Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Thirteen Ways of Looking at "Dark Dream": An Analysis

A couple of years ago I was writing a piece for violin and guitar that I ultimately titled Dark Dream. This piece went through several stages and ended up being the longest single piece of music I have written. We recorded it in Toronto a little over a year ago and it ended up being fourteen minutes in length. The process of composition involved writing the piece and then taking it apart and rewriting it several times. I could check, but I think it took about two years before it assumed its final shape.

As the piece seemed to me to be a significant breakthrough I have recently decided to do an analysis of it akin to what Schoenberg did with some of his pieces in the transition from tonal to serial composition. He would write a piece in free atonal style and afterwards try to discern how it was put together.

There are so many different ways of approaching an analysis that I am going to take a cue from Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and try and find thirteen ways of looking at Dark Dream. Also because I am pretty sure that it will not fit within any of the usual analytical methods.
I was of three minds, 
Like a tree 
In which there are three blackbirds.
--Wallace Stevens
1. The piece is for violin and guitar, a favorite ensemble of mine. One of my most satisfying musical relationships was with violinist Paul Kling with whom I gave quite a few chamber concerts of music by Giuliani, Paganini and others. He was a violinist of outstanding abilities. But my relationship with the violin is complex as my mother was a violinist, a "fiddler" in her words. The violin always represented to me a hemisphere of music to which I, as a guitarist, did not have access. In my mother's hands it was a folk instrument. In the hands of Paul Kling it was, along with the piano, another instrument that I did not have access to, the supreme instrument of Western Music. In one concert Paul played the Bach Chaconne in D minor as a solo offering. All I could come up with in response was a Tombeau originally for Baroque lute by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, a friend of Bach's. In Dark Dream there is an interesting fusion and then separation of the two instruments. The piece begins with a unison possible because the violin and guitar share one open string in common: the 4th string of the violin is the same pitch as the 3rd string of the guitar. The opening uses these strings, plus some octave displacements, to unfold a G nexus. 

Click to enlarge
The guitar sounds an octave lower than written as you can see from the clef, so what look like octaves here are actually unisons. This idea of the two instruments fusing together and then separating is also realized in the speeding up and slowing down motif, one of the basic themes. Later on each instrument has a cadenza:

Click to enlarge
The violin's is extended into a more lyric melodic idea that returns at the end of the piece:


It also appears, for both instruments, in the "moment form" section. Here is how it appears at the end:


I suppose that what I was doing, in part, was to place the guitar and violin as equals, but at the end, the guitar returns to a sonority unique to itself, as does the violin. Separate but equal? The violin certainly wins out melodically. But the guitar, with its mysterious sonority at the end, preserves its identity. By "preparing" the guitar by putting a paperclip on the 6th string, you get a complex mixture of pitches, vaguely bell-like. The violin, with its col legno on the 4th string open, contributes its own uniqueness to the composite. So one aspect of the structure of Dark Dream is my personal relationships with both the guitar and the violin.

2. A composer that I became interested in, in recent years, was Sofia Gubaidulina, a Russian/Tatar woman who never quite fit into any of the niches available in the Soviet Union and eventually emigrated to Germany. One thing I learned from her music is that a "theme" does not have to be melodic or motivic but can be a texture or a timbre. This is why I use a number of different coloristic ideas in the piece as building blocks. These include:
  • pizzicato for both instruments
  • harmonics for both instruments
  • col legno and sul pont mainly for violin
  • "prepared" guitar using a paper clip
  • glissandi for both instruments
  • trills for both instruments used as a texture more than a harmonic or melodic device
  • unmeasured tremolandi on two strings for both instruments similarly
  • "snare drum" effect on the guitar which is achieved by crossing the 5th and 6th strings over one another for a rustling metallic effect
3. The ineffable influence of Zeno of Elea. I have always been fascinated by the paradoxes of Zeno of Elea who seems to show that, for example, Achilles can never catch the tortoise. This paradox seems to point to the question of whether or not space divides into infinitely small points. Or so I understand it! For my purposes I want to see the temporal flow of music as being of two kinds: with an underlying pulse or with no pulse and extended sounds. Pop music always has a rigid beat while Gregorian chant has floating sonorities. Is time more like a march or more like a river? A big part of the structure of Dark Dream is based on contrasting these two concepts of time. For example, in the very beginning we have a single note, fermata, with no fixed duration. This is followed by a simple rhythmic counterpoint. This in turn leads to the speeding up and slowing down motif which the two instruments play against one another. The contrasts are throughout the piece. Other similar contrasts are between fixed individual pitches and glissandi. On a higher structural level the two outer sections of the piece use a traditional score layout. In the middle there is a contrasting section in "moment form" in which each instrument is given a collection of musical moments that they play in any order. This is repeated so there is another ordering. The effect of this kind of texture is that not only is there no narrative direction, but there is of course no shared pulse between the instruments. The music floats.

Click to enlarge


4. There are four basic motifs in the piece:

A.
B. 
C.
D,

Two are with pulse, A and D, and two, B and C, are without pulse. Only D resembles a traditional motif. These ideas are developed in various ways.

5. In order to avoid traditional tonal implications, I use different forms of the octatonic scale in the piece.

6. The piece really avoids a structure with "directed motion." When I started to do a Schenkerian analysis what seemed to be coming into view was a movement from G up to D flat! Rather upside down. I am going to go back and go into that more carefully later on.

7. Silence has a significant role in the piece. This is on analogy with the layout of traditional Chinese art which tends to have a blank or "negative space" in the centre where Western art would have a focus or climax. In Dark Dream, the climactic moment really comes at the end of the moment form section which is a silence followed by a kind of recapitulation.

Well, there are seven ways of looking at Dark Dream. Rather sketchy, I know! Here is the original post with the clip of the recording:


Comments are welcome, of course.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

All Kinds of Brows

Reading a new collection of essays by Richard Taruskin, in this case Cursed Questions, is always a disconcerting experience because it is, on the one hand, stimulating and informative, and on the other hand, dismaying and destabilizing. It is stimulating to question our common assumptions, but also disturbing. Taruskin assembles such a large cast of characters and delves so deeply into the cross-currents of culture that at the end of the day, one scarcely knows what it is safe to think or believe.

The essay I am currently wrestling with is titled "Which Way Is Up? On the sociology of taste" and it is a knotty one indeed. The issue revolves around the problem of modernism and modernity and the sociology of taste, specifically how the taste for the finer arts, classical music and its more challenging examples, has been promoted to the masses as an enlivening and upwardly mobile product. The issues are complex and Taruskin skillfully unveils the history of what used to be called "middlebrow" taste and aspirations. Everyone is going to learn to like Beethoven, and perhaps even Stravinsky, whether they want to or not! He remarks:
More advanced technique is now to be equated with enhanced moral standing. That way is now up. And so it is with the politicized critical vocabulary we use today, in which progressive is given a default aesthetic privilege and conservative is stigmatized.
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Taruskin takes aim at some of the more uncompromising figures in this project such as one of my own heroes, Joseph Kerman, as follows:
Was there ever a musical writer as militantly highbrow as Macdonald? None but Joseph Kerman comes to mind. His Opera as Drama—derived from a series of critical essays he had written in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he was a very young man, for the Hudson Review, one of the many “little magazines” devoted to high culture in midcentury America—is the only musicological book (or perhaps I should say, the only book by a certified, sheepskin-carrying musicologist) that seems to exemplify in all its purity the highbrow or snob position defined by Richard Peterson, the leading American sociologist of brows, as “moralistic contempt for and distancing from all cultural manifestations that do not fit with what is taken to be proper.” Kerman’s book has been compared with F. R. Leavis’s The Great Tradition as an exercise in winnowing. Its ten chapters comprise what John Updike (thinking of Vladimir Nabokov’s literary judgments) called a “willful little pantheon” of exemplary works. Its tone is suitably irritable and prim, in keeping with the class anxiety to which snobbery gives outward expression. As Peterson writes, to a thoroughbred highbrow “even the ‘serious’ study of popular culture by academics is a threat to ‘standards,’ because, within the received perspective, it is seen as lending legitimacy to that which is vulgar, and it thus threatens the sanctity of the status boundaries distinguishing between what is fine and what is common.” Opera as Drama starts right off with a warning that “flabby relativism is certainly the danger,” and with foreboding: “it is hard to think that all our operatic activity can proceed much longer without standards.”
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
Ignoring the recurring slaps ("moralistic contempt," "proper," "willful little pantheon," "irritable and prim," and so on) that Taruskin assembles to cue us as to how to evaluate Kerman's stance, I pretty much am on Kerman's side here. But, as aforementioned, with a disturbed uneasiness. Perhaps my own belief in some sort of aesthetic standards and purity is just so much codswallop. But I really can't disavail myself of the notion that yes, despite the enormous intellectual smokescreen Taruskin releases to hang over the battlefield, there is such a thing as aesthetic vulgarity. I offer as evidence a truly nauseating arrangement by André Rieu of the middle movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo with the guitar solo given to a set of bells.

But after Taruskin has delivered his devastating analytical blows to the whole sociological history of high, middle and lowbrow consumption of art, one almost wants to emulate Whoopi Goldberg and simply shave off one's eyebrows!
A religious, ethical impulse undergirds all art promotion that sees art consumption as a means of self-improvement. That especially includes middlebrow promotion, going all the way back to Matthew Arnold himself.
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
If one sees the idea that art can improve oneself in some way as being illegitimate, then what does that leave? Art as a purely formalistic pleasure with no social context? Surely that is not what Taruskin is arguing?
I had a bit of sober academic fun debunking these religious appeals in The Oxford History of Western Music, as regarded both César Franck and Elliott Carter. Nobody paid much notice in the case of Franck, but there was a furious reaction to the discussion of Carter, especially because the Carter chapter was paired with one on Britten to illustrate what I was calling “the essential question of modern art,” namely, “whether artists lived in history or in society.”126 Pretty much everyone with a stake in the question assumed I was coming down heavily on the side of society, and therefore on the side of Britten. That is how I gained my middlebrow and antimodernist spurs.
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition. 
Taruskin makes the claim that the history of the 20th century, specifically that of the relationship between the Nazis and classical music, forever severs claims to the moral benefits of classical music.
Without a moral claim, what is left of our brows? Just taste, which, to remind you, Bourdieu defined as “manifested preference.” The definition is important: it shows why de gustibus non est disputandum gets it wrong. We incessantly declare and dispute, in pursuit of social capital or (as it used to be called) social advantage, the very thing that the proverb tells us is beyond dispute. In an important sense, then, our tastes are not even tastes unless we are disputing them. As long as there was perceived social advantage in a taste for high art, and as long as its pursuit mandated the negation and avoidance of the low, the middlebrow could thrive—but, much more vitally, so could high art itself in countries, like the United States, without a tradition of aristocratic patronage. The middlebrow was part of the support system that sustained the art that could not pay its way, of which classical music was perhaps the archetype. The middlebrow’s much-deplored, easily derided commercial enterprises gave classical music a purchase it now seems to be losing irreversibly.
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
 But, you know, my own personal history is at odds with this. I really never pursued classical music because of some notion of social advantage as there was none--not where I came from. There was only a sort of diffuse notional advantage in that knowledge of classical music, along with literature, philosophy, history and so forth, did offer one a wide perspective that, patently, was not very common.

I think the most disturbing thing about Taruskin's discussion is that he seems too fastidious to make any simple claims of value. He won't argue outright for cultural relativism, but he acts as if it were an unavoidable truth. Or am I just missing the point?

At the end of the day, Richard Taruskin, in addition to his monumental five-volume history of Western Music, wrote another monumental two volume, 1,800 pages, devoted to the music of Igor Stravinsky. Not André Rieu!


Saturday, April 4, 2020

Saturday Musings

This is how my day is going:


* * *

The English have a unique approach to every crisis:


Next I expect the Bavarians to show us how it is done with excerpts from Wagner blatted from assorted balconies on tuba.

* * *

The Finns show a unique courtesy and grace: Opera Star Notifies Neighbours She is About to Resume Practicing.
Dear neighbours, I am temporarily living on the 7th floor, apartment 30. I will begin practising my singing on the coming Friday. My aim is to practise daily for around 2 hours between the hours 14-18.
My apologies in advance for the extra noise caused.
Kind regards,
Karita Mattila
* * *

Khatia Buniatishvili gets praise and blame for different things, but she has sparked some interest in the Liszt piano concertos for me:


* * *

There always seems to be something interesting going on in Iceland. This is Arngunnur Árnadóttir playing the Clarinet Concerto K. 822 by Mozart with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Cornelius Meister, conductor.


Friday, April 3, 2020

Friday Miscellanea

On top of the coronavirus epidemic my week has been plagued by Internet and electricity outages, but that isn't going to stop the Friday Miscellanea, even though it has certainly inhibited much additional posting.

* * *

I stole this from Somewhere in the Internet:
Almost time for my jerk neighbors to start yelling and banging on the wall again. Every night from midnight until two. It's non-stop and it really messes with my drum practice.

* * *

Wenatchee the Hatchet has also been blogging about Richard Taruskin's new essay collection Cursed Questions:
I've read Taruskin enough over the last fifteen years to have a pretty good sense that on the topic of a Romantic and post-Romantic assertion of the aesthetic autonomy of the arts in general and high art in particular that Taruskin's answer to the question of whether there is a baby in the bath water is that, basically, no, there isn't.  We cannot ultimately disentangle the aesthetic considerations of art works from those social, economic and political and ritual aspects of reception history through which works come to our attention.  To put it in musical terms, the extramusical associations through which music can receive meaning from "us" as individuals and as grous are inextricable from the music we listen to that we then admire or reject.
Yes, and I guess we have to accept that this is largely unarguable. But on the personal level, I came from a cultural milieu where there was very little in the way of cultural associations, myths and social contexts to shape my reception of the music. Sure, I picked up some of that from reading in the local library, but I honestly think that much of the way I interacted with the music was on a personal level. The kind of fundamental assumptions that one picks up from one's piano teacher and peers were really not available. There was the world, a confused medley of politics, economics and everyday culture, and then there was the world of classical music which seemed to me pretty much a separate universe. Your milage may vary.

* * *

 Very much connected with the Taruskin collection is this article on the influence of the Cold War magazine Encounter on culture:
It is almost 30 years since the demise of Encounter, the London-based monthly review of culture and politics, but no other magazine has since come close to matching its influence. Certainly none has attracted such a glittering contributors’ list of philosophers, poets, novelists, critics, historians and journalists. The sense of loss occasioned by its ending, akin in my own case to that caused by the death of a close friend, combined with a fear that a force for good in the world had been carelessly allowed to perish.
But communism had just collapsed, the Cold War had been won and the US foundations which had recently supported the magazine concluded that its aim of fighting communism had been heroically served; underwriting a magazine is an expensive business, and there were new concerns to address.
* * *

Just a few days ago, March 29, the great Polish Composer Krzysztof Penderecki passed away.
The Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, who has died aged 86, was an outstanding representative of musical modernism’s success in the 1960s. From the early 70s he became equally emblematic of the subsequent failure of so many of that modernism’s principal pioneers to sustain a lifelong career without abandoning their original principles.
In Penderecki’s case, that appeared to mean the substitution of his early trademark emphasis on sound itself, the innovative textures of his choral and orchestral music replacing themes and tonality as the basis for musical construction, with a more lyrical and Romantic style that seemed more like a continuation of 19th-century compositional concerns than a radical reappraisal of received materials.
The Guardian obituary seems to raise quite a few questions!

* * *

I was once fined by the musician's union for playing a free concert, and now we have the Munich police raiding the Bavarian State Ballet for rehearsing against orders!
This morning, a police raid took place at the Ballet Rehearsal House at Platzl in Munich, the headquarters of the Bavarian State Ballet. The dancers had to identify themselves and their personal data was recorded. This was the last so-called “voluntary” daily training, which ballet director Igor Zelensky had decided to hold despite the pandemic…
* * *

Inexplicably, this Sarabande by Bach, from a possible seventh cello suite, was just discovered! How odd that it was on April 1st...


* * *

The New York Times informs us that The Coronavirus Hasn't Slowed Classical Music. And I retort, "just the paychecks!"
The live streams began immediately, with production values ranging from tinny iPhone videos to cinema-ready sophistication. On March 12, the day New York theaters shuttered, the pianist Igor Levit gave a lo-fi performance from his living room, while the Berlin Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra played to empty halls and audiences at home. (In retrospect, these groups of 100 or so musicians should probably have stayed as far apart as the rest of us.)
Since then, a day hasn’t gone by without something to stream. In the past week alone, I’ve been able to watch older performances I missed; ones I had hoped to travel for this spring; ones that would otherwise seem unfathomable, like the pianist Maria João Pires coming out of retirement. If anything, I’m taking in more music than before; the only difference is that now I can be in multiple places — or at least multiple browser tabs — at once.
* * *

I've been putting my extra time to use by memorizing a couple of Bach gavottes.

* * *

Let's have a really splendid envoi today. First up Igor Levit with Beethoven. I am amazed they got him to play on an upright!


Here is one of my teachers, Oscar Ghiglia playing the second movement of the Sonata Romantica by Manuel Ponce. UPDATE: He is playing the second and third movements.



"Come, Heavy Sleep" from the First Booke of Songes or Ayres by John Dowland with Nigel Rogers and Paul O'Dette.


And finally, the Andante con moto, used in countless European films, from the Trio No. 2 by Franz Schubert played by Ambroise Aubrun, violin, Maëlle Vilbert, cello and Julien Hanck, piano


Enjoy!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Art as Religion

This post is inspired by some of the comments on the last post "There is No Hope for Art?" One commentator wrote: "I'm in the art-religion church even though I know there is not a lot to recommend it." I'm not so sure of that. I realized early in life that art, music in particular, was for me a substitute for religion. It took several decades to realize some of the implications of that. I do generally appreciate religion and what it seems to provide in the lives of my religious friends, but I have just never felt the allure myself.

It was G. K. Chesterton who said: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.” And so now we have people who fetishize any number of things as replacements for religion--sometimes even the religion of other cultures! We have people that worship their own bodies, their appearance generally, their material acquisitions, the environment, food and wine, and a host of other things. Set alongside this, the idea of art as religion is really not so bad!

Imagine that you pursue art or music as a vocation. It provides a daily discipline in your life. You study it in either a practical or scholarly manner (or both). You use it to take you on aesthetic and spiritual journeys. You debate the finer points, including the moral implications. All this is really positive. You could, of course, pursue some of the other things I mentioned in similar ways and derive similar benefits, though many of the things we pursue we do in an unhealthy way. I suppose I would take a kind of Aquinian approach. Thomas Aquinas reconciled the philosophy of Aristotle with the theology of the Catholic Church. If you pursue art with a reasonable and intelligent approach, it need not become a fetish, but rather a benefit in life. Same with everything, really.

But art and music have very special potential benefits that most other activities do not. There is a long and rich history to explore with all sorts of aesthetic and social implications. There is the challenge of performance which rewards not only the artist, but the audience as well. There is the challenge of understanding music from the point of view of the listener and the analyst. Writing about music is another multifarious challenge.

As religions go, you could do a lot worse than choose art and music.

Woody Allen once said that Mozart was proof for the existence of God. I lean more to Bach myself. Here is the Magnificat in D major with Concentus Musicus Vienna and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt:


Talk about serendipity! Just after I posted this I ran into this supporting argument:


Sunday, March 29, 2020

There is No Hope for Art?

I'm reading Richard Taruskin's newest collection of essays, just published a few days ago. One of the largest pieces in the book is the one titled "Is There a Baby in the Bathwater? On aesthetic autonomy" from which this passage is taken:
To single out as “music worthy of human beings” a music that is inaccessible to all but an infinitesimal, self-congratulating, and possibly mendacious fraction of actual humans seems to me no different from claiming that only the tiny fraction that possess the right bloodlines, or the right class affiliation, or the right racial or religious heritage, are fully human. If this is the use to which the doctrine of aesthetic autonomy is to be put, then the baby has drowned and it might as well be thrown out with the bathwater. 
For if the grim history of the twentieth century has not discredited the idea of redemptive high culture and undermined the authority of its adherents, then there is no hope at all for art.
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
He is quoting Theodor Adorno and this passage comes in the last section of the very long essay. The music referred to is that of Arnold Schoenberg. Despite the fact that he has built up to this with a meticulous discussion of many examples from many perspectives it feels as if, finally, he has thrown out at least part of the baby! The question is, is art truly autonomous, floating like a fragrant cloud over the messy reality that it offers an alternative to? Or is it possible for a fine art like contemporary classical music to be an active and non-hypocritical agent in the world? In an earlier section that I have to quote at some length Taruskin notes that:
The ideal of aesthetic autonomy at its pinnacle of purity, by fostering a now-discredited and hopelessly academicized avant-garde, has contributed heavily to the social and cultural marginalization of music as a serious fine art. A tragicomic example of that marginalization comes by way of the Pulitzer Prize, one of the most prestigious awards an artist or scholar can earn in America. (And it is also a stunning example of the independence of cultural capital from monetary, because the Pulitzer purse is negligible.) The annual prize recipients in fiction, history, biography, and drama, even (sometimes) poetry, are almost always figures of interest to the public at large. Those awards are publicly debated; sides are taken; approval and disapproval are vehemently aired. The prize in music, until very recently, traditionally went to somebody the general music public had never heard of (often enough to somebody I’d never heard of), and nobody ever cared who won it, except jealous fellow-professionals. 
And then even the professionals began to despise it. When the composer John Adams won it in 2003 for his 9/11 memorial On the Transmigration of Souls, he expressed what one critic called “ambivalence bordering on contempt.” To another he wrote, as if paraphrasing my own judgment, that “among musicians that I know, the Pulitzer has over the years lost much of the prestige it still carries in other fields like literature and journalism,” for “anyone perusing the list of past winners cannot help noticing that many if not most of the country’s greatest musical minds are conspicuously missing, . . . passed over year after year, often in favor of academy composers who have won a disproportionate number of prizes.” With the award of the prize in 2018 to the rapper Kendrick Lamar, about whom a large public certainly does care, the Pulitzer judges have come around to recognizing the meaninglessness of their habitual public recognition of artists without a public. The decision was widely viewed as an attempt to make amends. Can the prize now ever go again to composers of contemporary “classical” music? Or has their marginalization been effectively pronounced hopeless?
Taruskin, Richard. Cursed Questions . University of California Press. Kindle Edition.
I have just the suspicion of a feeling here that Taruskin is perhaps just a tad too competent in his job of ripping away the veil. As a composer of contemporary classical music who has won no prizes and sought no vainglory (nor money for that matter) I think it would be kind and perhaps even moral of Taruskin to point out, oh, just occasionally, that perhaps people in general might look to classical music, even in its contemporary manifestation, as something that might contain expressions and experiences coded in musical terms, that could be widely enjoyed. Of course, he would riposte, this is not his job as historian. True, that. Still...

As an envoi I offer the Six Little Pieces, op 19 of Schoenberg played by Michel Béroff:


Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday Miscellanea

The Verbier Festival in Switzerland is canceled:
The festival has just announced ‘with infinite regret and sorrow’ that its 27th edition, planned for July 17 to August 2, has been called off.
This makes me nervous for the Salzburg Festival. However, the latest word is that all is ready for the festival to proceed with a final decision being taken on May 30.

* * * 

From the Guardian, here is a review of the disc by Barbara Hannigan I posted about the other day: La Passione review – Grisey's masterpiece endures.
On Barbara Hannigan’s recording with the Ludwig Orchestra, she pairs Quatre Chants with a Haydn symphony, No 49 in F minor, which gives its nickname, La Passione, to the entire disc. Hannigan’s performance of the Grisey (which she conducts as well as sings) is cooler, perhaps less immediate than the other version available on disc, with Catherine Dubosc and Klangforum Wien, but it evokes the work’s haunting, unclassifiably expressive world more vividly than ever.
* * * 

The Wall Street Journal Magazine has a feature article on Kanye West this week: The Creation and the Myth of Kanye West. He is actually the only current pop artist that I am a fan of. This might be behind the paywall, but here are some quotes.
West, who mentioned in passing that he was preparing to record a new album in Mexico this spring, has 21 Grammys, including four for best rap album. He has been called an “American Mozart” by Atlantic writer David Samuels.
But West aims to be a great designer of all kinds of things. For more than a decade he has pursued plans to have the phenomenal impact in fashion that he’s had in music. West admires Steve Jobs. And McDonald’s. And the Gap, where he worked as a teen, when it was cool in the 1990s. “I believe that Yeezy is the McDonald’s and the Apple of apparel,” West says. “In order to make the Apple of apparel the next Gap, it has to be a new invention. To invent something that’s so good that you don’t even get credit for it because it’s the norm.” 
Possibly the most lucrative business decision West ever made was to retain ownership of the Yeezy brand. Today he produces sneakers and slides in a partnership with Adidas. The Yeezy merch, the apparel and nonathletic footwear—the products that he has been working so diligently to develop this past year—are West’s alone. During an appearance on James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” segment last October, West told the talk show host, “Yeezy [is] worth $3 billion.” An Adidas representative declined to confirm West’s estimate, citing a confidentiality agreement. West, who says it bothers him that people don’t think of him as a successful businessman, repeated the estimate to me in February when he explained how he could afford to support so many endeavors. “The fact that Yeezy does $1.5 billion in revenue per year and the valuation is $2.9 billion means that money does not have to enter into the equation.” I later reviewed documents that reflected those numbers.
* * *

The Ojai Music Festival has also been canceled.
“As we were monitoring the COVID-19 crisis over these last several weeks, we considered the unpredictability of travel as well as the safety and comfort of our artists and patrons,” Eberhardt said in the announcement. “It has also become clear that the institution cannot shoulder the projected financial burden due to the forecasted drop in festival revenue and increase in festival expenses.”
* * *

This is a very bad time for all musicians and performing artists. Some very prominent artists, including Anne Sophie Mutter and Plácido Domingo, have contracted the virus. At least one prominent artist's management agency in England has gone out of business, nearly every symphony and opera has canceled the remainder of its season with some paying their artists and others not (coughTheMetcough). Music festivals are canceling right and left. Dark times indeed. But I think that perhaps things are not as bad as they seem and that we will recover, perhaps sooner than we think.

* * *

Let's have some optimistic envois today. Here is Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks, for chamber orchestra, from his neo-classical period:


Here is the estimable Hopkinson Smith playing all the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Bach on the Baroque lute:


His justification, not that he needs one, is that Bach did a version of at least one of these pieces, the Partita No. 3, for Baroque lute. Here is Khatia Buniatishvili playing the Rondo from the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Beethoven. There is just something exhilarating about this performance.


Hilary Hahn playing the Presto from the First Violin Sonata:


Let's end with something diverting. How about the Divertimento K. 563 for violin, viola and cello by Mozart, perhaps the most substantial divertimento ever written?


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Analysis is Paralysis!

The phrase is a quote from a French horn player I used to know. From a performer's view this is certainly true! But is it true generally? I have the impression that more and more analysis is being used as a tool to teach music composition. Graduate composition students often have to do an analysis of pieces they have written. This is reminiscent of what Schoenberg was doing in the transition from tonal to pan-tonal music. He would write a piece and then sit down and try and analyze what he had done. The process of creation was instinctive, but his idea was that he had to understand what structures or ideas underlay the music composition.

A lot of composers, I suspect, just write intuitively with perhaps the development of "filters" to trim down the possibilities to ones that are most useful. Other composers follow worked-out systems of composition (the serialists). Others create systems and move on to new systems with each piece (Stockhausen). Others modify traditional styles by distorting or stripping them down to essentials (Prokofiev? Feldman? Stravinsky?). Others are what theorists like to call "refractory to analysis" meaning probably that they just have no idea what is going on.

Music theory and music analysis are somewhat different animals. Music theory is the search for general principles of music construction while analysis is more focused on the specifics of individual pieces. They overlap to a considerable extent, of course.

I have been reading this book, which though a bit dated (1987), is proving to be very informative. The author was a professor at Southhampton University in England.


His writing style is clear and informative and he gives a good overview of various different approaches. Analysts seem to prefer shorter pieces as the process of analysis can be very exhausting and time-consuming. The first prelude in Bk I of the Well-Tempered Clavier is a particular favorite:



It is amazing how much analysis you can do of a two minute piece. Another popular one is the brief (two and a half minutes) song from Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, "Das Wandern."


On first listening, both these pieces might sound very simple, trite even, but one thing analysis can do is refresh your listening so you are hearing with new ears.

In our everyday lives we are constantly hearing music in public spaces that is run-of-the-mill, routine music, music that sounds a lot like a lot of other music. This dulls our aesthetic sense so we become less capable of hearing into a piece, hearing past the surface.

So now that we are all locked down for a while, we can sit down and do some serious listening!

Right?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Tuesday Miscellanea

I was driving to the university many years ago with the radio on (CBC) and suddenly this song came on:


No need to announce who that was. Apart from the great trio of songs he wrote with the Beatles (Strawberry Fields, A Day in the Life and I Am the Walrus) I think my two favourite Lennon songs are this one and Don't Let Me Down. As for the video, well, what other music video do you know that has cameo appearances by Fred Astaire, George Harrison, Dick Cavett and Andy Warhol?

Great song and, I think, very appropriate for this week.

My least favourite Lennon song? Imagine.

* * *

Let's have a bunch of clips today. This is French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau playing the Bach Chaconne from the Second Violin Partita:


* * *

We need some Dylan. I bought this album way back in 69 or 70 and at the time I was taken aback by the utter simplicity of it. Which now I appreciate.


And that has to be THE most unprepossessing album cover photo ever.

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Another piece for harpsichord. This is Continuum by Ligeti, composed in 1968, so just a year after John Wesley Harding.


* * *

This one is from a bit later, 1982: Laurie Anderson with "O Superman."


* * *

This is Gustav Leonhardt playing a piece by the French harpsichordist François Couperin named after another French harpsichordist: "La Superbe ou La Forqueray."


* * *

We need a finale, I guess and I can think of no finer symphonic finale than the Molto Allegro to the Symphony No. 41 by Mozart. Here with the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie conducted by Mark Laycock.


As the old Australian saying goes "we're not here to f**k spiders!"

Monday, March 23, 2020

Ana Vidovic DVD

I think this is the third post I have put up on classical guitarist Ana Vidovic. The first one was on her Naxos CD which she made just after winning a major competition. That was twenty years ago! So, no longer a child prodigy or even a young artist. The second post, this one, was a brief look at two guitarists that were getting quite well known, her and Roland Dyens. I described him as "the world's best restaurant guitarist" which is a rather left-handed compliment. I gave Ana a good review, but with a slight caveat: "Ana Vidovic is a very fine player with loads of technique. Sometimes she misreads an accidental--I've noticed a couple in Moreno Torroba--but she is a young player and has room to grow as an artist. Well worth listening to now and in the future."

I'm afraid I am going to have to retract that last comment. She does not seem to have developed as an artist. Let's have a look at this clip from YouTube:


I just want to talk about the first piece, the three movements of the Suite Castellana by Moreno Torroba. This is a lovely piece that is not well-known in its full form, with all three movements. The reason for that is likely that Segovia only recorded the first two. Ana Vidovic's tendency to misread accidentals in Torroba (partly because there are some misprints in the published scores) returns here with a vengeance--there are a bunch of them in the Fandanguillo. If you either play this piece, as I do, or know the Segovia recording, you will be wincing several times. Another problem is the phrasing: she seems to just have the wrong instincts about where and how to use rubato. Another problem is the tuning once we get past the 40' mark the guitar sounds out of tune. More misread notes leading up to the worst musical phrase: the last pizzicato section taking us to the final chord is rhythmically weird and confused. The pizzicato isn't even very good and it is inconsistently applied.

She redeems herself with the Arada, the second movement, but it is nothing really special. The Danza is where things go horribly wrong. Honestly, if you want to know how this movement should sound you have to listen to Pepe Romero, he is the only one who "gets it." Vidovic plays the opening phase much too fast and leaves out a beat in the third iteration. Then she slams on the brakes for the middle section. The repeated note phrase that begins the movement and leads us back into the opening theme she delivers with absolutely no shape.

Two mysteries here: first, what is going wrong with Ana Vidovic? It now appears that she was never terribly gifted as a musician, but had considerable technical skills. She still has them, but is growing careless, especially about musical matters. I even hear a few sloppy places here and there. The other mystery is in the comments to this clip on YouTube:
No micro-mistakes wow... this is high-level virtuoso playing! Ana is truly a one in a million guitar player with outstanding memory, dexterity and musicality
Ana Vidovic has such a clarity and mastery of technique, my only regret is that I did not discover this great artist sooner.
This amazing artist brings a whole new level of sensitivity and a superb technique to these pieces. Beautiful to listen to and so calm and relaxing to watch.
Such beautiful playing - true artistry - letting the musicality of the peice ring out rather than playing too fast. Brilliant.
And hundreds more! What to think of that? Of course, I could simply be wrong about her. But I'm not. If you like I can consult the score and tell you exactly what notes she misreads and what beats she drops and what places she obviously phrases poorly. These things are not subjective. Mind you, you do have to know the piece and have played it for years. But I have long had this naive belief that real musicianship is always sensed by even non-professional listeners. And that they can also discern poor musicianship even though they may not be able to put what the problem is into words. I guess I was wrong about that...

Ok readers, time for you to weigh in.


 
 

Music and Philosophy

There are a number of odd connections between music and philosophy including increasing interest in the field of the philosophy of music. But I keep running across incidental connections like Ludwig Wittgenstein's dislike of Mahler. Reading about the analytical method of Heinrich Schenker, I get the strong feeling that his basic stance toward music is Hegelian (or perhaps Schopenhauerian). Before all of your eyes glaze over, let's figure out what that means.

Schenker developed a kind of musical analysis that delved below the surface to reveal the "deep structure" as it were of how music worked. He showed how, in many 18th and 19th century compositions there is a linear unfolding that is responsible for the structural coherence of the music. If you have noticed that there is a kind of inevitability to the way a piece by Bach or Beethoven unfolds in time, then you are hearing it in a kind of Schenkerian way. His claim is that this is the right way to hear music and music that does not correspond to this kind of analysis or hearing is not good music. Schenker was very much a musical elitist. His methods are often characterized as being about the psychology of how we listen. But I think you could also see them as being akin to German idealism in philosophy, the idea that there is some kind of overarching metaphysical drive underlying reality and therefore, perhaps, music. I'm making no claims of influence either way, of course, just noticing that there is certain harmony of outlook.

What happened in music history is that the creative discoveries in harmony by the French and Italians in the 17th and early 18th centuries were developed by the Germans and Austrians in the later 18th and 19th centuries (to brutally oversimplify things!). They also absorbed the contrapuntal discoveries of the centuries before. The result was the brilliant, charming and expressive language of the "common practice" period that stretches from Bach to Brahms and includes the majority of what we call the classical "canon." This kind of "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" is how Hegel characterizes history as a whole.

Towards the end of the 19th century this synthesis started to come apart as people like Wagner and Schoenberg on the inside and Bartók, Prokofiev and Stravinsky on the outside took music in entirely different directions. What philosophical approach might correspond to theirs in music? Well, I haven't decided yet, so please weigh in if you have thoughts...

Perhaps a double envoi might be suitable. On the one hand one of those inevitable sounding syntheses of Bach. This is the E major Fugue from Bk II of the Well-Tempered Clavier played by Glenn Gould:


And this is the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde by Wagner, Zubin Mehta conducting Bayerische Staatsoper Bayerisches Staatsorchester:


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Barbara Hannigan: Soprano/Conductor

A new CD, La Passione - Works by Grisey, Nono & Haydn, is about to be released by Barbara Hannigan who both sings and conducts. The first piece, by Luigi Nono, is Djamila Boupacha, a heart-rending cry for solo soprano, paying tribute to a freedom fighter tortured by French paratroopers during the Algerian war; Picasso also portrayed her in charcoal. This is followed by the Symphony No. 49, La Passione, by Joseph Haydn and the disc continues with Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil by Gérard Grisey which she both sings and conducts. Hannigan is particularly known for her performances of contemporary opera.

And she is Canadian! Here is a wonderful clip of the Nono followed by the Haydn--the transition is lovely.


There is no reason you can't appreciate both Nono and Haydn.

Saturday Musings

Are we ready for coronavirus/music humor yet?


* * *

The 19th century equivalent of the "album," a collection of songs that might be interrelated somehow or have a narrative, was the song cycle. Of ones by Schubert, Schumann and Hugo Wolf, called "lieder" in German, perhaps the greatest is Winterreise, a cycle of twenty-four songs composed in 1827, the year before Schubert's death at thirty-one. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was perhaps the greatest lieder singer of all time and in 1979, accompanied by the great Alfred Brendel on piano, he made a film of the cycle. The last song, "Der Leiermann" is possibly the darkest song ever written.


* * *

Here is a fascinating article on Furtwängler and Shostakovich, two great musicians who lived through horrific times and somehow provided a message of unity: Furtwängler and Shostakovich, Bearing Witness in Wartime.
Shostakovich the composer, and Furtwängler the conductor, possessed a genius for channeling the moment. On opposite sides of a devastating conflict, both served a great city facing extinction. A sincerely Soviet artist, Shostakovich practiced attunement to a mass of listeners: Spurning art for art’s sake, he prioritized his audience. Furtwängler pertinently insisted that he could only make music in the presence of sympathetic hearers. Equally significant was his baton technique: He notoriously eschewed clear downbeats. Rather than imposing a detailed interpretive blueprint, he bonded with his players in a transporting communal rite. Shostakovich’s symphonies say “we,” not “I.” It is the same with Furtwängler’s performances. This is what makes them feel empowering.
* * *

 Philip Kennicot has a book out titled Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning and it is reviewed by Oliver Soden in The Spectator.
Were this a less good book than it is, it would be called How Bach Can Help You Grieve. As it is, Counterpoint serves very well, describing the American art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott’s intertwined themes: his reaction to the death of his mother, with whom he had a fractious and traumatic relationship, and his attempt to learn Bach’s Goldberg Variations, through which he considers the ability of the greatest music to ease us out of a senseless pit of grief.
This is a deeply serious and often affecting book, combining the ‘grief memoir’ with the genre created by Alan Rusbridger in Play It Again, an account of an amateur pianist learning Chopin’s Ballade No. 1. Kennicott’s two strands, of memory and music, become the first and second subjects of a book in sonata form, developed and recapitulated into a satisfying whole. He has written a voyage around his wounded and wounding mother, by way of an aria and 30 variations.
 There are few mentally healthier activities, I am sure, than sitting down and learning a piece by Bach. So I will wrap this up and continue my project of learning two Bach gavottes.

* * *

Here are the Bach Goldberg Variations in the 1982 recording by Glenn Gould:


Friday, March 20, 2020

Friday Miscellanea

Of course we here at TMS have always been in touch with Western Civilization, but this is an interesting account of how some institutions lost their way: Rediscovering Western Civilization.
We begin in Part One by critiquing a landmark of modern historical deconstructionism: the claim that the very idea of Western civilization is a modern invention devised during World War I as a way of hoodwinking young American soldiers into fighting and dying in the trenches of Europe. This thesis, propounded in 1982 by the historian Gilbert Allardyce, was cited by key players during the original Stanford controversy. Those scholars used Allardyce to show that elimination of Stanford’s required course on the history and literature of the West was not a major break with the past.
In the decades since the Stanford dustup, the Allardyce thesis has been invoked to justify the replacement of college and K-12 Western Civilization courses with World History, or with heavily globalized versions of European and American history. The Allardyce thesis shows how a wildly improbable bit of scholarly radicalism virtually unknown to the general public can nonetheless sweep the academy and transform American education. The Allardyce thesis is also an early and influential example of the sort of debunking continually churned out by historians nowadays, yet almost never itself subject to critical scrutiny. It’s time the debunkers were debunked.
Despite the report being focused just on the United States, I think it is a useful perspective on similar policies and strategies in force elsewhere.

* * *

Wenatchee the Hatchet has a long essay musing on "whiteness" in music theory and the role of non-white guitar composers like Leo Brouwer.
Music education that's geared toward the idea that students will be making a living recording music actually seems like a more pernicious myth than the myth that Western music notational conventions are somehow "white" when we have more than enough classical music composed by black composers to prove that's not the case. For that matter, when there are classical composers from Asia and of Asian American descent who use the Western musical notational systems; when the first published musical work in Western notation by a Native American was back in 1863 with Thomas Commuck's Indian Melodies hymnal; I don't think it's even historically fair or accurate to say Western musical notation is "white".
Go have a look.

* * *

Here is an update from Salzburg. They are planning to go forward with the Whitsun Festival, but the Easter Festival is canceled:
On March 10, the Austrian government published an order by which outdoor events with over 500 participants and indoor events with more than 100 participants must be cancelled through 3. April 2020.
For the Salzburg Festival, this currently means: On the basis of the current risk assessment (current as of 5. March 2020), all events of the Whitsun Festival (29. May to 1. June 2020) and the Summer Festival (18. July to 30. August 2020) will take place. If the risk assessment should change substantially, events would be cancelled only if they were prohibited officially by the government authorities.
* * *

The Guardian has an interesting piece up: The best classical music works of the 21st century. As the century is only 20 years old and a sober evaluation takes several decades, this is highly speculative. But worth a look. There are some familiar names like Max Richter. Here is an excerpt from a larger piece, The Blue Notebooks.


That is well into Górecki territory and sounds rather like Vivaldi in super slow motion. There is also Steve Reich's meditation on WTC 9/11 which uses similar techniques to his Different Trains.


There are twenty-five works in total with familiar and unfamiliar names. The number one choice is  Hans Abrahamsen's orchestral song cycle Let Me Tell You (2013). Here is an excerpt.


* * *

Wow, a Shostakovich festival I didn't know existed:
The annual Shostakovich festival at Gohrisch in Saxony, where Shostakovich composed his eight string quartet, has won the right to premiere 10 newsly discovered Shostakovich manuscripts, some dating back to his teenage years.
The performers include Tchaikovsky winner Dmitry Masleev and Chopin winner Yulianna Avdeeva .
The festival opens July 1.
* * *

These are very trying times for all music institutions. Opera Australia is in a real bind:
Opera Australia may be forced to sell off one or both of its properties in Surry Hills and Alexandria to stave off the threat of bankruptcy caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
Chief executive Rory Jeffes revealed management had been in crisis talks to keep the company afloat after it announced it would cancel the remainder of its Sydney Summer season, including its flagship Opera on the Harbour event that was to open on March 27.
* * *

Now here is a 21st century headline: As Dallas Opera learned, when algorithms decide, we all lose.
The [Dallas] opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors is a groundbreaking program helping to overcome gender inequality among the world’s leading classical conductors. As we reported during another successful Hart Institute residency in November, only five of the 100 busiest conductors in the world are women. Industry insiders say there aren’t as many opportunities for female conductors and so a group of leaders in Dallas decided to do something about that. They created the Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors, a two-week residency designed to identify promising female conductors and invest in their growth.
The Hart Institute is a point of pride for Texas arts lovers and the kind of program that can actually achieve what Facebook’s algorithms were supposed to address.
And yet last Monday, when the opera’s director of artistic administration David Lomeli posted a photo calling for applicants, Facebook removed the post and informed Lomeli that the opera can’t gear its communication only to female applicants.
This is very likely a laudable initiative, but we should also take into account that there are long-standing discriminatory practices in education that are most certainly NOT laudable. At one US college there are seventy scholarships available just for women and only one for men.

* * *

Alex Ross has a very topical piece at The New Yorker: Coronavirus Concerts: The Music World Contends with the Pandemic.
The ad-hoc concerts are a welcome stopgap, helping musicians to keep working and listeners to stay engaged. Yet they shouldn’t be seen as any sort of wave of the future. We are already too sedentary and technology-addicted in our relationship with the arts. The monopolies that rule the digital realm possess unheard-of power, and non-celebrity artists increasingly struggle in a marketplace where audiences no longer expect to pay for recorded music. 
Perilous times for working musicians lie ahead. “Force majeure” clauses in artist contracts—releasing companies from liability in the event of disruptions—mean that many opera singers and freelance instrumentalists, not to mention actors, dancers, and backstage technicians, will go unpaid for the duration of the pandemic. The tenor Zach Finkelstein has written about the force-majeure issue on his blog, predicting that “many household classical music names will likely be insolvent or in dire financial straits by this coming summer.”
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For our envoi, what better choice than the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra conducted by Andés Orozco-Estrada:


Thursday, March 19, 2020

Non-commercial Pop Music

Around here popular music often gets criticized for being too commercial because, well it is. But not all pop music is primarily oriented toward commercial success. Sometimes it just happens because it can. The best example I can think of is the odd group called the Traveling Wilburys. Sadly, due to the untimely death of Roy Orbison, the group was short-lived. Along with Orbison the members were George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. The whole thing seems like it just fell off a truck by accident. They recorded in Bob Dylan's garage in Malibu and wrote the songs the day before. Musicians this talented and experienced can, if the chemistry is right, just do whatever they want. The result was some of the most relaxed music you will ever hear. Here is the song "Handle With Care."


This is the next stage beyond slick professionalism. Lovely music and while it did sell a lot of records, I don't think that possibility even crossed their minds when they were working on this.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

What's Wrong with Haydn Opera?

After Haydn opera came up briefly in the comments the other day I decided to have a listen. I've had this big box of Haydn for a while:

I have listened through the whole box, 160 CDs, but I don't recall the operas at all. So I put on his last opera, L'Anima del Filosofo, composed in 1791 and never performed (due to a dispute between King George III and the Prince of Wales) until 1951! So what is wrong with Haydn operas? Search me. The music sounds up to the usual Haydn standards of excellence: well-crafted orchestral parts, tuneful arias, rousing choruses. Nothing wrong that I can hear. Perhaps the libretto is seriously flawed, but I can't tell. What makes an opera successful? And why are Haydn operas not successful? You got me.

I just discovered that there is a fine performance from 1995 on YouTube with Concentus Musicus conducted by Nicolaus Harnoncourt and with Cecilia Bartoli singing the part of Euridice (despite the title, the opera is on the perennial tale of Orpheus and Euridice.


So you tell me--what's wrong with Haydn operas?

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Tuesday Musings

As someone once said "well, that escalated quickly!" Amidst the global pandemic and the rubble of the stock market, it is nice to have a refuge. Music has always been that for me. I notice that when things are not going so well in the outside world, I often find that I have more time and energy to be creative. I started work on my song cycle during the last economic crisis. So if you are self-isolating at home, take this time to do a bit more listening, a bit more reading, and if you are a musician, a bit more practicing and composing.

* * *

I'm reading Culture and Value, a collection of notebook jottings by Wittgenstein and ran across a passage where he mentions Mahler:
If it is true that Mahler's music is worthless, as I believe to be the case, then the question is what I think he ought to have done with his talent. For quite obviously it took a set of very rare talents to produce this bad music.
Mahler, Richard Strauss and other famous musicians were frequent visitors at the Wittgenstein family palace in Vienna. He goes on, but offers no specifics as to why he thinks Mahler's music is bad. I agree with him, by the way, but I have no specifics to offer either! I think that what holds me back, at least, is the enormous effort it would take to do an analysis of a Mahler symphony sufficient to produce such specifics. I have always liked Das Lied von der Erde, by the way.

Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy family of Viennese industrialists. His brother Paul was a concert pianist who lost his right arm in WWI and subsequently commissioned concertos by Ravel and Prokofiev for the left hand alone. Three of Ludwig's five brothers committed suicide!

* * *

I'm learning a pair of Bach gavottes right now and am once more amazed at the harmonic delights he creates. For example, he manages to incorporate some really severe dissonances, but handles them so adroitly that they sound beautiful and haunting, not harsh. For example:

Click to enlarge
This is the opening phrase. The so-called "Third Lute Suite" is an arrangement for Baroque lute, by Bach, of the Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor. In the cello original the harmonies are different with usually one fewer voices. What is so lovely about this opening is the minor/minor seventh chords such as the one on the first beat of the first complete measure, on D. Indeed we have a string of seventh chords on the next three beats: G7 (minor/major) then C with a major seventh, B minor/minor seventh and finally a V-i cadence in A minor with the seventh delayed onto the next downbeat. If Meghan Trainor is all about the bass, then Bach is all about the sevenths. Let's look a bit more closely. How does he get away with this string of seventh chords, some, like the one on the downbeat of the second complete measure, rather dissonant? If you look at the middle voice you see that the opening C is repeated. Bach, while he follows the basic rules of counterpoint, often interrupts a melodic line. Here, the C on the downbeat of the first complete measure is a suspension from the previous measure. It resolves into the B on the second beat (over the G bass). Then this B is suspended into the next downbeat where it forms a major seventh with the C in the bass. That B then resolves into the A on the next beat, which in its turn resolves to the G#. This whole middle voice is a series of suspensions. There are even more remarkable dissonances, which don't sound dissonant, later on in the second half. But they follow the same technique of suspension/resolution.

Look how much discussion it took to do a simple analysis of four measures of Bach! (And I didn't even mention the rising fourths sequence in the bass line.) That's why I haven't analyzed Mahler.

* * *

Let's have three envois! First, "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" from Das Lied von der Erde by Mahler. This is Jonas Kaufmann with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic.


Next, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 4 for the left hand. This is Alexei Volodin with the Symphony Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre conducted by Valery Gergiev.


And finally, the Bach Gavotte played on Baroque lute by Yair Avidor.