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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Thu Feb 15, 2018 5:45 pm 
Smeric
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Oh my this is real.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Thu Feb 15, 2018 5:53 pm 
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Nortaneous wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
A diversion!

Since we've finished the trinity and haven't gotten on to the second rank yet, I thought now might be time for something different. Since it's Black History Month*, I thought it might make sense to write a little about one of the greatest black classical composers.

Surely you are referring to Julius Eastman, a minimalist and noted gay black guy who was purged from music for annoying John Cage, ended up a homeless crack addict, and, ironically, independently invented both black metal and 4chan in 1979, with a piece called "Evil Nigger", frequently performed as the second in a three-piece set of which the other two pieces are "Gay Guerrilla" and "Crazy Nigger". This is real


No, I didn't mean Eastman. There have of course been many modernist and jazz composers, but I don't intend to cover them, due to my own lack of knowledge - though certainly some are of interest to classical fans... particularly Duke Ellington and Leo Brouwer.

The other great black classical composer of the common practice period I was aluding to was Samuel Coleridge Taylor.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:03 am 
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Never heard of Brouwer, despite taking years of guitar. I wouldn't have guessed that classical guitar would get so close to "math rock" (a stupid name) -- but then, the division between the two isn't always clear-cut, especially when there are no fancy pop music tricks involved.

(Then again, Carson McWhirter says he doesn't care about music theory and doesn't write down any of his music.)

One of the nice things about certain parts of modernism is that you don't have to know a whole lot about them to start noticing it everywhere. Varg Vikernes claims to have been influenced by Tchaikovsky, but can you tell? It sure sounds like a natural outgrowth of the delta blues "pick a riff or two and elaborate on it" deal (which, like syncopation, was a natural outgrowth of pre-existing trends within European music), and of course metal was originally British guys discovering the folk music of the Southern US and playing it really loud so that's not a surprise. But if you've heard anything by Philip Glass, you can tell that this is Rob Hubbard trying to be Philip Glass.

It does help to know that Rob Hubbard was like that -- here's him trying to be Jarre, for example. It also helps to know that the title music he wrote for the same game, which is now solidly within the VGM canon, is... Koyaanisqatsi.

With the result that there are now dubstep remixes of the theme to Koyaanisqatsi, by people who have no idea that it's the theme to Koyaanisqatsi. But Glass is the sort of composer who writes orchestrations of Aphex Twin pieces and gets remixed by Amon Tobin, so.

And then you have Liturgy. To be fair, rapping over a tremolo-picked guitar riff where the joke is that it's counting in binary isn't quite minimalism, but then you have this and this and the idea of "general tremolo", which is where you go "you know how black metal is really into tremolo picking? well, what if we did that for things that aren't guitars?".

Such as, for example, the glockenspiel on most of The Ark Work, and the piano technique in that Eastman piece. I don't know if there was direct influence, and AFAIK the band hasn't mentioned him, but he started being remembered in exactly the right time and place (late 2000s NYC) for influence to be probable, and they do at least refer to Reich and place themselves within the Reich/Branca/Chatham/Sonic Youth NYC art-classical continuity.

As for minimalism itself, the canon, AFAICT, is Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Arvo Part. But I won't say anything about them because I don't know shit

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:31 am 
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Well, see my first thread for a brief discussion of minimalism and its influence. But in short:

- the hardcore minimalist canon is LaMonte Young, Steve Reich and Terry Riley. To those can be added Philip Glass and also John Adams, both of whom share a clearly minimalim-born aesthetic but who have expanded their repertoire more in the direction of common practice and other forms of modernism.

- Arvo Part belongs to a genre known as 'holy minimalism' or the like; there, he's joined by Henryk Gorecki and John Tavener (not to be confused with John Taverner, another composer born hundreds of years earlier), as well as a host of less known composers, many from eastern europe and the baltic - the movement is closely connected to religion, and particularly orthodoxy (although I did once hear some latvian neopagan minimalism at a concert). Holy minimalism tends to be more accessible than minimalism proper - it's more consonant, and it tries to connect minimalism with mediaeval religious music, rather than with the avant garde.

- however, all of the above have denied being minimalists of any kind, so it's hard to have clear definitions

- yes, the influence of minimalism is widespread in modern popular music, and has been since the beginning. The Velvet Underground was basically a pop spinoff from LaMonte Young's circle (cf Brian Eno), and The Who were outright impersonating Terry Riley at times. "Tubular Bells" is a straightforward minimalist piece that mysteriously got promoted as pop. Muse are often imitating Glass. Particularly in film and TV scoring, there's a considerable blurring of genre lines, often using pop-y melodies and harmonies with minimalist accompaniment, and minimalist scoring in the non-melodic passages. Popular electronic music and some styles of dance music are obviously indebted to minimalism too, and modern "DJ"ing is derived from the methods of repetition and mixing pioneered primarily by early minimalism (as well as of course by other modernist movements - none of this would exist without Elektronische Musik and musique concrète).

- I suspect that the inevitable future fusion of classical and popular traditions will lean very heavily on the bridge of minimalism.

- on the other hand, it's largely easier to spot modernist influences because they stand out against a background of common practice. Most popular music is pretty solidly in the common practice language, which makes it hard to pin down specific influences - whether a pop musician might lean toward Tchaikovsky or might lean toward Brahms, they're still basically writing in the same language, just in slightly different accents. Plus, if someone who doesn't know much classical music discovers just one composer and tries to emulate them, they'll end up emulating a lot of things that are common to many composers. So common practice music is like this big liquid sea underneath pop music, from which pop music is continually drawing up undifferentiated bucketfulls. Whereas when they happen to draw up a minimalist lobster instead, that's really obvious - that stands out because it's different.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 10:03 am 
Smeric
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Salmoneus wrote:
I suspect that the inevitable future fusion of classical and popular traditions will lean very heavily on the bridge of minimalism.
More on this please! I never though that there was going to be a fusion, so I would like to hear why it will happen.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:03 pm 
Sanno
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mèþru wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
I suspect that the inevitable future fusion of classical and popular traditions will lean very heavily on the bridge of minimalism.
More on this please! I never though that there was going to be a fusion, so I would like to hear why it will happen.


...well, OK, I can't actually tell the future. 'Inevitable' was a little tongue in cheek. But here's four reasons:

1. It's what happens. Western musical history comprises a series of clear cycles, in which a given musical language becomes more complex and sophisticated, until it becomes difficult for ordinary listeners to understand. At that point, there is a rebellion into a simpler, more accessible style of music. The two styles coexist for a while, often with a difference in social function (the way polyphonic music persisted through the baroque in religious settings) but eventually the older style is digested into the newer style. This happened when the ars nova gave way to the renaissance, when renaissance mannerism gave way to the florentine baroque, and when the contrapuntal late baroque gave way to the only-know-three-chords melodic galant. It seems to have happened again as the romantic collapsed into modernism, which was usurped by rock and roll.

2. Look at the history of pop music. To this layman, it doesn't look healthy - at least, it doesn't look like it did. Between, say, 1955 and 1985, popular music experienced not only an astonishing explosion of popularity, but also an explosion of creativity. There was always something new, major genres being innovated and individual groups carving out stylistic variations within those genres. It looked like a tradition that was strong and vibrant and forward-looking, a tradition in the grip of a permanent revolution.
But now, most of the new music I overhear today sounds very much like the new music I overheard ten or twenty years ago. The increased use of rap and rap-derived styles was maybe the last big thing, but even that I get the impression has past its peak. Indeed, a lot of new music seems to be intentionally evoking the music of the 1980s, or the 1960s, or even sometimes the 1950s.
That's not inherently a bad thing. In a way, it's healthy for society, to digest what has been accomplished rather than insist that everyone be chasing the ever-fleeting now. But it's a change in the nature of musical popularity, and it's a change away from a vital, independent, constantly innovating culture toward a culture that reuses, quotes, reframes, borrows, and looks back. That's the sort of musical culture that seems like it would eventually turn back to the hundreds of years of music it has at its back - a tradition of music still kept vital and available by its continued dominance of film, TV and video game incidental music, and by its prominence in instrumental paedagogy.

3. Sociologically, this shouldn't be unexpected. The splitting away of pop music from the mainstream (and then pop music's capture of the mainstream) was a musical revolution accompanied by a social revolution. Pop music, particularly rock-and-roll, was a sociological badge of honour, an overt and intentional act of rebellion - not just an avoidance of classical music, but a rejection of it. Conversely, composers and performers who remained within the classical sphere were by extension largely rejecting the commercial allure of pop music. Professionals and audiences broke into two camps. Early pop performers often incorporated things they'd learned from classical music - because they'd grown up immersed in classical music - even to the extent of eventually trying to write their own operas and the like. But any overt embrace of classicism (outside of similarly rebellious movements like minimalism) had to be avoided, because "this isn't your parents' music!" was a huge part of the identity of pop.

But now, the generation who grew up with and turned away from classical music are dead or dying. The generation who inherited that automatic assumption that classical music was parental (or grandparental) music is no longer driving sales. Instead, the pop fans of today and tomorrow are people who never rejected classical - they're people who to a considerable degree are just ignorant of classical. they're people who are marginally exposed to classical - through film music, or through music lessons - but who often see it more as something mysterious and a little inaccessible than as something to be actively opposed. It's an audience, in other words, that's open to being converted. Just browse youtube classical videos and see how many comments are along the lines of young people going "I came here because I heard this in such-and-such, this is awesome!". It may be hard to actually drag young people out to classical music concerts (although the Proms are doing brilliantly!), but there are a lot of young people who are at least willing to give classical music a try, if they can do it on their own terms. Similarly, there's often an enthusiastic reception to moments of crossover exposure. At the Baftas last year, for instance, there was a live performance by a young black cellist performing a classical rearrangement of Cohen's "Hallelujah", and the popular response was immense [he's a member of the (mostly) all-black Chineke! orchestra, and cites his musical heroes as Bob Marley and Mstislav Rostropovich]. He just released his debut album, and it's reached the top 20 in the overall UK album charts. Crucially, unlike many earlier crossover classical hits, his album isn't mostly being bought by older people nostalgic for the music they grew up hearing but never quite got into - it's being bought by young people being exposed to music they're interested in but not really familiar with. [his album has cello versions of songs by Cohen and Marley, alongside populist classical hits like The Swan, some less famous but still accessible music like a movement from The Gadfly, but then also Shostakovich's cello concerto, which is seriously heavy stuff.]

Anyway, my point isn't that the next generation are suddenly going to re-adopt classical music wholesale (though I do think there are prospects for growth, with the right marketing). My point is that classical music is becoming less and less toxic to young audiences - which means there's more and more opportunity for musicians to incorporate classical styles into their repertoire, whether by throwing in some classical pieces into a set, or by more subtly reintroducing classical influences into their music. Indeed, I think that is happening to some degree.


4. Why wouldn't this happen? I think a lot of people respect the power of classical music, its beauty, its emotional range. Certainly a lot of people respect its timbres and its musicianship - look how much people like orchestral or virtuoso covers of pop songs, for instance. Lots of musicians still have at least some training in classical music, and the internet makes music theory more accessible than ever before. It seems a no-brainer that performers will turn to classical music again to see what they can borrow.

And at the same time, this is all true from the opposite direction too. Modern classical performers and composers aren't the generation who saw rock-and-roll coming and said no thanks. They're people who have generally grown up with pop, and who have discovered classical. There's a lot of interest in looking at what can be borrowed from pop. And of course on a commercial level, as the hardcore classical audience dies out, people are looking more seriously at how to appeal to new audiences - whether that's performing versions of pop alongside classical works, or whether that's composing contemporary classical that borrows from pop.

This can be seen most fertilely in incidental music, where you often have pop recordings, pop arrangements, classical recordings and new classical music side-by-side in a film score. There's more awareness of how these styles can complement one another, and there's more cross-pollination than there has been for a long time.

Look at the Oscars, for example. Who's that nominated for his classical score for Phantom Thread? Yes, it's the guitarist from Radiohead (the guy from Radiohead who would probably have won an Oscar ten years ago if he hadn't, amongst other things, quoted too much Brahms). [speaking of britpop: the lead singer from Blur has now written two well-received operas and a musical]. Greenwood is up against Carter Burwell (who previously performed in a punk band), Hans Zimmer (who is self-taught and got his early musical experience playing synthesisers in a new wave band), Alexandre Desplat (whose big sister is a jazz bandleader), and John Williams (who started as a jazz pianist and 50s pop bandleader - unusual for a classical composer at the time, but now par for the course). The most recent winner was Nicholas Britell - a Juliard graduate who got his start in an "instrumental hip-hop" band. Other recent nominees include Hauschka (who started in hip-hop before ending up in avant garde piano music) and William Butler (the guy from Arcade Fire).

So a lot of people in classical music today want to bring in what they've learned in pop music; and a lot of people in pop music want to explore classical. I think it's natural that they will increasingly do just that!

Again, I'm not saying that 50 years from now everyone will be attending Wagner performances. We're never going to turn back the musical clock entirely. But I do think it's likely that the formerly wide musical and cultural gap between the popular and classical traditions will continue to narrow as time goes on.


-----


Now, the best counterargument I think is that things are different now: we live in an increasingly diverse world, with much more room for subcultures than before. So maybe old ideas about cultural progression won't hold good - maybe classical and pop will just live in separate ghettoes, with only occasional contact. But I think that's too simplistic - while it's true that, as it were, there are more subsidiary cultural channels than before, that doesn't mean there's stopped being a mainstream, so natural forces will continue to act on that mainstream. There will almost certainly continue to be a niche audience for 'pure' Romanticist music - just as there are growing niche audiences for renaissance and mediaeval music - and there will probably continue to be a niche audience for oldschool 'pure' rock or punk or whatever. But I don't think that invalidates the suggestion that in the mainstream, these influences will probably increasingly syncretise.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:42 pm 
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Johannes Brahms
1833-1897 (mid- to late Romantic)
b. Hamburg; d. Vienna

Who? – Brahms was in many ways a contradictory man. Born into a Lutheran family in northern Germany, he soon migrated to Vienna and became, it’s believed, an atheist, whose works often explicitly or implicitly depict the alienation of mortal man in an uncaring universe. A studious and academic composer (and minor prodigy), some of his formative experiences were his concert tours with the Hungarian violinists Joachim and Reményi, from whom he absorbed elements of a ‘gypsy’ style. Resolutely formalist, historical, abstract, and passionate about Bach and early music, he was nonetheless a relentless innovator. Yet despite this fearlessness in his writing, and despite (or because of) his annointing as a young man at the hands of Schumann, in print, as the Chosen One “fated” to be the standard-bearer of the future of music, he was desparately perfectionist and insecure. A major public figure, he seems to have been too timid to engage with his rivals, becoming instead the butt of public mockery. He fell in love once, was rejected, and lived the rest of his life alone; his closest relationship was his adoration of Clara Schumann (Schumann himself had been confined to a lunatic asylum shortly after proclaiming Brahms’ destiny), with whom he lived, but their relationship appears to have been platonic. A clean-shaven, sternly neat man, in his last decade or so he suddenly grew an immense, unruly, Karl Marx beard, with which he is now best remembered. He was acclaimed as part of a holy trinity, the ‘Three Bs’, by Hans von Bülow, the most famous conductor of his age, who declared: “I believe in Bach the Father; in Beethoven, his Son; and in Brahms, the Holy Spirit”.

What? – Brahms’ reputation was mostly founded upon his titanic, large-scale works, in which he attempted to respectfully advance the legacy of Beethoven, combining innovation with academic rigour. As a result, he was admired more than loved – the more highbrow counterpole to the looser, more impressionistic and more popular Liszt – a composer’s composer. Yet despite his concern for technical excellence, he is also capable at times of moments of extreme passion, when he permits himself. Some believe, however, that his talents are best displayed in his small oeuvre of chamber music, where his technical skills (particularly his extensive use of counterpoint), innovation and approachability most fruitfully unite. His music is often noted for its rhythmic complexity.

Such As? – Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 took 21 years to write, and was immediately both acclaimed and derided as “Beethoven’s Tenth”. However, while all four of his symphonies are considered classics (each regularly considered among the top dozen or two symphonies in the repertoire), it’s the final two, and particularly the Fourth, that command the greatest respect. Even more monumental is his German Requiem (not a formal religious mass, but a collection of death-related texts from the Bible*; here I’ve linked the most famous, second movement, common in high-profile funerals (it was used for the death of JFK, for example; if you’re impatient, turn the volume up to max and skip to 2.15 in for the buildup to the second entry of the choir, one of music’s great drive-listeners-to-their-knees-in-awe moments; it’s even more powerful when it comes back five minutes later). On a lighter note, an enduring orchestral favourite is his “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” (the theme isn’t actually by Haydn, so it’s sometimes called Variation on St Anthony’s Chorale or the like). Spoiler: it ends like this. Brahms also appears near the top of lists when it comes to concertos: his epic first piano concerto was originally intended as a symphony, and was a landmark in the genre with continued admiration, but his Second is considered among the greatest of all concertos. It pales in mass popularity, however, beside his unusually crowd-pleasing Violin Concerto (that’s the celebrated third movement – modern listeners may recognise it from, e.g., “There Will Be Blood”).

In chamber music, his three string quartets certainly have fans (particularly among later modernist composers), especially the first (modern listeners may recognise it from, e.g., “Marvel’s The Defenders”). But Brahms explored a great many subgenres of chamber music (including sextets, piano quartets, violin and cello sonatas, a horn trio and so on) and interest is spread out among his works – such as the relatively early Piano Quintet, and his very late Clarinet Quintet.

Brahms’ best-known pieces, however, both in his lifetime and since, come from much smaller works. His bestseller during his life was his compilation of arrangements/adaptations of a series of traditional Hungarian Dances** (although ironically that one, the best known, was never a folk song in the first place, but instead was written by Brahms’ popular contemporary, Béla Kéler, who did a good enough job emulating folk music that Brahms didn’t realise that it wasn’t; Brahms did something similar himself by sneaking a few original compositions into the compilation.

Nothing, though, in Brahms’ oeuvre, or that of almost any other composer, compares to the enduring fame of a short song that he wrote for a childhood sweetheart to celebrate the birth of her second child, in which an old song the teenagers had sung to one another was reworked in softer tones to provide a memorable lullaby (and probably the only Brahms piece recorded by Sinatra...).

*the Requiem does turn eventually to optimism, but much of it puts “emo” music to shame with its lyrics: the first three movements begin “Blessed are they that mourn”, “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of mankind but the flowers of grass: the grass withers, and the flowers fall away” and “Lord, teach me that I must have an end”. Fun times.

**the “Hungarian Dances” are not exactly “Hungarian”. For one thing, they’re a translation of (mostly) folk music into the idiom of Viennese Romanticism, by a German composer. But more fundamentally, the folk music in question isn’t autochthonous Hungarian – it’s a professional “gypsy” style that fuses Roma and Hungarian and Balkan influences. As “gypsy” musicians (Roma and those who emulated their style) dominated the easily-accessible popular musical culture of towns in Hungary and the Balkans, most “Hungarian”-style music prior to around 1900 was actually gypsy-style; only in the late 19th and early 20th century did researchers actually go into the countryside and record the music of local inhabitants to uncover the “genuine” Hungarian (and Balkan) musical cultures that the “gypsy” professionals had been adapting. So the Hungarian Dance no. 5 is a German’s attempt to Westernise a composition by a Hungarian that attempted to imitate “gypsy” music that itself interpreted native Hungarian folk music.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:55 pm 
Smeric
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Not criticising Sal here
Just reminding everyone that "gypsy" is considered a slur when us gadjo use it. Outside of discussions of history like here, don't use it. Just don't. And don't say "gyped". It's a derivation and once you know that it is based off the Romani it's obvious that it is a slur even if you don't know "gypsy" is one.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 4:54 pm 
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mèþru wrote:
Not criticising Sal here
Just reminding everyone that "gypsy" is considered a slur when us gadjo use it. Outside of discussions of history like here, don't use it. Just don't. And don't say "gyped". It's a derivation and once you know that it is based off the Romani it's obvious that it is a slur even if you don't know "gypsy" is one.


I didn't say "gyped". I've never heard anyone say that, since it's weird and obviously racist.

No, "gypsy" is not "considered a slur" tout court. "Gypsy" is a problematic word that some people take offence at - largely because it's an exonym. However, many Roma haven't yet learnt that the term is offensive; so, in the UK, not only is it the legal word (covering Roma, Romanichal, Travellers, New Travellers and Showmen), it's also the normal self-designation. In particular, it seems to have become more widespread in recent years, because "Roma" and "Romani" are potentially offensive exonyms. Essentially, the difficulty there is that there is a significant cultural distinction between the older Romanichal-derived community, who have been in the UK for centuries, who have highly anglicised and consider themselves English, who speak either English or an Anglo-Romani that is rapidly losing its Romani features, who have substantial intermarried with Travellers, and who in many cases have been calling themselves 'Gypsies' for years, and the "Roma" population who have recently migrated from Eastern Europe. As non-Roma, we have the luxury of saying "oh, they're all Roma" and imposing that name on them, but a lot of people don't want to be seen as equivalent to immigrant Roma. Accordingly, phrases like "Gypsy and Roma" and "Gypsy and Traveller" seem to be preferred. Hence groups like the "National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups" and the "National Alliance of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Women". The National Traveller Advisory Group is "made up of Travellers and Gypsies from across the country" and aims to work "in solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities". "Friends, Families and Travellers" is a charity that aims to work on behalf of "all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background", and has the website gypsy-traveller.org. In London, travelling people can turn to London Gypsies and Travellers. One prominant body is the National Gypsy-Traveller-Roma Council (they changed their name from the Gypsy Council). London Gypsies and Travellers last year ran a campaign with posters saying things like: "brother; student; son; citizen; boyfriend; apprentice; Gypsy".

Now, I'm obviously aware that it's a potentially problematic term; if anyone told me they didn't want to be called that, I obviously wouldn't do so. But it's too simplistic to say that it's just an offensive word and we should call everyone 'Roma' (regardless of what they want to be called).

In this case, I tried to choose my words carefully. You'll notice that I didn't say ' Gypsy '; I said ' "gypsy" ', hoping that the lower-case (i.e., not an ethnic designation) and quotation marks (i.e. not a word of my own choice) would ameliorate any potential offense. 'gypsy' is a long-established term referring to a particular musical culture, and it's hard to see what other term could be employed. "Gypsy" musicians were not always Roma (or indeed Sinti, who might not want to be called Roma) - many were drawn from the local population, or indeed from local Jewish communities. It was a statement of profession more than a statement of ethnicity. And while "gypsy" music was not a true reflection of autochthonous Hungarian or Bulgarian or Romanian (or indeed Spanish) music, it was also not a true reflection of 'internal' Roma music [which is very different indeed]. So talking about Roma music when you mean "gypsy" music is misleading.

[indeed, it's still a current word in this sense. A CD I prized when I was younger was Naxos' "Csardas: Hungarian Gypsy Music", performed by Ferenc Sánta and his Gypsy Band (Sánta's since gone up in the world, and he's now maestro of the National Gipsy Orchestra)].

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Fri Feb 16, 2018 4:56 pm 
Smeric
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Well I learned something new. Yay learning!

@Sal
I'm not accusing you or saying you did anything wrong:
I wrote:
Not criticising Sal here

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 3:17 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
Holy minimalism tends to be more accessible than minimalism proper - it's more consonant, and it tries to connect minimalism with mediaeval religious music, rather than with the avant garde.

Minimalism isn't accessible?

Salmoneus wrote:
Look at the history of pop music. To this layman, it doesn't look healthy - at least, it doesn't look like it did. Between, say, 1955 and 1985, popular music experienced not only an astonishing explosion of popularity, but also an explosion of creativity. There was always something new, major genres being innovated and individual groups carving out stylistic variations within those genres. It looked like a tradition that was strong and vibrant and forward-looking, a tradition in the grip of a permanent revolution.
But now, most of the new music I overhear today sounds very much like the new music I overheard ten or twenty years ago. The increased use of rap and rap-derived styles was maybe the last big thing, but even that I get the impression has past its peak. Indeed, a lot of new music seems to be intentionally evoking the music of the 1980s, or the 1960s, or even sometimes the 1950s.
That's not inherently a bad thing. In a way, it's healthy for society, to digest what has been accomplished rather than insist that everyone be chasing the ever-fleeting now. But it's a change in the nature of musical popularity, and it's a change away from a vital, independent, constantly innovating culture toward a culture that reuses, quotes, reframes, borrows, and looks back. That's the sort of musical culture that seems like it would eventually turn back to the hundreds of years of music it has at its back - a tradition of music still kept vital and available by its continued dominance of film, TV and video game incidental music, and by its prominence in instrumental paedagogy.

Is innovation slowing down, or does the music industry just no longer reward it? Maybe the impression of slowed innovation exists for the same reasons that all movies are superhero movies now (except for the even worse Star Wars cargo cult, of course), and that the Democrats recently responded to their belated realization that pushing for a Clinton dynasty won't work by first churning out puff pieces on a different Clinton and then shrugging and digging up a Kennedy.

It seems like innovation mostly gets spun off into ephemeral electronic microgenres. A few Eurovisions ago, half the songs had dubstep drops. Then dubstep was memory holed and witch house started coming in. I don't know what came after that. Nothing, probably.

On the other hand, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has been talking about writing an opera for a while.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 10:38 am 
Sanno
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mèþru wrote:
Well I learned something new. Yay learning!

@Sal
I'm not accusing you or saying you did anything wrong:
I wrote:
Not criticising Sal here


OK, so if you don't think anyone said anything offensive, and you don't think anyone was offended, why did you take over the conversation? To warn imaginary offensive people against saying things no-one said that might perhaps offend imaginary offended people? I mean, great, sure, you're wonderful and SO enlightened, it's nice that you told us that, good to know, but not every thread has to be about that, OK? This isn't the "how virtuous is methru?" thread. And while I know tangents and hijacks are inevitable and not wholly unwelcome, it's really tiring to not be able to have any conversation without having to detour into third-party virtuous language-policing debates, particularly ones like this that only hypothetical.

I mean "hey, don't say that, I'm offended!" - of course we have to make room for that.
And "woah, you mustn't say that, lots of people will be offended!" may be irritating but can also be important and informative.
But "look, I'm not talking to anybody taking part in this conversation, but hypothetical people should avoid saying certain things that nobody here said, because other hypothetical people might be offended. See how great I am for knowing that?" is... what am I meant to do with that? It didn't feel like I could just ignore you and move on, since that would be dismissive and rude and look like I wasn't acknowledging your concerns. But I also don't enjoy having to detour my thread into talking about a problem that is only hypothetical and not actually relevant - and when I do that, you go all "hey, I told you I wasn't criticising you!" on me.

So what response DID you want from us, if not a response like the one I gave? Because I can't see what it was you wanted, other than applause, no offence. You're not asking anyone to change their behaviour, you're not saying anything that would come as new information to anyone, so what should we do when you drop that conversation-bomb?

Obviously I carefully considered my wording and tried to choose a path that best balanced the potential for offence with the need for clarity. And if you felt strongly that I'd made the wrong decision in weighing those factors, we could have that conversation. But if you don't think that, if you're just wagging your finger and saying "ooh, I hope you thought carefully about that!", then what conversation are you looking to have at that point?


Anyway, if you want to discuss this further, that's fine, of course, but maybe do it through PMs or in the random thread or a dedicated "why nobody is doing anything wrong but I need to tell them about the things they're not doing wrong anyway" thread. Maybe in this thread you could, I don't know, share your opinion of Brahms or something. Or, what are you thinking about the Mozart you've been listening to?

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 11:18 am 
Sanno
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Nortaneous wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
Holy minimalism tends to be more accessible than minimalism proper - it's more consonant, and it tries to connect minimalism with mediaeval religious music, rather than with the avant garde.

Minimalism isn't accessible?

Not particularly. Glass and Adams sell well, but mostly their later, less minimalist work. Certainly if you look at a classic like It's Gonna Rain - well, it's fascinating, but it's not going to hit the bestseller charts. Likewise Trio for Strings, or The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer. Even something like Persian Surgery Dervishes or Piano Phase... well, sure, it's magnetic and hyponotic and it does have a considerable niche audience, but you don't hear it on ClassicFM every day. Even In C itself isn't really immediately accesible, though it's great fun. Sure, there are exceptions, pieces that have an immediate appeal, like Music for a Large Ensemble or, in a darker mood, glass' violin concerto (I just love that saxophone version) but these are exceptions.

Whereas the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a historic chart-topper. Song for Athene was chosen for performance at the funeral of Diana. Spiegel im Spiegel is a go-to heart-wrencher for filmscores. It's just way easier for the average person on the street to say 'hey, that's great!' to this style of music than it is to Young or Reich.
Quote:
Salmoneus wrote:
Look at the history of pop music. To this layman, it doesn't look healthy - at least, it doesn't look like it did. Between, say, 1955 and 1985, popular music experienced not only an astonishing explosion of popularity, but also an explosion of creativity. There was always something new, major genres being innovated and individual groups carving out stylistic variations within those genres. It looked like a tradition that was strong and vibrant and forward-looking, a tradition in the grip of a permanent revolution.
But now, most of the new music I overhear today sounds very much like the new music I overheard ten or twenty years ago. The increased use of rap and rap-derived styles was maybe the last big thing, but even that I get the impression has past its peak. Indeed, a lot of new music seems to be intentionally evoking the music of the 1980s, or the 1960s, or even sometimes the 1950s.
That's not inherently a bad thing. In a way, it's healthy for society, to digest what has been accomplished rather than insist that everyone be chasing the ever-fleeting now. But it's a change in the nature of musical popularity, and it's a change away from a vital, independent, constantly innovating culture toward a culture that reuses, quotes, reframes, borrows, and looks back. That's the sort of musical culture that seems like it would eventually turn back to the hundreds of years of music it has at its back - a tradition of music still kept vital and available by its continued dominance of film, TV and video game incidental music, and by its prominence in instrumental paedagogy.

