Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal has a review of a group I had not heard of before: Alt-Metal Goes Orchestral. The group is Evanescence:
Evanescence has long had dual personalities, mixing alt-metal and symphonic rock on its three studio albums. On its fourth, “Synthesis” (BMG), out on Friday, it changes the template: Though Amy Lee’s powerfully theatrical mezzo-soprano and neo-gothic rock compositions remain its dominant features, Evanescence discards metal in favor of orchestral grandeur. Ms. Lee and her band are amid an ambitious tour of the U.S. and Canada, performing with local orchestras at each stop.
That piqued my curiosity. Here is the song "Never Go Back" from the new album in a live performance in Connecticut:

(Weirdly, putting the same search terms into the Blogger search engine and into YouTube directly brings up completely different lists of clips, so it is hard to know that the clip I am embedding is the one I want!)

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This is a rather interesting article on how one obsessive fan, and professor of mathematics, solved the problem of the intro chord in "A Hard Day's Night" using Fourier transforms. No, really. The professor, Dr. Jason Brown of Dalhousie University in Canada, took on the mystery of exactly how that jangly chord that starts the song, was created.

It's not exactly easy to figure out:
You might be wondering how a chord could be a mystery — especially one of the most well-known chords played by one of history's most famous bands.
Surely anyone trained in music theory could figure out what notes fit together to make a particular sound?
It's not that easy.
"I'd known about the controversy since I tried to play the chord on the guitar."
As a teenager, he discovered the Beatles at the same time as he was learning to play guitar.
"I would spend eight to ten hours a day in the summer during high school, teaching myself to play The Beatles' songs."
He'd pore over Beatles songbooks with chord charts to all the songs. But every book seemed to have a different transcription for the opening chord of A Hard Day's Night.
"Every book was transcribing what they thought the Beatles had played, but there was no way of telling what was right and what was wrong."
The problem was, no matter how he analyzed it, there was always something that couldn't be accounted for with the three guitars: Paul playing a D on the bass and the suspended chord played by George and the notes played by John. Finally:
The final piece slid into place: buried deep in the mix of that shimmering opening chord, someone — maybe Ringo, but probably George Martin — had played an F on a piano.
Dr Brown remembers that moment very clearly. The feeling that he'd just solved a Beatles mystery — one that had been buzzing around his subconscious brain for decades.
"It was extraordinarily exciting. The chord was a mystery for such a long time, and people still talk about it," he said.
"I think that maybe one of the legacies of the Beatles' music is the brilliance of what they put into their songs, on so many levels, so that people 40-50 years later will still be analysing them, still trying to figure out what made them so great."
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The Guardian, in a rather creepy article, decides to talk about the best music to listen to on your deathbed:
The most popular choice, though, was the light-filled music of Estonian Arvo Pärt, which chimes with extensive anecdotal evidence from across the world. “I’m fascinated by his popularity,” Lenton said. “Personally I love art that invites the viewer to dream their own dreams. I admire Caravaggio because of the darkness that surrounds his characters. What you can’t see makes you imagine more. Isn’t the same true of Pärt’s music?”
Yep, apparently the best thing to listen to on your deathbed is Tabula Rasa by Pärt. Hey, what about the Dona nobis pacem from Bach's Mass in B minor?

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Yet another study about why we like "sad" music:
"When listening to sad (as opposed to) happy music, people withdraw their attention inwards, and engage in spontaneous, self-referential cognitive processes," reports a research team led by Liila Taruffi of the Free University of Berlin. "Our study suggests that the multifaceted emotional experience underlying sad music, often described by listeners as melancholic yet pleasant, shapes mind-wandering in a unique way."
This is what Taruskin was referring to in the Oxford History of Western Music when he was talking about the "romantic trance." I just wish I knew what they meant by "spontaneous, self-referential cognitive processes."

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Alex Ross, at the New Yorker, shows us what a very good writer on music he can be with an article on recent performances of Monteverdi operas directed by John Eliot Gardiner:
Gardiner has likened Monteverdi to Shakespeare—a comparison that has become routine. Both artists give fathomless depth to familiar tales; both maneuver adroitly between high and low. In a way, Monteverdi’s feat is more remarkable, since opera had been invented only a decade before he first addressed the genre, with “Orfeo,” in 1607. The breakthrough comes in the aria “Possente spirito”—the plea for mercy that Orpheus delivers to Charon, the ferryman of Hades. Orpheus’ vocal lines are typical of the period, with florid ornamentation unfolding within narrow intervals. But the music moves at an unusually deliberate, meditative pace. Pairs of instruments play spectral ascending and descending scales, with the second part sounding as an echo. The harp echoes itself. Monteverdi is relaxing his grip on the narrative and delving deep into his character’s condition. This is the opportunity afforded by the evening-length structure of opera. The clock slows; the horizon widens; we go walking in the landscape of Orpheus’ soul.
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James Penrose pens an excellent article on Gioachino Rossini in The New Criterion:
Rossini was nothing less than a force of nature. He transformed Italian opera in a remarkably short period of time from a mix of regional styles to a national one, with his own style and innovations as a unifying force. In social settings—there were many of these—he was extremely amusing, with a chameleon-like sense of humor that flickered from the urbane to the cynical (certainly the widest subcategory) to the deadly. After the death of Rossini’s friend Giacomo Meyerbeer, the German composer’s nephew asked Rossini to listen to a funeral march he had written for his uncle. “Very good, very good,” mused Rossini with a half-smile, “but wouldn’t it have been better if you had died, and your uncle had written the march for your funeral?”
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For our envoi today, let's listen to one of Rossini's péchés or sins--what he called those non-operatic pieces he wrote in his later years. This is "Memento Homo":

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