Saturday, November 24, 2012

possibilities for Chamber Music Week 3

I've been wanting to do Chamber Music Week 3 at Wenatchee The Hatchet superbad for a long time now.  I've been running through ideas of stuff to write about in some detail and have realized that the mundane responsibilities of off-line life are going to make that kinda tougher to pull off (though that's actually a good thing in itself that I'm not going to necessarily explain here).

So that's to say Chamber Music Week 3 might resemble a Linkathon from Phoenix Preacher only instead of a link to something about a hot topic or a person there might be links to specific Youtube performances of chamber pieces.

Or I may end up doing thumbnail overviews of albums I'm pretty sure you won't have heard about.  Now if you happen to go digging up recordings of quartets by Rebay, or a CD dedicated entirely to music for mandolin and guitar then maybe what is in the works won't be new to you.  Here's hoping, however, that Chamber Music 3, when it finally comes together, will introduce you to at least a little bit of music for classical guitar (or not) that you haven't come across and may even find interesting. 

We're not done blogging about Rebay by a long shot, for instance.  There's also some interesting stuff for alto saxophone and guitar to discuss and there's an analysis of an Annette Kruisbrink piece I've been thinking about doing for a while.  It's not as though I ever completely gave up on that proposed project explaining cyclical motivic development in Koshkin's sonata for flute and guitar but there's a point where a blogger realizes that something with a title like that is more a master's thesis kind of thing than just some blog post.  Any long-time readers remember hints that there might be this "little" project for Mockingbird?  Yeah ... well, some 20,000 words later it's not nearly as little as any of us thought it would be. 

Motivic augmentation in "Dear Prudence"

Sometimes when attempting to explain a musical idea or compositional device the most obvious and potentially boring example is actually the best example.  Augmentation is the idea of taking a melodic gesture and multiplying the durations of the notes.  As simple demonstrations of melodic augmentation goes it would be impossible to find a simpler or more effective example than "Dear Prudence" off the White Album.  Yes, dear readers, we're going to be that obvious.

The sun is up
the sky is blue
it's beautiful
and so are you

You all know the words, and you all know that the vocal line draws out all these notes at double their previous duration at the end of the song.  Interspersed with this drawn-out form of the chorus are rising guitar riffs that form a response to the vocal call.  As pop songs go it's genius, a combination of augmentation of a simple gesture with an antiphonal instrumental response decorating, expanding on, and sequentially developing a mirror-phrase to the augmented melody.

But there's something about augmentation of a melodic line that can be easy to overlook that makes or breaks whether or not the device is possible or effective.  That "something" is that the melodic idea you expand rhythmically has to have a harmonic rhythm that you can play with.  You have to be able to draw it out linearly in space and time, and when you do that there has to be more room to play with.  To put it in reverse, the musical idea that sounds good all long and drawn out also has to make sense musically in a much tighter, more compressed harmonic rhythm.  In other words you need a rocking chord change implicit or explicit in whatever you're subjecting to augmentation or diminution of harmonic and melodic durations.  Surely after about half a century we know that "Dear Prudence" delivers this by the truckload. 

If you don't know the song "Dear Prudence" and haven't heard it, well, even this not-necessarily-a-Beatles-fan might have to wonder what you've done with your life!  Listen to the song (again) and I think you'll find that the experience of hearing with your own ears can better illustrate the concept of augmentation than mere words on a blog could provide (especially since the song is under copyright and all that).  I might digress into the subject of the descending bass line as foundation to a passacaglia or how descending linear progressions show up in other Beatles songs ... but this blog entry is going to just stick to "Dear Prudence" here in the Emerald City where the sun is most definitely not up, the sky is definitely not blue, but it gets to beautiful and you do, too. ;-)

Don't come out to play, though.  Seattle drivers are lame in the rain.

Friday, November 23, 2012

HT to Jim West: Black Friday is a bunch of meaningless hype

If you follow the link from Jim West's blog you might have to click through an HP on-line advertisement to get to the article, which just adds a meta level of amusement to the piece.

John Podhoretz has come to a new appreciation of cinematic Chicken McNuggets in eight years
July 01, 2004, 8:49 a.m.
The Best of the Worst
Spider-man 2.

Calling the new Spider-Man film the best comic-book movie ever made — and it is, without a doubt, the best comic-book movie ever made — is a little like calling a Chicken McNugget the best processed fast-food poultry product ever produced. It's praise, but how substantial can the praise really be, given the source?

Movies and television shows based on comic books constitute the worst single genre in the history of filmed entertainment (with the exception of porn). ...

Evil Undone
The moral clarity of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series.
Jul 30, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 43 • By JOHN PODHORETZ

Christopher Nolan’s astounding third Batman feature, The Dark Knight Rises, represents the true maturation of the superhero movie—and provides the key to understanding the bottomless craving moviegoers have for these films, 34 years after the Christopher Reeve Superman gave birth to the genre. It’s not because the odds of seeing something good go up when you buy a ticket to a superhero picture, because most of these movies are lousy (a point on which even diehard fans agree).
Nor is it about the dazzling special effects, the killer action sequences, or the empowerment fantasy that the stories provide to young kids and teenagers who feel so powerless in their own lives—though all that helps, to be sure. You can have all of these, as John Carter did earlier this year, and fail miserably.
What people adore about superhero movies is the signal quality of the Christopher Nolan films—their complete lack of irony when it comes to the portrayal of heroism and the need for heroes to confront evil. When they grab you, and the utterly riveting and entirely gripping The Dark Knight Rises grabs you as few movies do, it is because the filmmakers discard the knowing winks and go all-out, turning their stories into moral pageants dedicated to the elevation of self-sacrifice, selflessness, and heroism.

Somehow Podhoretz failed to notice that this was exactly what Sam Raimi was aiming at in Spiderman 2.  Did he not notice it back then because there was a Republican president in 2004? ;-)

two Thanksgiving posts by Wendy at Practical Theology for Women
Here are a couple more links related to Thanksgiving from Wendy. 

post-Thanksgiving link: The Language of Thanksgiving by J. S. Bangs

A small blog post by J. S. Bangs about his sons.  It's well worth reading. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The perfect piece of music for all the rain we're getting in Seattle

Yes, longtime readers, it's exactly what you guessed I'd link to, Gyorgy Ligeti's Symphonic Poem for 100 Metronomes. 

Sure, why not. Links to Paul Hindemith's Op. 22 string quartet played by the Amar-Hindemith quartet

String Quartet Op.22 by Paul hindemith
Performed by the Amar-Hindemith quartet, recorded in 1927
Movement 1
Movement 2
Movement 3
Movement 4
Movement 5
The recording from 1927 has the limitations you'd expect from the time and in movement 2 the quartet sounds like they hit the resonant tone of the room which leads to a sustained hum that, I assure you (having studied the score over the years) is not in the score.

It's Thanksgiving week here in the United States and so you'll forgive me if I end up just throwing up a bunch of links to things that interest me and you won't be hugely surprised that ends up being music. 

Anthony Joseph Lanman Sonata 46, performed by Duo46

Truly I've been interested in picking up recordings by this violin and guitar duo for years but have been, as the mysterious Mr. Yotsuya used to tell Kyoko Otonoashi, "temporarily short of funds".

Here's a video of Lanman's replete with the score, which is fun to read along with during the recording.
And here's a video of Duo46 playing the piece where you get to see them playing the same. They really tear into the aggressive passages in this one.  :) The lyric moments are also a bit more lyric, almost Romantic but it's all gloriously late 20th century in its sound.

... starting to wonder if this is becoming a de facto chamber music week 3. 

Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light, duo for viola & guitar by Samuel Adler

Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light, a duet for viola and guitar by Samuel Adler
Performed by Duo Fresco

Movement 1

There's two more movements and they're pretty sweet, too but we'll just link to the one we could find.

Ester Magi: A Tre (trio for violin, guitar and cello)

I heard this piece at the Icebreaker series in Seattle years ago.  Now there's a video of the piece.  It's a nice little chamber work for guitar.  Hope you enjoy it. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daniel Corr recital Nov 17, 2012 Frye Art Museum

Remember that post where I mentioned this was coming up?  This is the post where I write about the recital.  You didn't think I'd mention a recital and not go to it, did you?  :)

Daniel Corr put on a very fine recital on Saturday.  I'll let you look up his bio and background because that stuff is easily found.  I'd like to devote some time writing about what he played and why I liked it.

If you've hung around guitarists, particularly classical guitarists, there can be two rather broad categories of us and by "us" I mean caricatures.  There are those guitarists who play warhorse after warhorse for audiences who don't themselves play the guitar and then the second sort, so to speak, grumbles about hearing the same small set of pieces over again.  There are guitarists who don't want to hear the Rodrigo concerto ever again because they're sick of it.  They may admit to not even listening to most of the music of Sor or Giuliani because they find it daft and they may (or may not) corner you to discuss Henze or Ginastera (personal confession, I still loathe that sonata and couldn't get into Henze despite a weekend immersing myself in the score and a recording (I've since heard) was not the ideal presentation).  I just rambled too much ... but blogs are not always for finely refined prose.

I'm happy to report that Corr's program was mostly not warhorses.  But the program was full of Rebay, Guastavino, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Barrios, and Fred Hand. In other words, it was a fine balance of works by composers you "may" have heard of and others you'd have to be a specialist to even know about.  There was a nice diversity of styles even though all the repertoire technically qualifies as 20th century music. 

The opening piece was a set of variations on a folk song "Das Lieben bringt gross Leid" by Ferdinand Rebay.  This is a relatively short set of variations and one that I hadn't heard.  Rebay wrote hundreds of works for guitar, many of which were unpublished during his lifetime, so there's a wealth of music from Rebay I hope we'll get to hear more and more of over time and it was a treat to hear the variations as the opening piece in the recital. 

Rebay's approach to variation form, from what I've been able to hear so far, is heavy on character variation, which is what we'd expect from a composer inspired mainly by the Romantics.  Rebay was particularly fond, in my listening so far, for adapting tunes by Schubert for guitar or ensemble with guitar.  The dirty confession I have to make is that I don't actually like Schubert's music ... but Rebay had a knack for picking Schubert tunes that sound allright by me and then doing fun things with them.  There's something to be said for a composer taking themes by another composer you don't much like and getting you to like things about the other composer's music.  On that particular matter Rebay has helped me kinda sorta appreciate Schubert's music, at least when Rebay is playing with his themes.  Who knows if Rebay won't help me actually enjoy Schubert in another decade?  Corr's playing was pleasing and fluid and he chose a neat, charming little set of variations to open his recital with.

Corr followed up the Rebay with Carlos Guastavino's first sonata for guitar, a work cast in three movements.  Sonata allegro form is, as Corr noted during the recital, a rarely used form for the guitar so he was excited to present (and I was excited to hear) a sonata form in a guitar sonata.  Often guitar sonatas by name don't necessarily use a sonata form (or in some cases, like Koshkin's massive Sonata for guitar solo the forms are technically used but with a somewhat disappointing disregard for the tonal hiearchy and architecture that, in the hands of the masters, gave the form a vibrant sense of momentum and drive ... but this blog post isn't supposed to be one where I nitpick Koshkin's handling of sonata allegro form)

Guastavino's sonata opens with a boistrous theme in D minor and a straightforward one.  Thanks to drop D tuning this work opens with a nice, pleasant bang and the contrast between themes is appealing.  What particularly sticks with me about this sonata form, days later, is how deftly the recapitulation got handled.  The second group that appears in major in the exposition is presented in parallel minor in the recapitulation, something that seems unusual to me.  Sonata forms are rare and sonata forms in minor keys for solo guitar may be more rare.  The amount of physical effort to play a major key theme in parallel minor may be enough that in many cases guitarists avoid it unless the theme is very short and that seems to occur more in variation forms than sonata form, so hats off to Guastavino for writing a sonata with a solid recapitulation. 

Yes ... this is a theory nerd sorta of recital overview, isn't it? 

Guastavino was an Argentinian composer who assimilated folk and popular elements from his country into traditional forms.  For want of a better way to get this idea across think of it this way, in the 19th century European nationalistic composers emerged, finding ways to inject regional flavor into what were, in a post-Beethovenian Europe, pretty standardized forms.  In the 20th century nationalism and folkloric movements in concert music were more likely to start from the "raw" material itself and work back into more abstract forms or to start with more abstract neapolitan forms and working steadily away into more regional musical detail.  I admit to being a bit too lazy tonight to provide examples that go beyond passing references to Villa-Lobos or Bartok as case studies to contrast with earlier generations of composers advocating for national legacies such as Dvorak or maybe Smetena (?).

I'd be interested in hearing more sonatas by Guastavino and it was cool that Corr played this sonata in his recital.

Tre Preludi Mediterranei by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a work by a composer whose work I've grown steadily familiar with over the last six years and it was nice to hear these pieces, as well (I like the whole program, for that matter).  The Tedesco was followed up by the Barrios work Julia Florida, which I thought sounded nice.  This is one of those works that has been described as saccharine, sweet to the point of kicking you into diabetic coma territory but Corr played the piece in a way that I found pleasant.  There's such a thing as not over-doing sentimentality in sentimental music and letting the music's formal elegance do the work of charming an audience and that is, I think, what Corr did a fine job of doing with an alternately loved and hated staple in the solo repertoire. 

The last work intrigued me, Frederic hand's Trilogy.  This is a work inspired more by jazz than "classical" music and the rhythms of Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a la Turk pervades the work.  Since I happen to own a few Brubeck albums I enjoyed this piece.  As a form nerd I admit there were a few spots where Hand's form sprawled a little for me but his work has an unerring sense of proportion and timing.  He knows how long to run with an idea and develop it before shifting gears into a new idea, and he has a good sense for when to bring back ideas. 

Corr mentioned that Hand began synthesizing and consolidating musical elements across classical and popular styles in the 1970s when jazz/classical fusions were rare (and the few fusions there were that I've heard besides Hand were, often, ineffective).  Trilogy was a nice jazzy way to wrap up the recital.

The recital's balance of style and form and region was impeccable.  I love that Corr was able to begin with the Romantic-inspired sounds of the Austrian Rebay and move to Argentinian sonata forms, visit the Italian expatriate in America through Tedesco's work, and transition through Barrios to end with Fred Hand's work.  This kind of program represents a kind of trajectory of emigration in flight from totalitarianism, at least that's my willfully idiosyncratic take on the program (Rebay's wife was Jewish and Castlenuovo-Tedesco was Jewish, both composers who in different ways faced anti-Semitism and both of whom, if memory serves, ended up fleeing their homelands for years).  Now I admit that finding such a narrative implicit in a recital program is abstract but if you've read this blog for any length of time ... .

Corr put on a great recital and I'm glad I went.  Kudos to Corr for playing music by Castlenuovo-Tedesco and Rebay.  :)  It's been exciting to hear more of Rebay's work and see that it may get saved from the near oblivion it's been in for decades.  I'd encourage you to seek out his concerts if he's playing in a town near you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Slate does a Graeme McMillan with "Were Prehistoric Statues Pornographic?"

If you've never read an article by Spinoff's Grame McMillan ... well ... do yourself the favor of not looking any of them up or clicking on them by accident.  Yes, this is going to be one of those petty, snarky posts where we open with an observation about how annoying a certain writer on comics and films can be. 

Anyway, the article opens with a question whether prehistoric statues were pornographic and the rather short answer is "That would entail modern people reading their own biases back into ancient art." The Venus of Hohle Fels doesn't immediately strike me as looking like a human figure, it strikes me very much as a mock-up for one of the dancing chickens in the video for Peter Gabriel's song Sledgehammer.

A short excerpt of the article, which was republished from New Scientist:

JI: Aren't other interpretations of paleo art just as speculative as calling them pornographic?

Yes, but when we interpret Paleolithic art more broadly, we talk about "hunting magic" or "religion" or "fertility magic." I don't think these interpretations have the same social ramifications as pornography. When respected journals—Nature for example—use terms such as "Prehistoric pin-up" and "35,000-year-old sex object," and a German museum proclaims that a figurine is either an "earth mother or pin-up girl" (as if no other roles for women could have existed in prehistory), they carry weight and authority. This allows journalists and researchers, evolutionary psychologists in particular, to legitimize and naturalize contemporary western values and behaviors by tracing them back to the "mist of prehistory."

If you're not familiar with the flak evolutionary psychologists have gotten in the last ten years for identifying gender as having physiological and prehistorically encoded hard boundaries then, well, you have some catching up to do and this blog wouldn't be the place to do that.  Think, for the moment, about dancing chickens.

Kinnon TV: Twitter as Interstitialed Narcissism

Had thoughts I was going to blog but I'll just do a link for now.