Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Brief Exchange With Robert Reich (brief on his end at least...)

I occasionally read Robert Reich’s blog.  In case you are not familiar with him, he was Clinton's Secretary of Labor and is currently the Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He is also a frequent political commentator on television.

I sent him this email today:

Dear Mr. Reich,

I am an admirer of yours, particularly of your steadfast defense of the American worker.  However, I must point out a disagreement with a point you raised on your most recent blog entry.

“But waiting too long to reduce the deficit will also harm the economy – spooking creditors and causing interest rates to rise."

Your most recent blog states that government deficits tend to raise interest rates.  I believe this to be false. Government deficit spending introduces new money, new reserves, into the banking sector. That means that banks have more reserves in the aggregate system to satisfy their reserve requirements. Deficit spending puts downward pressure on the overnight lending rate, because there are extra reserves in the system (since the government has spent more into the economy than it has taxed out of the economy), so the price of lending reserves goes down.

So the idea that the Treasury would have to raise rates on Treasuries because of a deficit would create the nonsensical situation where the interbank lending rate would be falling to zero (because of excess reserves from the deficit spending) and yet rates on Treasuries would be rising because those same banks are refusing to buy the Treasuries and receive a return.

Perhaps Japan is an instructive example.  Their debt-to-GDP ratio is way higher than ours, and they have received (meaningless) credit downgrades.  Yet their interest rates are nil.

Note that my point should give your interests (a fair environment for workers) even more leverage in the current discussion as it alleviates some of the unnecessary fears politicians try to use to encourage us to gut socials programs.

thanks for your time!   Steven Stark

And then I got an email back!  Only one sentence, but I was thrilled!  It read:

"I probably agree with you more than I disagree, but I wanted to make an argument that even mainstream economists could understand."


Monday, November 12, 2012

The London Symphonies part three

OK, this is a quick wrap up of my rankings of Haydn's London Symphonies.  I have decided to redo my rankings based on a more systematic approach....but first, the preliminary rankings of the remaining eight symphonies:

8 - No. 100 in G Major "The Military".   Very dramatic second movement with military-style brass and percussion.

7 - No. 94 in G Major "The Surprise".   The first movement is an excellent example of Haydn's monothematic mature style.  The second movement is so well-known it borders on cliche.   But if you listen to it fresh (it may take a try or two), it is a very inventive theme and variations.  

6 - No. 101 in D Major "The Clock".  One of Haydn's most joyous first movements.  The last movement also features some fantastic counterpoint.

5 - No. 93 in D Major.  Such an elegant first movement.  I usually like quicker tempos, but I like the slower version by Sir Colin Davis and the Royal Concertgebouw.   So graceful and clear.   The second movement is a wonderful theme and variations with a bit of Haydn's trademark humor when the bassoon squawks a loud solo note towards the end.

4 - No. 97 in C Major.  As I mentioned in the last entry, I sure do love the power of the Theme 1 in contrast with the graceful beauty of the waltz-like Theme 2.

3 - No. 98 in Bb Major.  The first movement is fantastic, and the second movement is perhaps the best slow movement of the lot.   The last movement is in sonata form as well, so it is quite weighty on its own.

2 -  No. 103 in Eb Major "The Drumroll".   The introduction of the first movement starts off with a huge timpani roll.  This is one of Haydn's best movements.   It's the only one where the slow introduction makes a reappearance later in the movement.   The second movement is a wonderful theme and variations.

1 - No. 104 in D "The London".    Perhaps Haydn's greatest first movement, it perfectly encapsulates everything about his mature style.  It is monothematic, with a constant flow of inevitable, effervescent melody.   The development is particularly wonderful.   The remaining movements are wonderful - the melody of the finale is iconic - a rustic, spirited dance.

My plan for the new list is to rank the symphonies according to movement - put all the first movements in order of most well-liked, then the second movements, etc.

Then I will times the first movement scores by 6, the second movement scores by 5, the finale scores by 4 and the minuet scores by 3.  This will weight the scores of the movements a bit according to importance.

Then I add it all up! 

Note that with this system, I will reverse the numerical order of preference for the sake of the score - the favorite will be ranked #12,  and the least favorite will be ranked #1.

So if a symphony's first movement is ranked #4, it's second is #7, its 3rd is #2, and it's 4th is ranking #9, then it's score would be (4x6)+(7x5)+(2x3)+(9x4)=101.

I expect my rankings to change quite a bit.  I particularly anticipate symphonies No. 99 and 95 to climb and No. 103 and 104 to fall a bit.  We shall see!

This will take me while, of course.  And why I am doing it?   Because it's the kind of thing I enjoy.......what can I say?  I love listening, but I love it even more when done systematically.    

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The London Symphonies part two: Sonata-Allegro Form!

The first movement of a classical symphony is almost always in sonata-allegro form.  Understanding this form and listening for it enhances one's enjoyment of the piece immensely, just as understanding the form of a sonnet help a reader appreciate a poem.

Here is a an outline of the form with a brief description of each section:

Introduction (optional) -  Exposition (repeated) - Development - Recapitulation - Coda

Introduction - Haydn loved slow introductions.  They often contained little foreshadowing figures of themes to come,  but basically they seem to settle a listener in - like a prelude.  Because of its contrast to the rest of the movement, the slow intro also gives the following allegro an added sense of momentum - an explosiveness of joy.  Sometimes I think of them like Greek choruses, preparing the audience for what is to come.    11 of the 12 London symphonies have slow introductions at the beginning.

The Exposition contains the main thematic material of the movement.   We hear Theme One right off the bat (after the intro) in a Haydn first movement.   Theme One is in the main key of the piece.  It is usually presented once or twice with some variation, and then a bridge of melodic development eventually takes us into a new key - in a classical symphony, the dominant (the key that is the fifth note up from the main key).   Haydn often presents Theme One again in the new key - these works are often called "monothematic" and are quite common in Haydn's mature style.  No. 94, the "Surprise" Symphony and No. 104, the "London" Symphony are good examples of monothematic expositions.

Just as often, however, a new melody (Theme Two) is presented in the new key.  No. 97 is a good example of a symphony using two Themes (the second is lovely - a waltz-like melody).    Most descriptions of sonata-allegro form will show "Theme One and Theme Two", but Haydn's use of the monothematic style shows us that for this developer of the form, key relationship was more important than a thematic difference.

And sometimes Haydn will do both!   For instance in No. 100, the "Military" Symphony, we hear Theme One in the original key and in the dominant key, but then another theme is presented in the dominant key as well which figures heavily in the development - our next section.

But before we move on, I must mention that the Exposition in a classical symphony is repeated.  This gives the audience a good chance to become familiar with the Themes.   If you are learning to follow the form of a symphony, catching the repeat is one of the first things to try to do.  Then try to identify the Themes.

The Development is where the composer leads us into the woods.  It's the true explorative drama of the piece as the Themes are broken apart, played backwards, turned upside down, sent through a myriad of harmonic centers, and thrown around like a hot potato between the orchestral sections.   Finally, after leading us away from home, the Development must lead us back again as it creates a focused tension which must resolve into...

The Recapitulation, which is the return of Theme One in the original key.  There is usually no verbatim replaying of the Exposition.  You will hear the same ideas, including the bridge materials most likely, but they may be treated a bit differently.   And this time the bridge material will not lead us into the dominant key.  We will stay in the main key for Theme Two as the piece establishes an overall harmonic resolution.  We see again that key relationship is the main drama of classical sonata-allegro form.  

The Coda is extra material at the end to add extra affirmation to the home key.

And there is a summary of sonata allegro from.

Now, using the London Philharmonic recording with Eugene Jochum conducting, I will give the specific time points where these different sections begin in Haydn's Symphony No. 97 in C Major.  

Intro:  0:00  - this is a relatively short intro by Haydn' standards.  It definitely features some foreshadowing of things to come!

Exposition/Theme One: 1:12  - so explosive!

Theme Two:  2:26  - so beautiful!

Exposition Repeat/ Theme One: 3:06

Theme Two:  4:20

Development:  4:59   - Can you pick out the different pieces of the themes he uses?  He focuses mainly on Theme One, but there are some quicker violin passages which sound like the ascending short notes in Theme Two.   There's probably many other references, including bridge material, that I have not found yet.

Recapitulation/Theme One: 6:10 - It doesn't take long to depart from the Exposition.

Theme Two: 7:07  -   Ah, still beautiful!

Coda:  8:24 -  It starts like Theme One, but quickly reinforces C Major to the end.

And there is another Haydn masterpiece.   Nine minutes goes by pretty quickly when one knows the form and can admire Haydn's concise, clear execution.

By the way, the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell is another great recording and very different in style.  I prefer the Jochum because of the general level of gusto, but the Szell has wonderful clarity.

I will be back soon with the rest of my London Symphonies list.    And then I will be back again with a more thorough evaluation, which I expect will change the list quite a bit!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Great Piece from Clara Schumann

Robert Schumann’s wife was Clara Wieck Schumann, one of the preeminent concert pianists of her day.  She was also a wonderful composer, and her pursuance of that art in a male dominated culture, where women were accepted as performers but not as composers, is a tribute to her perseverance and her great love of music 

Despite Robert’s support, the culture even caused Clara to doubt the role of women as composers (though she loved doing it).

Last night I listened to the first movement of her piano trio in G minor, and it was a wonderful experience!  The piece features a very memorable opening melody and the form is clear.  I look forward to listening to the remaining movements later tonight - and I will definitely be revisiting the first movement soon.

This is excellent music written by a brilliant musician and and a true cultural pioneer.