Ah, the 5th of July... a great day to be born, don'tjathink? Let's see if Andrew agrees.
So this morning I awoke at 6:59, the result of my usual inability to sleep much past seven on any day I don't have to work -though on work days I can sleep way into the morning, almost durn near close to 7:30. Once downstairs, awake but still groggy, I decided to spend some time with a group of old friends. Not in REAL LIFE... that would be, for me, a work of fiction. Rather I spent a couple of chapters with Dortmunder and his gang. Life's been a bit, er, stressful lately (not so much bad stressful but busy and work-stressful and life-changy anticipation stressful) so when I finished reading my last novel I decided that I needed something that would A) make me laugh and B) be enjoyable. This led ultimately to a Donald Westlake book for his comic novels can always be counted on to give my funnybone a tickle, and true to form I found myself laughing out loud a number of times during the first few chapters and continuing to chuckle ever since.
Not wanting to spend the entire pre-awake-children morning reading I decided to head out and do my "chores". Since just after mother's day I've been rather engaged in a rather large project of sanding, assembling, staining, varnishing, sanding, varnishing, sanding and varnishing ten new dining room chairs. TEN. Hey, ya gotta plan for future growth, right? Some people would have guests but we're not very good at entertaining. For this first pass I'm just doing six chairs with the remaining four to be completed probably in 2011 'cause when I'm done with these six I'm taking a break. A looong break. Each chair takes 30 minutes to sand, 20 minutes to assemble and about 40 minutes to stain. Each coat of varnish has to be done in two passes (bottom half of chair and top half) with each of these two passes taking about 20 minutes and the mid-varnish sanding taking a mere seven minutes. All tallied up that's 3.75 hours per chair, not counting varnish dry time and brush cleanup. That seems low.
In any case, such large amounts of child and wife-free time (for no one wants to venture into the varnish-stinky room where I'm working) has given me the chance to listen to some long-format music. That's right, I'm listening me to some classical music! Lately I put on an old favorite, Prokofiev's 3rd symphony. If I were one to make lists, and I am, Prokofiev would easily be in my top five favorite composers. Possibly top three. His music is, in turns, lively, sarcastic, humorous, stark, emotional, inventive, offbeat, and passionate while always remaining melodic. If you like Danny Elfman (and nothing against the elf-man) but have grown tired of his three styles (wacky-silly [Beetlejuice and PeeWee], hero [Batman], and romantic strings [other stuff]) then hop on over to Prokofiev and find out who's the REAL MAN!
But I digress. The third symphony is, in my mind, an early prototype of horror movie music, though when he composed this symphony in the late 1920s the horror movie really hadn't been invented yet, being a good four years before Frankenstein saw the light of day. However the music is downright chilling and I have no doubt that Bernard Herrmann used the third movement as inspiration (if not outright note for note copy material) of his classic Psycho soundtrack. Not the famous staccato stabs but the unnerving title music that appears elsewhere in the film. Of course Prokofiev creates much more tension than this one intense section of one movement and it's all there for your hungry ears to enjoy.
This third symphony is based on material from Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel. The entire concept of Prokofiev writing operas puts me in a bit of a quandary. Try as I might I just can't get into operas. My man Beethoven only wrote one and Brahms, another top-five-possibly-top-three favorite of mine didn't write any. But Prokofiev wrote quite a few, which means he was fond of the format which means that perhaps there's something to it that I'm not getting so I can't just mentally write it off as a bunch of snobbery. To my ears, though, opera sounds like a platform for some showboat vocalist to spend two hours dazzling the audience with technique while the actual music sits lamely in the background. My next piece for chair varnishing accompaniment, therefore, was The Fiery Angel which I had to dig out of storage. I think I've listened to it three times since I bought it back when I had more disposable income. I'm nearly done with it and though I can pick out the music that Prokofiev culled for the starting points of his excellent symphony I'm still not impressed. Maybe I should read along with the libretto, something which gave me a greater appreciation for, though not a greater enjoyment of, his Love For Three Oranges opera. Or maybe I should try harder NOT to let the male lead's voice remind me of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz movie and expect him to start belting out "If I... were KING... of the FORE~E~E~E~E~E~E~E~E~E~ST!" every few minutes.
Gotta go... the kids are awake!