Friday, June 30, 2017

Spam Roundup June 2017

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

Misplaced in translation

- when someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the plan of a user in his/her mind that how a user can understand it. So that's why this post is so perfect. [You're so right/not right!]

- magnificent web site. a lot of useful info here I'm sending it to a few friends and also sharing in delicious. [Sounds yummy.]

- Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to assert that I get actually enjoyed account your blog post. [Said the spambot with the MBA]

"Lumbering along" continues to enlighten

My short post about vintage Japanese tin toys continues to attract the spambots. The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along really isn't that interesting or insightful -- and I should know. 

It's simply a short piece about an inexpensive early 1960s tin friction toy I picked up, and how it fit in with the theme of the display I was assembling. However, others seem to get more out of it.

- You really make it seem so easy with your presentation buy I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. [ (!) ]

- Spot on with this writeup. I honestly think this site needs a lot more attention. [If you say so. Although judging by the spambot traffic, it seems to be doing just fine.]

- I discovered exactly what I was taking a look for. You have ended my four day long hunt! [Now that's just sad.]

The ultimate compliment

- I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great writing. [I think -- ultimately -- I will.]

That's all for this month. I leave with this sage observation one spambot left:

- Very hepful advice within this post! It is the little changes that produce the biggest changes.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

May 2017 #ClassicsaDay #SovietaDay annotated list - Part 4


One of the ongoing Twitter hashtag groups I participate with is #ClassicsaDay. The idea’s pretty simple: post a link to a classical work, and – in the body of the tweet – provide a little info about it.

For May 2017, some of the participants decided to use the theme #SovietaDay. Part 1 fills in the background behind my selections.

Below is the final group of composers, born after 1931. Many of these composers out-lived the Soviet Era, and enjoy a greater freedom of musical expression. Some became important and influential composers not only in their own country, but internationally.

Soviet composers born after 1931

Rodion Shchedrin (1932 - ) 
Shchedrin is the winner of the Lenin Prize, and the USSR State Prize. Shchedrin has a strong sense of humor and irony that often comes through in his music. Even before travel restrictions were lifted in the USSR, Shchedrin's music was often performed in the West, thanks to champions like Mstislav Rostropovich and Leonard Bernstein.

Sergei Mikhailovich Slonimsky (1932 - ) 
Slonimsky (nephew of Nicoals Slonimsky) began writing in a somewhat conservative style. As political restrictions loosened, he became more adventurous, and is known for his experiments with new notation, 12-tone technique, and other politically dangerous musical ideas.

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Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) 
Schnittke was a student of Shostakovich. His polystylistic approach to music very quickly put him at odds with the Union of Soviet Composers. His 1969 Symphony No. 1 was banned by the Union. With the loosening of political oversight, Schnittke's music reached wider audiences, and he's acknowledged as one of the masters of late 20th Century music.

Giya Kancheli (1935-) 
Kancheli is a Georgian composer who found great success in the West after Glasnost. His music is often deeply spiritual, with long, sustained chord punctuated by violent outbursts. Rodion Shchedrin called Kancheli "an ascetic with the temperament of a maximalist -- a restrained Vesuvius."

Boris Tischenko (1939-2010) 
Tischenko did post-graduate work in composition under Shostakovich. His style had experimental elements in it, such as twelve-tone rows and aleatoric passages. His music has a marked originality about it, in both conception and orchestration.

Yevhen Stankovych (1942 - ) 
Stankovych studied with Lyatoshynksy in Kiev. He served as the chair of the Ukrainian Composer's Union. H won the USSR's "For Labour Valour" Medal for his Symphony No. 7.

Vyacheslav Artyomov (1940 - )
Artyomov's music is deeply spiritual, and shares some similarities with that of Arvo Part and John Tavener. Artyomov has had many champions, especially in the West. In 1979 he was part of Khrennkiv's Seven - blacklisted by the Union of Composers for unauthorized participation in music festivals in the West.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tasmin Little and Piers Lane - Franck, Szymanowski, Fauré

In my previous reviews of Tasmin Little/Piers Lane recordings, I remarked on their chemistry, and how that transformed the music. It's still in effect.

Little and Lane perform as equal partners, and I wouldn't have it any other way. César Franck's sonata is given an evocative and yet sometimes understated reading that seems well-suited to the character of the work.

Little and Lane play Fauré's Romance in B-flat major with a delicate simplicity that makes this oft-recorded work sound fresh and new again.

Szymanowski's music makes up the remainder of the album. In the sonata, the team shows they can play powerfully when the music merits it. Little digs deep into this music, illuminating the structural drama that keeps the music moving forward.

The Romance in D major veritably sings in this recording. Tasmin's Little's playing always delivers a beautifully rounded tone, even in the extreme high register. That skill makes this performance of the Romance one of the most moving I've heard.

The disc concludes with Szymanowski's Nocturne and Tarantella. Little manages to evoke both images of Spain and the Tatra Mountains in her playing. And it's an interpretation that works.

Tasmin Little and Piers Lane make a wonderful team. Highly recommended to all interested in true musical artistry.

Tasmin Little: Franck Szymanowski, Fauré
Tasmin Little, violin; Piers Lane, piano

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Clutch of Comic Cameos

Two creative teams, two comic strips, two different uses for cameos. Having one comic strip character show up in another is something that's becoming more common -- especially in certain strips. But it's why a character appears that makes or breaks the sequence.

In this 1/12/17 sequence from Baldo, by Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos, the cameo reinforces the gag.

The third-panel punch line would be a little flat without Goofy appearing in the second. And without the punch line in the third panel, Goofy's appearance doesn't make much sense. Both are needed to land the joke.

The 5/3/17 sequence of Barney & Clyde takes a different approach.

Here the cameo is used for some meta-humor. it's something the creative team of Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten, and David Clark excel in.

Rex Morgan, M.D. is indeed a respected physician.  The strip often tackles important medical issues in a fairly accurate fashion. And, in those papers that run both comics, Rex Morgan would be local to Barney & Clyde (most likely on the same page). The humor rests all on references to the world of newspaper comics.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Diabelli Project 154 - String Quartet

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This is the eighth flash composition sketch I've written in this series for string quartet. Unlike some of my other recurring sketches, I don't think all of these string quartet pieces are part of some larger work. It's possible some may fit together.

In this case, I think it's the start of something new. When I started it, the only concept I had in my head was simplicity. So no exotic meters, or extreme registers, or advanced techniques. I started with the opening motif and just built from there.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 056 - Yarn Winder

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

056. Yarn Winder

The past few builds seem to be inspired by industrial machinery. A hand-turned yarn winder might be a little archaic, but it's definitely part of that trend. 

The build itself had some problems. The winding posts would have been easier to assemble with smaller fingers, but it wasn't impossible. 

As it turned out, the illustrator was a little optimistic about the crankshaft. Since all four of the long dowels are used for the yarn winders, I only had short ones left for the crank. That meant the crankshaft dowel could only pass through one hole on the post -- it wasn't long enough to fit through the other side, which would have stabilized it.

Even so, I thought the photo came out pretty well, resembling the illustration in most aspects.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

May 2017 #ClassicsaDay #SovietaDay annotated list - Part 3


One of the ongoing Twitter hashtag groups I participate with is #ClassicsaDay. The idea’s pretty simple: post a link to a classical work, and – in the body of the tweet – provide a little info about it.

For May 2017, some of the participants decided to use the theme #SovietaDay. Part 1 fills in the background behind my selections.

 Below is the second group of composers I shared. For the most part, they're the generation born just after the Revolution and grew to maturity during the Second World War.

Soviet composers born 1904-1931

Aleksey Semyonovich Zhivotov (1904-1967) 
Zhivotov was a member of the Leningrad Composer's Union. He's best remembered for his song cycles.

Gavril Popov (1904-1972) 
Popov was considered to be just as talented as his contemporary Dmitri Shostakovich, but not as disciplined. His first symphony was immediately banned after its premiere in 1935. In order to survive, he tried to write as conservatively as possible, and keep himself sedated with alcohol. It worked. He won the Stalin Prize in 1946.

Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007) 
Khrennikov was never adventurous as a composer and was well-suited to his role as head of the Union of Soviet Composers. He was politically adept (eventually becoming a deputy of the Supreme Soviet), and claimed Stalin "knew music better than any of us." The fate of many a Soviet composer was determined directly or indirectly by Khrennikov.

Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) 
Sviridov was best known for his choral works, which drew on the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. His 1959 Oratorio Pathetique won the Lenin Prize.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) 
Weinberg was a Polish Jew who fled East from the Nazis in 1939, eventually arriving in Moscow. He became a protege of Shostakovich, who protected him as best he could. He survived arrest as a "formalistic and cosmopolitan" composer in 1949. After the Stalin era, his music returned to circulation.

Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) 
A student and colleague of Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya spent most of her career on the fringe. Her style was too modern for official sanction. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union was her music played with any frequency. the Grand Duet for Cello and Piano by

Mikael Tariverdiev (1931-1996) 
Tariverdiev was an important film composer as well as a classical music composer. He scored over 130 films and headed the Composers' Guild of the Soviet Cinematographers' Union. His catalog also includes four operas, two violin concertos, and a sizable number of chamber and vocal works.

Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina (1931- ) 
Gubaidulina had a rocky relationship with the Soviet authorities. She had to hide her interest in spiritual practices that inspired her music. Gubaidulina won a Stalin fellowship to study composition, but later her music was called "irresponsible." She scored some of the most popular films in the USSR but was blacklisted from the Union of Soviet Composers for unauthorized participation in Western music festivals. In the West, her reputation -- and popularity -- steadily grew, and she's now recognized as one of the most important composers of her generation.

Next: Soviet composers born after 1931

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Silesian String Quartet launch Mieczyslaw Weinberg series

This release is the first of a seven-disc traversal of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's 17 string quartets. It's an ambitious project, and it's off to a good start.

The Silesian Quartet pairs two chamber works by Weinberg: his 1959 String Quartet No. 7 and his youthful Piano Quintet in F minor. Both provided catharsis for the composer, which can make their emotional power almost overwhelming.

Weinberg completed the piano quintet when he was 20. He had left his native Poland, just barely escaping the Nazis. His immediate family was not as fortunate -- they perished in the Holocaust.

The quintet has an undercurrent of sorrow, punctuated by outbursts of rage. And yet all tightly contained in a meticulously organized score. No wonder Shostakovich saw something of himself in Weinberg.

The seventh string quartet of 1959 marked the first time Weinberg returned to the genre after being jailed for "formalistic and cosmopolitan" tendencies. Shostakovich's intervention eventually secured his release and possibly saved his life.

The quartet has a superficial attractiveness to it, but -- like late Shostakovich -- there's a strong undercurrent of resistance in the work. Albeit, it's buried very, very deep -- but the Silesian Quartet bring it closer to the surface. The result is a performance full of vitality and restless energy.

The quartet has a steely tone, well in keeping with the music. These are performances that connect -- both with the emotional state of the composer and with the listener. While Shostakovich and Weinberg were kindred spirits, Weinberg's music is not just an imitation of his mentor. Weinberg has a unique compositional voice that manages to punch through the restrictions placed on it by Soviet doctrine.

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: String Quartet No. 7, Op. 59; Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 18
Silesian Quartet; Piotr Salajczyk, piano
CD Accord ACD 239-2

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Collecting -- and collecting information 27

I recently acquired an unmarked 3" tank truck for the Straco Display Layout (right). There was no brand, but I knew who made it. And thanks to another recent discovery, I think I know why.

No mystery here

This tanker is quite distinctively Linemar, though there's no brand on it. Nevertheless, it was easy for me to identify.

Note the blue chassis with crimped sides. The Linemar 10-piece set has a similar tank truck, but with different markings. Although I don't own the Mobilgas example from the set, I do have the set's coal truck, which shares the same construction.

The Linemar set. The Mobilgas tanker (far left) is identical to
the blue gasoline truck.

A simple side-by-side comparison makes it easy to see that both were made by the same company.

The "mystery" tanker (L) and the Linemar coal truck (R).

Save for the color, the chassis of the gasoline truck (top) and
coal truck (bottom) are identical.

So why is this different? I think it's because, though Linemar made the vehicle, it was made for another company.

The Interest Rated Toy

This three-piece set recently became available on eBay.

Note the packaging. The card says "Bag O' Toys," with no mention of a manufacturer. (I'd love to know what they meant by "interest rated").

This possibly might be one of the toys brought in for Toy Merchandising Corp. of New York or some other low-cost distributor. This set has three vehicles found in the Linemar set: the police car, the fire engine, and the coal truck.

A reason for the missing brand?

The police car and fire engine appear to be the same, save that the Linemar brand is missing.

Linemar brands are usually found on the rear of the vehicle.
These have none.

All of the Linemar set pieces are clearly branded, like the coal
truck at left. The brand is missing from the blue tanker.

The yellow coal truck has the same outline as the red Linemar set coal truck, just different graphics.

Possibly Linemar filled an order for an importer. After the job was finished perhaps they used the same stampers to create their own versions of the same toys. The vehicles of the Linemar set came from different runs and possibly were made for different contractors.

This may also help explain why the vehicles of the Linemar set aren't uniform in construction.

While the importer/manufacturer of the Bag O' Toys line remains a mystery, at least I know who supplied some of their stock. It was Linemar, the Japanese arm of Louis Marx, Co.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Diabelli Project 153- Woodwind Quintet

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme, these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This is the third woodwind quintet sketch I've done for this project -- and all relatively recently. I wonder if there's a longer work trying to get out?

This time, I was just interested in voice combinations. A woodwind quintet has all kinds of possibilities: double reeds (oboe+bassoon), metal (flute+f horn), mid-range vs. high-range, etc.

In this case, I started with what I think of as the metal instruments, then add the reeds. Finally, the single reed (clarinet) takes the stage. I haven't checked to see how it fits with the other two sketches. But I wll -- especially if another quintet sketch pops out of a flash composition session.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 055 - Grinder

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

055. Grinder

This week's build wasn't especially difficult, but it took me a while to figure out how to build it. The grinder itself is a series of alternating wooden discs and fiberboard washers.

I had initially had the long dowel that connects the two posts centered. I quickly discovered that I couldn't get the crank assembly to clear the base that way. So that long dowel is just barely inside the post farthest from the camera. 

And no, I didn't see if it turned. Those dowels holding the posts in place weren't all that stable. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

May 2017 #ClassicsaDay #SovietaDay annotated list - Part 2


One of the ongoing Twitter hashtag groups I participate with is #ClassicsaDay. The idea’s pretty simple: post a link to a classical work, and – in the body of the tweet – provide a little info about it.

For May 2017, some of the participants decided to use the theme #SovietaDay. Part 1 fills in the background behind my selections.

Below is the first group of composers I shared. For the most part, they're the generation leading up to the Revolution.

Soviet composers born 1859-1919

Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov (1859-1935)
Ippoloitov-Ivanov was an established composer when the Revolution occurred. In other countries, composers writing in the late Romantic style were falling out fashion. In Russia, Ippoloitov-Ivanov's conservative style kept him out of the political controversies surrounding music.

Julius Eduardovich Conus (1869-1942) 
Conus (or Konius) was violinist and composer who toured extensively before the Revolution. He was working in eastern Poland when the Soviets invaded. He then went to Moscow, where he taught and continued to compose. His conservative romantic style seemed to hold him in good stead.

Reinhold Moritzevich Glière (1874-1956) 
Glière's students include Prokofiev, Koussevitzky, Myaskovsky, Khachaturian, and others. Glière managed to remain above party politics and had a long, distinguished career. His Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra won the Stalin Prize in 1946.

Nikolai Roslavets (1881-1944) 
Roslavets has been described as "Scriabin on acid." An unabashed modernist with cosmopolitan tastes, his music was banned in 1930, and not performed until well after his death.

Arthur Lourié (1892-1966) 
After the Revolutions Lourié served as head of the music division of the Commissariat of Enlightenment. But his contemporary style was increasingly at odds with the Soviet ideal, and in 1921 he escaped to the West, eventually settling in the US. He was a colleague of Stravinsky, whose music he actively promoted.

Lev Knipper (1898-1974) 
Knipper studied with Reinhold Glière and initially was quite experimental. He soon transitioned to a more Soviet-approved style. He also served as an agent for the OGPU (Soviet secret police).

Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973)
Mosolov was enamored of the futurist movement of the 1920s. His experimental style eventually led to exile in the Gulag in 1937. After release, he wrote in a politically approved style, but those works haven't retained the attention of his earliest compositions.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Elegant symphonies by François-Joseph Gossec reissued

These Concerto Köln performances of Gossec symphonies first appeared in 2003. This remastered version cleans up the sound a little but otherwise seems to have left the recordings alone.

The Concerto Köln has a full but not heavy ensemble sound, and play with straightforward clarity. It's a sound that's well-suited to Gossec's music.

François-Joseph Gossec was a major force in 1780s Parisian music scene. In addition to being one of France's most celebrated composers, he also organized a concert series that introduced Haydn's symphonies to the French public.

Gossec's own symphonies share some of Haydn's aesthetic. They're carefully constructed, with well-formed melodies and pleasingly balanced movements. They also have a certain elegance about them that the Concerto Köln wonderfully conveys.

There aren't many recordings of Gossec symphonies available. Glad to have this one back in circulation.

François-Joseph Gossec: Symphonies
Concerto Köln; Werner Ehrhardt, conductor
Capriccio Encore C8019

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lio's Border Patrol 2

The border panel is a fundamental design element of the comic strip -- so fundamental that it's all but invisible to most readers. Not to Mark Tatulli, creator of Lio. He often brings this hidden element to the fore in his innovative strip. Here are four recent examples, all featuring Eva Rose, the object of Lio's unrequited love.

 The sequence from 3/20/17 plays with convention in two ways. Usually, each panel represents a different moment in time. In this case, though, all three panels represent the same instant. The cannonball fired in panel one landed in panel three. The broken panels show the arc of the projectile. So instead of three traditional panels, we have a scene where the middle panel (room?) with two destroyed walls. But we still have a payoff for the gag in panel three.

 The second, from 3/7/17, retains the idea of each panel representing the same scene at a different moment in time. In this case, though, the bottom of the panel has changed function. Now it covers an (apparently) bottomless pit. Note that Tatulli's bottom border only extends halfway down the allotted space for the strip.

 The third example from 2/13/17 has a gag working on a number of levels. First, the entire strip is shown to be a flat surface that can be tied in a knot -- just as Eva Rose has tied Lio's heart in a knot. And though now tied, it also serves the role of a traditional three-panel sequence. In the first end is Lio, the middle (the knot), showing Eva Rose's action and Lio's emotion, and the third, Eva Rose walks away.

 Sometimes when Mark Tatulli has his comic spill over into another's he manages to fit both into his space (see: ). In this case, it's enough just to imply the action. Lio's mortar apparently exploded in the comic strip above it. I'm guessing the news flash defines "local" as the strips surrounding Lio.

 Four ingenious approaches to something most readers (and even comic artists) never seem to notice.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 054 Corner Pulley

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

054 Corner Pulley

Without a doubt, this was the most difficult model to build in this series -- so far. Nothing held together. The photo below I took after positioning and repositioning the components for over an hour. 

If you look carefully at the illustration, you can see what some of the problems are. The string wraps around a dowel. But that dowel isn't really secured to anything. As illustrated, it appears to hang over the edge of the base, with one small dowel securing it. That didn't work at all -- even though I was using wire rather than rubber bands or string. 

I compromised by placing the dowel through the base hole in the corner, and further securing it with t a second dowel through the middle slot of the base.

The crankcase was also a problem. The posts supporting it simply couldn't hold it once any tension was applied. And even though the only tension was a bent wire, it still couldn't handle it. So I had to continually pull the crankcase back up into position. And that pulled the corner dowel to the left, and that caused the end pulley to come apart. 

It's not perfect, but this is as good as it's going to get. 

Thursday, June 08, 2017

May 2017 #ClassicsaDay #SovietaDay annotated list - Part 1


One of the ongoing Twitter hashtag groups I participate with is #ClassicsaDay. The idea’s pretty simple: post a link to a classical work, and – in the body of the tweet – provide a little info about it.

For May 2017, some of the participants decided to include a theme. There were two obvious choices: Mexican composers in honor of Cinco de Mayo, or Soviet composers in honor of May Day. We chose the latter. Hense, #SovietaDay

This is an annotated list of the composers I presented as part of that hashtag. I deliberately avoided the obvious choices, such as Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich. The Soviet Union was home to many other talented composers. And some of them have compelling stories.

The Soviet Ideal

Classical music in the Soviet era is a fascinating area of study. Lenin said, "Every artist, everyone who considers himself an artist, has the right to create freely according to his ideal, independently of everything. However, we are Communists and we must not stand with folded hands and let chaos develop as it pleases. We must systemically guide this process and form its result."

An image of the Lenin
Prize, the USSR's
most prestigious cultural
And what course would that systematic guidance take? He later said,
"[who cares] what art gives to hundreds, or even thousands, out of a total population numbering millions. Art belongs to the people."

Stalin would solidify the idea that Soviet music must be something the common worker could understand and take pride in. And how exactly to achieve that? For the party leaders, it was pretty much "they knew it when they heard it." And they also knew dissent when they heard it, too -- even if it wasn't the composer's intent.

There's no Soviet bloc

You might think that a heavy-handed state-administered arts program would result in a repertoire of bland and self-serving patriotic piffle. But that's hardly the case. Soviet Era music varies widely in style and quality (although a little conservative with from and forces).

The era had composers who were wildly creative. Some channeled that creativity along approved guidelines, resulting in works of far better quality than they needed to be. Often there's a hint of subversiveness in this music, that gives them life today.

The Stalin Prize. You could
win it one year, and be
under arrest the next.
Not every composer could successfully walk the line. Some were officially sanctioned for their formalism and anti-socialist music. Their works were banned from publication and performance. Sometimes the composer disappeared as well. Their music outlasted the USSR, though, and some of these composers are enjoying a revival, albeit posthumously.

Some who were solid members of the Party and were models of creating the Soviet ideal of  "art for the masses." It's the music of this group that's fallen into neglect, mostly because it served a function, but offers little of substance. It's also under-represented on my list.

This month's theme yielded a collection of repertoire standards, works deserving rediscovery, and music that is, sadly, of its time. In other words, the same mix of the classical music from just about every other country.

Next week: Soviet composers born between 1859-1913

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Richard Wernick Chamber Works strikes a balance

Richard Wernick said, "I'm not writing to an audience which is illiterate and I'm not writing to an audience which is technically educated in music, but I do write for an audience that I assume has experience in listening to music and is willing to at least meet me halfway. So I'll go halfway to meet them."

And that idea holds true with this latest release of his music.

The three works span two decades, and all simultaneously invite the listener in and challenge them. The earliest work is the Concerto for Cello and Ten Players (1980), composed the year after Wernick won the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Cellist Barbara Haffner, for whom the work was dedicated, performs in this recording. It's a complex, multi-textured work that places great demands on the soloist. Haffner knows this music intimately, and even in the thorniest of passages brings out the inherent beauty and expressiveness of the music.

Haffner also performs in the other two works, the 1994 Piano Trio No. 1 and the 2003 Sextet. The Trio also features Lambert Orkis (piano) and Gregory Fulkerson (violin).

I found the Sextet of especial interest. It seemed to be the most accessible of the three works. Motifs seemed easier to identify and follow, and I felt a stronger sense of tonal organization. And it also seemed the most expressive.

Wernick's music isn't completely atonal nor tonal. It's not minimalist, though it does have a pulse. It's not post-modern, nor is it academic modernist. It's halfway between all those opposites. And in this release, Wernick does indeed meet his audience halfway.

Richard Wernick: Chamber Works 
Sextet: Robert Hanford, violin 1; Sheila Hanford, violin 2; Keith Conant, viola; Barbara Haffner, cello; Collins Trier, bass; Alan Chow, piano 
Concerto for Cello and Ten Players: Barbara Haffner, cello; Gregory Fulkerson, violin, Andrew Anderson, bass; Kate Eakin, oboe; Laurie Bloom, bass clarinet, Drew Thompson, contrabassoon; Matt Bronstein, French Horn; Chris Hasselbring, trumpet, Nicholas Pine, trombone; Marcia Labella, harp; Matthew Coley, percussion; Robert Trevino, conductor 
 Piano Trio No. 1: Lambert Orkis, piano; Gregory Fulkerson, violin; Barbara Haffner, cello 
Bridge Records 9480

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Dick Tracy Meets Harold Teen (sort of)

Coming off their successful crossover story with the Spirit (see: Dick Tray's Spirit), Mike Curtis and Joe Staton shift gears with something quite different. And as always, the fun is in the small details.

This sequence ran April 7-9, 2017. Note the change in credits. Shelley Pleger stepped in for Joe Staton, who needed time for some other projects. Pleger's a part of the Dick Tracy creative team, inking Staton's penciled art and doing the lettering.

She's also a talented artist in her own right and provided the art for Mike Curtis "Shanda the Panda."

As with most of the references written into Dick Tracy, these sequences further the story without getting in the way. If you don't recognize any of these characters, no worries. This three-day sequence simply establishes the upcoming cosplay convention (where a crime will happen) as a major event everyone will be attending.

But for some comics readers, it's the reappearance of some very old friends. "The Love Life of Harold Teen" was a comic strip written and drawn by Carl Ed. It ran from 1919 to 1959, and featured the exploits of a typical teenager -- Harold Teen.

There was a regular cast of supporting characters, of course. The action usually centered around the Sugar Bowl, a soda shop run by Pop Jenks. Gedunk sundaes were often advertised in depictions of the shop.

Harold's sidekick was Shadow Smart. He was often shown wearing earmuffs. Note how Pleger updated the character by changing them to earbud headphones.

Harold Teen and Shadow were jazz-crazy in the 1920s, and were just as wild about swing in the 1940s, at the height of the strip's popularity. So  Pleger's change is in keeping with the character.

Harold references his long-time girlfriend, Lillums Lovewell, though she's not shown in this sequence.

It's a great homage to a once-popular comic strip that's all but forgotten. And now Harold Teen's world joins the Tracyverse.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Duet for B-flat Clarinet and Bass Clarinet - Part 4

As part of my Diabelli Project flash composition series, I wrote four sketches for a B-flat clarinet and bass clarinet duet. Even when I was sketching them out, I knew they were part of the same four movement work.

Although I didn't write the movements in order, I did save the fourth movement for last. I knew I wanted it to be a rondo, with the contrasting sections quoting the other movements. So they had to be completed first.

With all four movements complete, the estimated playing time for this work is about 7-8 minutes. It could run a little longer if tempos are taken slower -- and that would be fine. I'm more concerned with a clear contrast between slow and fast than a strict adherence to a metronome marking.

I'm not entirely happy with the coda. I might rewrite it as part of the editing process. But overall, I think the music came out pretty much as I heard it. 

And for reference, here's the original Diabelli Project sketch for this movement (No. 148). 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Line Mar Match Box Construction 053 - Cross String Pulley

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

053 Cross String Pulley

In the instruction sheet, Linemar makes the claim that you can use rubber bands with this set to make wheels that turn.

Well, not really. Even the very modest tension of small, thin rubber bands is more than enough to pull these assemblies apart. That's why I use florist's wire instead. I can place it on the model without destroying it.

This particular piece of machinery went together pretty well. The biggest challenge was bending the wire to fit and putting it on the pulleys. Every time I got it around one, the other would get out of alignment.

Those posts are secured to the base with a single dowel in the middle of it. So any tension at all causes the post to pivot. As I said -- no way I could use rubber bands instructions suggest.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Hat Trick strong debut with Garden of Joys and Sorrows

According to Hat Trick's website, they aim to "broaden the flute, viola, harp repertoire and showcase its individual and collective strengths." Based on their new release, I'd say mission accomplished.

April Clayton (flute), David Wallace (viola), and Kristi Shade (harp) are all master musicians who collectively create something wonderful. Their ensemble blend is superb and well-adapted to whatever they're playing.

This release includes the basics of the repertoire (limited as it is). Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp is played with a lightness that only enhances the impressionistic nature of the music. Also included is Théodor Dubois' Terzettino, which predates Debussy's work by a decade. Hat Trick delivers a charming performance.

The repertoire broadens significantly with the other works on the album. Toru Takemitsu's 1992 "And then I knew 'twas Wind." Takemitsu's work is a delicate study in timbral possibilities.

Hat Trick commissioned "Submerged" from Miguel del Aguila. It begins with a lively evocation of South America before slipping into a mysterious middle section where time seems suspended (that's the submerged part). It's a strong opening to the program -- and the ending is equally so.

"Garten von Freuden and Traurigkeiten" by Sofia Gubaidulina, like the other contemporary works on this release, were inspired by poetry. The extended techniques Gubaidulina demands create an exotic -- yet perfectly logical -- soundscape that interprets Francisco Tanzer's poem of ambivalence. Honoring the composer's suggestion, the performance ends with a reading of the poem.

An impressive release by an impressive trio of musicians. I look forward to Hat Trick's next album.

Hat Trick: Garden of Joys and Sorrows
Alice Clayton, flute; David Wallace, viola; Kristi Shade, harp
Aine Zimmerman, reader
Bridge Records 9472