Music Monday: Going Back in Time, Way Back

Who would have thought that AARP, The Magazine would have provided the inspiration for this week’s Music Monday.

(And yes, I subscribe to, and read, the magazine geared towards those 50 and older, which according to Robert Love, editor-in-chief, is the best-read magazine in America, with 38 million readers.)

In the current issue, there was a short blurb about Robert Winter, 73 years old and Distinguished Professor of Music Performance at UCLA. I had first heard about Winter over 20 years ago when he came out with a CD that was essentially a digital version of his wildly popular class.

In an article from 1995, David Colker of the LA Times states that Winter’s style and message made him one of the best-known music educators in the country today. His home base was UCLA, where he has taught since 1974.

Winter believes that music only gets richer when it is viewed in the context of myriad connections past and present. “If the brain is a system of neural networks,” he explained later that day, “then learning ought to be a system of putting things together, relating them one to another.”

“There is such a mosaic of thousands of connections, that if someone says, ‘I like hip-hop, and I like Haydn String Quartets, but I think of them as separated, segmented repertoires,’ I can show them that it’s all connected.”

But the connections are so numerous and complex that from the teacher’s podium, or on videos or radio, he had never been able to present them in a complete form without overwhelming an audience. Until the CD-ROM came along, there was no way to duplicate Winter’s “neural network” of intertwined thoughts and themes in a palatable way. The digital discs provided a mix of text, graphics, animation, live-action video and quality stereo sound on a home computer, and as of 1995, Winter had already created four highly praised programs, each of which explored a single major piece of music.

So when I saw Winter’s name in AARP, I was intrigued, particularly by his response to one of the interviewer’s questions: What should every person listen to?

If there was ever anyone whose answer to such a question would carry some weight, it was Winter.

In his response, he mentions the “delight with which students hear Josquin des Prez’s The Cricket and the passion that Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde evokes.”

That was good enough for me; I immediately went out to YouTube to find these two songs.

First, here’s The Cricket, a short musical piece from the late 15th century.

Here is a brief blurb about the song from David Warin Solomons of the UK:

There is a theory that El grillo refers to Carlo Frillo, a singer who worked for the same patron as Josquin, Cardinal Galeazzo Sforza, and that it was intended to remind the prelate that his musicians’ salaries were overdue. The Sforzas were apparently notoriously mean to their employees, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact that one of them was happy to pay a large sum of money for a parrot that could recite the Creed. Certainly the words of this little piece, with their reference to the cricket “who sings for love”, seem to have a good deal more impact in this sardonic light. Although the piece is similar in form to many other frottole, it is really quite unlike most such works, especially the way the repeated notes are used for comic effect.

The second piece of music comes from the opera Tristan und Isolde composed by Richard Wagner and which premiered in Munich on June 10, 1865. The opera was based largely on the 12th-century romance Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg.

Tristan is considered one of the great narrative masterpieces of the German Middle Ages, and is an adaptation of the 12th-century Tristan and Iseult legend.

Tristan and Iseult is a tragedy about the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Iseult. The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art and literature.

When I read that this story influenced the play Camelot, one of my all-time favorite plays, it was like things had come full circle. From reading about an opera I had never heard of and then realizing there was a connection to Camelot, proves Winter’s point that everything is connected…

Here is the prelude to Tristan und Isolde:



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