience. Are human rights of less importance to an artist than to other men? Does being an artist exempt him from his obligations as a man? If anything, the artist has an even greater responsibility, because he has been granted special sensitivities and perceptions and because his voice may be heard when others may not. Who, indeed, should be more concerned than the artist about the defense of liberty and free inquiry? Such fundamentals are essential to his creativity.'

In 1936 Toscanini left the Salzburg Festival, never to return, in protest against its anti-semitic policies. In 1942 Hugo Distler took his own life rather than fight for the Nazis. In 1943 Michael Tippett went to prison rather than abandon his pacifist beliefs. In 1946 Casals stopped playing the cello in public in protest at recognition of the fascist regime in Spain. In 1948 the lives of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Miaskovsky and others went on hold when their music was condemned by the Soviet union of composers. In 1967 Mikis Theodorakis was imprisoned by the Greek military junta for his political views. In 1968 athletes from
the Olympic Project for Human Rights sacrificed their careers in Mexico as a protest against racial discrimination. In 1972 Rostropovich's overseas and Moscow concerts were cancelled by the Soviets in response to his support for Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Today's artists prefer 'cultural diplomacy'.

* Follow the path in search of Pablo Casals here.

Photo credit Vietsciences-Phạm Văn Tuấn. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Doppelgänger?


I did promise not to write anything else about vibrato-less Elgar. But having put that last post to bed I have to ask the question - is Roger Norrington really Norman Lebrecht in disguise?

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Not so good vibrations

Many column inches (should that be pixels?) elsewhere about Roger Norrington's vibrato-less Elgar. But I'm not planning to add to the comment I made after hearing the concert - "it destroys the music". The whole 'controversy' smacks to me of a manipulative PR stunt by the BBC. Would Norrington and his Stuttgart Orchestra have been invited to 're-engineer' an Elgar symphony at the Proms if the same conductor had not been the star of the Last Night and a judge on the BBC's inexcrable Maestro TV reality show? Would the Observer have devoted a major article to the 'controversy' if one of their group music journalists was not a Radio 3 Proms presenter? I fully expect (adult advisory) a Zenra orchestra to be the highlight of the 2009 Proms.

As Elgar said to a conductor who believed in good vibrations - "My reputation is safe in your hands".
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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pictures from an album cover


Yesterdays story about Mozart's black lace bra is one of the more amusing results of what happens when a an artist doesn't have contractual approval over the graphics on his recordings. But things can go even more badly wrong when the artist does have control over the graphics. Herbert von Karajan led the way in the 1960s for all sorts of approvals to be written into artist's contracts, including album designs. Many young pretenders used Karajan as a role-model in the 1970's classical recording boom, and one of those was Riccardo Muti.

When Riccardo recorded the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures From An Exhibition in 1978 I was responsible for album covers at EMI, and the conductor had contractual approval over cover designs. Trying to get Muti to approve an album cover was rather like asking Attila the Hun to release prisoners. I still carry the scars of the approval process, but we finally shipped the album with the cover above, which was photographed in Philadelphia's Museum of Art if I remember correctly. The design sunk without trace when the LP was transferred to CD. But the recording, which was produced by Christopher Bishop, is still a budget-priced best-seller for the simple reason that it is very good.

If I ever start to think that there is no justice in the world I simply remind myself of those jet-set maestros. Several decades ago they agonised over their likenesses on album covers. Today they are scrabbling around trying to land zero-royalty recording contracts which contain very few approvals.

Read more on Muti, me, and Philadelphia here.
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Lone voices - David Popper


'Whatever people's opinion of David Popper, I will play his music as long as I play the cello, for no other composer wrote better for the instrument' - Pablo Casals on the Bohemian composer and author of High School of Cello Playing David Popper (photo above) who died on August 7, 1913.


Now read about a little known gem of a cello concerto written by a composer born in the year that David Popper died.
Lone voices showcases music not featured in the 2008 BBC Proms, discover more lone voices here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wolfgang Amadeus at his most seductive


After I uploaded the Boult Planets cover a couple of weeks back Christopher Bishop, who was Sir Adrian's recording producer at EMI, emailed me this story.
'I once found a record of Mozart 40th and Eine Kleine, conducted by Boult, with a black lace bra on the cover (above). I showed it to him, and he said (delightfully missing the point) "Good heavens! What's that got to do with the G minor?"'
Read about Christopher Bishop and David Munrow on the record and download the podcast here.
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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

El Violin - less is more


If any proof is needed that less is more it is Mexican director Francisco Vargas' 2005 debut film El Violin. The acting is superb and the direction very sensitive, but the showstopper is the high contrast black and white photography. Available on DVD and not to be missed.

