Saul, HWV 53


In 2014 Carus-Verlag issued Saul, HWV 53, a critical edition of Händel’s oratorio that presents for the first time the version conducted by the composer himself.

Saul is one of the most dramatic of Händel’s oratorios, and to a greater extent than almost any other oratorio it reveals with its gripping power its proximity to opera of its era.

The score demands what was at the time Händel’s most varied orchestra; the normal opera orchestra of the day was augmented by trombones, harp, solo organ, glockenspiel, and large kettledrums. The choir functions for the first time as a central participant in dramatic action, while also undertaking commentating functions as in a Greek tragedy.

This new edition makes use for the first time of musical material revealed by the latest Händel research, based as its most important source on the conducting score from which the composer himself directed his performances. Only this research has shown which arias, choruses, recitatives, and instrumental pieces, after he had made numerous corrections in his autograph, Händel chose for his performances, and in what order they were given.

The result has produced, apart from many changes of details (e.g. autograph instructions concerning the use of the organ), an uncommon ordering of individual pieces, and passages with altered notes.

Below, a dramatic excerpt.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions

Dukas and the uncanny


In Paul Dukas’s L’apprenti sorcier, the figure of the magically animated broom becomes an agent of the uncanny, matching definitions subsequently outlined by Freud in his 1919 essay Das Unheimliche.

New attention to musical details, the composer’s unpublished notes, and the structure of Goethe’s poem Der Zauberlehrling suggests that Dukas’s work stands as a peculiar kind of fiction that points to the uncanny nature of narrative itself and the impossibility of mastery.

This according to “Silence, echo: A response to What the sorcerer said” by Carlo Caballero (19th-century music XXVIII/2 [fall 2004] pp. 160–182).

Today is Dukas’s 150th birthday! Below, Walt Disney’s beloved treatment from Fantasia (1940).

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Louis Sullivan and the Chicago Auditorium

Holloway detail

Louis Sullivan’s interior designs for the theater of the Chicago Auditorium Building (1889) reflect the ideas of Wagner and of the transcendentalist and music critic John Sullivan Dwight.

Especially significant are the murals, supervised by Sullivan, which allude to multiple art forms and to the democratic ideal of the opera house as a social institution.

Albert Fleury designed the murals on the side walls using themes drawn from Sullivan’s prose-poem Inspiration: An essay, which is full of musical imagery. The proscenium frieze, designed by Charles Holloway, depicts a central winged figure holding a lyre, flanked by several other figures and by the words “The utterance of life is a song: the symphony of nature”.

This according to “Louis Sullivan, J.S. Dwight, and Wagnerian aesthetics in the Chicago Auditorium Building” by Stephen Thursby, an essay included in Music in architecture, architecture in music (Austin: University of Texas, 2014, pp. 42 –53 ).

Above, the central figures in Holloway’s frieze (click images to enlarge); below, the frieze in the full proscenium; further below, one of Fleury’s murals, with the quotation from Sullivan’s text “O, soft, melodious spring time! First-born of life and love”.

Holloway proscenium frieze

Fleury spring song

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Gal Costa and tropicalismo

gal costa

When tropicalismo erupted on the horizon of Brazilian popular music in the late 1960s, the Brazilian military dictatorship was in full swing. Not surprisingly, resistance, irreverence, and political confrontation became defining features of the movement, which in turn led the military government to pay very close attention to tropicalismo’s protagonists.

Gal Costa’s career unfolded in this highly charged context. She was the only female performer who was associated with tropicalismo from the very beginning and throughout the movement’s traumatic developments, and therefore became the muse-in-residence for all the tropicalists, and the most revered interpreter of their works.

Costa had an enormous impact on the reception of tropicalismo and its aesthetics, especially through her irreverent stage presence and performing style. She took to heart the confrontational aspects of tropicalismo and embodied them in her stage persona, which was constructed from a combination of musical, visual, and theatrical elements.

One of the most distinct aspects of her performances was the intense sexuality and eroticism that emanated from her onstage. She was a very accomplished guitarist, and for most of her early career she would accompany herself on the guitar, playing the instrument as she sat with her legs widespread and animated by a sensual, provocative movement that made many conservative spectators a bit uncomfortable. Her mass of unruly hair added an animalistic intensity that was made all the more vivid through her wild and aggressive vocalizations.

Costa gave voice to several of the iconic songs of tropicalismo, many of which were composed specifically with her vocal qualities in mind. In her first live album, Fa-tal: Gal a todo vapor (1971), she crystallized all the defining elements of her style. The album became a classic in the history of Brazilian popular music, and was ranked the 20th greatest Brazilian album of all time by Rolling Stone Brasil.

This according to “‘Eu sou uma fruta gogóia, eu sou uma moça’: Gal Costa e o Tropicalismo no feminino” by Rafael da Silva Noleto (Per musi: Revista acadêmica de música 30 [July–December 2014] pp. 64–75).

Today is Gal Costa’s 70th birthday! Below, the quintessential teasing, sultry tropicalista.

BONUS: A Brazilian friend describes this as “making Tom Jobim very happy in heaven.”

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

The Takarazuka Revue

Takarazuka Revue

The Takarazuka Kagekidan (Takarazuka Revue) is a Japanese all-women musical theater troupe that delivers a wide array of performances, including Broadway musicals, traditional Japanese plays, and flashy Vegas-style revues.

Performers are assigned a stage gender that, with rare exceptions, they stick to and perform as throughout their time with the company. Women who play women on stage are referred to as musumeyaku, while those who portray men are called otokoyaku.

When comparing images of otokoyaku over time there is a palpable shift in appearance, from a look that seeks to portray a convincing male to a more androgynous aesthetic. While the otokoyaku’s shift in appearance from classically male to more androgynous and almost feminine may have been instigated by the male authorities of the Takarazuka Kagekidan, this different way of presenting themselves as male can in fact be seen as liberating and offering new opportunities for expression to the performers.

This according to “Dude looks like a lady: The otokoyaku’s transformation in Japan’s Takarazuka Revue” by Michelle Johnson, an essay included in Dance ACTions: Traditions and transformations (Birmingham: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2013, pp. 193–201).

Below, the opening of one of the musicals in the Rose of Versailles series, which provides the main examples in the article.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dramatic arts

The Boydell composer compendium series

Rameau compendium

Boydell & Brewer launched The Boydell composer compendium series in 2014 with The Rameau compendium by Graham Sadler.

The series aims to present up-to-date reference works on major composers that can provide instant information and connect users with further reading. As leading authorities on the composers in question, the authors are encouraged both to present available information and, where appropriate, to introduce new facts and arguments and to illuminate the various discourses on the subject.

Each volume includes an exhaustive cross-referenced dictionary of relevant people, places, institutions, compositions, terminology, genres, and events. A comprehensive bibliography is also included, as are numerous musical examples and illustrations.

Below, John Eliot Gardiner conducts a concert of Rameau’s works.

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Filed under Baroque era, New series

Jelly Roll Morton and Frog-i-More

jelly roll morton

Jelly Roll Morton probably wrote Frog-i-More rag in 1908 to accompany a fellow vaudevillian known as Frog-i-More, a contortionist who performed in a frog costume, but he did not deposit the music for copyright until 1918 for fear that any form of public record was an invitation to purloin his ideas.

Morton’s piano style and musical greatness are nowhere better demonstrated. All of the most typical features are abundantly evident: his wealth of melodic invention and skill in variation; the tremendous swing; his feeling for formal design and attention to detail; his effective use of pianistic resources; the contrasts of subtle elegance with hard hitting drive; and the variety of harmony yet freedom from complication and superficial display.

This according to “Jelly Roll Morton and the Frog-i-More rag” by William Russell, an essay included in The art of jazz: Essays on the nature and development of jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 35–36).

Today is Morton’s 135th birthday! Below, a performance of the piece via mediated piano roll.

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The vocal tract organ

vocal tract organ


The vocal tract organ is a new musical instrument that consists of three-dimensional (3D)-printed vocal tracts (throat and mouth) for individual vowels sitting on loudspeakers to enable static vowel sounds to be produced.

The acoustic excitation from the loudspeakers is a synthesized version of the typical waveform produced by the vibrating human vocal folds during pitched sounds, which enables the instrument to be played from a keyboard.

The vocal tract organ will become an instrument in its own right, and it could be used as a direct replacement for the vox humana organ stop, given that its acoustic output is a much closer representation of the human vocal output than that from a vox humana organ pipe. The 3D-printed tracts may also be used  in vocal and choral workshops as well as degree-level music technology education.

This according to “The vocal tract organ and the vox humana organ stop” by David M. Howard (Journal of music, technology & education VII/3 [2014] pp. 265–277).

Above, an illustration from the article; below, a composition by Professor Howard.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science

B.B. King’s evolving technique

B.B. King

B.B. King’s guitar technique drew from many sources, both direct and indirect.

At first he functioned primarily as a vocalist, making little idiomatic use of the instrument; in subsequent recordings the influence of T-Bone Walker became quite apparent.

He also adapted embellishments used by earlier blues guitarists (Lonnie Johnson) as well as those of jazz guitarists (Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Bill Jennings). King’s distinctive finger tremolo was inspired by Bukka White’s bottleneck style.

This according to “B.B. King: Analysis of the artist’s evolving guitar technique” by Jerry Richardson (American Music Research Center journal VI [1996] pp. 89–107.

Today would have been King’s 90th birthday! Below, live in 1974.

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Mel Tormé’s first gig


In a 1996 interview, Mel Tormé described his formative years.

“When I was a baby in Chicago my favorite toy was the radio, and I listened faithfully to the Coon-Sanders Orchestra.”

“My parents finally took me to see them at the Blackhawk Restaurant when I was four years old, and Carleton Coon and Joe Sanders saw me sitting there tapping my feet and singing along.”

“Finally Joe came over and asked ‘Who’s the little dwarf?’ My mother said ‘He listens to your program and knows everything you do’ so they took me onstage and had me sing a tune called You’re drivin’ me crazy. People seemed to like it, so for the next seven months they had me sit in every Monday night and sing that song.”

“I loved being onstage, and when that experience was over I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”

Quoted in Mel Tormé, an interview included in Kristine McKenna’s Book of changes: A collection of interviews (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2001, pp. 217–224).

Today would have been Tormé’s 90th birthday! Above, the singer early in his career; below, the seasoned pro in a memorable performance.

BONUS:  Tormé was also an accomplished drummer.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers