Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Poor John Williams, renowned film composer, sitting at home one day, working on his next film score and what does he hear but two brass players outside playing his Star Wars theme. Bowing to the inevitable, he goes out and says hi. Frankly, we could use some innocent fun this week:


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This is a very troubling story: Man Loses 14 Years of Work When Google Deletes His Blog
Artist Dennis Cooper made a horrifying discovery June 27: His 14-year-old blog—the sole home of his experimental writing, research, photographs, and more—was gone, Art Forum reports. According to Fusion, Cooper's blog was hosted by Google-owned Blogger, and those headed to denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com are greeted with the message, "Sorry, the blog at denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs." It's not all he lost: Google also deactivated his Gmail account, which held his contacts and gig offers, the Guardian reports. The only explanation Google gave Cooper, who considers his blog a "serious work of mine," was a stock message that he was in "violation of the terms of service agreement."
Seems like there needs to be an ombudsman or some other way of adjudicating this kind of thing so they can't just throw something down the memory hole willy-nilly.

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I sometimes wonder if people ever go back and read what they have written. Case in point, this book, originally published in 2001, titled: The Essential Canon of Classical Music. This is an obvious takeoff on Harold Bloom's book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. As a matter of fact, the idea of the "canon", which Bloom defends, is a controversial one. I have questioned its application to music myself in this post. Whoever wrote the blurb for the music canon book has a vague idea that there is some controversy, so tries to cover all the bases with this:
In The Essential Canon of Classical Music, David Dubal comes to the aid of the struggling listener and provides a cultural-literacy handbook for classical music. Dubal identifies the 240 composers whose works are most important to an understanding of classical music and offers a comprehensive, chronological guide to their lives and works. He has searched beyond the traditional canon to introduce readers to little-known works by some of the most revered names in classical music-Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert-as well as to the major works of lesser-known composers. In a spirited and opinionated voice, Dubal seeks to rid us of the notion of "masterpieces" and instead to foster a new generation of master listeners. The result is an uncommon collection of the wonders classical music has to offer.
What's the problem? Well, the whole notion of a "canon", whether in literature or in music, is entirely based on the idea that there are "masterpieces". That's what a "canon" is, basically, a list of masterpieces. So if Mr. Dubal is seeking to rid us of the notion of "masterpieces" then he is attacking the idea of a canon. Slight logical problem there! This captures rather well the intense dilemma that faces people teaching in the humanities. Cultural theory, ultimately derived from Marxism, demands that objective notions of truth and good and bad and aesthetic quality must all be dethroned. Everything reduces to power and oppression.

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The Guardian reviews a new recording of early works by Philip Glass. I actually had an LP of these pieces that I bought sometime in the 70s--long since lost, of course.
It was Music in 12 Parts, composed between 1971 and 1974, that really put Philip Glass on the map. That huge, four-hour score is now recognised as one of the landmarks in the history of minimalism, alongside such scores as Terry Riley’s In C and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. But Music in 12 Parts didn’t come out of the blue, and this collection of five early pieces by Glass, composed between 1968 and 1970, presents some of the creative background and the precursors of that defining work.
There is a funny story about Music in 12 Parts in Philip Glass' memoir. He recounts that he had composed a piece, perhaps 20 minutes long, that he called Music in 12 Parts because that was how it was constructed. He played it for a friend and at the end she asked, "where are the other eleven parts?"

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Slipped Disc has a piece on a recent example of bad behaviour in a concert:
A family of four (parents and two children) were so noisy during both the Philharmonic Concerto which opened the concert and the Fantasy on a Theme of John Field (for piano and orchestra) that I insisted on a complete repeat of the performance of the latter after the concert had finished – for which a very large percentage of the audience very kindly stayed. I would have done everything in my power to prevent the Radio Three broadcast on [the following] Tuesday had we not done this repeat performance; the disruption was greater than any I have ever experienced, even though to all intents and purposes the actual playing went very well. The repeat will of course have run up a very large overtime bill for the orchestra – whose members could not have been more cooperative, and who played both performances brilliantly.
I have never heard of a whole piece being repeated because of noise from the audience. The 21st century is turning out differently from what I expected! Classical music concerts are extremely civilized events where, up until recently, audiences tended to observe the basic courtesies without being asked. This seems more and more to be slipping away.

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A gold star to anyone who can watch this video past the one minute mark:


This is the new norm: an extremely visually busy presentation of a script that recites the simplest of rudimentary facts. Has the average intelligence of the Internet now descended to roughly the grade four level?

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Because of their new demand to register to read any articles, I am boycotting the New York Times (and the Globe and Mail who seem to have adopted the same policy), but I ran across this quote at Arts Journal that is just too good to pass up:
“For centuries, opera has been a tool of power, a spectacle developed and organized by influential Western nations and the elites within them. It is long past time for the art form to be more open about this heritage, and to make reparations for it. Using opera to understand the connections between cultures and to experiment with what can bridge them is no longer merely an aesthetic possibility; it’s a moral necessity.”
That is just so, uh, delightful. The "opera-as-a-tool-of-power" meme is, of course, straight cultural Marxism which is now, at the New York Times, the official philosophical stance. Adjust your browsers accordingly.

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 The manuscript of Bach's Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for lute or keyboard has just been auctioned off for the remarkable sum of $3.3 million. It is a lovely piece, often played by guitarists, and one I had to learn for a competition many years ago. This gives us our envoi for today. Here it is played by Edel Muñoz at the Boston Guitar Fest in 2011. He was the winner of the competition:


8 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

I'm am having no time this evening but had to read that Zachary Woolfe essay; has to be one of the most fatuously ridiculous wastes of space ever, that particular paragraph. If he had left that out and just reviewed the operas, commenting on their directors/producers' re-working of the traditional stagings &c and the whys and wherefores of the novelties, I wouldn't have any problem with it (I might not buy a ticket but that's a different thing altogether): he's clear that X didn't work in Y, and so forth. But since apparently he can only make any sense of what he saw and heard through the prism of that nonsense, pft, one is impelled to think less of his critical acumen.

(And you ought to be able to read NYT articles by opening them in an incognito window thereby leaping the paywall; registration, hmm: I don't know if the incognito route immunises against that.)

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Marc. You are right! If I use an incognito window, I can read the article. Which I did and yes it is a fatuous waste of space. His basic principle is one of moral equivalency, nicely summed up in this quote: "From a new interpolated prologue on, Europe appears just as racist and sexist as Turkey, if not more so."

Opera has been put to a lot of uses in its day. Originally it was conceived as an elevated entertainment for the nobility involving a certain amount of gilding of the lily. Nowadays the "progressives" insist that it, like every other expression of western civilization, be put through the meat-grinder of multiculturalism and moral equivalency.

Marc Puckett said...

[I managed to shut down the laptop, so it's possible this was already submitted?]

I would love to read a history of the political uses of opera &c, written by an historian who was able to be objective (yes, yes, I know, such a state is impossible and so on but... pft: there are plenty of historians who are able to not wear postmodern, anti-imperialist/colonialist/racist/sexist &c glasses). Am very fond of Handel's Judas Maccabaeus e.g. (moving to 'political uses' from opera strictly speaking) and was surprised to learn (via people on Twitter) not so long ago that, to this day, in a certain traditional, mainly Catholic, milieu in the UK Judas continues to be contemned, because Handel wrote it more or less intending it as propaganda or in any event he allowed it to be used as that by the Hannoverians during their extirpation of the Jacobite resistance in Scotland.

Hope Steve Reich doesn't awaken one morning at his house to the sound of eighteen musicians on the sidewalk out front....

Did you watch the video a commenter on the Donohoe post linked to at SD? a mother and her daughter seated themselves in one of the front rows at the premiere of some vocal piece (as the performance was on the verge of beginning) and then proceeded to not listen and not remain still for the duration (only watched the first five minutes, however, so perhaps at some point the people sitting behind the offenders remonstrated with the mother, or the conductor-- composer?-- may have turned around and told them to stay still/be quiet or get out). While there are all sorts of scenarios that might justify the last minute seat-taking, surely there are none that would excuse the seriously offensive behavior.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think that the one place I would look for a reasonably ideology-free account of the history of opera would be in the Oxford History of Western Music written by Richard Taruskin. His discussion, for example, of the opera by John Adams, the Death of Klinghoffer, attracted a great deal of controversy because it did not follow the current ideological lockstep. Here is how Musicology Now described it:

"the real problem with The Death of Klinghoffer, pointed out in Richard Taruskin's trenchant analysis (“Music's Dangers And The Case For Control,” December 9, 2001) in the New York Times in the wake of the 9/11 attacks: “The Death of Klinghoffer trades in the tritest undergraduate fantasies. If the events of Sept. 11 could not jar some artists and critics out of their habit of romantically idealizing criminals, then nothing will.” Sadly, Taruskin was right. Is it really that difficult to understand how some people could be offended by the contextualization of Klinghoffer's murder within the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if only in the minds of his killers? In the same way, some people would be offended if an opera about the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria opened with a chorus laying out the political and religious grievances of the Boko Haram militants, or if an opera about the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl opened with the history of the causes behind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's hatred of the United States."

There are some belligerently abusive people at concerts these days, but the effort to resist them seems a bit feeble.

Marc Puckett said...

Will have to add the OHWM to my library. :-) A commenter at Amazon: "Starting with the 19th century, Taruskin begins to grind his anti-modern reactionary axe and the work suffers from it, becoming an attempt at validating his own neo-conservative tastes instead of a real history of the music. Too bad. I was truly excited when I began reading this and truly disgusted when I finished." :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, I think that the Oxford History is well worth reading. Like all good scholars, Taruskin offends just the right people!

Marc Puckett said...

The Scots are using Zachary Woolfe's essay to help ticket buyers discern whether they want refunds or not for the 'improved version' of Mozart's Così fan tutte: [https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/jul/27/edinburgh-festival-offers-refunds-for-controversial-opera-before-opening]. Ha.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think I would like to see the production even if there is some risk of being offended. The only kinds of artistic productions I really despise are those that take no risks whatsoever.