Tag Archives: 20th- and 21st-century music

Silvestre Revueltas and pregones

 

Silvestre Revueltas has been held up as a post-revolutionary nationalist composer, even though he often used icons of Mexicanness as objects of satire or points of departure for a rejection of nationalist art. Some of his works rely on cultural representations to communicate a political message rather than one of Mexican identity.

For instance, the figure of the street vendor had been a picturesque and positive symbol of identity as the Other within Mexican society before the Mexican Revolution, and it retained that idealized image afterwards. Revueltas did not adopt this ideal image of the downtrodden, but provided a narrative of social change in which the poor have agency.

Pregones, the street vendors’ cries, found their way into music and scholarship before the twentieth century; however, Revueltas used them in a number of his compositions, including Esquinas (1931), where they are purposefully not used along with folk songs or other topics evoking Mexicanness. Rather, the pregones contribute to a socialist political message about poverty, hunger, and anger.

This according to “‘The rending call of the poor and forsaken street crier’: The political and expressive dimension of a topic in Silvestre Revueltas’s early works” by Roberto Kolb Neuhaus, an essay included in Studies on a global history of music: A Balzan musicology project (Abingdon: Routledge 2018, pp. 395–423).

Today is Revueltas’s 120th birthday! Above, the composer in 1930; below, his 1933 revision of Esquinas.

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Gershwin and Berg

Most fans of George Gershwin’s music would be surprised to learn of his admiration for an early atonal masterpiece: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. He visited Berg in Vienna, and the score he owned of Wozzeck was one of his most prized possessions; he traveled to Philadelphia in 1931 to attend the work’s American premiere.

Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess is heavily indebted to Wozzeck. These debts primarily involve structural processes, understanding structure as patterns of discrete events shared by the two operas. Motives and chords play a role in the discussion, alongside musical events that range from the large—a fugue or a lullaby—to the small—a pedal, an ostinato, or some detail of counterpoint.

Beyond the presence in both operas of a lullaby, a fugue, a mock sermon, and an upright piano, the greater relevance of these parallels and others is to be found in the ways in which Gershwin situated them in comparable musical contexts.

This according to “Porgy and Bess: An American Wozzeck” by Christopher A. Reynolds (Journal of the Society for American Music I/1 [February 2007] pp. 1–28).

Today is Gershwin’s 120th birthday! Below, the atonal fugue depicting the murder of Crown from Catfish Row, his suite from the opera.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Opera

Trude Rittmann, unsung Broadway hero

 

 

Gertrud “Trude” Rittmann was on her way to becoming one of Germany’s most promising young composers when the rise of Nazism forced her to flee to the United States in 1937.

Through her work as accompanist and music director in the New York ballet world, Rittman met Agnes De Mille; the two subsequently collaborated closely on the creation of dance music for several landmark Broadway shows.

Rittmann also created choral arrangements and underscoring for Richard Rodgers, making major contributions to The King and I, The sound of music, and South Pacific, and she worked on every musical composed by Frederick Loewe, including Brigadoon, My fair lady, and Camelot. One of her finest achievements was the original dance music for the Small house of Uncle Thomas ballet in The King and I, created with the choreographer Jerome Robbins.

This according to “A composer in her own right: Arrangers, musical directors and conductors” by Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, an essay included in Women in American musical theatre: Essays on composers, lyricists, librettists, arrangers, choreographers, designers, directors, producers and performance artists (Jefferson: McFarland, 2008, pp. 77–91).

Today is Rittmann’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of Small house of Uncle Thomas in 2012.

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Cathy Berberian’s humor

Irony and humor were inseparable parts of Cathy Berberian’s musical life; they permeated and guided her musical choices, her works, and her interpretations and stage performances. A key feature of her artistic personality was her love of laughter, derision, and amusement, her skill at combining seriousness and mockery, professionalism and frivolity, respect and irony.

The little girl playing with her voice, imitating what she heard—animals, sounds, singers—became the young woman who married Luciano Berio without abandoning her free spirit, which inspired John Cage and many others. Later, in her works and those composed for her, she gave free rein to parody, pastiche, diversion, and an array of peaceful weapons for fighting fixed ideas and shaking up certainties.

Berberian’s deep desire to question tradition and express an inventive concept of music—an open concept, anchoring music and singing in life—could not be fulfilled without destroying idols and wringing the neck of popular belief in a burst of laughter. She wielded irony as a corrective to dogmatism, parochialism, and obscurantism.

A daughter of exiles, always a foreigner in a host country, a woman among famous men, and intelligent far beyond what was expected from a performer and a singer, Berberian triumphed by defending humor, the wealth of the oppressed.

This according to “L’errance infitie de l’humor: L’humor de Cathy Berberian” by Marie-Christine Vila (Itamar: Revista de investigación musical–Territorios para el arte III [2010] pp. 311–21).

Today is Berberian’s birthday! Above and below, performing her own Stripsody (1966), which uses a graphic score to indicate comic strip sounds.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Humor, Performers