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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: August 4, 2006 Archive

Schwarzkopf Urban Legend

Posted at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2006 by John Birge
Filed under: The blog

Be careful what you believe when it comes to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia! It can and does have errors, tho the same user-edited structure that causes the errors does allow those same errors to be corrected. Alas, too late for NPR in this case, from the Wikipedia entry on the late Elisabeth Schwarzkopf:

"An urban myth (probably started on Wikipedia[citation needed]) is that she was an aunt of Norman Schwarzkopf. However, the parents of Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. were Julius George Schwarzkopf and Agnes Sarah Schmidt whilst Elisabeth's were Friedrich Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Fröhling. This myth was repeated in an obituary by the Associated Press, and repeated by Forbes magazine[1] and the U.S.A.'s National Public Radio. [2] "

Oops! Reminds me of this recent headline in The Onion:
"Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence"
Hilarious article here.

Menlo: the set and setting

Posted at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2006 by Gayle Ober
Filed under: Concerts

As MPR producer Brian Newhouse and I stood on the grounds of the Menlo School yesterday, I could see why Artistic Directors Wu Han and David Finckel chose this location for their festival, Music@Menlo. With its bright white buildings, gravel driveways and mature trees, it is a beautiful place that encourages you to come in and stay for a while.

Shortly after arriving, we were greeted by the head of the Menlo School, Norman Colb. As we looked up at the magnificent old mansion that anchors the school, he told us the "real" story of how Wu Han and David chose this place. It goes something like this: One winter when the school was on break, Wu Han and David were visiting a friend who lived not far from the Menlo campus. Their host insisted that they see the grand ballroom of the mansion on campus, which he claimed had wonderful acoustics. There's a bit of a mystery about how Wu Han, David, and their host garnered a key to get into the building, but in they went. What they discovered was a beautiful space that begged to be filled with glorious music.

Yesterday we heard music from noon onward, but it seemed like a very short day, with performances from the youngest members of the Festival Academy—10-year-olds playing early Mozart works for piano and violin—to some of our nation's most accomplished wind players giving us snippets of the magic that we would hear in future concerts. We might expect this from a summer festival led by two of America’s finest chamber musicians, but there is such a spirit of discovery and unbridled joy on the grounds during the day and in the concert hall in the evening that makes me want to gather a group of friends and return next year for more. As I listen to the broadcasts in the weeks ahead, I'm eager to experience this visit to Music@Menlo again.

Gayle Ober is Director of Classical Programming at American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio. She joined Brian Newhouse in Menlo on Wednesday.

Menlo: Ara Guzelimian

Posted at 3:31 PM on August 4, 2006 by Brian Newhouse
Filed under: Concerts

Headed home now, wishing everyone who’s stopped by to read this blog could spend at least a day with Music@Menlo.

Ara Guzelimian, Carnegie Hall’s Artistic Adviser, gave the lecture-demo last night and took the audience into Mozart’s wind music. That topic didn’t really grab my lapels when I heard it was coming: Mozart was all about the symphony, the operas, the piano concertos, and the string quartets – not necessarily winds. But working with musicians onstage and with bits of recordings, Ara showed us how Mozart so often picked a wind instrument when he wanted to say something uniquely powerful.

Ara didn’t even mention the late clarinet masterworks (the Concerto, the Quintet) which would’ve made his point right there. Instead, he went into the piano concertos, operas like The Magic Flute, Clemenza di Tito, and even the pivotal C Minor String Quintet, and showed how wind instruments either inspired them or put blood in their veins.

Menlo 2006 is all about the world’s most famous composer, but also the composer you hear on hold and in the elevator, the composer you take for granted and don’t really hear after a while. Last night I got an ear scrubbing. I’ll probably grab some perfect stranger by the elbow in an elevator someday and say, “Listen! Clarinets in pairs! Mozart’s voice of angels…”

Like I say, I wish everyone could be here at least a day or so, to remember why he or she fell in love with this music in the first place.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Posted at 3:39 PM on August 4, 2006 by Rex Levang

The German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf died earlier this week, at 90. I won’t attempt an obituary; those of the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and L. A. Times are a few among many. William Butler Yeats says that

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life or of the work

and in these and other obits and assessments I’ve seen, the theme, variously handled, is how Schwarzkopf strove for perfection in one area and fell far short of it in the other.

During the period of her stardom (1950s to ‘70s) the revelations about the imperfection of the life lay in the future -- it was the perfection side that we were mostly exposed to, and responded to. Most musicians are lucky to be associated with one enduring recording – in Schwarzkopf’s case, there are half a dozen or more:

Strauss: Four Last Songs, Rosenkavalier, Capriccio, Ariadne auf Naxos
Mozart: Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni
Brahms: German Requiem
Hugo Wolf: Songs (e.g. the Salzburg recital with Furtwängler at the piano)
Operetta Arias (Otto Ackermann conducting)