Germany rocks opera

bayreuth lohengrin

Increasingly, young opera singers from all over the world are moving to Germany, drawn by the prospect of steady work—even full-time employment.

In 2013 Germany saw 7230 opera performances, one-third of the world’s total. German opera houses employ 1270 soloists and 2870 chorus members on full-time contracts.

An American soprano who will be joining the Deutsche Oper in Berlin next year says “There aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be for up-and-coming singers in the U.S. If you’re a lesser-known name, American opera houses often don’t take a chance on you because they need to sell tickets. When I return to the U.S., people will say ‘She must be good, she’s sung at the Deutsche Oper.’”

This according to “If you want to sing opera, learn German” by Elisabeth Braw (Newsweek 17 July 2014; online only).

Above and below, a recent German opera production that provided numerous employment opportunities.

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Cage’s microtonal rāgas

cage ragas tabla notation

John Cage’s 18 microtonal rāgas are found in Solo for voice 58 from Song books (1970).

To perform them, the dhrupad and experimental music specialist Amelia Cuni decided to apply experimental procedures to dhrupad vocalism and to elaborate her Indian music background in a new music context. She also wanted to explore an influential contemporary composer’s take on rāgas and step back from her personal involvement with the tradition and observe it from another perspective.

In collaboration with the Berliner Festspiele and several other contemporary music venues, Cuni’s interpretation of Solo for voice 58 was premiered in Berlin in 2006 and has been performed since then at several European and U.S. festivals.

This according to Cuni’s “Chance generated ragas in Solo for voice 58: A dhrupad singer performs John Cage” (Journal of the Indian Musicological Society  XLI [2011–12] pp. 127–54).

Above, the tabla notation for the performance; below, a studio recording of Cuni’s realization. More about the work and Cuni’s version is here; a full live performance can be viewed here (the performance starts at 10:00).

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Koussevitsky and American composers

Koussevitsky 74th with Bernstein & Foss

Serge Koussevitsky was a tireless champion of contemporary American composers during his tenure at the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Once he had decided on the value of a new work he was determined to program it, regardless of whether it was long, abstruse, dissonant, difficult to perform, or difficult to comprehend. Often he arranged for the major portion of the week’s rehearsal time to be devoted to perfecting the orchestra’s interpretation of the new work.

This according to “Serge Koussevitzky and the American composer” by Aaron Copland (The musical quarterly XXX/3 [July 1944] pp. 255–269); an appendix lists 123 American works that he programmed during his first 20 years in Boston.

Today is Koussevitsky’s 140th birthday! Above, the maestro celebrates his 74th at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss; below, his recording of Copland’s Appalachian spring.

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The esoteric phonograph

Edison phonograph

Emerging in the gaps between biology and physics, matter and unseen ether, electricity is a liminal force that inevitably carries a powerful imaginative charge both ethereal and anxious.

Many of the influential early figures in the science of electricity, such as Samuel Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, and Guglielmo Marconi, couched the new technology in mysticism and spiritualism, or even linked it to extraterrestrial life. Even the inventor of the phonograph himself was somewhat of a techno-spiritualist; Thomas Edison once attempted to build a radio device capable of capturing the voices of the dead.

Since then, musicians and composers both highbrow and popular have twiddled and tweaked electronic and electrical instruments, as well as electromagnetic recording and broadcasting technologies, to tune into new sonic, compositional, and expressive possibilities. In so doing, they have also gone a long way toward reimagining the scrambled boundaries of subjectivity as it makes its way through the invisible landscapes—both dreadful and sublime—that make up the acoustic space of electronic media.

This according to “Recording angels: The esoteric origins of the phonograph” by Erik Davis, an article included in Undercurrents: The hidden wiring of modern music (London: Continuum, 2002). Above, Edison with his phonograph, photographed by Matthew Brady in 1878; below, his 1910 film A trip to Mars.

Related article: Esoteric orchestration

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Di Meola and Vizzini

Vizzini

The music on Al Di Meola’s 1998 album The infinite desire was largely inspired by the work of the Venetian painter Andrea Vizzini.

“We had books of his collections laying around the studio,” Di Meola said in an interview, “and all of the musicians involved would periodically glance through them for inspiration. Even people who aren’t normally versed in art are moved by his work.”

“He’s about fifty and showed up at one of my shows last year when we played outside Venice. I was really moved that he was gassed by the music! He’s actually painting to my music right now, so we’re planning some exhibitions at some point down the road.”

This according to “Al Di Meola: Art imitating art” by Bret Primack (JazzTimes XXVIII/10 [December 1998] pp. 88–90, 201–202).

