Michael Tilson Thomas and Mahler

MTT

In 2007, as he neared the completion of his recordings of the full cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas discussed what makes these performances unusual.

“My perspective has always been to encourage sections of the orchestra—as well as soloists with the orchestra—to feel a great deal of freedom of inflection in the music, with a great awareness of the source of the music’s inspiration.”

“[That source] might be cabaret music or military music or Jewish music or folk music from different parts of the world. Or religious music, maybe, or something very beautiful and burnished or something quite rangy and grotesque.”

“Artists in an orchestra can sometimes feel, in their relationship to the general situation of the orchestra or even to some conductor who is there, that they must show a certain amount of restraint….So it has been part of a larger process—a process of their having the confidence that I was, indeed, asking them to do something that was ‘outside the lines’—which involves the artists taking the lead in creating the particular color or the particular direction or the particular sound of the music.”

Quoted from “Outside the lines” by David Templeton (Strings XXII/3:152 [October 2007] pp. 52–59).

Today is Thomas’s 70th birthday! Below, he leads the SFS with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in the Urlicht movement from Mahler’s second symphony.

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The contrapuntal tradition

nicolai

Wayne Leupold Editions launched the series The contrapuntal tradition in 2013 with Organ works by David Traugott Nicolai, edited by William A. Little.

An organist and composer, Nicolai (1733–99) studied music under his father, who had been a pupil of Bach. From 1758 he assisted his father and in 1764 succeeded him as organist of the Pfarrkirche St. Peter und Paul in Görlitz; in 1775 he became electoral court organist. In his time he was considered one of the greatest living organ players, and was respected as an improviser as well as an expert in organ building.

Below, Brink Bush plays the Fantasie in G, one of the works included in the edition.

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Filed under Classic era, New editions, New series

Songs in the key of Los Angeles

songs in the key of l.a.

Songs in the key of Los Angeles: Sheet music from the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library (Santa Monica: Angel City, 2013) presents historical popular songs, including facsimiles of sheet music covers and original manuscripts, in hardcover and e-book form.

The book is an outgrowth of Songs in the key of Los Angeles, a multi-platform collaboration between the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Public Library, and USC professor Josh Kun that brings to life the Library’s extraordinary Southern California Sheet Music Collection.

Comprising sheet music pieces that range from the 1840s through the 1950s, the Collection offers a singular portrait of Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music and visual art.

Below, Lupe Vélez performs Chiapanecas, one of the songs included in the collection.

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Rosalyn Tureck and Bach

tureck

When Rosalyn Tureck was first studying piano, Bach’s keyboard music was widely considered to be primarily didactic—good for training in pianistic skills, but too dry for the concert hall. Tureck, however, was fascinated with this repertoire, and started making a point of memorizing a prelude and fugue pair every week.

At the age of 16 she moved to New York City to study at Julliard, and immediately declared her interest in specializing in Bach. Her teachers there were encouraging, but others were not: at the Naumberg Competition, for example, she made it to the finals but the jury declined to give her the award because they were convinced that nobody could make a career out of playing Bach.

Tureck persevered, keeping her repertoire centered on Bach while continuing to pursue her interest in new music. In the 1950s she began to focus more exclusively on Bach, and in 1957 she moved to London, having found that European audiences were more eager for Bach programs than U.S. ones.

This according to “Rosalyn Tureck, pianist specializing in Bach, dies at 88” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times CLII/52,549 [19 July 2003] p. A:11).

Today is Tureck’s 100th birthday! Below, the prelude and fugue in A minor, BWV 895, in 1962.

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Filed under Baroque era, Reception

Kulning and cows

kulning 1

In Sweden the herding of livestock is women’s work. Herding music functions chiefly as a means of communication between the women and the animals; it is also used for communication between herders.

The song style known as kulning has an instrumental timbre, a sharp attack, and a piercing, almost vibrato-free sound, often very loud and at an unusually high pitch. A study of the physiological and acoustical characteristics of kulning, including phonation and articulation, shows an unconventional use of the voice that contradicts what is recommended in traditional Western voice training.

This according to “Voice physiology and ethnomusicology: Physiological and acoustical studies of the Swedish herding song” by Anna Johnson (Yearbook for traditional music XVI [1984] pp. 42–66). Below, Maria Misgeld demonstrates.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Europe, Women's studies

Junior Wells and Buddy Guy

Buddy-Guy-Junior-Wells

Junior Wells began working as a street musician when he was 7 years old, and when he was 18 he replaced Little Walter as Muddy Waters’s harmonica player.

In 1958 he started performing with the guitarist Buddy Guy, and their band became a fixture on the blues circuit until they went separate ways in 1978.

Some of Wells’s best recorded work came during this time, on tight, exciting records made for Delmark, like the 1965 Hoodoo man blues. The band became a favorite of rock musicians, and during that period Wells and Guy played to rock audiences at the Fillmore West and made a State Department tour of East Africa; in 1970 they toured with Canned Heat and The Rolling Stones.

This according to “Junior Wells, central player in Chicago blues, is dead at 63” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times CXLVII/51,040 [17 January 1998] p. A11).

Today would have been Wells’s 80th birthday! Below, Wells and Guy at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in the band’s heyday.

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Revista Vórtex

Revista Vórtex

 

In 2013 the Escola de Música e Belas Artes do Paraná at the Universidade Estadual do Paraná launched Revista Vórtex, an open-access online publication.

The journal encourages the submission of works from research areas including composition, computer music, musicology, theory, music education, and ethnomusicology. Vórtex accepts the submission of articles, translations, interviews, and scores in Portuguese, English, or Spanish. Concert, festival, CD, DVD, and book reviews are also accepted.

Below, a work by Dániel Péter Biró, one of the contributors to the inaugural volume.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New periodicals

Girl groups

ronettes

Bands such as The Chantels, Rosie and the Originals, The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, Little Eva, and The Chiffons were commonly referred to as girl groups.

The girl-group style flourished between 1958 and 1965 and reached its height with the Phil Spector-produced groups—The Crystals, The Ronettes, and Darlene Love backed by the Crystals—and with the blazing teen morality plays of The Shangri-Las.

Although the girl-group sound was producer-driven, with songs written by Brill Building songwriters and aimed at a female teen audience, the music that came out of this collaborative process is considered some of the best of an otherwise fallow period for rock ’n’ roll. The best of the girl groups’ songs are filled with an epic sense of emotional intensity that may have stemmed in part from discord between the singers—mostly young black girls—and white male producers.

This according to “The girl groups” by Greil Marcus, an essay included in The Rolling Stone illustrated history of rock & roll [New York: Random house, 1976] pp. 154–57). Above and below, The Ronettes in their heyday.

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Comden and Green make it big

On the town original cast

In 1944 Betty Comden and Adolph Green were performing in a Greenwich Village nightclub when their friend Leonard Bernstein stopped in to ask if they wanted to help him make a musical out of a ballet he had written for Jerome Robbins.

They had never attempted anything so ambitious, but since they weren’t exactly deluged with offers they decided it would be foolish to turn him down.

They developed a stage book based on Robbins’s ballet Fancy free, about three young sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York. The result was called On the town, and when it opened at the Adelphi Theater during the 1944 Christmas season they were also in the cast.

The show was hailed by critics, marking the beginning of a professional collaboration between the two that became, as The Chicago Tribune noted in 1990, “unchallenged as the longest-running act on Broadway.”

This according to “Adolph Green, playwright and lyricist, dies at 87” by Richard Severo (The New York times CLII/52,282 [25 October 2002] p. A32).

Today is Green’s 100th birthday! Above, the original On the town cast, with Comden and Green on the left. Below, one of their signature songs from the show.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Humor

Allan Sherman’s legacy

Allan Sherman JFK

Allan Sherman was the Larry David, the Adam Sandler, the Sacha Baron Cohen of 1963.

Sherman led Jewish humor and sensibilities out of ethnic enclaves and into the American mainstream with explosively funny parodies of classic songs that won him extraordinary success and acclaim across the board, from Harpo Marx to President Kennedy.

Sherman’s legacy represents a touchstone of postwar humor and a turning point in Jewish American cultural history. He was a manic, bacchanalian, and hugely creative artist who sold three million albums in just 12 months, yet died in obscurity a decade later at the age of 49.

This according to Overweight sensation: The life and comedy of Allan Sherman by Mark Cohen (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2013).

Today would have been Sherman’s 90th birthday! Above, with JFK in March 1963; below, My son, the folk singer, the album that started it all.

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Filed under Humor, Performers, Popular music