Tuesday, May 22, 2007


One more from Previn

I know, I shouldn't keep skimming the cream from No Minor Chords, it's the kind of parasitical procedure that gives bloggers a bad name. Try and stop me! Damn the torpedoes! Here's the uber-anecdote from André Previn's memoir, which so effectively encapsulates the author's love-hate relationship with Hollywood vulgarity that he named the book after it.
He was the model for Scott Fitzgerald's Last Tycoon, and is generally held to have been an awesome figure of intellect, taste, and drive, and the old-timers in Hollywood still speak of him as a sort of combination Ziegfield and Teilhard de Chardin. It is entirely possible that he was a beacon of enlightenment but when it came to music his fund of information was minuscule. One day, the story goes, he was in his projection room running a new MGM film when something on the sound track bothered him. "What is that?" he asked irritably into the darkness. "What is that in the music? It's awful, I hate it!"

The edge in his voice required an answer, even if that answer was untainted by knowledge. One of his minions leaped forward. "That's a minor chord, Mr. Thalberg," he offered. The next day, an inter-office memo arrived in the music department with instructions to post it conspicuously. It read as follows: "From the above date onward, no music in an MGM film is to contain a 'minor chord'." Signed, "IRVING THALBERG." When I left the studio for the last time, twenty-five years after this missive's arrival, it was still on the wall in the music department, under glass and heavily bolted. I must now confess that I actually tried to get the thing off the wall with a heavy-duty screwdriver, but nothing would budge the rusted screws.
Previn was quoted in a promotional video I saw last night, praising the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke's. I love chamber orchestras in general--you just don't get that feathery intimacy and crisp footprint from a big fat ensemble--and this one is at the top of the list. The benefit was black tie. Fifteen minutes before it was time to leave, I was groping around for my cuff links and wondering how I would get the cat hair off my tuxedo pants. I gave up, went in mufti, and felt like a 9-year-old sneaking into a circus tent. Wynton Marsalis said a few words. Barbara Feldon said a few words. Yes, that's right, Barbara Feldon, still looking and sounding remarkably like Agent 99 from Get Smart, where her PG-rated sensuality was always at loggerheads with Don Adams's perpetual adolescence. We never grow up. The orchestra played the Marriage of Figaro overture and was joined by mezzo Kate Lindsey for "Voi che sapete" and "Non so più cosa son" and I believe I heard a couple of minor chords in there. Mozart breaks the rules, of course, making his minor triads smile in a pained sort of way when he's so inclined. Still, Irving Thalberg was probably spinning in his grave.

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