Monday, August 31, 2015

Sorry for the Hiatus

I was very busy on the weekend working with musicians who are going to be recording two of my pieces. The one is my set of twelve songs which we are going to be going into the studio with at the end of September, beginning of October. The other is an expanded version of my piece "Chase" for violin and piano. We are trying to see if it is feasible to record it before my violinist leaves on Sept. 15.

It seems as if the job of purging scores of errors, correcting text underlay (in the case of the songs), and preparing parts with all the necessary tempo indications, cues and so on JUST NEVER ENDS! Beethoven made a similar comment once that the published versions of his string quartets are full of schools of little errors like schools of fish! One wonders how many of them are still there today. Last week I noticed that one measure in my published Four Pieces for violin and guitar that is all in harmonics, was missing the indication that the notes are all harmonics!

In the piece for violin and piano, I was disconcerted to discover that one, I thought, clever passage a piacere turned out to be a real problem when I extracted the violin part. You see, how it works is you compose in score, that is to say, all the parts aligned vertically so you can see the relationships. This is what composers have done since, oh, the 17th century. But the next step is to pull out the individual parts because it is simply too cumbersome to play from score. There is a page turn every few seconds! In the case of my piece for violin and piano, it is six pages in score, but just two and a half pages for the violin part separately. But passages like my a piacere (which means, "as you please", i.e. to play it rhythmically freely) become impossible because the players have to see what one another is doing as they are tossing a motif back and forth. So what I have to do is insert "cues", miniature versions of the piano part, into the violin part so she can see what is going on in the other part. The pianist plays from the score, so she doesn't have a problem. Luckily, my music software has a feature that enables you to do this pretty easily. But obviously it is the kind of thing you would have to handle completely differently in an orchestral context!

My main failing as a composer, I find, is to leave out some things in the notation because I am too quick to assume that the performers will know what to do even if I don't make it explicit. This probably comes from my long career as a performer where a frequent problem was "over-determined" scores where the composer insists on notating every detail to the point where virtually every note has a dynamic, articulation, expression and so on. You can barely see the forest for the trees! I put up a post about this here.

You can expect a lot more posts on Messiaen, in fact one on his compositional technique is in the works right now. So let's have a little Messiaen to end today. Here is a piece he wrote in 1937 for six Ondes Martenot, an early kind of electronic musical instrument invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot. Messiaen also used it in his Turangalîla-Symphonie and other pieces:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Musicians and Mistakes

My first experience with how classical musicians regard mistakes in performance was when I was singing in the choir for a performance of Handel's Judas Maccabaeus in undergraduate music school. As is usual, the choir was placed behind the orchestra and I was right behind the brass section. As I recall, there was a particularly nasty solo for the French horn in one aria and in rehearsal the player had cacked a couple of times. "Cack", by the way is a perfectly decent word which means "to incorrectly play a note by hitting a partial other than the one intended." In the concert the French horn player also missed one of the first notes. After the aria was over he reached in his pocket and took out a ten-dollar bill which he placed on the music stand of the trumpet player sitting next to him. Heh!

So that's one way musicians view performance errors: as a way to win some beer money. Via Slipped Disc, here are some remarks from Rory Jeffes, managing director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra:
Musicians often have enormous reticence in communicating concerns about others’ performance levels to colleagues. Sometimes in a rehearsal (and hopefully only in a rehearsal!) someone will make a huge mistake or wrong entry – and there isn’t a twitch or eyebrow raised across the orchestra. Nothing. The sense is ‘they know they made the mistake – they don’t need me to point it out’. One of our senior musicians told me when he first worked at the back of a string section in one of the major London orchestras a horn player made a loud mistake and our musician turned round to look at the culprit. ‘What the hell are you looking at sonny?’ was the response. They never spoke again.
Certainly different from my experience! I had to learn how to play the mandolin from scratch in a few weeks once for a solo in Don Giovanni and in one of the performances I hit the wrong fret and skated into the right note from below. Afterwards one of the trombone players (who were sitting behind me) asked me if that was a blues arrangement. Ho, ho, ho. But no, players normally don't react to one another's mistakes during the concert. Why would they?

Most of the talk about mistakes focuses on the players, but conductors can also make mistakes. In fact, some of them are known for it. I heard from one orchestral musician that in the parts for the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 that they used there was written the injunction "Don't Look Up!" That is, in this particular passage, don't look at the conductor who is sure to be beating it wrong.

Some conductors are very poor accompanists for soloists in concertos and I remember one vivid example. Pepe Romero was playing the A major Concerto by Mauro Giuliani (which he virtually owns) with an unnamed orchestra and made the point of cutting the conductor dead. He and the conductor entered, as per normal protocol, with Pepe in the lead. He shook the hand of the concertmaster and settled himself in his chair. Adjusted his footstool. Winked at the oboist as he checked his tuning with her "A". Looked around the hall. Smiled at some cute girls in the first row. Settled himself in his chair again. Crossed his arms on the upper bout of the guitar (there is a long orchestral introduction). Then, finally, nodded to the conductor that he can start the piece. And he did all this without once looking at the conductor. A magnificent example of how to trim one down to size.

It can get ugly sometimes. A conductor once took a dislike to the principal trumpet player and assembled clips from concert tapes of every time he cacked and used them to get him fired. It didn't help that the trumpet player was the ex- of the principal French horn player and they were on such bad terms that the trumpet section refused to tune with the French horn section.

But on the whole, symphony orchestras are composed of a bunch of intelligent, hard-working people with a good sense of humor. So, usually, it is a pretty good place to make music. And if you win the occasional bet at the French horn player's expense, well, why not?

The French horn is a very difficult instrument and it is especially tricky to get the first few notes of a solo without cacking:

But some can do it. This is the great English horn player Dennis Brain with the Mozart Horn Concerto No. 1. The Philharmonia Orchestra is conducted by Herbert von Karajan:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Are music researchers getting better? Certainly seems so as more and more they seem to come up with findings that are neither insulting to the intelligence nor insulting to music lovers. Take for example this recent study by two Irish researchers:
In the journal Psychology of Music, Groarke and Hogan report older and younger people tend to express different ideas when asked why they listen to music. While the responses of four groups of participants—two featuring people under 30, and two composed of those over 60—were predictably wide-ranging, the researchers found some distinct patterns.
For younger adults, social connection is a strong component of music listening; you bond with your peers over your choice in tunes. By one measure, this consideration placed second only to "mood improvement." (This finding aligns nicely with the theory that music originally developed as a source of social cohesion.)
But that aspect of listening was far less important to older adults, who largely looked at music as therapeutic—a source of meaning and personal growth. While some younger participants did refer to music's ability to provide them with a private "personal space," the bulk of the responses suggest older people are more interested in music as an intense, inner experience, while younger ones view it as a way of escaping bad moods and connecting with friends.
On the other hand, this study examined only 43 people in two age groups, so it is probably what we might call "suggestive" rather than "definitive".

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Stanislavsky, call your office. There may be aspects of current academic culture that are reaching beyond parody. Take this one for example. A professor of film and cultural studies is going to research David Bowie for an monograph by using method acting. He will try to live like David Bowie for a year.
He has started wearing vintage clothing and adopting Bowie’s hairstyle and makeup. He has been taking singing lessons and trying to paint in an expressionist style. He has experimented with sleep deprivation and even spent a few days sampling Bowie’s dubious diet of raw red peppers and milk.
Well, sure. I'm thinking of trying it out myself. In an attempt to better understand the compositional practices of Anton Bruckner, I'm thinking of trying to live like him for a year. I've already got my eye on a 17-year-old Austrian peasant girl. Mind you, the make-up is going to be hell:

Not a pretty man...

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We all love Ghostbusters, right? So here is what we have all been waiting for, a heavy-metal cover of the Ghostbusters theme:

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Some airlines, in their never-ending effort to cause as much trouble as they possibly can for working musicians, lose instruments or severely damage them. But the gold medal goes to US Airways for their success in managing to lose not one or two violins, but EIGHT in a special shipping trunk, checked in at the airport in Barcelona. Go to Slipped Disc for the full story. (Update: apparently the violins turned up eventually, but the airline still can't explain what happened.)

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Time for some good news, right? A physicist has devised a way of non-invasively "reading" the audio information on older recording media so that it can be preserved and heard in a pristine form. The story is at the Wall Street Journal.

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Here is an interesting review of two operas presented in Edinburgh recently. The operas were The Rake's Progress by Stravinsky on a libretto by W. H. Auden and Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart on a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. The reviewer comes to the not terribly startling conclusion that:
While a first-rate performance of The Rake’s Progress can’t disguise the fact that it’s just an ingenious toy, a misconceived Figaro remains unsinkable
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Is food the new music? This seems to be a developing meme these days:
Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it’s become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste. If you’ve eaten at Noma, you’ve had an experience a very tiny fraction of the world will be lucky enough to experience, whereas if you name any musical artist, I can likely find their music and be listening to it within a few mouse clicks. Legally, too, which removes even more of the caché that came with illicit downloading, the thrill of being a digital bootlegger.
Wouldn't it be great if we could see the return of aesthetics in the form of developed tastes in music and other art forms? At least that is the official position of the Music Salon because it would be so much more egalitarian: it costs nothing to have good taste.

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Are we seeing the Rise of the Cultural Libertarians? Some people think it is about time:
The new authoritarians aren’t merely concerned with policing art and entertainment, but also everyday expression, especially in advertising. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and free speech advocate Greg Lukianoff recently published an article for The Atlantic in which they describe a new movement to “scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offence.” By controlling the language of society, cultural authoritarians hope to control society itself.
Cultural libertarians disagree. Liberal columnist Nick Cohen points out that changing words and changing society are two different things. “The lie that you can change the world by changing language is back,” he writes. “I cannot tell you how many good people [are driven] out of left-wing politics … because they did not realise that words that were acceptable yesterday are unacceptable today.”
In order to control what they see as dangerous expression, authoritarians often resort to casual and spurious accusations of misogyny, racism, and homophobia. The goal is to manipulate the boundaries of acceptable speech by smearing their targets with socially unacceptable labels and to write off speakers they don’t like as bigots so they don’t have to engage with the speaker’s arguments.
Worth reading the whole thing as it presents a whole manifesto of cultural libertarianism. The Music Salon is probably culturally libertarian in its basic assumptions.

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I don't know about you, but I've been longing to hear choral arrangements of the Sex Pistols for some time. And now, thanks to an Estonian festival, here it is. I know that you are longing to hear the original, so here it is, the Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the UK":

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One definition of a poorly done review would be one that would be unrecognizable by the musicians. I think this one by Norman Lebrecht might qualify. The composer is Prokofiev and the writer speculates:
Taken on its own, the Second Violin Concerto reveals more of the composer’s state of mind than is readable in his letters and memoirs. He is going back home out of creative necessity and his mind is made up, but anxiety seeps through the work like mildew through a garden shed. This is the work of a man at life’s crossroads, a man who seems to know that whichever way he turns will be the wrong one.
And when I say "speculates" I really mean completely invents a whole psychological scenario with only the slightest biographical evidence and absolutely no support in the music itself. Why? Very simply because a piece of instrumental music, no matter how much you torture it, cannot reveal things like "anxiety seeps through the work like mildew through a garden shed". This is the work of a music critic who has run out of anything to say and starts making up metaphors inspired by looking out the window at his back yard. Norman must be at his life's crossroads, a man who seems to know that whichever way he turns will be the wrong one.

But that does give us our envoi for today. Here is the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 63. The performers are Janine Jansen (Violin), Mark Elder (Conductor) and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra:

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Unity and Complexity

Munroe C. Beardsley's book on Aesthetics is full of fascinating observations like this one:
It should be clear, now, that unity and complexity are distinct things and can vary independently within limits. Within limits because, first, the simplest things cannot but have a fairly high degree of unity, and, second, the most complex things will be difficult to unify, and perhaps cannot be as completely unified as less complex things. Unity and complexity are set over against each other: very broadly speaking, the former is increased by similarities of parts, the latter by differences.
His examples are particularly interesting. Leaving out the examples from visual arts, he goes on to say:
Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is much more complex than, say, Fauré's Requiem Mass, but it is probably not much less unified. On the other hand, Liszt's Les Préludes is much simpler than the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony in F major (No. 8), but it is also less unified.
If this seems contra-intuitive to you, consider that Beethoven is one of the greatest composers in terms of organic unity while Liszt's music tends to be much more atmospheric and loosely written.

Let's compare. Here is the first movement of the Beethoven:

And here is the Liszt:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I very rarely perform these days as I prefer to put my energies into composition, but I am going to a gathering of musicians tonight and a violinist friend and I are going to play a couple of pieces, just for fun. She picked out a piece I transcribed decades ago, originally for lute duet. It has a nice Elizabethan bluegrass feel. This is The Queen's Dump, by John Johnson which I transcribed from a photo reproduction of the Mynshall Lute Book, c. 1597 - 99:

I note that they have fudged the title, just a tad. In the original it is titled "The Queene's Dump (A Dump)" and at the end of the solo part it says "A Treble". That's the melodic part. Then appears the eight measures of chords that the other lute plays and it is titled "the grounde to the treble before". And that, apart from the name of the composer, John Johnson, is it. That stuff about the Queen's Revels is an invention of the modern performers. I guess the word "dump" just made them nervous. At this point in time it is difficult to know the origin of the name, but the piece is a set of variations on the old bergamesca ground bass originating in Italy.

The other piece we are going to play is one I wrote a few years ago. It is one of a set of four pieces for violin and guitar published by The Avondale Press in Vancouver. This one is titled "Cloudscape". I have posted it before, but there are many new readers that have not heard it. I have chosen some photos taken during the recording session to accompany the audio.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Reflections on Messiaen, Part 2

I know that my titling is going to be idiosyncratic for this series on the composer Olivier Messiaen, but try and bear with me. Also, for the first time, we will have some guest posts from someone I will introduce later.

Today will be a bit of a miscellanea of thoughts about Messiaen that I hope will help to introduce him to you. One book that is proving useful is The Messiaen Companion, issued just a couple of years after he passed away, so the first to be able to give a perspective on Messiaen's whole life and career.

Much of the music of the 20th century is challenging in various ways. All too often it seems to smack of sterile experimentation, or descend into the expression of agony and despair (not too surprising, considering 20th century history), or simply bully the listener. It is very rare indeed to listen to 20th century music with the kind of unalloyed pleasure that we find in the music of Haydn or Mozart. Every time I put on a piece by Haydn I catch myself breaking into a smile! I was surprised to find myself doing the same listening to Messiaen. Peter Hill, in the book I linked above, referred to Messiaen as an optimist and so he seems to be. Despite his bold approach to composition, he possessed many very traditional virtues, which included his firm Catholic faith and his innate curiosity. The shelves of his study contained volumes of Shakespeare (translated by his father Pierre), works of theology, books on birds, and musical scores.

It might seem anomalous that someone whose life was essentially simple, with the lucidity of a medieval craftsman, would also be a hugely influential teacher in the post-World War II musical avant-garde--impervious to dogma in a particularly dogmatic era! At a time when abstraction in music reigned supreme, he believed in music's power to describe and symbolize as a moment's glance at almost any of his scores reveals.

I empathize with Messiaen's fascination with and love of birdsong: in my early youth we moved to a homestead in the Canadian north and I spent many hours wandering in the woods trying to imitate the calls of the birds. It was a kind of ear-training. For Messiaen it was much more, of course, as he regarded birdsong as a kind of music and incorporated symbolic birdsong in a host of compositions, most of all the very large collection of piano pieces I included in my post on Sunday, the Catalogue d'oiseaux.

He also found stained glass inspiring which might offer a clue as to his striking and bold orchestrations which dazzle the listener.

Messiaen was a brilliant analyst, able to sort out the, at the time, esoteric compositions of Stravinsky, Berg and Schoenberg and explain them to a new generation of young composers that included Pierre Boulez. This was a kind of bound or turning point for Messiaen for the sessions of ideological disputation he ultimately found unsatisfying and he turned away from musical abstraction and spent a decade in which he became intensely engaged with birdsong in his composition. The first of these was a piece written as a test piece for flutists at the Conservatoire titled Le merle noir ("The Blackbird") composed in 1952. This gives us a good envoi for today. Here are Kenneth Smith, flute and Matthew Schellhorn, piano:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Music of Olivier Messiaen, Part 1

I am ashamed to admit that, until recently, I had only the vaguest knowledge of the music of Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992). I have known about him for a long time as one of the first things I did when discovering classical music was read all the books I could find and the first library I went to, a tiny municipal one, had a couple of histories of music in the 20th century. Messiaen, of course, figured prominently. But for some reason, I never heard much of his music apart from a couple of the piano pieces and the Quartet for the End of Time, which has to be one of the greatest titles ever for a piece of music. But I am not alone, of course, performances of Messiaen are not thick on the ground here in North America. I was talking yesterday to a violinist friend of mine about perhaps Messiaen's greatest work, the Turangalîla-Symphonie and, though she has played in symphony orchestras for nearly fifty years, she has not only never been part of a performance, she has never even heard the piece!

So, as part of my own self-education project in Olivier Messiaen, I am going to do a few posts on him and his music as it is my feeling that Messiaen, along with Stravinsky, Bartók, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, is emerging as one of the great composers of the 20th century. Let's start with a photo. This is Messiaen reviewing a score alongside his erstwhile piano student, later second wife and long time interpreter, Yvonne Loriod:

My own encounter with Messiaen starts in the easternmost town of Germany, Görlitz, right on the border with Poland. By sheer accident one day while visiting with my ex-wife's family, who live near Dresden, I failed to get off the train when I should have and ended up in Görlitz, at that time a dreary industrial town--considerably prettier now. During the Second World War, just to the south of Görlitz (and not mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the town) was the site of Stalag VIII-A, a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp whose most famous prisoner was Olivier Messiaen, captured, along with many other Frenchmen, during the Battle of France in 1940. While there Messiaen composed his Quartet for the End of Time. It was written for the odd combination of clarinet, violin, cello and piano simply because these were the only instruments (and players) available. The piece was actually premiered in the camp on January 15, 1941. Outdoors, in the rain, to an audience of 400 prisoners and guards.

