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

Swara: Antologi pendidikan musik

Launched in 2020, Swara: Antologi pendidikan musik (Swara: Anthology journal of music education, eISSN 2807-2502) is an open-access research journal published regularly in the months of April, August, and December by the Music Education program in the faculty of Arts and Design Education at Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (Education University of Indonesia) in Bandung, West Java.

Topics explored in the journal’s articles include empirical studies on music education (formal and informal), creativity and musical skills (recorded and live performance), and the analysis of traditional and modern musical works.

Below, Ananda Sukarlan performs and discusses his Rapsodia nusantara no. 15; the work is the subject of an article in Swara’s inaugural issue.

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

Enescu and makam

Georges Enescu’s use of elements of Romanian traditional music is well known; his most popular works today, the Rhapsodies roumaines, attest to his enthusiasm for his homeland’s music. Less known is his interest in the Turkish melodic type makam (pl. makamlar) and its influence on his masterpiece, the opera Œdipe.

In this work, Enescu used three makamlar: Müsteâr, for music associated with the characters Creon and Jocasta; Hisâr, for the motif of fate, and Nişâbûr, for the motif of justification.

This according to “Modale Strukturen in Annäherung zur orientalischen Kirchenmusik im Oedip von George Enescu” by Adriana Şirli, an essay included in Enesciana II-III: Georges Enesco, musicien complexe (Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1981).

Today is Enescu’s 140th birthday! Below, an excerpt from the 1970 production of Œdipe by the Opera Naţională Bucureşti; above, the Enescu statue in front of the opera house. For more Enescu iconography, see Music on money.

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

Sound stage screen

In 2021 the Dipartimento di Beni Culturali e Ambientali at the Università degli Studi di Milano launched Sound stage screen (SSS, ISSN 2784-8949), a biannual, peer-reviewed journal devoted to historical and theoretical research into the relations between sound, performance, and media.

SSS addresses a wide range of phenomena, practices, and objects pertaining to sound and music in light of the interconnections between performing traditions and media archaeologies: from opera to musical multimedia, and from cinema to interactive audiovisual platforms. An open-access journal published in English, SSS wishes to redefine the academic study of music as an open field whose boundaries—historical, geographical, and theoretical—are constantly being negotiated.

Below, the official trailer for Christopher Cerrone’s opera Invisible cities, a work discussed in the inaugural issue.

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

Charles Ives’s transcendental Fourth of July

Charles Ives’s The Fourth of July (1912) abounds with polymeter, polytonality, dense simultaneous layering of seemingly independent and contrasting elements, and quotations from at least 15 traditional U.S. songs and march tunes. In particular, the work includes two musical “explosions” (representing fireworks) comprising extremely dense strata of non-synchronous materials.

However, a close analysis of Ives’s compositional techniques demonstrates how the work’s many diverse elements have been integrated within a carefully organized structural framework.

Further, an equally deliberate pondering of Ives’s philosophical and aesthetic ideals illuminates how the work expresses his deep connection to transcendentalism’s search for spiritual truth in the divine oneness of the present, the ongoing fabric of human experience. In its depiction of a boy’s experience of a community’s celebration, Ives’s work points to the shared spiritual roots that underlie this communal expression; the inner relationships between its seemingly disparate elements are analogous to the oneness that pervades all things in the transcendental universe.

This according to “Beyond mimesis: Transcendentalism and processes of analogy in Charles Ives’ The Fourth of July” by Mark D. Nelson (Perspectives of new music XXII/1–2 [1983–84] 353–84; RILM Abstracts 1984-5966).

Happy Fourth of July! Below, a recording of the work by the New York Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein.

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

Herrmann-induced vertigo

For his main title music for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann used alternately ascending and descending arpeggiated chords in contrary motion in the treble and bass voices; no clear direction, up or down, is established, nor is a harmonic center confirmed.

With its almost uninterrupted, destabilizing undulation, the music provides a musical evocation of vertigo that is reinforced by Hitchcock’s spiraling geometric images.

This according to “The language of music: A brief analysis of Vertigo” by Kathryn Kalinak, an essay included in her Settling the score: Music and the classical Hollywood film (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992) and reprinted in Movie music: The film reader (London: Routledge, 2003).

Today is Bernard Herrmann’s 110th birthday! Below, the virtiginous title sequence in question.

Related articles:

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

Enya and the female myth of Ireland

The personification of Enya as a modern archetype of female Ireland has become irrevocably intertwined into the grand narratives of popular culture that make up the last decades of the 20th century.

Her music has many cultural significations; Celticism, romance, fantasy, spirituality, and femininity. The common denominator in Enya’s translucent embodiment of this myth is her seemingly unconscious femininity and her self-distancing from the media and her followers. The unwillingness of Eithne Ní Bhraonáin and her co-creators to discuss their work in turn assists the reading of Enya as a text rather than as an object of ethnographic inquiry.

The significations in the music of Enya’s How can I keep from singing? interrelate with the significations in the lyrics, and a semiotic analysis of the visual imagery in the song’s music video further illuminates how her work perpetuates and reinvigorates the myth of Ireland and Irish womanhood for popular culture.

This according to “How can I keep from singing?” Enya and the female myth of Ireland by Anna Maria Dore, an M.A. thesis accepted by the University of Limerick/Ollscoil Luimnigh in 2003 (RILM Abstracts 2003-21780).

Today is Enya’s 60th birthday! Above and below, the video in question.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Tagore and Rabindra saṇgīt

Rabindra saṇgīt is a genre comprising the vocal works of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote poetry and other literary works in his mother tongue, Bengali.

The music he composed for his verses drew on many sources. Well-versed in the classical Hindustani tradition of North India, Tagore was also familiar with the Karnatak tradition of South India; his compositions mix melodic and rhythmic ideas from Indian art and folk traditions, along with elements of genres from various other parts of the world.

Much of Tagore’s music is rāga-based, though not categorically bound by rāga grammar. Despite the catholicity of his approach to composition, his works bear the unmistakable and inimitable imprint of his own musical vision.

This according to Hindustani music: A tradition in transition by Deepak S. Raja (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2005; RILM Abstracts 2005-8174).

Today is Tagore’s 160th birthday!

Below, Amiya Tagore, one of the few recorded exponents of Rabindra saṇgīt who studied directly with the composer, sings his E parabase rabe ke, which she recorded for Satyajit Ray’s film Kanchenjungha in 1962.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

Electronic music and the Cold War

For a decimated post-War West Germany, the Studio für Elektronische Musik at Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) was a beacon of hope.

In the 1950s, when technologies were plentiful and the need for reconstruction was great, West Germany began to rebuild its cultural prestige via aesthetic and technical advances. The reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio were part of this process.

The studio’s composers, collaborating with scientists and technicians, coaxed music from sine-tone oscillators, noise generators, band-pass filters, and magnetic tape. Together, they applied core tenets from information theory and phonetics, reclaiming military communication technologies as well as fascist propaganda broadcasting spaces.

The electronic studio nurtured a revolutionary synthesis of science, technology, politics, and aesthetics. Its esoteric sounds transformed mid-century music and continue to reverberate today. Electronic music—echoing both cultural anxiety and promise—is a quintessential Cold War innovation.

This according to Electronic inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War musical avant-garde by Jennifer Iverson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019; RILM Abstracts 2019-1204).

Below, Herbert Eimert’s and Robert Beyer’s Klangstudie II, one of the first works produced at the WDR studio.

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

Béla Bartók, entomologist

Béla Bartók is renowned as one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers and as one of the founders of ethnomusicology. Less known is his love of animals, particularly his fascination with insects.

When he was a child he bred silkworms, and later he systematically collected insects, assembling a beautiful assortment. His son Béla Jr. recalled helping him with this hobby. “The most important instruction that he gave…was that no pain whatsoever was to be inflicted on the animals. And so he always took the appropriate drug with him on his insect-collecting expeditions. The insects, therefore, died and came into his collection without any suffering.”

This according to “The private man” by Béla Bartók, Jr. (as translated by Judit Rácz), which is included in The Bartók companion (London: Faber & Faber, 1993; RILM Abstracts 1993-4867).

Today is Bartók’s 140th birthday! Above, a watercolor caricature of him as an insect enthusiast by his cousin Ervin Voit. Below, his “Mese a kis légyrõl” (From the diary of a fly, Mikrokosmos, BB 105, Sz. 107, VI/142).

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Animals, Nature, Science

Halim El-Dabh, electronic music pioneer

After earning a degree in agricultural engineering in Cairo, Halim El-Dabh traveled to outlying Egyptian villages to assist with agricultural development projects. During these visits he became increasingly drawn to traditional music and dance.

Fascinated by the possibilities of manipulating sound, he borrowed a wire recorder from a Cairo radio station and began recording folk songs, religious rites, and vendors’ cries in the city’s streets. The experience gave rise to an early electronic composition using his recording of the zaar, a traditional exorcism ritual, which he manipulated in the studio.

“I was carving sound,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 1974. “I used noise like I would a piece of stone”.

That work, later released as Wire recorder piece, was well-received, and became one of the catalysts for El-Dabh’s decision to pursue a career as a composer. In the late 1950s he became associated with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, a hotbed of sonic ferment.

This according to “Halim El-Dabh, composer of Martha Graham ballets, dies at 96” by Margalit Fox (The New York times 8 September 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-58630).

Today would have been El-Dabh’s 100th birthday! Above, a photo by Robert Christy (Kent State University; used with permission); below, Leiyla and the poet, which brought him international recognition in the early 1960s.

BONUS: An excerpt from Wire recorder piece, often cited as the earliest example of musique concrete.

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