Brahms – Symphony No. 1

If I had to pick a favorite symphony—and that would be difficult to do as I love so many—then it would have to be Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms.  Though he completed it in 1876 at the age of 43, he had been working on it for something like 21 years.  He was a consummate perfectionist, and it shows.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra performed this extraordinary work this past weekend as the second half of a really fine program featuring Alban Gerhardt  playing the Walton Cello Concerto, and Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.  We are so very fortunate to have an orchestra of this caliber in southern Wisconsin, and music director John DeMain is a treasure.  I am a season subscriber, of course, and attend all the concerts except for the Christmas program in December.

Johannes Brahms in 1876

I cannot get through a performance of the Brahms First Symphony without being moved to tears, and Sunday’s excellent performance by the MSO was no exception.  The final section of the second movement (Andante sostenuto) features an incredibly beautiful violin solo, gorgeously played by concertmaster Naha Greenholtz.  The fourth and final movement (Adagio — Più andante — Allegro non troppo, ma con brio — Più allegro) is pure ecstasy.  Just when you think the symphony is drawing to a conclusion, it launches into another, even more remarkable, section.  And that happens more than once.  The modulating transition to the coda in measures 367-390 (about 15:42 to 16:24 into the movement, two minutes before the end) for me is one of the most exciting sections of the entire work.

I once asked my friend and accomplished horn player John Wunderlin—who is similarly deeply moved by orchestral music—how he keeps from choking up during the most moving passages he plays.  “Fear of messing up” he said, half jokingly and half serious.  Part of the discipline that any professional musician must have is maintaining composure  during even the most moving and beautiful sections.  I don’t think I could do it.  But I did once see a teary-eyed violinist in the orchestra at the conclusion of a work.  Want to know what that work was?  It was the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms.

Shostakovich – Symphony No. 4

The Fourth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was completed in May 1936, but had to be withdrawn before it was performed due to the withering criticism and scrutiny Shostakovich was at the time receiving from Joseph Stalin and his increasingly repressive government.  This symphony did not receive its first public performance until 1961.  To get a sense of the enormous difficulties Shostakovich had to endure under the Soviet regime—and the extraordinary music of one of the 20th century’s most gifted composers, and indeed the last great symphonist—I highly recommend Robert Greenberg’s eight-part video course, Great Masters: Shostakovich – His Life and Music.

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

The Fourth Symphony is certainly not one of Shostakovich’s more accessible works, but I want to draw your attention to the remarkable, ethereal conclusion of this symphony that few have ever heard.

My entire Shostakovich collection was lost in the Memorial Day weekend 2015 Houston flood, and I’m gradually trying to replace it.  I am currently listening to all fifteen Shostakovich symphonies in an excellent box set, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007).  Rostropovich was a close friend of Shostakovich.

Here is the final 4m45s of the third and final movement (Largo — Allegro) of the Symphony No. 4 in C minor, op. 43, by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich.  Turn up the volume—after the first couple of seconds, it is all very quiet.  Enjoy!

Scott of the Antarctic

I highly recommend the 1948 British film, Scott of the Antarctic.  It tells the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated attempt to lead the first team of explorers to the South Pole.  Once again, Amazon has bested Netflix in making fine historical movies like this one available.

The film score was written by the esteemed British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).  This project served as a springboard for his remarkable and otherworldly Symphony No. 7, Sinfonia Antartica, completed in 1952.  It is a favorite of mine.

As I have written here before, it is good to see a film that communicates effectively without the need to resort to graphic violence, foul language, etc.  You can feel the dreadful cold viscerally watching this film.  Near the end of their journey, Scott and his team in March 1912 regularly experienced high temperatures no better than -30°F during the day and low temperatures around -47°F at night.  And then there was the wind.  It would have been horrible.

One question I had while watching the movie and thinking about the real-life expedition: how did they navigate across an endless terrain of snow and ice?  It appears they primarily relied upon a theodolite which was used to measure accurate horizontal and vertical positions of the Sun and Moon.  Knowing the position of the Sun or the Moon at a particular time allowed Scott and his fellow explorers to determine their geographic latitude and longitude by using a book of navigation tables.

Theodolite used by Lt. Edward Evans

Understanding Space and Time

Have you ever noticed how it is almost impossible to find documentaries made more than a few years ago?  I was doing some reading on the Casimir effect this evening and came across the name of Julian Schwinger (1918-1994), the American theoretical physicist who shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics with Richard Feynman (1918-1988) and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga (1906-1979).  I remember, after all these years, that I had enjoyed watching a BBC documentary series that featured Schwinger (as well as George Abell) called Understanding Space and Time.  It was broadcast in 1979 or 1980 and featured thirteen 28-minute episodes.

  1. Ground control to Mr. Galileo
  2. As Surely as Columbus Saw America
  3. Pushed to the Limit
  4. Conflict Brought to Light
  5. Marking Time
  6. E = mc2
  7. An Isolated Fact
  8. The Royal Road
  9. At the Frontier
  10. Shades of Black
  11. Measuring Shadows: The Universe Today
  12. A Note of Uncertainty: The Universe Tomorrow
  13. Vanished Brilliance: The Universe Yesterday

Granted, some of this material is now dated, but much of it is still relevant and certainly of historical interest.  Why is it (and a host of other documentaries) not available on DVD or for downloading?

We really need a company to fill a different niche alongside The Great Courses, Curiosity Stream, and Netflix.  That niche would be to uncover and rerelease past documentaries of merit1, often hosted or presented by historically important individuals.  Documentaries such as Understanding Space and Time would be nice to own and watch again.

1One must certainly include many PBS documentaries and older episodes of documentary series—NOVA, for example—that are no longer available.

Dodgeville Street Project Proposals

As illustrated below, a lot of drivers in Dodgeville take a dubious “short cut” from King St. to Iowa/Bequette by way of W. Leffler instead of taking King St. all the way to Iowa/Bequette.  Most of the people taking this short cut are leaving Lands’ End and heading to their homes in the Madison metro area.  These folks are not Dodgeville / Iowa County taxpayers.  Here’s the problem.  W. Leffler has been beat all to hell and is badly in need of resurfacing.  All that Lands’ End traffic has contributed mightily to the degradation of W. Leffler.  Now, as a bicycle commuter trying to get from Lands’ End to most of the rest of Dodgeville (always a dangerous proposition), it makes sense to use W. Leffler to minimize the amount of time I have to ride my bike on busy King St. and very busy Iowa/Bequette.  But W. Leffler is so broken up that for safety reasons I need to ride near the middle of the road—but a steady stream of vehicles takes the short cut down W. Leffler instead of staying on King St. up to convenient entrance ramp to Iowa/Bequette.  It is a no-win situation for Dodgeville bicyclists.  One solution would be to have W. Leffler dead end at King St. with only a bike-path connector between King St. and W. Leffler, though I suspect that would be quite unpopular in our auto-centric community.  Another solution would be to resurface W. Leffler and never let it degrade this much again.  Is that too much to ask?  It is a short street, after all.

The Lands’ End Shortcut to the Madison Metro Area

I’m not a big fan of roundabouts, but if ever there was a case for one it would be at the intersections of Iowa/Bequette, N. Main, E. Spring, and W. Spring.  In my crude map overlay below, it looks like one building would probably have to be removed.  The roundabout would need to be designed to easily accommodate the comings and goings of fire trucks from the nearby fire station.  Presently, this “octopus” of an intersection is dangerous, and I completely avoid ever making a left turn there.  Why not prohibit all dangerous left turns at these intersections by installing a roundabout where every turn will be a right turn?

Where a roundabout is needed in Dodgeville

Dateline 2024: Total Solar Eclipse

In little more than six years, another total solar eclipse across the continental U.S. will pass as close as Southern Illinois and Indiana.  Like our recent eclipse of August 21, 2017, the next total solar eclipse will also take place on a Monday and, remarkably, just a few minutes earlier in the day.  Save the date: April 8, 2024.   Actually, not long to wait.  Think about what you were doing around December 7, 2011.  Can you remember?  No question about it, the next six years will go faster than the previous six did.  Seems that as we age our sense of time changes, and time seems to go faster and faster.

The point of maximum length of totality for the 2017 eclipse was 12 miles NW of the center of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where totality lasted 2m40s and the path of totality was 71 miles wide.

The point of maximum length of totality for the 2024 eclipse will be near Nazas, Mexico (in the state of Durango), where totality will last 4m28s and the path of totality will be 123 miles wide.  Yes, this will be a longer eclipse!

Remarkably, there is a location in southern Illinois that is on the centerline of both the 2017 and 2024 eclipses!  That location is 37°38’32” N, 89°15’55” W, SW of Carbondale, Illinois, near Cedar Lake and the Midland Hills Country Club.

When did a total solar eclipse last grace Dodgeville, Wisconsin?  Nearly 639 years ago, on May 16, 1379.  The duration of totality was 3m48s.  Perhaps the Oneota people then living in this area witnessed the event.

The next total solar eclipse visible from Dodgeville won’t happen for another 654 years.  There’ll be annular eclipses in 2048, 2213, 2410, 2421, and 2614.  Then, finally, on June 17, 2672, the totally-eclipsed Sun will once again grace the skies of Dodgeville—weather permitting, of course.  The duration of the eclipse at Dodgeville will be 2m47s.  There will be another annular eclipse in 2678, followed by another total eclipse (duration 3m01s) on June 8, 2681.  Then, just two years later there’ll be another total eclipse at Dodgeville: on November 10, 2683 (0m49s).  That’s three total eclipses and one annular eclipse visible at Dodgeville in just 11 years!

Faintest Constellations

There are a dozen constellations with no star brighter than +4.0 magnitude.  Many of them are deep in the southern sky.  They are:

ANTLIA, the Air Pump
Brightest Star: Alpha Antliae, apparent visual magnitude +4.25

ANT-lee-uh

CAELUM, the Engraving Tool
Brightest Star: Alpha Caeli, apparent visual magnitude +4.45

SEE-lum

CAMELOPARDALIS, the Giraffe
Brightest Star: Beta Camelopardalis, apparent visual magnitude +4.02

cuh-MEL-oh- PAR-duh-liss

CHAMAELEON, the Chameleon
Brightest Star: Alpha Chamaeleontis, apparent visual magnitude +4.047

cuh-MEAL-yun, or cuh-MEAL-ee-un

COMA BERENICES, Berenice’s Hair
Brightest Star: Beta Comae Berenices, apparent visual magnitude +4.25

COE-muh BER-uh-NICE-eez

CORONA AUSTRALIS, the Southern Crown
Brightest Star: Meridiana, apparent visual magnitude +4.087

cuh-ROE-nuh aw-STRAL-iss

MENSA, the Table Mountain
Brightest Star: Alpha Mensae, apparent visual magnitude +5.09

MEN-suh

MICROSCOPIUM, the Microscope
Brightest Star: Gamma Microscopii, apparent visual magnitude +4.654

my-cruh-SCOPE-ee-um

NORMA, the Carpenter’s Square
Brightest Star: Gamma2 Normae, apparent visual magnitude +4.02

NOR-muh

SCULPTOR, the Sculptor
Brightest Star: Alpha Sculptoris, apparent visual magnitude +4.27

SCULP-ter

SEXTANS, the Sextant
Brightest Star: Alpha Sextantis, apparent visual magnitude +4.49

SEX-tunz

VULPECULA, the Fox
Brightest Star: Anser, apparent visual magnitude +4.45

vul-PECK-yuh-luh

Falling Ice Chunks

There are a number of documented cases of large chunks of ice falling out of a clear blue sky.  After we eliminate ice falling from airplanes or nearby thunderstorms, there still appear to be some events that remain unexplained.

I first heard of this phenomenon over ten years ago, when a 50-pound chunk of ice fell through Jan Kenkel‘s roof in Dubuque, Iowa on Thursday morning, July 26, 2007.

These unexplained falling ice chunks are been given a rather inappropriate name: megacryometeor.  Why don’t we just call them “falling ice chunks”  or FICs for short, at least until they receive an explanation?

It almost certainly is some sort of unusual atmospheric phenomenon, as ice balls from space would vaporize before they reach the ground.

An unknown blogger (in Spain?) has been documenting news articles about all manner of falling ice chunks since the Dubuque event.  The blog is called HALS, which is the plural abbreviation for hydroaerolite—certainly a better name than “megacryometeor”—though this perhaps is also a geological term used to describe “silty sediments transported by the wind and deposited on a temporarily wet surface”.

Obviously, more peer-reviewed scientific research needs to be done on these falling ice chunks, megacryometeors, hydroaerolites, or what have you.