13 July 2012
Did you read about San Diego's thermonuclear Fourth of July fireworks show? Impressive closeup video here (turn your speakers down, it's loud). All of the fireworks went off more or less at once, triggered by some computer mishap; I've always wondered what this would look like.
In fact, on the evening of the fourth, while watching fireworks being lit on a neighborhood cul-de-sac, I mentioned to my wife how wonderful it is that fireworks do not simply explode. Her dismissive comment was that the manufacturing procedures prevent it. Well, yes, but... I like the comment from the gal at the end: "This is the best fireworks show, ever!"
As you may know, Excedrin pain reliever has been voluntarily recalled and hasn't been found on the shelves for six months. Yesterday I read a news report about somebody paying more than $200 for a bottle of it on e-Bay! Three labeled types of Excedrin, all the same. The brand formulation of aspirin, acetaminophen and caffeine in the very same dosages is available as a store brand across the country. There is no reason to pay scalper prices for this formulation. Do people not read labels?
This morning on the way into work I listened to a huge, noisy, rarely-performed work by Richard Strauss entitled Taillefer, for orchestra, choir and soloists. Taillefer, in case you're not aware, was Duke William the Conqueror's juggler or possibly jester. He travelled with the Duke's invasion force to fight the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In fact, according to some accounts, he kicked things off by riding in between the Normans and Saxons at the start of the battle and doing some kind of balancing act with swords while singing the Chanson de Roland. Show off. A Saxon then presented himself to fight Taillefer, but was killed. And then for reasons unknown -impatience? - he charged the Saxon line and was cut down. That'll learn him... good riddance.
Reading the liner notes to this record, Strauss intended the piece for a very large hall, and wanted to highlight the musical depiction of the Battle of Hastings with rifle and cannon fire. That's right, he wanted to depict a battle fought in 1066 with small arms fire and cannon.
I found this album in an independent record store in Hollywood; I was attracted to it purely by the cover art, shown above. It's an adaptation of the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The section used on the cover shows, not Duke William, but the aged Saxon king Edward the Confessor. Hm.
This particular performance is something of a curiosity as it was reportedly recorded in 1944 by various Germans and the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Berlin led by Artur Rother. In other words, it's a work by a Nazi collaborationist - Strauss was so labeled - performed by and for wartime Nazis, conducted by a full-fledged Nazi party member. Curiously, Urania Record Corp. doesn't make mention of this. Perhaps it's a pity that they weren't using small arms fire and (loaded) cannon for this performance!
I must hasten to add, however, that while Strauss was criticized by some as a Nazi collaborationist, his diary makes it clear that he detested the Nazis. Strauss was primarily attempting to protect various Jewish family members and repeatedly interceded with various German officials and even the SS in their behalf. In short, he was put into the situation of having to deal with the Devil, a tricky matter in any age. (Did you ever see the Kraus Maria Brandauer film Mephisto (1981)? An excellent film on this very subject.)
Taillefer, I am sorry to report, is not very good. In fact, I read one review that reports this piece as Strauss' "nadir." I think I shall be content with a couple of listenings and remove it from my iPod.
One last interesting note about Taillefer which suggests a German link after all: the name is derived from the Latin incisor ferri, "hewer of iron." From wikipedia: "Near the end of the third volume of his works, Robert Ripley mentions Taillefer under the heading 'General Eisenhower,' pointing out the coincidences between the Allied general and the Norman knight. Taillefer debarked from the shore of Normandy where the Allies landed on D-Day in World War II. The Battle of Hastings was on 14 October 1066, and Taillefer died on that day; Eisenhower was born on 14 October 1890; and "Eisenhower" can be translated from German as 'hewer of iron.'"
I listened to a wonderful new (to me) symphony yesterday: Randall Thompson's Second Symphony from 1931, performed by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein - an American piece by an American composer performed by Americans. It's quite upbeat, it doesn't attempt to reflect the spirit of its times, and is written in a modern, post-Romantic vernacular. It's quite tuneful and easy to like - a quality missing from much 20th century concert music. I look forward to getting to know this piece.
Little Gibson Clark in full cry.
Every now and then I lapse into juvenile humor. I apologize.
Weight: I'm doing the yo-yo thing... I lost three pounds again last week. Up, down, up, down. I'm trying to dip below the 262 pound threshold, but it's eluding me.
The weekend beckons. Have a great one!
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