Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Kicking off the miscellanea with the 50 best-selling music artists of all time from the Independent. It starts with The Beatles, of course:
England's greatest rock band holds the top spot on the all-time ranking of best-selling artists by album sales, and it looks untouchable on a bizarre list filled with a number of surprising appearances.
It's somewhat shocking to find out, for instance, that smooth-jazz saxophonist Kenny G has sold more albums than Eminem, and that Garth Brooks has sold more than Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. 
We compiled this list by ranking the most successful acts in music history according to their total certified album units sold in the US, as provided by the RIAA. 
I have GOT to release a "smooth classical" album! Here are the top 4:
4. Led Zeppelin -- 111.5 million units
3. Elvis Presley -- 136 million units
2. Garth Brooks -- 148 million units
1. The Beatles -- 178 million units
The thing is that this is only for the US. Other lists have the Beatles and Elvis Presley tied for first place with about a billion units each on worldwide sales.

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The Washington Post has an article on the legacy of Leonard Bernstein:
But Bernstein also spotlights some of the fault lines running through the American musical establishment, and the centennial makes it clear that, in spite of his example, they haven’t changed all that much. Ironically, the classical music world will be feting Bernstein in part for his role in merging the American vernacular with high-art music, in works such as “Candide” and “West Side Story.” But throughout his life, critics castigated him for not being serious enough. And even today, the classical music world tends to look down on Broadway, or film scores, as not being fully serious, or somehow tainted. Some of the artists who most energetically took up Bernstein’s mantle as a champion of both musicals and operas — such as DeMain and John Mauceri, who worked closely with Bernstein for 18 years — haven’t always gotten the respect accorded to conductors who focused on the standard European canon.
That last bit is just the usual shibboleths isn't it? If you write light music or Broadway or film scores it is not that the classical world thinks you are unserious or "tainted" (good grief, tainted?), it is just that these genres have a different function and audience. Even Beethoven wrote light music such as Scottish folksong arrangements and Wellington's Victory and no-one says he is "tainted."

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Yes, I know I am often complaining about Alex Ross, but he had quite an interesting item on his blog about John Wooldridge who was both a Royal Air Force bomber pilot and a composer. The two streams met when he wrote the music for a film, starring Dirk Bogarde, about his, Wooldridge's, life!
The best account of Wooldridge's life available is a Music Web International essay by his son, Hugh Wooldridge. During the war, he flew ninety-seven missions, an extraordinarily high number. He continued to compose while serving in the RAF. Hugh Wooldridge writes: "During the first three years of the war, and in between flying, he wrote his first and most notable musical work — a symphonic poem The Constellations (1944) working alternately on borrowed pianos and the local padre’s organ. Much of this was sketched during the long bombing missions over occupied mainland Europe."
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The New York Times weighs in on the Oregon Bach Festival controversy. You should read the whole thing, but this bit really caught my eye:
After the Eugene Weekly broke the news of Mr. Halls’s firing last month, the festival released an upbeat statement claiming that it was “moving forward in an exciting direction.” Janelle McCoy, who became its executive director in 2016, said in the statement that she wanted future festivals to be planned by “guest curators” — “a choreographer, stage director or jazz musician, for example” — not by a single artistic director.
So we go from Helmut Rilling's "old-school, big-symphony approach to Bach" to Matthew Halls' more historic approach to this new, exciting direction? I think that I would describe a Bach festival with a music director who was a choreographer or jazz musician as rather a horrifying prospect! But I actually like Bach, unlike, it seems, the current administration of the Oregon Bach Festival.

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Just as my Rite of Spring series comes to a close, the Wall Street Journal reviews a revival of a Pina Bausch production.
At 35 minutes in length, “The Rite of Spring,” the older of these works, closes the program with generically fraught and repetitious moves. Two 16-strong contingents of female and male dancers moving, sometimes at frantic paces, all over designer Rolf Borzik’s plush-rug-thick layer of russet-colored peat provide moments of visceral impact. But, mostly, Bausch reduces Stravinsky’s primal and often thundering sonorities evoking the arrival of a dramatically changed season into an animated depiction of matched sets of fearful women and overweening men. Climactically, to the score’s “Sacrificial Dance,” a woman, who’s been singled out from the group by an anonymous man, dances, at an exhausting pace, many of the sharp and flailing moves that have come before.
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The Paris Review has a review of a performance, on violin, of John Cage's 4'33. It is the kind of stream-of-consciousness that Virginia Woolf might have written.
And even bad music, and especially bad music, has what they call hooks, bits you can remember and by remembering enjoy, but the music Cage “composed,” the music the “red-haired” man was “playing,” and everything ought to be in quotes because everything is partly something else. And because the “silence” I was hearing wasn’t something else, had no hooks to distract me from the purity of what it was, although that sounds pleasant, in the actual act of sitting there, I noticed anger arising. That’s how D. T. Suzuki, the Buddhist writer and the teacher of Cage, would have described it, and it was arising in me because, beneath the anger there was a desolation I didn’t want to feel, an aversion that caused the anger, and yes, I was judging myself, my inability to confront that desolation, and the judgments, were evolving like the music...
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My feeling is that the perfect review of 4'33 would be more like this:

If you see what I mean.

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Also in The Paris Review is a piece on my favorite musical, The Band Wagon, with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (who has possibly the greatest legs ever):
I’ve always thought of The Band Wagon as a poor man’s Singin’ in the Rain. In film classes, one is encouraged to compare the two, presumably because they are contemporaneous and both regarded among the top five of the genre. If The Band Wagon holds together at any point, it’s because of a certain continuity of mood and feeling. It’s the consummate “putting on a show” musical. And it’s a movie about the theater that seems to suggest, even more than Singin’ in the Rain does, that if your problems can’t be fixed by love, they can still be fixed by art. And that art, in turn, can be fixed by self-knowledge, including the knowledge of one’s own limitations. “I’m just an entertainer,” says Astaire, trying to nip the “Faust” business in the bud. Entertainers have no business making art. But of course, art is the result of The Band Wagon’s messy weirdness, in both narrative and meta-narrative—and it lends the film a sense of completeness in spite of itself. The Band Wagon is a movie that tries to break up with the Hollywood system while using all its tricks.
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 Let's have a double-barreled envoi today. I would like to put up The Constellations by John Wooldridge, but there are just a few brief clips of his film music on YouTube. This is an excerpt from his music for the movie Angels One Five:

And for our second item, the famous scene from The Band Wagon where Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse learn how to dance together in Central Park:

Oh, and notice that the dance number is shot in just a couple of long takes instead of the frenetic jump cuts of today's videos. Fred and Cyd had to memorize the whole sequence and perform it flawlessly because, no editing!


Marc Puckett said...

Perhaps the ultimate source of John Haskell's anger and desolation is the knowledge that he has engaged himself to pretend that Cage's four minutes is music?

Bryan Townsend said...

Very likely!

I'm tempted to turn the tools of the new musicology on this piece and analyze it for its political content. Obviously it is the perfect representation of nihilism in music.

Will Wilkin said...

1) Regarding the “two streams” of John Wooldridge as being both an RAF bomber pilot and a musical composer, by coincidence just today I was reading about the “Airborne Symphony” by American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-64), who “served with the [US? Royal?] Air Force in London in WWII and got time off to produce the ‘Airborne,’ for which he wrote both the music and text. When the manuscript was lost, Blitzstein rewrote it on Leonard Bernstein's urging.”

2) Regarding talk of the Oregon Bach Festival to be planned by guest curators such as a jazz musician, while I agree with you Bryan that is not at all a promising approach to organizing a Bach festival, since it lacks the due reverence to authenticity deserved by Maestro Bach. But perhaps as one of the many performances, a jazz musician could bring a welcome and expansive dimension. For example, I have a CD called “Tone Dialing” by jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman which includes a Bach Prelude played very beautifully in a jazz style.

3) Regarding “serious music” and, specifically, its relation to Broadway, here is how I once heard described the difference between musical theatre and opera: when you hear a Broadway song, you say “I could sing that!” and when you hear opera you say “I could NEVER sing that!”

Marc Puckett said...

Will, I don't have an issue with the OBF featuring non-Bach music nor even non-classical music in judicious and carefully reasonable ways: past seasons have seen Savion Glover, PDQ Bach, 'Duke Ellington and the Harlem Jazz Craze', the Canadian Brass inter alii programmed into the mix. (While I myself didn't go out for those particular performances many people did.) The current mess has, in part (and I do emphasize that 'in part'), to do with the suspicion that diversity! cooperation with university faculties and programs! food studies! new directions! means that in place of reasonably (or at least colorably) 'musical' or aesthetic rationales for programming we're going to be subjected to concerts of ideologues performing for ideological reasons, the Musicology Now LGBT Ensemble playing the Julia Wolfe and Nico Muhly orchestration of the Rzewski Variations on The People United Will Never Be Defeated, for example. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc, you are starting to sound like me (in a particularly sardonic mood)!

Marc Puckett said...

Ha, ha. I do l i k e Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields, too, at least in a 'sure, I'd listen again at some time in the future' sort of way. Just names to make the point-- after you wrote the other week or month that the Rzewski had grown on you, words to that effect, I listened again to that too. If only the theme had been called Lobe den Herren, machtigen Konig der Ehren or something like that....