Tag Archives: Curiosities

Beethoven and Confucius

Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.

The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.

This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-6751). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.

Above, the Beethoven monument in Qingdao. Below, Beethoven’s ninth symphony in Chinese.

More posts about Beethoven are here.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Reception

Modulations and caterpillars

A fragment of Pherecrates’s comedy Chiron, as quoted in Plutarch’s Peri mousikēs, provides insights into aesthetic controversies in ancient Greece.

The scene depicts Dame Music as she recounts to Dame Justice the torments she has undergone at the hands of certain musicians of the time: Melanippides seized, debased, and weakened her with 12 tones; Cinesias ruined her with badly composed modulations; Phrynis bent, twisted, and completely destroyed her by sounding all 12 tones on the kithara; and, most egregiously of all, Timotheus, with his shrill dissonances and sinfully high-pitched and piercing notes and whistles, crammed her with modulations just as a cabbage-head is crammed with caterpillars, depriving her of all decency with his 12 tones.

This according to “Studies in musical terminology in 5th-century literature” by Ingemar Düring, an essay included in Eranos Löfstedtianus: Opuscula philologica Einaro Löfstedt A.D. XVII kal. iul. anno MCMXLV dedicata (Uppsala : Eranos Förlag, 1945; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1945-34).

More posts about ancient Greece are here.

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Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Humor, Literature, Theory

Hanuman and Suvannamaccha

Reamker (The glory of Rama) is the Khmer version of the epic known as Rāmāyaa in India. While it generally hews close to the original tale, Reamker includes episodes not found in the archetypal Sanskrit version; one of these involves the mermaid princess Suvannamaccha.

In this episode, the monkey warrior Hanuman, with his band of Varanas, is trying to build a causeway to the island of Lanka, where Rama’s wife Sita is being held against her will. He discovers that his work is being sabotaged by a group of mischievous mermaids, and he confronts their leader, Suvannamaccha. At first she is defiant; but then she falls in love with him, apologizes, helps him to rebuild the causeway, and eventually gives birth to their son Macchanu.

This according to “Reamker: The Ramayana from Cambodia” by Bharathi Ramasubban (Sruti 357 [June 2014] 48–51; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-4405).

Above, a mural painting of Hanuman and Suvannamaccha at Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok; below, an excerpt from the episode as performed by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Dance

Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester

The Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester (also known as the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra) performs on instruments made entirely out of fresh vegetables: cukeophones, radish-marimbas, carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, and so on.

The instruments are all made from scratch one hour prior to each performance, using about 90 pounds of the freshest vegetables available; after the performance they are cooked to make a tasty soup for the audience and performers to enjoy together.

This according to “Music with taste” in Gastronomica (IV/4 [fall 2004], p. 126; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-21764).

Below, the group prepares and performs on their instruments in 2010.

BONUS: A newer video, from 2017.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Food, Instruments

Alban Berg’s convertible

In 2013 Manfred Schmid was commissioned by the Alban Berg Stiftung to go to Carinthia and provide his expert opinion about the Model A Ford cabriolet (Gräf & Stift, type SR3) that had belonged to Alban and Helene Berg and had been sitting in the garage of their country house for decades. The Bergs bought the car new in 1930, but only drove it extensively for five years.

Schmid’s mission was to bring the car to his repair shop, examine it thoroughly, and then restore it with utmost care—a lengthy and complex restoration process. The car, now polished to a high gloss, is on display in the Technischen Museum Wien.

This according to “Fast ein Märchen” by Manfred Schmid, an essay included in Alban Berg und der blaue Vogel: Eine Auto-Biographie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 217, 142–52; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-61270).

Above, the composer, his wife Helene, and the Model A in September 1930; below, the restored Ford at the Technisches Museum. Lovers of Berg’s music are advised to mute the video.

Related post: On the road with Prokof’ev

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities

Wrapping llamas in song

llama+woman

The women herders of ayllu Qaqachaka in highland Bolivia sing to their llamas in various ceremonial occasions during the year, and also on a more pragmatic daily basis to accompany their herding activities.

But their songs have other, more magical functions, involving the increase of the flocks, when they become a part of the body-centered knowledge and practices that comprise a female aesthetics and poetics of creation that parallels men’s more destructive activities in war.

Many of the principal singers are elderly midwives, and in a lifetime of learning they practice the art of wrapping their animals in song. This wrapping in song also serves to transform and domesticate the spirits of dead enemies, embodied in the animals, and to rebirth them into human society.

Key concepts such as jawi, that glosses as both fleece and river, are ontological expressions of flowing musical sound in woven substance. A mating song for the female llamas, a marking song for the ewes, and a song of blessing for the female llamas reveal how specific musical and lyrical structures express the women’s preoccupations with the generation of beautiful fleece and its weaving into sung wrappings.

This according to “Midwife singers: Llama-human obstetrics in some songs to the animals by Andean women” by Denise Y. Arnold, an essay included in Quechua verbal artistry: The inscription of Andean voices/Arte expresivo Quechua: La inscripción de voces andinas (Aachen: Shaker media, 2004, pp. 145–179).

Below, a visiting delegation passes through Chucura.

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Music theory with attitude

Although the notion that Musicae rudimenta was written by Nicolaus Faber has persisted for centuries, internal evidence points conclusively to the Bavarian historian and philologist Johannes Aventinus (Johann Turmair or Thurmayr, 1477–1534) as its author. One of the first music treatises to use German as well as Latin, it borrows heavily from other sources, usually with due citations.

The author’s unequivocal style is striking: for example, the table of contents lists Chapter 1 as “The origins of music, a subject about which the barbarians err disgracefully, not to say ignorantly”, while other entries include such observations as “I am embarrassed to report what empty, fatuous things some writers have to say on this topic” and “In this matter, the run-of-the-mill singers are like night owls in the sunlight—blind!”

Nor does he spare himself, noting of his second chapter that “Most of the things here are quoted from others and are not very important, being pedantic and technical.” His preface concludes: “Look me over and buy me, the price is so low. Believe me, you won’t regret it.”

This according to “Musicae rudimenta: Augsburg, 1556” by T. Herman Keahey in Paul A. Pisk: Essays in his honor (Austin: University of Texas, 1966).

Above, an illustration from the treatise.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists, Renaissance, Theory

Lilliput in Greece

In 1975, during the transition in Greece from military dictatorship to democracy, the composer Manos Chatzidakis was appointed director of the Third Program of Ellīnikī Radiofonīa and asked the choreographer and director Reggina Kapetanaki to help him create an educational radio show for small children.

The result of this collaboration was Edō Lilipoupolī (“Here is Lilliput”), set in an imaginary world loosely based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels. The show’s locations and characters could often be identified by older listeners as satirical references to Greek places and people, and songs composed for it became popular vehicles of political commentary. Sometimes the satire bit too deeply for the government, which accused the creators of producing Communist propaganda, but Chatzidakis, thanks to his personal prestige, was generally able to protect them. The program ran until 1980.

This according to “Children’s songs as socio-political comment in the Greek radio show Edō Lilipoupoli” by Aikaterinī Giampoura, an essay included in Radio art and music: Culture, aesthetics, politics (Lanham: Lexington Books 2020, 235–54).

Below, an album compiled from various episodes.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Mass media, Pedagogy, Politics

Taarab and mpasho

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”.

In the popular genre taarab, mpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications—often competetive and antagonistic in nature—through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance. The phenomenon arose among women singers, most notably Siti binti Saad (above).

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, an essay included in Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53). Below, Siti binti Saad’s Wewe paka (You are a cat, 1930) sends a message about unwanted sexual advances that would resonate with today’s #MeToo movement.

Related article: Taarab redux

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Ballerinas and honeybees

The relational and cooperative labor of a corps de ballet illuminates the ways the dancers’ embodied knowledge and decision-making processes constitute a vital part of a production’s impact.

Two key aspects of dancers’ performances as a corps de ballet are collaboration and cooperation, which are components of eusociality, a term used to describe the highest level of organization of sociality, commonly observed in honeybees. Through embodied experiences and dancers’ decision-making, a corps de ballet operates in ways that are similar to democratic decision-making processes in honeybee behaviors.

This according to “Cooperation, communication, and collaboration: The sociality of a corps de ballet” by Kate Mattingly and Laura Kay Young (Dance chronicle XLIII/2 [2020] 132–44).

Above and below, La royaume des ombres from La bayadère is widely considered one of the world’s most demanding corps de ballet numbers.

BONUS: A short film on honeybee eusociality.

Related article: The postmodern ballerina

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Dance