I watched Tár this week. The featured musical pieces include Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor (above). The subtleties are lost on my underdeveloped musical perceiving apparatus, but I rather enjoyed the passages from Elgar.

Also, and independently, I learned that the lyric from “A Quick One While He’s Away” is not

cello cello cello cello cello cello cello


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6 Replies to “Cello!”

  1. Great stuff, but I’ve always felt that Elgar could have edited down that long first movement. If cello concertos float your boat, you might try Dvorak’s. Generally thought of as the best example of the genre, and I agree. There aren’t many. Cellos are even harder to write for than they are to play.

    My favorite Elgar story has nothing to do with him personally. Back in the early 80’s, Leonard Bernstein went to London to conduct a few performances and make a record with the BBC orchestra. He chose Elgar’s most popular work that’s not the Pomp & Circumstance march, the Enigma Variations. The most beloved of those variations usually goes like this, but Lennie chose a controversially slow tempo. Some orchestra members gave LB a hard time about the tempo, but he stuck to his guns and made them do it. After the first public performance, the dour and humorless British classical music press absolutely lost their minds. Many Brits think of Elgar as their greatest composer (thus the greatest in the history of the universe), so they saw the perversely slow tempo as the equivalent of painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa (had she been British). The fact that this atrocity was committed by an American Jew made it even worse. It was great fun for anyone without a 2×4 up his ass, and helped sales of the album quite a bit. A couple of years later I purchased a copy of the CD to play on my brand new, first-ever CD player, just so I could hear what the fuss had been about. I like it.

    Coincidentally, I was listening to the Mahler 5th (for the 10,000th time in my life) when I first saw this post yesterday. The 5th is a tough nut. All Mahler symphonies are very different (though they share some themes), but the 5th especially sets up its own world. It runs anywhere from 65 to 75 minutes, which isn’t long for a Mahler symphony, but can seem like an eternity in a bad or mediocre performance. It seems like every conductor and orchestra on the planet records it just to show they can. But most can’t. There are many lousy or just plain boring recordings. But there are also quite a few very good and great ones.

    One fun fact: the opening trumpet theme of the Mahler 5th has the same rhythm as the main theme of Beethoven’s 5th. He repeats it with an extra eighth note at the beginning of the second movement. He gives a kinder gentler version of it in the most famous part, the 4th movement adagietto. It’s worked into the counterpoiont in many other instances througout the symphony, more times than I can point out. Although during his lifetime Mahler was famous as a conductor rather than a composer, Mahler knew that as a composer he was playing with the big boys and could reference Beethoven like that. He used to say “my time will come,” and it did. Back in the 80’s in London, it was often remarked that whenever a Mahler symphony was played, the usual sea of balding and gray heads in the audience was mixed with spiky heads and dyed mohawks.

    All versions linked above are among my favorites.

    Tar is on my spring break watch list.

  2. Thanks for the cello lowdown. I enjoyed the Dvorak, possibly because it starts off very orchestral.

    I was sure you’d have something to say about the Variations, and you did not disappoint!

  3. No, there are lefties in orchestras. Some play left-handed, some just learned to play right-handed, although I imagine the latter are very scarce nowadays. Neither seem all that common.

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