Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

A long time ago someone sent me a link to a list of supposedly "essential" books on music. If by "essential" you mean half-baked reductionist scientific attempts to explain music, then perhaps this is just the thing. But looking over them again, I wonder if I haven't been hasty. Let me make a bet with myself: I'm going to get hold of a couple of these books, the ones that look least bad, and have a look. If any of them prove to have anything much to say, then I will give myself a swift kick. Otherwise, I get to have fun critiquing them. OK?

* * *

Theodore Dalrymple, the nom de plume (or perhaps nom de guerre) for a retired physician who often has interesting observations about the world, writes:
...it is the glory of the world that its interest is without end. As for my patients who were bored and who created convoluted difficulties for themselves to disguise that fact, I came to the conclusion that the world seemed dull and slow moving to them by comparison with videos, films, shows, and television. The greatest cause of boredom in the modern world is entertainment.
This is from an article titled "Entertainment Surfeit Disorder" which successfully diagnoses a quite common modern disease. I think you can also get it from watching pop music videos. I watched a couple of new ones last night from Katy Perry and Shakira with Rihanna and there was so much posing and fashion changes that I think I got whiplash.

* * *

Here is a very promising development: Stanford University is setting up a center to study bad science. They are going to focus on biomedical studies where:
80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials
Maybe after they get done with that, they can take a look at some of those studies researching music that I'll bet are at least as wrong...

* * *

The reputedly finest viola ever is about to go up for sale at Sotheby's for a price north of $45 million. It is one of only ten extant violas built by Stradivarius (as opposed to around 600 violins). I didn't think violists were paid that well...


* * *

In case you missed it, here is Tom Service's weekly symphony guide excursion which is on Brahms' Symphony No. 1.

* * *

And for the masochistics among you, there is a reissue of a recording of Stockhausen's Momente, the piece he wrote that invents moment-form. I have used it myself and played quite a number of pieces in moment form, but I suspect that, while it seemed a cool idea at the time (mid-1960s), it is really fundamentally antithetical to musical values. Music is a time art and probably the most important thing you can do in music is lead to a conclusion in the most convincing way possible. Moment form says, "hey, why bother, just put the ideas in any order at all".


The clapping is part of the performance (by the choir).

* * *

Our topical flash-mob-of-the-week is the Odessa Philharmonic and Opera Chorus performing the usual Beethoven excerpt in the Odessa fish market:


UPDATE: Of course the piece they should have done is, wait for it, Schubert's "Trout" Quintet.

* * *

As we have shown this week here at the Music Salon, people are always interested in top ten lists. A Late Night with David Letterman staple, it has grown into an internet phenomenon. At least until you start doing lists of the Top 10 Organ Works, at which point everyone loses interest... Too harsh? Go have a look yourself. Once you get past #1, which is, of course, Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the rest are a bit uninspired.


* * *

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting review of a new biography of the English musical eccentric, Constant Lambert. He wrote a critical study titled Music, Ho! of what he termed "music in decline" back in 1934 and you can read it online here. I haven't yet myself, but I plan to. Lambert is rumored to have written the finest dirty limericks ever, but I haven't run across any yet. He did have an interesting fashion sense:


* * *

Let's end with some of his music. Here is the first part of his 1924 piano concerto (which sounds a bit Stravinskyesque):




4 comments:

Bridge said...

You don't like the Messiaen? Also, I think the list was perhaps a bit too obsessed with variety. One could easily fill the list only with Bach pieces. I'm not intimately familiar with his organ works yet, but the toccata and fugue in F major springs to mind immediately. Also, if pieces that contain organ yet are not organ pieces per se are allowed, I would nominate Holst's Planets as it has some of the best use of organ in an orchestral setting I've heard.

I enjoyed the Lambert piece by the way, it's good.

Bryan Townsend said...

It is not one of my favorites. But my point was just that there are a lot of fairly obscure composers and compositions on the list. I had exactly the same thought you did. If you make a list of the top ten pieces for organ, the first eight or nine are going to be by Bach! Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, not to mention a bunch of chorale preludes. Mind you, a list of the top ten pieces for guitar might provoke a similar comment!

Rickard Dahl said...

Since we are in the mood for lists nowadays, when can we expect to see your list with top 10 guitar pieces?

Bryan Townsend said...

Now there's an idea! Quite a while back I did a list of great, but little-known, pieces of music that featured three guitar pieces:

http://themusicsalon.blogspot.mx/2012/04/ten-little-known-but-great-pieces-of.html