Musical Memories

Since quitting the bowels of the demented bureaucracy, I’ve kept a bit of background noise, both at home and in my truck, by sticking to a pleasant, advertizing-free radio station. It not only keeps me amused but makes me thankful, during the morning and afternoon traffic reports, for no longer having to endure the foibles and stupidities of people who shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel.

Because of the political garbage permeating virtually everything in the last few weeks, I’ve switched my radio allegiance to a station broadcasting classical music instead of opinions, editorials, and other idiocies. It’s as much a matter of taste as it is a question of health. I quit the bureaucracy to escape a life dominated by high blood pressure and bathing in politics would only keep me popping pills that much longer. In the process, by listening to the soothing sounds of masterpieces from a past that didn’t exude the unpleasantness of Anno Domini 2016 (although it had unpleasantness of its own), I rediscovered a pair of gems that aren’t as well-known as they should be.

The first, a little melody deserving so much more recognition is called “Vltava” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. It is better known by its Germanic name, “The Moldau.” The Vltava is the longest river in the Czech Republic and is commonly referred to as the Czech national river. I was first introduced to Smetana’s enchanting composition by my mother at a very young age and even now, almost five decades later, it still evokes unexpected emotions. One of the few memories I have of being a small child is asking my mother to play the Moldau. The last movement in particular still touches me in a way few musical pieces can.

The other piece, Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem “Pines of Rome,” is an understated musical gem that doesn’t get much airtime, so I was enchanted to hear it on the radio a few days ago. I can’t quite remember when or how I was first introduced to it, save that it hooked me immediately. I suppose having studied Roman history in large part through Edward Gibbon’s seminal work “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” gives it a greater significance in my eyes.

Listening to both compositions, I can easily visualize the influence Smetana and Respighi had on their modern musical descendants, in particular those creating soundtracks for the movies. They’re not the only ones, of course. Gustav Holst, for example, has inspired such great contemporary composers as John Williams of Star Wars fame, among many others, but if you listen carefully, you’ll find that the two underrated composers whose works I’ve rediscovered still resonate long after their deaths.

And no, my life hasn’t been all classical music or home renovations (though the workshop rebuild is finished!). My final revision of Howling Stars (Decker’s War Book 4) is almost complete, and publication is but a few day away.

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