Classical Music Mashup


The Other Mozart

another mozart1Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed Nannerl, was the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and his only sibling to survive infancy. In all accounts, she is only an episode in the biography of Mozart, a “fact” from the great composer’s early years.

Leopold Mozart with his children Wolfgang and Nannerl at the piano, the portrait of their deceased mother on the wall. Oil on Canvas by Johann Nepomuk Della Croce, around 1780.

Leopold Mozart with his children Wolfgang and Nannerl at the piano, the portrait of their deceased mother on the wall. Oil on Canvas by Johann Nepomuk Della Croce,
around 1780.

However, on many accounts, growing up, Nannerl, having been older, was more talented, experienced and, perhaps, even more musically gifted than her brother Wolfgang. Nannerl played harpsichord since she was 7 years old. With her father Leopold she traveled all over Europe, giving performances with her prodigal younger brother. At 11, she played the most difficult sonatas and concertos. Miracle babies, Nannerl and Wolfgang captured and fascinated European capitals, and, more often than not, Nannerl was considered a brighter star than young Wolfgang.

“Imagine an eleven-year-old girl, performing the most difficult sonatas and concertos of the greatest composers, on the harpsichord or fortepiano, with precision, with incredible lightness, with impeccable taste. It was a source of wonder to many.”  Augsburger Intelligenz, May 19, 1763.

another mozart2

However, by the standards of the time, the life of a performer wasn’t “right” for a girl, no matter how gifted. Thus their father Leopold continued to nurture the talents of Wolfgang and tour Europe with him while, after three years of touring, Nannerl was left behind. She had to learn sewing and housekeeping — her future was to find a husband, marry, have children, sew, embroider and keep the house. Kinder, Küche, Kirche — the three Ks of a good German woman. And not only German, no matter how you pronounce the three Ks.

Women were still being thought of as less than, and that they should keep their place in the home taking care of the family. There was even a discussion of whether a woman could create. One critic I read in my research said a woman would not be able to have children if she created art, because she would use up her creativity.

There were very strange thoughts at the time about women and about them creating. It was even argued that women don’t create the child, that it is the men who create the child and the women only carry the child in their belly. I mean, it is astounding. ( Sylvia Milo in the interview about her one-woman play, “The Other Mozart.”

Nannerl married a magistrate Johann Baptist von Sonnenburg, 15 years her senior, twice a widower. The couple moved to the home of her mother in St. Gilgen. Johann Baptist already had five children from his two previous marriages. Nannelr bore him three more.

After her husband’s death, Nannerl returned to Salzburg. She continued to offer piano lessons, enjoying a great esteem and respect among the residents of this city. Her diaries, letters and memoirs remain an invaluable source of information and insight for numerous biographers of her brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

“The Other Mozart” by Sylvia Milo is a play inspired by Nannerl’s vast epistolary heritage.

another mozart

Also, in 2010 premiered the French film Mozart’s Sister (French title: Nannerl, la sœur de Mozart) written and directed by René Féretanother mozart3

Felines’ Feelings Toward Music

kitties and Music

If you are not a cat lover (and even if you are), you might have never known of a true scientific magazine — the venerable Journal of Feline Medicine. It is, as the name suggests, dedicated to all things medical related to felines. Such as this article: Influence of music and its genres on respiratory rate and pupil diameter variations in cats under general anaesthesia: contribution to promoting patient safety.

Based on peoples’ experience and proven scientific research, it’s been known for a while already: listening to music reduces pain and stress in human patients. Music calms nerves. It soothes people. It makes them happy.

The study in the Journal of Feline Medicine is thought to be the first one to prove that music affects felines in the similar way it affects humans.

In cognitive science, music is one of the most intriguing and eccentric components of human culture, being apparently universal. In a non-consensual way, music can be defined as the art of organising sound in a temporal dimension according to such properties as melody, harmony, rhythm and tone in order to produce a continuous, unified and evocative composition. Regardless of its definition, it is widely accepted that music has different physiological and psychological effects on the individual. (–From the above article.)


‘After reading about the influence of music on physiological parameters in humans, I decided to design a study protocol to investigate whether music could have any physiological effects on my surgical patients.

‘In the surgical theatres at the faculty where I teach and at the private veterinary medical centre where I spend my time operating, environmental music is always present.” (Dr Miguel Carreira, a veterinary surgeon at the University of Lisbon, Portugal who led the study.)

