When I was in Cow College at Iowa State University I spent most of my study time listening to KLYF Radio in Des Moines. They would eventually transform into an easy-listening music station, but the time I truly lived a K-LYFe was when they played classical music. And it was there that I first fell deeply in love with the Saturday Matinee stylings of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the first incarnation of John Williams of Star Wars fame. Yes, movie music. Classical movie music. And it seemed, mostly movie music for Errol Flynn movies.
My sister was always a lover of Errol Flynn movies, and when KGLO TV Channel 3 would play one on the Saturday Movie Matinee in the early afternoon, we would have to watch it, the whole thing, no matter how many times we were repeating the same four movies. Nancy would memorize the lines from the Olivia deHavilland love scenes. I would memorize the sword fight scenes with Errol and Evil Basil Rathbone (Good Basil was Sherlock Holmes, and we had to watch those too.) Early evenings on those Saturdays were all about playing pirate and Captain Blood adventures. Or better yet, Robin Hood.
But the music of adventure was by the composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold. He did the sound tracks for Captain Blood, Robin Hood, and the Sea Hawk.
I sincerely love the corny old movie matinee music because it was not only genius-level mood music and story-telling in a classical music instrumental masterpiece, but because even now it takes me back to the boy I was at twelve years old, playing pirate on Grandpa Aldrich’s farm. Making Robin Hood bows out of thin tree branches and arrows out of dried ragweed stalks. Sword fighting to the death with sticks with my cousin Bob, who was always Basil Rathbone in my mind. while I’m sure I was Basil Rathbone in his mind.
To be honest, there is much more to Korngold than I have relentlessly gushed about here like a hopeless nerdling fan-boy in the throws of a geeky movie passion. He was a musical child prodigy like Mozart. He wrote a ballet called Der Schneemann (the Snow Man) when he was only eleven, and became the talk of the town in Vienna, Austria in 1908. He became the conductor of the Hamburg Opera by 1921. He wrote some very fine classical music in the 20’s that still rings through orchestra halls to this day before coming to America in the early 30’s with film director Max Reinhardt. He scored his first film in 1935, adding music to Reinhardt’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was fortunate to escape Europe just as the Nazis were coming to power in Germany, and also at the right time to team up with new movie star sensation, Errol Flynn. He won his first Oscar for the musical score of the movie Anthony Adverse in 1936 and he won his second for The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. He died in 1957, a year after I was born. But I promise, I didn’t kill him. I was in college in the 1970’s when his music underwent a revival, complete with renewed popularity.
His music was pure gold to listen to in the fields of corn in Iowa in the 1970’s. It was just as good as that last pun was terrible. So, in other words, really, really, spectacularly good. It was the music that scored my childhood fantasy adventures.
A Night at the Symphony
Last night my wife took us to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied (The Song of Lamentation). So, you can bet we were in for a happy night just based on the title of the piece. As you might’ve detected from the post title’s similarity to the Marx Brother’s movie A Night at the Opera, I took along my wacky mental versions of the Marx Brothers… whom I call the Snarcks Brothers. They are Scarpigo, Cinco, and Zero Snarcks. Think Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, and then my mental fartgas won’t prevent you from understanding quite as easily.
Jaap Van Zweden, conductor of the DSO, and aspiring impersonator of Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs
Scarpigo, Cinco, and Zero Snarcs… so to speak…
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love classical music and I like Mahler okay. But his music tends to be depressing and sad. I don’t mean merely depressing and sad, but deep down at the bottom of the canyon with hill giants tossing boulders at your head in the midst of a thunderstorm symphonic sort of depressing and sad. It could really bum me out, so I was prepared to have Scarpigo lean over the balcony rail numerous times to shout “Booga-booga!” at the concert goers. And the Blues lost to the Sharks in the Stanley Cup playoffs already this past week.
Fortunately the DSO often adopts the old movie theater tactic of cartoon shorts before the feature film… the same way Pixar does for Disney now. They chose Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto as the cartoon short. Now this is also supposed to be sad music, a single clarinet, a single harp, and a single piano… surrounded by violins, the gushing tears of every symphony orchestra. But it is Copland, my fourth favorite composer of all time, behind only DeBussy, Motzart, and Beethoven. As a synesthete, I can tell you that Copland’s music is always no bluer than silver, and tends to be more vermilion, rosy pink, yellow-orange and carmine red… more happy and passionate than depressing. Then too, Cinco Snarcks whispered in my ear that since I have this Van Zweden/ Grumpy thing going on already in my head, I should look carefully at the clarinet soloist. Yep, bald head, white hair and slight white beard and glasses… Doc! And the pianist, bald head and big ears… Dopey! The night would be Gustav Mahler and the Seven Dwarfs. Zero Snarcks was thinking about squeezing off a toot or three from his little horn and maybe using light cords hanging from the ceiling for an impromptu trapeze act, but he took one look at the elegant, swan-like harpist and fell too much in love to interrupt.
The main show, however, was everything I thought it was going to be, and worse. They had a translator screen hung from the cords Zero wanted to go for a swing on, that took all the incomprehensible choir-crooned lyrics and translated them from German into English. The story of Das Klagende Lied is taken from the Grimm Fairy Tale, The Bone Flute. It tells the tale of two knightly brothers, one good and one evil, who set out to win the hand of a very self-centered but beautiful queen. She can only be won by the finding of a special red flower that grows under a willow tree. The knights agree to split up and search the enchanted forest for the flower. Naturally, the good knight finds it and plucks it, putting it in the band of his hat. And just as naturally, the good knight flops down stupidly under the willow tree to take a nap. The evil brother finds his brother sleeping and sees the flower in his hat. So, like any evil knight would, he kills his brother and takes the flower.
Scarpigo’s comment on this particular story.
The evil brother then rushes off to the queen’s castle. A minstrel wanders past the willow tree, finds a gleaming leg bone, and immediately thinks, “I have to make that into a flute!” And when he does, the only song the flute will play is the lament about how the evil brother made meat pie out of his good brother and stole the flower. Then, naturally enough, the flute forces the minstrel to go play at the wedding.
I’m sure you know how it goes from there. The queen hears the bone flute’s enchanted song and flops down dead, apparently a heart-attack from shock. And if the queen dies, then the castle has to magically fall down on the new king, the minstrel. and all the wedding guests. A gruesome, terrible time is had by all.
So, I had a good time after all. Scarpigo leans over to whisper to me, “That was more fun than a barrel of monkeys smoking crack, wasn’t it?” Yes, purple, blue, blue-violet, and indigo music, and I am left depressed as hell. But when my wife asked how I liked it, I put on a happy face and said, “That’s the silliest thing I ever heard!”
Leave a comment
Filed under commentary, Depression, flowers, foolishness, goofy thoughts, humor, music, review of music
Tagged as Copland, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, goofiness, humor, Mahler, seven dwarfs, synesthesia