EXPLORING MUSIC

Some Notes On Liner Notes

Author

Paul H. Franklin

Publication

The MHS Review 343 Vol. 9, No. 1 • 1985

Listen

The Musical Heritage Society is a very classy organization. Such a statement is unlikely to raise eyebrows among the devotees who read the Musical Heritage Review. We who are genetically coded to love classical music know that the organization is simply matchless. But is it perfect? Forget it.

 

Perfection is by definition a rare and elusive quality. Of course Bo Derek was rated a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and I for one would not care to argue the point. General Qaddafi must be entitled to a minus nine or 10. He is almost perfectly terrible. As a reader, I would rate you a nine plus if you have had the tenacity to read this far in this commentary. If you haven't read this far you don't rate your nine plus, and fur­thermore you won't even know you missed the cut.

 

But now for a reprieve from these digres­sions, the Musical Heritage Society is really not perfect. They simply do not cater to musical ig­noramuses like me, and believe me there are lots of us out here in th' boondocks. I'm aware that it is a bit audacious to scold such a fine organization like this, but to coin a phrase, "somebody has to do it." Besides which, I am encouraged by a passage from the Bible that says, essentially, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the dirt." Why should you bust your butt to be meek if all you are going to get out of it is some dirt? Unless you happen to be a reporter for The National Enquirer and thus have a legitimate professional need. I am not, and am also well able to control any per­sonal yearning for dirt.

 

This freedom from the tyranny of dust-lust means that I practically have a biblical man­date not to be so meek, so I can speak up for us teeming multitudes of musical dummies. Even though I now teem only on weekends and holidays, I do easily qualify as a musical dummy. Infatuated and intoxicated by fine music, I often sense a q•1ivering of the fine hairs on my arms and the back of my neck when my emotions establish a resonance with certain classical recordings. Strangely enough, this never occurs when I listen to pop music, such as early Beatles music, which I also like. I may tap my foot a lot, but no goose pimples.

 

Despite my love of beautiful music, this is as far as things go. I do not know the difference between do and re, and simply cannot intellec­tualize about classical music. Indeed, one of my many detractors once accused me of think-ing that Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian piano team, like Ferrante and Teicher. This was a real cheap shot. I know that he was one man, and he's dead, and he wasn't even a com­munist.

 

My ignorance about music has been dis­sipating to some extent however, primarily because of reading, with an emphasis on both the Musical Heritage Review and the liner notes on the back of MHS record jackets. This has been almost helpful, because some of this material is in English. I must admit however, that the speed of my reading slows down slightly when I encounter a section like this from a recent liner note: "The movement, a romanza in gentle 6/8, is introduced by two characteristic bars of low, divided violas and pizzicato cellos, and ...a more turbulent im­provisatory section with tremolando strings, and a brief Recativo ad lib . . . a brief PPP echo of the opening pizzicato figure brings this lovely Andante to a close." And well it should! I'm still trying to figure out what a divided viola is. I wish that MHS would consider subtitles in English for those of us who are more intellec­tually deprived.

 

By contrast, some of the liner notes are in­teresting and evocative. As examples, there are the notes from an excelle1J Villa-Lobos album (MHS 1875Y), and more particularly from the album MHS 1445F, which presents someone named Turbio Santos playing Latin­-American Classics for Guitar. Oh, there are a few references to "a delightful ostinato figure," and something about "an energetic opening built upon a stomping ostinato figure." While I'm not terribly familiar with the precise mean­ing of all this, I do get a mental image of some­one like Sophia Loren in a thin Italian dress performing an energetic folk dance. Even a monk sworn to celibacy would have to agree that her figure is certainly ostinato. Close enough, anyway.

The point of all of this is simply that the music is wonderful, even if you are ignorant about what an ostinato figure might be. A good portion of the record is devoted to\Heitor Villa-Lobos, who started out as a sort of Brazilian bum. Well, not really. He actually started out as a child, of course, but at age 18 he left his home and widowed mother to roam the streets of Rio de Janeiro with various pickup bands of street musicians. I presume that the groups were something like the ones you can find playing in New York's Central Park on any pleasant Sunday-only better. At any rate, Heitor got his act together within the next five or six years, and became one of the finest composers in the world, and certainly the one most widely acclaimed from Brazil. This isn't saying a lot of course, because there aren't too many from Brazil anyway. Most of them are from Germany or Russia or Italy, and are named Wolfgang or Johann.

 

Heitor composed 14 choros which germin­ated from his experience with the street bands and two of them are on this record-Choro no. 1 and Valse-Choro. Both are beautiful and elemental and romantic, but I was particularly dazzled by Choro no. 1, and for an odd reason. Just two days prior to hearing Choro no. 1 for the first time, I watched a rerun of "Charlie's Angels." As you can see, there is practically no lower limit to my level of taste and sophistication. I should point out however, that I watch such programs only in the privacy of my own home, and even so, I have developed small guilt lines around my eyes and the corners of my mouth. In any event, the highlight of the show was a dream sequence in which Jaclyn Smith, looking beautiful and Spanish, and dressed in a white gossamer gown, was dancing a sort of slow and romantic tango.

 

Now Jaclyn is not exactly a bow-wow, and indeed, if I did not have such good self control I might even entertain impure fantasies about her at limes, but it was the music that stuck in my mind. It was a tango, but not really a tango, filled with a series of exquisite pauses that held a fractional moment longer than you could really stand before swooping into the next musical phrase. At each hesitation in the music, Jaclyn would become immobile, look­ing back over her shoulder with her serious dark eyes, before continuing the dance.

 

I could not dismiss the music from my mind, until I first listened to Santos' version of Choro no. 1. Now I am convinced that this was the music to which she danced. Perhaps a tango was derived from Choro no. 1, or there may be some other rational explanation. It is hard to believe that a TV producer, or that Jaclyn herself, would choose a choro by Villa-Lobos for a "Charlie's Angels" episode, when there must be plenty of perfectly good tangos lying around. Indeed, I'm now wondering where tango music originated. It may well be that the choros were the beginning. (No letters from Argentina, please.)

 

But again, I digress. What I really started out to say is that MHS should devote a section of the excellent Review to ignoramuses. We can't all be cognoscenti. (As a matter of fact I wasn't even too sure about that word cognoscenti un­til David Greene defined it in a recent issue of the Musical Heritage Review. I always thought that it was an Italian expression meaning "odorless little gears.") But whatever the words may be, I need to know that the music is beautiful, and that it grew up on the streets of Rio from long-forgotten roots in Moorish North Africa, and that I will listen to ii and listen to it and be transported for a little while. I don't really mind if you throw in a few ostinatos as well. I'm sure that is educational. But please include footnotes when the divided cellos are doing their tremolando best.

 

Paul H. Franklin lives in Oregon. This is his second contribution to the Review.

 

Some Notes On Liner Notes

Author

Paul H. Franklin

Publication

The MHS Review 343 Vol. 9, No. 1 • 1985

Listen

The Musical Heritage Society is a very classy organization. Such a statement is unlikely to raise eyebrows among the devotees who read the Musical Heritage Review. We who are genetically coded to love classical music know that the organization is simply matchless. But is it perfect? Forget it.

 

Perfection is by definition a rare and elusive quality. Of course Bo Derek was rated a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and I for one would not care to argue the point. General Qaddafi must be entitled to a minus nine or 10. He is almost perfectly terrible. As a reader, I would rate you a nine plus if you have had the tenacity to read this far in this commentary. If you haven't read this far you don't rate your nine plus, and fur­thermore you won't even know you missed the cut.

 

But now for a reprieve from these digres­sions, the Musical Heritage Society is really not perfect. They simply do not cater to musical ig­noramuses like me, and believe me there are lots of us out here in th' boondocks. I'm aware that it is a bit audacious to scold such a fine organization like this, but to coin a phrase, "somebody has to do it." Besides which, I am encouraged by a passage from the Bible that says, essentially, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the dirt." Why should you bust your butt to be meek if all you are going to get out of it is some dirt? Unless you happen to be a reporter for The National Enquirer and thus have a legitimate professional need. I am not, and am also well able to control any per­sonal yearning for dirt.

 

This freedom from the tyranny of dust-lust means that I practically have a biblical man­date not to be so meek, so I can speak up for us teeming multitudes of musical dummies. Even though I now teem only on weekends and holidays, I do easily qualify as a musical dummy. Infatuated and intoxicated by fine music, I often sense a q•1ivering of the fine hairs on my arms and the back of my neck when my emotions establish a resonance with certain classical recordings. Strangely enough, this never occurs when I listen to pop music, such as early Beatles music, which I also like. I may tap my foot a lot, but no goose pimples.

 

Despite my love of beautiful music, this is as far as things go. I do not know the difference between do and re, and simply cannot intellec­tualize about classical music. Indeed, one of my many detractors once accused me of think-ing that Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian piano team, like Ferrante and Teicher. This was a real cheap shot. I know that he was one man, and he's dead, and he wasn't even a com­munist.

 

My ignorance about music has been dis­sipating to some extent however, primarily because of reading, with an emphasis on both the Musical Heritage Review and the liner notes on the back of MHS record jackets. This has been almost helpful, because some of this material is in English. I must admit however, that the speed of my reading slows down slightly when I encounter a section like this from a recent liner note: "The movement, a romanza in gentle 6/8, is introduced by two characteristic bars of low, divided violas and pizzicato cellos, and ...a more turbulent im­provisatory section with tremolando strings, and a brief Recativo ad lib . . . a brief PPP echo of the opening pizzicato figure brings this lovely Andante to a close." And well it should! I'm still trying to figure out what a divided viola is. I wish that MHS would consider subtitles in English for those of us who are more intellec­tually deprived.

 

By contrast, some of the liner notes are in­teresting and evocative. As examples, there are the notes from an excelle1J Villa-Lobos album (MHS 1875Y), and more particularly from the album MHS 1445F, which presents someone named Turbio Santos playing Latin­-American Classics for Guitar. Oh, there are a few references to "a delightful ostinato figure," and something about "an energetic opening built upon a stomping ostinato figure." While I'm not terribly familiar with the precise mean­ing of all this, I do get a mental image of some­one like Sophia Loren in a thin Italian dress performing an energetic folk dance. Even a monk sworn to celibacy would have to agree that her figure is certainly ostinato. Close enough, anyway.

The point of all of this is simply that the music is wonderful, even if you are ignorant about what an ostinato figure might be. A good portion of the record is devoted to\Heitor Villa-Lobos, who started out as a sort of Brazilian bum. Well, not really. He actually started out as a child, of course, but at age 18 he left his home and widowed mother to roam the streets of Rio de Janeiro with various pickup bands of street musicians. I presume that the groups were something like the ones you can find playing in New York's Central Park on any pleasant Sunday-only better. At any rate, Heitor got his act together within the next five or six years, and became one of the finest composers in the world, and certainly the one most widely acclaimed from Brazil. This isn't saying a lot of course, because there aren't too many from Brazil anyway. Most of them are from Germany or Russia or Italy, and are named Wolfgang or Johann.

 

Heitor composed 14 choros which germin­ated from his experience with the street bands and two of them are on this record-Choro no. 1 and Valse-Choro. Both are beautiful and elemental and romantic, but I was particularly dazzled by Choro no. 1, and for an odd reason. Just two days prior to hearing Choro no. 1 for the first time, I watched a rerun of "Charlie's Angels." As you can see, there is practically no lower limit to my level of taste and sophistication. I should point out however, that I watch such programs only in the privacy of my own home, and even so, I have developed small guilt lines around my eyes and the corners of my mouth. In any event, the highlight of the show was a dream sequence in which Jaclyn Smith, looking beautiful and Spanish, and dressed in a white gossamer gown, was dancing a sort of slow and romantic tango.

 

Now Jaclyn is not exactly a bow-wow, and indeed, if I did not have such good self control I might even entertain impure fantasies about her at limes, but it was the music that stuck in my mind. It was a tango, but not really a tango, filled with a series of exquisite pauses that held a fractional moment longer than you could really stand before swooping into the next musical phrase. At each hesitation in the music, Jaclyn would become immobile, look­ing back over her shoulder with her serious dark eyes, before continuing the dance.

 

I could not dismiss the music from my mind, until I first listened to Santos' version of Choro no. 1. Now I am convinced that this was the music to which she danced. Perhaps a tango was derived from Choro no. 1, or there may be some other rational explanation. It is hard to believe that a TV producer, or that Jaclyn herself, would choose a choro by Villa-Lobos for a "Charlie's Angels" episode, when there must be plenty of perfectly good tangos lying around. Indeed, I'm now wondering where tango music originated. It may well be that the choros were the beginning. (No letters from Argentina, please.)

 

But again, I digress. What I really started out to say is that MHS should devote a section of the excellent Review to ignoramuses. We can't all be cognoscenti. (As a matter of fact I wasn't even too sure about that word cognoscenti un­til David Greene defined it in a recent issue of the Musical Heritage Review. I always thought that it was an Italian expression meaning "odorless little gears.") But whatever the words may be, I need to know that the music is beautiful, and that it grew up on the streets of Rio from long-forgotten roots in Moorish North Africa, and that I will listen to ii and listen to it and be transported for a little while. I don't really mind if you throw in a few ostinatos as well. I'm sure that is educational. But please include footnotes when the divided cellos are doing their tremolando best.

 

Paul H. Franklin lives in Oregon. This is his second contribution to the Review.

 

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