Posts Tagged ‘music’

Misery Chord

Posted in General, On This Day on November 21st, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

November 22nd:  St. Cecilia’s Day

St Cecilia's jukeboxOn this day in either A.D. 170 or 223 St. Cecilia died; even the Church can’t keep track of all its virgin martyrs. However, St. Cecilia’s death should have been memorable. She died three days after her decapitation. The patron saint of music evidently had mastered breath control. (A Wagnerian soprano might last two weeks after a decapitation.) And Cecilia really gave a farewell performance, spending much of her last three days in song. You or I might use our miraculous powers to regenerate a neck, but that is why we are not saints.

If Cecilia was a virgin martyr, at the very least her husband was a saint, too. His name was Valerian. On their wedding night, Cecilia told him that she had a wonderful surprise for him if he converted to Christianity. The young patrician promptly did, and an angel then appeared to explain the bliss of chastity. Valerian apparently never convinced Cecilia of the need for charity. The Church records Valerian as a saint and martyr–but not as a virgin. There may be limits to what you can ask of an Italian man.

Cecilia turned their home into a church and that certainly violated Roman zoning ordinances. Of course, the law blamed Valerian; the husband is supposed to be responsible. When Valerian refused to make a sacrifice to the Gods, he became the sacrifice. The matter might have ended there. Roman authorities were not really interested in prosecuting aristocratic women for their religious eccentricities. In fact, the government regarded Christianity as a females’ religion; good works and virtue were perfectly compatible with a woman’s domestic role in Roman society. The danger of Christianity was if the men became less bloodthirsty or if the slaves demanded justice.

But Cecilia would not let herself be ignored. She continued to preach and sing. In planning her execution, the authorities first showed her the consideration due an aristocratic lady. Being sealed in a steam bath was said to be painless and therapeutic; you suffocated while enjoying all the benefits of a facial. (This particular form of execution was even considered Christian; the Emperor Constantine applied it to an unfaithful wife. It only fell out of use when bathing did in the sixth century.) However, as seems to be the rule with all of these martyrdoms, the first attempt always fails. Cecilia survived the steam treatment, and Romans then tried decapitation. That eventually worked.

You now may see St. Cecilia’s head in Rome, Italy. Unfortunately, it no longer takes musical requests.

What is Spanish for Chutzpah?

Posted in General on January 22nd, 2014 by Eugene Finerman – 3 Comments

In 1836, Mexico’s failure to enforce a Spanish requirement on its immigrants made it difficult to explain to the Alamo garrison that it was about to be massacred.  A 3000 man army with cannons offered a hint, but the Texans might have missed the subtlety.  So the Mexican army band serenaded the garrison with “The Cut Throat Song”–a musical message to expect no mercy.

Here is the number:

The Texans probably assumed that they would be bored to death.

Some 120 years later, a John Wayne movie wanted to use “The Cut Throat Song” in its soundtrack.  But the composer Dmitri Tiomkin knew that he could do better.  In a way, he did…

Of course, Santa Anna did not have the foresight to include a full orchestra in his army.  And he would have had to melt down some cannons to increase the brass section.  There is also some question as to how the Texans would have reacted to Tiomkin’s lush, seductive music.  Probably panic…They were ready to die for Texas…but not same-sex dating!

My Latest Compulsion

Posted in General on December 18th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 10 Comments

Ewan portrait for linkedIn and Scotland articleSo what are my symptoms?  I am eating oatmeal, trying to ferment peat, imagining myself in a tartan and thinking of dyeing my leg hair red.  Yes, I definitely have Scotsophrenia.  But the most obvious and obnoxious manifestation is my singing.  While I do have a good voice, how many times would you want to hear me sing “Wha Wadna Fecht for Charlie?”  Please stand in line with your restraining orders.

But there is a method to my monotony.  In the 18th century, songs served as news, editorials and opinion polls.  Yes, even my singing is pedantic.  My Highland medley is a musical history of the Jacobite Rebellion–from its early, exuberant triumphs to its mouldering, embarrassing nostalgia.

