Monday, February 27, 2017

Why Monteverdi?

I proposed doing a whole series of posts on Claudio Monteverdi the other day on the notion that he, along with Joseph Haydn, is one of the great creative geniuses of Western Music. A few years ago I devoted a great number of posts to Joseph Haydn, another underestimated composer, and the justification there was that Haydn was at the very origins of Classical style, mentor and teacher to both Mozart and Beethoven, and largely responsible for the crafting of those harmonic, melodic and structural elements that have been the foundation for most classical music well into the 20th century.

Haydn more or less invented sonata form, which is the structural principle behind not only piano sonatas, but also string quartets and symphonies.

What did Monteverdi do that in any way puts him into this same category? Well, he did pretty much invent opera. There were a couple of people that preceded him, but their efforts have been largely forgotten. The first real opera in European history is Monteverdi's L'Orfeo written in 1607. It is fairly clear that Monteverdi was one of the key creators of the Baroque in music. There is a very good argument that can be made for the honor being shared equally with Arcangelo Corelli who laid much of the groundwork for the Baroque uses of functional harmony as well as sonata and concerto form. Monteverdi's work falls into the three categories of madrigals, church music and opera. So it is fair to say that Monteverdi laid the foundations for vocal music in the Baroque, while Corelli did the same for instrumental music.

But Monteverdi played a unique role in that he not only was a master of late Renaissance vocal music, especially in his earlier books of madrigals, but he enacted the transition to the Baroque in his own music which was, in the later books, truly Baroque in style. This is much rarer than you would think in music because it means that Monteverdi was a master of not one, but two quite different musical styles. The closest parallel I can think of is C. P. E. Bach who was a transition from the music of his father, J. S. Bach, and the early classical style of Haydn. But C. P. E. Bach was neither a great master of the Baroque, nor of the Classical styles but a somewhat eccentric, though interesting, sub-category in himself. Monteverdi however was very much in the mainstream in both the late Renaissance and the early Baroque.

Just to sample a bit the two styles, let's listen to the first madrigal from Bk I, "Ch'io ami la mia vita":

There is nothing there that really hints at Baroque style: it is clearly within the bounds of the late Renaissance. You will hear a few ornaments that the performers add, but this practice dates far back into the early days of the Renaissance (and probably earlier, but we don't have too much evidence). Here is the first page of the score:

Two stylistic features that are the foundation of Baroque style are the polarization of the texture between the treble and the bass and the use of a continuo, that is, a prominent bass line fleshed out with chordal instruments like the lute, harpsichord or organ. Neither element is present here. Just for comparison, let's have a look at the score to the first madrigal from Bk VIII, "Altri canti d'Amor":

And there it is: the basso continuo and a prominent treble voice. Of course, later on the other voices join in as well, but the basso continuo is throughout, indicating the huge increase in the importance of and compositional command of pure harmony as an expressive device. Let's have a listen to this piece:

It begins with a short sinfonia for the strings and continuo alone. I just quoted from where the voice enters.

I think you will agree that this madrigal occupies an entirely different musical realm from the first one!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Unsung Heroes?

This will be one of my "finessed openings" where I sort of back into my topic from somewhere else. A while ago, on a whim, I asked a friend who it was exactly that was most responsible for defeating Adolf Hitler in WWII. She was puzzled to come up with the answer--I was rather expecting her to name someone like Winston Churchill. In actuality, from what I know of that history, it was the Red Army of the Soviet Union that did the lion's share of defeating Nazi Germany, though the Allied D-Day landings were crucial in landing the final blow.

Sticking with WWII, it is an interesting intellectual exercise to dig down a bit and see if we can come up with the names of two individuals that were key to the way the Second World War ended. Who are they? Mikhail Koshkin and Frank Jack Fletcher. Huh?, I hear you expostulating! Who the heck are these guys? Of course the war was an immense struggle between tens if not hundreds of millions of individuals, but if you look closely at the details, these two men emerge as being at the core of the events. The Red Army was successful in resisting and finally defeating the enormous forces launched against them largely because they had the best tank in the first years of the war, the T-34. This had a powerful main gun and brilliantly designed armor that could not be penetrated by the Wehrmacht's standard anti-tank weapons. This came as a huge shock to the Germans who had become used to their Panzers simply rolling over everyone. The T-34 medium tank was designed by one Mikhail Koshkin (whose Wikipedia article is probably the smallest possible given his historic importance). The Russians built around 80,000 of the T-34 and that was pretty much what defeated the Nazis on the Eastern Front.

Frank Jack Fletcher is much better known. As Vice Admiral Fletcher he was in tactical command at both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, the crucial turning points in the Pacific war. Since these battles the US has been the dominant military power, not only in the Pacific, but globally. Sure, he had a lot of help, from Navy cryptologists who decoded the Japanese transmissions, and from the Navy Yard workers at Pearl Harbor that repaired the USS Yorktown in an astonishing 72 hours from damage suffered during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese estimated it would take three months and were very surprised to find her at Midway. But it was the decisions made by Fletcher during the battle that enabled the Americans to sink all four of the Japanese large aircraft carriers which pretty much meant that the war was lost in a mere two days, the 4th and 5th of June, 1942.

So we can see that it is often figures who are less or little known that are the most crucial in shaping events behind the scenes. Because I think that something similar is at work in music history. The two figures who are most responsible for creating or discovering the basic principles of the musical structures that have given us most of the great music of the last three centuries, while certainly not unknown, are actually less known than their importance warrants. Who are these people? Claudio Monteverdi and Joseph Haydn.

I devoted a large number of posts to Joseph Haydn from October 2013, largely focusing on his symphonies--over a hundred simply remarkable works. I have also written quite a lot about his string quartets. But the other important figure, Claudio Monteverdi, has been overlooked here at the Music Salon and my intention, over the next couple of months, is to devote enough posts to him to rectify this fault. I won't start immediately because I have to do some background research first, but I thought that today we might listen to the most formidable piece of religious music written before the great Passions (and Mass) of J. S. Bach. This is Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine dating from 1610. Taking an hour and a half to perform it is an astonishing work of compositional virtuosity with sections in nearly every style and genre available: there are even elements from Monteverdi's opera Orfeo appearing in the beginning.

John Eliot Gardiner directed a brilliant and creative performance of this filmed at Versailles with the English Concert, the Monteverdi choir and soloists. I love the three theorboes in the center.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Doctor Who?

If you don't know about the British television series Doctor Who, well, I wouldn't let that go on too much longer! In any case, here is a very enthusiastic orchestral and choral rendition of the Doctor Who theme for your listening pleasure:

Yes, ok, it does sound a bit like Carl Orff, what's your point? Now if you will excuse me, I seem to have misplaced my sonic screwdriver...

Deconstructing a Quirk

Before we let Alex Ross' piece on Kate Soper's "philosophy-opera" drift away in our rear-view mirror, let's have a look at the genuflecting paragraph that he opens with:
There is a good argument to be made for retiring the words “genius” and “masterpiece” from critical discourse. They are artifacts of the Romantic religion of art, implying a superior race of demigods who loom above ordinary life. Such terms are rooted in the cult of the male artist—the dishevelled Beethovenian loner who conquers an indifferent world. Above all, these words place an impossible burden on contemporary artists, whose creations are so often found wanting when compared with the masterpieces of the past—not because the talent pool has somehow evaporated but because the best of the present diverges from the past. In a decentered global culture, a few great men can no longer dominate the conversation.
This is a kind of stylistic quirk that might be fun to deconstruct. Mind you, I have my little quirks too, among which is my liking to start off in a place very different from my main theme. Don't know what we should call that: the "finessed open" maybe? But Alex Ross' gesture is a rather familiar one that has sometimes been called "virtue signaling." In a social environment where certain ideas are thought to be self-evident, but about which there still seems to be, mysteriously, a controversy, virtue signaling is simply a kind of shibboleth indicating to your fellow travelers that you are on their side, one of the good guys. So let's unpack Mr. Ross' opening gambit and see what lies therein.

The implicit claim is that what we are reading is in fact "critical discourse" which, these days at least, prefers to eschew the terms "genius" and "masterpiece". Yes, they were terms that came into currency in the late 18th century and were used frequently during the 19th and part of the 20th century. My feeling about them is not that they imply a "superior race of demigods" --please!-- but that this was part of the changing nature and function of the fine arts as they came more and more to fulfill a role in the identity of the middle class and less and less were just an ornament to the aristocracy. In the ancien regime, the important person was the patron, the nobleman, who commissioned the work. If the work was truly masterful, as so many of them were, then this just redounded to the glory of the patron, as it should. But as the middle class began more and more to be the widely diffused patrons of art, the idea of the genius of the creator became a crucial selling point and hence a central theme of aesthetics. This "superior race of demigods" phrase is just a clumsy way of sneering at the people who wrote masterpieces in the 19th century and as such is hardly "critical discourse" but mere regurgitation of an ideological talking point.

Dragging in the misandrist "male artist" smear is just more of the same. Poor Beethoven, who has to bear the responsibility for so much historic badness! Sadly, the creations of contemporary artists are so often found wanting in exactly the same way that the creations of most of the composers contemporary with Bach and Beethoven are found wanting compared to theirs. No news there.

Now what could Ross possibly mean by "the best of the present diverges from the past?" All I can deduce from that is that what someone like Steve Reich (or, sure, Kate Soper) is doing is different from what Bach or Beethoven were doing. Yeah, sure, ok. I kinda knew that already.

For his final genuflection, Mr. Ross tosses in a couple of standard ideological planks: "decentered global culture" which likely means little more than culture these days is no longer centered on Paris and New York (and isn't that an ironic observation by the music critic for the New Yorker?) and one last weak uppercut to the chin of "a few great men".

If I were unkind, and I am, I would characterize this typical example of Ross' prose as semi-clever smoke and mirrors concealing a rather vacuous ideological stance. Doesn't anyone else ever notice this?

For an envoi let's pick something by Beethoven that goes against the "dishevelled loner" meme and shows rather his genius for whimsy and humor. This is the Piano Sonata op. 31 no. 3 in E flat major played by Daniel Barenboim:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

This probably violates some progressive strictures, but then, what humour doesn't?

* * *

We just have not talked enough about Monteverdi here, of which I am reminded by this article in The Spectator: The true radical genius of Monteverdi is not in the operas but in the madrigals:
Monteverdi’s eight books of madrigals span more than 40 years of his life, and condense the emotions of that lifetime into a sequence of miraculous miniatures that hit the ear with shocking force. A narrative in thrall to greatness, which cannot forget the operas, sees these madrigals as apprentice pieces, growing in sophistication and innovation until they graduate to the late, great works — Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea. But this is writing history backwards.
* * *

If government can do this, then why can't it do something about disco Mozart? Iceland's president wants to ban pineapple on pizza:
Pineapple on pizza would be a forbidden fruit, if the president of Iceland had his way.
President Gudni Johannesson hates the hotly debated topping so much, he wants to ban it, according to a report Tuesday.
Johannesson slammed the sweet yellow fruit as a pizza world abomination while visiting a school in Akureyri in North Iceland
* * *

 Last Friday I included an item about a university taking a four million dollar donation from a librarian and putting one million of it into a new hi-def scoreboard for the football stadium. This provoked a bunch of comments about the validity--or not--of allowing political themes to intrude into the Music Salon. Opinions were divided! So this week I run into this item in the Guardian: John Adams: ‘Trump is a sociopath – there’s no empathy, he’s a manipulator'
“The question I’m now being asked, and it’s almost corny,” Adams says, “is will I write a Trump opera? So far I’ve always said a categorical ‘no’.” What drew him to Nixon was his aspect of self-doubt. “Unlike JF Kennedy, say, he came from modest circumstances, a Quaker upbringing, a moral universe. Perversely, Nixon was destroyed by his own uncontrollable paranoia. Trump, however, is not interesting because he’s a sociopath. There’s no empathy. He’s a manipulator. We all have our paranoia. It’s how you handle it that counts. When Obama suspected people hated him he controlled himself and kept his eyes on the prize … ”
What do my readers think would be the best policy regarding this sort of thing? Simply ignore it under the "two wrongs don't make a right" principle? Push back? Offer supportive praise? If we adopt the general principle that gratuitous political remarks in an item about music are as offensive as gratuitous nudity in a Disney movie, then shouldn't we take John Adams to task as well? Just askin'...

* * *

Germany is another country. A country where Franz Schubert makes a good jingle to sell Filet-O-Fish sandwiches:

* * *

Terry Teachout has an excellent piece at the Wall Street Journal on marketing symphonic music to millennials:
What the California Symphony discovered, in short, was that “almost every single piece of negative feedback was about something other than the performance.” Another important discovery was that it’s single-ticket buyers, not veteran subscribers, who are most likely to use the orchestra’s website. They’re less experienced in the sometimes arcane ways of classical concertgoing—but far from stupid: “We can be informative to smart, curious people who want to learn and want to know very much why each concert is special without dumbing it down. Casual and approachable does not equal dumb.”
It seems to me that it really boils down to casual and approachable information being made available. And not assuming that the potential audience members have any prior knowledge of who Mozart and Beethoven are. It's education, really, but without any trace of condescension.

* * *

Alex Ross has a fascinating new piece up at the New Yorker on a new work by composer Kate Soper: a piece of music theater using Aristotle's Poetics and other works as libretto. Here is an excerpt to give you an idea:

He calls it a "philosophy-opera" which indeed it seems to be! Both the article and the excerpt really whet one's appetite for the whole work.

* * *

For our envoi today a good choice would be some madrigals by Monteverdi. This is the sixth book in a performance by Concerto Italiano, dir. Rinaldo Alessandrini:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I'm not surprised...

You know those delightful contrafactual things people like to say sometimes? Like "what if they gave a war and nobody came?" or "Imagine if your local school district was well-funded and the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale?" I'm having a moment: what if a radio station stopped playing all the recent pop music? What if they only played music from before 1946? They'd lose a lot of listeners, right? But what if their listeners increased by 20%? Never happen, right? But it did! And not only one radio station, but all the radio stations in a whole country. Here is the story from the New York Times:
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Because of a recent copyright dispute, Bulgarian National Radio, the public broadcaster for the country, has been limited to airing music recorded before 1946. And so far, their listeners seem to have no problem with it.
The station had a 20 percent increase in listenership in January, the first month in which the change was in effect, over December’s numbers, said Bulgarian National Radio’s chief, Alexander Velev. He cited an audience report conducted by the consumer research company Ipsos.
Bulgarian National Radio has only been playing old music — classical music, early-20th-century jazz and concert recordings of traditional folk music, drawn from the organization’s archives — since the beginning of the year.
The reason for this policy was not a sudden burst of sanity on the part of the broadcasters, but a huge increase in fees from the local copyright organization from a little over a quarter million dollars a year to nearly a million dollars a year. I guess they will be rethinking that policy!

How cool would it be if some other countries adopted a similar policy? It might be safe to venture into restaurants and coffee shops again without having to fear being belabored about the head and ears by the latest musical unpleasantness.

Since I'm Canadian I'm imagining the CBC with no Justin Bieber! That alone might increase listeners by five or ten percent.

Apparently I'm not the only mossback reactionary in the world. You ever hear of the phenomenon called "preference falsification"? That's when everyone pretends to like something because they think everyone else likes it? Similar to the Emperor's New Clothes? What if the reality were that a lot of people really don't care for recent pop music, but just pretend they do? Seems to be the case in Bulgaria. We really need to try it out in some other countries, don't you think? Just for the science...

Our inevitable envoi just has to be some Glenn Miller who went missing over the English Channel in December 1944. This is Chattanooga Choo Choo from 1941:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Many Notes and a Note

I'm reading a fairly recent biography of Prokofiev right now, written by Daniel Jaffé for Phaidon. It is safe to say that few composers have had quite as much turmoil to deal with in their life as Prokofiev: The 1905 Russian Revolution, which interrupted his studies at the St. Petersburg conservatory, World War I, the two revolutions in Russia in 1917, the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1922, the Great Purge of Joseph Stalin and, finally, World War II. Whew! Can you imagine trying to arrange a trip from Russia to Italy to meet with Diaghilev to work out the details of a ballet he has just commissioned you to write? In the middle of the First World War?

But even years, like 1913, when wars and revolutions were not tearing the world apart, he had a remarkable amount of upheaval to withstand. For much of his youth, Prokofiev's best friend was Maximillian Schmidthoff, a fellow student at the conservatory and a fellow lover of philosophy, caustic humor and intellectual banter. Quoting from Jaffé, op. cit. pp 33-4:
On 26 April 1913, shortly after his twenty-second birthday, Prokofiev received a note sent by Max from Terioki, outside St Petersburg on the Finnish Gulf: 'Dear Seryozha, I'm writing to tell you the latest news--I have shot myself. Don't get too upset but take it with indifference, for in truth it doesn't deserve anything more than that. Farewell. Max. The reasons are unimportant.'
Schmidthoff had committed suicide. The reason, as given by Jaffé, was that Max, despite or because of his extravagant lifestyle, was penniless. Prokofiev dedicated four pieces to his friend, including the one he was working on at the time of his suicide, the Piano Concerto No. 2.

As a rule, I dislike inserting biography into music or attributing aesthetic characteristics to mere biographical incidents, but I can't listen to the concerto in quite the same way now. The apocalyptic moments, such as at the end of the first movement, seem keener than before. And I am surprised to be reminded that the composer was only twenty-two at time of writing.

Let's listen to the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 16. The original was lost and had to be reconstructed from a piano score in 1923. The pianist is Aleksander Toradze with the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Now that's funny! Commentators add additional anecdotes to one related by Norman Lebrecht:
At the end of the opening movement of Brahms’s first symphony, a cellphone went off at Charlotte, NC, on Friday night.
At the third ring, Charlotte’s British music director Christopher Warren-Green turned round to the audience and said: ‘Answer it. It might be Brahms.’
For example:
Among the best was Jac Van Steen at the Halle Orch. As a ringtone rang and rang, piercing the slow mvt of Brahms 4th. Van Steen put down his baton, turned to the audience and said: “If that’s my wife, tell her I’m not here.”
* * *

 Montreal-born composer Samy Moussa has just won the 20,000 Euro Hindemith prize. Let's have a listen. This is Crimson, for large orchestra:

For some reason that reminds me of Richard Strauss "through a mirror darkly." Which is pretty good, actually.

* * *

The top-selling musician of the year in 2016 is Drake, a Canadian! Here is his single One Dance (Blogger won't embed so you have to follow the link):

What is it with these interminable, inarticulate melodramatic introductions?

* * *

And the world's least sexy musical genre is NOT, oddly enough, chamber music or latin motets, but show tunes, musicals! We know this because the BBC tells us so. I suspect you still can't go wrong with Barry White:

* * *

I spoke too soon when I said in last Friday's Miscellanea that we didn't know Trump's musical tastes; apparently he is a big Puccini fan, according to Slate:
Trump’s interest in Puccini goes beyond “Nessun Dorma.” In February, he used an arrangement of the composer’s aria “O mio babbino caro” in a video touting his building projects. In his 2004 book How to Get Rich, he praised the late soprano Beverly Sills, stating, “I may not enjoy sitting through opera, but I have always respected opera singers and enjoy the highlights of opera.” Opera, or at least the “highlights” of the genre, easily plays into the image of an outsized billionaire.
Dana Gorzelany-Mostak, a Georgia College music professor and creator of Trax on the Trail, a website devoted to presidential campaign music, believes opera suits him. “There’s certainly a disconnect on many levels between Trump and the leftist artists he uses despite their protests,” she says. “But opera is believably Trump’s music.” 
So there you go. Obviously we need to launch a serious Puccini boycott--or maybe opera in general?

* * *

Sadly, universities have long since ceased to be the oases of learning that they used to be. Case in point:
Last year the University of New Hampshire made news when one of its librarians, Robert Morin, who had saved almost 50 years of paychecks, left $4 million to the university upon his death. UNH spent $1 million of the librarian’s gift on a 30-by-50-foot high-definition scoreboard for the new, $25-million football stadium. The university defended its decision by stating that the donation had been used for "our highest priorities and emerging opportunities." Adjuncts in the English department there reportedly receive $3,000 per class. They already knew they weren’t a high priority.
This is from a fairly lengthy article on the astonishing exploitation of non-tenure-track professors: The Great Shame of Our Profession.  Worth a look.

* * *

NPR has an interesting interview with the composer of the music for Game of Thrones, Ramin Djawadi:
You were telling me earlier that sometimes ideas strike you at the weirdest hours. What does that look like? Do you sneak out of bed and start recording something?
I used to just scribble things on a piece of paper whenever an idea came to mind. Now with cellphones, that's gotten a lot easier. I can just take it out and sing into my phone. Sometimes I just wake up — usually at night, actually, at night or first thing in the morning, that's when I have ideas because it's quiet. I sneak into the bathroom so I don't wake up my wife.
What do you do then? Are you humming?
Yeah, humming — sometimes I whistle. The main title theme for Game Of Thrones, for example, I was humming in my car after I saw the visuals. As I was driving back to the studio, I had the idea to the theme.
Wait a minute — you were in your car, humming what has become one of the most iconic themes on television.
Yeah, that little melody can just come at any time.

* * *

What shall we choose for our envoi today? Have we had the aria "O mio babbino caro?" I don't think so. I used to play an arrangement of it for flute and guitar. Simply lovely tune. This is Montserrat Caballé in a concert performance in Munich in 1990:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day

Music for most listeners, it seems, has a lot of romantic content. I use a small "r" to mean music that has a romantic feeling in the everyday sense as opposed to music from the Romantic period. But oddly, most musicians probably don't have these associations to any significant extent. Are we just cold-hearted professionals? Or do we find our work, music, to be more of a distraction when it comes to personal relationships?

The most blatant use of music in a "romantic" context, by which I mean a sexual context, might have been the use of Ravel's Bolero in the movie "10" to accompany a liason between Bo Derek and Dudley Moore:

As I recall, that wasn't very successful. A scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Willow is attempting to seduce Oz is accompanied by Barry White:

For classical music buskers, who try to create a romantic vibe, the three big tunes are the Adagio from the Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo:

The Romance anonimo for solo guitar:

And possibly Memory from Cats by Andrew Lloyd Weber:

Another good one, if you are a flute player, is the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck:

So tell me, what is your favorite romantic music?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Culture and Analysis

Every now and then I manage to tear myself away from the Internet long enough to actually read something. No, what we do on the Internet is not so much "reading" as ripping off bleeding chunks and gobbling them down in between skimming lightly over the surface. Actual reading is more contemplative and less hurried.

So right now I am reading a collection of essays by one of the most learnéd and wise writers of the 20th century, Jacques Barzun, titled "The Culture We Deserve". The very first essay, "Culture High and Dry" poses some challenges that are worth considering.

As a long-time professional musician there are certain things that I don't have a lot of patience with and these include things like sloppy amateurism and incompetence generally. Barzun points out that a lot of so-called "professionalism" is really specialization, the dividing up of knowledge into smaller and smaller packets. The accompanying methodology is that of analysis. Now I know the shortcomings of analysis, but still, my training tends to lead me to default to analysis whenever I want to understand something about music or another art form.

I have been long aware of the problems with analysis, and I have talked about them on this blog. I think that they were underlined for me decades ago when I quit a musicology list-serve in disgust because they got caught up in an utterly pointless, but mean and nasty, discussion of the proper pronunciation of vowels in the names of regional Czech composers! I kid you not. A lot of analysis is simply a waste of time. One of the very few who does it well is Charles Rosen (along with Richard Taruskin and Joseph Kerman).

Barzun offers an alternative to analysis that he calls, after Pascal, "intuitive understanding." I need to present an extended quote to convey the idea:
But the same human mind that has created science by the analytical method can work out an entirely different way. The mathematician-philosopher Pascal pointed this out 350 years ago. He called the way of analysis the "geometrical bent." It deals with simple things like angles or straight lines or atoms or molecular pressure ... being well defined, they do not change when they are talked about and can thus be represented by numbers. The principles of mathematics and a few others then supply the rules for dealing with the permutations of these clear and simple unchangeables.
The other use, direction, or bent, Pascal called the esprit de finesse--we might call it "intuitive understanding." It goes about its business just the other way. It does not analyze, does not break things down into parts, but seizes upon the character of the whole altogether, by inspection. Since in this kind of survey there are no definable parts, there is nothing to count and there are no fixed principles to apply. The understanding derived from the experience is direct, and because it lacks definitions, principles, and numbers, this understanding is not readily conveyed to somebody else; it can only be suggested in words that offer analogies--by imagery. Hence no universal agreement is possible on these objects and their significance ... the things that make up culture are understood and remembered and enjoyed by mental finesse; they are for inspection as wholes, not for analysis and measurement; they lack definable, unchangeable parts. [Barzun, op. cit., pp 11-12]
Now before you all jump in and say, but of course music has definable parts, etc., let me just say that Barzun immediately goes on to discuss this objection in the next section. Please go ahead and read further on your own as I have quoted enough for my immediate purpose.

My first reaction to this was to heave a sigh of satisfaction because my most salient method in teaching music over a few decades was to use metaphor to reveal the musical character of passages and to suggest solutions to problems of interpretation. One other teacher who excelled in this was Oscar Ghiglia.

But another part of me thinks that in order to really come to grips with a piece of music, as either a player or a listener, you do have to adopt some technical vocabulary, for precision if nothing else. You do have to say things like, "you see that tonic chord in measure 42--that is really a point of arrival, isn't it?" For how else are you to talk about music? I wrote a scathing review of a book on the orchestral music of Shostakovich because it carefully avoided not only any actual musical notation but any use of technical terms whatsoever. The author ended up talking about "the jumpy theme" and the "long-note theme." The problem with this is that it lacks specificity (Shostakovich wrote a lot of jumpy themes). If I talk about a particular piece and quote passages from it in notation, there can be no doubt about which piece I am considering. But if all you do is use vague metaphors, then the only way we can be sure what piece you are talking about is if you tell us the title.

On the other hand, mere analysis gives us little more than a bloodless facsimile of the original. As Barzun notes:
...the material of modern scholarship is by now not even the work itself, but a curious kind of facsimile, an offprint made up for methodic purposes. What students get is this abstract duplicate and little else ... Any mental finesse that the graduate or undergraduate student might bring to the work lies dormant or is diverted to the minutiae of analytic methodism. [op. cit. p 16]
I think I escaped this particular fate by being a performer: every time I sat down in the practice room I was confronted with the whole finesseable aesthetic work, not a methodological construct.

I want to go to a performance to illustrate this. I played this piece, "Les Tendres Plaintes" by Rameau, for a Spanish-speaking friend the other day and, despite the best efforts of Google translate, was not able to come up with a Spanish translation of the title that my friend could make sense of. So I said, well, never mind, the piece itself is an illustration of what is meant by "tendres plaintes." And so it is. Really, I could talk about the form (rondeau), the harmony (D minor with episodes in A minor and F major), the ornamentation and so on and you would still not have the aesthetic experience. But here it is:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Alex Ross has finally unleashed the piece on art and politics that he has been wanting to since the election of Donald Trump. And it's a doozy: "Making Art in a Time of Rage." Much of the essay is fairly predictable: how does the artist of integrity resist and fight back against political tyranny? Also predictable are the underlying myths and distortions. Here are a few excepts:
On Inauguration Day, the percussionist and conductor Steven Schick was in San Francisco, leading a concert of challenging contemporary and late-twentieth-century pieces. In a program note, he spoke of a “resistance born of complexity”—of the dissent implicit in artistic work that cannot be assimilated into the pop-culture machine that Trump has mastered and disarmed.
The reference is to Twitter, of course, but the truth is that it was Obama who turned the White House into a pop-culture machine with frequent performances by guests like Jay-Z and Beyoncé. We have no idea of Trump's musical tastes and frankly, they are pretty much irrelevant to the job he was elected to perform.
In the field of classical music, practitioners habitually respond to man-made disasters by quoting a statement that Leonard Bernstein made on November 25, 1963, three days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The previous day, Bernstein had led the New York Philharmonic in a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony, the “Resurrection.” Afterward, Bernstein explained why he had offered, in place of a conventional requiem or memorial, Mahler’s “visionary concept of hope and triumph over worldly pain.” Bernstein’s words have been tweeted and Facebooked countless times since the advent of social media, and have made the rounds again since November 8th: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
The irony here is that Alex Ross is equating the election of Donald Trump as president to the assassination of JFK. An assassination is a violent act, an election is the very antithesis! What makes the irony especially keen is that the violence, and there has been a lot of it since the election, has all come from those whose candidate lost. Alex Ross lives in some sort of Bizarro world where everything is reversed. Has he really not noticed the actual violence--over 200 people arrested for felony rioting at the Inauguration?

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Lots of politics in music these days, including in this interview with John Adams: "Why John Adams Won't Write an Opera About President Trump."
The idea of a Trump opera doesn’t interest me in the least. First of all, because so much of what he does is theater to begin with. It’s a terrible form of exploitive theater, but there’s no point in trying to make theater about theater. Furthermore, you don’t want to spend time as an artist giving your very best to a person who is a sociopath. He’s not an interesting character, because he has no capacity for empathy. The only empathy that he can extend is to his family, who are just extensions of his own ego, and beyond that, he doesn’t care. Everyone else is someone to be manipulated and controlled.
That would be news, of course, to all those people who voted for Trump because they were convinced that he did have empathy for their plight.

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John Williams, the film-music composer, had his 85th birthday two days ago. Here he is conducting the main theme from Star Wars:

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Why is it that the so-called pundits in the arts have been hectoring us with the same dreary message for decades? "Disruption and diversity are key to the future of classical music, says BBC Radio 3 controller: Classical music must address issues of diversity to remain relevant, says Davey." At what point can we stop paying attention to this stale nonsense? On the very same web site as the last item is another one that contradicts it: "Britain’s classical audience grows while orchestras lose money." In the disrupted, diverse future, that is to say "now", after decades of singing the same old song:
‘Many of the achievements [in bringing in larger audiences] have been fuelled by audience development initiatives such as discounted ticketing, free concerts and fixed fee performances at open air events,’ said ABO director Mark Pemberton. ‘These have left orchestras suffering a double whammy – a decline in earned income alongside significant cuts in public funding. The message is simple: Orchestras cannot continue doing "more for less".’
 "Issues of diversity" have absolutely nothing to do with the arts as aesthetic objects, they are mere ideological shibboleths that have the capacity to harm the practice of the arts.

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I have--not yet at least--really gotten into the spectralist composers. Here is an article, with a nice photo, about a new release of three works by these fellows.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Tristan Murail and George Benjamin listening to a playback of their world premiere recording of Murail's piano concerto Le Désenchantement du monde
Tristan Murail was together with Gérard Grisey a pioneer of the spectralist movement, and it was Grisey who reminded his peers that "We are musicians and our model is sound not literature, sound not mathematics, sound not theatre, visual arts, quantum physics, geology, astrology or acupuncture"
Not to mention, politics!

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I was never a fan of the classical music site Sinfini, not least because of its tendency to dumb everything down. It is interesting to read music blogger On an Overgrown Path about why it failed:
It is now standard practice to apply consumer marketing techniques to classical music, and Sinfini was an example of the currently fashionable technique of native advertising - surreptitious mixing advertorial and advertising content. During my career I worked both in classical music and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) marketing, and the conclusion I reached was that classical music does not behave like a consumer product such as cornflakes. So my proposition today is not only that FMCG marketing techniques such as native advertising are an ineffective way of promoting classical music to new audiences, but that this type of marketing actually produces a negative reaction in the crucially important established audience. In applied psychology cognitive dissonance theory recognises that individuals seek consistency among their cognitions (opinions); which means when there is an inconsistency (dissonance) between cognitions, something must change to eliminate the dissonance. The remorseless hyping of classical music's next big thing inevitably creates dissonance when experience fails to match expectation. A good example is Valery Gergiev's tenure at the LSO, when to eliminate the dissonance between experience and expectation both the orchestra and the audience voted with their feet.
Bach and Mozart are not able to be marketed like frozen fish sticks or denim jeans. And thank god for that!

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Our envoi for today is Le Lac by Tristan Murail for chamber ensemble:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lady with a harp

Here is something to look at while you are waiting for the Friday Miscellanea:

Lady with Harp by Eliza Ridgely Sully 1818

Why, I wonder, is there no constant drumbeat of articles in The Guardian about the shockingly disproportionate number of female versus male harpists? It is just as bad as that between male and female conductors

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I can see where this is going...

I don't have a label for this, though I used my "popularizing classical music" one. Here is the story: the Swedish Polar Music Prize, one half of which is given to a classical musician, went this year to jazz musician Wayne Shorter and Sting--Sting is the "classical" one.

There is a process unfolding here, and it may seem harmless, but it ain't! First the progressive theorists come along and hollow out "classical" music as being somehow sexist, racist or imperialist, then they define away more and more of its essential characteristics. In the name of diversity or popularity "crossover" artists and repertoire are included and finally, coverage of classical music in the mainstream media is more and more eliminated.

What do we call this? It is a process that has emptied out a lot of other traditional institutions. It is emphatically not "popularizing classical music" as that would involve, above all, public education. No, what we are seeing is rather the devaluation of classical music qua classical, the vampirical draining away of the life-blood of the art form. Let's create a new tag for this: "eradicating classical music". There are lots of clever ways to do this and making it simply disappear from public awareness is one of the best.

Nothing against Sting, of course. I am rather a fan of him as an artist. I enjoyed his foray into Dowland and his accompanying of a dancer with the Prelude to the Cello Suite No. 1 by Bach on classical guitar. He is an all-round musician. But I wonder at his accepting this prize. He surely doesn't need the money and wouldn't it be a very good point to make if he said "thanks for the honor, but I am not primarily known as a classical musician, so why don't you give it to someone who is?"

Of course, the basic problem of classical music is that it is, without a doubt, elitist in the sense that it mostly appeals to people with a lot of education in the arts and with honed sensitivities. Historically, these people largely belonged to the aristocracy and had the resources to support the art form. Nowadays, it is opened up, democratically, so that everyone who wishes can enjoy it. But it is an art form that cannot be completely successfully commercialized without turning it into something else. It still needs that support from a small minority with taste and funds. Alas, we have the 0.001% of frightfully wealthy people, but they tend to spend their money on other things (though I read that Taylor Swift made a large donation to a symphony orchestra a while back).

I think that classical music will survive if only due to its inherent quality--something that is rarely captured in definitions of what "classical music" is. But trying to popularize it by turning it into something else, or by making it the instrument of social or political movements, is not the right strategy. The only good strategy I know of is to simply create and perform music in the best way we can, win a few audiences, and introduce as many people as possible to the music. Nothing wrong with that.

Let's listen to a youth orchestra to hear how this works. This is the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel playing the Symphony No. 3 by Beethoven in a concert in Bonn in 2007:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Big Composer Award

Michael Hersch has been awarded $250,000 US by Johns Hopkins:
Michael Hersch, a composer known for extraordinarily complex and emotionally rich works, is the recipient of the 2017 President’s Frontier Award from Johns Hopkins University. Hersch will receive $250,000 "for research and innovation."
Hersch is an alumnus of the Peabody Institute of JHU, where he joined the faculty in 2006. He heads the composition department.
Peabody in Baltimore is one of the leading conservatories in the US.
Known for writing lengthy works -- his "Vanishing Pavilions" for solo piano lasts three hours, for example -- Hersch said that one possibility for the money is to help fund performances of large-scale projects "that no normal presenter would undertake."
Let's have a look at what is available on YouTube. Here is a brief section from his Vanishing Pavillions for piano performed by the composer:

I hope he would not be insulted if I said that I was reminded a bit of Olivier Messiaen's enormous Catalogue d'oiseaux? Here is another piece, a movement from his Symphony No. 3:

I'm glad to become acquainted with this composer that I am sorry to say I don't think I have heard of before.

One comment, though: the Baltimore Sun has an awful website. In order to pull out those brief quotes I had to fight through a mass of irrelevant and unrelated advertisements, videos of the People's Choice  Awards, more advertisements, videos about the Super Bowl, and more advertisements. The actual story was like an afterthought.

Now wouldn't it be interesting if Canada could ever find it possible to give a composer a substantial award like this...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Joy of Criticism!

As a part-time, unemployed music critic, I delight in adroit criticism wherever I find it. I ran into a lovely example lately in a review by Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal of the movie The Space Between Us. I left a comment praising the opening sentences and Joe himself sent me a thank you:

Click to enlarge

Love the Internet...

I have the feeling I am going to be stealing some of that at some point.

People have been asking me if I am going to be watching the Superbowl today and I usually reply "there's a Superbowl?" I haven't watched broadcast television in over a decade. But I am rather curious as to what Lady Gaga is going to do in the halftime show. So, in honor of something or other, let's end with some vintage Lady Gaga. It seems as if the official music video isn't on YouTube any more.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Raising a Glass to Philip Glass

Indy Week has an article on Philip Glass, who just celebrated his 80th birthday. As he said in another publication recently, if you live long enough, you can actually make a living at this!

Philip Glass

Here is an excerpt from the Indy Week piece:
In October 1982, composer Philip Glass appeared in an ad for Cutty Sark scotch. Floating above an illustration of Glass with his trademark messy flop of hair, his left hand clutching a brace of musical notes, the tagline reads, "Here's to those who can make history out of the same 12 notes." Alongside is a biography that details his rise from a life of odd jobs to his success as a composer with "an audience so large and so diverse it even includes rock fans."
The sight of a composer in an ad for a product unrelated to music is certainly unusual, but then, Glass is an unusual figure. As the Cutty Sark biography says, his music has garnered a following far beyond classical music—though it's telling that having rock fans is the ultimate sign of credibility here. He is one of the few composers who are household names in the twenty-first century, and his brand of pulsating minimalism is heard the world over.
Philip Glass and Steve Reich are the two larger-than-life role models for composers these days, in America at least, as they have both done the seemingly impossible: achieved wide recognition in the public eye at the same time as they created a large repertoire of music in the classical tradition. They pandered to neither audiences nor the avant-garde and achieved genuine musical success.

But while they may seem superficially similar, they approached their careers in very different ways. For one thing, Glass has always seemed more media savvy than Reich. You won't find a photographic portrait of him nearly as finely-executed as a number of ones of Philip Glass:

Steve Reich
Philip Glass is more a downtown composer and Steve Reich an uptown one and by that I just mean that the former has moved more in the Greenwich Village arts circles and the latter more in the intellectual academic circles. Philip Glass had the more traditional academic training, oddly, at the Peabody Institute, Julliard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris--exactly where any aspiring mainstream composer would have gone. Steve Reich, on the other hand, was a drum student in his youth, but was a philosophy student at Cornell (though he later studied composition at Mills College in California with Luciano Berio and others). This, combined with later studies of African drumming in Ghana and Balinese gamelan in California makes for a more unusual foundation.

Philip Glass has always been involved in theater, opera and other multi-media projects. He also wrote a fine memoir. Steve Reich is an intensely focused worker both in terms of how he structures his music, but also in his overall approach. He composes far more exclusively instrumental pieces than ones with voice and has done very, very little theater or opera composing. He has written almost nothing for orchestra, focusing instead on small and medium sized ensembles. Philip Glass, on the other hand, has written several concertos and is about to premiere his Symphony No. 11

In the early days, there were similarities between their styles, but they have grown further and further apart. Here is an early piece by Philip Glass, Music in 12 Parts:

And one by Steve Reich, Eight Lines:

But this is the sort of texture that Glass' music has evolved to, his Symphony No. 10:

And here is a recent one by Reich, his WTC 9/11 (the first piece in the clip):

I'm sure that people will be writing about and discussing the differences and similarities between Philip Glass and Steve Reich for decades, I just wanted to get a head start. It is interesting how, in music history, we have so often had pairs of composers, both working in similar styles at the same time, but who achieved rather different results: Léonin and Pérotin, Bach and Handel, Couperin and Rameau, Haydn and Mozart and now Glass and Reich.

Loving Opera

I apologize for not putting up a Friday Miscellanea this week. Most weeks I run across a number of little items and stories that just logically find their place in a miscellanea. But this week I was too busy and there didn't seem to be much of that kind of thing around. But I just ran across one interesting essay about opera from an unusual source, Tabatha Southey in the Globe and Mail. She tells us how her eldest child's interest in opera sparked her attraction:
Let me try to take your mind off, well, everything, by telling you how I came to love opera. I’d never been to the opera and did not grow up listening to opera. Opera was not on my radar until an exceptional and very kind teacher (shout-out to all of you out there) noticed my intense and judgmental eldest child’s interest in slightly less intense and judgmental Nordic gods and took my 10-year-old to see Siegfried. That’s how it started.
Her eldest sounds like an unusual child. At ten years of age, my primary interest was model rocketry (I only almost burned down the house once). Tabatha's first encounter with opera was, yep, the Ring cycle by Wagner, all four operas:
The way I saw it, having my first opera be 15 hours long was trial by aria. I was filled with dread, dread I hid from my child, much like the book I brought to Das Rheingold on our first night out – thinking I might be able to slip into the lobby after a while. But here’s the thing. I loved it. I loved all of it.
She also loves Mozart:
Last weekend, I saw COC’s The Magic Flute. I know it’s not an original thought but The Magic Flute is enchanting. As is my tradition, I went to the opera that night thinking I did not want to be there, my mind very much somewhere else, and I was quickly swept right in. I smiled like a goof most of the way through the production. Sometimes it made me laugh and I’m still surprised at how intensely romantic opera can be.
Toronto is cold these days, grey skyed, with little snow, and at some point we seem to have decided to make most of our buildings out of green glass. The city is slowly turning the colour of an old Mason jar. You feel the chill and the barrenness and the ordinariness of it all the most just now. But then, in the middle of that, there is the opera; every winter I find it again, a weird, warm bright flame.
What I found particularly delightful about this essay was that I usually find Tabatha Southey unreadable because what she writes is so very predictable but this was a breath of fresh air.

If a political columnist can appeal to new readers by wandering outside her usual themes and sharing something unusual like this, then perhaps the Apocalypse is not nigh after all.

Let's listen to the Prelude to Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner:

Friday, February 3, 2017

Defining Classical

Greg Sandow, a composer and critic who teaches a course on the "future of classical music" at Julliard talks about the problem of defining classical music:
If you look up classical music in the dictionary, you’ll get an idea of why the term is so hard for people to define. Because the dictionaries don’t define it!
First look at the definition of jazz, from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, whose name shouldn’t mislead you. This isn’t a concise book for students and journalists. It’s one of the standard reference works on the English language (British style), a massive two-volume abridgment of the multivolume Oxford English Dictionary, which to the extent possible includes every word ever used in the long history of the language. (Or did, in the days of print.)
Here’s how the Shorter Oxford defines jazz:
A type of music of US black origin, characterized by its use of improvisation, syncopated phrasing, and a regular or forceful rhythm; loosely syncopated dance music.
You can argue with any part of that, if you like, but overall it’s a cogent attempt to concisely say what goes on in this kind of music.
Compare their definition of classical music:
[S]o-called conventional or serious music, as opp. to folk, jazz, pop, rock, etc.
That’s not a definition. It doesn’t tell us what the nature of classical music is. It’s an evaluation — classical music is serious, and folk, jazz, pop, and rock aren’t.
In a second article, Greg lays out the definition that his students came up with. He takes a lot of words to describe what is a rather straightforward definition: Classical music is music in the European tradition that is typically planned out in advance and written down in notation. This is an excellent definition as it does capture the essence of the history and practice of the music without making invidious comparisons with popular music and jazz.

I have struggled a few times trying to capture some of the more elusive elements that we often associate with classical--mainly that it is music that has stood the "test of time" or it is music that aims for a certain kind of aesthetic depth or creative originality. But that attempt always seems to lead you down the rabbit hole so probably best avoided.

You just have to be very, very careful not to notice anything about the social function of music!

While we are pondering that, let's listen to some music. This is Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, his first symphony, written in 1917 and really the first "neo-classical" composition, well ahead of Stravinsky's efforts in that style:

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Vocal Coaching Lady Gaga

Ok, I admit it, I get a lot of my cultural news from the Wall Street Journal. Weird, huh? Today's piece is about Don Lawrence, the vocal coach who has been working with Lady Gaga this week to get her ready for the Superbowl on Sunday.
The most experienced coach at the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 won’t be worrying about his team’s passing game. He will be making sure his star student hits her high notes.
Vocal coach Don Lawrence is prepping pop powerhouse Lady Gaga this week for her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show—music’s biggest marketing moment, watched by more than 100 million television viewers.
“I’ve been planning this since I was four,” Gaga says in a halftime-show preview video. The 30-year-old singer never lip-syncs or uses backing tracks for her vocals, which has become common for high-profile events. Last year, when she belted out a blistering rendition of the national anthem at Super Bowl 50, CBS wanted an emergency backing track just in case. Gaga refused, Mr. Lawrence says.
I discovered Lady Gaga several years ago and actually liked a couple of her songs. She seems not only to be a real musician--no lip-syncing--but also a creative one. As someone said recently, when did it become ok to do mime in public instead of actually, you know, performing? Here is a little hint as to Mr. Lawrence's method:
At the heart of Mr. Lawrence’s approach is a centuries-old Italian technique called bel canto that he and his father modernized for pop singers. With the technique, Mr. Lawrence expands a singer’s vocal range, adding to the performer’s arsenal. For instance, instead of automatically switching from a chest-based voice to a head-based voice for higher notes, Gaga “has learned to take the ‘chest voice’ up—to high F or G above high C,” Mr. Lawrence says. That makes those higher notes more resonant.
So, I think that we would call his method "vocal technique" or what classical singers have been doing for a very, very long time. After all, technique is technique and if you want to use your instrument to its best, there are certain anatomical facts that are important. I suspect that a lot of pop singers have never really worked on things like breathing and how to use the diaphragm because they grew up using microphones and never learned how to project. My knowledge of singing is fairly limited, but I did study voice with a few teachers when I was young and have actually performed Schubert lieder in public.

There have been a few golden ages of singing represented by people like the castrato Farinelli who was employed by Philip V of Spain to sing the same three pieces every night. Then there was the age of Bel Canto as mentioned in the article, for whom the composers were Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti.

This is Renee Fleming singing one of the most famous Bel Canto arias, Casta Diva from Norma by Bellini:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Courtesy of Norman Lebrecht I ran across an entertaining memoir about playing in orchestra. Nathan Cole reminisces:
The following day, I moved back to my assigned seat near the back of the second violins. I began marking some fingerings in the toughest passages. Since I was sitting on the audience side, or the “outside” of the stand, my markings went above the notes. At least that’s how things had always worked…
As I put in my first set of numbers, my stand partner made a sound, a kind of groan cut short. I looked over, the point of my pencil still on the page. “Did you want my markings on the bottom instead?”
    “We don’t mark fingerings here,” he said.
    “Here, you mean at this spot?”
    “I mean in this orchestra.” His face softened, and he added, “Sorry, you’re probably used to seeing them, right?”
I was indeed used to seeing fingerings as a matter of course. My mind was fairly blown.
    “How do you play all this music then?”
My stand partner paused, as if he’d never considered the question before.
    “Practice?” he suggested.
Orchestras are a fascinating sub-culture and I often wished I had played an instrument that would allow me to spend more time with them. My total orchestral experience consists in playing a fairly brief guitar part in a few operas (and one mandolin part in Mozart's Don Giovanni) as well as playing the solo part in several guitar concertos. But I have spent a great deal of time hanging out with orchestral players, so that gives me a few insights as well. The symphony orchestra is one of the most highly-developed and finely-tuned (heh!) organizations that civilization has ever invented. It integrates around a hundred highly-trained musicians into a single instrument of enormous power. It is also the source of a zillion amusing anecdotes, such as the one above.

Here are some others I have heard regarding notes penciled on orchestral parts. Oh, just a note for readers not familiar with the terms. A composer creates a "score" where all the notes played by the individual instruments are placed together in a vertical table. This is what the conductor has on his stand as it enables him to see everything and, most important, how it all fits together. Each individual player (or pair of players in the string sections) has just his individual part, so as to avoid innumerable page turns. Occasionally this part might have cues of the other instruments. Often there are long passages of nothing but rests that have to be carefully counted.

Supposedly, on the original parts used in the premiere of the Rite of Spring in 1913, the orchestral players had scratched out "Sacre du Printemps" and replaced it with "Massacre du Printemps". The English version was "Riot of Spring" instead of "Rite of Spring". In one orchestra who struggled a bit with a conductor known as "Pizzabeat" for the wide and vague gestures he made while conducting, there were a few notes scribbled in the score to the effect of "Don't look up!" meaning, in this particular passage do NOT look at the conductor who will be sure to mislead you.

Going back to Cole's anecdote, I can see where a particularly seasoned orchestra might not want their parts cluttered up with too many fingerings. As a guitarist, however, I think that fingerings written in the score are extremely valuable--even if you do practice! I do know that the principal in each section of the strings has the job of putting in bowings for all the players in his section. This is important for unity of phrasing.

And of course, the indelible rule of all musicians is NEVER WRITE IN THE SCORE WITH PEN, ALWAYS WITH PENCIL. Because sure as taxes, down the road you are going to want to erase those silly fingerings and replace them with better ones.

I have to admit though, that the idea of an orchestra so seasoned and experienced that they don't really need to put in fingerings is rather an appealing one. Perhaps one such orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic, who have been doing what they do, institutionally, for rather a long time. I think my favorite clip of them is with Leonard Bernstein. He is conducting the last movement of the Symphony No 88 by Joseph Haydn and I think it is an encore. Since the Vienna Phillies have been playing Haydn for, oh a couple of hundred years and since Lenny is Lenny, after he gives the downbeat, he mostly just stands around conducting with his eyebrows. I can see a couple of audience members looking a little perplexed: "is that what they pay him for?" But the orchestra knows exactly what is going on: Bernstein is paying them the public compliment of showing that this orchestra is so good that they hardly need conducting: