Skip to content

Pumping up the volume – Italian style

July 6, 2014

This week I want to talk about Lou Harrison. And to get us kickin’ back and in the mood, here is a part of his Suite for Symphonic Strings: the second movement, Et in Arcadia Ego. (Now go and look up the generally accepted interpretation of that phrase, and see whether I haven’t succeeded in spoiling the moment.)

Harrison was one of a bunch of 20th Century American composers, along with Burl Ives, Alan Hovhaness, Aaron Copland and Elizabeth Someone whose name I can’t remember at the moment but I’ve just discovered in the last 2 or 3 years. It’s annoying me that I can’t find the CD of her Piano Concerto that I bought last year and that I don’t have her name embedded in my mind.

The only connection between these composers for me is that I like them all. Beyond that, my knowledge of any of them does not even come close to adequate. Indeed, when I come to think about it – and that is an activity to which Mrs simonsometimessays suggests I devote far too much time – I am in a condition of great ignorance about an awful lot of stuff.  Happily, that is what the rest of the Internet is for. So I am able to discover with little effort that the name eluding me is Elizabeth…

…no, that didn’t work, and that makes me wonder whether it’s Elizabeth at all. I now have to check all the places the CD may have got to. Car, study, work bag… I’m getting increasingly agitated. Like a Rossini crescendo. And here’s one to prove it – the amazing sextet from Act 2 of Rossini’s La Cenerentola. This is sumptuous ensemble writing – not tough on the ear, not too challenging to the emotions, but pure musical gold.

The crescendo is a trademark of Rossini. It’s an effective if unsubtle device for achieving variety in a repeated phrase, and Rossini certainly is not short on repetition. Indeed it is sometimes suggested that he didn’t write 39 operas, but one opera 39 times. But then: why change a winning formula? It worked – depressingly – for the various Johann Strausses.

Rossini sits in my consciousness with Donizetti and Bellini – the three great Bel Canto composers. I would guess that for most people that sequence – R, D, B – is the correct order of familiarity. But only with their names.

Una Furtiva Lagrima, from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, is one of those tunes that you know, even if you didn’t know you knew it. And that link is to Placido Domingo singing it so perfectly that if Donizetti had been alive to hear he would be sitting back sighing with satisfaction, thinking “Bingo!”.

And Bellini? Casta Diva, from Norma, must surely be one of the best-known tunes on the planet. And this shows you how it’s done, courtesy of Montserrat Caballé*

(Bellini, as I have just discovered, wrote an early opera, Bianca e Gernando, and later rewrote it as Bianca e Fernando. You’d think he might have tried to disguise it a little more effectively. But then again, it’s only a difference of a single letter – much as the difference between Rocky II and Rocky III.)

Well, time’s up, and I got so carried away with the Italian maestri that I forgot all about my missing CD. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (gospel-style) and as for that composer, well I am ashamed to admit to her that “I don’t even know your name”**. On the other hand, how’s that for a  jumpin’ country tune to finish with?

And I didn’t get to talk about Lou Harrison. That can wait for another day. But in case you’re wondering, he’s not related to George.

* Yes, the one who sang Barcelona with Freddie Mercury.

**  Alan Jackson

Et In Arcadia Ego. This by Guercino, the one at the top, with the same name, is by Poussin

Et In Arcadia Ego. This by Guercino; the one at the top, with the same name, is by Poussin


(I’ve just remembered: it’s Sheila.)


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

the dancing professor

building back the habit of writing, one day at a time

Eric Schlehlein, Author

(re)Living History, with occasional attempts at humor and the rare pot-luck subject. Sorry, it's BYOB. All I have is Hamm's.

Janh1: Mainly fair with occasional rain.

Mediocre revelations of a part-time hedonist.

fionaok's Blog

The greatest site in all the land!

Sian is Me

A library of thoughts

Dave's Corner of the Universe

Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide


Concert, Opera, Recital

Walk the Self-Talk

Breathing Thoughts into Life

Don Charisma

because anything is possible with Charisma

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness


Just Click It


Nominated for The Deli Magazines Artist of The Month

tanja stark

art words ideas

MarLa Sink Druzgal

"Traveling MarLa"

Fasting, Food and other musings by determined34

This is a blog started with a 'reboot your life' 3 day challenge and has developed into random posts about family, travel, food, life and other adventures

LoveLee Adulting

Take the journey to Adulthood with me.

Classical Conditioning

Let's talk about classical music

Every record tells a story

A Blog About Music, Vinyl, More Music and (Sometimes) Music...

Bucket List Publications

Indulge- Travel, Adventure, & New Experiences

Inside Croydon

Living life on the fringes of London


The greatest site in all the land!


10 Facts to Get You Started

notabarrister - thoughts from the clerk's room

"I clerk therefore I am" - Des a clerk

The Well-Read Sherlockian

Take a look inside the tin dispatch box....


Random musings

The Blog

...and sometimes he sings it instead

%d bloggers like this: