Category Archives: featured

Thakur and Mussolini

thakur-mussolini

Near the end of his visit to Rome in 1933, the Hindustani vocalist Omkarnath Thakur (1887–1968) received an invitation to dine with Mussolini; Il Duce had caught wind of Thakur’s theories and experiments regarding the inducement of emotional states by rāga performances, and he wanted a demonstration.

After a specially prepared vegetarian dinner, Thakur began with hindolam, which depicts valor. “When I was soaring in the high notes of the rāga,” he later recalled, “Mussolini suddenly said ‘Stop!’ I opened my eyes and found that he was sweating heavily. His face was pink and his eyes looked like burning coals. A few minutes later his visage gained normalcy and he said ‘A good experiment.’”

After Thakur brought him to tears with rāga chayanat, which is meant to depict pathos, Mussolini said, after taking some time to recover, “Very valuable and enlightening demonstration about the power of Indian music.”

Il Duce then returned the favor: Producing his violin, he treated Thakur to works by Paganini and Mozart. Again, both agreed on the music’s power to evoke emotion.

“I could not sleep at all the entire night,” the vocalist recalled, “wondering whether the meeting had really taken place; I thought it was a part of a dream.” The next day, two letters from Mussolini arrived—one thanking him and one appointing him as director of a newly formed university department to study the effect of music on the mind (an appointment that he was unable to accept).

This according to “Omkarnath Thakur & Benito Mussolini” by B.K.V. Sastry (Sruti 163 [April 1998] pp. 19–21).

Although the exact date of this meeting is not recorded, we know that it took place in May 1933—80 years ago this month! Below, Thakur performs rāga bhairavi.

Related article: Rāgs and recipes

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Music for cats

 

Musicforcats.com presents music by David Teie that is based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats, written in a musical language that is uniquely designed to appeal to the domestic cat.

The pieces are composed in three different styles; each style is designed to convey and evoke a particular mood.

    • Kitty ditties: Playful and quick, these incorporate stylizations of some of the animal calls that are of great interest to cats. A little like sonic catnip, ditties are meant to arouse interest and curiosity.
    • Feline airs: The purr is to cats what the moan is to humans; it can express pleasure or pain, but most importantly, it draws sympathetic emotions from the listener. The timing and cyclic rhythms of purrs are remarkably consistent among all breeds of domestic cats, and the feline air is based on the pulses of the purr.
    • Cat ballads: Just as the pedal drum provides the heartbeat in human music, the swish, swish of these ballads provides the sound of suckling in feline music.

Sample recordings:

            Spook’s ditty

            Cozmo’s air

            Rusty’s ballad

Related article: Music for cats. II

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Debussy and gamelan

Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music from a relatively small group at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle; he finally heard a full ensemble at the 1900 Exposition.

While he generally disapproved of the Orientalism of earlier Romantic-era composers, he found tremendous inspiration in gamelan music—not in its surface exoticism, but in the details of its structure, texture, and modality.

Exposure to Javanese gamelan music was one of the important catalysts in the flowering of Debussy’s mature style, and it left its mark on his work in a much broader and more profound way than is generally supposed.

“Javanese music obeys laws of counterpoint that make Palestrina seem like child’s play,” he wrote, “and if one listens to it without being prejudiced by one’s European ears, one will find a percussive charm that forces one to admit that our own music is not much more than a barbarous kind of noise more fit for a traveling circus.”

He also wrote of “Javanese rhapsodies, which, instead of confining themselves in a traditional form, develop according to the fantasy of countless arabesques.”

This according to Echoes from the East: The Javanese gamelan and its influence on the music of Claude Debussy, a 1988 dissertation for the University of Texas, Austin, by Kiyoshi Tamagawa.

Today is Debussy’s 150th birthday! Below, “Sirènes” from his Nocturnes, a piece in which Tamagawa demonstrates extensive influence of gamelan music; this influence is best discerned in the two-piano version presented here.

Related article: Historic Balinese gamelans

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The Hindenburg piano

The first piano ever to be carried on a passenger aircraft was created by the Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik for the ill-fated Hindenburg airship.

The lightweight aluminum alloy grand piano weighed only 162 kg (356 lbs). The frame, rim, fallboard, and top lid were made of duralumin, and the legs, back bracing, and lyre were made of hollow duralumin tubing.

The piano was a prominent feature of the Hindenburg’s first flight to America in 1936, during which the pianist Franz Wagner gave several concerts for the passengers, playing works by Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, and Brahms as well as popular music.

The instrument was not on board for the Hindenburg’s fatal flight in 1937; it was removed before the beginning of that season and put on display at the Blüthner factory, which was destroyed during an air raid in 1943.

This according to “The Hindenburg piano” by Daniel Grossman (Airships: The Hindenburg and other zeppelins 2010).

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster! Above, the piano in the lounge on board the Hindenberg; below, a tour of the Hindenburg’s “A” deck, with a few glimpses of the instrument.

Related article: The Britannic organ

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