Category Archives: Literature

Slim Gaillard on the road

Slim Gaillard

In On the road (New York: Viking, 1957), Jack Kerouac described an encounter with the pianist, guitarist, and percussionist Slim Gaillard, “a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who’s always saying ‘Right-orooni’ and ‘How ‘bout a little bourbon-arooni.’”

“Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two Cs, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing C-Jam blues and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages.”

“Dean stands in the back, saying, ‘God! Yes!’ and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. ‘Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time.’”

“Finally the set is over…Slim Gaillard goes and stands against a post, looking sadly over everybody’s head as people come to talk to him. A bourbon is slipped into his hand. ‘Bourbon-orooni—thank-you-ovauti.’”

Quoted in “Nobody knows where Slim Gaillard is” (Literary kicks, 1994).

Today would have been Gaillard’s 100th birthday! Below, some rare early footage, perhaps from 1962 (see the comment below).

2 Comments

Filed under Jazz and blues, Literature, Performers

The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre

Clavecin_flamand

The inscription Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano on an early 18th-century Italian spinet in Edinburgh is identifiable with the second line of a riddling couplet found in Nikolaus von Reusner’s Aenigmatographia (1599). The literary ancestry of Reusner’s couplet is traceable to a traditional Greek riddle about the tortoise-lyre, where the tortoise becomes vocal only after its death.

Many examples from classical authors and imitators in later European literature and popular tradition can be found. The motif was transferred to instruments made of wood, and Reusner’s couplet was much used as a motto on early violins; the famous luthier Gasparo Duiffopruggar particularly appears to have been associated with it.

This according to “The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre” by Edward Kerr Borthwick (Music & letters LI/4 [October 1970] pp. 373–87).

Above, a harpsichord in the Flemish style that includes the inscription; below, an instrumental work inspired by the original four-line poem.

Comments Off on The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Literature

Tippett and Eliot

tippett-eliot

Michael Tippett called T.S. Eliot his spiritual and artistic mentor, and their numerous discussions in the 1930s proved a lasting influence on the composer’s beliefs about the coming-together of words and music.

Tippett quoted from and alluded to the work of Eliot not only in his early pieces, as has previously been noted, but in much later compositions such as The ice break, The mask of time, and Byzantium.

Eliot’s essay The three voices of poetry examines the number of voices in which the I of a poem can speak, freed from the specificities of prose, and Tippett, influenced by Eliot, harnessed the form of oratorio, freed from the specificities of opera, to allow it to speak in many voices.

This according to “Tippett and Eliot” by Oliver Soden (Tempo LXVII/266 [October 2013] pp. 28–53).

Today is Tippett’s 110th birthday! Below, the opening movements of A child of our time, another of Tippett’s works that was influenced by Eliot.

1 Comment

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Literature

The Pied Piper and his clarinet

Rattenfänger

The German town of Hameln continues to re-enact the legend of the Rattenfänger, known in English as the Pied Piper, each weekend during the summer. A number of musicians have assumed the role of the piper since the 1950s, playing flute, oboe, or clarinet.

Since 1979 the role of the Rattenfänger has been played by the Pennsylvania-born clarinetist Michael Boyer, who performs on one of two U.S.-made metal clarinets: a Gladiator model from the 1930s or an American Standard model from the 1920s, both made by the H.N. White company of Cleveland, Ohio.

This according to “Hamelin’s Pied Piper: An unexpected American connection” by James Gillespie (The clarinet XLI/3 [June 2014] pp. 56–60). Above and below, Mr. Boyer’s summer job.

1 Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Literature

Bhāgavata purāṇa as performance

Bhagavatapurana

A week-long festival centered on stories about the deity Kṛṣṇa is held in the hamlet of Naluna, Garhwal district, Northern India; this practice (known as a saptāh) is primarily a product of an elite Hindu community of the North Indian Plain.

Two loci of power are salient: the village deity representing local authority, and the text-as-artifact of the Bhāgavata purāa, the metonymy of the authority of the recently imported cultural practice.

The local community comprises modern subjects and empowered agents, accounting for the nature of the interaction between the village deity and the sacred text, and the new cultural synthesis that emerges.

This according to “Village deity and sacred text: Power relations and cultural synthesis as an oral performance of the Bhāgavatapurāa in a Garhwal community” by McComas Taylor (Asian ethnology LXX [2011] pp. 197–221).

Above and below, the saptāh in Naluna.

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 Comments

Filed under Asia, Literature

Brahms and the “cremation cantata”

Wesendonck

Mathilde Wesendonck (above) is known to music historians for her romantic entanglement with and artistic influence on Wagner in the 1850s. What is less commonly known is that once her relationship with Wagner had cooled she became an admirer and personal acquaintance of Brahms, and began a correspondence with him that was to last for several years.

A little-known oddity is the poetic text she composed and sent to Brahms in 1874 in the hope that he would set it to music as a work for chorus and soloists. The remarkable subject matter of her poetry: cremation.

The practice of modern cremation, demonstrated at the Vienna Exposition of 1873, had begun to attract much attention among the medical community and press in Europe and U.S., but it was new, controversial, and generally unavailable. In appealing to Brahms to write a work on the subject, Wesendonck’s intention was to encourage the movement’s growth.

