Bonus Weekend Song of the Day!
And on Saturday, we’ll go dancing. A couple of years ago, I attended a performance by the Met Opera Chamber Orchestra, and for a finale (or encore – memory hiccup), they played a Strauss waltz with orchestrations by Arnold Schoenberg. And it is wonderful and so much more interesting than Strauss’s own arrangement. Whoever is reading this may know that in the early 20th Century, Schoenberg organized Sunday afternoon chamber recitals of new music and his waltz arrangements were one of his contributions to these events. I include it because I love it. And you can dance to it!
For the finale, back to harmony and counterpoint. This is the final trio from Der Rosenkavalier, by my all-time favorite cast of Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, and Christine Schaefer. In 2000 a friend and I saw the Fleming-Graham-Schaefer trio in Rosenkavalier at the Met Opera and it was glorious. So my friend told me that they were repeating the production at the Royal Opera in London and we should go. Since we both had money at that time, we went. If New York was glorious, London was transcendent. This is music that has always made so many emotions of joy and sorrow audible. I have sometimes chased my favorite music to Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, but this was the first (and probably the last) time I traveled across an ocean and it was worth it. Since I could only find the final trio for F-G-S, I have added the final duet by Anne Sophie von Otter and Barbara Bonney for your listening pleasure.
Born to Run can be considered Bruce Springsteen’s anthem. It is also the song that may have saved his career. Up until that moment, Springsteen’s two albums were not selling well. He had a fan base in New Jersey, Manhattan clubs and, for some reason, Arizona. There were executives at Columbia Records who wanted to turn him loose, but his supporters, who were the company publicists and promoters, plus John Hammond, who signed him, convinced everyone to keep him on the label. Third time was the charm. Not only did Born to Run make Springsteen a star, selling millions of copies, it turned his first two flops into multi-million sellers. And like the other artists I have chosen for this week, nothing Springsteen has recorded can compare to his live performances—always and still three hours of energy, passion, joy and a real connection to his audience.
The nicest thing I can say about NJ Governor Chris Christie is that he is a die-hard Springsteen fan.
There are only a few things good about getting older. One is the half-price Metro card. Another is that I have lived in New York long enough to see and hear amazing performances of all kinds. One was watching Springsteen and his band in a tiny tiny club. Electrifying and unforgettable. (The club was Upstairs at Max’s Kansas City.)
Here’s to the Eagles, despised by many critics who didn’t think their music was tough enough for rock and roll, but loved by their many fans who made their Greatest Hits the best selling album of all time (29 million copies thus far). I loved them best in concert and “Seven Bridges Road” was a particular knockout—the band standing together, doing what sounded to me like flawless 5 part harmony. (The song was written by Steve Young, one of the few in their rep not written by someone in the band.) The first part was done a capella and the rest had acoustic guitar accompaniment. It kept a crowd of 15,000 plus in a Philadelphia arena absolutely quiet throughout the performance. Harmony was one of their strengths. You might see as we go along that I am a sucker for great harmony singing.
As far as tough enough goes, no one has ever had a problem with the Beach Boys.
“Sing for Your Supper”, a Rodgers and Hart trio from The Boys from Syracuse is irresistibly goofy, especially when it’s done so enthusiastically by world class singers. I couldn’t decide who did it better—the Broadway stars Rebecca Luker, Audra McDonald and Mary Testa or the opera legends Frederica von Stade, Marilyn Horne and Renee Fleming. The former is not the best sound in the world, but clearly, all of them were having a wonderful time. So, I have included them both and you get to choose. A lot of its glory comes from the vocal arrangement by Hugh Martin, who was also a composer. He deserves a credit. Eighty plus years after he wrote that arrangement, everyone still uses it.
One antidote for the daily news is music. These are some songs and artists that have worked as a (temporary) anti-depressant and continue to do so.
Let’s start with Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. To know their music is to love it. They wrote a string of classic songs without ever managing to write a hit Broadway show. “Come Rain or Come Shine” was written for St. Louis Woman that lasted 103 performances in spite of its gorgeous score. Eileen Farrell, accompanied by Leonard Bernstein, performs it here. Once Farrell’s career as one of the Met Opera’s greatest stars was over, she became one of the few classical singers who became an equally great exponent of the American Songbook.
Personal Note: Many years ago, I was assistant publicist for the launch of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, founded by Johnny Mercer and music publishers Abe Olman and Howie Richmond. So, I had the thrill of working with one of my all-time musical idols, who sometimes brought me coffee in our office. And—at the party announcing the formation of the Hall of Fame and its first inductees, Mr. Mercer introduced me to Harold Arlen! It was only a 30 second relationship, but one I treasure. Mercer knew that Arlen was one of the original inductees, but was surprised and truly moved that the Board had met in secret to vote in Mercer with the original group.
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