Sunday, August 27, 2017

yet more incubation

I still want to blog about the Koshkin cycle but I figure while I'm at it I want to do analytic overviews of the cycles by Rekhin and Dzhaparidze, too.  It will likely be skeletal on a post-by-post basis for each prelude and fugue that I decide to tackle.  One of the tricky parts is that these are cycles that, at present, there are either recordings of or published scores for but no comprehensive presentation at hand for each cycle.

Rekhin's entire cycle is published as two books in score form but there isn't a complete commercially available recording.  You can get the Tervo performances as audio files from Classical Archives (of course, did that).  The preference at this point is to try to compile notes and observations about the parts of Rekhin's cycle for which you can not only purchase scores but also at some point hear audio for too. Necessarily that means only about half of the cycle could be discussed with the currently available stuff.

Koshkin's entire cycle is, of course, published, and it's a pretty fun cycle.  As yet we have videos of something more like a third of the cycle and the quality of the videos is excellent.  But having familiarized myself with a pretty good swath of Koshkin's work over the last twenty years I feel considerably more confident attempting to discuss his cycle even absent a commercially available recording of his complete cycle.  There should be one.

The Dzhaparidze cycle is not officially published at this point but it has been recorded in full and the recording is nicely done and, well, I've been studying counterpoint for decades so I feel relatively confident I can discuss the kinds of compositional procedures you can hear as you listen carefully. 

I am willing to say at this preliminary stage that I really like the Koshkin and Dzhaparidze cycles and the Rekhin cycle is okay but I have some issues with it.  But to fairly explain what those issues are I'd need to compile more observations about the cycle and there's some stuff from Leonard B Meyer (surprise! not) that can help elucidate what some of my concerns have been about contrapuntal cycles from formerly Soviet bloc regions. 

For now the thumbnail observation is that though there's a lot of wonderful music in this tradition (very contra Adorno) composers can tend to fixate on the big cyclical nature of polyphonic cycles at the expense of cohesion within each respective prelude and fugue and it's at this sort of level that Rekhin's cycle can feel unsatisfying.  Take any individual prelude and fugue and there will be something interesting going on but many a time the relationship between the prelude and the fugue is tenuous.  In Baroque and other eras the prelude very often establishes the nature of the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of the musical language that will permeate the fugue.  In Rekhin's cycle a prelude may be in an observably different style or idiom than the corresponding fugue, to the point where it seems he's shifted from one century to another.  If this were in some other formal context besides preludes and fugues that could work. A George Rochberg can switch around styles violently in large-scale string quartets because there's a scale for that; the macrostructural elements are given time to compare and contrast.  Since on average fugues are rarely longer than two to three minutes if they are even two minutes long, the contrasts between a prelude and fugue can be too jarring if there isn't an immediate, audible basis for the stylistic pivot based on some level of gestural correspondence.  Which Rekhin manages to pull off in the B flat major prelude and fugue but I want to get to that in due time.

I've been debating whether to blog about contrapuntal cycles for keyboard, too.  I am more appreciative of the Shostakovich cycle as time goes by.  It is one of the best such cycles even if it seemed to me he had a propensity for adding one more voice than needed in his fugal textures.  His subjects were always so wonderfully formed, though, I ended up forgiving this particular complaint.  I know he's popular to dislike but I still like Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis, if that tells you anything.

But I was thinking of blogging about Nikolai Kapustin's cycle of preludes and fugues.  I've seen bits and pieces written about his work by scholars and I do think his set of 24 preludes and fugues merits further discussion.  I'm afraid all his piano sonatas are in one ear and out the other and that I'm afraid none of them stick with me but his fugal cycle is solid music.  His cycle, and what I've been able to see and hear of Michelle Gorrell's cycle of preludes and fugues, offer what are, at least for my interests, the most compelling attempts in East and West to arrive at a fusion of contrapuntal writing with the idioms of jazz, blues and ragtime.

I think that in several key ways Gorrell has done better by the syntactics and procedural possibilities of fugue as fugue, while Kapustin has the more incendiary, virtuosic approach--his subjects can be fantastic but there are moments where the virtuoso approach hijacks possibilities of more streamlined textures.  Gorrell, for want of a better way of putting this now, writes the kinds of fugues that, however showy, reveal her understanding that polyphonic art is anchored to vocal idioms--Kapustin's fugues are showpieces for virtuosic keyboard technique and there are times when the fugues are submerged to that virtuoso instrumental ethos. 

It's just that if I did that it'd be hugely time-consuming and I've mulled over writing some stuff about Rodion Shchedrin's set of preludes and fugues.  It might seem like a ridiculous thing for a guitarist composer to blog about but it's stuff I've debated, whether to tackle this stuff.  I've not yet considered blogging about Reicha's 36 fugues even though I like those, too. Probably the best place to mention Reicha's contribution to fugal writing would be as I blog through the Koshkin cycle.

And then there's still all that stuff I've been meaning to write about the problems with the remake of Ghost in the Shell.  I don't think the whitewashing controversy is really the most serious problem with the remake.  There are other, bigger problems that have to do with the sorts of problems American film-making has but I am trying to refamiliarize myself with Oshii's filmography because I think that what Americans seem to deliberately miss about his films is that the utopian and the dystopian are bound up together in the characters and plots and associated plot twists of Oshii's films, whether we're talking about the stories he writes himself or the ones that are scripted from him (i.e. the original Ghost in the Shell anime).  Particularly lacking in Western discussion of Oshii's films in what little has been said about the remake is Oshii's penchant for films that subversively reappropriate and qutoe or allude to biblical texts.  Oshii had a point saying that it would have made more sense for Americans to try remaking Patlabor than Ghost in the Shell but in both cases what American studio film-making would reject would be the comingling of the dystopian with the utopian that permeates Oshii's best work.

And I'm still hoping to write a bit about the Michael Bay Transformers franchise and the longevity of one of the more reviled franchises in American pop culture.  Ironically I read a few books about the total work of art that were intended to be part of a long-form critique of Francis Schaeffer's trilogy but along the way I began to think about how explications of the avant garde ideals of 19th century Europe could have found their apotheosis not in high art but in mass culture.  So I might need to experiment with ideas about that--it's hard to shake this half-jocular inspiration to say that if Walter Benjamin were around today he'd be analyzing the Bayformers franchise rather than the high end high art stuff.  But I'm still feeling like there's some extra reading and study I want to do for that one, too.  For now let's just propose an idea for consideration, that you won't always realize that the toys you play with shape your imagination in ways that you stop thinking about after you've decided you grow up but the shaping of your outlook has been deeply informed by that play as ritual all the same. 

And, yeah, there's stuff about Justice League I hope to get back to.  The next one should be Green Lantern but it's been months since I've been watching JLU.  It's been a challenging year in the offline world this year and I've been trying to juggle a lot of projects, obviously. 

In a way this gets me thinking about something I've seen evangelicals endlessly wringing their hands about.  All these men and women ... they're not getting married as young as they used to!  They're getting married in their mid to late 20s which is just a scandal if it wasn't for the fact that these things happen.  But, no, my real joke is to note that when evangelicals talk about how flummoxed they are that men and women aren't marrying on the one hand and on the other hand lamenting the loss of Christian intellectuals and cultural activity it's as though they just cordon off from their brains the possibility that the grandest contributions to Christian intellectual and spiritual reflection may have a history, not least in the West, of having been pioneered by a bunch of guys who made promises to never get laid.  If all the people who are supposed to be making great works of cultural and intellectual and artistic activity are so busy trying to make enough money to pay the bills to feed the children they and their wives have brought into the world there's not going to be a lot of time left over to write like a Puritan, is there?  Because, after all, the Puritans had no internet and parenting ideals were kind of different back then, weren't they?  Gone are the days when a Richard Baxter could advise unmarried men that perhaps they should stay unmarried if they have the self-control for it because it was the unmarried who were able to devote themselves more steadily to Christian philanthropy.  But I've joked enough about the ethic of heteronormative biological determinism in neo-Calvinist scenes where all straight male erections are construed as prima facie evidence of the need to marry elsewhere at this blog. 

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