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Did you know that one annual tradition at MIT is to throw a piano off the roof of one of the dorms? Why a piano? That's an easy one: if you throw an oboe or a viola off the roof it doesn't make much sound when it hits and nobody cries.
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Let's see what Sinfini Music is cutting through this week. Ah, the Moonlight Sonata. I always wonder if we would listen to it as much and with such devotion if it had picked up a rather different nickname? Something like the Limburger Sonata or the Bratwurst Sonata? Jessica Duchen is a very knowledgeable writer on music; I wonder if they had her take those pills that make you stupider in order to write this piece for Sinfini Music? Too catty a remark? Let's have a look at what she says:
Certainly not Beethoven's, whose own title is Sonata quasi una fantasia.
Why the name?
Some associate the introspective, funereal quality of this music with Beethoven’s state of mind as he faced the onset of this cruel malady (his encroaching deafness). There seems, though, little limit to the theories on this sonata that abound; there may yet be further surprises in store.Some associate every piece of music Beethoven (or anyone else for that matter) wrote with some biographical event or other. A particular horrific example is Maynard Solomon's book on Mozart that reduces every piece to a kind of psychological excrescence. Please, can't it just be music? And who says anything about the Moonlight Sonata is funereal?
The nature of the music, so strongly defined, speaks its message to every age.And what "message" is that? What is so strongly defined about it? This kind of vague hand-waving is the stock-in-trade of mediocre politicians. By the end Jessical Duchen puts up some clips of different performances (but of course you have to sign up for Spotify to listen) and a podcast analysis of the work. But Sinfini, while probably good at luring you into purchasing recordings, continues to be hapless at informing you about music.
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Also at Sinfini is another execrable article on how biased, prejudiced, blinkered and oppressive classical music is for not employing precisely the correct numbers of "women and people from black and minority ethnic (BME) and working class backgrounds." I guess the acronym for that whole thing would be WBMEWC! Oh yes, I'm sure that the BBCSO (British Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra) would be immeasurably improved if only they could get the working class background contingent up to, what? 40%? As usual, the truth that what we are talking about are mandated quotas, is concealed by the happythought word Diversity. Where is George Orwell when we need him?
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This article from the Guardian is rather interesting. It makes the point that perhaps the reason that there are not more working class background people succeeding in the arts is that opportunities for them to learn their craft have been severely hampered by government cutbacks in education in cultural fields:
The arts sits in the eye of a perfect storm of failing social provision, substandard education systems and a heartless welfare state. In the past 20 years, government policy has decimated arts provision in the national curriculum. The introduction of tuition fees means higher education has come to represent a life sentence of debt, while cuts to welfare provision have removed any viable safety net for those without family money to fall back on. Meanwhile, the role of art and artists in our society is consistently undervalued by those in power. Last time I checked, actors, designers and directors weren’t the ones making those decisions in parliament.Well, yes, if you keep telling people to go into computer programming because that is where the future is and keep raising tuition so no-one can graduate without a huge debt, then that would rather tend to discourage people from careers in the arts.
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Here is a truly provocative article by Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal about the positive aspects of post-modernism in music. I say provocative because, while I want to disagree with many statements and quibble with others, he makes some very good points:
Whatever you think of the radical relativism of postmodern cultural theory—and I detest it—the fact is that the coming of postmodernism has proved to be both liberating and stimulating to musicians of all kinds. It made it possible for minimalist classical composers like Mr. Glass and neo-romantic moderns like Lowell Liebermann to get a hearing in the concert hall and find their own loyal audiences.Here is a track from the album that provoked this discussion, Really Love from Black Messiah by D'Angelo and The Vanguard:
One beef I have is despite all the talk about how post-modernism absorbs classical music into the mix, what I always hear, as in this track, is a little string noodling followed by hints of flamenco that inevitably drift into the usual funky back-beat pop texture. All this is just window-dressing on top of the usual pop stuff. In other words the structures of classical music have absolutely no effect on the style. Instead it is just used for a touch of 'local color'. Thanks, but no thanks... This sounds to me mostly like a jazzier version of Prince. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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Let's clear the palate with some actual classical music. Here is what I have been listening to lately. A really original piece of musical composition by Sergei Prokofiev, the Symphony No. 5 in B flat major with Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra at the 2013 Proms. If you want to skip the introduction the performance begins at the 4:35 mark: