Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Discovering Dring

Last Friday's edition of the radio show On Point with Tom Ashbrook was an irresistible journey through twentieth century music guided by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, whose best-selling book on the subject, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, comes out in paperback this October. (He authors a blog by the same title.)

This was a GREAT show. If you love modern music, or want to, listen here.

I really enjoy the stories associated with late-19th and 20th-century music (except the ones about Mahler's marital problems...those make me sad):

...The tension in the audience as people waited for the opening strains of Richard Strauss's Salome...

...Schoenberg deeply moved at a road-side food stand when he and his son heard his music playing on the radio...

...Messiaen and fellow POW's playing his haunting Quartet for the End of Time in the bitter cold prison camp, Stalag VIII-A, on January 15, 1941, for an audience of 400 prisoners and prison guards. "Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension," recalls Messiaen...

...And of course the riotous premier of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, described so vividly in Michael Tilson Thomas's documentary for the series Keeping Score. (Though now I can never think of the opening bassoon solo without hearing in my mind the "bassoon's lament" musicians joke about: "I...am not an English hoooooorn.../I am not an English horn/I cannot play so high...")

I particularly like the story of Rite of Spring because I am always enthralled, though also deliciously irritated, when I learn of artists (or scientists, or leaders in other spheres) who are prophetic, ahead of their time, who go against the grain and shake people up, only to triumph in the end despite their detractors. Where would we be without Stravinsky?

I have my own favorites, too. I love Brian Easdale's score for the film (and ballet-within-the-film) The Red Shoes. I love Aaron Copland. I enjoy the very mechanical-sounding ballet In the Middle Somewhat Elevated by Thom Willems. And of course I love Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob.

But today I made a wonderful discovery: I also love the work of their student, Madeleine Winefride Isabelle Dring, whose Trio for Flute, Oboe, and Piano I heard for the first time on the radio today. What a beautiful oboe part!!! The second movement, especially, was lovely - almost-too-sweet-but-not-quite (like a perfect confection), lyrical, at times a little "biblical-sounding" (just my type!). I've heard parts of her Festival Scherzo for Piano and Strings and Peacock Pie Suite for String Orchestra, and her stuff is just YUMMY. And I love the fact that she wrote a lot for oboe, thanks to her oboist-husband Roger Lord. I'll have to check out her Dances for Oboe some time. The late Madeleine Dring would have been 85 this year, just a couple of days ago, on September 7.

The piano works of my daughter's piano teacher, Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee, are among my favorite modern pieces for piano. Alas, this fall, for various reasons, we've had to stop formal lessons and are home-schooling for both piano and catechism (we won't allow our kids to quit music entirely until they quit home). Even my oboe training is suffering; I won't be able to find lesson time for several weeks and am trying to go it alone till then, which is of course much harder. We need our teachers so much. I just hope I can give my daughter enough of what she needs to be nourished and educated as a musician (and as a person of faith). And I hope all the things that are tight right now - mostly time - open up soon!

Image: Nicholas Roerich's 1913 set design for Part I of Rite of Spring


Patty said...

I performed that Dring work for flute, oboe and piano years ago. I loved playing it! It's actually not difficult for the oboe, and the second movement is so lyrical. In some ways her slow movement reminds me of the Poulenc trio (ob/bsn/pno) movement, but without the sarcasm. But maybe that's just me ...?

I've always had the words "Why not an English horn? / This note's too high for me" as the lyrics to the beginning of Rite. We played it last year, but I'm thankful those words didn't appear in my brain when our incredible bassoonist played the solo. Whew!

Sorry about the time issue. And I wish you the best with your home teaching!

Anonymous said...

Madeleine Dring was first cousin to my Mother. My grandma and her father were brother and sister. I always love finding little tid-bits of information about her and it gives me a special sense of pride to know that people are still enjoying her music