August 1, 2017

A friend of a friend (so to speak)

I do like Helmut Lachenmann, for instance. His are noisy little pieces that are very cleverly done.
Elliott Carter, 30 May 2012.
Laura Emmery, "An American Modernist: Teatime with Elliott Carter", Tempo 67, 2013.


Here is one such "noisy little piece", Tableau for Orchestra (1988), in live recordings by the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle (February 2015, Amsterdam),  and by the WDR Sinfonieorchester under Peter Rundel (2 October 2015, Cologne, and 3 October 2015, Strasbourg).

June 19, 2017

When smart people say stupid things IV

... chaotic, unpredictable... There are no themes and no 'form'.
David Schiff on Elliott Carter's Partita for Orchestra (1993), The Music of Elliott Carter, 2nd ed., Cornell U. Press, 1998, p.318.

Musicologists... the forensic pathologists of music who dissect musical works, examine the innards, and describe their findings in reports the general public never reads.  Except, that is, for occasional voyeuristic freaks like myself.  In our case, however, the motivation is not some morbid obsession of a man perusing reports from the Coroner's Office, but a harmless (if not particularly healthy) obsession with the music we find exceptionally rewarding.

May 20, 2017

A not so odd couple

I'm sure you've read about occasions when a great composer's work was performed by his contemporary fellow composer of comparable stature who also happened to be a distinguished musician.  Ever wondered what it would be like to hear such performances?  Vivaldi concertos played by Bach (in transcriptions for organ)?  Mozart's D minor piano concerto played by the young Beethoven?  How about Chopin's etudes played by Liszt?  Or perhaps Mahler's interpretations of operas by Puccini and Richard Strauss?

But why spend time on daydreaming when you can hear the real thing:

April 11, 2017

Blue Balls Lohengrin

In the middle of one his stand-up acts, the American comedian Steven Wright - whose onstage persona is by turns morose, dejected, or depressed - suddenly took a deep breath and said very slowly, very darkly, and with a deep sigh: I am soooo excited...  That was funny and the joke took all of two seconds.

Recently I was reminded of Steven Wright by what I thought (for a moment) was a similar joke, except that it went on for more than twenty minutes and wasn't in the least funny.  The joke in question was the Bridal Chamber Duet from Lohengrin conducted by Joseph Keilberth at the 1953 Bayreuth Festival (with Wolfgang Windgassen in the lead role).[1]  To say that Keiberth's tempo was sluggish would be a severe understatement.  It was comatose.  Had this been a piece of instrumental music, one could conceivable justify such a tempo as an exercise of 'artistic license', akin to Glenn Gould's catatonic recording of Siegfried's Idyll or Sviatoslav Richter's glacial performances of Schubert's piano sonatas. Alas, with opera musical decisions cannot be completely unmoored from the text [2]; and it is because of the text that Keilberth tempo struck me as being simply freakish.
     To explain:

March 14, 2017

When smart people say stupid things III

Our admiration for the great singers of the past is based on gramophone records. But what do we know about the precise circumstances in which they were made?  Undoubtedly performances by tenors like Max Lorenz and Lauritz Melchior were stellar events ... although I am inclined to doubt whether both these singers had such tremendous voices as is claimed for them today.
Christian Thielemann [1]

Perhaps only a German mind can so effortlessly misrepresent obvious facts and then raise doubts as to whether there are any such facts at all. (This, after all, is the principal characteristic of German philosophy from Kant to Heidegger.)  Coming from a highly experienced and internationally acclaimed opera conductor, Thielemann's doubt is worse than frivolous. It is delusional.  There is no gentler way to describe his state of denial in the face of readily available and utterly compelling evidence that Lauritz Melchior's legendary status as a Wagnerian Heldentenor is fully justified by the unmatched glories of his singing.

So lets take a quick look at the evidence.

February 15, 2017

Hurray for Musical Colonialism-Imperialism!

Mozart did it with the Rondo a la Turca finale of his piano sonata K.331.  Beethoven - with the Thème russe in his Razumovsky Quartets.  Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maitre alludes to the sounds of Balinese gamelan music, while Steve Reich's Drumming is a minimalist recollection of his trip to Africa.  Fortunately for art music, its pathetically low profile in today's American society has kept such colonialist-imperialist musical transgressions invisible to vigilant social justice warriors who are always ready to flood social media with indignant yapping about the evils of cultural appropriation - say, when they see a photo of some Caucasian celebrity bimbo wearing an 'ethnic' Halloween costume.  Lets hope things stay this way.  My Go-Fuck-Yourself List is already way too long to accommodate what must be nearly the entire Twitter-cum-Facebook generation of useless whiny assholes.