After the month of dark and grim and scary and brooding music, let’s return to something a bit lighter, shall we? This duofold selection is one of the most beloved opera extracts of all time; in fact, this selection is so popular that it has almost completely overshadowed the actual opera from which it comes. The Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper is nine minutes of pure delight. The opera was written by Jaromir Weinberger, a Czech composer who later emigrated to the United States. Weinberger was apparently prolific, but only this particular opera lives on of all his works, and that only occasionally. The Polka and Fugue is a mainstay of concert halls and recordings, though. It’s quite an orchestral showpiece and a complex bit of contrapuntal writing (apparently a particular strength of Weinberger as a composer), and this performance especially puts the “showpiece” aspects of the work on display. You should listen to this with the sound up a bit, if you can; this is vintage Chicago Symphony Orchestra when Fritz Reiner was at the helm. The former trumpet player in me thrills at these old recordings, hearing Adolph Herseth soaring above it all. Just try not to dwell too much on the fact that the photo of Reiner on the video itself shows him as he apparently always looked: as if the joy was a concept completely alien to him. Reiner was by all accounts an absolute tyrant on the podium, and if there are any personal stories about him that show his warmth and humor I’ve yet to read them, but the man was able to pour warmth and joy and humanity into his musicmaking.
Enjoy the “Polka and Fugue” from Schwanda the Bagpiper!