Friday, August 4, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

We are in the middle of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and the Song of the Summer of Love was "Light My Fire" by The Doors that hit the number one spot on the Billboard Hot One Hundred at the end of July 1967. Mark Steyn has a nice essay on the song:
It was the whoa-that's-hip harmonics that sold it to the MOR crowd. If you're an arranger or an orchestrator, there's not a lot you can do with most rock songs: they're harmonically very limited. But "Light My Fire" was born as a kind of medley of possibilities - jazz, rock, Latin, pseudo-baroque, all on one track - and in the late Sixties easy-listening arrangers loved playing around with it.
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Our selection for the most egregious cultural appropriation of the week goes to this Mongolian contestant on a talent show who choose to appropriate country music. And pretty well, at that:


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I confess I am rather fond of performances of piano music by Mozart and Beethoven on copies of the instruments they actually used. The box of all the Mozart piano concertos played on fortepiano by Malcolm Bilson with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists is one of my favorite collections:


The Guardian today has a review of a new album that goes one better: pianist Olga Pashchenko plays an original Conrad Graf instrument built in 1824 in Vienna in a recording of three Beethoven piano sonatas:
Pashchenko clearly relishes the range of sonority that this venerable instrument offers her – not only the deliberately unhomogenous sound, which gives a distinctive character to each register and is founded on a lean, clear bass that never overwhelms the higher pitches, but the tonal effects available from the three extra pedals that were standard on Graf’s models. Most of all, though, she makes full use of the light, even touch of the keyboard, which gives her performances tremendous vitality. There is no hint of the rather forbidding wall of sound that modern-instrument performances of the Appassionata so often generate, while the outer movements of both the Waldstein and Les Adieux have genuinely athletic momentum.
Incidentally, the word "fortepiano" is a modern coining invented specifically to distinguish an historical instrument from the modern pianoforte.

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 Say what you will, Norman Lebrecht over at Slipped Disc does have a gift for the headline: Yuja Wang Cuts Back Again on Clothing Budget:


And, as always, the comments provide lots of entertainment.

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New Yorker music critic Alex Ross has a bit of a fixation on composer's graves. He recently visited Bruckner's in St. Florian, Austria. Across from the composer's crypt is, I kid you not, a wall of skulls:


He has also visited a number of other composer's graves--look for the links at the bottom of his post linked above.

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Identity politics controversy of the week is the new production of Madame Butterfly at the Seattle Opera. The Seattle Times has the story:
There are multiple reasons why many Asian Americans decry the opera’s heartbreaking outcome.
“For starters, it’s white European dudes telling a story about a culture that they know nothing about,” Gainor said. “There are some Asian Americans who will never want to come anywhere close to this opera, even if it has a black Butterfly and Latino Pinkerton, because it’s so problematic.”
Although director Cherry and production designer Christina Smith’s production of “Madame Butterfly,” complete with traditional costumes and staging inspired by Japanese theater, premiered in New Zealand in 2013, well before Seattle’s community conversation took place, Cherry is sensitive to its problematic nature.
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 And finally, god help us, a little desultory Philippic on the hipness or not of classical music from David Srebnik:
We certainly have our generous share of hip performers like pianist Conrad Tao, Time for Three, Christopher O’Riley. The Knights, Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel, Lara Downes, Philippe Quint, the Canadian Brass, Matt Haimovitz and the Kronos Quartet.
The Canadian Brass? My feeling is that classical music is where you go when you shear off your man-bun and finally get over this "hipness" thing.

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For our envoi, let's have the decidedly unhip Olga Pashchenko playing some Beethoven sonatas on fortepiano:


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find "Light my fire" a boring pop song light on ideas but heavy on pomposity. Mark Steyn might know a lot about pop but he seems out of his depth about music in general.

>> pulled out a bit of cod-Bach

Are you serious Mark? So all I have to do is to noodle over a run of 4ths to be Bach? My Lord!

>> those circling fifths

Actually, fourths, not fifths, Mark. But, hey, no music knowledge needed for music punditry, I guess.

>> isn't Sonny and Cher, this is Art,
>> with a capital A

Not intended to be funny, but quite funny nevertheless. Mood music on two chords... that's Art with a capital A... Hmm... that redefines minimalist art...

>> the five-minute Coltranesque solos

Now that really irritates me. Mr Manzarek might well have been a huge fan of Trane, but Coltrane spent decades learning to master every facet of Western harmony before he went off on his modal excursions. His solos quote and retool literally hundreds of references from classical music, Indian music, and Jazz. That "Coltranesque solo" in Light My Fire is a dumb, brainless noodling jam in Dorian. Someone's who's never touched a keyboard in his life can learn to do that sort of thing in a 2-week music summer camp.

I get it that if you smoke enough weed, Jerry Garcia jamming off a Mixolydian scale can begin to sound like a Stravinsky masterpiece. Drugs will do that to you. But the inability to distinguish a Coltrane solo from random single-scale noodling by an amateur, that tells you something has gone awry in journalism.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm happy to have provided an item to, ahem, light your fire! Let me add another criticism: when he says "It was the whoa-that's-hip harmonics that sold it to the MOR crowd" he doesn't mean "harmonics" which are notes produced by touching nodes on string instruments, rather he means "harmonies." But where Mark does pretty well is in the history of pop music and the lyrics. As for the music, as you say, his knowledge is limited.