In 1823 Louis Spohr’s article “Aufruf an deutsche Komponisten” appeared in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. He wrote it to encourage young German composers to contribute to the genre of German opera, but he may have had other intentions as well.
Spohr was determined to promote his latest opera, Jessonda, which he mentioned as a model for his ideas of German opera—but a closer look at that work reveals that Spohr did not think along nationalist lines. In a way its dramaturgy depicts Kant’s definition of Enlightenment and aims at a united and enlightened mankind; so did the composer in his personal life.
Indeed, Spohr’s liberal and enlightened ideas are so prominent in his operas that they became increasingly neglected in the 1870s, when chauvinistic tendencies became more widespread. This development culminated in the 1940s, when the Nazis banned Jessonda from the German stage. As Spohr’s original resisted attempts to align it with the Nazi idea of German opera, the Reichsstelle für Musikbearbeitungen commissioned an amended version; the end of World War II curtailed this effort.
This according to “Zwischen nationalem Anspruch und lokalpolitischen Zwangen: Entstehungs- und Rezeptionsbedingungen der Kasseler Opern Louis Spohrs” by Wolfram Boder (Studia musicologica LII/1–4 [March 2011] pp. 311–321).
Today is Spohr’s 230th birthday! Above, the composer’s self-portrait; below, some excerpts from Jessonda.
Since the mid–19th-century discovery of the sinfonia concertante for winds, sometimes labeled K.297b, the work has been considered authentic by some and dubious by others, and its reception in the concert hall has paralleled these critical vicissitudes. An examination of 168 texts discussing this composition reveals that the authors’ reactions to the work are closely bound to their opinions on who wrote it.
For example, authors who believed that the work was by Mozart described it as strong, sturdy, and solid, while those that did not called it flimsy, arbitrary, illogical, and incomprehensible; those crediting Mozart rated the work highest level and a masterpiece, while those who considered it spurious rated it not first class; and the Mozart designators considered it delightful, celestial, and enchanting, while the non-Mozart camp described it as tasteless, inept, and cheap.
This according to “Musical attribution and critical judgment: The rise and fall of the sinfonia concertante for winds, K.297b” by John Spitzer (The journal of musicology V/3 [summer 1987] pp. 319–56). Below, we invite you to form your own opinion.
While there is no evidence that Isaac Albéniz and George Bernard Shaw ever met, the latter attended and reviewed some of the former’s London recitals.
The outspoken Shaw pointed out what he perceived as the composer and pianist’s limitations—dismissing, for example, his renditions of Mozart’s works as “monotonously pretty”—but he had some approving words as well.
Arriving at an 1891 recital at one minute before three, Shaw was “intending to have the usual twenty minutes or so over the evening paper before business began. To my amazement Albéniz appeared at the stroke of three as if he had been sent up on the platform by electric wire from Greenwich…I shall henceforth regard Albéniz not only as one of the pleasantest, most musical, and most original of pianists, but as a man of superior character.”
This according to “Albéniz and Shaw” by Colin Cooper (Classical guitar XXV/1 [September 2006] pp. 30–31). Below, a recital for Alfonso XII from Louis César Amidori’s Albéniz (1947).
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In an address delivered on 10 January 1932 William Cardinal O’Connell described crooners as “whiners and bleaters defiling the air.”
“No true American would practice this base art,” he continued. “I like to use my radio, when weary. But I cannot turn the dials without getting these whiners, crying vapid words to impossible tunes.”
“If you will listen closely when you are unfortunate enough to get one of these you will discern the basest appeal to sex emotions in the young. They are not true love songs—they profane the name. They are ribald and revolting to true men.”
This according to “Cardinal denounces crooners as whiners defiling the air” (New York times 11 January 1932, p. 21), which is reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012) pp. 319–20.
Below, Rudy Valée defiles the air in Florenz Ziegfeld’s Glorifying the American girl).
A letter published in the June 1925 issue of Gramophone noted the magazine’s general absence of women correspondents: “are the sweet little things too shy, or what?” A response published in August of that year dismissed the idea of women enjoying the gramophone: “ladies…want to be seen and also to see. They don’t want to listen. That will never interest them.”
