Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Miscellanea

This won't be a regular feature, but I didn't have a larger topic this morning, so here are some short items.

Let's start with this carefully prepared analytical chart of the anatomy of songs:

The "weird key change" interests me, but not quite enough for me to actually listen to some songs to see if it is true or not. But I strongly suspect "not" because if there is one thing that is true of current pop is that it is not into weird key changes. Or any key changes. Sometimes not even into changing the chord.

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Just starting to listen my way through The Debussy Edition, a reasonably-priced collection of music from Deutsche Gramaphon by Debussy issued on the 150th anniversary of his birth, in 2012. It is not called "The Complete Debussy", probably because it is not complete. But it does have all the Debussy you really need. One surprising thing is that seven of the eighteen discs, or over a third, are devoted to vocal music, mostly songs (chansons or mélodies as Debussy called them) with a couple of discs devoted to his operPelléas et Mélisande. One really doesn't think of Debussy as so devoted to song, but it is the largest item in his output. Here is the first of four mélodies on poems by Paul Verlaine:

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Jimi Hendrix, in his early career, was known for playing the guitar in weird ways and ending by soaking it with lighter fluid and setting it on fire. But he wasn't the first to wow audiences (nor the last as Stevie Ray Vaughan did some behind-the-back guitar playing as well). Here is some rather spectacular showmanship by a violinist on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1959. Not on YouTube, but here is the link:

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Here, courtesy of Norman Lebrecht is a well-written article about music criticism from the composer's point of view. Here is Derek Bermel talking about the first nasty review he received.
Each victim recalls this traumatic moment differently. Some remember every reprehensible word, taking a masochistic pleasure in reading aloud the cruelest phrases, perhaps hoping that the brutal edges will gradually soften. Others, optimists, scour the few lines of text for all they’re worth, seeking to dredge from the muck a vaguely positive – or even neutral – spin. With what other experience can it be compared? Perhaps a sudden, bitter breakup…a few stark words etched instantly into the jilted lover’s brain. In this particular instance, I retained most vividly the summing-up: “Bluesy notions hardly worth a sideways glance.”
And here is the piece that prompted the review:

Which sounds like it deserves a good review!

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Judith Weir has been appointed Master of the Queen's Music, taking over from Peter Maxwell Davies. I honestly did not think much about the gender of the appointee, until that is, I noticed that the discussion in every single article about the appointment was almost entirely devoted to the gender issue! Here is the article in Sinfini Music, for example. An extract:
One of the most striking aspects of the commentary around Judith Weir’s appointment as Master of the Queen’s Music has been just how much of it has been about her gender – as if somehow her being a woman comes first, and her being a composer comes second.
And this article follows lockstep! Look, all you media folks, all you have to do to break with the narrative is break with the narrative. Just write one article about the appointment that is not entirely focussed on Judith Weir's gender. But no, every article has to be about the terrible, awful bias in the classical music world. Pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy. An example:
I would also note that (as rather unedifying recent debate about women conductors, or indeed opera singers, has revealed) there is still a strong undercurrent of sexism – by which I mean treatment of people either more or less seriously or respectfully because of their gender – bubbling under the surface of the music industry. What assumptions are we holding, consciously or unconsciously, about women composers?
This very quote, of course, is itself a perfect example of sexism. You should also notice that apart from two adjectives (magical, beguiling) there is absolutely no mention whatsoever of Judith Weir's music, just the gender issue.

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 So let's listen to some music by Judith Weir. Here is a movement from a string quartet:

Yes, I know she is better-known for her vocal music and opera, but I always find how composers approach the string quartet to be revealing.

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UPDATE: Just a kind of footnote to my post on The Art of Repetition. The French painter Matisse once said: "A square meter of blue is more blue than a square centimeter of blue." And he meant aesthetically of course. And in music, when you repeat something, it has a different weight the second time than the first time. And when you repeat it several times, it has a different weight and effect again.


Nathan Shirley said...

The "weird" key change is just a sudden shift in key up a major second. It's about the cheapest, sugary sweet way to suddenly shift from one major key to another (the effect is supposed to add excitement). I wouldn't call it weird, just bad taste.

The Matisse quote is very nice.

Bryan Townsend said...

I was just making a little joke, really. I think if you sit down and listen to a bunch of pop songs you likely won't find a weird key change 3/4 of the way through. I think "And I Love Her" has one of these "truck-driver" modulations, though. But just up a semi-tone.

Nathan Shirley said...

Right, I think the sudden major 2nd shift is not at all the norm, but it does appear in quite a bit of pop stuff I've heard (but I'm not pop expert!).

Suddenly shifting up a minor second has a similar effect, but it usually leaves much less of a bad taste in my mouth. A lot of gospel/praise music does this constantly to build congregations into a crazed ecstatic state. Pretty interesting psychological effect actually.