In an interview, Maddy Prior recalled her early impressions of English traditional music.
“We did a bit at school and as a result I didn’t like it very much,” she says, “but it was cool in my adolescence to sing American folk songs and get into Bob Dylan. From that I started going to folk clubs.”
“I drove Reverend Gary Davis around for a month in 1966. That was a character forming experience! Then I met this American couple and drove them around for a year. They told me to stop singing American folk songs, because they said I was rubbish at it!”
“They had lots of tapes of English folk music and I started to listen to them, reluctantly at first, I might add. I found the songs old and boring. But I listened to the tapes again, and again, and eventually I found ‘Oh I like that song’, ‘Oh I like that one too’. You get your ear in, that’s what you have to do with any music.”
Quoted in “Please to see the folk-rock queen” by Kernan Andrews (Galway advertiser 8 May 2014).
Today is Prior’s 70th birthday! Above, at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in 2016; below, singing Steeleye Span’s 1975 hit All around my hat in 2004.
BONUS: The female drummer in 1971, when the Steeleye Span lineup included the legendary Martin Carthy and Ashley Hutchings.
While Cécile Chaminade’s works were much loved in her day, she has been largely written out of musical history due to her enduring nostalgia for the aesthetics of her youth. “I confess,” she wrote to a friend in the 1920s, “that I can adapt myself no more to modern music than to modern painting, architecture, poetry, literature, mentality, or morality.”
Most of Chaminade’s successes were melancholy, nostalgic works. Her piano piece Automne at one time sold over 6000 copies a year, and a statement about it in one of her articles for the American magazine The etude shows her allegiance to the Romantic idea of correspondences between nature and the imagination in an almost Symbolist way. “Automne was composed…at the time of the year when nature is at peace and where one looks back on the fine days that have passed and, looking back, realising with heartfelt regret that they are now things of the past.”
This according to “Sister of perpetual indulgence” by Richard Langham Smith (The musical times CXXXV/1822 [December 1994] pp. 740–44). This journal, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today is Chaminade’s 160th birthday! Below, a performance of Automne by Valerie Tryon.
Starting in 1912, Marcel Duchamp incorporated musical concepts and structures into his work, thereby promoting the emancipation of noise and confirming composition and music-making as a cottage industry.
Duchamp’s Avoir l’apprenti dans le soleil (To have the apprentice in the sun, 1914) was created at a time when the artist was concerned with the challenges of combining elements of various arts. The cyclist is a symbol of the French avant-garde and the modern spirit; the viewer sees the cyclist’s effort to mount the staff lines as a contrast between silence and noisy corporeality. The battle between the arts is not to be ironed out by means of assimilation, but must be fought out or brought to a détente in the artwork itself.
This according to “Marcel Duchamp, John Cage und eine Kunstgeschichte des Geräusches/Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and an art history of noise” by Michael C. Glasmeier, an essay included in Resonanzen: Aspekte der Klangkunst/Resonances: Aspects of sound art (Heidelberg: Kehrer, 2002, pp. 49–70).
Today is Duchamp’s 130th birthday! Above, the drawing in question; below, the artist describes his readymade À bruit secret (With hidden noise, 1916): “Before I finished it Arensberg put something inside the ball of twine, and never told me what it was, and I didn’t want to know.”
Enrique Granados’s Duo-Art piano-roll performance of his Danza española no. 5 (Andaluza), made some 20 years after the piece was published, illuminates much about late-Romantic piano performance practices.
Transcription and analysis of this piano roll illustrate the disparity between score and performance. Granados added and changed notes, ornaments, articulations, and chords. He also altered many rhythmic values, desynchronized melody and accompaniment, rolled chords at will, and introduced drastic tempo changes not indicated in the score. His performing style thus reflects a personal approach to the piano that lies well within the broader context of the Romantic performance tradition.
This according to “Piano-roll recordings of Enrique Granados: A study of a transcription of the composer’s performance” by Anatole Leikin (Journal of musicological research XXI/1–2 [January–June 2002] pp. 3–19).
Today is Granados’s 150th birthday! Below, the recording in question.
In 1971 Carlos Santana’s Black magic woman hit number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It would take him nearly three decades to make the top 10 again, but it was a comeback worth waiting for. In 1999 Santana’s Smooth, featuring Rob Thomas on vocals, topped the chart for a stunning 12 weeks and stayed 58 total weeks on the list, making it the No. 2 Hot 100 song of all time. The recording also won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
Recalling the recording session in a 2014 interview, Santana said “I didn’t want [the guitar part] to have brain or mind or energy. I wanted it to be with innocence. Innocence to me is very sacred and very sensual. People should never lose their innocence. So I didn’t practice, purposefully. As soon as I found out where my fingers go on the neck, you close your eyes and you complement Rob. Kind of like a minister: He says Hallelujah, and you say your name.”
“When you make it memorable, you hang around with eternity.”
This according to “Smooth at 15: Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas reflect on their Billboard Hot 100 smash” by Leila Cobo (Billboard 27 June 2014).
Today is Santana’s 70th birthday! Above, performing Smooth in 1999; below, the official music video.
Henry David Thoreau was the only nineteenth-century American writer of the very first rank who paid prolonged and intense attention to sound-worlds, particularly non-human ones. As a naturalist, his fieldwork involved not only botany but also sound-collecting.
Thoreau’s writings illuminate how he understood music as sound. He discussed ambient sound and animal sound communication in acoustic ecological niches; he understood that sound announces presence and enables co-presence; and he developed a relational epistemology and alternative economy based in sound. His responses to the vibrations of the environment through prolonged and deep listening make him valuable for sound studies today.
This according to “Thoreau’s ear” by Jeff Todd Titon (Sound studies I/1  pp. 144–54).
Today is Thoreau’s 200th birthday! Below, one of Charles Ives’s meditations on the man and his work.
Arlo Guthrie’s classic story-song Alice’s restaurant massacree hinges on an episode in which the teenaged Guthrie and a friend help Alice and Ray Brock clean their Stockbridge, Massachusetts, home—a deconsecrated 17th-century church—for Thanksgiving dinner, by hauling away a half-ton of garbage.
When Arthur Penn made his film Alice’s restaurant, he used the Brocks’ church/home as a metaphor, including a scene in which a man stands up and says “We’re going to reconsecrate this church.”
And so it came to pass: “Alice’s church” is now the Guthrie Center, an interfaith church celebrating religious and cultural diversity, and a not-for-profit educational foundation (inset; click to enlarge).
The church provides weekly community free lunches and support for families living with HIV/AIDS as well as other life-threatening illnesses. It also hosts a summer concert series; Arlo does several fundraising shows there every year. There are also annual events, including a Thanksgiving dinner for families, friends, doctors, and scientists who live and work with Huntington’s disease (a condition that afflicted Arlo’s father, Woody Guthrie).
This according to “Arlo Guthrie’s storied career” by Richard Harrington (The Washington post 12 August 2005).
Today is Arlo Guthrie’s 70th birthday! Above, a scene in the church from the film; below, the film’s ending, outside the church.
During 1957 and 1958 Frank Lloyd Wright was working on what might have become his magnum opus: beginning with a commission for an opera house in Baġdād, he developed a far-reaching Plan for Greater Baghdad.
Wright arrived in Iraq in May 1957, just one month short of his 90th birthday, and after two audiences with King Faisal II he left with permission to build an opera house and incorporate it into development of a vast site in the middle of the Tigris River—an uninhabited area that Wright believed was the site of the Garden of Eden.
In July 1957, in a speech back in the U.S., he said “I happen to be doing a cultural center for the place where civilization was invented—that is, Iraq. Before Iraq was destroyed it was a beautiful circular city built by Harun al-Rashid, but the Mongols came from the north and practically destroyed it. Now what is left of the city has struck oil and they have immense sums of money. They can bring back the city of Harun al-Rashid today.”
Unfortunately, following the military coup of July 1958 the project was rejected; it was too extravagant for the military leadership, and too closely identified with the old monarchy.
This according to “Arabian opera nights” by John Allison (Opera LIX/1 [January 2008] pp. 26–30).
Today is Wright’s 150th birthday! Above, his plan for the Crescent Opera House; inset, a drawing of the full cultural center (click images to enlarge); below, a computerized 3-D rendition of the opera house.
808s & heartbreak was a jarring departure from Kanye West’s previous work, and, although its initial reception was mixed at best, it has proven to be the most influential album of his career both as a performer and a producer.
Written and recorded in haste on the heels of his mother’s death and a breakup with his fiancée, 808s features chilly synth textures, brittle drum machines, and West’s blatantly auto-tuned singing throughout. With the help of T-Pain, who, ironically, had come to be mocked for his extensive use of auto-tune, the album made the pitch-correction technology relevant again.
Another unexpected source of inspiration was found in Phil Collins—both in terms of his vocal style and the gated reverb drum sound that he invented in the 1980s. Trapping and snuffing out overtones with a signal processor, the noise gate made the programmed beats of the iconic Roland TR-808 drum machine sound both vivid and lifeless.
The album’s distinctive sound has since filtered into contemporary hip hop and R&B, and the only thing more influential than its sound is its tone: bitter, confused, self-pitying, defensive, and accusatory. 808s & heartbreak made sullen solitude fashionable, with many a male R&B star now presenting himself as a misunderstood antihero, reenacting the public breakdown that West staged without a net.
This according to “The coldest story ever told: The influence of Kanye West’s 808s & heartbreak” by Jayson Greene (Pitchfork 22 September 2015).
Today is West’s 40th birthday! Above, performing Love lockdown, the album’s lead single; below, the full album.
For 20 years Edward Elgar worked for The Gramophone Company as both an advocate of his music and an advocate of the gramophone.
During this period, recording technology changed from the cramped conditions of the acoustic studio of 1914 (above) to the specialized recording studio of Abbey Road using the electrical system of 1933, in which year Elgar conducted his last recordings, with the extraordinary appendix of Elgar supervising a recording by telephone connection from his deathbed in 1934.
As an interpreter of his own music—we cannot comment from direct experience on his success with the music of others, for nothing was recorded—he was as fine a conductor as Furtwängler for Wagner and Mengelberg for Brahms. His conducting ability extended to every aspect of the art, from the purely technical quality of the playing he repeatedly drew from orchestras to the inexhaustible fascination of the interpretations themselves.
This according to “Elgar’s recordings” by Simon Trezise (Nineteenth-century music review V/1  pp. 111–31).
Today is Elgar’s 160th birthday! Below, Elgar conducts the prelude to The dream of Gerontius in 1927, a recording singled out for praise in the article.
BONUS: Elgar conducts the trio of Pomp and circumstance march no. 1 at the opening of the Abbey Road Studios on 12 November 1931. After mounting the podium, he says to the orchestra “Good morning, gentlemen. Glad to see you all. Very light programme this morning. Please play this tune as though you’ve never heard it before.”