TBT: The Bull on the Roof

It’s been a cheery, musical mood here at The Portly Politico.  I’ve been tearing through popular Christmas carols, offering up some histories of these beloved tunes, as well as a little musical analysis.  Thanks to Milo sharing my piece “Milo on Romantic Music,” I enjoyed a large surge in traffic that has now settled into a nice daily trickle (nothing huge, but it’s helped).

University of Chicago medievalist Rachel Fulton Brown also linked to the post in a piece on her blog, Fencing Bear at Prayer.  The success of that piece, plus the beauty of Christmas music and the general cheeriness of the season, has inspired me to write more about music.

This week, then, I’ve cast back to this summer, when I wrote a little piece about a whimsical piece of modern classical music, “The Bull on the Roof.”  As I recall, I wrote the piece on my phone—never ideal—while playing with my little niece.  I’d heard the tune on public radio on the drive to my parents’ house, and was so taken with its charm—and lacking any other suitable topic, or the proper conditions to write about them—I jotted out this short piece.

“The Bull on the Roof” is a marvelous example of modern classical music.  And for all I rail against cosmopolitanism, it’s a fine example of the ideal of cosmopolitanism:  a French composer celebrating the vibrant, lively traditions of Brazilian folk music.  That’s the “salt in the stew,” as John Derbyshire calls it—the pinch of cultural diversity that makes the broth more delicious.

Yesterday was spent teaching History of Conservative Thought, painting a classroom floor, and rushing around the Pee Dee region teaching four music lessons, before finally heading out of town for a few days. Needless to say, there wasn’t any time to get a post ready for this morning.

The news has also been light. The first round of Democratic presidential primary debates is tonight, but who cares other than the candidates?

There was a bit of a diplomatic imbroglio with Iran last week, but did anyone really think war was going to break out? Trump handled it Trumpishly; that is effectively, letting the mullahs sweat it out a bit before giving them an out (and signalling to Iranians that he cares more about their lives than the Ayatollah).

That’s why I’ve been sticking to the history and culture posts lately. There just hasn’t been much to say on politics, because there’s so much good happening. Illegal immigration is still a major problem, but otherwise the only “bad” news is that the economy is still growing, just not as quickly as a year ago.

So, brace yourself for another self-indulgent post (this publication is a blog, after all). While driving last night, I hit a classic rock and talk radio dead zone, so I resorted to public radio. I was pleasantly surprised.

The program featured a concert recording of the Greenville (SC) Symphony performing French composer Darius Milhaud’s delightful “Le Bœf sur le toit,” or “The Bull on the Roof.”

Fans of Civilization VI who have played as Brazil will hear some similar themes and styles, as the composition quotes dozens of Brazilian folk songs. The tune is full of Latin-inspired motifs, and it is a charming, fun piece.

Milhaud wrote the piece in 1920 for a silent Charlie Chaplin film that was never made, though the ballet has apparently been staged. I particularly enjoy these kinds of jaunty, popular modern classical pieces (I adore Gustav Holsts’s The Planets because they are pleasing and interesting, but never pretentious). If I’m going to listen to something for nearly twenty minutes, don’t make it a Philip Glassian nightmare experiment in purposeful atonality.

If you have twenty minutes, I highly recommend listening to this piece. It will be a more enjoyable use of your time than watching the Democratic debates.

7 thoughts on “TBT: The Bull on the Roof

  1. For a guy who’s just a Walmart shopper, I thought that real pretty music. I even recognized Tulsi Gabbard conducting. But who was that playing on the package of Ritz crackers? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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