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And in complete contrast, Norman Lebrecht digs up a great tidbit from music history to counter all that nonsense about Bach's wife writing the cello suites.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, a gifted singer who shared his work and who bore him 13 children, died in great poverty 10 years after Bach’s passing.Her last child (JSB’s 20th), Regina Susanne, died in 1809, the year of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth.A decade before her death, Regina Susanne was also living in poverty. Friedrich Rochlitz, the editor of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, put out an appeal on her behalf, saying that she was starving, but that she “cannot, no, she should not, no she shall not beg.”Among those who answered the appeal was Ludwig van Beethoven, who sent her 307 Gulden — a large sum. At the same time, he wrote to his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, to give her the royalties from one of his forthcoming compositions. Regina Susanne wrote to him: “With tears of joy, I received this sum, which surpasses all my expectations. Not a day that Providence grants me will go by that I will not remember you with heartfelt thanks, my benefactor.”
We usually don't think of Beethoven as being a great benefactor like Haydn (who did lots of benefits for the bereaved families of musicians) but Bach's children were a special case.
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Listening to sad music makes you happy? Well, sure.
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Be warned, music reviewers and critics: if the subject of your review doesn't like it, there might be consequences. Here is the story in the Washington Post. Here is the review in question. Here is the kernel of the argument:
Every nuance of the music was underlined visibly with a host of concert-pianist playacting gestures: head flung back at the end of a phrase; left hand conducting the right hand; or a whole ballet of fingers hovering over keys and picking out their targets before an opening note was even struck at the start of Chopin's Ballade No. 3. There were fine moments, but they stubbornly refused to add up to anything more than a self-conscious display of Fine Moments. The final movement of Chopin's Second Piano Sonata was in a way the most successful part of the program: sheer virtuosity, and perfectly unhinged.Without having attended the concert, one cannot judge the fairness of this, but it is exactly the kind of thing a music reviewer ought to be doing and I have seen exactly this kind of exaggerated sensibility ruin quite a number of piano recitals. It is an epistemological problem, really: what is reality? Is it what the performer claims it is? Is it what the reviewer heard? If both performers and reviewers are not allowed to express themselves freely, then we have little hope of discerning the truth of the matter...
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Regarding the claim that Anna Magdalena, Bach's second wife, was the true composer of the cello suites, Alex Ross does a masterful job of skewering that argument here. A lot of the claim is based on the title page of one manuscript of the solo music for violin and cello. Alex points out:
In all, Jarvis’s reading of this title page is irrational in the extreme. Looked at upside down or sideways, it still says the same thing: the Sonatas and Partitas and the suites were composed by Bach and copied by his wife.Well, yeah, that's what we thought all along.
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McGill University, my alma mater, is dominating the major music scholarly conference of the year, being held in Milwaukee this week. The Schulich School of Music is sending quite a number of professors and graduate students to give papers and hold discussions on matters musicological and theoretical. Sample title: “Beneventan Notated Fragments in Abruzzo: Exchange and the Domestication of Plainchant in Southern Italy”. Arthur Kaptainis, the music critic of the Montreal Gazette has an excellent article on it. What puzzles him is how very, very little attention the people we consider great composers are given in conferences like these. He notes:
To leaf through the Milwaukee program is to be left with the impression that musicology and music theory (remember, different things) no longer concern themselves much with great music. Not that “great music” has any viability as a concept in out postmodern age. Indeed, the notion of music as self-sufficient entity is much shakier than you might suppose. To believe in it is to put yourself in a difficult position.
And about that McGill contingent:
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Terry Teachout is an excellent writer, often about music, and I direct your attention to this brief essay about youth and experience--mainly because of the mention of Joseph Haydn. In it he also mentions a larger essay he wrote about Haydn for Commentary. This larger essay is so brilliant a picture of Haydn that you should read the whole thing. Here is an excerpt:
No, I really don't think so. Every professional classical musician I know loves Haydn.
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Remember that list the New York Times music critic came up with of the ten greatest composers in Western music? I've had fun disagreeing with it a couple of times. One of the issues I had with it is that it does not include Joseph Haydn. Well, I just ran across a similar list in the Independent of fourteen composers they offer ebook biographies of and, thankfully, it does include Haydn. Here's the link.
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And that gives us our musical envoi for the day. Here is Haydn's last symphony, No. 104, the "London" performed by those seasoned masters, Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Proms in 2012:
It's just magnificent, the whole thing, isn't it?