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11th quarantine edition        

Friday, May 29th edition              
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this week's featured recording (05.29.20) 

Final from Symphony no. 1

by Louis Vierne (1870-1937)

June is time for most of the churches in Pittsburgh to move their worship into smaller, air-conditioned facilities like the chapel or social hall. Before we leave our large, Tiffany-window-bedecked sanctuary, I like to give the grand organ a go for one last grand postlude. This year that isn't going to happen as our church continues to be closed because of the pandemic, but there was a time when the rafters rang with the mighty sound of Louis Vierne, and will be again. This recording is from 2018.    

 This week on the blog:  Friday, May 29, 2020
Frick Park


One of the pleasantest things about our current residence is its proximity to Frick Park. Pittsburgh is known for several lovely parks, some of which are quite large. This one originated as the back yard for Mr. Frick's children--because rich children need a place to stretch out that includes several hundred acres, usually (at least I think that sounds plausible)--and has now been bequeathed to the city of Pittsburgh and its residents, who are allowed to go walking in it whenever the mood strikes them.

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This week I set a new record for length of time being unable to play the organ, because our church has been closed for quarantine since the middle of March. The last time I had a ten week hiatus was while the organ was being repaired in the summer of 2014, which led to a blog series. This is a part of it:

While we wait with fear and trembling for our organ console to arrive, let's go over the wealth of wonderful noises the organ will make when we've gotten it installed in our sanctuary again:

Organ stops come in six families.

There are the flute stops. Their sound is pretty obvious. There is more variety about them than you might think. Our organ has four of these customers, and they are all of a slightly different hue. Here are is a flute stop with the pipe capped at the top, called a bourdon:


There is also a chimney flute, or in our case a rohr flute (the German equivalent), and a nice spitz flote which is an octave higher.

We've covered those already in a previous blog. We've also talked about foundation stops, which are the heart of the organ sound, and usually much louder than the flute stops (you'll hear the difference when each section is repeated on a flute stop instead of a principle stop), though they are still relatively vanilla compared to what comes next.

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That reminds me of something
first posted April 25, 2009

Back in high school I was getting my first real education in classical music. I was listening to Mahlerís First Symphony for the first time when, part way into the first movement a popular klesmer (or Jewish folk) tune asserted itself. I didnít know what it was until years later when a friend of mine, who is in a klesmer band, happened to be playing it one afternoon and I recognized it from the symphony.

Even though I didnít recognize the tune, I could tell it was a quotation of a popular folk tune by the way the style of the music changed. I was a little shocked. This was a symphony. Were symphony composers really allowed to do that?

One reason for this attitude was surely the one that I had been cultivating nearly since I had first becoming acquainted with such music. Classical music is supposed to be hermetically sealed off from the other kinds, the more ívulgarí or Ďpopularí musical styles since it would only dirty itself by the association. I imagine I absorbed that attitude by osmosis from the people who were playing the music on the radio or talking about it on record jackets.

Another reason for the separation, besides being too holy to commerce with other styles, is the baggage that popular associations bring into an original composition. There have long been people who believe that music can only be approached as music, and cannot have any meaning apart from the notes that make it. Referring to something outside the piece itself may mean that the piece is trying to position itself in dialogue with some other tradition or ideology, or that it is trying to tell a story or set a scene or say something socially, and that very notion bothers some people to the core.

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Amadeus as opera
from December 17, 2018



One of the ways to approach the movie "Amadeus" is to think of it as opera--as a drama with a story and a lot of spectacle. There are in fact several things the movie has in common with operas that Mozart himself wrote.

The very first sounds we hear in the movie are the opening, crashing chords from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. They are the very opening chords from the beginning of the overture, and they are there to foreshadow the chords that will sound in the opera's final scene when the dead commandatore, whom the Don has killed, comes back from the beyond to drag him to his punishment in hell. In the movie, these chords are also there from the beginning, and then don't come back until near the end of the movie. In this case, they have been repurposed to represent Salieri, in costume, trying to kill off Mozart by commissioning a Mass for the Dead, and then scaring him into thinking it is for his own funeral. These chords also represent Mozart's father in judgment over his son (at least in Mozart's imagination) and their second use is during the scene in which Mozart sees his father, who is visiting Vienna. The father's first appearance is at the top of a flight of stairs with Mozart at the bottom. After the accompanying dramatic chords have ceased, Mozart bounds up the stairs joyfully to see this glowering individual clad in black, crying "Papa!" In this case, the somber music seems not to make any sense, but it paves the way for the later sepulchral symbolism, not to mention hinting that Mozart's relationship with his father may be a bit complicated!

curious? You may continue to read here