You are currently browsing the archive for the Uncategorized category.

winter dreams

We have been listening Tchaikovsky a lot recently, owing in part to the often seasonally-themed motif in his orchestral works. While we’ve written in the past about the plague of The Nutcracker, it is nonetheless something we’re sure to listen to each December, as is his cycle of piano pieces, The Seasons. Perhaps simply by association, we’ve always found there to be a winter-y quality to each of Tchaikovsky’s three ballets — and we’ve felt a little proud of the fact that the first recordings of each in their complete form were made by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra during the Dorati era.

Today we listened to a much lesser-known work, his first symphony, which Tchaikovsky gave the subtitle Winter Dreams.

The symphony is partly programmatic in that its first two movements are given titles which reflect the influence of Mendelssohn’s romanticism (his Italian symphony was a favorite of Tchaikovsky’s at the time), but the last two movements are untitled and decidedly less evocative. When the twenty-six year old Tchaikovsky first presented the symphony to his former teachers, both offered only negative reactions. We can only imagine the anxiety this caused the notoriously emotional composer.

Portions of the symphony were received poorly at performances in St. Petersburg, where Tchaikovsky had hoped to have the completed work debut. Eventually, it was performed in Moscow instead, a compromise forced on the composer because it proved difficult to find anyone willing to conduct it in the former. Tchaikovsky felt pleased with the response, and in a letter to his brother Anatoly, called it “a great success, particularly the adagio.”

From the beginning, that adagio, the movement to which he gave the title “Land of desolation, land of mist,” has been the held in higher esteem than the rest of the symphony. Still, in spite of any success, the Winter Dreams symphony would wait fully a decade and a half for a second performance, and it remains today one of the least commonly played or recorded of Tchaikovsky’s large orchestral works.

The first movement, Allegro tranquillo, is given the title “Dreams of a Winter Journey.” It is sometimes cited by Tchaikovsky’s admirers to dispel claims the young composer lacked confidence and could not navigate the symphonic form. Still, the movement is deceptively simple, developing a single motif slowly over about eleven minutes. Tchaikovsky’s unique style, neither Russian nor European, is already beginning to form in this early work, particularly in the dynamic string passages and their delicate interplay with the woodwinds.

We imagine a winter journey in nineteenth century Russia was quite different than one in present day Minnesota, but our imagination is still inspired by this movement, which might offer the perfect soundtrack to an afternoon sledding trip at Matthews Park this afternoon.

sesame streetHoliday records are filled with various re-tellings of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” the 1823 poem published anonymously which has become one of the most familiar pieces of American literature.

We collected several, this one included, in a post last year. We have also already posted about the Sesame Street Christmas album here, which is one of several records we play every year.

Many families have a favorite holiday album, and we hear a lot of stories about them this time of year as people come in to buy a second copy or a replacement copy. Often someone will say their parents played a certain album every year and its a tradition they wish to carry on with their own children.

Our other favorite albums to play every year include Season’s Greetings from Perry Como (his first Christmas album from 1959) and the Esquivel record we posted last week.

By this time of the year the Christmas albums are pretty picked over, but there’s still a lot of gems left here in the shop. It’s a fun time of year to see people buying all kinds of music not just for themselves, but for their friends and families.

This second track is for everyone who’s feeling like a grouch or grinch this Christmas.

Last week our family watched The Star Wars Holiday Special, a 1978 program which lives up to its reputation as basically the worst thing that ever happened anywhere ever.

It’s truly remarkably that they kept making Star Wars movies after the holiday special disaster, but an even more extraordinary fact is that only two years later they returned to the holiday theme with Christmas in the Stars.

RSO Records also released the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack by John Williams and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a great story album of the film (subtitled “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” and narrated masterfully by Malachi Throne). The label’s unprecedented success in the seventies was due in large part to brilliant crossover marketing between film and popular music — notably with a string of hits from Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Still, when compared the millions RSO invested and lost in the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, a Star Wars Christmas album was a wise investment.

The album reportedly sold out its initial pressing of 150,000 copies, although its hard to find anything endearing about it besides the painting on the cover by legendary Star Wars production artist Ralph McQuarrie. It is, we suppose, less terrible than the holiday special, but something about a lecture on the meaning of Christmas from Anthony Daniels just doesn’t sit well. Apparently the single “What Can You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb?)” enjoyed airplay, but we suspect this was largely on the Dr. Demento Show.

Christmas in the Stars does carry two special distinctions for record collectors. First, it was one of the earliest digitally recorded and mixed records after those amazing albums made here in Minneapolis at Sound 80. We think the Flim and the BBs album and the SPCO recordings are much better than Christmas in the Stars.

And second, the song “R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (credited on the single to The Star Wars Intergalactic Droid Choir and Chorale) is the recorded debut of Jon Bon Jovi. At seventeen, he was working as a custodian at the Power Station, a legendary New York recording studio run by his cousin, Tony Bongiovi. Whether or not this is canon — and whether or not Bon Jovi could make an appearance in a future Star Wars sequel — is now up to the people at Disney.


Don Cherry was everywhere in the world of modern jazz in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Free jazz enthusiasts know his work best through the early Ornette Coleman recordings, first in the quintet with pianist Paul Bley and later in the key-less quartet which recorded a series of six albums for Atlantic Records. With the same rhythm section of Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, Cherry recorded an album with John Coltrane as well.

On the Atlantic albums beginning with The Shape of Jazz to Come, Coleman performed on a plastic saxophone. This had originally been a compromise for the cash strapped artist, but he came to appreciate its dryer sound. Cherry performed here and in many of his recordings on the pocket trumpet, a smaller practice instrument which likewise had a slightly different sound.

In the 1970s Cherry explored Middle Eastern and traditional African music. He continued to work with Haden and Blackwell. His recorded results were more structured than the “harmolodic funk” Coleman was recording at the time with an early incarnation of his group Prime Time. Cherry’s album Brown Rice was first released in Italy in 1975 and was reissued in the United States by Horizon records (the edition seen in this photograph). The track you’re hearing is the title track from this album, on which Haden and Blackwell again join Cherry. He is playing his pocket trumpet as well as the electric keyboard. Cherry had played piano in Art Farmer’s band in his early career and often played parts on his own albums.

Rice, which is grown on every continent except Antartica, is a dietary staple for more than half the world’s population. In several cultures the word for “to eat” literally translates as “to eat rice.” According to Ricepedia (“the online authority on rice”), rice is the fastest growing staple food in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, both of which import most of their rice.

Brown rice does not have the bran and germ removed, as with white rice. It is a good source of many nutrients, including: magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, and manganese. It is also high in fiber. A diet rich in such whole grains has been shown to prevent the development of type II diabetes, heart disease and several common cancers. Brown rice also appears to provide a partial antidote to America’s obesity epidemic — a Japanese study this year found that the food may cause an epigenetic restructuring of the brain which reduces our desire for fatty foods.

Brown rice is also very tasty.

We sold out of the Record Store Day™ Black Friday releases quickly yesterday and returned to the normal business of albums that people actually want to hear, rather than re-sell online. We thankfully don’t have to hear from the Record Store Day™ mafia again until April.

This year’s list of un-necessary reissues contained a rare interesting release — a 7″ record featuring both sides of the 1946 single by Wynonie Harris that has gone down in history as the first appearance of Sun Ra. “Dig This Boogie” was distinguished by the son of Saturn’s boogie woogie style, but the single has been out of print for more nearly eighty years.

Hearing the earliest recorded document of Sun Ra’s time on our Earth inspired us to look into other pre-Arkestra recordings. One of the things we learned from the Wikipedia page about Sun Ra was that he performed in an un-recorded trio with Coleman Hawkins and Stuff Smith in 1948. The same page says that a home recording of Ra and Smith appears on Sun Sound Pleasure, and we went digging through our disorganized record collection for that album.

Sun Sound Pleasure is a unique Sun Ra record owing to its selection of standards instead of Ra originals, but sadly our copy does not include their recording of the 30s ballad, “Deep Purple,” recorded on an early paper-tape machine. The album is one of many albums originally issued on El Saturn, the label run by Ra and Alton Abraham, which is now in print after decades in obscurity. As Sun Ra’s recordings have become more widely available, his audience has grown.

The violinist known as Stuff Smith was born Hezekiah Smith in 1909, making him about five years the senior of Sun Ra, if we are to believe the biographical data regarding the self-proclaimed “Sun One.” Smith was a successful swing-era soloist and songwriter, and he hardly embraced bebop although he performed with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Though lesser known than Stéphane Grapelli or Jean-Luc Ponty, Smith was a pioneering jazz violinist. He was the first to explore amplified effects and his style was more in line with the solos of swing artists who transitioned to the modern era such as Coleman Hawkins. We think of him as second only to Joe Venut as a contemporary, and second only to Billy Bang as the greatest jazz performer on the violin.

On the 1965 session reissued on this budget-label album, Smith is joined by Grapelli who is a more conventional soloist. Smith is featured as a vocalist on “Blues in the Dungeon,” a tune which we believe Sun Ra must have enjoyed.

There’s a controversial movie about the private life of Jacqueline Du Pré, a cellist whose short career revived England’s role in classical music, in particular Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Du Pré’s life and career didn’t need to be sensationalized to be interesting, as she was one of those classical musicians whose music spoke for itself.

Du Pré first performed the Elgar concerto at her concert debut in 1962 when she was seventeen years old. She went on to perform it again at the BBC’s prominent Proms summer festival, and a subsequent recording of the piece became an international hit. After this she studied with Mstislav Rostropovich and earned his praise.

She made many famous friends in the classical community — A 1969 recording of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet featured Du Pré along with her husband Daniel Barenbiom, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman and Zubin Mehta. It was a classical “super group” along the lines of rock’s Traveling Wilburys, and they performed and recorded several chamber pieces together.

Du Pré was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her career came to a tragic end. She was so, so young when she passed away, and the loss for listeners like ourselves is enormous. In a short time she truly brought new life into the world of classical music.

Her recordings of Elgar and Schubert are highly regarded. We also love this album of Du Pré and Barenbohm performing Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no.3 in A Major. Regular readers of the Hymies blog know how highly we regard Beethoven’s music — this work, completed at the same time as the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, is unique in the way the cello and piano interact and share the lead role.

Pianist Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich had toured with Du Pré, and had also performed and recorded other Beethoven works at the time of this recording. His 1968 recording of the Diabelli Variations is one of the best. Although he was born in the United States, he has long lived in England. At seventy-seven, he is still performing.


« Older entries § Newer entries »

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.