Saturday, November 17, 2018

Etudes

The Wall Street Journal, as part of its useful Masterpiece series, has an essay on the Transcendental Etudes by Liszt. They begin with a history of the instrumental technical study:
By the first years of the 19th century, the piano had become the major domestic musical instrument. Composers began turning out countless études (studies), short pieces of music designed to help student pianists achieve technical competence in scales, arpeggios, octaves, trills and so forth.
Mostly, these concoctions were musically arid and unmemorable. Carl Czerny (1791-1857), Beethoven’s prize pupil, was king of the étude, profitably churning out such pieces. They are helpful, but in their medicinal content they have been practiced grudgingly throughout the generations. H.L. Mencken, a lifelong amateur pianist, wrote, “As late as 1930, being in Vienna, I desecrated Czerny’s grave.”
One wonders if other piano students have wished to do the same... This bare-bones account could be fleshed out by saying that the piano in its fortepiano incarnation, had been the leading domestic musical instrument for several decades. What had changed was the growth of domestic music-making. Whereas in the 18th century the tendency was for music production to be centered around the great aristocratic estates, after the French Revolution more and more a prosperous middle class turned to music-making in the home. The piano was the instrument of choice, both in solo pieces and transcriptions and as an accompaniment to vocal works. The interesting thing is that it was these amateur musicians that spurred the development of an immense repertoire of technical studies. In the hands of someone like Liszt, the mundane technical etude became a work, not only of considerable virtuosity, but also of considerable musical content.
Liszt had retired from the concert stage at age 36 and now lived in Weimar as court composer and conductor. He was at the dawn of his legendary teaching career. In 1851 he revised and entirely reworked his études, eliminating the dross while retaining their daring virtuosity, and adding to their sonorous splendor and romantic allure. While still among the most difficult works in the repertoire, the third version achieved a magnificent playability. For all but two he added an evocative title, now calling the cycle “Etudes d’exécution transcendante.”
For a little sample, here is Evgeny Kissin with the Etude No. 10:


In recent years a couple of composers have made considerable contributions to the piano etude repertoire. Between 1985 and 2001 Ligeti composed 18 etudes for piano. Here is Yuja Wang playing No. 4 from Bk 1:


Philip Glass wrote twenty etudes for piano between 1994 and 2012. Here is Maki Namekawa with etudes Nos. 9 and 20:


A completely different approach was taken by Conlon Nancarrow who labored for years cutting piano rolls by hand to create piano etudes that could simply not be played by an actual pianist. Here is his Study for Player Piano No. 37:


Now I know what you are wondering, what about etudes for guitar? We have a few examples starting with some mundane, if charming, ones by Fernando Sor in the early 19th century. Here is John Williams with studies Nos. 17 to 19 from Segovia's edition:


There are a few later examples from the 19th century including some nice ones by Carcassi, but the really virtuoso etudes were all written in the 20th century. A while back I posted about the Brouwer studies, but the major concert etudes are a set of twelve by Villa-Lobos. They were written in Paris between 1924 and 1928, but not published until 1953. There is a nifty new critical edition published in 2011. The etudes are dedicated to Segovia, who wrote the preface to the first edition, but he only played a few of them. They are very difficult and it took a few decades for guitar technique to catch up to their demands. Nowadays the gifted thirteen-year-old virtuoso Leonora Spangenburger can play the demanding arpeggio study that is Etude No. 1 with great aplomb:


I have always found the Etude 10 one of the most challenging because of its slurs with fixed fingers. Here is a performance by Paulo Martelli:


Probably the most prolific composer of guitar etudes recently is Angelo Gilardino whose Studi di virtuosità e di transcendenza extend to several volumes. I have played several from the first few books where each is a homage to a different composer from guitar composers like Castelnuovo-Tedesco to ones like Prokofiev and Bartók and artists like Goya. His Study No. 6 from the first series titled "Soledad" is a homage to Goya. Here it is played by Bradford Werner:


That completes our tour of the piano and guitar etude.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a YouTube clip on the top ten musical moments from movies. Most of these top ten lists are the merest clickbait, but this one is actually quite interesting. For one thing, whoever was responsible for this project does actually know some stuff. They reference a number of movies that I don't know but am now curious about. They also know the difference between diagetic vs non-diagetic use of music in film. So, have a look.


