Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

I don't have a chain of provenance for this one, so I can't attest to its veracity, but if it were true, it would be really, really funny:



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Terry Teachout shares his favorite red-blooded examples of patriotic pianism with us:
Vladimir Horowitz brought off a comparable feat of patriotic prestidigitation when he transcribed “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the most famous and beloved of John Philip Sousa’s 137 marches for military band. Arturo Toscanini, Horowitz’s father-in-law, started performing “The Stars and Stripes Forever” with the NBC Symphony in 1943 as a wartime tribute to the U.S. armed forces. Horowitz, a refugee from Soviet Russia who became a naturalized U.S. citizen the following year, heard a Toscanini performance and decided to arrange the march as a gesture of gratitude to his new-found homeland. The results were an instant hit when he unveiled the piece in Minneapolis in 1945.

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Chicago Tribune piece on the failure of diversity. This piece is really hard to excerpt because he doesn't give any very succinct summaries, but this passage is indicative:
Tepper's solution for arts organizations: "Open-source everything you do."
Terrifying. That would suggest an artistic director should step aside and let the audience, or maybe the artists, pick the season. But then, how does the artistic director justify a salary?
It will get harder and harder. Administrators, artists and critics all have to get used to the intensity of amplified opinion, and the widespread desire for empowered involvement, that now surrounds their work. Which does not mean I am going to let you write my reviews.
But even as I huff and puff, I can see that professionalism is on the decline. I took a taxi this morning. My driver said exactly that about his world, too. I said there was nothing he could do, but it wasn't fair.
Still, I'll more easily allow that Mamet is on the wrong side of history. Young people don't just want to talk about our culture, they want to be engaged in the storytelling and, most definitely, in the process of judgment.
 I can't help thinking that it is the pseudo-professionals that are really threatened, because the real professionals do in fact possess skills and knowledge that they have earned the hard way.

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This could be the archetypal Alex Ross post, a very twee progress report on his book on Wagnerism, with a photo of his cat looking at the manuscript.

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Miles Davis on Ferraris.
Listening to Davis as he lowered the ever-present wall he seemed to keep between himself and others, it became clear how deep was his passion for the prancing stallion of Maranello, his favorite being a startling red 1967 275 GTB/4. Like musical instruments, Ferraris were fine-tuned instruments of another sort. They had the prerequisite four wheels, steering wheels, engine, brakes, etc. But how one could play a Ferrari compared to a Chevrolet or a Ford! Ferraris sang to Davis in a voice found only in those bright red Italian chargers.
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Finally someone who agrees with me about Mahler. Via Slipped Disc.
Mahler said his time would come; the question now, for me, is when it will go. For the symphonies, up until the last, are all flawed, in different ways, but primarily because they peddle sentimentality as courage, heroism, defiance and piety. Furtw√§ngler, who only conducted any of the symphonies fairly early in his career, told his second wife that when he got to the end of the Third Symphony he felt as if he had slept with a meringue in his mouth. And the Third is one of the more interesting symphonies, with its sprawling, elemental first movement. But what have the movements in between the first and the last got to do with them or each other? It’s a question you can ask of most of the symphonies; because they fail to add up to anything, they are taken to be comprehensive, to ‘contain the whole world’ as Mahler famously claimed to Sibelius.
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Why I do not take my irreplaceable guitar on airplanes from Slipped Disc.
Kevin Ramessar was flying home to Kitchener from playing lead guitar in the Carole King Musical on Broadway. He checked in his acoustic guitar, a $4,000 Czech-made Stonebridge, in a rigid case with fragile stickers all over. When he collected the case in Toronto, the guitar had been snapped at the neck. Air Canada has informed him that ‘in accordance with the federal Carriage by Air Act’, its liability for damage or loss is limited to a maximum $2,075.47. They are refusing to enter into further correspondence.
And Air Canada is rated the BEST airline for musicians. You don't want to know about the worst.

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Way back in the Renaissance dinner guests were expected to be able to sight-read music well enough to sing a madrigal or two. Published music was laid out so that people could sit around a table and sing from the individual parts. But something I did not know is that they might also sing, in four-part harmony, a benediction before and grace after the meal. We know this because there are knife sets from the Renaissance with music inscribed on the blades.


