Rostropovič’s high spirits

While Mstislav Rostropovič is widely remembered for his vast talents and fearless politics, his associates also knew him as a man of boundless high spirits.

As a conductor, he often hopped off the podium at the end of a performance and kissed and hugged every musician within reach.

Notorious for his mischievous sense of humor, he sometimes surprised his accompanists by pasting centerfolds from men’s magazines into the pages of their scores. At a 70th-birthday tribute to Isaac Stern, he performed Saint-Säens’s Le cygne wearing white tights, a ballet tutu, a swanlike headdress, and red lipstick (inset, with Stern and Gregory Peck; click to enlarge).

This according to “Mstislav Rostropovich, 80, dissident maestro, dies” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times 28 April 2007, p. A1).

Today would have been Rostropovič’s 90th birthday! Above, dancing with Joseph Brodsky and Mihail Baryšnikov; below, a high-spirited encore piece.

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Toscanini’s annotations

Critics, scholars, and performers have long noted that Arturo Toscanini’s reputation for absolute fidelity to the printed score was little more than a public relations myth.

Now that the legendary conductor’s annotated scores are available for study, three types of alterations can be observed: (1) modifications of dynamics, articulation, bowing, phrasing, and tempo; (2) orchestrational adjustments; and (3) the introduction of new material.

The combination of Toscanini’s Italian musical heritage and Wagnerian aesthetic convinced him that the highest service that a conductor could render was to impose certain types of musical changes whenever he sensed that a composer’s artistic conception was threatened. In his mind, there was neither egotism nor hypocrisy in this approach.

This according to “Toscanini and the myth of textual fidelity” by Linda B. Fairtile (Journal of the Conductors Guild XXVI/1–2 [2003] 49–60).

Today is Toscanini’s 150th birthday! Below, his recording of the first movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, one of the works discussed in the article.

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T-Pain and “Can’t believe it”

T-Pain’s Can’t believe it music video resonates with the ways that black bodies are represented as inhuman, superhuman, and subhuman in visual media, enacting strategic resistance to these discursive formations.

T-Pain’s transformation of Auto-Tune into a subversive technology represents the radical black imagination, and signifiers in the video deploy constructions of race, class, gender, and sexuality as they relate to notions of blackness. The semiotics of T-Pain’s trademark sound raise questions about what is at stake in the music through the generative force of sonic propulsion and the simultaneously old and novel articulation of a freedom drive propelling black performance.

This according to “Crossing cinematic and sonic bar lines: T-Pain’s Can’t believe it”by James Gordon Williams (Ethnomusicology review XIX [fall 2004] pp. 49–76). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, the video in question.

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Chile’s bailes chinos

 

Chile’s bailes chinos are ritual musician-dance brotherhoods in the country’s Central Zone. They express the religious fervor of campesinos (peasant farmers) and artisan fishermen who get together for religious fiestas celebrated in small villages and coves, where groups from the neighboring towns congregate.

The bailes chinos feature Native American contributions, which include dance, instruments, and a direct relationship with the supernatural through ritual incorporating special states of consciousness. Hispanic contributions are also present, such as prayers, the Holy Scriptures, sacred images, the Catholic ritual calendar, and other elements of Christian expression.

Due to their strong dependence on nature and themselves, these fishermen and farmers are especially fervent in their religious devotion. The members of the bailes chinos dance, play flutes, and sing to help secure their fundamental needs: health, rain, and a good harvest in the inland valleys; protection and abundant fish in the coastal waters. In addition, their fiestas serve as occasions for strengthening the social and family bonds that unify the inhabitants of the area.

This according to I humbly pray: Central Chile’s bailes chinos by Claudio Mercado Muñoz and Victor Rondón Sepúlveda (Santiago de Chile: Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, 2003). Below, a brief documentary (in Spanish).

BONUS: A full performance of canto a lo poeta, a related Chilean tradition.

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Ry Cooder and Buddy the Cat

In an interview, Ry Cooder recalled the inspiration for his album My name is Buddy.

“Once I was hipped to Buddy the Cat, I knew that’s my guy. He was a mascot of a record store, living up in Vancouver. They found him living in a suitcase in the alley. I said ‘Okay, I’m there. I can go with that and I know what to say.’”

Buddy is the album’s protagonist—a laid-off, disenfranchised cat who is joined by Lefty the Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad as they travel down the Lost Highways, Cardboard Avenues, and Sundown Towns of a bleak, destitute U.S.

“It’s a tip of the hat to the disappearing of the American working man,” Cooder said, “to the neighborhoods, the way of life, the life that people made for themselves, how they worked, what they achieved…No one’s gonna argue with a cat.”

This according to “Three (or four) chords and the truth: The saga of Ry Cooder and a cat named Buddy” by John Kruth (Sing out! LI/3 [autumn 2007] pp. 52–59).

Today is Cooder’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2009; below, Three chords and the truth, the album’s centerpiece.

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Leonard Chess takes over

Leonard Chess is widely known as the co-founder of Chess Records and as a producer who was tremendously influential in the development of popular music; fewer people know that for one recording session he took over the drum set.

When Muddy Waters and his sidemen were recording for him on 11 July 1951, Waters later recalled, “my drummer couldn’t get the beat on She moves me. The verse was too long.”

“You know, it says…‘She shook her finger in a blind man’s face, he say Once I was blind but now I see/She moves me, man…’ My drummer wanted to play a turnaround there; I had to go another six or eight bars to get it turned around…he couldn’t hold it there to save his damn life.”

With characteristic brusqueness, Chess dismissed the drummer and sat down at the set himself, providing a foursquare thump on the bass drum, two beats to the bar without any frills. In effect, he solved the problem of timing the turnaround by ignoring it.

This according to The story of Chess Records by John Colis (New York and London: Bloomsbury, 1999, pp. 56–57).

Today would have been Leonard Chess’s 100th birthday! Above, Chess around 1970; below, the recording in question.

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Chopin on Schumann

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Robert Schumann’s celebrated assessment of Frédéric Chopin—“Hut ab, ihr Herren, ein Genie!” (Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!)—appeared in his 1831 review of Chopin’s variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano, op. 2. This rhapsodic description, cast as a conversation between imaginary characters, somehow reached Chopin’s hands. While relations between the two composers were cordial, a letter from Chopin to a friend hints at his unvarnished reaction:

“I received a few days ago a ten-page review from a German in Kassel who is full of enthusiasm for [the variations]. After a long-winded preface he proceeds to analyze them bar by bar, explaining that they are not ordinary variations but a fantastic tableau. In the second variation he says that Don Giovanni runs around with Leporello; in the third he kisses Zerlina while Massetto’s rage is pictured in the left hand—and in the fifth bar of the Adagio he declares that Don Giovanni kisses Zerlina on the D-flat…I could die of laughing at this German’s imagination.”

This according to “Schumann and Chopin: from Carnaval to Kreisleriana” by Judith Chernaik (The musical times CLVII/1934 [spring 2016] pp. 67–78). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Below, Alice Burla performs the work in question.

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Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10

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Heitor Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10 (Rasga o coração) is a choral-symphonic tour de force that expresses the composer’s ardent nationalism through some of the most progressive compositional techniques of the mid-1920s.

The work’s opening imparts impressions of Brazil’s sonorous natural riches with indigenous melodies and birdsongs, providing an extended prelude to the choral section. The mixed chorus functions at the same level of value and distinction as that of the orchestral architecture, singing vocables meant to evoke aboriginal languages. With the appearance of the Rasga o coração melody, according to the composer, “the Brazilian heart becomes one with the Brazilian land.”

This according to Heitor Villa-Lobos: The search for Brazil’s musical soul by Gerard Béhague (Austin: University of Texas, 1994, pp. 87–96).

Today is Villa-Lobos’s 130th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1922; below, a performance by Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal de Campinas.

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Podcasts

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Consistent with its mission to cover all types of publications about music, RILM is now abstracting and indexing podcasts.

Podcasts are serial digital media files that can be downloaded for use on local computers or portable media players. They are typically in audio or video formats, but they may involve other file formats as well.

RILM inaugurated its podcast coverage with Ethnomusicology today, which is published by the Society for Ethnomusicology; this open-access series features interviews with the authors of articles recently published in the society’s journal, Ethnomusicology.

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Harry Belafonte and social activism

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In a 2001 interview, Harry Belafonte discussed the relationships between his career choices and social activism.

“I wanted to use some cunning and find a way to introduce an art form into an environment that was extremely limited—to be able to make a social and political statement to listeners without them suspecting it.”

“There was a conscious awareness of how hostile the environment was, and how clever you’d have to be to outsmart the predator. So there was selection and choice. But there was never compromise in the content. The fact is that I didn’t sing a lot of protest songs back then because most of that material had been written or covered by others, and because I saw another way to move my image and my cause through the ranks of the human family.”

“I think that black culture commands a global audience because of the sheer power of it, the beauty of it—it is hard to dismiss. And because it brings so much delight, it can easily be embraced. The physical presence of black people, however, is something else: it reflects a history of oppression that white people don’t want to deal with, not because they wouldn’t like to see the oppression go away, but they don’t want to pay the price for it to be gone.”

“Black people are going to have to understand that the issue here is more than race. We are the souls, we are the people that must save the soul of this nation.”

Quoted in “Remains of the day-o: A conversation with Harry Belafonte” by Michael Eldridge (Transition XII/92 [2002] pp. 110–137; reprinted in Da Capo best music writing 2004 [Cambridge: Da Capo, 2004] pp. 68–92).

Today is Belafonte’s 90th birthday! Above, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; below, performing in 1997.

Related article: Mr. Belafonte and Dr. King

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