Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Here is something you don't see too often, not if you live where I live--it's a mob of sitars!

Click to enlarge
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You know, when I saw this, I just thought it was perfect for the Friday miscellanea, that part of the week when the Music Salon, normally a place of genteel classical restraint and grace, lets down its hair and releases a pack of ravenous wolves:


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The British composer Max Richter has done some interesting things, including writing a piece for Hilary Hahn's encores album and recomposing Vivaldi's The Seasons, but this new piece seems a bit, well, soporific:


Here is an article on a recent performance in Berlin.

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Here is another article about that crisis in psychology--you know, the one where they are discovering that a great deal of the "settled science" is in fact, just wrong? The article is "Many scientific “truths” are, in fact, false." We tend to think that the arts are all fuzzy and subjective while the sciences, even the social sciences, are all objective and truthy. Turns out not to be so. In fact, I think there is considerably more objectivity in the arts than you might think. It is just that a lot of powerful people benefit from pulling the wool over our eyes!

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Could this be the reason no-one has invaded Switzerland for, oh, a thousand years or so?


You just don't want to mess with guys with this level of discipline...

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This is turning out to be a bad year for musicians: after seeing Nikolaus Harnoncourt and George Martin pass away in recent weeks, this week British composer Peter Maxwell Davies died. Here is a tribute by Simon Rattle. And here is a lovely piece for guitar by Davies. This is "Farewell to Stromness" played by Matthew McAllister:


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The art rock musician Keith Emerson also passed away recently and here is a brief note in Slipped Disc with a clip of a performance of his three string quartets!

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NewMusicBox, one of my bêtes noir, beats the drum for diversity: "Pursuing Diversity: New Voices, New Sounds."
Conversations about diversity are happening everywhere these days. The changing face of America is increasingly bringing what used to be a dodged or back-burnered dialogue to the forefront of the national debate. The visibility of this issue has grown in recent years due to highly publicized police incidents, national grass-roots protest and advocacy movements, and the resignation of university presidents. Talking about diversity can be difficult and potentially fear provoking, and can often leave people feeling defensive, shamed, or angry. But the discussion is happening. In a recent @musochat Twitter conversation, Gahlord Dewald led a fearless and poignant exchange about diversity in new music. Without presuming to have any answers, I want to expand the dialogue and rearticulate the pressing need for us to cultivate an atmosphere of active diversity in our music and projects. Not just because we should but also because the studies are clear: people thrive when surrounded by others who are different.
What I dislike about this kind of writing is that it reveals a mode of thought that is deeply unreflective, enslaved to every fashionable conceit and mired in cliché. Sadly, these folks, while following in lockstep every plank in the progressive platform, think they are speaking truth to power or something. I have news for them: the cultural Marxists ARE the establishment, firmly ensconced in the mass media, political offices and academia. Read the whole thing for a compendium of clever and innovative ways new musicians are finding to distract themselves from, you know, writing good music.

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Here is an interesting article on the mystery of Sibelius' Symphony No. 8.
From 1904 until his death in 1957, the composer Jean Sibelius lived some 20 miles north of Helsinki, in a rural villa built of timber and stone on the shores of Lake Tuusula. He called the house Ainola, after his wife, Aino. Surrounded by fields and birch forests, it befitted the isolation of Sibelius’s later years, when Finland’s most revered musician became a withdrawn, reclusive figure. From about 1933 onward, he published no music of any significance, nothing but a few trifles and arrangements. Yet he continued to wage a turbulent artistic struggle with himself as he attempted, over the course of several years, to write his Eighth Symphony.
Sometime in the 1940s, the struggle was seemingly lost. One day, Sibelius carried a laundry basket filled with his manuscripts into the dining room at Ainola and began feeding the pages into the raging fire in the stove. Aino, who would recall the event after her husband’s death, could confirm the identity of only one of the pieces her husband burned—the early Karelia Suite—but it is now considered a certainty that the Eighth Symphony was destroyed as well. Afterward, a strange calm descended upon the composer. His mood lightened. He appeared strangely optimistic, no longer depressed, as if the fire had brought on some magnificent catharsis.
I have my own theories about what went wrong, but read the whole article.

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I was thinking about putting up a major work by Peter Maxwell Davies for the envoi today, but I think I will save that and do some stand-alone posts on his music. So instead, let's listen to Sibelius' last completed symphony, the 7th. This the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, conductor:


8 comments:

Craig said...

Thanks for the link to that paper on problems with published research studies. Very interesting. Part of the problem, historically, has been that journals have been reluctant to publish null findings -- not interesting! -- and so the journals have ended up being full of statistical outliers. Which, in the long run, are even less interesting.

Bryan Townsend said...

I've been more and more skeptical about a lot of the stuff published in the mass media. But it turns out we need to be almost as skeptical about papers published in scientific journals. It was a disquieting moment when I discovered that Scientific American very much had a political agenda!

Marc Puckett said...

I can sleep just fine, thanks, Mr Richter; there was an article last fall, too, in the Guardian about the Richterian event. At least he or his managers have the good sense to release <8 hour versions on CD. Only listened to a minute so am in no position to judge, I suppose; last night's Beethoven (Andre Watts playing the Concerto no 5) and Mahler (his 4th) are still in my head.

Am looking forward to your PMD posts; heard James MacMillan on the BBC after his death but haven't listened to anything other than your Farewell to Stromness.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh! Yes, I am looking forward to taking a serious look at PMD myself. About forty years ago I owned his Eight Songs for a Mad King, which was from his fiery youth. Most of his music is not nearly as lyric as Farewell to Stromness.

Marc Puckett said...

Looking at the American Scholar comments, I guess I adhere to the pro-Sibelius side, if only because I've enjoyed everything of his I've ever listened to: that Mahler thought 'kitsch' is funny, though, so far as that goes.

I can see, having struggled for years on an eighth symphony that I've never been able to get 'right', finally simply saying, well, pft, or two words to that effect: but I expect that's because I'm not a composer, so I'll be interested in your theory. Perhaps all the good stuff that people saw in manuscript was written by Aino.

Bryan Townsend said...

My theory about why Sibelius never finished or perhaps finished but never released his Symphony No. 8 is twofold. On the one hand, he struggled with alcoholism:
"The beginning of the year 1924 Sibelius dedicated to his seventh symphony - and to alcohol. "Alcohol to intoxicate nerves + mind. How tremendously tragic is the fate of an aging composer. The work doesn't flow as fast as before and self-criticism is increasing to the point of impossibility," he wrote in his diary on the 6th January {http://www.sibelius.fi/english/elamankaari/sib_viimeiset.htm]

And on the other, I suspect that the disdain that the modernists held for Sibelius might have also had an effect. If you are riddled with ever-increasing self-criticism, are more and more vulnerable to binge-drinking and are not respected by the international luminaries of your profession, then how could this not have a deleterious effect on your work?

Marc Puckett said...

Seems a reasonable enough explanation to me, sure.

Marc Puckett said...

Today, March 24th, New York radio station WQXR is streaming 24 hours of Messiaen, in case anyone might want to listen. Alan Gilbert seems to be chatting about M. at times during the day.