Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Spam Roundup, December, 2014

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.


- I loved as much as you'll receive carried out right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an impatience over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come further formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.
[I get got impatience trying to decipher this!]

- それほど短期間で日本でも浸透してしまったオンラインカジノウィリアムヒル」 マカオ カジノ 数 全速ゾーン

- What's up,after reading this remarkable article i am as well glad to share my know-how here with mates.
[I'm well glad to hear it.]

- You really make it appear really easy along with your presentation however I find this topic to be really something that I believe I might really never understand.

"Lumbering along" remains a hit

The toy that launched a thousand spams.
The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along is a short post about a vintage Japanese tinplate toy. Spammers sure have a lot to say about it! Well, not actually about it...

- Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you!
[Another deposit into my amusement account.]

- Thiis is thee type of information that are meant to be shared acrokss thhe web. Shame on the seek engines for no longer positioning thiks publish higher!
[I didn't know stuttering was a typing problem, too.]

- What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious know-how concerning unpredicted emotions.
[Please, you flatter me.]

Fastidiously absent

I was surprised to find only a few spam comments that used the word "fastidious." Surely these spam roundups haven't been responsible for the word's decline. Have they?

- Ahaa, its fastidious conversation about this article here at this weblog, I have read all that, so now me also commenting here.

Hello it's me, I am also visiting this website regularly, this web page is in fact nice and the users are actually sharing fastidious thoughts.
[Thank you, Lionel Richie.]

The end of the month, and the end of the year. Thanks so much for reading Off Topic'd. Whether you're human or just a spambot, I appreciate your interest. May you come further formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot as you shield your hike in 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Lio and the Fourth Wall 7

Most newspaper comic strip artists have tropes they can return to again and again for humor. Few do as Mark Tartulli of Lio does -- play with the very conventions of sequential art itself (see Lio and the Fourth Wall for examples).

In his 11/13/14 strip, Tartulli breaks the wall in a curious way. (click on image to enlarge)

Yes, that's Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie cruising under the panel borders that have morphed into a drawbridge. I originally thought that Tartulli was referencing the premier of this ground-breaking cartoon. But it was first shown on November 18, 1928. Not the right day, and not even a significant anniversary (86 years).

But still -- a clever way to make us aware of something that always disappears from view when we're reading the comics; the panel border.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Diabelli Project 072 - Movement for String Orchestra

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week's sketch is perhaps my most ambitious to date. Remember, I only allow myself ten minutes to write as much as I can. And in this case, well, it turned out to be quite a lot. Here's the fair copy of the sketch for string orchestra, which runs two manuscript pages. (click on images to enlarge)

And here's the original sketch, scribbled furiously during my ten-minute flash composition window.

What happens next? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Music The New Old-Fashioned Way - 2

On Christmas Eve I hosted "Gamut" on WTJU, which aired from 6-9am. As I outlined in part 1, I played what I hoped was an engaging program of music for the season. Here's what I aired -- and why.

Francesco Manfredini, "Concerto 12 in C, Op. 3 "Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale"
Les Amis de Philippe; Ludger Remy (CPO)

Corelli's "Christmas" Concerto Grosso is fairly well-known, but he wasn't the only composer writing instrumental music for liturgical use. Francesco Manfredini was a contemporary of Vivaldi, and this concerto is on par with Corelli's.

I programmed it for two reasons. First, to show that there's more baroque Christmas music than the few that are continually programmed. Second, for listeners who don't like Christmas music, it's a work that can just be enjoyed without any seasonal context.

Rutland Boughton: "Bethlehem, Part 1"
Holst Singers; City of London Sinfonia; Alan G Melville (Hyperion)

Rutland Boughton is one of the lesser-known composers of the Second English Renaissance of the early 1900's. His choral drama "Bethlehem" was written for the first Glastonbury choral festival in 1914, and was performed every year until the festival was discontinued in 1926.

I like Boughton's blend of traditional carols and original music. His music for the shepherds cast them as simple English country folk, and is just delightful to listen to (at least, I think so).

Anon. 15th C., "A Wassail Suite"
The Waverly Consort (Virgin Classics)

The Waverly Consort released a Christmas album featuring music from 13th-century East Anglia to 18th-century New England and Appalachia. The "Wassail Suite" includes some variations on "Greensleeves," played on a variety of renaissance and folk instruments.

I programmed it because the instrumental combinations sounded fresh (compared to traditional orchestras and chamber groups). Also, this is a lively, uptempo performance that's just plain fun to listen to.

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: "Carol Symphony"
City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; Gavin Sutherland, conductor (Naxos)

Victor Hely-Hutchinson wrote his Carol Symphony for a 1929 BBC concert. The work is actually a set of four preludes, each one taking a carol and setting it in a different compositional style (Bach for the first, Balakirev for the second, and so on).

I programmed it because it was a different type of Christmas carol orchestral arrangement. Although not an entirely serious work, Hely-Hutchinson's music is well-written and stays true to the styles it emulates. In a world of paint-by-number orchestral arranging, the Carol Symphony stands out for its originality.

Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia: "Laudate Pueri"
L'Ensemble Turicum; Luiz Alves da Silva, director

Jose Garcia was one of Brazil's earliest composers. A contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, Garcia wrote in a similar classical style with more than a hint of Brazilian rhythm.

I programmed it for two reasons. First, I hadn't aired that much sacred Christmas music. Second, the Brazilian influences in Garcia's music give it an exotic sound -- and one I think folks not that enamored of classical music might find attractive.

Percy Grainger: "The Sussex Mummer's Christmas Carol"
Joel Smirnoff, violin; Stephen Drury, piano (Northeastern)

Sure, you've heard the Coventry Carol a million times. But how about the Sussex Mummer's Carol? It's a beautiful, poignant melody, effectively arranged by Percy Granger.

I programmed it because it was unfamiliar -- and a lovely piece of music.

Miklos Rozsa: "Ben-Hur - Star of Bethlehem","King of Kings - Overture and Nativity"
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; Erich Kunzel, conductor (Telarc)

Three scores by Miklos Rosza defined the musical vocabulary religious movie soundtracks would use for decades: "Ben-Hur," Quo Vadis," and "King of Kings." Two of those movies had sequences involving the Nativity. The music Rozsa wrote for those scenes tell the story without words.

I programmed these simply for that reason. Rosza's music effectively paints the picture of the Nativity without resorting to cliche. And it's music that just isn't aired.

Georg Philipp Telemann: "Ouverture a la Pastoralle"
Capella Savaria; Pal Nemeth, conductor (Capriccio)

The Christmas Cantatas of Bach are standard fare. But the Christmas music of his contemporary (and sometime rival) Telemann can be just as compelling. The Ouverture a la Pastoralle is an instrumental work in four movements.

I programmed it because it's well-written music, and it is a nice alternative to Bach's seasonal offerings.

Judith Lang Zaimont: "December: The Carols"
Elizabeth Moak, piano (MSR) [2011] 

Judith Lang Zaimont is a contemporary composer, and writes in an accessible, tonal-based style. This work was from her work "Calendar Set: 12 Virtuosic Preludes."

I programmed it because I think it's important to air living composers (it belies the notion that classical music is a dead art form). And this work had an amazing display of pianistic fireworks, and some sly references to familiar carols presented in an unfamiliar way.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Fantasia on Christmas Carols"
Steven Varacoe, baritone; Cambridge Singers; City of London Sinfonia; John Rutter, conductor (Collegium)

Ralph Vaughan Williams set a number of traditional English carols in his fantasia. Vaughan Williams was a master at reworking traditional material in a way that was both true to the source and personally expressive.

I programmed it because it's Ralph Vaughan Williams. 'Nuff said.

William Sandys, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day"
John Bull, "Carol: Een Kindeken is ons geboren"
Bramley & Stainer, "The Bellman's Carol"
Anon. 15th C., "Ding Dong Merrily on High"  - The Baltimore Consort  (Dorian)

The Baltimore Consort album "Bright Day Star" is a collection of seasonal music from the renaissance and early America.

I programmed it because of the variety. The three selections were all from different time periods, and played on different combinations of instruments. Plus I've always been a fan of Custer LaRue's smokey, yet pure singing tone.

Kevin Oldham, "Silent Night" from Three Carols, Op. 20" - Pamela Williamson, soprano; Lyra Pringle Pherigo, flute; Wesley  (Nimbus)

Kevin Oldham did more than just arrange "Silent Night." He rewrote it, keeping only the lyrics.

I programmed it because of its originality, and the blending of flute, harp, and soprano voice make this an ethereal and delicately beautiful work.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Music The New Old-Fashioned Way - 1

Let's be clear -- I enjoy Christmas music as much as anyone. But the time it takes me to burn out on the same old same old diminishes every year. Even in the field of classical music, playlists tend to be fairly conservative. Selections from the "Nutcracker," the Hallelujah chorus from "Messiah," "Winter" from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and (perhaps)" Corelli's "Christmas" Concerto. With some traditional hymns in orchestral settings for filler, of course.

This genre called classical music has been around for a very long time -- like a millennia. Since the Middle Ages composers have been writing advent and Christmas hymns, masses, chorales, and instrumental music inspired by the season. Sure, Christmas is a time of tradition, which gives those works resonance as they're heard year after year.

But there's so much more out there. Composers have writing music for this season for centuries -- including this one. There are many viewpoints and many forms of expression.

You can find Corelli's baroque Christmas Concerto stodgy and dull, but be electrified by Daniel Pinkham's contemporary Christmas Cantata. If you get to hear it, that is. It's likely Corelli will be broadcast, but not the Pinkham.

"Gamut," my Wednesday morning classical music show airs Christmas Eve this year, and I intend to use that time to present some unusual (but not totally alien) music. At worst, it should provide a break for listeners weary of the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy. At best, it might be the moment when a listener discovers a seasonal work that speaks to them directly.

