Saturday concert: Vieux Farka Touré

This is a music video for a song from the first, self-titled album by Vieux Farka Touré. He’s the acclaimed musician son of the great Ali Farka Touré. Both hail from the town of Niakunké, Mali, west Africa. (Not far from Timbuktu, actually.) The video seems to have been shot in Niafunké, and maybe in […]

A song of insufficiency

In honor of the United States Congress, I’d like to present Bertolt Brecht’s acerbic little song with the grand title of “The Song about the Insufficiency of Human Striving.”

The video is followed by the German text, with my own loose translation after each stanza.1

Das Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit menschlichen Strebens Continue reading “A song of insufficiency”

Saturday baroque, feat. the baryton

Following on last Saturday’s videos, here are some Haydn trios for the baryton, viola, and cello. The baryton is a bass viola da gamba with plucked strings concealed in the back of the neck. A skilled performer can bow the instrument in the usual way while also plucking the concealed strings with the left thumb.

We’re told that the baryton is also called viola di pardone because of a charming story that the inventor was a condemned prisoner who won a pardon for devising this unusual viol.

The modern revival of the baryton began with the instrument in the following video: a 1934 copy of a richly decorated eighteenth-century original. This baryton is now in the collection of the Orpheon Foundation, Vienna, Austria, and it has its own webpage. It’s one of the best looking instruments, of any kind, that I’ve ever seen. Continue reading “Saturday baroque, feat. the baryton”

Saturday baroque: Les Indes galantes

I’m always interested in European images of American Indians. So this week I have for you a clip from a recent staging of the 1736 opéra-ballet Les Indes galantes, by Jean-Philippe Rameau.

In good orientalist fashion, the work lumps together stories of Turks, Persians, and American Indians under the heading of “the gallant Indies.” This dance is from the fourth and final part, “Les Sauvages,” in which the chief’s daughter, Zima, chooses an Indian called Adario for her lover, rejecting the advances of both a Frenchman and a Spaniard. (You can spot the two European rivals in the background toward the end of the dance.) Continue reading “Saturday baroque: Les Indes galantes”

Sunday concert

Here is the first half of the same Jordi Savall concert I posted yesterday. The program opens with three Moorish and Sephardic works performed on the album Orient, Occident, plus another not included on that album. The Follia theme appears in an anonymous 15th-century setting.

Savall peforms on the vielle instead of his customary viola da gamba. Continue reading “Sunday concert”

Saturday baroque

I haven’t posted any music videos in a while, so here’s an entire baroque concert. It’s the baroque portion of a program presented by Jordi Savall (viola da gamba) and members of his ensemble Hespèrion XXI.

The stock tune “La follia” (also called “las folias,” “les folies d’Espagne,” etc.) is a theme of this concert. Countless musicians improvised on this simple Iberian melody, which evoked a mood of passionate longing. There’s an entire website devoted to this “most lasting and famous tune in western music.” This MIDI file plays the Follia theme by itself.

Antonio Martín y Coll: Diferencias sobre las folias
Jordi Savall performs variations on the Follia theme for viola da gamba. This Spanish piece dates from the early 1700s. Note the rhythmic back-and-forth between the viol and castanets in the last diferencia. Continue reading “Saturday baroque”

The piano in the corner

I have not found myself able to write either about my academic work, local affairs, or the wide world — even as I anxiously watch events unfolding in Iran. What I can offer is a discovery in online music. has a certain downloadable album of classical piano music — an album that perhaps could not have been made before music went online, and that some will sneer at. Robert F. Trucios introduces From the Lobby of the Cooper Arms this way:

The piano, a bruised Brambach baby grand, lies at rest in a quiet corner of the still majestic grand lobby of the Cooper Arms, one of a handful of resort high-rise beach apartments and hotels to pop up on the shoreline of Long Beach in the 1920’s. This cool ornate interior serves as a communal living room, echoing with activity and sheltering the building’s residents and visitors from the noise of the world outside.

I descend the elevator, say my hellos and walk to the corner of the lobby, music in hand.

I sit down and play for a while.

You can listen to the results here (or here for low bandwidth). Continue reading “The piano in the corner”