The immorality of the characters in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, o sia La scuola degli amanti, K.588, has always been shocking to operagoers, and some have denounced Da Ponte’s plot as tasteless and vulgar; but the librettist did not invent the story—he simply borrowed the myth of Cephalus and Procris, enriching the tale by doubling the pair.
Others have maintained that the characters are mere puppets, not real people, so one may relax and enjoy the blameless music. However, Mozart drew fully developed musical characters for all of the roles, musically asserting their reality.
Ultimately, the work is a ruthlessly rational exposure of the instinctive irrationality of human behavior—and therein lies its ability to shock.
This according to “The truth about Così” by Donald Mitchell, an essay included in Tribute to Benjamin Britten on his fiftieth birthday (London: Faber & Faber, 1963, pp. 95–99).
Today is the 230th anniversary of Così fan tutte’s premiere! Above, a handbill for the first performance; below, an excerpt from Act II.
From the time of his earliest proposal for creating RILM, Barry S. Brook (above) had a vision that “scholars working on specific research projects will eventually be able to request a bibliographic search by the computer of its stored information and to receive an automatically printed-out reply.”
RILM was too small to implement this task alone, so in 1979—long before the Internet was commercialized in the 1990s—it made an agreement with Lockheed Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, a division of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company, for the distribution of its data through the telephone lines.
In August 1979, the first month when RILM was available on the Lockheed platform, the database was searched 176 times by 24 users, earning $84.94 (see inset; click to enlarge).
Today, on the 40th anniversary of its Lockheed connection, RILM’s databases are searched online 16.5 million times per month.
Below, an introduction to RILM’s current offerings.
The release on 16 June 1969 of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Trout mask replica, a double album comprising 28 stream-of-consciousness songs filled with abstract rhythms and guttural bellows, dramatically altered the pop landscape.
Yet even if the album cast its radical vision over the future of music, much of its artistic strength is actually drawn from the past. Beefheart’s incomparable opus, an album that divided (rather than united) a pop audience, is informed by a variety of diverse sources. Trout mask replica is a hybrid of poetic declarations inspired by both Walt Whitman and the beat poets, the field hollers of the Delta Blues, the urban blues of Howlin’ Wolf, the gospel blues of Blind Willie Johnson, and the free jazz of Ornette Coleman.
The album was not so much an arcane specimen of the avant-garde, but rather a defiantly original declaration of the American imagination.
This according to Trout mask replica by Kevin Courrier (New York: Continuum, 2007).
Today is the 50th anniversary of Trout mask replica’s release! Below, a lively and informative introduction to the album.
BONUS: A detailed analysis of Frownland, the album’s first track:
In the broadest sense, 2001: A space odyssey imbues the concept of music with the philosophical gravity it enjoyed in an earlier age, delineating the various planes on which the term once operated by drawing on astronomy, biology, and technology.
To this end, the soundtrack juxtaposes two mutually exclusive harmonic realms—tonality and atonality—each ultimately developing its own metaphors to affirm the film’s central quest toward the confirmation of a fundamental, higher order.
The long-range integration of these realms amounts to one of the subtlest yet most extraordinary aspects of the film: Their abstract relationships engender an arch that itself embodies music’s own underlying system of natural order, welcoming a detailed reading in relation to the unfolding narrative. Despite flaunting itself as an odd patchwork of musical hand-me-downs, 2001’s soundtrack conveys the film’s visionary qualities with an astonishing and incisive network of relationships.
This according to “Music, structure and metaphor in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey” by David W. Patterson (American music XXII/3 [fall 2004] pp. 444–74).
Today is the 50th anniversary of 2001’s premiere! Below, the celebrated Star gate sequence, with music by György Ligeti.
The world premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele on 5 March 1868 at Teatro alla Scala was a disaster.
On the aesthetic level, the opera’s unconventional melodies, harmonies, allocation of voices, and voice leading were jarring for the puzzled audience.
Even worse, in this work Boito repudiated the era’s emphasis on Italian nationalism and sought to stimulate philosophical thought and analysis. This cultural treason was viewed as a serious offense during the Italian Risorgimento, and Boito was forced to revise the opera; his reputation as a librettist suffered as well.
This according to La prima de Mefistofele e il Risorgimento: Pubblico e riforma del teatro musicale nella Milano postunitaria by Stefano Lucchi, a dissertation accepted by Universität Wien in 2009.
Today is the 150th anniversary of Boito’s disastrous premiere! Of course, now the opera is his best-loved work. Below, Renata Tebaldi sings the celebrated aria L’altra notte in fondo al mare.
Martin Luther’s influence on J.S. Bach was profound; Bach’s library contained two expensive collected editions of Luther’s writings, which exerted demonstrable impact on his works—not least on the third Clavierübung.
Scholars have long puzzled over the dramatic changes that Bach introduced at the work’s engraving stage. These changes largely involved the addition rather than the removal of material, and the only explanation for wishing to enlarge the collection—a decision that caused enormous problems with the scheduled production and publication dates—must be the way in which Bach viewed his success in having fulfilled the overall objective: providing musical items reflecting Luther’s catechism.
It is easy for such a scheme to follow the letter of the law through settings of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Sacraments, but not so easy for it to capture the spirit. Luther’s doctrine stands apart by virtue of its clear insistence that the law must embody a human experience “from the heart”. All such experience, whether painful or pleasurable, requires this essential attribute. Through their clear spiritual resonances, the new movements provided a fitting frame for a collection of music inspired by Luther’s teachings.
This according to “J.S. Bach’s prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV 552, 1/2): An inspiration of the heart?” by Roger Wibberley (Music theory online IV/5 [September 1998]).
Today is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five theses, now considered the start of the Reformation. Below, Hans-André Stamm performs the celebrated prelude and fugue.
Stravinsky’s Svadebka/Les noces—an assault of nonsense syllables, snatches of conversation, and ritual fragments—is a cubist reconstruction of a Russian peasant wedding. Despite its invocation of Christian saints, the work might be Neolithic or even Australopithicine, so backward-looking is its range of auditory allusion.
All of the action is accompanied by chatter, out of which a whoop or intelligible phrase may emerge—we hear pet names, silly games, much commentary on the wine and beer, and some veiled sexual talk; it is the auditory equivalent of the strips of newsprint that Picasso glued to some of his canvases.
This according to Stravinsky: The music box and the nightingale by Daniel Albright (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989).
This year marks the 110th anniversary of cubism! Below, Bronislava Nijinska’s original choreography for the work.
Claudio Monteverdi’s seconda pratica was a return to basic verbal expression (listening, recognition, and revelation from emotional vocal accentuation).
Monteverdi’s art agrees with poetic expression as defined in Plato’s three forms expounded in the third book of Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics. For Monteverdi, musical language is music and the synthesis of text, harmony, and rhythm; the phonetic exposition of continuous thought becomes poetry.
This according to Preparazione alla interpretazione della poiesis Monteverdiana by Nella Anfuso and Annibale Gianuario (Firenze: Centro Studi e Rinascimento Musicale, 1971).
Today is the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s baptism! Above, a portrait from ca. 1630 by Bernardo Strozzi; below, the madrigal Cruda Amarilli, an especially clear example of Monteverdi’s seconda pratica.
In the 1970s George Clinton took funk to a new level when he formulated the P-funk concept, which was defined by a philosophy, attitude, culture, and musical style.
Grounded in the ideology of Black Power, P-funk advocated self-liberation from the social and cultural restrictions of society, creating new social spaces for African Americans to redefine themselves and celebrate their blackness.
P-funk had its own language, fashion, dances, and mythical heroes and villains, who Clinton presented as black science-fiction characters. The mastermind and producer of five P-funk groups, Clinton combined these cultural components to create stories about black people and black life from a black perspective.
This according to “Funk” by Portia K. Maultsby (The Garland encyclopedia of world music III [New York: Routledge, 2013] pp. 680–86); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the opening of the P-Funk Earth Tour, whose production budget was the largest amount ever allocated for a black music act to tour at that time. Below, an excerpt from the tour’s performance in Houston shortly after it opened in New Orleans.
BONUS: Wishing for more? Here’s the whole concert.