Upon receiving her ode to cremation, Brahms, much amused, immediately forwarded it to his friend Theodor Billroth, who likewise derived from it much unintended humor. Word of the would-be “cremation cantata” spread to other friends, including Wilhelm Lübke and Julius Stockhausen.

This according to “Brahms, Mathilde Wesendonck, and the would-be ‘cremation cantata’” by Jacquelyn E.C. Sholes (The American Brahms Society newsletter XXX/2 (fall 2012) pp. 1–5). Below, Brahms’s Begräbnisgesang, op. 13, which explicitly evokes a conventional burial.

More tidbits about Brahms are here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

1 Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Literature, Romantic era

Marie-Louise Desmâtins in life and death

4069-2559

The novel La musique du diable, ou Le Mercure galant devalisé (Paris: Robert le Turc, 1711) describes  the arrival and subsequent activities of Marie-Louise Desmâtins and Lully in Hell; it also recounts events leading up to the soprano’s demise.

In the absence of any historical record of her last days, one might ask whether there could be a modicum of truth in the novel’s reports that Desmâtins had grown so obese that she engaged the finest butcher of the day to remove her fat; that she then mounted a lavish party for which all of the food had been prepared using this fat; at that she died soon thereafter from unknown causes. The reader is assured that she was welcomed to Hell with the highest honors, and that she is happier there than she ever was in her earthly life.

This according to “La musique du diable (1711): An obscure specimen of fantastic literature throws light on the elusive opera diva Marie-Louise Desmatins (fl. 1682–1708)” by Ilias Chrissochoidis (Society for Eighteenth-Century Music newsletter 11 [October 2007] pp. 7–9).

Above, a rather alarmingly corseted Desmâtins in a contemporaneous portrait; below, the final scene of Lully’s Armide, which Desmâtins starred in in 1703 (note that this is not an attempt to replicate the original staging).

Related articles:

1 Comment

Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Food, Humor, Literature, Opera

Händel and Johnson

handel-johnson

Samuel Johnson lived in London during a struggle between English and foreign composers—epitomized by the rivalry between Händel and Thomas Arne—and witnessed its climax, which was to have a devastating impact on English musical morale through the 19th century.

During Johnson’s first decade in London this rivalry was characterized by Händel concentrating on his own affairs and ignoring Arne, while Arne was highly conscious and jealous of Händel. Their fortunes fluctuated, the one prevailing in public taste and then the other, but the spectacular performance of Händel’s 1749 Music for the royal fireworks, HWV 351, and the triumphant revival of his Messiah the next year finally established him as London’s pre-eminent composer. When he retired from the music scene in 1759 neither Arne nor any other English composer managed to achieve comparable public acclaim.

The 1784 commemoration of Händel at Westminster Abbey featured some 275 singers and an orchestra of about 250. Johnson chose to go to Oxford that week, but Boswell, having accompanied Johnson there, returned to London after three days to attend the event. Although Johnson died that year, he had lived to see the victory of a composer whose work would prove as enduring as his own.

This according to “Music in Johnson’s London” by Bruce Simonds, an essay included in The age of Johnson: Essays presented to Chauncey Brewster Tinker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 411–420).

Below, Händel’s 1749 work with appropriate visuals.

Related article: Operatic degeneracy

2 Comments

Filed under Baroque era, Literature

Epic memories

Gesar

The Tibetan saga of King Gesar of Ling comprises some 120 epics; individuals have been documented performing as many as 40 of these, and some claim that they are able to perform all of them.

While most performers study and learn in the usual oral fashion, those known as ’babs-sgrung seem to have acquired the ability to reproduce them without effort: Often after a mysterious dream, they discover that they suddenly have the power to recite whole epics at will.

This according to “Bab sgrung: Tibetan epic singers” by Zhambei Gyaltsho (Oral tradition XVI/1 [2001] pp. 280-293). Above, a mural depicting King Gesar; below, a brief documentary on one of the genre’s practitioners.

Comments Off on Epic memories

Filed under Asia, Literature

Rahmaninov and Tolstoj

rach-tolstoy

In January 1900 Rahmaninov and the bass Fëdor Ivanovič Šalâpin were invited to perform for a gathering at Tolstoj’s home; they were both 26 years old. Their excitement was tempered with no little trepidation about meeting the revered author, but they could not have foreseen what transpired.

Šalâpin recalled that after the performance Tolstoj accosted him and asked “What kind of music is most necessary to men—scholarly or folk music?”

Rahmaninov’s own experience was no less harrowing, as he later described it:

“Suddenly the enthusiastic applause was hushed and everyone went silent. Tolstoj sat in an armchair a little apart from the others, looking gloomy and cross. For the next hour I evaded him entirely, but suddenly he came up to me and declared excitedly: ‘I must speak to you. I must tell you how I dislike it all!’

“And he went on and on: ‘Beethoven is nonsense, Puškin and Lermontov also.’ It was awful….

“After a while Tolstoj came up to me again: ‘Please excuse me. I am an old man. I did not mean to hurt you.’ I replied: ‘How could I be hurt on my own account if I was not hurt on Beethoven’s?’”

This according to Sergei Rachmaninoff: A lifetime in music by Sergei Bertensson, Jay Leyda, and Sof’â Aleksandrovna Satina (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001 [reprint] pp. 88–89).

Today is Rahmaninov’s 140th birthday! Below, Šalâpin sings one of his romances.

1 Comment

Filed under Curiosities, Literature, Romantic era