Friday, October 31, 2008

The Music I'm Living With From Now Until Tuesday

Next Tuesday, by the way, has nothing to do with election day for me.

So you (of whom there are none yet, I think) can share in my life's journey...

I am taking my trumpet comprehensive exams next week. One of my tasks, for Tuesday, is to write on three of the most important trumpet chamber music works. I might as well work on my young blogging skills while preparing. I wanted to choose something by Heinrich von Biber (1644-1704):

What a fancy chap! Well, Biber is quite known for his violin compositions, which are virtuoso showpieces for performance in the chambers of the courts where he was in residence, but he also wrote quite a bit for trumpet and trumpets. What I like most about his trumpet writing, and why I think it's historically significant, is that it merges the Late Renaissance genre and conventions of trumpet ensemble music with baroque basso continuo techniques. Sure, the music is primitive in its modulatory structure, but it's fascinating to hear these play out.

For the record, traits of late Renaissance trumpet ensemble music in Italy and Germany (the two regions traded trumpeters quite a bit) are:

-5 part texture, divided into
--1. Clarino/soprano
--2. Sonata, quinta, or principale (which, in the renaissance at least, typically played the melody while the clarino improvised a descant)
--3. Alto e basso (which mirrors the sonata part, just lower)
--4. Vulgano (or, "the follower"), and
--5. basso.

Vulgano and basso typically, in the renaissance, drone on a fifth, and you'll hear in the Biber a fifth being sounded down low, but notice what happens at 4:12 in this recording from The Amsterdam Baroque Orquestra of Sonata a 7 for six trumpets and basso continuo, composed in 1668:

The low voices drop out so that the clarino and soprano can break away and follow the basso continuo into a new key on the higher partials. Interesting. By the time Bach would be writing for Gottfried Reiche and other Leipzig trumpet players in the early-to-mid 18th century, the clarino was beginning to reign supreme, and the bottom was (literally) dropping out of the music. It's a truism, and nothing shocking, to say that trumpets can't modulate on the lower partials and cannot play a major scale (although Reiche and others reputedly could "lip" enough notes to make some lower-partial linear passages possible) until the upper partials. That makes clarino playing the ideal--and, indeed, only--choice for a composer who wants a modulating trumpet part. Music in Biber's time was, macroscopically speaking, in the late-to-middle stages of its great modulation from modality (as expressed through Renaissance counterpoint) to chromatic tonality.

Biber is not unique in this mid-baroque tendency to treat the instrument in its strict Renaissance regal usage on the one hand and a melodic solo instrument over basso continuo on the other, but it is interesting to note that this composition, in 1668, was his first work to include trumpets. In fact, most of his compositions were for strings. Biber was a violin virtuoso, and seemingly improvised streams of melodies, often in free fantasia or variation forms, spilled out from his bow and his pen. His writing for trumpets--this, his Sonata for 8 Trumpets in 1673, and (less so) several chamber sonatas using two trumpets--acknowledges both the past, present, and future of the trumpet in his time...Whereas, for instance, the later composer Torelli (1658-1709) treated Bologna's clarinists/trumpeters on par with oboists and violinists, as roughly interchangeable solo voices, only with the trumpet's emphasizing arpeggiation.

But how--and why--did a string player like Biber learn to write for trumpet ensemble?

In 1661, the Bohemian-born Biber met Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky, a Moravian trumpeter who was soon to become a minor but prolific composer, particularly of concerted mass settings and trumpet ensemble music: you see, Vejvanovsky made his career as both a court trumpeter and a choir director. "Court trumpeter" was a term with considerable honor attached to it, and a leading modern scholar of baroque trumpet, a brit named Don Smithers, seems to imply that Vejvanovsky was a bit of a charlatan despite his toughguy trumpet image! Via GroveMusic online for those who have "credentials" (emphasis added):
Throughout his life Vejvanovský used the title of Feldtrompeter, although he was not qualified to do so. He remained at Kroměříž and in 1664 entered the service of the new prince-bishop, Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno, as principal trumpeter and as Kapellmeister; his duties also included the copying of music, and many sets of parts in his hand survive...He seems to have been on very close personal terms with his patron and was one of the highest paid court servants

Did Vejvanovsky, a minor composer and trumpet player but first class copyist and music director, influence Biber's ensemble writing? In the words of Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"

Elias Dann writes in Grove's Biber entry:

In 1668 he became a valet de chambre and musician to the Bishop of Olmütz, Karl Liechtenstein-Castelcorno, in Kroměříž, where Pavel Vejvanovský was director of the Kapelle. Biber was popular among the courtiers at Kroměříž, and was highly valued as a violin virtuoso.

So we have a great violinist going to work for a trumpet player, and writing--in the year that he starts under Vejvanovsky--a trumpet ensemble work. Isn't history neat like that? Just a guy trying to please his boss. Vejvanovsky, while not "qualified" to be a feldtrumpeter, Vejvanovsky was nonetheless privy to the tricks o' the trade, and trumpets were a guilded bunch, wary of non-union scabs stepping in and stealing their thunder. (This wariness comes to fruition with the totally awesome royal Mandate Against the Unauthorized Playing of Trumpets and Beating of Military Kettledrums. Dated the 23rd of July in the Year 1711, translated by Ed Tarr in an ITG publication worth perusing.

Biber brought a sense of melodic and textural variation that is, frankly, more nuanced than Vejvanovsky's more blocky works. There is a natural build of drama through the instrumentation, thinking across longer forms than 8 bar structures. It is not difficult to imagine the alto lines sitting quite naturally along a string. The clarino/sonata duet at 2:50 is a moment of grace one might expect from violins in a trio sonata, when, at 3:32, the remainder of the trumpets gleefully crash the party. It is a fusion of Biber's world with Vejvanovsky's. In fact, it's painful to admit it, but trumpets still play at best (er) "second fiddle" to violins in historical assessments of this period. So naturally, Biber enjoys a richer reputation these days than does Vejvanovsky, a fact Smithers points out:

It is difficult to assess Vejvanovský's influence on other composers, but it may be noted that in a number of works Biber employed motifs and harmonic procedures otherwise found only in Vejvanovský's music. Biber's knowledge of it may well account for the borrowing of trumpet motifs in particular for several sonatas that appeared after he had left for Salzburg. A detailed comparison of the two composers' music might well reveal a number of other similarities. Several works by Biber survive only in copies made by Vejvanovský.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber eventually, slowly, climbed his ranks into the nobility, and by 1684, he was Kapellmeister of Salzburg. He had the world on a string, and wrote grand church music in the style of the day, occasionally involving trumpets. But this was Vienna, and it was church music, so Biber's brass writing (as part of an orchestral accompaniment) moved on mostly to the trombones. But we'll forgive him.

Welcome to nerdland. More to come, on Saint-Saens' Septet (Septour) for strings, piano, and trumpet and Stravinsky's L'historie du soldat

Happy Halloween from Larry David

Luckily, I may live in Iowa's most liberal neighborhood

...because even in most blue states, a sign like the one I posted to my door for trick-or-treaters might very well get me "egged":

Luckily, the four-square-block radius surrounding my house is full of Volvo democrats yearning to be overtaxed (seriously) and struggling writers yearning to be subsidized.

There are socialists EVERYWHERE!


In fact, this all reminds me so much of this:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

So much for no politics: musings about racialism

I've been very upset all weekend.

I don't think this campaign has to be, to borrow a word from Ali G, "racialist." On either side! That is, honestly, I don't think the McCain campaign is "racialist" either, and I believe that the Senators are doing their best to keep things above board.

Not so for Fox News. And you may be surprised to find out that Fox News's News Director John Moody called John McCain (and much of white America) racist on Friday.

In an extraordinarily over-stated, ill-advised blog posting John Moody puts all his eggs in a tremendously dubious basket. It's a dangerous gamut. It reminds me of Al Franken's presidential nemesis in Why Not Me?, who promises to "eat his hat" if something doesn't happen his way, and Franken's brother follows him around New Hampshire with a hat and a place setting for weeks. (It's a funny book, and not too liberal for those of you who are turned off by Franken's other work). Before quoting Moody, I should mention that Moody's voicemail, according to a disgruntled poster at a Ron Paul forum, can be reached at (212) 301-8560. News organizations are almost always responsive to the viewing public, so tell him how you feel, but keep it clean!