In 1745, Prince Charles Stuart landed in Scotland to reclaim the British throne for his ousted dynasty.  “Wha Wadna Fecht for Charlie” reflects the Highlanders’ enthusiasm for the Young Pretender.


Wha wadna’ fecht for Charlie?
Wha wadna’ draw the sword?
Wha wad nae up an’ rally
At the royal Prince’s word?

Ironically, the Bonnie Prince could not have mastered the lyrics himself.  With his French accent, his version would have been “Oo oodno feet fo Charlee.  However, his opponent George II was just as unintelligible, having a German accent.  The War was not a contest of grammar.   But the rival songs of the rebellion would indicate the war’s outcome.  The English were marching to “The British Grenadiers”, a good tune in itself and an indication of an ample supply of gun powder.  The Scots were massacred and the Bonnie Prince wandered the Highlands disguised as a woman before finally escaping to France.

So the next song in my Highland medley is a dirge.  The English were not gracious winners.  Their hangmen were fully employed;  as for the resulting widows and orphans, they found themselves indentured servants in North America.  The Crown attempted to eradicate the Highland culture.  Bagpipes were outlawed, and even the spelling of “Wha Wadna Fecht” would have gotten you six months in prison.  However, the Scots did not blame the Prince who had led them to disaster; on the contrary, they were hoping for his return.

Will ye no come back again?

Luckily for the Scots, their incompetent Prince preferred to drink himself to death.  He left no legitimate children and his only sibling was a Catholic cardinal.  So there would be no Stuart heirs for the Jacobite cause.  The Bonnie Prince died in 1788, but a Jacobite resistance continued–even if it amounted only to pointless mayhem.  In 1792, an exasperated Robert Burns told his fellow Scots to grow up and get over it.

Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear, give an ear;
Ye Jacobites by name, give an ear;
Ye Jacobites by name,
Your fautes I will proclaim,
Your doctrines I maun blame–
You shall hear.

Was Burns a traitor to Scotland?  No, he was an exhausted realist, pleading an end to the futility.  His song fittingly ends this history and my Jacobite Bandstand.

My Scotsophrenia, however, continues.  I tried convincing my Hebrew adult education class that Maccabee was a Scottish name.


Sing Along With Eugene

Posted in General on November 8th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

Aside from the likelihood of nude scenes with Mary Pickford and Oliver Wendell Holmes, what I especially enjoy about “Boardwalk Empire” is the authentic music of the early 1920s.  If Miss Pickford and Justice Holmes needed something to set the mood, the songs of the young Jerome Kern would do admirably.  Last week’s episode was particularly melodious.  In fact, I have become literally monotonous, continually singing “They Didn’t Believe Me.”  If you don’t care to hear me in the shower, go to YouTube which offers dozens of versions of the Kern classic.

The earliest rendition is by Warren Harding (of course, the libido-in-chief does make an appearance on Boardwalk Empire).  In his case, “They Didn’t Believe Me” was about his congressional testimony on the Teapot Dome Scandal.

For the series’ Lesbian interlewd the musical accompaniment was the aria “I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls”.  The hit single from the British opera The Bohemian Girl, “Marble Halls” was one of the first songs my mother remembered playing on that sensational new invention, the radio.  (Being underage in the 1920s, my mother’s character will not be doing nude scenes on Boardwalk Empire.  She might have been available for The Pacific but no one asked her.)  Yes, YouTube offers a number of versions of the aria. 

Enya makes it sound like a Druid incantation.  Of course, she does that to every song.  Sometimes, however, her monotony might seem appropriate.  The YouTube listings also offered her song “Boadicea”.   Well, the only Boadicea I know was a first century British queen who led an unsuccessful rebellion against the Romans.  I certainly had to hear Enya’s ballad of that.  You might say that I am still waiting.  The song had no words; it was just Enya humming.  And I can’t say that her dum-de-dums were remotely evocative of ancient Rome or Britain.  She just as easily could have entitled the song “Wendell Wilkie.”  Dum-de-dum.

Allow me to offer this musical tribute to Boadicea.  I may have borrowed the tune from Richard Rodgers.  (If Boardwalk Empire lasts another three years, we’ll be hearing his music too.)  In any case, here is as much of the song as I dared to compose.

Go Home Roma!                                                                                                                                                                                                         We’ll wage war to rid you from our shore.                                                                                                                                                       Then for extra fun, we’ll sack London.                                                                                                                                                       Scourge and purge all trace of Latin race….

I trust you’re applauding.

Saturday Sundries

Posted in General on December 12th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

Today’s Tantrum:

Tonight I plan to watch “Doubt.”  I want to compare a priest’s abuse of children with choir practice at my synagogue.  Yes, having a good voice and worse vanity, I was lured into joining the choir.  Since I can’t read music or Hebrew, you can imagine the choir’s exacting standards.  But if you can clear your throat in rhythm, no one will know the difference.

Last night, making my debut, I pondered one of the great mysteries of Judaism.  Why is it easier to develop an atomic bomb than a good Hanukkah song?  It took two years for the boychiks of Los Alamos to harness the chain-reaction; in 2000 years we have yet to compose a Hanukkah song that doesn’t appall any sentient adult.  We are not a tone-deaf people.  Every gentile on Tin Pan Alley could be counted on the fingers of a three-toed sloth–and the sloth would still have three paws free for knitting a tallith. 

 We have such a surplus that we lend ourselves to other ethnic groups.  For “West Side Story”, Leonard Bernstein is the greatest Puerto Rican composer.  And do I need to mention who wrote many of our most popular Christmas songs?  “White Christmas” perhaps expressed Irving Berlin’s relief that his blood wasn’t on the snow.

But Hanukkah?  I think that even George Gershwin admitted the exasperation:  “But Not For Me.”

And let’s not forget the historical significance of this day:

Moulin Rogue

Posted in General on October 21st, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

On this day–October 21–in 1858, Jacques Offenbach endeared himself to posterity, particularly cartoon animators and advertising agencies, by premiering this music.

Clique ici.

His Can Can music is one of the world’s most popular and exploited numbers. You have heard it accompany household cleansers and frantic Looney Tunes. And why not? His music is delightful and, more importantly, those studios and ad agencies don’t have to pay him a cent in royalties. When you have been dead for 128 years, you have very few legal rights. True, Offenbach would be a very rich man if he ever resurrected; but Offenbachs usually don’t. (Wrong theology.)

Offenbach would also be bewildered by the reason for his acclaim. He had never intentionally composed music for the Can Can. Tres ironique, n’est-ce pas? The music we most associate with the Can Can was actually written for the operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld.” The operetta is a comic retelling of the Orpheus myth that mirrored French society at the time. In this Gallic Olympus, Zeus is a likable rogue while Hera is respectable but humorless. (It was said that the Emperor Louis Napoleon was amused, but the Empress Eugenie was not.) At the operetta’s conclusion, the Gods merrily dance off to the Underworld to the musical accompaniment of a certain tune.

The Gods may have gone to Hell, and the Second Empire certainly did (courtesy of the Richard Wagner fan club), but Offenbach’s music stayed around. It became the melodies which we most associate with night life of Fin de Siecle Paris. There is no Can Can without Offenbach.

That would have been a problem for the collaborationist Vichy Government during World War II. While it would have had no qualms about transporting Offenbach himself to an unspecified location in Poland, his music was too popular to disappear. Furthermore, the German officers in Paris would expect to see the Can Can, and Vichy would hate to disappoint them. But the dance did require music.

So was the composer of the Can Can music suddenly anonymous or had Vichy belated discovered that Saint-Saens had written it? Offenbach probably wouldn’t have been surprised; he was familiar with French farce.