The researchers found that  classical music — Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, for instance, or George Handel’s compositions  — made the cats more relaxed while Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn was slightly less effective. Listening to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck appeared to have an opposite effect — it significantly increased the stress levels in the animals already stressed out by the ordeal of the surgery.

‘During consultations I have noticed, for example, that most cats like classical music, particularly George Handel compositions, and become more calm, confident and tolerant throughout the clinical evaluation.’ (Dr Miguel Carreira.)

The researchers fit 12 cats with headphones and — after exposing the cats to at least two minutes of silence — played random clips of music during neutering surgery. While at it, the researchers were monitoring their subjects heartbeat, measuring their respiratory rate and pupil diameter (see the cat’s pinched tongue, wired to the monitor.)

undergoing surgery

Cat undergoing surgery at a veterinary clinic in Portugal, the site of the research.

The talented psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and musicians at the University of Maryland composed  the first “species-specific” music for domestic cats. The music replicates the rhythms of cat’s purring and high pitched meows. Well, wow and meow!

It’s been determined that cats liked feline tunes even more than they liked human classical music by Bach, Faure and Barber.

Interesting sound. Listen. 

It is claimed that this music makes cat less agitated and all nine kitty’s lives more fulfilling. Pet owners are encouraged to play this composition to their beloved felines, and play it often. Let’s hope it won’t make the owners more agitated and their own only lives more miserable.

The researchers now hope to look at how music might impact other animals including dogs.

Cute kitties of the top image came from this site, dedicated to the pictures of cats listening to music.

The Art of Overtone Singing

The “other-worldly” sound of overtone singing is hard to master, say those who know a thing or two about singing. The technique is “native” to Mongolia, called sygyt, meaning throat singing  in Mongolian.

Anna-Maria Hefele, a classical soprano who also plays a dozen or so musical instruments, has been practicing the art of overtone singing for over 10 years.

The skills she displays on the video far outweigh what the thousands of viewers, including musicians, thought possible for a human being. At the 25-second mark she starts off with the basics, but then the real show begins: she starts shifting the fundamental note, while independently controlling the frequency of the overtone.

In case this sounds confusing: every note has a fundamental frequency. For instance, an E in the third octave sits somewhere at the 40-42Hz mark. But every note also has higher, subtle frequencies at which it resonates – those are called harmonics. They are multiples of the fundamental frequencies (an E in the fourth octave would be somewhere around 80Hz, then 160Hz and so on). (Polyphonic German soprano does the impossible – sings 2 notes at once!)

Miroslav Grosser can teach you basics of overtone singing.

YouTube has many videos featuring “the original” Mongolian throat singing as well as several of its “derivatives” — Tuvan and Siberian in particular.

The Tale of Mr Rêvus

Mr RFor no apparent reason whatsoever, I loved this amazing animated short film, The Tale of Mr Rêvusis. It was produced by Marius Herzog as the graduation (Diploma) project at the Georg-Simon-Ohm Hochschule – University Of Applied Sciences, in Nuremberg, Germany.

The challenge of this movie for Marius was to follow the entire production process of an animated 3D short film from start to finish on his own:  story development, concept design, modelling, rigging, directing, editing, animating, rendering etc.

The score was arranged by Simon Scharf, a student at the Hochschule für Musik also in Nuremberg (HfM), conducted by Guido Johannes Rumstadt and played by the orchestra of the HfM.

Little Butt Music From Hell

boschHieronymus Bosch, (appr. 1450 — 1516) an Early Netherlandish painter, in various accounts was “the inventor of monsters and chimeras”  and his works as comprising “wondrous and strange fantasies often less pleasant than gruesome to look at.” It was believed that Bosch’s art was inspired by medieval heresies and obscure hermetic practices.

These days, however, Bosch often seen as a prototype medieval surrealist, and compared to Salvador Dali. That is why I love them both.

The Garden of Earthly Delights is one of Bosch’s most famous works. It is a triptych with Adam and Eve in paradise on the left panel.

The triptych’s central panel is either (a) a fair warning that such unabashed debauchery won’t do you any good or (b) a dreamy delight in earthly pleasures of paradise lost — a wishful thinking.

Wikipedia article quotes American writer Peter S. Beagle who sees it as an “erotic derangement that turns us all into voyeurs, a place filled with the intoxicating air of perfect liberty”.  Disagree about “us, voyeurs”. It’s either “him, voyeur” or “them, voyeurs” — I respectfully abstain from being included. Perfect liberty? Perhaps. Be it thus.


