Simanaitis Says

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MUSICAL (AND SOCIETAL) SUCCESS STORIES PART 1

MUSIC CAN HAVE a beneficial influence on society, even sometimes a happy one. This came to mind recently when I heard the full story of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ charming little “Farewell to Stromness.” Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits on this and other musical/societal interactions.

Haydn’s Surprise and Farewell. Already recounted here in Composers’ Calling Cards are symphonies by Franz Josef Haydn that had profound influence on those around him: His Surprise Symphony No. 94 jarred his audience from mid-concert dozing. 

Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732–1809, Austrian composer of the Classical period. Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1791.

Even more impressive, his Farewell Symphony No. 45 persuaded patron Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy, that enough was enough, and orchestra members should be allowed to return to their families in Eisenstadt after an overly long gig at the Estersháza summer palace.

Woodstock. More than 400,000 people assembled on August 15–18, 1969, for an “Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music.” The venue was Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, New York, about 100 miles north-northwest of New York City. Woodstock Ventures had been formed in January 1969; a potential venue included Woodstock, New York, about 60 miles northeast of the eventual Bethel, New York, choice.

Hendrix’s “National Anthem.” One of Woodstock’s high points was Jimi Hendrix’s rock rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” part of his two-hour set on Woodstock’s last day.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, his guitar’s sounds conveying an intense anti-war message. Image from Stars and Stripes.

Controversial though it was, about a month later Hendrix told talk show host Dick Cavett, “… all I did was play it. I’m American, so I played it.” Cavett reminded viewers that Hendrix had served in the 101st Airborne Division. 

In retrospect, Woodstock promoter Michael Lang said on MSNBC in 2009, “This wasn’t anti-American sentiment. It was anti-war sentiment. He brought it home to us in a way nobody ever had.”

A Personal Note. At the time, I was pretty much apolitical, having celebrated my newly minted mathematics Ph.D. Nevertheless, I was (and still am) moved by Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers of America.” 

Grace Slick at Woodstock. Image from cbc.ca.

Grace Slick is memorable too in “White Rabbit” (Alice’s Charles Dodgson was a mathematician too).

Tomorrow in Part 2, there’s a town in the Orkneys, a uranium threat, and a consoling composer. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020  

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