Tag Archives: Reception

Boy bands and the critics

new edition

While the boy band genre has mutated and evolved, its popular portrayal has altered little since groups like New Edition and New Kids on the Block conquered the charts back in the late 1980s.

Recent critical commentaries suggest that four discourses—youth, exploitation, gender, and fandom— interlock to determine how writers discuss the genre. Collectively their result is a relative stasis in critical commentary that helps to allay wider anxieties about the idea that, in a capitalist society, any of us can actively and pleasurably engage with a musical genre led by its own marketing.

This according to “Multiple damnations: Deconstructing the critical response to boy band phenomena” by Mark Duffett (Popular music history VII/2 [August 2012] pp. 185–97). Above and below, New Edition in the 1980s.

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

The first Mozart monument

Rovereto claims the distinction of being both the first stop in the series of trips that Mozart undertook in Italy—he arrived with his father on Christmas Eve in 1769—and the first city to erect a monument in Mozart’s honor.

The monument was designed by Giuseppe Antonio Bridi (1763–1836), a banker who had befriended Mozart and was passionate about music. Bridi’s relationship with Mozart and his family continued until his death, including a regular correspondence with Constanze that was carried out until 1833. The monument was erected in 1825 at Bridi’s villa in the suburbs of Rovereto.

This according to “Sulla via del ritorno: Il primo monumento alla gloria di Mozart” by Renato Lunelli, an essay included in Mozart in Italia: I viaggi, le lettere (Milano: Ricordi, 1956); the volume was issued to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Today is Mozart’s 260th birthday! Below, the symphony K.112, composed during his first Italian sojurn.

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Pavarotti sings for soccer

The group New Order’s World in motion, commissioned by the British Football Association to mark the 1990 World Cup soccer finals, “is probably the least likely official football theme song ever recorded: Denying its own status as a football song, introducing elements of subcultural love lyrics, and becoming a gay club hit, but also assuming the burden of combating football’s major peripheral problem, hooliganism, the song is ultimately unheimlich, even despite its closing chorus that speaks of ‘playing for England; playing this song.’”

This according to “Playing for England” by Paul Smith (South Atlantic quarterly 90/4 [fall 1991] pp. 737–752). Smith goes on to note that “both the BBC and the independent television companies forewent the pleasure of having ‘Love’s got the world in motion’ going across the airwaves every night, and the BBC used as their World Cup theme another piece of music that quickly became a number one hit: Luciano Pavarotti singing his version of the Nessun dorma aria from Turandot.”

Today would have been Pavarotti’s 80th birthday! Below, singing Nessun dorma in 1994.

BONUS: By way of contrast, New Order’s song:

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Filed under Curiosities, Mass media, Opera, Popular music, Reception, Sports and games

Emma Abbott in the heartland

Emma Abbott

Stung by the mixed reviews of New York critics who apparently preferred their divas to be foreign-born, the operatic soprano Emma Abbott created a highly successful—and somewhat revolutionary—niche for herself.

In 1898 Abbott founded the Emma Abbott English Grand Opera Company with her husband, Eugene Wetherell, as business manager. There were precedents for translating operas into English, and even for Abbott’s role as both prima donna and production manager; the distinctive and brilliant move was to take her company to the U.S. heartland with the perfect persona for 19th-century American tastes.

Having grown up poor in Peoria, Illinois, she had the quintessential American dream narrative. She was openly both devout and patriotic, often interpolating beloved religious and U.S. songs into her opera performances. And the marital bliss projected by her close relationship with Wetherell further burnished the persona that her audiences relished.

As Abbott’s close friend and biographer Sadie E. Martin recalled, “The pleasing voice and manners of the operatic star, and her sympathetic nature, seemed at once to attract towards her the hearts of the public. She was from the first very popular, and after the first year there were many who watched, waited, and longed for her annual appearance, as for that of an old friend.”

By the time she retired, Abbott had officiated at the openings of more opera houses than any singer before her, and—owing also to her canny buisness sense—had amassed a fortune far beyond that of her European counterparts.

This according to Women in the spotlight: Divas in nineteenth-century New York by Andrea Saposnik (Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing).

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Music for abusers

Istedgade

For some decades the back entrance of the Hovedbanegård (Central Station) in København served as a shelter and meeting place for alcoholics, drug abusers, and drug dealers, because this part of the station faces Istedgade Kvarteret (Isted Street Quarter, above), a part of the city that accommodates prostitution and pornography shops and cinemas. When narcotics entered the milieu of prostitution, this part of the city also became the home of junkies and drug dealers.

After a major restoration of the station in the 1990s the management wanted to get rid of the abusers in the back entrance. So did many travelers. And as the police did not succeed, they adopted a concept that had proved its efficiency at the central station in Hamburg. By playing music from the Romantic period through a loudspeaker, they stressed the abusers so much that, after a few days of persistence, they left the entrance hall.

Most of the junkies and alcoholics are not familiar with nor attracted to classical Romanticism, and popular music has been a vital part of their lifestyle. Therefore they feel uncomfortable when smoking, fixing, or dealing accompanied by strange classical music. For the travelers, however, Romantic-era music is a preferred genre compared to, for example, medieval music, atonal music, bebop, or modern jazz, and they are not bothered by it during the half minute it takes to pass through the entrance.

This according to “Musik for misbrugere” by Olav Harsløf (Antropologi LIV [2006–2007] pp. 87–98). Below, an excerpt from Berlioz’s opium-themed Symphonie fantastique, a Romantic-era work suitable for the station’s loudspeaker.

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Accidental hooks

prado cherry pink

Popular records often include accidents, indicating something about the flexibility of musical practices and the limits of theories. Musical hooks provide useful test-cases because they are normally considered the least accidental part of a song.

One imagines the hook emerging fully formed in a moment of inspiration—the catchy phrase that comes into a songwriter’s head—or at least of calculation: But hooks sometimes incorporate accidents or happen accidentally. If hooks are less than completely determinate, then every aspect of a popular record must be subject to contingency.

This according to “Accidents, hooks, and theory” by Charles Kronengold (Popular music XXIV/3 [October 2005] pp. 381–397).

Above and below, Pérez Prado’s Cherry pink and apple blossom white, one of the examples cited in the article. The intended hook was the prominent trumpet lip slurs; the accidental hook, which made the record a number one U.S. hit in 1955, was Prado’s occasional interpolated vocalizations.

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Rosalyn Tureck and Bach

tureck

When Rosalyn Tureck was first studying piano, Bach’s keyboard music was widely considered to be primarily didactic—good for training in pianistic skills, but too dry for the concert hall. Tureck, however, was fascinated with this repertoire, and started making a point of memorizing a prelude and fugue pair every week.

At the age of 16 she moved to New York City to study at Julliard, and immediately declared her interest in specializing in Bach. Her teachers there were encouraging, but others were not: at the Naumberg Competition, for example, she made it to the finals but the jury declined to give her the award because they were convinced that nobody could make a career out of playing Bach.

Tureck persevered, keeping her repertoire centered on Bach while continuing to pursue her interest in new music. In the 1950s she began to focus more exclusively on Bach, and in 1957 she moved to London, having found that European audiences were more eager for Bach programs than U.S. ones.

This according to “Rosalyn Tureck, pianist specializing in Bach, dies at 88” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times CLII/52,549 [19 July 2003] p. A:11).

Today is Tureck’s 100th birthday! Below, the prelude and fugue in A minor, BWV 895, in 1962.

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ABBA’s film renaissance

abba

ABBA’s music has often been denigrated as bland, mass market pop. However, viewed from the point of view of reception, the ABBA phenomenon is a highly complex text that offers contemporary music consumers diverse, even perverse, pleasures.

Between them, Stephan Elliott’s The adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and P.J. Hogan’s Muriel’s wedding (1994) suggest a broad spectrum of ABBA consumers, from the sincere and sentimental to the hip, camp, and kitsch, using this spectrum to map a series of interfaces between culture, identity, the performance of gender, and place.

This according to “Music and camp: Popular music performance in Priscilla and Muriel’s wedding” by Catherine Lumby, an essay included in Screen scores: Studies in contemporary Australian film music (North Ryde: Australian Film, Television, and Radio School, 1999, pp. 78–88).

Below, ABBA’s Waterloo in Muriel’s wedding.

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Spohr and German opera

 

Spohr

In 1823 Louis Spohr’s article “Aufruf an deutsche Komponisten” appeared in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. He wrote it to encourage young German composers to contribute to the genre of German opera, but he may have had other intentions as well.

Spohr was determined to promote his latest opera, Jessonda, which he mentioned as a model for his ideas of German opera—but a closer look at that work reveals that Spohr did not think along nationalist lines. In a way its dramaturgy depicts Kant’s definition of Enlightenment and aims at a united and enlightened mankind; so did the composer in his personal life.

Indeed, Spohr’s liberal and enlightened ideas are so prominent in his operas that they became increasingly neglected in the 1870s, when chauvinistic tendencies became more widespread. This development culminated in the 1940s, when the Nazis banned Jessonda from the German stage. As Spohr’s original resisted attempts to align it with the Nazi idea of German opera, the Reichsstelle für Musikbearbeitungen commissioned an amended version; the end of World War II curtailed this effort.

This according to “Zwischen nationalem Anspruch und lokalpolitischen Zwangen: Entstehungs- und Rezeptionsbedingungen der Kasseler Opern Louis Spohrs” by Wolfram Boder (Studia musicologica LII/1–4 [March 2011] pp. 311–321).

Today is Spohr’s 230th birthday! Above, the composer’s self-portrait; below, some excerpts from Jessonda.

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If it’s Mozart, it’s a masterpiece!

mozart-shades

Since the mid–19th-century discovery of the sinfonia concertante for winds, sometimes labeled K.297b, the work has been considered authentic by some and dubious by others, and its reception in the concert hall has paralleled these critical vicissitudes. An examination of 168 texts discussing this composition reveals that the authors’ reactions to the work are closely bound to their opinions on who wrote it.

For example, authors who believed that the work was by Mozart described it as strong, sturdy, and solid, while those that did not called it flimsy, arbitrary, illogical, and incomprehensible; those crediting Mozart rated the work highest level and a masterpiece, while those who considered it spurious rated it not first class; and the Mozart designators considered it delightful, celestial, and enchanting, while the non-Mozart camp described it as tasteless, inept, and cheap.

This according to “Musical attribution and critical judgment: The rise and fall of the sinfonia concertante for winds, K.297b” by John Spitzer (The journal of musicology V/3 [summer 1987] pp. 319–56). Below, we invite you to form your own opinion.

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