REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel

Peter Catesby Peter Cates


Bolero, Pavane for a Dead Princess, and La Valse

William Steinberg conducting the Pittsburg Symphony; Capitol SP 8475, stereo lp, recorded October 29, 1958, at Pittsburgh’s Syrian Mosque.

One of the most gifted conductors to have emerged in the last century, William Steinberg (1899-1978), led the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1952 to 1976 , until he resigned because of heart problems. During his lifetime, he was music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic before Pittsburgh and the Boston Symphony from 1969-72, while juggling his time with Pittsburgh. And he had guest engagements with most of the distinguished orchestras and opera houses as well. His Wiki biography provides a number of interesting details about the Maestro’s career.

He recorded a sizable amount of repertoire for Capitol records from the beginning of his tenure in Pittsburgh until he left that label in 1960. Among his recordings is the above program of French composer, Maurice Ravel, 1874-1937, consisting of three works – Bolero, Pavane for a Dead Princess and La Valse.

Bolero was composed for the ballet dancer Ida Rubinstein, after she commissioned Ravel when he returned from a successful tour of the United States during the mid-to-late ‘20s. Its debut on November 22, 1928, elicited nasty comments from certain ‘thinkers,’ but also became an overnight sensation and has remained a much-recorded classic. It is still dismissed as bombastic trash by a number of listeners but, for myself and others, a perennially captivating work for its fascinating build-up of dynamics from the barely audible pianissimi of the snare drum, plucking strings and flute to the rip-roaring conclusion at the same unvarying tempo. Steinberg pulled off these challenges with exactitude and achieved exquisite phrasing of the melodic line from the strings and woodwinds. Other very good recordings include those of conductors Anton Nanut and Paul Paray.

Pavane for a Dead Princess was first written as a piano piece in 1899 and scored for orchestra in 1910. When somebody asked Ravel why he picked the title, he replied that, ‘he liked the sound of the words and put them there.’ He also insisted on very slow tempos yet, when hearing a plodding rendition, admonished the performer that ‘it was not a dead pavane for a princess.’ Steinberg, as did other conductors like Charles Munch, Fritz Reiner, Andre Cluytens etc., observed these slow tempos with very sublime results, particularly the writing of the harp and woodwinds.

La Valse’s world premiere in December, 1920, drew the comment by one individual as ‘people dancing on a volcano.’ Ravel blended the rhythms of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Viennese Waltzes and, no relation, Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier, into a piece of virtuosity uniquely his own and Steinberg’s recording is very exciting.

A CD set of most of Steinberg’s Capitol recordings was released in 2011 and copies may be still available through Internet sources.

William Steinberg was much loved by his colleagues and had quite the sense of humor. He granted interviews if the subject was one of interest, “for instance, myself.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Green Mountain Country

Calvin Coolidge

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Green Mountain Country

“He got up at seven as usual, and he and his wife had breakfast together. At half past eight he went to his office in the town. His old friend and partner was already there when he entered. They were both early risers. They spoke with each other for a moment and then he went to his desk.

“He was not feeling quite well. He said nothing about it. He had no idea that this was his last day of life. ”

Clarence Day

The above two paragraphs introduce In the Green Mountain Country, a five-page essay, by Clarence Day (1874-1935), on the sudden death, funeral and burial of former President, Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) on January 5 and 6, 1933. It has a power and immediacy that makes it worth reading and going back to. Day wrote two books he is most famous for – Life With Father and God and My Father, both of them about his own father, a very domineering patriarch who was very set in his ways; they are also very funny, as were most of his other writings, unlike this rare example of Day on a serious level.

More about the writer and Coolidge can wait for later weeks. Other selected details include:

  • By 10 a.m., he didn’t feel any better and asked his secretary, a Mr. Ross, to go home with him.
  • Coolidge’s wife had gone shopping.
  • He played with a jigsaw puzzle.
  • He had been rarely sick in his life.
  • He was thirsty and went to get a glass of water.
  • He spoke to the gardner in the basement.
  • He went upstairs to shave and dropped dead.

The highest officials in the country came to the funeral, including President Herbert Hoover and his wife, and mulitudes of others. They had been living in Northhampton, Massachusetts, for 30 years, Coolidge being a lawyer, Govenor of Massachusetts, Vice-President under Warren G. Harding, and then President, after Harding’s death in 1923 until 1929. His body was driven in a hearse to his hometown, Plymouth, Vermont, for burial next to his son, Calvin Jr., who died at the age of 15, in 1924, from blood poisoning, due to a blister on his foot from playing tennis.

His wife held back her tears the entire time in public until the burial and then was crying with intense sorrow as the coffin was lowered into the grave. She lived another 25 years until 1958.

Needless to say, one very eloquent example of daily newspaper journalism.

The very short book with the essay and same title is available through vendors listed on the Internet site, Bookfinder.


George Enescu

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

George Enescu

This past August 19 was the 138th anniversary of the birth of the great Romanian composer , violinist, conductor and teacher, George Enescu (1881-1955), whose musical legacy is still drawing ever-increasing attention and appreciation. The number of his compositions is very large and ranges through most classical forms. His own recordings as a violinist and conductor are easily accessed via YouTube, CD transfers and other sources.

Recently, I have been listening to YouTubes of him conducting his 2nd Romanian Rhapsody, itself more lyrical and less brash than the first; and participating in his Octet for Strings with eight colleagues, both of them recorded and released in the U.S. on very cheap Remington LPs. He recorded his 3rd Violin Sonata, one of very haunting beauty, with Romanian pianist, Dinu Lipatti, who died very young of leukemia, at the age of 33, in the very early 1950s.

The Sears Roebuck label, Silvertone, released a red vinyl 78 of him conducting a vibrant Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.

Yehudi Menuhin

He was admitted to the Vienna Conservatory of Music when he was seven and met Brahms during those early years, who was his idol. His own students included the violinists Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he recorded the Bach Double Violin Concerto; Christian Ferras; Arthur Grumiaux; Ida Haendel; Uto Ughi and Joan Field.

I also highly recommend a listen to the YouTube of his opera, Oedipide, based on Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex, the mythical King, who, according to satirist Tom Lehrer, just “loved his mother!”






Giuseppe Verdi

Peter Catesby Peter Cates



Fritz Reiner conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the Society of the Friends of Music Chorus with soprano Leontyne Price, mezzo-soprano Rosalind Elias, tenor Jussi Bjoerling and baritone Giorgio Tozzi; RCA Victor LD-6091, 2 LPs, recorded 1960.

Composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) was an unwavering supporter of the Italian Risorgimento, the unification of the Italian states lasting from 1815-1871 and becoming the country now known as Modern Italy.

A central figure for whom Verdi felt admiration was the Italian statesman, Cavour (1810-1861), himself worthy of a future column. Another was the Italian novelist, Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). Verdi was not only drawn to the writer’s literary gifts, but also to his integrity as a human being and the ideals that sustained it. The composer stated, “I venerated him like a saint.”

The 1874 Requiem Mass was Verdi’s memorial service for Manzoni. It was finished and ready for rehearsal well in advance of the world premiere date, May 22, exactly one year after Manzoni died.

The work was an instant success and has been performed and recorded infinite numbers of times since then.

RCA Victor assembled one extraordinary group for the above set in Vienna 60 years ago when recording technology was already at a high level. Conductor Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), then still music director of the Chicago Symphony for another two to three years, brought a most brilliant merging of clarity, powerful surges of the Vienna Philharmonic’s playing, solo and choral singing, exacting dynamics, flexibility of phrasing and pacing.

Examples are the very low piannissimi of the lower strings and voices in the opening Requiem and Kyrie; the explosive, Damocles-sword wrath of the Dies Irae; the Agnes Dei with its opening a capella soprano/mezzo duet and their back and forths with the chorus and orchestra; and the concluding Libera Me with the return of the opening Requiem and Kyrie: and the soprano’s intoning in prayer form :

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda; Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death, on the dread day of judgment.

The set is still in print and available on CD.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Meyer Davis plays the Twist

Chubby Checker

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Meyer Davis plays the Twist

Cameo 1014, vinyl LP, recorded 1960.

Meyer Davis

Band leader, Meyer Davis (1895-1976) ran a multi-million dollar empire of dance music several decades for coming-out parties, and seasonal galas hosted by the folks living in West Palm Beach, Newport, the Bahamas, Houston’s River Oaks, Greenwich, Paris, and the Mediterranean Coast, and for whom money meant a rich full life to too many of them.

At 18, Davis had enrolled in law school while earning $90 a week leading a group of musicians at evening gatherings. His talent and business skills proved a better career choice than becoming a lawyer. His bands played at seven presidential inaugural balls right up to JFK, and they performed for the English nobility, including King George V.

This album of music for Cameo-Parkway – the same Philadelphia label that produced Chubby Checker’s original hit record, The Twist, – provided spiky, captivating renditions of that song, Mack the Knife, Rock Around the Clock, I Could Have Danced All Night and other selections. Davis utilized the most brilliant musicians, creating a record that mirrored high society get-togethers during the early 1960s very evocatively.

Hobbies included playing chamber music with his brother-in-law, the great conductor Pierre Monteux, and collecting first editions of Lord Byron’s books and other memorabilia with his wife.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Actor: Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan, left, with Charles Bronson in a scene from the film The Dirty Dozen.

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

One of the most gifted and, nowadays, under-appreciated actors in Hollywood for over 30 years, Robert Ryan (1909-1973) played many character roles, being his best in films as evil men who were often neurotic, driven, complex.

Robert Ryan

One great performance was in the 1962 film, Billy Budd, based on Herman Melville’s novel. The story was based on the wars for naval supremacy between the British and French navies during the Napoleonic era; Ryan played the evil Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, on a British ship who ordered the flogging of sailors under his command for the most minor infractions, including not tucking a bunk blanket correctly. The half-smiles of enjoyment in his eyes, alongside his poised dignity, during the meted-out punishments attest to Ryan’s precisely-honed talent.

Other movies in a large list were 1947’s Crossfire as an anti-Semetic World War 2 officer; 1954’s Bad Day at Black Rock, as the leader of a dangerous gang of men living in a small desert town; and the same year’s Her Twelve Men, alongside Greer Garson, as one of two nice teachers in a private boy’s school in which Ryan sings and plays the guitar.

In 1944, Robert Ryan joined the Marines and served until late 1945; a friend of my parents told me about having the actor as a drill instructor in the handling of pistols during his boot camp experiences and remembering that he was a very good teacher.

Being a chain smoker, Ryan found out that he had inoperable cancer of the lymph nodes in 1970. But he kept acting . His last film was the Eugene O’Neill play, The Iceman Cometh, with Lee Marvin in the main role as Hickey, in its four-hour movie version; its world premiere was after Ryan died on July 11, 1973, at 63. He lost his wife, Jessica, to cancer in 1972.

Just before he died, Ryan said “I’ve been lucky as hell with my career and my family!”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: The Atlantic Music Festival

Lorimer Chapel at Colby College.

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Atlantic Music Festival

Presented annually at Colby College

Since 2008, our local, world-renowned Colby College has been hosting the Atlantic Music Festival for the month of July. The festival brings composers, instrumentalists and vocalists together to make music and perform concerts free of charge to the public.

Because of my abysmal laziness and stupidity, even though I knew about the AMF, I had not attended any of its previous concerts until the season’s final two this past Friday and Saturday at the College’s Lorimer Chapel. I now stand duly admonished because of what I had been missing the last 11 years.

Friday’s program consisted of chamber music that involved the four groups in most every orchestra – strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Complete pieces and select movements from works of Karel Husa, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Charles Gounod, Sigurd Berge, Johan Halvorsen, Mikhail Glinka, and composers in the festival received splendid renditions.

Ones that stood out were Faure’s 1st Violin Sonata, Ravel’s Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano, and Violin and Cello Sonata, Debussy’s Sonata for Harp, Viola and Flute, Gounod’s Petite Symphonie for 2 Oboes, Clarinets, Bassoons, and French Horns and 1 Flute, Mozart’s K.493 Piano Quartet, and one major discovery, Glinka’s Grande Sextet.

The Festival Symphony concert on Saturday was led by the very gifted Dean Whiteside, a conductor to reckon with later, along with other participants, and we heard riveting performances of Verdi’s Nabucco Overture, the Dvorak 8th Symphony and an extraordinary Violin Concerto composed by the festival’s director, Solbong Kim, in its world premiere. The soloist was Sojin Kim, no relation.

Attendance at future July festivals couldn’t be more highly recommended!

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Robert Frost, American poet

Robert Frost

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Robert Frost

American poet

American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) was one of the very few who could earn a living from poetry alone, not having to do other jobs . He was also the only winner of four Pulitzer prizes for poetry.

Frost’s main subject material was living in New England, mostly its trials and tribulations and a few moments of its joys. His poetic technique was the native colloquial speech of New Englanders and the poems had simplicity, infinite re-readability and deeply profound themes that resonated.

My favorites are The Road Not Taken, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (“Miles to go before I sleep”), Mending Wall (“Good neighbors make good fences”) and the very tragic Home Burial.

Robert Frost was very friendly and he could be difficult, to which many folks could reply, “So what else is new ?”

He and his wife, Elinor, had six children – four daughters and two sons. The two oldest daughters outlived their father while the two youngest died shortly after birth. The older son died at four years old of cholera; his younger one committed suicide at 38 years old. Elinor passed away in her early 60s in 1938 of a heart attack, himself during prostate surgery, at 88, in 1963.

Robert Frost had the honor of reading a poem in January, 1961, at JFK’s inauguration, and was given honorary degrees from several colleges and universities, even though he never graduated from one.

To conclude, a quote from his poem, The Road Not Taken:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.”


Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Desert Song

Mario Lanza, Judith Raskin etc.; RCA Victor LSC-2440, LP, recorded 1959.

Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza (1921-1959) was one of the finest tenors who ever lived, when it came to beauty, tone, powerful one-on-one communication and love of singing. I have a number of his recordings covering opera arias, popular songs from the ‘40s and ‘50s, Broadway show tunes, Christmas carols etc.; but I have most often enjoyed his singing of the two operettas, Rudolf Friml’s The Vagabond King and Sigmund Romberg’s The Desert Song, both of them taped shortly before his sudden death from a blood clot on October 7, 1959, and with the late soprano, Judith Raskin (1928-1984).

Sigmund Romberg’s operetta was based upon the book by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, and Frank Mandel. Its first performance in New York was November 30, 1926, at the Casino Theater on Broadway and 39th Street, after successes in Wilmington, Delaware, and Boston.

Judith Raskin

Lanza and Raskin’s duets in the title song and One Good Boy Gone Wrong resonate with the great duet recordings of Nicolai Gedda and Mireille Freni in La Boheme, Jussi Bjoreling and Victoria de los Angeles in Madame Butterfly, Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann in the Tosca Love Duet, Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine’s Passing Strangers, Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s Something Stupid, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore’s My Romance and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Maria Stader’s in Mozart’s Magic Flute, The solos of Lanza’s One Alone and Raskin’s Romance are some of many reasons life is worth living.

Selections from the album can be heard on YouTube.

Before his death, he was approached by RCA Italiana to record a few operas. Unfortunately, fate intervened. His widow, Betty, died of a drug overdose in early 1960. three of their four children since then; two sons, Marc and Damon, from heart issues, and a daughter, Colleen, after being hit by a driver while crossing the street and dying two weeks later in a coma.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: The hiker, Peace Pilgrim

Mildred Lisette Norman, Peace Pilgrim

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Peace Pilgrim became renowned during her lifetime for crossing the entire United States at least six times on behalf of peace, feeling this leading from God.

She began her 29 years of walking in 1952 with hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in one season. The trail is 2,200 miles/3,500 kilometers of length, it is the longest hikers-only trail in the world, and it extends from Katahdin, in Maine, to Springer Mountain, in Georgia. She also coined the name ‘Peace Pilgrim’ on New Year’s Day, 1953, as to why she was doing these very lengthy distances and why she discontinued her previous name of 45 years.

Mildred Lisette Norman was born on July 18, 1908, and was raised on a chicken farm in Egg Harbor, New Jersey, a community of German immigrants. Her father was a carpenter, her mother a tailor, and she had two younger siblings.

She and her then-boyfriend, Stanley Ryder, eloped in 1933, settled in Philadelphia in 1939, and divorced in 1946.

During the years of walks, Peace spoke often at universities and churches and appeared on radio and television, She led an ascetic life, wearing the clothes on her back and taking no food and shelter until offered it.

She was killed in an automobile accident on July 7, 1981, exactly 38 years ago as I write this, being driven to an Indiana speaking engagement.

Peace Pilgrim did visit once or twice in the central Maine area but my interest in her began when, less than a month ago, a cousin of mine texted me photos of her parents, a wonderful aunt and uncle , with the woman at least 50 years ago. Peace Pilgrim’s commitment to walking the longest distances over a 30-year span, to speaking to others about her concerns where the world was headed with its evil tendencies and to enduring the hardships gladly that came with her stand for peace and good will – these were what resonated with people of conscience in their hearts whatever their world views might be. They do with me.