The book’s juxtaposition of two highly dissimilar composers allows an exploration of the breadth of influence of traditional Jewish culture on Western classical music in the 20th century and beyond. The first part focuses on the humane qualities of Dmitrij Šostakovič’s personality—his honesty and courage, which enabled him in difficult times to express Jewish torment and suffering under both the Soviet and Nazi regimes through his works; the second part is dedicated to the music of Daniel Asia and to his philosophical and religious identification with Judaism.
When the Count Basie Orchestra first achieved prominence in 1936 it was using a basic antiphonal style and repertoire borrowed from other performance groups.
In those days, the originality of Basie’s orchestra lay in its rhythm section and in the abilities of its several outstanding soloists. In effect, Basie brought a version of the Kansas City backroom jam session onto the bandstand.
When he re-formed his orchestra in 1950–51, after over a year of leading a sextet, Basie depended on mass effects, orchestral precision, adventurous voicings, and a new repertoire.
During this time he relied on the talents of composer-orchestrators Frank Foster, composer of Shiny stockings, Neal Hefti (Cute), Thad Jones (Speaking of sounds), and others. Basie’s new sound slightly echoed that of the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra of the 1930s, but was otherwise without precedent in jazz history.
This according to “Horses in midstream: Count Basie in the 1950s” by Martin T. Williams (Annual review of jazz studies II  pp. 1–6).
Today is Basie’s 110th birthday! Above and below, the Count Basie Orchestra in 1951 (pictured above with Ethel Waters).
Celos aun del aire matan: Fiesta cantada (opera in three acts) (Middleton: A-R editions, 2014) is a critical performing edition of the earliest extant Hispanic opera, Celos aun del aire matan by Juan Hidalgo (1614–85). The work is the most extensive surviving example of Hispanic Baroque theatrical music.
Designed for the Spanish royal court’s festivities honoring the marriage of Infanta María Teresa of Spain and King Louis XIV of France, this passionate fiesta cantada in three acts was first produced in Madrid, thanks to the collaboration of Hidalgo and the court dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). The opera was designed for performance by a cast of young female actress-singers (the only role requiring a male voice is for a comic tenor) and a continuo group.
This edition, which includes an extensive introduction, an English translation of the Calderón text, and a unique loa from the 1682 Naples production, contributes to a better understanding of Hidalgo’s music and the contribution of Hispanic music to early modern musical culture.
Above and below, moments from a 2000 performance of the work at the Teatro Real in Madrid.
Growing up together in Toccoa, Georgia, Byrd gave Brown his first break by inviting him to join the Famous Flames—the vocal group founded by Byrd—after his family took a young Brown into their home following a prison term served for robbery.
After Brown seized the frontman spot, and after he briefly dismissed the Flames altogether, Byrd went on to play an integral role in Brown’s career both on stage and off for the next ten years, providing vocal counterpoint and musical leadership while also serving as an intermediary between the singers, musicians, and dancers employed by Brown.
Known for his catch phrase “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing”, Byrd was widely loved and respected. Although he carved out a modest solo career, if he had been associated with the writers, producers, and musicians at a label like Atlantic or Stax, today he would be remembered alongside the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Solomon Burke. His bond with Brown was perhaps both blessing and curse, but their shared background, struggles, and successes made the bond nearly inevitable.
This according to “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing: Bobby Byrd (1934–2007)” by Alan Leeds (Wax poetics 26 [December/January 2007/2008] pp. 36–39.
Today is Byrd’s 80th birthday! Above, Bobby Byrd (center of trio) with Johnny Terry, Bobby Bennett, and James Brown at the Apollo Theater in 1964; below, with the JB All-Stars in 1989).
In 2005 Pat Metheny was alarmed by shortening attention spans and bite-sized media blips.
“The new form now is ringtones!” he exclaimed in an interview. “It went from a symphony to an album, then to singles, then edit your single, then four-bar loops, and now it’s down to one or two seconds.
In response Metheny created The way up, a CD comprising a single work that lasts over an hour. The guitarist described it as “a protest in the purest sense of the word—it offers an alternative, not just a shrill polemic…[the album] “is a reaction to a world where things are getting shorter, dumber, less interesting, less detailed, more predictable.”
“If you look at the whole history of the group, we’ve been totally interested in expansion in terms of form… It seemed like now was the time to go all the way and attempt to use the CD itself as a platform.”
This according to “The advancing guitarist” by David L. Adler (JazzTimes XXXV/2 [March 2005] pp. 36–42).
Today is Metheny’s 60th birthday! Below, the group plays the full work live in April 2005.
Levande Musikarv/Swedish Musical Heritage is an open-access Internet database of Swedish composers born at least 100 years ago, including biographies, work lists (with facsimiles of works no longer covered by copyright), bibliographies, and links to related material.
There is a hidden treasure trove of significant Swedish art music from the 1600s to the present; unfortunately, for various reasons many have been forgotten. Much of this music is only available in hard-to read-manuscripts, often in poor condition, with decaying paper, fading ink, and so on.
One of the other goals of the project is to produce critical editions of Swedish art music, helping it to become a vital part of our modern concert repertoire. There are great discoveries to make, not least among the works of women composers.
The database will eventually be bilingual in Swedish and English, in an effort to promote Swedish music abroad.
Wissner explores the Twilight zone series and offers multiple readings of the ways in which it used music, offering an understanding of the ways in which music—both original and stock—can be used in an anthology television show.
The book focuses both on the ways in which newly composed scores and stock music were used in the series and on how the music enhances and interacts with what we see and hear onscreen.
US patent 7942311, granted 17 May 2011 to George Eapen of Frisco, Texas, describes a method for identifying sequenced flavor notes in a food product and developing a musical passage that represents or artistically relates to the tasting experience of the flavor notes. The passage is played and listened to concurrently with tasting the food product, thus producing a combined sensory experience.
The document includes data from a panel testing of a salsa verde flavored corn chip, which identified the flavor notes cilantro, tomatillo, lime, and an unspecified “spice flavor”. The inventor explains how these flavor notes can generate musical passages.
Eapen assigned rights to the patent to the corn chip giant Frito-Lay, presumably for its use in their marketing of corn chips.
This according to “Music to your tongue: In a bid for more emotional snacking, Frito-Lay patents culinary theme songs” by Marc Abrahams (BetaBoston 17 July 2014). Above, Eapen’s musical depiction of salsa verde flavor notes (click to enlarge); below, some of his related work for Frito-Lay, with cameos by The Black Eyed Peas.
The opera Vina (Guilt) by the Czech composer Otakar Zich (above, 1879–1934) was one of the most highly anticipated—and hotly debated—musical premieres at Prague’s National Theatre in 1922.
Composed between 1911 and 1915, Vina’s three-act score reflects many trends of its time, including a post-Wagnerian motivic web, lush Straussian orchestration, and quasi-tonal harmonic content derived mostly from a linear, contrapuntal texture.
Zich compiled the prose libretto from Jaroslav Hilbert’s 1896 play of the same name, an Ibsenesque parlor tragedy that retained its popularity for over a quarter-century. His compositional technique reaches its height during the heroine’s “letter without words”, a scene accompanied by a brilliant polytonal fugue for full orchestra.
Despite its many accomplishments, Zich’s Vina met with critical controversy after its premiere, provoking opposing forces to support or oppose musical modernism, which with this opera had firmly taken root in the Czech lands.
A new critical edition (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2014) increases Vina’s availability, enhancing the possibility of future performances of this historic work.
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.