Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Miscellanea

If you haven't seen the classic Monty Python sketch about Beethoven, then you really must:

You have to love the madly wandering plot that leads back to Beethoven. Wagner apparently at one point lived in an apartment across from an iron-monger, which made composition rather difficult.

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Tom Service over at the Guardian is looking around for another project after his two year-long ones on contemporary composers and symphonies. In the meantime he is putting up the occasional article that seem to be oriented towards pumping traffic. Lists, when in doubt do lists! So here are "10 of the best: where jazz meets classical". As Tom says:
As the London jazz festival gets into full swing, this week’s 10 picks are devoted to that much denigrated, occasionally inspired, sometimes insipid, but also genuinely fruitful interzone between jazz and classical. There’s a deeply problematic but potentially catalytic cultural politics and musical symbiosis between the practices and possibilities of both worlds - as if it were possible to reduce the massive diversity of both “jazz” and “classical” to single musical planets rather than the musical multiverses that they both are. The point is, composers and musicians over the last century have wanted to make the most of everything in the sonic world around them, trying to create something that sounds like a distinctive, single thing rather than that most benighted of phenomena, a “fusion” that sounds like neither one thing nor the other.
Well, I'm deeply grateful that I didn't write that! Tom's first example is Mr. "Third Stream" himself, Gunther Schuller, who really wanted to unite jazz and classical:

Twenty seconds of modernist meanderings followed by a whole lot of bebop pretty much shows it is a bad idea in my book. But that may be just because it combines two kinds of music that I particularly don't like! Next is Duke Ellington, which is quite a different story. But it is kind of interesting that he only performed it complete three times in his career. Next is a piece by Milton Babbitt for jazz ensemble that is not likely to have too many fans in either genre. Then the Ebony Concerto by Stravinsky which is not one of his better pieces. Are we starting to get the impression that trying to fuse together jazz and classical usually brings out the worst in both? I think we can skip over jazz versions of Mahler and Bach, don't you?

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Here is a little piece about Sibelius' Valse Triste and copyright law over at Slipped Disc. The interesting thing is the discussion in the comments section that takes Norman to task, then goes into detail about copyright law and the "corporate murder of classical music".

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Tomorrow, November 22, is Saint Cecilia's day, the patron saint of music. Here is Henry Purcell's Ode to St. Cecilia:

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Here is an exhaustive statistical analysis of female versus male players in American orchestras. It is fascinating to note that 95% of harp players are female while 95% of tuba players are male. Conductors are 91% male. Only one orchestra has a preponderance of female members, that's the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with 53% female. What I would really like to see is a discussion of what these numbers might mean other than a conspiracy by the heteronormative patriarchy! And can we please get more male harp players? I mean, only 5% male? That's a disgrace!

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Can being open and tolerant to diversity be taken to excess? Well, sure, as evidenced by this article in NewMusicBox: "Listen To Music, Dammit!" The opening is not too promising:
Too often I hear people say things like “pop and rock concerts are a massive snore, unless you live and die by A minor and C major.”
C'mon, nobody says that--nobody talks like that! This is slightly more plausible:
There is no way to make an argument that one type of music’s formal devices are better than another’s. This is not to say there isn’t a range in the quality of how well pieces take advantage of those devices.
But since the writer, Nick Norton (whose schtick always seems to be the same: there is no right and wrong in music), offers no specifics and doesn't even try to make an argument, one wonders. Nick meanders his way to this sanctimonious close:
Ultimately, it comes down to this: what, as an artist, is the benefit of being closed-minded or closed-eared? There isn’t one. What are the benefits to listening to and being aware of as much music as possible? There are about a zillion. Make it a mission to hear something new each day. Even if you hate it, figure out why you hate it. It’ll make you a better musician.
That's called beating a straw man to death. There is just something so deliciously inept about arguing vehemently and so very definitively about something that is stated in such vague terms! Here are some of my thoughts on the same topic: "How to listen to music: the Boring Quotient".

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To clear the audio palette, let's close with some Sibelius. Here is Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic in the magnificent Symphony No. 2:


Rickard Dahl said...

- The Monty Python sketch enlightens a very real problem for composers. I myself sometimes lose good ideas because someone is distracting me or because I simply forget how I played them and how they sound (before for instance recording on digital piano). It's very annoying.

- Yes, very few good combinations of jazz and classical have been made so far. The only composer who did it really well (in my opinion) was George Gershwin.

- St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music? I thought St. Gregory was that. Well, I've learnt something new.

Bryan Townsend said...

Tell me about it! One of my biggest fears is that someone moves in next door that will play salsa or cumbia all day long, or try to learn the electric guitar.

George Gershwin, yes, of course!

Right, Pope Gregory, famous for giving his name to Gregorian Chant, might be an alternate. But in the English-speaking world at least, St. Cecilia gets the honors.

Nathan Shirley said...

And what about Bernstein? West Side Story, etc?

I never read anything at NewMusicBox worth anything, so I long ago stopped wasting my time there.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm afraid you are correct!