Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

First up is a somewhat eccentric account of a Hilary Hahn concert by Jay Nordlinger, one of the more fun music critics. His opinions of Hahn's playing are absolutely correct, since they agree with mine!

* * *

An absolutely extraordinary essay on Schubert's Winterreise by Ian Bostridge. Here is a very interesting passage relating Schubert to Bob Dylan:
Admiring vocalism from Bob Dylan to Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra, I have always thought that, in principle, one should be influenced by these extraordinary singers and their compelling way of bending melody to words and vice versa. Classical song and popular song should not be so far apart: they share a lot in their subject matter and in their aesthetic of intimacy. Mostly, however, the influence has to be a subliminal one, for only then can it avoid self-consciousness or a certain archness.
One of the rare occasions on which I became conscious of channelling a different kind of musical expression was in a concert in Moscow. I’ve often reimagined “Der Leiermann” as a sort of Dylan song that doesn’t conform to classical norms in singing, but it is hard to achieve the requisite vibe. On this occasion, however, it clicked: I felt a connection with the greatest Dylan love song performance on record, the bitter masterpiece “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Schubert’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man” emerged as a song that was hardly sung, rasping and guttural by the standards of bel canto, but without sounding – I hope – like a ridiculous intrusion of pop singing into the classical world.
* * *

There is a kind of "decline of the West" feel to this news item about the disappearance of stores selling pianos:
Stores dedicated to selling pianos ... are dwindling across the country as fewer people take up the instrument and those who do often opt for a less expensive electronic keyboard or a used piano. Some blame computers and others note the high cost of new pianos, but what's clear is that a long-term decline in sales has accelerated.
The best year for new piano sales in the U.S. was 1909, when more than 364,500 were sold. But after gently falling over the years, piano sales have plunged more recently to between 30,000 and 40,000 annually.
* * *

In this item the New York Times grapples with a non-issue:
Some of Bach’s music is a prime example of how even works of genius can be destroyed in the wrong hands. The Cello Suites were deemed quotidian exercises until Pablo Casals revealed their beauty. (He began studying them at 13, first performed them publicly 13 years after that, then waited until 60 to record them.) Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” occupied a similarly dusty corner of the repertory before Glenn Gould worked his magic on them and released a benchmark recording.
Even if a musician feels “ready” to publicly perform a particular work, the player’s life experience, musical maturity, empathy and technique are still no guarantees [sic] of a truly communicative performance. Other musicians may have the innate, unteachable ability to elevate a performance from merely pleasing to sublime but lack confidence.
I think this is what is called a "thumb-sucker", i.e. a journalistic attempt to give background and interpretation to events. I this case, someone had the thought "gee, profound music must require some sort of artistic maturity to perform, right? So let's call up a bunch of musicians and ask them." The only remarkable thing about this essay is how it never rises above the cliched and predictable.

* * *

Here's something that might cause you to wake up screaming at three am: a Rice Crispies commercial by the Rolling Stones. In their early years:

* * *

And for everyone who missed Beatlemania, here is a large selection of photos from 1964.

I missed it myself, apart from seeing them on Ed Sullivan in February 1964 when 73 million viewers tuned in. When they arrived in Australia, pretty much everyone showed up at the airport to meet them. The wonder is that they survived the tour without being trampled.

* * *

This game is manifestly unfair to Joseph Haydn: pick your favorite symphonies nos 1 to 9. Here is Alex Ross' list:

Nielsen, Symphony No. 1
Ives, Symphony No. 21
Lutosławski, Symphony No. 32
Brahms, Symphony No. 43
Ustvolskaya, Symphony No. 5
Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 6
Sibelius, Symphony No. 7
Schubert, Symphony No. 8
Mahler, Symphony No. 9

* * *

This is the sort of happythought article that reminds me of the old saying that nothing is more depressing than optimism.
But the more psychologists investigate musicality, the more it seems that nearly all of us are musical experts, in quite a startling sense. The difference between a virtuoso performer and an ordinary music fan is much smaller than the gulf between that fan and someone with no musical knowledge at all. What’s more, a lot of the most interesting and substantial elements of musicality are things that we (nearly) all share. We aren’t talking about instinctive, inborn universals here. Our musical knowledge is learned, the product of long experience; maybe not years spent over an instrument, but a lifetime spent absorbing music from the open window of every passing car.
In contrast to that, I recall the words of a seasoned Czech violist who said, "yes, there is talent, but there is also anti-talent!" If you downgrade musicianship to the ability to tap your foot to the beat, then yes, we are all marvelously talented!!

* * *

Let's end with some piano music. Here is Krystian Zimerman playing the Debussy Preludes:

No comments: