Category Archive 'Classical Music'
16 Sep 2018

Movements as Background for Reading

13 Sep 2018

Remembering Leonard Bernstein

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It’s Leonard Bernstein’s centenary this year, and Alex Ross, in the New Yorker, commemorates the great popularizing conductor with a tribute mixing praise, uncomplimentary gossip, and this regretful perspective on the passing of both Bernstein and his times.

His charisma was indeed potent, but as Bernstein recedes into history he seems more a product of his time than an agent of transformation. He came of age in the New Deal era, when the federal government sank hundreds of millions of dollars into the arts. He benefitted from the cultural politics of the Cold War, even as he suffered under McCarthyism. He launched music-appreciation projects on television at a time when network executives considered Stravinsky’s serialist score “The Flood,” with choreography by Balanchine, suitable for a mass public. The aspirational America of the mid-twentieth century was looking for a Bernstein—a native genius who could knock off Broadway tunes as fluently as he conducted Brahms—and one was duly found. There will not be another, not because talent is lacking but because the culture that fostered him is gone.

He was obviously talented, but he was, in my opinion, as a conductor, far too commonly heavily-handedly didactic, popularizing, and obvious in his approach. He usually seemed to be less conducting, than lecturing de haut en bas from his perch atop the American cultural establishment to a mass 1950s television audience. I thought his appointment to conduct the New York Symphony a terrible descent into vulgar American populism from the era of Bruno Walter. But every once it a while, he was very very good. I can recall hearing an excellent version of some Haydn Symphonies by Bernstein.

I remember, as the years went on, Bernstein became more political in an extremely obnoxious rich-fashionista-poseur-striking-revolutionary-poses manner. His obsequious dallying with Black Panthers brought down on him the gods’s wrath, delivered in the form of a scathing essay by Tom Wolfe which may become Bernstein’s best-remembered memorial:

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. These are nice. Little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts. Very tasty. Very subtle. It’s the way the dry sackiness of the nuts tiptoes up against the dour savor of the cheese that is so nice, so subtle. Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors d’oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons . . . The butler will bring them their drinks . . . Deny it if you wish to, but such are the pensées métaphysiques that rush through one’s head on these Radical Chic evenings just now in New York. For example, does that huge Black Panther there in the hallway, the one shaking hands with Felicia Bernstein herself, the one with the black leather coat and the dark glasses and the absolutely unbelievable Afro, Fuzzy Wuzzy-scale in fact—is he, a Black Panther, going on to pick up a Roquefort cheese morsel rolled in crushed nuts from off the tray, from a maid in uniform, and just pop it down the gullet without so much as missing a beat of Felicia’s perfect Mary Astor voice. . . .

RTWT

22 May 2018

Weaponizing Bach

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In the LA Review of Books, Theodore Gioia reports on classical music being used as bum repellent.

At the corner of 8th and Market in San Francisco, by a shuttered subway escalator outside a Burger King, an unusual soundtrack plays. A beige speaker, mounted atop a tall window, blasts Baroque harpsichord at deafening volumes. The music never stops. Night and day, Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi rain down from Burger King rooftops onto empty streets.

Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners — specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent. Outside the BART escalator, an encampment of grocery carts, sleeping bags, and plastic tarmacs had evolved into a sidewalk shantytown attracting throngs of squatters and street denizens. “There used to be a mob that would hang out there,” remarked local resident David Allen, “and now there may be just one or two people.” When I passed the corner, the only sign of life I found was a trembling woman crouched on the pavement, head in hand, as classical harpsichord besieged her ears.

RTWT

Gioia has all sorts of problems with this. It makes classical music elitist and turns it into a class signifier. Using music to chase people away is inimical to recruiting the same people into its fan base. And, finally, any non-performative use separates the art from its own native listening experience.

When Karen and I first visited the kennels of the Casanova Hunt at Weston, the former home of that hunt’s founder, Charlotte Nourse, we found the hounds listening happily to Beethoven. Apparently, huntsman Tommy Lee Jones found classical music had charms to sooth the trouble-making breasts of foxhounds.

Mr. Gioia may stroke his chin and frown disapprovingly, but I think it’s more appropriate to admire the ingenuity of people who find other ways of harnessing the power of art.

I bet representatives of today’s establishment intelligentsia would deplore the use of crucifixes to repel vampires, arguing that Religion was intended to be all-inclusive!

20 Mar 2018

50 Seconds of Busoni

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22 Feb 2018

Niccolò Paganini: Caprice No. 9 In E Major “The Hunt”

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17 Feb 2018

Bunky’s Day of Music

Bunky Mortimer III is clearly one of the great fanatical connoisseurs of the recorded repertoire. Over at Taki’s Magazine, Bunky has prepared a well-thought out program of recorded music to take you through your entire day.

Some sample recommendations:

[Late Morning]

My chaise-lounge-bound researches reveal that the sinewy modulations of a violin concerto are well suited to the onward section of the morning. Sibelius’ has an icy gymnasticism that is most refreshing, while Tchaikovsky’s stays just the right side of sentimentalism (the only absolute sanction is against the regressive schmaltz of Brahms’ offering; one of the few pieces of music we would be better off without). And then there is the beautiful arc of Beethoven’s; the last movement of which has a piratical swagger, which is a great tonic if planning to break the law later in the day. You will notice this morning menu crosses the peaks of the Romantic repertoire—yet contains no opera. Morning music—like morning drinking—is a means to an end: the day itself. Opera is too distracting and all-encompassing to serve this end; although we may make an exception for its instrumental passages. Here we can catalog some Wagner. The Tannhäuser overture will send you out the door as if fired by a circus cannon (if it were made by Krupp and pointed at Poland, that is). “Siegfried’s Funeral March” carries a similar risk: that unless you’ve repositioned your country’s borders by lunch, you’re going to feel like an underachiever. The same nourishing snarl is present in the opening of Mahler’s Second Symphony. By now a palate cleanser may be needed with your pre-lunch cocktail. For this you may turn to the final piece of classical music ever created: the last of Strauss’ Four Last Songs, fittingly entitled “Im Abendrot (At Sunset).”

[Ending the day:]

Where then to end? With the greatest musical recording ever made: Dinu Lipatti’s rendition of Bach’s “Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Mein Herr (I Call to You, My Lord).” Lipatti was dying of leukemia and recorded it against the instructions of his doctors. Its sublime cadences instruct us fully in the acceptance of our condition. As he called out from the keyboard, Dinu Lipatti was approaching eternal rest. You will hopefully not be: Soon another day will dawn, and your journey can begin anew.

RTWT

13 Jan 2018

Fantasia dei Gatti – Augustin Hadelich | Paganini Caprice No. 17

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HT: Bird Dog.

16 Apr 2017

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture

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31 Oct 2016

Halloween Music: Camille Saint-Saens, Danse Macabre

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29 Aug 2016

Definitions of Musicians

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Violinist

13 more here

15 Jul 2016

Franz Schubert: “Der Leiermann”

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16 Jan 2016

Music and Math

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How is it that Beethoven, who is celebrated as one of the most significant composers of all time, wrote many of his most beloved songs while going deaf? The answer lies in the math behind his music. Using the “Moonlight Sonata”, we can begin to understand the way Beethoven was able to convey emotion and creativity using the certainty of mathematics.

Beethoven1

The standard piano octave consists of 13 keys, each separated by a half step. A standard major or minor scale uses 8 of these keys with 5 whole step intervals and 2 half step ones.

Beethoven2

The first half of measure 50 of “Moonlight Sonata” consists of three notes in D major, separated by intervals called thirds that skip over the next note in the scale. By stacking the notes first, third, and fifth notes – D, F sharp, and A – we get a harmonic pattern known as a triad.

Beethoven3

But, these aren’t just arbitrary magic numbers. Rather, they represent the mathematical relationship between the pitch frequencies of different notes, which form a geometric series. The stacking of these three frequencies creates ‘consonance’, which sounds naturally pleasant to our ears. Examining Beethoven’s use of both consonance and dissonance can help us begin to understand how he added the unquantifiable elements of emotion and creativity to the certainty of mathematics.

For a deeper dive into the mathematics of the “Moonlight Sonata”, watch the TED-Ed Lesson Music and math: The genius of Beethoven – Natalya St. Clair

Animation by Qa’ed Mai

Via Ratak Monodosico.

17 Dec 2015

Beethoven’s Birthday

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BeethovenRoomBonn
Bust of Beethoven in the room where he was born. Bonn, Germany, 17 December 1770. (photo,1934)

String Quartet no.15 op.132 “Lydian”- Budapest String Quartet.

06 Sep 2015

Anti-Pachebel Rant

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Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

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