Sunday, July 20, 2008

Silly Fool

Falstaff-Elgar/Boult/Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra (Westminster 1930's?)

The crude snap you see above was taken with my phone-camera. When Miss Kate left she not only took a wedge of my ticker with her but, no less sadly, her digital camera. I scanned in vain the Google image banks for a reproduction of either the Westminster Records (probably late 30's) album cover or the original etching, which I attributed to Gustav Dore, who famously set to image the works of Dante and Rabelais, learning later it was more likely the earlier, Michele Beneditte, a late 18th- early 19th century Italian etcher.

There is something purposefully off-center about Elgar's Falstaff, as if modelled ploddingly after the portly one's movement. I am largely resistant to any piece of music that tries too literally to tell as story better told, well, literally. And given the deep history of this character the feat is no less formidable. However, Sunday morning can cast a spell on the lesser things; this is, I suspect, why The New York Times remains in print.

Elgar's vision is dryly cartoonish, and well-colored at its best. I don't feel the sum of this story is imparted, not that that was ever the point anyway. Certain moments are so fully realized that it is hardly a bother. Falstaff's drunken reverie, "Eastcheap--Gadshill--The Boar's Head; revelry and sleep" as Elgar succinctly calls it, is a particular success. In its maneuvres Elgar lays groundwork for Warner Brothers' cartoon scorewriter, Carl W. Stalling, and the Soviet composer, Sergei Prokofiev, whose 1936 children's classic, Peter and the Wolf seems to borrow some of this dim wooziness. As the man's dream deepens, the music furthers a sad, comical hue that threatens to become serious in spite of its pink color. I am instantly reminded of a young, drunken Dumbo.

I suppose its fitting, that amid the music of a big man under the table, that I too should end up near a swaying elephant. Like I said, Sunday morning can cast a spell...

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