Category Archives: Reception

The Apollo 11 mixtape

According to NASA, during the Apollo 11 moon voyage the astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins listened to a special cassette mixtape.

This cassette tape was not an 8-track; the smaller audio tape and audio recorder was preferred for space travel due to its compact size and because the astronauts could tape spoken notes over the music for their return back. It included Barbra Streisand’s People, Peggy Lee’s cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s Everyday people, Spinning wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Glenn Campbell’s Galveston.

This according to “Man on the moon music: The Apollo 11 moon landing mixtape and Spotify’s top-streamed lunar tunes” by Adrienne Gibbs (Forbes 17 July 2019).

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon! Below, excerpts from the Apollo 11 mixtape.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Carmen Miranda’s legacy

 

In 1991 the celebrated singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso discussed the legacy of Carmen Miranda:

“She was a typical girl from Rio, born in Portugal, who, using a blatantly vulgar though elegant stylization of the characteristic baiana—Bahian dress—conquered the world and became the highest-paid woman in the United States. Carmen conquered white America as no other South American had done or ever would. She was the only representative of South America who was universally readable, and it is exactly because of this quality that self-parody became her inescapable prison.”

“Nevertheless, in 1967 Carmen Miranda reappeared as a central figure in our aesthetic concerns. A movement that came to be known as Tropicalismo appropriated her as one of its principal signs, capitalizing on the discomfort that her name and the evocation of her gestures could create. We had discovered that she was both our caricature and our X-ray, and we began to take notice of her destiny.”

“In Carmen’s day it was enough to make a percussive din that was recognizably Latin and Negroid. By bringing the musicians from Bando da Lua with her to the United States, however, she represented less the adulteration alleged by her critics than a pioneering role in a history that is still unfolding. It is the history of the relationship between a very rich music from a very poor country and musicians and audiences from the rest of the world.”

Quoted from “Caricature and conqueror, pride and shame” by Caetano Veloso (The New York times 20 October 1991).

Today is Miranda’s 110th birthday! Above, in 1941; below, performing in A date with Judy (yes, that’s 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in the audience).

Related article: Tropicália and Bahia

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, Reception, South America

Reggae as Intangible Cultural Heritage

 

Each year UNESCO adds to its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and Jamaica submitted reggae for consideration in 2018. The genre was approved in late November of that year, joining a list of over 300 cultural traditions.

In its statement, UNESCO noted that reggae’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love, and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, sociopolitical, sensual, and spiritual.”

The statement continued: “The basic social functions of the music—as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God—have not changed, and the music continues to act as a voice for all.”

This according to “Reggae added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list” by Jon Blistein (Rolling stone 29 November 2018). Above, Bob Marley in 1980; below, a short film issued by UNESCO in connection with the announcement.

Related article: Bob Marley’s œuvre

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

Not Luka Sorkočević

In 2015 the Hrvatska pošta produced a stamp honoring the eighteenth-century Croatian composer Luka Sorkočević, inadvertently illustrated with an image of the U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.

The mistake was discovered just before the stamp’s release, and the entire run was withdrawn and destroyed, though one post office had sold 22 examples of it prior to the release date.

In view of the events and given the fact that apparently no copies had yet reached the philatelic market, a 2018 advertisement from the auction house Barac & Pervan noted that this stamp should become widely sought after; and since this rarity is also important for the American philatelic market, its value is expected to increase over time.

This according to “Unissued stamp from 2015 supposed to show Mr. Luka Sorkočević” (Barac & Pervan 2018). Below, one of the composer’s symphonies.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography, Reception

Athanasius Kircher’s global reach

Musical commodities frequently accompanied European explorers, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries who traveled to Asia in the early modern period. During this time, numerous theoretical treatises and musical scores—both printed and manuscript—were disseminated throughout Asia.

One of the most significant of these musical imports was Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis, which provided far-flung missions with vital information on music theory, history, organology, composition, and performance. An unexpected letter to Kircher from Manila, sent just four years after the treatise’s publication in Rome, provides testimony to its importance:

“I am so obliged to Your Reverence not only for the great kindness with which Your Reverence treated me in Rome, but also for the instruction that Your Reverence gives me all day in these remote parts of the world by means of your books, which are no less esteemed here than [they are] in Europe.”

“Here in Manila I am studying the fourth year of theology, and I see for myself the many marvels that Your Reverence recounts in his books. I have been the first to bring one of these, that is, the Musurgia, to the Indies, and I do not doubt that it will be of great usefulness to the Fathers of the missions, where music is taught publicly. Father Ignatio Monti Germano, Rector of Silang, wants to read it, and I will send it to him shortly.”

This according to “The dissemination and use of European music books in early modern Asia” by David R.M. Irving (Early music history XXVIII [2009] pp. 39–59).

This year marks the 390th anniversary of Kircher’s ordination! Above, the frontispiece to the first volume, engraved after a drawing by Johann Paul Schor; below, Kircher’s celebrated musical cure for a tarantula bite.

Related article: Baroque birdsong

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Reception

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream

The critical reception of John Coltrane’s saxophonic scream—an incredibly high-pitched, raw, and intense explosion of timbre—demonstrates how our precognitive reaction to sonic timbres can invoke tropes of masculinity and race.

A perceptual/cognitive approach that focuses on the degree to which the listener identifies with the sound, citing recent research on the neurophysiology of audition, locates a biological reason for the phenomenon of musical empathy—the perception that in listening to a sound we also participate in it. Our participation, however, is culturally conditioned.

Coltrane’s saxophonic scream was variously interpreted by music critics as the sound of black masculine violence and rage or as a sign of the jazz icon’s spirituality, a transcendent sound. Music critics’ visceral, embodied interpretations of Coltrane’s saxophonic scream turned on their reactions to the birth of free jazz in the context of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This according to “Theorizing the saxophonic scream in free jazz improvisation” by Zachary Wallmark, an essay included in Negotiated moments: Improvisation, sound, and subjectivity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 233–44).

Below, Coltrane’s performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Performers, Reception

Irving Berlin and jazz

In his four Music box revues (1921–24), Irving Berlin introduced a series of songs that were widely construed as jazz. That view has not prevailed, but the jazz label becomes more intelligible through efforts to restore its original milieu, including the songs’ distinctive musical and linguistic elements, their theatrical context, and the cultural commentary surrounding Berlin and his work in that period.

At a time when the term jazz had only recently entered public discourse, and when its meaning, content, and value remained in flux, Berlin deployed a variety of ragtime and blues figures and combined them in such a way as to produce a jazz trope, a musical construct created by juxtaposing disparate or even contradictory topics. When repeatedly set to lyrics that celebrate illicit behavior, the music gained further associations with things that jazz was thought to abet.

Theatrical setting further reinforced the songs’ links to jazz. Berlin wrote many of the numbers for a flapper-style sister act, often placed them in a climactic program position, and juxtaposed them with sentimental and nostalgic songs that lacked jazz flavor and whose lyrics, in some cases, pointedly denied jazz’s attractions.

Beyond the stage, the songs and their theatrical presentation flourished within an emerging perspective that identified Jewish Americans, such as Berlin and George Gershwin, as the key figures in jazz and musical theater. Berlin’s Broadway jazz stands as an influential and revealing intersection of musical, linguistic, theatrical, and social elements in the early 1920s.

This according to “Everybody step: Irving Berlin, jazz, and Broadway in the 1920s” by Jeffrey Magee (Journal of the American Musicological Society LIX/3 [fall 2006] pp. 697–732).

Today is Berlin’s 130th birthday! Below, Alice Faye sings his Everybody step, an example from the article.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

“Bengawan Solo” and pan-East/Southeast Asian identity

Bengawan Solo (Solo River) was written by the kroncong singer Gesang Martohartono (above) in September 1940. A tribute to the beauty and significance of the river for the common people, the song subsequently assumed national importance, symbolizing the struggle for independence during the Japanese occupation of Java (1942–45).

The first widely popular song by an Indonesian composer written in Bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language adopted by independent Indonesia, Bengawan Solo now evokes images of Indonesian revolutionary fighters to whom homage must be given. The song has spread throughout Southeast Asia, and it has even become popular in Japan and China, making it a potent symbol of pan-East/Southeast Asian identity.

This according to “The pan-East/Southeast Asian and national Indonesian song Bengawan Solo and its Javanese composer” by Margaret J. Kartomi (Yearbook for traditional music XXX [1998] pp. 85–101).

Below, a recording featuring the voices of the composer and Asti Dewi Christianna.

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Filed under Asia, Popular music, Reception

Boito’s disastrous premiere

 

The world premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele on 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala was a disaster.

On the aesthetic level, the opera’s unconventional melodies, harmonies, allocation of voices, and voice leading were jarring for the puzzled audience.

Even worse, in this work Boito repudiated the era’s emphasis on Italian nationalism and sought to stimulate philosophical thought and analysis. This cultural treason was viewed as a serious offense during the Italian Risorgimento, and Boito was forced to revise the opera; his reputation as a librettist suffered as well.

This according to La prima de Mefistofele e il Risorgimento: Pubblico e riforma del teatro musicale nella Milano postunitaria by Stefano Lucchi, a dissertation accepted by Universität Wien in 2009.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Boito’s disastrous premiere! Of course, now the opera is his best-loved work. Below, Renata Tebaldi sings the celebrated aria L’altra notte in fondo al mare.

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Filed under Opera, Reception, Romantic era

John Corigliano on new-music audiences

In a 2004 interview, John Corigliano noted that while audiences for most genres are always interested in new works, “new music is seen as a threat. It’s considered something that is above them and beyond them and in which they cannot be participants.”

“We have to take a little bit of the blame…at a certain point when you’re not talking to people and they know you’re not talking to them, they go away.”

“I trace this back to the birth of romanticism…all of a sudden, this virtue of incomprehensibility sprung up. I am incomprehensible because my message is so much more complex and morally stronger than the message of those people who were just speaking to you that you can understand. Therefore, you shouldn’t understand me. But you should worship me and come to these concerts. Well, OK, but composers are not gods, they’re people. And this has been the most destructive thing to art I have ever seen, art ruining art.”

“Romanticism ruined the 20th century as far as I’m concerned, and we have to get rid of it in the 21st. What it did was it gave us the egocentric idea of the artist-god and the audience-worshipper—the non-communication that that means—and bathed us in this until finally the audience was alienated by this and left like they leave churches. Now we want to win them back.”

“I think all composers should strive, if possible, to stand on a stage and to speak to an audience. I have found that the minute you say three words, whatever they are, and you’re friendly and warm to them, they’re so on your side…all of a sudden, they’re thinking of you as a human being in their society who is writing music that could speak to them.”

Quoted in “The gospel according to John Corigliano” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 February 2005.

Today is Corigliano’s 80th birthday! Below, Teresa Stratas as Marie Antoinette in Corigliano’s The ghosts of Versailles.

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