Monday, January 19, 2015

Karol Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez; A Note on Music by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez 
A Note on Music by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 19th, 2015, under Memo on Music: Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez.

For long, I have heard about Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), the Polish composer of the first order, far more than I have heard him. Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein in his biography referred to him as one of his favorite composers. One of my own professors considers him "Scriabin, Part 2". I understand that for his compatriots, he's been the true heir to Chopin at least in historical, nationalistic and cultural terms. I still wish to find the opportunity and give him my undivided attention. For now, I won't miss chance encounters.

The other night (01.17.2015), thanks to Mr. Alan Chapman of KUSC, I learned of Szymanowski's Op. 31, "Songs of a Fairy Tale Princess", the three of which were orchestrated by the composer himself. In their melodic, harmonic and timbral sensitivity, they struck me as the precursors of Lutoslawski's "Chantefleurs et Chantefables", also Polish, which I had the pleasure of hearing live a few years ago. Following up, I learned that Szymanowski's song cycles Opp. 24 and 26 were musical settings of "Love Poems of Hafiz", as much of them as had arrived in Polish, apparently from a German translation based on Arabic texts. I decided that my hitherto scant knowledge of his music shouldn't hold me back from at the least introducing them on my personal page. I don't know the words, but starting with the orchestral versions of Op. 26, they sound remarkable, evocative, and beautiful. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do.
-- Payman Akhlaghi

References:
(*) Szymanowski, Love Songs of Hafiz, Op. 26, for Voice and Orchestra
- Part 1 of 2:
- Part 2 of 2:
(*) Szymanowski, Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 24, for voice and piano:
(*) Szymanowski, Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess, Op. 31, Nos. 1-3, orchestrated by the composer:

P.S. 01.20.2015.
I learned from Wikipedia, Works of Szymanowski, that Op. 26, for voice and orchestra, Nos. 6-7-8, are orchestral settings of 3 from Op. 24, which had been for voice and piano. The orchestral links above to Op. 26, however, start out with No.1 of Op. 24, "Desires" (normally, No. 6 of Op. 26), and end with No. 1 of 26, "The Tomb of Hafez", which does make more sense to me. So far, I have seen a partial score of the Op. 26 on IMSLP, the piano reduction, which bears a Posthumous (after death) notice. It's rather confusing; and the performers might have swapped things around, for the recording, in good taste. Just enjoy the music. -- P.A.

-- © 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Two Snippets on Film: Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities"; Reviews by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities"
A Note on Cinema by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 7; Revised)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 18th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities.

1) "Stromboli: Terra di Dio" (1950, 94 mins, Italian), directed by Roberto Rossellini, with music by his brother Renzo, and featuring his wife, Ingrid Bergman, whose skill and presence combines with, and rises above, an attractive, ubiquitous, but at times overbearing orchestral score. That is not to undermine the music, which from the opening frames sets an epic tone for the drama, even for its private side, and often succeeds in delineating the psychological turmoils of an expressive face in her silence and loneliness. The music of Stromboli thus acts as a character in itself, asserting its presence operatically, sometimes as the narrator, at other times as the narrative of a soul, but mostly as the voice of an ever-present colossal background, the earth, the ocean, the mountains, a volcano about to erupt, an awesome nature at large, and the harsh destiny that ensues.

The last 35 mins of the film, composed of three major sequences, a massive fishing episode, a volcanic eruption, and an escape alone through a smoking mountain, is riveting, It reminds me of "Man of Aran", charged with a convincing drama about the traps of unhappy marriage and cultural contrasts, combined with a touch of spirituality or religion in the face of nature's massive wrath, or rather, under the burdens of life. Be warned that animals are actually harmed during the fishing sequence shot in a documentary style.

2) "Alice in the Cities" (1974, about 110 mins, German) is directed by Wim Wenders. It's a rare study and an alarming appreciation of the fragile fate of children in modern urban life of the 70's. It's also a refreshing example of an almost paternal and utterly decent love and protection afforded to a child by a non-father. The film goes to show that about 10 years before "Wings of Desire", the director had already much mastered his craft, and had surely found his favorite topic: a dramatic narrative as much served by rapidly changing locations as it's serving them, in this case, American landscape, New York, Amsterdam, and several cities in Germany. Knowing that Wings of Desire originated as a film about the city of Berlin, I wonder if the trip itself was not the main reason for this earlier film, as well. In retrospect, I'm inclined to think that "Paris, Texas" of 1984 somewhat appears as a sequel to Alice.

(*) "Stromboli" is distributed by the Criterion Collection. Both films currently available on Hulu.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. This is an original memo. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Film Review: Jean Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (1932); An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Memo on Cinema: "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (Jean Renoir, 1932)
An Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 3)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 15th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (Jean Renoir, 1932).

Jean Renoir was a master of character study and human nature, but in particular, an expert in the finest nuances of the aristocracy and the rising bourgeoisie, their contradictions, mores, and morals -- as a single viewing of his 1932 film "Boudu Saved From Drowning"  would attest. (Boudu sauvé des eaux; French; ca. 85 mins.) The precision of his behavioral observations and the succinctness of his language could rival those of Hitchcock and Fritz Lang; the fluidity of his character development and final rendition might at times surpass them both.

Five years before "The Grand Illusion" and seven years before "Rules of the Game", "Boudu..." bears for me many elements of Renoir's mature style: a smoothly developing script, in this case adapted from a play; a delicate balance between the words and images, with traces of both the theater and the silent film vocabulary; the seeds of his later "montage within the frame" via the performance, with minimal or no camera movements; experiments with montage and perspective(§);  the casual lingering of the words and action into a fade out to end a scene, a unique touch of this director; subtlety and sophistication of the humor; a rather straightforward sexuality depicted with self-restraint; and a fine ear for the music, mostly diegetic (source music) -- whether it's an orchestral song to set the tone of the film over the opening credits (non-diegetic), or a solo flute played by a neighbor, a piano played by amateur fingers, a street organ played on the pavement, a marching band gathered on the street, or an ensemble in the park, playing an arrangement of the Blue Danube Waltz toward the end of the film.(±)

Thematically, the farce develops out of a psychological study of a small middle-class family cell, whose feeble order is disturbed when they save and adopt a desperate homeless man with badly underdeveloped mind and manners. It's clear, however, that the setting is meant as a microcosm of the contemporary society at large. And yet, a short enigmatic prelude introduced by the card "Boudu" offers more interpretive possibilities, as it blurs established class and persona distinctions to reveal the underlying natures of the personalities that are likely hidden to themselves.

The prelude is a theatrical silent scene of love between Lestingois and his maid, dressed in a mythological costumes -- a Faun and a Nymph -- which then dissolves into a confession of the love affair between the married shopkeeper and the maid, in their modern settings. The strong association of the mythological element with the sound of flute -- a probable reference to Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" -- is consistently reminded throughout the film as a neighbor practices his instrument at various hours. It's safe to presume that Boudu -- likely short for "bon dieu!", i.e. "good God!" -- notwithstanding their many differences, is offered as the untamed, unrefined, uncultured aspect of Lestingois, that is, his suppressed libidinous Id, which for awhile comes to the surface of his conscious life and personality to stir and reinvigorate a long settled ennui. At the same time, on the macro level, the solidity of the line drawn between the bourgeoisie and lower classes is brought into question.

Through the laughs, sympathetic sighs, and its many surprises, we may ask whether human nature is indeed more malleable or flexible than suggested by the surface of the story; or that Renoir and his playwright René Fauchois are right in their elitist aristocratic judgment of the classes, and personas; that a "bum" with fine clothes and a bulk of money is still a "bum" -- or that at the least, his old habits may die hard; that the bourgeoisie of the time, as genuinely kind and cultured as they come in the film, suffered from a hypocrisy rooted in values, norms and habits which contradicted the human nature, and at any rate, their social setting. Whatever our answers, they won't take away from the convincing and coherent drama at hand; from its deep optimism about, human goodness, innocence, and naivete; and from its appreciation of the more fundamental elements of human condition.

(§) I cite two salient examples of such early experiments with montage. Lestingois first spots Boudu about to commit suicide via a telescope he usually holds to peep on women from the window of his house. The camera pans and follows Boudu from afar until he jumps off of the bridge. The sense of distance from the action intensifies Lesingois's desire to help and foments the ensuing bond between the two men more convincingly.

Second, a carefully planned scene warrants attention (ca. min. 38), when a track shot follows the maid from the breakfast table toward the kitchen. We follow her afar from the other wing of the house, and we approach her through an opposing window across the patio. The camera then jumps to behind her, as she calls out to a neighbor on the ground for a match box. Instead of a now customary subjective view shot, we jump downstairs to see the elderly neighbor through a window, looking up at the maid, but in the wrong direction, left to right. Thus, an otherwise most clear definition of the spatial relations of the house is summarily disrupted; and this author finds the disorientation too curious and interesting to dismiss it as a mere slip by the master filmmaker.

(±) The music is credited as follows:
Générique, Danube bleu, Fin: Rafaël; Flute: J. Bouze; Orphéon: Edouard Dumoulin.

(*) "Boudu Saved From Drowning" is released by the Criterion Collection, and it's currently available on Hulu.
(*) Some dates, names and titles were checked against IMDB and Wikipedia.
(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
(*) The above was an original commentary.
(*) On my weblog:
http://pardessrimonim.blogspot.com/2015/01/film-review-jean-renoirs-boudu-saved.html

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Freedom of Expression, Means and Context; A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Memo: Freedom of Expression, Means and Context
An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on 01.09.2015 under Memo: Freedom of Expression, Means and Context.

Freedom of expression is not only about being free to express myself, but also about the means of expression, the subjective truth of the expression, the context of expression, and to the extent possible, the foreseeable contingencies of its interpretation. It's about saying -- writing, drawing, singing, making, presenting, posting, commenting, behaving, etc. -- what and how I wish to, freely, honestly, clearly, with my audience in mind, and without hindering the freedom of others to do the same.

As such, freedom of expression starts with life and continues to reinforce its flourishing. Freedom of expression would be self-negating if your expression prevents his or her fair chance of expressing themselves. Censor on the one hand, and violent response on the other, in their various forms and degrees, are the two extremes of violations of the freedom of expression. Censor can find many forms: a crowd mobilized to intimidate, ostracize, and silence a voice; a regulation, almost invariably arbitrary, to strain the freedoms of authors, artists, thinkers, scientists, scholars, or any other civil person for that matter, in freely expressing themselves in their non-aggressive means; imposing the wills of a tyrannical oppression; aggressive and intrusive means of expression that would deprive others of their chances to express themselves, or to exercise their right to refuse; bullying; vandalism; and that extreme and primitive form of response, that is, acts of violence and savagery against the persons expressing themselves. The list continues.

Freedom of expression is about carrying out a civil conversation on both the small and large scales without resorting to fists and clubs to settle the arguments. To that end, you don't need to agree with what's being said; but you can neither censor, nor intimidate, nor bring harm to others, because of your disagreement. And as the countless lonely voices through history have proven time after time, this is one place where "the wisdom of the crowd" does not apply, for too often it has been that very single voice that would prove to be right, though often after a long while.

(*) I was ruminating, and enumerating, the above points especially for the past few days, when I came across the following timely, erudite, comprehensive, and fairly argued recent column by Mr. Albert Brooks of NY Times. I naturally share several of his convictions; and reading it further helped focus this essay, particularly in regards to the element of context.
"I Am Not Charlie Hebdo", Albert Brooks, 01.08.2015, nytimes.com.


© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Film, Humor and Freedom of Expression: "Zéro de Conduite" (1933); An Original Memo by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Memo on Cinema: "Zéro de Conduite"
(Zero for Conduct, French, 1933)
On Film, Humor and Freedom of Expression
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 7th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: "Zéro de Conduite" (French, 1933).

Hannah Arendt said it best that, the surest way to undermine authority was laughter,[1] -- and who would know that better than the tyrant himself?

Thanks to Claudia Gorbman [2], I learned of a short 1933 French film, which I managed to see a few nights ago. Briefly put, "Zero for Conduct", directed by Jean Vigo, with music by Maurice Jaubert, is about a boarding school, its strict discipline, and the young students' growing defiance of it. It's a succinct and deeply poetic study of the impact of power and our natural desire for freedom that was made right between the two world wars. It's a microcosm of some larger social processes -- strict environments, rebellion, anarchy, tolerance, change -- and yet, in its method, and in its totality, about the joys of life, sympathy, and the power of humor. At the end, it's about childhood, and about the children in all of us. It's a delicious gem of the early cinema, a small film about the big picture.

The film was focused on extensively for its music by Ms. Gorbman in her book. I share it however for both the film, and the music.



(Zero for Conduct: Little Devils at School)
(French, 1933, ca. 41 mins)
Directed by Jean Vigo; Music by Maurice Jaubert 

[1] "To remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter." -- Hannah Arendt, "On Violence", 1969.

[2] "Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music", Claudia Gorbman, 1987. I specially thank Prof. Robert Fink of UCLA for introducing me to the book, which further informed my doctorate studies. [Currently ABD] The book has remained surprisingly out of print. (Sic!)

(*) Two of my earlier original posts on humor and freedom of expression:

- Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro: An Original Essay by Payman Akhalghi.
- Freedom of Expression in Films: A short list with my original commentary, on Facebook.

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Beethoven Virus (2008): Classical Music in TV Dramas; TV Film Review by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

"Beethoven Virus" (2008): Classical Music in TV Dramas
Film & TV Review by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published as a FotoNote at Facebook.com/PAComposer on January 5th, 2015, under "Memo: "Beethoven Virus" & Classical Music in TV Dramas

It's a delight to come across a popular TV production wherein human decency, sophisticated arguments, beautiful sentiments, culture, and striving for excellence, are intrinsic to its themes, and are consistently interwoven into its fabric. It would be a rare delight if this production were a series that revolved around a group of classical musicians, their personal, professional and social lives, who tried their best to make and share music in a small aspiring city. "Beethoven Virus", a 2008 South Korean melodrama in 18 episodes, is often such a rare delight, even as this author does not know the language and had to rely on the subtitles.(*)

The many merits of "Beethoven Virus" may easily convince the viewer overlook its many typecasts and overworked dramatic formulae, rather typical of the genre at large. The musical information is precise, down to the detail, suggesting serious "insider" involvement at the core of the production. The soundtrack is satisfying, the more so, because of the evident budgetary limitations. Despite all odds, the main theme of the series, with its touching romantic spirit, succeeds to withstand the many excellent classical excerpts.

The cast is often young, attractive, and clearly skilled in music. A love of high culture permeates its often modest air. At its best moments, emotional tension systemically avoids degrading into banal resolutions, and the anguish that the central characters endure in their relations, deemed and understood as the inevitable price of their truth, comes across as convincing. The myths and spirits of classical figures, from composers Beethoven and Mozart, to conductors Kleiber and Celibidache, have informed many facets of the drama, characters, their persona, attitudes and behavior. Yet, in its affection for art music, but also in its desire to reach the larger population, through the everyday language and the humane touch of its characters, with their virtues and modest vices, in their strengths and weaknesses, the series has further the viable potential to indeed encourage its audience to appreciate, support, even pursue high music.

To conclude, as a popular TV series, "Beethoven Virus" surely deserves to benefit from the impeccable technical sophistication of a Hollywood production in an English adaptation, which I am inclined to believe will prove more plausible than it might appear at this moment.

(*) The series distributed by MBC, is currently offered on Hulu.com.
(*) Photo: The promotional cover of the DVD, available on the Internet.

© 2015, Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.