I'll report back tomorrow with what I aired, and why.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Barney & Clyde Finesse Aging

In the world of newspaper comic strips, aging is something of a problem. A conversation that might take a few minutes in the real world (if we were all so witty), can be a full week of comic continuity. Most comic strip characters don't age at all. Like the Simpsons, their forever frozen at whatever age they were when they walked into the scene.

Sometimes there's partial aging. While PJ of the "Family Circus" will forever be a toddler, "Blondie's" Baby Dumpling grew from child to teenager -- and then stopped aging. 

A few strips have their characters age, although at a slower rate than the real world. Rex Morgan, MD is a good example. When it premiered in 1948, Morgan was a newly-minted doctor in his early 30s. In the current continuity he's the father of a precocious 8-year old. But not as an old man in his late sixties, but as one in his early forties. 

In a 9/28/14 Barney & Clyde sequence, Gene Weingarten, Dan Weingarten, and David Clark make plain a common ploy used in strips where aging is an issue..

That is to say, never provide specific birthdates for characters. Because anyone can do the math.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Diabelli Project 071 - Piece for Solo Violin

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

There's a reason why composers use the violin so much. It's an amazingly versatile instrument with a huge range, the ability to play more than one note simultaneously, and has an expansive repertoire of string techniques to create widely disparate sounds (think: harmonics).

No, I don't take advantage of all of those things in this week's sketch -- but I did keep in mind the violin's singing quality as I wrote. (click on image to enlarge).

What happens next? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!

Friday, December 19, 2014

CCC 121 - Jan Segers

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge is rather unusual. I'm continually searching for composers to add to the series. I ran across Jan Segers's name in a list, which is usually my starting point. I then went to YouTube to audition his music.

It definitely fit the criteria (a living composer writing tonally-based music), so I tried to research Segers' background -- and hit a wall. Unlike most other composers I've profiled, neither Segers nor any of his publishers have any significant information about him online There's not even a Wikipedia entry!

I can tell you that Belgian composer Jan Segers was born in 1929, and seems to have specialized in band and wind ensemble music. Some of his works are used as competition pieces, and a few (judging by their frequency on YouTube) are popular repertoire choices.

Flashes for Band has all the characteristics of a Segers composition. It opens with strong, triadic chords interspersed with more complex harmonies (with added 7ths and 9ths) for contrast. Pop-inspired melodies abound, making this a fun work to listen to (as well as to play, I suspect).

Suite is a more advanced work. There are still some triadic fanfares, but the canonic treatment of the meloodic material presents more of a challenge for the players.

Conclusions has a nice, full-bodied ensemble sound. Segers understands -- and exploits -- the full potential of the wind ensemble.

Most band directors stick with the tried and true, and that's too band. Many contemporary composers have written challenging and engaging works for wind ensemble that deserve to be performed. Jan Segers, man of mystery (at least to me), is one such example!

Recommended Recordings

Essay for Horn and Band - Jan Segers (Horn: André Van Driessche)

Conclusion - Jan Segers

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boris Papandopulo - Croatian Masterworks

Boris Papandopulo: Concerto for Piano and string Orchestra No.2; Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, Op. 79; Pintarichiana for String Orchestra
Oliver Triendl, piano; Zagreb Soloists; Sreten Krstic, conductor

Boris Papandopulo was one of most prolific composers in Croatia, with over 440 works in his catalog. And thanks to a new release from CPO, his music might gain the wider audience they deserve.

Papandopulo (1906-1999) eschewed the atonal revolution of the 20th century, and instead developed his own form of tonal composition. To my ears, his music resembles that of Hindemith and Martinu -- two other composers who took a similar path and were also quite prolific. And like Hindemith and Martinu, Papandopulo composed highly expressive music of quality. And just as Martinu's music betrays its Czech origins, Papandopulo's also contains some Croatian folk elements, particularly in its syncopated rhythms.

This can best be heard in the Piano Concerto No. 2 for piano and string orchestra. This is a straight-forward, no-nonsense work. It seems a collaborative effort between soloist and ensemble. Sure, there's plenty for the the pianist to do (and Oliver Triendl makes it sound easy), but the orchestra keeps things moving along. Motives are swapped back and forth, the ensemble sometimes comments on the piano's melodic embellishments. All in all a joyous work that very much reminded me of Martinu's piano concertos.

The Sinfonietta for String Orchestra Op. 79 is a little bit heavier emotionally, and contains some fine writing for strings. I think it would make an excellent companion piece to Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony."

The short Pintarichiana for strings is an homage to 19th century Croation composer Fortunat Pintaric. Papandopulo quotes Pintaric melodies, making this a neo-classical work along the lines of Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" (without the angularity), or Resphighi's "Ancient Airs and Dances" (without the full orchestra).

By most accounts Boris Papandopulo was a cheerful soul, and all three works on this album seem permeated with a good-natured spirit. This release left me wanting to further explore Papandopulo's catalog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Archduke Rudolph: Music for clarinet and piano

Archduke Rudolph: Music for clarinet and piano
Luigi Magistrelli, clarinet;
Claudia Bracco, piano
Brilliant Classics

 If you want to get deep into the minutia of the classical repertoire, this is the disc for you. It's a collection of mostly unfinished music by a student of Beethoven. But neither the music nor the composer is commonplace.

 Archduke Rudolph is best remembered as one of Beethoven's patrons and students. He was quite an accomplished pianist -- Beethoven dedicated his knuckle-busting Hammerklavier Sonata to Rudolph (in fact, Beethoven dedicated a total of fourteen works to him, including the "Archduke" Trio). And as this release shows, not a bad composer either -- although not one with a lot of free time, as most of the works are incomplete.

Luigi Maistrelli (clarinet) and Claudia Bracco (piano) deliver sympathetic performances that really show Rudolph's music in the best possible light. Rudolph wrote with a lighter touch than his teacher, and Maistrelli and Bracco breeze through the material deftly.

Rudolph may not possess Beethoven's stormy nature, but his sets of variations (there are four on this album) show plenty of creativity and imagination. Most interesting to me was the Variations on a Theme by J. Weigl for clarinet and two pianos. Rather than overpowering the solo instrument, the two pianos provide a richer, fuller accompaniment. Skillfully written! The Six Dances for Solo Clarinet (all around 45 seconds) are quite charming and lay well on the instrument.

Rudolph is no Beethoven, but his music is well-constructed and quite appealing in its own right. I enjoyed what I heard. I just wish he'd gotten around to finishing those two clarinet sonatas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Tender Trap 9

What is the Tender Trap? It's what happens when someone places the tender of a toy or model locomotive backwards because it "looks right that way." Usually to do so, they have to ignore the connectors that are specifically designed to work only when the tender's facing the right way. 

So to insist on placing the tender backwards, ignorance isn't enough -- you have to deliberately ignore the evidence in front of you. 

There's something wrong with this picture -- or is there?
I see the tender trap all the time -- especially on auction sites -- so frequently, I could probably just title this blog "The Tender Trap" and have at least one new post daily. But there's no real point in that. The posts would get pretty repetitive pretty quickly -- only the actual images would change.

So I limit my posts to unusual examples. And this time, I was the one who was in error. Below is a Nomura train set from the 1960's, offered in the box. With that style of locomotive, the taller part of the tender (where the coal is stored) should be next to the locomotive. So the tender's backwards!

Below is a photo of the locomotive that Nomura modeled theirs after. As you can see, in real life the tender is taller in the front, shorter in the back.

Aha! I thought. Another clear example of the tender trap.

Then I noticed that the couplers were identical on both ends. So if someone wasn't familiar with steam engines, the connectors wouldn't provide any clues as to which end should be connected to the locomotive.

This cover art is gorgeous, but it doesn't help much.
But wait, I thought, this set still has the original box. Why didn't they just follow the box art?

I had already posted about someone who ignored the box art (see: The Tender Trap 3), and was sure that's what happened here.

The box cover doesn't show the tender clearly enough to provide any guidance. And if you compare it to the set's actual contents, you'll see there's a lot of artistic license going on with that cover.

Then I looked closely at the side of the box. There the contents were displayed in an orderly fashion. And the tender is depicted facing backwards! So the person selling the set, whether they know anything about trains or not,wasn't in error. They placed the contents in the box just as the instructions said to.

In this case, the fault's all mine for racing to judgement too quickly.

The side of the box told the tale.

Yep, it's backwards all right, compared to the prototype. But still,
I can't fault the seller for following the directions.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Diabelli Project 070 - Piece for Solo Tuba

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week's flash composition is for the solo tuba. If you've been following the series over the last few weeks, you're probably as surprised as I am that I didn't write something for the trombone, If you notice the dates on these sketches, you'll see there's a significant gap between composition and publication (this one, for example, was written April 6, 2014). It does take a little while to get them into fair copy.

I thought I had written a sketch for solo trombone, but I can't find it. I'll fill in that blank another time. This sketch is for tuba, and takes advantage of the clarity of its higher register. (click to enlarge)

What happens next? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Blondie Cameo

Everybody knows that Blondie hasn't changed a bit. It's just another dead legacy strip. But everybody's wrong. Since the strip's introduction in 1930, Dagwood's gone from being a millionaire playboy to a married, white collar worker. Blondie's changed from a stay-at-home mom to a business woman running a successful catering business. Dagwood's gone from taking the bus to riding in a carpool. Instead of typewriters, his office uses desktop computers.

And the strip's not above using another fairly recent comic innovation -- the cameo.  In this case, there was no big announcement surrounding the July 1, 2014 sequence. Just this:

And really -- what else has to be said?

Except nothing like that would have run in the 1930's, or 40's, or 50's....

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Manfredini String Quartets -- They're OK!

