Wednesday Music: Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz

I have something a bit different for you today, everyone. Today’s piece is the Blue Danube Waltz, Op. 314 by Johann Strauss II. Here’s a bit about it.

  • Even though it’s one of the most popular classical music pieces, it was not an initial success, which disappointed the composer.
  • There is both a choral version and an instrumental version. I prefer the instrumental version, so that’s what I’ve put in this post.
  • The piece is so associated with Vienna that it is sort of an unofficial Austrian anthem. It is broadcast every year on New Year’s Eve on all public radio and television stations in the country, and is often an encore piece at the Vienna New Year’s Concert. (In fact, the video is from the 2010 broadcast of the concert!)


Or click here to see on YouTube.

All Quiet On The Eastern Front

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post called Is Reading The News Bad For You? Since then, I have not read the news. I haven’t opened Google News in English at all. I have rarely opened Google News in Russian and the few times I did, I scrolled right past the allegedly important stuff at the top so I could read the cultural section. And I haven’t even done that for the past two weeks. I think I’ve pretty much managed to cut the news out of my life.

Honestly, a part of me hates that. (The other part of me is enjoying the peace and quiet that comes from not following news events!) In a way, I really miss reading the news, especially Russia-related stuff. It’s not so much the news specifically that I miss reading, but the fact that I read it as a Russia watcher. Being a Russia watcher was a part of my identity for a while and I enjoyed it immensely.

That is, until I discovered that independence of thought is not rewarded in circles where Russia watching is required for one’s job. It’s their way or the highway, as the saying goes. If you don’t loathe Putin and worship the opposition, there isn’t really a place for you. Amateur Russia watching on the internet then became increasingly toxic after the war in Ukraine started. So despite missing this part of my life, I don’t think I’ll return to being a Russia watcher anytime soon.

The reason is simple: without intensely reading the news, especially articles about Russia, I have a lot more time to do other things now. I’m studying for a professional certification exam (which isn’t that much fun but hopefully will help my career), playing violin, and writing. I don’t feel the pressure to blog about stuff I’ve read concerning Russia—because I haven’t read anything!

Unfortunately, my Russian studies have taken a bit of a hit during this news fast. I didn’t realize how much I relied on the news to learn new words in Russian until I stopped reading the news. I do have a plan, though. I’m reading a novel in Russian and plan to read more books about history. As it turns out, there are quite a number of interesting books about Russian history that I’d like to read. Western scholarship may have been freer for a greater number of years, but it is not without its problems, and besides, Russian scholars have written a ton of stuff in the decades since the Soviet Union fell. I’m also considering starting a blog in Russian on LiveJournal (because that’s where the Russian-speaking blogging community hangs out).

All is quiet on the eastern front, everyone. And honestly, overall I’m enjoying it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go crochet, or read, or play violin, or do something more fulfilling than opening up the Google News homepage that I used to frequent.

Wednesday Music: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, “Moonlight”

I’ve been on a whole Beethoven kick recently. I’ve been listening to his violin concerto (which was featured on Wednesday Music once) and some of his piano concertos, too. (Number 5 was also featured on Wednesday Music). This week’s piece is another Beethoven piece, one that a lot of people know about: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, which is popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata. Here’s a little bit about it.

  • Beethoven wrote this piece in 1801 and even then, it was a very popular work.
  • It was nicknamed the Moonlight Sonata by a German music critic after Beethoven’s death. I’ve noticed there seems to be a trend of pieces getting their nicknames after the composer’s death—or at least not from the composers themselves.
  • Like many classical sonatas, this one has three movements, two fast and one slow. Unlike many, it doesn’t follow the traditional order for these movements. Most sonatas have the form of fast-slow-[fast]-fast (sometimes there are four movements, hence the optional fast movement in brackets). The Moonlight Sonata has a slow-fast-fast structure, which is atypical.


Or click here to watch on YouTube.

Read My Guest Post At Language Base Camp!

I have a fabulous guest post up at a new language learning blog called Language Base Camp. When Adam, the founder, approached me about writing for the blog, I knew I had to say yes. So if you want to learn how to get started learning Russian, head over and take a look!

The Book Quote Challenge: Day 3

the master and margarita

Today, my friends, is the last day of this book quote challenge. If you missed the first two posts in the series, here’s part 1 and part 2.

I had to choose something really unique to finish this off, so here goes. Today’s quote is from Mikhail Bulgakov’s magnum opus The Master and Margarita. I’ve read it multiple times in Russian and in English. This is right at the beginning of the novel, when two characters—ordinary Muscovites—are talking to a very strange visitor they’ve just met. It is the strange visitor who says this.

“Yes, man is mortal, but that would only be half the trouble. The worst of it is that he’s sometimes unexpectedly mortal—there’s the trick! And generally he’s unable to say what he’s going to do this same evening.”

I can’t really say too much about this quote without giving away a very important aspect of the plot (and I don’t want to do that, as I’m hoping some of you will read the book—the O’Connor/Burgin translation is the best I’ve seen in English), but it was the first quote I ever heard from the book. My professor in first-year Russian recited it to us and I was hooked. Yes, the book has such cult status in Russia that some people can recite bits from it.

