Saturday, 29 October 2016


Sir Walter Raleigh
Elizabethan hero, New World colonizer and scorned Jacobean explorer (and alleged traitor) Sir Walter Raleigh met his bloody end on this October day nearly 400 years ago at the dull end of an executioners axe.

The much scorned diplomat - once a favorite of England’s Queen Elizabeth I of Tudor fame - would have spent much of the latter half of his life in and out of prison – beginning in 1591, when the newly minted Knight (Elizabeth had bestowed upon him the honor six years previous) had the audacity to wed one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting in camera, for which the enraged monarch had both the nobleman and his bride holed up in the Tower of London.

By the time Elizabeth expired in 1603, the recently released free man had already gotten himself embroiled in a national scandal: his alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow her royal replacement: Elizabeth’s distant cousin, son of the ill-fated Queen of Scotland Mary Stuart, King James VI & I - and place his cousin, Arbella in his stead – a crime for which Sir Raleigh narrowly escaped execution when King James opted to have him imprisoned instead. Once more, the chevalier would find himself forcibly confined within the walls of the Tower of London – this time, for a staggering period of some thirteen years.

It would only be after an early release granted by King James in order for the maligned explorer to seek out the legendary "City of Gold" – El Dorado - believed to be located in Spanish-controlled Guyana that Sir Raleigh would come to face the execution block - this time with no hope of a pardon or converted sentence – after the King learned of the explorers' (and his mens) failed exploits: not only had Raleigh neglected to find the mythical city and returned without handfuls of untold riches - the men under his command were accused of having ransacked a Spanish Outpost – a direct violation on the terms of his pardon/release and the nations' Peace Treaty with Spain. Upon his return to England, pressure by the Spanish ambassador on the King of England began to take its toll. Despite James having been informed of Raleigh’s direct command to his men –– to avoid any form of violence on property or person in Guyana (which had fallen on deaf ears - with immediate and disastrous results: Raleigh’s own son was fatally gunned down during the ransack), the King, in order to maintain peace between both empires, promptly overturned Raleigh’s pardon, re-instating the scorned Knight’s conviction of Treason against England, and had him sent to the chopping block.

In the final hours leading up to Sir Raleigh’s execution, the condemned criminal is alleged to have penned a manifesto of sorts, in the form of a poem entitled What is our life? Its doleful verses expose the prisoner’s inward struggle to make sense of a life filled with riches, and a legacy ultimately besmirched by tragedy:
“What is our life, our life? A play of passion.
Our mirth the music of division.
Our mother's wombs the 'tiring houses be,
where we are dress'd for this short comedy.
Heav'n the judicious sharp spectator is,
that sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
Our graves, that hide us from the searching sun
are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus march we, playing to our latest rest;
Only we die in earnest, that's no jest."

Sir Walter Raleigh at his execution
What is Our Life? would later be immortalized in the form of a madrigal by the English composer Orlando Gibbons, who, interestingly, was a lifetime member of King James’ Chapel Royal and later organist at Westminster Abbey under the King. Given the close nature of Gibbons relationship with the monarch, and the musicians choice to honor Raleigh in such a persisting manner, one must wonder what words of regret may have been uttered by the King behind closed chamber doors.

Whatever James’ personal feelings were for the condemned, whether or not his hand was forced in an effort to maintain some sense of détente with Spain: the end result of Raleigh’s imprisonment, it appears, came as a source of comfort to the crestfallen former hero. After inspecting the sharpness of the (notoriously dull) blade of the axe, Raleigh is said to have remarked to his executioner "This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases and miseries."

It was but a front: all bravery would be lost to the scorned prisoner when he laid his head on the block and cried out:
“At this hour my ague (fever) comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear…strike, man! Strike!!”

Listen below to Gibbon’s setting of Raleigh’s poem “What is Our Life:” The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets, 1612, no 14:


Thursday, 27 October 2016


 Unraveling Musical Myths


Let's finish where we left off with a little Shostakovich. Grab your safety blankets, you'll soon be cowering underneath them!


VII. ALLEGRO MOLTO – String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 100 (Mvmt. 2) - Dmitri Shostakovich

This ravenous quartet for strings boasts a back story as frenzied and unsettling as its mania-inducing rapid tempi.

