Monday, December 31, 2012

Music For The Seventh Day Of Christmas

Medieaval Baebes

Gaudete is a Christmas carol with origins that extend into the Middle Ages of Europe. The Latin lyric first appeared in print in a 16th century collection of Finnish/Swedish songs. The tune is derived from early church  music. This performance is by the British vocal group, Medieaval Baebes.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus/Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!/Out of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

Tempus adest gratiae/The time of grace has come -
Hoc quod optubamus/What we have wished for,
Carmina taetitiae/Songs of joy
Devote reddamus/Let us give back faithfully.

Deaus homo factus est/God has beciome man.
Natura mirante/To the wonderment of Nature.
Mundus renovatus est/The world has been renewed
A Christo regnante/By the reigning Christ.

Ezechielis porte/The closed gate of Ezekiel
Clausa pertranistur/Is passed through.
Unde lux est orta/Whence the light is born.
Salus invenitur/Salvation is found.

Ergo nostra contio/Therefore let our gathering
Psallat  iam in lustro/Now sing in brightness
Benedicat Domino/Let it give praise tot he Lord:
Salus Regi nostro/Greeting to our King.

Sources: Wikipedia

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music For The Sixth Day Of Christmas

Today's Christmas song is the Christmas song of songs, White Christmas, debuted by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn. He reprised the song in a 1954 "remake," White Christmas, but the film, even in color and the first in VistaVision, simply doesn't hold up to the original for most film buffs.  To be fair, there is enough divergence in the story lines and music to make both films enjoyable, a point that may be vigorously discussed by those who choose to have a "battle of the films" on some cold evening during the holiday.

National Review Online's Rich Lowery has provided us some interesting background on the song in an article published on the big day.

Rudyard Kipling: An Author For Our Times

Today is the birthday of the British writer, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). He was the product of both India and England and infused his writing with the essence of Victorian times and the adventure of empire. Political correctness over the last fifty years has sadly pushed him into literary obscurity in most of academia, but he remains a beacon of reason and rhetoric especially among centrist and conservative thinkers. His works for children have never lost their popularity among young readers.

Kipling and his wife spent about five years living at Bliss Cottage near Brattleboro, Vermont, just prior to the height of his career.  In was in this setting that he produced some of his most memorable work, including the Jungle Books, a short story collection entitled The Day's Work, his novel Captain's Courageous, and a volume of poetry, The Seven Seas.

Our political and cultural slide to the left in the last few decades has brought Kipling's appreciation of realism to the fore.  One of his most quoted poems that speaks to the necessity for reason and the folly of cultural relativism is The Gods of the Copybook Headings. Many readers have inquired about the poem since it appeared in this blog a few years ago. Here it is again for the uninitiated and those in need of a Kipling booster:

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Postscript: OTR first read this poem several years ago in a National Review post. He agrees with an Instapundit reader that this is a good time to revisit its wisdom.

Savannah's Christmas Punch: Complete With Socks, Rocks, and Nylons

It's time to prepare the punch for Twelfth Night - January 5, or the night of Epiphany, January 6, in some traditions - that most ancient festival on the eve of Epiphany.

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the Lion's Den, a nook-like lounge in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. The punch reminded me of rumtopf, only it was better. Much better. The container - pictured - was as elegant as the beverage. The Chatham Artillery, the elite military unit for which it is named, is one of the oldest in the nation and has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq. Today, the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than with one cup of this wonderful drink. And I do mean ONE cup.

In my opinion, the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely, although, I'm sure they varied over the years, depending on the ingredients at hand. (A Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch in 2006.) We're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice, then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week. No sampling allowed. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice, add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly in an appropriate setting. It is not for every party. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Music For The Fifth Day Of Christmas

It wouldn't be a true family Christmas unless OTR paid homage to his Welsh ancestry; therefore, tonight's music for Christmas is a familiar carol sung by the superb Welsh bass-baritone, Bryn Terfel.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Oscar Levant: The Unsurpassed Wit Of Hollywood

OTR is a day late with this post, but it won't stop him from honoring one of Hollywood's most brilliant and talented personalities, Oscar Levant (1906-1972). We're approaching fifty years since he was active as a concert pianist, composer, author, actor, and comedy genius, and he's likely unknown by many young people who would appreciate him.  Here are some memorable moments from his career:

Levant was a close friend of George Gershwin and considered the best interpreter of Gershwin's piano music after the composer's death. In this clip, Levant  plays the piano and sings in the 1951 film, American in Paris:

And here is Levant in The Band Wagon (1953), a production often considered with Singing in the Rain as the best of the MGM musicals:

Levant was a psychiatric wreck for a good part of his life. He turned his illness into laughter through a notable series of appearances on late night television's  The Jack Paar Show:

Finally, there is Levant, the writer. He wrote three memoirs, two of them best-sellers. His Memoirs of An Amnesiac (1965) is a recollection of his often weird and tattered life as well as a tour de force of wit and wisdom aimed at Hollywood's famous and infamous personalities beginning in the 1930s. Though a bit dated,  readers with some knowledge of the golden age of Hollywood would certainly find it an entertaining read.

Recently, there was some talk in Hollywood of making a feature length film biography of Levant. OTR thinks it is about time this often overlooked entertainment genius got some notice. For certain, there is enough material out there to fill a series of films.

Music For The Fourth Day Of Christmas

Time to celebrate our Christmas feasting with music.

Never really enjoyed food that looked back at me, but OTR can make exceptions...often.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Music For The Third Day Of Christmas

The Descent of Peace                     William Blake, ca 1815

The American composer, Morton Lauridsen, captured the awe and mystery of Jesus's birth so perfectly in his setting for O Magnum Mysterium, an ancient chant from the Christmas Matins.

O magnum mysterium/O great mystery,
et admirabile sacramentum/and wonderful sacrament,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natun/that animals should see the new-born Lord,
jacentum in praesepio/ lying in a manger!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera/Blessed is the Virgin whose womb,
meruerunt potare/was worthy to bear,
Dominum Christum/Christ the Lord.

Careful observers may notice that The Descent of Peace is a somewhat unusual Nativity image. For the curious, here is an interpretation of the painting and a window into the mind of William Blake

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Favorite Scenes From A Century Of Cinema - 2

1927 theatrical release poster

Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) remains one of the most defining works in motion picture history. In this scene the scientist, Rotwang, transforms his "Maschinenmenach" into an evil duplicate of Maria, a beautiful and innocent woman who lives in a vast worker's city beneath the towers of prosperity that rise above it.

When you see Rotwang at work in his laboratory, you are looking at the model for 85 years of  madmen, laboratories, set design, and cinematography in science fiction films. If you like science fiction, Metropolis is a "must see."

Music For The Second Day Of Christmas

Frederick Delius in 1907
Here is music written for the winter season by the British composer, Frederick Delius (1862-1934). It's quite appropriate for this Christmas as many Americans may find themselves slipping and sliding down the road and through the woods all week.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Music For The First Day of Christmas

Holst, ca 1921          Photo by Herbert Lambert         
Christmas Day, by the British composer, Gustav Holst (1874-1934), best known for his composition, The Planets.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dylan Thomas Reads His Christmas Memory

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

What follows has been a favorite in OTR's family for fifty years. Without question it is one of the finest readings in  the English language. And it is our gift to you in this holy season.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Robert Bork, R.I.P.

A generation is more like a century in the age of 24/7 news. For that reason, news of the passing of Robert Bork, a legal scholar whose 1987 Supreme Court nomination created a firestorm, will last only hours. What  survives is the controversy surrounding the man and the impact his personality has on the nomination process.     National Review Online has a fine series of posts on Bork by Ramesh Ponnuru, Steven Calabresi, John O'Sullivan, Mark Steyn, and Jay Nordlinger. Additional tributes are available on the December 20 page. Andrew Cohen presents another view of Bork in his post at The Atlantic.

OTR remembers the nomination hearing quite well, but what he remembers most about Robert Bork was this most enjoyable article he wrote for National Review on the reelection of Bill Clinton for a second term. Kudos to Katherine Jean Lopez for posting this essential piece which would otherwise be hidden behind the NR pay wall.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Music For Advent - The Fourth Week

The Annunciation                                                Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)

Wake up, a voice is calling!

Sleepers, Awake!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Favorite Scenes From A Century Of Cinema - 1

This post begins a series of OTR's favorite scenes from the movies.  We'll  post one a week for three or four months and touch on a wide range of films. They'll appear in no particular order. In fact, a lot of random thought will go into generating the list. This comes from OTR's lifelong enjoyment of the motion picture. Can't say for sure when it all began, but there are vivid memories of watching The War of the Worlds in 1953, lying on a blanket at a drive-in theater and fully expecting martians to emerge from the nearby woods. Now some folks today may think allowing a seven year old to see such a film amounts to child abuse. Perhaps there was some trauma, but considering the outcome these many years later, there was no perceptible permanent damage. Some people he knows may object to that last statement.

In 1971, OTR was a full-time grad student and had a 32 hour-per-week job working midnight to eight in the morning. He didn't have much of a life outside the classroom and the office, and had to wait several years to discover The Last Picture Show. The film is Peter Bogdanovich's masterpiece about coming of age in small-town America in the early 1950s. There is a superb cast, including film debuts by Sybil Shepherd and Randy Quaid. The film won two Academy Awards - Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman) and  Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson) - out of eight nominations. Here is Ben Johnson,  a real Oklahoma cowboy turned iconic cowboy actor, as "Sam the Lion" reflecting on change and old times:

The Last Picture Show is a compelling, thought-provoking 118 minutes of film making. It has a wonderful period (1951-53) soundtrack as well.

Georgia's Erskine Caldwell

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was an only child, a "PK," a preacher's kid. The family moved frequently throughout the South until he was fifteen when the family settled in Wrens, Georgia. Still, his father often preached on large circuits, necessitating plenty of travel. In fact, the elder Caldwell traveled so regularly that his son could determine his destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. In time, father took son on many of these journeys. The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice of the Depression era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory and he soon began writing about it. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the polite Southern term for the War of Northern Aggression, aka, the Civil War - that often gripped the region. Instead, Caldwell wrote of the raw realities of the human condition in the South. This, and his crusade for improving conditions, did not sit well with many Southerners. The dislike was enhanced because he was writing "in absentia." having left the South before 1930. Furthermore, his subject matter often placed him in conflict with censors across the country.

Caldwell had a long career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but he is best known for Tobacco Road (1932), God's Little Acre (1933) and other works from the 1930s.  An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933. A very loose film adaptation directed by John Ford in 1941 contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. God's Little Acre  remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.

Here are clips from both films:

Caldwell, who was born on this day in 1903, is an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists.  Readers who seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of the human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.

Read more about him in this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tom Wolfe, California, And The Twilight Of The Gonzos

Cover of the first U.S. edition
Hunter S. Thompson coined the phrase "Gonzo journalism" around 1970. The writing style presented stories written as much for entertainment as for traditional reportorial honesty and involved not only the writer's observation but also his participation. The first wave of Gonzos - a wing of New Journalism - is all but gone these days. It's most famous surviving member in the U.S. is Tom Wolfe, who will be 82 next year.   Wolfe's approach to writing has evolved over the years, but it has always retained muted elements of the "wildness" that made such journalism amazingly popular into the 1990s. And it's no wonder that the "wildness" began in California when he penned The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in 1968. Although he would claim New York as "home" almost from that publication date, for the next fifty years he would come to write about the Golden State and its social brand that swept across the nation. Perhaps we are all California now. Regardless, Wolfe's long association with the "island" of California makes for some enjoyable reading in Michael Anton's article appearing in the Autumn issue of City Journal.

It isn't often that OTR can find two of his favorite subjects - Wolfe and California - in a single article. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Music For Advent - The Third Week

Here is an Advent hymn by the German composer, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621):

Listeners can read more about Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming at this link.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II. The National Park service has a series of short videos featuring those who experienced the event. Readers can access the playlist here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Congressional Aid For The Pour

The nation's Great Debunker, H.L. Mencken (r), celebrates the end of Prohibition

From 1920 to 1925, he worked for members of Congress out of an office in the Cannon House Office Building until he was arrested. After a brief hiatus, he returned to serving his loyal customers from 1925 to 1930 out of an office only this time it was in the Russell Senate Office Building. His name was George Cassiday. He was known as "the man in the green hat" and his business was supplying Congress with booze during the Prohibition.

Reason TV has a brief article and five-minute history about Mr. Cassiday and his most interesting job. OTR concludes that the period 1920-30 had to be one of the happiest decades in history for our esteemed statesmen on the Hill.

And why are we discussing this story today? This is Repeal Day, celebrating the 79th anniversary of the end of Prohibition. Cheers!!

And it so happens that one of OTR's favorite musical selections addresses this theme. Those unfamiliar with the piece will enjoy the translation provided on the YouTube page by clicking "show me."  Great performance played just as intended by the composer.

Dave Brubeck: The Man Who Made Jazz In His Very Own Way

Brubeck at the White House for the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors

Several of my Facebook friends as well as essential bloggers mentioned the passing of Dave Brubeck earlier today. He captured my attention in the late 1950s when I was in my early teens exploring what became a life-long interest in jazz.  George Moneo, writing for Babalu, has a tribute to the artist that reminds OTR of his own journey with Brubeck and jazz oh so many years ago.

We can only imagine the sounds of Heaven in 5/4 time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Music For Advent - The Second Week

2012 Advent banner at Martin Luther College,  New Ulm, Minnesota

Advent surprised our household this year so we're a bit behind with some seasonal music.  Here is a beautiful but seldom heard Advent carol arranged by the magnificent British composer, John Rutter.