Thelonious Monk has long been celebrated for his playing as much as for his compositions, but his pianism continues to occasion critical unease; a defensiveness is detectable in discussions of his technique even today.
Considerations of Monk’s playing tend to avoid or finesse peculiarities that raised questions about his ability in the first place; these include the jarring dissonances that strike some listeners as mistakes. An examination of his dissonance usage suggests two analytic categories: timbral dissonance and syntactic dissonance.
Monk’s 1968 solo recording of ’Round midnight exemplifies his use of syntactic wrong-note dissonances. Neither errors nor merely facets of Monk’s tone, their significance is bound up with their wrongness: They make sense because they sound wrong in a meaningful way, as significations on musical norms.
This according to “The right mistakes: Confronting the old question of Thelonious Monk’s chops” by David Feurzeig (Jazz perspectives V/1 [April 2011] pp. 29–59).
Today is Monk’s 100th birthday! Above, in 1969; below, the recording in question.
Nickelback is one of the most successful rock bands of the early 21st century; it is also one of the era’s most publicly derided groups.
Nickelback hatred became trendy when the band was signed to Roadrunner Records in 1999, and the extreme metal label lost its subcultural cache even as it raked in the profits. From there the circle of scorn grew ever wider. In 2006 Nickelback released their most despised single, Rockstar, with lead singer Chad Kroeger’s reputation taking hit after hit.
Finally, with the birth of Web 2.0, contempt for the band was democratized and made available to all. Memes and a steady stream of jokes at Nickelback’s expense assured their “worst band ever” punch-line status. Around 2012 Nickelback finally took the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em escape clause, reinforcing their butt-of-the-joke status with self-deprecating humor.
This according to “Nickelback the meme: A complete history of how we came to hate a successful band” by Sage Lazzaro (Observer 26 January 2016). Below, the official (and widely loathed) Rockstar video.
The Vatican has recommended ten pop and rock albums as perfect listening for being marooned on a desert island. The recordings serve as an alternative to the mediocre songs featured at Italian pop festivals and on the radio.
The Top 10 list includes the Beatles’ Revolver, David Crosby’s If I could only remember my name, Pink Floyd’s The dark side of the moon, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Donald Fagan’s The nightfly, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Paul Simon’s Graceland, U2’s Achtung baby, Oasis’s (What’s the story) Morning glory?, and Carlos Santana’s Supernatural. Bob Dylan is excluded from the list because he spawned generations of singer-songwriters who have harshly tested the ears and the patience of listeners with their tormented stories.
This according to “Dieci dischi per sopravvivere ai festival: Prontuario semiserio di resistenza musicale” by Guiseppe Fiorentino and Gaetano Vallini (L’Osservatore Romano CXLVIII/37 [14 February 2010]).
Below, the concluding track from David Crosby’s album.
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.
On 28 January 1961 Langston Hughes wrote to a friend about having heard a black soprano the night before “busting the walls of the Metropolitan wide open.”
It was hyperbole that neared truth. Just days shy of her 34th birthday, Leontyne Price debuted before an audience whose standards and expectations were high; she lived up to them, and surpassed them beyond even her own imagination. At the final chord of Verdi’s Il trovatore the walls of the venerable institution vibrated with one of the most protracted and vociferous ovations in its history—nearly three-quarters of an hour—for the voice that Time magazine described as “like a bright banner unfurling.”
Price’s arrival at the pinnacle of American opera had a dual significance: She was one of the first American-trained singers to establish herself as a truly international star, and she continued, in grand style, the work of Marian Anderson as a trailblazer, barrier-breaker, and door-opener for black performers.
This according to “Leontyne Price: Prima donna assoluta” by Rosalyn M. Story, an essay included in And so I sing: African-American divas of opera and concert (New York: Warner, 1990, pp. 100–14).
Today is Price’s 90th birthday! Above and below, her Metropolitan Opera debut.
Manuel de Falla first visited the U.K. in May 1911, when he participated in a concert of Spanish music given by the pianist Franz Liebich. (The concert received tepid reviews and was little noticed.)
In 1919 the composer spent a month in London to prepare with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for the premiere of his ballet El sombrero de tres picos; the performance took place to great acclaim on 22 July 1919. Unfortunately Falla had had to leave Britain the day before due to family matters, but several of the friendships formed during that sojourn were long-lasting, notably with his hostess, the Swedish soprano Louise Alvar, and with the composer and conductor Eugène Goossens.
In 1921 Falla stayed with Alvar and her husband again to play the piano in the British premiere of Noches en los jardines de España. He was back in London for a week in June 1927 for the U.K. premiere of his harpsichord concerto and to conduct the London Chamber Orchestra in El amor brujo and the London premiere of El retablo de maese Pedro. His last visit, in 1931, was for a BBC concert program of his music. The composer saw little of Britain outside London and had no English, but he enjoyed the British enthusiasm for his music.
