John Coltrane’s “Ascension”

john-coltrane

In his last years John Coltrane’s quest for spiritual understanding was manifest on his albums, as well as in many of the quartet’s titles, beginning with A love supreme (1964). He increasingly incorporated elements of world music into his own jazz compositions, including African and Caribbean modalities and rhythms, Middle Eastern reed tonalities, pentatonic scales, microtones, and extended modal solos resembling those in Indian rāgas.

Coltrane’s 1965 album Ascension pushed the boundaries of jazz even further. The highly experimental work introduced an intensely dissonant sound performed by a new group of musicians that aimed to amplify their instruments’ emotive potential. By this time he had attained an almost saintly status, due as much to his revolutionary contributions to jazz as to his support of young avant-garde performers.

This according to “Coltrane, John” by Lee Stacy and Lol Henderson (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Coltrane’s 90th birthday! Below, Ascension live in 1965.

BONUS: The full studio album.

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Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies

brasiliana

Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies is a dynamic academic forum where scholars from diverse disciplines in humanities and social sciences publish their research, establish academic discussion, exchange ideas, and draw on each others’ research within the field of Brazilian studies.

Brazil is currently establishing itself as an economic and political power within a global context, and the interdisciplinary study of Brazil is emerging at a high academic level. Several universities worldwide are offering programs under the term Brazilian studies, an area that differs from the more common Latin American studies. Academic communities of Brazilianists exchange ideas across universities and collaborate on research projects inside and outside Brazil. This is an academic journal absolutely dedicated to Brazilian studies.

Although the journal was launched by Statsbiblioteket, Aarhus, in 2012, it is new to RILM because vol. IV/1 (August 2015) is the first issue that features musical content.

Below, Vitor Ramil’s Milonga das sete cidades, the subject of one of the issue’s articles.

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Charles Butler and “The bees’ madrigal”

Butler's bees

Charles Butler’s The feminine monarchy, or, The history of bees first appeared as a small duodecimo in 1609; it was reprinted, with considerable additions and alterations, as a quarto in 1627, and again in 1634. Though it was intended merely as a bee-keeper’s manual, its beauty and insight render it worthy of a place among the renowned works of nineteenth-century poetry.

While in most matters the work is extraordinarily accurate, it becomes questionable when Butler turns to music. His account of a certain point in the hive’s life cycle might be thought to credit bees with the powers of a masterful composer. Butler’s depiction of this event—which he refers to as “the bees’ madrigal”—appears to present a carefully constructed four-part chorus.

This according to “Charles Butler and the music of the bees” by Gerald R. Hayes (The musical times LXVI/988 [1 June 1925] pp. 512–515). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above, some of Butler’s notations from the later, enlarged edition (note that verso and recto considerations result in part of the notation appearing upside-down). Below, a performance of the work.

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M.S. Subbulakshmi breaks the glass ceiling

m-s-subbulakshmi

In January 1964 Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi, along with other eminent women Karnatak vocalists, boldly gate-crashed the uñcavritti and pañca ratna groups at the annual Tyāgarāja ārādhana, in which women had not previously been permitted to perform, opening the floodgates for women’s full participation in the future.

The Madras newspaper Hindu, in its coverage of that year’s festival, printed a large photo showing the women participating in the uñcavritti procession with a caption saying simply, “Prominent musicians, including . . . M.S. Subbulakshmi, taking part in the uñcavritti bhajan procession”.

In an accompanying article, Hindu’s (male) correspondent wrote matter-of-factly that women musicians had joined the uñcavritti bhajana and had taken part in the singing of the pañcaratna kriti compositions, without commenting on the fact that this was the first time in history that they had done so.

This according to “The social organization of music and musicians: Southern area” by T. Sankaran and Matthew Allen (The Garland encyclopedia of world music V, pp. 383–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Subbulakshmi’s 100th birthday! Below, Bhaja Govindam, a song similar to those that Mahatma Gandhi requested from her.

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Soundscape of a coup d’état

f16-jet-istanbul-7-15-2016

The attempted Turkish coup d’état on 15 July 2016 brought some unfamiliar sounds to Istanbul–including low-flying F-16 jets and sonic booms–in addition to mosques broadcasting the sala, which serves to notify the community of an all-concerning event in an Islamic context; recordings and performances of Ottoman military music; and the sounds of chanting demonstrators.

Conversations, which incessantly continued in both public and private spheres, constituted another auditory aspect of the attempted coup and its aftermath.

This according to “Soundscape of a coup d’état” by Evrim Hikmet Öğüt (Sound matters 6 September 2016).

Today is the two-month anniversary of this historic event! Above, an F-16 jet flying low over Istanbul; below, the sala that night, with the sounds of bombs.

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Prince and patriarchy

miles davis - prince

Prince’s push-pull interactions with Miles Davis in his 1987 Sign o’ the times tour were emblematic of two interrelated tensions in his career.

One is the question of how wind and brass instruments fit into Prince’s music. His decision to give horns a central place in his 1980s and 1990s bands showed the same curious ambivalence as his relationship to Davis.

