Skip Navigation

Frame by Frame

Posts Tagged ‘classical music’

Henri-Georges Clouzot Directs Herbert von Karajan

Friday, January 13th, 2017

In the 1960s, the conductor Herbert von Karajan and director Henri-Georges Clouzot made history.

As Linda Perkins notes on her website dedicated to the work of Herbert von Karajan, “in the mid-1960’s von Karajan collaborated with the French film director, Henri-Georges Clouzot. The filmed concerts they made together had rehearsals, workshop sessions with students and interviews added as they were originally transmitted as television programs for a series entitled ‘Die Kunst des Dirigierens’ (‘The Art of Conducting’).

The series was originally going to consist of 13 films but only 5 were actually made: Beethoven’s  Symphony No. 5 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 [both with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Karajan's orchestra for decades], Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Yehudi Menuhin as the soloist; Schumann’s Symphony No 4, again with the Vienna Symphony, and Verdi’s Requiem Mass with the La Scala Orchestra.”

Henri-Georges Clouzot was a highly idiosyncratic and highly individualistic film director, whose most famous films, The Wages of Fear (1953) and Les Diaboliques (1954)  are some of the most brutal films in French cinema. Yet he had an interest in documentary films as well, as evidenced by his direction of The Mystery of Picasso (1956), which I wrote about in the film journal Senses of Cinema.

But his films with Karajan are much more austere; unlike the Picasso film, they’re in black and white, shot in 35mm film, with immaculate cinematography by the great Armand Thirard, and one is stunned by their casual brilliance. Karajan is dressed rather informally, and conducts with his eyes closed, as he usually did, as if in a trance, and the members of the orchestra follow his direction unfailingly. In the film shown here, Karajan conducts Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

Hearing and seeing Karajan at the height of his powers, effortlessly conducting a piece that has become over time something of a concert hall staple, yet still managing to make it seem both fresh and immediate, is an overwhelming experience. These films offer us something more than a window to the past; they give us a concrete example of absolutely first rate orchestral precision, captured by Clouzot with efficiency and directness. This is cinema at its most essential.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the entire film; an amazing experience.

Who’s The Best Selling CD Artist of 2016? W.A. Mozart!

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Who sold more CDs in 2016 than anyone else? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, that’s who!

As Weston Williams writes in December 7, 2016 issue of The Christian Science Monitor, “the artist for the best-selling CDs of 2016 is no pop star, rapper, or rock guitarist. This year, that honor belongs to classical music composer and famed prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The legendary composer is an unusual winner in a music market dominated by popular music of the last 50 years. But Mozart’s music had some help resurfacing: an October 28th release of Mozart 225: The New Complete Edition, a massive collection of 200 CDs containing over 240 hours of his compositions . . .

‘Mozart’s life was brief; he died at age 35,’ Wheeler Winston Dixon, a professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. ‘As a child prodigy, he was trotted around Europe to play for the nobility of the era, but as he grew older, he found that his fame had lessened, so that by the late 1780s, he was reduced to borrowing money to pay his bills.

It was only after his death that the public again took notice of him, and such figures as Beethoven, Chopin and Tchaikovsky hailed his work, leading to renewal of public interest.’

According to Professor Dixon, Mozart’s appeal outside the classical music world is at least partially due to the 1984 film Amadeus, a dramatization of Mozart’s life. While many of the details of the plot are inaccurate, including the film’s suggestion that Mozart was murdered by a rival composer, the movie reintroduced Mozart’s music to a new generation of filmgoers.

But even without the bump in popularity brought on by Amadeus, Mozart’s music holds up well on its own, having remained in the classical repertoire in the 225 years since his death.”

With more than 240 hours of music on 200 CDs, this is the definitive Mozart set, containing everything he ever wrote, and even some material which may or not be correctly attributed to him – duly noted, of course – as well as a set of prints, two hardcover books on Mozart’s life and work, and much more.

Even though he began composing at the age of 4, it’s still astounding that Mozart managed to create as much as he did in such a short lifespan. This set is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest composers the world has ever known, and is obviously going to be the standard edition of his works for a long time to come.

Click here to see a brief video on the box set; pretty astonishing.

Charles Ives: Total Immersion

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

This was a once-in-a-lifetime event; all four Charles Ives symphonies in a single night.

On the last night of a very hectic New York research trip, I was lucky enough to attend the Charles Ives “Total Immersion” concert, featuring Leonard Slatkin conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, in a marathon evening which tackled nothing less than the performance of all four of Charles Ives’ symphonies, a taxing assignment for any orchestral group, but particular in the case of the justly famous Fourth Symphony, which is so complex that it requires two conductors, a huge orchestra, and a complete choral group to bring the work to life.

As you can see in the video above, the Fourth combines so many musical themes and such a wide array of instrumentation that any presentation of the work is daunting; it also comes with the considerable difficulty of containing, in several of its movements, two time signatures running simultaneously at two different tempos, which is why the second conductor is so necessary. I was staying in a hotel right around the corner from Carnegie Hall, and noticed a poster for the evening when I first arrived, at the astounding price of only $25 a ticket for any seat in the house.

Obtaining two tickets in the dress circle early Monday morning the week of the concert, I wondered all week long whether or not I would have the stamina to last through the entire evening, which started at 7:30 and didn’t conclude until nearly 11PM, especially since I had to get up the next morning at 5AM to catch a flight home. At the last minute, I decided that whatever the hardship in lack of sleep, this was an evening not to be missed, and I am deeply, deeply happy that I made that decision.

Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony were in top form, and the packed house knew it from the first downbeat; here was an ensemble that brought Ives’ often difficult music to life, and an amazing opportunity to track Ives’ development as a composer from the rather traditional First Symphony — which nevertheless boasts a spectacular First Movement (breaking concert hall protocol, the audience interrupted the orchestra after the movement was complete for a lengthy round of enthusiastic applause, rather than waiting for the entire piece to conclude). The Second was darker and more experimental, while the Third — which astoundingly won the Pulitzer Prize — was the briefest and least impressive, and then came, as one of my seatmates put it, “the main event.”

The Ives Fourth has been one of my favorite pieces of music since I can remember — indeed, I scored an entire film of mine, The DC 5 Memorial Film (1969) to the Fourth Movement in its entirety — and Skatkin’s interpretation of this intense, difficult, and ultimately transcendent piece of music was absolutely faultless. I was very pleased when I read James R. Oestreich’s review in The New York Times to find that he, too, was impressed by the evening; as he wrote, “the high point came on Friday evening with Detroit’s audacious presentation of an ‘Ives Immersion’: all four of Charles Ives’s numbered symphonies in chronological order.

Obvious in retrospect (though not likely to be repeated often, given its strenuous demands on performers and listeners alike), the program made for an extraordinary journey, from the relatively conventional sensibility of a prodigious student composer in the First Symphony to the unfettered one of an indomitable master in the Fourth . . .

Taken together, the four symphonies could almost be read as individual movements of a gigantic whole, so natural and compelling was the flow. After that First Symphony — first movement, as it were — the Second came as a sort of scherzo, gamboling through old folk and hymn tunes, with ‘Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean’ as anchor. The Third Symphony, relatively restrained and more focused in its borrowing, seemed a calming slow movement before the all-out radicalization of the Fourth.

Mr. Slatkin preceded his performance of the Fourth Symphony with a brief, brilliant demonstration of the work’s complexities. He had the orchestra play a four-measure mashup of tunes and rhythms from the second movement, then had the various sections play individual layers. And what should appear but ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in the violins, scarcely to be heard behind the blaring trumpets and under the accumulated weight of other instruments when everything was put back together. In similar fashion, Mr. Slatkin showed why a second conductor (Teddy Abrams) was needed in parts of the second and fourth movements, dismantling, then remantling the conflicting meters.”

All in all, a brilliant evening, and another, much needed reminder of how essential the arts are in today’s society.

Philip Glass’s New Opera: The Perfect American

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Click here, or on the image above, to see a clip from Philip Glass’s new opera, The Perfect American.

As Seth Colter Walls reports in the Browbeat section of Slate, “for the next 83 days, Medici.tv will be presenting a TV-quality broadcast of the recent Italian premiere of a new opera by Philip Glass. Titled The Perfect American—and adapted from Peter Stephen Jungk’s novel of the same name—it’s a tale of Walt Disney’s last days, in which the media titan slips in and out of what we might call empirical reality.

In it, Walt Disney, while supervising the team that is building one of the Animatronic American Personages that have become part of his parks’ public lore, gets into a debate with his Robot Lincoln—about the scope of Honest Abe’s liberalism, and whether it properly extends to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and the bearded hippie set.

The schism between the robot and Disney’s technicians stems from the surprising fact that the animatronic Lincoln seems to have a mind of his own. And so the developer team brings Lincoln to Disney, who tries to convince the robotic president that they both belong to the same class of Iconic American. (‘We’re folk heroes, Mr. President. But we have enemies …’)

Not getting quite the response he wants, Disney tries another tack, by asking (among other things): ‘Martin Luther King, Eldridge Cleaver, is that what you wanted? Doesn’t that go too far even for you, Mr. President? The black people’s march in Washington; would you really agree with that?’”

As the liner notes for the world premiere of the opera at the Teatro Real de Madrid add, “The Perfect American is a fictionalized biography of Walt Disney’s final months. We discover Walt’s delusions of immortality via cryogenic preservation, his tirades alongside his Abraham Lincoln talking robot, his utopian visions and his backyard labyrinth of toy trains.

Yet, if at first Walt seems to have a magic wand granting him all his wishes, we soon discover that he is as tortured as the man who crosses his story, Wilhelm Dantine, a cartoonist who worked for him, illustrating sequences for [the film] Sleeping Beauty. Dantine is fascinated by the childlike omnipotence of a man who identifies with Mickey Mouse, and desperately seeks Disney’s recognition at the risk of his own ruin.

Walt’s wife Lillian, his confidante and perhaps mistress Hazel, his brother Roy, his children Diane and Sharon, his close and ill-treated collaborators, and famous figures such as Andy Warhol, all contribute to the opera’s animation, its feel for the life of the Disney world.”

Typically brilliant stuff from Philip Glass, who has a long tradition of composing some of the late 20th and early 21st century’s most engaging and innovative music. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this remarkable, original, and compelling piece of work.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the entire opera The Perfect American.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

RSS Recent Frame by Frame Videos