Alas, Grainger's vaguely Benthamite wishes were, indeed, ignored. The University of Melbourne does have his death mask, though.
COMPOSER LEAVESWHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK, April 14.—Mr. Percy Grainger, the composer who died on February 20, specified in his will, which was filed for probate today, that his skeleton go to the University of Melbourne, Australia, "for preservation and possible display in the Grainger museum".
Mr. Grainger's instructions concerning his skeleton have not yet been carried out; whether they will be is still questionable. A friend said that Mr. Grainger's widow had flown to Australia with the body soon after the death, and it had been buried at her request in a coffin beside that of his mother in Adelaide.
—The Times of London, April 15, 1961
October 31, 2008
October 30, 2008
Tune in to Counterstream Radio this evening at 9:00 Eastern, and you can hear yours truly free-associating about "American Serialism," the first in Counterstream's "Crash Courses in New Music." Babbitt, Martino, Wuorinen, Powell—the gang's all here, and just in time for Hallowe'en. (If you can't tune in tonight, you can catch it again Sunday afternoon at 3—it's also available on demand.)
Future installations include Kyle Gann on Minimalism, Tom Lopez on acousmatic music, and Lara Pellegrinelli (aka Dr. LP) on the new jazz. (Great big thanks to Molly Sheridan for shepherding the thing through, and Corey Dargel for deftly assembling and mixing down a script with a density of montage that would have made Eisenstein blush.)
October 29, 2008
Boston Globe, October 29, 2008.
Local readers are highly encouraged to head back to the Gardner museum this Sunday (11/2) at 1:30, when Jeremy Denk will be bringing his Evel Knievel "Concord" Sonata-Hammerklavier program to Boston. Also: I can't possibly be the first person to notice this, but it's downright uncanny how much Isserlis in performance looks like Roger Daltrey in Tommy.
October 28, 2008
If you can't figure out my politics, you're just not paying attention, but this space tends to be non-partisan; like I've said before, as important as it is, politics is a lousy way to pick your friends. But I will make one public endorsement this cycle, and that's to encourage everyone in California to vote no on Proposition 8, which would rescind the right of gay couples in that state to marry. (Similar measures are on the ballot in Florida and Arizona.) I make this endorsement—stuck here in Massachusetts, I can't actually vote against the thing—because, honestly, I can't think of any reason for anyone of any political persuasion who believes in the virtues of a democratic republic to object to gay marriage. Except homophobia. Which I won't dignify with a response. Beyond that one, anyway. But if you need more convincing:
If you're a liberal: Come on, it's a straight-up civil-rights issue. It's the foam on your vote-for-Obama latte! It's the... look, just get some clichés from your nearest wingnut and fill in the blanks. And vote, OK?In all seriousness, if you at all value the idea of personal responsibility, as even this incurable lefty does, I would think that preventing any two consenting adults from legally and publicly confirming their commitment to each other should seem at least a little counter-productive. Here in Massachusetts, gay marriage has neither a) devalued or undermined my own straight marriage, or b) unraveled the fabric of society. In fact, four years later, it's exactly what it should be: a non-issue.
If you're a conservative: Do you really want the government telling you who you can and can't marry? That's the first step down a slippery slope leading to, um, progressive taxation!
If you're a member of the Thermodynamic Law Party: Without institutionalized marriage keeping open the possibility of energy exchange with the rest of society, gay couples will become adiabatically closed systems, preventing them from importing negentropy and thereby increasing, not decreasing, the entropy of such non-traditional but long-standing family units.
If you're a Narodnik: You know the Tsar would have been for Prop 8.
If you just don't like gay people: You know who I just don't like? Baal-worshiping smooth-jazz fans. There, I said it. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. And I still don't see where I get the authority to tell two Baal-worshiping smooth-jazz fans that they can't marry each other.
If you're a musician: Then this is the closest to a pandering pocketbook issue you're going to get in this election cycle. A "no" vote means that many more wedding gigs. Or do you want to give up jobs in the middle of a recession?
Also: Critic-at-Large Moe encourages Massachusetts residents to vote Yes on 3.
October 24, 2008
The Raymond Weil "Nabucco Cuore Caldo" watch.
Nabucco Island resort, off the coast of Indonesia.
The DeLonghi BCO70 Caffe Nabucco espresso/coffeemaker.
The CMA CGM container ship Nabucco.
The Salvatore Ferragamo 'Nabucco' sandal.
The EU's proposed Nabucco gas pipeline. Okay, this last one isn't entirely random—it's supposed to echo the theme of freedom and independence (in this case, from reliance on Russian natural gas fields). But really—a gas pipeline into the heart of Europe named for an opera about exiled Jews? Really?
October 23, 2008
WILLIAMS: Who is a member of the elite?
PALIN: Oh, I guess just people who think that they're better than anyone else. And-- John McCain and I are so committed to serving every American. Hard-working, middle-class Americans who are so desiring of this economy getting put back on the right track. And winning these wars. And America's starting to reach her potential. And that is opportunity and hope provided everyone equally. So anyone who thinks that they are-- I guess-- better than anyone else, that's-- that's my definition of elitism.
WILLIAMS: So it's not education? It's not income-based? It's--
PALIN: Anyone who thinks that they're better than someone else.
WILLIAMS: --a state of mind? It's not geography?
PALIN: 'Course not.
MCCAIN: I-- I know where a lot of 'em live. (LAUGH)
WILLIAMS: Where's that?
MCCAIN: Well, in our nation's capital and New York City. I've seen it. I've lived there. I know the town. I know-- I know what a lot of these elitists are. The ones that she never went to a cocktail party with in Georgetown. I'll be very frank with you. Who think that they can dictate what they believe to America rather than let Americans decide for themselves.
—Brian Williams interviewing John McCain and Sarah Palin,
NBC Nightly News, October 23, 2008 (via)
While I was studying the frozen
food department of Gristede’s one
day, Mrs. Elliott
Carter came up and said,
I thought you
touched only fresh foods.”
I said, “All
you have to do is look at
them and then you come
over here.” She said,
“Elliott and I have
just gotten back from Europe.
to some intellectuals whose
names I won’t mention.
They had been
eating those platters with
all sorts of food on them.”
“Not TV dinners?”
She said, “Yes,
them stuffed around everywhere.”
—John Cage, Indeterminacy
October 22, 2008
Here's something to while away your entire day: while trying to track down a quotation source, I stumbled across the fact that Google Books includes, for some reason, three runs of Boston Symphony Orchestra programs from the 1910-11, 1917-18, and 1918-19 seasons. You could be diligent and read all the Philip Hale program notes, but me? I'm too busy perusing vintage ads. The Roland Hayes recital above (with special guest Harry T. Burleigh—I absolutely would have been in line for tickets to that one) dates from 1917. The two below come from the 1918-19 programs, amidst a plethora of ads pitching housewares to returning soldiers.
And here's a couple from the 1910 season—first, accessories for the well-dressed concertgoer:
And finally, commercial launderers and longtime BSO program-book advertisers Lewandos:
Yes, their corporate image is a cat scrubbing baby chicks in a washtub and then pinning them up by their wings to dry. Stare at that long enough, and the advent of Expressionism starts to make a lot more sense, doesn't it?
October 21, 2008
But as written, Doctor Atomic is approximate where it should be precise, airily literary where it should be riskily personal: for musical characterization it substitutes remembered manners, and for political confrontation it offers chocolate cake.... How disappointing, then, that the first American opera on so complex and incendiary a subject should prove so obvious, so evasive, and thus—of all things—so safe.This is not a post about Doctor Atomic, of which I have not heard enough yet to form a responsible opinion; this is a post about Giuseppe Verdi. But Adamo's ideas, whether you buy his assessment or not, make for a good serendipitous frame—because I think one of Verdi's greatest achievements is something that Adamo seems to be hinting at: an impeccable skill for distinguishing between the most obvious way to musicalize a scene and the most direct way.
A few weeks back, my lovely wife and I hit the theater for the Met's high-def simulcast of their opening gala—an act each of La Traviata, Manon, and Capriccio. Verdi—as he is wont to do—ended up making the other two composers seem a little self-indulgent and amateurish, for all the pleasure they provide (and I bow to no one in my gleeful wallowing in late Strauss). And it's all because of knowing this difference between obvious and direct.
Traviata is actually a great example of this, because given the plot—passionate, melodramatic, full of sharp interactions between characters—the obvious treatment, letting the music magnify and amplify the characters' inner emotional lives throughout, would probably work just fine. But at crucial points throughout the opera, Verdi doesn't do this.
