Friday, September 20, 2019

Alban Berg, early piano prelude in C# minor, very tonal

Here is a little early piano piece in C# minor, composed 1907-1908, played by Simona Hrananoiva, piano, 3 minutes.

The tonality is a bit ambiguous at the beginning, but the piece settles into a ternary form with a harmonic style that sounds post Brahms, very tonal (1907). The ending is very declamatory.

How often did Berg write in a tonal style early in his creative life.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Arnold Schoenberg's "Erwartung": is this what the afterlife promises?

Here is a presentation of the score of Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” (“Expectation”), 1909, a one-act monodrama or opera for solo soprano and large orchestra, with German libretto by Marie Pappenheim.

A woman is lost in the forest looking for her lover.  First she mistakes a tree trunk for him, then she finds that he is expiring, and she wonders what to do with her life.  It’s as if the rest of her life would go into suspended animation and waiting for what is not hers to have.

Stumbling on to thinking about this piece is like a step in a Pokemon Go treasure hunt (in front of the Angelika Mosaic Theater in Fairfax VA in 2016).

The music style is atonal, but Schoenberg would not develop his full twelve-tone system until the 1920s.  The music is also said to be athematic, and it is hard to grasp what that means.  I thought I detected fragments of a theme being developed.  There are many chromatic scale passages and glissandi, especially near the end.  There are a few places where the music resembles some passages in the first movement of the Mahler Ninth (written also in 1909).

He was a “bad soldier” during World War I, foreshadowing moral controversies about conscription to occur in later decades.
The work is often paired with Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” for performance, and I saw it that way in Washington in the 1990s.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Beethoven Piano Sonata #4, where the paradoxes in his early style become manifest

I thought I would share something simple today, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #4 in E-flat, Op. 7.

I played this work a lot (from a Chandos CD) in the 1990s when I was working on my first DADT book. The video above is an understated performance by Artur Schnabel from the 50s.

The rhythmic and harmonic inventions of early Beethoven already show. The Largo, in ¾, is truly a meditation with internal complexities.  The idea of a finale was an “Allegretto Gracioso” seems understated, but the finale goes on all kinds of little adventures, constantly giving itself permission.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The music of Daryl Davis (boogie woogie), who deradicalized members of the KKK

Since Daryl Davis spoke at the Minds conference in Philadelphia, it seems appropriate to present some of his music, the Boogie Woogie.

NPR has a typical account (2017) of how he deradicalized 200 Ku Klux Klan members. 
He also has a band that has played on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Jazz has always had to fight off racism

I usually don’t encounter politics on this “media review” blog concerning the arts, but Truthout (far Left) has a provocative article by Anton Woronczuk “White Supremacy Tried to Kill Jazz; The Music Triumphed”.
Woronczuk interviews Gerald Horne, author of “Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of Music”.  The author makes the point that being a (black) jazz musician was indeed very dangerous in the first half of the 20th Century in the US.  But then it was exported by media moguls for profit.

It is true that jazz caught on as a sub-idiom in classical music.  That’s not just George Gershwin.  It’s some of the music in Alban Berg’s expressionistic twelve-tone opera “Lulu”.

When I worked as a civilian for the Navy in 1971-1972, I had a co-worker friend who played jazz piano and explained that it was all about improvisation.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Is opera in trouble? How about classical music as a whole?

I wanted to share an op-ed by Olivia Giovetti in the Washington Post today, “To save opera, we have to let it die.” 

The article is critical of the inertia of the way classical operas are presented, with the box office appeal of established stars, in a winner-take-all world, even in the arts, even for marketing companies that sell season tickets to the general public (as opposed to other musicians).  Indeed, some people with music degrees wind up selling this for a living.

The article describes a recomposition of “Madame Butterfly” that I am not familiar with.
The article also paints a dismal picture for the future of classical music, since younger composers seem to feel they need to remain experimental to get commissions.  This is a sensitive issue, and if I somehow pull off completing my two big sonatas, I could challenge the system, maybe.

I did see the real performance of Puccini’s Turandot in 1980 in Dallas, right after Reagan won the election.  We accept the idea that this work was completed by another composer, Franco Alfano, as was the Mozart Requiem, yet we resist accepting the much less radical completions of the finale of the Bruckner Ninth. The completed ending of Turandot aims to outdo Mahler, with the final chorus (in D), with a melody that recalls the Schubert “Great” opening,  as one of the most colossal in the literature.

Monday, August 19, 2019

More Mendelssohn organ music, and some Jean Berger; what is a "covenant"?

Yesterday, Lawrence Schreiber played the Andante Con Moto from the Organ Sonata, Op. 65 #5 in D Major by Felix Mendelssohn, as offertory.

The work starts at about one hour into this video.

The tempo is more like an Allegretto than a slow movement. He took it fast, Toscanini-like.

I’ll come back to some of these again. Numbers 1 and 6 look interesting.

He also played the Prelude and Figure in G, Op. 37 #2, which I had covered March 18, 2017 here. 

But his performance of the finale seemed louder and more dissonant-sounding than the YouTube performances. But organ playing, especially fugal counterpoint, is often more about “levels of sound” than continuously nuanced dynamics as in piano. I remember that from organ lessons at KU back in 1966.

The anthem was Jean Berger’s “This Is the Covenant”, the subject of David Gushee’s (visiting) sermon and Sunday school.  I can’t find the anthem on YouTube, but the piece is mentioned in a pdf inventory (from the University of Colorado) of his compositions, dated 1972.

I note that I had called Part 1 of my unpublished 1969 novel (handwritten in the Army) "The Proles", "The Covenant".  Like everyone was obligated to serve, or else....  The chapters of the novel were like movements of a music requiem. 
Picture: sketch of me in Sunday School