Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bruckner in a Powdered Wig

I'd never thought about it before, but there are striking similarities between the compositional approaches of Antonio Vivaldi [top] and Anton Bruckner. Both use what could be called "cell" technique, where a short musical fragment is repeated many times and built upon by adding instruments and modulating. This is used instead of a longer melodic line. Bruckner was trained as an organist, so he would have known baroque music. Probably Bruckner scholars have recognized this parallel for a hundred years, but we each learn in our own time...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shadow of a God

The other day, my friend and I heard the first movement of Beethoven's 8th Symphony. My friend suddenly blurted out, "I hate this movement; such meager melodic material." I was stunned. Yet, I was not stunned that he hated the movement, rather that he would admit it. I have always found this to be one of Beethoven's weakest orchestral movements, but I have never told a soul.

I'm normally proud to be a critical thinker. What is it about this piece that kept me in the closet? Could it be that some of us are still intimidated by Beethoven as God of the Symphony, just like so many angst-ridden 19th-century composers who struggled to carry on the genre? [Pictured is Max Klinger's 1902 Beethoven Memorial sculpture in Leipzig, showing Beethoven as Zeus.]

Monday, January 22, 2007

Death of the Rebirth

Every time I hear the music of G.P. Palestrina (ca. 1525-1594), I shudder. Poor Palestrina; it's not his fault that his clear, smooth, magnificent style of sacred counterpoint made him the musical poster child of the Counter-Reformation. That movement helped to kill off Humanism, bringing back to Europe a long period of censorship, intolerance, and injustice in the the arts and every other level of human existence. Somehow, irrationally, Palestrina's music represents this for me. I have an easier time emotionally with the music of Wagner!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Piano Man

The British band Radiohead has always had a very guitar-based sound, which I've noticed in particular as I've tried to adapt some of their songs for piano and voice. So I was surprised when, a few weeks ago, I heard lead singer Thom Yorke doing a song from his solo album The Eraser on TV. Yorke sat at a keyboard, and that was the predominant instrumental sound in the arrangement. Remarkable how different Yorke's floating falsetto seems without the textural contrast of strummed chords behind it. [Since you're surely curious, he is covered in chocolate in this photo for an Oxfam fair-trade event.]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Dilly of a Q

Why couldn't the Indigo Girls song Dairy Queen have been even a little bit about soft serve? I can't be alone in wishfully wondering this...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Revival Meeting

Hallooo? Broadway producers? Could we please have a new production of the Kander/Ebb/McNally musical, Kiss of the Spider Woman? Is the deterrent that you can't find a dancin', beltin', web-climbin' powerhouse to play the lead? I guess there aren't so many Chita Riveras around, hmmm? [Chita, who created the role, is pictured above]

Speaking of McNally musicals, I distinctly recall a few years back that good old Terrence [lower photo] was reworking the book for Pal Joey, putting more dramatic emphasis on wartime America. I remember that the team had been given full access to the Rogers & Hart library, and had found some unknown songs... Whatever became of that intriguing project?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Song Worth Watching

One of the great mysteries of the modern era is the artistic purpose of the music video. The commercial purpose is obvious, but is there any other merit to the genre? Generally, I would say no, but in a very small number of cases, a music video is a short film that enriches the experience of hearing the song.

Above are images from two such cases: 1. [top] Lullaby, by the Cure, a creepily cartoonish video that reveals a serious, real-life connotation to the lyric hook, "spider man is having me for dinner tonight". Suffice it to say that Robert Smith seems to have gotten an education beyond the curriculum at his boarding school. 2. [bottom] Hurt, Johnny Cash's heart-stopping version of the Nine Inch Nails song, presented against visions of ancient, rotting decadence interspersed with scenes from Cash's own life.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

All the Pretty Hoarses

Here's a lucrative business proposal for [top to bottom] Melissa Etheridge, Rod Stewart, and Roger Taylor [and oh, what a sandwich THAT makes!]. You guys should start up a two-pronged venture: 1. A franchise of singing schools, featuring your patented Screamin' Hoarse Technique (SH-T), and 2. A line of Rocker Blonde hair dyes, to be sold at the singing schools, of course. But, seriously, congrats to Melissa, whose wife Tammy gave birth to twins a few months ago; to Rod, for becoming a Commander of the British Empire; and to Roger, ... for just being Roger.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Jazz in the Air

I will admit to being one of those people who took the phrase "Ravel's music was influenced by jazz" as a truism, and therefore never looked into it properly. [Maurice Ravel is shown in this photo sitting next to a young Stravinsky.] I finally got curious, and largely with the help of Arbie Orenstein's brilliant bio, learned a bit about Ravel's use of modal and other special scales, syncopation, and "blue notes". Still, I was surprised not to find particular pieces that used jazz thematically throughout; rather, as Orenstein puts it, "Jazz was in the air" in Paris, and seeped subtly into Ravel's style.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Longing for Loring

Eugene Loring choreographed that weird and wonderful film, Dr. Seuss' The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T [top photo]. I wanted to find more of his work on video, particularly Aaron Copland's ballet Billy the Kid. Would you believe, I can find no video format of any production of that ballet? So I looked for another of my favorites (not associated with Loring), Stravinsky's Petrouchka [bottom photo is Nijinsky in the title role]. No luck there, either. Is no one interested in preserving and distributing these 20th-century masterworks?? Needless to say, Netflix has five different versions of Coppelia!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lost and Found

I have been racking my brain trying to find a song to sing as a medley with Freddie Mercury's beautiful but very short Nevermore. That song is from 1974, so my first instinct was to use Lily of the Valley, from the same year. Lily is not as strong a lyric, though, so it wasn't working. Today the solution hit me: the singer is led down "the path of Nevermore" when his lover leaves him, so now he's lost. I'll follow it with Guide Me Home, soaringly Puccini, written in 1987 for Freddie's album with Montserrat Caballe.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Musical birthdays

A few musical birthdays to report. Yesterday there was Elvis (would've been 72), David Bowie (the big SIX-OH), and my late sister, Allegra (1966-1995; she played piano, French horn, bagpipes, and bodhran). Today we say, "Happy 66th Birthday, Joan Baez!"

Monday, January 8, 2007

Greetings, World

Welcome to the first post on my first Blog. Greetings from all my friends from the entire history of music, from Boethius to Freddie Mercury.