Listening to Beethoven #27 – Mit Mädeln sich vertragen


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ludwig van Beethoven, walking in Teplitz / Teplice, Czech Republic. Painted by Adolf Karpellus

Mit Mädeln sich vertragen WoO 90 for bass voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication Joseph Lux
Text Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Duration 5′

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

“With girls we get along, with men we brawl about”. So runs the first line of Goethe’s Mit Mädeln sich vertragen (With girls we get along), the first of his works to be utilised by Beethoven for musical gain. It is the second of two arias written for the Bonn-based bass (!) Joseph Lux.

Neither of the arias is mentioned much by Beethoven biographers, beyond the date of composition which is thought to be 1791-92. It is not thought the works were performed in Bonn.

In his booklet notes for a new Naxos recording of the aria by Kevin Greenlaw, Keith Anderson writes of how the aria is in fact a setting of a song text from Goethe’s Claudine von Villa Bella, described as ein Schauspiel mit Gesang (‘A play with songs’), and later set by Schubert.

Beethoven revised it in 1795-96, and Anderson talks of how the songs ‘are highly typical of the genre, if not necessarily of Beethoven.’

Thoughts

Beethoven’s melodic inspiration is evident throughout this entertaining piece of music for the stage. It brings out his playful side, which we have now seen on a couple of occasions – and is certainly more lighthearted than you might anticipate for a setting of a Goethe text.

Yet this is a song for men to sing, potentially in a raucous fashion – so it helps that there is a distinctive melody that the strings latch on to, and a refrain that sticks in the head too.

Recordings used

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Warner Classics)

Kevin Greenlaw is ideally suited to this aria, slightly playful and jousting with the strings of the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, who enjoy their echo of his refrain. Thomas Hampson’s version is a little broader, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt allowing the horns to rasp in the introduction, giving an edge to the music. Hampson is terrific in the refrains, hurling out the words.

A quickfire version for voice and piano also exists, in the capable hands of the masterly Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus.

Spotify links

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jörg Demus

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1792 Haydn – Symphony no.98 in B flat major

Next up Violin Concerto in C major

Listening to Beethoven #26 – Prüfung des Küssens


An image of Beethoven’s mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich

Prüfung des Küssens (“Meine weise Mutter spricht”) WoO 89 for bass voice and orchestra (1790-2, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication Joseph Lux
Text Giorgio Federico Ghedini
Duration 5’30”

Listen

Background and Critical Reception

Beethoven wrote two arias for the bass Joseph Lux, a popular singer in Bonn known for his comic sensibilities. Little is known of the exact composition date beyond the years 1791-92, and it is also thought the works were not performed in Bonn.

A vocal part from the first aria, Prüfung des Küssens, survives from Beethoven’s time in Vienna, which suggests it was to be published – but again there is no evidence of performance. Ernst Herttrich, writing in the booklet notes for DG’s complete edition, notes that Beethoven offered both arias to a publisher in 1822, evidence that he still held them in high regard.

Thoughts

A lightly playful, slightly syncopated introduction brings in our bass singer – with what could easily be an excerpt from a much larger stage work. Beethoven’s writing is impish, slightly cheeky, and although the words are relatively nonsensical the character of Joseph Lux comes through.

The singer dominates, with occasional probing from the orchestra – and the vocal line encourages the character to take liberties with the tempo, to bring humour to the text and to stamp their personality on the aria. The orchestral writing offers plenty of room for this, and the false ending – the aria finishing but then restarting – only adds to the comic potential.

Recordings used

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam (Naxos)

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Warner Classics)

Thomas Hampson is more convincing as a comic baritone in his account, taking a few more liberties with Beethoven’s tempo than Kevin Greenlaw – who is nonetheless a fine performer himself. The newer Naxos recording is more sympathetic in its sound.

Spotify links

Kevin Greenlaw, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Leif Segerstam

Thomas Hampson, Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

You can chart the Arcana Beethoven playlist as it grows, with one recommended version of each piece we listen to. Catch up here!

Also written in 1792 Cimarosa – Il Matrimonio Segreto

Next up Mit Mädeln sich vertragen

Various Artists – Ready Or Not: Thom Bell’s Philly Soul Arrangements & Productions 1965-1978 (Ace Records)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Ace Records’ Producer Series is looking to recognise the people behind some of the landmark records in pop music – arguing along the way that music studio personnel are not recognised in the way film directors are. They have a particularly strong point in the case of Thom Bell, whose arrangements have helped enhance a good number of Philadelphia soul hits from the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of them are still household regulars, and this compilation takes the stance of a greatest hits set in its quest to recognise Bell’s genius.

Bell, a classically trained musician, became bored with his initial three-chord efforts at songwriting – and was soon looking to bring more of his musical education into his work, with increasingly adventurous techniques and tricks. He often worked in tandem with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but has tended to languish in the background when it comes to recognition alongside their contributions. With reference to his musical training, hiss scoring became more imaginative, transforming the songs of some of the biggest names in soul – The Stylistics, The O’Jays, Johnny Mathis and The Delfonics all beneficiaries of his touch.

What’s the music like?

Invigorating and inspiring – and a real pick me up in the current times. The fact that this series of songs is paying tribute to an arranger and orchestrator means the listener is compelled to listen beyond the lyrics – and once you do that a whole host of treasures await. The songs themselves are instantly recognisable in many cases – The O’Jays’ peerless Backstabbers, The Stylistics’ People Make The World Go Round, New York City’s I’m Doin’ Fine Now. But where would The O’Jays’ be without that distinctive rumbling on the piano that starts the track, or New York City without the punchy block brass chords – or The Stylistics without their shimmering strings?

Bell can take credit for all and more besides. Among the many highlights here are the airy orchestration to the winsome Connie Stevens song Tick Tock, the brilliant matching up of violins and bass guitar on Archie Bell & The DrellsHere I Go Again, and the brassy Delfonics classic Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love).
Topping even these moments is the atmospheric introduction to Johnny MatthisLife Is A Song Worth Singing, which tells a story in itself with a swirling wind and grainy strings, the music up close and vividly personal. Meanwhile the other Delfonics inclusion, You’ve Been Untrue, benefits from Bell’s imaginative use of harpsichord and zither.

Does it all work?

Very much so. The only slight regret here is that The O’Jays’ Love Train – which Bell appears to have had a hand in – is not included. One of the finest soul songs around, it is notable for its brilliant string arrangement. To be honest, though, that is a minor quibble as all of the 23 songs chosen here are examples of how to boost a song with imaginative orchestral writing.

Is it recommended?

Yes, on several levels. Producers like Thom Bell deserve all the recognition they get and more, for what they bring to soul and pop music is so much more than mere window dressing. They are able to elevate a song from merely good to fantastic, providing those extra touches that we latch on to when the songs appear on the radio. Bell does all that and more, an imaginative mind whose rewards are rich and varied, and who enhances all of these songs.

Stream

You can hear all the songs on this compilation in this pre-created Spotify playlist from Timo Kangas:

Buy

You can buy Ready or Not from the Ace Records website

Playlist – Bing & Ruth

It gives us great pleasure to welcome Bing & Ruth frontman David Moore to Arcana’s playlist section.

We have been talking with David about the new Bing & Ruth album Species, due for release on Friday 17 July – and his experience of lockdown and recent world turbulence, onto which he effectively has a front window from his New York home.

David’s playlist reflects his deep love of Bach, with the Chaconne from the Solo Violin Partita no.2 in D minor acting as the centrepiece. Leading up to this we have the vibrant Toccata from Sergei Prokofiev, which contrasts with the winsome Sales Tax On The Women from The New Lost City Ramblers. Sons of Kemet‘s incendiary cut All Will Surely Burn is next, before Smoke Dawson‘s Pretty Polly, from the Fiddle album, transports us to the great wide open.

The Bach follows the rich colours and harmonies of Miles Davis‘ Gershwin elaboration Fisherman, Strawberry and Devil Crab – after which we hear the sonorous Farfisa tones of Bing & Ruth‘s Live Forever, an extended highlight from the new album.

Rudy Van Gelder‘s remix of Gene Ammons‘ sultry Hittin’ The Jug is next, then The Carter Family‘s The Storms Are On The Ocean, a poignant song thought to date from the early 1930s. Just a few years separate this from The Ink Spots’ I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, a rather beautiful song with which to close.

Our thanks to David for this inspiring collection of music. Stay tuned for the full interview and a review of the new album.

Bing & Ruth’s album Species is out on Friday 17 July from 4AD. You can pre-order it from the Bandcamp embed below

A tribute to Ennio Morricone

Jamie Sellers pays a personal tribute to one of the most distinctive voices film music has ever heard.

I can’t remember when I first saw Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. I must’ve been pretty small and now I’m pretty tall. But as a child usually only interested in the chart pop music of the day, its curious title music stuck with me, like the James Bond music I already knew. I felt I understood it, even if I couldn’t sing along to it very easily. Much as I adored and waited in front of the TV for the themes to my favourite shows (The Persuaders, Catweazle, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet), I was to find that going to the cinema was very different.

When you’re eight or so, it’s invariably Disney on the big screen, and that means a lot of songs. But then I saw Live and Let Die (my first “A” film), and something clicked. Firstly of course it was the way that the orchestration crept slyly in and then exploded over the opening titles, filling the auditorium and setting you for the next couple of hours. But it wasn’t just that. As we were introduced to Bond’s sexy accomplices and adversaries, vehicles going high speed where they really shouldn’t, and our hero uttering countless of what I later learned were called double entendres (and which had my adult supervisors guffawing throughout), there was more music, playing during key moments of the action: variations on the theme music, and other short, dramatic phrases repeating at intervals. This was film music, and it was the first time I had noticed it.

I started to watch movies at my older brother’s place – mostly late night horror double bills, but also 1960s westerns. He may even have owned a budget album of re-recordings of some of the “Dollars” music from the Leone films. I do know he had John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy record, but that was peppered with groovy late ‘60s psych-lite pop. Had he not owned that; it wouldn’t even have occurred to me then that you could buy this music. Like James Bond, the westerns had very distinctive scores. The music was funny, with boings and clangs and whistles and little bursts of twanged guitar. Like Peter and the Wolf, the characters all seemed to have their own signature sound.

Your schooldays trail off in your memory, an endless stream of discoveries, musical and otherwise. Events that all seem far apart now from one another, were in reality occurring on an almost daily basis. It’s amazing to think of all the sounds and images you’re bombarded with for the first time, and that you have to either process or put aside for another time.

I remember seeing the theme music to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in a record shop, on a 45. It was by a geezer called Hugo Montenegro, I observed. I thought buying film or TV music would be a bit naff, though. Especially when my friend, who didn’t buy any pop records, grabbed himself the James Bond theme at Woolworths’ record counter. What a sap, I thought. We later wrote a fanzine together.

Fast forward. The pop music you grew up with dies, but much of it you keep fondly with you. You read the weekly music papers, you listen to more grown up music, you find you can buy all sorts of stuff you didn’t realise was out there. Discoveries continue, as one thing leads to another. At some stage you realise that Hugo Montenegro’s hit single was a cover version. The composer’s name is Ennio Morricone. You watch more films. Lots of films. Hollywood, European arthouse and horror, and you notice that much of the most wonderful music that introduces these films and seeps in and out throughout is by the same composers: Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones… and especially John Barry, and Ennio Morricone. You start to get smart-alecky about it, identifying the composer before their name appears on the credits, recognising signature sounds. All of this is pre-internet, pre-music streaming, and before there were any handy resources to help you on your path to film music aficionado-dom.

If memory serves, it was in 2000 at the National Film Theatre in London, where Christopher Frayling was touting his new Sergio Leone biography, that I first got to see one of the Leone/Morricone westerns, restored, on the big screen (I’d caught Leone’s final film, Once Upon a Time in America, on release back in 1984, but the penny had by then yet to fully drop). 1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West: Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and all, is a sweeping epic, even more so when restored in its original longer cut. I would say, as a rule of thumb, beware of sweeping epics, but this one is a thing of languorous beauty, with mesmerising overhead shots, and good and evil writ reliably large. As Leone himself alluded though, it wouldn’t be half the experience it is without Morricone’s incredible score. And believe me, it isn’t half the experience watching it on telly either.

Then in 2001 at the Barbican in London, I got to see the maestro in concert, conducting the Orchestra Roma Sinfonietta. A generous greatest hits package to leave most greatest hits packages lying in the gutter weeping at their own musical inadequacy. Ennio Morricone composed some of the most deeply moving music of the modern age, as well as some of the craziest and goofiest, the catchiest pop, delightful vocal ensemble music, ground-breaking electronics and harsh Avant Garde noise, and who knows what else, and at one stage was knocking out scores approximately one a month, working with orchestras and with small groups. In his 1960s heyday, he was really having fun, displaying a cockeyed pop sensibility that birthed many of the weirdest three-minute gems of the past 60 years.

It’s hard to keep count of his scores. There could be as many as 500 or more of his children out there, running around, being discovered on a daily basis by audiences new and old. He painted sound onto westerns – so many westerns, but also romantic dramas, horror, thrillers, sci-fi, erotica, comedy, historical epics, and TV movies too.

When his death was announced, a number of friends of mine started posting their favourite Morricone music on Facebook throughout the day. A hundred or so posts in, and I’ve yet to see the same piece of music flagged up more than once. Start discovering, keep discovering… I’ve included just a few I’m particularly fond of. It’s hard to choose – there’s so much quality and variety.