Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Yet another cri de coeur about the future of classical music, this time from Kent Nagano, conductor of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. The comments are fairly interesting. Sounds like I should hurry up and write something really, really good!

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The Guardian has a piece about Nobuo Uematsu, a composer of music for video games that has become so popular that his music has started penetrating into the top ten of British Classic FM’s Hall of Fame poll right alongside Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninoff. Here is a piece for piano:




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Update on the Toronto Symphony and Valentina Lisitsa story: after engaging a Canadian pianist to fill in playing the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, the Toronto Symphony has decided to cancel the concerto part of the program and the concert will be entirely Mahler Symphony No. 5. Here is that story in Musical Toronto. What is unclear is whether the concerto was pulled because the Canadian soloist declined to appear once he became aware of the controversy or whether it was the symphony management. In any case, controversy and Canadian classical music concerts seem to not go together!

UPDATE: from Slipped Disc, the concert, sans soloist and Rachmaninoff, went ahead, but the hall was apparently half-empty and the Globe and Mail published a strong editorial condemning the Toronto Symphony's action.


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Courtesy of Slipped Disc is this arrangement of Happy Birthday in the style of Shostakovich:


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Here is quite a good article in the Guardian about the "London" Bach, J. C. Bach. They do not mention a very concrete way that Mozart showed his respect for the older composer: the first few concertos for piano and orchestra by Mozart are actually recompositions of piano sonatas by J. C. Bach.

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Sorry for the abbreviated miscellanea this morning, a bit busy today. Our envoi is the three concertos that Mozart wrote after three keyboard sonatas by J. C. Bach:


15 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Listened to a couple of minutes of the Nobuo Uematsu. Playing video games and listening to their incidental music, eh; better than robbing banks or randomly beating people on city streets. Guy Dammann writes that it can take days to play one of these Uematsu video games: I don't understand how this can be but he is an actual critic, in the TLS, even, so it must be so. :-)

As someone said of Mr Pickwick, in an entirely different context, if Kent Nagano imagines that 'classical music' is going to remedy the ills of the age, from economic instability to Islamism, then he is a man most sanguine in his expectations. But if the burden of his argument-- obviously I haven't read his book and my score of words of German didn't add much to the machine translation-- is that a greater percentage of the available arts budgets needs to be dedicated to encouraging the young to do music (even if it is Uematsu to begin with), in creative ways, then I can abide significantly more 'new' music in the seasons' programs, if there's any evidence that this promotes a new interest in the classical tradition, even if it means less 'space' for the giants on whose shoulders these late-comers stand (whether they know it or not). Hmm.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm not familiar at all with these kind of video games: I think they are an entirely different order of thing, with characters and long narrative plots.

It is a difficult challenge for any composer today, confronted as you are with this enormous "back-catalogue" of great music. How do you find a new direction?

Marc Puckett said...

"Finally Hooper compares and contrasts a number of different approaches to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. The author’s underlying aim throughout is to question whether, and how, it is possible to develop a mode of musicological enquiry that is both epistemologically robust and at the same time capable of answering the demand that it demonstrate its social, political and ethical relevance."

I guess every -ology and -ography has to be "capable of answering the demand" these days? I don't think 'new directions' are going to happen for young people beginning to explore their musical talents if their professors insist that they conform their essays and projects to the Marxist paradigm expressed in that 'demand'.

(The quotation is from Luis Henriques. [https://luiscfhenriques.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/giles-hooper-the-discourse-of-musicology/].)

Rickard Dahl said...

The Final Fantasy games take plenty of time indeed, just like most other (J)RPGs ((Japanese) roleplaying games). I think I've played Final Fantasy X for over 110 hours and there are still things to do (which I doubt I will do as they are quite time consuming and not so fun (various mini-games and such)). The main storyline took maybe 80-90 hours. You basically follow the storyline but to do so you need to fight countless enemies on the path. In the case of Final Fantasy X and most other Final Fantasy games the combat is turn based, meaning that you (the characters on the journey) have certain number of turns to do various actions (such as attack, heal or cast magic) and the enemies also have certain numbers of turns and it keeps going until either the enemies die or you die (which means you lost all your progress since last time you saved the game).

It could be argued that video games are a waste of time but then so are movies, TV series and other forms of entertainment. Video games are simply entertainment and don't usually involve a creative element unless you're actually contributing to the making of video games (i.e. video game development). But then again it's the same with movies, music and other art forms. It's up to you how much time you want to spend on improving your mind, body and pursuing your passions/goals/hobbies and how much time you want to spend on entertainment. There is however a competitive branch within the video game culture. The best teams/players within certain popular video games (such as Starcraft and Counterstrike: Global Offensive) participate in big tournaments with live audiences (such as ESL One Katowice) and earn their living doing so. Certain players become quite rich through competitive gaming. So in a sense it can pay off to be dedicated to certain games. Obviously it's a hit or miss, you need a fair bit of talent and most importantly a lot of dedication.


To compare video games to robbing banks or randomly beating people on the streets more than a bit ridiculous. Video games don't cause violence, actually they seem to reduce violence. One of the reasons they might reduce violence is that video games are an healthy outlet for our natural human violence. Another reason could be that young (for the most part) people spend more times on video games instead of going out drinking etc. and causing trouble. It's probably a combination of these and some other factors that cause the reduction of violence. True, there are cases of people getting negatively influenced by video games, movies etc. but there's usually some kind of mental illness in the background in those cases. In general we actually live in the most peaceful/least violent era in human history (which is probably due to better living standards amongst other things). It might seem to be very violent as the media are very good at reporting everything sensational going on.

Also, don't underestimate video game music. It's true that most of it may be less advanced than classical music in general but I often find that video game music has good melodic writing and interesting use of instruments and is in general (very) well adapted to the circumstances (for specific locations in the game, for specific events in the game etc.) amongst other things. Video game music comes in a variety of different styles but I think the most interesting and relevant are those that are significantly influenced by classical music.

Rickard Dahl said...

And finally, video game music (and soundtrack music in general) can act as an informal introduction to classical music. Sure, it's not really classical music in the purest sense but it sort of is. It is not just a mindless repetition and changing lyrics like most pop music, instead it is instrumental for the most part and progresses in a somewhat similar manner as classical music (albeit in a shorter format). The transition between video game music and classical music is much more natural than the transition between the mind numbing pop music and classical music.

Anyways, the comments on that Slipped Disc article are interesting indeed.

Marc Puckett said...

Thank you, Rickard, for explaining about the gaming in question here. (I did write that such gaming is "better" than robbing banks etc :-) -- in my very limited acquaintance with gamers they have been socially awkward and very little interested in music or much of anything else, for that matter, so am happy to learn that that's not the case for all of them.) And that the best gaming music is informed by the classical music tradition is great! I ought not to have been so dismissive of Uematsu and those like him, perhaps.

Bryan Townsend said...

@Marc: A very astute observation. Yes, a great deal of what goes on in the humanities is a result of the Gramscian "long march" through the institutions of Western civilization. The basic idea was that of overcoming the "cultural hegemony" of traditional society and the capitalist economy. Here is the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony

This process is largely complete in that the cultural hegemony now reigning in most circles of academia and mass media is in fact informed by "progressive", that is to say, thinly-veiled Marxist, ideology. They are now the hegemons! So when they call for "social, political and ethical relevance" it is delightfully disingenuous. Well, maybe not "delightfully". What they mean is social, political and ethical relevance according to their values and goals. What is needed (and sometimes seen) is a strongly developed riposte to this that is historically and philosophically well-informed. I don't try to do this here very often, as my goals are primarily aesthetic, not political, but when it affects the aesthetics...

@Rickard: thanks very much for informing us about role-playing games. From what I have read, your claims that they are a healthy outlet seem to be accurate. Yes, the music seems sometimes to be influenced by classical music, but as its function is to accompany narrative rather than BE the narrative, it is perhaps more diffuse than the best classical music.

Marc Puckett said...

You may be familiar with this William Caplin? Am going to try to attend these, although since they are in the afternoon am not sure that work will oblige. Way over my head doubtless, but if I'm ever going to hear a feigned plagal cadence illustrated by someone who knows what he's talking about, this is probably my chance. :-)

On the 29th:

“Beyond the Classical Cadence: Thematic Closure in Early Romantic Music”

A talk by William Caplin, the James McGill Professor of Music Theory at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University.

The UO School of Music and Dance has named Caplin a 2015 Trotter Visiting Professor, a mark of distinction reserved for honored guest artists and scholars. Caplin will examine the fate of the classical cadence in the hands of the first generation of Romantic composers (Schubert, Chopin, Schumann).

Caplin identifies six characteristics of Romantic compositional style that bear on issues of cadential function and explores other aspects of musical form that distinguish Romantic practice from the earlier classical style.


And the next day, the 30th:

Building on Caplin’s April 29 public lecture “Beyond the Classical Cadence: Thematic Closure in Early Romantic Music,” this workshop will explore a set of techniques associated with ways in which cadential closure is modified and extended in music of the second half of the nineteenth century. Seven specific devices will be defined and illustrated in works by Liszt, Wagner, Brahms, and Strauss: (1) premature tonic arrival, (2) pre-dominant arrival, (3) plagal cadence, (4) “feigned” plagal cadence, (5) “detour” cadence, (6) prolongational closure, and (7) “iconic” cadence.

Additional excerpts from symphonies by Bruckner, Mahler, and Sibelius will be examined in light of these devices.

Marc Puckett said...

Happily enough, I, an awful cultural hegemonist, don't live in a milieu that concerns itself with such things at all, so I encounter these noxious ideas in journals and blogs and comments threads only (no midnight knocking at the door, not yet: I suppose they hope we will all re-educate ourselves and not require them to employ an actual, unfortunately probably profoundly messy, thought police)-- although there are the massive political consequences etc but this isn't the place for all of that, of course, as you wrote earlier.

It is an interesting if idle question, which famous composer or musician would you appoint to be the 'philosopher-king'? :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

I know Bill Caplin quite well as I did a doctoral seminar with him at McGill. Wonderful scholar! You should have a great time. I wish I could attend the second one at least--sounds fascinating. Take notes and share!

Though I greatly appreciate Plato, I think I am more of an Aristotelian myself and don't really believe in the notion of a philosopher-king. But if I had to... I suppose I would like to transmute the question into "who do I think is the composer or musician who has the greatest aesthetic (or moral?) authority at the present time?" Because if it is all time, then J. S. Bach of course. But now? Hmmm... Not John Adams (or John Luther Adams), not Pierre Boulez (though some would vote for him), not Philip Glass. Maybe Steve Reich? All the other guys seem too young.

Rickard Dahl said...

Yes, you're right, it's ofc intended to accompany the narrative. I think that in many cases the music works on its' own (very) well. For instance "From Zanarkand" from the Final Fantasy X OST stands on its' own very well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ght23jESOpA However it works even better in the context of the intro scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzpTMmlR6G0 (until about 2:30) And it works even better once you actually reach the point in the game that is shown in the introduction (which is quite far into the game). Each step adds a deeper emotional level to it.

Anyways, in Final Fantasy X I think there are only a few pieces that are gems, the rest isn't as interesting.

Rickard Dahl said...

Anyways, the Ni No Kuni (I haven't played the game) OST seems to be highly classical influenced. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_XC3Z3rM9E at for instance 5:55 (clear Gershwin influence I think) or Waterdrops at 12:43

Marc Puckett said...

Rickard, I listened to a half hour of the Hisaichi/Kondoh soundtrack and it's a perfectly pleasant composition; you may well be right about the Gershwin influence on 'Hotroit'. I just don't know what my reaction would be if the local symphony added a 'Suite from Ni No Kuni' to next season's schedule; it would be as if they added the 'Last of the Mohicans' movie soundtrack, I think: while it wouldn't be unpleasant to listen to, I think my reaction would be, 'if I wanted to hear Last of the Mohicans, I'd rent the DVD and watch/listen to the film itself'.

Marc Puckett said...

Steve Reich, eh. I'd vote, in this impossible fantasy, for James MacMillan. What a world it would be if composers and musicians were running the show! perhaps only composers, ha, to forestall Beyoncé and Justin and Bjork... that might, however, be the triumvirate our times deserve. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

Steve Reich largely because of the enormous influence he has had in recent decades. I am astonished to say that I have never listened to any of the music of James MacMillan! Have to rectify that.