Archive for Death in Venice

The Philharmonia Orchestra: Beethoven & Mahler

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2018 by telescoper

I spent yesterday afternoon at a very enjoyable concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff for a programme of music by Beethoven and Mahler given by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Principal Guest Conductor Jakub Hrůša. The picture above was taken about 10 minutes before the concert started, from my seat in Tier 1. Quite a few people arrived between then and the beginning of the performance, but there wasn’t a very big audience. St David’s Hall may have been less than half full but those who did come were treated to some fantastic playing.

The first half of the concert consisted of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (in C) with soloist Piotr Anderszewski. This work was actually composed after his Piano Concerto No. 2 but was published first. It consists of three movements, an expansive slow movement (marked Largo) sandwiched between two sprightly up-tempo movements, marked Allegro con brio and Rondo-Allegro Scherzando, respectively. I think the first part of the last movement, full of energy and wit, is the best part of this work and Anderszewski play it with genuine sparkle. His performance was very well received, and he rounded it off with a charming encore in the form of a piece for solo piano by Bartok.

After the wine break we returned to find the piano gone, and the orchestra greatly expanded for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 , the fourth movement of which (the `Adagietto’) is probably Mahler’s best-known music (made famous by its use in Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice). This lovely movement is sometimes performed on its own – a practice Mahler himself encouraged – but I think it’s particularly powerful when heard in its proper context, embedded in a large orchestral work that lasts well over an hour.

Although nominally five movements, this work is really in three sections: the first section consists of the first two movements (the first starting with Trauermarsch (a funeral march), and the second a stormy and at times savage movement, punctuated with brief interludes of peace). The last section consists of the beautiful Adagietto 4th movement (played entirely on the strings) followed by an energetic and ultimately triumphant finale. In between there’s an extended Scherzo, which is (unusually for Mahler) rather light and cheerful. Roughly speaking this symphony follows a trajectory from darkness into light and, although it certainly doesn’t go in a straight line, and does start with a death march, this is undoubtedly one of Mahler’s cheerier works!

The Philharmonia Orchestra gave a very accomplished and passionate reading of this piece, with especially fine playing from the brass section (who have lot to do). The exuberant ending brought many members of the audience to their feet and rightly so, as it was a very fine performance – the best I’ve heard live of this work.

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Turkeys and Angels

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2009 by telescoper

Travelling to London on Saturday to see Doctor Atomic, I read an interesting piece in the Guardian review by Salman Rushdie. The general theme was inspired by the fact that a film director once told him that all movies made from novels were “rubbish”.

I was reminded of that piece today when I had a quick look at cosmic variance and found a post about the forthcoming film Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code.  The post is mainly about the fact that Angels and Demons is based in the world of particle physics so some educational materials have been generated to cash in on it, so to speak. Nothing wrong with that as an idea. Every little helps.

The problem for me is that the film is  directed by Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks. This is the same combination that took Brown’s enjoyably preposterous page-turner and made it into one of the worst pieces of cobbled-together garbage that I’ve ever seen in a cinema. The novel isn’t so bad for what it is, a formulaic but fairly well crafted thriller. The film is excruciating. The book of Angels and Demons is not as good as the book of the Da Vinci Code, so I shan’t be rushing to see the film when it is released in the UK, particle physics content notwithstanding.

This is only one example of a book being turned into a terrible film, but I can think of many counter-examples to the assertion that they’re all rubbish. Of course it helps if the book you start with isn’t rubbish itself.  As a recent example I  think of Atonement by Ian McEwan, a great book  turned into a pretty good film.

But the example that for me really refutes the argument is Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann:  a brilliant and disturbing novella about  physical and spiritual decay turned into a stunning visual masterpiece of a film by Luchino Visconti. The story is about the growing obsession of ageing writer Gustav von Aschenbach with a young Polish boy, Tadzio, in a city beset by a cholera epidemic. It’s not a story about paedophilia (nor even, in fact, particularly about homosexuality) although it doesn’t shrink from either of those themes. As the critic Lawrence J.  Quirk put it

Some shots of Björn Andrésen, the Tadzio of the film, could be extracted from the frame and hung on the walls of the Louvre or the Vatican in Rome. For this is not a pretty youngster who is supposed to represent an object of perverted lust; that was neither novelist Mann’s nor director-screen writer Visconti’s intention. Rather, this is a symbol of a beauty allied to those which inspired Michelangelo‘s David and Da Vinci‘s Mona Lisa, and which moved Dante to seek ultimate aesthetic catharsis in the distant figure of Beatrice.

In other words Tadzio symbolises beauty in a primarily aesthetic sense rather than a sexual one. Or maybe I protest too much.

The film is beautiful to look at and is held together by a riveting central performance by the late Dirk Bogarde in probably his greatest acting role. Here is the closing scene of the film, La Morte del Professore sulla Spiaggia, languidly paced but emotionally and erotically charged. Aschenbach, wearing make-up and with the  hair dye used to disguise his age melting in the heat, suffers a heart attack and dies while Tadzio stands in the sea, like an angel beckoning him  to a better world.

The music is the 4th movement (Adagietto) from Mahler‘s 5th Symphony. If ever there was music to die for, this is it.

And if this is a bit morbid for your taste, maybe you can suggest other great novels made into great movies?