Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Breaking news: aesthetic criteria just as relevant now as they were 90 years ago, or, as Slipped Disc has it: "Classical reviews have not changed in 90 years"
A research study by Swiss and British scholars has confirmed what many have long suspected: that classical music critics are clinging to criteria that have long since lost their relevance.
Follow the link, as the comments are also interesting. I may do a whole post on this.

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I ran across an interesting clip about how Steely Dan puts together  a song. The title is misleading, though, because what he is talking about is not how the song was composed, but how it was arranged and produced. Oh, sure, he talks a bit about harmony too.


Some interesting stuff, but one problem with these kinds of discussions is that there isn't much theoretical rigor. For example, he talks about the "mu major" chord, where you replace an octave with the note a second above. In a C major chord, it would be spelled C E G D (instead of the octave C). For hundreds and hundreds of years this has been known as a chord with a 9th. No need to invent some weird terminology.

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It might turn out that Prince's iron-fisted control over the distribution of his music will limit access now that he has passed away. There is a similar situation with the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The Wall Street Journal has some details: "Questions Mount Over Prince's Music Catalog." I noticed on Amazon the other day that every single one of his CDs was sold out, though, of course many were available through download.

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This is a fairly lengthy review of a book of considerable interest: Artists Under Hitler by Jonathan Petropoulos.  An excerpt:
Some of the personalities he profiles are familiar to anyone with a casual knowledge of the subject—the architect Albert Speer, the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, the composer Richard Strauss, and the sculptor Arno Breker. Others, like the actor Gustaf Gründgens, have long served as examples in Germany of how an opportunist can easily slide from left-wing to right-wing careerism. The conductor Herbert von Karajan, the opera diva Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and the actor Emil Jannings provided eternally shameful examples of notable artists kowtowing to Nazi power. Far more interesting, in Petropoulos’s telling, are the men who actually sought to collaborate but failed to successfully integrate themselves into the system or who attempted to ignore politics altogether while continuing to produce their work—such as the composer Paul Hindemith and the architect Walter Gropius (who actually submitted plans for the new Reichsbank building in 1933 and 1934).
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I can't honestly say that your life will be poorer if you don't rush over and listen to the clip accompanying this article on Rufus Wainwright's tribute to Shakespeare. Nope. It was awarded two out of five stars in the Guardian.


Actually, I would have given it one star and then taken away half a star for the presumption of setting Shakespeare. Dreary, mediocre, clichéd and leaden.

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Here is another article on Prince, this time a quite interesting one in which ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons talks about the specifics of Prince's guitar playing. There is also a clip of Prince doing a cover of the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" that he plays better than Keith did.

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Finally, another classical item. This is a clip of Leia Zu playing the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. She is 9 years old:


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I'm not the only curmudgeon around. Robert Tracinski has an interesting piece in The Federalist titled: "What Beyoncé Thinkpieces Tell Us About The Death of The Highbrow." Here's a sample:
The problem with the Beyoncé thinkpiece phenomenon is not just that they tend to be hackneyed and pretentious and are really just a gimmick to hijack a famous name and use it to direct Web traffic to the far less interesting ramblings of a second-rate writer. The real problem is that it’s just pop music.
The problem is the pretense, which suffuses all contemporary writing on popular culture, that we can write about the latest comic-book superhero blockbuster as if it’s Shakespeare and Kanye West’s latest album as if it’s Mozart. But it’s not Shakespeare, and it sure as heck isn’t Mozart.
I think the origin of this problem is in the ascendence of cultural Marxism. They have to deconstruct traditional high art and that leaves them with the only thing left to praise being popular art. It's like a twofer: your ideology means you get to pooh-pooh elitist art and elevate popular art.

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I think this might be of interest to those who are not Canadian as it speaks to the very natural human desire to be a civic booster. The article in the Globe and Mail is headlined: "Welcome to a new nightmare in Cancon policy" What is "Cancon policy" you ask? It is the government policy of subsidizing Canadian cultural content in the mass media so that it doesn't disappear entirely. Or, in rather crueler terms: it seems to be the case that Canadians have so little regard for the culture produced by their own intelligentsia that they would rather consume American content instead. This is so humiliating to the Canadian intelligentsia that they have long supported considerable government subsidies to hide the fact that a lot of Canadian content is not commercially viable.
The wisest comment made so far about plans to review Canada’s cultural policies and bring them into line with our digital age came from former heritage minister James Moore: “The vast majority of the public pressure is toward maximizing consumer freedom and choice, while all of the stakeholder pressure is toward subsidizing the creation of content or regulating the distribution of that content to the consumer. These are two worlds that often collide.”
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In celebration of Shakespeare's birthday, let's listen to some music inspired by his play "A Midsummer Night's Dream". This is the Overture by Mendelssohn with the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur:


7 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Am glad I read your post as early as I have done, since I got a marketing email from Deutsche Grammophon lauding Rufus's CD first thing this morning, and was going to give it (well, the first track of it, anyway) a listen on Spotify. Thanks for saving me the trouble. There were a couple of songs of his I enjoyed, years ago [almost 20, I see!]; William Shatner and Carrie Fisher sing, do they? Tsk. Now am vaguely interested to hear... no, they don't, ha.

Bryan Townsend said...

"Singing" is such a vague term, isn't it? But as much as I admire William Shatner, a nice Jewish boy from Montreal, I would never accuse him of being a singer. Why don't you give Rufus Wainwright's Shakespeare a listen and tell us what you think?

Marc Puckett said...

Perhaps I will! but after work. The only singer's name I recognised, apart from Martha, is Anna Prohaska, who I know from her performance in Handel's Saul, although 'know' is overstating the case, since I don't recall which role she sang &c. But she is in any case a well-respected soprano, so if anyone is going to make RW listenable, it'll be her.

Marc Puckett said...

Listened to the first seven tracks of the RW, through Peter Eyre's Sonnet 10, while walking back from breakfast and the grocery store. The sonnets aren't songs, are they? Anna Prohaska's singing them to RW's music is simply distracting-- I mean, her voice is beautiful but she could just as easily be singing the plot summary for the week's episode of 'Republic of Doyle'-- and while there may be some musical settings to some of them that elucidate the text's meaning (I don't know of any), it's not the case here. The tracks of singing that aren't AP's are 'dreary, mediocre, clichéd', sure. The readers of the sonnets are fine enough at their reading but, eh, I can read 'em myself without having to listen to RW's voice &c-- it does seem deeper of tone and less vibrant? than I remember although I hadn't listened to any of his music for years & even back then (late 90s?) I could only listen to one or two songs at a time. So at this point, have gone to read your linked notice at the Guardian; Jon Dennis has a bit more sense perhaps than a couple of the commenters ('thrillingly ambitious', 'career highlight'), anyway. Am going back to my Handel and his Arminio.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Marc, for listening to Rufus Wainwright so we don't have to! There is so much that is put out these days that is based on the flimsiest of marketing strategies.

Though I wonder if I might be accused of something similar because of my set of songs titled Songs from the Poets because it uses texts from a number of famous poets from Aristophanes to Philip Larkin. Still, my defence is that the musical settings work!

Marc Puckett said...

Oh, you might be accused of it, but the difference is that your 'marketing strategy' is on behalf of music that's good &c-- it's only the deceptive marketing in favor of dreck that bothers me. (I haven't seen pop up ads for Songs in my Facebook timeline so you need to box a few ears at the PR offices.)

Bryan Townsend said...

I haven't actually released my Songs yet--still a couple of permissions to obtain. But when I do...