Category Archives: Curiosities

Liszt and Litzmann

 

Before ending his performance career with concerts in Odessa and Elizavetgrad in 1847, Franz Liszt visited Istanbul, gave a number of public concerts, and performed twice for Sultan Abdülmecit I in the Çırağan Palace.

A widely reported incident in relation to this trip concerns an impostor named Listmann, a historically unidentified character, who supposedly passed himself off as Liszt in Istanbul and received valuable presents from the Sultan under this pretext. According to some accounts, Listmann almost caused Liszt to be arrested upon his arrival.

Herr Listmann of the Liszt–Listmann incident was in fact a German Tonkünstler and a man of letters named Eduard Litzmann who toured Spain and the Orient, and was apparently a competent pianist. The sources indicate that—notwithstanding Liszt’s own letter to his cousin Henriett—numerous colorful aspects of the incident as reported in the literature result from self-perpetuating transformations of fiction and cannot be substantiated.

This according to “The Liszt–Listmann incident” by Ömer Eğecioğlu (Studia musicologica XLIX/3–4 [September 2008] 275–93).

Inset, a plaque marking the location where Liszt stayed in Istanbul; below, Liszt’s variations on a theme by Giuseppe Donizetti, composed for one of his performances for the Sultan.

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Filed under Curiosities, Romantic era

Morton Feldman and Persian carpets

 

Repetition and variation are important components of the music of Morton Feldman—components that he extracted from his observation of Persian carpet designs.

Rug design and music are arts that use symbolic language to express certain concepts with a focus on the idea of unity in multiplicity. The designs of some Persian carpets are based on the weaver’s mind map, which resembles Feldman’s musical approach. Key elements of these carpet patterns correspond directly to Feldman’s use of repetition and symmetry in his works.

This according to “A study on the rug patterns and Morton Feldman’s approach” by A.A. Javadi and M. Fujieda (International journal of music science, technology and art II/1 [2020] 48–53; RILM Abstracts 2020-3041). Many thanks to Improbable research for bringing this study to our attention!

Above, a comparison of selected carpets with excerpts from Feldman’s Crippled symmetry; below, the work itself.

Related post: Morton Feldman’s The viola in my life

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

Robert Schumann and postmodern criticism

 

Robert Schumann’s 1831 review of Chopin’s op. 2 variations depicts enthusiastic friends breathlessly emoting over a musical work, commenting upon it in nonlinear and sometimes borderline incoherent phrases. In Schumann’s commentaries—the most prominent examples of the burgeoning nineteenth-century tradition of music criticism—there is often no critical distance whatsoever; intensity and immersion are the driving force of these essays.

Similarly, Beavis and Butt-head’s intense interaction with music is what most clearly defines their daily activities; and, as depictions of critics whose interpretive and even artistic operations are an integral part of life, they reveal themselves to be cut from the same cloth as Schumann’s critical personae Florestan and Eusebius.

This according to “Florestan and Butt-head: A glimpse into postmodern music criticism” by Andrew Dell’Antonio (American music XVII/1 [spring 1999] 65–86; RILM Abstracts 1999-2733).

Today is Schumann’s 210th birthday! Above, the composer in 1850; below, a grouping of four movements from his Carnaval, beginning with his musical depictions of Eusebius and Florestan.

 

Related article: Chopin on Schumann on Chopin

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Filed under Curiosities, Romantic era

The Siena piano

 

A legendary instrument whose sonorities reputedly have no equal anywhere, praised by musicians such as Liszt and Saint-Saëns, the Siena piano is surrounded by an aura of mystery due to its astonishing history.

Its soundboard was supposedly made of wooden pillars from the ancient Temple of Solomon in Israel. Stolen by German soldiers during World War II, it was discovered half buried in the sands of the African desert.

The instrument was saved from destruction in the nick of time and restored by an Israeli craftsman; subsequently it aroused enormous media attention before being largely forgotten.

This according to La légende du piano de Sienne: Récit instrumental by Florent Ploquin (Plouharnel: Menhir, 2017).

Below, Marisa Regules performs Debussy’s Estampes on the Siena piano.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Romantic era

Mozart’s carriage and the Haydn cartwright tradition

 

In 1762 Leopold Mozart purchased a horse-drawn coach in Pressburg: a well-sprung, covered travel carriage for four at the price of “nur 23 duccatten”. Leopold described it as a “guten Reisewagen”. It brought the family safely back to Vienna (a trip of 12 hours) and from there home to Salzburg, leaving Vienna on 31 December 1762. Half a year later the Mozart family used the same carriage for their grand tour of Western Europe (1763–66), which took them as far as London.

It is likely that the carriage Leopold purchased in Pressburg came from the workshop of the Haydn family, which was for several generations involved with carriage production and shared the market with just a few others. The family profession of carriage building began with Thomas Haydn, Joseph’s grandfather, who was allowed to open a workshop in 1686.

Joseph Haydn stayed interested in the work of cartwrights, blacksmiths, and other manual professions. His letters and notebooks from London in particular show his interest in the working conditions of craftsmen there, and his preference for technical and practical matters, numbers, and measurements. Even at the peak of his international success, Haydn stayed connected to the family’s cartwright tradition.

The carriage trade was still on his mind during his second stay in London, when he made several visits to a Mr. March, an 84-year-old dentist, wine merchant, and carriage maker. The aged gentleman impressed Haydn not only because of his very young mistress and a daughter of nine, but also because each coach sold by Mr. March earned him at least £500.

This according to “Did Mozart drive a ‘Haydn’? Cartwrights, carriages and the postal system in the Austrian-Hungarian border area up to the eighteenth century” by Käthe Springer-Dissmann, an essay included in Ottoman empire and European theatre. II: The time of Joseph Haydn–From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II (r.1730–1839) (Wien: Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag, 2014, 257–80; RILM Abstracts 2014-88916).

Above, an Austrian carriage from around 1790; below, a carriage ride through Mozart’s Vienna.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities

Mahmud II and Italian opera

 

The Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II enjoyed Italian opera so much that his new Dolmabahçe Palace incorporated a small but sumptuous opera house; decorated by Charles Séchan of the Paris Opéra, it was said to rival that of Versailles.

Occasionally he invited the Italian opera company to perform in his seraglio, before the ladies of his court. The libretti were apparently altered to suit Turkish tastes: for example, a performance of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri ended with the marriage of Isabella and the Bey. The punishment of Taddeo, who received the bastinado on the soles of his feet, drew shouts and applause from the audience.

This according to “‘Each villa on the Bosphorus looks a screen new painted, or a pretty opera scene’: Mahmud II (r.1808–1839) setting the Ottoman stage for Italian opera and Viennese music” by Emre Aracı, an essay included in Ottoman empire and European theatre. II: The time of Joseph Haydn–From Sultan Mahmud I to Mahmud II (r.1730–1839) (Wien: Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag, 2014, 621–30; RILM Abstracts 2014-88925).

Above, a portrait of Mahmud II by Henri-Guillaume Schlesinger; below, a rousing excerpt from the Schwetzinger Festspiele.

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera

Uncracking the Nutcracker

 

Čajkovskij repeatedly sought to abandon work on Ŝelkunčik (The nutcracker), and complained bitterly about the project to the Director of Imperial Theaters; the reasons why he begged to be released from working on it, or why he ultimately persevered, remain unknown.

The problems probably involved the libretto, which the fastidious composer may well have found vexing. Parts of it lack any rationale, the balance of mime and dance is lopsided, and the overall arc of the story is incoherent, with several essential plot elements entirely missing.

These issues can be resolved by rendering most of the ballet as Drosselmayer’s thoughts rather than Clara’s dream. One can easily imagine the composer taking delight in this solution.

This according to “On meaning in Nutcracker” by Roland John Wiley (Dance research III/1 (fall 1984) 3–28; RILM Abstracts 1984-12142).

Today is Čajkovskij’s 180th birthday! Above, the composer in 1893, a year after Ŝelkunčik’s premiere. Below, Part I of Mark Morris’s alternative version of the work, which he called The hard nut.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Romantic era

Muotatal yodeling redux

 

Thirty years after the making of his film series on Swiss yodeling, Hugo Zemp returned to his investigation of the particular yodel style—called jüüz—of Muotatal, a small valley in the Swiss Prealps.

Shot in the early 1980s, the earlier films presented the traditional jüüz sung at work or while socializing, in contrast to stage presentations of yodel choirs, which are federated in a national association under the direction of choral conductors.

Wondering how the situation had evolved in the second decade of the 21th century, Zemp went back and found a 37-year-old man whom he had filmed singing with his parents and sisters 30 years earlier. During his adolescence, like many teenagers, Bernhard was enthusiastic about American rock and country music (which he still performs), but when he watched the old films he felt the urge to return to the tradition that he had learned during his childhood. With five friends from his village he founded a traditional group, Natur Pur, to revive casual singing.

Zemp’s new film, Swiss yodelling: 30 years later (Kanopy Streaming, 2015) shows performances in various situations, including singing with women and teaching at a workshop. Informal conversations between the singers, where humor is not absent, treat serious topics around tradition and change.

Above and below, scenes from the film.

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Filed under Curiosities, Europe

Personality and alcohol consumption by genre

 

A 2017 study compared the personality traits of Croatian classical and heavy metal musicians with norms for the Croatian population, and data on alcohol consumption with a representative sample of the general Croatian population.

Participants in the study were men (N = 249) playing either classical (N = 113) or heavy metal music (N = 136). Personality was measured with the IPIP-50 personality questionnaire, and participants answered several questions about alcohol consumption.

The study found no significant differences in personality traits between classical and heavy metal musicians, but both classical and heavy metal musicians differed significantly in personality from the norms, having higher scores on extraversion, agreeableness, and especially intellect.

Belonging to a heavy metal group was associated with consuming alcohol more often, and the frequency of alcohol consumption was statistically higher for heavy metal musicians than in the general population.

This according to “Personality traits and alcohol consumption of classical and heavy metal musicians” by Ana Butkovič and Dunja Rančić Dopuđ (Psychology of music XLV/2 [March 2017] pp. 246–56).

Above and below, members of Hladno Pivo (Cold Beer) discuss the study’s findings.

Related article: Eläkeläiset inebriated

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Science

Psychedelia and children’s literature

 

In contrast to their American counterparts, English musicians in the late 1960s found psychedelic inspiration in their childhood reading lists, which, for just about every English child, included Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Kenneth Grahame, and A.A. Milne.

Songwriters like Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Peter Daltrey (Kaleidoscope), and others went on to create their own fantastical characters, nonsense verses, and imagery around themes of anthropomorphism, lost childhood, and The Quest.

This according to “Grumbly grimblies, frozen dogs, and other boojums: Eccentricity from Chaucer to Carroll in English psychedelia” by Peter Grant, an essay included in The Routledge companion to popular music and humor (New York: Routledge, 2019, pp. 49–57).

Above, Richard Dadd’s The fairy feller’s master-stroke, a painting beloved by fans of psychedelia; below, Syd Barrett’s The gnome, from Pink Floyd’s debut album.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music