Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Let's start off with a very early television appearance by Frank Zappa, on the Steve Allen show in 1963:

I think he was channeling John Cage...

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And for everyone who is tired of female artists showing off their, uh, assets, here is The Shirtless Violinist, Matthew Olsen, playing Czardas while taking a bath, courtesy of the Violin Channel. Alas, this is one of those clips that Blogger refuses to embed, so you will have to follow the link.

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After that we need something serious. Here is a link to a BBC article about the origins of punctuation. Punctuation is actually closely related to musical notation. They are both about notating things like pauses and intonations and the very earliest musical notation actually started with some of the ancient punctuation signs. The article hints that it was the other way around, but not so.
This, then, was the state of punctuation at the height of the Renaissance: a mixture of ancient Greek dots; colons, question marks, and other marks descended from medieval symbols; and a few latecomers such as the slash and dash. By now writers were pretty comfortable with the way things stood, which was fortunate, really, because when printing arrived in the mid-1450s, with the publication of Johannes Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible, punctuation found itself unexpectedly frozen in time. Within 50 years, the majority of the symbols we use today were cast firmly in lead, never to change again: Boncompagno da Signa’s slash dropped to the baseline and gained a slight curve to become the modern comma, inheriting its old Greek name as it did so; the semicolon and the exclamation mark joined the colon and the question mark; and Aristophanes’s dot got one last hurrah as the full stop. After that the evolution of punctuation marks stopped dead, stymied by the standardisation imposed by the printing press.
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Ok, this is terrifying--but in a good way! This is the thirteen-year-old German guitar virtuoso Leonora Spangenberger playing one of the most difficult etudes ever written, the Etude No. 2 by Villa-Lobos. The only person I have heard play it anywhere near this well was Manuel Barrueco. Have a listen:

That piece is even harder than it sounds!

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I hadn't run into Masterpiece Reviews before, but, except for the brief excursion into politics, this is not a bad introduction to one of the great albums of all time, Blonde on Blonde:

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Alex Ross has an interesting piece at the New Yorker about a new viola concerto by a new composer, 28-year-old Julia Adolphe. This is the kind of thing that Alex Ross does very well and it is worth reading. This is an intriguing section:
She began not with notes but words: a page of adjectives and images, indicating moods that she wanted to capture. They range from “claustrophobic, contagious, cyclical, vivid, fiery,” at the beginning, to “deep breaths, peace and calm,” at the end. “It might be my theatre background,” she told me, “but I tend to think of orchestra players as characters with intentions, and plot a narrative arc for them. It’s not about the audience needing to have these exact same emotions—they might feel something very different. It’s that my music will communicate more effectively if I’m as specific with myself as possible.” The narrative proceeds from relative darkness to relative light—from “drowning in uncertainty,” Adolphe writes in a program note, to “embracing ambiguity.”
That is an unusual look inside the compositional process. I think that a lot of composers are not comfortable talking about what they do. There may be two reasons for this: some composers are just uncomfortable with talking about music in any detail at all, others don't approach music from the point of view of language. I am of the opinion that music is far too broad and fluid to be captured with any kind of ordinary vocabulary, but it seems to be working for Julia Adolphe. The work is to be premiered by the New York Philharmonic and I look forward to hearing it.

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Let's go back to Leonora Spangenberge for our envoi today. At age eleven she recorded the first of the Drei Tentos of Hans Werner Henze:

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