Category Archives: Music

Imagine All the People Living Life in Peace…


Twenty-seven years ago today, Mark David Chapman put a vicious end to the life of John Lennon (1940 – 1980). Lennon was the outstanding English songwriter, musician, singer, artist, author and peace activist who became famous worldwide as the founder of the Sixties pop group, The Beatles.

John Winston Lennon was perhaps the more intrepid part of the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Lennon/McCartney partnership, writing songs for The Beatles as well as other artists. Lennon, with his cynical edge, knack for introspection and, at times, wicked humour, and McCartney, with his story-telling optimism and gift for melody, complemented each other unlike any other songwriter duo. In his solo career, Lennon wrote and recorded songs such as “Beautiful Boy”, “Give Peace a Chance”, “Imagine”, “Mother”, “Woman” and “Working Class Hero”.

Lennon revealed his rebellious nature and flippant wit on television, in films such as A Hard Day’s Night (1964), in books such as In His Own Write as well as A Spaniard in the Works, in press conferences, interviews and through his peace actions, such as the bed-ins in Amsterdam and Montreal. He channelled his fame and penchant for controversy into his work as a peace activist, artist and author.

John Lennon had two sons, Julian, with his first wife Cynthia, and Sean, with his second wife, Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. Both sons have tried their hand at performing. Lennon was murdered in cold blood by Chapman in New York City on December 8th, 1980, as he and Ono returned home from a recording session.

The photo (above) shows John Lennon performing onstage at Madison Square Garden in New York City with Elton John, as a result of having lost a wager that his song “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” (which Elton John also played and sang on) would hit No. 1 on the pop chart (on November 11th). This event turned into Lennon’s last concert appearance ever (November 28th, 1974).




A film about John Lennon’s assassination, The Killing of John Lennon, directed by Andrew Piddington, premiered in Lennon’s birthplace Liverpool (UK) five days ago.


Lennon’s utopian dream of people living life in peace continues to be shared by many.



Frédéric Chopin’s Hapless Trip to Mallorca


Mallorca always had an infatuation with famous people. Be that the Spanish Royal family, the British Princess Diana, filmstars Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Goldie Hawn, Danny DeVito, or even longer ago, Frédéric Chopin and George Sand. As long as they all are rich and famous.

I told you about Amandine Aurore Dudevant, aka George Sand, on an earlier occasion on this very blog (see August 3rd). She came to Mallorca in 1838, accompanying Frédéric Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist.


Born near Warsaw in 1810, the son of a French émigré and a Polish mother, Frédéric François Chopin won early fame in the relatively limited circles of his native country, before seeking his fortune abroad, in Paris. 


Chopin began to play the piano with verve at the age of 5, taught by his older sister Ludwika. His talent was immediately apparent, and the services of a piano teacher were soon enlisted in order to support his practice. Chopin was a highly dedicated student. It is even said that at the early age of 7 he slept, by his own free will, with wine-corks between his fingers in order to achieve a wider grip. He knew his destiny. 


After the studies, Chopin went to Vienna, where he was recognized as a decent pianist with some nicely written compositions, but altogether, it was not the success he had hoped for. Thus, he went back to Warsaw and, later, set his course for Paris. In Paris, Chopin did not immediately achieve success. It took a couple of hard years of composing and performing before he had worked himself into the High Society where he gave lessons to Royals and received the highest appreciation for his compositions. Chopin quickly became famous not only as a composer or teacher but also as a pianist.


Chopin was never to return to Poland again and made very few trips outside of France, mainly because of his weak health. The most famous of his trips may be a disastrous one to Mallorca which nearly cost him his life and another one, to Scotland, which was equally bad for his health. 


Chopin was diagnosed with Tuberculosis early in his life and it is quite surprising that he even reached the age of 39 before the illness finally took his life, after about 15 years of struggle. At this young age, Chopin had composed an amazing amount of works from a wide range of piano genres.




In 1836, at a party hosted by Countess Marie d’Agoult, the mistress of fellow-composer Franz Liszt, Chopin was introduced to George Sand, who had been granted a divorce one year earlier from a marriage of convenience. She fell in love with him and offered to become his mistress. Chopin, however, did not find her attractive at first. “Something about her repels me”, he told his family. But George Sand had strong feelings for Chopin and pursued him until a relationship developed.


Chopin was already in poor health at the time, which is why he took his physician’s advice to leave Paris and go for a milder climate during the winter, in the Mediterranean. 


In the autumn of 1838, Chopin set off with George Sand and her two children, to spend the winter on the island of Mallorca. They arrived on November 8th, 1838, in Palma de Mallorca by boat from Barcelona. They rented a simple villa and were apparently quite happy. On November 15th, Chopin wrote a letter to a friend, saying “I am in Palma (…) I am close to that which is most beautiful”.


When the sunny weather broke, however, Chopin became ill. On December 3rd, Chopin wrote a letter to the same friend, saying “I have been ill for the last two days like a dog”.


When rumours of Chopin’s suspected tuberculosis reached the villa owner, they were ordered out and could only find accommodations in the Real Cartuja de Valldemossa (Real meaning Royal), a Carthusian monastery from 1399 until 1835, but now defunct, in the then rather remote village of Valldemossa. They stayed there from December 28th, 1838, to February 11th, 1839, when they left Valldemossa, Chopin being seriously ill.


He had been ill-advised to come to Mallorca. Even though temperatures here rarely drop very low, there is a sometimes quite unpleasant humidity in the air in Mallorca, rain or no rain, which can be uncomfortable and extremely damp in the winter. Not so healthy for someone with a tuberculum problem. Anyway, the hapless party left the island on February 13th, by boat from Palma de Mallorca, heading for Barcelona on their way back to Genoa and, eventually, France.


Although his health improved, Chopin never completely recovered from this bout. He complained, with his habitual wit, about the incompetence of the medicos in Mallorca: “The first (doctor) said I was going to die; the second said I had breathed my last; and the third said I was already dead”.


Chopin convalesced during the summer of 1839, in Nohant, George Sand’s manor house, 300 km from Paris.



In 1845, as a further deterioration occurred in Chopin’s health, a serious problem also emerged in his relations with George Sand. The affair was further soured in 1846 by problems involving Sand’s daughter Solange. This was the year when Sand published her book Lucrezia Floriani, whose two main characters – a rich actress and a prince in frail health – might be interpreted as Sand and Chopin; the story was in fact somewhat derogatory to the composer. In 1847 the family problems finally brought the relations between the two to an end, which had lasted for ten years. Chopin died later that same year.


Although Mallorca has treated its guests, Chopin and spouse, not in a very commendable way, as one can easily read in George Sand’s travel memoirs of A Winter in Mallorca, published in 1842, Mallorca has since made the most of the couple’s stay in Valldemossa. One could quite rightly say, that Mallorca’s most famous tourist attraction, after Palma’s Cathedral, for those visitors that do not come only for sun, sea, sex and sangria, is Chopin and Sand’s legendary 45 days stay at the Carthusian monastery. Today, the Claustro houses a Chopin Museum, mainly for the purpose of celebrating the composer’s visit.


Two of the pianos that Chopin played in Mallorca are exhibited there, including the one which he had shipped over all the way from Paris.


During the tourist season, short piano recitals are offered to visitors at the Valldemossa Cartuja, four times a day. A real treat, every time, even if only for a brief duration. In August every summer, Mallorca celebrates the annual Chopin Festival of Music, the Festivals Chopin de Valldemossa, with its 27th edition just concluded.


If you ever have a chance, come for yourself one day and see how Mallorca treats you.

Paul Andreu and the National Grand Theatre in Beijing


If you are interested in architecture, there is no doubt that you are impressed by the work of Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who gave the world the singular Sydney Opera House, in Australia, inaugurated after much delay in 1973, and now declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We all saw Sydney Opera House pictures last week when the APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation met there for their 2007 summit.


In his pursuit for immortality, Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava surprised us all with a splendid Auditorium concert hall in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain, in 2003. Not so many delays in that case. No summits there, as yet, either.


Now, we can be in awe of the new National Grand Theatre in Beijing, unofficially put to use a few days ago by former Chinese leader and opera enthusiast, Jiang Zemin. Admittedly, I wasn’t there when comrade Jiang Zemin, 81, sang his bits of Peking Opera to an intrigued audience, but I am more than impressed by French architect, Paul Andreu’s work that continues a formidable tradition of great 20th century opera and concert house architecture in China’s capital city.

The retired president and Communist Party chief sang parts of a Western opera and also, of a Peking opera for theatre staff when he visited last Friday, a Hong Kong newspaper reported.

The controversial National Theatre, a shiny half sphere, sits in stark contrast next to the Soviet-style Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing, perhaps 500 m from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was due to open in 2005, then 2006, and is now expected to open at the end of this year.

The National Grand Theatre of China in Beijing was designed by French architect Paul Andreu. You may know Monsieur Andreu for his Maritime Museum in Osaka, Japan, or his Grande Arche in La Defense, Paris, France, amongst others. His Beijing theatre must be one of the most talked-about architectural projects for years, both because of Andreu’s bold and innovative design, and for the grand scope of the project itself.

Once opened, it surely will become Beijing’s foremost cultural centre, situated in the heart of the capital, symbolizing all that is exciting about the new China, and no doubt will convert into one of the visual icons of the upcoming Beijing Olympics 2008, together with Herzog & de Meuron’s as yet unfinished Olympic Stadium (see photo below). And any number of summits will be held there, too, for sure.


It’s lucky, isn’t it, that UNESCO will not be short of candidates for future World Heritage Site considerations?

Gustav Mahler, 1,028 Musicians and the Universe of Sound



After quite a few ruminations recently about the world, and some world religions having an effect on many of its inhabitants, now for something completely different: music.


Some people say that music, not unlike religion, can have a spiritual effect on the listener. Oh well.


How about this one: 97 years ago this week, the Bohemian-Austrian composer, Gustav Mahler conducted his 8th Symphony with the help of 1,028 musicians. Mahler’s 8th is often considered the symphonic counterpart of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal.

The participation of 171 musicians in the orchestra and an additional 857 members of a mixed chorus during the premiere performance in Munich, Germany, on September 12th, 1910, led to Mahler’s agent dubbing the work ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. Mahler did not approve of this title at all, but alas, it remains its common title to this day.

Mahler’s 8th was difficult to perform, for the sheer magnitude of the number of performers involved, including soloists, a children’s choir, double chorus and an orchestra which even dwarfs that of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Just imagine the size of the concert hall needed.


Premieres were performed on the following dates:

– World premiere: September 12th, 1910, Munich, conducted by the composer himself, Gustav Mahler.

– American premiere: March 2nd, 1916, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, conducted by Leopold Stokowski (see photo above, with a total of 1,068 musicians).

– English premiere: April 15th, 1930, London, with Henry Wood conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

– Japanese premiere: December 8th, 1949, Tokyo, with Kazuo Yamada conducting the Japan Symphony Orchestra (now NHK Symphony Orchestra).

– Canadian premiere: June 24th, 1983, Toronto, with Andrew Davis conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

– Taiwanese premiere: October 10th, 1995, Taipei, with Uri Mayer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan) (formerly known as National Concert Hall Symphony Orchestra).

– Chinese premiere: October 11th, 2002, Beijing, with Long Yu conducting the China Philharmonic Orchestra (that’s no more than five years ago).

– Southeast Asian premiere: May 29th, 2004, Singapore, with Lan Shui conducting the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.




A rather competent recording of all of Mahler’s complete symphonies plus his other orchestral works is available from Deutsche Grammophon in a 16 CD set, as conducted by Leonard Bernstein. It was published in 1998. The orchestras performing are the Koninklijk Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the New York Philharmonic, and the Wiener Philharmoniker, Vienna.



Happy Birthday, Mr. Cage


Every now and then, you will come to understand that there is a handfull of people, at most, that have shaped your life. Most often, such people are your parents, or certainly one of the two. Sometimes it is a benefactor, or a friend, or a lover. Sometimes it is someone that you have never ever met, but whose ideas have impressed you and shaped you and whose ideas you might have adopted, such as an artist, a writer, a philosopher, a thinker, whatever.

I like to think that my life would have turned out differently without John Cage. He was an American avant-garde composer whose inventive compositions and unorthodox ideas profoundly influenced mid-20th-century music, and art, and myself.

John Milton Cage Jr. was born on 5th September, 1912, in Los Angeles, California. That’s 95 years ago, today. Happy Birthday, Mr. Cage.

John Cage briefly attended Pomona College, in Claremont, California, and then travelled in Europe for some time. During his studies in Paris, he encountered the works and writings of the Dadaists, in particular those of Marcel Duchamp, with whom he would become considerably more familiar. A performance by American pianist John Kirkpatrick inspired him to compose his first piano pieces. He returned to the United States in 1931, after a brief stay in Spain.

Returning to the USA, he studied music with Richard Buhlig, Arnold Schoenberg, Adolph Weiss, and Henry Cowell. While teaching in Seattle (1936–38), he began organizing percussion ensembles to perform his compositions, and he began experimenting with works for dance in collaboration with his longtime friend, the choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.


The Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, was known as one of the leading progressive schools in the United States. In 1948, Cage joined their faculty to teach, working again on collaborations with Merce Cunningham. It was at Black Mountain where he staged his first happening.


Cage’s early compositions were written in the 12-tone method of his teacher Schoenberg, but by 1939 he had begun to experiment with increasingly unorthodox instruments such as the prepared piano (a piano modified by objects placed between its strings in order to produce percussive and unorthodox sound effects). Cage also experimented with tape recorders, record players, and radios in his effort to step outside the bounds of conventional Western music and its concepts of meaningful sound. The concert he gave in 1943 with his percussion ensemble at the MoMA in New York City marked the first step in his emergence as a leader of the American musical avant-garde.

Among Cage’s best-known works are 4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty-three Seconds, 1952), a piece in which the performer or performers remain utterly silent onstage for that amount of time (although the amount of time is left to the determination of the performer); Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), for 12 randomly tuned radios, 24 performers, and conductor; the Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) for prepared piano; Fontana Mix (1958), a piece based on a series of programmed transparent cards that, when superimposed, give a graph for the random selection of electronic sounds; Cheap Imitation (1969), an impression of the music of Erik Satie, and Roaratorio (1979), an electronic composition utilizing thousands of words found in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake.

To celebrate John Cage’s 95th birthday (and the 15th anniversary of his death), the musicdepartment of the University of New Hampshire is hosting a one-day symposium and concert on 8th September, 2007, in the Paul Creative Arts Center. The conference is co-sponsored by UNH’s College of Liberal Arts and the Center for the Humanities. I wish I could be there.


John Cage died on 12th August, 1992, in New York, just about 15 years ago.

For those of you who might like to know more about the man and his ideas, I would recommend some of his writing, such as Silence, or perhaps his Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). A 8 CD Box Set is available, recorded with Mr. Cage’s own voice.



If you like some of John Cage’s music, the Diary will only confirm a suspicion that you probably have entertained already: It takes a great mind to create some great work, be that music, art, writing or indeed, anything.


Cage stated “until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music”.





I was in New York on 16th August 1977, when I heard the news on the radio that Elvis Aaron Presley was dead.

He was known around the world as the ‘King of Rock’n’Roll’.

Elvis was born in pretty humble circumstances on January 8th, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, and he was 42 years old when he died. He is considered one of the best-selling and most influential artists in the history of popular music.

I consider him a poor old soul. Well, actually not that old by the time his life came to an end. Poor, because I suppose that after 33 more or less successful movies, 18 Number One hits, a few hundred million records sold, and one unsuccessful marriage, it is sad when there is little doubt that long-term drug misuse caused his heart to fail. Perhaps he found it difficult to live, when his twin brother was still-born. Perhaps he was a victim to the fame that ultimately he could not handle. The pressures were immense, even then.

Enough said. Elvis undoubtedly made Pop Music open up and move in a different direction. And that’s probably as great an achievement as anyone’s, at least if you are a music lover.

I don’t think I have voluntarily listened to an Elvis Presley song in the last 20 years or so. I don’t like his songs any longer. They do not touch me now. They are not relevant to our day and age, at least in my way of thinking. But I do believe that Elvis has changed the way of my musical perceptions. I would not listen to music of John Cage, Morton Feldman or James Tenney today, I believe, if it hadn’t been for Elvis Presley opening the doors to what music was allowed to sound like. There was a before and an after, and I believe that Elvis was creative and daring enough to make that after possible.

And for that I am grateful.

Rest in peace, man.



Like Father, Like Son


Bebo Valdés, legendary 88 year old Cuban piano grandmaster and his 66 year old son, Chucho Valdés, another piano wunderkind, are in Spain, giving a concert tour. They played last night in Barcelona and will have a second performance there again, tonight, at the Teatre Grec.

Bebo Valdés is one of the finest pianists Cuba has produced and is an outstanding figure in Afro-Cuban Jazz. Bebo Valdés left Cuba for Mexico in 1960, resided in USA for a short time and then made his home in Sweden after that, until 2007. He now lives in Málaga, Spain.

His son, Chucho Valdés, began playing piano when he was three and by the time he was 16 he was leading his own group. When his father defected from Cuba, Chucho Valdés stayed behind. In 1967, he formed the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna and, in 1973, he founded Irakere, the top Cuban jazz orchestra; among its original members were Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera. Chucho Valdés has been Irakere’s musical director almost from the start and has recorded with the full band, in small groups, and as an impressive solo pianist. Chucho’s first noted performance outside Cuba was during the 1970 Polish Jazz Festival, gaining praise from jazz luminaries like Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan. In the last few years, Chucho Valdés has been phasing himself out of Irakere, letting his son “Chuchito” take his place. Instead, Chucho has been working with his own Latin-Jazz and Afro-Cuban quintet.

He remains one of the top jazz musicians living in Cuba.

The concert tour that Bebo and Chucho Valdés are undertaking in Spain is extraordinary for the simple fact that father and son have not played together during the last 18 years, and considering Bebo Valdés’ advanced age, there will not be many opportunities left, either.

But there are more concert dates earmarked where we can enjoy the two Valdéses: 26 July in Madrid, 28 July in San Ildefonso, 3 August in Zaragoza and 6 August in Sos del Rey Católico, Aragón. And they are planning to record a CD, together.