Is innovation slowing down, or does the music industry just no longer reward it? Maybe the impression of slowed innovation exists for the same reasons that all movies are superhero movies now (except for the even worse Star Wars cargo cult, of course), and that the Democrats recently responded to their belated realization that pushing for a Clinton dynasty won't work by first churning out puff pieces on a different Clinton and then shrugging and digging up a Kennedy.

I wasn't really talking about the reasons for the stagnation, just the results.
Quote:
It seems like innovation mostly gets spun off into ephemeral electronic microgenres. A few Eurovisions ago, half the songs had dubstep drops. Then dubstep was memory holed and witch house started coming in. I don't know what came after that. Nothing, probably.

I don't really understand what dubstep is (back to the pop genre thread, I guess), but it doesn't sound particularly radical to me - likewise grime, which is apparently the most revolutionary thing in music since the war...

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 4:11 pm 
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Salmoneus wrote:
The Who were outright impersonating Terry Riley at times.

They did, after all, call a song "Baba O'Riley".


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 5:31 pm 
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Ryusenshi wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
The Who were outright impersonating Terry Riley at times.

They did, after all, call a song "Baba O'Riley".

If you're joking (maybe you're not), then: they weren't. "Baba O'Riley" is specifically a Riley homage; compare the intro section with the intro to A Rainbow in Curved Air.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2018 6:13 pm 
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Uh, yes, that's what I was trying to say: that Pete Townshend was pretty clear about the song's main source of inspiration. The song title is clearly a shout-out, and is unrelated to the actual lyrics. (And "Baba" refers to Meher Baba, his spiritual inspiration.)

By the way, I prefer the live version. I've spend hours trying to replicate Pete's live guitar tone.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 10:22 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
- Arvo Part belongs to a genre known as 'holy minimalism' or the like; there, he's joined by Henryk Gorecki and John Tavener (not to be confused with John Taverner, another composer born hundreds of years earlier), as well as a host of less known composers, many from eastern europe and the baltic - the movement is closely connected to religion, and particularly orthodoxy (although I did once hear some latvian neopagan minimalism at a concert). Holy minimalism tends to be more accessible than minimalism proper - it's more consonant, and it tries to connect minimalism with mediaeval religious music, rather than with the avant garde.


That's a nice term for it, though it's interesting to see Pärt and Tavener together in the same "genre", because Tavener feels to me to be much less minimalistic than Pärt (though tbf my Tavener experience is mostly The Protecting Veil, which I love to bits, so that may be a bit of an anomaly).

Salmoneus wrote:
At the Baftas last year, for instance, there was a live performance by a young black cellist performing a classical rearrangement of Cohen's "Hallelujah", and the popular response was immense [he's a member of the (mostly) all-black Chineke! orchestra, and cites his musical heroes as Bob Marley and Mstislav Rostropovich]. He just released his debut album, and it's reached the top 20 in the overall UK album charts. Crucially, unlike many earlier crossover classical hits, his album isn't mostly being bought by older people nostalgic for the music they grew up hearing but never quite got into - it's being bought by young people being exposed to music they're interested in but not really familiar with. [his album has cello versions of songs by Cohen and Marley, alongside populist classical hits like The Swan, some less famous but still accessible music like a movement from The Gadfly, but then also Shostakovich's cello concerto, which is seriously heavy stuff.]


Ah Sheku! That lad had done so much to popularise the cello in recent times (along with Two Cellos). He also won BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016 with his performance of Shostakovich's (first) cello concerto (another piece I love to bits, in fact I consider it one of Shostakovich's best).

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sun Feb 18, 2018 5:40 pm 
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Frislander wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
- Arvo Part belongs to a genre known as 'holy minimalism' or the like; there, he's joined by Henryk Gorecki and John Tavener (not to be confused with John Taverner, another composer born hundreds of years earlier), as well as a host of less known composers, many from eastern europe and the baltic - the movement is closely connected to religion, and particularly orthodoxy (although I did once hear some latvian neopagan minimalism at a concert). Holy minimalism tends to be more accessible than minimalism proper - it's more consonant, and it tries to connect minimalism with mediaeval religious music, rather than with the avant garde.


That's a nice term for it, though it's interesting to see Pärt and Tavener together in the same "genre", because Tavener feels to me to be much less minimalistic than Pärt (though tbf my Tavener experience is mostly The Protecting Veil, which I love to bits, so that may be a bit of an anomaly).


The problem with all the minimalists is that they don't like to be called minimalists, and most of them have experimented in other directions, particularly later in their careers. And within minimalism - Reich, for instance, has actually moved toward holy minimalism with his later embrace of Jewish religious music, iirc.
It's even more an issue in holy minimalism specifically. At least in classical minimalism, we were talking about a group of people who, as it were, sprang out from the same moment: Young, Glass and Reich all lived in New York at the same time (Glass hired Reich in his 'moving company' (i.e. the two of them had a van and moved people's furniture together)). Reich was friends with Riley from San Francisco, and when Riley stayed in San Francisco he soon came into contact with Adams, who taught there. They went their separate ways, but they started from a similar place. The holy minimalists, on the other hand, have nothing really connecting them beyond seeming coincidences (like the influence of Orthodoxy), and several of them started out in other genres: they're more a convergent evolution of composers.

And of course, each version of minimalism is slightly different. But if you listen to something like The Lamb, that's Tavener in pretty minimal mode, even if he's not doing the arpeggio thing...
Quote:
Ah Sheku! That lad had done so much to popularise the cello in recent times (along with Two Cellos). He also won BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016 with his performance of Shostakovich's (first) cello concerto (another piece I love to bits, in fact I consider it one of Shostakovich's best).


I've only heard it once myself (actually, did I hear the second? No idea). In New College Chapel, as it happens, along with, coincidentally, a work by Arvo Part. I found it very moving, whichever it was, but also rather harrowing. I should probably check it (/them) out again.

But surely there's some mistake? Nobody could surely deny that Shosta's best work is this?.

(actually, I've never really liked that. But honestly, I've always loved this)

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 10:54 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
But honestly, I've always loved this)

This would scare the living hell out of Proletarian Musicians. I love it.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 4:55 pm 
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Raholeun wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
But honestly, I've always loved this)

This would scare the living hell out of Proletarian Musicians. I love it.


I'm not sure what you mean?

[the Stalinist attitude toward jazz always had an edge of skepticism, which sometimes veered into opprobrium - Shostakovich himself condemned the bourgeouis decadence of jazz in 1930, a few years before writing the First Jazz Suite, from which that is taken. But jazz was always popular in the early USSR - Shostakovich took part in Communist Party jazz competitions, and the Second Jazz Suite was written especially for the USSR's State Jazz Orchestra. In many ways, jazz was taken seriously in the USSR much earlier than in the west, and many soviet composers have jazzy echoes to their music. Ideologically, support for jazz was underpinned by racial and class politics: jazz was seen as the music of the african-american urban poor, who the Soviets believed were an oppressed minority, victims of a racist capitalist system that exploited African-Americans to enrich the privileged white upper classes. So while there was suspicion towards its association with decadence, the west and loose morals, there was also a feeling that jazz was in some sense revolutionary or proto-revolutionary music.]

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Tue Feb 20, 2018 5:31 pm 
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RICHARD WAGNER
1813-1883 (mid- to late Romantic)
b. Leipzig; d. Venice

Who? – Stepson (and possibly actually son) of a small-town actor, Wagner’s first creative impulse was as a playwright; the desire to set music to his plays seems to have led him to take up music as a teenager, and almost all his compositions are in the field of opera, to libretti he wrote himself. He lived a peripatetic life: debt, political exile (Wagner was a socialist who took part in an attempted revolution as a young man), and public moral outrage (over his relationships with women; not only did the married Wagner sleep with the wife of the conductor of ‘Tristan and Isolde’, his opera about adultery, but when he impregnated her he had her name the resulting daughter ‘Isolde’ just to rub salt in the wound) forced him to move home repeatedly. [his travels spanned London, Venice and Riga, but he's particularly associated with Paris, Dresden, Munich, a villa on Lake Lucerne, and finally Bayreuth]. Against this insecurity, his greatest weapon was his unparalleled personal magnetism, which reduced otherwise intelligent men and women to obsequious submission, at least for a period of time (many of his adoring disciples, most famously Friedrich Nietzsche, later turned against him); he required his followers to refer to him as “Master”. Most important of his entourage was the gay, teenage King of Bavaria, whose enthusiasm was extreme even among Wagnerians – “O Holy One, I worship you!”, the king gushed; Wagner prevailed upon him to cancel his outstanding debts and provide large ‘loans’ (these, allied to other extravagancies, drove the king into debt, leading to his removal from power and possible murder). The culmination of Wagner’s improbable financial power – funded jointly by the infatuated monarch and by a mass-crowdfunding initiative by worldwide ‘Wagner societies’ – was the construction of Wagner’s own opera house in Bayreuth, dedicated to performing music by Wagner, with words by Wagner, in costumes designed by Wagner, in front of sets designed by Wagner, in a building designed and built by Wagner.

In his early career, however, he was penurious, forced to borrow money from Jewish composers who were more successful than him. Bitterness over this, combined with constant fears (and attacks by others) over his own ancestry (born in the Jewish quarter, possibly illegitimate; some speculated that his stepfather, who may have been his real father, may have been of Jewish ancestry) seems to have inspired a lifelong, passionate antisemitism; Wagner largely saw malign Jewish influence, and the dilution of Aryan blood through miscegenation, as imperilling the purity and strength of the German nation, and called for the Jews to commit “self-annihilation”. [oddly, this did not weaken the ardour of his many Jewish disciples, and he was even a favourite with early Zionists, until his posthumous adoption by the Nazis made him politically poisonous]. For most of his life, he was himself an ardent follower of Schopenhauer, with his philosophy of universal and inescapable suffering only temporarily relieved through contemplation of the transcendental works of the great composers; this philosophy and his nationalism lead him to an interest in pagan myth. Late in life, however, he increasingly embraced a mystical form Christianity, which he came to see as the unifying, salvific force in European nationhood.

What? – Wagner wrote opera. He wrote a couple of other things too, but they aren’t important. Early on, he attempted French-style Grand Opera, but grew increasingly convinced that music must be only the servant of drama. Accordingly, he later denied writing opera, and instead claimed to write “Total Music Works” or “Music Drama”: opera shorn of such decadent fripparies as memorable tunes (in his last works he backed off slightly from this extreme view) – instead, he developed on an unprecedented scale the use of ‘leitmotifs’, recurring thematic fragments that musicaly linked disparate parts of the whole, and provided narrative subtext to the listener (an approach that has gone on to dominate modern film scoring). This was only one aspect of his relentless innovation: he modernised orchestras (bigger!), instruments (deeper and louder!), singers (bigger and louder!), and structures (less structured!) but also, more importantly, harmony itself. Wagner led the drive to expand the Romantic musical language to functionally incorporate more and more ‘chromatic’ and ‘discordant’ sounds; this drive eventually lead to the total collapse of the three-century-old Common Practice. He is thus considered by many the father or grandfather of modernism, and 20th century music, from Serialism to Jazz, is deeply indebted to his experiments.

Such As? – It’s hard to point out the unmissable bits in Wagner, for two reasons: the first is that I’ve never been a Wagner fan and don’t know much about individual numbers in his works; the second is that he almost entirely composed large, through-written operas, from which it is is intentionally difficult to extract individual ‘pieces’ for tasting – most of the operas are not even divided into ‘numbers’, but only into huge indivisible ‘acts’.
The canon is easy enough to list. The core of his work is the goliath ‘Ring Cycle’, a fifteen hour epic pagan fantasy opera composed over decades and divided into four componant part (The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and The Twilight of the Gods. To this must be added his divisive final major work, the Christian-mystic ‘Parsifal’ (Max Reger reported: “I cried for two weeks and then became a musician”; Mark Twain noted, “I was not able to detect... anything that might with confidence be called rhythm, or tune, or melody”; Nietzsche opined, “I despise everyone who does not experience Parsifal as an attempted assassination of basic ethics”), and the epochal, modernising ‘Tristan and Isolde’. In addition, there is the fellow late, lighter-hearted ‘The Mastersingers of Nuremberg’, and the three main earlier, more traditiona works: ‘Tannhauser’, ‘The Flying Dutchman’, and ‘Lohengrin’. The overture from his early attempt at grand opera, ‘Rienzi’, is also sometimes heard (particularly in Nazi Germany, where Hitler commanded it be played to open the Nuremberg Rallies).

As for individual parts of these works, two of the more conventional short fragments have entered the public consciousness: Lohengrin’s Treulich geführt [ye god, why is that version sung by giant translucent-faced rats!? Presumably only to give people nightmares!], which has become the most common bridal march in Protestant ceremonies, and Valkyrie’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (note how that piece never actually ends, but just turns into something else...).

Anyway, here’s a random bit from The Valkyrie – note both how this isn’t a coherent ‘song’, an aria, but a continually changing dramatic scene set to music, and also note the valkyrie leitmotifs in parts (shared with the ‘Ride’ music linked above). Here’s the death and funeral of Siegfried, a popular excerpt for orchestra – would John Williams, Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer exist without it? And here’s a Romantic ending to put something like Star Wars to shame (of course, the Star Wars ending also doesn’t follow a world-destroying self-immolation, because Star Wars may be epic, but it’s not Wagner...).

And then there’s the most revolutionary work since the Eroica: [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L44Ml8K_mDg[/url]Tristan and Isolde[/url]. Composed after the first two parts of the Ring, but before the latter two, it is the piece that most famously and clearly demonstrates the decisive turn that Wagner imposed upon classical music. It contains music’s most controversial moment, the Tristan Chord – the fourth note heard in that link. It’s not particularly dissonant – certainly when compared to later controversies like the Electra Chord or the Petrushka Chord – but it has baffled theorists every since, and is seen as having heralded a reconfiguration of the classical tradition. Essentially, it clearly works in context, but nobody really knows why – what its “function” is in conventional harmonic theory. It appears to indicate a movement away from conventional harmonic progression toward an appreciation of sound itself – the chord recurs throughout the opera – or toward (back toward, perhaps, in the longer historical context) a harmony that arises from the concerns of melody. Wagner appears to have intended it as incorporating a functional duality – different chords, with different functions, played at the same time. Equally remarkable, however, is its “resolution” into another dissonance. This is a microcosm of how Tristan works as a whole: instead of the conventional alternation of (tension-raising) dissonance and (tension-relaxing) consonance, Tristan constantly “resolves” tension into tension, its cadences (like those of The Representation of Chaos decades earlier, on a grander scale) are all subverted, either through false resolutions or simply through interruption. This creates intense tension. The prelude, for example, continually builds tension for ten minutes – but does not resolve it, instead merely dying away. Tristan is, in effect, the transformation of music into a tantric sex practice: Wagner gives his audience cycles of mounting arousal, continually broken or diverted, continually delaying orgasm (no, literally – the clandestine lovers almost achieve a musical climax during the second act, but are interrupted at the last moment). Release is only granted four hours later, in the “Liebestod”, where Isolde finally achieves the “supreme bliss” of death – four hours of music finally reach their first cadential resolution in the final chord of the opera, as the curtain is already descending...

No wonder people felt enraptured. No wonder others felt bewildered...

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 8:55 am 
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Salmoneus wrote:
Raholeun wrote:
Salmoneus wrote:
But honestly, I've always loved this)

This would scare the living hell out of Proletarian Musicians. I love it.

I'm not sure what you mean? [snap]

I'd like to see your citation there, but in general you are correct. Although attitudes changed over time, the RAPM was initially vehemently opposed to jazz, since they regarded it as, like you state, a vehicle of Western decadence. For instance, M.A. Gorkij famously contemplated on the jazz ensemble that disturbed his evening meditations: "an orchestra of lunatics, driven mad by sex, and conducted by a human stallion wielding an enormous phallus". As you will know, Gorkij was quite an influential guy in the Soviet cultural sphere of that time and his opinion mattered. The fact that jazz was associated with Afro-Americans also didn't necessarily create sympathy for the genre. To them, they thought, jazz was like opium and certainly not a marching tune. Jazz thus did not fit the ideal of utopian music and I can imagine Shostakovich giving the RAPM quite a shock.

Anyway, my knowledge of Shostakovich is more limited than I should like to admit and I thank you for pointing me to his fine foxtrot.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:41 pm 
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Some belated thoughts on the conversation we had a month ago...


Salmoneus wrote:
I think you have to bear in mind that classical music isn't really very intellectual - it's much more to do with raw emotion. You don't have to analyse "what things mean" or where the modulations are - you don't have to be "confused". You just listen, and feel.

I had an idea earlier today: I have no problem with classical pieces in film soundtracks. Instead of trying to "understand" a piece, I should try to listen to it as if it were the soundtrack to a nonexistent film. Maybe that will do the trick.

Heck, a similar approach worked when I read the Iliad. I first tried to read it as a "serious" book, and couldn't get started. Then I thought: wait a minute... you like Game of Thrones. You liked Saint Seiya as a teenager. You enjoy epic battles as much as anyone. Why would this be different? Stop trying to read it as a serious work. The Iliad isn't the Bible of Ancient Greece: it is the Lord of the Rings of Ancient Greece. And, lo and behold, this made the book much easier to read. (OK, some parts are still dreadfully boring, quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus.)

Frislander wrote:
Not like you describe it. There is however a strong current of reviewing different recordings of works (because these can vary immensely, in the same way a pop song can sound completely different when another artist covers it), and BBC Radio 3 has an entire program devoted to that on Saturday mornings.

As I said before, this can be very counterproductive for beginners.

- First, because these reviews only talk about the recording while taking the work itself for granted, as if the listener already knew it (that was the point of my sarcastic "anyway you already know all of Mozart's sonatas and operas, don't you?").

- Second, because finding a precise version can be difficult. Should I go to a third store to find the one I heard about? Should I buy the brand new, $20 CD they have? Or the no-name $2 CD from the bargain bin?

Salmoneus wrote:
Just ignore all that. Sure, if you really like a piece, it can be fun finding a version you like the most. But for the most part, it doesn't really matter.

I wish I had heard this years ago.

Incidentally, I first heard the Moonlight Sonata on YouTube, played by Wilhelm Kempff, and loved it. Then I bought another version on CD, and didn't like it as much. I eventually bought the Wilhelm Kempff version on CD.

[re-reads Salmoneus's stuf]
Man, Beethoven was a real rock star. Unstable moods, numerous affairs, too much alcohol, messy hair, hearing loss... almost everything's here. Did he destroy a few musical instruments?

Rhetorical question: how come I had never heard of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges before?

Very interesting stuff about a possible syncretism of classical and popular music.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Wed Feb 21, 2018 7:16 pm 
Sanno
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Ryusenshi wrote:
Some belated thoughts on the conversation we had a month ago...


Salmoneus wrote:
I think you have to bear in mind that classical music isn't really very intellectual - it's much more to do with raw emotion. You don't have to analyse "what things mean" or where the modulations are - you don't have to be "confused". You just listen, and feel.

I had an idea earlier today: I have no problem with classical pieces in film soundtracks. Instead of trying to "understand" a piece, I should try to listen to it as if it were the soundtrack to a nonexistent film. Maybe that will do the trick.

Yes, absolutely!
As music got bigger and more complicated in the 19th century, this is exactly what people did - they recast 'abstract' music as 'programmatic', or, in other words, they imagined stories to go along with the sounds. You could even buy programmes newly written for works by dead composers, to tell you what to imagine. And as the century went on, composers (lead by Berlioz, Liszt, and the New German School) intentionally made their works more programmatic to begin with. But even Beethoven named the movements of his 6th symphony in a programmatic way, and Haydn clearly had 'scenes' in mind in many of his symphonies.

And indeed, a lot of musicians these days, if you watch masterclasses, are basically making up stories to get themselves in the mood for different parts of a piece. Here's Vengerov teaching a Saint-Saens piece, for instance. [there are a couple of other lessons in that documentary; or see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpp7oxrBUq0 for four full masterclasses. (the second one's with an 11-year-old Chloe Hanslip playing Sarasate, which as well as being funny is a traumatic confrontation with one's own mediocrity for anybody over the age of 11 (to be fair, she'd been practicing 6 hours a day from the age of 2...))

In some genres it's more direct - string quartets, for instance, are often said to be "conversational" in style, because it appears as though the four instruments are literally having a conversation.

Now, it's true that investing too much in a specific narrative fantasy is probably counterproductive, distracting from the music. Most music is better seen as moods and atmospheres, rather than specific plots. But yeah, most music is not intended to be an "intellectual" exercise. That's I I think it sometimes help to listen to music first while doing something else - so that you can hear it without listening too intently. [of course, it's more enjoyable if you do listen - but I think it can sometimes help to have some idea where the music's going to go, first, which you can get by 'overhearing' it].
Quote:
Frislander wrote:
Not like you describe it. There is however a strong current of reviewing different recordings of works (because these can vary immensely, in the same way a pop song can sound completely different when another artist covers it), and BBC Radio 3 has an entire program devoted to that on Saturday mornings.

As I said before, this can be very counterproductive for beginners.

- First, because these reviews only talk about the recording while taking the work itself for granted, as if the listener already knew it (that was the point of my sarcastic "anyway you already know all of Mozart's sonatas and operas, don't you?").

- Second, because finding a precise version can be difficult. Should I go to a third store to find the one I heard about? Should I buy the brand new, $20 CD they have? Or the no-name $2 CD from the bargain bin?

I see your point. It's not as extreme as you make out - if you listen to reviews of a new release of Beethoven's 5th then yeah, they're going to assume you know it pretty well; but if you listen to reviews of a new release of Onslow string quartets, they're going to have to tell you a bit about it. Likewise there are a lot of "if you liked that you might like this" things, and "composer of the week" things (where they may follow the life of a less-famous composer and tell you about the development of their work).

But yes, you're right that there's no real traditional of popular classical reviews of music. Unfortunately, that's a side-effect of there being little popular appetite for music, and of the fact that all the best music has already been written. You actually get the same thing in pop music - it's not that easy to find accessible overviews of, say, the early work of the Beatles, for people who aren't already enormous Beatles fans. In the case of most classical music, you either already know it or you're not interested in it (and yes, this can sometimes breed a snobbish 'I'm interested so I must pretend to already be familiar with everything - yes of course I'm familiar with Hummel's adagio for flute, piano and 'cello, who isn't!?' defensiveness).

