Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Rambling along on the "canterelle trail" in Sleepy Giant Park the other Day, I found myself besieged by a group of Mahleresque tunes which had invaded my head. I wondered why this would be. Maybe its the sylvan setting? The pastorale? The futility of looking for chanterelles so late in the season (or the irony, which could accord with the Mahler ditties.)

Actually my son had reawakened my affinity with old Gus, as the other day we were driving and he insisted on playing the Symphony No 1, in the car, and l when we got back to the house he put on a record (yes, an LP) of the Sixth, which I must confess is one of my favorites--the slow movement being desert island material. I used to think the Third's slow movement without parallel, but lately I've thought it a bit too indulgent, somewhat over the top in reiterating those achingly longing long lines of desire. (A colleague of mine after a performance of the Third at Woolsey Hall in NH was heard to complain loudly in the lobby about this music's treacly sentimentality--"it's like a bunch of drunks at a high school reunion singing the alma mater over and over again).
Among other things, what kills me in the Sixth is the use of the almglocken (see picture above)
They appear very subtly (in most recordings) and are quite random in rhythm and pitch--Mahler wanted this "aleatoric" texture to conjure up an alpine pastoral setting. (although truth to be told, had a bunch of cows with their clanking bells wandered into the vicinity of one of his alpine composing huts, he'd have had a fit--he demanded silence from Nature when working.)
Another composer who has used cow bells to great affect is John Adams--in his"Naive and Sentimental Music" among others. And having brought Adams and Mahler together here, I ought to mention the book review in last Sunday's NY Times wherein a new biography of Mahler gives John the excuse to write a short essay on his take on the greatest symphonist since Bruckner.

Friday, September 2, 2011




Many have said "you guys were lucky, your power was only off for a few days" Considering that some folks here in CT still don't have it back (five days running) we do indeed feel "lucky."
Sitting in the dark with some candles and a flashlight or two, I thought "this should be a positive experience, like you are at your cabin in the Sierras and have the kerosene lamps going and the wood stove fired up; but no, its not like that at all. There's no romance. You really want "normalcy" to return. I tried reading for a while but couldn't concentrate so I stuck my iPod buds in the ears and ran the composer gamut, coming to a sudden halt at Sibelius, Symphony No. 4.
"Perfect" I thought--so dark and cold. I thought it might be interesting to follow the score, which I had handy, even though the low light made it hard to read; but the basic outlines of the notes was enough--it's long familiar music to me, but I hadn't listened to it in a while.
Back in Sibelius day--the 4th symphony dates from 1910 or so--electricity was not a given, especially in rural areas. Sibelius liked to compose at night (often with the cognac bottle handy) and I've often wondered if his output increased after electricity came to Ainola, when he could have better lighting for his nocturnal labor. But the Fourth is dark music and seems to paint a bleak but subtle music. It is bare bones stuff, shorn of ornament, frill and decoration. Its nick name was the barkbrod" symphony, which refereed to the Scandinavian tradition of mixing ground up birch bark with flour during times of hardship and famine.
The hurricane left a tremendous amount of moisture from the heavy rains and the woods and fields around here have been bursting with fungi.. I found a tremendous "Hen of the Woods" on my neighbor's lawn (tasty but needs long stewing) and a bunch of boletes, porcini like (not really edulis but close).
Identifying Boletus species can be challenging some times. But eating one you are not sure of is not as risky as you might think. There are no "deadly" toxins in the Boletus family, although there are a few that can give you a nasty gastrointestinal experience. If there are red pores (under the cap) and it stains blue wen cut, you are skating on thin ice.The "bad" ones taste bitter and the edible ones taste good, although many are mediocre.
So the rule is, about Boletes, if it tastes good, eat it! The same cannot be said for other mushrooms, especially the deadly Amanitas which, apparently taste pretty good