Medieval music and memory

perotin

Although writing allowed medieval composers to work out pieces in their minds, it did not make memorization redundant—rather, it allowed for new ways to commit music to memory. But since some of the polyphonic music from the 12th century and later was written down, scholars have long assumed that it was all composed and transmitted in written form.

Our understanding of medieval music has been profoundly shaped by German philologists from the beginning of the twentieth century, who approached medieval music as if it were no different from music of the nineteenth century. The fact that a piece was written down does not necessarily mean that it was conceived and transmitted in writing. A new model emphasizes the interplay of literate and oral composition and transmission.

This according to “Medieval music and the art of memory” by Anna Maria Busse Berger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

Above, Pérotin, who is widely considered to be the first to compose at his desk rather than in the church; below, his Viderunt omnes.

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Mushrooms and new music

morels

Can it be a mere coincidence that in many English dictionaries the words mushroom and music are right next to each other? Points of contact between mushrooms and new music go beyond the figure of the self-proclaimed mushroom-lover John Cage.

One fundamental similarity is the fact that both exist in marginal social zones whose inhabitants are often dismissed as other-worldly weirdos. In the early 21st century there is only a difference in degree between the social acceptability of composers and woodland gnomes.

This according to “‘After all, nature is better than art’: Exkursionen ins verborgene Verhältnis von Pilzen und (neuer) Musik” by Dirk Wieschollek (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik CLXXIII/1 [2012] pp. 32–37).

Above, Morchella (morel), a favorite of Mr. Cage. Below, Václav Hálek composed over 1000 works referencing different varieties of mushrooms.

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Unperformable music

ligeti etude 14a

Some artworks—works of music, theatre, dance, and the like—are works for performance. Some works for performance are unperformable.

Some such works are unperformable by beings like us; others are unperformable given our laws of nature; still others are unperformable given considerations of basic logic.

Musical works that fit into each of these categories really are genuine works, musical works, and works for performance, and the very possibility of such works is ontologically significant. In particular, the possibility of these works raises serious problems for type-theoretic accounts of the ontology of music as well as certain mereological or constitution-based accounts.

This according to “Unperformable works and the ontology of music” by Wesley D. Cray (British Journal of Aesthetics LVI/1 [January 2016] pp. 67–81.

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above and below, György Ligeti’s Étude No. 14A: Coloana fara sfârşit (Column without end), one of the works discussed in the article.

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Jazz and imaginary folklore

La Marmite Infernale

L’Association à la Recherche d’un Folklore Imaginaire (ARFI) is a musical collective founded in 1977 by six musicians, including three who had previously formed Le Free Jazz Workshop.

The group now consists of 20 full-time musicians and comprises numerous small groups. Its multidisciplinary performances, which may include jugglers, films, pyrotechnics, and feasting, are designed to appeal to all five senses.

ARFI’s largest ensemble, the 12-piece La Marmite Infernale, began in 1978 as a free-blowing big band but has since expanded to perform compositions.  Smaller groups such as the Workshop de Lyon, É-Guijecri, and Apollo are improvising chamber ensembles, in the traditional ARFI style, while the newer L’Effet Vapeur and 32 Janvier perform higher-tech and harder edged pieces with distinctly hip-hop sensibilities.

This according to “Imaginary folklore and the infernal cooking pot: An introduction to Lyon’s ARFI” by Jim Laniok (Coda magazine 300–301 [December 2001] pp. 29, 32).

Above, a performance by La Marmite Infernale; below, an excerpt from a performance by L’Effet Vapeur.

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Nero’s kithara

 

Lyre of Piero Parravacini

Although Arrigo Boito devoted 56 years to the composition of his Nerone, at his death the opera was still incomplete; Arturo Toscanini bustled to refine and finish the last act for the work’s premiere at La Scala on 1 May 1924.

Since the figure of the mad psychopath Nero is best remembered in the collective imagination as he plays and sings while observing the Great Fire of Rome, for the first staging of the opera a true kithara was made by the lute maker Piero Parravicini at the Milan workshop of Antonio Monzino e Figli; today the instrument is on display at the Civico Museo degli Strumenti Musicali in Milan.

This according to “‘Or che i Numi son vinti, a me la cetra, a me l’altar!’: Kithara constructed for the premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Nerone” by Donatella Melini (Music in art XL/1–2 [2015] pp. 267–72).

Above, the instrument in question (click to enlarge); below, the scene referred to in the article’s title.

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Stephen Foster and nostalgia

Stephen Foster

The dates of Stephen Foster’s life bracket the transformation of U.S. culture from a patrician society with a stable hierarchical structure to a democratic society stressing individual responsibility and freedom.

The dynamic interaction of individual alienation, cultural idealism, and popular culture assumed a particularly vivid dimension in music; the portrayal of bittersweet emotions stimulated by the contemplation of something lost to the narrator became the favorite device of 19th-century songwriters.

Nostalgic topics in Foster’s songs include the middle-class domestic woman, the Old South, and traditional Celtic ballads.

This according to “Sound and sentimentality: Nostalgia in the songs of Stephen Foster” by Susan Key (American music XIII/2 [summer 1995] pp. 145–166).

Today is Foster’s 190th birthday! Below, Gentle Annie, one of the songs discussed in the article.

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“The Antons” redux. II

Emanuel Schikaneder

The stunning success of Der dumme Gärtner aus dem Gebürge, oder, Die zween Anton at Vienna’s Theater auf der Wieden (12 July 1789) led quickly to a sequel in the same year, Die verdeckten Sachen (26 September). Like its predecessor, the music was a collaborative composition by Franz Xaver Gerl, Benedikt Schack, Johann Baptist Henneberg, and probably Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist.

Mozart had high praise for what he called The Antons, and he composed his final set of piano variations on one of the most celebrated arias in Die verdeckten Sachen, “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt”. This edition presents this aria for the first time in its original orchestration. With the recent identification of performing materials for Die verdeckten Sachen in Rudolstadt, Thuringia, we can now investigate this opera in detail.

A new critical edition, drawing on this new source, has recently been issued as Two operas from the series Die zween Anton. Part 2: Die verdeckten Sachen (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2016).

Above, a portrait of Schikaneder (click to enlarge); below, Mozart’s K.613, performed by Gerhard Puchelt.

BONUS: The imaginary Schikaneder production from Amadeus.

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“The Antons” redux. I

Emanuel Schikaneder

Among the forgotten but highly popular operas of the late 18th century, Der dumme Gärtner aus dem Gebürge, oder, Die zween Anton (The dumb gardener from the mountains, or, The two Antons [1789]) seems particularly worthy of reexamination.

The Antons (as Mozart called it) was the subject of much commentary and praise; it was performed in almost every German theater over the next two decades, and it was translated into Czech. The success of the opera inspired six sequels and secured the place of its author, Emanuel Schikaneder, in the popular imagination of the Viennese public. This success also made possible the series of fairy-tale operas that included Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (1791).

Die zween Anton was also the first original opera by Schikaneder produced at the Theater auf der Wieden after he had taken over its direction; the music was a collaborative composition by Franz Xaver Gerl, Benedikt Schack, Johann Baptist Henneberg, and probably Schikaneder himself. With the recent recovery of a Viennese manuscript copy of Die zween Anton in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg we can now investigate this opera in detail.

A new critical edition, drawing on this new source, has recently been issued as Two operas from the series Die zween Anton. Part 1:  Der dumme Gärtner aus dem Gebürge, oder, Die zween Anton (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2015).

Above, a portrait of Schikaneder (click to enlarge); below, the opera’s overture.

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Humor in kūṭiyāṭṭam

kūṭiyāṭṭam

While the Kerala dance-drama kūṭiyāṭṭam focuses on weighty episodes from the venerable Indian epics, its performance affords a number of occasions for humor outside of the stock buffoon character of the vidūśaka, who provides narration in Malayalam and jokes directly with the audience.

Some comic moments are produced in the classical Sanskrit texts by the characters of maids, doctors, and so on, but other verbal and physical comedy has been interpolated into the tradition by the performers representing monkeys, demons, madmen, drunks, sweepers, soldiers, and gardeners.

This according to “Comic relief by non-vidūśaka characters in kūṭiyāṭṭam” by L.S. Rajagopalan, an article included in Living traditions of Nāṭyaśāstra (Dilli: New Bharatiya Book Corporation, 2002) pp. 123–127).

Below, an uncostumed kūṭiyāṭṭam dancer demonstrates some monkey moves.

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Detroit, Techno City

detroit

Detroit is known internationally as Techno City, named after the dance music genre pioneered by DJ/producers like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson.

In the 1980s local DJs melded Detroit funk, European synth-pop, and avant-garde composition into a unique futuristic sound. Techno, however, went largely unappreciated in the American marketplace. Mirroring the career trajectory of American jazz musicians in the 1960s, the creators of techno made their living by touring Europe extensively, and became superstars on that continent.

This according to “A tale of two cities” by Mike Rubin (Spin XIV/10 [October 1998] pp. 104–109). Below, Atkins’s Techno city from 1984.

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