The second tension that Prince’s onstage interaction with Davis demonstrated is the issue of patriarchy. Prince spent the 1980s playing the part of the androgynous sexual imp, the 1990s found him engaging the exaggerated machismo of hip hop, and by the 2000s he was sporting natty suits, openly exploring jazz, and avoiding any discussion of queer identity.

These two spheres, the biographical and the musical—Prince’s fraught relationships with masculinity and with the musical styles of his father’s generation—all came together in the bell of Miles Davis’s trumpet. Prince used horns to act out two conflicts at the same time: They enacted the tension between the musical past and the present, and they served symbolically to resolve a conflict between two different versions of traditional masculinity—one violent and hypersexual, the other restrained and mature. Prince was ultimately using his horn section as a tool to leverage his own position in the black musical patriarchy.

This according to “Prince, Miles, and Maceo: Horns, masculinity, and the anxiety of influence” by Griffin Mead Woodworth (Black music research journal XXXIII/2 [fall 2013] pp. 117–150. This issue of Black music research journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, Prince and Miles in 1987.

BONUS: Wishing for more? Here’s the full concert.

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Women in early modern Florence

Cristina di Lorena

Aristocratic women exerted unprecedented political and social influence in Florence throughout the late 16th and early 17th century; during this period convents flourished and female members of the powerful Medici family governed the city for the first and only time in its history.

These women also helped shape the city’s aristocratic life, commissioning works of music, art, and theater that were inscribed with their own concerns and aspirations. Through commissions, patrons sought to promote a vision of the world and their place in it. The unique social norms, laws, educational background, and life experiences of female patrons meant the expression of a worldview that differed significantly from that of their male counterparts.

This according to Echoes of women’s voices: Music, art, and female patronage in early modern Florence by Kelley Harness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Above, Cristina di Lorena, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, a patron of Marco da Gagliano; below, Gagliano’s Bel pastor.

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Komponisten der Gegenwart

Komponisten der Gegenwart

 

Today, 7 September 2016, RILM music encyclopedias has just completed its regular quarterly update. The ongoing encyclopedia of contemporary composers Komponisten der Gegenwart (KdG)—the only music encyclopedia that offers exhaustively complete chronological works lists—offers revisions of the articles on Pierre Boulez, Helmut Lachenmann, Gilberto Mendes, Friedrich Schenker, and Brunhilde Sonntag, and new entries are added for Bill Dietz, Matthias Kaul, William Schuman, Ying Wang, and Peter Manfred Wolf.

KdG started as one of those rare loose-leaf encyclopedias whose format allowed them to revise and expand. Many of us recall the thick, unwieldy ring binders (above) that new pages were alphabetized into when they arrived in the mail. Users of RILM music encyclopedias no longer have to cope with these bulky volumes, and their updates appear online every three months!

Below, Lachenmann’s Mouvement (- vor der Erstarrung).

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Pope Saint Gregory I, organist?

Gregorythegreat

In a letter from Pope Saint Gregory I to Leander, Bishop of Seville, the former waxes metaphorically, liberally using the image of a choirmaster conducting from the organ while accompanying the choir. The detail of the description suggests first-hand experience.

“For what is the office of the body other than the organ of the heart?” he wrote. “And however skilled an expert in singing might be, he cannot do justice to his music unless external services are also in harmony with it, because, of course, an organ that is broken does not spring back properly for a song, even when it is conducted by an experienced hand; nor does its wind produce an artistic effect if a pipe is split with cracks and is too shrill.”

“And so, how much more heavily is the quality of my exposition depressed, in which damage to the organ dissipates the charm of my expression, so that no skill gained from experience can compose it?”

This passage seems to reveal Gregory himself as an experienced choirmaster, even conducting solo singers, while using an organ to accompany them. While he may not have been responsible for all the musical achievements legend has attributed to him, his life was filled with opportunities to cultivate musical skills, especially on the organ.

This according to “Gregory the Great: On organ lessons and on equipping monasteries” by John Martyn (Medievalia et humanistica XXX [2004] pp. 107–113).

Gregory the Great’s Papacy began on this day in 590 C.E. Above, a depiction by Jusepe de Ribera; below, the Gregorian chant Salve regina.

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Mosquito love songs

The familiar buzz of flying mosquitoes is an important mating signal, with the fundamental frequency of the female’s flight tone signaling her presence. In the yellow fever and dengue vector Aedes aegypti, both sexes interact acoustically by shifting their flight tones to match, resulting in a courtship duet.

Surprisingly, matching is made not at the fundamental frequency of 400 Hz (female) or 600 Hz (male), but at a shared harmonic of 1200 Hz, which exceeds the previously known upper limit of hearing in mosquitoes. Physiological recordings from Johnston’s organ (the mosquito’s “ear”) reveal sensitivity up to 2000 Hz, consistent with observed courtship behavior. These findings revise widely accepted limits of acoustic behavior in mosquitoes.

This according to “Harmonic convergence in the love songs of the dengue vector mosquito” by Lauren J. Cator, et al. (Science 8 January 2009).

Above, the female Aedes aegypti; below, Mosquitos demonstrates another form of harmonic convergence.

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