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The Rest is Noise #1

This topic was continued by The Rest is Noise #2.

Le Salon Littéraire du Peuple pour le Peuple

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Edited: Apr 11, 2012, 2:05am Top

(Surely there used to be a fancy way of linking one thread to another? Can't find it. Here is the previous thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/134459)

This book is, as A_Musing has said elsewhere, a general history of the 20th Century Western musical canon, neither more nor less. It gives context to the music discussed – not just by saying what music went before it, but also the cultural and/or political context, which I think is particularly appropriate to 20th century music.

I can also recommend Illegal Harmonies by Andrew Ford; also in that book, Ford writes a little discussion on The Rest is Noise, and volumes four and five of Richard Taruskin’s The Oxford History of Western Music. Ford speaks highly of both and attempts to put a different perspective (more objective, he claims) on the music he writes about.

Alex Ross is a music critic for the New Yorker, and has become rather renowned, particularly since the publication of this book.
Meet Alex Ross: http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2011/07/15/131169818/get-to-know-a-critic-ale...
Follow him on Twitter (LOL): https://twitter.com/#!/alexrossmusic
Ross in The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/bios/alex_ross/search?contributorName=Alex%20R...
Alex Ross’s blog: http://www.therestisnoise.com/
Interview with Ross (link provided by dcozy): http://thebrowser.com/interviews/alex-ross-on-writing-about-music?page=1

Audio Guide for The Rest is Noise: http://www.therestisnoise.com/2007/01/book-audiofiles.html

Edited: Apr 11, 2012, 2:15am Top

Chapter 1: The Golden Age

Strauss, Mahler and the Fin de Siècle (Mostly about the premier of Salome)
Richard I and III (Wagner and Strauss)
Der Mahler
The New World (Early music broadcasting; the condition of music in America 1900-06-ish)

Opening of Strauss’s opera Salome on May 16 1906 – dissonance, conflicting keys, amoral and blasphemous subject matter. How incredible, the way an opera was such big news, such a bone of contention, such a defining thing among ordinary people at the time. Audiences are fairly unshockable these days, and unsurpriseable – but I guess this state of torpor began here. Audiences have had to be shocked and surprised a lot before they could reach a state of not being shockable. Having said that, I for one cannot like the plot and do not love the music of Salome, even now, a century later. It shocks me, I guess. Contradiction? I know. http://youtu.be/zAwTnceCq_8

Audio companion to this chapter: http://www.therestisnoise.com/2007/01/chapter-1-the-g.html

Tritone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritone

Seems to me that, tritone aside, the non-musical subject matter was one of the more important aspects of the ‘modernness’ of the music at this period, and thus opera takes the stage in this chapter. So Strauss’s first opera, Guntram, started off as a typical opera plot ending in redemption – but then Strauss decided to do a most revolutionary thing, and have his hero in the end walk away from his people, his ideology and his religion. Became a Straussian theme: ‘the struggle of the individual against the collective’.

What is it about contention that makes music, or any art, important? Or at least, can anything not contentious still be as important? And a question that’s constantly with me when I listen to 20th century music is, if I don’t like it, is something wrong with me? Am I over-shmoozed with consonance and safe harmony? Or is the music itself intrinsically difficult? And theoretically, difficulty in literature often means there’s more of worth to get out of it – should this apply to music? And if so, should it always? I feel half ashamed for loving Schubert and Chopin much more than Stravinsky and Schoenberg, and then I feel half ashamed of being half ashamed. So why is it that music creates all this feeling of being right or wrong, sophisticated or unsophisticated, even musical or unmusical? Back in Mozart’s day, all music was ‘pleasant’, right? And any apple-seller on the street could appreciate it.

This probably has something, a little at least, to do with the great divide between classical and popular music, which began with ragtime in the late 19th century and has merged into Jazz, Blues, Swing, and then all the multiplicity of genres from then till now. It’s as if one has been made for enjoyment and the other for cultural and self improvement…

Which brings out the fascinating idea of Mahler’s – that if music is popular, then it cannot be great art. Thus great art should not be enjoyed by the masses. Possibly that great art should not be ‘enjoyed’ at all, certainly not at least in a passive sense. Mahler’s own idea of this was troubled, and based a lot on worry over the reactions to his own work.

Anyway, the above million questions are things that are always nagging at me when it comes to a lot of post-Romantic music, and also a lot of post-Romantic art. Maybe some of them can be threshed out during the course of this group read. I believe Ross explores a lot of them throughout the book.

Der Rosenkavalier: http://youtu.be/rdX-JYLXjEs
Fascinating that this is late Strauss instead of early Strauss. In the light of all the above questions, it could almost be seen as a regression – but instead I think it provides a lot more beef to both sides of the argument about what makes music important.

Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kroger – Based on Strauss and Mahler.

We talked in the Miscellany thread about what began the breathless and respectful silences of audiences in today’s concert halls – seems it was Mahler who imposed it almost by force (see the Der Mahler section of this chapter).

Apr 11, 2012, 6:15am Top

I've found that from, say, Stravinsky on, there have been a great deal of works that seem to BURST into moments of unearthly beauty: it happens in Rite of Spring, and for that matter even in one of Schubert's Trios, the difference being that the trio is arranged for it in an obvious way, builds up to it beautifully, even if the music is not Schubert's finest before that perfect one piano key moment. And then, a very interesting case, Gorecky. His second symphony, first movement, is hardly beautiful, but is stunning and anything but alienating--it's dictatorship and world war 2 bombing--the second movement is the plaint of the hopeless, which is by nature sad and beautiful. then in his third symphony it is all tragic beauty, and as beautiful as it gets.
I've never found that burst in Schoenberg, so I don't listen to him unless on some mixed CD I made that he happens to be on.

Apr 11, 2012, 12:37pm Top

CM, I have said before that I cannot like dissonant music; it gets under my skin in a way that grates. And, I refuse to be ashamed of it. The Stravinsky I have heard falls in that category for the most part, including Rite of Spring and Firebird. I am going to have to investigate Schoenberg a bit--I know I have heard some of his music but cannot remember any of it.

I want music to be enjoyable or haunting or to make me want to dance. I do not want it to grate.

I started the book before you had to take a break, and then stopped. I was struck by the discussion of Salome. I have never seen it or heard it. The story is so off-putting to me, too, that I know I will never see it. I will have to think about listening to the music.

Need to go over the first bit of the book again and also listen to the audio companion. Maybe then I can say something intelligent.

Apr 11, 2012, 12:46pm Top

Lisa, do give Verklärte Nacht a try. If you hate it, probably nothing Schoenberg will work for you. I recommend the Hollywood String Quartet performance.

Edited: Apr 11, 2012, 12:55pm Top

I know that most of us have piles of unread books, but I think RITES OF SPRING by Modris Eksteins would be very helpful here. At least the first couple chapters. As Virginia Woolf noticed in 1910 or so: things had changed. Stravinsky, et al. threw comfort & joy, etc. out of the window. It was their intention to make the audience uneasy.

Apr 11, 2012, 1:16pm Top

re 5> 'Lisa, do give Verklärte Nacht a try' I forgot that one, which I really do like.

Apr 11, 2012, 6:18pm Top

Muse, your #2 was a great blog, so many thoughts and questions about music,I hardly know where to start. I suppose I had better start by reading Ross's book.

Just a few thoughts first:
I listen to a great variety of music from the most discordant modern rock music to Mozart's "pleasant" classical music. This all started from listening to the avante garde jazz musicians of the 1960's.

Listening to music can be a bit like reading a book; the harder you work at it then the more rewarding it can be. Many people will like or even love a tuneful song well sung that sticks in the memory, but many people need more than this: they need to discover that tune, that sound those connections of notes for themselves and then they need to know why it was written or played in that way, they want to be excited, they might want to dance, they might even wish to experience a whole range of emotions and if certain pieces of music can do this then surely it is on the way to being art. This is not to say that a relatively simple song like John Lennon's Imagine is not great art.

Apr 11, 2012, 9:02pm Top

Lola, could not find Hollywood String Quartet but I did find Lincoln Center Chamber. I like it. I do not love it, but I would not be unhappy to attend one of my chamber series and have it be on the program.

Apr 11, 2012, 9:04pm Top

B, I think I am a lazy reader and a lazy listener. I listen to music for pleasure and I read books for pleasure. I do not want to work at either one. When it comes to jazz, I love the "traditional" jazz and do not like avant garde.

Apr 11, 2012, 11:25pm Top

When it comes to 'working' at at piece of music, I think being able to read music help a lot, for me anyway. When I see it written down, things make a lot more sense - I understand more about what the composer and the performer are doing. And things connect better.

But why should that be necessary, anyway? Music is for listening... and on my classical radio station the other day, someone said in connection with all this, you don't need to be a horticulturalist to enjoy a walk in the forest.

Edited: Apr 11, 2012, 11:55pm Top

Oh and Rick, I really like what you said about burst of beauty in all those 20th century S composers. I got that in Stravinsky's violin concerto which I love, and the few I've heard of Shostakovich's string quartets, of which you are the resident expert. I heard #9 in i think F minor the other day, gorgeous.

Really, I think at least half my problem is that I haven't listened to enough of them or given them enough of a chance - and they intimidate me.

We will get to all these S men in the book before long.

ETA: and Por, I remember being interested in Rites of Spring a while back, I will check it out if I can get my hands on it.

Edited: Apr 12, 2012, 12:23am Top

Great stuff, Choco. Thanks so much for the links, they are awesome.

I'm with Baz. I think music is like anything in life: the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. modern classical music often sounds awful and dissonant to the ear, but you have to stick with it. you cannot 'get' it after one listening, just like you cannot 'get' a great book after only one reading. you have to work at it. and I don't there is a dichotomy between 'working at something' and 'doing it for pleasure'. for me, the work is the pleasure. Immediate pleasure is never long lasting.

When I heard my first Mahler (I was about 15, I think), it sounded like total dissonance to me. I stuck with it, and listened to it again and again (it was Das Lied, I think). now of course, it's not dissonant to my ears at all. I've had the same experience with Britten, Shostakovich, and most recently with Bartok's string quartets, which are extremely difficult. These three composers are my most favourite of the moderns, but the first time I heard them, my instinctive reaction was rejection - it's too dissonant.

I remember rick said once that great books create the taste by which they need to be judged, and I think that applies here to modern music. and it's by careful and repeated listening that you create the taste within yourself to be able to love what you are listening to.

(Having said that, I simply cannot listen to Michael Tippet's music, although I have tried and tried and tried. Apart from the "Child of our Time", which I adore to distraction, the rest of his music that I have heard, is really just noise to my ears. and Messaien too.)

There is an interesting chapter on Strauss in Barbara Tuchmann's book The Proud Tower which places him in the context of his times and culture. Mahler regarded Strauss as a vulgar showman. I have a copy of their letters somewhere around here.
Mahler was my earliest musical love, probably in opposition to my father, who can't stand him, and who is a Wagner fan, whom I can't stand.

Apr 12, 2012, 2:26am Top

TC you know when you say that you can't listen to something that somebody else is gonna jump in and say, yes, but have you heard....... so have you heard Tippets opera Midsummer Marriage - one of my favourires. Apart from that absolutely agree with your post.

Apr 12, 2012, 2:26am Top

I am looking forward to this thread........

Apr 12, 2012, 4:20am Top

TC, I think your trio would be considered transitional figures

Apr 12, 2012, 6:36am Top

Here's William Gass on reading difficult books. I think one can take a similar approach to difficult music.

"There’s no need for haste, the pages which lie ahead of you will lie ahead of you for as long as you like them to; it is perfectly all right if some things are at first unclear, and if there are references you don’t recognize. Just go happily on; we don’t stay in bed all day, do we? just because we’ve mislaid our appointment calendar. No, we need to understand this book—enjoy its charm, its wit, its irony, its erudition, its sensuous embodiment—the way we understand a spouse we have lived with and listened to and loved for many years through all their nights. Persons deserving such devotion and instinctual appreciation are rare; rarer still are the works which are worth it."

Apr 12, 2012, 6:41am Top

>16 RickHarsch: Rick what do you mean? Viewed like that, every composer is a transitional figure.

Baz, I haven't tried the MM, but I've sat through umpteen rehearsals of The Knot Garden and King Priam. Still don't 'get' it.

Apr 12, 2012, 8:01am Top

This all brings up an interesting question of what an individual thinks of as dissonant. I actually enjoy a great deal of Mahler, and have never worked at liking it, as you can see by my prior posts. Bartok, however, is horrid to me. I refuse to attend anything in which one of his works is being played.

CM--I was thinking I ought to try to work out some of these tone things on the piano so I could understand what it all means. It has been so long since I studied music that I remember the terms but do not remember anything else.

Apr 12, 2012, 8:48am Top

isn't there a technical definition of a dissonance? I seem to remember something like that, but like you, Lisa, it's been thirty years since I did music theory. Where's Medelia when we need her.

Apr 12, 2012, 9:39am Top

I am sure there must be a technical definition of dissonance--I suspect we might learn if from Ross's book. It seems from the little reading I have done so far that Mahler's music is technically considered dissonant, but it does not seem so to me. Are there degrees of dissonance?

Apr 12, 2012, 9:48am Top

This Sunday I will be attending one of my chamber music series. Besides Schubert and Schumann we have Webern, Crumb, Schneider and Greig. The Cumb is going to be painful--I looked it up on youtube! Webern was reportedly a student of Schoenberg. Schneider's work is Winter Morning Walks written for Dawn Upshaw.

Report on Monday!

Apr 12, 2012, 11:03am Top

TC, I can't recall much of Britten, but both Shostakovich and Bartok are more traditionally formal (I know nothing of the terms through which music is discussed) than, say Pendercki and Rihm, more apt to let melody loose...

Lisa, my music is in disarray, but I know there is one string quartet you would like, and I believe he had some things for two violins that were stunning...44 pieces for two violins?

Edited: Apr 12, 2012, 11:21am Top

yes: 44 duos for two violins

and 44 itself is stunning

Apr 12, 2012, 11:41am Top

Rick, when you say "he" do you mean Bartok? I am interested to know what it is. I don't have a vast experience with his music, but what I have has not been good.

Apr 12, 2012, 1:32pm Top

Wagner started it?

"Don Juan was written under the influence of the composer and philosopher Alexander Ritter, one of many mini-Wagners who populated the Kaiser's imperium. Around 1885, Ritter had drawn young Strauss into the 'New German' school, which, in the spirit of Liszt and Wagner, abandoned the clearly demarcated structures of Viennese tradition--first theme, second theme, exposition, development, and so on--in favor of a freewheeling, moment-to-moment, poetically inflamed narrative."

Apr 12, 2012, 1:46pm Top

Emperor Franz Joseph in response to Mahler getting rid of all of the "noise" of concert-goers: "Is music such a serious business? I always thought it was meant to make people happy."

Apr 12, 2012, 2:42pm Top

lisa, sorry, yes I meant bartok

Apr 12, 2012, 9:13pm Top

Back to dissonance, it's all in the ear of the hearer, at least according to what I've read on the subject. In their times, audiences and critics accused Beethoven of being dissonant, and Chopin, and Debussy. If you were to play Chopin to Mozart, M would have called it dissonant cacophony for sure, even the nocturne in E flat.

And I guess that's why I feel like it's my fault when I don't like music that feels dissonant to me. Fits right in with Murr's post about sticking with it until you like it. After a while it apparently becomes not dissonant any more, becomes a harmony your ear 'understands'.

Which is just so fascinating! I love it!

But the odd thing is, people got used to all those 19th century "dissonances", so why haven't we all collectively gotten used to the 20th century ones? Probably too much mainstream schmooze-music offering us all an easy alternative?

A bit of music history for you all: back in around the 12th century, music (church music anyway, which was really the only formal music at the time) moved from plainchant (everyone singing the same note) to harmony. And this harmony was very strict - only octaves and fifths were allowed (I think - going from memory here). Then over centuries, slowly more harmonic intervals were allowed - to thirds next, then (gasp!) fourths! By about the 16th century they were allowing sevenths. Chromaticism came in during the Romantic period. The tritone was the very last 'illegal' harmony to be 'allowed', and wasn't it Strauss who did it? And so that's part of the problem with modern music - there are no harmonic rules left to break, so how can one be innovative?

Apr 12, 2012, 9:50pm Top

Lisa I look forward to your report on Monday. And Por, thanks for the Amadeus!

Lisa, I hope one day to see Bartok's concerto for orchestra, live. I think seeing it as well as hearing it would make an enormous difference to that particular piece, and then I imagine I'd love it. But just hearing a recording of it, I can take it or leave it.

Another thing I wanted to add, is that Illegal Harmonies begins with a chapter called 'What's Modern?'. It goes through some of the aspects of 20th century music such as impressionism, expressionism, symbolism, nationalism, atonality. None of these apply hugely to Strauss or Mahler, but I'll bring them in when applicable.

Apr 12, 2012, 11:58pm Top

Thank you all for this group. I will be more critical (intelligently critical?)l of the concert on Sunday because of it.

Edited: Apr 13, 2012, 1:31am Top

On #30 -- there's a bit of revisionism to the notion that the progress of musical harmony has been an uninterrupted opening-up. You can find relatively bold use of dissonant intervals in pre-common practice music (let's say Machaut to early Monteverdi at least), but in the following era, as our common harmonic system consolidated, much of it was written off as crude and primitive -- see the response Gesualdo got in the 18th and 19th centuries, for instance.

Apr 14, 2012, 2:56pm Top

#30 Oh Muse you have lost me with all that talk about thirds fourths and sevenths. I think I understand what you are saying though. At the moment I am listening to music by John Dunstable a 15th century composer and so I suppose the harmony is all octaves and fifths.

