Author Archives: rilm

W.F. Bach’s polonaises

 

 

The 12 keyboard polonaises of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach were immensely popular during the composer’s lifetime, and they are among his best-known pieces today.

W.F. Bach did not treat the polonaise as a light, unpretentious dance form for dilettantes; rather, he approached the genre with the same compositional refinement and sophistication found in his large forms.

Written during the period when the popular galant style dominated, these pieces display aspects of the older contrapuntal art and a level of complexity that rarely appears in light popular dance genres of the time.

This according to “‘…welche dem größten Concerte gleichen’: The polonaises of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach” by Peter Wollny, an essay included in The keyboard in Baroque Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 169–83; RILM Abstracts 2003-4580).

Today is W.F. Bach’s 310th birthday! Below, the 12 polonaises played on the fortepiano by Slobodan Jovanović.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Classic era

Idelsohn’s “Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental melodies”

The First Committee of the Hebrew Language, Jerusalem 1912. Sitting (from right to left): Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Joseph Klausner, David Yellin, and Eliezer Meir Lifshitz; standing: Chaim Aryeh Zuta, Kadish Yehuda Silman, Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, Abraham Jacob Brawer. Photo by Ya’ackov Ben-Dov (Widener Library, Cambridge, public domain)

 

Upon settling in Jerusalem in 1906, the Latvian cantor Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (1882–1938) was deeply impressed by the diversity of the Jewish communities in Palestine and embarked on a massive project. Supported by the Academy of Science in Vienna and supplied with a phonograph for his fieldwork, Idelsohn recorded the unique musical and linguistic traditions of these communities. This ethnological work led to the publication of his Gesänge der jemenitischen Juden (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1914), which would become the first installment of his 10-volume Hebräisch-orientalischer Melodienschatz / Thesaurus of oriental Hebrew melodies (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel et al., 1914–32).

In its final form, the thesaurus covers a universe of over 8000 Jewish melodies including the musical traditions of Yemenite, Babylonian, Persian, Bukharan, Oriental Sephardi, Moroccan, German, Eastern European, and Hassidic Jewish communities in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora (as a cantor he had previously served in South Africa and in various cities in Germany). Idelsohn’s goal was to illuminate the “authentic” Hebrew elements in Jewish melodies. He firmly believed that neither geographical change nor outside influences could alter the basic spiritual mold of Jewish culture.

Both the original publication and the reprints of this exhaustive and seminal work are now accessible through RILM’s Index to Printed Music (IPM), the digital finding aid for locating musical works contained in printed collections, sets, and series. Researchers no longer have to cope with the print editions, working page by page through bulky tomes. For example, a search in IPM for Adon olam (Eternal Lord), a piyyut used in the Jewish liturgy since the 15th century, yields 58 renditions sprinkled throughout six of the volumes; these can now be easily located, along with page numbers and further details.

Below, a rendition of Adon olam that comes close to Idelsohn’s transcription no. 59 (Thesaurus. IV: Gesänge der orientalischen Sefardim / Songs of the Oriental Sephardim of 1923).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Resources

Aaron Copland’s “gold nuggets”

 

While Aaron Copland’s works are widely celebrated for their elegant formal coherence, his compositional method was strikingly nonlinear; in fact, he spoke of himself as an artist who primarily assembled materials.

Rather than writing pieces from start to finish, Copland wrote down fragments of musical ideas when they came to him. When it was time to produce a complete work he would turn to these ideas—he called them his “gold nuggets”—and if one or more of them seemed promising he would write a piano sketch and proceed to work on them further at the keyboard.

This piano phase was so integral to Copland’s creative process that it permeated his compositional style in subtle and complex ways. His habit of turning to the keyboard tended to embarrass him until he learned that Stravinsky did the same.

This according to Copland. I: 1900 through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984, 255; RILM Abstracts 1984-3448).

Today is Copland’s 120th birthday! Above, the composer in 1962; below, a selection of his “miniature” piano works suggests how he worked with his gold nuggets.

Leave a Comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

“Wooden laughter” in the opera house

 

For much of the 18th century there was a clear divide between the music of the upper and lower classes in Austrian society. However, by the late 1790s, a time when Europe’s ruling classes were under threat in the aftermath of the French Revolution, there is evidence to suggest that folk instruments previously associated with the lower classes—including the hurdy-gurdy, zither, tromba marina, and a peasant xylophone known as the Hölzernes Gelächter, (“wooden laughter”, above)—were played in aristocratic settings.

Austrian Composers wrote operas, concertos, and chamber pieces that included parts for folk instruments; some of these works were even dedicated to the Emperor Franz II and the Empress Marie Therese. The setting of these works, compositional practice, and the design of the instruments themselves enabled the music of the lower classes to be adopted by the upper classes, perhaps to evoke a sense of place and national identity during a period of great political change. These practices paved the way for folk music to influence composers later in the 19th century.

This according to “‘Wooden laughter’ in the opera house: The appearance of folk instruments in Bohemian and Austrian high society at the turn of the nineteenth century” by Sam Girling, a paper included in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis VI (Berlin: Logos-Verlag, 2019 83–100; RILM Abstracts 2019-12296).

Below, the Hölzernes Gelächter in action!

1 Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments

Resonance: The journal of sound and culture

 

In 2020 the University of California Press launched Resonance: The journal of sound and culture (ISSN 2688-867X), an interdisciplinary, international peer-reviewed journal that features research and writing by scholars and artists working in fields typically considered to be the domain of sound art and sound studies.

These fields may include traditional and new forms of radio, music, performance, installation, sound technologies, immersive realities, and studies-based disciplines such as musicology, philosophy, and cultural studies. The scope extends to other disciplines such as ethnography, cultural geography, ecologies, media archeology, digital humanities, audiology, communications, and architecture.

The journal’s purview investigates the research, theory, and praxis of sound from diverse cultural perspectives in the arts and sciences, and encourages consideration of ethnicity, race, and gender within theoretical and/or artistic frameworks as they relate to sound. The journal also welcomes research and approaches that explore cultural boundaries and expand upon the concept of sound as a living, cultural force whose territories and impacts are still emerging.

Resonance is published quarterly in an online-only format.

Below, a creation by David Cope’s Experiments in Musical Intelligence; the project is discussed in the journal’s inaugural issue (RILM Abstracts 2020-5452).

Comments Off on Resonance: The journal of sound and culture

Filed under New periodicals

Huapango arribeño and the voices of migration

 

From New Year’s festivities in the highlands of Mexico to backyard get-togethers along the back roads of central Texas, Mexican people living on both sides of the border use expressive culture to construct meaningful communities amid the United States’ often vitriolic immigration politics.

Huapango arribeño, a genre originating from north-central Mexico, carries the voices of those in Mexico, those undertaking the dangerous trek across the border, and those living in the U.S. The genre refigures the sociopolitical and economic terms of migration through aesthetic means, illuminating the ways transnational music-making is at the center of everyday Mexican migrant life.

This according to Sounds of crossing: Music, migration, and the aural poetics of huapango arribeño by Alex E. Chávez (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-45167).

Above and below, Guillermo Velázquez, one of the musicians discussed in the book. Don’t miss the step dancing toward the end!

Comments Off on Huapango arribeño and the voices of migration

Filed under North America, Politics, Popular music

Alice Mary Smith: Short orchestral works

 

In 2020 A-R Editions issued Alice Mary Smith: Short orchestral works (RILM Abstracts 2020-1965), which presents three of Smith’s orchestral compositions for the first time in print.

One of the most prolific women composers of her time, Alice Mary Smith produced the greatest number of publicly performed large-scale orchestral and choral works of any of her gender.

The Andante for clarinet and orchestra, Smith’s orchestral transcription of the slow movement of her Sonata for clarinet and piano (1870), was greatly admired by the English clarinetist Henry Lazarus, who performed it multiple times.

The other works included comprise the complete orchestral music from Smith’s grand choral cantata The masque of Pandora, a setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem. Designed as independent instrumental movements, Smith fully orchestrated them for a performance in 1879 by the New Philharmonic Society.

The introduction to the edition includes a brief biography of Smith and reproduces numerous reviews and program notes from the various performances of these three works.

Below, the Andante for clarinet and orchestra featuring Angela Malsbury.

Comments Off on Alice Mary Smith: Short orchestral works

Filed under New editions, Romantic era

K-pop and political activism

 

For those who are new to K-pop fandom, a fancam is a video closeup filmed by an audience member during a live performance by a K-pop idol group. Fancams have been the bane of many Twitter users, however, who often find their own viral threads hijacked by users posting fancams to capitalize upon the thread’s popularity.

Following the murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police force, K-pop “stans” redirected their energies to posts on Twitter and Instagram made by police departments seeking to identify protestors against police brutality—jamming them instead with videos of K-pop stars. Other strategies used to subvert such efforts, and to promote Black Lives Matter, include hashtag derailment, rickrolling, and weaponizing Disney’s heavy-handed copyright policing.

This according to “How K-pop fans are weaponizing the Internet for Black Lives Matter” by Aja Romano (Vox 22 June 2020; RILM Abstracts 2020-2918).

Below, a brief documentary on K-pop political activism.

Related article: The music of Black Lives Matter

Comments Off on K-pop and political activism

Filed under Curiosities, Politics, Popular music

Acoustics

 

In 2019 Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) launched Acoustics (ISSN 2624-599X), a peer-reviewed journal of acoustic science and engineering.

Being open-access and available online, it is able to offer excellent visibility and a fast processing time from submission to publication. The journal aims to provide an interdisciplinary forum to showcase state-of-the-art research challenges.

There is no restriction on the length of papers or charge for extra colors, etc. Electronic files supplying details of calculations and experimental procedures as well as sound files can be deposited as supplementary materials.

Above, the cover of the inaugural number; below, Paphos theater, one of the acoustical environments discussed in the issue (RILM Abstracts 2019-5509).

Comments Off on Acoustics

Filed under Acoustics, Architecture, New periodicals

Leylā Saz, Ottoman woman composer

 

The Turkish pianist, poet, writer, and composer Leylā Hanım grew up at the Ottoman Court, the daughter of the court doctor. After her marriage she lived in various provincial capitals before returning to Istanbul, where her husband later became Prime Minister.

From the age of seven she received piano lessons from an Italian pianist and also studied Turkish classical music; she played both Turkish and Western music with the palace orchestra. She was fluent in Greek, French, and Arabic and extremely well educated for a woman of her time and place.

Hanım was at the center of an artistic circle in which both Turkish and Western music and literature were cultivated, and she wrote articles on the lives of Turkish women for journals. She received her nickname “Leylā Saz” for her particular interest in the saz instruments (a general name given to stringed instruments in Turkey). She composed about 200 instrumental and vocal compositions, including a collection of 50 songs for which she wrote the lyrics.

This according to “Hanim, Leyla (Leyla Saz)” (International encyclopedia of women composers I. [New York; London: Books & Music 1987]; this resource is one of many included in RILM Music Encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works).

This year marks Leylā Saz’s 17oth birthday! (Her exact date of birth is unknown.) Below, a Turkish radio broadcast from the late 1980s focused on her life and music.

Related article: Dil-Hayât Kalfa Tanbûrî, Ottoman woman composer

Comments Off on Leylā Saz, Ottoman woman composer

Filed under Uncategorized