Our Wonders of the World unit: last night, Mount Everest. Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level at the summit (the summit being about as big as my son’s bed – we spent a few minutes thinking about whether we could be up so high, standing on something so small without freaking out and throwing up). But back to the height: when we fly to LA, our cruising altitude is not that much higher than the top of Mount Everest. Wouldn’t it be weird to be in a plane, just about cruising altitude and look eye to eye with a person outside the airplane? This puts the size of the Everest into a perspective that forces us to understand that THIS IS ONE GIANT MOUNTAIN.
New unit: George Ohr, potter. We started a most interesting book, “The Mad Potter, George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius”. George Ohr (1857 – 1918) tried/failed about 14 different career paths before he was trained in ceramics. In his own words, he “took to the potter’s wheel like a duck to water”. My son needed to know what a potter’s wheel looked like, so we viewed a neat video of a skilled potter throwing a pot. He was spellbound as the solid lump of clay was transformed into a rather large bowl. Here is the video we watched:
Last night’s music theme celebrated Mount Vesuvius!
Here is the story: in 1880, a local journalist (Peppino Turco) teamed with composer Luigi Denza to create the immensely popular “advertising” jingle, “Funiculi Funicula”, commemorating the grand opening of a funicular cable car up the side of Mount Vesuvius. The original words are essentially “ride the totally cool cable car to the top of the mountain, see what you can see, bring a love interest”. The song went as viral as viral could be in 1880.
THEN! Only 6 years later, composer Richard Strauss was touring Italy, heard the song – thought it was an old traditional Neapolitan theme – and wove it into movement 4 of his “Aus Italien” tone poem. Bad surprise: Denza sued Richard Strauss, won the lawsuit, and Strauss paid royalties every time “Aus Italien” was performed.
THEN! (here we go again) 21 years after the Denza vs. Strauss dust-up, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov was touring Italy, heard the song – thought it was an old traditional Neapolitan theme – so he polished it up for full orchestra and it became “Neapolitan Song”. He apparently was not sued. This is a sparkling orchestration, but my son and I think the original, unrefined rendition is THE BEST. (spoiler alert: this is a flawed video visually – you will see what I mean immediately, but Pope Benedict is in the audience, so that is pretty awesome)
Final note: Vesuvius is a dormant volcano, but in 1944 it erupted and the cable car was a casualty. Rats.
Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH