The Joy of Wrong Notes

The element of surprise is an important ingredient in every great melody. Each note of a melody sets up expectations which are either fulfilled or delightfully challenged. Often subconsciously, we enjoy the unexpected “wrong” notes that take a melody in a bold new direction. We listen closely to hear how the disruption will work itself out. For an example, listen to the jarring appoggiaturas in the second movement of Mozart’s otherwise serene Piano Concerto …

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Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha

  A pop song about the prominent violinists of the day? It seems hard to imagine now. But around 1921 George and Ira Gershwin wrote Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha, a lighthearted ditty about four great Jewish Russian violinists who were well known at the time: Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Toscha Seidel, and Sascha Jacobsen. The lyric also refers to “Fritz” (Kreisler) and the legendary teacher Leopold Auer. According to biographer Charles Schwartz, George Gershwin …

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The Lusty Month of May

  I can’t resist marking the recent turn of the calendar page with this well-known excerpt from Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. The score includes some of Loewe’s most beautiful and soaring melodies, including The Simple Joys of Maidenhood, If Ever I Would Leave You, and I Loved You Once In Silence.  Born in Germany, Frederick Loewe began writing songs at the age of 7 and performed as a piano soloist with the …

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Pass the (Deflated) Football

The Listeners’ Club isn’t a sports blog, so I have no insight into this weekend’s Super Bowl matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. I’ll also leave it to the Columbia University physics department to investigate allegations that the Patriots gained an unfair advantage by using purposely deflated balls. But, in honor of Super Bowl 49, here is Pass the Football from Leonard Bernstein’s 1953 musical, Wonderful Town. The lyrics were written by Betty …

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The Road Not Taken

The past and the present collide in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. The 1971 Broadway musical centers around the final reunion of former chorus dancers of “Weismann’s Follies,” a fictitious revue suggesting the real-life Ziegfeld’s Follies. The two aging couples, Buddy and Sally and Benjamin and Phyllis, have returned to reminisce before the crumbling, old theater in which the Follies once played is demolished. Amid disappointment and unhappy marriages, a sense of lament pervades the …

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But Alive

Lauren Bacall, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 89, will be remembered partly as the seductive, husky-voiced film star who played opposite Humphrey Bogart throughout the 1940s in films such as To Have and Have Not, Dark Passage and Key Largo. Later, she appeared on Broadway. In 1970 she won a Tony award for her role in the musical, Applause. It was her first appearance singing onstage and she was coached by the show’s …

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The Ladies Who Lunch

Legendary Broadway performer Elaine Stritch passed away last week at the age of 89. She may be best remembered for her performance of the song, The Ladies Who Lunch in the original 1970 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical comedy, Company.  Company offers a psychological look at the nature of relationships and marriage. It eviscerates the musical theater’s traditional escapism, replacing it with a healthy dose of realism. The song Sorry-Grateful contains the searing line, “You’ll always be …

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