Tag Archives: Anniversaries

RIdIM and music iconography

On Sunday 29 August 1971 Barry S. Brook organized a meeting of some 30 music and art historians at Hotel Ekkehard in St. Gall; there they conceived Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale, the third music repertoire after RISM (founded in 1952) and RILM (1966). The discussions at the meeting are encapsulated in a single sheet of yellow legal paper (above) on which Brook scribbled his notes during the meeting.

Hotel Ekkehard, where the meeting took place.

The document lists proposals for the organization’s possible names: RICOM was rejected by a vote of 10:12; RIdIM (Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale) with its English/German equivalent IRMI (International Repertory of Musical Iconography/Internationales Repertorium der Musikikonographie) prevailed by 13:8.

The discussion concerned the composition of RIdIM’s Commission Mixte and national committees, the establishment of working groups on issues related to cataloguing and computerizing visual sources, and the organization of the Committee d’Honneur comprising museum directors, businesspeople, and amateur enthusiasts who could provide extra-musicological advice and assistance. The clearing house for cataloguing and the center for communication between the national committees cataloguing national resources and the scholars who need to study them was designated the Research Center for Music Iconography (founded in 1972 at the CUNY Graduate Center).

At the end of the meeting the project was established under the guidance of its three founding co-directors: Barry Brook, Harald Heckmann, and Geneviève Thibault de Chambure. This was a critically important moment for the field of music iconography, and Brook was certainly aware its significance. In the center of the sheet he wrote in red ink: “We may be participants in the establishment on a firm footing of a full-fledged sub-discipline”.

RIdIM celebrates its 50th anniversary today!

Brook and Heckmann in 1971.

BONUS: A report on the discussion of this idea a few days earlier at the annual meeting of the International Association of Music Libraries is here.

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Filed under Iconography, RIdIM

Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” period

Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue is one of her most universally recognized works. Generations of people have come of age listening to it, inspired by the way it clarified their own difficult emotions, and critics and musicians admire the idiosyncratic virtuosity of its compositions. The largely autobiographical albums of what might be called Mitchell’s Blue period lasted through the mid-1970s.

In 1970 Mitchell was living with Graham Nash in Laurel Canyon and had made a name for herself as a singer-songwriter notable for her soaring voice and skillful compositions. Soon, though, feeling hemmed in, she fled to the hippie community of Matala, Greece. Here and on further travels, her compositions were freshly inspired by the lands and people she encountered as well as by her own radically changing interior landscape.

After returning home to record Blue, Mitchell retreated to British Columbia, eventually reemerging as the leader of a successful jazz-rock group and turning outward in her songwriting toward social commentary. Finally, a stint with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue and a pivotal meeting with a Tibetan lama prompted her return to personal songwriting, which resulted in her 1976 album Hejira.

Mitchell’s Blue period featured her innovative manner of marrying lyrics to melody; her inventive, highly expressive chord progressions that achieved her signature blend of wonder and melancholy; her pioneering approach to personal songwriting; and her contributions to bringing a new literacy to the popular song.

This according to Will you take me as I am: Joni Mitchell’s Blue Period by Michelle Mercer (New York: Free Press, 2009; RILM Abstracts 2009-1442).

Blue is 50 years old today! Below, the full album.

Related article: Joni Mitchell and 1960s sexuality

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Rinaldo and the Enlightenment

 

The resounding success of the premiere of Händel’s Rinaldo, his first opera in England, was tempered by satirical and sarcastic criticism in The spectator, a weekly journal dedicated to combining wit with morality.

The spectacular scenery and costumes, textual weaknesses, and lack of logic were all points of criticism. Joseph Addison, measuring the performance by the standards of reason, truth, and naturalness, hardly found occasion to mention the music and excellent cast.

The main forum for these ideas of a new moral, social, and national function for opera was the London coffeehouse. Thus the Enlightenment, through the medium of opera, came to influence the thought of large groups and stimulated new social behavior and artistic standards.

This according to “Mit Rindern, Schafen und Spatzenschwärmen: Die Londoner Uraufführung der Oper Rinaldo von Händel” by Wilhelm Baethge (Das Orchester XLIII/11 [1995] 17-22; RILM Abstracts 1995-14126).

Today is the 31oth anniversary of Rinaldo’s premiere! Below, the opera’s march remains one of its most popular excerpts.

BONUS: John Gay’s celebrated repurposing of the march for The beggar’s opera.

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Filed under Baroque era, Opera, Reception

Talking Heads and “Remain in light”

 

On their first three albums, Talking Heads made anxious, self-aware art-punk with enough pop appeal to notch a couple of minor hits and edge toward the mainstream. Their landmark fourth album, Remain in light, was a radical departure that nevertheless felt like a continuation of and improvement on everything that had come before.

The album was born in a recording studio, where the group arrived song-less and ready to jam. This communal approach was curious, given that they had typically brought in nearly finished compositions. The producer, Brian Eno, constructed the tracks by looping rhythmic sections and layering instrumentation—a method that initially left the group’s frontman, David Byrne, unsure of how or what to sing.

Written and recorded mostly after the instrumentalists left the studio, Byrne’s songs have a freeform, impressionistic, cut-and-paste quality; but even so, Remain in light is a record with very recognizable—and very Talking Heads—themes of alienation and the search for identity.

This according to “Talking Heads’ Remain in light at 35” by Kenneth Partridge (Billboard 8 October 2015; RILM Abstracts 2015-85008).

Remain in light was released 40 years ago today! Below, the full album.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Saint Jerome on music

 

Saint Jerome was born in Stridon, a Dalmatian city that was destroyed by the Goths during his lifetime. Its exact location is unknown, and could have been in either modern Croatia or Slovenia. Though not a theologian, Jerome is mostly known for his authoritative translations of many texts, most importantly the scriptures, with several translations of the psalter. In iconography he is often depicted as a desert hermit. He, in fact, spent half of his life in the wilderness, but he was still very much engaged in intellectual and ecclesiastical discussions and controversies.

Jerome’s writings are filled with musical references, sometimes allegorical, sometimes in reference to the liturgy, sometimes in the context of moral instruction. He occasionally inserted musical analogies into his missives, comparing himself to a boatman or a shepherd, whose song had a particular purpose. He also frequently recommended the singing of psalms to those seeking his guidance, and these instructions have shed light on liturgical practice of the time.

As regards the content of his advice, which was rigorous at times, the topic could range from directing women away from the company of singers (cantors) and questionable performers who might be encountered in Rome, where he spent several years. In a paragraph to the young widow Furia, he turns an image from the enjoyment of music that praises worldly pleasures to a counter action—suggesting that she become a singer, and timbrel and lute player, modelling herself on the image of Miriam, who musically celebrated the liberation of Israel in the book of Exodus.

This according to James McKinnon’s Music in early Christian literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987; RILM Abstracts 1997-1322).

Today marks the 1600th anniversary of Jerome’s death (and his birth into eternal life) in Bethlehem. Above, Caravaggio’s Saint Jerome writing.

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Filed under Antiquity

The truth about “Così”

 

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.

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Filed under Classic era, Opera

Tosca and James Bond

The 2009 James Bond film Quantum of solace marks a change in the conception of the opera visit in film, which typically shows opera in an idealizing light. Quantum’s opera visit, which may be a first in an action film, signifies detachment and encapsulates the subjective isolation of the protagonist.

The scene’s distance comes from the floating operatic venue (the Bregenz Festival), the voyeuristic production (techno-opera), the frenetic montage in much of the sequence, and the work itself, Tosca, which has parallels with the filmic story. Detachment is further promoted by a dry sound environment, a rearranged temporal scheme, and opera music that approaches underscore in its distance from operatic idioms.

Comprised of slow harmonic rhythm and considerable repetition, the two musical excerpts—the Te Deum that ends act 1 and the instrumental music after Scarpia’s murder in act 2—are noticeably static and impose a groundedness that separates the scene from the film’s other set pieces, which are extremely fast in music, sound, and image. The disposition of the operatic music points up the cinematic bent of Puccini’s score and its remarkable ability to accommodate the needs of the film.

Although Quantum’s opera visit is cynical toward opera culture, it captures the post-millennial malaise of the long-running Bond franchise and forms the high point of a film that disappointed critics and fans alike. But while opera may redeem the film’s larger narrative, the protagonist remains aloof from opera’s transforming qualities as he shuns engagement with the spectacle and the resonant music on the soundtrack.

Bond’s detachment is embodied in the symbol of the set’s iconic big eye, which not only reverses opera’s scopic dynamic by gazing at the audience more than the audience gazes at the stage, but also represents mediated looking at opera in general, as in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD cinecasts. While an operatics of detachment may seem like a contradiction, Quantum of solace persuades the viewer that it can be a vibrant reimagining of the special filmic ritual that is the opera visit.

This according to “The operatics of detachment: Tosca in the James Bond film Quantum of solace” by Marcia J. Citron (19th-century music XXXIV/3 [spring 2011] pp. 316–40).

Today is the 120th anniversary of Tosca’s premiere!

Below, the scene in question.

Above, Floating Tosca Stage, Bregenz by John Abel is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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Filed under Curiosities, Film music, Opera, Romantic era

RILM’s Lockheed connection

BARRY-S.-BROOK

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.

LockheedIn 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.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, From the archives, RILM

Captain Beefheart’s “Trout mask replica”

 

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:

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Filed under Curiosities, Performers, Popular music

2001’s visionary soundtrack

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.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music