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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Your Cure For a Bad Day in Three Minutes

An appreciation of Gassenhauer by Carl Orff.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The composer Carl Orff (right) in the classroom.
If, like me, you spend time in between interactions with this particular blog by watching too many movies, you may have at some point run across this short piece of music:

I first heard this piece as incidental music in the Quentin Tarantino-written film True Romance, a brutally violent road movie about two young lovers who steal a briefcase full of cocaine from Christopher Walken and Gary Oldman and suffer the consequences. It played over the closing credits as Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (the two young lovers) celebrated with their newborn child Elvis. On the soundtrack it was listed as "You're So Cool" by the composer Hans Zimmer.

As the music played in the college lecture hall that doubled as a movie theater on the first floor of Keating Hall at Fordham, the dancing, playful percussion served as a kind of psychic bandage, a needed major-key consolation after all the mayhem onscreen. (To be fair, this was my first Tarantino movie.)

The music showed up again in a 2000 Gus Van Sant film, Finding Forrester, this time accompanying Sean Connery as a reclusive writer who decided to take a bicycle ride through the South Bronx in the middle of the picture. Here, as before it spoke of freedom and the open road, and that while life may be difficult it is ultimately worth living.

A few years ago, at my girlfriend's sister's house in Connecticut, her brother-in-law was playing a record for their young child. I leapt out of my seat. "That's it! I know that! What is this?" He replied: "It's from the Schulwerk by Carl Orff." I hurried over to the turntable (he's a vinyl aficionado and former deejay) and my jaw dropped. The mystery music was indeed by Orff, and was titled Gassenhauer, a "street song" written entirely for percussion ensemble. (Mr. Zimmer had re-arranged this work for the film.)

This was Carl Orff? The "O Fortuna" guy? The same Carl Orff who wrote Carmina Burana, a work that I've never bothered to conceal my disdain for? The Orff whose opera Antigonae sends critics and operagoers alike running for the exits? It turns out that Orff was very interested in writing music to educate young people. (You can read more about that here.)

Which brings me to my next point. The world lost the comic insanity of Robin Williams yesterday, a man whose 63 years on this planet made millions of people laugh, cry, and buckle helplessly in their seats. His voice is silenced but there is still room for joy in this world.

So go listen to the link shared above. I promise you will feel better three minutes later.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats