mm490: Blast from the Past! No. 47 – Classical music, redux

September 5, 2008
© Kandasamy M  | Dreamstime.com

© Kandasamy M | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’S Musings

Events, continue to conspire, making it unacceptably late to start a fresh project, but hey, recycling is IN, right? We’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons.

I hereby stop apologizing for observing the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, and always in season, especially since it’s back to school time for millions, originally posted November 5, 2007, and titled “mm185: Time for a classical music post.”

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ll do this a bit differently today. Slate.com has an interesting dialog going on jazz and classical music, and what people listen to.

So, go read it (perhaps even taking in some of the Fray) and come back for MUDGE’s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Alex Ross and Ben Ratliff discuss jazz, classical and pop – Slate.com

I grew up in a house where classical music was heard everywhere, on the radio, on records, on the piano in the living room. We were taken to concerts in the rarified atmosphere of a cathedral of the arts.

So I listen to classical music most of the time. Not all of the time: Constant reader will recall the frequent references to Pandora.

In the home my children grew up with, the radio that I controlled always had classical music playing, but, of course, there was more than one radio in the house by this generation, television was much more pervasive, and the piano in the living room (the same one, appropriated rather embarrassingly one remembers ruefully) was largely silent. Piano lessons were attempted, and dropped. Live concerts were usually way beyond the budget.

So those children listen (so far as I can determine; they’ve long since established households of their own) mainly to pop. Indeed, MUDGElet No. 3 is a musician of growing accomplishment, in the modern pop vernacular of drum machines and Pro-Tools.

And so the slice of the cultural pie populated by classical music grows smaller with each generation.

But.

As alluded to in the Slate dialog, there’s more going on here than generational taste.

And as mentioned in at least one of the comments, perhaps our definition of classical music has been allowed to become too narrow.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm402: Brigadoon year for the Cubs?

June 6, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© doesn’t touch on issues in the world of sports that often.

But today I feel compelled.

I’ve spent all week sleep deprived, as the Chicago Cubs have been playing games on the West Coast, and those don’t begin until 9:05pm Central time. And the way baseball is played these days, only one of the past four night’s games has ended before midnight my time.

So, baseball has been on my mind.

They’re playing the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend. L.A. is the home of my daughter and her family: my son-in-law, and my two grandchildren.

My 7-1/2 year old grandson lived in Chicago for the first four years of his life, and somehow caught Cubs fan-itis, following the team on TV when available (and his mom and dad say it’s okay) and on line.

Last time we were together, he showed me how he logs into MLB.com on his Mom’s Macbook to get the latest scores and stats, and he grabs the L.A. Times sports section first thing to study the box scores. And his interest and enthusiasm, especially for all things Cubs, re-ignited mine. It doesn’t hurt that they’re off to a terrific start this season.

As I reflected on baseball, an enthusiasm that waxes and wanes for me, but which was a lifelong enthusiasm of my father, and which my older son inherited, and now, apparently, my grandson, I had this thought.

Read the rest of this entry »


mm387: Blast from the Past! No. 22

May 22, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 2, 2007, and originally titled “It <is> a serious music trifecta”.

MUDGE’S Musings

Have written comparatively little regarding music, until the past few days. Odd how concepts seem to cluster sometimes.

So, first it was that terrific review of that sublime recording of the Bach Goldberg Variations by Simone Dinnerstein, which recording was even excerpted on our local classical station today during their new releases weekly segment.

Then, found very randomly on someone’s blog, that hysterical (I’ve watched it several times and it makes me laugh each time) goof on the performance of Rachmaninov’s Prelude (“only the hands are small!”).

Later the day I posted that one, we went out to our neighborhood Blockbuster to find holiday weekend fare. Sometimes she picks the movies; sometimes I do. This time she did.

What did lovely spouse (emphatically not the serious music lover in the family; mainly the tolerator of the serious music lover in the family) choose first to listen to that night? Copying Beethoven.

copyingbeethoven

Read the rest of this entry »


mm185: Time for a classical music post

November 5, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ll do this a bit differently today. Slate.com has an interesting dialog going on jazz and classical music, and what people listen to.

So, go read it (perhaps even taking in some of the Fray) and come back for MUDGE‘s take.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Alex Ross and Ben Ratliff discuss jazz, classical and pop – Slate.com

I grew up in a house where classical music was heard everywhere, on the radio, on records, on the piano in the living room. We were taken to concerts in the rarified atmosphere of a cathedral of the arts.

So I listen to classical music most of the time. Not all of the time: Constant reader will recall the frequent references to Pandora.

In the home my children grew up with, the radio that I controlled always had classical music playing, but, of course, there was more than one radio in the house by this generation, television was much more pervasive, and the piano in the living room (the same one, appropriated rather embarrassingly one remembers ruefully) was largely silent. Piano lessons were attempted, and dropped. Live concerts were usually way beyond the budget.

So those children listen (so far as I can determine; they’ve long since established households of their own) mainly to pop. Indeed, MUDGElet No. 3 is a musician of growing accomplishment, in the modern pop vernacular of drum machines and Pro-Tools.

And so the slice of the cultural pie populated by classical music grows smaller with each generation.

But.

As alluded to in the Slate dialog, there’s more going on here than generational taste.

And as mentioned in at least one of the comments, perhaps our definition of classical music has been allowed to become too narrow.

It is MUDGE‘s contention that for a very large number of years of the 20th Century, composers of classical music stopped writing for their historic audience. And this has to do, one could theorize, with the changed musical food chain.

As someone commented more or less accurately, for many hundreds of years composers had patrons: first, the Catholic church and later, well into the 19th Century, secular sources of funding: royalty and the wealthy.

Times changed, and composers had to find new safe havens, and found them: academia. So composers wrote to suit these new patrons, their fellow academics. And the broad audience was left out.

Schoenberg could be angry at his concert audiences (as noted in the Slate dialog), but his later works, and the works of those he mentored and influenced, seem to have been academic exercises and barely tried, and hardly succeeded, to connect to that audience.

So, no wonder the audience is apparently dwindling. Much as one might love listening to the “Three B’s”, and Mozart and Schumann and Mahler, and Handel and Berlioz, it’s old music, written for the clerics and the princes and the audiences of a time long past.

The most listenable of the composers of the 20th Century: Stravinsky (some), Prokofiev, Shoshtakovich (hmm, Russians); Copland and Gershwin and Bernstein; wrote in the idiom of an earlier time, and thus stretched the audience instead of confronting it. But still, by now, old.

Who is writing serious orchestral music for today’s listener?

A few have been successful. John Adams (who I confess I haven’t much appreciated); Philip Glass (who I do).

But Glass’s example leads to the second point I was about to make: many of his most successful and approachable works are music written for film.

Film producers and directors might almost be considered the successors of the churchly and princely patrons of music of an older age. And yes, at least one of the comments to the Slate story touches on this.

Early filmmakers even drafted European serious composers to add gravitas to their popular art, Korngold being for me the most potent example.

Hitchcock’s suspense would have been much less so without Bernard Herrmann’s scores.

Jerry Goldsmith; John Williams; the master, Ennio Morricone; Philip Glass himself; and recent upstarts like Hans Zimmer, James Horner and Danny Elfman: all wrote or are writing music that was commissioned to meet a specific storytelling purpose, but many of their scores provide wonderful entertainment listened to on disc without the film, and I’m certain entertains surprisingly well in the concert hall, if anyone is so bold as to program it.

Thus, the point. People in the millions are listening to classical music (i.e., music written using a most traditional tool — the symphony orchestra — to help tell a story) daily, only in the form of scores for films, in movie theatres and home theatres and on iPods and laptops.

So classical music hasn’t died, isn’t dead or dying.

It’s just made the journey to the 21st Century in order to reconnect with its audience, if not the academic establishment that held it captive for so many barren years.

And that makes classical music bigger than ever.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm125: It <is> a serious music trifecta!

September 2, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Have written comparatively little regarding music, until the past few days. Odd how concepts seem to cluster sometimes.

So, first it was that terrific review of that sublime recording of the Bach Goldberg Variations by Simone Dinnerstein, which recording was even excerpted on our local classical station today during their new releases weekly segment.

Then, found very randomly on someone’s blog, that hysterical (I’ve watched it several times and it makes me laugh each time) goof on the performance of Rachmaninov’s Prelude (“only the hands are small!”).

Later the day I posted that one, we went out to our neighborhood Blockbuster to find holiday weekend fare. Sometimes she picks the movies; sometimes I do. This time she did.

What did lovely spouse (emphatically not the serious music lover in the family; mainly the tolerator of the serious music lover in the family) choose first to listen to that night? Copying Beethoven.

copyingbeethoven

It never made much of an impression when it was released last year; just another of the thousands of releases that MUDGE would never venture out to see in a theatre. I guess I read a review or two:

i went to Copying Beethoven expecting, even wanting to like it. Some of it I did like. Immediately, Agnieszka Holland’s usually sure hand is evident in the magnificent opening scene. A closed carriage careens along a muddy road in the 19th century Austrian countryside, past poor trudging women who peer after it as they get out of the way, past fields and woods—past daily life—and beneath wheeling birds whose startled flight matches the passenger’s own urgency. It’s 1827 and young Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger), musical copyist and aspiring composer, is rushing to the death-bed of her “Maestro,” the renowned Beethoven (Ed Harris). But more than anything this carriage scene is about the vivid, almost overwhelming awakening of her senses. It’s chilly, and we are roughly thrown about in Anna’s careening coach along with her, catching flashes of sky and branch, nearly smelling the steaming horses, and above all, hearing everything. Every hoof beat, every crow’s call, every squeak of the carriage, every sudden brief lull, pant and rustle—all of it picked out clearly and then mingled with soaring music. Anna Holtz apprehends the world fully just as the man who’s shown it to her lies on the razor’s edge of death. You see, she has just grasped what he has to offer, barely in time to repay his gift by telling him so

Copying Beethoven – Movie Review – Stylus Magazine

Or this one, from London:

When writing this good can meet with indifference from the hand that feeds, it’s all the more galling to see a dog of a script being thrown filet mignon. The glossy Euro-production Copying Beethoven barks, rolls over, and plays dead for two hours. It is a great example of that time-honoured genre, the biopic so silly it plays like a spoof.

Try this: “My God, Beethoven, you’re even deafer than I thought!” says someone about one of the late string quartets.

Or this: “Beethoven mooned me!” complains his put-upon female copyist, Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger). You won’t struggle to guess which sonata he was miming.

Film reviews: Sparkle, Copying Beethoven and more – Telegraph

I have to say, though, that it made a better impression on us, watching at home ($4.29 vs. $18.00 never hurts either). The centerpiece comes in the first hour: the performance, chopped, hashed, sliced and diced as it was arrayed in the film, of the 9th Symphony. It was compelling, not for one looking for an authentic, complete performance (although it was taken from a masterful one), but for the film’s depiction of its emotional affect on the listeners.

There are moments in music that one would love to have a time machine available to go back to. And the first appearance of a massed choir is definitely one. Am I subjective about this? Of course. A lifetime ago, I sang in an amateur chorus (its amateurishness enhanced by my presence, alas).

  • The entry of the chorus for the first time (the fourth number) in Handel’s Messiah: “And the glory of the Lord.”
  • The near-whispering entry of the chorus in the last movement of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (I’m certain that Beethoven’s 9th was Mahler’s inspiration).
  • And the triumphant entry of the chorus in the 9th itself. You see them there, and even if you know the music, when they enter… there are fewer more sublime moments in life, much less music.

Back to the film. Here’s what one of its writers, Steven Rivele had to say, on a site called Films about Beethoven: Copying Beethoven:

Our film begins in April of 1824 just before the premiere of the 9th Symphony. Beethoven has had a falling out with his copyist, Wolanek, and Schlemmer is desperate to find someone to replace him, to prepare the parts for the premiere. He sends to the Vienna Conservatory for their brightest young composition student, and they send, in return, our fictional heroine, Anna Holtz. (In fact, they sent two young men, but we asked ourselves: What if it had been a woman? This is what enabled us to create a film about the late Beethoven that could actually get financed.) Anna goes to work with Beethoven, helps him prepare for the premier, conducts with him from the wings, and then summons the strength to show him some of her own work. He mocks it, sending her into despair. Later he comes to apologize, and to ask her to help him with the composition of the last string quartets, his legacy to the future of music. In doing so, she learns the deepest meaning of music, and finds the strength to become a composer in her own right. There’s more to it than this, of course, but that’s the gist of it. There is a lot of humor, much soul-searching, a great deal of talk about the meaning of art and the role of musicians, and, of course lots of wonderful music.[…]

…We have had very lively discussions on our forum with regard to authenticity, and Mr.Rivele has explained just how difficult this is to achieve on a limited budget. For example, did the violinists use chin rests? Did the cellos have tailpins? Did the horns have valves? What music would have been played in the taverns?  There can be no doubting Mr.Rivele’s sincerity and desire to present a film covering the last years of Beethoven’s life as accurately as possible, but in order to create a viable project certain artistic licence has had to be taken.

Films about Beethoven: Copying Beethoven – Ludwig van

So, perhaps not the greatest film ever made with a musical subject (Amadeus, definitely an inspiration to the filmmakers, who respond with a similarly gritty depiction of 19th Century Vienna might get my vote), but atmospheric, weirdly (a female copyist?) believable, and often profoundly moving.

Definitely worth the renting. And definitely odd that we should end up watching a film with serious music as its theme. Clustering.

Then, in a rare DVD matinée, this afternoon we watched her next choice, the scenery chewing performances of Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal, which features a characteristically moody music score provided by another long-time favorite of this scribe, Philip Glass.

I have fond memories of driving my little guy to summer camp every day when he was indeed little, five or six years old. All he wanted to hear on the car’s stereo was Glass’ score to Mishima, a film I never saw, because, really, I’m just not that interested in a fanatical Japanese guy who commits hara kiri to make a point, but the music is wonderful.

So, it’s been about serious music for the past several days.

And, BTW, I do consider seriously composed film music serious music. I’d go so far as to say, much of it has more of the qualities that audiences for so-called classical music are starved for: emotional content, a story, tunes.

The Pulitzer-winning college professors who rule the roost in concert halls today (if you can find orchestras that play music written in the last 50 years), present their clangorous, academic, modern for the sake of modernity, scores composed for academic reasons (publish or perish, indeed).

And, naturally, their off-campus audiences stay away.

The film guys: Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, even James Horner and Hans Zimmer, to slight very many others, speak to the audience directly and compellingly. And their best scores are eminently listenable, even if you never see the movie.

Immersed as I’ve lately been in the pop soup of Pandora.com, it reminds me of what I’ve been missing that Cyndi Lauper, Mike Post, Paul McCartney and the like just aren’t providing.

So, that’s the serious if not totally classical music trifecta. It’s been fun. Maybe we’ll do it again.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE