Plague, an indiscriminate and deadly disease, was an important aspect of European intellectual and cultural life during the Renaissance. Perennial outbreaks throughout the period, both small and catastrophic, provoked changes and reactions in religion, medicine, government, and the arts—from literature, sculpture and painting, to music.
In 2020 A-R Editions published Songs in times of plague, an anthology that brings together, for the first time, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century motets and madrigals, for three to six voices, written in response to plague (RILM Abstracts 2020-4123). These pieces, with texts commemorating outbreaks and addressing holy figures and secular patrons, reveal how music was imbricated in the wider concerns of societies habitually caught in the grips of pestilence.
Above, The triumph of Death, a 1503 depiction of the death of Petrarca’s Laura; below, one of the works included in the edition, Roland de Lassus’s setting of Petrarca’s Standomi un giorno.
In the mid-1980s Congo-Brazzaville was chafing under the heel of a military regime that fed its impoverished people irrelevant political slogans while the elite dined on champagne and caviar. Zao, a humorous band led by Casimir Zoba, a former schoolteacher in a comical pseudo-military uniform singing in an extravagant mixture of Senegalese French and local slang, seemed to pose no real threat to the authorities.
But Zoba was no ordinary humorist or village idiot, and underneath his buffoonish image was a hard-edged political and social critic. While Zao’s music was tolerated as comic relief, the group delivered sharp critiques of bureaucracy, corruption, gender relations, and abuse of power in the “champagne socialism” of the military dictatorship.
This according to “Couching political criticism in humor: The case of musical parodies of the military in Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville” by Lyombe S. Eko, an essay included in Music and messaging in the African political arena (Hershey: IGI Global, 2019, 87–107; RILM Abstracts 2019-16663).
Below, Ancien combattant, Zao’s most popular song, and a case study in the article.
While his contemporaries were moving away from conventional music and toward experimental styles, Paul Taylor embraced folk music and Baroque composers.
Both genres typically have simple meters and lend themselves to choreographically friendly units of eight counts, and Taylor created movement that works through the expected meter, and, consequently, the phrasing of the music. But musical and choreographic phrases are often at odds in Taylor’s works, a discrepancy that creates intricate and engaging work that has expanded the scope and significance of American dance.
This according to “Paul Taylor’s meticulous musicality: A choreomusical investigation” by Todd Coulter (Dance chronicle XXXVII/1  63–84; RILM Abstracts 2014-2397).
Today would have been Taylor’s 90th birthday! Above, Taylor in 1960 (photo by Carl Van Vechten); below, Esplanade, one of the works discussed in the article (The introduction—mostly quoting from Taylor— lasts about 1¾ minutes).
Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater draws upon elements of both dance and theater, juxtaposing, for example, choreographed gesture, the spoken word, and popular song. It echoes her heritage of Ausdruckstanz, but extends that tradition in a radical approach to form, content, and subject matter.
In impulse, Bausch has much in common with the postmodernists: in her rejection of illusion, her reconceptualization of what constitutes dance, and the imperative to make dance aware of itself. Her retention of realism, wrapped in a theatrical though fragile framework, results in a very different mode of dance making and performing.
The seeming authenticity of the performers’ experiences onstage and the unapologetic presentation of everyday bodily experience demand a reciprocal sensory response from the audience. The stark presentation of gender conflict, both within individuals and between women and men, and the raw and gutsy energy of performance that demands a visceral response, seem to hold a special attraction for a young audience, particularly in Europe.
This according to “Pina Bausch: Dance and emancipation” by Norbert Servos and Patricia Stadié (RILM Abstracts 1998-31027), an essay included in The Routledge dance studies reader (London: Routledge, 1998, 36–45; RILM Abstracts 1998-31023).
Today would have been Bausch’s 80th birthday! Above, Pina Bausch (©Joerg Lange) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; below, an excerpt from Pina by Wim Wenders.
Johann Sigismund Kusser (or, as he was known in England and Ireland, John Sigismond Cousser) was a Hungarian-born musician who, after a varied and successful career in the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, settled in Ireland in July 1707.
In Dublin Kusser composed and directed the performances of at least 21 festive serenatas that marked important state occasions in Dublin between 1709 and his death in late 1727. Presented before the elite of local society in semistaged productions featuring costumes, stage machinery, and dancing, these works functioned as something of an operatic substitute in the city’s cultural life.
In 2020 A-R Editions issued Kusser: Serenatas for Dublin (RILM Abstracts 2020-1963), a critical edition comprising the three serenatas for which music remains extant. Two of these can be proven definitively to be of Kusser’s own composition, and the third, due to its musical style, overall structure, and subject matter, is almost certainly his creation as well. These works provide remarkably rare musical evidence of a key component of the artistic offerings of Dublin’s viceregal court during the early decades of the eighteenth century.
Below, “Come, lovely peace, the conqu’ror calls” from An idylle on the peace, one of the works included in the volume.
Slahal is an Indigenous team-oriented gambling game that involves skill, luck, strategy, supernatural assistance, and a specific song genre. As part of a long tradition of Indigenous gaming in the Pacific Northwest, it has become a popular form of intertribal competition throughout the region.
Song is integral to slahal; the songs, with their catchy melodies and driving frame drum accompaniment, are sung loudly and enthusiastically by the hiding team. Group singing provides opportunities for individual expression through variation of form and rhythmic accompaniment, as well as polyphony and antiphonal singing.
This according to Slahal: More than a game with a song by James Everett Cunningham, a dissertation accepted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1998 (RILM Abstracts 1999-22855).
Below, an example from British Columbia.
Before ending his performance career with concerts in Odessa and Elizavetgrad in 1847, Franz Liszt visited Istanbul, gave a number of public concerts, and performed twice for Sultan Abdülmecit I in the Çırağan Palace.
A widely reported incident in relation to this trip concerns an impostor named Listmann, a historically unidentified character, who supposedly passed himself off as Liszt in Istanbul and received valuable presents from the Sultan under this pretext. According to some accounts, Listmann almost caused Liszt to be arrested upon his arrival.
Herr Listmann of the Liszt–Listmann incident was in fact a German Tonkünstler and a man of letters named Eduard Litzmann who toured Spain and the Orient, and was apparently a competent pianist. The sources indicate that—notwithstanding Liszt’s own letter to his cousin Henriett—numerous colorful aspects of the incident as reported in the literature result from self-perpetuating transformations of fiction and cannot be substantiated.
This according to “The Liszt–Listmann incident” by Ömer Eğecioğlu (Studia musicologica XLIX/3–4 [September 2008] 275–93).
Inset, a plaque marking the location where Liszt stayed in Istanbul; below, Liszt’s variations on a theme by Giuseppe Donizetti, composed for one of his performances for the Sultan.
For Anna Halprin, the RSVP cycles are a touchstone for realizing her mission to have everyone dance, regardless of dance training, age, or ability.
The inclusion of as many people as possible in the world of dance had always been an essential aspect for Halprin, who saw engagement with difference as a way of enriching her own personal landscape as well, through across-the-board work without cultural, historical, or geographical boundaries.
To make this dynamic inclusive, she sought a methodology for creating collective works based on a common language that would make it possible to transcend the ideas and preconceptions of gender, social, and cultural categories including age, artistic technique, race, and educational background. The RSVP cycles are the instrument and the outcome of this quest.
This according to “Anna e Lawrence Halprin: Il ciclo RSVP” by Laura Colomban (Danza e ricerca IX [dicembre 2017] 173–87).
Today is Anna Halprin’s 100th birthday! Above and below, the choreographer in 2010.
Filed under Dance, Pedagogy
Gustav Mahler’s attachment to the idea that art is a mirror of nature can be found echoing throughout his works, including performance indications that refer both to nature in its broadest sense and to specific elements of the natural world.
Yet the pastoral element in Mahler is often presented through a language of brokenness, as in the third movement of his third symphony, where the appearance and disappearance of the posthorn can also be likened to the processes of memory depicted in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, notably the madeleine episode in Du côté de chez Swann.
This according to “In search of lost time: Memory and Mahler’s broken pastoral” by Thomas Peattie, an essay included in Mahler and his world (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002 185–98; RILM Abstracts 2002-7257).
Today is Mahler’s 160th birthday! Above, the composer in Fischleintal in 1909; below, the movement in question.
Related post: Mahler and Beyoncé
In an interview, Audra McDonald discussed Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille, for which she won the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award in 2014.
“It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly.”
“I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her—and what is fascinating in this show—is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music—she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.”
“One wonderful thing for me is there are tons of recordings of Billie that I’ve been listening to and watching, even audio of her talking about certain songs, so I have a lot to draw on.”
Quoted in “Audra McDonald to return to Broadway as Billie Holiday” by Patrick Healey (The New York times 26 February 2014; RILM Abstracts 2014-89300).
Today is McDonald’s 50th birthday! Below, excerpts from her Tony Awards performance.