Saturday, June 29, 2019

Well, Bach...

I have posted a lot about Bach, of course, but there is always more to discover. Here is a clip about the canons in Bach's Goldberg Variations:

Why do I say there is always more to discover? Because even now, two hundred and sixty-nine years after his death, we are still stumbling across things he did that hadn't been noticed before. For example, in the clip David Louie points out that the theme to the Goldberg Variations is 32 measures long and this is reflected in the piece generally. Of course we have always known that each of the 30 variations uses the same bass line from the theme. But Louie points out that all the variations are either in triple (3) or duple (2) time. AND if you look at how many variations are in 3 and how many in 2, they turn out to be in a ratio of, yep, 3:2. If it were anyone else, you might just shrug it off to coincidence. Another example: I was at a talk on the Mass in B minor once and the scholar pointed out that there are exactly 2345 measures in the Mass AND that the Dona nobis pacem, the only music that is repeated and that also ends the work, the theme opens with the notes D E F# G, which, if you use fixed doh solfege, are the notes 2345. Again, if it were anyone else but Bach...

In 1974 Bach's own copy of the score of the Goldbergs turned up and lo and behold he jotted down fourteen more canons on the theme. As Wikipedia notes:
When Bach's personal copy of the printed edition of the "Goldberg Variations" (see above) was discovered in 1974, it was found to include an appendix in the form of fourteen canons built on the first eight bass notes from the aria. It is speculated that the number 14 refers to the ordinal values of the letters in the composer's name: B(2) + A(1) + C(3) + H(8) = 14.
I'm sure I have told this story before, but when I took the graduate seminar called "Fugue" I had something of an epiphany with Bach. First of all, the professor prefaced the course by saying that the entire content of the course would be on Bach and only Bach. Despite the fact that many composers wrote fugues and fugue-like pieces before Bach and an enormous number of composers have continued to do so since Bach (a short list: Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Brahms, Bruckner, Bartók, Shostakovich, and so on), none of them were worth taking time away from Bach to cover. By the way, there are not and have never been any other musical forms or genres that have been dominated by one composer so completely as Bach dominates the fugue. All the other guys? Not even worth discussing. But what really made me fall off my chair was when I realized what he had done with the so-called "mirror" fugues (I wrote a post on them here). A pretty good composer can use what is known as invertible or double counterpoint, where one line can be transposed above another without causing any awkward bits. A really good composer can maybe do triple counterpoint which is the same thing with three voices. Bach could write a four-voice fugue that could be completely inverted and it would still work perfectly. As far as I know, no other composer even tried that.

Now in the Goldberg Variations, every third variation is a canon. Ok, cool. But remember, all these canons have to fit over that same 32 measure bass line. Oh, and each of those nine canons is at a different interval. No, you don't have to have the second voice start in the same place, it can be a second above, a third above, a fourth above, a fifth above and so on. Which is exactly what Bach does. For nine different intervals. Over the same bass line. Those of you who know a bit about music theory are now gibbering insanely, aren't you?

Watch the whole clip as it is interesting to see how Nahre Sol, composer, approaches Bach.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Wit and Wisdom of Adam Neely

I put up a clip of Adam Neely the other day talking about tuning. But he has a whole bunch of clips out and some of them are very funny. Here is a favorite, about musical trainwrecks:

This reminds me of a couple of my trainwrecks, though mine were rather minor in comparison. I was accompanying a choir in a performance at church once. The choir had a fairly long section where they sang unaccompanied and then we ended together. Or sort of! Turns out this choir had an unfortunate tendency to sink in pitch if they were singing a capella. So when I came back in for the coda, it sounded as if I were about a semitone sharp! Agh! That horrible feeling of being appallingly out of tune even though you are not. But at least I didn't have to play uptown funk afterwards...

Here are a couple of other clips from Adam Neely:

(Caveat: there are some secrets to busking, as I discovered touring through Europe one summer, but none are revealed in this video.)

Hey, dude, that's nothing. When I was nineteen I played bass at a gig at an air force base with a soft rock/calypso group. On acid.

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a fun item explaining some curious things about the viola including why there are so many viola jokes: Why Is the Viola the Butt of So Many Jokes?

These jokes are nothing new, and so firmly cemented in many musical communities that the topic “Viola Jokes” earned its own Wikipedia page. Violist and Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor Carl Rahkonen’s article No Laughing Matter: The Viola Joke Cycle as Musicians' Folklore notes that while soprano jokes often play on the diva stereotype and conductor jokes poke fun at the maestro god complex, viola jokes mock trial (perceived) musical incompetence. Since effective humor hinges on the unexpected, Rahkonen argues that these jokes have ceased to be funny, and essentially serve to enforce a musical hierarchy, and violists are always at the bottom.
The article goes on to discuss the interesting history of the viola and some particularly nice repertoire.

* * *

Looks like I might be in the Vancouver area next May as that is when we are planning to premiere my  new string quartet. It will be dedicated to the Pro Nova Ensemble who will give the first performances in North and West Vancouver. I will let you know the dates as soon as they are decided. I don’t know how many readers of the blog are in that general area, but whoever you are, I extend a general invitation to either or both of the concerts. There will probably be CDs available for purchase. If anyone is interested why don’t we schedule a meet-up? I’m sure there would be lots of suitable places!

* * *

A whole bunch of posts over at Slipped Disc about the Tchaikovsky competition, but perhaps the most striking is the one about the concerto reversal. One stage of this grueling competition asks the pianists to play two big virtuoso concertos back to back. The Chinese contestant was expecting to play Tchaikovsky, then Rachmaninoff, but instead the order was reversed and announced, only in Russian. So when the orchestra began he was absolutely flummoxed. Here is the clip:

* * *

Also at Slipped Disc an item about a last minute change of pianists:
Gabriela Montero had bought tickets to hear Martha and Maria Joao Pires play four-hand in Hamburg and had booked her flights from Barcelona. Last night at one in the morning, the phone rang. ‘Gabrielita,’ said Martha, ‘Pires has had to cancel on Wednesday night. Will you play the Schubert F Minor Fantasie with me? And could you do some improvisations?’.
Gabriela says: ‘So, that’s where I’ll be tonight. Not sitting in the audience, but sitting onstage next to my dear Martha bringing to life these gorgeous 20 minutes of other-worldly inspiration.'
* * *

And again at Slipped Disc, notice that one of the Salzburg concerts that I have a ticket for that was to be conducted by Mariss Jansons will instead be conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Should be quite a treat as I have not heard him conduct. Jansons has cancelled all his engagements this summer due to illness.

* * *

Canada has a new singing star. Jeremy Dutcher is an indigenous member of the Wolastoqiyik tribe from New Brunswick. Here is a story in the San Francisco Classical Voice:
Interviews with Jeremy Dutcher figure among the new demands on a Canadian First Nations (indigenous) singer-pianist who’s risen rapidly to international attention. The 28-year-old Toronto resident needs now and then to take a break from the clamor, to return to something like the pastoral pace of his raising in the Maritime province of New Brunswick, as a member of the Wolastoqiyik [pronounced Wuh-last-o-key-yik] tribe.
I first witnessed Dutcher a year ago, at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, performing on piano and singing in his tribe’s native Wolastoq language (the word denotes ‘the beautiful river’; renamed by the colonizers of New Brunswick as the St. John), in the basement of a church, a beautiful historical landmark. He hadn’t yet won Canada’s prestigious Polaris Prize, nor its Grammy-equivalent Juno Awards. Both of these wins would recognize his debut self-produced album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, translated as Songs of the People of the Beautiful River, tracks from which were presented in Montreal and will be heard here this Saturday when Dutcher appears at 1 p.m. at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.
Dutcher incorporates in his live and recorded music an unusual and affecting act of legacy, playing transcribed wax recordings from 1911 by an early anthropologist of a tribal elder singing and speaking, and following the melodies with his own heldentenor voice and mellifluous keyboard compositions. The method and quality of his approach derive from his training, including classical voice with Marcia Swanston at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
That sounds fascinating! Let's have a listen. This is his performance of Sakomawit at this year's Juno awards (Canadian equivalent to the Grammys):

Ooph! Well, the costuming is certainly unusual. Was that a mesh t-shirt over short-shorts underneath the cape? Canada has been fetishizing their native peoples for decades now and this looks like the perfect fulfillment of that project done as a 70s rock ballad. And no, that's not a heldentenor voice, at least not one that would ever get a job singing Wagner.

* * *

I have probably told the story of Artur Schnabel before. He was one of the greatest pianists of the first half of the 20th century, particularly known for his Beethoven. For many years he simply refused to record the Beethoven piano sonatas because of a fear that someone, someday would listen to the recording while eating a ham sandwich. Yes, by today's standards, just a tad elitist! I have similar feelings when I realize that if I issue a CD people might be listening to it on a laptop. Even worse, no-one listens to CDs anymore so it will be streamed over an iPhone and listened to via earbuds. Shudder! Here, via ShellyPalmer, is the story of how we got to where we are:
The world of recorded music was irrevocably changed in October 2001 when Apple introduced the iPod. While it is well remembered as a stepping stone to the greatest comeback in American corporate history, the iPod is less well remembered for dealing the final, almost fatal, blow to sonic quality.
The iPod came with the iconic white earbuds. The wired version was prominently featured in the equally iconic iBod campaign. As pretty and expensive ($29 if purchased separately) as earbuds were, the transducers (the little speakers in each ear) probably cost Apple 29 cents. I’m pretty sure Apple spent more on the packaging than it did on the hardware. To say that earbuds offered the least emotionally satisfying audio experience possible would be a compliment.
When you combine “lossy” compression with 29-cent earbuds, you get the world of recorded music as mass marketed by Steve Jobs. You also get the death of sonic quality. The funny thing is, nobody noticed.
Hey, I noticed! Read the whole thing.

* * * 

For our envoi today, let's pay some homage to the viola. This is Mozart's lovely duo concerto for violin, viola and orchestra, the Sinfonia Concertante. The soloists are Wolfram Brandi (violin) and Yulia Devneka (Viola) and the Staatskapelle Berlin is conducted by Daniel Barenboim:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Universe of Music

I remember the exact moment when I decided not to switch my major from music to philosophy. This was when I was in my second year as an undergraduate at the University of Victoria. My first couple of undergraduate years at university were a wonderful time for me. It was the first time I had the opportunity to participate in the world of higher learning and I took to it like a duck to water. Apart from my course work in music, English, linguistics, German and philosophy I read an appalling amount: a multi-volume history of philosophy, Dante's Divine Comedy and a bunch of other stuff. I also was a voracious listener. Back then, pre-Internet, the only place you could find a really extensive collection of music to listen to was in a university listening library with their thousands of LPs of everything from Beethoven, to Javanese gamelan, to Machaut, to Stockhausen. It is hard for us to imagine now how limited the opportunities to hear music were before YouTube and iTunes and Spotify. If you wanted to hear, say, the Symphony No. 2 by Beethoven you had four choices:

  • buy a recording
  • wait for the local orchestra to program it
  • read through the score yourself on piano
  • take it out from the listening library
And if, as I did before attending university, you lived in a small town with no listening library--or orchestra!--and if you didn't happen to have the score, then you simply had to hope the local record store had a copy! So during my undergraduate years I took out several records every day from the listening library.

But back to my story: as I was saying, I remember the exact moment I decided to stick with music. I had taken a summer course in the philosophy department. It met every Friday afternoon for three hours, like a graduate seminar. The course was Philosophy of Mind, taught by the chair of the department. This was his specialty and it was a pretty high level course, 300 level as I recall. We started with readings in Descartes and moved on to Quine, Strawson and others in the British analytical tradition. Some of the things I learned stick with me to this day such as the concept of "category error" from Quine. But for the most part I felt lost at sea! The course was a huge challenge. There were only three students in the class and on one occasion both of the other ones didn't show up so I had to converse by myself with the professor for three hours. After that my head hurt! At the end of the course the professor gave me a little verbal evaluation, saying that he thought that I was sensitive to a number of the important distinctions. Sounds pretty half-hearted, or so I thought at the time! But it probably was not a bad comment. What was telling for me was that philosophy was utterly a thing of the mind or intellect. Even the professor's body language was indicative of this. He hardly seemed aware he had a body.

While I loved philosophy, it always seemed partial to me--just a slice of the universe. Music, on the other hand, was a whole universe in itself. There are the most abstract levels of pure thought in music theory, and at the same time, the most concrete and practical considerations in the playing of instruments. Your own body is an instrument if you are a singer. Well, that is also true of instrumentalists. Guitarists' fingertips are the source of sound for them as are the lips of trumpet players. The whole of your being goes into playing music and you are constantly dealing with bows, rosin, strings, fretboards, humidifiers, and on and on. Music history delves deep into the past while acoustics delves deep into science.

Music has a lot of eccentricities as well. For example, I just ran across this fascinating clip exploring whether A = 440 is wrong and it should be A = 432.

Of course the reasoning is flawed: we do not have a deep connection to the vibrational frequency of the universe! That's just a bit of scientific mumbo-jumbo. But tuning is one of those areas where obsessive eccentrics have been promulgating weird theories for the whole history of music. Incidentally, Adam Neely, who did the above clip, is a very clever fellow and in this clip explains how to tap 7 against 11:

One of those tuning eccentrics was the American composer Harry Partch who not only invented his own tuning system, but also all the instruments needed to use the system. Here is his Castor and Pollux:

Monday, June 24, 2019

New iPad Air

Looking around for a compositional tool, I vaguely recalled a commercial Esa-Pekka Salonen did for, of all things, the iPad. I also ran across a YouTube video demonstrating a lot of amazing things you can do in GarageBand on an iPad because of the touch screen. Glissandi, for example. I have a problem with glissandi. I use them a lot on string instruments (including guitar) but Finale, my notation program, really hates them. When I put in a glissando any one of the following might happen in the audio rendering:

  • Nothing might happen—not only no glissando, but no sound whatsoever
  • There might be a scale instead of a glissando
  • There might be an actual glissando
And if I have glissandi in all four instruments at once (my string quartet) then I will get all of the above possibilities! In GarageBand you can easily do glissandi in string instruments. I am just getting started on using the program though. Apart from its complexity, the issue for me is that the program is designed to use in the composition of pop songs so there are a lot of built in defaults I have to figure out how to work around. For example, the program assumes you are going to be in a particular key (though there are some exotic scales available, for non-Western instruments at least).

One very intriguing area is percussion. There are a lot of interesting instruments available and I can’t wait to see what I can do with them. You can also record directly into the program so the possibilities are really enormous. GarageBand is kind of a smart synthesizer, recording studio, and digital production program. About the only thing it doesn’t do is notation and maybe I just haven’t found that section yet!

Anyway, I just got the iPad and have barely scratched the surface of GarageBand so we shall see. The  iPad, with an add-on keyboard also makes a nice, small laptop so I may take it with me the next time I travel and do my blogging on it. I am writing this post on it!

Before I was asked to write a string quartet, I was just about to write a piece for violin, guitar and percussion. Here is a piece by Lou Harrison for guitar and percussion that is nothing like what I have in mind.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

What Makes Ringo a Great Drummer

I have long been a big fan of Ringo's drumming. Somewhere on an old post I think I said something like "Ringo reinvents drumming for every song." I just ran across a video clip where Sina takes the time to demonstrate just how original he was:

When the Show Must Go On

I don't know these guys, but this really was something. I would have been leery of being electrocuted. Electric guitars and microphones don't really go with rain. But good on 'em!

Plus he won't have to humidify his acoustic guitar for the next month or so...

Writing a String Quartet

As I have tiresomely repeated a few times, I am writing a string quartet to be premiered in Vancouver next season. In great contrast to my last piece, Dark Dream for violin and guitar, the structure of the new piece was clear from very early on. Dark Dream I re-wrote several times from the ground up because I was trying to figure out the structure. Here is how the new quartet is organized:

String Quartet No. 2

I Mountain
II Forest
III Ocean

My inspiration stems from where the piece will be premiered. The Vancouver area is dominated by mountains, forest and ocean--where there aren't people that is! I spent much of my youth on Vancouver Island and sometimes in very remote parts of it. For a while I worked a few miles from the highest mountain on Vancouver Island, the Golden Hinde.
Click to enlarge
Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia generally has a lot of old growth forests and the second movement is "about" them in the way that Bartók's "night music" movements are about the sounds of the night. The third movement depicts the ocean as if La Mer had been written by Prokofiev instead of Debussy!

The first movement is proving the trickiest from a structural point of view and I haven't worked out the overall plan yet. Here is the first page, though:

Click to enlarge

Those red arrows indicate the speed of the glissando. Going up means you start slow and speed up. Going down is the reverse.

The second movement is in moment form and I will put up a sample when it is further along.

UPDATE: But here is the first page of the third movement, Ocean:

Click to enlarge

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Four-million-dollar Guitar?

