Just a clarification on this whole World History Project thing. I will not be reading every book ever published or listening to every record ever recorded, because that would involve listening to Barry Manilow.
So I’ll just be reading books as I find them and listening to the records I already have.
And since I’m up to the 18th Century - and believe it or not Keith Richards was not born yet - I’ll be listening to a lot of classical music.
Having grown up in Brooklyn, it’s hard for me to separate the act of listening to classical music from wanting to punch someone in the face. And since I'm usually the punchee, it’s really saying something that I’d be the one to get that urge.
But classical music brings up images of foppish guys with British - or worse, French - accents, wearing flouncy wigs, and not even having the decency to be doing so in drag.
I can just see them sitting around the mansion, enjoying the latest Bach ditty on the family harpsichord, convinced of their superiority over the lower classes who were busy tending the fields and yet invented folk music. Isn’t that enough to make you want to take a swing?
Now that’s not the fault of the music. It’s just something I have a hard time getting out of my head. So I tend to enjoy classical music to the degree that I can forget that.
Anyway, back to the World History Project. I’m up to 1714, and reading myself some Alexander Pope. (Hey, Jeeves! Where’s my flouncy wig!) Now Pope isn’t as much fun as Neal Stephenson, but he’s not bad.
One of the records I’m listening to from that time is a Musical Heritage Society compilation of work by Vivaldi, Handel and Telemann by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
I’ve had no luck finding this record at allmusic.com, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to recommend the album, but I guess I can tell you what I think of each piece.
Handel, Concerto Grosso in G Major Opus 6, No 1.:
I know what you’re thinking. If this is Opus 6, what happened to the other five? And are they all in G Major? Wow, if so, how did he ever get to the rest of the alphabet? I guess they didn’t have a lot to do back then.
But maybe Opi (the plural of Opus, of course) 1 - 5 weren’t so hot. But by now it’s all good. And this is number 1. Is that it's highest Billboard position? I can’t wait for the rest!
Anyway, this one’s got a lot of violin in it, which I like a lot. Slow and stately, yet melodic and sweet.
Check it out!
Handel, Concerto in A Minor Opus 6, No.4:
And now I’m all confused again. Is this a whole other Opus 6 or are we in the same Opus as last time? Who knows? I mean, why not just call them Meet the Handels, A Handel’s Day Night, Magical Handel Tour, etc. I mean, we could all get a better - wait for it! - “Handel” on it! (I just kill me!)
And what’s with the grosso? Hey guys, I just wrote a concerto and it’s kinda gross. Take a listen! It’s like when I barbecue and tell everyone that the food probably didn’t come out that good. Bon appetit!
This one’s a little quieter and the first part, the larghetto afffettuoso allegro (of course) is really very pretty. Slow and sad.
Just like me.
Vivaldi, Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins Op 3 No 10:
Four violins? Really?
You didn’t see old Ronnie Van Zandt call “Free Bird” Concerto for Three Lead Guitars Opus Awesome No.79, now did you ? C'mon classical people, get a grip! Well, I guess I'm a little late with that, huh?
Anyway, you can kind of tell it’s Vivaldi. He’s got that stench of Masterpiece Theater on him, but he’s actually pretty cool. The violins stay pretty without getting too, you know, “no fun”. He changes the pace and gets a nice balance of sweet and serious.
Give it a whirl.
Vivaldi, Concerto for Two Trumpets:
This one is soooo Masterpiece Theater it’s not easy to like. And I just can’t.
The trumpets remind me of those old Roman movies when whenever someone entered the castle a bunch of trumpets would play something to announce his arrival, when a doorbell really would have sufficed.
It’s kind of stuffy, and makes you feel like you should be sitting up straight.
All this tooting when all I really need to hear is the french horn from the Tommy “Overture”.
And note, no grosso for old Vivaldi! He’s got a better opinion of himself.
But not me.
Telemann, Viola Concerto in G Major:
No Opi for this guy, thank god.
In all of these pieces, I find I like the slower quieter second movements. But Mr. T gets right to the slow part up front.
Violas are at a lower pitch than violins which makes them easier to take over the long haul.
It’s quite pleasant to listen to this piece, which says, hey I’ll just hang out with you and not talk too much. My favorite kind of guest.
But then he can’t help but pick up the pace and get a little loud and fussy. But it’s okay. He can stay for the barbecue.
Hey, Mr. T. Do your thing.
So that’s it for classical music for now. I’ll have to slog through some more Pope, before I get to more Vivaldi and Handel.
But in between, I’ll get back to the apex of Western Civilization: Silly Love Songs and Pop Music.