Sunday, January 29, 2012

I can play vinyl records again; more on Bruckner, Bartok, Holst, Vaughn Williams, Schoenberg; a right-on lesson at church

Well, after about 14 years (since moving to Minnesota in 1997) of having my vinyl records packed up, I’m playing them again, at least a little. I bought a Numark USN turntable, and indeed rather easily can copy tracks (combined in any way) into iTunes, but only after launching EZ under Applications (loaded from the CD; the Windows version appears a little more complicated than the Mac).  It has to be launched for the sound to come through the computer.  I bought an iPod Classic, and the synch process is very fast. It does not appear that I have to Eject the iPod separately.

I had also bought at Denon Receiver. Right now, CD’s and DVD’s (including BluRay) pay through the speakers and TV both, under the “DVD” option on the control module. (For some reason, BD sometimes doesn’t work.)  The iPod plays under “Dock” and requires a simple adapter to power through the USB.  I haven’t tried playing records through “Portable” or “V.Aux” or “Dock” directly (Analog mode), but I’m told that should work.  The Receiver does not have specific Phono Jacks.

I had bought another Denon, and found it did not have a Digital Audio Cable input.  This one does, but I haven’t tried to play the TV through it yet. The best way to set it up, according to the PDF document (not printed), is to connect everything with HDMI, and then use the Receiver to control everything (including accepting the Cable TV signal from Comcast XFinity and passing it along back to the TV;  I guess Verizon FIOS would work the same way, but I haven’t checked).   Denon’s documentation leaves something to be desired.

The first piece I recorded as a 1965 Command recording (Pittsburgh Symphony) of Bruckner’s Overture in G Minor. It sounds like it was composed by Franz Schubert to my ear. I noticed slightly uneven pitch from slight off-centeredness of the record – and I think I will notice it more now because I have gotten used to CD’s.  I then recorded just one fugue from “Bach’s Swinging Hits”, a Philips record from the 60s.

Today, I captured a Hungaraton recording of Bela Bartok: Rhapsody Op. 1 for Piano and Orchestra (about 20 min), and the “courtly” Suite #1 in E Major, Op. 3, about 30 minutes, which sounds a bit like a symphony.  The pianist is Erzsebet Tusa, and the orchestras (Budapest and Hungarian State) are conducted by Gyula Nemeth and Janos Ferencsik, respectively, a recording from about 1968.  As for my perception of the Suite, I’ve always perceived the mature “Concerto for Orchestra” (f minor) as rather like a symphony, and my high school “best friend” said that it was his favorite classical work.

The Rhapsody is a bit like a Liszt piano concerto, and seems to be in D minor (from the score).  It is post-romantic in tone, and has some octave-like passages that anticipate Bernard Hermann’s music in the film “Vertigo”.  Curiously, it ends quietly, rather than offering the listener any sense of triumph.  It reminds one of early piano concertos (following Liszt) by d’Albert and Dohnanyi,  but seems less intense emotionally and a little more neoclassical.

Now, onto my wild Sunday morning (at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC).  First, in the service, the choirmaster made the congregation sing “a capella” a verse of  the Vaughn Williams “carol”, “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem”, from “English Country Songs”.   I don’t require the congregation’s having to sing without organ accompaniment there before.  I noticed a musical oddity in the hymnal a few pages back, a hymn “Down to Earth as a Dove” by Gustav Holst, based the Latin Piae Cantienes, in a key signature with two sharps, but ending on an E Major Picardy Third.  The entire hymn appeared to be centered on E, so why the extra sharp?  It would not produce a recognized mode (the melodic minor sharps the G also, and the natural minor has just one sharp).  Or maybe this really is Dorian mode (starting on D with no black keys)  -- like the Sibelius Sixth.   But this would be unusual in a hymnal (at least this one).  I once wrote some simple exercises on the modes, with manuscripts lost.  One time when I was substitute teaching, in a music class, the students had a quiz on identifying modes, and the highest score was 75%.  Funny memories.

I, for reasons I won’t go into now, had determined to get to Sunday School on time, for a full “lesson”, and today the content fit my writing perfectly.  (So I was out clubbing at the Cobalt Friday night, but not Saturday.)

The teacher showed a notorious lion-zebra painting (link) that is an optical illusion, and went on to present the issue of the actions of children in the Bible, particularly with respect to the birth and raising of Moses, and the actions of his sister (Miriam) and of the pharaoh’s daughter.  (If you read the account in Exodus 2, the names aren’t mentioned yet, and the pronoun references are confusing.)   This story was preceded with a discussion of the fear by the Egyptians of the Hebrews’ “demographic summer” and order to eliminate male children. That not only sets up the story of Moses but raises the point that a society that goes too far in making young men fungible and expendable  (as with a military draft into war) will tend to move toward polygamy and authoritarianism (Warren Jeffs was the extreme end point), and will not be able to maintain the stable family structures (whether “red” or “blue” families) we think “democratic society” needs.  The young men who survive will tend to believe they are entitled to as many women as they want without regard to personalized consequences.  (Hence, the classic “double standards.)  Society will become preoccupied with its own population strength – a major contributor to homophobia (or to crafting scriptures that express it).  But here, both Miriam and the king’s daughter had to show interest and compassion for children that had not been their own – an important moral point, too.

To my recollection, the best known work in classical music dealing with Moses is Arnold Schoenberg's opera "Moses and Aaron", which was not quite finished, and is based on a very cleverly constructed twelve-tone row.  Yet, the music in the "Dance of the Golden Calf" sounds as lush and romantic as Wagner (Lars Van Trier could use it).  But as I recall, the opera story starts later than the part about Miriam.  It deals with the subtle relationship issues between the brothers and Aaron's role as a "spokesperson".  That itself makes an interesting lesson.  There was a DVD of a 2006 performance which Netflix no longer has available.  I have the CBS CD. 

Later, in the sermon (“Exercising Spiritual Authority”), Dr. Haggray gave a three-step process (“Presence”, “Humility”, “Change”) which seems to limit the effectiveness of those who are “different” in a community.  At some point, some must be able to put one’s own self-chosen purposes into synch with the needs of the group (“humility”) and be able to accept a “change” in life-direction when the calling is strong enough.  This is a very difficult message in today’s political climate that struggles with the need to articulate and offer “equality” and at the same time having people working together, sometimes with a lot of sacrifice.

After the service, the was even a brief organ lesson, in the style of a music lesson in Werner Herzog's film "Ode to the Dawn of Man" (movies blog, Jan. 25). 

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