There is an excellent interview with Francisco Vargas on the Twitch film site. This is his description of how music is used as a metaphor in the film - 'There’s lots of music in the film expressed in lots of different genres; but—if there is a musical term to describe this film—it is a corrido. The musical genre of Mexican corridos, with regard to the revolution, was a way of actually communicating news about things that had happened from one place to another. It was also a way of keeping memory. But most of all it was a way of liberating the spirit of the people. This was the way that the spirit of the need for change among the people was safeguarded over the years. The film starts out with a corrido and it ends with the boy Lucio singing a corrido. In fact, the corrido that Lucio is singing is a transformation that he himself has made of the corrido at the beginning and this is how the oral tradition works'.

The time and location of the story are deliberately left ambiguous but it feels very like Mexico. More Mexican musical connections here and here, and oral traditions elsewhere here.
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Bring back gregarious chant to BBC Proms


Back in the days when I lived in London and went to the BBC Proms regularly the promenaders used to perform chants in between works. They were rather silly but harmless and didn't get in the way of the music. These days the chants have disappeared and instead we have silly applause between movements which does get in the way of the music. Could the BBC please do a deal with the promenaders and trade the applause for the chants?

Last night's Prom showed just how stupid the habit of applauding between movements at the Proms has become. A burst of applause after a particularly fine interpretation of a symphony movement is understandable. But the performance of Dvorak 6 by the Netherlands Philharmonic and Yakov Kreizberg , which was flogging the inevitable new CD release, was decidedly pedestrian. Yet still the prommers kept applauding between the movements.

Hello Mum, I'm at the Proms and that's me clapping ...

Header photo was taken by me at the last BBC Prom I attended.
Header image is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Lone voices - Nick Drake


'The harmony can sometimes be simple, but it's very sensual. There's a real French sense of harmony overlaid onto what, in the English music history line, can probably be traced back to John Dowland and all the really great songwriters and musicians of the fifteenth century. There's an innate Englishness [to his work], but Nick was also somebody who listened to an awful lot of music. I mean, he had the Bach Brandenburg Concertos on his turntable the night he died' - pianist Christopher O'Riley on Nick Drake.

Those words comes from Pink Moon by Amanda Petrusich, one of fifty-eight books in the iconic 33 1/3 series about classic rock albums. This publishing imprint really hits the spot by combining great writing, fine design and affordable prices. Petrusich's chapter on the award-winning 2000 Volkswagen commercial that introduced the Pink Moon title track to millions is an important insight into the volatile relationship between creative musicians and the advertising industry. Nick Drake's sister approved the use of her late brother's music in the Volkswagen commercial, and let's not forget that the composer of the introspective Requiem Canticles also supplied music for a 1966 United Arists promotional movie while the composer of the sublime motet Excerpta Tractati Logico-Philosphici wrote jingles for baking flour and toilet soap.

The 33 1/3 imprint covers an eclectic list of music from Led Zeppelin to Nico and the Purple Underground. But there is an obvious gap for a similar series on classical albums; how about Glenn Gould's 1955 Goldberg's, Pablo Casals' 1930s Bach Cello Suites and David Munrow's The Art of Courtly Love for starters?

Read the 33 1/3 blog here, and follow the Nick Drake path here.
Lone voices showcases music not featured in the 2008 BBC Proms, discover more lone voices here. Header collage created On An Overgrown Path. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The family of man


Barbara Hepworth's The Family of Man photographed by me before last night's Snape Prom by the Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade. More on Barbara Hepworth, who designed the costumes and sets for the premiere of Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage at Covent Garden in 1955, here.

Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

Monday, August 04, 2008

Rostropovich on Solzhenitsyn


'In October 1970 Rostropovich had written an open letter to the newspapers in defence of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who had been attacked in the Moscow press after being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Rostopovich's letter called for free speech, referred to the 'claptrap' which had been written about Prokofiev and Shostakovich when they were out of official favour, and objected to the 'absoloutely incompetent' government officials who were always meddling in the arts. Soon after the letter was sent - it was never published - the authorities began to harass Rostropovich, cancelling his foreign trips and Moscow engagements and restricting him to touring the provinces. He was told he would be restored to favour if he signed a letter against Andrei Sakharov, but he refused - 'Just what kind of person do you think Rostropovich is?'' - from Benjamin Britten, A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter. In memory of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, born 11 Dec. 1918, died Aug. 3, 2008.

Shostakovich we'll allow, but take Stravinsky out here, and my tribute to the incomparable Rostropovich here.
There is a wonderful photo of Slava and Solzhenitsyn here, but for copyright reasons I haven't used it. The image I have used is from MajorityRights.com. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk