Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Miscellanea

Last Friday I forgot to do my "Friday Miscellanea" so I will do one today. Let me start by linking to the latest in Tom Service's fifty-part series on the symphony at the Guardian. They appear every Tuesday and today's is on Anton Webern's Symphony op. 21. By now I have concluded that there is absolutely no organizing principle: symphonies appear entirely at random. The last four articles have covered Sibelius, Bruckner, Haydn and now Webern. Wouldn't it have made some kind of sense to at least gone at it chronologically? Mind you, in that case the first five articles would probably have been on Haydn, but what's wrong with that? Anyway, Tom takes a pretty good run at the Webern today. But more than the other articles in the series, today I had the distinct feeling that I was reading an essay submitted by a second-year student in music theory as his end-of-term paper. And I'm afraid I would give it a B-minus! Doesn't this sentence sound rather too much like a clumsy undergrad?
And Webern's Symphony manages something even more remarkable: the whole academic discourse of score-based musical analysis is (or was) based on proving how "organic" and "logical" symphonic structures can be, supposedly endowing Beethoven's music, say, with the objective power and glory of natural phenomena.
Notice how the second half is a non-sequiteur with the first half? There is also the over-reliance on authority:
Now, if you want to delve into the canonic complexities of Webern's symphony, or the subtleties of the way it manipulates its 12-tone row, I refer you to composer George Benjamin's essay on the Symphony, as well as his thoughts on the piece in a collection of essays published forAlexander Goehr's 70th birthday.
And typical of earnest but fumbling student efforts is the fact that neither of those links actually work! But much of the article is actually pretty good: a decent attempt to give us a sense of what is happening in the music. This is actually 1,112 words on a significant piece of difficult 20th century music in a mainstream newspaper. Who else would be likely to do something like this?

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Courtesy of Norman Lebrecht comes this link to an article about the financial woes of members of the Minnesota Orchestra who have been locked out for fifteen months in a dispute with an astonishingly tone-deaf management and board of directors. Even when you aren't locked out, the life of a musician is pretty tough, financially. There is a very thin veneer of international superstars like Yo-Yo Ma, Daniel Barenboim and Yuja Wang who make large amounts of money. I once did a rough calculation that stars of an older generation like Herbert von Karajan and Luciano Pavarotti could earn up to six million dollars a year. But one step down from there, the earnings are pretty small. I did pretty well as a regionally-known classical guitarist playing the big guitar concertos with the local orchestras and even with quite a few nation-wide broadcasts on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. But my best-paying engagement was playing the Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto and some solo pieces in a special concert as a homage to Brazil with the Brazilian consul in attendance at the Orpheum Theater in Vancouver. The orchestra was the very fine CBC Vancouver Orchestra conducted by Mario Bernardi and the concert was broadcast across Canada. So what princely fee was I paid for this high-profile engagement? Bear in mind that I had to learn the concerto specially which took about four months of hard work. I was paid $1,300 Canadian.

A number of years ago I decided to retire as a professional musician as the business side of it was just too frustrating and whenever I have doubts about the wisdom of that, I just think back to that fee...

* * *

If you are performance major in a university music department the end of the term brings a special kind of hurdle: the performance jury exam. Everyone taking lessons has some form of examination, but more is expected of performance majors. I recall one exam I had at the early hour of 9am. I played the Lute Suite No. 4 by Bach, Elogio de la Danza by Leo Brouwer and the Concerto in D by Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Whew! Pretty tough first thing in the morning. But I just ran across a piece about jury exams for composers. I don't think they did this at my school. As I recall, my composer friends had to turn in a piece at the end of term with a supporting essay discussing how it was written, but no actual jury where the whole composition faculty critique the composition. I suspect that this idea would have run aground in my school because the professors of composition were so radically different in their approaches that they would have ended up wrangling amongst themselves!

* * *

Finally, there is a review of a collection of letters of Leonard Bernstein that is well worth reading. Bernstein was a hugely talented and very complex person. There are some real gems here and there. Here is what Bernstein wrote to Aaron Copland about Bruckner“Impossibly boring, without personality, awkward & dull, masked in solemnity.”

Now let's have some music. Not Bruckner! Here is the second movement of the Guitar Concerto in D, op. 99 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco played by Eduardo Fernandez with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Miguel Gomez Martínez:


5 comments:

Rickard Dahl said...

So what do you do now to make a living?

Bryan Townsend said...

Following my father's footsteps, I am in real estate.

Bryan Townsend said...

And I feel I should mention that Charles Ives was in the insurance business and Wallace Stevens was a lawyer.

Rickard Dahl said...

Another example: Borodin was a doctor.

I have a few questions if I may ask. How do you divide your time between work and music? Do you work fulltime or do you work less in order to spend more time working with music? Does the "regular" work feel much like an obstacle in your musical interest?

I'm curious mainly because I will probably never become a professional (i.e. fulltime) composer as I've started late and even for those that started composing as kids it's probably a tough competition. I'm thinking about how I will manage to compose (and play piano etc.) as much as possible when I finish my electrical engineering education, maybe somehow I will manage not to work fulltime and still make a good enough living.

By the way, I have been enjoying Beethoven's folksong settings lately. A hidden treasure, too bad they are so unknown. My favorite is The Highland Watch (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gePOYIA-gS4 at 4:20).

Bryan Townsend said...

I do work full time, but the hours per week vary a lot. The fixed hours are not too many and the rest varies according to client need, time of year and so on. What I had to give up was playing concerts because it is impossible to combine that with real estate. But composition is something you can do whenever you have spare time and I do have enough of it. Also, I tend to compose in spurts: I put in a lot of hours over a few days and then might not do anything for weeks. If I were trying to fulfill commissions by a certain deadline I would have to work differently.

Thanks for the tip about Beethoven folksong arrangements! I don't know them at all. Haydn did a whole bunch of them as well.