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“About” Taking a Day Off

Life has intruded and for a day or two I need take a short break from writing that requires actual thought. So here are a couple of things that won't tax my brain and I hope will amuse you.

PIGS
As I was explaining to my friend Erin Read who is director of strategic planning at Creating Results, I like pigs almost as much as I like cats.

Also, I am a long-time connoisseur of television commercials. Except for people in the business of creating them, hardly anyone believes they are an art form, but they are and I keep an eye out for the exceptional ones. They are few and far between but they do exist.

One turned up recently that involves a pig. A blissed-out (stoned?) retired couple are walking their miniature pig along a waterfront. It's shot in moderate slow motion. The music is a bit odd and (to me) unrecognizable but catchy. The whole thing is a little off kilter, mysterious and strange.

And those are the reasons to stick around until the end to find out what it's all about. Take a look:

Did you catch the bewildered look, about halfway through, on that little boy's face? And the woman holding the pig in her arms like a small child at the end? In a bank?

I've watched this commercial about a dozen times and am still befuddled and charmed. It's beautifully done.

FINAL DAYS WITH A BELOVED OLD FRIEND
After frequent airings for a large part of 2015 and then disappearing, another commercial that is as brilliant in its way is in rotation again recently.

It's about a guy who is checking off items on his ageing dog's bucket list and I tear up a bit every time I see it. This is the long version that is rarely shown on television.

At our ages, we've all been there and not only with a pet. It's a great commercial.

NEW ABOUT PAGE
Now. About that “About” word in quotation marks in the headline today.

The link named About above the banner on every TGB blog page goes to another page where you will find links to Peter Tibbles' bio, the Photo Timeline and an About Time Goes By page.

Except, that last one has been a dead link since the blog was redesigned in 2015. The intention then was to rewrite the About TGB page and I didn't get around to it until now.

For those of you who keep asking why that page is missing, my apologies for the delay. You can go directly to it with this link, or click “About” at the top of this page for all three About choices.


A Surprising Media Respect For an Elder

Ageist language isn't confined to such obvious demeaning labels as geezer, coot, biddy, etc. - or to “elderspeak,” the belittling forms of address such a “dearie,” and “sweetie” or speaking to old people in a loud, slow voice.

Much more common is the offhand, everyday assumption among the media that old is always bad. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon use age jokes so frequently that I don't often watch their monologues anymore.

It's ubiquitous among comedians of all types and genders – almost all of them include ageist jokes in their routines.

Over the course of his two terms, Barack Obama has proved that had he not gone into politics, he might have made a pretty good living as a standup comic.

He was in impeccable form Saturday night as the main attraction at his final White House Correspondents Dinner. Great funny zingers at all the traditional media and politics targets with the timing of a professional comic, as we have come to expect from him.

However. When Obama was barely three minutes into his 34-minute routine, these self-mocking age jokes turned up:

”Eight years ago, I was a young man, full of idealism and vigor, and look at me now. (Laughter) I am gray and grizzled, just counting down the days ’til my death panel.(Laughter and applause)

“Hillary once questioned whether I’d be ready for a 3AM phone call — now I’m awake anyway because I’ve got to go to the bathroom. (Laughter and applause.”

The same old tired "humor" ensuring that the universal assumption old people lose all their faculties will continue. When the president, who would never malign an ethnic group, religion or women, turns being old into a hoary old stereotype for a cheap laugh, what chance is there of ever gaining respect for old people.

Not infrequently, the insult takes the form of the word “still” when a writer tells readers, for example, how amazing it is that John Smith, age 75, still walks the dog every day and cooks his own meals.

In fact, you can pretty well assume that the writer of any story about a person older than 70 or so – no matter what the focus of the story is - will reinforce the stereotype of infirmity by being amazed he or she can, for example, “still” get out of a chair unaided.

So it is shocking when a reporter has an obvious opportunity to throw in a couple of “still statements” to infantilize an old person but instead takes a higher road.

Last week, in The New York Times, Sarah Wildman did that. It was a feature story about Justus (pronounced YOO-stice) Rosenberg who, she explains, is probably “the last remaining member of an extralegal team” who helped Jewish cultural figures and anti-fascist intellectuals in Vichy France flee the Nazis in the early 1940s.

It's an exciting and amazing tale that is probably the best news story I read last week. Most impressive, particularly given the subject of my daily chronicles here, is the regard and respect Ms. Wildman pays Rosenberg. Take a listen:

”Officially, Dr. Rosenberg, who turned 95 in January, retired from teaching 20 years ago. Retirement didn't suit him.”

Wildman ignores every opportunity a lesser writer would take to tell us how “spry” or “feisty” Rosenberg is.

“'I think my life,' Dr. Rosenberg mused on a frigid February afternoon in the kitchen of his Rhinebeck, N.Y. home, 'as what the French call concours de circonstances – a confluence of circumstances.'”

Later in the story,

”'Have I mentioned it to you yet?' asked Dr. Rosenberg, picking up the narrative the next day as he drove from Bard's campus to his home in Rhinebeck.'”

And,

”Two years ago he and his wife of 20 years, Karin, started the Justus and Karin Rosenberg Foundation to fund efforts fighting hate and anti-Semitism.”

Sarah Wildman reports his age, tells us he teaches and drives, suggests he knows his way around a kitchen, can recall a conversation from the day before and lets us know in passing that he got married at age 75 – all without remarking that any of it is surprising at his age.

Hallelujah. Sarah Wildman allows Justus Rosenberg to be just a person - as if he were 30 or 40 or 50 years old - and that is exceptional in as ageist a world as ours so we should take note when it happens.

If the media followed Ms. Wildman's lead, we would not need to notice and instead concentrate on what is a fantastic story, well told. It's titled “The Professor has a Daring Past” and you can read it at The New York Times. I recommend it.


ELDER MUSIC: Even More Classical Gas

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

* * *

I started this series of columns (named by Norma, the Assistant Musicologist) to highlight lesser known composers who often don't get much of a look in on concert stages and the radio. Just doing my bit in my little corner of the world to keep interesting, little heard music alive.

Oops, that sounds a bit pretentious, just ignore it and listen to the music.

BERNHARD CRUSELL was (and I think still is) the most significant composer born in Finland (take that Jean Sibelius).

Bernhard Crusell

Besides composing, he was a clarinetist of great note and a translator. He was born in Uusikaupunki (I just threw that in because it's such a great name) but the family moved to Sweden when he was eight and that's where he spent much of his life.

He was so in demand that after various visits to France, Germany and England, the King of Sweden pretty much dragged him back (refusing to extend his visa and other underhand shenanigans). Naturally, much of his work involved the clarinet in some way or another and this is no exception, the third movement of Divertimento in C major.

♫ Bernhard Crusell - Divertimento in C maj (3)


Here is an interesting string quartet but it's not like all the other string quartets that consist of two violins, a viola and a cello. This one has had all the instruments take one step to the right, as it were.

Now we have two violas, a cello and a double bass. It gives the music a deep mellow sound. The gentleman who performed the shift is GEORG WAGENSEIL.

Georg

Although he wrote a bunch of operas, he was instrumental in the development of the symphony – Haydn took special notice of his compositions. He was an organist and harpsichordist and taught those instruments.

One of his pupils was Marie Antoinette. I presume it was the harpsichord in her case, but you never know about these things. He was one who straddled the divide between baroque and classical idioms.

This is the first movement of what he calls a sonata but is really a string quartet. It's number 2 in F.

♫ Georg Wagenseil - Sonata in F (1)


ANTONIO ROSETTI was born Franz Anton Rösler but figured there'd be more cachet in the composing biz with an Italian sounding name.

Antonio Rosetti

Besides composing, he was a dab hand on the double bass but he didn't really write music for that instrument – most of it was symphonies, concertos and various forms of vocal compositions.

This is one of his concertos, the first movement of the Concerto for two Horns & Orchestra in F major.

♫ Antonio Rosetti - Concerto for 2 Horns & Orchestra in F major (1)


You could say that JOSEPH WÖLFL studied under Mozart and Haydn and you'd be right, but all isn't as it seems. They were the more famous Mozart's father (Leopold) and the more famous Haydn's brother (Michael).

Joseph Wolfl

Joe was a bit of a prodigy and made his first concert appearance at the age of seven (playing the violin). He later became a pianist and had huge hands which meant he could span many more keys than most.

At one stage he challenged his rival Beethoven to a cutting contest on the piano which proved to be a bit of a mistake as Ludwig bested him in no uncertain terms. After that, Joe lost popularity and hived off to England where he became hugely successful with the public (but the critics didn't like him).

I'm with the public, especially in his Duet for Piano and Cello in D minor, the third movement.

♫ Joseph Wölfl - Duet for piano & cello in D minor (3)


I'm rather ambivalent about the music of the harp. Whenever I hear it on disk, my usual reaction is along the lines of, "Ho hum, that's less than ordinary.” However, hearing it played live it seems to sparkle with life and is shimmeringly gorgeous.

I'm going to include some harp music but it'll have to be from a disk because I can't really come around to each of your places and play it for you. The harp's too heavy to lug around, and besides, I can't play it, so we'll just have to make do with what we have.

And what we have, or who we have more to the point, is HENRIETTE RENIÉ.

 Henriette Renié

Henriette was a composer for the instrument as well as a teacher of it - Harpo Marx was one of her students. She started out on piano but saw and heard a harp player and she was hooked. Indeed, the person she saw, Alphonse Hasselmans, became her teacher.

Henriette composed and played at a time when it wasn't the done thing for a woman to do – late 19th and early 20th century. However, she persevered. This is the second movement of her Harp Concerto in C minor.

♫ Henriette Renié - Harp Concerto in C minor (2)


JOSEPH EYBLER was a Viennese composer who was contemporaneous with Mozart and Haydn.

Joseph Eybler

Indeed, he was some sort of distant cousin of Haydn's. Joe had lessons from Johann Albrechtsberger who also taught Beethoven, Mozart's son Franz, Anton Reicha and many other budding musicians. He (Eybler) was a good friend of (Wolfgang) Mozart and was asked to complete his Requiem but declined.

Joe was another of those composers who were very famous in their lifetime but have almost vanished from sight since. Let's resurrect his reputation a little with his beautiful second movement of the Clarinet Concerto in B-flat major.

♫ Joseph Eybler - Clarinet Concerto in B-flat major (2)


Speaking of JOHANN ALBRECHTSBERGER, let's have him as well.

Johann Albrechtsberger

He learned his trade in Vienna and one of his classmates was Michael Haydn, younger brother of the more famous Haydn. As mentioned above, Jo was a teacher of music as well as a composer. He must have been good as Beethoven praised his teaching (and Ludwig wasn't one for lavishing praise willy-nilly).

Most of his compositions follow conventional instrumentation but he did write seven concertos for Jew's harp, for heaven's sake. To the best of my knowledge these haven't been recorded, so I'll go with something else, the second movement of his Divertimento in G.

♫ Johann Albrechtsberger - Divertimento in G (2)


Here's a striking combination of trumpet and soprano. The author of the work is JAN DISMAS ZELENKA.

Jan Dismas Zelenka

The soprano is RUTH ZIESAK, and the trumpeter is REINHOLD FRIEDRICH.

Ruth Ziesak & Reinhold Friedrich

Jan was a Czech baroque composer who went to Dresden to further his career. They must have liked him there as they kept increasing his salary such that he became one the best paid musicians of his time. After that he got about a bit – Vienna, Venice (possibly), Prague, back to Dresden.

Bach and Handel both took note of what he was doing. One of the things he was doing is Laudate Pueri, and this is one of the movements (it's uncertain which as parts of it are missing).

♫ Jan Dismas Zelenka - Laudate Pueri


JEAN-BAPTISTE BARRIÈRE was a French Baroque composer.

Jean-Baptiste Barriere

He started out playing the viol but switched to the cello when that instrument became popular. Contemporary accounts say that he was a fantastically good cello player.

Most of his compositions were for that instrument, the rest for viol and harpsichord. J-B liked to show off his prowess and many of the compositions are fiendishly difficult to play, I'm told.

I don't know if this is one of those, the fourth movement of his Sonatas No 6 in C minor for Cello & Bass Continuo.

♫ Jean-Baptiste Barriere - Sonatas for Cello & Bass Continuo (4)


When I say that we will finish with Mozart, you might wonder what he's doing in a column whose purpose is to highlight lesser known composers. However, it isn't the famous Wolfgang. It's not even his father Leopold, who is fairly well known.

No, it's Wolfie's son FRANZ XAVIER MOZART.

Franz Xavier Mozart

Wolfie and Constanze had six kids, only two of whom survived into adulthood – Karl, who although considered to be an excellent pianist, became a public servant in the Viennese government, and Franz, the youngest child born the year his dad died.

Unlike his father, Franz (or Wolfgang junior as he was universally known) was introverted and very self deprecating. Naturally his music was overshadowed by his father's but it's really very good.

There wasn't much of it as he only wrote 30 compositions; he spent most of his time giving concerts and teaching. The musical Mozart line stopped with him as he never married (nor did his brother).

Here is the third movement of his Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, Op 25.

♫ F. X. Mozart - Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 25 (3)