Christa Ludwig’s legacy

Christa Ludwig has been called “the Earth Mother of all singers”, and the designation is fitting in every possible way—the arresting beauty of the sound itself, the reassuring strength of her technique, and the intense expressiveness of her singing, wed to a disarming simplicity and directness that sets her apart from some of her famous contemporaries. That lack of pretentiousness is a hallmark of her offstage personality as well, for which she is adored by fans and colleagues alike.

As a teacher, Ludwig sets exactly the right tone by asserting herself firmly as the person in charge, yet with an inviting warmth and charm. She is not shy about bestowing compliments when warranted, but she is an exacting teacher, not reluctant to cut off a singer after two or three notes to correct an errant rendition.

In short, Christa Ludwig is everything that a professional singer should be, and the fact that she was able to sing for so long with such excellence is perhaps the highest tribute of all.

This according to “The listener’s gallery” by Gregory Berg (Journal of singing LXV/1 [September–October 2008] pp. 119–24).

Today is Ludwig’s 90th birthday! Above, in 2015; below, singing Mahler’s Urlicht.


Filed under Performers

Konakkoḷ in pedagogy and performance

Konakkoḷ is an important part of the Karnatak music curriculum in South India. The unique aspect of this pedagogical tool is that it is also a performance medium on its own. Classical concerts in India have featured a konakkoḷ soloist performing a vocal percussion solo in the same way that a jazz concert may feature a drum solo.

Konakkoḷ is appealing in its beauty and allows students to express their musical rhythms in performance tempo (even when it is very fast). This relates directly to how music is felt internally by a performer and is precisely why it is of great use in Western music education.

This according to “South Indian konnakkol in Western musicianship teaching” by Tony Tek Kay Makarome (Malaysian music journal V/1 [2016] pp. 37–52). Above, Trichy R. Thayumanavar, a renowned konakkoḷ performer; below, a demonstration.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Pedagogy

Afro-sonic feminist funk

Since it emerged as a distinct genre in the late 1960s and early 1970s funk has played an important role in American music and culture, in its foregrounding of polyrhythmic interplay, improvisation, and community formation, and in addressing issues of discrimination and marginalization.

Recent scholarship has examined funk from a feminist perspective, highlighting female musicians’ participation in the creation of black feminist thought and in rejecting externally defined roles and identities. An expansion on these feminist approaches focuses on the particular ways that sound organization helps to address the gendered nature of funk performance and discourse; the concept of Afro-sonic feminist funk demonstrates how female musicians use the sonic and performative tenets of funk to complicate the gendered politics and discourses surrounding funk music.

This according to “Janelle Monáe and Afro-sonic feminist funk” by Matthew Valnes (Journal of popular music studies XXIX/3 [September 2017]).

Today is International Women’s Day! Above, Janelle Monáe’s Q.U.E.E.N.; below, her Tightrope. Both songs provide case studies in the article.

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Filed under Black studies, Popular music, Women's studies

Boito’s disastrous premiere


The world premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele on 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala was a disaster.

On the aesthetic level, the opera’s unconventional melodies, harmonies, allocation of voices, and voice leading were jarring for the puzzled audience.

Even worse, in this work Boito repudiated the era’s emphasis on Italian nationalism and sought to stimulate philosophical thought and analysis. This cultural treason was viewed as a serious offense during the Italian Risorgimento, and Boito was forced to revise the opera; his reputation as a librettist suffered as well.

This according to La prima de Mefistofele e il Risorgimento: Pubblico e riforma del teatro musicale nella Milano postunitaria by Stefano Lucchi, a dissertation accepted by Universität Wien in 2009.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Boito’s disastrous premiere! Of course, now the opera is his best-loved work. Below, Renata Tebaldi sings the celebrated aria L’altra notte in fondo al mare.

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Filed under Opera, Reception, Romantic era

RILM publishes its 200,000th full-text record!


In 2016 RILM announced the release of RILM abstracts of music literature with full text on EBSCO Information Services. Today we celebrate the publication of our 200,00th full-text record!

The milestone record is a review by Markus Lutz of Martin und Johann Christian Hoffmann: Geigen- und Lautenmacher des Barock—Umfeld, Leben, Werk (Leipzig: Hofmeister, 2015) published in Journal of the Lute Society of America (XLVI pp. 80–88). Above, a lute made by Johann Christian Hoffmann; below, a copy of a lute made by Martin Hoffmann.

Highlighting this review gives us an opportunity to remind you that reviews in RILM’s database are always linked to the item under review—so when you read a book review the record for the book itself is just one click away!

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Filed under Baroque era, Instruments, RILM, RILM news

Fats Domino and New Orleans

Antoine “Fats” Domino, the rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, stopped touring in the early 1980s when he decided that he did not want to leave New Orleans; he said it was the only place where he liked the food.

Reclusive and notoriously resistant to interview requests, Domino even refused to leave New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, remaining at his flooded home until he was rescued by helicopter. “I wasn’t too nervous” he said later, “I had my little wine and a couple of beers with me.”

He was often seen around New Orleans, emerging from his pink-roofed mansion driving a pink Cadillac. “I just drink my little beers, do some cookin’, anything I feel like,” he said in 2007.

This according to “Fats Domino, early rock ’n’ roller with a boogie-woogie piano, is dead at 89” by Jon Pareles and William Grimes (The New York times 26 October 2017).

Today would have been Domino’s 90th birthday! Above, in 2013; below, performing in 1955.

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Singing flames


As early as the 18th century physicists were experimenting with tones produced by the effect  of flames on nearby glass tubes, and in 1873 the physicist Georges Frédéric Eugène Kastner developed a keyboard pyrophone.

More recently, singing flames have been featured in mixed media works by artists such as Andreas Oldörp, whose Singende Flammen (1988) was installed in a preexisting tunnel beneath Hamburg’s Hans-Albers-Platz. Composers who have used singing flames in their work include Alvin Lucier.

This according to “Singende Flammen: Andreas Oldörps Arbeiten zwischen Experiment und Installation” by Volker Straebel (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik CLX/2 [März-April 1999] pp. 45–47).

Above, Kastner’s pyrophone; below, two views of singing flames in Sydney’s Darling Harbour in 2011.

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Filed under Acoustics, Curiosities, Instruments, Science

RILM broadens indexing of Chinese dramatic genres

When RILM started out in the mid-1960s, our indexing naturally mirrored the publications that we were working with.

For example, relatively little was available in the West about non-Western dramatic genres, while far more publications discussed Western dramatic genres like opera. Accordingly, we developed several indexing headings for those Western genres—opera seria, oratorio, zarzuela, and so on—while only one headword, dramatic arts, served for all non-Western genres (as well as for publications about more than one or two Western genres).

In early 2000 RILM started to expand its collection to include a large amount of East Asian-language publications, especially those from China. Since then the need for more refined indexing terms for non-Western dramatic genres has grown.

In spring 2017 RILM editors approved 13 new headwords for theatrical genres. Three of these new headwords, xiqu—general, xiqu—by genre, and xiqu—by place, are for those genres commonly known in the West as Chinese opera. Another three new headwords, quyi—general, quyi—by genre, and quyi—by place, are for traditional Chinese dramatic genres that are less known in the West.

For both xiqu—by genre and quyi—by genre, lists of second-level terms specifying individual xiqu or quyi genres have also been developed, and are continuously growing. Many of the genres covered by these two new headwords are unknown to most Western scholars, but have been extensively discussed in the Chinese publications that we now index. Updated in early February 2018, our list of xiqu genres is here, and our list of quyi genres is here. By the time you read this, more terms will have been added!

Above, an example of ganju (Jiangxi opera); below, another example of ganju from Jiangxi province, followed by an example of sixianxi from Hebei province. These genres are indexed under the headword quyi—by genre.

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Filed under Asia, Dramatic arts, RILM, RILM news

John Corigliano on new-music audiences

In a 2004 interview, John Corigliano noted that while audiences for most genres are always interested in new works, “new music is seen as a threat. It’s considered something that is above them and beyond them and in which they cannot be participants.”

“We have to take a little bit of the blame…at a certain point when you’re not talking to people and they know you’re not talking to them, they go away.”

“I trace this back to the birth of romanticism…all of a sudden, this virtue of incomprehensibility sprung up. I am incomprehensible because my message is so much more complex and morally stronger than the message of those people who were just speaking to you that you can understand. Therefore, you shouldn’t understand me. But you should worship me and come to these concerts. Well, OK, but composers are not gods, they’re people. And this has been the most destructive thing to art I have ever seen, art ruining art.”

“Romanticism ruined the 20th century as far as I’m concerned, and we have to get rid of it in the 21st. What it did was it gave us the egocentric idea of the artist-god and the audience-worshipper—the non-communication that that means—and bathed us in this until finally the audience was alienated by this and left like they leave churches. Now we want to win them back.”

“I think all composers should strive, if possible, to stand on a stage and to speak to an audience. I have found that the minute you say three words, whatever they are, and you’re friendly and warm to them, they’re so on your side…all of a sudden, they’re thinking of you as a human being in their society who is writing music that could speak to them.”

Quoted in “The gospel according to John Corigliano” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 February 2005.

Today is Corigliano’s 80th birthday! Below, Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s The ghosts of Versailles.

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

The Goree All-Girl String Band

The members of the Goree All-Girl String Band, all inmates in the Texas state prison system, used country music’s gender iconography in their struggle for greater autonomy and ultimately freedom in the 1930s and 1940s.

Their incarceration and past violations of the norms of feminine passivity and virtuousness placed them beyond the pale of country music’s prevailing image of valued femininity: the sentimental mother, who embodied home, domesticity, and a lost rural past. But through the alternative roles of dutiful daughter and cowboy’s sweetheart they performed their way to rehabilitation, both symbolically (as women who had returned to their proper place) and literally (as convicts who had served their time or gained clemency).

Though largely forgotten today, the Goree Girls’ popularity during their broadcasting years demonstrates that while country audiences may have venerated the sentimental mother, they also identified with and embraced women whose relationship to dominant gender ideals was fraught with complications.

This according to “As if they were going places: Class and gender portrayals through country music in the Texas State Prison, 1938–1944” by Caroline Gnagy, an essay included in Country boys and redneck women: New essays in gender and country music (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016, pp. 126–45).

Below, a selection from a musical based on the Goree Girls’ story; information on the 2017 production is here (scroll down). A film produced by Jennifer Aniston is reportedly in the planning stages; information on that topic is here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies