In 1958 Miriam Gideon (1906–1996) completed her only opera: Fortunato, based on the eponymous tragicomic farce by the Spanish playwrights Serafín and Joaquín Álvarez Quintero (1871–1938 and 1873–1944, respectively).
Although Gideon’s opera has never received a full performance and has only been available until now in a marginally legible autograph copy of the piano-vocal score, it may be regarded as a central work within the composer’s style and oeuvre and an important American operatic work of the 1950s.
Fortunato: An opera in three scenes (1958) (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2013) includes the fully edited piano-vocal score along with a substantial introductory essay by the editor, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, which summarizes Gideon’s compositional activity during the post–World War II years, her most active period. The essay also provides a context for the opera by examining attitudes toward women composers in the U.S. in the 1950s and by placing the work’s main themes into dialogue with recently discovered personal writings by the composer.
A supplement includes Gideon’s full orchestration of Fortunato’s first scene, recently discovered among the composer’s personal papers, which she may have intended as a sample to be pitched to television networks.
Alas, there are no recordings of Fortunato; below, another example of Gideon’s vocal writing—Bömischer Krystall from 1988.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Heilig (W.217) is closely akin to his keyboard writing in that the presence of many different, not necessarily closely related, musical ideas drives the piece more than a specific form. Seemingly random choices of key, texture, voicing, and text placement all have a purpose: to make the listener feel something, not just hear it.
The choral sections illustrate the quick tonal shifts and changing of harmonic rhythm that are a large part of C.P.E. Bach’s Empfindsamer Stil, which is customarily thought of in terms of his keyboard writing. Heilig is a part of that tradition which would later become the Sturm und Drang of Haydn and the inspiration for the Romantic generation.
This according to “Elements of Empfindsamkeit in the Heilig Wq. 217 (H.778) of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach” by Brian E. Burns (Choral journal XLVI/9 [March 2006] pp. 10–23).
Today is C.P.E. Bach’s 300th birthday! Above, a pastel portrait of the composer from 1773 drawn by his godson Johann Philipp Bach (click to enlarge); below, a performance of Heilig by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the RIAS Kammerchor.
Performances of Bollywood dances among Indian diasporic populations are sites of Hindi film reception, and part of understanding this involves analyzing the dances as they exist in the films and the processes surrounding their transformation into performed works.
A comparison of the choreography of the song Dola re dola in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas (2002) with a newly choreographed version by the U.S. fusion dance troupe Chamak demonstrates how the latter dispensed with the former’s plot-driven elements and Bollywood glitz to become a display of the troupe’s perceptions of both their Indian-American identities and their cultural heritage.
This according to “Swaying to an Indian beat: Dola goes my diasporic heart—Exploring Hindi film dance” by Sangita Shresthova (Dance research journal XXXVI/2 [winter 2004] pp. 91–101.
Above and below, the Bollywood version; further below, Chamak’s version (performance begins around 0:25).
Related article: Globalized Bollywood
Taarab’s performers and audiences consider the genre to be a link to Egypt as another powerful place of coastal imagination, but it demonstrably owes more to centuries of exchange across the Indian ocean.
Despite the political agendas that engulfed Zanzibar in the mid-20th century, Swahili musical and urban sensibilities prevailed, and taarab continues to flourish. However, the older style of song text, which thrived on social commentary and improvisation, gave way in the 1950s to songs about the human condition, particularly romantic love songs.
This according to “Between mainland and sea: The taarab music of Zanzibar” by Werner Graebner, an essay included in Island musics (Oxford: Berg, 2004).
Below, Culture Musical Club performs old-style taarab with the legendary Bi Kidude (also above, ca. 1910–2013).
Glenn Miller and Fats Waller were born in the same year, 1904, and died on the same date, 15 December 1944 and 1943 respectively. Few pop idols survive changing fashions unscathed, but Miller and Waller seem to have done just that.
One does better to consider the overlooked similarities between Miller and Waller than to belabor their obvious differences. Too much has been made of a racial divide that turned them into emblems of black cool and white corn, but everyone danced to Miller, and more whites than blacks bought Waller records.
The era inspired similar goals: Waller encouraged people to laugh through the privations of the thirties; Miller induced them to romanticize American values during wartime. Both used jazz as a conduit to reach a larger public than jazz per se could command. Both were defined by the times; now they define those times for us.
This according to “Stride and swing: The enduring appeal of Fats Waller and Glenn Miller” by Gary Giddins (The New Yorker LXXX/14 [31 May 2004] pp. 85–87).
Today is Miller’s 110th birthday! Below, The Glenn Miller Orchestra performs Chattanooga choo choo with Dorothy Dandridge and The Nicholas Brothers in the 1941 film Sun Valley serenade. Miller’s recording of the song was the #1 hit record in the U.S. for nine weeks.
The Tallis psalter: Psalms and anthems, canticles, preces and responses (London: Novello, 2013) is a complete edition of the Psalter, enabling a performance within the Anglican liturgy for the first time in centuries.
The original Psalter contains Thomas Tallis’s nine tunes set to metrical verses by Archbishop Matthew Parker, and published around 1567. Many of the tunes have since been reworked as popular hymns.
Also included are Tallis’s surviving English anthems, including popular works and lesser-known miniatures. The volume is edited by David Skinner.
Below, Stile Antico performs Tallis’s nine psalms.
From the 1950s to the 1980s U.S. corporations commissioned a vast array of lavish, Broadway-style musical shows that were only for the eyes and ears of employees.
These improbable productions were meant to educate and motivate the sales force to sell cars, appliances, tractors, soda, and a thousand other products.
Though most of these shows were lost to the universe, some were recorded and distributed to convention attendees via souvenir vinyl records.
This according to Everything’s coming up profits: The golden age of the industrial musical by Steve Young and Sport Murphy (New York: Blast, 2013). Above, the cover of the souvenir album from American Standard’s 1969 musical The bathrooms are coming! (click to enlarge). Below, the music video from General Electric’s 1973 show Got to investigate silicones.
You can listen to more songs from industrial musicals here.
In 2010 Johnny Winter decided to make recordings of some of the classic blues songs that had inspired him to become a musician. The result was his 2011 album Roots.
“The whole thing was a lot of fun,” Winter said in an interview. “They were songs I loved and grew up with, that I was influenced by.”
Recalling imbibing Delta blues from the source, as a sideman for Muddy Waters, he said “Playing with Muddy meant so much to me as an artist. It was a big pleasure, a big thrill. I loved every second I spent with him.”
This according to “Living blues talks to Johnny Winter and Paul Nelson” by Steve Sharp (Living blues XLII/5:215 [October 2011] p. 41).
Today is Johnny Winter’s 70th birthday! Above, a publicity photo from the album’s release; below, Winter and his band plays Dust my broom, a song first recorded by Robert Johnson and later covered by Muddy Waters; the video is from Winter’s tour supporting Roots.
The 1981 premiere of Peter Brook’s and Jean-Claude Carrière’s La tragédie de Carmen at the Opéra in Paris sparked considerable controversy over its focus on the bleaker, darker aspects of the story.
In their revision of Bizet’s Carmen, Brook and Carrière attempted to be truer to Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella, emphasizing the basic components of its tragedy: sorcery, sexuality, obsessive love, and death. They removed the comic elements from Bizet’s work, reasoning that the composer had been constrained by a theatrical medium that demanded the inclusion of comedy.
This according to The tragedy of Carmen: Georges Bizet and Peter Brook by William Manning D. Mouat, a dissertation accpted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1996.
Above and below, Zehava Gal in the title role.
Recorded during the blazing summer of 1971 at Nellcôte, Keith Richards’s seaside mansion in southern France, Exile on Main St. has been hailed as one of the Rolling Stones’ best albums, and one of the greatest rock records of all time. Yet its improbable creation was difficult, torturous, and at times nothing short of dangerous.
In self-imposed exile, the Stones—along with wives, girlfriends, and a crew of hangers-on unrivaled in the history of rock—spent their days smoking, snorting, and drinking whatever they could get their hands on. At night, the band descended like miners into the villa’s dank basement to lay down tracks.
All the while, a variety of celebrities including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Gram Parsons stumbled through the villa’s never-ending party, as did the local drug dealers, known to one and all as les cowboys. Nellcôte became the crucible in which creative strife, outsize egos, and all the usual byproducts of the Stones’ legendary hedonistic excess fused into something potent, volatile, and enduring.
This according to Exile on Main St.: A season in hell with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield (Cambridge: Da capo. 2006). Above, Richards at Nellcôte with Parsons and Anita Pallenberg; Below, the complete album for your contemplation.
Related article: The Beatles’ white album