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The New Yorker has a big article on Toscanini on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth. Astonishingly, this makes him the same age as Canada!
What comes through in Sachs’s long chronicle is the extent of Toscanini’s role, witting and unwitting, in transforming the way that classical music was produced and consumed in the twentieth century. In his seventy years as a performer, he moved opera, as Sachs says, from entertainment to culture. The nineteenth-century conductor—a necessary time beater, presiding over a mixed lot of players—by degrees metamorphosed, in the most talented examples, into a spiritual mentor and charismatic culture god. The mechanical reproduction of music, which became popular with such novelties as a foggy four-minute recording of Caruso singing “Celeste Aida,” from 1902, gave way to complete recordings of symphonies and operas transmitted through every available medium. We are now immersed: the entire recorded history of music lies open, much of it free, to any listener who has the curiosity to discover it. But if Adorno and Horowitz are descriptively correct in asserting that Toscanini became part of advanced consumer patterns in the monopoly phase of late capitalism, and the rest of that Marxist bad news, Toscanini never saw himself in world-historical terms. As a nineteenth-century man charging through the twentieth century, he certainly welcomed stardom and wanted his concerts broadcast in America and Europe. The quintessential performer, he seized on every opportunity to make music under the best conditions.
The whole article, which is also a review of a new biography, is worth reading.

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For our envoi Toscanini conducting Haydn's Symphony No. 88:


12 comments:

Steven said...

Yeah, turns out that Radiohead story was a hoax. But fortunately for us Radiohead-haters, there are already plenty of Radiohead tracks that sound uncannily like guitars being tuned.

I don't know if you've seen this, but Ian Pace has collected responses to another controversial Guardian article on the arts (you will doubtless remember the Charlotte Gill 'music literacy' one). Deals with the purpose of art -- community, art for its own sake, social utility, inclusion, elitism and so on. Perhaps of interest to you and to fellow readers? https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/response-to-stella-duffy-on-the-arts-elitism-and-communities/

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Steven. However did I miss the Duffy article? Thanks for sending it.

Marc Puckett said...

It looks like Harvey Sachs has written a biography of Toscanini, of whom I really know very little, the decades of his flourishing being just 'before my time', that doesn't spend most of its time rummaging around in his subconscious mind and attributing his choices to the evils of capitalism; thanks for pointing to it. Yet another hundreds of pages on the desk....

Bryan Townsend said...

You get no sympathy from me! None. Because I am just about to launch into Richard Taruskin's monumental book on Stravinsky, volume one, about 1,000 pages.

Marc Puckett said...

Chris Jones at the Tribune made a couple of decent points, I thought, but then on the other hand, his taxi driver has an entirely different set of skills than he does as a... whatever sort of critic he is. In the back of my mind as I read that essay I'm thinking '"let a thousand flowers bloom"-- there's democratization for you', which I see is a misremembered bit of Maoist misdirection that served as bait to draw out the enemies of goodthought so that Mao's thugs were able to find their targets more economically. He doesn't want to share his position at the Tribune with every Charlotte, Tamika, and Harry, but he also doesn't have the intellectual... equipment to articulate why it would be wrong to expect him to do so. The saddest part was his son warning him to be careful what he wrote about the play they saw together. I don't imagine that sort of column will gain him many more years before the guillotine blade drops: but perhaps some, or enough, before retirement or the buy-out.

I've made it through the introduction to Taruskin's History of Western Music, so I don't envy your your thousands of pages on Stravinsky. In fact, I wonder how one can write thousands of pages on the one composer. Hmm.

Off to Handel's Hercules in a couple of hours. 'What heav'nly pleasing sounds I hear! how sweet they steal upon my ear, and charm my soul to rest.' What the servants of the modern don't understand is that that 'rest' isn't a static, immobile, dead thing but quite the opposite.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, journalists are not quite the professional critics that they think they are.

The Taruskin book on Stravinsky is one of the great works of scholarship, filled with archival research. I owned a copy when it came out in the 90s, but that copy was lost long ago. I don't even recall how much of it I read. But I'm looking forward to it now.

Enjoy the Handel! Lucky fellow!

Marc Puckett said...

Even if one has no present intention ever of even beginning such a magnum opus, it's comforting to know that such wonderful monuments of genius and scholarship are there, still being made, even in these barbarian days.

Bryan Townsend said...

There is a great deal going on in the world that never floats to the surface of the day to day squabbles, thank goodness. Excellent scholarship, wonderful performances, devoted teaching...

Marc Puckett said...

Am not quite ready this morning to tackle Stravinsky but I did catch the Guardian in a headline typo, at Flora Willson's review of the Buxton Festival. Pleased with myself, I was-- until, just now going back to see if anyone else has commented, I noticed that in my comment I mis-copied their error, ha, which actually made it even more amusing.

Bryan Townsend said...

So I see! Of course the danger in correcting someone online is that you need to be careful not to make a mistake yourself.

Marc Puckett said...

Read this morning that Igor Levit felt the need to play one of Liszt's transcriptions of Beethoven at the first night of the Proms... guess which one? He had to have understood that that would be perceived as a political act. Didn't NL include his comment favorable to the Venezuelan protesters at the Slipped D. post the other day? yes, he did.

He is a grand pianist but he ought to have given something else as an encore. I don't have any trouble distinguishing between the awful vile and violent horrors in Venezuela, on the one hand, and the politics of Brexit, on the other.

Bryan Townsend said...

I almost feel I should do a post on how and how not to discuss politics and music.