Shostakovich’s 8th, the so-called “War Requiem” was composed bearing a heavily burdened and fearful mindset by the 54-year old musician in just three days at Dresden in 1960.
Not only had the Soviet composer been recently diagnosed with an incurable affliction of the heart and a motor neuron disease (now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), Shostakovich was fresh off the heels of joining - with much hesitation - the Communist party of the Soviet Union. The 8th quartet, in particular it’s allegro molto was fashioned by the emotionally overwhelmed composer as an exposé on the brutality and the destructive nature of war.

Shostakovich, who dedicated the piece to victims of war and fascism, was said to have become so overwhelmed by memories of wartime, that he buried his face in his hands and openly sobbed upon hearing the work performed for the first time. Led Lebedinsky, a confidante of the composer, would later claim the work to be a manifesto for the composers’ suicide, which Lebedinsky believed was imminent.

Sunday, 23 October 2016


It’s time again for another installment of creepy classical music: 13 Frightening works* selected by Unraveling Musical Myths that are guaranteed to set the spine a-shiver this All Hallow’s Eve in a segment I am calling


*Note from the Author: In the interest of quicker loading times (and due to an injured hand that really should be resting!) I have opted to divide this post into two parts. Part II to follow shortly.


I. MASKED BALL – Jocelyn Pook:

This chilling number written by modern film composer Jocelyn Pook brought the unconventional musician to prominence when it was featured in Stanley Kubrick's 1999 drama, Eyes Wide Shut. It's haunting blend of strings (Pook herself appears on viola) and a seemingly incomprehensible, Satanic-sounding chant is made even more disturbing to the listener when he one realizes what they are actually hearing is a fragment of Orthodox Liturgy  - detailing "God's" instructions to his "apprentices" to pray to the Deity for the "peace, salvation...and forgiveness" of mankind's manifold sins, sung by Romanian monks in reverse - strongly suggesting the fall of Babel, and the salvageable man - forever lost in translation as he succumbs to his eternal and convoluted perversions.

This sinister gem is sure to become your next guilty pleasure:

Thursday, 20 October 2016


Today's Quote of the Day comes to us from the "Clown Prince of Denmark," comedian-musician Victor Borge on the topic of Mozart "in Heaven:"

"In my dreams of Heaven, I always see the great Masters
in a huge hall in which they all reside.
Only Mozart has his own suite." 

-Victor Borge

Enjoy below Herr Mozart's "heavenly" duettino, Sull'aria (the Letter Duet) from the third act of Le Nozze di Figaro. Performed by Austrian lyric soprano Gundula Janowitz and soprano Edith Mathis of Lucerne under the baton of maestro Karl Böhm:

Attention bibliophiles and classical music aficionados! My review for Hermann Abert's classic W.A. Mozart (Yale version) can now be found in Reviews by Rose. More reviews coming soon.


Purchase on Amazon
"There are works that persist through the passage of time... that permeate the dusty sheath that both binds and separates the past from the present. Works that, when filtered through a retrospective lens, continue to maintain the very essence of a divine-like creation, like the building blocks of an intricately complex monument - a world wonder that has existed though the ages. One that sparks generations of inquiry by those drawn to it’s magnificence, to it’s penetrating and majestic force..inspiring countless scholars to remark upon it’s persisting existence.

Marvels such as these command the historian and layman alike to persist in discovering its secrets to longevity, ever eager to teach subsequent generations. The Egyptians have the pyramids. The British have Stonehenge. Germany – and now the English-speaking world - have Hermann Abert’s W.A. Mozart..."


Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Jean-Jacques Rousseau
264 years ago today, on October 18, 1752, France would bear witness to what may be arguably described as a Prelude to a Musical Revolution. It would begin at the royal court of King Louis XV of France – it’s chief instigator, the esteemed Swiss-born philosopher and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His arme de choix: a pandering, self authored pamphlet “Lettre sur la Musique Française” - a churlish treatise against the music of France (of which he contested was in poorly scant supply of anything revelatory), and of it’s musical future (of which he insisted would never come into existence) - not withstanding the “unfit” nature of the French language itself, which the emerging musician found most uncouth for distinguished ears.

How odd then, it must have appeared to the King, and later, to the French public, to have been introduced on that fateful autumn day to “Le Devin du Village”* an opera performed in French, and written in French by one of the nations most vocal adversaries, Rousseau himself. 

The introduction of Le Devin marked a turning point for 18th century musical France, a nation already in conteste with Italy – chiefly with it’s infiltration on national operatic culture and customs. Reigning King of the tragédie lyrique (the preferred form of musical stage drama for the French), Jean-Philippe Rameau, with his soul-wrenching oeuvre, was made to bear witness to the injection of the customs of the Italians, in the form of Italian burlettas (intermezzi) – light comic relief, performed in the Italian tongue, to balance out the serious nature of French libretti.

French king Louis XV was an early
supporter of Rousseau's composing
endeavors. He famously offered (and
was refused) life-long patronage of the
Results were immediate, and public reaction was as hotly divided as it was swift: French opera connoisseurs split into two sects: those who favored the change, and those who rallied against it – sometimes though violence. The public, it seemed, had no choice but to endure the makings of a revolution: the Italian company responsible for the musical interjection had officially received permission in 1752 to use what wiles they possessed to attempt to integrate the two very different formats. 

The answer to the question of the philosopher-cum-composer's true musical allegiance that must have plagued members of Louis' royal court would soon be revealed: Rousseau, in a most ingenious fashion (and undeniably spurned on by a raging competitive spirit following the successful run of young Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s comic opera La Serva Padrona – an Italian opera, by an Italian composer, performed by a visiting Italian troupe no less - which had held its premiere in Paris just two months prior to Le Devin’s premiere at Fontainebleau) would present his latest work as a sort of hybrid: designed and touted as an opera for the French, Le Devin would incorporate facets of the Italian opera buffa throughout – most notably in the use of recitative, and in it’s Overture, which employed the Italian style of fast, slow, fast in it's sections. The pandering to French interests on behalf of the composer would be further emphasized by the press, who were quick to point out that the libretto for the opera, written in the country’s native tongue, held the distinction of being the first operatic text to have been written by the composer of the same work. Almost immediately following Le Devin's public premiere, Rousseau's most important musical ally, Jean-Philippe Rameau - who was presently the undisputed king of opera in France - would turn into a rival. Compounding the matter was the fact that, according to Rameau - who had previously corresponded on a semi-frequent basis with the Swiss composer - Rousseau had once expressed through his letters to the Frenchman a showing of espousal to French traditions. The production, then, of Le Devin, using popular Italian styles was undoubtedly viewed by Rameau as the ultimate betrayal. It seemed Rousseau was making enemies in high places.

Public fallout - albeit temporarily - would quickly follow.

Overture of Le Devin, in the Italian Style: Allegro, Lent et gai, Allegro 

Rousseau may have thought his machinations infallible - soon however, just as we have seen in the fractured relationship between the two former allies, the operatic newcomer Rousseau’s ‘allegiance’ became inevitably blurred in the eyes and ears of the Parisian melophiles.

So heated was the public divide, it has been recorded by contemporary historians in the time of Rousseau that his own orchestra detested not only their maestro’s views on their countrymen, which they considered an attack on France itself – but also, of the composer’s rampant hypocrisy. It is said following a performance of Le Devin, the musicians took to the theater lobby, erecting hastily fashioned gallows, whereupon they proceeded to “burn” the composer in effigy!

The periodical “The Athenaeum Journal of Nature, Science, and the Fine Arts" payed homage to the event in the coming century by running a detail describing the vitriolic occasion (as originally recorded by the 18th century Belgian-turned-French composer André Grétry):

"In how severe a strife "Le Devin" was nurtured we may judge from the circumstance of the French orchestral players conspiring - so Gretry tells us - to hang Jean Jacques in effigy. "Well," replied the Swiss, "I don't wonder they should hang me now, after having so long put me to the torture." But the fiddlers built their gallows in vain..."
-pp. 455


Purchase Reverie
Today's Book Review takes us behind the crimsoned veil of the classical music elite, revealing to the reader a vast and sordid demi-monde of debauchery, betrayal and carnal sin - ultimately triumphed by compassion, unyielding kinship and personal sacrifice.

