Sonny Rollins’s extensive use of improvised thematic development in his 1956 recording of Blue 7 marked a new level of musical evolution for jazz.
Jazz improvisatory procedures may be divided into two broad and sometimes overlapping categories: paraphrase and chorus improvisation. The former consists mostly of an embellishment or ornamentation technique, while the latter suggests that the soloist has departed completely from a given theme or melody and is improvising freely on nothing but a chord structure.
Most improvisation in the modern jazz era belongs to the second category, and Rollins’s recording is a landmark for maintaining thematic and structural unity in this type of playing.
This according to “Sonny Rollins and the challenge of thematic improvisation” by Gunther Schuller; this foundational work of jazz analysis from 1958 is reprinted in Keeping time: Readings in jazz history (New York: Oxford University Press 2015 193–202; RILM Abstracts 2015-155).
Today is Rollins’s 90th birthday! Above, the artist around the time of the recording; below, the recording itself.
Charlie Parker’s three improvisatory choruses in Parker’s mood (1948) can be viewed as one statement; the first is introductory, the second climactic, and the third provides a summary by repeating previous material.
Analyzed as a Schenkerian series of layers, the piece progresses in complexity from the background to the foreground. Parker’s palette of resources includes the blues scale, stock blues melodic figures, bebop-style scale runs, arpeggiated figures derived from substitute progressions, idiosyncratic articulation, and a historic tradition of improvisation.
This according to “Parker’s mood revisited” by Kwatei Jones-Quartey (Annual review of jazz studies X  221–35; RILM Abstracts 1999-13483.
Today is Charlier Parker’s 100th birthday! Below, the recording in question.
Unlike the troubled fictional character of stage and screen, the real Antonio Salieri was described by Lorenzo Da Ponte, the master librettist of Mozart’s operas, as “a most cultivated and intelligent man…whom I loved and esteemed both out of gratitude and by inclination…more than a friend, a brother to me.” He also had a nimble wit and enjoyed jokes at his own expense.
Salieri wrote a memoir that is now lost, but some quotations from it have survived. In one particularly winning anecdote, Salieri is recounting the première, in 1770, of his second opera, Le donne letterate. The applause is vigorous, and the young composer follows the audience out into the street, hoping to soak up more praise. He overhears a group of operagoers:
“The opera is not bad” said one. “It pleased me right well” said a second (that man I could have kissed). “For a pair of beginners, it is no small thing” said the third. “For my part” said the fourth, “I found it very tedious.” At these words, I struck off into another street for fear of hearing something still worse.
This according to “Salieri’s revenge: He was falsely cast as music’s sorest loser, and he’s now getting a fresh hearing” by Alex Ross (The New Yorker XCV/15 [3 June 2019] 26–31; RILM Abstracts 2019-6047).
Today is Salieri’s 270th birthday! Above, a portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler; below, excerpts from Axur, re d’Ormus, one of Salieri’s collaborations with Da Ponte.
BONUS: The finale of Axur as depicted in the film Amadeus.
Related article: Telemann’s wit
The four all-India music conferences that were organized between 1916 and 1925 by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande were seminal events in the formation of a nationally based urban middle class and a predominantly Hindu-oriented music culture that encompassed performers, patrons, and audiences.
The conferences were the first modern gatherings on a national scale to combine discussion and analysis of musical practice and theory with a showcase of musical performance. A close examination of the reports generated by the conferences offers an opportunity to examine the conflicting social and political ideologies that were shaping north Indian classical music over a critical decade, as the aristocratic music of the courts was transformed into a national music.
Bhatkhande believed that music had to be taken over by the Western-educated, nationally conscious middle class, and that the patronage of the wealthy princes formerly given to support their private music establishments should be transferred to national institutions supporting music. Through the medium of the conferences he took the initiative of bringing together these disparate groups: traditional musicians, traditional patrons, and the new, primarily Hindu intelligentsia.
A number of topics recur through all four conferences: discussion of śrutis and rāga variations; a call for adoption of a uniform, systematic notation for Indian music; and a proposal for the creation of a national academy of music. The extent to which agreement and action on these proposals proved elusive can be read as indicating the degree of cross-cultural conflict that underlay the conferences, and gives a sense of the extent to which Bhatkhande’s vision resonated with the broader concerns of his day.
This according to “The All-India Music Conferences of 1916–1925: Cultural transformation and colonial ideology” by David Trasoff, an essay included in Hindustani music: Thirteenth to twentieth centuries (Nai Delli: Manohar, 2010 331–56; RILM Abstracts 2010-15196).
Today is Bhatkhande’s 160th birthday! Below, a documentary on the Music Institute that he established.
Filed under Asia, Musicology
While his contemporaries were moving away from conventional music and toward experimental styles, Paul Taylor embraced folk music and Baroque composers.
Both genres typically have simple meters and lend themselves to choreographically friendly units of eight counts, and Taylor created movement that works through the expected meter, and, consequently, the phrasing of the music. But musical and choreographic phrases are often at odds in Taylor’s works, a discrepancy that creates intricate and engaging work that has expanded the scope and significance of American dance.
This according to “Paul Taylor’s meticulous musicality: A choreomusical investigation” by Todd Coulter (Dance chronicle XXXVII/1  63–84; RILM Abstracts 2014-2397).
Today would have been Taylor’s 90th birthday! Above, Taylor in 1960 (photo by Carl Van Vechten); below, Esplanade, one of the works discussed in the article (The introduction—mostly quoting from Taylor— lasts about 1¾ minutes).
Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater draws upon elements of both dance and theater, juxtaposing, for example, choreographed gesture, the spoken word, and popular song. It echoes her heritage of Ausdruckstanz, but extends that tradition in a radical approach to form, content, and subject matter.
In impulse, Bausch has much in common with the postmodernists: in her rejection of illusion, her reconceptualization of what constitutes dance, and the imperative to make dance aware of itself. Her retention of realism, wrapped in a theatrical though fragile framework, results in a very different mode of dance making and performing.
The seeming authenticity of the performers’ experiences onstage and the unapologetic presentation of everyday bodily experience demand a reciprocal sensory response from the audience. The stark presentation of gender conflict, both within individuals and between women and men, and the raw and gutsy energy of performance that demands a visceral response, seem to hold a special attraction for a young audience, particularly in Europe.
This according to “Pina Bausch: Dance and emancipation” by Norbert Servos and Patricia Stadié (RILM Abstracts 1998-31027), an essay included in The Routledge dance studies reader (London: Routledge, 1998, 36–45; RILM Abstracts 1998-31023).
Today would have been Bausch’s 80th birthday! Above, Pina Bausch (©Joerg Lange) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; below, an excerpt from Pina by Wim Wenders.
In an interview, Audra McDonald discussed Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grille, for which she won the Best Actress in a Play Tony Award in 2014.
“It’s about a woman trying to get through a concert performance, which I know something about, and she’s doing it at a time when her liver was pickled and she was still doing heroin regularly.”
“I might have been a little judgmental about Billie Holiday early on in my life, but what I’ve come to admire most about her—and what is fascinating in this show—is that there is never any self-pity. She’s almost laughing at how horrible her life has been. I don’t think she sees herself as a victim. And she feels an incredible connection to her music—she can’t sing a song if she doesn’t have some emotional connection to it, which I really understand.”
“One wonderful thing for me is there are tons of recordings of Billie that I’ve been listening to and watching, even audio of her talking about certain songs, so I have a lot to draw on.”
Quoted in “Audra McDonald to return to Broadway as Billie Holiday” by Patrick Healey (The New York times 26 February 2014; RILM Abstracts 2014-89300).
Today is McDonald’s 50th birthday! Below, excerpts from her Tony Awards performance.
Gustave Charpentier was one of the most original of the fin de siècle composers, and his works—particularly Le couronnement de la muse (1897) and Louise (1900)—have to be understood in the appropriate political and social context.
Until now, the success of Louise has eclipsed the output of a composer who wished to be in touch with the working class without remaining isolated in a purely artistic dimension. Charpentier was in fact among the first artists to adapt his works to the new communication media of radio and cinema, experimenting with a method of composing closely connected to them. His works reveal a world in which music and social history are inextricably associated, illuminating the contradictions that enlivened fin de siècle France.
This according to La dramaturgie de Gustave Charpentier by Michela Niccolai (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011; RILM Abstracts 2011-13384).
Today is Charpentier’s 160th birthday! Below, Renée Fleming sings his Depuis le jour.
In June 1960, after nine years of recording and over two decades of touring and performing, Howlin’ Wolf and some trusted sidemen entered Chess Studios in Chicago to cut three sides. Wolf was 50 years old and an established act; yet everything about the session’s results, and particularly the song Back door man, seems elusive and interstitial.
Jim Crow racial segregation—at least one of the many meanings of the song’s title—was then both legally discredited and locally practiced, in the North as well as the South. Minimal, sinister, and edgy, fueled by images of violence, betrayal, and polymorphous sexual bravado, structured throughout by riddles and dialectical reversals, Back door man is a sort of historical puzzle, fusing Jim Crow sound, Jim Crow sex, and Jim Crow space; it implies as well a theory of how sound and subject formation, and subject formation through sound, arise out of Jim Crow violence.
This according to “Back door man: Howlin’ Wolf and the sound of Jim Crow” by Eric Lott (American quarterly LXIII/3 [September 2011] 697–710; RILM Abstracts 2011-27928).
Today is Howlin’ Wolf’s 110th birthday! Below, the recording in question.
Robert Schumann’s 1831 review of Chopin’s op. 2 variations depicts enthusiastic friends breathlessly emoting over a musical work, commenting upon it in nonlinear and sometimes borderline incoherent phrases. In Schumann’s commentaries—the most prominent examples of the burgeoning nineteenth-century tradition of music criticism—there is often no critical distance whatsoever; intensity and immersion are the driving force of these essays.
Similarly, Beavis and Butt-head’s intense interaction with music is what most clearly defines their daily activities; and, as depictions of critics whose interpretive and even artistic operations are an integral part of life, they reveal themselves to be cut from the same cloth as Schumann’s critical personae Florestan and Eusebius.
This according to “Florestan and Butt-head: A glimpse into postmodern music criticism” by Andrew Dell’Antonio (American music XVII/1 [spring 1999] 65–86; RILM Abstracts 1999-2733).
Today is Schumann’s 210th birthday! Above, the composer in 1850; below, a grouping of four movements from his Carnaval, beginning with his musical depictions of Eusebius and Florestan.
Related article: Chopin on Schumann on Chopin