This according to “Falla in Britain” by Chris Collins (The musical times CXLIV/1883 [summer 2003] pp. 33–48). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Today is Falla’s 140th birthday! Above, Pablo Picasso’s costumes and set for the 1919 premiere of El sombrero; below, a more recent London performance of the work.
In 1821 the German operatic scene was dominated by foreign composers. Carl Maria von Weber was known as a gifted composer of songs and instrumental music, but his earlier operas had not been undisputed successes, and for the last ten years he had done nothing at all in that line; the premiere of his new opera, Der Freischütz, was anticipated with widespread suspense and excitement.
The composer could not but feel that much was at stake, both for himself and for the cause of German art. His friends feared that this new work would not have a chance; but Weber alone, as if with a presentiment of the event, was always in good spirits. The performance was fixed for 18 June, a day hailed by the composer as a good omen, being the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.
Weber’s presentiment did not fail him; the occasion was as great a triumph as ever fell to the lot of a musician. The applause of a house filled to the very last seat was such as had never been heard before in Germany. That this magnificent homage was no outcome of mere nationalism was shown by the fact that it was the same wherever Der Freischütz was heard. After conducting a performance in Vienna in March 1822 the composer wrote that “Greater enthusiasm there cannot be, and I tremble to think of the future, for it is scarcely possible to rise higher than this. To God alone the praise!”
This according to “Weber, Carl Maria Friedrich Ernest, Freiherr von” in A dictionary of music and musicians, A.D. 1450–1889 (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1895, IV/387–429); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.
Today is Weber’s 230th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1825; below, an excerpt from the 2010 film by Jens Neubert.
While they may not know the title or the composer, millions recognize Jay Ungar’s Ashokan farewell as the melodic centerpiece of the soundtrack for Ken Burns’s celebrated television series The Civil War.
Still fewer of those who love the tune realize that the title refers to a site that is now known as The Ashokan Center, an outdoor education, conference, and retreat located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that Ungar—together with his wife and musical partner, Molly Mason—was using for summer traditional music and dance camps.
Decades after Ungar composed Ashokan farwell, and following his performance of it at the White House and in various U.S. ceremonial settings, Ungar managed to leverage its emotional connections in a successful effort to preserve the location and create a $7.25 million campus there dedicated to traditional music, Catskill history, environmental education, and local arts and crafts.
This according to “Catskill cultural center saved, and renewed, thanks to a fiddler’s tune” by Dennis Gaffney (The New York times 12 May 2013, p. A15).
Today is Ungar’s 70th birthday! Below, a performance with Mason and some friends.
Chinese presenters have made their bid for grand opera’s international ranks with the very piece that marks the end of that tradition—Puccini’s Turandot.
The irony reaches further. In the country where Chinese singers have the greatest advantage, these productions have primarily featured Western performers; a piece that had been conspicuously absent from the country where it purports to take place has wound up essentially becoming China’s national opera; and the original story was never about China in the first place—it came from a French translation of a Persian folk tale that was adapted by an Italian playwright and later reinvented by a German writer whose version inspired Puccini.
This according to “A princess comes home” by Ken Smith (Opera LXIII/12 [December 2012] pp. 1473–1479). Above and below, excerpts from Turandot at the Forbidden City, directed by Zhang Yimou.
In more than 40 years at The New Yorker, Whitney Balliett encouraged readers to hear jazz through his vividly metaphorical writing.
Writing during the years of jazz’s greatest development and ferment, Balliett used comparatively little technical vocabulary, favoring a sensual rendering. Of the trumpeter Roy Eldridge, he wrote: “His tone at slow tempos still supplicates and enfolds and at fast speeds hums and threatens.” The trumpeter Doc Cheatham’s solos were “a succession of lines, steps, curves, parabolas, angles, and elevations.”
Balliett also used metaphor to great effect in describing appearances. Of Teddy Wilson: “His figure, once thin as a stamp, has thickened, and his hawklike profile has become a series of arcs and spheres.” And of the drummer Big Sid Catlett, who inspired some of his finest writing, he wrote: “Everything was in proportion: the massive shoulders, the long arms and giant, tapering fingers, the cannonball fists, the barn-door chest and the tidy waist, his big feet, and the columnar neck.”
This according to “Whitney Balliett, New Yorker jazz critic, dies at 80” by Ben Ratliff (The New York times 3 February 2007).
Today would have been Balliett’s 90th birthday! Below, Big Sid in action (wait for him trading fours near the end).