Category Archives: Curiosities

Olympics and music: A brief history. II

Each Olympic Games is an excellent opportunity for the host country to showcase its soft power; we saw the pop music elements in the opening ceremony of London 2012, a combination of local and international performances in the opening ceremony of Seoul 1988, as well as the German works presented by the Nazis through the music competition of Berlin 1936. Of course, the Olympics cannot be divorced from politics, and the Los Angeles, Moscow, and Munich Games were inevitably colored by the Cold War. What role did music play in this? And finally, what is the relationship between the individual and the times in these grand narratives?

– Qian Mu, Editor, RILM

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  • Porta Navarro, Amparo, José María Peñalver Vilar, and Remigi Morant Navasquillo. “Music of the inaugural ceremony of London 2012: A performance among bells”, International review of the aesthetics and sociology of music 44/2 (December 2013) 253–276. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-15376]

Abstract: The music of the Olympic Games, especially that of their grandiose rituals and ceremonies, can be considered a great study laboratory due to its relevance, selection of contents, production forms, diffusion, and also because of its capacity of being a synthesis of mediums, supports, and musical tendencies. This research studies the music of the inaugural ceremony of London 2012, and examines it by means of musical analysis and also content revision, studying the music that is listened to and its characteristics, the way it is built up, and its effects and tendencies. This ceremony would not make any sense without music. Music acts as an emotional catalyst and also as a metronome of the dynamism of the show and, finally, it shows its capacity to persuade, to move, and to become a symbol of identity, achievements, and agreements among cultures.

  • Dilling, Margaret. “The script, sound, and sense of the Seoul Olympic ceremonies”, Contemporary directions: Korean folk music engaging the twentieth century and beyond, ed. by Nathan Hesselink. Korea research monograph (Berkeley: University of California, 2001) 173–234. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-10756]

Abstract: From the outset, the scenario planning committee for the 1988 Games of the XXIV Olympiad in Seoul identified three crucial desiderata: a universal theme, a distinctly Korean approach, and a sense of something new and different. Musically, the first goal was met with the official song, Hand in hand with music by Georgio Moroder and lyrics by Tom Whitlock; the second by the inclusion of modified examples of indigenous Korean music and dance genres; and the third by the inclusion of music by contemporary Korean composers. The processes through which these elements were implemented are explored through interviews with those involved; particular attention is given to the controversies surrounding new works by Kang Sukhi and Hwang Byung-ki (Hwang Byeong-gi).

  • Gilbert, Janet Monteith. “New music and myth: The Olympic Arts Festival of Contemporary Music”, Perspectives of new music 22/1–2 (fall–winter–spring–summer 1983–1984) 478–482. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1984-14276]

Abstract: Report on the festival held in Los Angeles in June 1984. Many of the works programmed expressed a common theme: the creation of mythological or cosmic music produced or supported by a sophisticated technology.

  • Kuharskij, Vasilij Feodos’evič. “Vospevaja idei mira, družby, gumanizma…”, Sovetskaâ muzyka: Organ Soûza sovetskih kompozitorov i Sektora iskusstv Narkomprosa 6 (1980) 2–5. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1980-20149]

Abstract: Deals with the tasks and goals of the cultural program for the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. Surveys the musical undertakings, concert programs, and the participation of well-known Soviet performers.

  • Wichmann, Siegfried, ed. World cultures and modern art: The encounter of 19th and 20th century European art and music with Asia, Africa, Oceania, Afro- and Indo-America—Exhibition on the occasion of the games of the 20th Olympiad, Munich 1972: June 16 to September 30, Haus der Kunst (München: Bruckmann, 1972). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1974-43]

Abstract: Abbreviated version of the German exhibition catalogue. Contains several additional contributions. The relevant chapters are Orientalism in music, Asia and music since Debussy, Music of Negroes and American Indians, and Sound Centre (an attempt at a synthesis of global music cultures). Contributions are by Ramón Pelinsky, Claus Raab, and Dieter Schnebel.

