Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

Canada's Globe and Mail makes the argument for why classical music matters, but manages to summarize the problems quite succinctly:
The support structure for classical music is fast disappearing: Record stores, by and large, no longer exist; newspapers have reduced their coverage of the arts (among other things) in response to cataclysmic changes in that industry; schools abandoned music education a decade ago; the CBC basically stopped recording concerts as it changed formats; and, social media has made marketing all cultural products a new ball game.
...classical music provides something that is simply unavailable anywhere else in our society. It is a unique aesthetic product in that its very age and history can work in its favour, providing emotional and cultural experiences rare in our modern, disposable world.
* * *

Newsflash: apparently I'm not just a hidebound, out-of-touch mossback! Or not the only one, at least. Paul Morley, who used to be one of the leading rock critics, now says that pop music is pretty much over:
For me, pop music is now a form of skilfully engineered product design, the performers little but entertainment goods, and that is how they should be reviewed and categorised. The current pop singers are geniuses of self-promotion, but not, as such, musicians expressing glamorous ideas.
For Paul, it is classical music that is the music of the future:
when it comes to music and working out what music is for, when it comes to thinking about music as a metaphor for life itself, what tends to be described as classical music seems more relevant to the future.
And further:
Once you make it through the formalities of classical music, those intimidating barriers of entry, there is the underestimated raw power of its acoustic sound and an endless supply of glorious, revolutionary music, all easily accessed as if it is happening now. Now that all music is about the past, and about a curation of taste into playlists, now that fashions and musical progress have collapsed, discernment wiped out, classical music takes a new place in time, not old or defunct, but part of the current choice. It is as relevant as any music, now that music is one big gathering of sound perpetually streaming into the world. If you are interested in music that helps us adapt to new ideas, to fundamental change, which broadcasts different, special ways of thinking and warns us about those who loathe forms of thinking that are not the same as theirs, classical is for you.
Go read the whole article because Paul goes on to put up some suggested listening and introduces each piece with remarkable enthusiasm. He refers to the "transcendent, freakish otherness of Mozart" and talks about a Shostakovich symphony in this way: "In his earth-shattering 10th, fully immersed in life and chaos, making most of the history of prog rock sound pretty quaint, it sounds like he believes he is immortal."

I've often thought that the first movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 in particular, makes Metallica sound rather like Paul Anka.

 * * *

I think this might be interesting. The Globe and Mail has another article about a new music research facility at McMaster University. It is hard to tell what exactly will be done as the article is a bit vague: heavy on the possibilities, but vague on the methods:
In essence, LIVElab is a conventional stage and seating area backed by a powerful combination of high-tech gadgetry for recording and cleverly manipulating the way entire groups of people experience music and other forms of performance or presentation. The sound system can be adjusted to simulate a range of acoustic environments from classrooms to cathedrals.
But it sounds more interesting than a lot of other research because a) it seems more based on empirical research and b) it doesn't seem to flow from some simplistic misunderstanding of how music works.

* * *

I was just reminded of a famous quote that I have to share with you. It is from Edward Gibbon in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.
I'll leave the application of this quote to the world of music as an exercise for the reader (meaning, I'm not sure myself!).

* * *

This is the 50th anniversary of the invention of the analogue synthesizer by Bob Moog. Yep, that's correct, the Moog Synthesizer. And here is a neat little article about it.

* * *

This is a charming essay about the viola player's view of the world. The viola is renowned for a number of things including being the butt of more jokes than any other instrument, being the preferred instrument of a number of composers including Haydn, Mozart and Allan Pettersson (meaning that they liked to play the viola part when reading quartets) and being the string instrument with the greatest capacity for melancholy. Here is a sample:
As a general rule, violists tend to be viewed within the orchestral world, as the — shall we say — slow children. This fallacious characterization stems from the fact that most of us started out in childhood as violinists, and at some point decided to switch to the lower, bulkier, more melancholy viola. Violinists take our decision to switch as a sign of weakness on our parts, when in reality, most of us switch at least partly because we're tired of hanging out with other violinists, who are, of course, the schoolyard bullies and prom queens of the orchestra.
 * * *

And of course the most appropriate piece of music to end with would be Harold in Italy, the non-viola-concerto that was non-commissioned by Paganini from Hector Berlioz. It actually turned out to be more like a symphony, a program symphony at that, with obbligato viola. Paganini was terribly disappointed at first because the viola part was not virtuoso enough. But after hearing a performance he was overwhelmed and sent Berlioz 20,000 francs.

No comments: