Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mothers, mentors, martyrs

Tomorrow morning I'll be playing music in honor of Mothers' Day, but a little differently. Many people have wonderful relationships with their mothers. (I'm glad to say that I do!) But for many, mother is not a loving and supportive figure in their lives. And many remember their mothers with sorrow because they are no longer with us. We also have others in our lives who love, support and mentor us, like surrogate parents, or more distant forebears that we'd like to emulate.

The Scripture for the day is about one of these: Stephen, the first Christian martyr. When we know we must speak the truth no matter what the consequences may be, Stephen is our hero.

Mozart's sonata in A minor K. 310 was written the summer he took care of his dying mother. The whole work is a balance between anguish and peace. I'm playing the middle movement, which is very peaceful, except for a sudden lament that breaks out in the middle, somewhat resembling the Dies Irae (Day of Judgment) that Mozart would later include in his Requiem.

Ravel's Menuet on the name of Haydn is in honor of that compositional ancestor. Ravel went to great lengths to note-spell Haydn's name in the theme. Musical notes go A through G. In German, B is actually B-flat and our B is called H, while E flat is called S, so names like Bach and DSCH (Shostakovich's initials) can be had without much trouble. For Y and N, Ravel had to keep counting up the scale until he reached that point in the alphabet. His Y is actually another D. The piece is tender, just a little like a classical minuet, and as carefully crafted as one would expect from an imagination that works that way.

And at the end of the service will be a piece by Leonard Bernstein in honor of his childhood piano teacher and lifelong friend, Helen Coates. This is no sweet Hallmark motherly figure, at least not according to the music, rich in loud exclamations, bright rhythms and a little repeated figure that sounds suspiciously like a donkey's hee-haw. We should all be so lucky as to know a mentor like that.

Looking forward to sharing this music with folks, mothers and otherwise, tomorrow!