John Moody starts with the "Facts of the Case," even though the McCain campaign was disseminating its "details" despite the police's unwillingness to confirm the unconfirmable (patently false) allegations:

It had to happen.

Less than two weeks before we vote for a new president, a white woman says a black man attacked her, then scarred her face, and says there was a political motive for it.

Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old white volunteer for John McCain’s presidential campaign, says she was mugged at an ATM machine in Pittsburgh (my hometown) by a big black man. She further says he threw her down, then disfigured her by carving the letter “B” into her face with a sharp implement when he saw that she supported McCain, not Barack Obama.

First of all, what a stunning lede! Leave aside the facts of the case--that the "B" carved into her face was indeed backwards (which--conspiracy alert--is an anagram for "Barack WDs!"--as in, "Barack withdraws from race after crazed supporter goes crazy nuts") as if carved while looking in a mirror.

Nobody said Ashley Todd was all that bright.

It had to happen.

A) It didn't have to happen. Every day of my life I have walked around, and never once have I been the victim of a racially or politically motivated attack. I've never had anything carved into my skin. I've never been robbed outside an ATM. I had a Bush bumper sticker torn off my car in 2004 the day after the election (while they left the Kerry bumper sticker and the "Nixon/Lodge" bumper sticker alone--that was quite a car, I tell you), but that's the extent of my victimhood as far as political terrorism goes.
and B)It didn't "had to have happened," because, well, it didn't, uh, happen.

But, Mr. Moody, so what if it did happen? What then? Could you please absurdly overstate the racialist tensions in American society in a way that sets race relations back to the early 1970s and presumes we're still a nation that divides neatly into the two ethnic categories of "irate, anti-busing suburban parents" and "criminal, illiterate ghetto hoodrats"?

Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama’s campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party’s presidential nomination.

That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.

Thanks, John! Just what the Dr. ordered, if the doctor is "herr" Doctor Strangelove!
Sometimes writers use utterly meaningless phrases. You know, "and the such as" and the like, as it were, you know, yada yada yada. What does "unspoken tension behind" exactly mean? There's no tension behind the appeal of his status. There may be tension against it, but there's no tension behind it.

And since when do we identify Barack Obama with all black Americans? Do we, white Americans, honestly fear pulling into an ATM and having Barack Obama give us a whuppin? This ain't Marcus-Garvey-time. He ain't Malcolm X. He's not even Martin Luther King, Jr. His path to the Senate as a liberal democratic candidate was actually quite conventional: a Columbia University education with some mild, uncontroversial protests (I think everyone--even Mr. Moody--can agree that Apartheid was a bad idea) that showed him a larger purpose and led him out of modest drug-use habits, some time working for non-profits, an excellent career at Harvard Law, time as a Civil Rights lawyer and law professor, and a consensus-building, pathologically careful figure in the IL State Senate. It's a fairly common liberal career path. I don't know when he had the time for scarin' white folk and attackin' them in the street.

OMG Obama, though, is finished. White people hate him. White people fear black people. That kind of reminds me of this moment from Dr. Strangelove.

Like Strangelove, Moody has a hard time not coming out and just saying what's his mind. Why not just say, "Black people shouldn't be president. They should be muggers." At least he'd get points for his honesty. Why not come out and say it? Whoops. Moody continues:

If Ms. Todd’s allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.

Wait a minute... First of all, how can somebody "suddenly feel they do not know enough" about someone? That would imply that they know less than they already did. And if a racialized incident (and remember, "[Obama has not] erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event") is the cause, how is that not a tad bit racialist? Hmm. Let's let that craaaaaaaaaaazy Marxist dictionary, the OED, settle this one.
A. n. An advocate or supporter of racism; a person whose words or actions display racial prejudice or discrimination. Also in extended use: a person who is prejudiced against people of other nationalities. Cf. RACIALIST n.

So subconsciously or consciously reevaluating your support for a person of a certain race because a common street thug didn't beat up a white woman is not at all racialist. It doesn't display "prejudice or discrimination." It's just a way of, you know, indexing people.

But this whole thing from Moody is not what really upset me. I got particularly angry when he decided to take on John McCain, and call him racialist:

If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.

The horror! And to think, I thought McCain could pull this one out. The McCain campaign ought to demand an apology from Moody, and soon.

But lest he put his own career on the line, remember, Moody was responsible in hedging: "if this turns out to be true..."

At least as News Director, he made sure his anchors and reporters--like the execrable excuse for a person, Carl Cameron (the only reporter who makes Dan Rather seem credible by comparison)--preached caution and made sure that they didn't full speed ahead with the story, via Wile E. Coyote into the mirage-tunnel:

Uh, whoops. Well, if you feel strongly about this, as a McCain supporter or white American whose racial motivations have been unfairly called into question, call up John Moody at (212) 301-8560. and tell him so. Journalists are responsible to the public, and I'm sure he'd be responsive to your opinions, positive or negative, and love the feedback.

Blogs get lonely

Hi there!

I remember when I was young, I ascribed feelings to inanimate objects, especially stuffed animals and toy cars. I would feel that Sammy the Cubs Bear was not getting as much time, for instance, as Arizona Bear; that RC-controlled Ferrari (because, invariably, it was broken) envied regular ol' Matchbox Corvette. I never got into Micro Machines:

but I'm sure I would have loved them. Actually, I had a slightly less tricked out version of this when I was young:

Even though I had the simplified version, it came during a Christmas that even I could identify as one of the "lean years" in my family, and I felt that it behooved me, then, to play with it all the more. Of course, anything with lots of moving parts, for kids, breaks constantly (especially with klutzy lil' me at the helm). But that toy was so expensive, at the time, that it warranted extra playtime. It would feel lonely otherwise. Nevermind the troubling implications about militarizing outer space... I guess George Lucas and Ronald Reagan kind of normalized that. Even Bush II was wetting himself with SDI until a missle shield wouldn't have stopped... Anyway.

My overarching point is that "teh internets" are littered with abandoned blogs hither and thither. That's not exactly a bad thing. How many people does it take to say, "OMG SARAH PALIN SUCKS LOL OMG" or "OMG THE PATRIOTS ARE CHEATERS" or "OMG I BROKE UP W/ MY BF TODAY :("? I think I've learned a bit more about blogging since my last posts since I've started posting a bit (under an anonymous screenname) at that craaaazy liberal blogsite, DailyKos! (I've more or less kept politics out of this post because I don't want to rub premature salt in wounds of my friends and hypothetical e-stalkers.) I have also been tweeting quite a bit.

Maybe blogs, though, have feelings too. I am looking, as I write, guiltily at my bookshelf (just as I'm typing, ashamedly, at my computer when I should be reading comps-books). Here they are, dozens with uncracked bindings, chock full of truthiness. But I have comps the week after next, so no go on those books. Then again, isn't a website with my name on it much more personal to me than, say, some English professor's terribly misguided, speculative, unmusical book of musings about jazz? Maybe they both miss me.

I just woke up in the middle of the night. I slept late this morning, napped in the afternoon, and learned a powerful lesson about "caffeine-free" tea. I suspect it still has caffeine in it somewhere...

Well, there's not time for a full life update--nor would I want to give one, in a way! I recently gave a wonky account of my current life to my alma mater's newspaper, if you feel like having this be your one-stop e-stalk.

Suffice it to say I've had a trying but hopeful year, and I seem to be in a tortuously long retransition to a... wait, no sonata form this late at night. "Things," in the general sense, though, are looking up. My future is utterly wide open, in all frightening and revelatory senses of the phrase. Physically, I've been so sluggish--comps, a recital, medieval notations, post-tonal analysis, aggh! I get tired--and suffered alot of migraines, but am getting them under control.

It's so odd to be up at this hour because for the past three weeks, the weather and stress and headaches have forced me to reckon with my schedule and become an adult: a 10:30 bedtime, and 6:30 wake time! And at least every other day, I've been in to the gym by 7:30, so things are looking up.

But maybe, just maybe, hours get lonely like people. Or like toys. 3:00 AM might have felt neglected the last month or so without me. At very least, I need to practice staying sharp at this hour in case I get a phone call.

It's funny, folks, how the present becomes the past. Clinton becomes McCain, Toy shuttles become pretentious, remaindered essay collections, and we all retransition to a recap where we've been before--except, this time, we've been here before, and know how to navigate, what to expect, and what to avoid.

It reminds me of my 2nd, 3rd....11,001st time through Super Mario Bros. 3, World One, Level One.

That game never got lonely. That I promise you.