In September 1999, one of the first stories we posted on AJ [Arts Journal] was an announcement that CD sales were at an all-time high — $22.4 billion accounting for 90 percent of all music sales. As first Napster arose (141 stories in the archive), then music piracy (222 stories), downloading (361 stories), then iTunes (308 stories), and streaming (374 stories) took over, annual sales of music fell off a cliff. Today, music sales have climbed six years in a row, totaling about $12+ billion last year, with CDs a sliver of that amount and streaming the dominant format….
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Also thanks to Slipped Disc, this live recording of Glenn Gould at the Salzburg Festival in 1959 playing the Suite op. 25 by Arnold Schoenberg:
The short explanation for why I left academia is that I became profoundly disillusioned by it. It is a place filled with generally quite well-meaning people, but on the whole not with brave people, not people who are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads. There are, of course, many musicologists who are everything I could have dreamt they would be, and many of them will, I hope, continue to be my friends. But they know as well as I do that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Nothing I am saying here will surprise them: we have discussed it together many times over the years. They will continue to strive towards the highest ideals of intellectual honesty from within musicology, and I admire their fortitude enormously. But I no longer can.I would put the problem in this (Kantian) way: I wrongly supposed that universities would be critical places, but they are becoming increasingly dogmatic. Consider the following statement, which fairly well articulates an increasingly common view in musicology.Nineteenth-century musical works were the product of an imperial society. The classical musical canon must be decolonised.The statement, and the attitude that goes with it, are dogmatic by virtue of form, not content. It does not matter that the statement in the first sentence is one that I can assent to. It becomes dogmatic by virtue of the second sentence, which admits of no doubt, no criticism, no challenge.
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Jeremy Denk has an article explaining how Mozart deconstructs privilege in The Guardian: Diversity, dialogue – and a prankster bassoon: how Mozart speaks for us all
But privilege and Mozart have a fascinating, fraught relationship. Just look at his two most famous operas: The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Both plots are centred (not loosely, but obsessively) on the privileges of terrible people, and derive most of their momentum from destroying their outdated senses of entitlement. Count Almaviva asserts the right to deflower his servants; the Don claims the right to sleep with anyone and anything that moves, whether they consent or not.
Mozart was not only attracted to these dangerous plots, but wrote some of his most vivid and iconic music for these moments of tearing privilege off its pedestal. You have only to think of the screaming minor scales and wild chromatic intensities as the Don is dragged by demons down to hell. And, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the gorgeous pleading phrases – all the possibilities of music without sharps or flats, just the beauties hidden within the major scale – as the Count begs to be forgiven for his endless cheating.
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Shulman says the similarities between musicians and professional athletes cannot be understated.
“I see that comparison all the time,” he points out. Musicians, like top-level professional athletes work out, practice, and train; they have a locker room where they change into their uniforms. They go out and perform, and if they do their job well, the crowd goes crazy! Then they go off stage and become the people they were before.
“The work they do is arduous, with demanding standards and long hours,” Shulman continues. “There are long hours in rehearsal and performance. People tend to relate to a musical performance — be it operatic, chamber music, or symphonic — in terms of the single performance they attended, not the rehearsal time that led up to it or the performances that followed. If you don’t think what they do is intense and physically taxing, try playing a complete Mahler symphony or a Wagner opera!”
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Richard Taruskin has discussed the role of the CIA in supporting avant-garde music in Europe during the Cold War. Here is another aspect of the story: Louis Armstrong and the spy: how the CIA used him as a ‘trojan horse’ in Congo
It was a memorable evening: Louis Armstrong, his wife and a diplomat from the US embassy were out for dinner in a restaurant in what was still Léopoldville, capital of the newly independent Congo.
The trumpeter, singer and band leader, nicknamed Satchmo as a child, was in the middle of a tour of Africa that would stretch over months, organised and sponsored by the State Department in a bid to improve the image of the US in dozens of countries which had just won freedom from colonial regimes.
What Armstrong did not know was that his host that night in November 1960 was not the political attaché as described, but the head of the CIA in Congo. He was also totally unaware of how his fame had allowed the spy who was making small talk across the starters to gain crucial information that would facilitate some of the most controversial operations of the entire cold war.
“Armstrong was basically a Trojan horse for the CIA. It’s genuinely heartbreaking. He was brought in to serve an interest that was completely contrary to his own sense of what was right or wrong. He would have been horrified,” said Susan Williams, a research fellow at London University’s School of Advanced Study and author of White Malice, a new book which exposes the astonishing extent of the CIA’s activities across central and west Africa in the 1950s and early 60s.
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Here is an interesting critique: 9/11 inspired an outpouring of classical music – too much of it thoughtless and emotionless
A whole body of classical music has emerged that attempts in various ways to respond to the tragedy.
Musical responses to such events might seem worthy and reasonable endeavours. Some demonstrate the composers’ engagement with a wider world. Others give a musical voice to collective trauma and suffering or serve as a moving memorial to the victims of the tragedy.
However, there are those pieces that can be seen as a morbid form of musical “ambulance chasing”. Here, 9/11 has the potential to artificially lend a sense of importance to music whose wider merits become hitched to this horrible event, placing it beyond criticism.
The discussion is too complex to excerpt, so I suggest reading the whole thing.
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It seems we will never get to the bottom of what Bach is all about: Maestro of more than music
With his music’s reputation of some kind of ‘eternal truth’ and implications of their divine transcription, it can be easy to forget that such heavenly work was the result of earthly toils. By blind luck of technological history, we are left with the beautiful manuscripts, but minimal record of the real-world stress, training, limited time and inky mess of putting quill to page. If indeed Bach’s talent was God-given, then it was a gift that demanded a reimbursement of decades of constant study, poring over Vivaldi scores by candlelight with failing eyes, walking 280 miles just to watch one organist perform, the re-use of compositional material, adaptation to changing tastes, all amid a dizzying array of professional demands, awkward taskmasters, petulant critics, vain royalty and personal tragedies.
This lengthy article is even more impossible to excerpt as it discusses many of the complex aspects of Bach's craft--some of which are still being uncovered today!
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We need some Mozart for our envoi today. Here is Mitsuko Uchida in the Piano Concerto in C major, K. 503 with Riccardo Muti conducting the Cleveland Orchestra.
We also need some Bach. Here is one of my favorite recordings of his Art of Fugue by the Emerson Quartet: