Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Adieu, Antoine! Fats Domino, 1928-2017

Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., best known as Fats Domino, died today at the age of 89. Of African and Creole ancestry, he was born and raised in New Orleans' predominantly Black Ninth Ward, but his speech, and singing, showed a trace of the "Irish Channel" sound brought to the Crescent City in the nineteenth century by immigrants from Dublin, whose compatriots imparted similar sounds to Brooklynese.

If asked to name an Ur-source for rock 'n' roll, I'd go for New Orleans. Fats and friends took the street chants of the Mardi Gras "Indian Tribes" indoors to bars, adding piano and sometimes horns, and created a new kind of music with a driving beat. The sound migrated west, where it influenced Texas blues artists like Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, and north to Memphis, where it mixed with Texas and Delta blues and Appalachian ballads and, as they say, the rest became history.

The clip above is of "The Fat Man," Fats' first hit, which charted in 1950. It was the start of something very big.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dvořák's bird and train.

Two weeks ago my wife and I attended a concert presented by the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, featuring performances of string quartets by Haydn (C major, Op. 20, No. 2), Beethoven (F major, Op. 59, No, 1, "Razumovsky"), and Dvořák (image at left) (F major, Op. 96 "American"). The musicians were David McCarroll and Carmit Zori on violin, Dimitri Murrath on viola, and Julia Lichten on cello. Their performance of each quartet was superb.

I had heard the Beethoven before, and probably the Haydn, but the Dvořák was new to me. Ms. Zorit's introduction to the piece tweaked my interest, as she said the last two movements contain references to two fascinations I share: birds (a fairly new one) and trains (perhaps my most ancient, for the reason explained in my brief bio in the right hand column). Here's the third movement, which Ms. Zorit said begins with the strings imitating the song of the scarlet tanager (if you follow the link and click on "Sound" you can hear a recording of the bird's song, and decide if you think Dvořák captured it):

The clip above is by Seraphina, at the 2007 Bowdoin International Music Festival. It's from the YouTube library of Seraphina member Caeli Smith.

Here's the fourth movement; I think the train reference is obvious:

This performance is by the Zemlinsky Quartet.

The "American" quartet is a product of Dvořák's residence during the summer of 1893 in the Czech-American community of Spillville, Iowa.  He didn't compose what is perhaps his best known piece, his Ninth Symphony, "From the New World," while there, but it was inspired by what he heard during his time in the U.S. Its Second, Largo Movement, played below by the Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan conducting, is one of the first pieces of classical music I heard, and one I have cherished ever since:

Image: Classical Net.