Despite its hackneyed premise—a group of medical students trying to get ahead in the competitive hospital environment—the television series Scrubs had something special: a judicious selection of accompanying music.
Sometimes the choice was linked to the musical biographies of the prominent figures, and other times the lyrics referred directly or indirectly to the development of the plot, to particular events, or to important characters. The frequent fantasies involving the main character, Dr. John Dorian, are riddled with emblematic musical references to the pop–rock music of the last 60 years, offering a rich and representative sample of what the last three generations were listening to.
This according to “La inserción del número musical en las series de televisión: El papel de la música en Scrubs” by Judith Helvia García Martín (Cuadernos de etnomusicología 3 [marzo 2003] pp. 204–19).
Above and below, a fantasy sequence involving James Brown’s The payback.
The Marx Brothers’ film A night at the opera is best known for its travesty of the high-society manners of the opera house and its sendup of Verdi’s Il trovatore. Underneath this farce, however, the film suggests deep affection for opera—a stance prompted, ironically, by the demands of the studio system.
The Hollywood movie is the heir and rival of opera as an entertainment medium, and both its follies and splendors are rooted in the immigrant experience of early–20th-century America.
This according to “The singing salami: Unsystematic reflections on the Marx Brothers” by Lawrence Kramer, an essay included in A night at the opera (London: Libbey, 1994 pp. 253–65).
Above and below, classic Marxian mayhem.
A white rabbit named Peter joined the Elgar family in 1905. He appears in numerous items of correspondence and is credited, as Pietro d’Alba, with writing the words for Elgar’s songs The torch and The river.
Elgar also welcomed musical criticism and suggestions from Peter; for example, after conducting the London premiere of his second Wand of youth suite in 1908, the composer wrote to him:
My dear Peter,
Your idea—the vigorous entry of the drums—was splendid. Thanks.
This according to “Peter Rabbit: The biography of an inspired bunny” by Martin Bird (The Elgar Society journal XXI/1 [April 2018] pp. 32–39).
Below, the composition in question; Peter’s contribution begins around 15:30.
A visitor to the 39-year-old composer’s Vienna apartment described Beethoven’s personal habits in notoriously disparaging detail—a picture curiously contrasting with the same reporter’s observations of his fastidious attention to his favorite beverage.
“For breakfast he had coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a glass machine. Coffee seems to have been his most indispensable food, which he prepared as scrupulously as the Turks. Sixty beans were calculated per cup and were often counted, especially when guests were present.”
This according to “Beethoven’s 60 coffee beans” by Leonardo Ciampa (The American organist LII/3 [March 2018] pp. 50-51).
Below, a highly caffeinated performance by Peter Schickele.
Competitive air guitarists have long understood that their art form provides an ideal means for contesting the overwhelming whiteness of rock and the electric guitar, sometimes extending their critique to include gender as well.
Asian and Asian American competitors in particular have used their performances to comment ironically on the emasculation of Asian males and the infantilization of Asian females through the construct of Asian fury, helping audiences to reimagine the linkages between race and rock.
This according to “Asian fury: A tale of race, rock, and air guitar” by Sydney Hutchinson (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 411–33).
Below, David “C-Diddy” Jung, winner of the first U.S. national air guitar championship and perhaps the originator of the term Asian fury as it applies to air guitar; the video shows his award-winning performance in 2003.
Like most newcomers to America, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1920s faced homesickness, deprivation, and language difficulty. Yiddish musicals helped them to come to terms with their environment by reminding them of home while highlighting the benefits of the New World.
Confronting the past with the present and fusing the folkloric songs, liturgical chants, dances, and theater styles of Jewish tradition with American rhythms and social topics, the genre helped to resolve onstage the conflicts in the lives of the new inhabitants. These comic and dramatic musical works chart the evolution of a community in its acculturation and eventual assimilation.
Di goldene kale (The golden bride) premiered at the 2000-seat Second Avenue Theater in New York on 9 February 1923, one of 14 Yiddish programs in the city that night. It ran for 18 weeks and was then performed throughout the U.S. and in venues in Europe and South America. The music is by Joseph Rumshinsky, the undisputed dean of Yiddish operetta composers in the U.S., who wrote the music for well over 100 such works.
Written and produced at a critical time of transition, between a law passed in May 1921 that greatly limited immigration from eastern Europe and another, in 1924, that reduced such immigration to a trickle, the work illuminates the period in which the arrival of some two million Russians and other east-Europeans in the U.S. had peaked.
A new edition and study of Di goldene kale (A-R Editions, 2017) provides multifaceted insights into the absorption, not only of Jews, but of every immigrant group, into the American mainstream
Below, excerpts from a 2016 production.
The catalogue arias of late eighteenth-century Italian opere buffe focus on lists; subjects may include enjoyable activities, foods, things for sale, or types of people (by nationality, social rank, occupation, personal qualities, and so on).
Their progress often involves shorter and shorter syntactic units: Sentences give way to phrases, then to one- or two-word groups, accelerating the rate of accumulated information—the comic frenzy is actually built into the text itself. This textual compression often involves two rhetorical devices: asyndeton (omitting conjunctions) and anaphora (beginning successive lines or phrases with the same word).
This according to “Catalogue arias and the ‘catalogue aria’” by John Platoff, an essay included in Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: Essays on his life and his music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 296–311).
Above, Lorenzo da Ponte, author of the celebrated catalogue aria Madamina, il catalogo è questo, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; below, Luca Pisaroni does the honors.
Nickelback is one of the most successful rock bands of the early 21st century; it is also one of the era’s most publicly derided groups.
Nickelback hatred became trendy when the band was signed to Roadrunner Records in 1999, and the extreme metal label lost its subcultural cachet even as it raked in the profits. From there the circle of scorn grew ever wider. In 2006 Nickelback released their most despised single, Rockstar, with lead singer Chad Kroeger’s reputation taking hit after hit.
Finally, with the birth of Web 2.0, contempt for the band was democratized and made available to all. Memes and a steady stream of jokes at Nickelback’s expense assured their “worst band ever” punch-line status. Around 2012 Nickelback finally took the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em escape clause, reinforcing their butt-of-the-joke status with self-deprecating humor.
This according to “Nickelback the meme: A complete history of how we came to hate a successful band” by Sage Lazzaro (Observer 26 January 2016). Below, the official (and widely loathed) Rockstar video.
Donald Francis Tovey left thousands of marginal comments on the sheet music he owned, dating from different periods of his life.
Here and there one finds a score that is chock-full of pencil scribblings, critical, historical, personal—clearly remarks that Tovey meant for his own eyes alone, though it is impressive that he often wrote complete sentences with full punctuation. Most commonly he sang the praise of some compositional marvel in words of simple rapture: “Splendid!” “Magnificent climax!” “Wonderful!”
But Tovey was at his wittiest with composers he didn’t much like. Muzio Clementi came in for some particularly choice remarks, such as “Silly little beast in bad Mozartian style with one or two idiotically difficult bits of pianistics.” A passage in Clementi’s op. 50, no. 3, subtitled Didone abbandonata, elicited the comment “and here comes the Bishop, or the Pope with triple crown.” This whimsy is petulantly crossed out, and below, in a different but equally Toveyan hand, are the words “Pretentious NONSENSE” (see above). Where the theme is inverted he wrote “Here Dido stands on her head.”
This according to “Tovey’s marginalia” by Raymond Monelle (The musical times CXXXI/1769 [July 1990] pp. 351–53). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today would have been Monelle’s 80th birthday! Below, the jovial finale of Tovey’s Sonata for two cellos.
When he was about ten years old, Joseph Pujol discovered that he had the rare ability to draw air into his anus and expel it at will.
Not content to have a simple party trick, he trained his sonic instrument just as others would train their vocal chords, and by young adulthood he could produce a startling range of sounds, nuanced with tonal, timbral, and dynamic variation, and animated by his natural sense of humor. By the 1890s he was performing as Le Pétomane to packed audiences at the Moulin Rouge.
Pujol’s idiosyncratic career has rarely been considered as an historical object—and when it has, the gaze has been light-hearted and filled with puns, much like those that surrounded him in his lifetime. But if the temptation to giggle is resisted for a moment, Le Pétomane can teach us much about symbolic physiological meanings in late nineteenth-century Paris.
This according to “The spectacular anus of Joseph Pujol: Recovering the Pétomane’s unique historic context” by Alison Moore (French cultural studies XXIV/1  pp. 27–43).
Today is Pujol’s 160th birthday! Below, Le Pétomane in action (silent).
BONUS: A recording from 1904.