* * *

The Guardian has an article on a really interesting project: commission eight young composers to write movements for string quartet based on the same planets that Gustav Holst used for inspiration in his wonderful suite for orchestra The Planets, written between 1914 and 1916. Six scientists were asked to aid the composers in their work.
The idea to reimagine The Planets using modern science came from the young British composer Samuel Bordoli who, along with producers Sound UK, paired up each musician with a planet and a mentor and asked them each to write a five-minute piece for string quartet. Titled The Planets 2018, the results are to be performed by the Ligeti Quartet in planetariums across the country from Saturday.
Sounds fascinating and I hope they issue a recording.

* * *

This item is just weird: VIOLINIST, 81, IS NORWAY’S HIGHEST TAX PAYER.
The Norwegians have a habit of publishing every citizen’s annual income and tax bill.
In the latest list it turns out that the distinguished violinist Arve Tellefsen had the highest tax bill in the whole of the entertainment sector.
Arve, 81, has been obliged to pay 21,211,550 Norwegian krone ($2.55 million) on taxable net worth of 90,774,551 NOK, which is $10.9 million.
Where did Arve make all his money?
He sold his violin, bought in 1970 for a million krone, to a very shy German investor.
In many countries homeowners get a exemption on capital gains taxes on their principal residence. Shouldn't musicians get one on their principal instrument?

* * *

Also at The Guardian is an article about composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:
Young Samuel was brought up by his mother and her extended family in Croydon. He never met his doctor father, Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, who was originally from Sierra Leone and had come here to study medicine in London. You may be wondering about his name. Samuel’s mother, Alice Hare Martin, named her son after Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet. Oh, those Victorians!
The family clubbed together to pay Samuel’s fees at the Royal College of Music, which he entered at 15 as a violin scholar. But the violin was set to one side and composition took centre stage and he was taken under the wing of the composer and conductor Charles Villiers Stanford, who also mentored a generation of big-name composers, including Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Frank Bridge. For two years running, Coleridge-Taylor won the RCM’s Lesley Alexander composition prize and was championed by Edward Elgar, who recommended the talented young composer for a major commission – an orchestral work for the Three Choirs festival, his Ballade in A Minor, opus 33.
One interesting thing about Coleridge-Taylor is the considerable renown he enjoyed in the early 20th century:
In the US, he was a household name in his lifetime, and travelled there by invitation of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC in 1904, and again in 1906 and 1910. The US marines band were engaged for his first performance and 2,700 people were in the audience, two-thirds of whom were black.
This would seem to argue against claims that he was neglected and discriminated against. Here is his Hiawatha Overture:


* * *

Alex Ross' latest for The New Yorker is a piece on Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece Is Still Hard to Find. The masterpiece in question, coming out of 1974 sessions and later released in modified form as Blood on the Tracks, is a Dylan album I have never heard. My excuse is that from the early 1970s until into the 1980s I was so focussed on my own career as a classical guitarist that I had no time to spare. So, while I have heard of this album, I have never listened to it. Ross says:
In September, 1974, Bob Dylan spent four days in the old Studio A, his favorite recording haunt in Manhattan, and emerged with the greatest, darkest album of his career. It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Yet the record in question—“Blood on the Tracks”—has never officially seen the light of day. The Columbia label released an album with that title in January, 1975, but Dylan had reworked five of the songs in last-minute sessions in Minnesota, resulting in a substantial change of tone. Mournfulness and wistfulness gave way to a feisty, festive air.
Here is his discussion of the music to "Idiot Wind":
The music that Dylan wrote for these lyrics has a chilly, clammy air. His guitar is in open-E tuning, meaning that all six strings of the guitar are tuned to notes of the E-major triad: E, B, E, G#, B, E. As a result, the tonic chord rings rich and bright. But each verse begins with a jarring A-minor chord, which tends to land awkwardly. The middle note easily strays off center, souring the sound. Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge. The unwieldiness of the progression is at one with the fraught atmosphere of the text.
He links to a clip of the Tristan chord to explain the phrase "Romantic tinge" though I'm not sure what he is claiming exactly. Here is the song:


* * *

Just ran across another track on YouTube from Hilary Hahn's latest album of the Bach solo suites. The Partita No. 1 in B minor is an extraordinary work. Instead of a typical suite of dance movements, usually allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue, Bach gives us the first three, but replacing the gigue with a bourrée. Then he pairs each movement with its "double" --a variation in running quick notes using the same harmonic scheme. The result is an extraordinary tour de force, a kind of homage to pieces like the Gavotte et six doubles by Rameau, the seventh movement from his Quatrième suite de pièces de clavecin.

Here is Hilary Hahn with the Double to the Courante from the Partita No. 1:


And just for fun, here is Trevor Pinnock playing the Rameau. Be sure to stick with it as it just gets better and better:


* * *

I guess we still need an envoi and what better choice than Holst's The Planets. Here is Edward Gardner conducting the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the CBSO Youth Chorus at the 2016 Proms. The performance concludes with Colin Matthews' supplementary piece "Pluto, The Renewer."



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Musicians Are Weird

I spend most of my time with non-musicians these days so it occurs to me from time to time just how weird musicians are, compared to non-musicians at least. A friend and neighbor called me asking to borrow a hammer the other day and when she came over for it I said, "now you have to sing the song!" She gave me the oddest look: "song?" "Yes, you have to sing "If I had a hammer."


And aren't those the weirdest lyrics? Hammer out love? But yes, that is the first thing that comes to my mind if someone wants to borrow a hammer. Musicians are weird.

* * *

I got to thinking this because of this item over at Slipped Disc:
Classical percussionist Alan Drever-Smith, from Kingston upon Hull, called the taxman. Like everyone else, he was left listening to the music.
For forty minutes.
‘Spent so long on hold today that I transcribed it before they picked up,’ he wrote.
Now he’s famous. More than 800 people have shared Alan’s transcription and the Telegraph have picked up the story.
Maybe he’ll get a tax rebate.
Here is the transcription:


* * *

How do musicians get in touch with their feelings? It's easy. As we always have music churning around somewhere in our brains we just have to listen. If I find myself humming "Everything Is Beautiful" then I am probably in a good mood:


Humming "Don't Let Me Down" is a whole different story:


Your milage may vary.

* * *

The "musicians are weird" story may help to explain why conversations with percussionists and drummers are so unfulfilling. Now, unfortunately I can't find the right clip, so this will have to do:


* * *

Perhaps the best satire on musicians and their quirks is the movie Spinal Tap. Here is the famous scene where Nigel explains why he has an amp that goes to 11:


Sunday, November 11, 2018

What Does It Cost?

...to book a popular musical act. Suburban Men has the story. Follow the link for the details (and I wonder at the accuracy...). Some examples, Adele, north of $750,000. Some acts around 1 million: Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen. On the other hand, you can get Jefferson Starship for a modest $15,000 to $25,000. Rihanna will cost between $500,000 and $750,000.

But what about our favorite classical musicians? What would it cost to book, say, Hilary Hahn for your birthday party, wedding or funeral? Sadly, the website for her management, IMG Artists, does not list fees for this sort of engagement. What about Grigory Sokolov? Sure, he won't travel outside continental Europe, but what if you wanted to book him for a special party in the hills south of Florence? Sokolov is with Artists Management Company and again, there is no information at the website regarding fees. What about Igor Levit? He is with Classic Concerts Management and again there is no information regarding fees. It is almost as if these folks are simply too busy playing with the Vienna Philharmonic or performing at the Salzburg Festival to bother with your birthday party! No wonder people think classical musicians are elitist! They are!

Of course, you can hire a classical ensemble for your wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, whatever. Here is a trio available in the UK.


But again, search as I may, I cannot find an actual fee quoted. A friend of mine gigs with a string trio in California and I think she mentioned that they charge around $500 for a two hour gig. Or was that $300 for each musician? I forget!

I suspect that the performing musician marketplace is as competitive as any other market, but there are likely huge factors that wildly affect pricing. I have a tiny amount of background knowledge on this from my work on the board of the local concert society. You can book a middle-rank piano soloist for around five or six thousand dollars plus expenses. A front rank guitarist will be about the same. This is for a single performance or perhaps a pair of concerts back to back. I would speculate that if you wanted to book a front rank soloist like Igor Levit or Hilary Hahn in your concert series you would have to start the negotiation process about two years ahead and expect to pay, what?, $20,000? $30,000? $50,000? Perhaps even more. Just based on my attending one concert by Grigory Sokolov last summer I would estimate that since he probably fills every hall that books him, and this would typically be a 2,000 seat hall and given ticket prices around sixty euros per then the receipts would run around 120,000 and it would be a poor management indeed that did not get at least half for the artist. Therefore, €60,000 per concert. Or you could get Jefferson Starship for a lot less...


Paglia on Art

I sometimes stir up trouble on the blog by wandering into the fringes of politics. I ended up by stating the policy of refraining from political commentary as such, but being pro-active when it comes to the necessity of defending art from politics. Mind you, I don't always adhere to my own policy! In the same vein, I have just been reading a long online interview at Quillette with Camille Paglia. She is, along with Canadian Jordan Peterson, perhaps the most interesting and certainly courageous academic in North America. I have been long acquainted with her, having read her Sexual Personae a couple of decades ago. Let's have some excerpts:
Claire Lehmann: You seem to be one of the only scholars of the humanities who are willing to challenge the post-structuralist status quo. Why have other humanities academics been so spineless in preserving the integrity of their fields?
Camille Paglia: The silence of the academic establishment about the corruption of Western universities by postmodernism and post-structuralism has been an absolute disgrace. First of all, the older generation of true scholars who still ruled the roost when I arrived at the Yale Graduate School in 1968 were not fighters, to begin with. American professors, unlike their British counterparts, had not been schooled in ferocious and satirical debate.
Post-structuralism, along with identity politics, made huge gains in the 1970s, as the old guard professors proved helpless against a rising tide of rapid add-on programs and departments like women’s studies and African-American studies. The tenured professoriate seemed not to realize that change of some kind was necessary, and thus they failed to provide an alternative vision of a remodeled university of the future. 
...the poisons of post-structuralism have now spread throughout academe and have done enormous damage to basic scholarly standards and disastrously undermined belief even in the possibility of knowledge. I suspect history will not be kind to the leading professors who appear to have put loyalty to friends and colleagues above defending scholarly values during a chaotic era of overt vandalism that has deprived several generations of students of a profound education in the humanities. The steady decline in humanities majors is an unmistakable signal that this once noble field has become a wasteland. 
My substitute for religion is art, which I have expanded to include all of popular culture. But when art is reduced to politics, as has been programmatically done in academe for 40 years, its spiritual dimension is gone. It is coarsely reductive to claim that value in the history of art is always determined by the power plays of a self-referential social elite. I take Marxist social analysis seriously: Arnold Hauser’s Marxist, multi-volume A Social History of Art (1951) was a major influence on me in graduate school. However, Hauser honored art and never condescended to it. A society that respects neither religion nor art cannot be called a civilization.
She also talks about the moral panic of #MeToo, so go read the whole interview.

Jordan Peterson has similar views of the decay of scholarship in the social sciences. I find this hard to reconcile with what I see in, for example, Canadian university music departments, at least the few that I have direct knowledge of. On my recent visit to Montreal I touched base with an old friend who is a musicology professor at McGill and though we did not go into details I had the strong impression that standards there remain as high as ever, if not higher. I wonder if the practicalities of musical performance are not a bulwark against post-modernist lunacy? At the end of the day, if the music department cannot put on fine performances, then it is not going to be perceived as being worth very much. Sure, McGill has a research department for the study of the neurophysiology of music, but while the findings don't seem to be earth-shaking, they are at least scientific. And when I attended the McGill Symphony concert, it was at least as good as in the past. I would love to do a tour of Canadian university campuses to get a sense of the health of music education at that level, but unfortunately, I don't really have the time and who would want to fund that? I can just see myself applying for a Canada Council grant and getting turned down because nearly everyone on the jury would stand to suffer from any criticism! In arts funding in Canada, one hand washes the other.

For an envoi I have turned up a fairly poor video (in terms of production values) of the University of Victoria Orchestra and Chorus performing a Mozart mass in a 2017 concert. The department was founded in 1967 and I attended as an undergraduate from 1971 to 1973 (and taught there in the 1980s). Blogger won't embed so just follow the link:


A couple of comments. The School of Music is following exactly the same formula as they were when I was an undergraduate. There are a couple of large concerts each year. When I was there I sang in the Mozart Requiem and the Handel oratorio Judas Maccabaeus as well as a couple of Te Deums by Kodaly and Bruckner. It was a great experience, not least because it was my first encounter with a really knowledgeable and sophisticated musician, the conductor George Corwin. If I had to make a criticism it would be to note that there are two other elements that seem to have continued to today: there is an underlying smugness to the whole proceeding and this is likely because, when it comes to large productions of works for orchestra with vocal soloists and chorus, the School of Music has no nearby competition. A corollary to this is that they do not take any chances with repertoire but consistently stick to the most well-known and popular works. So, a great educational experience for the students and a special treat for the audience as this kind of production is very rare in the area. The university can afford to put on lavish productions like these because all the musicians and singers, being students, work for free!

So the bottom line is that a music department cannot afford to go full progressive, SJW, post-modern because that tends to destroy competence (which is no longer an objective value). You can't get rid of competence and still have a functional music department because the public face of the department depends on the concerts they present which all depend on a high level of technical and musical competence.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hilary Hahn Plays Bach



Hilary Hahn just released a CD of the solo sonatas and partitas for violin by J. S. Bach. This recording, containing the Sonatas 1 and 2 and the Partita 1 completes the project started by her first recording, made when she was seventeen, of the Partitas 2 and 3 and Sonata 3. She has taken her time to get to the second half of the project: twenty-two years separate the two CDs. I was going to say twenty-two years separate the two recordings, but that is not true as she recorded the second batch seven years ago, but was not comfortable releasing those recordings. Recently she got around to listening to those recordings and evaluating them. That resulting in re-recording much of the previous material. The current issue contains tracks from both sets of recordings. (This information all comes from a note from the current album.)

Hilary Hahn talks about how her approach to Bach has matured over her whole career. She played the Siciliana from the first sonata in her first recital when she was nine years old. My approach to Bach has likewise evolved over the decades I have played his music. As a guitarist, I have played a lot of the solo violin repertoire as well as the lute suites. As a listener I have gone through a couple of different stages as well. I came to the classical guitar in the 70s which was also the era in which early music performance practice became a huge trend in the classical music world. This process of replacing largely 19th century conceptions of timbre and phrasing with ones that, we hope, are more closely related to those of earlier times, continues to this day. Nowadays if we purchase a recording of music by Baroque masters we are likely to choose one on "original instruments" or guided by "historically informed" performance practice. I place scare quotes around those phrases because we should keep in mind Richard Taruskin's incisive critique of the whole "authenticity" movement in music performance.
Do we really want to talk about "authenticity" any more? I had hoped a consensus was forming that to use the word in connection with the performance of music -and especially to define a particular style, manner, or philosophy of performance-is neither description nor critique, but commercial propaganda, the stock-in-trade of press agents and promoters. I note with some satisfaction that John Spitzer's entry under "authenticity" in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music does not even mention performance. It deals, rather, with "the nature of the link between a composer and a work that bears his or her name," that is, with texts and transmission, the traditional and proper domain of scholarly authentication. 
Satisfaction is somewhat diminished as the eye wanders up to the entry preceding Spitzer's, where we find, as the third of five definitions of the adjective "authentic," the following: "In performance practice, instruments or styles of playing that are historically appropriate to the music being performed." There it is at last in all its purloined majesty, this word that simply cannot be rid of its moral and ethical overtones (and which always carries its invidious antonym in tow), being used to privilege one philosophy of performance over all others. While one certainly cannot fault a dictionary for reporting current usage-and the currency of the usage in question, alas, cannot be denied-there does seem to be some (perhaps unwitting) complicity in the perpetuation of the propaganda here, since the operative synonym, "appropriate," is also an ineluctably value-laden term. One simply cannot dissent from the concept when it is defined in this way. One is hardly free to say, "I prefer inauthenticity to authenticity," or, "I prefer inappropriateness to appropriateness"-at least if one is interested in maintaining respectability with the crowd that swears by the Harvard Dictionary. Once the terms have been equated in this way, commitment to the values they assign and the privileges they grant must necessarily follow.
Richard Taruskin. Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (Kindle Locations 1170-1181). Kindle Edition.
 The replacement of reference to "authenticity" with the phrase "historically informed performance" or HIP doesn't quite solve the problem, of course. So while in the 70s and 80s I was rather committed to historically "authentic" performance, I have since then moderated my thinking. Actually, while I studied things like the kinds of timbre early instruments produced and read a great deal about phrasing and ornamentation, I never became enough of an acolyte to switch my instrument to the lute. Though I must confess I was thinking about purchasing a vihuela when I visited Spain last summer.

The point I am not quite making clearly here is that while I still find satisfying and compelling performances in HIP style on original instruments such as those by Scott Ross or Gustav Leonhardt, I am equally open to performances with a different, perhaps more modern, sensibility by people like Grigory Sokolov (whose Rameau has to be heard to be believed) and, of course, Hilary Hahn.

The overwhelmingly important thing is the expressive power and brilliance the performer brings to the piece and in this Hilary Hahn has no superiors on the violin these days. I just received my copy of her new CD this week and am listening as I write this. When you are following the career of a major artist such as Hilary Hahn there is a certain predictability with each new issue: you feel quite sure that the new issue will be up to the highest technical and musical standards. You might almost call this inevitable. Of course the performer feels it quite differently! Someone like Hilary Hahn will feel a great burden of responsibility. Each recording and performance has to be up to the standard one has set. Perhaps this is why she let her previous recordings of these pieces lie fallow for seven years.

You might notice that my tone in this review is rather less critical than, say, when I talk about a column by Alex Ross or compare different recordings of guitar concertos. I have had the great pleasure of being able to work with a truly world-class violinist in the person of Paul Kling. Like Ms Hahn he was famous from when he was nine years old with his first broadcast on Austrian radio. He did not have a recording career, instead he was concertmaster with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Louisville Symphony and the Tokyo Symphony (don't ask me which one!). He also toured Japan as soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto with Herbert von Karajan. Paul and I did a number of chamber music concerts together. I recall he played the Bach Chaconne from the second partita in one of these. It was, simply, perfect. So when I listen to Hilary Hahn play Bach at this transcendent level I recognize that there are likely aspects that I won't fully appreciate for years.

A journalistic review will take a different tack. The writer is going to try and find something critical to say about either the artist or the performance or the repertoire. All I want to say here is that this is a terrific recording. Go buy it.

I may have put this up before, but who cares. Here, to loosen your fillings a bit, is Hilary Hahn playing the Presto from the Sonata No. 1:


Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

If you can stand the incessant punning, you might find this article on the use of music to age cheese amusing: Cheesy music: Swiss experiment with sound to make cheese tastier.
The thought of playing rock 'n' roll music to influence the flavour of cheese may make some scientists cringe.
But parts of the scientific community have spent years analysing the effect of sound on plants, and some mums-to-be believe playing classical music to their unborn child makes them smarter.
Music can create feelings, reaching inside people and stirring their senses into a fondue of emotions, in ways that can make people smile, cry or jump in elation.
Is potentially testing whether Roquefort is a fan of hard rock or Queso a follower of flamenco really so completely far-fetched? The University of the Arts in Bern does not think so and is helping Wampfler conduct the experiment.
"At first we were sceptical," admitted Michael Harenberg, the university's music director.
"Then we discovered there is a field called sonochemistry that looks at the influences of sound waves, the effect of sound on solid bodies."
* * *

The Guardian has a long piece on the history and practices of the background music industry: Inside the booming business of background music.
Paul Hillyer, head of media at Mood Media’s UK business, described the approach his company often takes as “cradle to grave”, the least offensive to the widest spectrum of people. One of their clients is Fuller’s Brewery, which plays music in most of its 400 or so pubs in the UK. Andrew Durn, whose role at Fuller’s involves liaising with Mood Media, described its sound as being roughly like Radio 2, catering to an older, comfortable crowd. “What we don’t want,” he told me, “is customers walking in, listening to the music and saying: ‘What’s that all about?’”
It is the strenuously inoffensive nature of this kind of background music that riles up some of the industry’s fiercest critics. One group, Pipedown, have campaigned “for freedom from unwanted music in public places” since 1992, when its founder, Nigel Rodgers, was spurred to action by a particularly irritating experience in a South Kensington restaurant. “Do you hate unwanted piped background music?” reads the call to arms on the group’s website. “Do you detest the way you can’t escape it? (in pubs, restaurants and hotels; on the plane, train or bus; down the phone; ruining decent television programmes; adding to the overall levels of noise pollution in public places).” The group, which counts Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley among its celebrity supporters, claims some credit for the decision Marks & Spencer took in 2016 to stop using music in its stores. “You’re not going for a special sort of atmosphere, you’re just going to do your shopping,” Rodgers said.
I wonder if this Nigel Rodgers is the same Nigel Rodgers that was the brilliant proponent of the performance practice of 17th century vocal music?

* * *

Over at Jessica Duchen's blog she explains how one gets inducted into the cult of Wagner: This man will take your life.
His name is Richard Wagner, and if you let him, that's what he'll do. Of course, you mightn't show him in through the door in the first place, but otherwise, what's likely to happen is set out below. The things to remember are that a) the work is not the man, and vice-versa, and b) the more effort you put into something, the more rewarding it will be. One suspects he knew that – and knew exactly what he was doing in demanding such commitment from his fans. I just went to the whole Ring, in a manner of speaking, mostly by mistake, and the Ring leaves you wrung. But I'd go all over again tomorrow if I could. How, then, does this happen?
First of all, you realise that Wagner was probably the most influential composer of any born in the 19th century, with the biggest, most lasting impact on musical history ever since – a quality he shares only with Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'. So you start investigating. What on earth is so special about Richard Wagner?
I have never fallen under the spell myself, but she is correct, one really needs to attend a first-rate presentation in order to give the work a chance.

* * *

The blog On An Overgrown Path has an interesting meditation on the concept of a concert hall: Is this the concert hall of the future?
Why is the concert hall viewed, quite wrongly, as a technology-free zone? Quite wrongly, because, the 'perfect' acoustic of the highly-acclaimed Elbphilharmonie is the product of digital technology. Algorithm controlled parametric design was used to specify the 10,000 gypsum fiber acoustic panels that create the hall's signature sound. And the wooden Schalldeckel hood that Wagner specified for his Bayreuth Festpielhaus to cover the orchestra pit is both a screen to prevent the audience seeing the orchestra and a low-tech surround sound solution that blends instruments and voices to create the unique, but nevertheless artificially contrived, Bayreuth acoustic 
I am not a philistine arguing for the death of the traditional concert hall, and I have written at length here about the sonic excellence of my local concert hall, Snape Maltings. But tinkering with cosmetic conventions such as informal concert dress and mobile phone programme notes has had no significant impact on the classical demographic. This post does not advocate indiscriminately amplifying Western classical music. But it does argue that the art form now needs to get real and choose between one of two options. If classical music really wants a new younger audience it must start to selectively adopt the 'up close and personal' sonic argot of that generation. If changing historically informed acoustic conventions is not acceptable, the classical tradition should focus on its current and basically static audience; which means revising current fiscal and mass market ambitions dramatically downwards.

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I'm not sure why, but I found this article about the four extant manuscripts of Old English literature fascinating: What Do Our Oldest Books Say About Us?
There are four original manuscripts containing poetry in Old English—the now-defunct language of the medieval Anglo-Saxons—that have survived to the present day. No more, no less. They are: the Vercelli Book, which contains six poems, including the hallucinatory “Dream of the Rood”; the Junius Manuscript, which comprises four long religious poems; the Exeter Book, crammed with riddles and elegies; and the Beowulf Manuscript, whose name says it all. There is no way of knowing how many more poetic codices (the special term for these books) might have existed once upon a time, but have since been destroyed.
I used to own a copy of a book of French poetry (I forget the author) that was published in Paris in the Year 7, meaning in the 7th year after the French Revolution when they had reinvented the calendar. It was a lovely small book and had a remarkable aura of authenticity about it. I purchased it in a second hand bookstore in Dresden that was full of similar treasures in the early 1990s, soon after the Wall came down.

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We haven't visited NewMusicBox for a while and they have an interesting article on the practicalities of programming new music in orchestral schedules:
Take, for example, two 20th-century concerti widely regarded as modern masterpieces: the Ligeti Violin Concerto and James MacMillan’s percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. Both are thrilling pieces and very effective soloist vehicles. And when they do manage to get programmed, both have broad audience appeal, not just to new music aficionados. Why aren’t they in heavier rotation with your local orchestra?
In one of the Ligeti Concerto’s most memorable moments, the oboist, clarinetists, and bassoonist play ocarinas. In the climactic ending to Veni, Veni, the orchestra players are asked to play bells “or two pieces of loud clanging metal.” In addition to renting the scores and parts to these concerti, orchestras have to acquire the ocarinas, bells, and pieces of metal, and determine whether, as per the CBA, these passages warrant doubling fees for the musicians. These costs can add up and, for a smaller-budget orchestra, become quite significant expenses. The orchestra committee might agree to hold a vote to waive the doubling fees—but if they negotiate for an extra off-day in return, the guest conductor or soloist might feel she’s left with inadequate rehearsal time and opt for a warhorse like the Mendelssohn Concerto instead.
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I'm not sure, but perhaps I should apologize: The Guardian offers the story of a trend endangering the survival of traditional orchestral instruments and it turns out the guitar and ukulele are partly to blame.
research shows that some orchestral instruments are in danger of becoming extinct, due to young people’s lack of interest. YouGov research, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) to find the most popular instruments among schoolchildren, has revealed the increasing popularity of the ukulele, with one in eight expressing a desire to learn, making it the highest ranked instrument behind the typical rock-band grouping of guitar, piano, keyboards, drums and bass guitar.
But younger generations’ interest in “more sophisticated instruments”, as the Times sniffed, is waning, with the three least popular being the French horn (also known as The Wolf, in Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf), the double bass (Peter) and the trombone (not a major player).
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Anthony Tommasini is once more agonizing over aesthetic quality over at the New York Times: The Case for Greatness in Classical Music.
My most brazen venture into grappling with greatness came in 2011, with my Top 10 Composers project, a two-week series of articles I wrote for The New York Times. The goal was to determine a list of the top 10 composers in history. Of course, the whole project was an intellectual game, though one played seriously by me and the more than 1,500 readers whose comments were posted during the two weeks.
Some of the most interesting reactions came from music-lovers who actually found the game harmful. Others, while dismissing the exercise as absurd, sent in their own top 10 lists, often with injunctions like “Don’t you dare leave out Mahler!” For me, the game was also a genuine exercise in trying to be precise about what makes a composer’s music great, about why a composer merits a place. The final list, as I emphasized, was not the point. The analysis involved in determining it was.
The article is an advertisement for the writer's new book “The Indispensable Composers: A Personal Guide,” available this week from Penguin Press.

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For our envoi here are Nigel Rogers (no "d" so likely not the same Nigel mentioned above) and Ian Partridge in the famous Monteverdi madrigal Zefiro torna e di soavi accenti:


Hey, it was either that or Wagner...