Thursday, December 31, 2015

Feel Free to Hate the Beatles

A while back the comment section went all red in tooth and claw about politics in the Music Salon. After all the dust had settled I resolved, not for the first time, to try and avoid political topics when possible. Alas, it is not always possible because we live in highly politicized times, times when people like Dr. Adam J. Rodriguez, PsyD, can accuse a friend who tries to persuade him to like the Beatles of "microaggression". The argument is rather interesting, not so much for its validity as for its assumptions:
All cultures contain within them many subcultures, with one cultural dimension often dominant. When one is a member of the dominant culture, that person enjoys particular power and privileges, including the freedom to not have to consider other perspectives. My friend has enjoyed the privilege of not having to consider that there are people in the world that don't have the same relationship to music, food, art, or culture that he does. He has the privilege of not being forced to consider perspectives that are not his own.
Here's what my friend did not consider: He grew up a white middle-class male in the 70s and 80s, to parents who grew up on the Beatles and were immensely influenced by them and other rock and roll bands. I grew up a Puerto Rican lower-class male in the 80s whose parents played guajira, salsa, and Motown/classic R&B/soul growing up. My ears had grown up hearing syncopation, multi-chordal harmonies, diverse percussion, horns, and groove-oriented rhythm sections. The Beatles CDs I listened to were classic rock, non-syncopated, guitar- and drum-dominated, and rhythmically and harmonically simpler. The type of music that he grew up listening to and loving was quite simply different from mine. It was neither better nor worse. Only different. My friend, caught in his ethnocentric blindness, could not grasp that somebody would have a different experience and values from him.
This is very much in tune with the times when individuals have no real agency, but are mere consequences of "cultural" influences. When everything is relative except the "truth" of white privilege. When everything is to be understood in terms of prejudicially-defined collectives.

Just a few striking errors in the second paragraph about the music: white middle-class people in the 70s and 80s (and 60s and 90s for that matter) were very familiar with Motown/classic R&B/soul, if less familiar with salsa (unless they sought it out). The vast majority of songs by the Beatles contain syncopation, multi-chordal harmonies (I think he means "multi-voice"), diverse percussion, horn and sure, groove-oriented rhythm sections. The Beatles are "classic" in the sense of being very good examples of 60s music, but not in the sense of "typical" rock which is implied here. Saying that their music is non-syncopated means either that you haven't listened to it or you don't know what those words mean. Yes, guitar and drum-oriented, but often with the addition of other instruments such as harmonica, flute, horn, electric piano, etc. But anyone who states that the Beatles' music is rhythmically and harmonically simpler than salsa or guajira (which Wikipedia describes as "a musical form which evokes a rural ambience in its texts, instrumentation and style") simply either has not listened to it or lacks listening skills.

This kind of article is so astonishingly wrong, but astonishingly pervasive these days, that I think it is worth making a fuss over. Dr. Rodriguez is like a man with a hammer who sees everything as a nail to be hit. His specialties are "issues of power dynamics and identity." Therefore, for him, everything is about these topics. For me, this is a mistaken approach based on mistaken assumptions, but leaving all that to one side, he accuses his friend, who seems to have gone to great lengths to introduce him to the Beatles, of making a personal attack on him:
My friend did not stop with curiosity to ask what about the Beatles did not appeal to me. Instead, because he could not consider a different perspective, he had to dismiss that other perspective as faulty. As a result, he made a reductive comment about my character.
As is perfectly obvious from the text, Dr. Rodriguez made no real attempt to assess the music of the Beatles:
A friend of mine is a really, really big Beatles fan. Quite some time ago I reflected to him that I was not familiar with their music. Sure, I could name some of their more popular songs, but when challenged, that list was limited to about seven songs. Astonished and determined to rectify my ignorance and indifference, he burned all of his Beatles CDs for me, in chronological order (yes, this is when music was not yet streaming), and insisted that I dedicate time to listen to them.
So I did. While they had never appealed to me, my friend was so impassioned that I thought it was worth a shot. I did not get very far. After the first two albums, I found it simply was not for me.
So, he decided that the Beatles were simply not for him. OK, but he decided this after the first two albums? These were Please Please Me and With the Beatles and while they were certainly strikingly original and intense in the context of the day, I think that anyone would agree that basing an aesthetic evaluation of the Beatles based on them would be like basing an aesthetic evaluation of Beethoven on his Op 2 piano sonatas. Nice yes, but hardly indicative of his Symphony No. 5.

What is blindingly obvious here is that Dr. Rodriguez' methodology is based on, yes, "issues of power dynamics and identity" which prevent him from anything like an objective assessment of any music. Everything is either going to be part of his sub-culture and hence valid just because of that or, not part of his sub-culture and therefore oppressive somehow, especially if part of the dominant culture.

And the horrific truth is that whole generations are being taught to think in this and no other way. I think if you set out to destroy civilization root and branch you could not do it more effectively.


So yes, feel free to hate the Beatles, but try to do so for musical reasons, not just because you have a collectivist ideology.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Words Without Music

Yes, blogging has been very light of late. I was off to Virginia for the holidays, but now I am back: revived, recalibrated and resonant.



I have been reading a fairly new book recently and it deserves a review in some depth. The book is Philip Glass' autobiography Words Without Music and it is well worth your time. It recounts his whole life from childhood and is surprisingly interesting and well-written. Some of the most fascinating material deals with just how he built up a constituency by moving within the New York avant-garde art and theater circles whom he slowly won over to his music. The blurbs on the back contain positive comments from Martin Scorsese, Laurie Anderson, Paul Simon and Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but none from any of the big name classical composers or performers. My composition teacher in Montreal has been known to comment that he is not sure if Philip Glass is a classical composer or not.

Whether it is "classical" or not, it is fairly certainly "concert" or "art" music as, alongside his extensive music for theater and opera, are his numerous outings for orchestra in the form of symphonies and concertos. But his music, like that of Steve Reich, has a unique sensibility that tends to rub traditional classical musicians the wrong way. I have been a fan of Steve Reich since the middle 70s, but less so of Philip Glass. But I see from reading the book that I may have simply not given his music enough of a listen.

Philip Glass has the kind of determination and commitment that one rarely encounters. For example, at one point in his life he decided that he needed to formalize, to discipline, his compositional activities. To this end he confined himself for three hours every day, from 10 am to 1 pm, to his studio where, if nothing came to him, he would simply sit at the piano for the three hours. Finally, out  of a kind of insane boredom, it started to work for him. I completely understand this.

The book is full of interesting insights like this. There is also a lot about his devotion to yoga and spirituality generally that I find less interesting, but that may be just me. He talks a lot about transcendence as the point and destination of his music and I understand that as well. Tomorrow I am going to get started on a series of posts talking about the book in some detail, but this is just an introduction.

For those who are new to Philip Glass, he is a composer of what was often called "minimalist" music, though it is a lot less "minimal" than it used to be. He was born in Baltimore in 1937, but has lived most of his life in New York. From his early public concerts (one of the first was attended by a mere six people, including his mother) to his major US breakthrough, the performance at the Met of Einstein on the Beach in late 1976, took surprisingly little time. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is his detailed narrative of exactly how he lived, with no "arts grants", developing his musical style and doing various day jobs to support it: plumber, furniture mover, taxi-driver and so on.

For today, let's just listen to a selection of his music. First, an early piece called Two Pages (from his discovery of a way of notating it that made it possible to fit onto two pages of score). This was written in 1967 or 68.


Once you get past the initial "is he trying to drive me mad" stage you start to notice the groupings and additive structure. Some of the idea for this kind of music came from working with Ravi Shankar. He was given the task of writing out accompaniments for musicians to play with Shankar and was struggling with how to write down what was essentially improvised music. Shankar was telling him he had the rhythms all wrong so he erased all the barlines and noticed how that would work better! Glass remarks in a few places how it all comes back to 2 and 3 note groups.

A much more developed piece is Music in Twelve Parts, written between 1971 and 1974, this is the slow, stately Part 1:


And this is the more active Part 2:


I purchased, way back in the 70s, an LP of some of his very early music that I recall was played on piano. Later on, in the 1980s, he released the very charming album of piano and other music called Glassworks which I also owned:


If you have never heard his music before, then I hope that this intrigues you a bit, at least.

More to come...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Best Posts of the Year, part 2

This is a transparent attempt to trick you into reading some old posts, of course. But there were some good ones this year that I wouldn't want you to miss! So here they are, from the second half of the year.

July:

August:
September:
October:
November:
December:
And there you have it: a collection of some of my favourite posts of the year, some of which you may have missed. Enjoy! And to end with a musical envoi, here are the Goldberg Variations by J. S. Bach in a recording by Glenn Gould made in 1955:


Friday, December 25, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

As this will be posted Christmas Day, Merry Christmas to everyone. If you are Jewish, Happy Hanukkah instead. To everyone else, be well, be prosperous and I hope you find some great music to listen to today.

* * *

Let's start with a clip with an interview with Condoleezza Rice, pianist and past Secretary of State. The interview is with her and her piano teacher, George Barth:


* * *

Here is another clip about harmony. What I find so amusing about it is that he is telling us the basic facts about harmony, but doing it in such an LA-cool-hipster way!


Dude!

* * *

The Globe and Mail, in a piece devoted to Canadian artists, waxes exceedingly frothy over Grimes:
Pop music is about extremes, and our attachment to it is based on our needs for those various extremes. We like a given song because it is sadder than our sadness, or sexier than our sexiness, or happier than our happiness, because it is a more interesting and intense version of what we feel or wish to feel. As her harrowing live show made obvious, Grimes’s music – especially on Art Angels – is about violence. If we are attracted to it, we are attracted to that, to a more dangerous and volatile vision of the world. Her music becomes a dare: to like it is to admit to liking a particular darkness within ourselves. Her genius lies in making that attraction so pleasurable. - Jared Bland
Ok, let's have a listen:


Uh-huh.

Harrowing?

I haven't felt this harrowed since the last out-of-tune student voice concert I went to. Did aliens land and make everyone 20% stupider?

* * *

A page from a Beethoven sketchbook just turned up in a Connecticut home. It is a page from a sketchbook that was broken up after his death. Musicologists love to study Beethoven's sketches because they are so revealing of ... well, supposedly his creative process, whatever that might be. But certainly that his handwriting was very sloppy!

* * *

I think this is what Simon Rattle was calling for (or demanding): a new £278 million concert hall in London:
The new centre, which could open in September 2023, aims to have “the same transformative effect on public engagement with music that Tate Modern brought about for contemporary art”. It will deliver “world-class acoustics” and have “education and accessibility at its core”.

* * *

The New York Review of Books has a big think-piece on three new books on Gustav Mahler. Here is an interesting bit on his use of cowbells and offstage instruments:
The cowbells are typical of the way Mahler uses effects that hint at meanings but whose significance remains unfixed. Peattie emphasizes Mahler’s frequent use of offstage instruments. This had almost no precedent in symphonic music, though it was a commonplace in opera—an approaching military band in Così fan Tutte, receding hunting horns in Tristan und Isolde, and so on. Mahler used the effect right at the start of his First Symphony, in a sequence of offstage trumpet calls; these come first from two trumpets placed, according to the score, “at a very great distance away,” then from a third placed merely “in the distance.” The moment recalls the offstage trumpet in Fidelio that tells us help is approaching for the unjustly imprisoned hero Florestan. But in Mahler’s symphony there is no clear narrative logic. Why is one trumpet closer than the other two, and what are these instruments doing offstage in the first place?
 * * *

Sinfini Music ("Cutting Through Classical") has a piece on the music in the new Star Wars movie which, as one would expect, is based on motifs from the original score. John Williams wrote the music for all seven movies. I saw this a few days ago with my sister and she said, out of the blue, that she didn't notice any music in the film at all! Heh.

* * *

I guess that gives us our musical envoi for today. Here is the Imperial March, otherwise known as Darth Vader's Theme, from Star Wars, by John Williams:


If you didn't know what that was, what would you guess? Richard Strauss emulated not terribly well?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Best Posts of the Year

This will be the 327th post of 2015. I have put up slightly fewer posts this year than in the previous ones--in 2013 there were 430 posts--and I think the reason is twofold. First, I am less likely to put up short posts. They tend to end up in the Friday Miscellanea. Instead, the posts are a bit more substantial, so there are fewer of them. Also, I have been spending more time composing and playing this year. Quite a few hours went into the recording of my complete Songs from the Poets. You will be seeing more of those songs pretty soon.

But right now I want to look back at the year and pick out some posts that I think represent the best of the Music Salon. I hope you will take some time to look at them and, if you have some comments, especially general ones about what you have enjoyed and what you would like to see more of, let 'em fly!

January:
February:
(With older posts it is often the case that the original YouTube clip is no longer available. So you may have to search for a replacement. I usually try to give enough information for this to be easy. In the case of these posts, for example, you should be able to find a performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto quite easily--possibly even one by Hilary Hahn.)

March:
April:
May:
June:
Well, that will give you something to browse through! I will do the second half of the year in another post.

And, as a musical envoi, here is Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchesta Seiji Ozawa, conductor in the Beethoven Violin Concerto:


Monday, December 21, 2015

Schubert: the last piano sonatas, part 1

Back in 2012 I did a series of posts on Franz Schubert that just scratched the surface. I talked briefly about his harmonic style, a couple of piano pieces and a symphony. Then in October of this year I did another series of posts, focusing this time on the songs. But there is so very much more of Schubert's music that I haven't even mentioned. I make no pretensions to any kind of thoroughness on this blog, of course, but I do like to talk about as much important music as I can. How do I define "important"? That's a tricky question, but music that reveals great depth, expressivity, charm and energy certainly qualifies.

Some of the most important music by Schubert is found in his late piano sonatas. Like the symphonies, his earlier works were imitative of his models--not surprising for a young composer. But in both his later symphonies and piano sonatas he touched on ground that no-one else has. If you are familiar with the Beethoven piano sonatas, as I am, the late ones by Schubert will strike you as strangely unusual. The last three sonatas were all written in the last year of his life, 1828. They were begun in March, complete by September (when he played all three in a private gathering) and by November, Schubert was dead. They did not see publication for a decade.

I am still getting to know these three great (in length as well as quality) works, but I will begin with the last of the three as I have been listening quite a lot to it lately. Here is how it begins:

Click to enlarge
A couple of things to note: it begins with one of Schubert's charming melodic ideas and the eight-measure phrase ends with a half cadence. Then there comes a deeply ominous trill in the low bass from F to G flat. This G flat is the flat submediant, a scale degree and harmony that Schubert exploited in many pieces. Indeed, it became the characteristic harmony of Romantic music. In this case, it also presages a modulation to G flat and later one to F# minor, the enharmonic equivalent. This subterranean trill returns again at the end of the exposition, returning us to the opening. The juxtaposition of it with the more conventional, but charming, melody, is one of the characteristics of the sonata. One of the principles of composition, these days at least, is to build into the bones of the music a fundamental tension. It is this that raises concert music above the merely ordinary. And the origins of this idea are in the Viennese classicists. It is not only Schubert (and Beethoven) that exploit contrasts to create tension, we also find it in Haydn and Mozart (and C. P. E. Bach as well). I suspect it was Haydn and C. P. E. Bach that actually invented it. But in Schubert, it takes on a plaintive, haunting quality. The trill returns again, introducing the recapitulation:


The first phrase of the recapitulation, of course, ends with a half cadence followed by the trill, so it comes twice in ten measures. It comes again at the very end of the movement with that same phrase, ending with a half cadence, then the trill. The movement ends with the simplest of V - I cadences:


The trill is a kind of fulcrum around which the movement turns.

There is a lot more one could talk about in this movement, not to mention the other three, but I think I will stop here for today. Let's listen to the Piano Sonata in B flat, D. 960 by Schubert. This is Andras Schiff:


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Miscellanea!

Yeah, yeah, I know, this was supposed to come out on Friday.  But I've been just swamped with all manner of thing. Plus, I am going to be visiting relatives over Christmas so, while there will be some blogging, it won't be voluminous.

* * *

I haven't written much about Shostakovich lately, but I just ran across this fascinating essay: 'He speaks to us': why Shostakovich was a great communicator. There is a quote from a letter that is well-worth the effort. We tend to forget what a profound sense of humor Shostakovich had.

* * *

I include this item partly because Mozart is always a good idea and partly because I had not heard the Schabel quote before:
As Schnabel said, his music is too easy for children and too difficult for adults.
* * *

Now I realise that Artur Schnabel, the great Beethoven interpreter of the first half of the century, said a lot of quotable things. A selection:
The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides.
Mozart is a garden, Schubert is a forest in light and shade, but Beethoven is a mountain range.
But my favourite Schnabel quote I can't seem to find. He apparently once explained his long refusal to record the Beethoven piano sonatas by saying that he was afraid that someone, somewhere, would listen to them while eating a ham sandwich!

* * *

There was a time, extending from the late 1960s well into the 1980s, when stuff like this seemed to make a crazy kind of sense. An Eastern-flavoured wisdom. But I hope that now we can see it as the meaningless drivel that it is. Ever noticed how some kinds of statements actually seem to suck understanding from your mind?
“Since there could be no such thing as the absence of sound for a living, breathing human being with a pulse, what then could silence be? It was a matter of intent, Cage decided: The essential meaning of silence is the giving up of intention. Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind. … Does listening to random sounds we do not intend to hear – the drone of an airplane engine, a dripping faucet, the roar of a bus pulling away from a stop – constitute the experience of silence? Or does silence end the moment sounds actually impose themselves on our consciousness?”
* * *

The first time someone did this it was just cute, or surprising or something. But it is starting to become tiresome. Here is violinist Filip Pogady doing a cover of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" in the style of a fugue for solo violin by Bach. Sorry, you have to go there as Blogger won't embed.

* * *

John Doyle, usually the television critic at the Globe and Mail, included this in his choice of the year's best cultural events:
Death & Desire, at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery, Toronto
A mild evening in June in a tiny art gallery. A man strode to the piano and began playing Schubert. Two singers wandered through the audience. What ensued was dazzling, a rapturous evocation of naive, unbridled desire meeting neurotic, unfocussed longing. The naive desire was male, Stephen Hegedus singing Schubert’s delicate, inflamed Die Schone Mullerin (The Miller’s Lovely Daughter); and the manic longing was in Krisztina Szabo performing Olivier Messiaen’s starkly distraught Harawi: Chant d’amour et de mort (Song of Love and Death). This was Against the Grain’s Death & Desire, a fabulously inspired mash-up. Simply done, it was the most unforgettable night of the year and made, as a poet said, one little room an everywhere.
 * * *

André Rieu is likely the biggest-selling classical musician in the world with something like 40 million discs sold. There is an article and interview with him in the Guardian: "André Rieu: 'I spent £34m on fountains, ice rinks and gold carriages' " Here he is in a real super-star moment, leading thousands of football fans in a singalong of, of all things, a waltz by Shostakovich:


* * *

Kyle Gann shares a very challenging recording project with us: the complete string quartets of Ben Johnston. Here is a sample page:


Those extremely peculiar accidentals indicate micro-tones. Really micro, micro-tones. Here is his String Quartet No. 6:


* * *

For our envoi today I offer a magnificent trumpet obbligato by Handel, "The Trumpet Shall Sound" from the Messiah on natural trumpet. Dashon Burton, is the bass and the natural trumpet is played by John Theissen:


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Case of Mr. Handel

First of all, my apologies for the very light blogging recently. A combination of things have held up new posts, among them the fact that four guys with hammers are pounding on my ceiling most days as they are building another level above me. This makes blogging, or even coherent thought, difficult. So I am spending a lot more time in my office, which is a little less conducive to blogging. Also, I have been involved with a new piece for orchestra I am working on.

But I got a good suggestion from a commentator so here we go: the case of George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759).


When I was in first year music at university, the professor teaching music history told us a terrible joke about Handel that I am afraid I have remembered ever since: One hoary old orchestral musician speaking to another: "Last night I dreamed I was playing Handel's Messiah and suddenly I woke up and, by God, I was!" I'm afraid that for many years I had the tendency to always fall asleep whenever I heard the Messiah--except if I were actually singing in the chorus!

Handel, one of the most famous Baroque composers, was born in what is now Germany, but at the time was the Duchy of Magdeburg in the Holy Roman Empire. His early education was in Hamburg and later in Florence and Rome. In his later 20s he became resident in London and spent the rest of his career there enjoying the patronage of Queen Ann, a couple of Georges, and members of the nobility. From the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 to the career of Edward Elgar in the very late 19th century, the most important composer in Great Britain was undoubtedly Handel, a non-native.

In 1727, for the coronation of George II, Handel was commissioned to write four anthems, since known as the Coronation Anthems, on a translation of the traditional antiphon Unxerunt Salomonem. This text has been used for English coronations ever since, believe it or not, the coronation of King Edgar at Bath Abbey in 973! Prior to Handel's a setting by Henry Lawes had been used. But since 1727, every coronation of an English and later, British, monarch, has used the first Coronation Anthem of Handel, titled Zadok the Priest. As it displays some of Handel's best qualities, his broad strokes and monumental solidity, let's have a listen.


The very traditional British are also using the same chair for coronations that they have used since the coronation of Edward I in 1308!



Other very famous pieces by Handel written for the British monarchy include his Water Music, written in 1717 for performance on a barge on the Thames to accompany George I as he traveled from Whitehall up the Thames to Chelsea. This is a suite of typical Baroque dances including the very British hornpipe but also minuets, airs and bourrées as well as movements with just tempo indications. Again, it is music perfectly suited to the occasion and it has been popular ever since. Here is a performance of all three suites of the Water Music by John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists:


The strengths of this music are simplicity, clarity and perfection that does not overtax the listener. In the same genre is his Music for the Royal Fireworks, commissioned by George II in 1749 to celebrate the end of the War of the Austrian Succession. This was again intended for performance in the open air and is a suite for wind band and kettledrums. Here is the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Raymond Leppard:


The first rehearsal, for which the ticket price was two shillings and six pence, was attended by twelve thousand people, resulting in a three hour traffic jam on London Bridge. That gives you some idea of how enormously popular Handel's music was.

Handel was also extremely successful as a composer of oratorios and opera. The Messiah is popular not only in Great Britain, but one of the most-performed and famous pieces of choral music. It was premiered in 1742 and its success caused Handel to focus thereafter on choral music in English and away from Italian opera. This is the Choir of King's College, Cambridge (full credits in the clip):


But we should not leave Handel without some mention of his operas, which were very successful, both in Italian and English. Perhaps his most successful and considered the best of the pastoral opera genre is his Acis and Galatea. In 1788 Mozart even made an arrangement of it. As Wikipedia notes:
As is typical of the genre, Acis and Galatea was written as a courtly entertainment about the simplicity of rural life and contains a significant amount of wit and self-parody.

Acis and Galatea seems to have never left the repertoire. Here is a complete performance with Joan Sutherland in the lead, conducted by Adrian Boult:




Handel also wrote an enormous amount of instrumental music including a number of suites for harpsichord. Here is one of the most famous of these, the Suite No. 5 in E major, nicknamed "The Harmonious Blacksmith" because it ends with a set of variations on a theme later given this title. This suite, along with seven others, was published in 1720.


So there you have it. Three great Baroque composers were all born in the same year, 1685: George Frideric Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti.

Oh, and today is Beethoven's 245th birthday!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Tropical House

According to the Wall Street Journal, obviously an authority on popular music genres, the Big New Thing is "Tropical House" music. It's the "breakout music genre of 2015". From the description, it doesn't sound too promising:
“Tropical house”—also called “trop house” or “melodic house”—is a sunnier, looser, more easy-going alternative [to EDM, "electronic dance music" or as we like to think of it here at the Music Salon, "that mindless thumping"]. Its melodies are sweet and sugary, and easy to listen to. Tropical house’s rise represents the “pop-ification” of EDM; it shows how mainstream EDM may soon be, and already is.
So, a dumbed-down kind of EDM? How is this even possible? That's like saying just like Wagner only longer and with more tubas. Not likely! Let's listen to an example. Here is Kygo and a tune called "Stay" featuring Maty Noyes:


OK... Did you make it all the way through? I did, surprisingly. What kept me interested, or at least didn't drive me screaming from the room were a few things. I liked the fresh graphic video with the lyrics. You need to see them because there is a lot of jumbly stretto in the vocal track. By that I just mean that there is a lot of overlapping. This comes in the instrumental later on as well. It is vaguely strettoish, but reminds me equally of early Steve Reich when he was into "phasing". This isn't phasing as the process starts but doesn't continue. So I will call it "jumbly stretto" instead. But at least it is a musical idea, sort of. The sentiment of the song is, I suppose, fidelity. How odd, a song about sticking around.

UPDATE: There was something weird going on the first time I listened to that clip. There must have been two tabs open playing the same clip a half-second apart or something, because when I listened to part of it again, all that interesting stretto stuff was gone! Alas!

For comparison, here is another example, "Cheerleader" by OMI:


That, to me, seems a very different style. Instead of the double-dotted downbeats of the Kygo tune, this one has a backbeat, though with a calypso feel. Still with a theme of fidelity, though. Musically maybe less interesting than the first one.

The WSJ claims that the guy who brought this genre into the mainstream was Justin Bieber with tunes like this one, "What do you mean?"


This seem to combine the tropical, Caribbean feel of the OMI song with the loose downbeat of the Kygo tune. So maybe all three songs give us a kind of triangulation of the style: loose rhythms, calypso feel, breathy vocals, relatively conservative themes (compared to most pop music). No slapping of bitches here, instead more of a steady relationship between men and women.

Just a wild speculation, but maybe with sheer barbarism swirling around the perimeters of civilization, popular music feels the need to be more civilized and less transgressive?

Here is some of the music by Steve Reich that the first tune by Kygo reminded me of, "Drumming", part II:


Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

I don't want to depress anyone unnecessarily, but here, from Amazon, are the Hot New Releases in Classical. By "classical" you have to understand that odd little niche in the current commercial marketplace where you put crossover, classical/pop, Italian tenors, groups of Italian tenors, seasonally-oriented heavy metal, aging Italian tenors and the occasional classical album by Yo-Yo Ma that is crossover oriented. And may God have mercy on our souls.

* * *

I somewhat cautiously offer the following link to a piece titled "The Alpha Male at Bay" because it talks a lot about art forms like motion pictures and has an interesting take on them. But largely because of the last paragraph:
The good news about this is that it’s self-limiting. No society can operate in complete defiance of natural law for very long (Just look at Islam for an example.) Eventually, alphas will be annoyed enough to leave their current strongholds (generally business and arts such as film and music, where swashbucklers are still admired, along with the Internet -- what are hackers but the highwaymen of old armed with mouse and modem?) to straighten things out. The question is, how much damage will occur before that happens?
The arts are often thought to be where less ambitious males end up, but I think this is wrong. Music is still where you find some rugged individuals. The betas seem to be collecting in the ever-expanding ranks of government service and academia.

 * * *

I just have to share this photo of the oldest continually operated library in existence. Located in Egypt, in the south Sinai, the library, contained in St. Catherine's Monastery, was built around 564 AD by order of the emperor Justinian I. They have some very old editions of Homer and Plato.

Click to enlarge
* * *

Always hoping to keep you amused, here, from the Independent, are their thoughts on The Top Ten Worst Christmas Songs (and shouldn't that be "Holiday" songs?).


How very odd that someone could have thought that we could just end war? Hilariously, the Globe and Mail includes this same Lennon song in their best holiday songs.

* * *

Is the classical music world demanding? You bet. Just read this detailed account of one young musician's road to his audition: "Inside a symphony audition." In a nutshell:
“If you want to absolutely precise, it boils down to about 15 seconds. We can tell with a pretty high degree of accuracy what kind of a player you are within the first 15 to 30 seconds. The rest of the time, we’re there to make sure that our initial assessment was correct," Colberg said.
 I'm afraid that is true. I have auditioned many musicians for entry into a university music program and what sort of musician they are is evident pretty quickly. Mind you, at this very elevated level, you do want to be sure your first impressions were correct.

* * *

One not-very-interesting category of journalism is the blue-sky speculation piece where the writer just lets it all hang out. A nice example is this one: "Is the Future of Music a Chip in Your Brain?" Some of it is amusing:
The recording industry, as it anachronistically continues to call itself, was nearly bankrupted by digital piracy at the beginning of this millennium. That prompted a shift in thinking. Noting the growth of the adjacent videogame industry, forward-thinking executives began to adopt its business model, moving away from unit sales and toward the drip-feed revenue model of continuous updates organized around verified purchases. A resurgence of profitability followed, although a significant portion of the spoils went to the software developers, who have begun to exhibit their own offbeat version of classic music-business decadence. (A recent profile of the 23-year-old Harvard graduate behind a key hook-selection algorithm revealed the little punk just spent $100 million to buy 11 acres of undeveloped land in the Pacific Palisades, on which he planned to site his 250-square-foot portable micro-home.)
But a lot of it is just clumsy science fiction.

* * *

Also in the Wall Street Journal is a rather more practical article by Cynthia Yeh, percussionist for the Chicago Symphony. She talks about her favorite gear:
People made fun of me when I first got it because it’s so bloody huge, but I use a Samsung Galaxy Note II to draw the stage diagrams I send to the crew that sets everything up for us. This afternoon we’re performing Leonard Bernstein’s score to the film “On the Waterfront,” and I’m personally playing snare drum, three toms, xylophone, bells, vibraphone and marimba. If the stage is not set up the right way, you get percussionists crossing paths and running into each other. I used to draw a diagram with pen and paper and take a picture of it, but the Note is really handy.
(If you find yourself blocked by the WSJ paywall, you can usually read the article for free just by googling the title.)

* * *

Classical musicians tend to be a hard-working bunch. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt just announced his retirement--at 86 years of age. And other musicians like Gustav Leonhardt and Andrés Segovia also continued performing well into their 80s.

* * *

I think we can put this in the general category of things that were probably not the best idea ever:


You can find a better video of this at the Violin Channel, but it doesn't want to be embedded.

* * *

And on a lighter note, for those of us who are connoisseurs of awful album covers, here is a fascinating article giving the stories behind some of those awful albums: "Behind Those Awful Album Covers." There is something of an embarras de richnesses, but this is a personal favourite:


* * *

It is a bit of a challenge finding the most appropriate musical envoi for today's miscellanea, but how about this? Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the very festive Cantata 147 by J. S. Bach:


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Failing to Be a Prodigy

On rare occasions the Globe and Mail publishes something intriguing (the rest of the time it is the merely predictable). In today's paper is an essay on a teenage son complaining to his mother that she didn't "make him a prodigy." Heh! Well, hey, dude, neither did my mom, nor, I suspect, did anyone's mom. Here, go read the article, I'll wait. "Indulging my son’s every whim wasn’t enough to make him a musical master."

The whole essay is rather entertaining, but I want to pick out a few bits to comment on:
“Why didn’t you make me a prodigy?”
What’s that now? I was driving my 17-year-old son, Fox, to yet another interminable water-polo session at the suburban behemoth that is a locus for every budding swimmer, diver and gymnast in a 50-kilometre radius when he petulantly tossed out this gem.
“You can’t make a prodigy,” I responded. “They are literally freaks of nature.”
He looked out the window as we passed the site of his one-time guitar lessons and exhaled, shoving his chin into his palm. “Yes, you can. If I had started playing violin like some other kids in the school orchestra, when I was 3, I would be a prodigy.”
When I was eleven, my mother signed me up for piano lessons that I kept forgetting to go to. I didn't find the repertoire very interesting. She was an old-time fiddler and so I grew up surrounded by music making, but I didn't get captivated until I was in my mid-teens and heard some 60s pop music. Then I wanted to play the drums, or guitar. By age seventeen I was playing bass in a band and doing gigs. It literally never crossed my mind that my mother could have, whatever her wishes, "made me a prodigy." As far as I could tell the essential elements were to be born in a major urban centre so you could hook up with the right teachers and musicians and, most importantly, work your ass off. Cf the early years of Eric Clapton, for example.

That "work your ass off" part is the most interesting to look into. I think that it is why anyone would work their ass off that is the critical question. Obviously this young lout has never been interested in anything outside his own ego enough to actually work at it--or so I surmise from the article. This is an odd passage:
The thing is, when your kids are prime prodigy age, how are you supposed to know what they’re into – besides Froot Loops and Teletubbies? There is enormous pressure on kids today to be not only good, but excellent. He is a bright, interesting kid, isn’t that enough?
Most really young children are not "into" much, as she notes, other than Froot Loops and Teletubbies. But a genuine prodigy would be an exception. The most prodigious prodigy we know of was Mozart who started teaching himself piano when he was four because his older sister Nannerl was being taught. By five little Wolfgang was already composing and by seven he was touring Europe and composing some pretty decent music. By nine he was writing concert arias with orchestra and by eleven he had written, not one, but two operas. In my experience, there is no doubt if you are in the presence of a real prodigy. You mostly just have to hand them a musical instrument and get out of the way!

But that little phrase "Froot Loops and Teletubbies" sticks in my mind. I wonder if, by providing our children with a very "child-friendly" environment we are not limiting them in some way? I don't have any children of my own, so this is pure speculation, but the child prodigies I know of were born into families deeply involved with artistic or intellectual pursuits and that is what the children plugged into. If they had Froot Loops and television and video games and iPads and the whole panoply of diverting trivialities that children grow up with now, would they have even had time to realise that there were things that interested them enough to work hard enough to master?

This is the aria for soprano and orchestra, "Conservati fedele" by W. A. Mozart, composed in 1765 when he was nine years old. The soprano is Hannah Schwartz.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Uneven Concert Experience

I went to a concert the other night. Except during the chamber music festival, when there are a lot of good concerts in a short period of time, I don't attend many concerts because there are not very many--unless I go to a neighboring city. But this concert looked interesting and I had helped bring it about by introducing the artist to a local impresario. What made this concert very unusual was the singer, a countertenor, as the program noted, the rarest type of voice. For some history and information about this vocal type, you might consult the Wikipedia entries on countertenor and falsetto.

As this is not going to be a typical concert review, I won't mention the name of the singer, but just talk about some interesting issues that the concert provoked. There were two halves, though not separated by an intermission. The first half was mostly a traditional voice recital with music by Handel, Berlioz and the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge. In the second half, there was a different pianist accompanying. The first half was a fine classical pianist and the second half was with an also fine jazz pianist.

One of the most interesting aspects of the concert was the body language of the singer who had studied theater arts, gesture and movement before becoming a singer. He adopted a different demeanor for each song and modified it during the song. For the Handel he first appeared like a puppet hanging on strings before raising his arms in a dramatic gesture. For the Berlioz he adopted more plaintive romantic postures including, in one song, kneeling on the floor. For the Montsalvatge he pushed up the sleeves of his evening jacket and lounged casually on a chair. Later he sang one song sitting on the floor with crossed legs. All of these postures were obviously carefully thought out for the specific effect desired in each song. They were dramatically effective as they were constantly calling attention to the appearance of the singer. This both focuses the attention of the audience and, to some extent, distracts from the musical content.

I consulted with a vocal authority who commented that he was controlling the sound through tension, swallowing the words and there were problems with the timbre. We didn't talk about it, but one odd thing was that he sang about 5% of the music with the modal voice register, that is the normal male range. So it was as if the singer was, in a few moments, replaced with an entirely different singer.

The second half of the concert saw a different approach. I mentioned that the classical pianist was replaced with a jazz pianist. This was because the repertoire was traditional, jazz or popular: "God Bless the Child", "The House of the Rising Sun", the spiritual "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and a song from a new musical to be premiered here shortly. For this part of the program the house lights were turned down and the singer used a microphone. In my opinion this was unnecessary in this fairly small hall and it was grating at times. The pianist also tended to overdo everything with excessively jumbled arrangements. This did go with the voice though, as the singer wallowed from one song to the next. The extremes of stretched phrasing, tessitura, dynamics and vocal ornament were used to the extent that I almost wished I was somewhere else. I dislike excess, which I regard as false and melodramatic, and my companions at the concert had much the same reaction. I notice more and more that audiences are suckers for anything loud, overdone or emotionally excessive. Unfortunately, there are all too many artists willing and able to indulge them.

In retrospect, and focussing on the music and not the presentation, the Handel showed little sense of Baroque style and the Berlioz was clumsy and unconvincing, especially the piano part. Even though it was originally written for piano, it is better known in the later orchestral version. The Montsalvatge was probably the most stylistically appropriate, though I don't know these songs or the composer.

So, a concert both puzzling and interesting. One wonders what sort of audience would enjoy both halves equally? The answer is pretty clear: the one that showed up! They seemed to enjoy everything and called for an encore. Anyone with a developed classical taste is going to be turned off by the second half, though. This is probably of little commercial concern as those with such a taste are fewer and fewer.

Here is a clip of the Montsalvatge, which I had not heard before. These are three of the five songs in a performance by a different countertenor than I heard last night: Darryl Taylor accompanied by Brent McMunn.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Unusual Musician Deaths

Obviously I am completely stuck for an topic today so here I am, clutching at straws. What were the most unusual musician deaths? No, this is not a contest, but rather an opportunity for my readers to show their knowledge. Let me hasten to underline the word unusual. Choking on your own (or someone else's) vomit due to a heroin overdose was so common for pop musicians in the late 60s and early 70s that I really don't think it counts as unusual (Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Mama Kass...).

Let me get you started:

  • Hungarian/British composer Matyas Seiber: Wikipedia says he died of a car accident in South Africa, but I heard that he was eaten by a lion
  • Jaco Pastorius was beaten to death by a bouncer
  • Jean-Baptiste Lully died as a result of hitting himself in the foot with his conducting staff (used prior to the baton) causing him to get gangrene and die three days later
  • Alban Berg died from blood poisoning contracted from a bee sting on his back
  • Ernst Chausson was riding a bicycle, lost control and crashed into a brick wall, dying instantly
  • Les Harvey, guitarist for ’70s blues-rock band Stone the Crows, died onstage in front of 1,000 fans on May 3, 1972 when he was electrocuted while tuning up for a show in Swansea, Wales.
  • Terry Kath, lead guitarist for Chicago, accidentally shot himself in the head with a pistol
Add your contributions in the comments. For inspiration, here is the last piece finished by Alban Berg, his Violin Concerto:


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit

Henri Dutilleux, whose music we have been looking at lately, has a distinction that not even Mozart can claim: the majority of his pieces have separate entries in Wikipedia:

Piano Sonata

Tout un monde lointain

Ainsi la nuit

Timbres, espace, mouvement

L'arbe des songes

Sur le même accord

Correspondances

Le temps l'orloge

That was cleverly parsed on my part. The main reason for this is that Dutilleux labored long and hard over each piece, only allowing a few works to be performed and published. In his entire life he wrote only a couple of dozen pieces and none of them very long. But each of them is like a carefully polished jewel worth listening to over and over.

Like Debussy, Ravel and quite a few other 20th century composers, he wrote only one string quartet titled "Ainsi la nuit" ("Thus the night") in seven linked movements or sections. There are never pauses between movements in Dutilleux's work, which is why I tend to call them sections. Here they are as listed in Wikipedia:

  1. Nocturne
  2. Miroir d'espace
  3. Litanies
  4. Litanies II
  5. Constellations
  6. Nocturne II
  7. Temps suspendu
In the Centenary Edition, they show them a bit differently (the Arabic numerals refer to the tracks on the CD and the Roman numerals to the sections in the score:

1. (Introduction) I. Nocturne
2. Parenthèse 1 II. Miroir d'espace
3. Parenthèse 2 III. Litanies
4. Parenthèse 3 IV. Litanies 2
5. Parenthèse 4 V. Constellations
                         VI. Nocturne 2
                         VII. Temps

Sometime I am going to get some Dutilleux scores and study them, at which point I will probably do some more posts. Think of these as just an introduction.

Before beginning to work on his string quartet, Dutilleux studied those of Beethoven and Bartók as well as the Six Bagatelles by Webern. Let's have a listen to those brief pieces first:


And wow, are they ever brief, ranging from 25 seconds in duration to 1:12. All six together total only four minutes in length. Webern's other pieces for string quartet are much longer, the op. 28 is around 8 minutes and the Five Movements, op. 5 is around twelve minutes. Dutilleux's quartet is a lengthy eighteen minutes--by these standards.

Now for Ainsi la nuit. Read the Wikipedia article for some details about the structure. One of the things you will notice is that he uses some of the same furtive ponticello timbres that Webern did in the bagatelles. As it is quite short, I recommend listening a few times. This performance is by the Arditti Quartet and we have the fantastic luck that the clip is accompanied by the score so we can see what is going on.


A few things to notice: the ensemble difficulties in performing this score are formidable. The players spend as much time playing pizzicato and harmonics as they do "normal" notes. The parentheses come between the movements and are four or five measures long. What makes them parentheses? Not sure, that would probably need to be revealed by a real analysis.

UPDATE: I had forgotten, but Tom Service, in his year-long survey of contemporary composers, did rather a nice article on Henri Dutilleux.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Erasing History

The idea for this post came to me while reading the Globe and Mail. Around this time of year they have a special section titled "Holiday Guide" which seems innocuous enough. ("Innocuous" is the Globe and Mail's basic modus operandi--they like to conceal their dispiriting agenda behind a cloak of niceness.)

Let's have a look at that "holiday" guide: best holiday songs, holiday films, holiday greeting cards, party food, holiday health, holiday travel and even a holiday survival guide. We're all ready! But ready for what? Reading the Globe and Mail you would have absolutely no idea what holiday we might be talking about as the word "Christmas" appears nowhere! Is that word illegal now? Or just distasteful? Perhaps they are actually referring to hanukkah instead? Or Chinese New Year?

"Holiday" is of course a combination of the two words "holy" and "day" so etymologically it refers to a religious observance. You may not know this, apparently the Globe is unaware, but for a couple of thousand years Christendom, that is that part of the world that includes Western Europe and the Western hemisphere, has celebrated this time of year because of the birth of Christ. Yes, that's right, and even though the season has been largely secularized into gift-giving, feasts and parties, there is still a religious subtext to the season. Not to me personally, mind you, I was raised an atheist. But I am aware that Christmas exists and that it has a long history--not to mention a lot of great music. But for the Globe and Mail, a deep and thorough amnesia has set in and, like those villagers in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the name itself has disappeared entirely. Go ahead, try and search for "Christmas" on the Globe and Mail site. Or even "hanukkah".

The erasing of history is a favorite tactic of revolutionaries, ostriches and other idiots. If we just never say the word "Christmas" then we can never be accused of being biased towards, or even knowing, our own cultural history. It is no longer enough for religions like Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism to be allowed to freely celebrate their traditions. No, the dominant religion of Western Civilization, Christianity (and Judaism as well) has to be actually suppressed, removed from any presence in the public sphere--at least in places like Canada. In Mexico, all the Christian traditions seem to be going strong.

Bear in mind that, as I said, I was raised and seem still to be, an atheist. My recognition of and understanding of Christianity is largely as a historical and cultural force, not as a personal faith. But it is absurd to the point of inanity that the Globe and Mail would erase the existence of Christmas in favor of a bland, neutral, featureless "holiday" season. I hope they choke on their crostini.

So, in the spirit of punching back twice as hard, let's listen to Bach's Christmas Oratorio (or do I mean "Holiday" Oratorio?). Here is Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Wein with the first part:


1803 Posts Published!

I have been trying to keep track so I could announce the 1800th post, but I missed it! The Case of Henri Dutilleux was in fact the 1800th post, which is not inappropriate. The most popular blogs seem to be ones with small, frequent posts with brief commentary and lots of links such as Instapundit. But that is not the way I work. I like to post just one or rarely two every day with something substantial and lots of readers seem to like that. Just today I got a comment to that effect:
Long time reader here. I really appreciate the Composer-Survey posts you write wherein you assess a musician, his style, his techniques, his place among peers and his role in history. I've listened to Dutilleux Cello concerto and liked it immensely. Looking forward to the series.
Thanks
Thomas
You are very welcome and let me extend a thanks to all my readers. My traffic continues to grow and without me doing anything sensationalistic like some I could name (*Slipped Disc*), ahem. Turns out that there are a whole bunch of people who are interested in music and not just the pop stuff we are drenched with daily.

So, assuming you keep reading, I will keep posting, discovering new composers (new to me, at least) and striving to understand and appreciated music in its multi-faceted glory.

My singer, Hannah Pagenkopf, just emailed me to say that her favorite song from my set, Songs from the Poets, is "Goe and Catch a Falling Starre" with poem by John Donne. I kind of like it too, but it makes the guitar player do a lot of practicing. I posted it not long ago, but let's celebrate by listening to it again:



Getting Messiaen Wrong

One of the earliest posts on this blog, way back in October, 2011, talked about an art installation that used plants to generate sounds. The post was The Music of Plants and I took the opportunity to make a number of aesthetic points. An anonymous commentator added an excellent argument:
Pick a random Beethoven piano sonata. Then pick another random Beethoven sonata different from the first one. Now play them simultaneously by turning on two CD players at the same time. What you get is NOT another Beethoven sonata: rather, what you get is garbage.
But if you try the same experiment with John Cage, you get another perfectly acceptable John Cage piece. There has to be a music rule against that. Playing in parallel two random works of music should not give you another work of music.
Re. music from nature, Messiaen drew inspiration from birdsong. As country singers did from freight trains. Nature is not art but it is a tremendous source of inspiration.
I'm talking about this because I just ran across an interesting article in the Globe and Mail about a current art installation in Montreal: "A new kind of birdsong: Blending zebra finches with electric guitars." The writer, Robert Everett-Green used to be the Globe's classical music critic, back when they had one, so he makes some good observations:
French composer Olivier Messiaen wrote many birdsongs into his music, including the “optimistic and triumphant” call of the crimson-winged finch. A pet-shop cousin of that bird, the zebra finch, appears in a sound installation at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, not just as a notated presence but as the star performer.
The piece is called from here to ear, and it features more than 70 zebra finches making unpredictable music with 14 Gibson electric guitars. French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot replicated the birds’ sandy grassland habitat in a white cube-like room, and bolted 10 Les Paul Studio guitars and four Thunderbird basses onto waist-high metal stands, string side up. Fourteen amps have been set with enough distortion that just a touch of the strings makes a sound, sometimes a large one. As the birds settle on a string, fidget around, take off and resettle on another string, the room fills with a collage of rock-guitar sound.
So, like all art installations that purport to produce "music" it is a random soundscape of noises. It resembles music the way an actor randomly shouting nonsense syllables at you resembles a Shakespeare play.

Birds themselves, as Messiaen observed, do sing and their songs are organized in interesting ways, so much so that he considered them not only music, but a manifestation of the music inherent in creation. Sadly, this current installation has little interest in the music of the zebra finch:
The one thing you don’t hear much at from here to ear is the song of the zebra finch. It’s less melodic and more percussive than that of Messiaen’s crimson-winged specimen, but like its relative, the male zebra finch will sing all day, in hopes that its flamboyant performance will lead to sex. In rock band terms, it’s a born lead singer. How surprising that Boursier-Mougenot made his birds into low-functioning rhythm guitarists, whose acoustic backup singing is almost completely swamped. 
It is also probably the case that these poor zebra finches are being driven mad by the cacophony of all these electric guitars. Can we call PETA at least?

It is a kind of musical dunderheadedness to drown out the actual song of a bird with random electronic sounds and it is certainly not the kind of thing that Messiaen would think was music. What he did was allow himself to be inspired by actual bird song which he incorporated into a lot of his music.

Let's have a couple of clips. First some of the zebra finch:


And here is the last piece in Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux, Le courlis cendré (curlew):


Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Here is an article about how both birds and humans make vocalizations: "A common mechanism for human and bird sound production." The way it is written is slightly confusing, but what they are saying is that both birds and humans use a physical mechanism called "myoelastic-aerodynamics" to produce sound. In humans this oscillation of vocal cords occurs in the larynx, but in birds it is located in the syrinx, located deep inside their bodies, so difficult to study. Different organs, located in different places, but they seem to be saying that the actual mechanism is very similar. Sadly, no illustrations!

* * *

Here is something rather interesting: Kirill Gerstein writes about pianist Radu Lupu in the New York Review of Books. It is a pretty good article, given the usual journalistic blind spots: no technical vocabulary or description which forces the writer to utter things like:
Motivic repetitions become perceptible as rhymes, the structurally important is differentiated from the ornamental, the stretching and contracting of musical time acquires an internal logic and a living, breathing musical structure emerges.
Well sure, but all good performers do this. Also, it is deliciously ironic that this article is about Radu Lupu who, for the past two decades, as is noted in the first paragraph:
has chosen not to record any music. He does not allow radio broadcasts of his playing, he does not give press interviews, and he has almost no social media presence.
And of course the article embeds two recordings of his performances. Were they just not paying attention? By the end of the article we realize that the occasion for the writing was the issuance of the complete catalog of Lupu's recordings up to 1996 when he stopped recording. So it's a kind of record review. Of a guy who has forsworn making records. Ironic.

* * *

If I have inadvertently micro-agressed anyone in the course of this miscellanea I would like to offer a micro-apology:

I'm sorry.

And now back to our regularly-scheduled program.

* * *

Here is a rarity, both the piece and the performer: Grigory Sokolov playing the Geistervariationen by Robert Schumann.


* * *

Cultural appropriation of the week: Luna doing John Lee Hooker on double-tracked kotos:


* * *

I'm not a big fan of Slipped Disc which often seems to merely sensationalize classical music news. But here is one interesting and amusing item. Norman Lebrecht summarizes recent reviews of Lang Lang in London, which seem to remove all doubt about his strengths and weaknesses. My favorite line: "what should be filigree seems more like shrapnel" in his Chopin. Wish I had said that!

* * *

This blog likes to talk about philosophy in connection with music, but I suspect a lot of musicians are not terribly fond of philosophy. I think that this brief interview with philosopher Lydia Goehr might be an example of why. It seems as if she is on the verge of offering some really interesting insights, but ends up by beating around the bush and polishing up a couple of half-truths. Yes, if you reduce music to the way it is often used, it doesn't seem very mysterious. But that is a bit like saying you understand how internal combustion engines work by watching a drag race.

* * *

I suppose the logical envoi today would be to once more violate Radu Lupu's choice not to record by, yes, posting a recording of him playing. This is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Piano Concerto No 23 in A major K 488; Radu Lupu, piano; Sándor Végh conducts Wiener Philamoniker:


Oh no, nothing mysterious there... Well, except that Maestro Végh seems to be conducting from a minature score.