Courtesy Stereophile magazine.
If anyone is interested, here are more groovy things to explore. Feel free to consider this your Suggested Voluntary Summer Reading and Listening List.
In 1965, the Soviet composers Dmitri Shostakovich and Rodion Shchedrin were both vacationing in Armenia. Shostakovich asked Shchedrin the Desert Island Score question: Were Shchedrin to be exiled to a deserted island and could bring only one score with him, which would it be? Shchedrin’s answer was prompt: J.S. Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue).
When Shchedrin then turned the question on him, Shostakovich answered, “Das Lied von der Erde, by Mahler.” (Tr.: The Song of the Earth.) Which is not surprising, given that Shostakovich was a founding member (one of two, if I recall correctly) of the Gustav Mahler Society of the Soviet Union, and that Shostakovich later entertained (but decided against) the idea of completing the orchestration of Mahler’s unfinished Symphony 10. (BTW, the only books in Mahler’s composing hut were Johann Nikolaus Forkel’s major survey of Bach’s works.)
The same topic arose in another conversation that took place between Shostakovich and Shchedrin in 1975, two months before Shostakovich died (so I assume that they were in Moscow). Shchedrin asked, “Do you remember our conversation in Armenia? Did you change your opinion about Mahler?” “No,” Shostakovich replied. “And did you change your opinion about Bach?” To which Shchedrin answered, “No.” Continue Reading →
The Voyager, showing the container for the Golden Records.
Almost on a whim, more than 40 years ago, a bunch of scientists decided that seeing as we were launching two robotic probe vehicles which, once they left our solar system, would drift in space for about 40,000 years before getting close to another planetary system, we might as well send along a couple of phonograph records containing, among other things, a wide variety of pieces of music from Earth.
The amazing things about that are legion; but the two that stick out farthest for me are that (1) the aforementioned scientists actually convinced otherwise sane and sober bureaucrats to go for it; and (2) the aforementioned scientists were able, in a rather short time frame, to kludge together bits and pieces that, in theory at least, might, 40,000+ years from now, enable The Good Lord Knows Who? to play the aforementioned phonograph records. Which are known to that segment of humankind that cares about such things as “The Voyager Golden Records.” (And not all such persons have closets full of Star Trek Original Television Series uniforms. Or so I have been assured.)
Obviously, bundling up for long-distance shipment a state-of-the-art-for-1977 phonograph turntable, tone arm, cartridge, amplifier, and speakers or headphones was out of the question. How the Voyager Golden Records team attempted to finesse that difficulty, as well as information on the music tracks, comes after the jump.
Artist’s conception courtesy NASA JPL.
The above image is of a Voyager space probe. There is a fascinating connection between the Voyager program and Cultural Literacy in Music, and we will get to that soon.
But because my guest lectures will be Zoomed, I am concerned that if I sing or play musical examples, they might not come through well enough. Therefore, I want first to get some of the “Wires and Pliers” aspects of the physics of sound and music out of the way via uploads that you can look at and listen to. Here goes:
When I was a boy singer (I was a boy soprano, in fact) I had a music teacher who used to tell the story of a young musician or composer of the classical era (by which I mean circa 1775) who used to come home late after a night of carousing, and torment his musician or composer father (who was already in bed upstairs) by loudly playing all but the last note of a major-key octave scale. Continue Reading →
If you had been wondering why I asked you to watch a live music video of Jamiroquai’s 1999 funk/dance song “Canned Heat,” the answer is found in the audio-only YouTube clip immediately above, a remastering of the original “Canned Heat Blues” from 1928.
In the US between 1920 and 1933, the sale of alcoholic beverages was banned. People who could not afford to pay the prices demanded by bootleggers for alcohol that was illegal (but which was intended for human consumption, and therefore as safe as the alcohol that previously had been legal) sometimes drank wood alcohol, which could easily blind you, and over the course of time, would kill you. Squeezing the alcohol out of jellied cooking fuel and drinking it surely would give you the “Canned Heat Blues.” This performance is quite a harrowing document. More information, including lyrics, here and here. Continue Reading →
Courtesy Stereophile magazine.
Preparation for Participation, Part One
A recent article (Mehr, et al., 2019) posits that across all cultures, song (meaning music with words) is a “cultural constant.”
To put it as simply as possible, “Everybody sings.” (Or, at least: Most people, in all cultures, sing.)
This, in and of itself, should not be surprising. People in most (if not all) cultures have since earliest times always heard birds singing (although admittedly, on a spectrum from the most simple to the most complex bird songs). If you do a web search with the query: “relationship between birdsong and human song” you will be presented with an engrossing salmagundi of results, with this one at the top (“Birdsong and Human Language”).
(Note, read that article in full only if it interests you; I just wanted you to be aware of the concept of a relationship between birdsong, and human song and language.)
What I found remarkable in the Mehr 2019 study is that study’s mention of a previous paper by the same team, reporting the experimental finding that:
[U]ntrained listeners in 60 countries could on average discern the human behavior associated with culturally unfamiliar musical forms. These behaviors included dancing, soothing a baby, seeking to heal illness, or expressing love to another person.
In other words, ordinary listeners could tell what kinds of songs they were listening to, even when those songs came from far-away places and radically different cultures. Continue Reading →
I am very grateful to Stereophile‘s John Atkinson for alerting me to an extraordinarily well-thought-out and, to me at least, persuasive identification of the “Hidden Theme” of Elgar’s “Engima” Variations.
Here’s the link to Ed Newton-Rex’s case that, when Elgar commented:
through and over the whole set [of variations] another and larger theme “goes”, but is not played
Elgar was referring to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Details after the jump. Continue Reading →
Dorian Komanoff Bandy and Paul Cienniwa:
G.P. Telemann: Frankfurt (1715) Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord
CD Whaling City Sound Balaena Chamber Series wcs 108
Downloads (24-bit/96kHz stereo AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, and WAV) available from HDTracks.
Streaming available from Tidal. Total time 80:04.
Recorded at WGBH Studios, Boston, Massachusetts, June 16-17 2017. Malachai Bandy, producer; Antonio Oliart, engineer.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was a friend of J.S. Bach’s, and Godfather to Bach’s son C.P.E.; Telemann also knew Handel. In his own time, Telemann was frequently compared to both composers. That is all the more impressive, given that Telemann, unlike Bach, did not come from a family of musicians. Telemann was another one of those law students or lawyers who gave that career up to write music (that list includes Schumann, Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky), and therefore, he was largely self-taught.
Telemann was extremely well respected in his own time. His prodigious productivity resulted in a list of works longer than Bach’s or Vivaldi’s. The 20th-c. music humorist Peter Schickele (stage name “P.D.Q. Bach”) made fun of Telemann’s great body of work by making the top prize for an (imaginary) classical-radio-station phone-in giveaway “The Complete Works of Telemann, on Convenient 45-rpm Records.” I found that to be rather funny, back when I was in college.
For information on this delightful recording and some sound samples, please click on the jump link: Continue Reading →
Listening to “happy” music can make one feel happier. However, instead of always making people feel worse, listening to sad music often brings on a state of “paradoxical pleasure.”
I am not saying that listening to sad music in and of itself makes people happier. What I am saying is that listening to sad music can evoke a sequence of very complex emotions. Furthermore, many people regard experiencing that kind of a cascade of metamorphosing emotions as “pleasurable.” (Or perhaps, just as a relief.)
The somewhat waffle-like language employed above is in recognition of the fact that many people experience the same music in different ways. By the way, the sequence of emotions Shock/Disbelief/Anger/Despair formerly was called The Four Stages of Saab Ownership. “What do you mean, my engine’s harmonic balancer was held on with glue?”
I think whether the precise emotional mechanism (and what a silly word “mechanism” is to use, in this context) is transference or catharsis or a feeling of empathy will just have to remain a mystery of the human soul. But from the earliest times, serious thinkers (from Aristotle to Schopenhauer) have always recognized that the power of sad music (and also of literature and drama) does not lie in its merely making people feel sadder than they had been.
A recent BBC Culture article asks whether data diving can “reveal” the “Saddest Number One Song Ever.” I think that that article itself reveals the multiple, perhaps even fatal, limitations of such an approach.
If I had to pick one song known to me as the saddest ever (which avoids the major problems associated with judging the quality and the qualities of songs by things like Billboard charts or Grammys), that would be the “Aria” from the Goldberg Variations. The Goldberg Variations might not have words, but right at the top of the score it says “Song” (albeit in Italian).
Song samples and more pondering, after the jump. Continue Reading →
Photograph © 2018 John Marks
I don’t have a “Bucket List.”
That said, if I did, watching the sun rise over the Mississippi River in New Orleans would be a good thing to add to such a list. For some reason, the view made me think of Mussorgsky’s “Dawn on the Moskva River,” from his rarely-performed opera Khovanshchina.
(The link is to a very evocative YouTube slideshow over a USSR Symphony Orchestra performance with Evgeny Svetlanov, conductor.)
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If humans were like amoebas—and multiplied by dividing—nobody (with the potential exception of Sarah McLachlan) would write songs about lost love. The song sub-genre “Baby, This Makes Me So Blue” predates the 1950s… by about 500 years. The chanson “Mille regretz” (“A Thousand Regrets”) is usually attributed to Josquin des Prez, who flourished in the late 1400s and early 1500s–the High Renaissance. Josquin was his name, and polyphony was his game.
“Mille regretz” was reputedly the favorite song of King Charles I of Spain, who in due course became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Charles’ consolidated holdings stretched from Peru to Bohemia, totaling about 1.5 million square miles. His was the first empire about which it was said, the sun never set upon it. But even he got the blues; and when he did, he turned to music. Continue Reading →