Saturday, October 22, 2016

World History Project: Vivaldi vs. Handel vs. Bach, Round Two!

One thing I keep forgetting to mention about my World History Project (where I’m currently reading Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, circa 1747)  is how it gives me an opportunity to fill in the huge gaps in my classical music collection.

God, I hate that word “collection”! It conjures visions of shelves full of records no one ever listens to. Maybe I should just say that it gives me a chance to hear stuff I haven’t heard before.

One common complaint about classical music is that “all that sh*t sounds the same”. I get that.

Another is that it’s too damned fussy. I get that too, and I agree. I like it best when they all just calm the f*ck down and play a pretty tune.

Plus, I think of it as music for rich people.

I said last time that I’d like to punch the guy wearing the wig and funny clothes who plays the harpsichord (or the horn or the violin, although they always seem to be wearing a tux and just waiting for someone to give them a wedgie) when he does those little flourishes at the end of a tune. It’s like he’s holding a tea cup with his pinkie sticking out. And who doesn’t want to just snap that little pinkie off?

Whew! I’m glad I got all of that out of my system.

So I took the occasion to get two new records from a couple of guys we’ve run into before, and listen more closely to one record I’ve had for some time.

And I judge them partly by whether they sound the same, and whether they’re too damned fussy and whether I feel I have to check my credit score before listening to them, which is what the theme from Masterpiece Theater sounds like.

Call it the Punch In the Face Index (PFI), or Break That Pinkie Off Index (BPI). Or Burn Their Mansion Down Index (BMI). Up to you.

Each record occasionally falls into the above-mentioned traps but one blows right past them.

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Handel: Water Music (1717)

Here’s some more music from that guy we first met here and then again here.

This is orchestrated much like the Masterpiece theme, but maybe a little happier/peppier (which ain’t sayin’ much, btw.)

The instrument I hear the most here is the french horn. It’s kind of stately but not too overbearing. It’s got a kind of waltz-y beat going on, which keeps it from getting boring (but then again, you won’t be dancing to it). It won’t quite grab your heart, though. It’s like that couple that come to your barbecue all dressed up.

However, I put it on in the backyard on a beautiful October day and it was just wonderful. Turns out it was composed for a festival that took place next to the River Thames.  (Notice how they don’t call it the Thames River? If they hear you say that, they assume you’re making minimum wage.)

So it turns out it’s not for a summer barbecue but rather a fall walk in the park, preferably one with a body of water that you name backwards, like River Hudson or Lake Clove.

Based on an outside listen, this is an easy A-, assuming the weather’s good and it’s the right time of year.

But I’m an indoor kind of guy.

So, not great, but not bad at all.


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Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (1723)

And not to be outdone, Vivaldi comes back, too.

And we’ve all heard the opening theme, right? I forget where, though. Some ads, I think.  Charmin? Camel Cigarettes? Yeah, that sounds right.

It’s also got that Masterpiece Theater vibe but manages to keep it all a bit lighter. I find it more varied than Water Music. There are some slow ones, some fast ones (Handel never really quite revs up to, say, “Wipe Out” speed. That’s okay. No waves by the Thames.)

And there are more violins than horns, which I prefer. And the slow quiet parts are real pretty.

Again, you won’t lost your sh*t listening to this, but it’ll make the time go by quite pleasantly.


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Bach: The  Brandenberg Concertos (1721)

This is the record I bought back in the summer of 1983 when I took another shot at classical music at exactly the wrong time.  Poor Johann Sebastian was up against a summertime glut of pop music that was making me perfectly happy at the time thank you very much.

But now, over thirty years later, I can hear it much better.

Compared against Vivaldi and Handel, Bach comes as a bit of a relief. He’s lighter on his feet, more melodic, more relaxed, and not trying to impress you like the other two guys.

I mean, he already impressed me with the sheer gall of his Six Solo Cello Suites. I mean, who does that?  Well apparently a few people, but whatever.

Here he knocks out six concertos for this guy Brandenburg, in about a year and a half. And it’s everything Vivaldi and Handel ain’t. And those guys are pretty good!

I also notice that he keeps the band a little smaller. You could almost fit them in your living room. Okay, maybe not quite.

Funny thing. Turns out that you’ll find the 2nd Concerto, Third Movement used as the theme for "Firing Line". At the time, I always found it to be the epitome of fussiness, and yet when heard in the context of all six of these pieces, it goes down a lot easier.

So, if I were to give an analogy, Vivaldi and Handel are Chuck Berry and Elvis, while Bach is the Beatles. And with all due respect to the other gentlemen, I’m a Beatles Guy all the way.


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