Marvin Hamlisch Tribute

Marvin Hamlisch, photo by Stephanie Strasburg

The prolific and memorable Marvin Hamlisch — even if you’ve never been to one of his musicals or purposefully listened to his music, there’s a good chance you can whistle a few of his tunes. From A Chorus Line‘s “One” and “What I Did for Love” to the Sophie’s Choice Suite, and Nobody Does it Better, Marvin’s music is firmly ingrained in our cultural consciousness. It resonated with many, including his longtime friend Barbra Streisand, shown below in a tribute to him last October:

Marvin’s music also touched the hearts of many Seattle Symphony patrons. We received an outpouring of kind words in the wake of Marvin’s passing, and we share some of our patrons’ favorite musical memories here:

“My favorite memory is listening to the soundtrack of The Sting over, and over, and over … I’d listen to his versions of Scott Joplin over the originals anytime (forgive me, Mr. Joplin).”

“I have always had a soft spot for Hamlisch since I fell in love with the movie The Sting as a little kid.”

A Chorus Line‘s ‘One, singular sensation’ was my wedding walk.  Yes, I walked down the aisle at The Olympic Hotel in Seattle, to ‘One singular sensation, ev-er-y move that she makes….’ “

“In many ways his music defined the films he worked on. Brilliant is an understatement.”

Beginning tonight, the Seattle Symphony performs some of Marvin Hamlisch’s most beloved music in a special tribute concert. Get your tickets here, and read a Seattle Times tribute feature here.

Who Is Your Un-Valentine?

Some of us have Valentines this year, some don’t. What we can all have, though, is an un-Valentine.

While at this time of year, Western civilization’s most devout lovers seem to enjoy a special prominence — musically, we can cite Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice and countless more — let us not forget that some of the artists behind these masterpieces had love lives that were less than storybook, to say the least.

If passion inspires music, and music, passion, perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that some of history’s more musical souls got a little too carried away with their passions. Not quite Valentine material, these composers are hereby dubbed “un-Valentines.”

There’s Carlo Gesualdo, a 16th and 17th century composer famous because his chromatic ingenuity sounds bold even today. Oh yeah, and he’s also famous because he murdered his wife and her lover – in flagrante delicto – with the help of three men (and with the help of swords and pistols, of course). All went unpunished.

Then, there’s the Richard Wagner, whose serial infidelity stood in stark contrast to his operas that speak of undying love. Wagner, whose work was championed by German composer-conductor Hans von Bülow, repaid this kindness by carrying on an affair with von Bülow’s wife — siring two children by her while she was still married to her first husband. Then, after the unfaithful Cosima had left von Bülow and remarried Richard, she was repaid with a marriage plagued with unfaithfulness.

Cosima was the daughter of Franz Liszt, who carried on several love affairs and, like Wagner, tried his hand in spouse-stealing. Liszt had an affair with Countess Marie d’Agoult for two years before she left her husband for the virtuosic Hungarian pianist and composer. Liszt’s later life included many more romances of dubious morality, including the failed attempt to marry Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein.

Have we missed anyone? Of course we have! Tell us about your musical un-Valentine(s) in the comment section below.

Oh, and never fear! We still love and celebrate music’s classic love stories. Starting tomorrow, the Symphony presents “Love Stories,” a program of romantic music that ranges from dreamlike to passionate. Learn more about this upcoming program here.

Remembering Elliott Carter

Elliott Carter, photo by Meredith Heuer

Elliott Carter, whose orchestral piece Instances has its world premiere performances at this week’s Seattle Symphony concerts, passed away on November 5, 2012. He was, at that time, scarcely a month from his 104th birthday. Child prodigies have long been a fixture of musical life. Carter was something far more rare and wondrous: an “elder prodigy,” for lack of a better term. The composer began to achieve distinctive work only after age 40, and he struggled long and hard thereafter to create the music that placed him in the front rank of American composers during the third quarter of the last century. He remained remarkably energetic, producing a steady stream of new works at an age when most composers would be content to enjoy their laurels and a well-earned retirement. Neither Verdi nor Stravinsky nor Richard Strauss, each of whom wrote important music in his ninth decade, reaped such a bountiful late harvest.

Carter completed Instances, his final orchestral work and his penultimate composition in all, last April, at age 103. But the astonishing longevity of his career should not distract us from Carter’s true importance, which lies in his original and challenging musical thought. For more than six decades Carter advanced innovative concepts of rhythm, musical form, aural drama and other matters in a string of complex and beautifully crafted compositions that practically define late modernism in American music. Complexity is nearly always mentioned in connection with Carter’s music, which is indeed complex in many ways.

Ultimately, however, it is not the complexity but the originality and independence of his work that is its chief virtue. As a boy, Carter was mentored by Charles Ives, the iconic personification of American originality in music. Although he assimilated certain ideas from Ives, especially the notion of disparate musical ideas clashing and coexisting in a composition, Carter adopted none of the folkloric references or other surface traits of Ives’ style. Nor did he ally himself with any of the schools and movements to which so many of his 20th-century colleagues adhered. Instead, following Ives’ example, he pursued his own musical concerns in his own way. And as Instances shows, he did so right through the close of his remarkable career.

© 2013 Paul Schiavo

The Seattle Symphony performs Instances on the same program as Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, as well as pieces by Schumann and Rossini, on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Read more about the program and get your tickets here.