The Garden of Earthly Delights, Oil-on-wood panels, 220 x 389 cm, Museo del Prado in Madrid

To be fully appreciated, The Garden of Earthly Delights certainly needs to be viewed on large scale. Much larger than this:


Central Panel

Let’s disregard “erotic derangement” of the center panel, with it’s  “broad panorama of socially engaged nude figures” and turn our attention to Hell — the right panel. It depicts the torments of damnation, vestiges of god-awful hellscape.

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Fascinating as All Hell might be, the subject of this post is but a  small detail of the panel.

Fragment of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights

Fragment of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights

One the torments, offered a la carte in Bosch’s hell, is torture by music. Anyone whose senses were subjected to the offensive sounds of music one strongly despised, could attest to experiencing hell, Hell or HELL.

It seems that no one was paying close attention to the music, written on the damned rascal’s bottom, until recently. Here is how the butt music from Bosch’s Hell sounds:

And below is a video clip — widely available on YouTube but little heard — of the “hellish” melody’s musical arrangement .  Sounds a bit “new-agey” to my taste. The triptych, let’s be reminded,  is dating from between 1490 and 1510. Something old, something new… music from hell, Hell or HELL?

String’em Up, Corrupt The Spirit!

львы и скрипачкаOne fine evening (or, perhaps, morning or afternoon), Kevin Drum, a prolific dr… oups! nearly misspoke, no, not drummer, but blogger (Mother Jones), was sitting on the sofa somewhere in the world. By his own admission, he was having trouble coming up with anything to write about, browsing through the Entertainment section of the LA Times. And, lo and behold, the topic jumped at Kevin soon enough, and just stonkered him. He was stumped.

As far as I can tell, after having read a fair number of his posts and articles, Kevin Drum is not easily stonkered or stumped by anything. When he is, however, Kevin Drum can easily whip up a few riotous lines on the offending subject.  Here is Kevin quoted verbatim:

In the LA Times today, classical music critic Mark Swed reviewed Yuja Wang’s performance of Scriabin’s Sixth Sonata. He says Wang played it for “beauty and thrills”:

But she also raced through the sonata, treating it as something to be so fully mastered that it might lose its power to corrupt the spirit with its huge portions of musical decadence.

I love this. Not just because I don’t understand a word of it. That’s to be expected since I know essentially nothing about music. I love it because I can’t even conceive of how someone might come up with that particular string of words to describe a musical experience. Where did they come from? What was going through Swed’s mind when he put them down on paper? Did this thought occur to him naturally, or did he have to work hard on that sentence to make it express the way he felt? And did he really feel that the tempo of Wang’s performance was somehow motivated by a desire to cut through the sonata’s “power to corrupt the spirit”?

I have no idea. It’s like reading Ulysses. Or perhaps a description of a cricket test. The words are demonstrably in English, and the syntax makes sense, but nothing else does.

Anyway, you can probably tell by now that I’m having trouble coming up with anything to write about today, so at this point I’m just blathering. But I sat down on the sofa with the newspaper a few minutes ago and then Domino jumped onto my lap. I didn’t want to toss her off right away, so I gave her a few minutes of snoozing by reading the whole entertainment section, including Swed’s review. And it just stonkered me, especially the sentence above. But let’s give this post a veneer of seriousness anyway by turning it into a teachable moment. For those of you who know music better than me (a lot better, hopefully), read the review and discuss in comments. What should I have taken away from it? (Read original post here I Am Stumped by This Music Review)

What can I say about Mr. Swed’s article that Kevin hadn’t?

See for yourself what the young and the mini-skirted Yuja Wang does to Alexander Scriabin — truly spirit corrupting stuff. Innocent spirits everywhere! Keep away from anathema!

This YouTube clip is not of Ms. Wang’s recent performance reviewed by Mark Swed. And the reference to Ms. Wang’s skirts isn’t the harping of my corrupt spirit — rather, it’s in the spirit of the Mr. Swed’s article:

“…a Bond girl who was also Houdini and Horowitz rolled into one, in her demonstration of startling dexterity despite physical restraints. Towering high heels didn’t hamper her deft pedaling, no matter what Newtonian mechanics might otherwise suggest.”   


