Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

This is a little far afield, but the civilization of ancient Greece has always fascinated me. The Wall Street Journal has a piece about an upcoming exhibit of works by the Berlin Painter, the anonymous Greek artist responsible for what they call “the largest body of pictorial imagery to have survived from antiquity.” Some of the images are of musicians such as this one of Eros playing the double flute:


Here is an excerpt from the article:
The Berlin Painter was identified in 1911 by a young British scholar, John Davidson Beazley (1885-1970), who meticulously cataloged stylistic details suggesting a single creator for some 200 surviving vessels (attributions now number over 300), examining, for example, the splayed fingers of figures’ hands or the ways in which figures are framed on the vase itself. Beazley originally named the artist “Master of the Berlin Amphora,” after a vase he studied at the State Museum of Berlin and which can be seen here, on loan, as you enter; later his name was shortened to the “Berlin Painter.”

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The Guardian has an interesting article on a collection of anonymous motets from the 16th century that the editor, Laurie Stras, believes to be the work of a nun, Leonora d'Este, daughter of Lucrezia Borgia:
Like the rest of her family, Leonora was highly educated and deeply interested in music, but, unusually for a woman, she was allowed to develop that interest into real expertise that was noted and admired by the most respected musicians of her time. But her musical abilities were all the more unusual, and potentially controversial, because she was a nun. Nuns’ music was highly valued by the populace: travel writers throughout the 16th century would recommend musical convents to potential visitors to Venice and Ferrara, in particular.
The article has some clips of the music that are well worth listening to.

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The world of classical music is enormous. Doctoral candidates in musicology supposedly have to master the entirety of it for their comprehensive exams which include single pages of scores with no text that you have to pin down to the decade in which they were composed--and yes, that could be almost any time in the last thousand years. But we know that this cannot be strictly true: you only learn what is considered to be "significant" as no-one, not even a doctoral candidate in musicology, can know everything. Case in point, a New York Times classical music critic learns about a composer she doesn't know from a cab driver:
He brought up Sibelius and suddenly we were ping-ponging Nordic composers back and forth.
I tried out the name Nielsen.
“What I’ve noticed with less well-known composers like Nielsen,” he said, “is that they come and go on the radio. There was a time, a while ago, when they played a lot of Nielsen.”
Did I know Brüll?
I was stumped. He spelled it out for me, with the two dots over the u. “His piano music sounds like Beethoven," he said. "You should listen to it.” 
We were fast approaching my neighborhood. I found myself wishing for slightly heavier traffic.
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And here is the story of the page-turner: seen but not heard:
In performance, the page turner is the pianist's shadow. As the pianist strides onstage, the page turner, cloaked in muted hues, trails behind. She is not to bow, but rather to sit immediately on the spare chair beside the piano bench and hunch. She is to be small and silent. Her movements she must circumscribe to a covert swoop above the pianist’s left hand so that, upon the pianist's nod, she can seize the played page by the topmost corner and pull it to safety. (To seize elsewhere all but ensures the page turner’s elbow making rapid communion with the player’s nose.) At the performance's close, she is the first to retreat. The applause is not hers.
Which reminds me of a story a conductor told when I was a student. When Liszt was in his prime he did a lot of remarkable things. One evening he was sight-reading through a Beethoven symphony on the piano and had a page-turner assisting. Every time Liszt wanted the page turned he nodded. Towards the end of the movement he nodded, the page-turner turned the last page and Liszt kept playing. He had been reading ahead and by the end of the movement he was reading five pages ahead of where he was playing! Could be apocryphal, of course...

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That gives us our envoi for today. This is Liszt's transcription of the Symphony No. 6 by Beethoven played by Glenn Gould:


6 comments:

Will Wilkin said...

Yes, one of the many exciting things about "classical music" is the many centuries and countries from which music has accumulated! Sometimes we ordinary workaday people dabble in a lifetime of listening enough to know we may know nothing yet we have heard a lt!

Bryan Townsend said...

You are NEVER going to run out of music to listen to!

Marc Puckett said...

That's a wonderful anecdote about Liszt! have never read a good biography but I ought to. Will have to look about online.

I wonder about the page-turners' invisibility, though; perhaps it is just that the recitals I hear are at the University and the University being captive (in a certain sense, anyway) to the pervasive academic culture (the people united! equality! whatever!) but I have witnessed p.-t.s acknowledging applause. The pianist, on the other hand, what is she going to do, if the p.t. smilingly nods his head? scowl at him, pointing to the stage door?

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh! Good point. All I can recall about the visibility of page-turners is when something goes horribly wrong and the performance has to stop while the music gets sorted out.

Will Wilkin said...

At least give the page-turner credit for reading along and never losing focus. A few nights ago on the stage of Sprague Hall at the Yale School of Music, the page-turner looked a lot like the conductor of the philharmonia a week earlier. Sure enough, for the next piece, he conducted the ensemble!

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, the page-tuner is fulfilling an important job that requires a high level of ability.