Stockhausen’s universalism

 

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Telemusik represents an effort to create universally valid music.

In an analogy to Le Corbusier’s modulor concept, Telemusik is based on a proportional framework constructed on the Fibonacci series, through which so-called Klangobjekte—both found sounds and electronically modulated ones of the most diverse ethnic provenance—acquire musical form.

Still, the limits of the universalism sought by Stockhausen are seen in conspicuous traces of Western compositional practice.

This according to “Universalismus und Exotik in Karlheinz Stockhausens Telemusik” by Peter W. Schatt (Musica: Zweimonatsschrift XLIII/4 [Juli-August 1989] pp. 315–20).

Today would have been Stockhausen’s 90th birthday! Above, the composer around the time of Telemusik; below, the work in question.

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

Walter Porter: Collected works

In 2017 A-R Editions issued Walter Porter: Collected works; the volume brings together, for the first time in a critical edition, the complete works of the English composer Walter Porter.

One of a small number of English composers in the first half of the 17th century who embraced progressive Italianate methods of composition, Porter is further worthy of mention in histories of music for two reasons: he was the composer of the last book of English madrigals, and he claimed to have been the pupil of Claudio Monteverdi.

Porter’s works survive primarily in two printed collections: Madrigales and ayres (1632) and Mottets of two voyces (1657). Six of the 1657 Mottets also appear in York Minster Library, MS M. 5/1–3(S). One strophic song and three catches that may also be attributed to Walter Porter are included in an appendix. The collection is edited by Jonathan P. Wainwright.

Below, one of the works included in Madrigales and ayres.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions

Carmontelle and Mozart

 

A resurgence of scholarly interest in Louis Carogis de Carmontelle has drawn attention to the diverse accomplishments of a neglected playwright, critic, inventor, and artist.

While serving as lecteur to Louis-Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, Carmontelle was responsible for the education of the Duke’s son; organized performances and other entertainments at the Duke’s château; wrote over 100 plays; designed landscape gardens; and created, among other drawings and watercolors, over 700 portraits of musicians.

These portraits offer a unique historical and cultural record of French society, musical practice, and taste in the 1760s and 1770s—including a portrait of the young Mozart performing at the harpsichord with his father and sister during their visit to Paris and Versailles from late 1763 to early 1764 (above; click to enlarge).

This according to “Carmontelle’s portraits of 18th-century musicians” by Mary Cyr (The musical times CLVIII/1941 [winter 2017] pp. 39–54).

Today is Carmontelle’s 301st birthday! Below, a silent film of his rouleau transparent depicting figures walking in a park, one of the many diversions he created for Louis-Philippe’s court.

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Filed under Iconography, Performers

Kathleen Battle and spirituals

 

One of Kathleen Battle’s signature achievements has been live and recorded performances of American spirituals. Her recital at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016—Underground railroad: A spiritual journey—was her first performance at the house in more than twenty years.

One of Battle’s best spiritual performances is her 1983 version of His eye is on the sparrow. She seems to be the songbird herself: sparrows really do seem to sing for no other reason than because they’re happy, and they turn their heads upward at the very last millisecond of a long bubbling trill. The rendition is a vivid display of her connection with the words of faith, certainty, and hope.

This according to “Dazzlingby Jennifer Melick (Opera news LXXXI/5 [November 2016] pp. 20–21).

Today is Battle’s 70th birthday! Above, the 2016 performance; below, the 1983 performance.

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The Marx Brothers at the opera

 

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.

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Filed under Humor, Opera, Performers

Psychedelic vegetables

 

In 1967, in the hands of Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson, the incongruous, semantically complex figure of the vegetable came to illuminate aspects of psychedelic consciousness and—partly by design, partly by accident—the link between LSD and Anglo-American popular music.

Their vegetable imagery also illuminated the scope and limits of changes in the relationship between creative artists and the Anglo-American popular music industry in the mid-1960s; and in retrospect, the figure of the vegetable cast into relief the counterculture’s utopian and dystopian dynamics as manifested in these songwriters’ personal lives.

This according to “The vegetables turned: Sifting the psychedelic subsoil of Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett” by Dale Carter (Popular music history IV/1 [April 2009] pp. 57–75).

Below, one of the songs discussed in the article—Wilson’s Vegetables, which is rumored to include the sound of Paul McCartney chewing celery.

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Filed under Curiosities, Food, Popular music

The Rebirth Brass Band

In a city where music traditions are held sacred, the Rebirth Brass Band, anchored by leader Philip “Tuba Phil” Frazier alongside his brother, Keith “Bass Drum Shorty” Frazier, occupies a unique place in New Orleans culture.

Over the course of three decades, the group’s R&B and funk motifs have redefined the standard for brass band music without losing sight of the music’s heritage. Rebirth’s profound influence on brass band musicians endures during second line parades and jazz funerals, and in classrooms and rehearsal spaces citywide.

This according to “Rebirth Brass Band: Keep it goin’ like a heartbeat” by Jennifer Odell (DownBeat LXXXI/9 [September 2014] pp. 44–47).

Above and below, Rebirth in action.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Kate Bush arrives

 

Kate Bush appeared at a moment in the history of British rock in which a great deal of space for a singer like her had just opened up.

One of the victories won by female singers in the mid-1970s punk era was the opportunity to experiment with a wider range of vocal sounds. Bush, who gained popularity in post-punk England with a repertoire of unearthly shrieks and guttural whispers, took advantage of this space to convey a disturbing breadth of emotion. Yet her music was also a reaction against the one-dimensional angst and discord of punk, using melody and often frail vocals to create a surreal world of affect.

To Bush, the visual presentation of music cannot be divorced from the music itself, so it is not surprising that she was the first female pop star to combine her music with her classical and modern dance training. Her idea that the combination of music and movement allows the artist to express a more complex range of emotion has proved highly influential, having been translated—though in simplified form—into the work of current music video superstars.

This according to “Kate Bush: Enigmatic chanteuse as pop pioneer” by Holly Kruse (Soundscapes III [November 2000]).

Today is Kate Bush’s 60th birthday! Above, Bush with friends in 1985; below, Running up that hill, the most successful of her 1980s releases.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

A Folkways Anniversary

 

Folkways Records, now Smithsonian Folkways, turns 70 this month! The son of Moses Asch, the company’s founder, tells the story:

“When my father founded Folkways Records in 1948, it was his third record company. The first was Asch Records founded in the 1930s, on which he released the first recordings of Lead Belly.”

“The second was Disc Records, founded during World War II….While initially a success, Disc went bankrupt in 1947 when, as my father told me, he lost the anticipated Christmas sales due to a snowstorm in mid-December that delayed the release of a Nat King Cole Christmas album until after December 25th.”

“Moe started Folkways with a loan of $10,000 from his father and the goodwill of his assistant, Marian Distler, who agreed to be the ‘front’ person so that he could get going while still under bankruptcy.”

“In calling the company Folkways, a term that connotes recognition of and respect for the diversity of traditions that exist in the world, my father located himself as standing against those who sought to limit what was available in the market place to cultural expressions that conformed to the tastes and values of white, middle-class America as defined by Red Scare ideologues.”

“Put more broadly, Folkways represented a place where voices, otherwise silenced not only by political considerations but also by an economic system intent on maximizing profits to the exclusion of all else, could be heard. Hence, his proviso that he generally did not take on projects he thought had great commercial potential but gave serious consideration to worthy projects that, nevertheless, promised little commercial success.”

Quoted from “Folkways Records and the ethics of collecting: Some personal reflections” by Michel Asch (MUSICultures XXXIV–XXXV [2007–2008] pp. 111–27).

Above, Moses Asch (center) flanked by Mike Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten in 1983; below, a brief documentary.

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Leon Fleisher’s second act

In 1964, while preparing for a tour of the USSR, Leon Fleisher experienced the first signs of a problem. Two of the fingers of his right hand began to curl uncontrollably; within 10 months they were clenched in a fist. He was not in pain, and medical experts were baffled.

“I guess my fantasy was that with the same mystery with which it had appeared, it would disappear,” he said in a 2007 interview. His attempts to regain control of his fingers ran the gamut from A to Z, he said, “from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism.” Meanwhile, he redirected his musical energies to performing the left-hand repertory, teaching, and conducting.

Finally, some 30 years later, a diagnosis of focal dystonia, a neurological disorder linked to repetitive tasks, led to an experimental treatment involving Botox injections.

His comeback catapulted him as a symbol of the human spirit and an inspiration to a broader public. Egon Petri’s transcription of Bach’s Schafe können sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) has become something of a signature piece, a staple of Fleisher’s solo programs. It is to his mind “the antiterror piece of our time.”

This according to “The pianist Leon Fleisher: A life-altering debility, reconsidered” by Holly Brubach (The New York times, 12 June 2007).

Today is Fleisher’s 90th birthday! Above, a photo by Eli Turner; below, the sublime Bach work.

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Filed under Performers, Science