Friday, November 20, 2015

What if the great composers wrote the music for the closing credits of '80's TV shows? Part III

So far, there are only three classical music tunes that have "appeared to me" as perfect for the closing credits of '80s TV shows, so today's feature subject will wrap up this series...for now.

I honestly haven't done much serious reflecting about what particular musical qualities have sparked these connections. In the case of the Franck, the syncopations perhaps stand out as unusual for a big, serious symphony, which is why that tune always seemed a fish out of water in the concert hall. The Dvořák and today's Beethoven theme just strike me as giddier than usual (not a bad thing!) for their contexts: high energy, some unexpected accents, simple building blocks that make them catchy, etc. I'm sure some would say that adding a "Hooked on Classics" beat to any foursquare tune would make it work as well as the themes I've chosen, but I'm skeptical. It can be hard to shake such qualities as grandiosity, elegance,* and seriousness of purpose. For better or for worse, Dvořák, Franck, and Beethoven have found the secret sauce.

The scherzo of Beethoven's silliest sonata, Op. 31, No.3, has stood out to me as unusual since I first heard it in college (in the 80's!). The first and last movements of the sonata actually have more misdirections and sleights of hand, so they're more comical in terms of syntax and surprise, but the second movement scherzo, with it's bouncing L.H. accompaniment, has the most endearingly goofy tune. I'm pretty sure I always thought it had a "pop" sensibility, with it's combination of smooth melodic contours, bouncy articulations, and a kind of natural off-beat emphasis (not so much from the sf's after beat 2, but in the way the left hand pattern naturally gives a kick on beat 2). It even looks funny to me, I suppose because of all the staccato dots:

I remember hearing Richard Goode perform this sonata live about 25 years ago, and although I suppose people weren't literally laughing out loud, it was the flat-out funniest performance I can ever remember hearing/seeing - funny on purely good-natured musical grounds, not because of lyrics, staging, or whatever. (OK, Goode is a bit of a character, and his floppy hair was a character of its own back in 1989.)

I've been disappointed in looking for a performance on YouTube that captures that unpolished spirit, though I like this one by the always interesting Lazar Berman:

Berman's approach is still more "studied" than I'd like (I'll get to that in a second), but it strikes me that the humor of this movement has to do with how all those semi-serious diversions, pauses, and hints of turmoil always end up back at the same silly, banal place: the irresistably "easy listening" tune.

To be honest, my conception of this music was changed forever when I first heart Don Dorsey's synthesized "Beethoven or Bust" album, also back in the '80's. The whole album screams "'80's," and I recommend it as a highly entertaining artifact of its time. (The "Rage Over a Lost Penny" is a great starting point.) I wouldn't say this album has "ruined" the Scherzo for me, though; rather, it's revealed its true destiny in a way that makes every well-intentioned piano performance a little disappointing.

Whereas I did the synthesizing of Dvořák and Franck on my own, I didn't really feel like I could improve on what Dorsey had already done with this Beethoven scherzo (subtitled "Western" on the album), so I've simply made my own 30-second cut to close out an episode of "Charles in Charge." Just for the record, I've never watched a single episode of "Charles in Charge," but it seems like the embodiment of '80's TV at its most '80's, and the Beethoven/Dorsey Scherzo is a perfect way to cap an episode. (Also for the record, "Charles in Charge" may have one of the worst theme songs in TV history. I'll let you do the legwork finding it.)

So, that's the end of this series for now. I've even made a little YouTube "composerTV" playlist, with a couple of bonus additions from the MMmusing archives. Hopefully all of these tunes will find their way into pop culture one way or another.

* "Elegance," for me, is where Haydn's famously light-hearted themes fail the "80's" test - that is to say, the Haydn comic tunes are too elegant.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What if the great composers wrote the music for the closing credits of '80's TV shows? Part II.

I'll bet you thought there wasn't really going to be a Part II. But, no, the truth is, I really do have these thoughts (see subject heading) and it's an important part of my therapy to meet them head on in this way. (Part I is here.)

So today we investigate a melody which I have to admit I really don't like, although I guess other people enjoy it. I was having a Facebook discussion with a friend recently and we were both agreeing that César Franck wrote more than a few over-ripe tunes,* many of which he stuffed into his Symphony in D Minor.

I even featured one of those tunes (from the first movement) in my recent post about Sigmund Spaeth's notorious "The Great Symphonies." Spaeth also has words for the finale's theme (which Spaeth transposes from D to A so more people can sing these snappy lyrics):

And here's what I wrote about this tune in my very Franck Facebook discussion: would be a good theme song for a bad, early 80's TV show: 'This is a song / about some people who do some stuff / they're all related / it's syncopated!'

See, I really do have those thoughts.

I had not remembered Spaeth's lyrics when I also chose to salute the symphony's syncopations in verse, but surely that jaunty rhythm is one of the reasons I could hear the music working perfectly in this context:

Frankly, Franck's pervasive chromaticism might've been a bit much for TV, although perhaps it could be symbolic of all the deception roiling beneath that broad Texas sky. I went ahead and left the notes as Franck left them, but I'm sure in the proper harmonic/orchestral dress, this theme would sound EXACTLY right for this show.

I admit it's not quite as big a success musically as my "Hooked on Classics" Dvořák from my last post, but that's partly because the symphonic texture here is so dense and really needs more pruning than I care to do. Incidentally, two themes from the scherzo of Dvořák's "New World" Symphony have always struck me as perfect cowboy tunes, and if this was a "What if the great composers wrote the music for the closing credits of '50's Westerns?" post, I'm sure you'd be seeing me take these tunes to their logical conclusions. (Note that the composer's original orchestration would've worked fine then...which is boring.) Forget Copland, Ives, and Gershwin. Maybe Dvořák really is America's greatest composer!

Yes, there will be a Part III! (and here it is)

* In fairness to César, I'll concede that this is one of the most perfect tunes ever - and it's a canon!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What if the great composers wrote the music for the closing credits of '80's TV shows? Part I.

For some reason, I sometimes hear well-known classical themes and think, "Hmm, that sounds like a tune that would work great for the closing credits of an 80's or 90's TV show." But, of course, I don't usually do anything about it.

For the record, there is this bit of precedent, for which I can take no "credit":

It is based on this...

...and that's really the way Wings ended each week, though the opening was more Schubertian in mood.

Now, there was a time (during the late '80s and early '90s!) when I would've been horrified at someone doing this to Schubert's transcendentally beautiful music.

But, that was some time ago...

So, I present Exhibit A of what might've been if the great know:

You can't tell me that doesn't work!

If you'd like to hear the entire Dvorak movement fitted with this hip '80's vibe, here you go:

The rhythm track isn't always synced up right, but it seems there should be a limit on how much time one spends doing this sort of thing.

If you'd like to hear the "other" version, here it is.

It came to mind today when I was talking to Daughter of MMmusing about her rehearsal of the first movement of this quartet. I was trying to remember how the fourth movement went, and when its main tune popped up in my memory, it immediately took me back....not to Bohemia or the 19th century America that supposedly inspired Dvořák, but rather to quick scene changes, fast scrolling credits, and...Tony Danza?

Now available: Part II & Part III

See also: The Reich of Spring in San Francisco

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Fall of the Rake (or "The Rake's Lack of Progress")

This morning I looked out into my backyard and saw, as I captioned this photo on Facebook, "a bright golden haze on the mead'r."

My father inquired, in a friendly way, as to whether there was a plan to remove those beautiful leaves. A few comments down the way, I found myself channeling Auden and Stravinsky as a way of expressing how badly I fail at this kind of yard work. I wrote:
Well, whenever I've tried to tame leaves, my rake's progress has generally followed the Tom Rakewell trajectory, and it ends with me delusional and babbling incoherently in Britten-like parlando style:
I have baggèd each leaf, and so I leave work for a season to sleep in this bed.
And, lo, here my Venus hath laid leafy pillows of gold where I now rest my head.
I'm strangely proud of that couplet. I picture our failing hero standing in the middle of a scene like the one above, believing his raking is done, and seeing the leftover leaves as a gift from his estranged beloved. (I can't imagine why she'd "leave" him.)

The concept is modeled on the heartrending final scene of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, in which poor Tom has lost his mind and his love (Anne Trulove, whom he now imagines to be Venus) and descended into madness. I've been lucky enough to have two wonderful tenors who could carry this scene a couple of times in Opera Scenes productions, and both times I've found the whole extended finale deeply moving. You can hear the whole scene starting here in this playlist, but I'm particularly fond of the late Jerry Hadley's interpretation.

And with that, I take my leave...