Sunday, May 10, 2009
So, I decided to broaden my scope and focus my point all at once. So, I'm writing on the compositional treatises of Seeger, Henry Cowell (this blog's namesake), and Dane Rudhyar to show how "oriental" ideas were used to undercut Germanic ideals. It's not a very striking, original idea, but it is interesting to see how American composers felt a colonial burden (even as America was becoming "colonialist" in its own right).
I could go to the library, but I already did tonight, and it's too crowded. Luckily I found, of all things, a fully digitized book from 1921, The Relation of Ultramodern to Archaic Music by a Skryiabinite, Katharine Ruth Heyman (courtesy of Stanford), and this compelling, brand-new study of Chinese music in ultramodern New York by Nancy Rao that appears in the current issue of The Journal of Asian American Studies.
But what of Rudhyar? He's a curious fellow who, to quote Tony Asher, just wasn't made for these times. Like many fans and students of "ultra-modern" American music (roughly put, the kind of experimental music that was popular and cutting-edge in New York and San Francisco during the late-1910s to the early-1930s), I first encountered Rudhyar from his cogent and thoughtful treatment in Carol Oja's prize-winning Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s, some of the finest cultural history written during the last decade. In Oja's footnotes, I learn of a spat Rudhyar and Seeger had in the pages of Eolian Review in 1923, a publication my university's library doesn't have.
Never fear--the Dane Rudhyar Archival Project is here! As an early American exponent of astrology, Rudhyar has amassed an, er, "cult following." Need an article from the Eolian Review? Here we go: "What is an octave?"
There's something for you astrological folks as well. If you're the type of person who can ask the question "Does Uranus Rule Astrology?" with a straight face, eat up!
But seriously: Rudhyar is a fascinating figure, and presents an alternate path for American music, a spiritualized path that proceeds not from form but from intuition. The idea that "intuition" provides a governing logic (but wait--here I am talking about logic) grates against our musical containers and academic jargon. Rudhyar's idea about music is that every second has you in its grips in ways that you can't quite understand, in ways that overcome attempts to intellectualize, in dissonant waves that shape and alter consciousness. In short, it's pretty heavy.
Anyway, my point is, because I own too many books (including Oja's, Seeger's, Cowell's, and--I don't even remember where I found it--a 1923 Paul Rosenfeld collection), I can continue to research in my PJs without going to a crowded library--through the magic of obscure digitization.
And what does this blog post prove? It proves that even though I don't have to leave the house, I can still distract myself from research.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Fluxfilm No. 30, Dance. (I'm not sure, but the figure in the film is probably James Waring, for whom Fine wrote at least two chamber pieces as accompaniment. One in particular--for oboe and two flutes--is quite lengthy and blends free cadenzas with free counterpoint, and might be worth editing some day.)
I really enjoy Fluxfilm 24 ("Readymade"). What I like about it is that in Fine's composition notebook (er, stave notebook), even in his most experimental period between 1964-1966, he experimented with minimalism, dissonance, rhythmic freedom and the like almost invariably through the lens of more-or-less formalized 2-voice counterpoint. (Here, Philip Glass recalls how exacting Fine was as a teacher, in the strict vein of Boulanger.)
Here, on film, this readymade--is it an upside-down image of a two-legged table?--functions against itself in two voice counterpoint, as if it were a single pitch sampled and set against itself.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Speaking of Finale transcriptions...
As I'm in a Music Editing course right now, I'll pass along web notice of some very hip things going on in the Society for Seventeenth Century Music. From their pathbreaking online, refereed scholarly journal for well over a decade, the Society has now turned its sights (OR, WAIT FOR IT..."SITES") to editions. The Web Library of 17th Century Music has amassed a fairly impressive repertoire to date, and these editions are--would you believe it?--supervised by professional scholars and carefully screened, just like a real publishing house. What's more, you've got to love notices like this on a website:
CONDITIONS FOR USERS: Users may download editions, reproduce them for personal use, and perform them in non-profit settings, provided proper acknowledgement is given to both the editor and to the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. Permission for performance in professional (for profit) settings must be negotiated directly between the performers or their agents and the editor. The editor remains the owner of all rights to the edition.Some works are licensed under a Creative Commons
How many works of obscure seventeenth-century music are ever performed for profit, anyway? The WLSCM fulfills a need for scholars as well. How many credible editions by overlooked (justly or not) composers never see the light of day because of the capital required to launch such a project? Kudos, 17th-Century nerds! If you're interested, check out the Guidelines for Contributors.
Even happier e-news of the music-printing variety: G. Schirmer publishing has launched a nifty new app that is, surprisingly, not being marketed (to the best of my knowledge) as an institutional subscription service: Schirmer on-demand. Downloading a reader, secure scores can be accessed for perusal and printed for a limited number of times. I haven't downloaded the reader yet (because my computer's still in the shop), but received prompt, personal replies from their friendly tech-support folk reminding me to.
Just this morning I received an email update telling me that the following pieces were added to the available scores (which number around 500) :
The Chairman Dances
Grand Pianola Music
Ford's Theatre: A Few Glimpses of Easter Week, 1865
Antony and Cleopatra, Two Scenes
Fadograph of a Yestern Scene
A Hand of Bridge
I Hear an Army
Medea, Ballet Suite
Medea - Cave of the Heart (original ballet)
Must the Winter Come so Soon (from 'Vanessa')
Second Essay for Orchestra
Serenade for String Orchestra
Sure on This Shining Night
Symphony No. 2
Vanessa (vocal score)
Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!
Gian Carlo Menotti
The Boy Who Grew Too Fast
A Bride from Pluto
Chip and His Dog
The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi
Errand Into the Maze
For the Death of Orpheus
Introduction, March, and Shepherd's Dance (from 'Amahl and the Night Visitors')
Landscapes and Remembrances
Lucy's Aria (from 'The Telephone or l'Amour a Trois')
Lullaby (from 'The Consul')
Missa O Pulchritudo
Monica's Waltz (from 'The Medium')
The Most Important Man
Muero porque no muero
Oh llama de amor viva
Shepherd's Chorus (from 'Amahl and the Night Visitors')
The Singing Child
Casey at the Bat
The Mighty Casey
Newsreel in Five Shots (for orchestra)
Symphony No. 6
It's always refreshing when a company recognizes how end-users experience their product and sensibly caters to those needs, while protecting their bottom line. By letting conductors, scholars, students, Artistic Directors, and even educated connoisseurs peek in on these rental-only scores, they can more fully become "repertory pieces," they could get performed more often, and I don't that study-score sales ever were brisk for these works. (I'd like to see Ernst Bacon's Amazon.com ranking!)
[UPDATE: ERNST BACON'S AMAZON.COM SALES RANKING IS "#485,771 in Music" .]
Although A-R Editions and other specialty music printers count on libraries as revenue streams for high-end critical editions, perhaps a secure-pdf subscription service would be an even greater revenue stream, and one that is in line with academic trends of online-repositories. (To reiterate, Schirmer's service is free, but I think there would be a market for a legit-subscription service.) Music publishing has been under siege ever since the mimeograph machine was invented, and recently there have been some debates (speaking of stale musicology controversies) as to how much free content is too much free content. Works that can be posted securely to course websites, even with restrictions, in compelling and trustworthy editions will be studied more often and more steadily than those that need to be scanned by hand, or are odd ca. 1900 performance editions of the sort on the IMSLP.
On top of all that, my twitter friends all tell me, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos virtually threatens to put music-stand manufacturers out of business. (All the articles I read talked about newspapers being obsolete, but...I have a slightly different perspective.) I wouldn't be surprised if something like a backlit Kindle would catch on in places like pits on Broadway or in expensive opera houses, where capital is more comfortable (in normal years), and where cuts and transpositions often proliferate during the run of a show, in a workshop stage, or with the arrival of a new singer with a different range. Of course, for this to work in operahouses, Ricordi would almost certainly have to get on board, and this doesn't seem like their kind of project. But who would have expected Supertitles 50 years ago?
And could there be a computer program that could count my rests for me? Please?
So, while the age of paper isn't dead--there are some thoughts that can best be had in ink, by hand--someday you'll have to say goodbye to your precious sketch-studies; in thirty years, musicologists will be defragging discarded zip drives, scanning registries, and looking for any stray temporary files of the .mus variety.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
It's difficult to talk about Fluxus historically because so many Fluxus artists (in the broad sense) made histories part of their artwork. And straightforward diaries (we-did-this-and-then-this-and-so-and-so-was-there) and letters are part of the art too, not concerned with facts per-se. The typical historical records of the time, then--The New York Times, for instance--aren't very helpful either for the who-what-where-when, because of how fringe things were.
I've been getting into Fine's papers, his music, his letters, and corresponding with whatever living associates I can find via the googles, who have been very helpful! But for some reason, while I spent quite a long time searching Boston newspapers, I never really searched the NYT. When you're really getting into something, trying to understand its dimensions and such, perspective goes out the window, something left for the end of the project. Luckily, the Times' art critic, John Canaday, left a fascinating witness statement for the prosecution.
Canaday, from what I can gather (not being an artist or art historian) was greatly distressed by the collapse of technique in art, by the rise of conceptualism and the amateurism expressed by the less adept among the abstract expressionists, the worst of whom showed "exceptional tolerance for incompetence and deception." (That phrase, via wikipedia [I'll admit], comes from his very first September 1959 column.)
[PARENTHETICAL PARAGRAPH: Conceptual and performance art have become such an axiomatic feature of the sixties in the popular and critical vocabulary that it's hard to recognize just how transgressive they were. That's also a danger of being "in" criticism, to some extent, and losing perspective: I walked through a quiet library last night listening to the mash-up release of David Tudor's Rainforest II (an electronic piece that sounds like--you guessed it) and John Cage's Mureau, which takes segments of Thoreau's journals and recomposes the syllables according to chance procedures. I actually blog John Adams' reaction to hearing this piece read at Harvard here, towards the end. I bought this at the Amazon MP3 store for a dollar per track--$1.98 in all--a couple weekends ago out of curiousity. It's a very tedious release, to be sure, but I might have been the first person to download it there, because I see it's back to $13.98, and each track is "Album only." Last night, though, I was studying for a massive post-1960 listening exam in an avant-garde music class. While there's no Cage on it, this worked well as a pallette cleanser. But walking around in the quieter corners of the library, I got some funny looks as a strange voice bellowed nonsense over the sound of tropical birds drowning in sine-tones. Far-out is still far-out.]
Back to Fine: So, I found Canady's December 24, 1966 review in the Times here (Proquest subscription), and--since it's just one segment of a longer article--I think it's within the bounds of fair use to reproduce both paragraphs on Albert Fine. First of all, it's notable that this musician had a solo-show as an artist. Second of all, whatever happened to Christmas spirit? Third of all, I wonder what happened to the show--which was open through January 12th--as a result of this review? To someone who would appreciate Fine's art, Canady's scathing review might be the best advertisement. The review is a run-down starting with the Paul Sachs collection of "masters" (including Rembrandt [yes, Rembrandt] and Picasso and Matisse at) at MOMA. Fine is several column inches lower, and the whole thing reminds me of one of my favorite movie scenes:
Albert Fine (Grand Central Moderns, 8 West 56th Street): Presenting itself as avant-garde, this is the stalest, dreariest little show of the year. The only interesting thing about it is the question as to how a sensible dealer could ever rationalize a reason for hanging it, and why a critic who to the best of his knowledge is still in his right mind finds himself bothering to review it. Mr. Fine, who is 34 years old and holds an M.S. degree in conducting from the Julliard School of Music, has gathered together on one wall some detritus (example, a dried banana peel) and other unexceptional objects (example, a shirt cardboard) and has mounted each one crudely within uniform dime-store frames. As a weekend assignment in a freshmen art laboratory section, this display might get a bare passing mark as a demonstration of what Dada was doing 50 years ago.
