Saturday, April 28, 2012

Christian Lindberg

Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg.

Lindberg, if I am not mistaken, is the only man who has ever embarked upon a soloist’s career as a trombone player.

Lindberg’s greatest contribution to music: commissioning new works for trombone, of which he has been responsible for several dozen (although Lindberg had no role in the creation of Christopher Rouse’s Trombone Concerto, completed in 1991, arguably the finest concerto written for the instrument during Lindberg’s career).

Lindberg is known as an EXTREMELY weird man.

Most of Lindberg’s time is now occupied with conducting, although he appears as a conductor only in unimportant venues.

Lindberg does not conduct in the United States. He would probably be laughed off the stage here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Eduard Tubin, Without The Color And Astringency

Among the discs Andrew and I have been listening to of late is a BIS disc of brass concertos by Danish composer Vagn Holmboe.

One of the constantly-uttered clichés of our day is that Holmboe was Denmark’s finest post-Nielsen composer, which very well may be true—but which hardly signifies that Holmboe was a composer of any importance.

Holmboe wrote in a bland Neo-Classical idiom, much like American composers Paul Creston, Peter Menin and Walter Piston, all three of whom were Holmboe’s contemporaries—and all three of whom wrote music that could not be picked out of a police lineup. Well-crafted impersonality defines the music of Creston, Menin and Piston, and such characterization seems apt for the music of Holmboe’s brass concertos, too: the concertos are pleasant but totally unmemorable, as satisfying as a meal of Chinese fortune cookies.

Some quarters have lavished praise on Holmboe’s symphonies. Whatever their merits, the Holmboe symphonies remain unheard outside Denmark and have never entered the repertories of important conductors.

Holmboe’s three brass concertos—for trumpet (1948), trombone (1950) and tuba (1976)—feature much skillful writing for solo instrument, but the music itself lacks character, personality and profile. Thematic materials are undistinguished, developments are rudimentary, orchestral writing and instrumentation are unimaginative—and, most fatally, the music is bewilderingly unexpressive. Are all Danes this featureless?

The Trumpet Concerto is the weakest of the brass concertos. Scored for strings and two horns, its three movements are comprised of a lightweight sonata-form first movement, a forgettable two-minute slow movement, and a Rondo Finale surely meant to be catchy yet anything but.

Things improve with the Trombone Concerto, also in three movements but scored for full orchestra. While the themes remain stubbornly bland and unmemorable, the composer provides a darker coloration; a cloud is occasionally allowed to pass by, which gives the music a suggestion of incident as well as a small dose of flavor.

The Tuba Concerto is far and away the finest of the lot. A one-movement fantasia in all but name, it is the only one of the Holmboe brass concertos that holds the listener’s attention from beginning to end. With a wider expressive range than the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto (a one-note pastoral affair), the Holmboe Tuba Concerto may be the finest concertante work for the instrument. It is supposed to be phenomenally difficult to play.

A short work for tuba and orchestra, Intermezzo Concertante, from 1987, closes out the disc.

The performances on the BIS disc, with one exception, are very fine.

The performance of Håkan Hardenberger is the exception. He plays the notes of the Trumpet Concerto cleanly, but he varies his coloration too little and plays as if he had never been more bored in his life. His performance resolutely refuses to come to life.

Christian Lindberg is magnificent in the Trombone Concerto. The way he alters his tone, drawing sounds from his instrument that no trombone should be capable of producing, is one of the marks of a great artist. I would like to hear Lindberg in this work live.

Jens Bjørn-Larsen, an artist unknown to me, is soloist in the two works for tuba and orchestra. His tone is beautiful, and more varied than one has a right to expect from his instrument.

The supporting artists on the BIS disc are the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra and Welsh conductor Owain Arwel Hughes.

The performances were recorded in Denmark in June 1996. The disc was issued in Europe in December 1996 and in the U.S. in January 1997. It remains in print in the U.S.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Håkan Hardenberger

Swedish trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger.

Hardenberger is probably today’s most famous trumpet player of art music—unless one counts Wynton Marsalis, now primarily a player of jazz.

Hardenberger is a great virtuoso, but he is not an interesting musician. I have never been impressed with anything I have heard from him—and I have not been impressed with his playing in Holmboe’s Trumpet Concerto on a BIS compact disc Andrew and I have been listening to of late.

Hardenberger lacks a distinctive sound and he lacks a distinctive “voice”, both of which Maurice André possessed in abundance. A distinctive sound and a distinctive “voice” made André a worldwide star. Hardenberger does not possess André’s “star” qualities. As a result, Hardenberger has never been able to transform his solo career into anything beyond a succès d'estime.

Hardenberger is much less renowned in the United States than in Europe. He enjoys a reputation here far less exalted than in Europe, probably because top-of-the-line brass players are a dime a dozen in the U.S.—whereas, in Europe, only Germany and Austria produce exceptional brass players in significant number. Hardenberger, a markedly odd man, has never been able to gain much traction here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Danish composer Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996).

Andrew and I have been listening recently to a disc of Holmboe’s concertos for brass instruments, and enjoying it very much.

Holmboe wrote brilliantly for brass—trumpet, trombone, tuba—although I would not argue that Holmboe was a distinctive or even important composer.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Street In Arras

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Street In Arras
Imperial War Museum, London

Watercolor On Paper
20 13/16 Inches By 15 5/8 Inches

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Moscow 22 June 1941: Muscovites Learn That Russia Is At War

Moscow, 12:00 Noon, 22 June 1941: Muscovites are informed through loudspeaker announcements of that morning’s German invasion of Russia.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wolf Pack

A rare color photograph of two German U-Boats, both having surfaced during Wolf Pack maneuvers in The Battle Of The Atlantic.

I suspect this undated photograph (which, suspiciously, looks like a movie still) is from 1941 or 1942, before The Battle Of The Atlantic turned in favor of the Allies. The turn in the fortunes of the warring parties in the Atlantic came about within the span of two months in the Spring of 1943.


Enemy submarines are to be called U-Boats. The term submarine is to be reserved for Allied underwater vessels. U-Boats are those dastardly villains that sink our ships, while submarines are those gallant and noble craft that sink theirs.

Winston Churchill (in remarks made during The Great War)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Battleship Tirpitz

Battleship "Tirpitz", sister ship of the "Bismarck".

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Sink The Bismarck"

The massive German battleship, “Bismarck”, sunk on May 27, 1941—the ship’s ninth day of wartime operations.

The “Bismarck” represented such a grave threat to British shipping that The Royal Navy devoted virtually all of its resources to locating and attacking the great German vessel once the “Bismarck” ventured into the Atlantic for the first time.

Over 2100 German sailors died when the “Bismarck” went down, one of the greatest losses of life in any maritime disaster.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Homeward Bound

German troops returning from The Western Front cross the Belgian-Dutch border in November 1918.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Civilized Man

These photographs depict a seemingly civilized man, intelligent and well-educated, unlikely ever to harm anyone.

The man in the photographs was reared in middle-class circumstances, had studied law, and later was to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy.

The man in the photographs is Siegfried Seidl, commandant of Terezin and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Seidl was one of the lynchpins of the Nazi effort to destroy European Jewry. In 1944 alone, he organized the deaths of at least half a million persons from Hungary in a mere three months.

After the war, Seidl was sentenced to death by Austria, the land of his birth, for crimes against humanity.

Seidl was 35 years old at the time of his death by hanging.