Monday, May 28, 2012

A Sephardic moment


My photos show the Jewish Quarter known as the Call which lies in the shadow of the cathedral in the Catalonian city of Girona. Until recently the Call was hidden behind modern facades; but following recent restoration it is now a powerful reminder of the time when Spain's Jewish community flourished before being dispersed by the Inquisition into the Sephardic diaspora. Girona's former synagogue is now a richly stocked  information centre and bookstore with a range of CDs including Monteserrat Figueras and Jordi Savall's Diaspora Sephardi. There is more Jewish music under the sheltering sky here.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

See the music - French style


I have said before that classical music should add visual slam. This installation titled Deux Chevaux Karnaval Hippies by Gerold Platzer is in the Galerie Marianne, Argelès sur Mer, where the post is being uploaded from. More on seeing the music here.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Pablo Casals' Wagner dream


Those photos, which were taken yesterday, show the Wagner fountain in the grounds of the castle at Públol in Catalonia that was one of the homes of Salvador and Gala Dali. In further pursuit of my theory that "classical music's ability to make the essential connection with inner life is surprisingly sensitive to external circumstances", the oratorio El Pessebre by another great Catalan artist, Pau Casals, has been on my iPod as I travel in Catalonia. As discussed previously, El Pessebre is an unashamedly derivative work with Wagner as a major influence; which contradicts the popular image of Casals as a specialist in music of the baroque and classical periods.

In fact there are a number of connections between Casals and Wagner. As early as 1889, only nine years after his revelatory discovery of Bach's Cello Suites in a Barcelona music shop, the young Casals had studied scores of Parsifal, Tristan and the Ring. These were borrowed from a musician colleague at the café where the young cellist was playing in a trio to subsidise his more serious music making. With his career in the ascendant Casals joined the cello section of the Lamoureux Orchestra in 1900 for the first Paris concert performance of Tristan, and in 1926 he recorded transcriptions for cello and piano from Die Meistersinger and Tannhäuser in America; these were reissued on CD in Music Memoria's Casals, the Victor Recordings in the 1990s.

Because of his advocacy of the stylistically conservative El Pessebre in his later years, Casals is often portrayed as a musical reactionary. But this view is contradicted by the repertoire he programmed with his own Orquestra Pau Casals in Barcelona in the 1920s. In addition to now largely forgotten Catalan composers such as Garreta, Granados, Albéniz, Millet, Cassadó, Enric Morera and Roberto Gerhard the concerts included works by Bartók, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Milhaud, Kodály, Prokofiev, Webern, Honegger, Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Although Casals was not a fan of twelve-tone music, Schoenberg was invited to conduct a programme of his own compositions with the Orquestra Pau Casals. Schoenberg also adapted a Cello Concerto from a music by the eighteenth-century composer G.M. Monn for Casals, although the cellist did not perform it due to a copyright dispute.

This article is being posted while mobile so apologies for less external links than usual, but do Google those Catalan composers for further discoveries. My sources include Robert Baldock's commendably impartial but scandalously out of print Pablo Casals (Gollancz 1992); with the fortieth anniversary of Casals' death falling in October 2013 there is an opportunity awaiting a quick-witted publisher. Much Casals elsewhere on An Overgrown Path, while another of Dali's houses featured in a 2011 post and the artist's forgotten opera was uncovered here a year earlier. Finally, yet more paths converge as another cellist turned composer has a Wagner Dream.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bruckner al fresco


That is the view of the Pic du Canigou, the Catalan holy mountain, seen this morning from where we are staying at Le Racou in Languedoc. At the foot of Canigou is Prades where Pablo Casals lived in exile from the Spanish fascists, and in previous years I have followed the path of the refugees who fled from Spain only to be interned in French concentration camps in the last months of the Spanish Civil War. But such is humanity's propensity to do evil to its fellows that just eighteen months later the flow of refugees was reversed as Jews and other 'undesirables' fled from the fascist powers in Germany and Vichy France into Spain. Their number included Alma Mahler and her third husband the Jewish Austrian-Bohemian author Franz Werfel. Rendered stateless by the Nazis and without exit visas, Werfel and his wife were forced to cross the French/Spanish border in September 1940 by climbing high into the Aspres range, which is an extension of the Pyrénées, to avoid French gardes mobiles who were stooges of the Gestapo. Among the Werfel's baggage were Mahler manuscripts and the autograph score of Bruckner's Third Symphony, which Alma had kept out of the hands of another passionate Brucknerian, Adolf Hitler. This year our travels have been informed by that little-known east to west flow of refugees which was facilitated by the enigmatic American journalist Varian Fry and included a number of prominent intellectuals. The photo below was taken by my wife as we literally followed the path of the Werfels and the Bruckner manuscript over the mountains to safety in Spain. More to follow on this story, meanwhile a lighter take on Alma Mahler here.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Music PR agencies please note

'About Fray Martín de Villanueva as a composer, it is important to emphasise one thing: he was not a master but a good craftsman who knew the trade and composed correct works. These works are not in any case comparable with the one by his coevals Guerrero, Morales, Victoria, etc.'
In an age when every neglected work is a masterpiece and when every musician is a genius, that disarming description of the 16th century Spanish composer Fray Martín de Villanueva should serve as a case study for aspiring PR agencies. It is taken from the sleeve notes for the CD seen above of Villanueva's music in the 'Maestros del Escorial' series recorded by the Escolaria del Escorial on their own label - YouTube sample here. One of Villanueva's more arcane claims to fame is that he does not have a Wikipedia entry. Despite this, although not at genius level, his sacred music is well worth seeking out; especially his thirty minute long Pasión seguin San Juan (Passion according to St John) which inhabits a beguiling twilight zone between plainsong and polyphony. 'Maestros del Escorial - Fray Martín de Villanueva' was bought in the monastery shop at L'Abbaye Sainte Madeleine a few days ago and this post is being uploaded from the French/Spanish border. A contemporary setting of the St John Passion features here.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Technology meets tradition

Paths converge in this photo which was taken yesterday afternoon. In the background is Mont Ventoux, celebrated by Petrarch and Liszt. In the middle distance is the Abbaye Notre Dame de l'Annonciation, whose nuns recorded the CD of Gregorian chant which sparked 'A musicians is also a person'. And in the foreground is composer and technology maven Jeff Harrington who featured in 'Is classical music obsessed by existential angst?' and a linked podcast. My thanks go to Father Edmond of L'Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux who so generously welcomed us yesterday. By chance Igor Kirkwood was recording a second CD of chant by the monks at Le Barroux for Jade while we were visiting. I have praised their first disc here several several times; a sample can be heard in the podcast linked from 'Talking of Lady Gaga', which also includes music by Jonathan Harvey and Lady G herself.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Can social media compose 'music of the mind'?

'Harold Garfinkel [UCLA phenomenologist] taught that socialization was a process of convincing each individual that generally agreed upon descriptions actually define limits of the real world. What he was saying was that people generally agree on something being real and true, therefore, it becomes real and true; the view of a few random schizophrenics, catatonics and autistic children notwithstanding.'
Just before taking off on my travels I picked up a cheap copy of A Magical Journey With Carlos Castaneda by Margaret Runyan Castaneda. I must confess Carlos Castaneda is not my favourite spiritual warrior, which may explain why I found this memoir/exposé by his first wife to be a worthwhile read. Recently I asked if classical music tastemakers queuing to praise modish composers are actually hearing a ‘music of the mind’ embellished by their own preconceptions, and that quote from Margaret Runyan Castaneda is worth reflecting on in view of the current fascination with social media. And talking of something becoming real and true by general agreement; received wisdom tells us that Arnold Schoenberg originated serial composition, but did he?

A robust free wi-fi connection allows me this unplanned post from Aigues Mortes; the header photo was taken en route at Gigny sur Saône and is © On An Overgrown Path 2012. Not posting to Facebook while mobile as their security hassle is more than I can bear, but using Twitter. Any other 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