Wednesday Music: Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor

This week’s piece is one that I’ve seen performed in concert. No matter how much I enjoy listening to recordings, there’s something about a live performance that brings up one’s enjoyment of the music to another level. I heard this piece performed by going on an outing sponsored by my university for first-year students.

Anyway, enough about that. Here’s a bit about the music.

  • The composer, Sergei Rachmaninov (his last name is sometimes spelled Rachmaninoff), wrote this concerto in 1909 when he was still living in Russia. (He later fled the country due to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.) It’s considered one of the most technically challenging piano concertos in standard repertoire.
  • Rachmaninov himself premiered the concerto in the United States in November of 1909. He couldn’t practice it before leaving Russia, which meant that he didn’t really get to practice it much at all before performing it.
  • One odd thing I’ve always noticed about the recordings is Rachmaninov’s 1939 recording is at a noticeably faster tempo than recordings by people who aren’t the composer. I don’t know if there’s a reason for this or not, as I’m not a pianist and don’t have the strong connection with piano music that I do with violin music.

Since it’s by a Russian composer, I couldn’t help but pick a video with a Russian playing the solo part. ;)

Or click here to watch on YouTube.

If you want to hear Rachmaninov’s own recording, click here. It’s audio-only and the quality isn’t that great since it’s old.

Announcing A Retirement

No, I’m not retiring from my job—I obviously don’t have nearly enough money to do that yet—nor am I retiring from blogging (though I actually have considered doing that, too). I’m retiring from an activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the past six and half years. Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve come to an inevitable conclusion: I can’t blog about politics anymore, especially the stuff relating to Russia/Eurasia/Eastern Europe.

Let me emphasize that: I just can’t do it anymore.

Over the years, I’ve gradually scaled back my politics blogging. Remember, before I had this blog, I wrote a different blog that was a lot more politically focused. Here’s a short timeline of my political interest and involvement:

  • 2007, middle: I start my first blog. It’s focused more on stuff like my pets than on politics.
  • 2007, late: I experience a “political awakening” almost overnight in which politics goes from boring to exciting. The awakening was a result of a controversy in a blogosphere in which I participated. To this day, I can still spout off facts about obscure European political parties that no one on this side of the Atlantic cares about.
  • 2008-2009: American politics becomes a lot less fun, but I’ve always like the international stuff more anyway, so I tend to stick to that.
  • 2011: I decide that I just don’t want to write my old blog anymore. I didn’t know this at the time, but I think this was the beginning of my politics burnout. I start a new blog that I intend to be less political… but I feel obliged to write some political stuff anyway.
  • 2012: American politics becomes even worse than before, which I didn’t think was possible. Depressing lesson learned: never say something is the worst it can get because it always could be worse.
  • 2013, end: Protests erupt in Ukraine. I’m in grad school by this time, so in between my studies, I follow them very closely.
  • 2014: beginning: After Viktor Yanukovych is forced out of power, Russia moves to retake Crimea. (I say “retake” because Crimea once was a part of Russia—the Russian Empire, to be exact.) With this real life incident, a war erupts on Twitter. (See explanation below for more details on the Twitter war.)
  • 2015: I decide that I am done with dealing with this stuff and stop following most English-language news relating to Russia.

Ever since all this stuff with Ukraine started—which was in November 2013, though it really, really started to pick up in the first months of 2014—the Russia-watching environment online has become incredibly toxic. (I’ve blogged about this before.) On any given day, you can observe the following exchanges between the pro-Russian side and the pro-Ukrainian side, usually taking place on Twitter:

  1. Someone on the pro-Russian side criticizes Poroshenko. This may be founded or unfounded criticism.
  2. Someone on the pro-Ukrainian side gets mad and calls the pro-Russians fascist Putinist thugs who are worse than dogs (or something to that extent).
  3. Someone of the pro-Russian side calls the pro-Ukrainians Banderites (after controversial Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera).
  4. Both sides devolve into a storm of ad hominem attacks, often using foul language. The original point is completely lost (assuming there was an original point, because often there wasn’t) and anyone who tries to step into the fray to point out that maybe both sides make good points, or this time a certain side is right, is dragged in and insulted, too.

As you can probably imagine, there’s precious little constructive dialogue going on. For example, if I pointed out that Stepan Bandera did kill a lot of innocent non-Ukrainian civilians (to my knowledge, this is a historical fact), the pro-Ukrainians would jump down my throat and call me a fascist (and sometimes worse). If I pointed out that confiscating private property in Crimea wasn’t a very nice or legal thing for Russia to do—well, as you can guess by now, the pro-Russians would pounce on me with equal fervor.

The problem is this whole “us vs. them” attitude that prevails. As long as that’s in place, independent thinking is discouraged because people are punished for not toeing the party line. And I’m sick of it.

I don’t really read English-language news anymore, at least when it relates to politics. I still read the Russian news because I want to keep up on my Russian, but I do my best to avoid anything relating to the Ukraine conflict. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to blog about, and I certainly don’t want to discuss it with anyone anymore.

The thing is, over the past year or so, I’ve found other hobbies that are a lot more important and more fulfilling to me than Russia blogging and Russia watching ever were. I’m getting more and more into my fiction writing, especially since I started the Writing Challenge. I’ve met a lot of people on Twitter who also are writing fiction, and they’re a lot nicer than most of the Russia watchers I know. I’ve started doing crafts, specifically knitting and crochet, again. I’m playing violin, too—not as much as I’d like since I’m busy with work, but half an hour of practice is better than nothing, I figure.

