Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leaving the Cul de Sac

"They're comic strips, examples of a mighty yet dying artform."

That thought opens and closes the final sequence of Richard Thompson's brilliant comic strip Cul de Sac. (click on images to enlarge). Fittingly, the very last strip was one of the first drawn.

Thompson brought fresh perspective to the medium with his inventive scripting and drawing. There aren't many comic strips that made me laugh out loud, but Cul de Sac did on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, Thompson had to give up his comic about 4-year old Alice Otterloop and her world to for health reasons. And his decision to end the strip, as opposed to turning it over to another artist, makes him an even greater asset to the artform.

Because there are plenty of comic strips that are still continuing on that should have left the scene with their creators. When the original artist leaves, often whatever freshness the strip has leaves with it. The inheritors stick with the same panel layouts, the same tropes, the same gags and the same characters.

Mark Tatulli summed it up best in his comic strip Lio (which I've noted before for its innovate take on the genre).

 Alice Otterloop, in a hat made of the Sunday comics section, marches away to the sound of her own drum. Inside are the strips are the characters that never change, the ones that endlessly recycle the same tired gags over and over. Unlike Cul de Sac (and Lio), they never require much from the reader. They don't offend, but they don't really engage, either. They're just... there. Remnants of a mighty, yet dying artform.

It's the reason I call out extraordinary examples of the medium in this blog. Because it's not often that a comic reaches the full potential of sequential art. Richard Thompson's work often exceeded it. He will be missed.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery 9

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

I was hoping to get up to 4 miles, but I've topped out at 3.5. I only have about an hour to run in the mornings, so until my pace picks up, the distance won't change that much. That's OK, though -- it still means I can do a 5k in less than an hour (a big deal for someone in my condition). The trick now is to find a race on a date I have free. In the meantime, I'll keep working on the pace.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
9/24/12 57:39 5.63k all run 5.82k/h
9/17/12 52:25 5.23k all run 5.92k/h
9/10/12 37:14 4.82k all run 7.82k/h
9/02/12 32:21 3.21k all run 5.9k/h
8/27/12 33:14 3.21k all run 5.8k/h
8/20/12 38:22 2.36k 3 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, September 21, 2012

CCC 046 - Kenneth Fuchs

American composer Kenneth Fuchs is the next entry in our Consonant Classical Challenge. Fuchs writes in an inviting post-Copland style that is quite accessible without being derivative or trivial. And it's a style that's made him a popular choice for commissioning ensembles. Fuchs' melodies tend to have wide intervals (like Copland), and complex but tonal harmonies (like Bernstein). There's also some of the forward-motion energy of  minimalism in his music. Although Fuchs uses elements similar to other American composers, his music has its own individual character.

The String Quartet No. 4 provides a good introduction to Fuch's style. Listen to the "American" shape of the melody (that's how I hear it, anyway), and the inventiveness of the accompanying patterns.

A major part of Fuchs' appeal is his mastery of orchestration. His ensemble music seems to have an undercurrent of good humor as it sparkles and shines. United Artists was originally composed for the United States Air Force Academy Band.

Fuchs later arranged United Artists for orchestra. Although the character of the work is unchanged, Fuchs takes full advantage of the expanded tonal colors available to him.

Fuchs has enjoyed success in the field of recordings. JoAnn Faletta has has embarked on a series of Fuchs orchestral recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra for Naxos (one of the discs was nominated for a Grammy).

Kenneth Fuchs has his champions -- such as JoAnn Faletta and Marin Alsop -- so his music gets performed. But still, considering how accessible and in-demand it is among some, it's not programmed with any frequency. A rousing Fuchs overture would be a great way to start a concert and get the audience engaged. At least, I think so.

Recommended Recordings:

Fuchs: Atlantic Riband; American Rhapsody; Divinum Mysterium

Fuchs: String Quartets 2, 3, & 4

Fuchs: Canticle to the Sun / United Artists

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Straco Layout, Part 27 - Local Power to the People!

The Potomac Electric Power Company truck from Line Mar.
I honestly thought I was through adding vehicles to the Straco layout (read more about the whole project here) when I added a set of six Namura cars and trucks ( (Part 26 - Maxing out the Motorway). But then an oddity came to my attention.  

