Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

I'm alerted to this post at On An Overgrown Path music blog where we find a different analysis of the woes of classical music:
the Guardian uses editorial algorithms to unashamedly slant its journalism towards the prejudices of its readership, and concert promoters use subjective algorithms to present concerts of familiar and non-challenging repertoire. The problem is that no one cares that this is happening. In fact everyone feels very contended in their own comfort zone with ever faster broadband, ever cheaper streamed content, ever more friends and followers, ever more selfie opportunities and - most importantly - ever fewer challenges to their prejudices. And the media - particularly the classical music media - is quite happy to play along; because keeping your readers in their comfort zone means keeping your readers.
Whereas I follow the slightly different policy of challenging my readers, which seems to attract a different kind of reader (even if perhaps fewer of them)!

* * *

The popular music world also has its crises and the latest one seems to be that the big pop divas Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry just aren't cranking out the hits like they used to. The Wall Street Journal has the story:
So far this year, 20 of the 25 most-streamed songs on Spotify, Apple Music and other on-demand audio services are by R&B/hip-hop acts such as Kendrick Lamar, Migos, Childish Gambino and Lil Uzi Vert, Nielsen’s data shows. Two are by male pop stars (Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars). Not one is by a female pop artist.
Historically, the core of the traditional pop-diva audience has been teen girls. Yet several experts say these same fans aren’t as interested in the staged artificial personas of many pop stars such as Lady Gaga. They are now interested in hip-hop where lyrics are often more direct and true to life. “It’s the era of authenticity,” says Peter Edge, chairman and chief executive of RCA Records, which represents Kesha, Ms. Cyrus and SZA. “What are you really going through? What do you really think? How much are you really speaking to what’s going on with you?”
I think that captures why I don't find pop music too interesting these days: they aren't very interested in musical things and I'm not very interested in what's going on in their personal lives. Oh dear, the tragedy of being a celebrity!

* * *

 Back to classical: Gramophone has the fifteen worst classical record covers of all time. A sample: first we have an album from Leif Segerstam, a very serious Finnish conductor and composer who has written over three hundred symphonies.


 Next, an album of very serious Bach solo music for violin by the sober Canadian violinist Lara St. John (like Yuja Wang, she recently had her clothing budget slashed):


You might be forgiven for thinking that this album was the dance music from the Star Trek episode with the Orion slave girl, but no, this is the highly respected opera singer Birgit Nilsson performing Salome by Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Georg Solti:



And here, for comparison, is the aforementioned Orion slave girl from Star Trek:



* * *

The New York Times has a piece on the cancelation, by the government of Venezuela, of a tour of Asia by Gustavo Dudamel. Of course it is not Gustavo Dudamel that is being canceled, it is rather the orchestra, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. President Nicolas Maduro mocked the maestro saying "Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel!" The maestro replied:
Mr. Dudamel, in his statement Thursday, called on the players in the orchestra and the young people of Venezuela to “remain strong and proud.” He added, “our spirit will not be broken, our hope will not waver, our music will not be silenced.”
“I shall never stop defending freedom of expression and the values of a just society,” he wrote. “Dark days like these are difficult, but standing together, we can rise to the challenge of improving our society.”
As often with the New York Times, the carefully ignored elephant in the room is socialism. The real reason that the tour was canceled was more likely the fact that the Venezuelan government has finally run out of other people's money. They are not only broke, with billions of dollars in foreign debt payments due, they have been printing money at a pace that has resulted in an inflation rate of around 2,300%! People are starving, eating zoo animals and cats. Venezuela simply hasn't any money to pay the expenses of a touring orchestra. But the New York Times would rather point to Dudamel's criticism of Maduro as the reason for the cancelation.

* * *

While I'm at it, let's have a look at what Alex Ross is saying about the Met and the New York Philharmonic:
The Metropolitan Opera opened the season with its hundred-and-fifty-seventh performance of Bellini’s “Norma.” The New York Philharmonic began with its hundred-and-nineteenth rendition of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. This is the safe course that many performing-arts groups are choosing in precarious times: the eternal return to the world that was. Both works are masterpieces that deserve to be heard repeatedly. Yet the implicit message is reactionary. As the nation contends with its racist and misogynist demons, New York’s leading musical institutions give us canonical pieces by white males, conducted by white males, directed by white males.
I was just going to quote the first bit, but the ideological buzz words just kept coming. Leaving aside the works themselves, let's pick out the underlying subtext. We are in "precarious times." Oh yes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average just topped 23,000, up 25% since the beginning of the year. Unemployment in the US is at a low 4.2% down from 5% a year ago. What is precarious about that? Oh, it is the nation's racist and misogynist demons that must be the problem. And what could these demons be, if we were to drop the metaphor? Right away he tells us: white males! Being a white male himself, Alex knows whereof he speaks. Well, ok, job one is obviously to fire him and hire a non-white, non-male music critic for the New Yorker. What's that? No immediate plans? Ok, just get back to me. It is also amusing to note that Alex describes the works in question as "masterpieces that deserve to be heard repeatedly." So what's the problem? Oh, right, it is not the actual pieces of music, it is their authorship! Too many white males... Well, ok, let's find some works of equal stature that were not written by white males. Uh, Aida? Nope, Verdi is another white male. I know, Don Giovanni! Oops, Mozart, another white male. Could it possibly be that, as of yet, there are no absolutely first rank operas not written by white males? Moving on to the symphony, I kind of suspect that we might have the same problem: Beethoven, white male, Haydn, white male, Bruckner, white male, Stravinsky, white male, Philip Glass, white male. Oh well... So I guess that what we have here is Alex Ross just signaling his virtue to us: he knows about this terrible racism and misogyny and he has to let us know he knows. Once that is over with the rest of the essay is a standard review of performances. You know how we know that this is just virtue-signaling and not an actual practical critique? Because he offers no suggestions for works by non-white, non-males that might have been programmed instead of Norma and Mahler Five.

* * *

Let's have a listen to part of Norma by Bellini, one of the finest examples of bel canto opera in the repertory. This is Anna Netrebko in a concert performance of "Casta Diva," one of the showpiece arias:


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Music is a TARDIS

A what? I wonder how many Whovians are in my audience? The TARDIS, as all watchers of Doctor Who know, is a vehicle and stands for:  Time And Relative Dimension ISpace. It looks like a police phone box from the 1960s:


It's both a spaceship and time machine and yes, it's a lot bigger on the inside ("Is it?").

I was putting together a concert program the other day and realized that I think of music as being a bit like the TARDIS: it takes you places in both space and time. Here, have a look at the program I came up with:

Music from the Golden Age of Spain

Diferencias sobre “Guárdame las vacas” ........…  Luys de Narváez
Canción del Emperador …………………..……   (1538)
Baxa de contrapunto ………………………….

Fantasía X ……………………………………..… Luys Milán
Fantasía del quarto tono ……………….……….   (1536)

Music from 18th century Saxony

Siciliano ……………………………………………… J. S. Bach
Andante ………………………………………………  (1685 - 1750)
Prelude  ………………………………………………

Music from 20th Century Spain

Tiento antiguo ………………………………… Joaquín Rodrigo
Nocturno ……………………………… Federico Moreno Torroba
En los trigales ………………………………… Joaquín Rodrigo

Music for Violin and Guitar

Octatonic Fantasy (2017) …………………… Bryan Townsend

Four Pieces (2013) …………………………… Bryan Townsend
1. Strange Romance
2. Cloudscape
3. Xitango
4. Surreal Reel

Except for the last group, they are all times and places you could go to with a TARDIS. But here is the cool part: with music you go to these places with mood, emotion and atmosphere, not jammed into an economy seat on an airplane.

Let me see, I have some of these as clips. Here is "Surreal Reel" from the last group:

video

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Music and Employment

Over at Slipped Disc we get a brief glimpse of one of the realities of the music business:
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra has just closed applications for the Nikolai Malko Competition.
To its consternation, the number of candidates was more than twice the previous record – 563 of them, aged 18 to 35.
A flautist friend of mine told me that every time he applied for a job with an orchestra there were two hundred other flautists auditioning. We can discount Slipped Disc's usual sensationalist headline: "How many desperate conductors out there? 563" but at the same time recognize that the competition for jobs in the classical music field is ferocious. And, believe me, it is even worse for those who are not seeking a position in some musical institution like an orchestra or a conservatory, but seeking work as a soloist. On the one hand there are established artists like Grigory Sokolov who can likely play any hall he wants in Europe and do that season after season. On the other hand less well-known artists who are perhaps not quite as gifted as Sokolov struggle for every booking. I once called a concert series booker in Toronto every week for months trying to get a concert there with no result. Another time I sent a publicity package to every conductor in Canada (about seventy) and followed it up with a phone call to each one. With the same results.

For every possible opening there are hundreds of musicians competing for it. This is offset by network effects, of course. If you are a graduate of the Curtis Institute, it is much, much easier to find a position because you are already networked with Curtis graduates who are employed by every orchestra in North America. A lot of positions go to people who know people. This is not as unfair as it sounds as graduating from a famous school is a kind of filter for quality in itself. But the hard truth is that there are a lot of people who would like a career in music or the other arts, but are never going to quite achieve it. Even those who do achieve it may wrestle with depression and stress their whole lives as we learn from another Slipped Disc post:
 
Help Musicians UK has set up a task force to address high levels of mental illness in the music professions.
A new study identifies four contributory factors:
– Money worries – A career in music is often precarious and unpredictable. Many musicians have several different jobs as part of a portfolio career, and as a result get little time to take a break. It can be hard for musicians to admit to insecurities because of needing to compete with others and wanting to appear on top of things.  Musicians can also find it hard to access affordable professional help for mental health issues.
– Poor working conditions – Music makers can be reflective and highly self-critical, and exist in a working and personal environment of constant critical feedback. As many musicians are self-employed, their work can result in feelings of isolation when it comes to dealing with mental health problems.
– Relationship challenges – Family, friends and partners play an important role in supporting musicians, but these relationships can come under huge pressure and strain.
– Sexual abuse/bullying/discrimination – Musicians’ working environment can be anti-social and unsympathetic, with some people experiencing sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion.
Musicians wrestle with higher levels of depression than people in other fields. This seems to clash with another host of studies trotted out to support arguments for more music education because music helps us be smarter and lead more fulfilling lives. I guess only if you don't pursue it professionally. Both of these posts, by the way, have a host of intriguing comments.

Now set this beside the recent attempts to apply identity politics to the hiring of musicians. "Diversity" and "Inclusion" demands that orchestras hire based on gender and race so that the demographics of the orchestra reflect that of the society. Imagine if you were one of that host of musicians trying to win the position and found out that, due to your identity, your chances were much less? Talk about depression!

Music is one of the most unforgiving disciplines there is. In earlier times I suspect this was not as keen because you could be a regional musician and not have to face as much competition. But once recording technology was invented you were compared, not to the tenor in the next town, but to Caruso. Violinists were compared to Heifetz and pianists to Horowitz. As the mass media became ever more pervasive the careers of the famous and well-established tended more and more to crush the careers of the middle-rank artists. I noticed this myself when a local summer music festival, a modest affair offering four or five concerts in an area with a population of around 300,000 people, hired a guitarist from New York instead of myself! I was wondering, "are things so tough in New York that he has to come here and take jobs from me?" I guess so.

Every musician feels the need to be a unique voice, a special expressive resource that cannot be swapped for another. This rather explains the wording of a lot of puff-pieces about musicians who always come off sounding like emotional basket-cases. But the reality is that the emotional and physical demands are so great that few can survive them. I have watched the career of guitarist Miloš Karadaglić in recent years as he seemed to have the possibility of building a solid career. Quoting from the Wikipedia article:
2012 was a breakthrough year on the concert stage for Miloš, with sold-out debut performances and tours in the UK, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. "Part of the reason Karadaglić has such a large following" commented The West Australian, "is his ability to straddle both hardcore classical and pop classical camps."
He even achieved the gold medal of recording achievement with a Deutsche Grammophon contract and released albums in 2012 and 2013. Alas, in October 2016 he announced that he was retiring from performance due to an injury to his hand. Lang Lang is also having to withdraw from performances due to a left hand injury and Hilary Hahn canceled a number of performances a couple of years ago for the same reason.

Well, I think I have belabored the point enough! Let's listen to some music. This is Miloš Karadaglić playing Asturias by Isaac Albéniz:


Monday, October 16, 2017

Naming Conventions

Haydn had it easy! He never had to worry about what to name a piece. Why? Because pieces were named according to their genre: Symphony no. 1 (or, in Haydn's case, Symphony no. 92!), Sonata for Piano op. 111, String Quartet in B flat, op. 130. It wasn't just Haydn that followed this scheme; it was the norm for instrumental music until at least the end of the 19th century. It started to break down with the advent of program music, i.e. music that had some kind of textural basis or inspiration. So we started to have pieces named "Symphonie fantastique" or orchestral music titled "Finlandia" or "Also Sprach Zarathustra." This reached some absurd lengths with Erik Satie who once named some piano pieces "Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear," which was a satire on the whole convention of naming pieces after their genre or form.

But composers nowadays are really in trouble. True, they can still follow the standard naming conventions and we do still get numbered symphonies and quartets. But if you want to be fashionable and maybe win a prize, then you have to come up with some nifty and fashionable name for your orchestral masterpiece. Here are some examples:
  • Short Ride in a Fast Machine (John Adams)
  • The Light, for orchestra (Philip Glass, but most of his music has genre or form titles)
  • Turangalîla-Symphonie (Olivier Messiaen)
  • L'Arbre des songes ("The Tree of Dreams," Henri Dutilleux, the French have a gift for poetic titles)
  • Le Marteau sans maître ("The Hammer without Master," Pierre Boulez)
There is almost a whole category of pieces making reference to the ocean:
  • The Oceanides (Jean Sibelius)
  • La Mer (Claude Debussy)
  • Become Ocean (John Luther Adams, it won a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize)
Young composers seem to avoid numbered and genre titles entirely so they end up with a lot of odd names for instrumental pieces:

  • 2001–2002 Fits & Bursts
  • 2003 Out of the Loop
  • 2004 By All Means
  • 2004 So to Speak
  • 2006 It Remains to Be Seen
  • 2006 Wish You Were Here
  • 2007 From Here on Out
  • 2007 Seeing is Believing

All by Nico Muhly!

I'm wrestling with this problem myself right now. I'm writing a piece for violin and guitar and am likely to call it something like "Concert Piece for Violin and Guitar," but I just know someone is going to come up to me afterwards and say, "couldn't you think of a better title than that?" I dunno, the alternative might be "Glissandi in Contrary Motion" à la Philip Glass or "Octatonic Fantasy." And are those titles any better? Honestly, the idea that the title needs to reveal the Inner Truth of the music or its Hidden Meaning is such a passé notion, isn't it? The only real need for a name or title is so that you can keep track of which piece it is. Sonata op. 111 works perfectly well.

This is Grigory Sokolov playing the Sonata, op. 111 by Beethoven in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1988:


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Music Criticism, part 1

I've been leaning heavily on Mr. Beardsley when it comes to aesthetics and criticism, but if I am going to do some sample exercises then I need to define my own turf. Part of music criticism, I feel, is the historical aspect. You might think that this is just because, as Frank Zappa said, all the good music was already written by dead white guys in wigs, but in fact all music, even pop music, takes place in an historical context. My early education as an undergraduate included a course in the philosophy of history and I have continued to do a bit of reading in that area. My Renaissance Music History professor was a bit surprised to learn that I not only knew, but had read R. G. Collingwood's The Idea of History. At one time I also tried to read all of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History, though I didn't quite succeed.

I like the idea of what is sometimes called a "thick" description:
In the fields of anthropology, sociology, religious studies, human-centered design and organizational development, a thick description of a human behavior is one that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider.
This comports well with Collingwood's idea that a historian should try and "get inside" historical figures and events, that is, try to see things from their perspective.

Just as a little experiment I would like to pick a favorite piece of mine and do some aesthetic criticism. The piece is a transcription, by Luys de Narváez for vihuela, of a four part secular chanson by Josquin des Prez titled "Mille Regretz." The original is in the Phrygian mode on E:

Click to enlarge
Most scholars attribute this to Josquin, but there are some who disagree. The practice of transcribing vocal music for fretted string instruments like the lute or vihuela was common in the 16th century as those instruments were just finding their way and the intabulation of vocal counterpoint was an important technical advance. Narváez' setting was known as the "Canción del Emperador" because it became a favorite piece of Philip II, We learn from Wikipedia:
The exact date or even year of Narváez's birth is unknown. He was born in Granada and the earliest surviving references to him indicate that as early as 1526 he was a member of the household of Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, a well-known and very successful patron of the arts who was the Secretary of State and commentator for the kingdom of Castile under Charles V. Narváez lived in Valladolid with his patron until the latter's death in 1547. It was during this period that the composer published Los seys libros del delphín (Valladolid, 1538), a large collection of music.
By 1548 Narváez was employed as musician of the royal chapel, where he also taught music to choristers. His colleagues there included the famous keyboard composer Antonio de Cabezón. Narváez and Cabezón were both employed as musicians for Felipe, Regent of Spain (later Philip II of Spain), and accompanied him on his many journeys. The last reference to Narváez is from one such journey: during the winter of 1549 he resided in the Low Countries.
Narváez was very highly regarded during his lifetime, particularly for his vihuela playing; he was reported to be able to improvise four parts over another four at sight. His son Andrés also became an accomplished vihuelist.
One of the things that Narváez is known for is the very first published sets of instrumental variations that appeared in his book Los seys libros del delphín. But what I want to focus on briefly is the social context. Narváez was a member of the household of the Secretary of State of Charles V and later of the court of Philip II. Spain was, at the time, the first global empire. Transferred to the contemporary world this would be like being a close advisor to John Kerry when he was Secretary of State in the Obama administration and then being a close advisor to Donald Trump. In other words, Narváez was at the very center of world power for much of his career. This says something about his abilities, but also about how patronage has changed over the centuries. Then, outstanding artists were patronized by the highest members of the political aristocracy. Nowadays, the most powerful figures in the arts and media donate enormous amounts of money to elected politicians. Just think how different that is.

Now let's look at the piece by Narváez. He was a composer and performer on the vihuela, the fretted instrument, related to the guitar, that served the role that the lute did in the rest of Europe.

16th century Vihuela

16th century Lute

The two instruments were tuned identically: GCFADG (though some vihuelas were at a different pitch and there was no standard pitch in the 16th century so all this is relative). Guitarists can approximate the tuning of both instruments by tuning the third string to F# and then placing a capo on the third fret.

The first good modern edition of the piece was published in a brief anthology titled Hispanae Citharae Ars Viva ("The Living Art of the Spanish Guitar") transcribed and edited by Maestro Emilio Pujol in 1956. I purchased it in Spain in 1974 when I was studying with José Tomás. He had me do several pieces from the book as an exercise in the separation of voices. Here is the first page of the score:


If you compare the original with the transcription for vihuela you will be a bit perplexed as they don't look anything the same. The note values in the guitar transcription reflect those in the original tablature, but in the modern transcription of the vocal work are reduced by half: a breve (double whole note) becomes a whole and so on. Another change is that the four voices of the original become three voices on the vihuela. Also, if you compare the two versions you will see that one measure in the vocal piece becomes two in the vihuela. But that is far from all! Nearly everything is varied on the vihuela. Take the second measure in the vocal score: it becomes the third and fourth in the vihuela score. The bass line is the same (F to D in the voice becoming C to A in the vihuela) given the transposition from E Phrygian to B Prygian. But all the eighth notes are added ornaments. This is partly because the vihuela cannot sustain notes the way the voice can and also because these kinds of free ornaments were very popular in Spain at the time. Tomás de Santa María, a composer and theorist, published an extensive book on ornamentation in 1565 titled Arte de tañer fantasía. From then on the vihuela version is so different from the vocal one that it might better be described as a free fantasia on the Josquin original. This is not surprising as Narváez is a pretty significant composer: he was the first to publish a set of variations on a theme.

Now let's listen to the two pieces. First the Josquin original with the score:

Now the version for vihuela with the original tablature (the lowest string is at the top):


I think that covers the first two stages of criticism: description and interpretation? The third is evaluation. I think it is safe to say that this is one of the best vihuela pieces in the repertoire. It is based on a very famous piece by Josquin and the transcription is famous in its own right. It is popular with performers and audiences and was certainly a hit with Philip II. I think the reason is that it is a very expressive piece with the underlying melancholy of the Phrygian mode, successfully exploited in both versions, and with the delicate filigree of the vihuela ornamentation. As this is meant to be a very basic exercise in music criticism I won't go any further!

So there you go...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Criticism and Biographies

Reading the Wall Street Journal this morning I learned an interesting tidbit: the originator of our fixation on the biographies of artists seems to have been Giorgio Vasari, author of the famous 16th century Lives of the Artists. The reviewer notes:
These and many other stories—of the exploits and adventures, eccentricities and foibles, of the most prominent and successful artists of the Renaissance—feature in Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists,” which gave us the Renaissance as we know it today. Art historians continue to learn much from Vasari’s “Lives,” a page turner that blends history, description, criticism and biography. The artists Vasari championed, such as Leonardo da Vinci, remain our cultural heroes. Those he neglected, Mantegna and Francesco di Giorgio among them, never recovered the reputation they once enjoyed.
Despite being first published in 1550, with a second edition following in 1568, Vasari and his book have over the past few decades received renewed academic attention as part of a broad scholarly turn toward the study of primary texts.
The problem here, as readers of my aesthetics series will know, is that the "primary text" is not the exploits and foibles of the private lives of the artists at all, but rather the artworks! As Wimsatt and Beardsley pointed out many years ago in their paper "The Intentional Fallacy" not only do the personal events in artists lives have an ambiguous relationship with the art, but even the intentions of the artist are irrelevant to the artwork and how we evaluate it!

But still, nearly every single book published on art and artists puts the life of the artist at the center. It used to be more the case that the format was "life and works" with the two separated to some extent. But the last two monographs I read, on Prokofiev and Sibelius, dispersed discussion of the works within the biography with the implication that the biography was the cause and the work was the effect. This is the great hidden assumption of most musical biographies. They reach their nadir with books like the one on Mozart by Maynard Solomon that relates the music to supposed deep psychological problems in Mozart's psyche. One of the real delights of Taruskin's book on Stravinsky is that you can read all (of volume one at least) without having the slightest inkling that he once had an affair with Coco Chanel!

If the writer of a biography of an artist is honest, then he will have to admit that all the events in the life he recounts not only do not explain or cause the art, they are largely irrelevant to the art. Sure it gives you that nice fuzzy feeling of knowing something to know that Bach had thirteen surviving children, but to know that is to know nothing about Bach's music. And you can know a great deal about the music without knowing a single thing about Bach's life. But still, we are fascinated by artist's lives. Oddly, some people are more fascinated with the lives than the art itself.

But trust me, if you want to know something about the artwork the only way is to examine the artwork. What the composer wore when he wrote it, or what brand of champagne he preferred or how much his publisher sent him in royalties will tell you nothing about the art itself. Speaking of champagne, let's listen to Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 6, which is often described as like a drink of cool, pure water (even though an awful lot of champagne was consumed during the compositional process). This is Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Swedish Radio Orchestra:


Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Miscellanea



Here is a song contest where the participants are birds:
Such contests are widespread in Southeast Asia. My colleague, accordionist Mike Adcock, chanced upon one this year in a market in Cianjur, West Java. A dozen cages were suspended high up, while below men with clipboards assessed the singing. In central Jakarta contests can attract hundreds of entrants, passionate bird trainers arriving along with their white-rumped shamas, green bulbuls or hill blue flycatchers. On one level it’s a (largely male) social occasion, on another there’s a lot of prize money at stake. A ten minute video from Phuket in Thailand shows the competitors desperately encouraging their birds from the sidelines, bending the rules by gesturing, whistling or blowing kisses. A bird with potential may be worth as much as a Toyota Fortuner. In fact a belief that it’s unlucky to put a price on a bird means they are more likely to be bartered for goods such as cars. The judges, some of whom are women, are assessing melody, rhythm and volume. One contest in Phuket demands that birds sing eight specific pitches within a defined time period.
* * * 

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the darkness of Beethoven's Appassionata:
In 1804, following works born of the idealism of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment such as his “Eroica” Symphony, Beethoven created the greatest musical explosion for solo piano of its time: the Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, known as the “Appassionata.” It is a work of a very different temper.
Composed soon after Beethoven first faced the catastrophic prospect of incurable deafness, the work has fascinated and confounded performers and listeners ever since. Full of tragic power, the sonata is arguably Beethoven’s darkest and most aggressive work. It has been compared to Dante’s “Inferno” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
* * *

A few years ago Tom Service did a terrific year-long series of articles on 20th century composers, followed by another one on symphonies. We haven't heard a lot from him lately, but he has a piece on "earworms" in The Guardian:
 La, la, la, la, la, la-la laaaa ... Can’t get it out of your head? 90% of us get earworms – those fragments of tunes that get stuck on a loop in your brain and which are impossible to dislodge for hours, days – and in some pathological cases, months and years. The German word for them, “Ohrwürmer”, translates literally as “earworms”, which rather brilliantly conveys the idea of a piece of music as an insectoid invader burrowing its way through your ears until it infects your brain and echoes round and round, beyond your control. That’s why they’re also known as brain worms, or simply sticky music. Just to name a few that have haunted me over the last few weeks, I can’t get the theme tune to Black Beauty nor the opening of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances nor the cues for Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure for the Nintendo DS out of my head, to say nothing of the jingle for British Airways – actually by French composer Léo Delibes. Nor the Hovis advert with the bicycle and the cobbled street and the tune from Dvorák’s New World Symphony: round and round they go like a wheel within a wheel. And now The Windmills of Your Mind is stuck in my cranium …
He offers some suggestions to rid your mind of an earworm, but I have a better one, I think. Just hum quietly to yourself the subject of a Bach fugue. My favorite for this purpose is the Fugue from the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor. It is tuneful enough to be easily remembered, but not a good earworm so after a while it simply fades away and voila, no more earworm!


* * *

Bill Murray and some friends just did a very unusual concert, sort of a classical/pop melange, but it was a hit with audiences at the Chicago Symphony Center and now goes to Carnegie Hall. The review was great, but, as usual at Slipped Disc, the comments were mixed:
Each time we thought we saw the most poignant moment of the evening, Murray and colleagues Jan Vogler, Mira Wang, and Vanessa Perez added another layer of intimacy and depth to the performance, astoundingly elevating and giving new life to some of the most cliched musical works. Perez shone new pearls in her pianissimo phrases of “I Dream Of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair,” and she and cellist Vogler somehow made “Moon River,” formerly concerto for elevator and disgruntled riders, into something newly profound.
Murray shot us right through the heart when he took violinist Wang’s hand and danced a soulful tango with her onstage to the accompaniment of tango master Astor Piazolla. In the middle of Wang’s virtuoso reading of Heifetz’s showy version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” Murray shocked us all by singing the Gershwin lyrics better than anyone since Satchmo. Murray’s singing was the best gift of the evening, in a rousing version of “When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God” that made soulful melancholy an art form.
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 Here is a fascinating article about music in ancient China:
The difference between sound (sheng) and tone (yin) is the presence of patterning. The cawing of birds and the whistling of wind, or the sobbing at a funeral, may be considered sounds, but a dirge sung at the funeral belongs to tones. Music is both nature (based in feelings) and culture (with patterning). Even more important, music is closely associated with words—that is, song lyrics. It’s also associated with governance. An old legend about ancient kings articulates this unique belief in the political—not just aesthetic or philosophical—importance of music. According to the story, the kings would send their officers to the villages, collect the songs of the common folk, and bring them back to the court, believing the songs to be signs and symptoms that can tell the king about the mood of his people. If it is happy, the king can rejoice with them; if it is distressed and resentful, the king must either reform his government or face certain ruin.
Benjamin Britten set six poems from the Chinese collection mentioned in the article for voice and guitar.

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Not a very extensive miscellanea today! Let's end with a performance of the Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor by Beethoven. This is Vladimir Horowitz in 1959: