Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Some Musical Jokes

There are different kinds of musical humor. Some you can hear over and over and enjoy them every time, like this Haydn minuet that has a very messed up meter:

But other kinds of musical humor, like some puns, are only funny once. If that. Norman Lebrecht has found one:

He loves it. I think it sounds like tango music as arranged by John Cage. Funny once. Another piece by Kagel is this one entitled "Ludwig van" in which brief chunks of Beethoven are sliced up and served with unpleasant clashes. Here is a mercifully brief extract:

There was a similar hit-and-run done on the prelude to the Third Violin Partita by Bach. It was released on the flip side of an LP of the Cage Concerto for Prepared Piano, but for the life of me I can't remember the composer! Gunther Schuller? Luciano Berio did another hit-and-run on the third movement of Mahler's Second Symphony in the third movement of his Sinfonia.

Believe it or not, this sort of thing used to be thought daring and progressive, the future of music. But, just like putting a pickled shark in a tank and calling it 'art', all this is pretty much a poor joke. Funny once.

UPDATE: Yes, I realize I sound a bit like an out-of-touch troglodyte in this post. Which makes Norman Lebrecht sound groovy and up-to-date? Can't leave it like that, so let me explain!

The problem with these kinds of things is that they are just too easy. Take some bits of Beethoven or Bach and chop them up. Mix indescriminately. Blend to serve. Ugh! This may have gotten everyone all a flutter in 1970 when it was new and unusual. But aesthetically, it is a nightmare. I wish I could find that Bach example, because it was a perfect illustration. Little bits of the violin partita prelude whistling past, combined with other bits in a horrible cacaphony. Easy to compose--awful to hear. When barbarians come to town, they tear down the bronze statues and melt them down. They collect the gold ornaments and melt them down. They rip the lead off the roofs of the churches and melt it down. How is what these 'composers' are doing any different?

MUCH LATER UPDATE: I finally remembered the composer who did the take-off on the Bach Partita. It was Lukas Foss and the piece is Baroque Variations (1967). The Bach movement is the third starting at the 13:47 mark. Unfortunately Blogger just refuses to find the clip so I can't embed it. But here it is on YouTube:

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