King Saul’s music therapy

The course of King Saul’s music therapy with the young shepherd David, as told in 1 Samuel, 16 and 18, exactly corresponds to the current state of psychotherapeutical knowledge, which holds that the quality of the relationship ultimately determines whether therapy succeeds or fails.

On the assumption that Saul’s affliction was the manifestation of an early, preverbal trauma (in today’s psychopathological terminology, a depressive breakdown in the context of a personality structure with damaged self-esteem), the initial therapeutic success is attributed primarily to the positive transference between therapist and patient, and only secondarily to David’s music-making. It follows logically that this therapy takes a malign course at the point when Saul’s positive transference becomes negative.

This according to “Heilung durch Musik? Der biblische Mythos von David und Saul als klinische Fallstudie” by Dagmar Hoffmann-Axthelm, an essay included in Rhythmus und Heilung: Transzendierende Kräfte in Wort, Musik und Bewegung (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2005, pp. 83–92).

Above, Rembrant’s depiction of the episode; below, Händel imagines David’s therpeutic harp playing in Saul, HWV 53.

Leave a comment

Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Therapy

Lionel Hampton and the Sanctified Church

Some jazz critics and fans who admired other aspects of Lionel Hampton’s musicianship criticized him for his raw blues riffing, hard backbeat, screaming and honking saxophones, and stunts like marching into the audience with his horn players or getting the audience to clap along.

“I learned all that in the Sanctified Church: the beat, the hand-clapping, marching down the aisles and into the audience” he explained in a 1987 interview.

“When I was six or seven and temporarily living with my grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama, she’d take me to the Holiness Church services, not just on Sundays but all the time. They’d have a whole band in the church—guitars, trombones, saxophones, drums—and they’d be rocking. I’d be sitting by the sister who was playing the big bass drum, and when she’d get happy and start dancing in the aisle, I’d grab that bass drum and start in on that beat. After that, I always had that beat in me.”

This according to “Lionel Hampton, who put swing in the vibraphone, is dead at 94” by Peter Watrous (The New York times CLI/52,228 [1 September 2002] pp. 1, 35).

Today is Hampton’s 110th birthday! Below, performing Flying home, which is widely cited as a forerunner of rhythm and blues.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Black Sabbath and Nietzsche

Black Sabbath draws upon gods who are older than Satan. Dionysus and Apollo, pagan gods from ancient Greece, were there with Black Sabbath at the birth of heavy metal.

Nietzsche wrote about the importance of the satyr chorus in ancient Greek tragedies. Wild, horny goat men, satyrs became the Christian model for Satan. Heavy metal iconography invites us to see past those satanic images to the lustful satyrs of long ago.

If Nietzsche had been a Black Sabbath fan he would have written lines like “What good is heavy metal that does not carry us beyond all heavy metal?”

This according to “Gods, drugs, and ghosts: Finding Dionysus and Apollo in Black Sabbath and the birth of heavy metal” by Dennis Knepp, an essay included in Black Sabbath & philosophy: Mastering reality (Malden: Blackwell, 2013, pp. 96–109). Above and below, the group’s Grammy Award-winning God is dead?

Leave a comment

Filed under Curiosities, Popular music

Lily Pons arrives

Writing in 1955, a colleague recalled Lily Pons’s 1931 Metropolitan Opera debut:

“If all goes well on the first night of a new career in America, ‘a new Pope has been chosen’, as an old saying goes. Lily was a success and remained one.”

“In Lucia, though her age was something on the order of 30, she looked like a teenager. It was rumored that she was only 18; she was so dainty, petite, and graceful that everyone was willing to believe it.”

“For the first time in history a French coloratura had conquered America, and the novelty of it seemed to please everyone. Lily became their favorite toy, their baby doll, replete with Jaguars, Siamese cats, or Tibetan dogs with jeweled leashes accompanying her everywhere, like the descendant of some Grand Lama.”

This according to “Coloraturas at the Metropolitan” by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, reprinted in Lily Pons: A centennial portrait (Portland: Amadeus, 1999, pp. 38–45).

Today is Pons’s 120th birthday! Above, costumed for Lakmé, with a friend; below, performing that opera’s Où va la jeune Hindoue? (popularly known as Bell song), one of Pons’s signature arias.

Leave a comment

Filed under Opera, Performers, Romantic era

Paul Robeson’s activism

Throughout his performing career Paul Robeson was fashioning an activist cultural theory to help to liberate his people and, increasingly, to support the cause of persecuted people everywhere.

His decision to sing the traditional songs of cultures in addition to his own—including songs in Chinese, Hebrew, and Russian—reflected his deepening and expanding identification with oppressed humanity irrespective of color.

This according to “‘I want to be African’: Paul Robeson and the ends of nationalist theory and practice, 1914–1945” by Sterling Stuckey (Massachusetts review XVII/1 [spring 1976] pp. 81–138; reprinted in Going through the storm: The influence of African American art in history (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 187–227).

Today is Robeson’s 120th birthday! Above, the singer, actor, and activist in 1942; below, singing Go down Moses, a classic African American spiritual—a genre that Robeson considered one of the finest examples of black artistic expression.

Leave a comment

Filed under Black studies, Performers, Politics

Händel’s bestiary

Händel filled his operas with arias that make reference to animals; rich in symbolism, the perceived virtues and vices of the lion, bee, nightingale, snake, elephant, and tiger, among others, resonate in his works.

The aria Qual leon, from Arianna in Creta, was written for Händel’s longest-serving singer, Margherita Durastanti, and it gave her a chance to sing full force about revenge and punishment: “Like an enraged lion whose young have been stolen, so will I, armed with anger, strike in battle.” The accompanying horns evoke the lion’s fierce and regal power.

This according to Handel’s bestiary: In search of animals in Handel’s operas by Donna Leon (New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2010).

Below, hear Ann Hallenberg roar.

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Baroque era, Opera

2001’s visionary soundtrack

In the broadest sense, 2001: A space odyssey imbues the concept of music with the philosophical gravity it enjoyed in an earlier age, delineating the various planes on which the term once operated by drawing on astronomy, biology, and technology.

To this end, the soundtrack juxtaposes two mutually exclusive harmonic realms—tonality and atonality—each ultimately developing its own metaphors to affirm the film’s central quest toward the confirmation of a fundamental, higher order.

The long-range integration of these realms amounts to one of the subtlest yet most extraordinary aspects of the film: Their abstract relationships engender an arch that itself embodies music’s own underlying system of natural order, welcoming a detailed reading in relation to the unfolding narrative. Despite flaunting itself as an odd patchwork of musical hand-me-downs, 2001’s soundtrack conveys the film’s visionary qualities with an astonishing and incisive network of relationships.

This according to “Music, structure and metaphor in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey” by David W. Patterson (American music XXII/3 [fall 2004] pp. 444–74).

Today is the 50th anniversary of 2001’s premiere! Below, the celebrated Star gate sequence, with music by György Ligeti.

Leave a comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Film music

Musicologist: International journal of music studies

In December 2017 Karadeniz Teknik Üniversitesi launched Musicologist: International journal of music studies, a peer-reviewed, English-language, open-access online journal.

Musicologist presents original research articles, reviews, publicity, field notes and ethnographic writings, and translations related to musicology. The journal aims to make a major contribution to musicological discourse worldwide by presenting high-level and original scholarly research, theoretical discussions, and up-to-date methodological studies, and to thus become an effective locus for scholarship around the world.

Below, Ş. Şehvar Beşiroğlu, the subject of the lead article in the first issue.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ethnomusicology, Musicology, New periodicals

The Wiener Staatsoper’s safety curtain

The Wiener Staatsoper has conceived of its stage curtain as an exhibition space for a museum-in-progress.

Every year since 1998 its safety curtain, which measures 176 meters square, has been used as an exhibition space for a large-format artwork by a contemporary artist. The series has represented a symbolic interface between performance and visual arts, and creates a link between historical questions and contemporary ways to address them.

This according to Curtain/Vorhang by Kaspar Mühlemann Hartl (Wien: Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2017). All of the curtains in the series may be viewed here.

Above, Graduation by John Baldessari, the curtain for the 2017–2018 season. Below, a brief video provides the curtain’s context.

Leave a comment

Filed under Curiosities, Visual art

María Malibrán in public and private

Although 19th-century Parisian salon music was usually described in feminine terms (not including genius), the roles it played in social and political discourse preclude its disparagement as trivial; the genre should be approached as a social category rather than a formal one. The contrast between María Malibrán’s unconventional public life and her semi-private works is best understood in this context.

Malibrán published four song anthologies as well as many individual songs, which were not, however, composed to show off her virtuosity. These works illuminate how in salon music the authorship of singer and composer recedes behind an unspecific poetic I. Malibrán’s true voice is situated between her virtuosity as singer and her comparatively restrained compositions.

This according to “Voiceless songs: Maria Malibran as composer” by Mary Ann Smart, an essay included in Authorschaft—Genie—Geschlecht: Musikalische Schaffensprozesse von der Frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart (Köln: Böhlau, 2013, pp. 137–58).

Today is Malibrán’s 210th birthday! Below, her L’Écossais.

Leave a comment

Filed under Performers, Romantic era