Siouxland Observer

Research, Education, Links and Opinion

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Mozart's Musical Storytelling


When Miloš Forman first saw Hair on Broadway he loved every song.  He considered Hair, along with West Side Story and Cats, three of the best musicals ever made.  But his film Amadeus, in collaboration with Peter Shaffer, is one of the most celebrated in the history of film.



The play, and its subsequent screenplay, brought classical music out from the shadows, and despite the historical inaccuracies, Forman and Shaffer fleshed out precisely how Mozart's compositions could be used to tell a story.

Granted, Mozart’s music was not written for film.  But the forceful impact of Forman and Shaffer’s collaboration should not be missed.1

“Do you know how I expressed it?” Mozart asked,  “—even expressing the loving, throbbing heart?  With two violins playing in octaves.”

Mozart told stories with his music, and he took it very seriously.  In a letter to his father September 26, 1781, he talked about his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, explaining how an aria in A Major for Belmonte, whose betrothed, Konstanze, had been taken to a harem, is anxious and passionate.

"Do you know how I expressed it?" Mozart asked,  "—even expressing the loving, throbbing heart? With two violins playing in octaves.

“This is the favorite aria of everyone who has heard it — mine too...(and) one can see the trembling — faltering — one can see his heaving breast — which is expressed by a crescendo — one can hear the whispering and the sighing — which is expressed by the first violins with mutes and one flute playing unisono.”

Even without understanding octaves, or crescendos, it is easy to understand that a musical master is at work.  And it's not just in opera Mozart tells stories with his music.  The Tyrolese story, for example, finds expression in a Quintet, according to Bruce Adolphe, a resident lecturer for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Ia letter dated August 8, 1781, Mozart wrote about a man named Baron Buffa, who bullied a theater director, Herr von Wiedmer, over a poor performance presented on stage.

Apparently Buffa became so angry he "boxed" Wiedmer on the ear, which Wiedmer returned in kind, only to learn that a Tyrloese custom allowed that no man with impunity could strike a privileged person, whatever provocation he may have received.  Thus Wiedmer received fifty lashes for defending himself against Buffa.

Mozart was outraged.

"If I were Wiedmer," Mozart said, "I would demand the following satisfaction from the Emperor: that the President (Count Wolkenstein, who had allowed an improper punishment) should receive fifty lashes while I was present, and likewise pay me 6,000 ducats (many thousands of dollars); if I could not obtain this demand in full, I would accept no other, and stab him to the heart at the very first opportunity."

Thus, according to Adolphe, a stabbing sword can be heard (or imagined) in the second movement of Mozart's Quintet in G minor, which Mozart wrote around the same time he saw Buffa bullying Wiedmer.

“...it's not just a note,” Adolphe said, “it's a character.  It returns demanding it's place.... But the feeling that these notes are people in an opera, that's very Mozart.”

This is common theme in Adolphe's lecture series.  In the lecture on Mozart's Quartet in D minor, K. 421, for example, he calls out the minuet, this time in the third movement, as an interruption of everyday life, where the Minuet, a dance of the nobility, interrupts the hard working, everyday life of the common man, which most certainly included the impoverished Mozart.

"Now there are a lot of people," Adolphe said, "who think that music is only about music: 'This is minor and dark; this is major and light.'  To link it to real life is absurd.  I am not one of those people."

Nor should anyone be.  In a wonderful segment of this lecture Adolphe talks about a single note used to take away the natural order of the composition, a "chaotic note" he calls it, that returns again and again, which makes it operatic.

"...it comes back,” he said, "it's not just a note, "it's a character.  It returns demanding it's place....  But the feelings that these notes are people in an opera, that's very Mozart.”

Understanding a composition's musical history is not a requirement, however.  The stories in the music are always there to hear.  They do not need a history, or even an understanding of classical music.

Mozart's piano Concerto No. 23, for example, was written for a love interest (as remembered ), but the lyrical beauty of this piano concerto is easily heard without knowing anything about musical composition, or the history of Mozart's music.

And listening to Mozart, or any classical music, is in the ears of the beholder.  For example, in one recording of Mozart's K 421, the musical "interruption" in the third movement can easily be heard as Adolphe describes it.  And yet a reporter hears a baby, sometimes wild and annoyingly hyperactive, other times a wonderfully, well-behaved baby, depending on the interpretation of the musicians.

Adolphe reported Mozart wrote music all the time, endlessly. A doctor who told Mozart he needed to stop writing so much, for example, said he needed to relax and get away from writing so much.  He did; but only in between writing his music.

It is well documented that Mozart finished K. 421 (an exceptional recording here) while his wife was giving birth to their first child.  One biographer reported he was with his wife during her contractions, and then went back to work until the baby was born.

Another biographer, Spaethling (or perhaps Nissan), said Mozart simply spent his time composing, calling it "a remarkable feat of emotional detachment."  But whatever happened, the music is remarkable, and should not be missed by anyone.        .


Footnotes
1 The music in the opening scene above is actually from two of Mozart’s musical compositions.  The ominous opening at the beginning of the film is from Don Giovanni.  While the symphony that opens when Antonio Salieri is found lying in a pool of blood is Mozart’s Symphony No. 25.

2 The original source cannot be found.  However, Roeder said in A history of the Concerto, that the concerto's extraordinary lyricism is evident from the very first measure:
“In the first movement,” he said, “Mozart postponed the introduction of the new second theme until the second tutti section and then permitted the orchestra to present it.  This is unusual, for he customarily assigned the new theme to the piano during the solo exposition.  This second theme dominates the development section that follows.

“The Adagio (a slow passage) is the only F-sharp minor movement in Mozart's music and is possibly his most romantic sounding....”

Sunday, March 05, 2017


White House Tinfoils Teles *


White House officials have stopped unauthorized wiretapping with tinfoil.  Andy Brorwitz reported March 4, 2017, for The New Yorker, that early Saturday morning President Trump ordered aides to cover phones in the White House with tinfoil.

(More fun from The New Yorker.)




Everyone says — if they were asked — that this is exactly what Philpott (not his real name) would tell reporters, if one ever approached him about his hat.

Gigaom.com, an industry leader in emerging technology research, said that tinfoil prevents cellphone, and other electronic device data from being inadvertently erased,

Legally, searching cellphones for evidence has vexed many police departments, and according to Giagom.com when making an arrest, cops should simply stick the cellphones in a Faraday Bag or simply wrap the phone in aluminum foil. This gives the police time to ask for a warrant to search the phone, and also prevent the suspect from wiping its contents in the meantime.

According to Benjamin Philpott, tinfoil stops lots of stuff: "All should do it," he tells everyone, according to hearsay.  "It helps protect the brain."

Philpott, a conspiracy theorist, wears a tinfoil hat wherever he goes, and says that the hat on his head, made with several layers of tinfoil, shields the brain from threats such as electromagnetic fields, mind control and mind reading.

Everyone says — if they were asked anyway — that this is exactly what Philpott (not his real name) would tell reporters, if one ever approached him about his hat.  Even Gigaom.com agrees that tinfoil provides a sensible balance to the issue of incoming signals, which could also stop hackers, accoding to several websites.

Mr. Trump knows this.  If he is covering phones in the White House with tinfoil, it blocks eavesdropping too.  How he found out about former President Obama tapped phones at Trump Tower is not yet known, but without question, White House officials can’t be too careful when it comes to this kind of thing.

Borowitz said Mr. Trump contacted staffers Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer at approximately 6 A.M. and instructed them to purchase enough tinfoil to cover every phone in the building.

According to Google, "wearing a tinfoil hat" means that the individual wearing it is paranoid or has a belief in conspiracy theories, especially involving government surveillance or paranormal beings.  But aluminum foil, and other electrically conductive metals such as copper, can reflect and absorb radio waves and consequently interferes with their transmission. just as Giagom reported.

Radio waves, which carry cell phone signals, are called electromagnetic radiation, a moving electric field that travels at the speed of light, according to Techin.com.  An aluminum-foil barrier cancels that fields, so the radio wave cannot pass through it.  A cell phone surrounded on all sides by foil receives no radio waves:

“While the Faraday Cage formed by aluminum foil surrounding a cell phone keeps signals from reaching it, it also blocks signals coming from the cell phone.” the site said.  “If you sat inside a Faraday Cage the size of a small room with a cell phone, you would not be able to make any calls because the cell tower would not receive your signal. You could communicate with a partner using walkie-talkies inside the cage, but not to anyone outside it.”

Iron and steel are also good conductors, Techin said.  Thus White House Staff will not have to worry about this area of the building.

"Steel-framed buildings and structures often have many cell signal dead zones because the beams form unintended Faraday Cages, blocking radio waves (of all kinds)."

The U.S. Capitol's dome is made of cast iron, and was designed by Thomas U. Walter, according to Google.  It was constructed from 1855 – 1866, and built with 8,909,200 pounds of ironwork bolted together.  Mr. Trump most certainly will not need to worry about radio waves or even mind control with this dome protecting him.  No concerns here.  But those phones in the Oval Office, and elsewhere. That's a problem.

But there are drawbacks, especially regarding the hats.  While a group of MIT students found helmets did shielded their wearers from radio waves over most of the tested spectrum, according to The Atlantic, it actually amplified other frequencies.

”While the MIT guys' tongue-in-cheek conclusion — ‘the current helmet craze is likely to have been propagated by the Government, possibly with the involvement of the FCC’ — maybe goes a few steps too far,” Matt Soniak, the author said, “their study at least shows that foil helmets fail at, and even counteract, their intended purpose....”

Not to worry.  Wrapping telephones, or "teles," in tinfoil does actually work.  President Trump was wise being cautious. It's comforting to know he wasn't wasting money.


* Fake News.