The rest of Mr. Fine’s exhibition involves a certain amount of painting and drawing (or, at least, the use of the brush, the pencil and the pen) and here he flunks miserably. He is the total amateur, totally lacking in imagination, totally devoid of any technical skill, and totally fooled, it would appear, as to what he is doing. One thing alone justifies the exhibition, and it is not an argument ordinarily proposed as a justification: Mr. Fine’s pretentious infantilism demonstrates the quality of a section of our culture that has lost all respect for itself but doesn’t know it yet. To Jan. 12
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Music Appreciation--and undergraduate surveys in general--are valuable as a ritualized practice. It's what allows educated musicians of many age levels to say things like, "The catholic church feared polyphony and tropes," "Monteverdi let the text show him new harmonies that caused a richer harmonic language to usher in the baroque era," "Palestrina looked back to Josquin," or "Haydn was able to be more experimental because he worked for the Esterhazys and didn't have to worry about commercial considerations," or "Beethoven's radical experimentation profoundly affected classicism," or"The Tristan chord freed chromaticism and caused Schoenberg to come into being," or the Tinkers-to-Evans-to-Chance American lineage of Ives-Cowell-Cage-Young-Reich.
Specialists in each area will have something to quibble with in each of those statements, but specialists in each area and era will have something to quibble with in anything, won't they? Some are over-reductive myths, some are helpful constructs; but they are stories we tell, creation myths, scriptures. And even if your Reverend doesn't agree with the Apostle Paul when he tells wives to submit to husbands, that's a matter of commentary. The lectionary reading marches on, and, with slight variations (a "one" where a "he" was) there is a comfort in learning the same story your parents learned. In my (back home) house, I think we have editions 2, 3, and 4 or 5 of the Grout, and I learned from a borrowed copy of 6 while I consult (fairly often, actually) the revamped Burkholder 7th.
The details are certainly different, as any number of studies will demonstrate. Character actors have come out of the shadows to steal a soliloquoy from the leading men; but the overarching narrative starts at the beginning and goes to the end, where it splinters out, as teachers struggle each May to somehow get from Gershwin to Shostakovich to Hindemith to Shostakovich to Webern to Boulez to Berio to Adams to Zwillich to Tan Dun in the last 2 hours of classtime.
I wonder if the story could be told backwards and still maintain some modicum of coherence for a scantily educated college student, if we could start in the year 2000 and make our way back to 800 unscathed.
Like any great creation myth, the story of Western music appeals to our sense of formal coherence and mirrored structure. The first story we tell, after thought-experiments back to the Greeks and Boethius, is the emergence of a notated monophonic repertoire and how, through sheer force of will of some bright and hip Parisians and gentle experimentation elsewhere, it becomes a notated repertoire of polyphony. We pause and go back to the Troubadors, and then it's on to Josquin (although I've always thought the Troubadours and Trouveres would be a more bracing starting place for a "History of Pop Music" course than, say, Stephen Foster).
So, monophony becomes polyphony. And what happens at the end of every music history survey? Dozens of Robert-Altmanesque crosscuts. "Eventually, Bartok moves to New York, where he would soon die. Meanwhile, in Bairstow, California, Harry Partch...Which brings us to Varese's Poeme Electronique."
Could we start with an age of diversity, and move backwards into an age of (relative) coherence? Problems would abound, of course, but it seems that they would be the exact same problems as a linearally organized historical survey: how to relate Romantic lied and character pieces to absolute music contemporaneous to it? How to relate French opera and German classicism, or Italian opera and German romanticism? Teaching Turandot a couple of weeks ago, I abruptly showed my discussion sections two minutes of Wozzeck, which, sadly, we weren't covering. It may have been too big of an idea for a glib aside, and too problematizing for a non-major survey course, but would you walk out of a music history survey realizing that Turandot is a "later work" than Wozzeck?
Here's an interesting thought-experiment, an absurd idea that perhaps would catch the fancy of a Cageian: what if we centered an entire Western musical survey around one work, chosen at random, and told the entire history of music so that it would explain why that work came into being when it did? I'm going to press shuffle on my iPod and try it...
Oh my goodness! I swear I did not make this up. (And I'm very glad something like Amy Winehouse or late Dylan or world music didn't come up.) My shuffle selected Messiaen's "The Wood Thrush," from Des canyons aux etoiles. Hmm. Then, my survey would emphasize onomontopeia throughout the history of music; we might start with Josquin, go through the madrigalists, touch on the pastoral, word-painting in lied and the tone poem. We could go back in time to ars nova rhythm, and even further to the development of modes--but we would have to tell our students that these modes, and the modal formulae, were merely anticipations of an equally-divided octave.
Let me try two more, at random:
Whoa, here's a tricky one! "Variation for Violin and Piano," Uri Caine, The Goldberg Variations. Somewhere between Berg, Hindemith, and Wayne Shorter, this movement would not, in a first or even a one-thousand-and-first hearing, suggest Bach when heard out of context of the whole work. We could start with parody/imitation masses, or even cantus firmus, challenge the concept of authorship, make our way through Bach himself as transcriber, through different transcriptions of Bach spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, through Liszt and Busoni, through the downtown New York scene in the early 1990s, teach John Zorn, and then make our way to Caine.
"Candy Floss," Wilco, from the album Summer Teeth, a loving Beach Boys parody, even down to the Carl Wilson SoCal twang. Hmm... The Beach Boys could be a good gateway into vocal polyphony, but this is too hard. One more, for real this time:
Whoa! What a great one! "The Comedy (Noah and His Wife)," a terrifically strange, serial Stravinsky movement of spoken melodrama. (You can listen to most of it here at the Amazon MP3 store.) We could tell different creation stories through music--find Genesis in a noted missal, go back to Jewish chant, Haydn to Das Rheingold to Milhaud's La Creation du Monde through the first movement of Berio's Sinfonia, vaudeville, the adoption of late style by composers. This piece reminds me (uncannily, actually) of the more frightening, strangest passages from Ellington's Second Sacred Concert, "Supreme Being," that tells the story of Eden through a dense atonal haze, chanted choir, and a happy-go-lucky boy's voice who tells the story of Adam and Eve as if he were the apple.
This might not be a bad, if extremely arbitrary, way to structure a liberal arts class.
Going on with my current "shuffle session," I just came upon a recording of the third movement of Boulez's second piano sonata. 'Twould be a very fine focal point for a course, and maybe throughout the semester I could play it often enough that some would even grow to like it.
Who knows? This is really half-baked, but blogs can be half-baked, right?
Monday, May 4, 2009
I'm experiencing life via longhand once again. Frustrated at having to go to a computer lab or not being able to do work (which I often do between 8 PM and midnight, when I'd much rather be at home than in a library), I decided to start collating my research and sketching a narrative longhand. I found that re: my Albert Fine project, my research is coming together. I'm still looking for Nina Meister, who knew the composer's mother and performed some of his works at Harvard in 1990, writing about them and recording a casette that are housed in his archive. It's amazing how hard it is to find someone. Maybe I'll call the Harvard alumni office, or check in the crimson. And how many researchers have been foiled by the "married name" phenomenon?
Championing composers is a laudable feature of musicology and performance. It can lead to overstated scholarship if taken too far (in the musicological realm) but keeps old works alive, and allows new audiences to rediscover unfamiliar or familiar-but-misunderstood composers. I think probably the best, most thorough example of such advocacy comes from a former teacher (of whom I'm a big fan), Robert Levy, and his tireless promotion of Alec Wilder, a figure who is--Bob says this but more eloquently--"too pop for the concert hall and too classical for the jazz club." I remember attending a University of Minnesota New Music Ensemble concert a few years back that included:
--"Raggedy Andy" for chamber orchestra by Elliott McKinley, a doctoral candidate in composition from the University Of Minnesota. The performance will be conducted by Peter Smucker.It was a bold programming move, one that wasn't entirely flattering to Wilder given the new music audience (and one of the most canonic works--you know what I mean by "canonic"--of the twentieth century on the second half). Still, I think it's important to challenge our musical cultures and communities. Hearing a simple pop song by Alec Wilder next to Schoenberg makes Schoenberg and Wilder seem radical next to one another.
--A tribute to composer Alec Wilder, with three of his works: "Neurotic Goldfish" for winds and percussion, "I'll be Around" for voice and guitar, and "Such a Tender Night" for winds and percussion. Jerry Luckhardt, director of the New Music Ensemble, will conduct the performances of "Neurotic Goldfish" and "Such a Tender Night."
--Part II of one of the most influential works of the early 20th century, Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" for voice and six instruments. Young-Nam Kim, co-director of the NME, will conduct the performance.
--The Woodwind Quintet by Elliott Carter.
--Four Songs for soprano, baritone and chamber ensemble by Andrew Imbrie, conducted by Kim.
....Speaking of radical, my search for information about Fine took me to the Harvard Crimson website, which is--thankfully--archived online back to 1873! And, as I write about Fine's compositional shift, from a neoclassical style in the vein of Persichetti to really far out, this may be the best anecdote I've ever found about any composer. And note his obscurity. No author is listed, and the piece is quite colloquial, from March 26, 1966 (emphases added):
You're walking past the Bick about 5 in the afternoon and this just incredibly
happy looking guy in the fishbowl beckons to you.
Naturally you try to cross the street.But the light won't change and you kind of peer over your shoulder and he's still there, looking at you. Really seraphically happy.
So what the hell. You go inside. And what do you know. He's not selling marijuana. Fact of the matter is, he's selling clothespins. Or rather, he wants you to go to
Woolworth's and buy a bag of clothespins and then wanders around Cambridge
clipping them on to things. Nice fella really. Says his name is Albert Fine.
He's very explicit that you shouldn't injure anything. Probably a peace creep.
He doesn't have much of an explanation to offer. "It's a happening, baby," he
says. "It's the action not the reason that matters."
So what the hell. You didn't really want to study Chem 20. And it'll be something to tell the fellas back in Q House. You go to Woolworth's. The counter lady gives you quite the fishy eyeball. Seems there've been about 50 guys in already, asking for
This reminds me of something my friends Brent and Luke used to do back at Lawrence, afixing googly eyes with light adhesive to lampposts, table tents, buildings, shoes, doors, fliers--anything, almost always subtly or in the dead of night. I heard someone at Lawrence recently talking about someone who puts googly eyes around, and this is years later. The idea, uh, "stuck."
For that matter, the entire concept of minor history is taking my research in unexpected directions. Letters from Phillip Glass and Peter Schickele suggest that the three were a cohort of sorts in the late 1950s at Julliard. I have fliers from shows they put on at the defunct "Cafe Lorenzaccio" on Broadway between 108th and 109th streets, including Russian folk tunes arranged by Fine, original songs and movies by Schickele and his brother, David, classical works (from Haydn and Telemann), Glass premieres before Glass was Glass, and poetry readings. Schickele even wrote a piece (typtically) entitled "Fanfare for a lost cause : in remembrance of Cafe Lorenzaccio, and its owner and operator during the apex of its history, Burrill Crohn" in 1960. (This actually helps me out: Crohn played trumpet with their chamber group at the bar).
I haven't gotten ahold of Glass or Schickele--I think it might even be annoying if I did--but I can only imagine that they'd probably shake their heads and be amazed that anyone was researching what they did on their Thursday nights during grad school. (Heaven knows how boring the article about my evenings would be if someone ventured to write it.) But it helps to get at a larger question that the program-notitization of musicology often misses: how did artists do what they did, economically, and how did they create a market for it? Here are three figures (pictured together at their Julliard graduation in a Julliard periodical) with impeccable resumes, engaging and interesting personalities, and obvious musical potential. And yet, they weren't thinking about masterworks--or maybe they were; instead, picking up a few bucks, having a good time, and landing a job after graduation from grad school.
Landing a job after grad school? My research is taking me into some scary places.
I have many friends, like my former roommate, composer, songwriter, actor, good-guy, and Brooklynite-via-Northern Wisconsin Jonathon M.T. Roberts, who do insanely creative (often strange) things in New York. Will he be history one day?
And if clothespins, why not googly eyes?