A few months ago I noticed a LineMar vehicle on eBay. LineMar was the Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx & Co, a major toy manufacturer. The vehicle was a Potomac Electric Power Company truck.

I grew up in the metropolitan Washington, DC area, and was well familiar with Pepco. I suspect this was made for promotional purposes (Collecting - and collecting information 5). It would have been a nice addition to the layout, especially when I display it as part of my presentation to a Washington area-based toy car collector's club.

The bustling Straco layout/display. The Pepco truck is just turning the
corner in the upper left-hand corner of the photo.
Nice, but not at the asking price. The first offering I saw for this vehicle was priced at $49.00. That was far more than I wanted to spend.

Everything on this layout has been relatively inexpensive because there's nothing here that I needed to have. Just things that I thought would be nice to have. In fact, the entire project came about on a whim, and funded accordingly.

But then another Pepco truck came up for auction, and this time the price was right ($8.50). So I now have a Japanese tin toy that most likely was only distributed locally. And since it's a locality that means something to me, the truck's a welcome addition to the display.

With all the cars jamming the roads now, the display itself is beginning to resemble Washington area traffic!

Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
Total Cost: $90.05

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Andsnes' Personal Beethoven Journey

The Beethoven Journey
Beethoven: Piano Concertos No 1 & 3
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
Mahler Chamber Orchestra

It's taken a while for Leif Ove Andsnes to get around to Beethoven. And judging by the first installment of his traversal of the piano concertos, it was worth the wait.

This first volume of "The Beethoven Journey" includes the first and third piano concertos. According to Andsnes, they were chosen to provide a study in contrasts. The first is in C major, and has a lot of the lightness and clarity of Haydn and Mozart. The third is in the darker key of C minor, and brings more of Beethoven's stormy personality to the fore.

Andsnes performs with clarity and authority. He's given this music a lot of thought, and it shows in his playing. The lines are beautifully shaped, and there's real emotion present. Scalar passages skip along pleasantly, ornaments provide mordant commentary, and the cadenzas aren't just excuses to show off. It's hard to describe, but to me the cadenzas seem like places where Andsnes takes over, but doesn't break character. He's not giving us pyrotechnics, he's performing a part of the work that just happens to be written for solo piano. A part that has clear connections to what's gone on before, and what's to follow.

The Mahler Chamber orchestra is conducted by Andsnes from the keyboard. The use of a chamber -- rather than a full -- orchestra gives these works a more intimate character. There's drama, sure, but it's not the thundering of the heavens. In his dual role of soloist and conductor, Andsnes tightly integrates the artistic direction of both piano and orchestra. Instead of a consensus arrived at through the collaboration between conductor and soloist, we get a singular vision of these works

Does this recording contain the ultimate versions of Beethoven's 1st and 3rd piano concertos? No. But it does present thoughtful and original performances that serve both the composer and the artist well. I look forward to the next phase in Andsnes' Beethoven Journey.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Collecting -- and collecting information 5

Line Mar tinplate friction truck from Japan. Was this a
giveaway premium for Pepco?
One of the challenges with any type of collecting is piecing together information is a way that makes sense -- and leads to the right conclusion. The careful building of information by discovery and deduction is part of what the Collecting -- and collecting information series is about.

Case in point: I recently picked up a curious item that I can find no information about. But that doesn't mean I can't make some deductions based on what I do know.

The item is a small Japanese tinplate toy truck made by Line Mar (at left - click on images to enlarge). But there's something unusual about it. The truck is marked "Potomac Electrical Power Company." Most of the Japanese toy cars of the period I've run across have generic names: "Taxi" instead of "Yellow Cab;" "Ambulance" instead of "Mercy Hospital;" "Police," instead of "Chicago Police Dept."

There's no mystery about that. Generic names makes the toys universal. A Chicago police car might have limited appeal outside of Illinois. A generic black and white car works everywhere.

So why this very specific name instead of just "Power Company?" The Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) was moderate-sized regional Washington DC-based power company in the late 1950's. It wasn't a familiar name nationally. I think this truck was something made for Pepco to be used for promotional giveaways. Possibly it could have been given out when Pepco representatives talked with school children about electric safety (they did such things back in the day).

I do know that Line Mar was the Japanese subsidiary of Louis Marx & Co., a major US toymaker. Marx specialized in inexpensive toys, and Line Mar even more so. It seems possible to me that Marx was contacted by Pepco to come up with an inexpensive toy they could use, and it was passed on to Line Mar (or perhaps Line Mar/Marx approached Pepco).

Another Line Mar vehicle, this one marked
Central Coal and Coke Co.
Something else: the other day I ran across another unusual Line Mar piece. It was a dump truck branded Central Coal and Coke, Co. Again, I thought the name too specific for a mass-market toy, so I did a little research. I didn't find much, but I did discover that Central Coal and Coke Co. was a Kansas-based coal company that provided fuel to both commercial and residential clients.

Considering both vehicles together, it seems even more likely that Line Mar branded toys for private companies.

If I could find either model with different company names, that would help confirm this assumption. Perhaps there's a ConEd or PG&E version of this truck floating around out there.

I try to be cautious. A lot of misinformation about items get spread because of faulty deductions. I feel pretty confident about this one, though.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 8

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

I feel like I'm just about back where I should be. This past week I increased the distance to 3.25 miles, and manged to keep the time under an hour (for me, that's a big deal). I know I can run a 5k race, and at pretty much my pre-illness time, too. Next goal: 4 miles even.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
9/17/12 52:25 5.23k all run 5.92k/h
9/10/12 37:14 4.82k all run 7.82k/h
9/02/12 32:21 3.21k all run 5.9k/h
8/27/12 33:14 3.21k all run 5.8k/h
8/20/12 38:22 2.36k 3 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, September 14, 2012

CCC 045 - Leo Brouwer

For many, the term "20th Century Music" is synonymous with all that's wrong with classical music (the Consonant Classical Challenge was launched in part to correct that misperception). But the 20th Century has also been the age of the classical guitar. And most of the music composed for the instrument during the last 50 years has been mostly tonal. And that's why one of the more prominent living composers for the instrument, Leo Brouwer, is the next in our series.

Leo Brouwer is a Cuban composer, conductor and virtuoso guitarist. Just as Chopin wrote almost exclusively for his instrument, so too has Brouwer. In his catalog are works for solo guitar, guitar ensembles, guitar and string quartets, and guitar concertos. Many of his works have become standards of the repertoire, and are regularly performed and recorded.

Guitar Concerto No. 11 de Requiem (In memoriam Toru Takemitsu), written in 2007, is a good example of Brouwer's current style.

Brouwer's early music was deeply influenced by the folk traditions of his native Cuba. Over time, as he worked with some of the leading composers of the 1960's and 1970's, he incorporated elements of chance and other forward-looking aspects in his work. And yet most of his music remains tonal in character.

Some of Brouwer's most important work is that for the solo guitar. As a performer, he's intimately familiar with the instrument, and writes works that both extremely challenging and expertly designed to use the guitar to full advantage.

Leo Brouwer is well-known among a sub-set of the classical audience; those that follow classical guitar. It would be wonderful to have more of his orchestral music presented to larger audiences. While most of his orchestral compositions are guitar concertos (eleven so far), there are other works to choose from. Brouwer's written three works for string orchestra, a symphony, as well as a concerto for flute, and another for violin. Now those are works I'd pay to hear live!

Recommended Recordings

Leo Brouwer: Guitar Concerto No. 5 "Helsinki"; Iberia Suite; From Yesterday to Penny Lane

Leo Brouwer: Guitar Music, Vol. 1

Leo Brouwer: The Black Decameron

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pearls Before Frazz 2

There's already been at least one other crossover between Jeff Mallett's  Frazz and Stephen Pastis' Pearls Before Swine (see Pearls Before Frazz). This one's a little different, though. The humor work whether or not you're familiar with Pastis' strip. But it works even better if you are. (click image to enlarge)

The strip carefully constructs an elaborate pun, panel by panel, and unleashes it on the unsuspecting reader. If you're familiar with Pastis' strip, then you recognize this as part of his repertoire. Pastis often does such puns, much to the annoyance of the strip's characters.

