Musical Interlude (“On the Path of Decent Groove”): Bombast

Your humble blogger is in even more of a “kick ass and take names” mood than usual, while stymied in terms of being able to act on that sentiment. For instance, while the doctors and the various therapists at my mother’s current hospital are terrific, the nurses are another story. Two of many offenses: they abandoned her on the toilet, so long she started falling asleep, which means she could have fallen off and cracked her skull open. Another time they left her in a wheelchair (not comfortable!) with the call device out of reach. At most hospitals and nursing homes, that’s a firing offense. So bombast is therapeutic.

To me, bombast benefits from noisy choruses. But to each his own!

As much as I love Carmina Burana and the particularly overwrought parts of The Ring cycle, like the Ride of the Valkeries or Brünnhilde’s Immolation scene in Götterdämmerung), I know both have detractors. So perhaps more of you will enjoy these selections.

Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander Nevsky, The Fight on the Ice. This clip from the movie is longer than the symphonic version, but even with primitive staging by modern standards, many sections are moving. Prokofiev composed his score from the rough cut of the film.

Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Commendatore (the final scene). Don Giovanni, who per Mozart is really scummy, goes to hell!

Speaking of choruses, this one from the finale of Les Miserables produces a gratifying wall of sound:

And how can we overlook Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem “Dies irae”:

I have to throw in Igor Kutroy’s Olympico, written for and sung by Dimash, because Dimash, the staging, and also because everyone performing appears to be having a grand time. But interspersing the male and female chorus members has to have made their jobs more difficult.

If you are too pressed to listen to Dimash’s lush baritone, at least tune in starting at 4:20 to hear the finale.

And speaking of Verdi, Gilbert and Sullivan’s seldom performed Princess Ida (because it has three rather than two acts, hence usually three rather than two sets, plus two soprano and tenor soloists versus the usual one of each) has a sendup of Verdi finales at the end of the second act. I’m providing the entire scene but the nod to Verdi starts at 6:00:

And as much as I am a choral music fan, they aren’t essential to packing a punch:

Hector Berlioz – Symphonie fantastique, marche au supplice

And of course Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra

I’ve admittedly focused on warhorses, but there does tend to be selection bias. Bombastic compositions usually require powerful sound, which then usually means a full orchestra and/or chorus, meaning you can’t produce them on a shoestring. And professional music groups find it necessary to salt their performances with enough crowd-pleasers to fill seats.

That’s a long-winded way of saying personal faves, particularly not as well trafficked ones, very much appreciated!

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  1. ambrit

    Modernists will probably agree on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a ‘new’ iteration of bombastic production values. A standard sized rock group produces a ‘large’ sound. Also, who can resist a piece that encouraged so many parodies and send ups? Imagine “Bohemian Rhapsody” done by a proper orchestra with chorus.
    Sorry to hear about your Mom’s travails ‘inside.’ It was ever thus. When my Dad had his hemorrhoids surgically “fixed,” way back in the 1960s, at one point the nurses forgot him in the heated bath. The water eventually became cold and he says he found out the hard way just how deaf hospital staff were. This was also the time when he was, you cannot make this up, woken up to take his sleeping pill. Schedules, you know.
    Stay safe, and maintain.

        1. lyman alpha blob

          Aaah I love Richard Harris. He and O’Toole were my favorites on the late nite talk show circuit back in the day. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s some non-musical bombast you may enjoy from Harris on the majesty of royalty v. a simple presidency. The first 40 seconds or so is one of my favorite scenes from any movie –

  2. The Rev Kev

    Sorry also to hear about what is happening with your mother. Perhaps she could have a pea whistle to remind those nurses that hey, I’m still here. Or maybe just have your mother to individually ask those nurses their names to make an impression on them if she still can.

    But I see that we have a Wagnerian among us. Inspector Morse would be pleased. Lots of interesting selections today to listen too. I was thinking of another piece of music here as an addition called ‘Ode to Joy’ from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as another piece of music. It has been named the ‘Anthem of Europe’ by the EU but here is a more interesting version of this song- (5:48 mins)

    1. Tom Stone

      Thanks for the link, Rev.
      That is my favorite performance of the 9th.
      It will always remind me that Humans do have redeeming qualities..
      Phillippe Halle’s “Lest Innocent Blood be shed” is another reminder that there is good as well as evil and that they can both manifest quite starkly in this weird and wonderful World.

  3. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I’m not sure bombast is the right word to apply to barrages of percussion, but in 74/75/77 I saw 2 bands in London & i in Manchester, with an older cousin that got me hooked on it. The first was the Nigerian band Osibisa – kinda Afro – rock, great brass section & lead rock guitar & bass, but the bombardment form the percussionists was incredible, as was the case with Santana up North, who had Earth, Wind & Fire as a pretty amazing warm up band. Finally Weather Report on the Black Market tour which had the appropriate barrage in place for that album.

    I played bongos in a band for a short while until the drummer had a bit of a disagreement with the ego on legs lead singer & that was the end of that. My classical collection is for the most part on the soothing side & mainly contains the likes of Debussy, Faure, Ravel & Ralph Vaughan Williams – perhaps an antidote to the above which I don’t listen to as much as I used to.

    Sorry to hear that in regard to your Mother Yves & I have been lucky in relation to my late wife & Mother, the former had brilliant care both in England & Ireland from all medical staff & this has also been & so far is still the case with my Mum in England.

  4. ChiGal in Carolina

    The word bombast immediately brought to mind Tom Jones. Here he is singing Delilah on the Ed Sullivan show. Probably it is the greatest musical embarrassment of my life that in junior high I developed quite a passion for his overwrought stylings. I do still love the timbre of his voice though!

    We approach the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. She was a great opera buff.

    1. wilroncanada

      Man to his psychologist, “I have this earworm that wakes me up time and again at all hours of the night. I keep hearing ‘The Green Green grass of Home,’ and it’s driving me crazy!”
      Psychologist, “it sounds to me like you have a case of Tom Jones syndrome.”
      Man, “Is it rare?’
      Psychologist, “It’s Not Unusual.”

  5. David

    Here’s a very different kind of powerful sound: the forty part (!) Motet Spem in Alium by the sixteenth century composer Thomas Tallis. It’s not certain that it was ever performed in Tallis’s lifetime, but here it is performed by The Sixteen (with some of their mates) conducted by Harry Christophers.
    It’s one of the most powerful and sublime pieces of music in history.

  6. lyman alpha blob

    Not sure if ‘bombast’ if the best descriptor of the music itself, but I think it describes Khatia Buniatishvili’s style pretty well as a pianist. She plays with a lot of emotion, energy and a certain haughtiness and watching her mid-concerto you’re never quite sure whether she’ll just finish up her solo or maybe get up and punch out a flautist first. Here she is with the Israeli Philharmonic –

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The lyrics are pretty bizarre but I am pretty sure that song was written for the World Skills event, which features young talent in Russian and former Soviet bloc states, both athletic and artistic. But the piece does show off Dimash’s voice.

    1. Antagonist Muscles

      Bombast, eh? American Heritage says bombast is “Grandiose or overpowering expression, as in music or painting.” I love Mozart’s Requiem conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. I describe this piece as epic grandeur.

      Since we are on the topic of mothers, classical music, and Mozart, let me share my experience with a live performance of Mozart’s Requiem, which incidentally is shrouded in mystery and only partially composed by Mozart because of his sudden death.

      Before I saw the live orchestra, I knew about the auditory grandeur of Mozart’s requiem from listening at home. The visual grandeur caught me unexpected. A male chorus, a female chorus, horns, trumpets, drums. tenor, soprano – all together, there were fifty people on stage.

      I just listen to classical music; I have no idea how it works. Nonetheless, the conductor deserves special mention. When the conductor started, I thought his gesticulations were dramatized for effect (like Bugs Bunny), but he conducted with intense vigor for 50 minutes. His tuxedo was certainly soaked with sweat by the end.

      I saw Mozart’s Requiem with my mother because I have no other friends who listen to classical music. A young mother and her two sons (aged 8-11) sat directly in front of us. By the time the opening symphony, whose name escapes me, finished, the two kids were conked out. They slept through the entire main event. My mom said, “What a waste of money! I can’t believe they slept through the whole show.”

      I remarked to my mother that this was not a waste of money. This young mother was essentially saying, “This is Mozart! This stuff is important. Listen. Appreciate. Emulate. You can’t spend your time watching steroided men smash their skulls together in a football game. Don’t be an unsophisticated fool.”

      My mom almost certainly did not notice my insinuation. “Hey Mom, now that I am older and wiser, let me point out that Mozart is important. You can’t spend your time sitting around gossiping and staring at your phone. Don’t be an unsophisticated fool.”

  7. Larry Y

    I was part of the chorus performing Honegger’s King David. The arrangement called for a large chorus, and a full sized pipe organ. Had to be full sized, since some of the low notes were not really heard, but felt. It just rumbled through the concert hall.

    I also want to point Verdi’s even more famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Nabucco, va pensiero).

  8. ObjectiveFunction

    Ha, great topic here!

    One could joyously march off to two world wars and a police action in the time it would take to play the collected bombastic (or at least florid) works of the Romantic and Nationalist composers, and their contemporaries. To wit: Grieg, Sibelius, Dvorak, Kodaly, Khachaturian, Mussorgsky, Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Borodin, Britten, Holst, Elgar, Berlioz, Saint Saens, Brahms, Mahler, both Strausses….

    A personal favorite (you may know it from ‘There Will Be Blood’), played by a thoroughly bombastic artist, Hilary Hahn: Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, 3rd Movement

    And for encore, Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights”

    1. griffen

      I’ve seen the above named film several instances. If memory serves that is played after the movie ends? And the very famous ending from the bowling alley in the Plainview mansion.

      “I drink your milkshake!”. Incredible well done film.

  9. Thomas Neuburger

    Another. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” from Berlin Babylon.

    The lyrics are especially striking. From the end (my translation):

    You’re choosing for us now
    A world of happiness
    And pain
    But how can I complain?

    Your death is very near
    And yet your eye is clear
    Look at me
    I am free
    Give me immortality


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