Women singer-songwriters in the 1990s

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The 1990s saw the emergence of a new kind of female artist, writing songs that focused on intimate topics of sexuality, gender, and the body in an explicit, direct way.

These women explored how everyday life is experienced through the body, and at the center of their songwriting was a specifically female experience, drawing on female agency and power, all experienced through an embodied self. These artists also embraced the confessional history of singer-songwriters, drawing in their audiences with closeness and intimacy through their bodily experiences.

This according to “The female singer-songwriter in the 1990s” by Sarah Boak, an essay included in The Cambridge companion to the singer-songwriter (New York Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 257–64).

Above, a photograph of PJ Harvey, Björk, and Tori Amos that was featured in the cover story of the May 1994 issue of Q; below, Harvey’s Dress. The Q article and Harvey’s song are both discussed in Boak’s essay.

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Filed under Popular music, Women's studies

Sınırın ötesinden sesler / Sounds beyond the border

sounds-beyond-the-border

As Syrian refugees’ migration experience in Turkey sways between transience and permanence, the culture of coexistence can only occur with the refugees and the locals getting to know one another. Like any cultural/artistic production, music provides a fertile ground for this interaction.

Sınırın ötesinden sesler/Sounds beyond the border is an open-access resource presenting interviews that strive to understand Syrian musicians’ experience of migration through music. As a response to homogenizing and exclusionary perspectives, the series aims to draw attention to the refugees’ talents and practices, the diversity they bring to Turkish geography, and the possibilities of a common cultural world.

The interviews are conducted by Evrim Hikmet Öğüt; the project is sponsored by Friedrich Naumann Vakfı Türkiye Ofisi.

Below, Sadim Al Zafari, one of the musicians interviewed in the series.

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Televising jazz, 1964

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With the emergence of jazz modernism, Miles Davis’s quintet was pushing popular standards to their limits when its 11 October 1964 performance at Milan’s Teatro dell’Arte ­was broadcast on Italian television.

The producers wanted us to experience the band’s internal dynamics; by tuning in to the show—by watching jazz as the live monitoring of events—we access both the band’s collective self-understanding and the continual reworking of that collective sense through the act of performance. In the group’s version of My funny valentine the television camera participates in and redefines our sense of the quintet’s performance, bringing us into a new relationship with issues of spontaneity, immediacy, and improvisation.

This according to “Screen the event: Watching Miles Davis’s My funny valentine” by Nicholas Gebhardt, an essay included in Watching jazz: Encounters with jazz performance on screen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 221–38).

Above and below, the 1964 telecast.­

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Mass media

Virgil Thomson and “Four saints in three acts”

Four Saints

Virgil Thomson first met Gertrude Stein in the winter of 1925–26. Early in 1927 he asked her to write an opera libretto, and the plans for Four saints in three acts began to take shape; the text was completed in June of that year and the music was finished in July 1928.

The opera concerns two Spanish saints, Teresa of Ávila and Ignatius of Loyola, who are surrounded by groups of young religious figures. In fact the work has four acts and over 30 saints. A compère and commère introduce the characters and announce the progress of the action. The strangely haunting and at times repetitive poetry of Stein is declaimed by the singers in a musical language derived from many sources, including Gregorian and Anglican chant, children’s songs, and Sunday School hymn singing, with a harmonious accompaniment for small orchestra. Although the setting of the words is deceptively simple and direct, there are considerable subtleties in the music to parallel the implied imagery of the words.

Four saints in three acts was first heard in Hartford, Connecticut, in February 1934, produced by an organization called the Friends and Enemies of Modern Music. When the production moved to New York City it created theatrical history with its all-black cast. The opera received over 60 performances within a year, and Thomson’s reputation was made almost overnight.

This according to “Thomson, Virgil Garnett” by Neil Butterworth (Dictionary of American classical composers, 2nd ed. [Abington: Routledge, 2005] pp. 456–59); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Thomson’s 120th birthday! Above, the 1934 New York production; below, the opening of Mark Morris Dance Group’s 2006 production.

BONUS: A brief documentary with archival footage from 1934, including the voice of Gertrude Stein.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Humor, Literature, Opera

Falla in Britain

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Manuel de Falla first visited the U.K. in May 1911, when he participated in a concert of Spanish music given by the pianist Franz Liebich. (The concert received tepid reviews and was little noticed.)

In 1919 the composer spent a month in London to prepare with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for the premiere of his ballet El sombrero de tres picos; the performance took place to great acclaim on 22 July 1919. Unfortunately Falla had had to leave Britain the day before due to family matters, but several of the friendships formed during that sojourn were long-lasting, notably with his hostess, the Swedish soprano Louise Alvar, and with the composer and conductor Eugène Goossens.

In 1921 Falla stayed with Alvar and her husband again to play the piano in the British premiere of Noches en los jardines de España. He was back in London for a week in June 1927 for the U.K. premiere of his harpsichord concerto and to conduct the London Chamber Orchestra in El amor brujo and the London premiere of El retablo de maese Pedro. His last visit, in 1931, was for a BBC concert program of his music. The composer saw little of Britain outside London and had no English, but he enjoyed the British enthusiasm for his music.

This according to “Falla in Britain” by Chris Collins (The musical times CXLIV/1883 [summer 2003] pp. 33–48). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Today is Falla’s 140th birthday! Above, Pablo Picasso’s costumes and set for the 1919 premiere of El sombrero; below, a more recent London performance of the work.

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Filed under Reception, Romantic era

A pipe organ for a vaudevillian

charles-herbert-barritt-memorial

Charles Herbert Barritt (1869–1929, more generally known as Clifton Barritt) spent much of his life as a vaudevillian and music hall entertainer and his last years as a London publican.

Born in Manchester, Barritt was already treading the boards in his early twenties. Local newspaper notices chart a twelve-year career that took him from Ulster to the Isle of Man, Reigate to Grantham, and all points in between—there seems hardly a pier or stage that did not feature Barritt’s mellow baritone and perfect comic timing at some time between 1892 and 1904. One of his many favorable reviews praised his ability to imitate the styles of various composers, performers, and instruments, adding that he was “always funny, but without being vulgar.”

Barritt remains a notable figure to this day, as his funerary monument in London’s Hampstead Cemetery replicates the form of a life-size pipe organ (he was not known to play the organ at all).

This according to “‘Always funny, but without being vulgar’: Charles Herbert ‘Clifton’ Barritt (1869–1929), Hampstead Cemetery” by David Bingham (The London dead, 25 February 2015). Above, the monument in question.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Humor, Iconography, Instruments

Weber and “Der Freischütz”

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In 1821 the German operatic scene was dominated by foreign composers. Carl Maria von Weber was known as a gifted composer of songs and instrumental music, but his earlier operas had not been undisputed successes, and for the last ten years he had done nothing at all in that line; the premiere of his new opera, Der Freischütz, was anticipated with widespread suspense and excitement.

The composer could not but feel that much was at stake, both for himself and for the cause of German art. His friends feared that this new work would not have a chance; but Weber alone, as if with a presentiment of the event, was always in good spirits. The performance was fixed for 18 June, a day hailed by the composer as a good omen, being the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.

Weber’s presentiment did not fail him; the occasion was as great a triumph as ever fell to the lot of a musician. The applause of a house filled to the very last seat was such as had never been heard before in Germany. That this magnificent homage was no outcome of mere nationalism was shown by the fact that it was the same wherever Der Freischütz was heard. After conducting a performance in Vienna in March 1822 the composer wrote that “Greater enthusiasm there cannot be, and I tremble to think of the future, for it is scarcely possible to rise higher than this. To God alone the praise!”

This according to “Weber, Carl Maria Friedrich Ernest, Freiherr von” in A dictionary of music and musicians, A.D. 1450–1889 (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1895, IV/387–429); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Weber’s 230th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1825; below, an excerpt from the 2010 film by Jens Neubert.

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Filed under Opera, Reception, Romantic era

Jay Ungar and “Ashokan farewell”

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While they may not know the title or the composer, millions recognize Jay Ungar’s Ashokan farewell as the melodic centerpiece of the soundtrack for Ken Burns’s celebrated television series The Civil War.

Still fewer of those who love the tune realize that the title refers to a site that is now known as  The Ashokan Center, an outdoor education, conference, and retreat located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that Ungar—together with his wife and musical partner, Molly Mason—was using for summer traditional music and dance camps.

Decades after Ungar composed Ashokan farwell, and following his performance of it at the White House and in various U.S. ceremonial settings, Ungar managed to leverage its emotional connections in a successful effort to preserve the location and create a $7.25 million campus there dedicated to traditional music, Catskill history, environmental education, and local arts and crafts.

This according to “Catskill cultural center saved, and renewed, thanks to a fiddler’s tune” by Dennis Gaffney (The New York times 12 May 2013, p. A15).

Today is Ungar’s 70th birthday! Below, a performance with Mason and some friends.

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Filed under Curiosities, North America, Reception

Mary Wigman and Ausdruckstanz

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Early in Mary Wigman’s career, her performance works could have been classified as either dance or Expressionist theater. By positioning herself as a dance artist she was able to consolidate power over her creative output in ways that would not have been possible in a less feminized art form.

Wigman’s choices regarding all aspects of her career and creative output were predicated on the practicalities of realizing her primary concern: maintaining creative and financial independence as a female artist. These practical considerations included style, genre, and her relationships to bourgeois culture, the physical culture movement, and the image of the Neue Frau. Her navigation of circumstance in the Weimar era enabled her to successfully negotiate the available opportunities, and therefore to become enshrined as the primary progenitor of Ausdruckstanz.

This according to “Mary Wigman: Expressionist, feminist, theatre artist” by Janet Werther (Studies in musical theatre VIII/3 [2014] pp. 261–70). This issue of Studies in musical theatre, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Today is Wigman’s 130th birthday! Above, a 1933 portrait by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; below, excerpts from her iconic Hexentanz.

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Early years of the Society for Ethnomusicology

SEM founders

In its third issue the Journal African music published a brief article about a new professional society—“Society of [sic] Ethnomusicology” by Willard Rhodes (I/3 [1956] pp. 70–71).

In 1953 a group of anthropologists including Rhodes, David P. McAllester, and Alan P. Merriam, along with the musicologist Charles Seeger, had issued Ethno-musicology newsletter no. 1, a modest 10-page mimeographed pamphlet. In two years the mailing list had grown to almost 600 addresses, so a formal organization seemed warranted. The Society for Ethnomusicology was founded in 1955.

Rhodes was pleased to announce that the newsletter, which originally presented only Notes and News, Bibliography, and Discography, was recently enabled by the growth of the Society’s membership to over 260—plus a small grant—to include articles and book reviews. Hopes were expressed that this newsletter might one day follow African music’s path by expanding into a journal.

Above, the original core group in 1971 (left to right, Seeger, Merriam, Rhodes, and McAllester). Below, one of Rhodes’s field recordings was included on the Voyager golden record.

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