Today is Di Meola’s 60th birthday! Above, Vizzini’s cover for the album (click to enlarge); below, Di Meola’s Vizzini (a track from the album) with a slideshow of the artist’s work.

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A Springsteen archive

Springsteen report card

Founded in 2014, blindedbythelight.com is an online museum displaying more than 300 pieces of Bruce Springsteen memorabilia. Admission is $9.99, which allows a month of access to the site, the ability to download a font that replicates Mr. Springsteen’s handwriting style, the use of a ticket and memorabilia exchange, and entry to a monthly raffle. Mr. Springsteen has no formal involvement with the site.

Above, the museum’s reproduction of The Boss’s 8th-grade report card (click to enlarge; note that F stands for Fair). Below, Springsteen performs Blinded by the light in 2009.

Related article: A Springsteen resource

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iPhone ocarinas and stress recovery

iPhone ocarina

In an experiment, 54 participants were instructed to play Twinkle, twinkle, little star using the Smule ocarina app on the iPhone, which involved blowing into the microphone of the iPhone and placing fingers on the screen to produce different notes.

One week after receiving instruction, the participants were randomly assigned to either an acute-stress induction procedure or a no-stress control group. The acute-stress group exhibited elevations in levels of cortisol as well as negative mood and arousal (as measured by two self-report measures of mood and arousal), compared to the no-stress group.

Participants in both groups were subsequently randomly assigned to one of three 10-minute-long activities: playing or listening to Twinkle, twinkle, little star on the iPhone ocarina or sitting in silence. Participants who had undergone the stress-inducing procedure and who played or listened to the ocarina during the stress-recovery period showed significant decreases in cortisol levels compared to those who sat in silence. However, as expected, participants in the no-stress group who played the iPhone ocarina showed significant increases in cortisol levels relative to participants who listened to it or sat in silence.

This according to “Effects of individual music playing and music listening on acute-stress recovery/Les effets du jeu et de l’écoute musicale sur le rétablissement d’un individu la suite d’un stress aigu” by Gabriela Ilie and Ramen Rehana (Canadian journal of music therapy/Revue canadienne de musicothérapie XIX/1 [2013] pp. 23–46).

Above and below, the iPhone ocarina in action.

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Prince and female desire

Purple-Rain

In the song When doves cry, Prince’s attempts to elicit female desire are traced according to three codes found in the lyrics: the “normal” code of male sexuality common in rock music, an unusually explicit “Oedipal” code, and an “uncanny” code.

The uncanny code constitutes a counter-code to the usual male-oriented sexuality of rock music and represents an attempt to elicit a non-stereotypical female sexuality—female desire outside of the male sexual economy.

This according to “Purple passion: Images of female desire in When doves cry” by Nancy J. Holland (Cultural critique X [fall 1988] pp. 89–98).

When doves cry is 30 years old this year, as is the film that showcased it, Purple rain. Above, a still from the film. Below, Patti Smith’s cover of When doves cry; the lyrics are here.

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Der Spiegel von Arkadien

Der Spiegel von Arkadien

Franz Xaver Süßmayr (1766–1803) launched a career as one of the most respected German opera composers of the time with the success of Der Spiegel von Arkadien.

The critical reception was almost uniformly enthusiastic; the score was even compared to that of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, rare praise for the time. Indeed, in the musical high points Süßmayr appears to have benefited from his direct knowledge of Mozart’s technique, which is also apparent in Süßmayr’s completion of the master’s Requiem.

Premiering on 14 November 1794, Der Spiegel von Arkadien had over 65 performances in its first year alone. It was performed all over Europe, both in the original German and in several translations, and was revived regularly for over 30 years. The enduring performance history attests to some extraordinarily beautiful, inspired music in Süßmayr’s score, music that has been neglected far too long.

This according to a new two-volume critical edition of the work, edited with commentary by David J. Buch (Recent researches in music of the Classical era, 93–94; Middleton: A-R editions, 2014). Below, the opera’s overture.

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Music on bones

music on bones

In 1946 Stanislav Filon, a young Soviet engineer, brought a record-cutting machine home from the front as a war trophy and used it to start a business in Leningrad.

By day, Filon recorded the voices of customers on industrial plastic discs; by night, he and his friends made pirate copies of records of foreign jazz and popular music.

Since the plastic discs were expensive and scarce, they experimented with alternatives, finally settling on abundantly available and virtually free used medical X-rays. These pirate copies were widely known as музыка на костях (muzyka na kostâh, music on bones).

This according to “Acoustic palimpsests and the politics of listening” by J.Martin Daughtry (Music and politics VII/1 [winter 2013] 35 p.). Above, St. Louis blues on a skull; below, a different kind of music on bones.

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