Sunday, May 1, 2016

Footnote to Mostly Late Efflorescences

After I posted that piece the other day I started thinking about Bach and how I had managed to leave him out. He isn't quite like the other examples in that he seems to have generated flurries of flourishing several times in his life, while the other composers that I listed just seem to have had one. Bach's bread and butter, as it were, was chamber and church music earlier in his career and mostly church music later in his career. His production of church music in the form of music for organ to be played in church, cantatas with religious texts, his monumental settings of the Passion and finally his B minor Mass extended over most of his life, so don't really fit my conception of a "Mostly Late Efflorescence". Still, perhaps the Mass in B minor does fit the model as it was entirely outside his usual work, being a Catholic mass while Bach was employed as a composer of music for the Lutheran churches in Leipzig. It also comes from near the end of his life. There are a couple of other examples from him that might fit as well. His Well-Tempered Clavier is in two books, the first dating from 1722 and the second twenty years later. These monumental collections of preludes and fugues fit the idea quite well in that they exceed any conceivable practical need he had, but are rather a contribution to posterity. Another possible candidate would be his remarkable collection of concertos for various instruments that pretty much exhausts the whole Baroque concerto genre. The Brandenburg Concertos date from 1721 or earlier and again, burst the bounds of their time and genre, becoming music for the ages. Finally, perhaps the most obvious example of a monumental achievement written solely, it seems, for posterity would be Bach's Art of Fugue, a set of fugues on a single subject and variations of it, along with some remarkable canons. So, it seems that the major problem with applying the idea of Mostly Late Efflorescences to Bach is that he had too many and they were spread out over all of his mature years. Darn! I guess that's why he is Bach.

Another, very different example, might be the Czech composer Leoš Janáček whose entire career as a composer was one big Late Efflorescence. Until he met his muse, the much younger (and married) Kamila Stösslová to whom he wrote some seven hundred passionate letters, he was a largely unknown regional composer of dull organ and choral music and folksong arrangements. Nearly all of the works for which he is acclaimed, such as his two string quartets, the Sinfonietta, the Glagolithic Mass and his five late operas, were all written in the last decade of his life, after he had met Kamila.

Janáček's String Quartet No. 2 was given its nickname "Intimate Letters" by the composer himself in a reference to his long correspondence with Kamila. This performance is by the Emerson Quartet and the photo is of Kamila (and her son) in 1917, the year they met.


Tales of the Unexpected

A commentator put me on to this very interesting article by the retiring director of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. That's Birmingham in England, not Alabama. Here is an excerpt:
What do you do when a composer announces that the work you’ve just commissioned for 15 musicians will need 1,000 performers; or asks for the premiere to be in a boarded-up shop; or wants you to time precisely how long it takes to get from the top floor of your concert hall to the bottom?
Smile, breathe deeply, and cheer. Today’s composers like to tread new territory, and in hearing things afresh, they sometimes need to rewrite the rulebook. This urge to explore is what makes contemporary music so exhilarating and so unexpected. And it’s why I love it.
Well yes, me too, believe it or not. I love the idea of absolutely fresh ideas realized in an enthusiastic way and with a budget to pay for it! Three cheers for the city of Birmingham, who, I presume, funds these fascinating premiers. Go read the whole thing and listen to the two clips. Here is one, a three minute abbreviated version of "Crowd Out" by David Lang:


So what do I think of these pieces, aesthetically? Well, obviously I can only comment on the ones I have heard. What I think is going on here is a great deal of creativity being applied around the periphery of music. There is a lot, an awful lot, of what you might call music theater or performance art here. Which is fine, of course. But much of it, while eerie or complexly confused, is not interesting or genuinely moving--at least to me. Crowd Out is obviously a lot of fun, but that is partly because it turns the audience into performers, or vice versa. This checks an important box: egalitarianism. "Requiem to let" is rather more interesting, though not so interesting musically. It is about capturing the sadness of empty retail spaces, though the presence of an audience does rather remove the "empty" aspect. Still, an interesting idea. But what I hear, musically is a solo voice doing something that sounds rather like Hebrew cantillation, alternating with solo bass clarinet over a very dreary and repetitive pre-recorded vocal track. Neither seems to actually go anywhere so we are left trapped in the empty retail space, symbolized by the closed circle of the music. That is what I am hearing, at least.

The problem for any composer is to create something that is musically substantial and entertaining for an audience. But I think that those challenges are being fudged a bit here. On the one hand, government funding takes away the urgency of appealing to an audience and on the other hand, it is probably easier to come up with the idea of "1000 people shouting in the street" or creating a space that suggested oceanic depths than a fresh musical idea. I don't want to diminish the creative brilliance of theatrical ideas, but I do want to say that they are peripheral to musical ideas. I have to confess an ongoing disappointment when I read about some striking new idea, something really new and amazing, only to find out it is just people clapping and shouting at one another in a mall.

But this is just me, of course. I have very focused tastes and really like to hear music with a bit of meat on its bones, as it were.

Here is a piece that I think is creatively brilliant, with some fresh ideas, but that finds no need of any added theater or staging.


This is WTC 9/11 by Steve Reich and you really need to see the text as it is hard to make out what is being said in that recording.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mostly Late Efflorescences

I have a particular phenomenon in mind for which there is no term that I know of. I was thinking of cobbling up some Latin phrase using the word "floruit" but my Latin isn't that good. The phenomenon I am thinking of is a relatively brief spurt of creative activity, often late in life, in which certain great artists seem to burst out of all the restrictions and conventions of their time and create something both monumental and eternal. There are several examples.

I am certainly no expert on the visual arts, but one obvious example is the Black Paintings of Goya. These are a group of fourteen paintings he did between 1819 and 1823 when he was in his early 70s. They are some of the most dark and powerful paintings in history. He painted them directly on the walls of a house in the outskirts of Madrid. They were not commissioned and he gave them no titles and probably never intended them to be exhibited publicly. Perhaps the most famous is this one, "Saturn Devouring His Son"


But there are also a number of examples in music history. I said that this was mostly something that occurred late in life, but the exception to that is the "Sturm und Drang" symphonies of Joseph Haydn. Wikipedia lists eight symphonies, but Trevor Pinnock's excellent recording with The English Concert offers nineteen. The Symphony No. 52 in C minor can serve as an example. This is La Petite Bande, dir. Sigiswald Kuijken:



UPDATE: I should have mentioned that the "Sturm und Drang" symphonies of Haydn were written between 1768 and 1772 when Haydn was thirty-six to forty years old.

But usually, as I said, it was something more likely to come late in life as in the last three symphonies of Mozart, all written in the summer of 1788. Here is No. 40, in G minor, only the second symphony in a minor key by Mozart:


Another stunning example is the last three piano sonatas by Franz Schubert--the Wikipedia article is really excellent. These were all written in 1828 but not published for a decade. The last one of all is particularly powerful:


Yet another example is the late string quartets by Beethoven, composed in 1825 and 1826. These comprise five quartets, plus the Great Fugue. These quartets were Beethoven's last important composition and came after more than a decade when he wrote no quartets at all. This is Op. 127 in E flat:


I'm sure that there are more examples and I invite you to suggest some in the comments. But I think that we can discern certain common qualities among these I have cited. They were all, or nearly all, done with little intention of public performance or exhibition. They were done purely out of aesthetic need, because the artist/composer saw the possibilities and wanted to develop them. They were all, or nearly all, pushing or outside the boundaries of what was the norm for the time. For this reason, most of these examples were not understood or appreciated until many decades later. They were done, mostly, late in life and as a kind of final statement or contribution to the art and humanity. They are all particularly intense and make little effort to ingratiate themselves with an audience.

One final curiosity, all my examples fall between 1768 and 1828, a mere sixty year period. I wonder why that is?

Friday Miscellanea

Breaking news: aesthetic criteria just as relevant now as they were 90 years ago, or, as Slipped Disc has it: "Classical reviews have not changed in 90 years"
A research study by Swiss and British scholars has confirmed what many have long suspected: that classical music critics are clinging to criteria that have long since lost their relevance.
Follow the link, as the comments are also interesting. I may do a whole post on this.

* * *

I ran across an interesting clip about how Steely Dan puts together  a song. The title is misleading, though, because what he is talking about is not how the song was composed, but how it was arranged and produced. Oh, sure, he talks a bit about harmony too.


Some interesting stuff, but one problem with these kinds of discussions is that there isn't much theoretical rigor. For example, he talks about the "mu major" chord, where you replace an octave with the note a second above. In a C major chord, it would be spelled C E G D (instead of the octave C). For hundreds and hundreds of years this has been known as a chord with a 9th. No need to invent some weird terminology.

* * *

It might turn out that Prince's iron-fisted control over the distribution of his music will limit access now that he has passed away. There is a similar situation with the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. The Wall Street Journal has some details: "Questions Mount Over Prince's Music Catalog." I noticed on Amazon the other day that every single one of his CDs was sold out, though, of course many were available through download.

* * *

This is a fairly lengthy review of a book of considerable interest: Artists Under Hitler by Jonathan Petropoulos.  An excerpt:
Some of the personalities he profiles are familiar to anyone with a casual knowledge of the subject—the architect Albert Speer, the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, the composer Richard Strauss, and the sculptor Arno Breker. Others, like the actor Gustaf Gründgens, have long served as examples in Germany of how an opportunist can easily slide from left-wing to right-wing careerism. The conductor Herbert von Karajan, the opera diva Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and the actor Emil Jannings provided eternally shameful examples of notable artists kowtowing to Nazi power. Far more interesting, in Petropoulos’s telling, are the men who actually sought to collaborate but failed to successfully integrate themselves into the system or who attempted to ignore politics altogether while continuing to produce their work—such as the composer Paul Hindemith and the architect Walter Gropius (who actually submitted plans for the new Reichsbank building in 1933 and 1934).
* * *

I can't honestly say that your life will be poorer if you don't rush over and listen to the clip accompanying this article on Rufus Wainwright's tribute to Shakespeare. Nope. It was awarded two out of five stars in the Guardian.


Actually, I would have given it one star and then taken away half a star for the presumption of setting Shakespeare. Dreary, mediocre, clichéd and leaden.

* * *

Here is another article on Prince, this time a quite interesting one in which ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons talks about the specifics of Prince's guitar playing. There is also a clip of Prince doing a cover of the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" that he plays better than Keith did.

* * *

Finally, another classical item. This is a clip of Leia Zu playing the 2nd and 3rd movements of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. She is 9 years old:


* * *

I'm not the only curmudgeon around. Robert Tracinski has an interesting piece in The Federalist titled: "What Beyoncé Thinkpieces Tell Us About The Death of The Highbrow." Here's a sample:
The problem with the Beyoncé thinkpiece phenomenon is not just that they tend to be hackneyed and pretentious and are really just a gimmick to hijack a famous name and use it to direct Web traffic to the far less interesting ramblings of a second-rate writer. The real problem is that it’s just pop music.
The problem is the pretense, which suffuses all contemporary writing on popular culture, that we can write about the latest comic-book superhero blockbuster as if it’s Shakespeare and Kanye West’s latest album as if it’s Mozart. But it’s not Shakespeare, and it sure as heck isn’t Mozart.
I think the origin of this problem is in the ascendence of cultural Marxism. They have to deconstruct traditional high art and that leaves them with the only thing left to praise being popular art. It's like a twofer: your ideology means you get to pooh-pooh elitist art and elevate popular art.

* * *

I think this might be of interest to those who are not Canadian as it speaks to the very natural human desire to be a civic booster. The article in the Globe and Mail is headlined: "Welcome to a new nightmare in Cancon policy" What is "Cancon policy" you ask? It is the government policy of subsidizing Canadian cultural content in the mass media so that it doesn't disappear entirely. Or, in rather crueler terms: it seems to be the case that Canadians have so little regard for the culture produced by their own intelligentsia that they would rather consume American content instead. This is so humiliating to the Canadian intelligentsia that they have long supported considerable government subsidies to hide the fact that a lot of Canadian content is not commercially viable.
The wisest comment made so far about plans to review Canada’s cultural policies and bring them into line with our digital age came from former heritage minister James Moore: “The vast majority of the public pressure is toward maximizing consumer freedom and choice, while all of the stakeholder pressure is toward subsidizing the creation of content or regulating the distribution of that content to the consumer. These are two worlds that often collide.”
* * * 

In celebration of Shakespeare's birthday, let's listen to some music inspired by his play "A Midsummer Night's Dream". This is the Overture by Mendelssohn with the Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur:


Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Vacation Plans

You might be looking at that heading and going, "who cares?" But since most of my life has been intertwined with music, so are my vacation plans.

When I was a young musician, after a few years of playing electric bass and six-string in several bands and some time as a solo folk artist, I encountered classical music and completely reinvented myself. I guess it was a bit like what someone like Bruce Jenner has done with his gender identity. I stopped being a blues and folk-oriented guitarist and became a classical guitarist. I don't think my comparison is much of an exaggeration as changing from one sort of musician to an entirely different sort of musician is a considerable transformation.

The first problem I ran into was that there were no real teachers available--in the sense of masters of the instrument. Where I was living, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, the only classical guitarists were at the amateur level. I went to three of them, but in each case, after six months, I had absorbed all they had to offer and moved on. This would not have been the case with the piano, of course, but at that time the only places in the world where the classical guitar was a truly established instrument was in Europe, especially Spain and England and perhaps a few places in Latin America. The last teacher that I went to lived in Vancouver and he was on a whole other level. He was Dutch and had spent a couple of years studying in Spain before moving to Canada. He actually knew the repertoire and was a very good player as well. After six months commuting for lessons with him, he said, "you should study with my teacher in Spain." I looked at him with astonishment: "I can do that?" "Sure, just go knock on his door." Apparently his teacher, the maestro José Tomás, did not have a phone and didn't answer letters. This was in 1973, long before email, of course.

So I started saving money and early in 1974 I flew to Spain, Madrid, where I bought a new guitar from the shop of José Ramirez and took the train to Alicante, on the Mediterranean coast, where José Tomás lived and taught. This is a close-up of what the label of that guitar looked like:



By sheer luck this was absolutely the best place for me to have gone. The situation in the early 70s was that the leading guitarists in the world were Andrés Segovia, who lived in Spain and the English guitarist Julian Bream. We could also list Narciso Yepes. Segovia was the only one who had taught enough and been around enough to have students of stature. His leading students were Alirio Diaz from Venezuela, Michael Lorimer from the US, John Williams from England, Oscar Ghiglia from Italy and José Tomás from Spain. Of these, he chose Tomás to be his assistant in his master classes in Santiago de Compostela, offered every fall--the most prestigious master classes in the world for classical guitarists.

As the Wikipedia article I linked to says, José Tomás was:
Considered a major influence on the evolution of classical guitar technique in the second half of the 20th century, he trained many guitarists from all over the world.
When I was there, there were quite a few guitarists from Japan and the US and a scattering of ones from Canada, France, Belgium, Ireland, England, Finland, the Philippines, Mexico, Peru and other countries. It was a remarkable community of some of the most talented young guitarists in the world. When I went to Spain I was pretty much a hack guitarist but after nearly a year studying with Tomás (and practicing six hours a day) I returned to Canada and enrolled at McGill University, the foremost music school in Canada, where I was the outstanding performance major in guitar.

Before going to Spain, I had never been out of Canada--indeed, I had never been east of Saskatchewan! Spain made a huge impact on me, not just musically, but culturally. There was the expected cultural shock in going there, but there was another cultural shock on returning to Canada. I discovered that I was not the same person who left. I was never quite able to fit back into my niche in Canada as my perspective had been fundamentally broadened.

I only did a few things other than practice guitar when I lived in Spain: one of them was to read Russian novels. I think I read all of them with the exception of the second volume of the Brothers Karamazov. I also went to lunch a lot with a fellow guitarist from Finland. The only other thing I did was to visit Madrid twice. When I was there, I spent a lot of time in the Prado and especially in the room with the late Goya paintings like this one:

Click to enlarge
The Prado also had the famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch that I had known previously as the cover to a Deep Purple album:


In the Prado I was able to see the original:

Click to enlarge
It is fair to say that my year in Spain (eight months, but who's counting?) was a year in which a number of things happened: I learned what a strict discipline was through practicing guitar six hours a day, I experienced the fabric of life in another culture, I encountered highly disciplined and creative musicians from all over the world, and I came face to face with some of the great examples of the art of Western civilisation.

The Prado, where I always returned, contains not only nearly all of Goya, but large numbers of paintings of Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and even Albrecht Dürer:


And if that is not enough, near the Prado is the Reina Sofia museum devoted to 20th and 21st century art and whose centrepiece is possibly the most famous painting of the 20th century, Guernica by Picasso:


I have wanted to return to Spain for many, many years, but while I have been to England, France, Germany and Italy a few times, I have never set foot in Spain since 1974. So next month I am going to spend a couple of weeks in Madrid revisiting the Prado and seeing many of the other sights that I wasn't even aware of before like the other museums, the Royal Palace, the parks and gardens, churches, monasteries and so on. Tapas! I am also going to take a day trip to Toledo where El Greco lived. I will take in some concerts as well.

This time I am taking a camera and will have some photos to share when I get back. When I was studying in Spain I didn't even have a camera, though I do have a couple of photos as souvenirs of that time. I will put them up in another post.

Let's have some music. This is José Tomás playing Zambra grenadine by Albéniz:


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sounds and Sweet Airs

I take my title from a new book by cultural historian Anna Beer, the full title of which is: "Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music." Not so forgotten, it would seem, as I see a similar article hailing women composers (and conductors, of course) about once a month in the Guardian. In fact, I think I have devoted at least one previous post to the Terrible Neglect of Women Composers. So, in these ever-recurring demands for more recognition of women composers, are there any new arguments? Or are the old ones getting any better? Not according to this review in the Guardian. Let's just take a stroll through it.

A favorite technique of these sorts of haranguing articles is the Unsupported Assertion:
The institutions of classical music tend to be heavily invested in a carefully protected performance tradition that hands on the precious flame of white, male genius from generation to generation and has little interest, for all kinds of reasons, in disrupting the canon.
The one collective group that not only can be, but must be, assaulted constantly is that of white males. One literary critic as I recall, recently suggested that publishers publish only women writers for a year. Why don't we do the same in music? For one year, all performances worldwide must be only of music by women composers. That would be interesting. No Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, well, you get the idea. Actually, the process of updating, disrupting, adding to, blurring the lines of, etc, the "canon" is going on constantly.

We are informed that women composers:
...encountered obstacles, on the other hand, that their male composers didn’t, whether the vagaries of childbearing (Clara Schumann ploughed on as a composer, and especially a performer, through eight pregnancies) or straightforward full-on sexism (Maconchy was told in the 1930s by publisher Leonard Boosey that “he couldn’t take anything except little songs from a woman”). 
Oh yes, no male composer ever encountered obstacles like women composers did. Not child-bearing obstacles, of course, but every biography I have ever read has detailed the enormous obstacles that most composers encounter. Name one composer who didn't encounter disinterested publishers!

Regarding Fanny Mendelssohn, the reviewer writes:
After her death her work was subject to insidiously gendered critiques: it was said to lack “a commanding individual idea” and the “feeling which originates in the depth of the soul”.
One simply has to ask, would any critique in any terms of any woman composer NOT be regarded as "insidiously gendered"?

My favorite section is the ending which, after noting the very successful career of Elizabeth Maconchy (who, by the way, was honored by being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) goes on as follows:
Sound and Music, which supports composers in Britain, has a strong commitment to gender equality. It is also keen to increase opportunities for black and minority ethnic composers, who are woefully invisible in the UK’s classical musical culture. Some balk at the notion that such “extra-musical” factors might be invoked when programming a concert – as if commercial concerns, personal relationships and a host of unremarked prejudices did not come into play in any act of curatorship. This book helps show why a narrative that insists that the good stuff will naturally and always rise to the surface is simplistic. It is important for us all, composers, musicians, audiences, men, women, society at large, that we seek out the best and most exciting creative voices, from wherever they may come.
The idea that gender equality must be assured by putting a bureaucratic thumb on the scale is no better than putting a thumb on the scale for commercial concerns, personal relationships or other unremarked prejudices. Two or three or several wrongs do not make a right. The characterizing of the idea that good stuff will out as a simplistic narrative is just another, and particularly stupid, unsupported assumption. All those people listed, composers, musicians, audiences, men and women, are people with aesthetic judgment. And their considered judgment as to what is worth composing, performing and listening to IS in fact the "canon". And it was never anything else. If a large number of people grow more and more interested in enjoying the music of Elizabeth Maconchy (and I certainly think they should), then she will enter more thoroughly into the canon. That's how it works. All this stuff about gender equality is just so much special pleading. I take particular delight in the last sentence as the writer seems to have not noticed how the statement of this worthy principle completely negates everything she has previously said! Yes, we should seek out the best and most exciting creative voices from wherever they may come--even if from white males!

Our envoi, obviously, should be something by Elizabeth Maconchy. This is her Nocturne for orchestra, composed in 1950/51:


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Leading From Behind?

The idea of "leading from behind" has its origins in politics, but reading a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal brings it to mind. I read the WSJ primarily as a guide to business and economics related events, but it is also good for general news. I find myself often reading the arts coverage as well. USA Today is the largest circulation paper in the US, but the WSJ is a close second. The New York Times is a distant third along with the LA Times. I guess USA Today skews more to the middle class reader and the WSJ to the upmarket reader. Whatever that means. But what has long puzzled me is the WSJ's coverage of music as in, what they choose to cover and what they don't.

Today's article, "Deconstructing Beyoncé’s Most Intriguing Samples on ‘Lemonade’ " is an example. It seems to be a review of Beyoncé's new album just released titled "Lemonade". But, as so often these days, it is not a review in the sense of being a critical evaluation. The writer, Neil Shah, says:
Critics are praising the project, which initially was an exclusive for husband Jay-Z’s Tidal music-streaming service, but is now available for purchase as a download from Apple’s iTunes and digital retailers. (A physical version is coming too.)
The "critics" referred to are NPR with this piece: "Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' Is Defiant In The Midst Of Upheaval" which is a critical review in the same way that a Donald Trump rally is a critical review of his foreign policy. Here is a sample:
Beyoncé couldn't have produced a body of work this defiant, or blunt, two years ago. Lemonade has been made possible by the cultural, social and political upheaval we're in the midst of, triggered by the deaths of boys and fathers and women, who will never be forgotten.
We've all been changed by these events. Beyoncé may be a machine, but she's changed, too. And so have Serena Williams, actress Amandla Stenberg, literary giant in the making Warsan Shire, and the other figures featured front and center in the visual version of the album — from the women who look like my mom and my aunties and my cousins, to those carrying the grief of a nation: the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown.
So, pretty much a manifesto for Black Lives Matter. Without in any way commenting on that political movement, I think it is safe to say that this review has nothing whatsoever to say about the music on the album. The other review linked to is in the New York Times: "Review: Beyoncé Makes ‘Lemonade’ Out of Marital Strife." As you would expect, the NYT review is more in depth:
Her reactions swing from sorrow to rage to determined loyalty, and she reaches beyond the electronic-R&B of “Beyoncé” to embrace new influences and collaborators: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Father John Misty, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Animal Collective and Led Zeppelin. “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a collaboration with Jack White, is a funk-bottomed blues-rocker that has Beyoncé fighting back, declaring, “You ain’t trying hard enough/You ain’t loving hard enough,” working up to a scream. “Pray You Catch Me” is one of two collaborations with the British songwriter James Blake: slow-motion ballads of suspicion and longing. During “Forward,” the other Blake collaboration, the video has its most moving sequence: family members stoically holding photographs of men who were killed by police. It’s followed by a scene of a New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian in full feathered and beaded costume, shaking a tambourine in posh dining rooms as if to exorcise them.
This is as close as they get to a discussion of the actual music--most of the review talks about the costuming, the visuals, and associated poetry by Warsan Shire.  This bit is revealing:
On their own, the songs can be taken as one star’s personal, domestic dramas, waiting to be mined by the tabloids. But with the video, they testify to situations and emotions countless women endure.
Yes, situations and emotions of countless women who are perfect material for reality television. Frankly, we seem to have reached the point where pop stars like Beyoncé and reality tv stars like the Kardashians are barely distinguishable.

But enough of that, back to the WSJ piece. It is actually the most detailed, in the musical sense, of the three articles:
Executive producer Beyoncé Knowles Carter’s artistic choices are always a fascinating slice of the pop-culture zeitgeist.
Is followed by a listing of five samplings that are used on the album. These are all legal, by the way. Sampling of older recordings is so prevalent these days that artists pay a fee for the use of them. Here is the song "Hold Up" from the album (just the audio):


This is supposedly based on Andy Williams "Can't Get Used to Losing You" from 1963:


Just the staccato chords, I guess. Anyway, the point is the WSJ did track down the samples relating to five of the songs on the album. Is the WSJ readership appreciating their efforts? Not at all. As I write this there are just a few comments and this one is typical:
Only in America can a hair extensioned, silicon pumped up, no talent, photo shopped, spouse of an alleged thug drug dealer get press.  A non event - irrelevant.  Nothing like spot lighting law breakers.  This delusional 'sage' thinks she's some kind of 'river to her people'  yeah right.  A river that flows directly into the $ bank.  She's nothing more than a shill for Soetoro in other words - A Useful Idiot.
Let me hasten to say that this is not my view--just a comment on the WSJ review and they were all completely negative.

So why does the WSJ continue to review this sort of cultural artifact? Is it "leading from behind"? Do they want to go to any lengths to avoid being seen as a stuffy newspaper for the rich? Oops, it may be too late!

I think that what we are seeing here is one of the fundamental problems in our culture. In order for any concepts of aesthetic quality or moral content to be transmitted generally in the culture, they must be promoted by figures and institutions that have cultural, moral and aesthetic authority. This basic mechanism has been eroded to the point where it is not those with authority that have the microphone, it is those opposing, deconstructing and rebelling against authority. Even the WSJ, which should be a bastion of traditional aesthetic values, feels it has to deliver appreciative articles on artists like Beyoncé--and this in the teeth of the obvious tastes and interests of their own readers! A few weeks ago they published an article on a particularly painful recording of jazz fusion. I left the first comment which described it as being very painful to listen to. I expected some push back, but when I checked a week later, mine was still the only comment.

Perhaps the WSJ just thinks it is leading from behind as in keeping an eye on and reporting on cultural trends like Beyoncé's album and its unrelenting rage against everyone who isn't a black woman--from her husband on down. But what they should really be doing is exposing this as the rancid politics of personal destruction and glorification that it is.

Don't you think?

My review of the album: nasty, sneering and unlistenable.

UPDATE: Of course you won't want to miss the review in The Onion.