monotremes of the pac-10
Whenever I go to the HandiMart, I see the Weekly World News with the "Bat Boy Joins Up!" cover; fortunately, Lauren has transcribed the salient portions of the article so I won't have to buy it out of morbid curiosity, because that's how I ended up with a copy of Smells Like Children.
Naipaul got the Nobel. He's coming here too, in like a month. So much hot shit on the Iowa City sidewalks I'm surprised they don't melt.
But today I want to talk about The Moldau. This was written by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana in the 1870s, and is the second symphonic poem in the six-piece cycle Má Vlast ("my country"). The Moldau springs in Bohemia, then flows on through Prague and off into the wide world. Smetana's piece lasts around ten minutes and is simply sublimeit was the second classical piece I ever fell in love with, back in high school, the first being Mozart's Symphony No.40. I figured out how to play the main theme of the symphony on the guitar and piped it through really heavy distortion and committed a horrible sin againt Viennese music in the process, but that's another story.
The Moldau starts with some ripples on the flute to symbolize the springs, then the clarinet joins in and pizzicato strings follow with a regular soft plunk. Nanananananananana, plunk, like that. It's in 6/8 because they agreed in like the 1500s that 6/8 time would always connote rivers. They were right, too. Then the harp comes in, and as the rippling figure moves to the low strings (the stream broadening) the humble triangle makes an appearance. The whole symphony ripples for a minute, getting steadily louder, and then it moves to the dominant chord and just as things are starting to sound almost chaotic we get the river theme.
Smetana's notes on the river theme are "Allegro commodo non agitato" and "dolce;" that's "fast, comfortable not agitated" and "sweet." It's a stepwise melody in E minor, pretty simple in itself, moving six steps up the scale and six back down; but the low strings keep rippling underneath it, and after the previous buildup it's like the appearance of the sun. The theme repeats, then fades away, and for the next few minutes we get some sketched scenes: a hunt with the brass section in full force, a brisk peasant dance in 2/4, a bizarre shift down to A-flat for a "nymphs in moonlight" scene with long woodwind notes, then the return of the strings and harp and a mounting brass fanfare which leads us right back to that river theme. And then Smetana transposes the river theme into E major; by now it's clear that one does not fuck with this river. Some hurried brass notes indicate rapids, then the river theme returns with the full orchestra behind it. The music slows into a more incantatory mode to indicate the ancient castle Vysehrad near the river mouth, and over the next minute it slowly dies away as the river flows beyond the poet's game. A quick, forceful V-I cadence closes the piece, just so you know it's over.
I mention all this because the Philadelphia Orchestra was here last weekend, and The Moldau was one of the pieces they played. I had never before heard a live performance of a piece I was so intimately familiar with, and it suddenly became very clear why people will plan their monthly schedules around the symphony. It's honestly too sweet to describe. But keep an eye out for these folks if they happen to tour near you.