So what does this mean for my blog? I’m still going to be writing it, that’s for sure. It’s just that the focus may shift a bit. I want to get into foreign language blogging more. I love the Russian language, so I have a lot to say about that. I also plan to blog about language learning in general. I definitely want to blog about writing. And I’m sure I’ll come up with random things here and there, since I usually do.

To any readers who did read this blog for the politics, I’m sorry. I just really can’t do it anymore. Since making this decision to stop obsessively following politics, I have felt better and more content than I have in a long time. The Russia-watching people of the internet will get along fine without me, I’m sure. (And even if they didn’t, I’m kind of at the point of not caring anymore. Sorry.)

And now, I am going to go read a nice book that has absolutely nothing to do with politics, Russia, or a combination of the above topics.

The Best Line Ever Written

My friends, I have found the single best line ever written in a news article. Are you ready for this?

The FSB did not respond to a request for comment.

Remember, the FSB is one of the Russian intelligence services. It’s a successor to the KGB. The quote comes from this article. I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. I saw it at work and burst out laughing.

Wednesday Music: Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto

This week’s piece is a bit… different from what I usually post, mainly because it was written much, much later than the music I usually highlight. It also isn’t such a well-respected piece, which is sad. It’s certainly not my favorite concerto ever, but I don’t think it’s that terrible, either. It’s called the Warsaw Concerto and here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece was written for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight. It’s about World War II, which kind of makes me want to watch it. Plus I’d love to understand where the name comes from because without knowing any context, it sounds so silly.
  • The filmmakers wanted Rachmaninov to write the music for the film, but he declined, so Richard Addinsell was commissioned instead. He wrote the Warsaw Concerto, which is meant to sound like a Romantic piano concerto. Some people love it–and some have called it “bloody awful,” including British comedian Spike Milligan.
  • Regardless of what people have said about it later, it was all the rage in World War II-era Britain, which basically proves that people had much better taste in music back then. ;)

Or click here to see on YouTube

Enjoy! And if you’ve seen the film Dangerous Moonlight, let me know if it’s worth watching.

One Year Ago

I uninstalled the WordPress app on my phone because it wasn’t working right (seriously, it’s never worked right—what’s up with that, WordPress?) and forgot to reinstall it, so I couldn’t blog from work today. The horror, the horror!

Anyway, I was thinking earlier today and yesterday and I realized that my masters program graduation (that I didn’t attend) was one year ago as of this weekend. Isn’t that crazy? It doesn’t feel like one year has passed.

The State Of Wednesday Music

I didn’t post Wednesday Music this week because I was sick on Wednesday. I completely forgot about it.

Originally, this led me to wonder whether I should continue Wednesday Music. Is there any point in posting it? Do my readers actually listen to it? I know my mom does, but how about the rest of you? I was going to make a poll to determine the fate of Wednesday Music.

Then I read this book by Mark Bauerlein called The Dumbest Generation. In it, the author quotes a statistic that one in forty young people (I don’t remember the exact age range, but you get the idea) play a musical instrument. An extremely small number listen to classical music. And I realized that I am going to continue Wednesday Music. Classical music is amazing and I’m not going to give up my quest to get more people, no matter what age, to listen to it.

In short, yes, Wednesday Music will return next week. I’m going to schedule a post this weekend so even if I do get sick, I’ll have something to post anyway.

Foreign Service Update

Remember that Foreign Service Officer Test I took back in February? And how I passed and moved on to the next stage, the Personal Narrative Questions? Well, I heard from the people who evaluate all the aspirants’ questions.

And I didn’t pass.

This may sound like a strange statement to make, but I’m not really sad about it. The main emotion I feel actually is relief. I personally think the worst part of the entire process is all the waiting. You wait for three long weeks after taking the test. If you pass that, you wait six to eight weeks for the results of the narratives. And if you pass that, you have to wait to interview in person, but at least you find out your interview result at the end of the day. Though if you make it through the interview, there’s even more waiting while you’re on the register. (If you want a detailed explanation of the whole process, check out my post here.)

Basically, if I want to put in an application again, I have to wait a year. It doesn’t mean 365 calendar days; I just can’t sign up to take the test again until the first session next year since I took it during the first session this year. I’m not sure if I’ll sign up again or not. I probably will, though it depends on what I’m doing next year.

To be honest, I actually go back and forth on whether I want to join the Foreign Service or not. It’s one of those jobs that has a ton of good things (you get paid to learn languages and live abroad and work in a cool environment)… and a ton of bad things (one of those languages you learn could be Chinese or Arabic or Hindi, and one of those places you go abroad could be Sudan or Saudi Arabia or India). My point here isn’t that Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi are terrible languages—if you like them and learn them, that’s great. The point is they’re not languages I’ve ever had a desire to learn. Same with the countries I listed: I know some people might love to have the chance to live in India or Saudi Arabia or Sudan. I personally don’t.

When one applies to join the Foreign Service, one commits to worldwide assignment. That means that however unlikely it is that I will go to Sudan, the possibility still exists. Though I’m okay with being sent to most places (South America and Europe, bring it on!), there are certain places that I really hope to never visit, much less live in. A part of me thinks I should just stay here and keep working and writing and see what happens. Of course, the other part of me says one word over and over: RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA. Because I think working in an embassy or consulate over in Russia would be the most amazing thing ever.

It’s all very confusing. At least I have the rest of this year to think about it, though. And if I am still confused by the time signing up rolls around, I’ll probably sign up anyway just to see how it goes—like I did this time.