LINER NOTES: Classics
Our second Liner Notes session at the 92nd St Y was on November 13, and we decided to take things a bit further back than our norm -- this time to the 'classics.' Exploring classical music is, embarrassingly, new ground for Nate and I because we are not very knowledgeable about the broader-than-Broadway field. That said, we've had the good fortune of working with a model who is also a renowned classical pianist, so we felt this was a good area to explore: historic costumes paired with classical and classical-inspired music.
The theme is also right up my alley, because it is another way to explore the roots of musical motifs. By now, you've probably figured that hip-hop's sampling and hyper-meta commentary were my entry points to this game. Hence, the Bela Bartok sample that frames Dr. Octagon's "Blue Flowers" was one of my first and only initial thoughts (though, in the end, I passed on it in favor of the goofy, "I Got To Tell You"). Researching classical influences in pop music presented a fun, new challenge for me. I'm aware it's cliche to talk about certain composers being the pop music of their day, but tracing the lineage of a signature phrase like Pachelbel's Canon in D to late 20th Century "classic" music, like Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," makes the point very clear.
I gravitated toward the more meditative pieces, so quiet Chopin and Rachmaninoff pieces figured prominently. I never realized the ubiquity of the former's "Preludes, Opus 28: No. 4 in E Minor," ranging from a bossa nova standard ("Insensatez") to a Radiohead classic, with a moody Serge Gainsbourg and slick Idris Muhammad recording in between. I wasn't familiar with Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor, Op. 18," but after finding a recording played by the composer, I felt compelled to include this set. The result is one of the most wildly melodramatic with the Rachmaninoff melody reappearing in Sinatra's syrupy "Full Moon and Empty Arms" (coincidentally covered on the new Dylan album), as well as forming the foundation of the overwrought Eric Carmen AM staple, "All By Myself."
I generally avoided covers of classical pieces. I made exceptions to make certain sets work, or when the efforts were pretty exceptional. Hence, Gary Numan's relatively straightforward cover of Erik Satie's first "Trois Gymnopedie" was sandwiched between Aldo Ciccolini's traditional reading and Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis's clever insertion of a sample buried behind the prominent America sample in Damita Jo's "Someone to Call My Lover." Talk about burying the lede. Another cover was ELO's reading of Copland's "Hoedown," which is pretty gloriously proggy and excessive and of-its-time. It's amusing to think that this represented some kind of pinnacle of rock music in the '70s.
There were a number of paths I did not follow for aesthetic reasons or for lack of time. My biggest regret is not representing the numerous uses of classical music in comedy. Flanders and Swann's "Ill Wind" was to form the axis for a number of other comedic takes, ranging from Victor Borge to the Animaniacs. The idea was apparently in the air -- The Guardian posted a fun listicle on this very topic just a couple weeks before our session. However, many of the examples I wanted to use required visual cues, such as Borge's slapsticky Hungarian Rhapsody routine and any television cartoon. In other words, a thread to follow in another forum.
Attendees know that our intended model Tanya could not attend that night (our substitute model, Rose, knocked it out the park with a dark, fur coat and Icelandic fox wrap), so all the more reason to return to this theme another time. Until then, see y'all next month on December 11.