Apr 15, 2012, 7:33am Top

Well bas, all it means is how far apart two notes are. One tone is from C to D on a keyboard, and that is an interval called a 'second'. A 'third' then, is from C to E (three notes). A fourth is from C to F (four notes), a fifth from C to G. And so on. That's the most basic explanation I can give without getting a keyboard in front of us :) Don't try Wikipedia for this one, it gets ridiculously complicated.

It seems your John Dunstable is one of the great innovators - see the explanation at the bottom of this video (beautiful music too!): http://youtu.be/Z9trNNUsb20 (specially the bit that says 'he created elegant harmonies in his own music using thirds and sixths. Taken together, these are seen as defining characteristics of early Renaissance music...')

I have probably confused you more, sorry if so :)

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 6:46am Top

Chapter 2: Doctor Faust - Schoenberg, Debussy, and Atonality

Vienna 1900 (Thomas Mann and the avante-garde)
Paris 1900 (Debussy and Satie)
Scandal (More about Schoenberg, starting with his First Chamber Symphony and his war with the masses)
Atonality (Definitions; the claim that only Schoenberg really embraced it as something from which there was no going back; political and even anti-Semetic undercurrents to the atonal movement)
Disciples (Webern and Berg)
Wozzeck (Buchner’s play, Berg’s opera; the beginning of the Great War)

Audio guide for this chapter (added later cos I forgot): http://www.therestisnoise.com/2007/01/chapter-2-docto.html

A few things in this chapter add to things we’ve already discussed. Firstly the link between atonality and dissonance. Ross avoids (so far) any exact definition of dissonance, and doesn’t explicitly draw connections between them. But it shows that my post above on dissonance will undergo many revisions. On p.39 in my copy, Ross says that Schoenberg’s atonal intervals “will always shake the air; they will never become second nature.” Which adds an interesting argument to our above thoughts on sticking with something dissonant until it becomes familiar and our ears adapt.

And thinking it over, it makes sense, since the tonal scales are built on actual soundwave physics – where you play one note, and that note evokes harmonic soundwave overtones in fifths, thirds etc above it – and from this the major and minor scales were discovered/created. This is a natural harmony that simply exists, whenever a sound is loosed into the air. Nevertheless, I still believe that there’s a definite difference between ‘dissonance’, which is more to do with the feelings of the hearer, and ‘atonality’, which is more scientific and definitive. And I think the former is always relative and changeable.

There is also that ever-interesting argument about popularity versus art. Good old quotable Debussy says, “Music really ought to have been a hermetical science, enshrined in texts so hard and laborious to decipher as to discourage the herd of people who treat it as casually as they do a handkerchief!” And Schoenberg, deciding that the voice of the people is the voice of the devil. What would Mozart have said to all this, considering that he said something like how music should be artistic, but never beyond the people, to whom you are after all playing it. And Bach, who wrote music to the glory of God in the presence of the people! And all this makes me realise that there really is no one answer to all this, and that the function of music is simply a matter of opinion. What an apparently trite thought, right – but it’s meaning something to me. In some ways, these opinions of Debussy and Schoenberg are like the final inheritance of Romanticism, where music moved from a craft to an Art, and the composer and performer became heroes. Haydn, as court musician, wore livery!

Ross gives an explanation of Debussy’s so-called impressionism, which is a popular interpretation. I am more inclined to go with Andrew Ford’s interpretation, which is to say that Debussy was not an impressionist (he didn’t like the term himself) but a symbolist.

Symbolism, a reaction against realism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbolism_(arts)

Ford gives a great example in describing Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum from his suite Children’s Corner:

“Children’s Corner is not so much for children as about children… Gradus ad Parnassum, (‘The Steps to Parnassus’) was a collection of a hundred graduated piano studies by the late 18th century composer… Muzio Clementi… ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’ is more than a witty parody of one of these interminably dull teaching pieces: we actually find ourselves eavesdropping on the hapless student’s practice session. We are in the presence of a bored child – that archetypal symbol of frustrated dreams – forced to sit at the keyboard and practise, when playing outdoors is the enticing alternative”.

You can really hear that in the piece – the child plays it faster, then trails off, distracted, then speeds it up again in a frustrated effort to get it over with. I love the 'so there' ending: http://youtu.be/mXza35nb6tA

In the same suite is Golliwog’s Cakewalk http://youtu.be/_lGlRsWjsg8 a piece I learned to play once and have unfortunately lost since – but it’s a fabulous and very witty little piece. You have the golliwog doing his silly little dance, and then in comes the Grand Theme from Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. There are different interpretations of why this is – my piano teacher reckons the golliwog has caught sight of himself in the mirror and falls in love with himself. Then there’s a little mocking bit like laughter, then the quote from Tristan again. Then a kind of struggle between the laughter and the opera quote, and then everything falls down in a heap. Then slowly, hesitatingly, the cakewalk starts up again, gets into full flow and dances its silly way to the end. Fabulous stuff.

As for Satie, he's the bloke whose humour went beyond the music itself, and even made fun of the instructions to pianists on his pieces. Where most composers write 'andante' or 'cantabile', he instructs them to play 'affectedly' or 'very shiny', or famously, 'like a nightingale with a toothache'. On a piece for two pianos, he instructs the two pianists, 'don't talk!'. I really like the quote from Reinbert de Leeuw about the minimal simplicity of Satie's music, "Satie was, in a manner of speaking, starting European musical history all over again".

Gymnopedie no.1: http://youtu.be/S-Xm7s9eGxU
Things seen to the right and left (without spectacles): http://youtu.be/X6rM-fqWmSM

Interesting similarities between the two when listened to together.

I haven't started on Schoenberg and his students here yet, but I have to go to bed. More later :)

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 8:33am Top

Relating to Golliwog's Cakewalk, here is that Theme from Tristan and Isolde (Murr, you may hide under the couch) - it's the very first musical phrase you hear: http://youtu.be/fktwPGCR7Yw

Both Debussy and Satie were making fun of the German Romantic tradition.

Apr 15, 2012, 10:24am Top

CM--you are a marvel. I am falling behind, of course, but I can say that this reading is making me think about music in ways I have never bothered with. And I am enthralled that people we consider to be important writers and important musicians hung out together.

Apr 15, 2012, 12:08pm Top

it's very difficult to tolerate quotes like Debussey's and notions like Schoenberg's. In a literary analogy, I would despise Joyce if I thought he was in the least serious about needing to be read singularly.

(They go to bed early in Australia, don't they?)

Apr 15, 2012, 12:17pm Top

Thanks Muse for the explanation in #35, it all makes a lot of sense now. I never realised it was that simple. I am learning a little musical theory from the Internet as I read through The rest is noise.

An interesting thought you raise about the function of music. It is more than opinion. Although if we are talking about the casual listener then I might agree with you. However for certain groups of people at certain times it is so much more; I am thinking of people in church praising God or a jazz band marching through new Orleans, or disco music played so loud that it literally shakes the body.

Anyway here's a thought - To hell with all these casual listeners and all these casual readers. Their opinions are worth diddly squat. Let them all just go shopping instead.

#36 Great post Muse.

Apr 15, 2012, 1:37pm Top

Following along with the posts, reflecting (from memory) on Ross. Very enjoyable, wanted to say that and go back to lurking.

Apr 15, 2012, 2:57pm Top

Great posts CM. Nice to see Mann appear in this list. His doctor Faustus, is indeed the great novel on... music !

Apr 15, 2012, 9:20pm Top

Well, it was "interesting". The AUSTRALIAN Chamber Orchestra (violins, violas, cellos, a bass) played alternating Webern and Crumb as the first piece. The Webern, I think one could tolerate, but, according to the Playbill notes, he did not actually write much. Crumb's "Black Angels" was written in response to the Vietnam War. The opening sounded like a very loud mosquito.

In one part, two violinists and a violist took their bows to crystal glasses filled to varying levels with water. The bassist used his bow on a big gong on a couple of occasions. All of the instruments were amplified and there were gigantic speakers on the stage. (I think that might be sacrilege at Symphony Center, but I am not sure.) The large speakers ensured that we could hear the mosquito.

Next, Dawn Upshaw sang poems set to music by Maria Schneider. Not my cup of tea, but one cannot quarrel with the beauty of Dawn Upshaw's voice. Unfortunately, she was accompanied by the amplified instruments and was drowned out most of the time. It might have been by design, but I preferred to hear her and could not.

After intermission, Ms. Upshaw returned to sing one song by Schumann and two by Schubert. The instruments were not amplified and it was a good balance.

Finally, Edvard Grieg's String Quartet in G Minor. Clearly more traditional and brilliantly played.

B, I resemble that "casual listener; casual reader" remark! For one thing, I hate shopping unless it is for boat parts.

Apr 15, 2012, 11:15pm Top

43 : For one thing, I hate shopping unless it is for boat parts.

THAT'S my girl !

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 5:52am Top

>39 RickHarsch: - Rick, I have to disagree. I love Debussy's quotes, I think they are witty and fun. (but hang on, I assumed you meant D's musical quotes, of Wagner etc. On second thoughts I'm thinking you mean his hermetic music opinion? If so, then I do not disagree!)

As for Schoenberg's notions, well I disagree with them, but I still think someone had to have them for music to keep moving in a direction.

>40 baswood: - bas, there is more to intervals than that, but it's enough for the purpose. As for the more than opinion thing, your explanation is really what I was getting at. I guess I meant it doesn't have any one underlying function that's universal. That there isn't something it SHOULD be, every time, all the time. Or that the fact that music exists and affects us differently isn't something to be intimidated by.

>41 elenchus: thanks elenchus, please speak up any time.

Mac, tell us anything you feel like saying about Mann's novel, please!!!

>43 LisaCurcio: Lisa, that sounds kinda disappointing. I wonder if you would have got more out of the Webern if you'd read this chapter? Quite possibly not. I didn't warm to him by reading about him, I don't like the man much. But the Australian Chamber Orchestra! Well, now you have heard the ACO live, and I have not! Was Richard Tognetti there? He's amazing.

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 6:50am Top

So onto Schoenberg. We've already mentioned his Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), which is an early work of his. I must add what Ford says about this piece. It was forbidden by the Viennese musical jury at the time, because it contained a chord which "didn't exist". Here it is: http://youtu.be/D84sLB8tUMo (this is the original version - Schoenberg filled it out with a fuller orchestra later, to please the bigwigs - see the poem lyrics in the video).

Yet Ford says that although some of its harmonies were 'wrong' and therefore innovative, it still carries on the Romantic tradition in all the ways that count. Its form is after the manner of Romantic tone poems, and its story is traditional in most things - its story goes that a man and woman walk together in the night; the woman says she is pregnant but not by the man. Emotional scene happens, but then the man says he'll accept the child as his own, and they walk on together, the night transfigured by their love. A story arc with a happy ending; even the whole notion of love transcending other things is all Romantic. The music sounds late Romantic - it is Romantic in most ways.

Much more innovative, much more new, says Ford, is a piece by Vaughan Williams, English composer whom Ross does not even mention except to say in passing that he is one of the 'folkish' composers. Folkish! What an incredibly offensive way to describe a composer of genius! Vaughan Williams is in general more late Romantic than 20th century in some ways. But Ford says his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis is in a sense much more modern than Verklärte Nacht, that "torrid tone poem", because it came out of the blue. It owes nothing to late Romanticism, and the harmonies it uses hadn't been heard for about 300 years - since the time of Tallis. (making it modern??) But he uses shifting blocks of fifths, which any composer will tell you is totally "illegal" (I can agree, in the basic music theory I'm learning they even teach this today). Ford says that with this piece, "a cool breeze freshens the hot-house atmosphere of late Romanticism". http://youtu.be/4FEPJyOEKLA

Ford is a bit scathing of poor Verklärte Nacht, but I like his thinking all the same.

Also, I forgot before - audio guide for this chapter: http://www.therestisnoise.com/2007/01/chapter-2-docto.html

Apr 16, 2012, 7:18am Top


Indeed it's his quote about 'hermetic' music opinion. I may agree with you that for the direction to explored someone had to have such opinions as Schoenberg's, but for the most part I think directions are directions...Compare it to the opposing theories of history--great man versus 'forces'. Maybe, probably, a false dichotomy, but taken as presented I go with the forces. And as Schoenberg IS the one in question, I dislike his notions.

A dipshit like myself became obsessed with Shostakovich, Penderecki, Gorecki, and listen often to many post WWII composers. I understand virtually nothing about music...

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 7:58am Top

Doncha love it, my browser just crashed in the middle of a beeyootiful post which I've now lost. Here are some links I was looking at.

Schoenberg's First Chamber Symphony, so contentious, with people jeering and walking out and having fistfights about (I can't see the great difficulty with it, so my ears have achieved something!): http://youtu.be/GgFTLquN8eI

Also take note of the section in Ross's audio guide (link above) in Schoenberg's Second Quarter where the soprano sings 'I feel the wind of another planet'. Ford emphasises that here we have lost all sense of key, maybe for the first time in formal musical history - a wind from another planet indeed.

Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces (but why do we need so many close-ups of the pianist's face?: http://youtu.be/h0-4SZGCd_A

On p.61, Ross talks about the different ways one experiences a new kind of painting compared with a new piece of music. He uses Kandinsky's Impression III (concert) as an example, so to brighten up this place, here it is. I rather like it. The transformative golden wash of sound?

