Friday, July 3, 2009

Madoff the God of Plunder

Daniel Bruno Sanz

by Daniel Bruno Sanz

A prodigy euphonium player and member of the United States Army Band stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, befriended me and I was invited to workshops, rehearsals and concerts. I became a protégé of "Pershing's own" United States Army Band and "the President's own" Marine Corps Band. I became one of the best amateur tuba players in the country before I was legally old enough to drive and then got my very own horn: an affordable B&S rotary valve CC tuba handcrafted, ironically, in East Germany.

Convinced that the Army Band was my future, I practiced and performed regularly, and within a few years, learned the bass line to the score of hundreds of military marches, symphonic tone poems, overtures and symphonies. Works like the Planets by Gustav Holst, the Procession of the Sardar, John Philip Sousa's the Washington Post March and the Rakutsky March from the Damnation of Faust by Hector Berlioz. These were the tunes that filled my ears and my favorite composers were those who had written prolifically for my instrument: Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Sousa.

At the age of fifteen, I bought a five-dollar, obstructed view ticket to see the National Symphony Orchestra matinee performance of Das Rheingold, Wagner's four hour introduction to the Ring Cycle. I was unfamiliar with Wagner's operas and the German mythology and history surrounding them. With a few exceptions such as the Prelude to Act Three of Lohingrin, which I had performed, his works were too long, expensive and complicated for all except the most determined orchestra companies. Students and amateurs didn't even attempt them. In the RingCycle, Das Rheingold is followed by Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). These four operas make up the epic fifteen-hour Ring of the Nibelung, intended to be performed over four days.

When composers wanted to speak loudly and deliver a forceful message, they chose my instrument to express themselves. Instead of counting hundreds of rest bars while sweet violins serenaded the listener, I was kept busy projecting baselines and even melodies. Certain composers repeatedly call on the tuba to deliver their message. Stars and Stripes Forever, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, Slavianka's Farewell and the incomparable Preobrazhensky March stir powerful emotions in an audience.

The Preobrazhensky March, first performed on Red Square for Peter the Great, was the last music Generalissimo Stalin's troops heard on the night of November 7, 1941, before they were sent to meet their doom against Hitler's invincible Wehrmacht. They smashed it to bits on the outskirts of Moscow.

Then one day it hit me: the more nationalistic the composer, the more active my part. Claude Debussy didn't write for tuba, but Brahms sure did. So did Mahler. Wagner even designed a new tuba for the sole purpose of playing his operas. As unlikely as it may be, the tuba has lessons to teach about nationalism, militarism and geopolitics. Now, viewing Wagner's opera as a non-musician and member of the audience, it speaks to me about the leitmotif of avarice and Bernard Madoff.

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