Tag Archives: Performance practice

Returning to “La source”

Four historic performances of Arthur Saint-Léon’s ballet La source, spanning 150 years, illustrate how—through the sacrifice of a feminized nature—the work represented the biopolitics of sex and race, and the cosmopolitics of human and natural resources.

In 1866, when La source debuted, the public at the Paris Opéra may have been content to dream about its setting in the verdant Caucasus, its exotic Circassians, veiled Georgians, and powerful Khan. Yet the ballet’s botany also played to a public thinking about ethnic and exotic others at the same time—and in the same ways—as they were thinking about plants.

Along with these stereotypes, with a flower promising hybridity in a green ecology, and the death of the embodied Source recuperated as a force for regeneration, the ballet can be read as a fable of science and the performance as its demonstration.

Programmed for the opening gala of the new Opéra, the Palais Garnier, in 1875 the ballet reflected not so much a timeless Orient as timely colonial policy and engineering in North Africa, the management of water and women.

Its 2011 reinvention at the Paris Opéra, following the adoption of new legislation banning the veil in public spaces, might have staged gender and climate justice in sync with the Arab Spring, but opted instead for luxury and dream.

Its 2014 reprise might have focused on decolonizing the stage or raising eco-consciousness, but it exemplified the greater urgency attached to Islamist threat rather than imminent climate catastrophe, missing the ballet’s historic potential to make its audience think.

This according to One dead at the Paris Opera Ballet: La source 1866–2014 by Felicia M. McCarren (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-54905).

Above, Eugénie Fiocre in La Source, depicted by Edgar Degas circa 1868; below, an excerpt from the 2011 production.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Performance practice

Improv Everywhere!

The improvisation collective Improv Everywhere specializes in staging public-space interventions, which they refer to as pranks or missions.

By enlisting pedestrians in discrete one-time events that challenge protocols of public contact and that expand our understanding of public flexibility and empathy, Improv Everywhere offers an antidote to mainstream, hegemonic formulations of spectacle, virtuosity, and generalized expectations concerning the purpose of performance.

The group’s integration of trained and untrained performers (whom they refer to as agents), the kinds of space and sociality that they create, and the connections between their live and web presences reveal noteworthy contemporary understandings of intimacy and the social fabric.

This according to “Why not Improv Everywhere?” by Susan Leigh Foster, an essay included in The Oxford handbook of dance and theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 196–212; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2015-23390).

Above and below, Conduct us, a collaboration with the designer Ilya Smelansky and New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Performance practice

International journal of the study of music and musical performance

 

In 2019 Open Music Library launched International journal of the study of music and musical performance.

The journal advances both a general and professional interest in music and its performance with essays that cover a range of approaches: from discussions of little-known composers and musicians drawing upon primary and secondary sources to more specialized studies of composers, works, instruments, performers, audiences, and institutions. A review section covers new books, scores, and recordings. Whenever possible, international contributions are presented in the original language as well as in English.

Below, Hans Werner Henze’s Du schönes Bächlein; the work’s performance practice is discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New periodicals, Performance practice

McCoy Tyner and “apart playing”

 

McCoy Tyner’s improvisation on Bessie’s blues, recorded with the John Coltrane Quartet in 1964, exemplifies the traditional Afrodiasporic performance practice of apart playing.

A formulation of the art historian Robert Farris Thompson, apart playing occurs whenever individual performers enact different, complementary roles in an ensemble setting. For interpretative purposes, the concept helps to provide a cultural context for certain pitch-based formal devices, such as substitute harmonies and playing outside an underlying chord or scale, which Tyner uses in the course of his solo.

This according to “Apart playing: McCoy Tyner and Bessie’s blues” by Benjamin Givan (Journal of the Society for American Music I/2 [May 2007] pp. 257–80).

Today is Tyner’s 80th birthday! Above, performing in 1973; below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performance practice, Performers

Rhythm and experimental psychology

In the laboratories of 19th-century experimental psychologists, new concepts of precision-oriented, mechanically regulated musical time emerged as a positive ideal—one that led to the ubiquity of the metronome in the training and practice regimes of classical musicians and pervasive understandings of “good” and “bad” musical rhythm in the 20th century.

Most notably, Wilhelm Wundt included a metronome in the assembly of clockwork instruments employed in his research into the variables of human perception and action. His experiments helped to shape and define modern concepts of rhythm, radically shifting the concept of musical rhythm from a subjective, internal pulse reference to an objective, unerringly precise phenomenon independent of human agency.

At the turn of the 20th century, other psychologists, such as Carl Seashore, disseminated these scientific ideals to a wider public through important music publications, and by the 1920s such ideals were becoming pervasive among both amateur and professional music practitioners.

This according to “Refashioning rhythm: Hearing, acting and reacting to metronomic sound in experimental psychology and beyond, c. 1875–1920” by Alexander Bonus, an essay included in Cultural histories of noise, sound and listening in Europe, 1300–1918 (Abington: Routledge, 2017, pp. 76–105).

Above, Dr. Wundt (seated) and colleagues in his psychological laboratory, the first of its kind, ca. 1880; below, an abridged version of György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes.

BONUS: For the purists, a complete performance of Ligeti’s work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice

Improvised vocal fugues

Sethus Calvisius (1556–1615), one of the very small number of specialists in the improvised vocal fugue, provided a discussion of the practice in his Melopoiia (1592), illustrated with 21 notated examples of fugæ extemporaneæ—tricinia, or two-part canons, over a cantus firmus.

These pieces were improvised as a third voice sang the cantus firmus, with the two improvising voices entering a minim or semibreve apart; the first of the two singers was effectively the composer. Analysis of Calvisius’s works shows that his mastery of the technique was complete, and he was capable of creating canonic improvisations of surprising originality.

This according to “Harmonia fvgata extemporanea: Fugenimprovisation nach Calvisius und den Italienern” by Olivier Trachier, an essay included in Tempus musicaetempus mundi: Untersuchungen zu Seth Calvisius (Hildesheim: Georg Olms 2008, pp. 77–102). Below, the Dresdner Kreuzchor performs Calvisius’s Freut euch und jubilieret.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice, Renaissance