Tonight on Ether Game, we harmonize with Mother Earth, Father Time, Jack Frost, the Man in the Moon, and many other familiar characters with our show on anthropomorphisms.
Carl Orff (1895-1982) Carmina Burana: O Fortuna You've probably heard Carl Orff's “O Fortuna” in numerous movies. It gives every scene it accompanies a legendary quality, and that is not far from the composer's original intentions for the work. Orff composed “O Fortuna” as the opening to his Carmina Burana, a gigantic musical production which originally combined a huge orchestra and choir with dance, elaborate stage design and recitation. The text for the Carmina Burana is taken from a collection of profane poetry of the same name, written by 11th- and 12th-century itinerant monks. The poem “O Fortuna” is directed to Lady Fortune, a popular figure in medieval poetry, and describes her accessory: a giant wheel which decides the fate of humanity. While Orff had only this one hit, he was more successful as a music educator. His “Orff Approach” teaches musical skills through improvisation, and has been used all over the world.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) The Planets, Op. 32: Venus, Bringer of Peace Each movement of Gustav Holst’s suite The Planets is named after one of the seven planets, excluding Earth. Although despite its name, the music is less of a description of the celestial objects, and more of a description of the Greco-Roman mythological figures attached to those objects. So the movement Venus, rather than being about a yellowish Earth-sized object with a dense atmosphere, is about the goddess of love and beauty, and the bringer of peace. The idea of a multi-movement orchestral suite depicting mythical and astrological characters came to Holst as early as 1913. The first public performance of the whole work was not given until 1920, but its reputation had already been established by a private first performance in 1918 and several subsequent partial performances.
Frank Henry Loesser (1910-1969) Guys and Dolls: Luck Be Your Lady The musical Guys and Dolls is based on the short stories of author Damon Runyon. Runyon wrote colorful tales of the Prohibition Era, featuring ne’er-do-wells with names like Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, and Nathan Detroit. His story “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” is the central story of Guys And Dolls, where a gambler named Sky makes a bet he can seduce a missionary named Sarah Brown. In the musical it is Sky who sings the well-known song “Luck be a Lady.” Frank Loesser’s masterful songwriting has made many of the songs from Guys and Dolls jazz standards and pop hits in their own right. “Luck Be a Lady” has been covered by many legendary singers such as Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand.
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) L'Orfeo: Prologue (The Spirit of Music) In 1607, court composer Claudio Monteverdi premiered his own version of the mythic Orpheus tale. His Orfeo, though heavily influenced by its Florentine predecessor, advanced the genre through expanded musical forces, heightened dramatic moments and a greater emphasis on formal elements. For example, the opera is preceded by a prologue (which we just listened to) in which an anthropomorphism of music “La Musica” or “the Spirit of Music” sings five stanzas of verse (a preview of the five acts of opera to come) in which she welcomes the audience, speaks of music’s power to soothe emotional pain and asks for silence. After an instrumental transition, the story recounts the myth of Orpheus, who uses his gift of song to charm his way into the underworld to bring back his love, Euridice. Orpheus is granted the opportunity but with one stipulation, he must not look back at Euridice as she follows him back to the world of the living. Tragically, our hero cannot help himself and he turns to see if Euridice is behind him, only to watch her disappear back into the underworld. Cheers!
Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) Orpheus in the Underworld: The Voice of Public Opinion In Offenbach’s irreverent mythological farce, Orpheus and Eurydice are in a hapless marriage. Eurydice hates Orpheus’ music, and both are simultaneously cheating on each other and inventing ways to end their relationship. When Eurydice dies through trickery, a reluctant Orpheus is forced to rescue her from the Underworld by a character introduced as the personification of Public Opinion. This character plays a similar role as a Greek chorus, however she is able to directly intervene with the action of the opera in order to maintain a “high moral tone,” a task at which she ultimately fails. In many productions, Public Opinion is often portrayed anachronistically as an austere woman in conservative modern attire. She is neat and tidy whose personality contrasts sharply with the gods who languish in Olympus, and are slumming it in the Underworld.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) Play of the Virtues [Ordo Virtutum] One of the most famous surviving pieces of music from the Middle Ages is The Play of Virtues by Hildegard of Bingen, one of history’s earliest female composers. Hildegard began having visions and giving prophecies at a very young age, leading her parents to send her off to a life as a nun. She eventually worked her way up to becoming an abbess and founded several abbeys in Germany, including the famous abbey in the town of Rupertsburg. In addition to her multi-faceted life as an abbess, herbalist, poet, visionary, and linguist, Hildegard is best known for her compositions of liturgical music. The Play of Virtues is a liturgical play that incorporates a huge number of singers, including 17 female singers to sing each of the Virtues (Humility, Hope, Chastity, Innocence, etc.) One of the characters in Hildegard’s work is the Devil himself, who screams and squabbles as he tempts the Soul towards sin. Hildegard depicted the Devil in this way because, in her philosophy, he is incapable of producing divine harmony.
Leos Janácek (1854-1928)The Cunning Little Vixen: Suite Alongside Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak, Leos Janacek completed the trio of popular Czech composers who introduced the Czech style into the Western canon of classical music in the Romantic Era. Like Smetana and Dvorak, Janacek incorporporated folk traditions from his homeland into his compositions, drawing heavily from the music of the Moravian region of the Czech Republic to create modern style. Though he is perhaps the least well-known of the trio, Janacek’s music is the most original. His method for incorporating Czech folk music differers completely from his contemporaries. Rather than crafting melodic lines inspired by or borrowed directly from folk music, Janacek explored the abstract characteristics of the tradition and reassembled them into art music. His opera The Cunning Little Vixen is one of his most popular works and is based on a comic-strip about a clever little fox who goes on adventures with various wildlife, and even a few humans.
David Maslanka (1943-2017) Mother Earth The personification of Earth as a mother is a common trope in the folklore and mythology of many cultures. The earth mother is often represented as an agent of creation or a caretaker of life. This concert piece for wind ensemble titled Mother Earth was originally composed for a high school band in Aurora, Indiana. At the time of writing, midwestern composer David Maslanka had been reading the work of a Vietnamese monk who emphasized being awake to the needs of our planet and to respond to it as if it was a living entity.. This inspired Maslanka to write an extended fanfare with an environmental message. Almost half of this composer’s works are for winds, which include symphonies, concertos, and a mass.
Ralph Stanley (1927-2016) Oh Death As the lead vocalist behind I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow, Dan Tyminsky is probably the most recognizable voice from the Coen Borther’s 2000 hit film, O Brother, Where Art Thou. However, old-timers and folk music enthusiasts will tell you that the most prestigious voice in that film belongs to the late Ralph Stanley, who sung an acapella version of this folk song, O Death, that won him a grammy for Best Country Male Vocal Performance after its inclusion in the film. It was just one of many awards in Ralph Stanley’s long and influential career, in which he, with his group the Stanley Brothers, inspired an entire generation of bluegrass players and fans that earned Stanley the title “the Godfather of Bluegrass.” O Death became one of his most well-known songs, although the song may have been written by the musician and Baptist preacher Lloyd Chandler, who originally called it “A Conversation with Death