Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

One of the topics that I find endlessly fascinating is the economics of the art world and here is a new scholarly paper on the subject: The Economics of Renaissance Art. Sadly, I don't think you can access it unless you have a subscription to The Journal of Economic History, but here is the abstract:
I analyzed the market of paintings in Florence and Italy (1285–1550). Hedonic regressions on real prices allowed me to advance evidence that the market was competitive and that an important determinant of artistic innovation was driven by economic incentives. Price differentials reflected quality differentials between painters as perceived at the time (whose proxy is the length of the biography of Vasari) and did not depend on regional destinations, as expected under monopolistic competition with free entry. An inverse-U relation between prices and age of execution is consistent with reputational theories of artistic effort, and prices increased since the 1420s.
The music world does not have an equivalent to Vasari that enables us to calibrate the relative reputations of Renaissance composers. I suppose that Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music might have to do.

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There was a rare performance of Gruppen, Stockhausen's formidably difficult piece for three orchestras, in London recently. The Guardian has a review:
Stockhausen’s 1958 masterwork Gruppen für drei Orchester (Groups for three orchestras) involves no helicopters, but the forces it does require – three spatially separated orchestras comprising about 100 musicians all told, and three conductors – plus its sheer intricacy, are enough to make it a rare work to experience live. But this is as much an art installation as a concert work, and in many ways it was right at home in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
Go read the whole review. Gruppen was preceded by Messiaen's Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum:
The public nature of the space felt entirely appropriate and the music made a forceful impact, but there were moments of quiet, intense beauty too. The final movement, with the gong pulsing, suggested a giant creature slowly breathing; then the sound grew into a mass of noise that seemed to feed off itself. It was exhilarating to the ear.
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Apparently I am not alone: What Classical Music Can Learn From Kanye West is a new article in The Atlantic.
Since 2016, Feigenbaum and the conductor Yuga Cohler have periodically put on performances they call “Yeethoven,” including two in Los Angeles and one at New York City’s Lincoln Center. With a contingent of classical instrumentalists, they trace the similarities between the works of a 21st-century rapper/producer and a 18th- to 19th-century composer.
“We wanted to figure out why it was that the two of us, and a lot of our friends in classical music, were so enamored with Kanye’s music,” Feigenbaum said before an abridged Yeethoven set last week at the Aspen Ideas Festival (sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic). The five songs they played comprised selections from 2013’s Yeezus—a noisy and divisive album that Cohler and Feigenbaum hear as a turning point in West’s career—and 2016’s The Life of Pablo. Some of the tracks were mashed up with Beethoven compositions. One point of comparison: the jarring tonal switch in the end of “New Slaves,” recalling the turn at the close of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Another: the way West’s “Waves” uses its high end to keep time and its low end to convey melody, much like in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.
Here is a sample: some Beethoven (the Egmont Overture followed by "New Slaves"):

One of the interesting things there is the audience reaction: as soon as they hear something they recognize, they start clapping. And I'll bet Viennese audiences did the same as soon as they recognized the themes of their favorite arias in The Magic Flute.

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A really unfortunate holiday, related in Standpoint Magazine:
The most notoriously unsuccessful holiday in the history of classical music was that taken by Chopin and his androgynous literary lover George Sand (and her family) in Majorca in 1838-1839. The trousered, cigar-smoking Sand was derided by Baudelaire as possessing the morals of a janitress; her future lover Alfred de Musset mordantly observed of the silver dagger which pinned her hair that “a woman of such slight virtue hardly required so immoderate a weapon”. Chopin’s characteristically acidulous comment on his first encounter was, “What an unattractive person la Sand is. Is she really a woman?” That was in 1836; by 1838 the two were lovers. They numbered Delacroix (who painted them both) and Heine among their Paris friends.
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The Spectator weighs in on the "new musicology" in a piece by Damian Thompson: The virtuoso virtue-signallers of classical music. This will not be an unfamiliar theme for Music Salon readers:
If you’re looking for virtuoso virtue-signallers, then classical music is the place to start. But right-on competitions are merely the gruesome fruit of something more deeply rooted: an intellectual culture poisoned by late 20th-century identity politics and postmodern verbiage. That’s a problem in other disciplines, of course, but at least artistic and literary pseuds attract mockery. It flourishes in university music departments because no one gives a toss what happens there.
From my experience, university music departments have a kind of dual nature. On the one hand, a minority of the students and professors are involved in musicology and are to one degree or another affected by the tenets of post-modernism. On the other hand, however, the majority of the students and professors are practical musicians who are focussed on delivering a good concert experience. The world of performers is less influenced by what you might call "extra-musical" criteria. The Slipped Disc post referring to this article has attracted some interesting comments.

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I think the first piece I ever heard by Messiaen was Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum an excerpt of which was on a sampler album I purchased around 1970. I believe the conductor was Daniel Barenboim, just starting his career as a conductor. Let's have a listen. This is the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conductor: Myung-Whun Chung:


Will Wilkin said...

I haven't spent time as a university student in about 20 years, but I occasionally read journal articles and still spend a lot of time walking through a few campuses, mostly en route to concert halls. But I still trust my observations that practicing musicians, aside from the young ones still in university themselves, do not project many political ideas, whereas a lot of the academics seem obsessed with identity politics to the point where I don't know if they are more pathetic or silly or revolting.... Compare magazines for practicing musicians (such as Strings, the Strad, etc) vs. academic such as Musicology Today. The former are very interested in playing and hearing music, while the latter seem to think music is just an entré into identity politics.

Bryan Townsend said...