Athanasius Kircher’s global reach

Musical commodities frequently accompanied European explorers, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries who traveled to Asia in the early modern period. During this time, numerous theoretical treatises and musical scores—both printed and manuscript—were disseminated throughout Asia.

One of the most significant of these musical imports was Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis, which provided far-flung missions with vital information on music theory, history, organology, composition, and performance. An unexpected letter to Kircher from Manila, sent just four years after the treatise’s publication in Rome, provides testimony to its importance:

“I am so obliged to Your Reverence not only for the great kindness with which Your Reverence treated me in Rome, but also for the instruction that Your Reverence gives me all day in these remote parts of the world by means of your books, which are no less esteemed here than [they are] in Europe.”

“Here in Manila I am studying the fourth year of theology, and I see for myself the many marvels that Your Reverence recounts in his books. I have been the first to bring one of these, that is, the Musurgia, to the Indies, and I do not doubt that it will be of great usefulness to the Fathers of the missions, where music is taught publicly. Father Ignatio Monti Germano, Rector of Silang, wants to read it, and I will send it to him shortly.”

This according to “The dissemination and use of European music books in early modern Asia” by David R.M. Irving (Early music history XXVIII [2009] pp. 39–59).

This year marks the 390th anniversary of Kircher’s ordination! Above, the frontispiece to the first volume, engraved after a drawing by Johann Paul Schor; below, Kircher’s celebrated musical cure for a tarantula bite.

Related article: Baroque birdsong

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William Herschel at the crossroads

 

William Herschel’s career shift from art to science can be regarded as a symbol of the change that music aesthetics underwent in the eighteenth century.

The traditional view of music’s dual nature as both art and science was widely accepted as the century opened, but it was challenged by a growing interest in issues such as genius and the role of inspiration in the creative process. The nature of musical expression defied rational explanation.

The conclusion that genius and inspiration were beyond the law of nature, and that music is not just an expression of natural order but a means by which feelings and emotions can be expressed and thoughts and ideas transferred, contributed to the philosophical background for the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. The arts and sciences had come to a crossroads, and Herschel chose to follow the path of science.

This according to “Music: A science and an art—The 18th-century parting of the ways” by John Bergsagel (Dansk årbog for musikforskning XII [1981] pp. 5-18).

Today is Herschel’s 280th birthday! Above, a portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott; below, his viola concerto in C Major.

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Forging and legitimizing Dutch metal

 

Dutch heavy metal came of age in 2001 with the first mainstream success of the symphonic metal band Within Temptation, whose single Ice queen reached the number two position in the national Top 40.

The woman-fronted group initiated a trend that became internationally associated with the Netherlands and Dutchness. In 2007 the German magazine Rock hard labeled the genre melodic-dark-metal with female vocals, and counted the Netherlands among the leading nations in this field. Within Temptation has received support from the Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat, which is interested in stimulating the export value and copyright revenues of Dutch artists.

The next step was formal education: Metal Factory was founded in 2013 to teach instrumental skills and the ins and outs of band organization, management, communication, and touring.

This according to “From thrash to cash: Forging and legitimizing Dutch metal” by Pauwke Berkers and Julian Schaap, an essay included in Made in the Low Countries: Studies in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 61–71).

Above, Within Temptation’s guitarist Ruud Jolie teaches at Metal Factory; below, the official Ice queen video.

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Couperin and aesthetic reconciliation

 

François Couperin’s first attempts to reconcile French and Italian musical tastes came shortly after 1700, at the height of a prolonged conflict between the two musical nationalities. Despite Couperin’s authority, this contention was not to abate until the close of the 18th century, when both Italians and French were confronted with the rise of German music.

Already in the last decades of the 17th century, an Italianizing tendency had appeared under the tyranny of Lully and his followers in both Paris and the provinces. When Couperin intervened as a mediator in the resulting polemic he was not the first to do so—others less eminent had preceded him.

While his celebrated trio sonatas (1691–92) were strongly influenced by Corelli, the greater part of his output was purely French in character. But toward the end of his career, Couperin’s Les gouts rénuis (1724) and Le Parnasse ou l’apothéose de Corelli (1725), provided eloquent testimony to his desire to appropriate without partiality the best features of the different styles.

This according to “François Couperin et la conciliation des goûts français et italien” by Marc Pincherle (Chigiana XXV/5 [1968] pp. 69–80).

Today is Couperin’s 350th birthday! Below, Gli Incogniti plays l’Apothéose de Corelli.

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Don Byron’s intercultural eclecticism

 

The eclecticism of Don Byron and his music reflects the decentralization of music in the U.S., where there is no single musical culture but rather mini-, micro-, and subcultures that continually mutate into new idioms.

While eclectic music seems to characterize culture in the U.S. at this moment, the discussion about it reveals certain cultural biases. Byron’s works highlight the tension between assimilation and difference and dispel prevalent assumptions regarding style politics and identity politics.

This according to “Making mischief in the melting pot: The intercultural music of Don Byron” by Barbara White, an essay included in Intercultural music. III (Richmond: MRI, 2001, pp. 15–37).

Today is Byron’s 60th birthday! Below, a track from Don Byron plays the music of Mickey Katz.

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Père Castel’s ocular harpsichord

 

The Jesuit priest Louis-Bertrand Castel had his hour of fame in the 18th century thanks to his ocular harpsichord.

Starting from the idea of a physical analogy between sound and color, Castel conceived of a harpsichord that would diffuse a music of colors organized into a scale on the basis of their natural correspondence with sounds. In this way he sought to reveal the rational principles that determine the order of nature, grounding art in reason. Art would thus bear witness to a divine intelligence compatible with reason, and the music of colors would be a form of revelation.

In addition, this development would rescue people from boredom, the languor that takes away their feeling of existing, by ensuring continuous movement and surprise, renewing the pleasure of variety, and satisfying the natural inconstancy that goads them relentlessly to seek other objects of pleasure. From this to the preaching of a libertine art was a matter of a single step, which Castel took without realizing it. For him, amusement had achieved a respected place in the world.

This according to Le Père Castel et le clavecin oculaire by Corinna Gepner (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2014).

Today is Castel’s 330th birthday! Above, a caricature of Père Castel and his instrument by Charles Germain de Saint Aubin; below, a brief discussion.

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Bunny Berigan, Mr. Trumpet

 

The life of the jazz trumpeter Rowland Bernard “Bunny” Berigan resembles nothing less than an ancient Greek tragedy: a heroic figure who rises from obscurity to dizzying heights, touches greatness, becomes ensnared by circumstances, and comes to a disastrous early end.

Berigan was a charismatic performer. His artistry made a deep and lasting impression on everyone who heard him play, while the body of recorded work he left continues to evoke a wide range of emotions. He played a key role in a golden age of American popular music and jazz.

This according to Mr. Trumpet: The trials, tribulations, and triumph of Bunny Berigan by Michael P. Zirpolo (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011).

Today is Berigan’s 110th birthday! Below, his classic 1937 recording of I can’t get started, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1975.

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Kumi wudui vocal culture

 

Ryūkyūan kumi wudui (組踊, Japanese kumi odori) uses a variety of codified vocal techniques to identify the gender and social class of each character. Degrees of musicality, variation in timbre, and pitch inflection are all understood as emblematic of particular character types.

These vocal techniques are constructed within Ryūkyūan society with reference to the Ryūkyūan language, class system, and gender relationships. Many parallels can be drawn between the ways vocal identities are constructed in kumi wudui vocal culture and in other world theater traditions.

This according to “Listening to the voice in kumiudui: Representations of social class and gender through speech, song, and prosody” by Matt Gillan (Asian music XLIX/1 [winter–spring 2018] pp. 4–33).

Below, some examples of kumi wudui vocal types.

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British ballet during World War II

 

When World War II broke out, British ballet was only a few decades old, and few had imagined that it would establish roots in a nation long thought to be unresponsive to the genre.

Nevertheless, the War proved to be a boon for ballet dancers, choreographers, and audiences, for Britain’s dancers were forced to look inward to their own identity and sources of creativity. Instead of withering during the enforced isolation of war, ballet in Britain flourished, exhibiting a surprising heterogeneity and vibrant populism that moved ballet outside its typical elitist surroundings to be seen by uninitiated, often enthusiastic audiences.

Ballet proved to help boost morale, to render solace to the soul-weary, and to afford entertainment and diversion to those who simply craved a few hours of distraction. Government authorities came to see that ballet could serve as a tool of propaganda; it functioned within the larger public discourse of sacrifice, and it answered a public mood of pragmatism and idealism.

This according to Albion’s dance: British ballet during the Second World War by Karen Eliot (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

Above, Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals (1944), one of the works discussed in the book; below, a documentary about reconstructing the dance in 2014.

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Tanzanian rap and neosocialist moralities

 

Rap songs from Tanzania’s urban youth are especially popular due to two factors: (1) unlike the majority of countries in Africa, Tanzania has a well-established national language, Swahili, which is spoken from one end of the country to the other, and has enabled the emergence of a well-subscribed sentiment of national belonging; and (2) as of 2013, 64% of Tanzania’s population was 25 years old or younger.

Like much youth music, a constant theme for Tanzanian rap is romance and relationships, but social and political critique has also proven emblematic of the genre. With penetrating lyrics, Swahili rappers target those who engage in predatory capitalism and political corruption—elites who hoard resources to accrue ever more wealth, spending it in an ever more conspicuous style, while the majority find their lives made ever more difficult.

This according to “Neosocialist moralities versus neoliberal religiousities: Constructing musical publics in 21st century Tanzania” by Kelly M. Askew, an essay included in Mambo moto moto: Music in Tanzania today (Berlin: VWB: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 2016, pp. 61–74).

Above and below, Soggy Doggy’s Nyerere uses clips of Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, who believed that socialism was the antidote to colonial-era capitalism.

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