Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican version of the Fourth of July, but rather a commemoration of a military victory. In the US, it is a day spent celebrating Mexican-American culture (not unlike how Irish-American culture is celebrated on St. Patrick’s Day).

Carlos Chávez is to Mexican Art Music as Aaron Copland is to American Art Music. Chávez’s Sinfonía India sets melodies of indigenous Mexican cultures to the exciting sound of a full symphony orchestra. Like Copland, the music is enjoyable to listen to, employs lots of different instrumental timbres, is harmonically and rhythmically accessible, and gives a taste of the culture from which it was born.

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Warlocks & Pumas (not to be confused with Dungeons & Dragons)

September 21, 2016 at 10:30 am

So there’s this composer, Philip Arnold Heseltine, but he goes by Peter Warlock because he believes himself a wizard. And there’s his lover, a model named Minnie Lucie Channing who goes by Puma because … well, I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

Warlock lived only 36 years, taking his own life in the end. However, he managed to squeeze quite a bit of raucous living into that short life, including occult practices, fiery relationships, an unwanted child, saying whatever he wanted in the worst of circumstances, weekly orgies, police raids, and heavy drinking. He wrote his own epitaph:

Here lies Warlock the composer
Who lived next door to Munn the grocer.
He died of drink and copulation,
A sad discredit to the nation.

You’d expect anybody who lived a life like this to look awesome as well … and yes, Warlock had a very unique look (remarkably like Errol Flynn, I might add.)

warlock1924Heseltine as a Warlock
errol-flynn-robin-hood-01Flynn as Robin Hood

Professionally, he was never happy with his work or his surroundings; he moved around quite a bit, took a number of different unsuccessful jobs, started (and never finished) many projects. Besides music composition, he published a number of different music journals, wrote musicological books, and helped to grow the budding new interest in folk and early music at the beginning of the 20th century. The influence of English folk music and early music styles can be heard in his popular Caprol Suite for strings. It features six folk-dance-like movements, simple melodies, and a sort of modern-modal harmony.

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Labor Day

September 5, 2016 at 10:30 am

There’s a handful of pieces that would be good for Labor Day: there’s the musicians’ walkout of Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony; there’s the joy of the workers in the Anvil Chorus; and of course there’s the Fanfare for the Common Man to cheer on the proletariat.

But I want something that really captures the down-and-dirty manual laborers of the early 20th century. The Plow that Broke the Plains was a 1936 short movie, sponsored by the US government, which linked the dust bowl to uncontrolled farming. While not specifically about the labor movement, the film does demonstrate how greed in high places can displace and destroy the workers in the low places. The score, by Virgil Thomson, incorporates hymns, American folk tunes, and cowboy melodies.

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