Vincenzo Manfredini: Complete String Quartets
Quartetto Delfico
Brilliant Classics

Manfredini (1737-1799) spent most of his professional life at the Russian Imperial Court, before retiring to Bologna to write and teach. During that time he published his set of six string quartets, which are performed on this album.

The quartets aren't ground-breaking like those of Haydn and Mozart written around the same time. Manfredini's are written an more gallant style, concerned primarily with beauty and clarity.

And he succeeds on both counts. The melodies are nicely phrased, with catchy motifs that practically dare the listener not to hum along. Cadences occur at regular intervals, and all sections repeat to ensure the audience has an other opportunity to enjoy the music.

The Quartetto Delfico have a clean, clear ensemble sound that's well-suited to material. Listening to this recording, it's easy to picture the musicians playing by candlelight to a select audience of minor nobility in a guilded hall.

I wouldn't call Manfredini's string quartets great music, but they're definitely quite good. And quite pleasant to listen to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Miho Fukui performs Vivaldi bassoon concertos with energy

Antonio Vivaldi: Concertos for Bassoon
Miho Fukui, bassoon; Ensemble F
Ars 38 165 SACD

Antonio Vivaldi wrote over 30 concertos for the bassoon, giving Miho Fukui a lot to choose from. Five of them, plus the Sinfonia from "Il Giustino", RV 217 make up this new release. Included is the concerto in B-flat major, "La Notte," RV 501, an oft-recorded work.

Bassoonist Miho Fukui plays with a rich, full-bodied sound. The Ensemble F, using period instruments, seem somewhat loose-limbed, especially in the ritornellos. But that's part of what makes these performances attractive.

There's a fire and energy in these works that more than compensate for a lack of machine-like precision. And in the end, that's what it should be about. Both Miho and Ensemble F invest this music with a lot of expression, almost exaggerating the shape of the phrases.

Personally, I enjoyed these pieces more than I generally do Vivaldi's instrumental music. (Not that I hate it, I just usually have a neutral reaction.) The SACD recording brings you close into the ensemble, making this an intimate-sounding release,that in my opinion, adds to its appeal.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Lio and the Family Circus 2

Lio creator Mark Tartulli has riffed on the vintage comic the Family Circus (see Lio and the Family Circus). He again uses one of the overused tropes of the strip -- the meandering dotted lines that creator Bill Keane (and his son Jeff, who now draws the panel) use to show the paths of the easily distracted characters.

In the September 9, 2014 strip, Tartulli uses it in combination with another of his own personal tropes -- breaking the fourth wall (see: Lio and the Fourth Wall). (click on image to enlarge)

The Family Circus children meander across Lio's strip and off into the distance, moving beyond the panel border. The main gag is the caution sign and what it means -- but the way Tartulli plays with the Family Circus trope is original and -- for me -- just as entertaining.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Diabelli Project 069 - Piece for solo French Horn

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week I continued on through the brass instruments with my flash compositions. This time it's the French horn. While it has a beautiful sound, it's the most challenging brass instrument to master. It's important to build in breaks to let the player's lips rest. I've included a few brief ones. If I continue this sketch, I'll be sure to have some more -- or make sure this movement remains short and to the point. (click to enlarge)

What happens next? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!

Friday, December 05, 2014

CCC 120 - Kirke Mechem

This week the Consonant Classical Challenge spotlights American composer Kirke Mechem. Mechem, has written over 250 works, including four operas, and two symphonies. The bulk of his output has been for the human voice, though, which is why he's known as the dean of American choral music.

Mechem says, "I don’t want to find new music 'interesting' in a purely intellectual way; I am impatient with novelty or experimentation for their own sake; I am too old to be taken in by trends or jargon. Been there, heard that. I want to love a piece of music, to be delighted by it, to be moved to tears or laughter or in some way taken out of myself. At the very least I must want to hear the piece again, the sooner the better."

That's the aesthetic behind his work, which is firmly grounded in tonality. His carefully crafted melodies make his choral works flow naturally, and explains their popularity.

"Blow Ye Trumpet" is a good example of Mechem's choral writing. This short work has an almost folk-like quality to it, with thick, expressive harmonies.

The Suite for Piano, Op. 5 presents the essence of Mechem's style. The chordal accompanigment is more than just simple triads, and the melody, while still within the key, uses escape tones add poignancy.

Of Mechem's four operas, "Tartuffe" seems to be the most popular, and "Fair Robin" the most often performed aria from it.

"Islands in Space," another popular Mechem work, has a tonal foundation, but uses harmonies of stacked seconds and thirds to create the etherel quality of the music. Tonality doesn't necessarily mean simple, as this selectdion demonstrates.

Like many choral composers, Kirke Mechem not only creates original works, but arranges traditional pieces as well. Here's his arrangement of Patapan -- an appropriate number for this time of year!

Kirke Mechem is well-known in the choral world, but unfortunately his chamber and orchestral works aren't widely performed. I was unable to find any recordings of his music (save for a track or two on a university choral release). And that's a shame. Based on the quality of his music available on YouTube, Mechem is certainly deserving of an album or two. And personally, I'd love to hear those two symphonies of his.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

World Premier Sonatas by Arnold Cooke

Arnold Cooke: Violin Sonata No. 2; Viola Sonata; Cello Sonata No. 2
Susanne Stanzeleit, violin; Morgan Goff, viola; Raphael Wallfisch, cello; Raphael Terroni, piano

Arnold Cooke came to prominence in the 1930's, along with Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten. This disc presents three string sonatas written at various points in his career.

The earliest work on the album is his Viola Sonata from 1937. Although the work features warm, elegiac passages, it's a far cry from the viola music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, written around the same time. Cooke's harmonies are sparer, and each movement is tightly constructed to present his ideas as efficiently as possible.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 of 1951 shows little of the post-war modernist tendencies of the era. Cooke's work is tonally centered, even though both the violin and piano wander far from the source. The writing is even less "English" in sound than the viola sonata, though still quite melodious in its own way.

Cooke wrote his Cello Sonata No. 2 in 1980, towards the end of his life. To my ears, there's a nostalgic quality to the music. The harmonies are more settled, and the cello positively sings in some of the passages. Cooke wasn't afraid to write beautiful music, fashionable or not. And that's the best description I have for this work -- beautiful.

Three world premier recordings that are well worth the time spent listening to them. What else could one want from a release?

Tippitt Quartet Plays Music of Two Polish Masters

Andrzej Panufnik: String Quartets Nos. 1-3; Witold Lutoslawski: String Quartet
Tippett Quartet

The Tippet Quartet is a young ensemble that continues to explore the under-recorded portions of the string quartet repertoire. I enjoyed their Naxos recording of Miklos Rozsa's music, and I enjoyed this release -- albeit for different reasons.

On paper, Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutoslawski may seem like a good match. Both composers are from Poland, both were active around the same time, and both are recognized internationally for the quality of their music.

But there are significant differences between the two. Lutoslawski's string quartet from 1964 sound far more "modern" and avant-garde the Panufnik's quartets written far later. Lutoslawski's quartet incorporates aggressive dissonances and extended string techniques to create a n atmosphere of stormy unrest. By contrast, Panufnik seems more concerned about developing simple motifs that are inherently tonal. And while that tonality is often obscured, it never totally goes away.

The Tippett Quartet seems equally at at home with both composers. They perform the Lutoslawski with steely resolve and a machine-like precision that the music demands. In the Panufnik quartets, the quartet seems to be playing in a more relaxed fashion, with a much warmer ensemble sound.

It's an interesting program, and one that the Tippett Quartet successfully pulls off.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Clementi Concerto Runs Close Second to Mozart

Muzio Clementi: Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 33, No. 3; Minuetto pastorale in D major, WoO 36; Symphony in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 1; Symphony in D major, Op. 18, No. 2
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma; Francesco La Vecchia, conductor; Bruno Canino, piano

Piano virtuoso Muzio Clementi once engaged in a contest with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to determine who was the better pianist. According to the crowd, when it came to pianistic talent, it was a tie. When it comes to compositions, though, history judged Mozart the winner. But Clementi's a very close second.

This is the fourth release of Clementi's music by the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma directed by Francesco La Vecchia for Naxos. Like the previous albums, this has some of Clementi's symphonies, but this time the ensemble goes a little farther.

The high point of the disc is the Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 33, No. 3. At first blush, it sounds very much like an early Mozart piano concerto. Clementi, though, doesn't mind showing off. The piano part is full of difficult passages and dizzying runs that are meant to dazzle. And they do. Bruno Canino not only plays meticulously, but with a light touch that's perfectly suited to this work. Clementi wrote the concerto to entertain -- and entertainment is what this performance delivers.

The disc also includes two short symphonies from Clementi's Op. 18. These works are also light in texture and content, and the delicate reading they get from La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma is right in character.

If you love Mozart, you should like Clementi. And with this recording, there's a lot to like.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Straco Layout, Part 39 - King Me

The "King" sedan, made in Japan in 1953.
Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

At this point, it's safe to assume that all the major acquisitions for the Straco Express display layout have been made -- at least when it comes to vehicles. But that doesn't mean I won't add something that I find extremely interesting -- like the King sedan.

There's no real information about this vehicle. I don't know if King was the maker, or if it has a crown on it so kids could pretend it was a royal coach, or what. The license plate reads 1953, and I'm pretty sure that's the year of manufacture.

If so, that makes it a fairly early piece in the history of post-war Japanese toy manufacturing. The relative crudeness of the lithography seems to support that assumption. Look at the difference between the King sedan (1953) and the orange sedan made just two years later!

What a difference between 1953 (left) and 1955 (right)!
The body styles are different, of course. The King sedan reflects the early post-war car body styles, while the orange 1955 model has the longer, streamlined form of mid-century automobiles. Also the lithography is more detailed, and people have been added. All of vehicles I've found from the late 50's on -- regardless of manufacturer -- have drivers and passengers depicted.

And the colors are brighter on the later models that I have. That's not due to age or sun-bleaching, either. As the market matured, I think Japanese toy makers learned that primary colors sold best, and designed accordingly. The King sedan has nice, contrasting colors, but they don't quite pop.

Still, it's a nice addition to the layout. As you can see.

Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00 
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95 
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99 
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
Total Cost: $150.90

Monday, December 01, 2014

Diabelli Project 068 - Piece for solo B-flat trumpet

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

I move on to the brass section for this week's flash composition. It's easy to write cliches for the trumpet -- just go up and down a chord and you have an instant fanfare. But I wanted to do a little more. If I were to continue this sketch, I'd build in some long rests. All of those multiple-tongued passages can be tiring! (click to enlarge)

What happens next? That's up to you. As with all the Diabelli Project sketches, I offer this freely to anyone who would like to use all or part of it. Just let me know the results!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Spam Roundup, November 2014

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world.

Commenta Obscura

- You acrually make it appear so easy with your preseentation however I find this topic to be resally something tnat I believe I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely huge for me. I'm looking ahead on your subsequent put up, I will try to get the dangle of it!
[OK, I'll put up and you get the dangle, deal?]

- Undeniably believe that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the web the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider worries that they just do not know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal.
[Yo - take a signal, people!]

- hank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?
[Given your fractured syntax, how could we?]

- Wonderful goods from you, man. I have remember your stuff previous to and you are just extremely great. I actually like what you've obtained here, certainly like what you are stating and the way in which you say it.
[Just delivering the goods.]

"Lumbering along " still lumbering along

 This is the toy that generates all the comments. 
The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along is a short post about a vintage Japanese tinplate toy. Mysteriously, it still draws the most comments. Mysterious comments.

- Heya! I'm at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 4! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
[2010 called - they want their iPhone back]

- Hi there! This blog post coul not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send this article to him.
[Your roommate has an odd religion, friend.]

- Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the great spirit.

Fastidious falls

The use of "fastidious" seems to have peaked among spammers. There weren't as many selections to choose from this time around.

- Your way of explaining all in this piece of writing is genuinely fastidious, all can effortlessly know it, Thanks a lot.
[You (effortlessly) know it!]

- My familу members all thhe time say that I am killing my time here at wеb, but I know I am getting familiarity all the time Ƅy reading such fastidious articles.
[Listen to your family.]

And so we come to the end. Keep the great spirit, and remember -- if it all seems too complex and feels too huge, just hit the nail on the top and get the dangle. You'll be fine.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sing Thee Nowell -- Yearround Pleasure

New York Polyphony's release "Sing Thee Nowell" is a little unusual. Despite its name, this is a release I'll be enjoying throughout the year.

The ensemble's carefully chosen program includes many songs of the season, but few that have been done to death. Even the more familiar carols are heard in new and innovative arrangements.

The disc opens with Andrew Smith's arrangement of "Veni Emmanuel," which highlights the medieval origins of the tune.

From there, the group moves easily through renaissance works from composers such as Verdelot, Victoria, and Clemens "non Papa." They also perform with equal ease contemporary works by composers such Andrew Smith, John Scott, and Michael McGlynn.

A high point of the recording is "Five Carols" by Richard Rodney Bennett. The beautiful and complex harmonies of these carols seem tailor-made for the clear tone and seamless blend of New York Polyphony's ensemble sound.

Most of the works are in Latin, which is why I'll be enjoying this disc all year. Since the seasonal messages of the text are lost on me, I can just listen to the beauty of the performances -- even in the middle of summer.

This album is available in SACD format. If you appreciate vocal artistry, I recommend you purchasing it in this format. The added detail draws you into the ensemble, and you can hear just how good each of these singers are.

Sing The Nowell
New York Polyphony

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dick Tracy and the End of Annie - 2

Mike Curtis and Joe Staton finished up an extended sequence in Dick Tracy that was (in my opinion) something of a tour de force.

In addition to providing an unusual case for Dick Tracy, it also wrapped up loose ends from another legacy strip, while honoring the tradition of that strip in an innovative way.

For the full background, be sure to read part 1.

The masters of foreshadowing

Curtis and Staton extensively foreshadowed the appearance of Annie. In mid-June of 2013, Punjab, the Asp and Daddy Warbucks made cameos in Dick Tracy.

March, 2014. Staton and Curtis set the stage.

In the Vera Alldid story line, (see The Comical Dick Tracy) various newspapers show the comic strip logo for Annie, as well.

That Little Orphan Annie logo from March, 2014, is there for a reason.

The Plot Thickens

The story arc starts with Dick Tracy being enlisted by Warbucks to find Annie. The Butcher of the Balkans has been followed to Tracy's city -- but Annie isn't with him.

Ever the model capitalist, Warbucks "hires" Tracy.
Tracy, Ketchem and the rest of the cast dig into the case.

When worlds collide - June 8, 2014

While the major characters have a serious discussion, Hank Ketchem
and the Asp riff on the old novelty tune "You Can't Go Back to
Constantinople ('cause it now is Istanbul).

Sparkle Plenty receives a fan letter from Annie -- seemingly mailed in 1942! Eventually Tracy figures out that Annie's letter contains a clue as to her location and, as it turns out, her predicament as well.

Inside the "time bubble"

She's being held on Thunder Island, where residents have been brainwashed. They believe they are living in Simmons Corners, and that the year is 1944. It's actually a plot by arms dealer Axel. The purpose is to convince a scientist that he can win the war with his explosive -- which Axel will sell on the black market.

Annie happened to stumble into the plot, and is now another prisoner. Tracy follows the lead and he, too, comes under the spell of the mind control.

Note that the nurse is drawn "Annie style" without pupils. Welcome to
Simmons Corners.
Mind control that is administered through an evening radio program. Just as everyone rushed home to tune into the adventures of Annie in the 1940's (and were "brainwashed" into buying Ovaltine), Axel ensures everyone tunes into the Betty Belinda program to be subliminally hypnotized.

The story has number of deft touches. Axel was a major villain in the Harold Gray's original strip. He appeared in two sequences spanning 1939 and 1940. So using him in a plot that's seemingly set in the 1940's is just another homage to the rich heritage of Annie's mythos.

When Ketchem and company figure out where Tracy is (and what the situation is), they fly a B-17 over as a signal. The B-17 is Harvard red -- a signature color for Hotshot Charlie, a supporting character from Terry and Pirates' war years. Hotshot Charlie's made a cameo in Dick Tracy before, making his off-screen appearance doubly effective.

Hotshot Charlie flies over Simmons Corner. Note how Staton adopts
the style of original "Terry and the Pirates" artist Milton Caniff
for this sequence.
And of course, in the end, Annie is reunited with Daddy Warbucks, Punjab, and the Asp. Four years after cancellation, Slampyak's story finally reaches an end, albeit not in quite the way he envisioned it.

The official explanation, October 9, 2014
Thanks to Mike Curtis and Joe Staton for doing what the Tribune Syndicate failed to do -- bring an 86-year-old strip to a dignified conclusion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dick Tracy and the End of Annie - 1

Mike Curtis and Joe Staton finished up an extended sequence in Dick Tracy that was (in my opinion) something of a tour de force.

In addition to providing an unusual case for Dick Tracy, it also wrapped up loose ends from another legacy strip, while honoring the tradition of that strip in an innovative way.

This post (part 1) I'll lay down the foundation for the sequence. In part 2, I'll show how Curtis and Staton used those elements to tell an unusual story.

A brief history of Little Orphan Annie

Harold Gray began Little Orphan Annie in 1924, and continued it through his death in 1968. Although the strip was continued, it was in something of a creative free fall. Artists and writers came and went, and circulation continued to decline. (click on images to enlarge)

Harold Gray's Annie, from 1936

After the success of the musical Annie (both on Broadway and in Hollywood), the strip, which had been reduced to reprinting sequences from the 1930's was resurrected. Leonard Star (Mary Perkins, On Stage) took over the strip and continued until 2000. (click on images to enlarge)

Leonard Starr's take on Annie

Noted artist Allan Kupperberg took over, and in 2004 handed off to talented artist and writer Ted Slampyak. Kupperberg and Slampyak updated Annie, letting her wear jeans and t-shirts rather than the anachronistic (but iconic) red dress.

The final Annie strip by Ted Slampyak, 2010

Unfortunately, readers wanted the musical Annie, and in 2010, Tribune Media Services abruptly cancelled the strip. Annie was in the hands of the "Butcher of the Balkans" and although Oliver Warbucks was searching frantically for her, she and the Butcher disappeared into the wilds of Guatamala. The End -- for now.

Annie's radio program featured a secret message
at the end of each episode. Buy Ovaltine, send in
the vouchers, and you could get a secret decoder
ring (and be a member of the secret society).

Little Orphan Annie on radio

Little Orphan Annie debuted on radio in 1930 as a 15-minute serial, and continued through 1942. The program settled into a format that differed from the comic strip, where Annie and Sandy were often wandering alone, in a picaresque narrative.

The radio program had Annie living in Simmon's Corner, a small, rural community in Tucker county, the ward of Ma  and Pa Silo. The Silos took care of Annie while Daddy Warbucks was off doing big projects. Of course, it didn't mean that life on the farm was dull for Annie! She crossed paths with gansters, Nazi spies, and other villians that all seemed to converge on Simmons Corners.

The modern world of Slampyak's "Annie" and the radio world of Simmons Corner would be brought together in "Dick Tracy" in a brilliant fashion. As you'll see in part two.

A worthy opponent

The villain of the Dick Tracy sequence comes from the golden age of Annie. Axel first ran across Annie in 1939, and at the time just seemed like another crook. But when he returned in 1940, he was a cold-blooded arms merchant with more than a passing resemblance to Hitler. He was eventually captured and deported.

Axel harangues his followers in 1940. 64 years later, his attitude hadn't
changed a bit.