Category Archives: Classic era

Beethoven’s ninth in millennial culture

For nearly two centuries, Beethoven’s ninth symphony, which premiered on 7 May 1824 at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna, has held musical audiences captive. Few other musical works hold such a prominent place in the collective imagination, and each subsequent generation has rediscovered the work for itself and made it its own. Understanding the significance of the symphony in contemporary culture requires a dialog between Beethoven’s world and ours, marked by the earth-shattering events of 1789 and of 1989.

What is special about the ninth in contemporary millennial culture is that the music is encoded not only as score but also as digital technology. We encounter Beethoven 9 flashmobs, digitally reconstructed concert halls, globally synchronized performances, and other time-bending procedures. The digital artwork 9 beet stretch by Leif Inge, for instance, presents the ninth at glacial speed over the span of 24 hours, challenging our understanding of the symphony and encouraging us to confront the temporal dimension of Beethoven’s music. In the digital age, the ninth emerges as a musical work that is recomposed and reshaped; robust enough to live up to such treatment, and continually adapting to a changing world with changing media.

A presentation of <9 beet stretch> by Leif Inge.

Learn more in Beethoven’s symphony no. 9 by Alexander Rehding (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-4097]. In case you missed it, the 200th anniversary of the premiere of Beethoven’s ninth symphony was on 7 May 2024.

Below are three videos of Beethoven flash mobs in Hong Kong, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the last in Azerbaijan.

Hong Kong
Minneapolis
Azerbaijan

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A famous gondola song

La biondina in gondoletta is likely the most famous gondola song in Europe. The music had long been attributed to the German-born composer Johann Simon Mayr, whose authorship, however, can be ruled out. Until now, the composer of the tune has remained anonymous, but the lyrics in Venetian dialect were written by Antonio Lamberti and date back to the 1770s. They appear to address Contessa Marina Querini Benzon, whose salon near San Beneto in Venice, had been frequented by the poet and other local but also foreign artists and intellectuals.

Because of its salacious verses and wide dissemination, La biondina in gondoletta was prohibited during the Napoleonic occupation of Venice (1805–15). Nonetheless, the song with its catchy melody made a truly European career in the course of the 19th century. Abroad, it functioned as a symbol of Venetian vitality and Italian lightheartedness, combining stereotyped imaginations of an Italian national character with a nostalgic view of the glorious past. Many European composers worked with the melody of La biondina in gondoletta, cited it, or improvised on the theme. Beethoven, for instance, used the song, referring to it as the epitome of Venetian popular music, without ever traveling to Italy. Given the manifold versions and settings of the piece, it can be considered an early transnational hit song.

The astonishing success of La biondina in gondoletta continued into the 20th century, when it was used within the Festival Internazionale della Canzone di Venezia, held for the first time in July 1955. Six European nations, namely Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Monaco and France (or rather their radio stations), competed in this first edition of the popular song festival, which was broadcast in all participating countries. With a festive ceremony the song contest came to an end, when musicians of all six nations played La biondina in gondoletta together. In the following years, the custom of ending the event by intoning the famous gondola song was maintained, clearly demonstrating how La biondina in gondoletta, in the course of the 19th century, on a Europe-wide scale, had been deeply rooted in the collective memory as a clichéd musical symbol of Venice.

Read on in “La biondina in gondoletta: The transnational success story of a popular gondola song” by Henrike Rost, an essay included in the volume Popular song in the 19th century (Turnhout: Brepols, 2022).

Celebrate the La Biennale di Venezia (Venice Biennale) and the Biennale Musica 2023 (www.labiennale.org/en/music/2023) taking place in Venice October 16-29. Listen to a performance of La biondina in gondoletta below.

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Filed under Classic era, Europe, Popular music

Instant Classics: RILM’s Top 8 Reviewed Texts, 2020–21

Once again, the reviews are in! Another installment has arrived of RILM’s Instant Classics series, which chronicles and collects the books indexed in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that have received the most reviews in academic literature. This most recent list collects publications covering a wide range of musical topics that were released between 2020 and 2021, listed in order from least to most reviewed.

As always, this list should be viewed as a living document that will become outdated as reviews continue to be written. Despite the inherent limitations, collecting these texts in this way generates a valuable archive of the topics, methodologies, and perspectives that earned the attention of music scholars during a brief period in time. As we zoom out, patterns may emerge that provide insight into the topical trends that have contributed to music discourse in the early decades of the 21st century.

We may also pause over which voices are being heard in music research, the interests of the publishers who are amplifying them, and the types of audiences being targeted. Although this list may inevitably serve as means of promotion, it is not meant to be viewed uncritically. We can appreciate these texts’ contributions to musical knowledge while simultaneously being aware of the powers held and challenges faced by the publishing firms and university presses that sell them.

And finally, do keep in mind that RILM can only disseminate the writings on music to which it has access. You are invited to help make RILM Abstracts be as complete as it can be by visiting our website and submitting your review! We thank you in advance and wish you a happy summer of reading!

– Written, compiled, and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM

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#8. Osborne, Richard and Dave Laing, eds. Music by numbers: The use and abuse of statistics in the music industry (Bristol: Intellect, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-99384]

Abstract: Examines statistics within the music industry. Its aim is to expose the historical and contemporary use and abuse of these numbers, both nationally and internationally. It addresses their impact on consumers’ choices, upon the careers of musicians and upon the policies that governments and legislators make.

#7. Slominski, Tes. Trad nation: Gender, sexuality, and race in Irish traditional music. Music/culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54789]

Abstract: Just how “Irish” is traditional Irish music? This book combines ethnography, oral history, and archival research to challenge the longstanding practice of using ethnic nationalism as a framework for understanding vernacular music traditions. The author argues that ethnic nationalism hinders this music’s development today in an increasingly multiethnic Ireland and in the transnational Irish traditional music scene. She discusses early 21st-century women whose musical lives were shaped by Ireland’s struggles to become a nation; follows the career of Julia Clifford, a fiddler who lived much of her life in England, and explores the experiences of women, LGBTQ+ musicians, and musicians of color in the early 21st century.

#6. Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven’s lives: The biographical tradition (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11238]

Abstract: When Beethoven died in March 1827, the world of music felt an intense loss. The composer’s funeral procession was one of the largest Vienna had ever witnessed, and the poet Franz Grillparzer’s eulogy brought the tensions between the composer’s life and music into sharp focus: the deaf and aloof genius, the alienated and eccentric artist, unable to form a lasting relationship with a woman but reaching out to mankind. These apparent contradictions were to attract many Beethoven biographers yet to come. The story of Beethoven biography is traced, from the earliest attempts made directly after the composer’s death to the present day. It casts a wide net, tracing the story of Beethoven biography from Anton Schindler as biographer and falsifier, through the authoritative Alexander Wheelock Thayer and down to the present. The list includes Gustav Nottebohm, the first scholar to study Beethoven’s sketchbooks. With his work, biography could begin to reflect on the inner life of the artist as expressed in his music, and in this sense, sketchbooks could be seen as artistic diaries. Even Richard Wagner thought of writing a Beethoven biography, and the late 19th and early 20th century saw the emergence of French and English traditions of Beethoven biography. In the tumultuous 20th century, with world wars and fractured politics, the writing of Beethoven biography was sometimes caught up in the storm. By bringing the story down to our time, it identifies traditions of Beethoven biography that today’s scholars and writers need to be aware of. Each biography reflects not only on the individual writer’s knowledge and interests, but also his inner sense of purpose as each writer works within the intellectual framework of his time.

#5. Brennan, Matt. Kick it: A social history of the drum kit (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11043]

Abstract: The drum kit has provided the pulse of popular music from before the dawn of jazz up to the present day pop charts. This provocative social history of the instrument looks closely at key innovators in the development of the drum kit: inventors and manufacturers like the Ludwig and Zildjian dynasties, jazz icons like Gene Krupa and Max Roach, rock stars from Ringo Starr to Keith Moon, and popular artists who haven’t always got their dues as drummers, such as Karen Carpenter and J Dilla. Tackling the history of race relations, global migration, and the changing tension between high and low culture, the author makes the case for the drum kit’s role as one of the most transformative musical inventions of the modern era. He shows how the drum kit and drummers helped change modern music—and society as a whole—from the bottom up.

#4. Austern, Linda Phyllis. Both from the ears & mind: Thinking about music in early modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8218]

Abstract: Offers a bold new understanding of the intellectual and cultural position of music in Tudor and Stuart England. The author brings to life the kinds of educated writings and debates that surrounded musical performance, and the remarkable ways in which English people understood music to inform other endeavors, from astrology and self-care to divinity and poetics. Music was considered both art and science, and discussions of music and musical terminology provided points of contact between otherwise discrete fields of human learning. This book demonstrates how knowledge of music permitted individuals to both reveal and conceal membership in specific social, intellectual, and ideological communities. Attending to materials that go beyond music’s conventional limits, these chapters probe the role of music in commonplace books, health-maintenance and marriage manuals, rhetorical and theological treatises, and mathematical dictionaries. Ultimately, the author illustrates how music was an indispensable frame of reference that became central to the fabric of life during a time of tremendous intellectual, social, and technological change.

#3. Frühauf, Tina. Transcending dystopia: Music, mobility, and the Jewish community in Germany, 1945–1989 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-1]

Abstract: Discusses the role music played in its various connections to and contexts of Jewish communal life and cultural activity in Germany from 1945 to 1989. This history of the Jewish communities’ musical practices during the postwar and Cold War eras tells the story of how the traumatic experience of the Holocaust led to transitions and transformations, and the significance of music in these processes. As such, it relies on music to draw together three areas of inquiry: the Jewish community, the postwar Germanys and their politics after the Holocaust (occupied Germany, the Federal Republic, the Democratic Republic, and divided Berlin), and the concept of cultural mobility. Indeed, the musical practices of the Jewish communities in the postwar Germanys cannot be divorced from politics, as can be observed in their relations to Israel and U.S. On the grounds of these conceptual concerns, selective communities serve as case studies to provide a kaleidoscopic panorama of musical practices in worship and in social life. Within these pillars, a wide spectrum of topics is covered, from music during commemorations, on the radio and in Jewish newspapers, to synagogue concerts and community events; from the absence and presence of cantor and organ to the resurgence of choral music. What binds these topics tightly together is the specific theoretical inquiry of mobility.

#2. Robinson, Dylan. Hungry listening: Resonant theory for Indigenous sound studies. Indigenous Americas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4582]

Abstract: Listening is considered from both Indigenous and settler colonial perspectives. In a critical response to what has been called the “whiteness of sound studies”, how decolonial practices of listening emerge from increasing awareness of our listening positionality are evaluated. This involves identifying habits of settler colonial perception and contending with settler colonialism’s “tin ear” that renders silent the epistemic foundations of Indigenous song as history, law, and medicine. With case studies on Indigenous participation in classical music, musicals, and popular music, structures of inclusion that reinforce Western musical values are examined. Alongside this inquiry on the unmarked terms of inclusion in performing arts organizations and compositional practice, examples of “doing sovereignty” in Indigenous performance art, museum exhibitions, and gatherings that support an Indigenous listening resurgence are offered. It is shown how decolonial and resurgent forms of listening might be affirmed by writing otherwise about musical experience. Through event scores, dialogic improvisation, and forms of poetic response and refusal, a reorientation is demanded toward the act of reading as a way of listening. Indigenous relationships to the life of song are sustained in writing that finds resonance in the intersubjective experience between listener, sound, and space.

#1. Ross, Alex. Wagnerism: Art and politics in the shadow of music (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4721]

Abstract: For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and U.S. culture. Such colossal creations as Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over 21st-century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. A German translation is cited as RILM 2020-61241.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Analysis, Classic era, Ethnomusicology, Jazz and blues, Mass media, Musicology, Opera, Opera, Politics, Popular music, Religious music, Romantic era, World music

If it’s Mozart, it’s a masterpiece!

mozart-shades

Since the mid–19th-century discovery of the sinfonia concertante for four winds sometimes labeled K.297b, the work has been considered authentic by some and dubious by others, and its reception has paralleled these critical vicissitudes.

In 1778 Mozart wrote to his father that he had just written a “sinfonie concertante” for four winds and orchestra that was scheduled for performance in Paris; but it was not performed after all, and the score was presumed lost until a work scored for similar forces—unattributed and not in Mozart’s own hand, but labeled concertante—surfaced in the collection of Mozart’s biographer Otto Jahn after Jahn’s death in 1869.

Despite some discrepancies between the Jahn MS and the composition Mozart had described, it was generally accepted as the missing work and published as such in 1886. For about the first 50 years of its public career it remained a peripheral work in the Mozart canon, seldom performed and little-known.

The work began to attract more attention in the 1920s, as eminent Mozart scholars described it as “magnificent” and praised its “brilliance, breadth, and expansiveness”. Experts agreed that it was an important work, a significant step in Mozart’s development as a composer, and a beautiful and worthwhile piece of music. Certified and buoyed by such enthusiasm, it was increasingly programmed and recorded from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The sinfonia concertante’s fall from grace began when it was dropped from the main body of the Köchel catalogue in 1964 with a terse remark that its arrangement could not have come from Mozart. Expert statements refuting the overall authenticity of the work on stylistic grounds soon followed, and efforts to reclaim it for Mozart failed to stem its fall from scholarly favor. Audience interest diminished accordingly, and the work appears to have been programmed less often since the mid-1970s.

An examination of 168 texts discussing this composition reveals—perhaps not surprisingly— that the authors’ reactions to the work are closely bound to their opinions on who wrote it.

For example, writers who believed that the work was by Mozart described it as strong, sturdy, and solid, while those that did not called it flimsy, arbitrary, illogical, and incomprehensible; those crediting Mozart rated the work highest level and a masterpiece, while those who considered it spurious rated it not first class; and the Mozart designators considered it delightful, celestial, and enchanting, while the non-Mozart camp described it as tasteless, inept, and cheap.

This according to “Musical attribution and critical judgment: The rise and fall of the sinfonia concertante for winds, K.297b” by John Spitzer (The journal of musicology V/3 [summer 1987] pp. 319–56; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1988-3046).

Below, we invite you to form your own opinion.

More articles about Mozart are here.

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Charles Schultz and classical music

Having once considered himself “one of the staunchest opponents of classical music”, Charles Schultz discovered the symphonies of Beethoven in 1946 and became an avid fan of classical music with a prodigious record collection. He also created the piano-playing Schroeder, a Beethoven fanatic, for his comic strip Peanuts.

A well-worn 1951 LP in Schultz’s collection by the pianist Friedrich Gulda of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata may have inspired a series of strips from the early 1950s in which Schroeder is seen playing this work. The one reproduced above is the only one in which the piece is named, though it still relies on the reader to read music—and German!—for a full identification. Note Schultz’s imitation of German Fraktur script for both the work title and his signature.

This according to “Michaelis’ Schulz, Schulz’s Beethoven, and the construction of biography” by William Meredith (The Beethoven journal XXV/2 [winter 2008], pp. 79–91; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2008-8914).

Today is Schultz’s 100th birthday! Below, Gulda performs the Hammerklavier sonata in 1970.

More posts about Beethoven are here.

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Instant Classics: RILM’s Top 10 Most Reviewed Texts, 2017–19

Reviews serve many valuable functions in music scholarship, from sparking critical discourse, to revealing topics of interest at a particular historical moment, to providing summaries and assessments for further inquiries, to shining a light on superlative (or, in some cases, substandard) research. Reviews collect and constitute interpretive communities, which arguably play a role in constructing the very meaning of a text.

In recognition of the importance of reviews, RILM inaugurates its Instant Classics series—a collection of the ten most-reviewed monographs indexed in the extensive international holdings of RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. The current list of books spans the two-year period from 2017 to 2019 and is ordered from least to most reviewed. Since it takes some time for texts to be assessed and reviews to be released, going back a few years provides a fuller and more accurate picture of a book in review.

This list is inherently limited, dynamic, and subject to continuous revision as more reviews potentially accrue for these and other texts. What we offer here is merely an inchoate snapshot, one that reflects the biases and areas of interest in music research at a specific time and place in history. With that in mind, it is also more than simply another “Top Ten” list, as it may hold a degree of historiographic value.

And finally, an important reminder: We need your help! RILM always welcomes your reviews or reviews of your publications. Notice an omission? Help us fill in our gaps by submitting your review.

– Compiled and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor and Marketing Coordinator, RILM

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#10. Wheeler, Barbara L., Donna W. Polen, and Carol L. Shultis. Clinical training guide for the student music therapist (2nd ed., rev.; Dallas: Barcelona, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-43779]

Abstract: Covers planning, assessment, goals and objectives, improvisation, composing, listening, individual and group work, documentation, and self-assessment.

#9. Borge, Jason R. Tropical riffs: Latin America and the politics of jazz (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-1970]

Abstract: This book traces how jazz helped forge modern identities and national imaginaries in Latin America during the mid-20th century. Across Latin America jazz functioned as a conduit through which debates about race, sexuality, nation, technology, and modernity raged in newspapers, magazines, literature, and film. For Latin American audiences, critics, and intellectuals—who often understood jazz to stem from social conditions similar to their own—the profound penetration into the fabric of everyday life of musicians like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker represented the promises of modernity while simultaneously posing a threat to local and national identities. Brazilian anti-jazz rhetoric branded jazz as a problematic challenge to samba and emblematic of Americanization. In Argentina, jazz catalyzed discussions about musical authenticity, race, and national culture, especially in relation to tango. And in Cuba, the widespread popularity of Chano Pozo and Dámaso Pérez Prado challenged the United States’s monopoly on jazz. Outlining these hemispheric flows of ideas, bodies, and music, this book elucidates how the art form was, and remains, a transnational project and a collective idea.

#8. Chua, Daniel K.L. Beethoven & freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-28046]

Abstract: Over the last two centuries, Beethoven’s music has been synonymous with the idea of freedom, in particular a freedom embodied in the heroic figure of Prometheus. This image arises from a relatively small circle of heroic works from the composer’s middle period, most notably the Eroica symphony. However, the freedom associated with the Promethean hero has also come under considerable critique by philosophers, theologians, and political theorists; its promise of autonomy easily inverts into various forms of authoritarianism, and the sovereign will it champions is not merely a liberating force but a discriminatory one. Beethoven’s freedom, then, appears to be increasingly problematic; yet his music is still employed today to mark political events from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the attacks of 9/11. Even more problematic, perhaps, is the fact that this freedom has shaped the reception of Beethoven’s music to such an extent that we forget that there is another kind of music in his oeuvre that is not heroic, a music that opens the possibility of a freedom yet to be articulated or defined. By exploring the musical philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno through a wide range of the composer’s music, this book arrives at a markedly different vision of freedom. The author suggests that a more human and fragile concept of freedom can be found in the music that has less to do with the autonomy of the will and its stoical corollary than with questions of human relation, donation, and a yielding to radical alterity. This work makes a major and controversial statement by challenging the current image of Beethoven, and by suggesting an alterior freedom that can speak ethically to the 21st century.

#7. Talle, Andrew. Beyond Bach: Music and everyday life in the eighteenth century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-24136]

Abstract: Reverence for J.S. Bach’s music and its towering presence in our cultural memory have long affected how people hear his works. In his own time, however, Bach stood as just another figure among a number of composers, many of them more popular with the music-loving public. Eschewing the great composer style of music history, the book takes us on a journey that looks at how ordinary people made music in Bach’s Germany. The author focuses in particular on the culture of keyboard playing as lived in public and private. Ranging through a wealth of documents, instruments, diaries, account ledgers, and works of art, he brings a fascinating cast of characters to life. These individuals—amateur and professional performers, patrons, instrument builders, and listeners—inhabited a lost world, and this book teases out the diverse roles music played in their lives and in their relationships with one another. At the same time, the author’s nuanced recreation of keyboard playing’s social milieu illuminates the era’s reception of Bach’s immortal works. An excerpt is abstracted as RILM 2018-7846.

#6. Watt, Paul. Ernest Newman: A critical biography. Music in Britain, 1600–2000 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-24973]

Abstract: Ernest Newman (1868–1959) left an indelible mark on British musical criticism in a career spanning more than 70 years. His magisterial (a reprint of which is cited as RILM 1976-2951), published in four volumes between 1933 and 1946, is regarded as his crowning achievement, but Newman wrote many other influential books and essays on a variety of subjects ranging from early music to Schoenberg. In this book, the geneses of Newman’s major publications are examined in the context of prevailing intellectual trends in history, criticism, and biography. Newman’s career as a writer is traced across a wide range of subjects including English and French literature; evolutionary theory and biographical method; and French, German, and Russian music. Underpinning many of these works is Newman’s preoccupation with rationalism and historical method. By examining particular sets of writings such as composer-biographies and essays from leading newspapers such as the and the Manchester guardian and the Sunday times, this book illustrates the ways in which Newman’s work was grounded in late–19th-century intellectual paradigms that made him a unique and at times controversial figure.

#5. García, David F. Listening for Africa: Freedom, modernity, and the logic of Black music’s African origins (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-38670]

Abstract: Explores how a diverse group of musicians, dancers, academics, and activists engaged with the idea of Black music and dance’s African origins between the 1930s and 1950s. The author examines the work of figures ranging from Melville J. Herskovits, Katherine Dunham, and Asadata Dafora to Duke Ellington, Dámaso Pérez Prado, and others who believed that linking Black music and dance with Africa and nature would help realize modernity’s promises of freedom in the face of fascism and racism in Europe and the Americas, colonialism in Africa, and the nuclear threat at the start of the Cold War. In analyzing their work, the author traces how such attempts to link Black music and dance to Africa unintentionally reinforced the binary relationships between the West and Africa, white and black, the modern and the primitive, science and magic, and rural and urban. Counter to the movement’s goals, it was modernity’s determinations of unraced, heteronormative, and productive bodies, and of scientific truth, that helped defer the realization of individual and political freedom in the world.

#4. Tunbridge, Laura. Singing in the age of anxiety: Lieder performances in New York and London between the World Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-4190]

Abstract: In New York and London during World War I, the performance of lieder was roundly prohibited, representing as they did the music and language of the enemy. But as German musicians returned to the transatlantic circuit in the 1920s, so too did the lieder of Schubert, Wolf, and Strauss. Lieder were encountered in a variety of venues and media—at luxury hotels and on ocean liners, in vaudeville productions and at Carnegie Hall, and on gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts, and films. The renewed vitality of this refugee musical form between the World Wars is examined here, offering a fresh perspective on a period that was pervaded by anxieties of displacement. Through richly varied case studies, it traces how lieder were circulated, presented, and consumed in metropolitan contexts, shedding new light on how music facilitated unlikely crossings of nationalist and internationalist ideologies during the interwar period.

#3. Eidsheim, Nina Sun. The race of sound: Listening, timbre, and vocality in African American music. Refiguring American music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-7187]

Abstract: Traces the ways in which sonic attributes that might seem natural, such as the voice and its qualities, are socially produced. The author illustrates how listeners measure race through sound and locate racial subjectivities in vocal timbre—the color or tone of a voice. The author examines singers Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, and Jimmy Scott as well as the vocal synthesis technology Vocaloid to show how listeners carry a series of assumptions about the nature of the voice and to whom it belongs. Outlining how the voice is linked to ideas of racial essentialism and authenticity, the author untangles the relationship between race, gender, vocal technique, and timbre while addressing an under-theorized space of racial and ethnic performance. In so doing, she advances our knowledge of the cultural-historical formation of the timbral politics of difference and the ways that comprehending voice remains central to understanding human experience, all the while advocating for a form of listening that would allow us to hear singers in a self-reflexive, denaturalized way.

#2. Kreuzer, Gundula. Curtain, gong, steam: Wagnerian technologies of nineteenth-century opera (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-5417]

Abstract: Argues for the foundational role of technologies in the conception, production, and study of 19th-century opera. The author shows how composers increasingly incorporated novel audiovisual effects in their works and how the uses and meanings of the required apparatuses changed through the 20th century, sometimes still resonating in stagings, performance art, and popular culture today. Focusing on devices (which she dubs “Wagnerian technologies”) intended to amalgamate opera’s various media while veiling their mechanics, the author offers a practical counternarrative to Wagner’s idealist theories of total illusionism. At the same time, the book’s multifaceted exploration of the three titular technologies repositions Wagner as catalyst more than inventor in the history of operatic production. With its broad chronological and geographical scope, this book deepens our understanding of the material and mechanical conditions of historical operatic practice as well as of individual works, both well known and obscure.

#1. Iverson, Jennifer. Electronic inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War musical avant-garde. New cultural history of music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-1204]

Abstract: For a decimated post-War West Germany, the electronic music studio at the WDR radio station in Cologne was a beacon of hope. This book traces the reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio. 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 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.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Acoustics, Africa, Analysis, Baroque era, Classic era, Jazz and blues, Musicology, Opera, Opera, Politics, Popular music, Romantic era, Therapy

Mozart’s vitamin deficiency

Several hypotheses regarding the cause of Mozart’s death have been advanced, but until now none have noted the likelihood that a very low level of vitamin D in his system contributed to his untimely demise.

Mozart did most of his composing at night, so he must have slept during much of the day, minimizing his exposure to sunlight. Further, at Vienna’s latitude (48°N) it is impossible for the body to make vitamin D from solar ultraviolet-B irradiance for about six months of the year.

The composer died on 5 December 1791, about three months into the Vienna winter; since the half-life of vitamin D in the human body is four to six weeks, his level of the nutrient would have been very low—an important risk factor for infectious diseases.

This according to “Vitamin D deficiency contributed to Mozart’s death” by William B. Grant and Stefan Pilz (Medical problems of performing artists XXVI/2 [June 2011] p.117; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-3181).

Below, Jerry Hadley discusses solar irradiance in “Si spande al sole in faccia nube talor così” from Mozart’s Il rè pastore.

More articles about Mozart are here.

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Beethoven and Confucius

Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.

The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.

This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-6751). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.

Above, the Beethoven monument in Qingdao. Below, Beethoven’s Ode to joy in Chinese.

More posts about Beethoven are here.

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Haydn’s parrot

haydn-parrot

The Inventur und Schätzung der Joseph Haydnischen Kunstsachen—the catalogue of the auction of Haydn’s personal collection following his death in 1809—is preserved in the Musiksammlung of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

One of the items listed therein was a living parrot. During the composer’s later years, the parrot enjoyed warm days in its cage in Haydn’s Vienna courtyard, mocking the sparrows on the neighbors’ roofs. It could whistle a full octave, sing the opening of the national anthem, and call out “Come, Papa Haydn, to the beautiful Paperi!”

This according to “Haydn als Sammler” by Otto Erich Deutsch, an article included in Zum Haydn-Jahr 1959 (Österreichische Musikzeitschrift XIV/5–6 [May–June 1959] pp. 188–194; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1959-648).

Today is Haydn’s 290th birthday! Below, perhaps a descendant.

Related article: Mozart’s starling

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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 of Music Literature 2003-4580).

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

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