Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

For some reason this photo reminds me of that possibly apocryphal comment of Artur Schnabel to the effect that for a long time he refused to record the Beethoven piano sonatas because he was afraid that someone, somewhere, would listen to them while eating a ham sandwich:

Click to enlarge
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David Bowie, singer, pop musician, songwriter and crafter of image, has died, aged 69, of cancer. The Guardian has the obituary.
Bowie’s 25 albums produced a string of hits including Changes, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. He was known for experimenting across diverse musical genres, and for his alter egos Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke. He also had a notable acting career.
His latest album, Blackstar, was released last week to coincide with his 69th birthday, and had received widespread critical acclaim.
I was something of a fan of Bowie's for a short time in the 1980s when he released the album Let's Dance:

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Is it time for a protest song? Sure, it's always time for a protest song. Hmm, lemmesee, how about this one protesting Canadian authorities' overbearing attempts to prevent Canadians from having winter fun:

And it's not just Hamilton:
On New Year’s Eve, a couple living in North Edmonton, Alberta were putting the finishing touches on their homemade ice rink on the pond behind their house, when a cop showed up to fine them $100 for modifying the “land in a way likely to cause injury.” Their crime?  Clearing off the snow and hooking up a hose from their house to the pond to smooth out the top so that their kids could skate.
The mom, Morgann Tomlinson was really angry.
Follow this link for more.

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I know you have been wanting to hear Justin Bieber's interpretation of Beethoven, as I have. Sadly, all we have is this brief clip of him having a go at Für Elise in the lobby of the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. The Daily Mail has the story.

Did you ever think that maybe a lot of pop musicians are secretly classical music lovers, but just play pop music because, you know, that's where the money is?

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Alan Rickman also just passed away from cancer. I recall attending a fascinating presentation at a musicology conference some years ago where his entrance in the first Die Hard film was analyzed in terms of a recitative and aria. I suppose something like this was inevitable:

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This sounds like a series of recordings I would like to hear: Kristian Bezuidenhout's survey of the Mozart keyboard music on fortepiano. The etymology of the word "fortepiano" is interesting. It seems to be a modern coinage: i.e. a word invented to contrast the modern pianoforte with its smaller, lighter predecessor. And that gives us our envoi today. This is Kristian Bezuidenhout playing the Mozart Fantaisie in D, KWV 397 on fortepiano:


Ken Fasano said...

Good to see Bieber is at least aware of some classical music. Ok, he's just a kid, a bratty kid - but I was a bratty kid, too, who rebelled against his parents by playing Schoenberg.

As for Bowie, I think with the recent deaths of Boulez and Bowie we can say that "l'avant garde est mort", but perhaps without the irony of "Schoenberg est mort" (Le roi est mort! Vive le roi!) There is no more avant garde kings to speak of.

The history of "avant garde" - I think the first usage is in 1825, where the author exhorts the "avant garde" artists of his era to be the vanguard against the injustices of the social system (at that time, post-Congress of Vienna Europe).

Beethoven could be considered "avant garde"; avant gardism could be called the dominant aesthetic position of the 20th century. Picasso, Stein, Joyce (don't mention the two in the same sentence!), Schoenberg, Varese, Boulez, Zappa, Bowie... Bowie was definitely a surrealist, Pierrot in drag.

Who's left that can be called an avant gardist? Penderecki? He gave up his avant gardism in the 1970s. Bussotti? Who cares? The minimalists were never avant gardists - instead they were/are postmodernists. So, l'avant garde est mort. I'll go drink a glass of lead-poisoned water to that!

Bryan Townsend said...

Ken, that is so interesting about the origins of the avant garde! Thanks. It links it to the political narrative.

As a young performer I was very committed to the performance of avant garde music. But as time went on, I began to drift away and finally became something of an apostate.

Christine Lacroix said...

Bryan you said "Did you ever think that maybe a lot of pop musicians are secretly classical music lovers, but just play pop music because, you know, that's where the money is?" No, I have never thought that. But I do think that if it weren't so difficult for you to believe that it's possible to love and be passionate about different genres of music, including pop, you wouldn't accuse people of doing it just for the money. Maybe it's incredulity that leads to that accusation, a sincere disbelief that any serious musician, could love both pop music and classical music. How do you react when you are accused of being jealous because you don't like, for example, David Garrett? It's the same thing. The accuser can't believe that you could quite simply not like David Garrett since he's so obviously brilliant, so you must be jealous! Why is it so hard to believe that other people have different taste? That they hear something that you don't hear?

Bryan Townsend said...

Christine, this is another case of something I wrote being taken literally. A significant portion of what I say is, to some extent, sardonic. Especially on Fridays! But that answer is too easy, so let me elaborate a bit. If you dig around on the blog very much then you will see lots of places where I talk about pop music (defined as everything that is neither folk nor classical) with great enthusiasm. Of course, there is some great pop music out there: the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Tom Waits, Eric Clapton--I could go on and on. I haven't listed more recent artists because pop music is not really where I live, but I enjoyed some recent stuff by Gotye.

So, did you just miss those posts?

Now, let's dig out the grain of truth (which is what makes sardonic comments bite): there is an enormous amount of money to be made in pop music and I think it would be pretty hard to deny that most pop music is made with the goal of making money. Sales! Sales! Sales! Much pop music is a commercial product with a little spice of music. Not to say that you can't have a lot of fun doing it, but still.

If you analyze your criticism, I think that you might see that it is really an ad hominum: how could you be so stupid/insensitive as to believe what you said?

Christine Lacroix said...

Hello Bryan
I can't imagine thinking of you of all people as being insensitive or stupid. So if I gave that impression I'm sorry. I do find you a bit harsh sometimes in your criticisms of other musicians but that's just my sensibility. What I said was: "But I do think that if it weren't so difficult for you to believe that it's possible to love and be passionate about different genres of music, including pop, you wouldn't accuse people of doing it just for the money." I'm referring particularly to performers who have been classically trained, the Lang Langs, David Garretts, 2cellos, etc. you've criticized. In one post you answered a question about why classical musicians would choose to play pop with a long line of dollar signs. If you truly believed these musicians were passionate about what they were doing, passionate about the music itself, would you accuse them of money grubbing? That' really my point and I hope you don't find it insulting!

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh no, not at all. I always enjoy your comments because they are sincere even when critical. Yes, sometimes I do imply that there are some musicians out there, particularly pop musicians, who are money-grubbing hacks. I think that is the simple truth and while it might not be a welcome truth, it still might need to be said. There are classical musicians who are also careerist hacks with minimal musicality too. In fact, in every single profession there are passionate idealists, conniving careerists, mere dullards and inspired geniuses. The interesting question is why does saying that this is also true in the arts cause such a strong reaction? I think it is because we like to think that the arts are different. And in many ways they are. Artists, when they are doing what they should be doing, are not following the rules and paths of ordinary life, but venturing into the unknown and mysterious. Sometimes they are successful and return to this world with aesthetic gold. Other times they fail and return with nothing but weirdness or sterile experimentation. But sometimes they give up or never really understood their quest and just try and flim flam us with smoke and mirrors. This is a trap that artists are particularly susceptible to.

I think it is a particular task of the Music Salon to be willing to point this out from time to time. In an entertaining manner. You should have a look at one of my old catty micro-reviews sometime.

Marc Puckett said...

This is at WSJ; what is a 'motoric flute'? I do appreciate how the writer says maqam 'play a large role' and then doesn't say anything else about the Arabic forms. Tsk. []

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Marc, by a really bizarre coincidence, just as you were posting this comment, I was putting exactly the same article into my upcoming Friday Miscellanea! The maqam are melodic modes a bit like our scales, but with inherent melodic formulas. I think a motoric flute might be one that just spins out a lot of notes.