Siouxland Observer

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Saturday, April 30, 2016


Mozart’s Ad-Libbing Ways


“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is a latecomer to the nursery rhyme genre, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica.  It was first published by Ann and Jane Taylor in 1806, but the music associated with the nursery rhyme dates to 1740.  The French historian, Henri-Irénée Marrou, believed it pastoral and anonymous.  

Mozart apparently heard the music in France and created twelve variations in 1778.  There is no historical certainty to this conjecture, but the “ad-libitum” nature of the variation is unmistakable.  It is an ad lib.


A "cadenza ad libitum" is an improvised piece of music.  The term often refers to a portion of a concerto in which the orchestra stops playing, leaving the soloist to play alone in free time (without a strict, regular pulse) and can be written or improvised, depending on what the composer specifies.

In Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467,” for example, the cadenza occurs near the end of the first movement, and can begin with pouncing cords or gentle grace.  The lead-in depends on the pianist, as does what follows.

“Many of the great composers,” the Shine Music School said, “were not only excellent performers but also great improvisers.

"...J.S. Bach (1685-1750)," for example, "the greatest composer of the Baroque era….  (And) there are written accounts of other composers improvisational abilities,” as well, “including
Mozart (1756-1791), Beethoven (1770-1829), and Franz Liszt (1811-1886).

"Yet, as time went on, improvising gave way to the composer's desire to exert complete control over his music.  By the late 19th century, improvising was rare and not used at all in public performances of classical music.”

And yet there are improvisations still happening.  Alexander Lubyantsev’s cadenza, for example, leads with confidence and macho bravado.  His YouTube video can be seen at  https://youtu.be/PwY_tuftnrI.

“Mozart's performances were designed to display his talents as improviser, pianist and composer...,” Robert Levin wrote for the Australian Financial Review, July 28, 2000. “His piano concertos contain contrived chasms (and) pauses he bridged with impulsive audacity, the so-called cadenzas and lead-ins. Further, Mozart left many passages in sketched or schematic form, relying on the whims of live performance to fill in the specific expressive content anew at each performance.”

“Making it up (in the manner of Mozart),” requested a more jazz-liked classical approach.

“In the 18th century all composers were performers and virtually all performers composed.  Further more, virtually all the music performed was new. Today's gap in popular and art music did not exist: each involved spontaneity within a language idiomatic to the time.


“Improvisation is a given in non-art music.  Present in music of all cultures, it is the central challenge in jazz. The genius of Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Miles Davis and John Coltrane (an arbitrary sampling of past masters) has been captured on discs that document untrammeled flights of fanciful imagination.…

"If Mozart's language is as worthy of respect..., surely it is worth the time to learn it from the inside in order to invent it afresh as part of each performance.”

Improvisation used to be an integral part of performing, Vivien Schweitzer wrote for The New York Times.  Mozart, Beethoven and Liszt were all virtuoso improvisers whose concerts often included ad-lib fantasies and spontaneous variations on themes called out by adoring audiences.

Yeol Eum Son’s performance, for example (shared below), is a masterful ad-lib performance.  Compared with Rudolph Serkin’s performance (the 1st Movement), which is solid, but traditional and rather “plain vanilla,” it becomes clear what the composer would have preferred.

Ad-libbing once flourished in classical music.  It still can.


(Avex Group Holdings has restricted their videos on certain applications, and/or sites.  This performance should not be missed, however.  Just follow the YouTube link below when the message appears.)

Friday, April 15, 2016


In Sanctum Aeternum

A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogi (or mystic) when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything — whether it be pebbles, stones or gold — as the same Bhagavad Gita 6:8

Paul Vitello, in an article about yoga, published in The New York Times, raised an interesting dilemma. The Bhagavad Gita teaches its followers (to the wisest of its transcendentalists) that they should always engage the body, mind and self in relationship with the Supreme, that they should be free from desires and feelings of possessiveness. No easy task.

Further, they shall regard all “honest well-wishers, affectionate benefactors, the neutral, mediators, the envious, friends and enemies, the pious and the sinners all with an equal mind." (Bhagavad Gita 6:9.)

This is universal wisdom, and for a Christian can be found in Matthew 7:12:  “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you….”

And in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

There are no differing shades of gray then, or even black and white for God's people.  We see someone, meet someone, know someone, we treat them as we would like to be treated. We see all with an equal mind. We do not covet, and we do not lust over money.

Who can truly do this, other than perhaps Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha or Krishna?  In this modern time, followers of ancient wisdom don’t even try. The “would-be” pious often show rejection of others when their Lord and sovereign does not reign supreme in the hearts and mind of the “other.”

Muhammad said: Worship God and consider no one equal to Him. Be kind to your parents, relatives, orphans, the destitute, your near and distant neighbors, your companions, wayfarers.... God does not love the proud and boastful ones.



In Vitello’s article, entitled “Hindu group stirs debate over yoga’s soul,” (http://www.nytimes.com) there is a sectarian bent that is all too familiar today: Our God is better than your God.  He showed us first!  Granted, this is not the same as "Daesh," or the horror of this extreme hate. But what would Krishna say?

Sadly, there is nothing new here in this modern age, but too many practitioners of Hinduism, according to the article, have been scapegoated for far too long.  Is truth found by giving credit where credit is due?

Vitello cites the Hindu America Foundation in their campaign “Take Back Yoga.” At face value this appears oxymoronic; the Bhagavad Gita calls on all its followers to divest themselves of “feelings of possessiveness.” According to the Bhagavad Gita then, the call to “take back” yoga could certainly be heresy.

Still, Doctor Aseem Shukla, the foundations cofounder, believes the children need a break.

“When our kids go to school and say they are Hindu,” Shukla, a urologist and a second-generation Indian American, said, “nobody says, ‘Oh, yeah—Hindus gave the world yoga.’ They say, ‘What caste are you?’ Or, ‘Do you pray to a monkey god?’ Because that’s all Americans know about Hinduism.”

Indeed, on "30 Rock," a once popular television sitcom on NBC, Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey, is the head writer of the fictional comedy-ensemble series "The Girlie Show." Liz works for the none-too-skilled network executive Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin, whose previous experience had been confined to the offices of the network's corporate owners General Electric, or GE.

In one episode, Jack returns to these roots. He is excited about being in the "microwave lab," one of his responsibilities as an executive in product development.

To be fair a Hindu scientist, now in charge of the lab, tells Jack that western names all sound alike to Hindus, and calls him John Donavan repeatedly. "Westerners all look alike," he said (a stab at stereotypes). But the laugh comes quickly back on the Hindi

As the scientist touts the new microwave (it talks like Hal the computer on "2001: A Space Odyssey" ), Jack exclaims, “My God.”

“Which one?” the Hindu scientist said, in all seriousness.

It’s true that tongue-in-cheek stereotypes may be the best way to understand and explore, if not laugh at, prejudice. But the point Shukla was trying to make is not at the expense of America's children on the playground.

In "From the Pulpit," the Rev. Nonin Chowaney, writing for the Omaha World-Herald, said that one of the most important vows in Zen Buddhism is knowing that "beings are numberless," and vowing to free them.

According to Chowaney, we start by freeing the being directly in front of us. That Hindu child on the playground, for example.  Or perhaps, by helping a homeless person.  By feeding the birds regularly, or even helping with the dishes.

"By living this way, 'freeing all beings' becomes possible....  We not only ease their suffering but also open our hearts so that we ease our own."

Krishna, in the wisdom of eternity, surely nods in understanding at Vitello's call for possessiveness.  But is this the message of the holy and the eternal, in Sanctum Aeternum?  We of the pebbles, the stones and the gold, all the same.  

Be kind and surely the need for possessiveness will vanish.