On Avoirdupois, Practical Urges, Helpful Transcriptions, and More!

You got me, Holland! Avoirdupois?

avoirdupois \av-uhr-duh-POIZ; AV-uhr-duh-poiz\, noun:
1. Avoirdupois weight, a system of weights based on a pound containing 16 ounces or 7,000 grains (453.59 grams).
2. Weight; heaviness; as, a person of much avoirdupois.

(from dictionary.reference.com)

Ok. Avoirdupois. Let’s go!

Why, Beethoven, You’ve Gone Mahlerian

Gustav Mahler’s orchestral transcription of Beethoven’s Opus 95 String Quartet suggests that inside every thin man is a fat one trying to get out.

I…uh, what? It suggests that thin people secretly want to be fat? What?

Such urges for physical change are usually practical ones; artistic advantage tends to be accidental.

The urges…are practical. It is practical to want to be fat? And sometimes…fatness has artistic advantages? I do not understand this opening paragraph. I think I'm getting a headache. But let’s keep reading!

Mahler, as conductor of a big orchestra, wanted the opportunity to have an admired chamber piece for himself.

Mahler wanted to have an admired chamber piece…for himself. So he orchestrated it? For himselve’s orchestra? I think I’m coming down with something. Maybe I secretly want to be fat. Ok, fatter.

The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which has been making this particular quartet and its enlargement a classroom preoccupation, sent its Curtis Symphony Orchestra to Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night to show what it has been learning. The added attraction was having Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic’s music-director-to-be, as conductor.

Ah, good. I understood all of this. I’m starting to feel better.

Although the notes stay the same, avoirdupois has a major effect on most music.

It does what? Gets…fatter? More instruments = fatter music, I gather, Orchestrating a piece is metaphorically making it bigger. I see, maybe. And the result is…having an effect? A...major...effect. Oh, no, I’m getting dizzy again.

The results can be instructive, sometimes helpful and sometimes not.

The…effect can be…instructive. But not helpful, except sometimes? To whom? Where’s my Pepto-Bismol?

For rehearsal purposes Stravinsky reduced his “Sacre du Printemps” for two pianists, draining away its color and heft but providing a clarifying X-ray view

Which is, I take it, helpful? Can transcription give me X-ray vision? That’d be awesome!

Dvořák orchestrated his piano four-hand “Slavonic Dances” and did it well.

Which was helpful? Or instructive? Both? So woozy…

The art of transcription’s biggest success story might be Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ.” Using the common marketing strategy of the day, Haydn reduced his orchestra original to a string quartet, providing manageable and salable home entertainment for amateur players. The intimacy discovered may be more compelling than in either the orchestral version or the choral adaptation he also made.

Head…clearing. Sentences are beginning to have meaning again. Okay. Deep breaths. I think I understood this. Haydn’s transcription was helpful to amateur musicians, because they could play music normally relegated to the concert-going experience. Helpful, presumably, to him, too, since he could make extra Deutsch marks, or whatever they had then. But was it instructive? No one will say. Is “compelling intimacy” instructive? Or…helpful?

As played by the dazzling young Curtis musicians, Beethoven-Mahler had the disadvantage of sounding too beautiful.

It…what? Oh, crap, waves of nausea returning… It had the…disadvantage…of sounding too beautiful. It sounded more beautiful than it actually was? Migraines…

Different string sections resonated and echoed with unintended grandness.

Uninteded by whom? The orchestra? Conductor? Beethoven? Mahler? Perhaps I’ll lie down for a little while.

Given the exceptional ability of the ensemble (all strings for this piece) to articulate busy detail, this was still powerful Beethoven but of a different sort.

The orchestration of the quartet was different than the quartet? I…yes. Was it helpful? Instructive? Both? Neither?

Missing was the grit of a single instrument on a part, the sweat emanating from four players hard at work.

Yes, you lose that when going from quartet to orchestra. That is fair. Was it helpful?

This is tough, wiry music. Overeating does it no good.

The music ate…what? Room…spinning…

Beethoven’s jarring harmonic subtleties and changes of pace survived.


A superior conductor’s knowledge of balance and emphasis, and his skill at conveying that knowledge, made the difference. Mr. Gilbert does not cut a glamorous, charismatic figure, but I hope the Philharmonic will buy into his music making.

Um. Me too? I’m still confused about helpfulness and instructiveness.

Ok. I think we got off on the wrong foot here. Let’s talk about something else. I might feel better.

Samuel Barber’s “Overture to ‘The School for Scandal’ ” started the evening, recalling a 21-year-old composer’s glamorous and charismatic introduction into public musical life.

Good. I understood that. I’m pickin’ up what you’re layin’ down. Perhaps I…

Given Mr. Gilbert’s recent residency in Stockholm, his attachment to Nielsen’s Third Symphony, played after intermission, is natural.

This seems logical. I am totally afraid of what’s coming next. Something helpful, I hope. Or at least instructive!

I wish I had kinder thoughts for it.

You wish…I can’t…what? You don’t like it? You know, you can just say that. Type it out in a word-sentence. “I don’t like it very well.” Or something?

Nielsen’s reputation as a Scandinavian giant

He was a giant! Oh my god! I had no…

arrives mainly by default.

Oh, a metaphorical giant. Too much avoirdupois?

After Sibelius and perhaps Grieg, he is the man, but the gap between them and this Dane is wide.

Perhaps the "gap" has avoirdupois? I'm confused. Again. By your writing.

Nielsen is a nice composer: a little north of good, considerably south of great.

Great is…north of good. Is it near Duluth?

Every gesture in this piece sounds civilized and heartfelt, and yet there is a sense of absence. One looks with frustration for the arresting idea or the fulfilling turn of events. People complain about Nielsen’s lack of prominence, but these things are usually for a reason.

You don’t like Nielsen. Fine. How about a tidy summary for your last sentence? Perhaps something helpful and/or instructive!

Charlotte Dobbs and Adrian Kramer sang briefly in the slow movement. The orchestra playing was beautiful.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just call in sick.

I seem to have used up my quotient of three-dot-ellipses for the day. I’m out. But I hope I get to use the “avoirdupois” tag again soon!


Empiricus said...

I thought "I wish I had kinder thoughts for it" was kind of tactful. Backhanded, as usual; but this time the backhanded-ness works. No?

What was your point? Should he have called the piece an f-ing slaughterhouse for musical ideas? The Times usually frowns on such random hatred. He congenially supports his general indifference, later on, when he says that "there is a sense of absence."

Maybe it's just me, but I thought that, aside from the strange avoirdupois thing, the article was fine, as far as Mr. Wooden Shoes reviews go.

Murderface said...

But wait, what was the weather like on the way to Carnegie Hall?

Anonymous said...

I"m guessing it was cold.

The kind of cold that prevents you from doing things orchidaceously.

Murderface said...

I've got a practical urge in my pants.

(With apologies to 7th grade.)