Saturday, February 28, 2009

2009 Jr. Iditarod starts today

The thirty second running of the Jr. Iditarod begins on Saturday, February 28th at 10 am Alaska Time. Twenty one Jr. Iditarod competitors will be carrying some very high tech equipment with them in this year’s race; the 2009 Insider GPS Tracker. The Tracker is being tested during the Jr. Iditarod and The Iditarod Trail Committee is offering a free preview of this state of the art technology on Just click the 2009 Jr. Iditarod Mapping window on the home page and check out a whole new dimension of race coverage. The Insider Tracker displays distance traveled, time traveled, coordinates and ambient temperature.
From yesterday's special e-bulletin from

Find out more about the 154-mile race here. There are twenty-one mushers (all between the ages of 14 and 17) competing this year. The race begins at 10 a.m., Alaska time (2 p.m., EST).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Iditarod resources

Electronic ones, this time. Here's a list of DVDs we've either seen or plan to see, relating specifically to the Iditarod or in general to Alaska or the Arctic (or at the very least, snow and dogs):

Nature: Alaska. Disc one contains two episodes: A Mystery in Alaska and Sled Dogs. We learned so much about the Iditarod by watching the Sled Dogs episode last year that we decided to watch it again this year. Learned even more this time. Highly recommended.

Animal Planet: Growing Up Arctic. This whole series is well worth watching, but this particular dvd has polar bears, arctic seals, and walruses, plus a bonus Antarctic episode (penguins).

Snow Buddies. Yes, this Disney movie is what started the whole obsession for our family. My two youngest still love it, even though they've seen it at least fifteen times.

Balto I, II, III. I watched the first one, which was actually pretty good. The other two were not memorable to me, but my kids liked them.

Iron Will. Not about the Iditarod, but a shorter race, the 1917 Winnipeg-to-St.-Paul sled dog race. Gorgeous scenery.

White Fang. Set in Alaska during the gold rush. This movie was too intense for my (then) six-year-old and three-year-old.

Eight Below. The right sport, a different continent--Antarctica. Good film. I don't think the younger two watched this one, either.

Pretty Sled Dogs. Review coming.

Eyewitness: Arctic & Antarctic
. Great companion to the book. My kids (all three) love this series of science & nature episodes. Available in VHS only, I believe. Got it from the library.

National Geographic: Masters of the Arctic Ice
. We enjoyed this look at arctic animals.

The Wild Arctic. 240 minutes of polar animals on our "to watch" list.

Over Alaska. In our Netflix queue.

Arctic Tale. Enjoyable.

Alaska: Spirit of the Wild. If I'm remembering correctly, this one had too much fighting between polar bears in it for my sensitive kiddos. It was either that or the whale hunt. But the scenery was downright breathtaking.

I know there were more we watched last year, and if anyone reading this list has more suggestions, please feel free to share them via comments.

Back to books--here is an excellent website for books and other tidbits (reading logs, bookmarks to print, etc.), even if you don't join the project: Idita-Read

One more blog to add to the list: Josh Rogers' Iditablog, now in its fifth year.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Belated Music Monday - Leonard Bernstein, et. al.

Leonard Bernstein,
Jerome Robbins,
Gene Kelly,
Oh, my!

From the MGM film, On the Town (which didn't contain that much of Bernstein's music in the end, but this ballet is his, as well as the opener, "New York, New York"):

More about the amazing Mr. Bernstein at a later date. Promise! In the meantime, there are American Masters episodes about all three of these talented gentlemen:

Leonard Bernstein - Reaching for the Note
Jerome Robbins - Something to Dance About (just saw this one last week)
Gene Kelly - Anatomy of Dancer

Friday, February 20, 2009

Poetry Friday - Dante, and more

"Divine Geometry"
from Dante's Divine Comedy
translated by Dorothy L. Sayers

As the geometer his mind applies
To square the circle, not for all his wit
Finds the right formula, howe'er he tries,

So strove I with wonder--how to fit
The image of the sphere; so sought to see
How it maintained the point of rest in it.

Thither my own wings could not carry me,
But that a flash my understanding clove,
Whence its desire came to it suddenly.

High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars
My will and my desire were turned by love,

The love that moves the sun and the other stars.

from The Pythagorean Liturgy

Though in noon's heaven no star you see,
Know well that many there must be.
And with your soul's extended ears
You'll hear the music of the spheres.

Read about Pythagoreanism here. And for an interesting look (and listen) at one man's attempt to hear literally the planets as they orbit the sun, visit Carmen of the Spheres.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at The Holly and the Ivy. Head on over and check it out!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Classical giggle

Thanks again to Alex Ross, who pointed out, with illustration,
Susan Sarandon reading that Brad Pitt was nominated for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Britten"
at last month's Golden Globes ceremony. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. I may just have to watch the Academy Awards (WARNING: turn volume down if you click this link--aack, have headache now) in a couple of days to see if anything as amusing happens during that show.

The New Yorker on Mendelssohn

By far the most enjoyable article I've read about Mendelssohn so far in this, his bicentenary year, was in today's New Yorker online, written by Alex Ross, whose blog, The Rest is Noise, you'll notice in my sidebar (under music blogs):

“He never lost control of himself,” Wagner once said of Mendelssohn. The fundamental problem for so many Romantically inclined listeners was that Mendelssohn had no interest in what the scholar Peter Mercer-Taylor has called “unchecked personal self-expression.” Instead, his oratorios, choruses, glees, and parlor songs were intended to foster fellow-feeling and to serve as an aesthetic model for the upright life. In this, he succeeded triumphantly; there are still Mendelssohn Clubs—community choruses and singing societies—in cities across America. The challenge for contemporary performers is to tease out the complexity that dwells below a deceptively well-bred surface.

Read the rest of the article here. Illustration: Andrè Carrilho

And from this article I now have a biography to read--Mendelssohn: a Life in Music, by R. Larry Todd.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

100+ Books List

Saw this without the meme on Suji's Funschooling blog, then with the meme at LB's. (Am I using the word meme correctly, LB?)

I love lists. Especially lists of books. Changed the name to 100+ because I'm a recovering type A and there are more than 100 on the list.

Bold those you have read.
Italicize those you intend to read.
Do audio books count? You decide. Movies, decidedly no.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (many times over--one of my all-time faves)
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (read in high school, much to the dismay of my BFF who couldn't understand how I could disappear inside books the way I did these).
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (read it because I wondered what I was missing in high school--BJU textbooks, don't get me started!)
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 1984 - George Orwell (college? can't remember)
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (have read parts)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (have read some for the same reason as #5)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (see #2--read all four in almost unceasing obsession--um, succession)
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (ooh, tried this one and found it annoying)
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (another high school read that annoyed my BFF)
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (loved it, especially the answer)
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (favorite of mine)
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (another favorite--but can't get it to work as a read-aloud for some reason)
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (hmm, wasn't this just mentioned, at #33?)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (won't read it)
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden (as part of a book club)
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (started it, never finished)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (started to read)
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (another all-time favorite)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Started, don't think I finished it)
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (Did I? Might be confusing it with The Scarlet Pimpernel)
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding (laugh-out-loud book)
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson (had this on my "to read" list last summer)
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (for college class)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt (loved it)
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (these are right up there with the Austen canon for me)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (read so long ago I want to read it again)
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams (started, never finished)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Well, that was fun. What a great reminder of some classic titles I've been meaning to read. I'll set a goal to read at least one of the italicized books this year.


For those of you who are interested in following the Iditarod as part of an online project, visit eIditarod 2009 for more information. Joining gives you access to an email list with lots of information on it. The list owner and project head, Walter McKenzie, has some new blogs with photos along the southern route of the trail:


Eagle Island

Hopefully he'll post more soon!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Music Monday - Pretty Sled Dogs

Is it considered ADD when you are hyper-focused on one thing at a time?

From the DVD, Pretty Sled Dogs, a film by Donna Quante, starring Karen Ramstead, which "my children" got for Valentine's Day. It's on tomorrow's docket. I know you're waiting for my review with bated breath. ☺

Iditarod on GMA


I'll keep adding them as I find them.

Eye on the Trail
, an official Iditarod blog with frequent news updates

Zuma's Paw Prints, an official Iditarod blog from canine perspectives

Four-time Iditarod winner Jeff King's blog: Husky Homestead

Four-time Iditarod winner Martin Buser's blog and website: Happy Trails Kennels

Skunk's Place Kennel Dog Log's Iditarod posts, written by husband-and-wife mushers Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore, which include information about dog health and other concerns animal lovers may have about mushing

Crow Village Iditarod Blog

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Iditarod resources

Here it is, a partial list of the books we used last year to follow the Iditarod and learn about Alaska, the Arctic, and the Inuit people. I'll post again once I compile other, non-book resources, and possibly remember more book titles.

The Bravest Dog Ever—the True Story of Balto
, by Natalie Standiford (Step into Reading, Step 3)

Togo, by Robert J. Blake

Dogteam, by Gary Paulsen

The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail, by Debbie S. Miller

Storm Run: the Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, by Libby Riddles

Moose Racks, Bear Tracks, and Other Alaskan Kidsnacks, by Alice Bugni

Born to Pull, by Bob Cary (Scholastic picture book)

Akiak, a Tale from the Iditarod, by Robert J. Blake (Acton Picture Bk Blake)

Big-Enough Anna, by Pam Flowers with Ann Dixon

Kiana’s Iditarod, by Shelley Gill

The Polar Bear Son, an Inuit Tale, by Lydia Dabcovich
Mystery on the Iditarod Trail, by Carol Marsh (plus teacher’s guide)

Woodsong, by Gary Paulsen

One Small Square—Arctic Tundra, by Donald M. Silver

Look Who Lives in the Arctic, by Alan Baker

Under Alaska’s Midnight Sun, by Deb Vanasse

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, by Debbie S. Miller

Eskimo Boy—Life in an Inupiaq Eskimo Village, by Russ Kendall

Being Caribou, by Karsten Heuer

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Iditarod XXXVII

Now that Valentine's Day is (almost) over, it's time here at our house to focus on the main athletic event of the year, which begins in less than three weeks: The 2009 Iditarod.

Last year we followed the Iditarod for the first time. Each family member chose a musher to track, and when the race began we moved Staples brand "stickies" page flags from checkpoint to checkpoint on our Iditarod trail map. All three kids rated it as the most exciting homeschooling we've ever done. We learned about the state of Alaska, the Arctic, and the Inuit people, as well as quite a bit about sled dogs and mushing, and, of course, the Iditarod itself. As soon as I have an uninterrupted moment (or nearly), I'll post the resources we used last years with links. Until then, be sure to check out both the human and canine blogs over at

Friday, February 13, 2009

Great Backyard Bird Count

It's not too late--the GBBC begins today. Here are some pertinent links (and I'll probably keep adding to them over the course of the weekend):

The official Great Backyard Bird Count website
The GBBC blog
Round Robin, the blog of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The GBBC Twitter group
All About Birds, an online bird guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Coloring pages of four common birds
A page of links to more coloring pages, including one to a pdf of a free coloring book from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 13–16, 2009. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day. You can also submit more than one checklist per day if you count in other locations on that day.
More instructions can be found here, on the "How to Participate" page. To get a printable tally sheet of common birds in your region (with the option to add in rare birds, as well), try here.

Now I'm wishing I'd bumped the new camera purchase up the priority list, but plumbing leapt in there and took over the list for a while, anyway. I hope to post some photos, but we'll have to see if ye old camera is up to it. Happy birding!

Poetry Friday - Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

After the Dazzle of Day
Walt Whitman

After the dazzle of day is gone,
Only the dark dark night shows
to my eyes the stars;
After the clangor of organ majestic,
or chorus, or perfect band,
Silent, athwart my soul, moves the
symphony true.

The Walt Whitman Archive has an incredible amount of information, photos, and, of course, the works of the poet--definitely worth a visit, so mosey on over if you have the inclination. There is even a photo of Whitman's original manuscript of this poem, among others.

Poetry Friday is being hosted at Big A little a. Check it out!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

Becky at Farm School has a lovely post with her reviews of some Darwin books, plus the above graphic from the Center for Inquiry which I borrowed. LB has an original poem celebrating the genius that is Darwin. And Harvard University has some information and links relating to this great birthday. Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For LB: Liza Lehman (1862-1918)

Here you go, LB, a version of "The Lobster Quadrille" (though this song is titled by the poem's first line) that is neither atonal or polytonal (which I think Ligeti's version was, though my critical listening skills are rusty):

This version is from a CD of the songs of Liza Lehmann, a British composer (and singer) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Go here for her bio at Naxos. The musicians on this CD (in case you can't read the tiny little print on the cover, right) are Janice Watson, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Toby Spence, and Neal Davies, singers, and Steuart Bedford, pianist.

20 in 2009 Challenge

While I've been slow identifying my 100 species, I think this challenge is definitely something I can accomplish within the allotted time frame--reading twenty books in the year and posting about them here. Remembering the books is more of a challenge for me than actually reading them (sporadic insomnia tends to leave me with stretches of time to read), but I welcome the task of organizing my thoughts about twenty books I read this year.

Updated 1/29:

I've finally realized that if I wait until I actually have time to review the books I'll probably start losing track of what I've read, so I'm going to start a list and update it with comments about the titles later. I can at least rate them, based on my enjoyment of them:

Don't bother.
☆☆ I didn't like it much, but you might.
☆☆☆ I enjoyed it and would recommend getting it from a library.
☆☆☆☆ I loved it--if I don't already own it, I'll probably buy a copy to keep.
☆☆☆☆☆ You've got to read this book!

1. The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson. (☆☆☆☆)
Have now passed this one on to O. (11) to read.

2. Mozart's Ghost, by Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way). (☆☆☆)

3. Tell Me, Pretty Maiden--a Molly Murphy Mystery, by Rhys Bowen (author of the "Evan Evans" mysteries). (☆☆☆½)

Updated 2/10:

4. O' Artful Death, by Sarah Stewart Taylor. (☆☆☆☆½). Uh-oh, I've found new mystery series to read. That generally means that other things get pushed to the back burner, though I have found I can throw in a load of wash while reading (who cares if those reds get put in with the whites?) and give my younger two kids a bath while reading (wow, look how wrinkly your skin can get!), amongst other things. Still, it looks like there are just three more books in the Sweeney St. George series for me to read, for now, anyway. Taylor's protagonist is smart, likeable, and just a tad melancholy. A bit of gloom suits her, though--after all, she is an art historian who specializes in funereal art!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Music Monday - Lewis Carroll

Lest you think I have my Mondays and Fridays confused, let me tell you that today I was reminded of a set of songs for solo voice and piano with texts by Lewis Carroll (1832-1898). The one that came to mind (and often does, epecially when I'm driving impatiently behind someone who isn't going as fast as I think they should be) is "The Lobster Quadrille":

"Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail,
"There's a porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle - will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you,
will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you,
won't you join the dance?"

"You can really have no notion how delightful it would be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters out to sea!"
But the snail replied "Too far, too far!", and gave a look askance -
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

"What matters it how far we go?" his scaly friend replied.
"There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The farther off from England the nearer is to France -
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you,
will you join the dance?
Will you, won't you, will you, won't you,
won't you join the dance?"

I'm pretty sure that the tune going through my head is the one written by American composer, John Duke (1899-1984), but I (sigh) couldn't find a recording of it anywhere. But I serendipitously found another musical version of the poem, so, instead, here is a fun version by Hungarian composer, György Ligeti (1923-2006), as sung by The King's Singers:

György Ligeti was an adventurer in form and expression and a great visionary of contemporary music. His richly varied output takes a special position in its musical quality and uncompromising individuality. Ligeti moved far away from aesthetic trends and methods all his life. He was characterized by fresh and unorthodox ideas, any form of dogmatism was foreign to his nature, his entire oeuvre is marked by radical turning points. Admired and hugely influential in the profession, the sensual accessibility of his music has won the hearts of audiences everywhere.

Read more well-chosen words at Schott Music's Ligeti page. The New Yorker music critic, Alex Ross, also has an article about Ligeti here at his blog, The Rest is Noise.

For you movie lovers out there--some of Ligeti's music can be heard on the soundtracks of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut.

Friday, February 06, 2009

On this day. . .

. . . in 1788, Massachusetts gained statehood. It was the sixth state to do so, and was preceded by Delaware (December 7, 1787), Pennsylvania (December 12, 1787), New Jersey (December 18, 1787), Georgia (January 2, 1788), and Connecticut (January 9, 1788). For fast facts about The Bay State, click here.

Poetry Friday - Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

I Am in Need of Music
Elizabeth Bishop

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

I'm continuing in my quest to find poetry about music. Elizabeth Bishop was born not too far from here, in Worcester, MA, though throughout her life she traveled far and wide, and her poems often reflect this fact.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Well-Trained Mind release update

For those of you who care-- ☺

In a recent post I mentioned that the newest edition of The Well-Trained Mind was scheduled for release from Amazon on February 4th. Unfortunately the release date for the book has been pushed back. According to Amazon, it will now be out on May 6th. I couldn't find any information on the website of Peace Hill Press or on Susan Wise Bauer's blog about the potential release date, but then my morning caffeine hasn't kicked in just yet. I know there was a problem with the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia being out of print (though copies are still available via Amazon), possibly for good (Kingfisher got bought out by Houghton-Mifflin), so that certainly could have something to do with the delay.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

And yet more Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn was born 200 years ago Tuesday. Though he was one of the most beloved composers of the Romantic period, 270 of his works remained unpublished until recent years. These lost compositions are now coming to light through The Mendelssohn Project.

from Morning Edition on NPR, February 3, 2008.

How cool is that--The Mendelssohn Project!

Among a host of other endeavors, "the Mendelssohn Project is planning to present the magical lives of the two siblings, Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, live on stage in a series of performances around the world," from The Mendelssohn Project website, as is the following mission statement:

The rediscovery of his legacy, music, letters and artworks, the reintroduction of the music of his sister Fanny, the study of the life and times of the entire Mendelssohn family, and the reinstatement of Felix Mendelssohn's place in the pantheon of the greatest composers of all time, are the mission of The Mendelssohn Project.

It sounds like much of the Project is in the development stages, but if it accomplishes even half what is proposed it will be an incredible achievement. Viva Mendelssohn!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mendelssohn streaming

I am listening to WGBH All Classical Radio, which is streamed via this link. So far today all I've heard is Mendelssohn, including both the scherzo from the Octet and the Hebrides Overture. Hurrah!

Happy Birthday, Mendelssohn!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), the composer that contemporary, Robert Schumann, called "the Mozart of the 19th century." It is perhaps not as highly publicized that Mendelssohn began composing music as a child, much as Mozart did, and was, also like Mozart, considered a child prodigy due to his virtuosic playing of the piano at an early age. The wonderfully varied Mendelssohn canon includes orchestral, choral, chamber, piano, and organ music, as well as songs for both solo voice and duet, and concertos for violin and piano.

Many thanks to Becky of Farm School for sending me a recent New York Times article about Mendelssohn. While quietly lamenting the fact that "composer anniversaries aren't what they used to be," the article goes on to list favorite Mendelssohn recordings of the classical music critics at the Times. (The online article at the Times website has many links worth checking out and a few selections of music to be heard.) Four of the five critics listed recordings of the Violin Concerto in E Minor (which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago), all played by different violinists, from an old Jascha Heifitz recording with the BSO through to Janine Jansen's 2007 recording with the Leipzig Guwandhaus Orchestra, and on to the even more recent 2008 recording of Daniel Hope with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Mendelssohn himself directed the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 until his death in 1847, with one year's hiatus from 1844 to 1845.

While I really enjoyed the lists of recordings and the mini-reviews that went along with them, I was especially glad to be reminded of two of Mendelssohn's instrumental works that made the critics' lists: the Octet in E-flat Major for Strings (1825), and the Hebrides Overture in B Minor (written 1830; revised 1832).

The Octet, written when Mendelssohn was just sixteen, is fun, fun, fun--both to play and listen to--and critic Vivien Schweitzer calls the lively last movement, "the ultimate antidepressant":

According to critic Allan Kozinn, a multi-tracked performance of the Octet by the Emerson String Quartet wins his favor with its "brisk, shapely high-energy performance." The four-cd set of all of Mendelssohn's quartets plus more chamber music, including the Octet, as performed by SUNY-Stony Brook's quartet-in-residence, is from 2005. The recordings are not available as mp3s from Amazon, but can be found on iTunes. The bonus tracks of the Octet found there are the separate recordings of the two halves of the octet (as played, twice, by the players in the quartet) that were put together for the final recording. On the enhanced (and more expensive) CDs available through Amazon, a video of the making of this recording is included.

My favorite movement of the four (Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco; Andante; Scherzo; and Presto), while hard to choose, is probably the Scherzo:

On to the Hebrides Overture. I love the mysterious opening of this piece, even if the bassoon, violas, and cellos get to have all the fun. Fortunately the rest of the orchestra gets to join in after a bit:

Mendelssohn was inspired to write both the Hebrides (or "Fingal's Cave," as it is sometimes called) Overture and his Symphony No. 3 in A Minor ("Scottish") by his many trips to Great Britain, made between 1829 and 1847.

Take some time to listen to some Mendelssohn today--I can't think of a better way to honor the birthday of a great composer.