The October issue included a letter from a woman reader who noted that women have less money at their disposal for entertainment than men, and that when she attends concerts she sees many women, including poor ones, listening attentively. “I can only conclude,” she wrote, “that certain of your correspondents have been singularly unfortunate in the circle of women they have drawn about them.”
The letters are reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). Below, on a record from the year in which the letters were first published, Margaret Young sings Red hot Henry Brown.
Related article: Gramophone ethics
With outward horror, but with secret envy, let us contemplate a man who is wealthy, unambitious, and unencumbered. After breakfast he lights a cigar, sinks into an armchair, and rings for the butler to set the gramophone going.
While one’s imagination may boggle at the thought, let us free ourselves from such trammels of convention that would confine the gramophone to the first half hour of after-dinner plethora. There is music to be had for all times and seasons.
Further, a convincing argument cannot be made against listening to the gramophone alone: If one may read a book without company, how can enjoying music in solitude be indecent?
This according to “Times and seasons” by Orlo Williams (Gramophone June 1923, pp. 38–39), an article reprinted in Music, sound, and technology in America: A documentary history of early phonograph, cinema, and radio (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). Below, a gramophone record issued a few months after the article appeared.
Related article: Women and gramophones
Small talk at the wall, a Yahoo! Group honoring Bob Dylan, has established a weekly hoot night—a chat room where Dylan’s songs are performed by its members.
These hoot nights can be read into a foreground of medieval representational devotion, due to the structure that consists of canonical texts with which the audience can identify itself. The hoot nights become an example of the transformation of medieval rituals into art.
This according to “Music practices around Bob Dylan, medieval rituals, and modernity” by Nils Holger Petersen, an essay included in The cultural heritage of medieval rituals: Genre and ritual (Transfiguration: Nordisk tidsskrift for kunst og kristendom V/1–2  pp. 321–330). Below, “Weird Al” Yankovic demonstrates his devotion to Dylan.
Related article: The Caffè Lena Collection
La verità mascherata (Milan, 1681), an anonymous and apparently fictional account of a libertine’s reform, includes a description of an elaborate opera performance on the occasion of a royal wedding.
The account suggests that 17th-century Italian audiences were neither silent nor attentive during overtures and instrumental interludes; that the danced intermezzi were barely considered part of the opera at all (Italians apparently regarded stage dancing as comical and grotesque at that time); and that drunkenness and lasciviousness were freely depicted on the stage. The story ends with the hero renouncing opera and retiring to a monastery.
This according to “A Jesuit at the opera in 1680” by Edward Joseph Dent, an essay included in Riemann-Festschrift: Gesammelte Studien–Hugo Riemann zum sechzigsten Geburtstage überreicht von Freunden und Schülern (Leipzig: Hesse, 1909, pp. 381–393); the book is covered in RILM’s Liber amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966 (2009, 100 years after the article was published).
Above, Sharin Apostolou in a production of La Calisto, a 1651 opera by Francesco Cavalli that could have helped to form the impression of Italian comic opera depicted in La verità mascherata. Below, an excerpt from a 1996 performance in Brussels.
Related article: Operatic degeneracy I
What was the interplay between plumbing and the routines of audience behavior at London’s 18th-century opera house? A simple question, perhaps, but it proves to be a subject with scarce evidence, and even scarcer commentary.
“Pots, privies and WCs: Crapping at the opera in London before 1830” by Michael Burden (Cambridge opera journal XXIII/1–2 [March–July 2011] pp. 27–50) sets out to document as far as possible the developments in plumbing in the London theaters, moving from the chamber pot to the privy to the installation of the first water-closets, addressing questions of the audience’s general behavior, the beginnings in London of a listening audience, and the performance of music between the acts.
Burden concludes that the bills were performed without intervals, and that, in an evening that frequently ran to four hours in length, audience members moved around the auditorium and came and went much as they pleased (to the pot, privy, or WC), demonstrating that singers would have had to contend throughout their performances with a large quantity of low-level noise.