This is some kind of milestone, for sure. There are now guitars, well, one at least, worth as much as Stradivarius violins. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd held an auction of his guitars on Thursday and netted $21 million. The highest-selling item was his famous black Stratocaster.
But the star attraction was Gilmour’s legendary Black Strat — it was snatched off the block by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay for $3,975,000 — setting a new world record for any guitar sold at auction, Christie’s said.
The is the axe heard on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Money” and many others, Guitar World’s Jackson Maxwell reported.
“The guitar went through many modifications over the years, which only added to its mystique,” Maxwell said. “With its battle-scarred surface, it wouldn’t be hard to believe this guitar had been to The Dark Side of the Moon and back. And in some ways, it had, appearing on that album, as well as many others in the Floyd catalog.”
He is donating the funds to the climate change charity ClientEarth. Oh, well...

I was a fan of Pink Floyd in the early days of Ummagumma. Here is a song from that album that seems appropriate:

Friday, June 21, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

You might need a Wall Street Journal subscription to view this article: Opera Star Hao Jiang Tian Bridges East and West. But try Googling the headline.
By opera-world standards, Hao Jiang Tian is a late bloomer. The Chinese native didn’t even attend his first opera until he was 29 years old, when he was getting ready to study in the U.S. and heard Luciano Pavarotti at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Since then, Mr. Tian has made up for lost time. Today, the 64-year-old bass is a presence on the global opera scene, having performed more than 50 roles at companies from Berlin to Buenos Aires. At the Met, he has appeared for more than 20 seasons, including alongside Pavarotti in 1993 in Verdi’s “I Lombardi”—just a decade after his first visit to the opera.
Mr. Tian is about to appear in an opera written in Mandarin at the Lincoln Center.

* * *

You would think that if you mixed up Bach, Sufi music and a little John Cage you would get something a bit more interesting:

* * *

Alex Ross has one of those big pieces he is so good at in The New Yorker. This one is on the Dutch National Opera's production of excerpts from Stockhausen's mammoth 7-opera cycle Aus Licht.
At first, the Holland Festival had hoped to stage all seven operas, but the logistical challenges proved insurmountable. Instead, a production team led by the French-Lebanese director Pierre Audi assembled fifteen hours of excerpts—a little more than half of the cycle. The musical director was the Dutch flutist Kathinka Pasveer, who lived and worked with Stockhausen. She spent three years supervising an army of some four hundred performers, many of them students at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. They essentially majored in Stockhausen.
This was a fantastic opportunity for those students! Over at YouTube we find some clips about the production:

Here is a clip featuring bits with Stockhausen himself.

I have attended lectures by some famous composers such as Witold Lutosławski and Jō Kondo, but the only really well-known composer I have met personally was Karlheinz Stockhausen when he brought his ensemble to Salzburg in 1988 and gave seven concerts of his chamber music. I had a nice conversation with him after one of the concerts. A remark that sticks in my mind is his comment that a recording of a performance is like a post-card: it resembles the event, but hardly captures it fully.

Ross cites "Angel Processions," the second scene of the opera Sunday, as an example of Stockhausen's "impeccable craft." Here is a clip of that section:

* * *

China has engaged in an orgy of building, not least in the area of culture: Why China Has Hundreds Of Empty 'Ghost' Museums.
The museum looked like a colossal golden jelly bean. The adjacent library was designed to look, literally, like a row of books on a shelf. Across the street was an opera house that appeared to have been modeled from some kind of ancient Silk Road fortress. These magnificent buildings were all aligned along a massive public plaza that was nearly the size of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, which ran south from the palace-like edifice of the new local government headquarters. Such monumental public works may have come off as normal along the raging boulevards of a vibrant, uber modern big city, but out here in Ordos Kangbashi–a quiet and scantly populated new city rising up from the desert of central China– it was difficult to suspend a surreal feeling of disbelief: why would all of this be built here? I would soon discover that it was all a part of a top-down central government initiative to completely revamp China's cultural infrastructure.
Ironically, one main reason that China has little to put in these museums and libraries is because the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s launched by Chairman Mao managed to destroy a great part of China's cultural inheritance:
China's historical sites, artifacts and archives suffered devastating damage, as they were thought to be at the root of "old ways of thinking." Artifacts were seized, museums and private homes ransacked, and any item found that was thought to represent bourgeois or feudal ideas was destroyed. There are few records of exactly how much was destroyed—Western observers suggest that much of China's thousands of years of history was in effect destroyed, or, later, smuggled abroad for sale, during the short ten years of the Cultural Revolution. Chinese historians compare the cultural suppression during the Cultural Revolution to Qin Shihuang's great Confucian purge. Religious persecution intensified during this period, as a result of religion being viewed in opposition to Marxist–Leninist and Maoist thinking.
* * * 

A brand new concert hall, the first purpose-built arts venue in an Alpine ski village, opened on Sunday night in the Swiss resort of Andermatt with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Constantinos Carydis christening the space.
The light-filled, flexible hall is designed by British architect Christina Seilern of Studio Seilern. It is part of an ambitious new development for the once-dwindling village that it is hoped will transform it into a year-round cultural destination.
Say what you will about Europe being a museum of the past--in my book that is high praise.

* * *

One of the pieces played in that inaugural concert was Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony op. 110a. This is an arrangement by Rudolf Barshai (approved by the composer) of the String Quartet No. 8. Here the performers are Terje Tønnesen, and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"How to Compose Music Despite [REDACTED]

The chickens are coming home to roost it seems, by which I mean that the absurd strictures of social justice are metastasizing and spreading even into our world. Not really news, I guess. But I have recently run into two instances that are quite shocking and they both have to do with YouTube. If you put up video clips on YouTube and they are popular you can monetize them with advertisements. YouTube sometimes takes away this feature by demonetizing your video.

Here is a startling example that I will let the creator tell you about. Blogger will not embed:

Yes, the creator of this clip about Shostakovich discovered that if he mentioned the name of the political leader that Shostakovich had to deal with he was demonetized!!!

Second example: Scott Adams discovered that if he mentioned a very notorious hoax having to do with Donald Trump, every clip that mentioned it was also demonetized.

What next?


Monday, June 17, 2019

Nono the Student

Under the direction of Malipiero, Nono had a very traditional training.
In 1947, Nono took the courses and examinations of the first level of composition, achieving 9/10 for tests of harmony and classical pastiche. He worked through the early chapters of Hindemith’s A Concentrated Course in Traditional Harmony , presumably at Malipiero’s behest. In the middle level, two years later while already working on his own language, Malipiero awarded him only 7. Here the tests were of another order: a four-part fugue on a given subject, a double chorus over a bass line, an analysis of the Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli (the first score Nono had seen some years previously in the library of the choir of San Marco), and the completion of a movement for piano. In the latter, one can see the traces of an emerging individualism, to which Malipiero presumably took exception. In the context of a 3/4 classical pastiche, Nono creates an additional level of structural rhyme with the regular insertion of a bar of 2/4. Trivial as these details might be, they illustrate an extraordinary speed of development, from complete absorption in the established techniques of music to their assimilation and transcending. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1203-1211). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Music tends to be a realm apart for some reason. By the 1970s, when I was an undergraduate music student, the same sort of training as Nono received was still present in nearly all serious music schools. A friend of mine was an undergraduate in a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the same time and over there all traces of traditional craftsmanship had been eliminated. Instead of classes in drawing, they were all into "concept" art which may have been clever, but involved little or no craft. Indeed, when I returned to school in the mid-1990s taking the seminars for a doctorate in musicology exactly the same kind of training was in effect. I found myself studying fugue, DuFay, early polyphonic notation and classical formal structure alongside courses in 20th century analysis, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

I have mentioned before that music seems to have a kind of natural resistance to the inroads of progressivism. Much as activists bemoan the imbalance between male and female composers and conductors and no matter how many recommendations are made by marketers as to how to improve audience engagement, there simply does not seem to be any way of devaluing the music of the great composers without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We are going to keep loving Bach, Beethoven and Mozart despite their unfortunate skin color and gender!

Nono, while chafing at some aspects of Malipiero's traditionalism, remained influenced by others:
A sense of Venice as an idealised cradle of modern Western musical thought emerges from [Malipiero's] study of the development of Italian music theory from Zarlino to Padre Martini, l’armonioso labirinto. Published in 1946, it gives a picture of Malipiero’s thought during the period of Nono’s study with him, and which he was presumably discussing during their ‘ritual meetings’. In his own copy, Nono underlined Malipiero’s assertion that: ‘Certain rules cannot be broken – rules not dictated by nature or by God but by philosophers, by mathematicians, and by reflection by the theorists of music.’ 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1236-1240). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
The next important influence was Bruno Maderna:
It was Malipiero who proposed that Nono should contact Bruno Maderna. Maderna had returned to Venice from Verona early in 1946 after his wartime experiences, was studying composition with Malipiero and newly married. Malipiero helped him find work at the Conservatory as his assistant, nominally teaching solfeggio . Nono was keen to study Hindemith’s Unterweisung in Tonsatz , and Maderna had a copy. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1278-1281). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Nono later described the influence of Maderna in these words:
Maderna taught me to think in music […] Thus, he didn’t teach me to compose – I repeat, it’s not possible – he taught me much more: “What is thought?”, in this case: “What is it to think in music?” Bruno Maderna taught me to think. Thought, musical thought, needs time. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1338-1340). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Let's end with an early piece by Nono that shows some of those historic influences, the Canonic Variations from 1950:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"Western Classical Music is Rooted in White Supremacy"

From some comments on yesterday's post I am led to a post over at NewMusicBox: AM I NOT A MINORITY? That's innocuous enough, but a later subhead that I use as my title let's the cat out of the bag: The Problem: Western Classical Music is Rooted in White Supremacy. Why not go all the way? Western Civilization is rooted in white supremacy. I struggle a bit with the word "supremacy" as it is simply there to stimulate outrage. So let's be a bit more precise: the foundation and development of civilization generally, which would include the invention of aesthetics, logic, history, music notation, calculus, harmony, ethics, rule of law, democracy, economics, physics, biology, chemistry, universities, and pretty much anything else you can think of was, are you sitting down? largely the creation of the ancient Greeks and Romans (white people), Jews and Christians (semitic and white), and Western Europeans (white).

Now in the interests of fairness, we have to give points to the ancient Egyptians and inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent for a lot of early art and agriculture. We also have to give credit to the peoples of India, China and Japan for more early aesthetic and other contributions (the Chinese came up with noodles, gunpowder and paper, for example). But the only significant contributions in the last five hundred years have been from Western Europeans and their offshoots. Sorry, but there it is.

Unfortunately the most recent developments in Western Civilization seem to be designed to tear it all down and apologize for coming up with it in the first place! To any person of normal understanding and moderate knowledge of history this seems quite insane.

But go read the article and see if you find the argument convincing. Just one caveat: the citing of statistics is, by itself, not an argument. Quotas and Quality are contradictory notions.

I am, of course, sorry if I have offended anyone, but frankly, I find statements like "Western Classical music is Rooted in White Supremacy" to be deeply offensive!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Back in 2008 there was a fire at the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot that, while not reported at the time, destroyed hundreds of thousands of master sound recordings of artists since the 1940s. The National Post:
The extent of the loss, documented in litigation and company records the article cited, was largely kept from the public eye through a concerted effort on the part of the music label, the magazine said.
Many of the artists whose own material was reported to have been destroyed expressed shock.
“Oh my Lord … this makes me sick to my stomach,” singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow wrote on Twitter, posted with a link to the article. “And shame on those involved in the coverup.” 
Almost of all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost, as were most of John Coltrane’s masters in the Impulse Records collection. The fire also claimed numerous hit singles, likely including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Etta James’ “At Last” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the issue with news media reporting that the masters, original recording media, are lost forever and Universal countering that very little was lost and the fire “never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.” The truth is likely that, while the original masters may have been lost in the fire, there are likely copies indistinguishable in audio quality from those originals.

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Jessica Duchen has a post up of an interview with composer/pianist Stewart Goodyear:
Absolutely thrilled to present a Q&A with the American composer and pianist Stewart Goodyear, who's in London today (QEH), Basingstoke tomorrow, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on Saturday and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on Sunday to perform his own suite Callaloo with the Chineke! orchestra. We talk inspiration, celebration, composition and golden ages...
Included in the post is a clip of the composer playing his own "Baby Shark" fugue:

The theme comes from a children's song that is a transformation of the ominous original from the movie Jaws. Doesn't the fugue remind you just a bit of the French neo-classic composers such as Poulenc?

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Musicology Now is rocking these days with a new post on alternatives to the traditional research paper.
The “problems surrounding the final research paper assignment,” as Knyt put it, have been well documented. Instructors report that students don’t possess the necessary research skills, are not prepared to engage critically with the material, do not understand the objectives, are not interested in their topics, don’t perceive value in the assignment, become overwhelmed by the scope of the project, or simply procrastinate. At the same time, few instructors are willing to abandon such assignments. In his 2011-2012 study of college music history classes, Matthew Baumer found that instructors placed a high value on skills associated with “the final research paper assignment.” These included the ability to find and evaluate sources, to construct a compelling thesis, and to write a substantial and well-documented research paper.
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Khatia Buniatishvili seems to attract a lot of attention and criticism these days. First of all, a snide little item in Slipped Disc where the comments are where the real fun is. The artist is accused of having a voluptuous figure, wayward musicality and supporting ultra right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. Classics Today has a review of the new Schubert album that says:
To call the pianist’s outsized dynamics and grotesquely exaggerated tempos in the C minor Impromptu a caricature is putting it kindly. One cannot deny Buniatishvili’s fleet-fingered wizardry as she subjects the E-flat Impromptu’s rapid scales to a smorgasbord of articulations and stresses, even though her approach seems better suited to Moszkowski etudes. In this context her robust yet sensitive shaping of the G-flat Impromptu surprises. So does her crisp delineation of the A-flat Impromptu’s main theme, even if her tempo adjustments in the Trio section are a mite theatrical.
I have to say, that of the two dueling pianists, Yuja Wang and Khatia, I slightly prefer her exaggerated Romanticism to Yuja's superficial agility. But that's just me.

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More accusations of "cultural appropriation" this time from the Mexican government directed at fashion designer Carolina Herrera:
On June 13, the Spanish newspaper El Paìs reported that Alejandra Frausto, Mexico’s secretary of culture, sent a letter to Gordon and Herrera accusing both of cultural appropriation.
Frausto asked the team to “publicly” explain why and how the collection used traditional Mexican design elements. The secretary also inquired if Mexican craftspeople would be compensated for their designs.
The serape-printed knit dress approved by Vogue was called out as originating in Saltillo. Another “animal embroidery” motif repeated on a white gown came from Tenango de Doria in Hidalgo.
As Frausto explained, “In these embroideries is the history of the community itself and each element has a personal, family, and community meaning.”
Similar accusations were recently made in Canada toward a musician accused of stealing musical techniques from Indigenous artists. Legal issues aside, while you can certainly see characteristic motifs of Mexican (and Guatemalan as well, I think) designs in the collection, are we to assume all traditional motifs are now copyright in some way?

Click to enlarge
I think that underlying these kinds of disputes is a fundamental clash of cultures. On the one hand there is the developed world (what we might call "Western civilization") and its legal framework for the claiming of copyright within the context of free market capitalism. On the other hand there are the aesthetic designs and practices of traditional peoples outside that framework and context. These things are not going to blend seamlessly. A couple of very famous examples would be Picasso's "borrowing" of motifs from African masks and Stravinsky's use of Russian folk melodies.

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Here is the kind of dispute you can get your teeth into: Should the Pittsburgh Symphony play more new music? How do they choose?
Should orchestras play more new, diverse music? Or should they continue to program as they have for decades, emphasizing established ideals of quality and audience experience?
Proponents of new music argue that performing work by composers whose ethnicities and backgrounds reflect the diversity of the community should be a higher priority. A common counterargument is that art should be a strict meritocracy, i.e., that the best music should be programmed regardless of who the composer is. 
But then, who determines what is of artistic quality, really? So goes one of the more philosophically heated debates in the classical music world at the moment.
Apart from digging into the process the orchestra goes through in planning out new seasons and discussing the issue of how much new music to program, the article doesn't answer the questions, of course. This orchestra's solution seems to be to try and balance the new and the old, to seek out quality and to be constantly checking to see how the audience is responding. That's probably a good practical solution. Just don't get caught in the quota trap!

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This brings us to our envoi and today it will be double. Let's listen to the two up and coming women pianists we mentioned above. Tell me what you think of their contrasting approaches. First, Yuja Wang with the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky:

Second, Khatia Buniatishvili with the Piano Concerto by Schumann:

I think that's a reasonably fair selection? So let loose in the comments!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Nono the Venetian

Like the Gabrielis and Vivaldi before him, Luigi Nono is a Venetian composer. In fact, he comes from an old Venetian family. His grandfather, Luigi Nono, sr. (1850 - 1918), was an important verismo and landscape painter.
The family name derives from their feudal landownership in Santa Maria di Non, a small rural parish in the diocese of Padova. Luigi senior’s father, Francesco, was born in Bergamo, nearer Milan than Venice. He followed in the steps of his own father, a customs collector on the western border of the ex-Venetian republic, which had been an Austrian possession since the downfall of Napoleon. As Bergamo was incorporated into the new Cisalpina, the family moved back to Venice in 1849, 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 722-725). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Here is one of Luigi's more famous paintings, Refugium peccatorum:

Click to enlarge
The family also included a renowned sculptor, Urbano Nono.
Mario, the composer’s father, was born to Luigi and Rina in 1890. In 1921 he married Maria Manetti – again from a historic noble family, this time Florentine. Trained as an engineer, Mario was to become chief surveyor for the Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia , the city’s major bank. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 807-809). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
One of the characteristics of Venetian music, historically, revolves around the great Basilica of San Marco where composers from Adrian Willaert to the Gabrielis to Monteverdi to Vivaldi all wrote music utilizing the multiple choir stalls of the church for spacial effects. Impett comments:
Venice is a city where ‘soundwalking’ has sense, where one can navigate by sound alone; a polyphony of intersecting alleys, cross-cut acoustics, sudden state changes of piazza, canal or sea, punctuated by soundmarks of church, café or ship. Echo, resonance and reverberation will become important structuring metaphors in Nono’s later technique. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 913-916). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Like so many composers in the first half of the 20th century (Stravinsky, for example), Nono's studies began as a law student, in his case at the University of Padova. While there, however, he read Rimsky-Korsakov's Treatise on Harmony (Rimsky-Korsakov was also Stravinsky's teacher). Nono's family was highly-cultured: he received piano lessons and his parents were both amateur musicians (his father on the piano and his mother a soprano) good enough to perform excerpts from Musorgsky's Boris Godunov at home. Nono's main music teacher was Gian Franceso Malipiero, Director of the Venice Conservatory.
Malipiero’s reputation was based equally on his work as a composer and his advocacy of earlier music, especially Monteverdi – the first modern edition of whose works he had completed in 1942 – and later Vivaldi. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 1196-1198). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Let's end today's post with a clip of Malipiero's Symphony No. 3 "delle campane" written in 1945 when Nono was studying with him.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Introducing Luigi Nono

One of the benefits of YouTube that isn't mentioned much is the good chance of running across something interesting from time to time. True, the algorithm keeps throwing up stuff that you have heard a zillion times, but every now and then it tosses in something new to the mix that might, somehow, be related to something you once listened to. That is how I stumbled across some clips of music by Luigi Nono. Now I had certainly known his music since the 70s, but I had only a superficial acquaintance with it. The one LP I had of a couple of orchestral pieces was lost in a move and never replaced. So it was with interest that I listened recently to some more of his music courtesy of the vagaries of YouTube.

Here, for example, is a piece that just came up today:

One remarkable thing about that is how much it sounds like Medieval music from time to time. In any case, since I know very little about how Nono went about composing and very little about his life as well, I will do a series of posts on him so we can all get better informed!

There are a few reference books available through Amazon, but they are all quite expensive:

I will be working through both this monograph and the works themselves in a series of posts. Here is a little quote from the introduction:
In many respects his music anticipates the new technological state of culture of the twenty-first century while radically reconnecting with our past. His work is itself a case study in the evolution of musical activity and the musical object: from the period of an apparently stable place for art music in Western culture to its manifold new states in our century. 
Impett, Jonathan. Routledge Handbook to Luigi Nono and Musical Thought (Kindle Locations 640-642). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday Miscellanea

Another busy week with not a lot of blogging. I did run across a couple of things though. Here is an oddity: a music video where Paul McCartney appears, but isn't allowed to actually sing.

This came out a few years ago, in 2015, when Paul was 72 years old. Somehow, strumming along in the background (which is pretty much all the backup instrumental), he manages to look almost like a teen--a teen with a really hard life! Rihanna does her sexy routine and sings well. Kanye also forgoes any rapping and sings surprisingly well. But Paul just strums along in the background, hardly even mouthing a line. But listening to the song, you know, I kind of think he wrote it...

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The Guardian has a big piece on Karlheinz Stockhausen on the occasion of an upcoming performance of his opera Donnerstag aus Licht and a festival of his music at the Southbank Centre. Of course the writer struggles with the inconvenient fact that while we must, as a matter of course, deplore any instances of alpha-male geniuses, still, they just seem to keep coming up.
Matched in musical-myth-mania perhaps only by Richard Wagner, Karlheinz Stockhausen is the ultimate conundrum for those of us who believe keenly in shifting classical music culture away from its alpha-male genius complex – but are still enthralled by the music. Do we get to have it both ways?
The German-born composer was the self-mythologiser extraordinaire who had entrancing charisma, bullish intelligence, no shortage of game-changing opinions, nor shortage of confidence with which to assert them. A guru with disciples and rivals, he fostered a personality cult that went way beyond his music to encompass fashion, spirituality, even a galactic origin story. Isn’t this precisely the artist-as-hero narrative we need to dismantle?
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I've got a bit of a bias against competitions in general, so it is nice to see this item where a competitor, offered a bit of a consolation prize, simply says "no thanks," and leaves town.

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And Lang Lang got married -- at Versailles! Page Six has the details:
Although it was held at her French countryside palace, Marie Antoinette might have considered the whole thing slightly over-the-top.
We’re told 300 guests — including John Legend and Chrissy Teigen and HRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent — were treated to a Bach recital by the newlyweds, a seven-course meal, including a “transparency of lobster” served over dry ice and an 8-foot-tall wedding cake accompanied by two Dom Pérignon vintages.
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I find the obsessions of progressivism entertaining, on the whole. One of them that won't go away is the idea that artistic creativity these days is all about blurring lines and dissolving boundaries. Doesn't that lead to immigration problems? Oops, wrong field of discourse. Are We Done With Genre Yet? How Young Musicians Are (Again) Dissolving Boundaries:
It’s easy for musicians to become trapped in the strictures of genre or style. How many times has an orchestra or chamber group been accused of playing Beethoven “too romantically” or a historical performance ensemble of failing to adhere to some anachronism or another? Crossover music, despite the name, deliberately upholds these sorts of distinctions, as the whole point is to attract listeners from multiple traditions. Conversely, the advent of the internet has allowed artists around the world to experience and assimilate new musical ideas and idioms.
Oh for <%(/·)'s sake! The problem these days is that musicians often only know the genres and styles they grew up with. Learning to become a professional musician, of whatever kind, involves learning basic principles, various styles and genres and some history. This ain't news!

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For our silly item today, we have Hilary Hahn going for a swim in a Norwegian lake in her concert gown. Courtesy of the Violin Channel.

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We are on the verge of festival season and the LA Times has an article on the Ojai Festival.
Thus, this year’s festival begins with Ojai’s first staged full-length opera, Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” written in West Hollywood 60 years ago and standard repertory everywhere except, scandalously, L.A. It also happens to be the first opera that Hannigan sang in. This new production was created to tour Europe for singers from her training program Equilibrium Young Artists, and she conducts.
“Each festival is designed as an emotional journey, and I work on that really hard with the artists,” Morris said.
When Hannigan told him a piece by John Zorn was the most difficult thing she had ever sung, Morris’ immediate response, he said with delight, was: “We have to do that.” It took a while, Morris said, but getting to know boundary-breaking artists, be they Zorn or John Luther Adams or Sellars, who insisted on bringing the community into the picture, have made Morris realize that “Ojai is in my blood.”
Sounds tempting, but there's those boundaries again!

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Stockhausen seems a logical choice for our envoi today. I don't think we have ever posted a performance of his vocal work Stimmung from 1968.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Dream Vacations

What is living in a free society all about if not to delight in one's weirdnesses? I had the oddest thought when I was practicing this morning and it led to other odd thoughts, so here they are.

Back when I was studying in Spain with Maestro José Tomás he gave a concert in, I think, Benidorm, that a few of us students attended. The highlight of the concert was the suite Castillos de España by Federico Moreno Torroba, at the time a fairly newly-written piece. I didn't learn it myself until several years ago. I think, at the time of the concert, it wasn't widely available. Ok, so this morning I was working on the first movement, Turégano, a lovely piece, and it occurred to me that my perfect vacation would be to have a whole month free so I could time-travel back to 1974 and study the piece with Tomás. Now that's something I really wished I had done when I was there as it would have been the perfect repertoire for me at that stage. That's my dream vacation.

How about some others?
  • The first performance of the St. Matthew Passion by J. S. Bach in Leipzig, 11 April 1727
  • The premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps by Stravinsky on the 29th of May, 1913 in Paris
  • The first performance of L'Orfeo by Monteverdi in Mantua in 1607
  • Any of the celebrations of the Great Dionysia in Athens at the theatre of Dionysus in the latter half of the 5th century BC. These celebrations included performances of the great tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripedes
  • Shakespeare at the original Globe in Southwark, London which existed between 1599 and 1613
  • On a more hedonistic note, it would be wonderful to join Baron Philippe de Rothschild at his chateau in Bordeaux for a dinner just after the war when they opened the cellar where they hid all the good wine during the German occupation.
Talk about your dream vacations!

And some people go on cruises? Weird.

Theatre of Dionysos in Athens (click to enlarge)
Turégano by Moreno Torroba played by Segovia:

UPDATE: Ok, one last secret dream excursion. I would have liked to be at Winterland in San Francisco, March 10, 1968 to hear one of Cream's very best live concerts.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

No, No, Nono!

Long ago I had a vinyl LP of Nono, which tells you how long ago. Can't even remember what piece. I just ran across this piece by him, which I didn't know:

I think of Nono as a particularly political member of the immediately post-WWII avant-garde, but this shows a different side. The music's sensibility is very Japanese. The coolest thing about the YouTube clip is that when I posted it, it had only 287 views. I take a somewhat perverse pleasure in stumbling across significant pieces of music with astonishingly small numbers of views. Which I like to contrast in my mind with those astonishingly insignificant pieces of music with horrifically large numbers of views: "Gangnam Style" by Psy with 3.3 billion views. That's a "b".

(The clip with the 3.3 billion is another one of the same song that won't embed.)

Now you have to listen to Nono again. Yes, sorry, but that's the price you pay. Besides you need something to clear your palate.

Surprised? Not Really

Have a look at this:

Look at the set-up: who are you and what are you doing here? You're going to play piano? Classical piano? The judges look suitably cynical and once he starts to play there are shots of bored audience members yawning. Then it goes all funky as he does a robotic dance to a pumped up version of Für Elise with orchestra. All is saved! We won't have to listen to boring old piano music after all. Just moments before I read this:
One day, while giving my annual talk in 2005 about the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1856 at a respected East Coast college made famous by Lincoln, I had a eureka moment of sorts. I was trying to explain the deep differences between Northern and Southern Illinois, which reaches well below the Mason-Dixon line
I expected these sterling students – based on their SAT performances – to know about this famous dividing line which was important for Senator Stephen A. Douglas’ support. But I was mistaken. I saw the puzzled look in their eyes, and I realized that these college sophomores had never heard of the Mason-Dixon line. I pressed on. I asked. Where is Illinois?
One answered, “near Philadelphia,” most just shrugged their shoulders, with the best of the lot explaining that it was “in Chicago.” In what followed I gave the supposed college students an 8th-grade geography lesson.
I had loved teaching history. But it was from that moment on that I began to plan my escape into retirement.
We are living in a time when it seems that most people are not just musically illiterate, but illiterate period.