Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Midnight Blue

In the early 1982, I heard a curious song on the radio.

I was twelve. My parents liked it too. I guess I wasn't old enough yet for that to kill the deal.

Here it is. Midnight Blue by Louise Tucker. Do you happen to recognize the melody?

(This fan video is actual better than the original, uber-hokey video from 1982. Some intense images...but that ending really turned my head around. Jesus shows up? Whoa. But I digress.)

Roll forward seven years. I was a freshman in college trying to take some good advice. I was getting out and seeing performances and lectures and extra things like that (I could have done more). I attended a Beethoven pianoforte concert, the instrument that Beethoven composed on. (The piano as we know it today wasn't quite invented yet.)

Anyway, along came a sonata in three movements. Pathetique. I was moderately interested. But when the second movement came, the adagio cantabile, my breath caught. I knew that! Thanks to Louise Tucker!

This piece of music ranks as one of the beautiful melodies ever written. It still hits me, even after hearing it countless times. But this performance by Freddie Kempf is truly stunning. As one of the video commenters on YouTube said so perfectly: "Most people who play piano are capable of playing this song, playing it at this level however is truly amazing. It's in the subtleties [and] anyone who has tried to play it can hear this! Special performance, very controlled!"

I can't agree more. Of all the versions I've heard, this is the one performance where the pianist transcends everything holding him down. He utterly "gets it." It's a piece that can become very mechanical when you play it. It takes a touch of something dark and sweet to lift the melody and dance its slow melancholy waltz.

I also think this piece has one of the most genius, simple, and enchanting endings ever. Like the end of a fanciful reflection. The pieces of the daydream are laid to rest.

Respect, Beethoven.


Stephen Parrish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Parrish said...

Laughter may be the best medicine, but music is right on its heels. Thanks, Jason.

Karen said...

"It takes a touch of something dark and sweet to lift the melody and dance its slow melancholy waltz."

What beautiful language -- and truth about so many things.

Thanks for my morning music. Beautiful!

Shadow said...

you have so piqued my interest. will have to remember to come back when i'm at home and have speakers.... lemme tie a knot somewhere...

PhilipH said...

Superb piece. I once heard this played at a concert in Mellerstain House. An audience of just 80 were spellbound.

The clip you provided is wonderful; to witness a live performance is truly emotional and moving. To see and hear the pianist perform takes me to a higher level. Cannot stop tears from forming; very moving.

the walking man said...

Not quite up there with Ode to Joy but the Pathetique has always ranked in my top 5 Beethoven pieces.

"I was twelve. My parents liked it too. I guess I wasn't old enough yet for that to kill the deal."

Too funny Jason...i wonder how many deals I have killed for my kids over the years.

Catherine Vibert said...

You know Jason, weird things happen. I haven't listened to Beethoven in a long long time, but JUST yesterday, I put him on. This version of Sonata #30:
is sublime, Mitsuko is an amazing pianist, so incredibly passionate and sensitive. She handles this beautifully.

Something about his slow movements such as this one, just are almost archetypal in their accessibility. He struggled so hard to make strong melodies with as few notes as possible. My personal fav is the adagio in Symphony #7. Everytime I hear it I break into tears.

Sarah Hina said...


In the Beethoven, I almost can't bear the tenderness of the slow sections. No one touches the pain of beauty like our friend, Ludwig.

Thank you for sharing this, Jason.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, I just heard about a study which found that listening to your favorite music has just as much effect as medication in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels. I was a bit surprised by the cholesterol bit, but I can believe it.

Karen, you're very welcome, my friend. I'm glad that you can heard that waltz too. :)

Shadow, I hope you enjoy it!

PhilipH, I can feel the hush of the spellbound audience. And I'm with you on the tears forming. It's remarkable when the effect of listening just won't wear off.

Walking Man, to this day, I can't stand "We Built This City" by Starship. God, my parents loved that song. That's the difference with being older, I guess. Their uncoolness grew.

Catvibe, I can always count on your musical sensitivities, and greater skills than my own. :) I'm going to delve into each of those pieces.

Sarah, isn't Freddie's rendition spectacular? I always sensed the genius of Beethoven's composition, but then to pair it with a genius interpretation, it really is almost unbearable. But in an achingly beautiful way.

mukta said...

Hi Jason,
What a beautiful piece. You are right the performance is excellent. I love Freddy's expression, that slight furrow on his forehead and the dainty little dent of a dimple on his cheek! It does seem controlled and carefully executed.
I always love listening closely to live performances, that slight ruffle of someone shifting in their soft muslin dress, everyone still and alert to each note, you can almost hear them breathing quietly to create this space for the music to flourish! Thanks for this~

lucy said...

That was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Aparajita said...

Well, quite surprisingly, my latest post on my personal blog is titled Midnight Blue also, but of course it's very different from this one. Found this a very interesting read, together with great music.

Anonymous said...

Mutka, I smiled when you mentioned the audience. I felt the same thing. The space. The presence. Thank you. :)

Lucy, you're very welcome!

Aparajita, I'll have to see your take on midnight blue