Saturday, April 10, 2021

Kerry McCarthy's biography on William Byrd

Kerry McCarthy
(c) Oxford University Press 2013
ISBN 978-0-19-538875-6

McCarthy's biography of the English Renaissance composer William Byrd is an almost breezy primer on the composer's life and times but given how opaque Renaissance choral music can be this is one of the book's several strengths. It may be that we can't entirely describe what happened in Byrd's musical life and times in terms of tonality as taught in US or UK music pedagogy; on the other hand, framing Byrd's recusant Catholicism in light of how much religious non-conformity cost other people in the Elizabethan era is not so hard to understand.  We will learn from McCarthy, for instance, that once Catholic music was banned any proof of owning Catholic liturgical music within Elizabethan England was regarded as evidence of potential or actual sympathy to political intrigues against the crown. 

As long as you're moderately comfortable reading scores the book isn't very taxing for a reader, although it helps a great deal if you have heard, for instance, Byrd's masses and some of his keyboard music.  This is a biography that is geared for a lay reader who, while musically literate, is not going to be steeped in Renaissance liturgical practices among Protestants and Catholics and all of that.  In other words, you don't have to have gotten a seminarian's education on the one hand or anything beyond undergrad level music-reading to be able to get benefits from reading this book.  As Byrd has been one of my favorite composers for decades I had a lot of fun reading this biography. It also brings up a few points I have discussed here over the years about polystylistic exchange within musical eras and the role that improvisation in then-contemporary or even popular styles used to play in the music pedagogy of this or that era.

Alan Jacobs contra Ross Douthat on Douthat's public Christian intellectuals of our time--Douthat keeps picking as Christian intellectuals people who heap contempt on everyone who differs with them (Hart comes to mind)

There's a bit of set up for this one by way of quotation.

Alie Anne Yorgason has a dissertation analyzing Nikolai Kapustin's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 82 and a short thought on how the prelude and fugue was more commonplace in the 20th century than you might have heard
Title: A study of Nikolai Kapustin's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 82
Author(s): Yorgason, Alie Anne

I'm not aware that it is a published work or anything like that but as I have linked to dissertations on Kapustin's work in the past this one is one I very much want to read should it ever get published!  I was thinking of blogging through Kapustin's cycle over the years but if someone has already done a dissertation on it, well, why would I blog about Kapustin's preludes and fugues now if I can point people to Yorgason's work?  

If you want to hear Kapustin's 24 Preludes and Fugues as played by Kapustin himself here's where you want to go.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Amar-Hindemith string quartet plays Paul Hindemith's Op. 22 string quartet

Hindemith composed his Op. 22 string quartet a century ago, and thanks to historical reissues you can get the recordings of the Amar-Hindemith string quartet.  Besides recording Hindemith's Op. 22 quartet the ensemble also had the distinction of making the first recording of Bartok's 2nd string quartet.  

Now I realize a lot of people aren't into Hindemith even among those who even know who Hindemith is.  So it goes.  I'm reminded that when Adorno was ranting about how bad the new music was sounding in the 1950s in the era of John Cage and Stockhausen he had a grudging remark or two about how back when  Hindemith was blasting away at the Romantic cliches of tonally anchored chromaticism he knew what the traditions were he was rebelling against whereas the 1950s Darnstadt serialists didn't. Hindemith was a reactionary for turning back to tonality, Adorno claimed, but he was a competent reactionary.  

Curiously, Adorno didn't seem to find Bartok as guilty by the same standard.  Apparently Adorno thought Hindemith, being German, had no excuse for deciding by the early 1930s that tonality was not something to actually be abandoned, after all, whereas Bartok, being Hungarian, was part of a musical culture for which tonal options were not yet all "used up".  Right ... 

Anyway, since I happen to like music by both Hindemith and Bartok it was fun to learn that Hindemith and company were first to record Bartok's 2nd string quartet.  My fantasy string quartet concert of 20th century string quartets would be Bartok's 3rd, Shostakovich's 3rd, Hindemith's Op. 22 and Ben Johnston's 4th.  Honestly, it's tough to pick from three of the four because the cycles they wrote are all really good but for Hindemith there's no doubt in my mind that Op. 22 is his best string quartet.

Anyway, since said string quartet was composed a century ago I thought I'd mention it, and mention that historical reissue recordings make it possible for us to hear (albeit with 1920s recording limitations) how Hindemith himself and the rest of the Amar-Hindemith quartet played through Op. 22. 

The Roaring 20s had a lot of remarkable music, whether it's Blind Willie Johnson, early Ellington or Hindemith (and if you don't like his music, hey, this is my blog, after all. :) )