Unraveling Musical Myths is proud to introduce to the reader Lauren Rico's debut novel, Reverie:

You will never hear the Cello Suites in quite the same way again:

"Here, in the darkness, it’s almost as if the cello and I are a single entity. I supplement the instrument’s delicate panels of wood, and tough lengths of gut string with my own flesh, blood, and breath. I inhale every phrase, and my entire body moves in a circular pattern, cello lovingly embraced between my knees. It takes me to places I don’t usually allow myself to go, places buried deep in the back of my mind. My mother lives here, in this place where the music brings me. She’s a young woman, not much older than I am now. I can see her pretty, fair face. She has freckles like me, and a head full of coppery curls. I imagine her leaning over me and tucking me in. She brushes the hair from my forehead and tells me to have sweet dreams. But they are not sweet at all. As my bow slices across the strings, I hear her and my father yelling through the night. I dig into the Bach harder, recalling the crash of objects hurled and the smack of a hand on someone’s face. Whose? I don’t know. My fingers move frantically now, recklessly. The music could break apart and shatter in an instant. But it doesn’t. It slows and begins the lament. The crying. Her tears. There it is. He slapped her, this time. The cello is a wordless voice, heaving and sighing with the weight of her sorrow. The bow carries my fear with it as it swings to each string in turn. They are so volatile. They cannot hold our fragile life together. It just spirals out of control, picking up speed again, until it reaches a fever pitch.
   Without warning, my hand slips across the D string, lurching forward and sending my bow flying across the room. It hits the floor with a sickening ‘thwack,’ returning me instantly to the tiny, pitch - black room in which I have lost myself once again.”
-Reverie, Lauren E. Rico, pp. 10-11

Bach’s famously haunting Prelude, much akin to it’s namesake, foretells of the cornucopia of raw emotions to come in author and SiriusXM radio host Lauren Rico’s debut novel “Reverie:” a soul-wrenching blend of hope, despair, passion, vitriol, tragedy and ultimately triumph over seemingly unshakable obstacles that sees our heroine Julia James free herself from the harrowing and confining shackles of abuse.

Reverie’s is a dialogue all too common in modern society – James’ tragic story reads like a discourse on the mental and physical ramifications of years of generational abuse and shines a bright spotlight onto the torturous practice of “gas lighting:” a many-tiered form of emotional exploitation that sees it’s victim subjected to a systematic and lengthy process of forced memory distortion by a trusted and loved assailant, ultimately leading to the ‘patient’ (or in this instance, the ‘case subject’) questioning his or her own memory – and, in the ultimate coup de grâce for the abuser – leaving the victim questioning his or her own perception of abuse.

Told in present time (with allusions to the protagonist’s past), Reverie takes us painstakingly through the private lives of budding master musicians, revealing the grit behind the "pomp," and the reality behind the "circumstance" of the perceived perfectionism commonly associated with classical music and with that of it’s practitioners, blending seamlessly the steadfast dedication and passion of rising within elite musical ranks and within social and intimately personal ones – revealing most expertly the fragility of man at his most vulnerable, and the unshakeable ability for the human soul to continue to seek love and triumph over any obstacle.

James' story is a story for the mind, an exultation for the soul, and a powerful testament to mental health. A remarkable debut from an equally musically inclined author: Reverie is officially Rico’s first opus, and this review is simply raving!
-review by Rose.

Learn more about Lauren at

Bach's beautiful Prelude from Six Cello Suites, BWV 1007-1012:


Monday, 3 October 2016

TRIVIA & HUMOR: Fun Musical Facts VI (Feat. Did You Know?)

It’s time for another installment of MAYHEM BEHIND THE MUSIC: TRIVIA EDITION! Feat. Did you Know?

Today’s entry features an amusing cornucopia of insanity – from Antonio Vivaldi’s delightfully charming perfectionism to the violent wiles of a homophobic King who was literally losing his mind, with a sprinkling of Beethoven’s infamous rage (this time unleashed upon a member of the press) and a dash of racism to boot.

This may just be the most scandalous installment of MAYHEM yet! 

 We begin in Italy:

Did You Know?

…that the much beloved Four Seasons concerti (thought to be the world’s first tone poem collection), with it’s famously frenzied violin work, carried with it much in the way of performance instruction of the most humorous nature?

Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi included alongside his score for the catchy work highly descriptive instructions for each movement, including directions for the viola to embody the sound of the composers “most faithful dog barking” in the second movement of “Spring,” and, as for the Adagio Molto in “Autumn?” why, that was to represent “drunkards who had fallen asleep” after a morning of getting hammered alongside their fellow peasants at a harvest celebration. 

Vivaldi, clearly catering to class perception of the time, notes in an additional accompanying sonnet for the concerto (there were sonnets for each of them - which the composer likely wrote himself):  

“The cup of Bacchus[1] flows freely”

Celebrating the Fall season with Antonio Vivaldi’s L’autunno (Autumn): Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293 with Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante:

The god of wine. See Anacreon in Heaven at Unraveling Musical Myths

Sunday, 2 October 2016


October 2, 2016, marks the 63rd annual observance of late Danish/American comic musician Victor Borge’s (real name Børge Rosenbaum) inaugural performance of “Comedy in Music,” the one-man Broadway act featuring “The Clown Prince of Denmark” himself, which opened to American audiences at New York’s John Golden Theatre on this day in 1953, becoming “the longest running one-man show in the history of theater with 849 performances by the time it closed on January 21, 1956” [1] earning it a coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.

To mark the occasion, Unraveling Musical Myths nominates as album of the month a recording of the act, as found on YouTube.

The video below features such quotable worthy and delightful gems as:

“and now for the numbers:
one is Clair de lune,
and the other one... isn’t."

"Clair de lune...
English translation:
'Clear the Saloon!' ”

and humorous ascriptions to members of JS Bach’s enormous family (the virile master of the baroque and his wives were notoriously fertile, giving life to some twenty offspring):

"Bach? Which one? Johann Sebastian
... or Offen?"

Whilst in between many a storied (and compulsively interrupted) performances at the piano, the Clown Prince takes to endearing his audience with his very own historical expertise of composers past, through the use of highly informative biographical sound bytes, which Borge delivers to his unassuming audience with all of the - er...finesse - of a most learned musical historian:

"and now Brahms
Joey Brahms! -
...spelled backwards 
"Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky:
... Pete was born in Votkinsk, May 7th, 1840.
When he was a little boy, he never played out in the streets of Votkinsk like the other little children of Votkinsk
…because when Tchaikovsky was one month old his parents moved to St. Petersburg!"
The video: Comedy in Music, as performed by Victor Borge, in two parts:

[1] Source (quote): Wikipedia - Comedy in Music

More on Victor Borge:


A legend has sadly passed: Sir Neville Marriner, British conductor and Founder / President of the illustrious chamber orchestra known as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields quietly left this musical sphere in the somnolent hours of Sunday October 2, 2016 at his home in London at the advanced age of 92 years.

Marriner, arguably one of the most important and influential conductors of the present generation, began a most notable musical career as violinist for the LSO immediately following the outbreak of WWII a turbulent period in which the then 17-year-old Lincoln native briefly left his studies at the Royal College of Music in London to serve in a reconnaissance role in the British Army before returning to the college and eventually to the much esteemed Paris Conservatoire to continue his studies in 1943 following injuries sustained whilst serving.

By 1958 Marriner had founded the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, a historically informed Chamber Orchestra - originally envisioned for performing and recording the baroque repertoire – to substantial critical acclaim.

The musician-turned-conductor Neville Marriner would become Sir Neville in 1985 after he was officially Knighted for his service to music.

Coincidentally, the honor bestowed to the newly inducted chevalier came just one year after the release of the smash-hit period-piece Amadeus – an American drama film based on British playwright Peter Shaffer’s 1979 stage play of the same name which set to the movie screen an account of the mythical legend of the Mozart-Salieri liaison dangereuse.

It would be through this most excellent and highly entertaining quasi-biopic that thousands of newcomers to the world of Classical Music would become introduced to composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri - and indeed the art form of Classical Music and Opera itself - though Sir Neville’s most enduring contribution to the film’s soundtrack: one was almost guaranteed to come away from the film humming a newly familiar tune – sparking a further interest into music's most fascinating genre.

As Classical Music fans, we are forever indebted to his service.

“It is miraculous:”