Your best bet may be a substantial but popular book on the history of classical music. When I was young I had one - sadly, thoguh I know the cover, I can't remember the name - that gave little chapters on each major composer - without assuming that the reader knew much to begin with.




Salmoneus wrote:
Just ignore all that. Sure, if you really like a piece, it can be fun finding a version you like the most. But for the most part, it doesn't really matter.

I wish I had heard this years ago.[/quote]

Regarding the fixation on recordings: I think some of it is that this tradition developed in an era when classical records, and then CDs, were still rare and often stupidly expensive. Buying a set of Beethoven symphonies was a really serious financial investment, so you wanted to make sure you weren't wasting your money. These days, when you can instantly find twenty different versions of most of the major repertoire works on youtube, it's frankly less important which one is 'the best'.

As I say, it's good to bear in mind that, as you note yourself with the Moonlight, no one performance is definitive; you may like one more than others. It may be worth keeping an eye on obvious things like running time (so do they play it relatively fast or relatively slow?), and in the case of older music it's worth paying attention to whether this is a period (crisp, light) or modern (rich, strong) rendition. And you may find you like one performer or conductor and look for their works. And if you really like a piece, it may be worth investigating the different versions. But mostly: don't worry about it. It's not unimportant, but there are much more important things.

As for whether to buy the £20 version: probably not. Naxos have a vast range of perfectly respectable performances on £5 CDs. Maybe the £2 one you may want to not get your hopes up - it may be fine, or, particularly in the case of some "Christmas Classics" compilation or the like, it may be rather soulless (though I think even cheap performances are getting better). But if it's over £10, I'd likewise raise an eyebrow.

As a general rule - and take this with a pinch of salt because I'm not a huge buyer at the moment - classical recordings are expensive if:
- they're big multi-CD collections
- they're some famous historical recording (and personally I'd rather have a good recording than a great old one filled with static...)
- they're entry-level compilations by the latest starlet, probably some sexy young violinist staring meaningfully into the middle-distance on the cover... this may be an OK or even good performance (though probably on the over-produced side), but it's almost certainly overpriced because of its fashionable name and attractive artwork.
[I have a few of the third category where the famous name is actually worth it - I have a CD of Vengerov playing light violin music that was probably overpriced but still rather fun.]

Quote:
[re-reads Salmoneus's stuf]
Man, Beethoven was a real rock star. Unstable moods, numerous affairs, too much alcohol, messy hair, hearing loss... almost everything's here. Did he destroy a few musical instruments?


Hoo boy yes! Anton Reicha remembered acting as a page-turner for an early Beethoven concert: "I was mostly occupied in wrenching the strings of the piano which snapped, while the hammers stuck among the broken strings. Back and forth I leaped, jerking out a string, disentangling a hammer, turning a page — I worked harder than Beethoven." When Beethoven went deaf, he just stopped having his piano repaired - an observer saw it with "its strings broken and tangled, like a thorn bush whipped by a storm".

This is because when Beethoven came along, pianos looked like this. The frames were light wood, the strings were thin iron - they sounded rather tinkly, not unlike a harpsichord, and they weren't very loud. Beethoven literally broke them. It was toward the end of Beethoven's life and shortly after that the modern piano was developed, largely in response to the demands of Beethoven's repertoire (and performers trying to emulate his thundering style). The modern grand piano has steel strings (developed 1830s), strung on a cast iron frame (1820s); the soundboard is ribbed for strength, the frame is not thin wooden planks but multiple thicknesses of glued, laminated wood, and the whole thing is held together underneath with reinforcing spars.
[and, in his version of demanding knobs up to 11, Beethoven drove the expansion of the keyboard from 5 octaves up to 7 octaves].


And of course: yeah, Beethoven was a rock star. That's because rock stars have always tried to be Beethoven. The tropes of the musical star embraced in rock are more or less the same that were created back in the 19th century, which themselves were primarily born in the personality cult of Beethoven, then developed in the cults of Chopin and Liszt, with a mention also for the cult of Paganini (the demonic violinist who wore all black, wore his hair long painted his face white, and who had allegedly sold his soul to the devil in return for supernatural ability on the fiddle, while languishing in prison after killing a man. Paganini used to intentionally 'accidentally' break the strings of his violin one by one to show his uncontrollable passion (and his ability to play complex works on just a single string)).

[here's a 19th century depiction of Beethoven, btw. Iirc he used that portrait for his heavy metal recordings.]
Quote:
Rhetorical question: how come I had never heard of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges before?

Serious answer: a combination of changes in politics (having opposed the restoration of the monarchy, he was deprecated when the monarchy did eventually return) and change in tastes (his classical style went out of fashion quickly, and any lingering fondness for it was captured by Haydn and Mozart).

Better question: how come no-one has heard of Samuel Coleridge Taylor? Hiawatha's Wedding Feast was the macarena of the British Empire...

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Composers
PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2018 2:54 am 
Lebom
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Salmoneus, I really liked your speculation on the future of classical and pop music and their place in musical history.

I just wanted to add my two cents to this. I pretty much exclusively listen to classical music. I don't have any knowledge whatsoever of music theory, so it goes to show that it's really not necessary to enjoy classical music. For me, a lot of popular music is fun (or simply useful) to dance to, since it provides a steady beat, but I've never really encountered any type of popular music that brings me any pleasure to actually sit down and listen to.

Though, I pretty much only listen to classical music written after 1870 or so. Some of Bach and Beethoven are okay, but Mozart absolutely bores me to death. I will turn off the radio if Mozart comes on.

I think maybe more people would be attracted to classical music if there wasn't such a heavy emphasis on the "Holy Trinity" of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, and the "Common Practice" period in general. Obviously, this is just my tastes speaking, but there's so much stuff from the 1880s onward that I think might appeal a lot more to contemporary sensibilities, not just due to the rise of programmatic music (though that certainly helps), but, I don't know, when I listen to a typical piece by Rimsky-Korsakov or Prokofiev, as opposed to a typical piece by Mozart, there's a certain aesthetic or sensibility that's a lot closer to what people today think of as "music". I mean, I suppose that's just because they're closer in time to us, so of course their "sound" is more familiar.

And when talking about my tastes in music, well, it's not just that I'm careful not to be snobbish or elitist about it - there's no chance I could be, I'm usually more embarrassed by it. But not because people I talk to think it's ridiculous that I listen to classical music (people pretty much always express approval in some way), it's that I'm almost totally ignorant of the popular music of the past fifty years (and the problem is, I don't really have much of a desire to acquaint myself with it). But that's another issue entirely.

Anyways, just because I don't get to talk about my tastes in music often, here's what might be my favorite few pieces:

Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet
Lent, doux et mélancolique and Quelques aspects de "Nous n'irons plus au bois", orchestrated by Zoltan Kocsis, from Claude Debussy's Images Oubliées (Inédites)
Farandole from Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2
Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances
Wedding Dance from Prokofiev's Wedding Suite
Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
John Adams' The Chairman Dances (Foxtrot for Orchestra)
Dance from Philip Glass' Akhnaten

Okay, there's plenty more I could probably call my favorites, but I'll stop there.

As one last comment - when I listen to classical music, I get different things out of it, but it often tends to involve things like...evoking a timeless, wistful sense of nostalgia, which may or may not be fully resolved; or entering a hypnotic or ecstatic state; or taking an exhilarating ride on a rollercoaster or flying through the sky; or experiencing an electrifying, anxious energy that (often but not always) is satisfyingly resolved; or in general, regardless of the piece's overall feel, experiencing an ending that so wholly and satisfyingly resolves and sums everything up that it is like a representation of a final restoration or completion of the world, forming a perfect, timeless, and harmonious whole.


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