Messiaen, as we learn from the magisterial work by Richard Taruskin, the Oxford History of Western Music, was a remarkably unusual figure. He is almost the only composer in recent centuries to have been a full-time church musician. For more than forty years he was the regular Sunday organist at the Église de la Sainte-Trinité, one of the largest churches in Paris. Probably the last important composer previously to be a working church musician was J. S. Bach. Messiaen was also a brilliant theorist and teacher. Unlike many composers he wrote in great detail about exactly how he composed his music (as opposed to, for example, Stravinsky who tended to lie about how he worked and Shostakovich who never discussed it at all). Every artist chooses his predecessors and the ones that influenced Messiaen were first of all the Russians, particularly the maximalizing and spiritual influence of Scriabin. This also revealed itself in the use of the octatonic scale, a typical Russian mode. I will be devoting a separate post to the theoretical structure of Messiaen's music.

Two other important influences in terms not of aspiration but of technique were Indian music, specifically the rhythmic modes, and Medieval music. Messiaen seems to have re-invented the isorhythmic motet without realizing it. Taruskin calls Messiaen, not a mystic, despite the deep religious nature of his music, but a scholastic because, like Thomas Aquinas, Messiaen strove to demonstrate revealed truths in rational discourse. While achieving great ambiguity through complexity, Messiaen's music is precisely and intricately constructed as I think we will see later on.

One final influence or perhaps inspiration, was birdsong. The Wikipedia article refers to Messiaen as a "French composer, organist and ornithologist" and, like his teacher Dukas, he was fascinated with the song of birds who are often portrayed in European myths and legends as prophetic creatures. Many pieces by Messiaen contain stylized birdsong and he wrote one, the gargantuan Catalogue d'oiseaux, two and a half hours of music for solo piano in seven books, entirely devoted to birdsong.

That gives you a bit of an introduction to Messiaen, not only a very important composer, but also one of the most significant teachers of composition in the 20th century. Let's end with the Catalogue d'oiseaux performed by Yvonne Loriod, probably the piece they are perusing in the above photo.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Why Mozart is Considered a Child Prodigy

I've been listening, off and on, to the complete Mozart lately (170 CDs!) and keep running across interesting stuff. I finally got to the operas and was amazed to discover that, not only did Mozart write 22 operas, but he started when he was a mere lad of eleven years. Unlike eleven-year old slackers who might only write one opera, he actually wrote two. His first, in German, titled "Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots" is sometimes termed an oratorio, but as there are stage directions, it is best classified as a "sacred play with music." This was premiered in March of 1767. His second opera of the year, composed to a Latin text, was Apollo et Hyacinthus, in three acts, premiered in May of 1767. Then, of course, he went on to write two more operas when he was twelve. The first is a one act comic singspiel (meaning with spoken dialogue) in German, titled Bastien und Bastienne. There was an unconfirmed premiere in October of 1768. He followed this up with La finta semplice, an opera buffa to an Italian libretto. This is a full, three act opera in 558 pages of score. This was premiered in May 1769.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned, Mozart was born in January, 1756.

Now if you are thinking that these were some sort of stunt with the music actually being written by his father, an established composer and violinist, not at all. Even years before this, Mozart was already correcting his father, rather than the other way around. Yes, by age eleven probably and certainly by age twelve, Mozart was a fully accomplished opera composer who had already written operas in three different languages. These are not "student" works of dubious accomplishment, but quite acceptable operas. Certainly they are not at the level Mozart would achieve later in life, no Don Giovanni or Magic Flute, but perfectly decent operas.

The opening theme of the overture to Bastien und Bastienne is very similar to the opening theme of the Eroica Symphony by Beethoven:

And here is La finta semplice, the whole opera, but with the recitatives omittedBarbara Hendricks (Rosina), soprano; Siegfried Lorenz (Don Cassandro), bass; Douglas Johnson (Don Polidoro), tenor; Ann Murray (Giacinta), soprano; Eva Lind (Ninetta), soprano; Hans Peter Blochwitz (Fracasso), tenor; Andreas Schmidt (Simone), bass; Kammerorchester "CPE Bach", conducted by Peter Schreier.

The list of composers who were accomplished enough to write full-length operas at age eleven or twelve is a very short one indeed. There is only one name on that list:


Sober Second Thoughts

A recurring theme recently, and especially in yesterday's miscellanea, is the dumbing down of culture, or, as I like to call it, "slouching towards idiocracy". But I don't think things are quite as bad as they are pictured. For one thing, my experience here at the Music Salon has been quite different. This blog has received around 3700 comments and the vast majority of them have been courteous, intelligent and informed. I have only had to remove 1 (one) for being insulting and obscene (to both myself and Richard Taruskin, of all people!). This is over a four year period. Based on this I would say that the culture doesn't seem to be declining. But if you look at the culture as it is portrayed in the mass media, you would get a completely different impression.

So perhaps we need to look at things from a slightly different angle. Democracy and egalitarianism have metastasized in recent years to the point where it is not only believed that everyone's opinion is as good as everyone else's, but to the astonishing claim that the only people with the right to an opinion, or to express an opinion publicly, are from Official Victim Groups. Let's treat that view with the respect it deserves and walk right on by.

I have been leery of democracy for a long time, since 399 BC to be precise, when a jury of 501 fine and upstanding Athenian citizens condemned Socrates to death for asking annoying questions though the actual charges were impiety and corrupting the youth. Aristotle left town saying he wanted to forestall Athens from committing a second crime against philosophy.

In a normal, healthy, civilized society those members who are ill-informed are discouraged from offering their half-baked thoughts in public fora. In our society they are constantly yammering on Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere and email. Not only that, but pollsters even call them up and ask them their thoughts on political questions and candidates. Then these ill-conceived and misinformed opinions are actually published!! Hard to believe, I know, but that's what it's come to.

So when someone like Mario Vargas Llosa publishes a book moaning about the horrible state of the culture, perhaps the correct response is to say, Mario, I hear ya, but these people were always idiots. They aren't any more so now than they ever were. But now, through the wonders of the Internet, we allow their opinions to spread like crab grass and infect all of public life. If they had had the Internet in 1750 and encouraged all the peasants to blog, tweet and twiddle, things might have looked just as bad.

There are lots of brilliant, creative people hard at work every day and some of them comment regularly on this blog. Let's not mistake a frothy tsunami of silliness for reality.

Speaking of creative people hard at work, here's a little tune from this year's Proms concerts. Gustav Holst, The Planets, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Susanna Mälkki:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

The urge to always "make it new" undeniably leads to some interesting innovation. But, at times, it also leads to stuff we could do without hearing. Imagine if you took the horsehair of a cello bow and wrapped it around the wood of the bow several times and then played with it. You will get a rather random alternation of clicky col legno sounds interspersed with brief bowed bits. Liza Lim's piece Invisibility (2009) uses this effect for the first half:

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There have a been a lot of criticisms (some more appropriate than others) of the new music streaming services and how they present classical music. But this one is perhaps the most entertaining. Plus, lots of illustrations.

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Prince criticizes the standard record contract as "slavery" in a talk for journalists given in his studio in Minneapolis.
His pitch to the group was simple: Typical record company contracts turn artists into indentured servants with little control over how their music is used, particularly when it comes to revenue from streaming services playing their music online — and he wants to change that.
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There was a time when classical artists could mature gracefully without having to pander to the crossover crowd, or, as it is termed in this release, the "club" crowd.

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I suspect that Bill Whittle's Afterburner series will not be to everyone's taste. I remember back in the early days of the blogosphere when he would post the occasional lengthy essay also titled "Afterburner". He makes a lot of good points in this one which dovetails with some of my observations about why classical music is losing its audience.

The allusion, by the way, is to The Great Learning, one of the "Four Books" in Confucianism.

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Another item that might seem rather peripheral to music is this one from a philosopher professor. Quassim Cassam proposes that the reason some people believe things that are obviously false is not that they don't have enough information or the right information, it is that there is something wrong with the way they think. Read "Bad Thinkers" for the whole argument. Here is a core part:
Gullibility, carelessness and closed-mindedness are examples of what the US philosopher Linda Zagzebski, in her book Virtues of the Mind (1996), has called ‘intellectual vices’. Others include negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail. Intellectual character traits are habits or styles of thinking. To describe Oliver as gullible or careless is to say something about his intellectual style or mind-set – for example, about how he goes about trying to find out things about events such as 9/11. Intellectual character traits that aid effective and responsible enquiry are intellectual virtues, whereas intellectual vices are intellectual character traits that impede effective and responsible inquiry. Humility, caution and carefulness are among the intellectual virtues Oliver plainly lacks, and that is why his attempts to get to the bottom of 9/11 are so flawed.
I think the relevance to us is that while the discussion in that essay focuses on intellectual virtues, much the same applies in the world of music with what we might call musical virtues. A lot of how we train to be musicians is by developing the right kind of work habits and listening habits. Not so surprising, the same virtues that apply in the intellectual realm also apply in our realm: humility, caution and carefulness are pretty important when you are learning a piece of music. But I'm sure that there are virtues particular to what we do as well. We don't usually think of things in this way, but aren't things like the ability or willingness to follow an idea to wherever it leads, to work out the implications of a certain form, to seek out the unity in diverse motifs or textures the kinds of virtues that a composer needs?

* * *

As the theme for the day seems to be "slouching towards idiocy", let me link to a review of a new book by Mario Vargas Llosa titled "Notes on the Death of Culture."
We may not be living in the worst of times, although a case might very well be made for it, but anyone with a thought in their head would be entitled to say that we’re living in the stupidest. Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, certainly believes we are. In this series of coruscating and passionate essays on the state of culture he argues that we have, en masse, capitulated to idiocy. And it is leading us to melancholy and despair.
Want some more?
 On some aspects, such as the art business, Vargas Llosa practically foams at the mouth. The art world is “rotten to the core”, a world in which artists cynically contrive “cheap stunts”. Stars like Damien Hirst are purveyors of “con-tricks”, and their “boring, farcical and bleak” productions are aided by “half-witted critics”. 
* * *

I think that I have made clear my views on identity politics and quota systems in general, so I will put up this link without comment: "Chineke! Europe's first black professional orchestra."

I will just pose this question: do they expect to be judged by objective aesthetic standards? Or should other factors come into play?

* * *

Hmm, what would be an appropriate envoi for today's oddly mixed-up miscellanea? Aha, I have it! How about a heavy metal "cover" of the last movement of the Symphony No. 5 of Dmitri Shostakovich? You got it:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Saving Music?

Here's a really horrifying article from Wired about music that misuses two crucial words: "music" and "save". The title is "Relentless", which already seems unpromising. A sample:
Some music executives want to help talented artists reach their natural audience, no matter how small. Iovine is not among them. He’s after the kind of massive flash points that unite populations around the world and change not just what they listen to but how they dress and move and behave and think and live.
So he wants to repeat the 60s, it seems. The only "massive flash point" in music that I can think of was the entry of the Beatles on the scene in the early 60s that, due to several factors, of which the most important was simply the baby boom, caused an enormous upheaval in music. Before them, believe it or not, Van Cliburn could outsell Elvis Presley. After the Beatles, and all the bands that followed them like the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Grateful Dead and a host of others, popular music was an economic heavyweight. But it all comes back to a huge demographic bulge in society of gazillions of young teens with money in their pocket.

Mind you, the article sets the bar a tad lower by crediting Iovine with four smaller flash points, or as I would prefer to call them, "trends in musical style":
By his count, Iovine has pulled this off four times over the past couple of decades by (1) introducing the world to Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Chronic-era Dr. Dre, (2) shepherding the careers of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, (3) giving Eminem his start, and (4) creating Beats, the hardware company that turned headphones into a fashion accessory and today accounts for 34 percent of US stereo headphone sales.
So now we know who to blame! But never mind, the article points out that the environment is not as congenial to music as it was:
Teenagers used to fantasize about becoming the next Jimmy Page; now they dream of becoming the next Larry Page. They wax nostalgic about the first time they used Snapchat, not the first time they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“If you tell a kid, ‘You’ve got to pick music or Instagram,’ they’re not picking music,” Iovine says. “There was a time when, for anybody between the ages of 15 and 25, music was one, two, and three. It’s not anymore.”
Now this is a real puzzler: after a few decades of shameless manipulation of the market (as described in the article) and of the relentless industrialization of music (one hint is the fact that it is universally referred to these days as "the music industry") and of ignoring talented artists in favor of easily marketed showmen (and women) music just means less to the listeners. Instead of something that used to speak to their souls, now it is the background to a car commercial or brassiere advertisement. An earlier generation may have tried to speak from the heart, this generation just wants to shake a booty.

People like Jimmy Iovine are shaping the music business today. Regarding how he promoted his headphone company Beats before selling it to Apple for $3 billion:
What’s not debatable is Beats’ popularity. Like the iPod, its success owes as much to design and marketing as to tech specs. As with The Chronic, Iovine and his partners waged a scorched-earth campaign across the media landscape, methodically hacking Beats into the public consciousness and dropping culture-jamming hints at every opportunity. They signed up a network of high-profile endorsements—including LeBron James, Richard Sherman, and Nicki Minaj., to whom Iovine granted an ownership stake, wore a nonworking prototype around his neck during an interview with Larry King and wormed a reference into the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.”
That has nothing to do with music but everything to do with promotion. This might sound like a good thing:
With Beats, Iovine doubled down on the idea of expert curation, assembling a team of music-industry veterans to custom-build playlists to guide listeners through the chaos of an unbridled music catalog.
But I profoundly doubt that this "curation" will actually promote aesthetic quality. Hey, it's all about design and marketing and flash points and moving the needle of popular culture and a dozen other empty buzz words.

Wow, does this ever have nothing to do with music!

So, after decades of this, is it any wonder that young people really couldn't care less about music?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Concerto Guide: Shostakovich, Piano Concerto no. 2, op. 102

I mentioned last week that I am running up against the copyright wall as the concertos from now on are all likely to still be under copyright and therefore not obtainable from IMSLP. True, I could and should simply order study scores from the publishers but they take weeks (if not months) to arrive and are quite costly. This blog has a pretty tight budget as I do not collect revenue from anywhere, but just do it on my own nickel. But I don't entirely discount the possibility of ordering the score of a recent concerto if it seems really interesting. The Violin Concerto by Salonen might be a candidate.

However, I have managed to find a two-piano reduction of the Piano Concerto no. 2 in F major by Shostakovich. He didn't rate this work terribly highly himself. As Laurel Fay notes in her biography of Shostakovich:
A week after its completion on 5 February 1957, Shostakovich pooh-poohed it in a letter to Denisov as a work with no redeeming artistic merits. What he did not say was that the concerto ... had been written as a vehicle for his son Maxim, then in his final year of study at the Central Music School.
She goes on to tell us that Maxim premiered the piece on his 19th birthday in May 1957.
Critics were greatly taken with the concerto's charming simplicity, carefree spirit, and lyrical warmth.
Say what? That doesn't sound much like Shostakovich whose music is usually better described as being dark, tortured, sardonic and depressive. But it is undeniable that the Second Piano Concerto is a very cheerful work--and why wouldn't it be? Shostakovich was obviously delighted with his son's achievement in music and delighted in writing a suitably exuberant work for him. It is interesting that the only other piano concerto by Shostakovich, which I posted about here, is also a very cheerful work, one that he wrote for himself when he was a young man of 27. These two light-hearted piano concertos contrast considerably with the ones for cello and violin, which are much more substantial, and darker, works. I don't have the scores, but if I come across them, I would certainly post something on them.

But back to the piano concerto. Here is the opening theme, which we hear a portion of in the orchestra before it is stated fully in the piano:

Which is a perfectly normal theme in F major that might have been written by Haydn except for the fact that it goes astray, wandering into D flat for a measure or so before closing in F. This little divergence turns an 8 measure period into 10 measures. Rhythmically it is a bit odd as well. I suppose that it would be easy to call this neo-classical though by this point, that phase was long over. There are no substantial contrasts in the movement; the second theme is not so different from the first, if rhythmically smoother:

This theme as well has a tendency to wander into D flat major. There is another theme in D minor:

All these themes have a bit of a family resemblance. A modulation to, well call it C major (or G major, or some mode or other) as the one-flat key signature disappears, signals an energetic development section:

In which the piano double-octaves its way in a slightly nutty fashion while the orchestra states the opening theme. This development gets more and more interesting as the crazed fairground mood becomes more intense. The orchestra comes to the fore after quite a lot of virtuoso piano writing with this hymn-like theme:

Click to enlarge
Which is, of course, an augmented version of the D minor theme we heard before, now in major. This is followed by an extensive cadenza for the piano using the themes we have heard. Following this, inevitably, is the recapitulation with the orchestra recapitulating the themes while the piano offers ornamental decorations above.

All in all, there isn't much wrong with this piece. Sure, it's cheerful, but it was a happy occasion and even Shostakovich is allowed to write the occasional cheerful piece. It breaks no new ground, which is reason enough to condemn it if you are a card-carrying member of the avant-garde, but it is charming and listenable--just like a piano concerto by Mozart.

Let's have a listen. This is the composer himself playing the concerto with the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, André Cluytens, conductor

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hot New Release in Classical

I just got an email from Amazon announcing "Hot New Releases in Classical" and, apart from the usual suspects, Andrea Bocelli and so forth, there was one odd one:

Ho-hum, I mumbled to myself, $22, not such a great deal. But wait a minute! 10CDs? Here's what you get:
Well, that's a horse of a different colour, isn't it? I think I owned a couple of these on vinyl way back. This is an excellent cross-section of the high modernist phase of 20th century music. I suspect these discs mostly came out in the 60s and 70s and because of that, there is a dated look to the repertoire: Takemitsu but no Reich, Crumb but no Pärt, Boulez but no Glass. But for $22, how could you lose? And besides, this is the perfect repertoire to terrify your neighbours with.

Anyway, I ordered it. But here is a question for my learnéd commentariat: how many of these pieces will be considered masterworks 50 years from now? Ives? Maybe. Stravinsky, certainly, but probably not Agon. Haubenstock-Ramati, Nono, Maderna, Ussachevsky, Ichiyanagi? Likely not. I even have some serious doubts that people like Cage, Babbitt and Xenakis will be listened to very much, except as curiosities.

Here, as an example, is Fontana Mix by John Cage:

Non-post of the day

I just can't seem to find anything to write about today, except for a few items for the Friday miscellanea. So let me amuse you with some composers doing normal stuff taken from this blog.

Stravinsky having breakfast

Shostakovich having a miserable time with his wife Irina

Conlon Nancarrow hanging out with Györgi Ligeti

Leonard Bernstein getting a haircut

Frank Zappa having a smoke and hanging out with some French guy (Pierre Boulez)

And for our envoi, a little Ligeti. Here is his Lux Aeterna performed by A Cappella Amsterdam, Daniel Reuss & Susanne Van Els.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It was 50 years ago today

Fifty years ago, well, not today, but yesterday, the Beatles played the first mega-concert of the rock and roll era. They were booked into Shea Stadium in New York and sold out all 55,000 seats. Back in those days the amplification systems were primitive and couldn't compete with the screaming of all those fans so this concert went largely unheard. The Wall Street Journal has an article on the event.

I think that, many years later, George rather summed things up when he said that "the whole world decided to go mad--and blamed it on us!"

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Summer Listening List

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had an essay on the fading of the practice to undertake an ambitious list of reading over the summer--the kind of stuff you normally don't have time to get to the rest of the year.
These days, the summer-reading list seems to have gone the way of the perfect tan ... Schools and colleges still make available reading lists for students who are devoted, or anxious, enough to pack Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians”... in with their kayak paddles, but few people seem any longer to identify summer with catching up on the great books of the past or even on the must-reads of the present.
Well, that's probably true. I can recall one summer I spent trying to complete reading Proust, "In Search of Lost Time", but I didn't quite manage it. The essay gives a bit of history of the summer reading list practice:
Perhaps the most representative instance of the dissemination of high culture to the average intelligent reader occurred in 1960, when the editor and critic Clifton Fadiman published his “Lifetime Reading Plan.” The monumental list began with the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and proceeded up through the novels of William Faulkner (it was updated in 1978 and 1986 and once more in 1998), each of its dozens of sections devoted to a single author and his or her work or works. It was the Platonic ideal (Frederick Copleston’s nine-volume “History of Philosophy,” summers of 1975-99, status: unfinished) of the summer reading list.
I read much of the Copleston history as an undergraduate and got all the way up to Kant before I hit the Wall of Utter Incomprehension.

But I think that setting yourself some goals to fruitfully use your leisure time is basically a Good Idea. Otherwise you could end up randomly surfing the Internet, watching cat videos or Russian dashboard cams or, shudder, watching television! So, to forestall those possibilities, let's come up with a summer listening list. Yeah, I know, summer is just about gone, but I just thought of this and whaddayagonna do?

The modest list for beginners:

  1. The symphonies by Beethoven, available on 5 cds with Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
  2. The violin concertos of Bach, Hilary Hahn and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
  3. Seven string quartets by Joseph Haydn, Emerson String Quartet: The Haydn Project (2 cds of Haydn plus a bonus cd of other composers from Mozart to Shostakovich)
That's pretty easy--you could probably get through those nine cds by the end of the month.

The medium list for intermediate listeners:
  1. The string quartets of Beethoven, available on 7 cds by the Alban Berg Quartet
  2. Bach, Mass in B minor on 2 cds with John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists
  3. The string quartets of Bartók with the Emerson Quartet
  4. The six "Haydn" quartets and the string quintets by Mozart with the Guarneri Quartet (terrific bargain, six cds for only twenty bucks)
The more challenging list for hard-core classical fanatics:
  1. The piano sonatas and piano concertos by Beethoven on 12 cds performed by Friedrich Gulda
  2. The complete symphonies by Haydn on 37 cds with Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra
  3. The complete concertos of Prokofiev on 3 cds with various artists on Decca
  4. The complete symphonies and tone poems of Sibelius on 7 cds with Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
  5. The complete string quartets of Shostakovich on 5 cds with the Emerson Quartet
That will keep you busy to Christmas, at least. Here is a little sample: Friedrich Gulda, piano with Horst Stein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven:


I'm still working my way through Beardsley's book on Aesthetics and just came across a passage where he is discussing forms common to the arts and mentions that while things like "color" have analogues in both visual arts and music (tone color in music and color tonality in painting) there are others that are found in music and not in the visual arts. His example is the theme and variations form. Yes, you can have regions in a painting that echo certain elements with variations, but the essence of the musical form rests on the existence of the theme as the central element of which the others are variations, and there is also a dramatic order or sequence to the variations. It is this ordering in sequence that is unique to music and not found in the visual arts, where the eye can wander as it wishes over the visual field.

There are three meanings of the word "sequence" in music, two of them specifically technical and one more general. The musical genre of the sequence is a chant or hymn, usually composed to couplets in Latin. The best-known example is the Christmas carol "Adeste Fideles", the English version is "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful". Here is an earlier example, "Veni Creator Spiritus":

UPDATE: I am informed by a commentator (who obviously knows more about Catholic liturgy than I do) that the example of sequence I want is actually Veni sancte Spiritus:

The second meaning of the term "sequence" comes from music theory and refers to a harmonic or melodic pattern repeated at different pitches. Here, from the Wikipedia article is a simple melodic sequence of a four-note scale segment repeated ascending one step each time:

There are also harmonic sequences that were developed in the 17th century and by Vivaldi's time had come to be used extensively. The effect for the listener is a bit like being on a Ferris wheel, with the feeling of rotating through space. Here is an example of the most common type, the descending fifths sequence, in which the bass line descends a fifth each time:

There are several other varieties of varying complexity and composers have displayed considerable ingenuity in their use. If you want examples, you will find them in nearly every quick movement from the Baroque and Classical eras. Rather than repeat myself, I will refer you to two posts I have put up on sequence previously here and here.

But those two uses aside, there is a general sense in which we can use the word "sequence" in talking about music. Like theater and dance, music is a "time-art" meaning that it takes place in time. Musical events are ordered in a dramatic sequence. Now in the 20th century many attempts were made to suppress or eliminate this aspect of music as part of the general modernist project of experimentation. Some composers, like John Cage, eliminated the dramatic sequence entirely by choosing notes by chance procedures so that no logical sequence was possible. He also wrote a piece consisting only of silence that achieves the same end. Other composers made pieces consisting of lengthy drones which also tend to downplay any sequential drama. Steve Reich and Philip Glass wrote pieces in which the events are so extended that the sensation is almost that there is no temporal progression--one feels trapped in a single moment. New Age meditation music seeks the same feeling.

But all these experiments, to my mind at least, really demonstrate that the unique strength and power of music is that very thing: the dramatic sequence. All attempts to avoid or eliminate it tend to be boring as music, fascinating though they may be from the point of view of metaphysics or meditation.

The great masters of dramatic impetus in music are found in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Before then, composers were still discovering how to assemble musical structures that drove forward, taking the listener on a kind of journey. As we move into the 19th century, the whole dynamic tends to slow down as something called the "romantic trance" is developed. But for that fairly brief time between 1700 and 1830, music achieved a remarkable ability to grab the listener, take them on a stimulating and multi-faceted journey and deposit them back home, fulfilled and amused. That's quite a feat, given that the mechanism is just a few compression waves in the air.

It is sequence that achieves it all. A sequence of short and long notes within an underlying pulse gives us rhythm. A sequence of different pitches building to a climax and tapering to a finish gives us the melodic phrase and the organization of harmony into a principal key and excursions into related harmonies, near or far, gives us the large structure. Master all of them and you can construct a piece of music.

Well, enough blather. Let's listen. Here is an interesting early example by C. P. E. Bach, who was the bridge between the somewhat more static structures of the Baroque, and the dynamism of the Classical style. Here is the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Ton Koopman playing the Symphony No.1 in D major, H.663 Wq.183 by C. P. E. Bach. And yes, there are some pretty good examples of the harmonic sequence here and there.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

I post this item simply to prove that I'm not the only curmudgeon in the world of music: even pop music has them! "Spin magazine founder: Today's music isn't any good."
“The commodification of music is so complete that artists these days create songs thinking they would make a good car commercial,” Guccione says. “And they’re more fixated on their social-media strategy than they are on their music.”
Or as I have said: today's classical artists would love to sell out, but nobody's buying!

 * * *

Something we have occasionally discussed is the digital music world and how well it handles classical music. Here is an article on managing classical music in iTunes 12 from Macworld.

* * *

I have a generally critical attitude towards a lot of the most characteristic art of post-war modernism. I'm not alone in this view as demonstrated by this rather thorough debunking of one of the leading post-modern artists of Britain, Tracey Emin, who managed to parley a lack of ability and a lot of cheek into a nice career in the modern art world:
When quality and accomplishment are no longer factors in who receives institutional support, it becomes a scramble for notice. It’s a matter of who can most offend the disdained others, make the most noise, kiss the most rings and/or asses; a game for those most willing to do whatever it takes to win the lottery of who the self-proclaimed gate keepers wave through to join the privileged circle. Emin, with her toilet stall quality doodles and screeds, is now a Royal Academy Professor of Drawing and on her way to knighthood. This is a clear demonstration that those in charge have lost all perspective of what is meaningful in art and life.
The music world is, thankfully, rather different as, for most composers, traditional craft and aesthetics still govern a lot of what is done, at least in abstract instrumental composition. Music theater and opera are a different story.

* * *

This is an entirely unexpected and mildly amusing article about "The strange and surprising musical histories of the GOP presidential candidates."
Before heading off to UCLA law school, Carly Fiorina once toyed with the idea of becoming a concert pianist. She eventually landed at another keyboard, settling in tech and rising to become the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
* * *

Over at the Guardian they have the Devil's Advocate interviewing András Schiff about his upcoming performance of the Goldberg Variations at the Royal Albert Hall. It's an amusing effort, but could have been a tad funnier:
TDA: Are you going to play all the repeats?
AS: Yes.
TDA: Why? It’s going to be terribly long and boring.
AS: I beg to differ. Bach has specifically asked for the repeats, and this is a must. It is not a matter of choice. The structure is symmetrical, the Aria is in two halves, both 16 bars long, and each half is to be repeated. All the variations follow this pattern. The music is of such complexity that a second hearing is required; it gives the listener a second opportunity to hear the material again, and the player another chance to correct certain shortcomings. In tennis terms this is our “second service”.
* * *

Also at the Guardian is a longer piece by Ed Vulliamy that offers a rather frothy argument, stuffed with anecdote and light on analysis, to the effect that:
We should be sick and tired of the ubiquitous partition of “classical” from “pop”, in schedules and among audiences and fans; in some cases the bigotry – and ignorance of the other – is entirely mutual, and always tedious. After all, Jimi Hendrix cited Handel and Mahler among his major influences, while Dmitri Shostakovich – who outlived Hendrix by five years – loved (and composed) jazz and comic operetta. He even wrote a ballet about football.
Ed reveals his basic assumptions with phrases like these:
Not much good art ever came from conservatives or conservatism
He is thoroughly convinced that the fundamental nature of art is to be revolutionary, political and shocking--and certainly some art has been. To his credit, he admits that sometimes producers go too far and that not all artistic "gambles" pay off.

* * *

This is a bit out there: a tenor has brain surgery and sings Schubert during the operation:

* * *

Via Slipped Disc we find this article on the disappearance of music critics in America:
Both guests estimate that there are currently about a dozen classical music critics at U.S. newspapers, down from about 65 only two decades ago.
There's even a map, though I notice that they leave out Canada entirely. I wonder how many are left up North? Two or three in Montreal, one or two in Toronto, one in Vancouver? The piece at Slipped Disc has some entertaining comments.

* * *

 At the New Yorker, Alex Ross weighs in on the opera scene in the new Tom Cruise thriller, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation:
The tendency to associate classical music with murderous insanity is a curious neurosis of the American pop-cultural psyche. There is little evidence of such a predilection among real-life serial killers, who seem to prefer Black Sabbath, AC/DC, REO Speedwagon, and, of course, the Beatles.
But, thankfully, the new movie goes against all those stereotypes. Read the whole article.

* * *

Over at Sinfini Music there is a surprisingly interesting article about piano performance then and now that delves into the subtleties of technique and interpretation:
Hough cites Friedman’s 1933 recording of Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat, No.2, Op.55, as an example. Fortunately, there’s little of the thin, scratchy brittleness common to old records. The instrument glows with a warm bass and a singing treble. More importantly, Friedman’s playing is tender, unhurried and lovingly detailed; you can trace the music’s multiple inner lines. Notes perfectly match the decay of preceding ones, so there’s little harshness or false accenting. The whole performance is so perfectly paced and proportioned, it feels like one, long breath. Yet: ‘This style of playing is no longer sought after,’ says Hough. ‘Audiences – and pianists – don’t know it’s there.’
There are also some excellent clips by way of example. (I don't think, by the way, that the same might be said of guitarists. Early recordings of guitarists in the early 20th century like Andrés Segovia do not reveal wonderful subtleties so much as rhythmic waywardness.)

* * *
For our envoi today, let's listen to that 1933 recording of Ignaz Friedman: