Archive for the Uncategorized Category

The 100th Anniversary of the Premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 12, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Young RVW

September 6th was the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Rob Young of The Guardian wrote a terrific article about the event.

Old RVW and a friend

Yvonne Loriod

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 19, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

The widow of Olivier Messiaen, Yvonne Loriod, passed away on Monday. She was a brilliant pianist and her recordings of her husband’s music and other 20th century repertoire are treasures. She also was Messiaen’s partner in recording birdcalls:

I love this photo of Loriod holding the microphone

I’ll have more on her in the next few days, but you can read some interesting essays at the Olivier Messiaen


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

Andrea Mantegna's Ascension (c. 1462)

So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
–Mark 16:19

The Christian calendar marks this day as the Feast of the Ascension. The feast takes place on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday and commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven.

Giotto's Ascension of Christ (c. 1300)

I love the way the Ascension has been depicted through the ages. Some artists have gone full out with glowing clouds and Christ rising like a missle. Others have a touch of whimsy, with only Christ’s feet poking out of the bottom of a cloud as the Apostles look skyward.

Hans Suess Von Kulmbach's Ascension (c. 1513)

For lovers of choral music and Anglican liturgy there’s two superb recordings of music for the Feast of the Ascension. On the Hyperion label there’s The Feast of the Ascension at Westminster Abbey. The recording takes the listener through a day of worship at the Abbey with music for Matins, the Eucharist and Evensong. Some highlights include Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s old favorite Caelos ascendit hodie, Gerald Finzi’s “God is gone up,” and Patrick Gowers’ brilliant Viri Galilaei. The Westminster series has now reached several volumes of glorious sacred works for chief feast days – O Praise the Lord, Restoration Music from Westminster Abbey is the newest – and they are some of my favorite recordings.

The Feast of the Ascension at Westminster Abbey (Hyperion)

You can sample some of this terrific album at the Hyperion website.

The Ascension from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (c. 1412-1416)

The always marvelous Delphian, a super-cool independent label from Scotland, has Ascension. This recording features the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh in an Evensong service for The Feast of the Ascension. The recording has hymns, psalms, anthems and a terrific pair of canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) by Richard Allain. The program closes with organist Simon Nieminski playing Olivier Messiaen’s magnificent L’Ascension.

Ascension (Delphian)

Speaking of Messiaen, here’s Oliver Latry playing Transports de joie d’une âme devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienne, the 3rd movement (not part one as the video post claims) of Messiaen’s L’Ascension.

Unsilent Night

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 21, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

The maestro in Washington Square Park - photo by Tom Jarmusch

Looking out at the piles of gray- and black-streaked snow outside my window reminds me of how glad I am that we had Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night on December 12th when the New York weather was cold but clear! Judging from the reaction of people who participated, though, we could have held Unsilent Night on the evening Earth freezes over for eternity and people would still have been happy. Unsilent Night does that to you.

This was my first year participating in Phil Kline’s “free outdoor participatory sound sculpture of many individual parts, recorded on cassettes, CDs and mp3s, and played through a roving swarm of boomboxes carried through city streets every December.” That’s the official description of the event, but it’s much more than that. In New York it’s an 18 year-old-tradition that draws music-loving people, kids and their parents, aging hipsters, young hipster wannabes and, in some ways best of all, the curious to Washington Square Park for the opportunity to lug a boombox picked from Kline’s cache of vintage Sony and Panasonic players.

Kline's period instruments

People also dusted off their own boomboxes and queued up under the arch for one of Kline’s cassettes or CDs containing a section of his sublime score. Kline prefers Unsilent Night to be played on cassettes (the medium for which he wrote it) for the unique sound they make, so I guess playing Unsilent Night on an old Sony boombox with a cassette is a kind of historically informed performance practice; if more early music aficionados had a sense of humor, they would appreciate this.

Long-time participants know about Unsilent Night and they were out in force in New York (and Baltimore, Boulder, Los Angeles, and lots of other places—Unsilent Night is performed in 25 cities on three continents), but it’s the curious stragglers who happened upon the crowd gathered under the arch that grabbed my attention. A young couple asked me what was going on and when I told them, they raised eyebrows and gave me a somewhat skeptical, “Interesting.” They joined us for the entire walk to Tompkins Square Park and a number of times they gave me a thumbs-up sign or just smiled. They didn’t have boomboxes, but were just along for the joyous musical ride.

As we headed east on 8th Avenue, we passed so many people who had that “What the hell is going on here?” look on their faces and you could count the number of beats it took for that look to turn to a smile once they were enveloped in the music—about three beats. Same thing happened when I took the walk with Phil in Philadelphia a few days later. Big smiles.

The enduring image that I will carry with me is that of a young woman who was off by herself in Tompkins Square Park toward the end of the piece. She was short and small and had one of Phil’s boomboxes resting on her head. Her eyes were closed and she had a beatific smile as she gently swayed with the music. That’s Unsilent Night—sound beatified.

Here’s a taste of Unsilent Night New York 2009

For more information about Unsilent Night, visit


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

“… give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of Light…”

–The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Advent welcomes in the new Church Year and begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve. The season focuses on the birth of Christ (his first Advent) and anticipates the return of Christ the King (his Second Advent). It is a time of contemplation and repentance, not merely a countdown to Christmas.

There is some brilliant music for the Advent season in the Anglican tradition. Such anthems as Thomas Weelkes’ Hosana to the Son of David, Orlando Gibbons’ This is the Record of John, William Byrd’s Vigilate and hymns like O come, O come, Emmanuel are mainstays. The responses (music featuring a celebrant or small group singing or chanting verses while the larger choir or congregation respond with a refrain) are somber and beautiful and usually are settings by Thomas Tallis or Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.

One of the best recordings of this kind of music is Advent at St. Paul’s which features the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir under the direction of their former music director John Scott. The recording is on the Hyperion label and well worth finding. Another fine recording, Advent in Winchester, features the Winchester Cathedral Choir conducted by Andrew Lumsden, it’s available on the Griffin label. There’s also a marvelous recording on the Koch label that recreates at Advent Evensong service at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. Evensong for Advent features The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys under the direction of their former music director, the legendary Gerre Hancock. This is the real deal with the Reverend Canon John Andrew, Rector Emeritus of Saint Thomas reciting the collects and lessons.

I usually don’t like videos without the actual performers on camera, but here’s the superb Choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing Weelkes’ Hosana to the Son of David:

This version of Gibbons’ This is the Record of John is sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge:


I am the day soon to be born.
I am the sprig from the root of David and the bright star of the morning.
I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Rejoice Emmanuel.

The Legend of St. Christopher; Revelation 22:16, 13


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

An Advent Procession based on the Great “O” Antiphons
The Choir of St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle
(Loft Recordings)

Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 1
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer
(Channel Classics)

Alphons Diepenbrock: Orchestral Works and Songs
Residentie Orchestra The Hague
Hans Vonk

Phil Kline: Unsilent Night
(Cantaloupe Music)

Henry Purcell: Odes for St. Cecilia’s Day
Taverner Consort
Andrew Parrott
(Virgin Veritas)

Remembering the great Elisabeth Söderström

Lester Leaps In. Again

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Lester Bangs

I’ve been rereading Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, an anthology of reviews by Lester Bangs (Edited by Greil Marcus, Anchor Books, 2003) and came across this familiar masterpiece that anybody who cares about recorded music will relate to. For me, Bangs’ reviews in Creem were holy writ.  If you care about rock or writing you need to read him. Before the days of e-mail or blogs, I used to share this passage with  fellow vinyl junkies, they all understood. CD collectors will understand too.

“The real story is  rushing home to hear the apocalypse erupt, falling through the front door and slashing open the plastic sealing “for your protection,” taking the record out—ah, lookit them grooves, all jet black without a smudge yet, shiny and new so fucking pristine, then the color of the label, does it glow with auras that’ll make subtle comment on the sounds coming out, or is it just a flat utilitarian monochromatic surface, lie a schoolhouse wall (like RCA’s and Capitol’s after some fool revamped ‘em—an example of real artistic backwardness)? And finally you get to put the record on the turntable, it spins in limbo a perfect second, followed by the moment of truth, needle in groove, and finally sound.”

He  the speaks about the milestone  albums that “fried” his brain, “… the experience of the first few listening to record so total, so mind-twisting, that you authentically can say you’ll never be quite the same again. Black Saint and the Sinner Lady did that, and a very few others. They’re events you remember all your life, like your first real orgasm. And the whole purpose of this absurd, mechanically persistent involvement with recorded music is the pursuit of that priceless moment. So it’s not exactly that records might unhinge the mind, but rather that if anything is going to drive you up the wall it might as well be a record. Because the best music is strong and guides and cleanses and is life itself.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Lester Bangs

Buy this book

Buy this book

Buy this album

Buy this album

Anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
The Battle of Lepanto by Veronese

The Battle of Lepanto by Veronese

October 7th is the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto. The Battle of Lepanto took place on October 7, 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition comprised of Spain and its Italian territories (Sicily, Sardinia and Naples), the Republic of Venice and Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy and the Papacy defeated the Ottoman fleet off the coast of Greece. The victory prevented further Muslim incursions into Europe.

The victory took on mythic significance, many seeing it as an act of God’s will. Some interesting facts: the Spanish writer Cervantes served on one of the galleys in the Holy League fleet and the victory has been the subject of a number of works of art by such painters as Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian.

Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto by Titian

Allegory of the Battle of Lepanto by Titian

The brilliant G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem commemorating the battle:



White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half-attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain – hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground, –
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk may hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces – four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still – hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.

St. Michael’s on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that bath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.

King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed –
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in a man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumed lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that swat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stairways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.

They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign –
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!

Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade. . .


Not sure who painted this one

Not sure who painted this one


Contemporary views of the battle
An excellent article by the writer Michael Novak

Historian Robert McMullen weighs in

For those interested in naval history, there’s a fascinating blog post about one of the galleys that fought in the battle

The best book on the battle is Niccolò Capponi’s extremely detailed and exciting Victory of the West


This day should be honored by the freedom-loving West.

Don Juan of Austria, Marcantonio Colonna, Sebastiano

Don Juan of Austria, Marcantonio Colonna, Sebastiano Venier - The Victors of Lepanto


Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Some of you have been asking for photos of Cannoli, our new kitten. Hard to believe he is just six months old and now weighs a hefty 8 lbs. If he continues to grow at his current rate he will probably be something akin to the size of a small bobcat or energy-efficient foreign automobile.

Cannoli then

Cannoli then (a few weeks old)

Cannoli now (a dignified pose)

Cannoli now (a dignified pose)

And because Mei Mei  is the senior feline and my only cat to have appeared on PBS

Mei Mei enjoying granny's blanket

Mei Mei enjoying granny's blanket

Saint Michael and All Angels

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 29, 2009 by Craig Zeichner


There was a silence in heaven as the dragon joined battle with the Archangel Michael.

A voice was heard, thousand upon thousand-fold, saying:
Salvation, honor and virtue to almighty God. Alleluia.

–Benedictus antiphon at Lauds on Michaelmas Day

The Christian calendar marks this day as the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels or, as it is commonly known, Michaelmas. I like Saint Michael, an archangel and a fierce figure. I hate what our pop culture as done with angels though, placing them somewhere between Smurfs and unicorns.

There's a unicorn grazing near here

There's a unicorn grazing near here



The first words from angels whenever they appear in the Bible was almost always, “Fear not.” You wouldn’t be terrified by a doughy little baby with cotton wings, would you?




Michaelmas is an interesting feast day and here’s an excellent essay about it from the Lectionary page

 For fans of choral music and Anglican liturgy there’s a superb recording on the Hyperion label called The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels at Westminster Abbey. The recording takes the listener through a day of worship at the Abbey with music for Matins, the Eucharist and Evensong. Some highlights include Michael Tippett’s Plebs angelica, Richard Dering’s gorgeous Factum est silentium and the Sequence for  St. Michael by Herbert Howells.

A must-have

A must-have

You can sample bits of it and read the liner notes at the Hyperion website

Speaking of angels, here’s Claudio Monteverdi’s Duo Seraphim from his Vespro della Beata Virgine 1610

Raphael's Saint Michael

Raphael's Saint Michael