So easy to think it’s just another three day weekend, but some reminders courtesy of the NYPL of the origin of this day.
And one of the poems that this day evokes for me…
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
And there is that line from Auden’s “The Unknown Solider”
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
Pause and remember.
My digs for the next few days…sea, and even though they didn’t show for the picture, gulls.
Spending a few days by the seashore, so for today one of the many classical pieces with an oceanic theme, a Sergei Rachmaninoff work.
Rachmaninoff’s Etude Tableaux are virtuoso piano works, written in his modern Russian style (before he decamped for the U.S. and his style schmaltzed up a bit). They are musical evocations of scenes (a frequent late 19th-20th century compositional move –see also Debussy’s Preludes, Images, most of Ravel, and any number of Liszt and Strauss works (Richard, not Johann).
The program key to the Rachmaninoff works is not certain. He didn’t publish names or descriptions, but did give a few hints. The point rather is how the music evokes a scene and an emotion, vivid but not fixed.
My favorite of the lot is #2 in A minor from the second set, Op. 39, which has gotten the informal subtitle, “The Sea and the Gulls.” Here it is in the capable hands of Sviatoslav Richter,
The conductor Serge Koussevitzky had the bright idea to ask the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi to arrange some of the Rachmaninoff pieces for orchestra, and here is a set (kicking off with The Sea and the Gulls) in a wonderful performance by the BBC Phil and Noseda (the National Symphony Orchestra’s lucky snag for next music director).
Dressed up for orchestra, it’s lovely, but the piano work with those 2 against 3 rhythms and lines (the sea birds?) swooping in and out of the wavy texture sparkles so much it seems like it’s giving off light, not just reflecting it.
A card from the NYPL collection…
And for a musical birthday message: since Mozart didn’t write variations on “Happy Birthday to You!” here are his variations on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star instead. This is one scenery chewing performance by Fazil Sey and his Bechstein.