Silvesterklausen, a New Year’s Eve ritual

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On New Year’s Eve men and boys in Urnäsch, Switzerland, disguise themselves in various costumes and, bearing harnesses with heavy bells, walk in groups from house to house; at each house they sing wordless yodels. The custom is called Silvesterklausen, and the men and boys are known as Silvesterchläus.

At the crack of dawn they march off in single file. Arriving at a house, they shake their bells rhythmically to announce their presence. The inhabitants are expecting them, and the husband and wife step out to greet them; the wife bears a tray with a bottle and glasses.

The Silvesterchläusen then form a circle and sing polyphonic yodels, which are received with great favor by the household. Each visitor is offered a drink; the yodelers accept their drinks, shake hands with their hosts, and march off to the next house.

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This according to Progress and nostalgia. Silvesterklausen in Urnäsch, Switzerland by Regina Bendix (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985). Below, Silvesterklausen in 2013.

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Patti Smith and rock heroics

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From her time as a young performance poet in New York in the late 1960s to her current position as punk rock’s éminence grise, Patti Smith has foregrounded the image of the poet as privileged seer.

Smith’s romantic impulses can be viewed within the context of her activity in the Poetry Project at St Mark’s Church, the preeminent public face of the East Village poetry scene of the 1960s and 1970s. Her complex negotiations between her understanding of the poet as visionary and the adamantly playful, diffuse, and collaborative aesthetic characterizing downtown New York’s poetic community fed into the development of her performative stance as proto-punk rock icon.

This according to “‘Nor did I socialise with their people’: Patti Smith, rock heroics and the poetics of sociability” by Daniel Kane (Popular music XXXI/1 [January 2012] pp. 105–23).

Today is Smith’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in the early 1970s; below, her iconic 1974 recording of Hey Joe.

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Oscar Levant, composer

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Today Oscar Levant is widely remembered for his mordant wit, his virtuoso interpretations of George Gershwin’s piano music, and his cameo appearances in numerous films. Fewer people realize that he was also a highly regarded composer who had studied with Arnold Schoenberg.

Levant’s hero worship of Gershwin stunted his confidence as a songwriter and a classical composer, though one of his pop songs, Blame it on my youth, has become a standard. Colleagues including Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, and Virgil Thomson all considered him an immensely gifted composer.

This according to A talent for genius: The life and times of Oscar Levant by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger (New York: Villard, 1994; reprint Los Angeles: Silman-James, 1998).

Today would have been Levant’s 110th birthday! Below, Nat Cole’s classic recording of Blame it on my youth.

BONUS: The 1942 premiere of Levant’s piano concerto.

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The Krk kolijani season

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The kolijani-koleda event on Krk, which takes place in the Christmas and New Year period, is marked by processions moving from house to house expressing good wishes, together with a choosing-the-king custom. Through changes and innovations this ritual has ensured its firm entrenchment in the consciousness of the people.

The symbolic presentation of village unity moves from the secular to the religious sphere; their mutual permeation is constant and inseparable, and the performance of the ritual is the present expression of collective identity and feelings. The dialectical relationship between tradition and revival is confirmed in the interweaving of the old pre-Christian symbols (although they are expressed with new meaning or just repeated as a rule) with the most contemporary expressions of identity.

This according to “The kolijani ritual event on the island of Krk, Croatia: Continuity or revival?” by Tvrtko Zebec (Yearbook for traditional music XXXVIII [2006] pp. 97–107). This issue of Yearbook for traditional music, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above and below, excerpts from a 1989 documentary on kolijani in Dubašnica.

BONUS: The season in 1972.

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A new Mozart facsimile edition

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In 2015 Bärenreiter issued Requiem KV 626: Faksimile der autographen Partitur in der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, a complete autograph edition of Mozart’s Requiem.

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The surviving manuscript reflects its dramatic history: Mozart’s handwriting and the supplementary entries by Süßmayr and others often appear on the same page. The corner of a page where Mozart wrote down one of his last musical ideas was later stolen; it is still visible in an old photograph. Each page is individually cut to match the manuscript, conveying a vivid impression of the original. A foreword discussing the genesis of the Requiem and a detailed description of the manuscript complement the facsimile score.

Below, an excerpt from the work.

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Eddie Palmieri and La Perfecta

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Eddie Palmieri recalled the early days of his band La Perfecta in 2013, on the eve of his acceptance of an NEA Jazz Masters award.

The year was 1961, and the group had scheduled a three-day recording session—but it turned out that the budget shrank each day, so the band had to follow suit. On the first day the horn section comprised four trumpets; on the second day Palmieri could afford only two trumpets and two less-expensive trombones; and on the third day he had to settle for a single trombone and a flute.

For a few months after the record was released, Palmieri barked in the street outside the small Midtown Manhattan club where La Perfecta was playing, trying to divert foot traffic from the nearby Palladium Ballroom where his more famous rivals were performing. “Not there, folks!” he remembers shouting, “Over here, folks!” But soon La Perfecta was hot, and Palmieri’s guerilla tactics paid off with a 90-day Palladium booking.

This according to “Eddie Palmieri: Rebellious perfection” by Giovanni Russonello (JazzTimes XLIII/1 [January–February 2013] pp. 28–33).

Today is Palmieri’s 80th birthday! Above, the group’s first album; below, a more recent incarnation of La Perfecta, still featuring a modest brass section and a flute.

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A recovered text of Bai traditional songs

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In 2015 Cambria issued Chinese ethnic minority oral traditions: A recovered text of Bai folk songs in a sinoxenic script, a new edition of a rice-paper manuscript from the early 20th century.

The MS was discovered in Yunnan by Xu Lin (1921–2005) when she was working there as a field linguist in 1958; dating probably from the early 1930s or somewhat earlier, it contains the texts of 208 traditional songs of the Bai people, written in Old Bai script (Hanzi Baiwen/汉字白文).

The task of transcribing and translating these texts was carried forward by Xu under very difficult circumstances through the vicissitudes of Chinese history until her death, and then completed by the other authors. This edition presents them in the original script with International Phonetic Alphabet transliterations and word-by-word glosses in Chinese and English, in English translations, and in a facsimile reproduction from the MS.

Below, scenes from a Bai spring festival.

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Pérez Prado and mambo

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Pérez Prado was largely responsible for establishing and popularizing mambo in the 1950s and 1960s, and was among the first arrangers to introduce full orchestration (including strings) to Latin music.

By his mid-20s, while working as a pianist in Havana’s clubs, cinemas, and casinos, Prado began to develop his own unique rhythmic ideas, which began coalescing into mambo—an upbeat and brassy dance music in which horns and percussion provide punchy punctuation.

Mambo was most likely a dance before it was a style of music; like the cha-cha-chá, it evolved from the traditional Cuban rumba. Prado sometimes claimed that he heard mambo emerging from the cross-rhythms of five or six guitarists simultaneously jamming after hours in Cuban clubs.

Though Prado—and mambo—grew increasingly popular, he left Cuba in 1947; some have suggested that Cuban music publishers considered him an upstart who dirtied their native rumba with forms like jazz, and so conspired to deny him work. He settled in Mexico City in 1948, and formed his own band. He gradually succeeded in becoming a multimedia sensation, regularly performing at Mexico’s most chic clubs and serving as musical director for a number of Mexican films.

The records that Prado cut for RCA in late 1949 helped to ignite the firestorm of “mambo mania”, and he settled into a career in New York City in the 1950s, scoring ten consecutive weeks at the top of the U.S. charts in 1955. Although he was almost certainly not the originator of mambo, he did more than anyone else to make it internationally popular.

This according to “Prado, Pérez” by Chris Slawecki (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 489); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Prado’s 100th birthday! Below, a rare piano solo.

 

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Disney music legacy libraries

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In 2015 Hal Leonard launched the series Disney music legacy libraries with Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the seven dwarfs”, a bound, glossy facsimile of the master score for the 1937 animated film Snow White and the seven dwarfs.

This 200-page MS guided the construction of the film’s final mix of music, dialogue, and sound effects—in effect, it represents the entire soundtrack of the world’s first full-length animated feature film.

Unlike many film studios, Disney has always saved its written and recorded music assets. Over almost 90 years, dating back to the earliest Mickey Mouse shorts and Silly symphonies, millions of pages of music have been preserved, most recently in climate-controlled conditions. Over a million of these documents have now been digitized, streamlining the time needed to find one from two weeks to three minutes.

Above, a two-page spread from the book (click to enlarge); below, the related sequence from the final film. More about the book series is here.

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Women singer-songwriters in the 1990s

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The 1990s saw the emergence of a new kind of female artist, writing songs that focused on intimate topics of sexuality, gender, and the body in an explicit, direct way.

These women explored how everyday life is experienced through the body, and at the center of their songwriting was a specifically female experience, drawing on female agency and power, all experienced through an embodied self. These artists also embraced the confessional history of singer-songwriters, drawing in their audiences with closeness and intimacy through their bodily experiences.

This according to “The female singer-songwriter in the 1990s” by Sarah Boak, an essay included in The Cambridge companion to the singer-songwriter (New York Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 257–64).

Above, a photograph of PJ Harvey, Björk, and Tori Amos that was featured in the cover story of the May 1994 issue of Q; below, Harvey’s Dress. The Q article and Harvey’s song are both discussed in Boak’s essay.

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