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The Song of Gold: Canto Doro and Stravinsky's Apollon
By John Axelrod

T.S Eliot once described April as the cruelest month in his epic poem "the Wasteland." Yet I am not alone in suggesting that September is actually the crueler month, not only for investors who historically lose value in their portfolios, or hotels and restaurants who lose profits after summer excess, but also for the hundreds of thousands of workers and students who, tragically, must return to jobs and school. Yet, for winemakers, September is the busiest month, as autumn begins, and harvest is planned. The song of summer is over and the sunlight turns a mellow gold on its way to darker hues. But sunshine still continues in the South and nowhere does the sunshine last the longest than in Sicily, as the crisp sun light embellishes the Nero d'Avola grape like a kiss from the sun God, Apollo. The grapes dance in this splendor. The winemaker Feudo Arancio has taken advantage of this Mediterranean sunshine to produce a remarkably good blend between Nero d'Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon in the appropriately named Cantodoro, or Song of Gold. Even the label is particularly musical.

This wine, winner of the Berliner Wein Trophy Gold Medal 2015, has deep tannins reflecting the terra firma of Sicilian soil, yet a surprisingly full taste of fruit, blackberry, cranberry and raspberry that highlights and refreshes the earthen taste just as sunlight restores our corporeal energy. That energy is needed in our human dance of returning to work and school and preparing for the winter labor.

Stravinsky, that wily Russian, was no stranger to Russian cold or French sang froid, but perhaps he needed a muse for his creativity and longed for that Apollonian kiss of the sun as heard in his ballet for strings, Apollon Musagéte. How relevant that Stravinsky's neoclassical ballet about the leader of the Muses is thematically centered on an artistic return to antiquity and tradition. Sicily is a good place to start, an island deeply rooted in Greek mythology, and its city, Syracuse, was second only to Athens in terms of size and importance.

Stravinsky had been thinking of writing a ballet on an episode in Greek mythology for some time and decided to make Apollo, also God of Music, its central figure while reducing the number of muses from nine to three. They were Terpsichore, personifying the rhythm of poetry and the eloquence of gesture as embodied in the dance, Calliope, combining poetry and rhythm, and Polyhymnia, representing mime.

Stravinsky was inspired by his Apollo in 1927 and completed the score in 1928. He composed for a string orchestra of 34 players: 8 first violins, 8 second violins, 6 violas, 4 first cellos, 4 second cellos and 4 double basses. And in a fitting parallel with the use of the French grape Cabernet Sauvignon in Cantodoro, the motives of Stravinsky's music utilize traditional French 17th- and 18th-century articulations, such as exaggerated dotted rhythms in the style of a French overture, in particular those heard in the music of Lully, court composer to, of course, the Sun-King, Louis XIV. And like the Cantodoro wine, which becomes more complex during its eight month oak barrel aging process, Apollon begins with this basic rhythmic unit, which Stravinsky develops using subdivisions of successive values and variations that become increasingly complex until the final "apotheosis."

Coincidentally, to further connect the wine Cantodoro and Greek Mythology, Dionysus, that other wily character, and known forever as the Greek God of Wine and Patron of the Arts, apparently came across a strange, unknown plant during his voyage to, yep, you guessed it- Sicily! Curious, he took a sample with him and on arrival planted it. The plant was, naturally, a vine! Maybe that is why Cantodoro comes from Sicily, to celebrate Dionysus and the September harvest, and to raise a glass to perhaps, at least for wine lovers, the greatest muse of all.

John Axelrod
©Copyright 2015