Naṭarāja redux

nataraja

In the first half of the 20th century South Indian temple dance underwent a remarkable transformation from a low-caste activity to a national art form—from nautch to bharatanāṭyam. This transformation was nurtured by the Indian nationalist movement, which was deeply rooted in European Orientalism and Victorian morality.

The earlier dance repertoire focused on amorous relationships between a nayaki (female devotee) and nayaka (male deity), the latter often identified as the earthy, sensual, and sometimes philandering Krishna or Murugan. For the newer repertoire, a more suitable nayaka was Shiva as Naṭarāja—resonant with spiritual detatchment and masculine power, an ideal model for both revivers of dance and Indian nationalist politicians.

The Western-educated philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy groomed Naṭarāja for this role and brought him to the attention of artists including Rukmini Devi Arundale, Ruth St. Denis, and Ted Shawn. Arundale, in particular, moved Naṭarāja to center stage, both as an independent force and as one heavily conditioned by a set of people and ideas.

This according to “Rewriting the script for South Indian dance” by Matthew Harp Allen (TDR: The drama review XLI/3 [fall 1997] pp. 63–100; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1997-28267).

Above, a traditional sculpture depicting Shiva as Naṭarāja; below, a bharatanāṭyam piece that evokes the cosmic dancer.

Related article: Varieties of love

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Poe’s concertina

Joseph Holbrooke’s The bells, op. 50(a), a “dramatic poem” scored for large orchestra and chorus and inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s poem by the same name, is highly onomatopoeic and describes the sound, function, and effect of four types of bells: sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and funeral bells. A concertina is heard in two sections of the piece: the prelude (section 1) and Iron bells (section 5).

The composer, who had a “lifelong affection for concertinas”, recalled how the instrument was almost cut from the work’s 1906 premiere:

“While I was having my Poem for Orchestra and Chorus, The bells, performed in London under Hans Richter, the eminent conductor noticed that there was a part written for a concertina. ‘Concertina! Concertina!’ said Richter, ‘What is that?’ I explained to him that it was a peculiar instrument like a bellows, played by hand. ‘We cannot have that’ said Richter. ‘There is no instrument like that here.’ I found one, however, and Conductor Richter placed it away back where it could not possibly be heard. But at the concert I saw to it that the concertina player sat directly in front of the conductor.”

This according to “The concertina and The bells” by Eric Matusewitch (Concertina world 488 [December 2021] 17–24). Below, the work’s first movement.

More posts about concertinas are here.

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The book of Requiems

In 2022 Leuven University Press launched The book of Requiems, a chronologically arranged multivolume series that gathers essays—each written by a leading expert—on the most musically and historically important Requiems in Western music history, from the origins of the genre up to the present day. The series will provide an authoritative reference intended as a first port of call for musicologists, music theorists, and performers both professional and student.

Each essay is devoted to a specific Requiem, and offers historical information and a detailed but accessible work discussion. Volume I treats the Requiem’s liturgical and chant background, the craft of early Requiem composition, and eight of the earliest composed Requiems, from ca. 1450 to ca. 1550.

Below, Johannes Ockeghem’s Missa pro defunctis, the first work featured in the inaugural volume.

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A transatlantic decolonization anthem

Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.

Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.

This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).

Below, the original recordings.

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Random film accompaniment

silent film orchestra

Soon after the Cinematograph Act came into force in 1909, small orchestras became more common in London cinemas than the lone pianist that some previous histories have identified.

Rather than responding moment-to-moment to the images on screen in the manner that an improvising pianist might, these orchestras played through a number of well-regarded musical pieces in their entirety, which might or might not have had a direct correspondence to some aspect of the film or its theme.

Despite exhortations in the trade press for a more logical relationship between music and film, this does not seem to have happened in practice regularly until at least the mid-1910s.

This according to “The art of not playing to pictures in British cinemas, 1906–1914” by Jon Burrows, an essay included in The sounds of the silents in Britain (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 111–125; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-482).

Below, we invite you to experiment with random film accompaniment using your own favorite recordings.

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Stravinsky mashups

As Stravinsky circulates in the digital age, his work is valorized in the context of digital transformation—a phenomenon reflected in YouTube mashups.

The composer’s iconic Le sacre du printemps provides a rich basis for such tributes; examples include Beyonce in “Dance of the Single Young Girls” by Igor Stravinsky (posted by Stephen Rathjen on 29 March 2015), Stravinsky meets Steely Dan (FM/Rite of Spring mashup) (posted on 20 June 2021 by the English guitarist Howard Wright), and Adam Neely’s 31 March 2017 All Star, but its the rite of spring by igor stravinsky.

These mashups highlight the ways in which pre-existing content from two sources is amalgamated in the form of hybridization (the very idea of a mashup)—for example, in the crossing between Stravinsky and Beyoncé or Steely Dan or Smash Mouth, all unlikely encounters that show an interest in the flagship ballet of the musical avant-garde and the search for stylistic fusion. The originality of the gesture lies in the choice of Le sacre du printemps and the ensuing process of desacralization.

Above, a Cubist mashup portrait of Stravinsky by Albert Gleizes from 1914, the year after Le sacre’s premiere (WikiArt, public domain); below, the video mashups in question.

More articles about Stravinsky are here.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Humor, Reception

Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale and Institut du Monde Arabe announce their collaboration

New York. — January 17, 2023 — Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) has entered a three-year collaboration with the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (IMA, Arab World Institute) that aims to increase public engagement, advance global cultural understanding, and connect diverse communities by highlighting and sharing the Institute library’s holdings on music from the Arab world. RILM, which documents and disseminates music research worldwide, supports this initiative by drawing on its comprehensive digital resources to create blog posts about a selection of Arabic music literature. Each post is enhanced with an expertly curated bibliography. 

The bibliographic references stem from one of the richest and most exhaustive resources of global music research, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, which contains 1.5 million bibliographic records from relevant writings on music published from the early 19th century to the present in over 170 countries and in more than 140 languages.

Blog posts are published on both institutions’ websites: RILM’s Bibliolore at https://bibliolore.org/ and the Institut du Monde Arabe’s Bibliographies page at https://www.imarabe.org/fr/ressources/bibliographies and the IMA News page at https://www.imarabe.org/fr/actualites.

Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), New York: RILM is committed to the comprehensive and accurate representation of music scholarship in all countries and languages, and across all disciplinary and cultural boundaries. It publishes a suite of digital resources aimed at facilitating and disseminating music research. Its flagship publication is RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the international bibliography of writings on music covering publications from the early 19th century to the present, now available in an enhanced version that includes the full text content of over 260 music journals. RILM Abstracts is available on the EBSCOhost platform along with RILM Music Encyclopedias, a full-text repository of a wide-ranging and growing list of music reference works, and the Index to Printed Music, a finding aid for searching specific musical works contained in printed collections, sets, and series. Distributed worldwide on RILM’s own platform are the continually updated music encyclopedia MGG Online, RILM Music Encyclopedias, and the  Dizionario Enciclopedico Universale della Musica e dei Musicisti (coming in mid-2023). RILM is a joint project of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML); International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM); the International Musicological Society (IMS); and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). www.rilm.org

Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris: The Institut du Monde Arabe was founded to create strong and durable cultural ties while cultivating constructive dialogue between the Arab world, France, and Europe. This cross-discipline space is the central place for the development of cultural projects, in collaboration with institutions, creators and thinkers from the Arab world. The Institut du Monde Arabe is fully anchored in the present. It aims to reflect the Arab world’s current dynamics. It intends to make a distinctive contribution to the institutional cultural landscape. No other organization in the world offers such a wide range of events in connection with the Arab world. Debates, colloquia, seminars, conferences, dance shows, concerts, films, books, meetings, language and culture courses, and large exhibitions all contribute to raising awareness of this unique and vibrant world. https://www.imarabe.org

For more information, please contact:

Michael Lupo
Marketing & Media
Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3108  •  New York, NY 10016-4309
mlupo@rilm.org  •  Phone 1 212 817 1992  •  www.rilm.org

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Europe, Literature, Musicology, RILM news, Source studies, Theory, Uncategorized, World music

Entertaining the shōgun

An account by the German physician Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716) of meetings in 1691 with the shōgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646–1709) evinces examples of exoticism on both sides.

Each man was curious about the other’s culture, but the situation was unbalanced. The visitor was in a position to gain a fairly objective view of the world of his host, although the situation was far too restrictive to allow in-depth research.

On the other hand, while the shōgun could order his guests to perform for his entertainment—to dance, sing, and so on—he did not know whether or not the information that he gained thereby was reliable. For example, when Kaempfer complied with the order to sing a song and was subsequently asked for a translation of the text, he responded that it expressed his deep wish for the health and prosperity of the shōgun and his family.

This according to “Exoticism and multi-emics: Reflections upon an earliest record of culture contact between Japan and Europe” by Osamu Yamaguchi, an essay included in Music cultures in interaction: Cases between Asia and Europe (Tōkyō: Academia Music, 1994, pp. 243–248; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-35931).

Above, a version of the map that Kaempfer brought back from Japan in 1692 (click to enlarge); below, the opening movement of Manzai raku (Ten thousand years of music), an example of the bugaku genre that was flourishing in Japanese courts at the time.

Related article: 17th-century Persian music

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Lucia’s cadenza

In the final act of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is forced to marry Arturo, murders him, and promptly goes insane. In the modern tradition, as exemplified by Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas (above), the mad Lucia sings a cadenza accompanied by a flute, in which the instrument takes on the mantle of a ghostly Doppelgänger. Donizetti’s original written cadenza, however, is little more than a short ornament to be sung in one breath on the dominant chord.

The first Lucia, Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, probably improvised her own version in performance using the skeletal guide provided by the composer, and developed a cadenza to be sung in two breaths instead of one.

At some point during the second half of the 19th century a new way of executing this cadenza appeared: with obbligato flute. This practice must have drawn upon the composer’s use of an obbligato flute that faithfully follows the soprano in thirds and sixths during the moments leading up to the cadenza. Donizetti had originally indicated the eerie sound of the glass harmonica here, but he had to recast the line for flute following a dispute between the theater and the intended glass harmonica player.

The earliest surviving Lucia/flute cadenza has been attributed to Mathilde Marchesi, who composed a version for her protégé Nellie Melba; when Melba performed Lucia for the first time at the Paris Opéra in 1889 the flutist in the orchestra was Paul Taffanel, who may have assisted in the cadenza’s composition. However, there were at least three singers who executed their own voice/flute cadenzas earlier: Christina Nilsson, Ilma de Murska, and Emma Albani; Nilsson’s cadenza was composed by Luigi Arditi.

The flute-accompanied cadenza marked an important shift in the performance practice of the Lucia role. Being a duet, it could no longer serve as a spontaneous display of the soprano’s vocal virtuosity—it became a preconceived and well-rehearsed collaboration in a more complex form.

This according to “Manacled freedom: Nineteenth-century vocal improvisation and the flute-accompanied cadenza in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor” by Naomi Matsumoto, an essay included in Beyond notes: Improvisation in Western music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Turnhout: Brepols 2011, 295–316; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-15429).

Below, some historical versions of Lucia’s cadenza.

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera, Performance practice

Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries

In 2022 the Amsterdam University Press launched Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries, a bilingual annual journal that publishes editorial board-reviewed articles on the subject of carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries and related material and immaterial heritage.

These articles form the output of academic and artistic research in the areas of history, musicology, sociology, anthropology, historically informed performance practice, heritage, cultural sciences, and campanology. Although the main focus is on the Low Countries, contributions on carillon and bell culture in other countries will also be considered for publication.

Below, Koen Cosaert performs on the carillon at the Beiaardschool “Jef Denyn”, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

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