So Mallett not only references Pearls to build the joke, but also present a Pearl-like joke in the process. Humor that works on multiple levels. I love it.

(not sure why all the dialogue's typeset, though)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One Thousand Posts --- the bottom five

Fair and balanced. I'm marking the 1,000th post to Off Topic'd with a look at our five most popular posts, and also our five least popular.

5) A Class(ical)-less City
Back in 2006, strange thing was about to happen in the nation's capital. Public radio station powerhouse WETA had dropped its classical music format in a bid to grab some rival WAMU's news/talk audience (and the $$$  that audience pledged). In the meantime, commercial WGMS was about to switch formats and drop classical music. Which meant in the capital city of the world's most powerul nation, there would be no classical music on the airwaves. It struck me as a major cultural disconnect, and it turned out to be one that didn't last long. Fortunately.

4) How do you measure "Good?"
Bose is a lightening rod brand name. People either love or hate the company's products -- but no one's neutral about them. Back in 2006 Ken and I were still writing "CE Conversations" as a consumer electronics blog. Ken addressed the issue of giving advice based -- not on what the person prefers -- but what best suits the asker's needs. And that question involved Bose.

3) Collecting in an Electronic Age
This 2006 post was also written by Ken Nail, the original co-author of this blog. He looked at his first-hand experience with eBay, and how it impacted the values of his beer can collection, and collecting in general. Six years later, his observations are even more insightful.

2) Even the Times Says So
In my very first post (back when we thought this would be a consumer electronics tech blog), I posited that MP3 players would pull younger listeners away from radio. This 2006 follow-up post presented a New York Times article Changing Its Tune that supported my claim. The digital music revolution continues apace in 2012, and over-the-air radio seems even more archaic.

And the least popular post of all time:

1) Tivo and Me
This post was part of a back-and-forth debate Ken Nail and I were having about TiVo and who was using it (and why). Our thoughts on time-shifting technologies from 2006 seem rather quaint, now. No wonder it's not read much. Perhaps someday it will be of real historical interest. And these kind of posts were one of the reasons we moved away from consumer electronics topics (and perhaps why Ken moved away from this blog).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One thousand posts -- our top five

As promised when I marked the milestone of the 1,000th post to Off Topic'd, here are the five most popular posts in the six-year history of the blog. I'm not quite sure what it all means, though...

5) Pardon Our Mess
I have to admit, I have no real idea of why this post gets so much traffic. This 2008 post took a local radio station to task for putting up a website with "Under Construction" icons on it. It was basically a discussion of why it's more professional to not go public with a site until you're ready instead of using such place holders. But if it means there's one less animated GIF of a worker digging, I guess it's all worthwhile.

4) The Straco Layout, Part 10 - Paving the Pegboard Paradise
The Straco Layout series chronicles the construction of my portable display of early 1960's Japanese tinplate toy vehicles and trains. Why this post, out of the entire series, made it into the top 5 is a mystery to me. It just shows how I painted a road on the pegboard base. Maybe it's the embedded video that makes it so popular?

3) The Straco Layout, Part 2 - Getting the board
I'm not sure why Part 10 of this series garnered so much traffic. I have even less of an idea why Part 2 tops it in number of page views. It's a very short post explaining why I decided to go with a pegboard for the layout. That's it. Really.

2) Marching Memes 3 - and a new topic
I wonder if the reason why this post gets so many views is because of the word "meme" in the title. And yet the other posts in the series (Marching Memes and Return of the Marching Memes) don't have anyway near the traffic of this post. This is one of the reasons I don't use the stats to shape the direction of the content.

And the most popular post of all time is:

1) Goodnight Opus
I write about comic strips frequently on this blog. My primary purpose is to encourage folks who dismiss comic strips as a momentary amusement to take a second look at the quality of graphic and storytelling talent lavished on this "disposable" art form. The final installment of Berkeley Breathed's comic strip "Opus" was a major event in the comics field, and perhaps outside of it as well. I'm not surprised my discussion of the strip's finale garnered interest.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 7

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

This week I really surprised myself. I not only got the distance up to 3 miles, but also manged to improve the pace quite a bit. My immediate goal is to add an additional quarter mile onto the daily run, so I'd be running a little over 5K. A minor feat for most, but a major milestone for me!

Now it's time to start looking for some races to enter...

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
9/10/12 37:14 4.82k all run 7.82k/h
9/02/12 32:21 3.21k all run 5.9k/h
8/27/12 33:14 3.21k all run 5.8k/h
8/20/12 38:22 2.36k 3 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h

Friday, September 07, 2012

CCC 044 - Juan Orrego-Salas

Juan Orrego-Salas is our choice for this installment of the  Consonant Classical Challenge. Orrego-Salas is a native of Chile, forced to flee at an early age for political reasons. He studied with Randall Thompson and Aaron Copland, and in the 1960's settled in the United States. Orrego-Salas was a long-time faculty member of Indian University, where he founded the Latin America Music Center.

Orrego-Salas never forgot his Chilean musical heritage, and used elements of it for his work. Like Copland, these elements give his music a regional flavor without sounded cliche. The majority of Orrego-Salas' works are for solo piano and chamber ensembles. However, a significant amount of his 125 compositions are orchestral. Orrego-Salas has written six symphonies, as well as two violin concertos, two piano concertos, and a number of shorter works for both full orchestra and chamber orchestra.

Unfortunately, most of Orrego-Salas' music remains unrecorded, so it's difficult to find examples of his work to share. One of the few Orrego-Salas works posted on YouTube is the Sextet for B-flat clarinet, string quartet and piano, Op. 38.

The second movement of this work shows the more lyrical side of the composer.

To my ears, Orrego-Salas has some of Copland's wide-open-spaces sound, mixed with some of Prokofiev's sense of humor, all blended with Chilean rhythms and basic harmonic movements. Here's an example of Orrego-Salas' more intimate writing, from the Duo Concertantes for cello and piano, Op. 41

Solo piano compositions often show the composer's style in its purest form. The Rustica, Op. 35 is one such work from Orrego-Salas' catalog.

Juan Orrego-Salas has a unique compositional voice, and one that's based on solid classical music tradition. Orchestras concerned with diversity in programming might want to consider his music. It has a fresh sound, it celebrates the composer's heritage, and it should be music that both traditionalists and newcomers to classical music can connect with.

I wish someone would record those six symphonies!

Recommended Recordings:
(Very few recordings of Juan Orrego-Salas' music were ever released. Currently, only a few works on some compilation albums are avaiable.)

Foote: Piano Quintet; Orrego-Salas: Sextet; Diamond: Quintet

Trinity University Wind Symphony
(includes Orrego-Salas' Fantasia Op. 95 for piano and wind orchestra)

Music for Saxophone
(includes a short alto saxophone work by Orrego-Salas)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

One thousand posts

This is the 1000th post published on this blog, so it seemed a fitting time to take a brief look back. When it started back in August, 2006, this blog was called "CE Conversations," and was co-written by Ken Nail and myself.

The idea was to have a consumer electronics blog with alternating viewpoints. Hence, a Consumer Electronics Conversation (clever, no?). Over time, Ken became involved in other activities, and his contributions to CE Conversations lagged, making it a very much one-sided conversation. (You can see what Ken's up to in his own blog, Milestones).

And over time the focus started to shift from consumer electronics to Internet technology and social media. And from there, my own personal passions -- classical music, comic strips, vintage toys, etc. -- came to the fore. The blog was now permanently off topic, and so it became Off Topic'd.

In the olden days, traffic climbed very slowly. Whenever we reached a significant milestone (or mille borne in French), we'd take a look at the stats and report on the top five posts (and bottom five posts) of all time. We started with Blogger, and when Google took the service over, a lot of those stats got blown out. Even so, it will be fun to look over the last six years as best we can, and see which of our kilo posts were killer posts, and which were filler posts.

Since the topics for Friday and Monday posts are already set, we'll begin our look back on Tuesday next (I'll put links in when they publish). Thanks to all our readers. And special thanks to everyone who's commented (except the spambots, of course).

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Where's Ken? Iron Man Wisconsin!

 Ken Nail, who co-founded this blog with me, has moved on to better things. His own blog, Milestones, chronicles his development as a runner and triathlete. Today Ken left for Madison, Wisconsin to compete in an Iron Man Triathlon.

This past Sunday, Dave Coverly's comic Speed Bump had (I thought) was particularly relevant (click image to enlarge).

Ken's comment? "A disc wheel would probably help." I think he's been training a little too hard...

The following day Stephen Pastis' Pearls Before Swine had this sequence:

 Ken admitted it wasn't far off from his mindset when he's in the zone. And after several months of a carefully planned training regimen, he's been in the zone quite a bit, He's taken this challenge seriously, and rigorously prepared for it.

So good luck to "K" this weekend. Dropping those two extra letters just might make all the difference.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Re-evaluating Raff, or How to Find New Old Music

I really enjoy exploring the field of classical music. There are several acknowledged masterworks that deeply move me, and my quest is to discover more that have the same effect. I've found some not-so-famous composers whose music consistently hit the mark with me, and even some virtually unknown ones that do as well (even if not with any consistency).

So how do I find these composers? It really doesn't involve any great research -- I'm just open to suggestions.

For example, in a Twitter discussion about unusual repertoire, I happened to mention the curious effect the music of Joachim Raff had on me. That is, I thoroughly enjoyed it while it played, but it left no trace -- I couldn't recall a single theme after it was over.

And I don't think I was alone. Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was, during his lifetime, a respected and celebrated composer. A talented pianist, he was one of Franz Liszt's proteges. He wrote a vast amount of music, and his symphonic works put him on part with Brahms and Wagner with audiences of the day. But after he died, his music almost overnight vanished from the concert halls, and his name fell into obscurity. 

The 1907 edition of "Stories of Symphonic Music" had this to say:
Raff, an astonishingly prolific composer, wrote twelve symphonies, of which "In the Woods' (Im Walde) [Symphony No. 3] is one of the two that have most conspicuously survived the winnowing processes of time. [Symphony No. 5 "Lenore" is the other].
 The Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 3rd edition, 1907 was even harsher:
Since his death his music as passed, alike in Germany and England, into an oblivion which cannot excite surprises in those who realize the inherent weaknesses of the composer; and the sudden change on the part of the public, from a widespread admiration to almost complete neglect, is of itself a severe criticism on his work.
So I didn't find my reaction to Raff's music unusual. And might have left it at that, had not I been urged by one of my colleagues on Twitter to try again, and started with Raff's 5th Symphony. And this time I even remembered some of it later. As my friend and I discussed my reaction, he suggested other, better works by Raff -- the 5th Symphony, his cello concertos, and the piano quintet.

All of those works turned out to be posted on YouTube, and so I could audition them all -- and a few more besides.

Joachim Raff isn't quite the genius Brahms or Wagner was. Some of the works ran a little long, and a few were mediocre (as in average -- nice, but not remarkable). Still, I enjoyed a good deal of it, and glad that I was open to the suggestion to revisit this composer.

Are you? Give Raff's 3rd Symphony a listen and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 03, 2012

Running the Road to Recovery - 6

Running the Road to Recovery is about coming back from an illness. In June, 2012 I was in training for a 4-mile race, and was able to run 3-4 miles at a decent (OK, mediocre) rate of speed. A kidney infection that triggered a secondary infection to my knees derailed my training. But only temporarily.

Last week I ran on a flat track to get an idea of what I could do (and found out my exercise watch was a little off in its calibration). Now I know what I can realistically do,  it's time to improve from that point. This week it was back to my normal running course, which involves some serious uphill inclines around the first mile, as well as a few other minor up-and-down slopes. I was very surprised at my Monday time. I ran the same distance as I did on the track, in a little less time.

This week I have three goals: to push the distance, keep the rate consistent, and do some dedicated hill work for strength.

Date Time Distance Run/Walk Rate
9/02/12 32:21 3.21k all run 5.9k/h
8/27/12 33:14 3.21k all run 5.8k/h
8/20/12 38:22 2.36k 3 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/13/12 32:37 1.95k 1.5 min./30 sec. 3.60k/h
8/5/12 29:49 1.76k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h
7/30/12 13:30 .80k 1 min./30 sec. 2.88k/h