Oct. 16 & 17: The Man Who Invented Brunch

By James David Jacobs

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It was in the last week of 1947 that Louis Kaufman (photo:  Man Ray), a violinist who made most of his living playing for Hollywood film soundtracks, commandeered Carnegie Hall with a group of other freelance string players for a series of late-night recording sessions. They were the very first people to record a cycle of four violin concertos by a then-obscure Italian Baroque composer named Antonio Vivaldi. Each of the concertos was named for one of the seasons. They thought they were being musicological adventurers, hobbyists in a sense; they had no idea they were changing the culture. It's hard to overestimate the impact of that first recording of "The Four Seasons." Not only was it a tremendous hit in its own right, becoming a huge seller and winning the Grand Prix du Disque, but its success helped standardize the then-brand new LP format (two seasons per side!) and created an entirely new market and audience. The late 1940s was an interesting time in the United States. A lot of GIs had developed a taste for Continental food and art while fighting in the European theater, and wanted to experience those things at home: voilá!  American cafe society was born. Culture was thriving: regional symphony orchestras started springing up everywhere, arts funding in the schools was no problem, popular culture was full of references to "highbrow" art that it assumed the average American would be familiar with. The Four Seasons was the perfect music for this moment: simultaneously new and old, fresh and familiar, exotic and comforting. The secular, almost pagan theme of the seasons, and the sound of a small string ensemble that differentiated it from a standard symphony orchestra, freed this music of the class and cultural baggage of most other music of the time, making it acceptable for anyone to like it and claim it as their own -- the very definition of crossover appeal. What's more, despite its popularity, you could still convince yourself and others that this music was your own special "discovery" -- sort of like Mahler in the sixties, or Pachelbel in the seventies, or the Bulgarian women's chorus in the eighties, or that "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack...you get the idea.

I suppose you could say that, by recording The Four Seasons, Louis Kaufman invented brunch. And having to decide whether to see that Bergman retrospective at the Brattle or that cutting-edge exhibit at ICM. Or figuring out what kind of balsamic vinegar to get. Or whether you have time to go to the farmer's market before taking your yoga class.

Don't get me wrong; I love the Four Seasons (and I like Bergman and balsamic vinegar too.) Today's Kid's Classical Hour will feature the complete cycle, and in the 10:00 hour we'll hear Spring from that original recording by Louis Kaufman that forever changed our relationship to classical music.

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Tonight's Boston Symphony concert will feature the Third Symphony by John Harbison, the first installment in a complete cycle James Levine and the BSO will traverse over this season and next, culminating in the BSO commissioned world premiere of Harbison's Sixth Symphony. After the Vivaldi we'll hear Harbison's 2002 composition Six American Painters, a quartet for flute and strings in six movements, each of which, in the composer's words, "was begun as a musical description of six paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eventually they ranged further and it seemed more helpful to name them for the painters rather than for the specific paintings. I wanted to evoke the artists' after-images, rather than any of the individual paintings. When I look at a picture, I take away a general impression, a mood or color, that dominates the details; in music, on the other hand, I am apt to remember the details, a tune or a harmony. I wanted these movements to be a perceivable whole, an act of seeing. Like many musicians, I have always felt that looking at art has been the least alert of the things I do. I was hoping to develop my visual sense. The movements tend toward brevity. I had two intentions: not too slow, not too long."

The six American painters represented, in order of the movements, are:
George Caleb Bingham
Thomas Eakins
Martin Johnson Heade
Winslow Homer
Hans Hofmann
Richard Diebenkorn

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There will be two performances of works by the 20th century Bohemian composer Bohuslav Martinu Sunday afternoon. The Boston Chamber Music Society will present Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola, performed by Harumi Rhodes and Roger Tapping, on a program that also includes works by Beethoven and Saint-Saëns; while over at Jordan Hall the Boston Symphony Chamber Players will open their concert with Les Madrigaux (presumably different madrigals!) as played by John Ferrillo, oboe, William H. Hudgins, clarinet and Richard Svoboda, bassoon, on a program that also includes works by Milhaud, Mozart, and Andre Previn, who will conduct the world premiere of his Octet for Eleven (yes, another BSO commission) and play piano in the Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor. In honor of this local profusion of Martinu we will hear his La revue de cuisine on Saturday morning and his Nonet on Sunday Brunch.

La revue de cuisine is a one-act ballet written in Paris in 1927 and is very much in line with the Dada spirit of that time and place. The plot concerns a wedding between a cooking pot and a saucepan lid. As they make their plans to be married in the kitchen the whisk gets jealous and tries to make the lid look on the the dishcloth with lust, but the broom intervenes, and the lid rolls away and gets stuck in a corner. A gigantic foot, in one of the few pre-Monty Python examples of pedus ex machina, kicks the saucepan lid back to its rightful place, and all ends happily.

And as you enjoy all this musico-gastro frivolity, I hope you'll also spare a moment to consider the more serious issue of food and its role in the daily life of every person on the planet, which is brought to our attention on October 16, World Food Day.

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Sometimes Ray Brown gets a 4:00 request that just doesn't seem quite right for that time slot, so I've agreed to help him out by honoring them occasionally in the 9:00 hour on Sundays. This week Ruth of Bedford, MA, requested Tenebrae for string quartet by Osvaldo Golijov. In making the request, Ruth wrote: "When I first heard it at Jordan Hall, I was transported to the water's edge at dawn watching the sun spread its glow as it came up over the ocean. It was well into supper after the performance before either I or the friend with whom I attended the concert was able to come out of the profound reverie the work invoked." For his part, the composer wrote "I wrote it as a consequence of witnessing two contrasting realities in a short period of time in September 2000. I was in Israel at the start of a new wave of violence...and a week later I took my son to the new planetarium in New York where we could see the Earth as a beautiful blue dot in space. I wanted to write a piece that could be listened to from different perspectives....the compositional challenge was to sound like an orbiting spaceship that never touches ground...the work is about pain, but pain seen from inside and from a distance." Golijov was influenced by the settings of Lamentations for the Tenebrae service in Holy Week by the French Baroque composer Francois Couperin. We'll precede the Golijov with the third of these "lessons" as Couperin calls them. One of the striking aspects of Lamentation settings is that it was traditional to not only set the text to music, but also have the Hebrew letters that serve as a numbering system for the verses be set to music as well. Therefore the first word you will hear sung is YOD, the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet - basically a very beautiful way of saying "Number Ten."

JOD
The enemy has put out his hand
to everything Jerusalem considers precious;
she has seen the gentiles
enter her sanctuary;
you commanded
that they should not enter your church.

CAPH
All her people sigh
and seek bread,
they have given all their precious things
for food to relieve their souls.
See, O Lord, and consider,
for I have become vile.

LAMED
O, all you who pass by,
stop and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow;
for the Lord has ruined me,
as he said he would,
in the day of his raging fury.

MEM
From above he has sent fire
into my bones,
and has chastised me.
Ha has made a net under my feet,
and turned me back;
he has made me desolate
and faint all day long.

NUN
The yoke of my iniquities weighs me down;
they are folded together in his hand
and made into a collar;
my strength is weakened.
The Lord has delivered me into the hands
of those from whom I cannot rise up.

Jerusalem,
turn to the Lord your God.

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