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.

* * *

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?

* * *

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.
* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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!

* * *

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...

* * *

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?
* * *

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.

* * *

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.
* * * 

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!

* * *

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.

* * *

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!

* * *

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.