In the 1960s and early 1970s George Crumb explored new sonorities on conventional instruments and embedded quotations from historical Western classical music into new compositions. These techniques, along with his use of the concert stage as theater, come together in one of his best-known works—the string quartet Black angels, initially titled A quartet in time of war.
In the spring prior to its premiere, the nation had witnessed several devastating events surrounding the Vietnam War, which led to his inscription “finished on Friday the thirteenth, March 1970 (in tempore belli).” Crumb’s liner notes for the work’s first recording provided further context:
“Black angels was conceived as a kind of parable on our troubled contemporary world. The numerous quasi-programmatic allusions in the work are therefore symbolic, although the essential polarity—God versus Devil—implies more than a purely metaphysical reality. The image of the ‘black angel’ was a conventional device used by early painters to symbolize the fallen angel.”
“The work portrays a voyage of the soul. The three stages of this voyage are Departure (fall from grace), Absence (spiritual annihilation), and Return (redemption).”
This according to “George Crumb and Black angels: A quartet in time of war”, an entry in Music in the USA: A documentary companion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008 pp. 658–60).
Today is Crumb’s 90th birthday! Above, an excerpt from Crumb’s score; below, a performance by Ensemble InterContemporain.
The creative hybridity of Ephraim Amu’s choral composition Yɛn ara asase ni contributed to the emergence of national consciousness in Ghana.
Originally composed for a colonial holiday in 1929, this piece spread through schools, radio broadcasts, and live performances, and was heard throughout the country around the time of Ghanaian Independence. Yɛn ara asase ni ultimately disrupted colonial categories and prepared the way for an independence movement informed by Pan-Africanism and Christianity.
This according to “African musical hybridity in the colonial context: An analysis of Ephraim Amu’s Yɛn ara asase ni” by Steven Spinner Terpenning (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 459–83).
Today is Ephraim Amu’s 120th birthday! Below, a performance of Yɛn ara asase ni in 2016.
The Soviet composer Georgij Aleksandrovič Mušel’ was deeply influenced by Uzbek traditional music and Central Asian musical culture.
While his arrangements of Uzbek traditional songs display the most characteristic aspects of his style, this influence is also evident in his three symphonies, seven concertos, and nine other orchestral pieces, as well as in his chamber music and stage works, securing him a unique place among Russian composers.
This according to Творчество Г.А. Мушеля в аспекте проблемы взаимосвязей музыкальныx культур братских народов (The music of G.A. Mušel’ in connection with the interchange of musical cultures among the Soviet republics) by Galina Vasil’evna Kuznecova, a dissertation accepted by the Taškentskaja Gosudarstvennaja Konservatorija in 1974.
Today would have been Mušel’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of one of his piano works.
In 2018 the Institut za Savremenu Muziku launched INSAM: Journal of contemporary music, art and technology, an international peer-reviewed journal dealing with topical issues in contemporary art music, visual and performing arts, and technology.
The journal encourages interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches and innovative views on these subjects, aiming to create a platform for communicating new ideas and theoretical and artistic impulses. This open-access journal is published online semi-annually, in July and December.
Below, XO pt. II by Dino Rešidbegović; the work is the subject of one of the articles in the inaugural issue.
In the 1950s and 1960s the musical avant-garde developed a new type of vocal composition that incorporated everyday vocal sounds, such as gestural utterances or expressions of affect, into aesthetic parameters. Cathy Berberian took center stage in this development thanks to the extraordinary range of her vocal capabilities; she inspired numerous composers to write in this emerging style, and was herself engaged in the creative process.
Berberian’s composition Stripsody (1966), a sounding glossary of typical onomatopoeia of comic strips, can be understood as a musical pendant to the paintings of pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Her creative process was closely intertwined with input from the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, who was a close friend of Berberian and her former husband, the composer Luciano Berio. Eco encouraged her to create a composition out of her interest for comic onomatopoeia, and he acquainted her with the Italian artist Eugenio Carmi, who created the first visual transformation of her vocal glossary.
The connection to pop art, however, is not restricted to the aesthetic approach; in form and content, Berberian and her Stripsody relate to pop art characteristics on several levels: (1) with her appearance, performances, and image, Berberian stylized herself as a pop icon; (2) with Stripsody, she took exactly the same path that Umberto Eco described in Apocalypse postponed, from avant-garde music through pop art to comic strips; (3) several components of Stripsody allude directly to typical popular themes that can also be found in the works of contemporaneous pop artists; and (4) the work directly quotes comics that enjoyed pop-icon status.
This according to “Musical pop art: Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody (1966)” by Marie Louise Herzfeld-Schild, an essay included in Music and figurative arts in the twentieth century (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016, pp. 150–65).
Today is Berberian’s birthday! Above and below, performing Stripsody.
Benny Goodman was only 28 years old when he reached the pinnacle of his career, bringing his big band to Carnegie Hall in January 1938.
Joseph Szigeti, who took an interest in jazz and admired Goodman’s playing for its expressiveness and technical proficiency, was present at that tremendously successful historic concert. That same year, he suggested the idea to Goodman to underwrite a commission for a short concert piece by Bela Bartók for clarinet, violin, and piano, with virtuoso candenzas in the vein of the violin rhapsodies.
Bartók completed the piece in September 1938, and Goodman returned to Carnegie Hall a year after his famous jazz concert with the premiere of two movements of Bartók’s work. The reviews of the sound recording of Contrasts, made during the composer’s visit to the United States in the spring of 1940, were unequivocal in their praise of Goodman’s performance.
This according to “Bartók: Kontrasztok, Benny Goodman és a szabad előadásmód” by Vera Lampert (Magyar zene: Zenetudományi folyóirat LIII/1 [február 2015] pp. 48–65).
Today would have been Goodman’s 110th birthday! Above and below, the 1940 session.
Norient: Network for local and global sounds and media culture is an online resource that researches new music from around the globe and mediates it multi-modally via various platforms. The authors discuss current issues critically, from different perspectives, close to musicians and their networks.
Through the Norient online magazine, festivals, performances, books, documentary films, exhibitions, and radio programs, Norient hopes to orient and disorient readers, listeners, and spectators with information about strong, fragile, and challenging artistic positions in today’s fast moving, globalized, digitized and urbanized world. The core team is based in Bern, Berlin, and Milano, and the network of contributors is spread around 50 countries.
Below, the trailer for The African cypher, the subject of a recent article in the magazine.
André Previn may well have been the last of the great 20th-century American musical eclectics. He had it all, making a mark on Broadway and in Hollywood, on classical concert stages and in jazz clubs, in pop songs and violin concertos.
He was not a mere dabbler: In every context, he was always plausible, and often inspired. He was also a great popularizer, a figure who, like his idol Leonard Bernstein, suggested that it was possible to know about, and even love, all kinds of music.
When a young Mr. Previn conducted symphony orchestras, he typified the verve and boyish enthusiasm of a pop star; performing lighter fare on television, he carried himself with a rarefied swagger. Even Dizzy Gillespie was a fan. “He has the flow, you know, which a lot of guys don’t have and won’t ever get,” Gillespie said.
This according to “André Previn: Hear the many facets of a musical polymath” by Zachary Woolfe, et al. (The New York times [online only] 1 March 2019).
Today would have been Previn’s 90th birthday! Above, conducting from the piano in 1965; below, performing Jule Styne’s Just in time in 1961.
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.
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.