Yuja Wang – Scriabin, Selections for Solo Piano

I read a fair number of various reviews in my lifetime, musical and whatnot, and some — god help me! — did some damage to my fragile spirit.  Similarly hilarious, smartly stringed up and grammatically impeccable verbiage can be found in reviews of, say, poetry.

“Admittedly, the tolerance of brutal postmodernism didn’t lower metaphorical existentialism of the conceptual perversions of her reflexive nerve. None of the author’s poetic evocation provides enough buoyancy to get one past the structural coral reef that her verses erect: between the reader and any reason to care…” 

How’s this for enlightenment and poetry appreciation? Never mind the poet or the poem. Bask in tidal waves of many well turned-out words — they are demonstrably in English… What if I told you that I’ve come up with this gibberish all on my own –?

My long-neglected Smile page is updated with two new cartoons. Smile! Corrupted spirits thrive on crooked smirks.

The Boys From Liverpool And Other Boys Too

BeatlesAlthough UNESCO declared January 16th as The Beatles Day, worldwide since 2001, Liverpool and Hamburg, the cities where the Fab Four laid the foundations for their stardom, celebrate it on July 10th.

February 27th is yet another date when “the boys from Liverpool” are fondly remembered. Not that it really mattes to me, other than as a flimsy excuse to share a mildly entertaining anecdote, which appeared, I believe, soon after Paul McCartney took a mic and fronted Nirvana at the benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy and on SNL last December.

Here it goes, and, trust me, the way you find it here you won’t find  anywhere else and in any language:


Paul McCartney took part in the Best Chuck Berry Imitation/Impersonation Contest, and although he looked nothing like Chuck Berry, his rendition of My Ding-A-Ling won him the first place.

John Lennon, though a gentleman to the core, wasn’t above jealousy. He went ahead and entered the Best Humperdinck Imitation contest. He won it hands down; his Release Me was a hit.

George Harrison fumed, filled with envy, but not for long. He entered and won The Best Joke About Beatles International Competition. Spectators could see it quite clearly – George was slightly anxious. On his left foot he wore a shoe but no sock, on his right – only a sock. He recited the following:

We never imbibed anything stronger than tea during our recording sessions. But after the concert – that’s another matter entirely. One day we got so loaded after the concert, that we felt like singing. We piled into the car and but couldn’t agree who should drive. “George, you drive,” said Macca, John and Ringo in unison. “Why me?” I asked. “You can’t hold a tune worth a damn when drunk. 

Never mind that the joke had a momentum problem and, although lively, wasn’t innately suspenseful or particularly funny. Coming from Harrison, it couldn’t be beat.  

Ringo Starr wasn’t amused. Though not a jealous man, he, too, wanted to win some blasted prize in one goddamned contest or another. Since nothing suitable was going on anywhere at the time, he entered The Best Flutist Among Drummers Competition… and won, for there was no better drummer than him… who’d signed up for a contest as dumb as this one.

Keith Richards by Tiago Hoisel

Keith Richards by Tiago Hoisel

Keith Richards watched this circus from the sidelines for a while, experiencing an existential mix of sensations – fever, nausea, nervous exhaustion and suicidal depression – somewhere in the general proximity of his heart. Then he couldn’t stand it anymore. “Look at this! Every eff…ing cockroach is a winner!” he cried out and sprung to action. Guess who won the Golden Beetle as the Best Impersonator / Imitator of Paul McCartney? Right.

“Gee, some big eff…ing problems you’ve got, asshole,” said Mick Jagger and, without much ado, punched Keith in the face. Schplott! Aaaaaiiiieeeee!!!! Keith’s face sustained some damage, though anything that cold compress couldn’t heal. They were best of friends, after all. Besides, this immediately cured Keith’s fever, nausea, nervous exhaustion, suicidal depression and number of other ailments.

Also, yesterday, I became 1,044,075th viewer of a passionate solo rendition of the 1970s Beatles classic Let It Be, during a concert by what appears to be a navy band. 

Backing vocals are provided by a choir of similarly-dressed Russian men, while two lines of dancers on either side of the stage wave their hats in the air at the song’s rousing finish.

The person who uploaded it on Dec 15, 2008, apologized profusely to all Beatles fans everywhere for that fat Russian singer who looks like Newt Gingrich. Little did he know (the guy who uploaded it) that it’ll become such a hit, delighting Fab Four fans in Russia and, it seems, everywhere.