Category Archives: 20th- and 21st-century music

Gershwin and Berg

Most fans of George Gershwin’s music would be surprised to learn of his admiration for an early atonal masterpiece: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. He visited Berg in Vienna, and the score he owned of Wozzeck was one of his most prized possessions; he traveled to Philadelphia in 1931 to attend the work’s American premiere.

Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess is heavily indebted to Wozzeck. These debts primarily involve structural processes, understanding structure as patterns of discrete events shared by the two operas. Motives and chords play a role in the discussion, alongside musical events that range from the large—a fugue or a lullaby—to the small—a pedal, an ostinato, or some detail of counterpoint.

Beyond the presence in both operas of a lullaby, a fugue, a mock sermon, and an upright piano, the greater relevance of these parallels and others is to be found in the ways in which Gershwin situated them in comparable musical contexts.

This according to “Porgy and Bess: An American Wozzeck” by Christopher A. Reynolds (Journal of the Society for American Music I/1 [February 2007] pp. 1–28).

Today is Gershwin’s 120th birthday! Below, the atonal fugue depicting the murder of Crown from Catfish Row, his suite from the opera.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Opera

Trude Rittmann, unsung Broadway hero

 

 

Gertrud “Trude” Rittmann was on her way to becoming one of Germany’s most promising young composers when the rise of Nazism forced her to flee to the United States in 1937.

Through her work as accompanist and music director in the New York ballet world, Rittman met Agnes De Mille; the two subsequently collaborated closely on the creation of dance music for several landmark Broadway shows.

Rittmann also created choral arrangements and underscoring for Richard Rodgers, making major contributions to The King and I, The sound of music, and South Pacific, and she worked on every musical composed by Frederick Loewe, including Brigadoon, My fair lady, and Camelot. One of her finest achievements was the original dance music for the Small house of Uncle Thomas ballet in The King and I, created with the choreographer Jerome Robbins.

This according to “A composer in her own right: Arrangers, musical directors and conductors” by Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, an essay included in Women in American musical theatre: Essays on composers, lyricists, librettists, arrangers, choreographers, designers, directors, producers and performance artists (Jefferson: McFarland, 2008, pp. 77–91).

Today is Rittmann’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of Small house of Uncle Thomas in 2012.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dramatic arts

Joan Tower’s “Made in America”

In 2005 and 2006 Joan Tower’s Made in America embarked on a tour of all 50 American states, featured on programs by some 65 orchestras. In an interview just after the work’s premiere, the composer looked ahead to the experience:

“I’m very curious as to the way they view me as a living composer, because I’m a litmus test. I’m very curious as to how they’ll negotiate my piece. Now, I know some of them are much better than others; there are all levels. But I’m curious whether the piece is strong enough to make them want to work harder and what the level of passion is that’s going to be in there. Part of that depends on the piece and part of that depends on the nature of their community orchestra and the people in their orchestra.”

“If my piece has some impact, and draws the players in a little bit, or a lot, and draws the audience in a little bit or a lot, then it has some reverberation. I’m putting the entire burden of this thing on me, because the music is the center of everything no matter what anybody’s telling you. Whatever the PR, marketing, historical value, blah, blah, blah, that’s going on around it, you still have this living entity in front of you that has to do its work, whatever that is.”

Quoted in “Joan Tower: Made in America” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 October 2005).

Today is Tower’s 80th birthday! Below, a performance from 2012.

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African pianism and musicology

 

The African pianism developed by the Nigerian composer Akin Euba (above) is not well-suited to the research style of traditional musicology, and the limitations of conventional musicological perspectives and analytical models for research on this cultural phenomenon are obvious.

Ethnomusicology and other disciplines such as cultural anthropology may provide approaches and viewpoints that can be adopted in musicological research on African pianism.

This according to “My understanding of African pianism/我对非洲钢琴艺术研究的一些认识” by Li Xin, an essay included in Dialogues in music: Africa meets Asia/亚非相遇: 中非音乐对话 (Richmond: MRI, 2011, pp. 59–68, 345–353).

Below, Kingsley Otoijamun performs an excerpt from Euba’s Scenes from traditional life.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, Curiosities

Stockhausen’s universalism

 

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Telemusik represents an effort to create universally valid music.

In an analogy to Le Corbusier’s modulor concept, Telemusik is based on a proportional framework constructed on the Fibonacci series, through which so-called Klangobjekte—both found sounds and electronically modulated ones of the most diverse ethnic provenance—acquire musical form.

Still, the limits of the universalism sought by Stockhausen are seen in conspicuous traces of Western compositional practice.

This according to “Universalismus und Exotik in Karlheinz Stockhausens Telemusik” by Peter W. Schatt (Musica: Zweimonatsschrift XLIII/4 [Juli-August 1989] pp. 315–20).

Today would have been Stockhausen’s 90th birthday! Above, the composer around the time of Telemusik; below, the work in question.

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

Cathy Berberian’s humor

Irony and humor were inseparable parts of Cathy Berberian’s musical life; they permeated and guided her musical choices, her works, and her interpretations and stage performances. A key feature of her artistic personality was her love of laughter, derision, and amusement, her skill at combining seriousness and mockery, professionalism and frivolity, respect and irony.

The little girl playing with her voice, imitating what she heard—animals, sounds, singers—became the young woman who married Luciano Berio without abandoning her free spirit, which inspired John Cage and many others. Later, in her works and those composed for her, she gave free rein to parody, pastiche, diversion, and an array of peaceful weapons for fighting fixed ideas and shaking up certainties.

Berberian’s deep desire to question tradition and express an inventive concept of music—an open concept, anchoring music and singing in life—could not be fulfilled without destroying idols and wringing the neck of popular belief in a burst of laughter. She wielded irony as a corrective to dogmatism, parochialism, and obscurantism.

A daughter of exiles, always a foreigner in a host country, a woman among famous men, and intelligent far beyond what was expected from a performer and a singer, Berberian triumphed by defending humor, the wealth of the oppressed.

This according to “L’errance infitie de l’humor: L’humor de Cathy Berberian” by Marie-Christine Vila (Itamar: Revista de investigación musical–Territorios para el arte III [2010] pp. 311–21).

Today is Berberian’s birthday! Above and below, performing her own Stripsody (1966), which uses a graphic score to indicate comic strip sounds.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Humor, Performers

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.

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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

Èjzenštejn, sound, and time

Sergej Mihailovič Èjzenštejn’s collaborations with Prokof’ev, along with his essays from the same period, illuminate the director’s reconceptualization of his editing practices in relation to the possibilities offered by synchronized sound.

Throughout his career, Èjzenštejn sought to understand rhythm and tempo in their psychological dimension: How fast do things seem to be going? What formal parameters or systems affect our sense of rhythm and of pace? These questions continued to inform his sound films, and shaped his work with Prokof’ev in fundamental ways.

This according to “A lesson with Eisenstein: Rhythm and pacing in Ivan the Terrible, part I” by Lea Jacobs (Music and the moving image V/1 [spring 2012] pp. 24–46). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Today is Èjzenštejn’s 120th birthday! Above and below, his Ivan Groznyj I, the film discussed in the article.

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Opera theoriae artis

In 2016 Prešovská Univerzita launched the series Opera theoriae artis with Súčasné hudobnoestetické myslenie na Slovensku v kontexte metodologických problémov estetiky a muzikológie, edited by Slávka Kopčáková.

Slovak music is a living river of new problems for theoretical thinking and the search for methodological innovations whose divergent solutions enrich the quality of the reception of musical art in the time of globalization and changing listening habits. This volume is an essential contribution to the field of musical aesthetics, applying historical and contemporary theoretical music-aesthetic concepts to the study of Slovak music in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The second volume of the series, 25 rokov študijného odboru estetika v Prešoveedited by  Slávka Kopčáková and Lukáš Makky, presents the history and current activities of the aesthetics program at the Prešovská Univerzita in both Slovak and broader European contexts.

Below, a work by Ladislav Kupkovič, one of the composers discussed in the book.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series