Category Archives: Listen to this…

Hilary Hahn vs. The Richter Scales

Hilary Hahn is one of the most successful classical music artists alive.  Debuted with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the age of 12, finished her bachelor requirements at Curtis at 16, signed with Sony at 17, and was named “America’s Best” young classical musician by Time Magazine at 22.  She recently turned 30, and like anyContinue Reading

2 Responses to Hilary Hahn vs. The Richter Scales

  1. Brian Rosen says:

    Cool!

    Just don’t let my wife know that Hilary Hahn is “my gal”.

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Stravinsky the Comedian

Some really great theater can happen when opera composers play with the conventions of the genre. In the comment section of the “What’s Opera Doc” post, Eph brought up a great bit in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Pinkerton, the brash American lieutenant  interrupts his aria almost mid phrase to offer his guest a drink of  MilkContinue Reading

2 Responses to Stravinsky the Comedian

  1. You see interrupted songs more often, I think, in musical theater, which maybe lends itself to the device better than opera because song and speech are being juxtaposed all over the place already. For example, in My Fair Lady, Freddy is rhapsodizing about Eliza’s behavior at the race the day before, and just as he recalls her cry of “Move your bloomin’ …!” he’s interrupted by someone answering the door before he can complete the thought. (A particularly canny device, because the whole point of Freddy’s little bit of song there is to remind the audience where we last left that part of the story, and this gently nudges the audience to remember for themselves how the line ended and thus to remember the situation and Freddy’s foolish naivete.)

    A fairly common structural device in musicals is to sing a chorus or two of a song and then, without stopping for applause, have a short dialogue scene which wraps up the action of that scene and/or points ahead to what’s coming next. Meanwhile, the music of the song continues under the dialogue. That bit of dialogue business finished, we return to the song for one more chorus, or sometimes just a repeat of the last line or two. The reason for this: The end of a song gets applause, so it’s desirable to end the scene and the song at the same time so that the applause adds to the sense of conclusion of the scene and helps cover some of the transition to the next scene. Whereas the lamest way you can end a scene is to have the song end and then have maybe three or four lines of dialogue and then the scene ends. If your scene continues with more dialogue after the song, generally you need that dialogue to be substantial and significant, like a minute or more and containing some real plot, or it will come off as an anticlimax after the end of the song. So if the bit of dialogue you have isn’t important enough to stretch out to a minute or so, and you can’t cut it and you can’t place it before the song even starts, then what you can do is put it *within* the song.

    That’s not quite the same thing as what you’re talking about, as it’s not meant for comic effect — in fact, the writers are ardently hoping that it doesn’t call attention to itself as a device — but very similar in terms of structure.

    Another favorite interruption of mine from musical theater: In the act two opening number of The Most Happy Fella, the chorus number is abruptly interrupted in the middle of a phrase, the lights change, everybody on stage freezes except for two characters, and these two characters sing what they’re thinking about while everybody else is having a good time. Their music is completely different in mood, tempo, rhythm, everything — where the chorus is lively and joyful, their duet is brooding and anguished. Then they finish, the lighting changes back, and the chorus resumes its lively number in midphrase exactly where it left off.

    So what Loesser has there is a song actually being interrupted by a whole other song. And not for comedy, either — the effect is to make vivid these two people’s unhappiness in the middle of a crowd that’s celebrating. It’s a powerful moment.

  2. Here’s a favorite interruption of mine from opera: In the ORIGINAL version of Ariadne auf Naxos, in Zerbinetta’s big showpiece, at one point the orchestra crescendos to the point where it drowns her out, you can’t hear her singing her line. Zerbinetta gestures impatiently to the conductor in the pit to get him to quiet them down. The orchestra gets quieter, Zerbinetta gestures her approval, and she continues. Unfortunately when Strauss and von Hofmannsthal revised the opera, they shortened the showpiece and dropped this little moment of silliness.

    There’s a lovely joke of the same sort in Haydn’s 60th symphony: The last movement begins with a lively theme, but after a few measures there’s suddenly a terrible dissonance. The conductor stops the orchestra and has all the strings check their tuning. The pair of violins that is found to be incorrectly tuned then plays the offending note while tuning it, so you hear it slide up a half step. Then the movement starts over from the beginning and continues without further mishap. All this — the orchestra stopping, the tuning of the strings up a half step — is carefully written out in Haydn’s score.

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