“Criticism of unprecedented fullness…”—Kirkus

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Orchestral Reductions: Igor Levit’s Tristan, and Beethoven for Three

Copper Magazine, issue 175, November 2022
Tristan, Igor Levit (Sony, 2022)
Beethoven for Three, Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5, Emmanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo- Ma (Sony, 2022)

EVEN AS THEY SURVEY the widest solo repertoire of all, pianists are always stealing material written for others. They’re not happy with their two bravura Brahms concertos that work both as virtuoso showpieces and on a symphonic scale; they want to play the Brahms Violin Concerto in transcription and pretend they can hold a note as beautifully as any fiddler (pianist Dejan Lazic dared to record his version as “Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 3” (!) after Violin Concerto, Op. 77). Franz Liszt turned all of Beethoven’s symphonies into two- and four-hand piano transcriptions for the sheer joy of playing this music as recreation. As pianos became a piece of furniture throughout the 19thcentury, before radio and television, it signaled both educated status and a familial orientation.


John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

From His Special Cup:

Lennon Plays Footsie With the Home Key

“Dr. Robert,” The Beatles, Revolver. Parlophone, 1966. 
What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music In Their Time, by Walter Everett and Tim Riley. Oxford University Press, 2019.


PAUL MCCARTNEY TYPICALLY gets credit for his Tin Pan Alley pretensions and pleated chords (the dual home keys in “Here, There and Everywhere” and “Penny Lane,” the French pillow talk and diminished sevenths in “Michelle”), but Lennon proves equally deft at playing games with key relationships. Several of Lennon’s numbers (“Day Tripper,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Dig a Pony”) deploy harmonic frames like conundrums, where home keys always surprise the ear, and bridges take root in faraway places. 

The “Dr. Robert” story is legend: during their stay-overs in Manhattan, the Beatles caught wind of a mythical doctor who wrote prescriptions for the stars: as played out in episode 608 (“The Crash”) of AMC’s Mad Men series in 2013, the Dr. Feelgood physician made house calls and gave respectable professionals shots of vitamins mixed with amphetamines so they could work through the night and make their impossible deadlines, all as “legit” prescriptions. (The suits called these shots “energy serum,” or “miracle tissue regenerator.”) In an era when youth culture defined itself by choosing alternatives to alcohol (chiefly marijuana, but increasingly stronger psychedelics such as LSD and barbiturate pills), the fast-life establishment turned to wayward medics for juice…

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band

Pick a Career:

John Lennon Grieves the Beatles

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1970)
Copper Magazine, Issue 137, May 2021


THE 1970S DAWNED with a blistering hangover as the 1960s bled right into the new decade. On September 13, 1969, just before Abbey Road began dominating end-of-’60s radio, John Lennon sang at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, an early 1950s festival. He called his pickup group the Plastic Ono Band: Eric Clapton (lead guitar), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drums). They launched with standards, “Blue Suede Shoes, “Money,” and then “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” before turning to Lennon’s “Yer Blues,” an unreleased “Cold Turkey,” and “Give Peace a Chance,” his anti-war chant. Then he turned the stage over to his Japanese-American wife, Yoko Ono, who screamed against Lennon’s guitar feedback for almost half an hour. It stupefied the audience. One week later, at an Apple business meeting in London, Lennon told the other Beatles he wanted a “divorce.” However, Lennon agreed to keep a lid on his departure – they were in the middle of contract negotiations, and if word got out, they could lose leverage. From that point on, the chronology went extremely fuzzy for most fans, as the overlap between Beatles group releases overlapped with the members’ early solo records. Plans progressed for a Let It Be album and film early in 1970 (shot in January 1969) as the breakup remained a secret…

Tell Me Why: A Beatles Commentary (1988)

Riley offers a new, deeper understanding of the Beatles by closely considering each song and album they recorded in an exploration as rigorous as it is soulful.

"In Tell Me Why, a labor of loving obsession, Tim Riley minutely examines the music of the Beatles... Song by song, he notes the subtleties of craft and inspiration that keep the Beatles' recordings contemporary, illuminating music so familiar it's often taken for granted."

Jon Pareles, The New York Times