What shall we do with a Drunken Sailor?

May 24, 2017 at 10:13 am

Who says nothing good ever came out of the Soviet Union?

Once you’re through beheading the ex-ruling class and you’ve stripped the bourgeoisie of their property, what’s the next natural step for your revolution? Propaganda. Music, ballets, movies, and of course, amazing artwork:

The early Soviet artistic propaganda is either so bad it’s good, or so good it’s bad. Take this film about the great Russian medieval hero, Alexander Nevsky, who led the Russians in victory over the invading Westerners. At best, the cinematography ranks up there with Plan 9 from Outer Space; but I can’t help totally loving it, thanks to Sergei Prokofiev‘s awesome musical score. In fact, I find myself actually getting excited during this horribly stupid battle scene.

And then there’s The Red Poppy, a ballet with music by Reinhold Glière: the plot is a Soviet ship captain who tries to free Chinese laborers from their oppressive masters, thus earning the love of a fair maiden. If that doesn’t sound absolutely riveting, take heart, because the ballet includes a drunken sailors’ dance (of course).

So the question I leave you with today is, if Trump actually supported the arts, and created propaganda, what would it look like?


Stravinsky goes to the Circus

January 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons:

Igor Stravinsky is one of the most famous and influential composers of the 20th century. And yet, while nearly every concertgoer will have heard his Rite of Spring, Firebird, or Petrushka, relatively few know his later works. These three big works were written by the time he was 30, and remain his most performed pieces. But the man lived another 60 years, and kept composing the whole time. He managed to write a few more masterpieces, but none of them ever compared to his early triumphs.

So, what do you do when you give up? Er, rather, what do you do once you’ve passed your moment of glory, your 15 minutes of fame?

Easy. You run off and join the circus. Or better yet, compose some music for a circus.

Yes, folks, 30 years after the great Igor Stravinsky composed some of the finest ballets ever written, he wrote another ballet – this time, to be performed by elephants. Fifty elephants, to be exact (and no, this isn’t a sick joke about overweight dancers – I’m talking about the big gray pachyderms here.) I guess after the movie Fantasia featured a troupe of (cartoon) hippopotamus ballerinas, Ringling Brothers thought they’d take the whole idea one step further and do it in real life. And Stravinsky, who was essentially forced to include his music in Fantasia, was ripe for the task, I suppose.

an attentive ear will hear Schubert’s Marche Militaire quoted in this piece …


A Modern Love Story

September 17, 2016 at 10:00 am

By “modern love story”, I don’t mean “Romeo & Juliet retold with contemporary characters” – I mean “a prostitute lures a lecher to be robbed and murdered, but the lecher is magical and won’t die until his lust is fulfilled.”

When Béla Bartók‘s ballet “The Miraculous Mandarin” was premiered in 1926, it was quickly banned for its questionable morals. But it was cool to be intense, politically charged, and controversial back then – after all, this was the era which included the rise of facism and communism, American prohibition and speakeasies, and all kinds of varied fringe arts ranging from elegant, traditional-sounding neoclassicism to clunky, forward-looking futurism. Time has eroded this ballet’s edgy effect – after books like Lolita or movies like Pulp Fiction, the story of the Miraculous Mandarin feels pretty tame:

A woman dances to lures victims into a room where they are robbed by three bandits. Eventually, a Chinese man comes, and he jumps on the woman in lust. The three bandits attack him and stab him, but he won’t bleed. He begins to glow with an eerie light. The woman realizes what is happening, and orders the bandits off the victim. He jumps up and embraces the woman – his lust fulfilled, his wounds begin to bleed and he dies. Ah, love.