For this last day in the challenge, I tag Christina from The Rolling Writer. I know she’s been under the weather lately, but her latest blog entry implies she’ll be feeling better soon, so I hope it’s okay I’ve tagged you, Christina. Obviously there’s no rush to post—just do it when you can.

For those who don’t know Christina, she’s a fellow writer who just published her first book. She likes history and foreign languages and other good things I like, so her blog is always fun to read.

The Book Quote Challenge: Day 2

A nice cover, but the protagonist doesn't actually look like this...
A nice cover, but the protagonist doesn’t actually look like this…

Yes, I know that yesterday should have been Day 2 of the book quote challenge, being that Friday was Day 1. I was busy running errands and didn’t get around to posting, so today has become Day 2. As I wrote in my prior post in this series, the challenge is to post a favorite book quote for three days and tag a new person to start posting each day.

Today’s quote comes from another favorite book of mine, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin. It’s the first in a young adult trilogy called Birthright. Unfortunately, the other two books in the series are terrible and I wouldn’t recommend them at all, so normally I just pretend that this one stands alone. I’ve written about this book before, too.

Anyway, a bit of context for this quote. The protagonist, Anya, lives in New York City in 2083, when things are terribly corrupt, the country is messed up, and chocolate is banned, just like alcohol was during Prohibition. Anya’s father is a Russian mafia boss and her family is wealthy from illegally distributing chocolate in the United States.

Our country had only chosen chocolate because the people in power needed to pick something, and chocolate was what they could live without. Daddy once said, “Every generation spins the wheel, Anya, and where it lands defines ‘the good.’ Funny thing is, they never know that they’re spinning it, and it hits something different every time.”

I’ve always liked this passage. In the book, it occurs at a section when Anya is comparing the chocolate ban to Prohibition, but I think it applies to things going on in our time as well. My generation, the Millennials (I think I’m a Millennial) has its various causes célèbres that people latch onto. This isn’t unique to people living today, of course. For example, conducting séances used to be a really big deal in the nineteenth century. It was a fad—a very popular fad—and tons of people did it. Eventually it fell out of fashion and today, hardly anyone does that sort of thing anymore. I’m sure a lot of the ideas that are fads today will similarly be forgotten in fifty or a hundred years.

Within the context of the book, I like that quote because it gives depth to the character of Anya’s father. Normally, you’d expect a character who’s a mafia boss not to be someone you’d sympathize with, but this book is different.

Today, I’m tagging Amy from Ten Penny Dreams, an excellent blog I love. Amy calls herself a “literary lifestyle blogger,” which I think is a great description of what her blog is like. She lives in the north of England and always has interesting posts about what life is like there.

The last day of the challenge is tomorrow! I have a couple books in mind but I’m not sure which I’ll choose my quote from…

The Book Quote Challenge: Day 1

i curse the river of time

I’ve been tagged in a cute challenge by Emily of A Cup of English Tea. Emily is a writer of fiction, blogger, violinist, pianist, and all-around nice and cool person. I think I met her via the #WritingChallenge group on Twitter (I’ve mentioned this group before—basically, it’s a group of people who write and encourage others who are writing by connecting through a monthly hashtag) and I’ve been following her blog ever since.

Anyway, the challenge is pretty straightforward: post a quote from a book, write about it, and tag a person each day. This goes for just three days, so nothing too arduous.

The quote for today comes from Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time. (Very, very dedicated, long-term readers may remember I blogged about this book years ago.) The quote I’ve chosen is a bit long, so bear with me. It comes from the beginning of the book, describing the narrator’s mother and her visit to a cemetery where some of her family members are buried.

Three years earlier her father had been buried (irritable and impatient as he always had been) in the Fladstrand Church cemetery that bordered the lovely park, Plantagen, which shared with the cemetery its trees, shared its beech and ash and maple, in the same plot where her mother, wide eyed and confused, had lain down almost willingly two years before, where her brother had lain for thirty-five years, dazed and unwillingly after too short a life.

A dove was looking down from atop the family gravestone. It was made from metal so it could not fly away, but sometimes it went missing all the same and only a spike would remain. Someone had taken that dove, someone out there maybe had an entire collection of doves and angels and other small, Christian bronze sculptures in a cupboard at home and on long evenings would close the curtains and take them out and run his fingers gently over the smooth, cold bodies.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. I love that passage so much. I love the language in the first paragraph describing her family who are already buried there. I love the description of the dove and the idea that someone keeps a collection of the sculptures in his house. The whole book is infused with the same sad tone that colors this excerpt. It’s actually a really sad book, now that I think about it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read it, though. It’s such a good book. Plus, it’s translated from Norwegian and I feel like it’s my mission in life (along with exposing people to classical music) to get people in my country (the United States) to read more literature from foreign countries.

For the challenge today, I tag Kiera from Chapters in Flux. Kiera is another writer I met through the #WritingChallenge group, though she’s not American like Emily and I are—she’s Australian!

Stay tuned for the next post in this series. I promise that quote will be slightly less depressing than this one.