Baubles ,Bangles, Beads, and Borodin

One is relentlessly bombarded with gadgets of all kinds for our clarinets. The profusion includes all the usual and some of the the more unusual.In the long list of clarinet problems. What is most neglected , is the music itself. As one reads about the many different types of ligatures, mouthpieces, barrels, thumbrests, extra keys, adjustments of all kinds, this song came into my head  “Baubles,Bangles, and Beads”. This cute song was made popular from the musical Kismet. And with the revisiting of Kismet came a virtual fountain of information, much more interesting than any list of wanted gadgets. Yes, having tried and played and used most of the gadgets, I know full well the feeling of wanting. Wanting to solve a problem through the use of something attached to the clarinet, whether is be mouthpiece, reeds, ligature, and even teacher.

But, with overwhelming importance, despite the interest in gadgetry, the stuff that we do on our clarinet became the most important study, the most fullfillig, beautiful and actually, never ending.

As I delved into the song, which actually had become quite popular both as the song from the musical, a popular tune, and a great vehicle for jazz, played endlessly for its interesting chord changes and variety.
All of the music of the show, Kismet is taken from the music of Alexander Borodin, a composer who lived during part of the 19yh century and was really not a composer. He was much more celebrated as a chemist, and was interested in promoting women composers and musicians and women chemists. His life is most interesting and perhaps can only be surpassed by the music he composed during his short life.

Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin was a Russian Romantic composer, doctor and chemist. He was a member of the group of composers called The Five , who were dedicated to producing a specifically Russian kind of art music.He is best known for his symphonies, his two string quartets, On the Steppes of Central Asia and his opera Prince Igor. Music from Prince Igor and his string quartets was later adapted for the musical Kismet.
He was a notable advocate of women’s rights and a proponent of education in Russia and was a founder of the School of Medicine for Women in St. Petersburg.

I thought that surely, here was a man for all seasons, literally a Renaissence Man from the 19th century, and while not just a composer, wrote some of the most beautiful and memorable melodies of his time. And, our time.

“Prince Igor”, his most notable piece , is an opera , known to all clarinetists who have played in any orchestra, band ore even chamber ensemble. It contains the Polyvitsian Dances, famous for its many clarinet tunes, cadenzas, solo passages. I remember not even being able to pronounce the title, much less spell it. My teacher could rattle all of the clarinet parts off as if a practiced warmup study. Perhaps, it was. If you have never had the Bonade Book of Orchestra Studies for the Clarinet, then, you have seen it in any other book of clarinet studies.

Borodin was born in Saint Petersburg, the illegitimate son of a Georgian noble, Luka Gedevanishvili, and a 24-year-old Russian woman, Evdokia Konstantinovna Antonova. The nobleman had him registered as the son of one of his serfs, Porfiry Borodin. As a boy he received a good education, including piano lessons. In 1850 he entered the Medical–Surgical Academy in St Petersburg, which was later home to Ivan Pavlov, and pursued a career in chemistry. On graduation he spent a year as surgeon in a military hospital, followed by three years of advanced scientific study in western Europe.

I wondered, did Borodin know Pavlov?
In 1862 Borodin returned to St Petersburg to take up a professorial chair in chemistry at the Imperial Medical-Surgical Academy[and spent the remainder of his scientific career in research, lecturing and overseeing the education of others. Eventually, he managed to establish medical courses for women. (1872).Women?
He began taking lessons in composition from Mily Balakirev in 1862. He married Ekaterina Protopopova, a pianist, in 1863, and had at least one daughter, named Gania. Music remained a secondary vocation for Borodin outside his main career as a chemist and physician. He suffered poor health, having overcome cholera and several minor heart attacks. He died suddenly during a ball at the Academy, and was interred in Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, in Saint Petersburg.

Why mention Pavlov? The concept for which Pavlov is famous is the “conditioned reflex” (or in his own words the conditional reflex: he developed jointly with his assistant Ivan Filippovitch Tolochinov in 1901. He had come to learn this concept of conditioned reflex when examining the rates of salivations among dogs. Pavlov had learned then when a bell was rung in subsequent time with food being presented to the dog in consecutive sequences, the dog will initially salivate when the food is presented. (so do we)The dog will later come to associate the ringing of the bell with the presentation of the food and salivate upon the ringing of the bell. Tolochinov, whose own term for the phenomenon had been “reflex at a distance”, communicated the results at the Congress of Natural Sciences in Helsinki in 1903.Later the same year Pavlov more fully explained the findings, at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid, where he read a paper titled The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals.
As Pavlov’s work became known in the West, particularly through the writings of John B. Watson, the idea of “conditioning” as an automatic form of learning became a key concept in the developing specialism of comparative psychology, and the general approach to psychology that underlay it, behaviorism. Pavlov’s work with classical conditioning was of huge influence to how humans perceive themselves, their behavior and learning processes and his studies of classical conditioning continue to be central to modern behavior therapy. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was an enthusiastic advocate of the importance of Pavlov’s work for philosophy of mind.
Pavlov’s research on conditional reflexes greatly influenced not only science, but also popular culture. Pavlovian conditioning was a major theme in Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, Brave New World,
It is popularly believed that Pavlov always signaled the occurrence of food by ringing a bell. However, his writings record the use of a wide variety of stimuli, including electric shocks, whistles, metronomes, tuning forks, and a range of visual stimuli, in addition to the ring of a bell. Catania cast doubt on whether Pavlov ever actually used a bell in his famous experiments. Littman tentatively attributed the popular imagery to Pavlov’s contemporaries Vladimir Mikhailovich Bekhterev and John B. Watson, until Thomas found several references that unambiguously stated Pavlov did, indeed, use a bell.

Well, does one imagine that Borodin may have known Pavlov? That is inconsequential, but what is of great consequence is the Pavlovian conditioned reflex. Why were our classes always begun and ended with the ringing of a bell? Why do we answer the bell of the telephone when it rings. Are these reactions due initially to this Russian genius? Certainly the many ways we have of practicing and learning the clarinet have to do with conditional reflex, and behavioural modication, or how we learn to know and improve in our musical understanding.

But, back to Borodin, and Bauubles, Bangles and Beads from the second movement of his second string quartet made and used in the musical “Kismet”, and made forever famous.
And do we know or remember the very famous prize winning tune.”Stranger in Paradise,” which actually won a special award as this song. This too is from the String Quartet of Alexander Borodin, who was not only a composer of a few very popular works, but a noted chemist, doctor and was pivotal in starting a medical school for women. In 19th century Russia?

Or do we actually think that gadgets will replace and take the place of practice?

Stay well, and keep practicing. Start with The Polyvitsien Dances. It is a nice solo.



One Response to Baubles ,Bangles, Beads, and Borodin

  1. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited your blog. Good to be back. When it comes to Borodin I always wonder to what extent Rimsky-Korsakov “helped” the amateur with his compositions. No doubt though that Borodin was gifted with melodies no matter the orchestration or structure.

    It’s easy to take for granted what Pavlov et al discovered about the veritable human condition. I think it’s safe to say that bells or chimes will always be apart of our rituals- religious or secular.

    I’m reminded of the opera “La Voix Humaine” by Poulenc/Cocteau. The telephone ringing becomes a dramatic device as well as a conditioner to the audience. Add on to that the faulty lines in the beginning of the opera and you have ultimate cognitive dissonance unbeknownst at the time with the advent of the telephone.

    Incidentally the haunting melody in the 1st mvmt of Poulenc’s clarinet sonata is derived from the ending theme of the opera. No surprise then that Poulenc would follow that with a Romanza as if it were the music of one of Elle’s dreams that she alludes to in the opera.

    What a train of thought. Thanks for recording it here in your blog.

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