Take that ball scene in Act II, the most emotionally fraught point in the piece. Germont père has convinced Violetta to leave Alfredo—to preserve the family honor—so she writes a "Dear Alfredo" letter that falsely claims her ardor for him has cooled, so Alfredo rushes off to Paris in a rage to confront her at said ball. What always strikes me about this scene is how long Verdi sticks with the party music, even as the emotional water boils. But what he's doing is setting up the climax—Alfredo calling out Violetta in public, for which Germont scolds his son. But note exactly how he scolds him: he doesn't say stop being cruel, or even you don't know the real story—the secret remains safe with him, at least for the time being. What he does say is this: That is not how a gentleman behaves. And that's the key to the whole scene—Verdi has been musically showing us how a gentleman does behave, lulling us into a sense of the social milieu Alfredo, Violetta, and Germont are navigating. And the climax makes us realize how restrictively shallow and repressed it is—Alfredo's breach of decorum is made startling and shocking enough to drive home what the lovers' relationship is up against.
Instead of telegraphing the characters' emotions, Verdi is focusing like a laser on the central conflict of the plot, the societal restrictions that prevent Alfredo and Violetta from their own happiness. What Verdi knows—and, in retrospect, what he makes us realize—is that the real linchpin isn't Violetta's giving up of Alfredo, it's that she agrees to do it. The heartbreak is that she's trapped in a world where Germont's argument actually makes sense—once she sees his point, and once we see that she sees his point, doom settles over the whole story with far more devastation than if Verdi had solely focused on the individual emotional turmoil. Because the most important dramatic engine, the most powerful one, is not between the characters themselves, but between the characters and their social standing. The tragedy is not the loss—it's the inevitability.
Verdi could expertly let the characters take the lead when that was the most direct route—witness Falstaff, after all—but it's his ruthless rejection of the diluted obvious that makes him such an expert at delineating plots about people who are trapped, existential no-exit nightmares. Macbeth, Don Carlos, Aida—no one cuts to the characters' helpless quick like Verdi. For him, tragedy isn't something that sneaks up, or hangs in the background—it's a smart bomb, aimed directly at human illusions of happiness and control, with the music guiding it to the dead center of the target.
October 20, 2008
Five years later Worcester was to be the scene of a still greater and more important conflict, Cromwell's "crowning mercy," the decisive struggle of the great Civil War. King Charles II., with an army drawn from Scotland, took up his position in Worcester on the 22nd of August, 1651, first expelling a small garrison of Parliamentary troops then occupying the city. Reinforcements arrived from the county around, most of the local gentry and their followers flocking to the banner of the King, but even with this augmentation his forces only amounted to about 12,000 all told. Six days later, that is, on the 28th, Cromwell appeared before the walls of the city with 18,000 men, and fixed his headquarters at Spetchley, then, as now, the property of the Berkeley family.
—Bertram C.A. Windle, The Malvern Country
Towards the end of October we went to Malvern Wells, and, on our way there, spent two very pleasant days at Spetchley Park, where [Lady Chatterton] heard Mass for the first time (her health not permitting her to do so before), and where we met the Bishop. It had been our intention to go farther, and the plan of our journey was sketched out; but her protracted struggles against interior influences adverse to her aspirations, her nature, her happiness had undermined her health. It is not till the ship is safe in port that the damage done by wind and waves can be fully estimated.
—Edward Heneage Dering, Memoirs of Georgiana, Lady Chatterton
One of the several Catholic schools to which the young Elgar was sent was at Spetchley Park, a few miles west of Worcester. The schoolhouse was set in an estate belonging to an old Catholic family, and the spacious grounds again contained tall pine trees. Almost ninety years later, the critic Ernest Newman recalled: 'Elgar told me that as a boy he used to gaze from the school windows in rapt wonder at the great trees in the park swaying in the wind; and he pointed out to me a passage in Gerontius in which he had recorded in music his subconscious memories of them.'
—Matthew Riley, Edward Elgar and the Nostalgic Imagination
A DISPUTE over sycamore trees in a Malvern garden has led to accusations of heavy handedness being made against Malvern Hills District Council.
West Malvern composer Paul Farrer contacted the Malvern Hills Conservators after becoming concerned that the trees blocked sunlight and posed a hazard because of their size.
He sought advice on how to approach the trimming of the trees and whether there were any officials channels he must go through to employ a tree surgeon.
His e-mail was passed on to district council planning officers, who placed a tree preservation order on them.
Mr Farrer, of Westminster Bank, said: “I have only ever been concerned about the height of these trees and I am very worried about them.
“I have no idea if they pose a danger to me or to members of the public if the wind picks up and, in my view, MHDC’s actions have deliberately contributed to increasing the danger by telling me that if I trim them I go to prison.
“Do the heavy-handed and dangerous actions here not engender a culture of trying to keep the council out of our lives as much as is possible?
"This is a gross invasion of privacy and one I intend to fight.”
—Malvern Gazette, October 20, 2008
October 17, 2008
But has the audience always been the same age it is now? (Which in fact means older than middle-aged.) This is a persistent myth. I used to believe it, since music biz veterans repeated it so confidently. Then I started asking for data, and found that there wasn't any. Then I started finding data that exploded the myth.I won't begrudge Sandow the undeniable joys of contrarian iconoclasm. But his use of terms like "young" and "middle-aged" points up an interesting assumption—that such demographic categories are fixed in their boundaries.
Here's what I mean. I unpacked the audience data Sandow links to (for the 1937 data, I assumed the age distribution was smooth, and averaged the results of the two surveys the report mentions based on their sample sizes), and stuck it in a chart with at-birth life expectancy rates I culled from the CDC. Just for fun, I threw on a couple of right-axis data sets: the average age at first marriage for both males and females, as tabulated by the U.S. Census Bureau. (The Bureau began keeping annual track of those numbers in 1947.) Here's what it all looks like (click to enlarge):
Notice that the linear trendlines for life expectancy and audience age track almost exactly—and that the average first-marriage age has been rising even faster since 1970 or so. (You can find a similar rise in average first-birth age among women over the same period.) Which circles back around to Botstein's point—classical music has historically played to an adult audience, it's just that the passage into adulthood—as indicated by first-marriage age—has been getting later and later, and the length of adulthood—as indicated by life expectancy—has been getting longer and longer.
This intuitively jibes with the NEA's "Audience Participation in the Arts" surveys, which show the median audience age going up for all surveyed forms of performance. In other words, the problem—if it even is a problem—would seem to be more a function of demographic evolution than a lack of cultural wherewithal on the part of classical music specifically. If you look at "young" and "old" not as absolute numbers, but relative places within the average life trajectory, the "aging" of the classical music audience starts to look a lot more equivocal. Think of it this way: if 30 is the new 20, and 60 is the new 40, that audience is right back where it started.
October 16, 2008
The king [Francis I] successfully retained the services of the best musicians left by his predecessors.... Choirboys were much in demand for they alone could hit the high notes. While some were taken from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, others were kidnapped from cathedrals elsewhere in France. Two, for example, were snatched at night from Beauvais. The fate of such choirboys was considered enviable, since their upkeep was paid for by the king. They were dressed like pages with black breeches, a doublet and a flet hat trimmed with black velvet.With John Rhys-Davies as Francis I. And Molly Ringwald as Anne de Pisseleu.
—Robert J. Knecht, The French Renaissance Court
October 15, 2008
One initial takeaway should be a better intuitive sense of what it's like to live in a consumer-driven as opposed to a production-driven economy. In spite of the fact that the American economy has been driven by consumption for well over a century now, my sense is that most people still retain production-based assumptions about the way the economy works. But note that the current difficulties are not the result of people not producing enough stuff—that question hasn't even been on the table. It's that they're not spending enough—the baseline amount of moving money required to keep the economy going is now so high that, if banks stop lending money out for people to spend, there isn't enough money in the system left to move.
Here's an example. In between the U.S. House of Representatives rejecting the bailout and then, a few days later, approving it, one of the data points I heard illustrating the deepening crisis was that McDonald's franchisees were finding it near-impossible to secure small-business loans in order to upgrade their restaurants to include Starbucks-like McCafés. To me, that's the American economy in a nutshell—maintaining a free enough flow of money that people can easily buy and sell stuff they don't really need. I'm not trying to make a moral judgment here. (I love me my small vices and creature comforts, after all.) I am trying to point out that, in a consumer-driven economy, the movement of money is more important than its destination.
Given that this is a classical music blog, I should probably try and connect this with classical music, right? And it's easy. The economic categorization of music is always iffy, but if you look at music as a product rather than a service, it's awfully close to pure consumption. People pay, people get paid, and all for a product that's so intangible it disappears as soon as it's created. (Compare to the main culprit in the current mess, the housing market, in which there are large, physical objects that have depreciated below the paper value of the debt connected with them.) A typical symphonic concert throws producers, consumers, philanthropists, and government funding onto the dance floor with a minimum of financial friction. One of the supposed economic drawbacks of live music has always been that you don't get anything concrete for your money; but given the current molasses-in-January state of the economy, isn't that a simplifying advantage? I smell a marketing opportunity.
October 14, 2008
I think you can even pinpoint its origin: January 26, 1911, the premiere of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, the most epic wistful au revoir in the repertory (predating, not incidentally, both Stravinsky's Rite and Schoenberg's Pierrot). In stylistic retreat from the dissonant expressionism of Salome and Elektra, Strauss let his Marschallin bid adieu to her Octavian, her youth, aristocratic Vienna, what have you, with a trio so languorous Strauss would have let it run on into 1912 if he thought he could get away with it. Late Romanticism had already produced its share of goodbyes—Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, with its own so-long farewell "Der Abschied," was also premiered in 1911—but I think it was Rosenkavalier that made lush, chromatic tonality a signal of nostalgic intent. Ravel had it stand in for lost pre-WWI Europe in La Valse, Rachmaninoff made a cottage industry lacing his own rich potions with "Dies irae" reminders, Strauss himself followed up Rosenkavalier with another epic trio of send-offs in the 1940s—Capriccio, Metamorphosen, and the Four Last Songs. (The style would breed a second round of nostalgia in the 1970s and 80s via film scores, as John Williams and the like resurrected the late-Romantic, Golden-Age Hollywood style of Korngold, Steiner, &c.)
Nostalgia was largely a creation of Romanticism in the first place, with music playing a crucial role. It was the ranz des vaches (literally, the call to the cows), the song of the Alpine herdsman, that originally gave rise to the whole notion of nostalgia, often referred to as the mal du Suisse in the early days—according to Rousseau, the ranz des vaches
was so generally beloved among the Swiss, that it was forbidden to be play'd in their troops under pain of death, because it made them burst into tears, desert, or die, whoever heard it; so great a desire did it excite in them of returning to their country.The increasing 19th-century awareness of history as a historical force—most fully articulated in Marx's historiography or Nietzsche's post-French-Revolution "sixth sense"—would transfer that homesickness to eras, timesickness as it were. So it makes sense that late Romantic music would adopt nostalgia as its own, being the first style to run its course with nostalgia imprinted on our collective consciousness.
But I always find it interesting that it's late Romanticism that got the nod. That semiotically nostalgic cast had become more potent with the rise of atonality—when George Rochberg looked to rewind atonal modernism, for example, he opted for Mahlerian tonality—but, of course, the seeds of atonality can be found in the adventurous chromaticism of late Romanticism. And, oddly enough, it proved an effective survival strategy. Strauss, Mahler, Debussy, and the like are regarded as far more effective box-office draws in classical music than their immediate, direct atonal descendants, and those contemporary composers with the most mainstream cultural traction (I'm looking at you, John Adams) are those whose vocabularies most extensively borrow from the twilight of the Romantics. To paraphrase another grandiose cultural artifact, audiences apparently hate to see tonality go, but they love to watch it leave.
October 13, 2008
So here's some Italian-American culture, in the form of the great (and, reportedly, sometimes obnoxious) American baritone Leonard Warren singing "Eri tu" from Un ballo in maschera, the censor-mandated locale-transplant of which marks the closest Verdi ever came to visiting America.
October 10, 2008
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Hier wird's Ereignis;
Hier ist's getan;
Zieht uns hinan.
All that passes away
Is nothing but symbol;
That which is beyond us
Here becomes actual;
here is accomplished;
Draws us on.
—Goethe, Faust, Part II
The Deed, though it was at the beginning, essentially issues from something prior and debouches into something ulterior: it must, then, have issued from other deed and led to more deeds in the future. The Incomprehensible is no doubt the existence of this movement and perhaps also the connection between its phases: although here again there would be intellectual arrogance in complaining that reality should be incomprehensible, when it moves so fruitfully without our leave.
Why should it be without our leave, and why should we complain when we are ourselves an integral part of that universal incomprehensibility and inadequacy? No: we do not complain: the Eternal Feminine allures us, and we are ready to be drawn onwards for ever from deed to deed, from event to event; and the notion that all this is only an image of something else, because it is transitory, would seem needless and even perverse; unless indeed we only meant that while the single events are transitory, the chain of them is perpetual, and each moment is but a happy note in an endless symphony. To this I see no possible objection, except that it is not true.
George Santayana, "Note on Goethe's Chorus Mysticus in Faust"
(in The Birth of Reason and Other Essays, ed. Daniel Cory)
October 09, 2008
Posted in honor of my lovely wife, in celebration of another year, and with the happy expectation of many more.
October 08, 2008
October 07, 2008
Boston Globe, October 7, 2008.