  • Lazzaro, Federico. “800 mètres d’André Obey: Drame sportif, grec et musical”, Les cahiers de la Société Québécoise de Recherche en Musique 20/1 (printemps 2019) 57–80. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2019-23489]

Abstract: 800 mètres is a sports drama born out of the stadium for the stadium, staged at Roland-Garros in 1941 together with Aeschylus’s The suppliants. The music for both plays, now lost, was by Arthur Honegger. Inspired by Greek tragedies in both its formal and dramaturgical conception, 800 mètres is the translation into words, gestures, and sounds of the thoughts that André Obey expressed at the time of the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Obey was one of the main actors in the reflection on the relationship between music and sport. In promoting sports among French intellectuals, Obey advocated for the birth of an Olympic art and elaborated a rich metaphorical portrait of sport as music. Based on textual, iconographic, and sound archival documents, the genesis of 800 mètres is reconstituted, how this drama stages Obey’s philhellenic ideas is shown, and the complex musical-dramatic conception of the work is discussed.

  • Heinze, Carsten. “Der Kunstwettbewerb Musik im Rahmen der Olympischen Spiele 1936”, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 62/1 (2005) 32–51. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-1103]

Abstract: Although the Olympic Art Competitions were introduced in 1912, they generated little public interest until 1932. The Nazis were determined to set new standards with this concomitant event in 1936 and used the forum to present to the world the towering achievements of German art, which in the meantime had been purged of all elements considered degenerate. The exploitative process is reconstructed as it pertained to the musical segment of the competition, which culminated in a grand Olympic concert, the first of its kind. Leaving nothing to chance in their erection of a new monumental style, the Nazis awarded medals to each of the four German works submitted.

  • Jiang, Zhiguo. “Taiwan wuqu hesheng yanjiu”, Zhongguo yinyuexue/Musicology in China 1:82 (2006) 32–42. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-3847]

Abstract: Analyzes harmonic material in Jiang Wenye’s orchestral work Taiwan wuqu (Taiwan dances), op. 1 (1934). Jiang Wenye (1910–83) was a pioneer among Chinese composers using modern composition techniques, and his was the first Chinese work to receive a top prize in international competition, at the Olympic International Music Competition in Berlin, 1936.

Part I is here.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Antiquity, Curiosities, Politics, Popular music, Sports and games, Uncategorized, World music

Music theory with attitude

Although the notion that Musicae rudimenta was written by Nicolaus Faber has persisted for centuries, internal evidence points conclusively to the Bavarian historian and philologist Johannes Aventinus (Johann Turmair or Thurmayr, 1477–1534) as its author. One of the first music treatises to use German as well as Latin, it borrows heavily from other sources, usually with due citations.

The author’s unequivocal style is striking: for example, the table of contents lists Chapter 1 as “The origins of music, a subject about which the barbarians err disgracefully, not to say ignorantly”, while other entries include such observations as “I am embarrassed to report what empty, fatuous things some writers have to say on this topic” and “In this matter, the run-of-the-mill singers are like night owls in the sunlight—blind!”

Nor does he spare himself, noting of his second chapter that “Most of the things here are quoted from others and are not very important, being pedantic and technical.” His preface concludes: “Look me over and buy me, the price is so low. Believe me, you won’t regret it.”

This according to “Musicae rudimenta: Augsburg, 1556” by T. Herman Keahey in Paul A. Pisk: Essays in his honor (Austin: University of Texas, 1966).

Above, an illustration from the treatise.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists, Renaissance, Theory

Olympics and music: A brief history. I

The Beijing Winter Olympic Games have become one of the biggest hot spots in the world’s attention at the moment, and among musicians it is no exception. The Olympic Games and music have always been inextricably linked. In ancient Greek times, music was an essential part of the Olympics. The large crowds brought by the Olympics made it an ideal venue for musicians to perform as well. At the same time, many competitions were called by trumpeters to start.

For the modern Olympics, music is even more ubiquitous. Coubertin‘s Olympic ideology was directly inspired by the opera libretto L’Olimpiade; the Olympic Games from 1912 to 1948 included musical competitions and medals were awarded like sporting events; and today’s Olympic-related musical events are a constant source of cultural and commercial competition.

Let’s take a glimpse at the relationship between music and the Olympics through relevant literature included in RILM.

– Qian Mu, Editor, RILM

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  • Segrave, Jeffrey O. “Music as sport history: The special case of Pietro Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade and the story of the Olympic Games”, Sporting sounds: Relationships between sport and music, ed. by Anthony Bateman and John Bale (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2009) 113–127. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-1570]

Abstract: Pietro Metastasio’s popular 18th-century libretto L’Olimpiade publicized and transmitted a particular ideological and historicized conception of the Olympic Games that would ultimately contribute to the rationalization and legitimization of Pierre de Coubertin’s own idiosyncratic Olympic ideology, a philosophical religious doctrine that embraced a noble and honorable conception of sport at the same time as it served discrete class, race, and gendered ends. The hegemony of the contemporary Olympic Games movement is grounded in part on the appropriation of the classicism and Romanticism transmitted in Metastasio’s work. Musicological readings of opera, sociolinguistic conceptions of meaning, and postmodern social perspectives on material culture are addressed. Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade, in narrative, music, and production, sustained a particular image of the games, an image that nourished Coubertin’s own ideological formulation at the same time as it paved the way for further musical representations of the Games that to this day lend authority to the hegemony of the Olympics by appealing to a musically transmitted, mythologized, and Hellenized past.

  • Charkiolakīs, Alexandros. “Music in the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896: Cultural and social trends”, Mousikos logos 1 (January 2014) 51–64. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2014-4634]

Abstract: Music, without any doubt, has been one of the main features during both the opening ceremony and on the concert that was given in the end of the first day in the Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens. Actually, there were two new works commissioned for performance during that first day: the Olympiakos ymnos (Olympic hymn) by Spyridōn Samaras on a text of Kōstis Palamas and Pentathlon by Dionysios Lauragkas on poetry of Iōannīs Polemīs. Here, we show the cultural and social trends that are implied in these two works and are characteristic of the developing ideologies in Greece of that time. Furthermore, we emphasized our scope towards the impact that these two works had on the contemporary Athenian society of that time.

  • Segrave, Jeffrey O. “‘All men will become brothers’ (“Alle Menschen werden Bruder“): Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Olympic Games ideology”, Sport, music, identities, ed. by Anthony Bateman. Sport in the global society, contemporary perspectives (London: Routledge, 2015) 38–52. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-99]

Abstract: First performed in an Olympic context as part of the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has become a popular mainstay of modern Olympic protocol. Part of a ritualized entertainment spectacle that enhances the appeal and popularity of the Games, the Ninth Symphony elevates the prestige of the Games and helps to sustain the Olympic Movement’s political and commercial dominance within the panoply of institutionalized sport. It is argued here that the normalization of the Finale of the Ninth Symphony in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games not only transmits and reinforces the traditional Olympic ideology, but also reaffirms the ascendant hegemony of the Olympic movement within the world of elite international sport. This study is a critical reading of the Olympic musical ceremonial as a site of ideological production, especially as it pertains to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

  • Dümling, Albrecht. “Zwischen Autonomie und Fremdbestimmung: Die Olympische Hymne von Robert Lubahn und Richard Strauss”, Richard Strauss-Blätter 38 (Dezember 1997) 68–102. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1997-52827]

Abstract: When the Olympic Games were to be held in Berlin in 1936 Strauss was chosen as composer of an Olympic Hymn. Early in 1933 he agreed in principle, but on the condition that he was provided with an appropriate text. Four poems out of 3,000 entries were selected and sent on to Strauss with no mention of the poets’ names. He decided on a text, written by the hitherto unknown poet Robert Lubahn. Despite the favorable response of committees and German music critics, the belongs to Strauss’s weaker works.

  • Barney, Katelyn. “Celebration or cover up? My island home, Australian national identity and the spectacle of Sydney 2000″, Aesthetics and experience in music performance, ed. by Elizabeth Mackinlay, Denis Collins, and Samantha Owens (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2005) 141–150. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-18443]

Abstract: Addresses the conflicts and complexities inherent in musical statements of Australian national identity as represented by Neil Murray’s My island home and Christine Anu’s performance of it at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Her performance functioned simultaneously as a site for celebration of indigeneity and Australian national identity yet also as a concealment or cover-up of the social and political positioning of indigenous Australians within Australian history and contemporary society. As it celebrated localized Torres Strait Islander culture and identity as part of the Australian national imagination, it also concealed the realities of indigenous issues and race relations within Australia.

  • Newman, Melinda and Michael Paoletta. “Goodsports”, Billboard: The international newsweekly of music, video and home entertainment 118/5 (4 February 2006) 22–23. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-2393]

Abstract: Established stars including Andrea Bocelli, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, and Lou Reed, as well as new and developing acts like James Blunt, Switchfoot, Flipsyde, Morningwood, the Donnas, Rock ‘N Roll Soldiers, We Are Scientists, and OK Go are hoping for a career boost from their ties to the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. By using hip, under-the-radar acts, NBC hopes to connect with the much-coveted youth demographic. NBC uses music in four ways for the Olympics: network campaigns in advance of the Games; co-branding opportunities; features and interstitial footage broadcast during the athletic events; and nightly concerts.

  • Lawson, Francesca R. Sborgi. “Music in ritual and ritual in music: A virtual viewer’s perceptions about liminality, functionality, and mediatization in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 42/2 (summer–fall 2011) 3–18. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2011-12007]

Abstract: Concepts such as liminality, functionality, and mediatization were clearly exemplified in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The fascinating use of the ancient practice of liminal integration of music and ritual in a modern mediatized performance illustrates both indigenous Chinese and contemporary Western performance theories. Despite the spectacular nature of the opening ceremony, however, it is doubtful that international viewers fully understood the complex messages communicated through this modern ritual performance.

  • Juzwiak, Rich. “Village Person says Y.M.C.A. isn’t about gays, is probably lying”, http://gawker.com/village-person-says-y-m-c-a-isnt-about-gays-is-pro-1493380284. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-293]

Abstract: A common reading of the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. (1978) posits the song as a post-Stonewall stealth attack on heteronormative America. From discos to weddings to sports arenas across the country, millions have contorted in acronymal glee, singing the praises of the male-only fitness center/boarding house where you can “hang out with the boys” and “do whatever you feel”. The song first appeared on an album titled Cruisin’. Despite the seemingly obvious subtext, members of the Village People deny any subtextual intent. Victor Willis, the first lead singer of the Village People who played the role of “cop” and co-wrote Y.M.C.A., recently spoke out against using the song as Team USA’s entrance music at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics–intended in protest of Putin’s anti-gay mandate and the rash of violent hate crimes in its wake (not to mention the Sports Minister’s threat to jail gay athletes). The author notes that “the inherent gayness of the Village People has been a point of contention between the people who were (and are) in the group and its creators, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo. Morali, who died in 1991, was gay and in last year’s documentary about the politics of disco, Secret disco revolution, Belolo said that the Village People were Morali’s statement of his own gay pride, as well as an exercise in double entendre”.

  • Cottrell, Stephen. “Glad to meet you: North Korea’s pop orchestra warms hearts in the South”, The conversation (UK) (9 February 2018) https://theconversation.com/glad-to-meet-you-north-koreas-pop-orchestra-warms-hearts-in-the-south-91499. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-52079]

Abstract: Describes a performance by Samjiyon Band, a well-known fixture from North Korea’s cultural scene, on the first night of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Part II is here.

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Lilliput in Greece

In 1975, during the transition in Greece from military dictatorship to democracy, the composer Manos Chatzidakis was appointed director of the Third Program of Ellīnikī Radiofonīa and asked the choreographer and director Reggina Kapetanaki to help him create an educational radio show for small children.

The result of this collaboration was Edō Lilipoupolī (“Here is Lilliput”), set in an imaginary world loosely based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels. The show’s locations and characters could often be identified by older listeners as satirical references to Greek places and people, and songs composed for it became popular vehicles of political commentary. Sometimes the satire bit too deeply for the government, which accused the creators of producing Communist propaganda, but Chatzidakis, thanks to his personal prestige, was generally able to protect them. The program ran until 1980.

This according to “Children’s songs as socio-political comment in the Greek radio show Edō Lilipoupoli” by Aikaterinī Giampoura, an essay included in Radio art and music: Culture, aesthetics, politics (Lanham: Lexington Books 2020, 235–54).

Below, an album compiled from various episodes.

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Taarab and mpasho

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”.

In the popular genre taarab, mpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications—often competetive and antagonistic in nature—through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance. The phenomenon arose among women singers, most notably Siti binti Saad (above).

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53). Below, Siti binti Saad’s Wewe paka (You are a cat, 1930) sends a message about unwanted sexual advances that would resonate with today’s #MeToo movement.

Related article: Taarab redux

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Ballerinas and honeybees

The relational and cooperative labor of a corps de ballet illuminates the ways the dancers’ embodied knowledge and decision-making processes constitute a vital part of a production’s impact.

Two key aspects of dancers’ performances as a corps de ballet are collaboration and cooperation, which are components of eusociality, a term used to describe the highest level of organization of sociality, commonly observed in honeybees. Through embodied experiences and dancers’ decision-making, a corps de ballet operates in ways that are similar to democratic decision-making processes in honeybee behaviors.

This according to “Cooperation, communication, and collaboration: The sociality of a corps de ballet” by Kate Mattingly and Laura Kay Young (Dance chronicle XLIII/2 [2020] 132–44).

Above and below, La royaume des ombres from La bayadère is widely considered one of the world’s most demanding corps de ballet numbers.

BONUS: A short film on honeybee eusociality.

Related article: The postmodern ballerina

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Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro

When he was growing up in Catania, Sicily, Bellini undoubtedly heard the peasants from the far side of Mount Etna who came to town every Advent with their zampogne (bagpipes). The young prodigy was influenced by these traditional musicians in several ways.

The bagpipers’ improvisations helped to shape the seemingly meandering and unpredictable melodies that Bellini became famous for. Also, the balance between the drones and the chanters influenced his handling of accompaniment and melody. Finally, the music of the bagpipes found its way into Bellini’s uses of modality, his chromaticisms, and his oscillations between major and minor keys. The Mediterranean vibrancy of his slow music was particularly grounded in the traditional music of his youth.

This according to Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro del melodramma by Salvatore Enrico Failla (Catania: Maimone, 1985).

Today is Bellini’s 220th birthday! Below, a modern-day incarnation of the Sicilian Advent zampognaro.

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Bat City music

This Halloween, let’s visit the home of the largest urban bat colony in the world—Austin, Texas, where a group of Mexican free-tailed bats arrived in the early 1980s and found a highly suitable breeding environment.

Now nicknamed Bat City, Austin has forged links with the city’s more official nickname, Live Music Capital of the World. The annual Bat Fest combines a music festival with the bats’ nightly emergence, literally turning the latter into a performance event, and the city’s many bat-themed musical groups include the Bat City Surfers, a “horror surf punk” band whose members self-identify as descendants of bats.

This according to “Bat City: Becoming with bats in the Austin music scene” by Julianne Graper (MUSICultures XLV/1–2 [2018] 14–34); RILM Abstracts of Music Literature no. 2018-47414).

Above, bats flying in front of the iconic Frost Bank Tower in downtown Austin. Below, the Bat City Surfers hold forth.

More Halloween-related posts are here.

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Liszt’s monster instrument

In September 1854 Liszt wrote to the cellist Bernhard Cossmann “My monster instrument with three keyboards arrived about a fortnight ago and seems to be a great success.”

The 3000-pound instrument, a seven-octave grand piano plus two five-octave harmonium keyboards, was built by Alexandre Père et Fils and Pierre Érard to Liszt’s specifications. Although the critic Richard Pohl reported having heard the composer play this piano-harmonium, apparently it was never heard in concert until Joris Verdin (left) presented a recital on the instrument, newly restored by Patrick Collon and the Manufacture d’orgues de Bruxelles 150 years after it was built, at the Wiener Musikverein.

In addition to the piano and pumping pedals seen above, the original version included a 20-note pedalboard and an attachment allowing an assistant to pump the bellows while the player used the organ or piano pedals; these are lost and have not been reconstructed.

This according to “Liszt’s monster instrument revisited” by Wayne T. Moore (The diapason XCVI/5 [May 2005] p. 15). Today is Liszt’s 210th birthday!

Below, Professor Verdin demonstrates Liszt’s monster instrument.

More posts about Franz Liszt are here.

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Antonín Dvořák, railfan

Dvořák had tremendous admiration for technical inventions, particularly locomotives—in the U.S. he might be called a railfan.

“It consists of many parts, of so many different parts, and each has its own importance, each has its own place,” he wrote. “Even the smallest screw is in place and holding something! Everything has its purpose and role and the result is amazing.”

“Such a locomotive is put on the tracks, they put in the coal and water, one person moves a small lever, the big levers start to move, and even though the cars weigh a few thousand metric cents, the locomotive runs with them like a rabbit. All of my symphonies I would give if I had invented the locomotive!”

This according to Antonín Dvořák: Komplexní zdroj informací o skladateli / A comprehensive information source on the composer, an Internet resource created by Ondřej Šupka. Many thanks to Jadranka Važanová for her discovery and translation of this wonderful quotation.

Today is Dvořák’s 180th birthday! Below, the EuroCity 77 “Antonin Dvorak” leaving Prague for Vienna.

Related article: Johannes Brahms, railfan

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