Webern's six pieces for orchestra: http://youtu.be/g0jCDxWvufw

Berg's piano sonata (I kinda like it, with reservations, but Ross doesn't mention it): http://youtu.be/PlV-ksfS7F8

Berg's Wozzeck: http://youtu.be/FCa7QG2oVf0 And with piano only, this is pretty cool: http://youtu.be/O_114Ov8P5Y

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 8:26am Top

Well Rick, what if the forces influence the great man?

ETA: time for me to go to bed again. We're all nocturnal down here.

Edited: Apr 16, 2012, 8:32am Top

Oh but first, some Symbolist paintings:

The Wounded Angel by Hugo Simberg (so many 'bergs'!) 1886: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wounded_Angel

Hope, by George Frederic Watts, 1903: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Assistants_and_George_Frederi...

Isle of the Dead, by Arnold Böcklin, 1883: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Arnold_Boecklin_-_Island_of_t...

I think we are generally expected to come to our own conclusions about symbolist paintings. We apparently aren't meant to 'get' it. Same probably applies to a lot of Debussy.

But with symbolism in general, someone should help me out if they can, because I don't actually have a clue.

Apr 16, 2012, 9:49am Top

I confess to loving the second Viennese school. It somehow manages to be very expressive without being melodic. If one considers that music consists of 5 elements:


it's the last one that really is brought out by this absence of all the others: There is a kind of purity about it, in which the instruments' voices really shine.

It's funny how snobbish critics get about Vaughan Williams, whom I also love. He stays within the tradition of English music as laid down by Purcell, Dowland, Tallis and Byrd, and the glorious English folksong tradition, and proved that these could still be mined. His 'lark ascending' and 'oboe concerto' are my favourites, and of course he was a marvellous song writer, and orchestrator.



Apr 16, 2012, 12:46pm Top

if the forces influence the great man, it's the forces--but again, I consider this a specious dichotomy

Apr 16, 2012, 1:38pm Top

Nice thread, Choc. Doesn't make me want to pick up the book--feels like we lurkers don't need to!

Music critics are of all the ones I ignore the most--so predictable. Dissing something because it draws on older traditions--deep, man. Innovation is interesting, but it's not good in itself. For one thing, once it's been exhausted by systematic breaking of the old rules, what's left?

Drawing on older traditions.

Apr 16, 2012, 8:28pm Top

Whew, away for a day and what a lot to catch up on! Schoenberg beyond the Verklarte Nacht is definitely not my cup of tea! I just listened to the First Chamber Symphony and I am afraid that I would be joining the jeering if not the fist fights.

CM, yes Richard Tognetti was the lead violin. He is amazing! The first part of the concert was not one of my favorites, and the audience was not all that appreciative. The Webern, by the way, was Five Pieces for Strings with each piece alternated with the parts of Crumb's Black Angels. I forgot to mention that one part of Black Angels included single syllable vocalizations by members of the orchestra. The Five Pieces for Strings was better--from my perspective--than the six pieces for orchestra. I don't think reading the chapter ahead of time would help. I appreciate understanding where these things came from, but that won't make me like it any better.

Lola, I agree on the music critics--I am waiting for the review from the Chicago Tribune of yesterday's concert. I know he is going to rave about the parts I disliked and call the parts I liked boring (or some music critic variation of that term).

I like the Vaughan Williams!

Apr 16, 2012, 9:39pm Top

I should amend my comment on the Schoenberg Chamber Symphony - what I said still holds, but only because my expectations were ready to meet it. If you sprung it on me when I expected Beethoven, I'd jeer too.

Schoenberg's Piano Concerto. Movements: 1. Life was so easy. 2. Suddenly hatred broke out. 3. A grave situation was created. 4. But life goes on.

An interesting story about this concerto - I used to be friends with a heavy metal musician, and we had many fascinating conversations about music, approaching it as we did from such different angles, and then reaching common ground. Anyway, I played this recording to him, and he said something like, 'I'd hate to have been in that guy's head, he must have been all misery and hatred.' And it was only afterwards I realised the incongruent thing - this was a heavy metal musician saying this?? Schoenberg must indeed be hardcore.

First part: http://youtu.be/SkXO3ubAvdQ
Second part: http://youtu.be/suRLOn3-Fkg
Third part: http://youtu.be/suRLOn3-Fkg

Apr 16, 2012, 10:18pm Top

Lisa, let me just mention then my absolute fave Schoenberg, the Gurre-lieder, and the runner-up, atonal Pierrot Lunaire. (I feel like a pusher...) They are vocal, and I never know how useful it is to recommend pieces one might need to look up words to, so, tentatively... but they are gorgeous, and yes, tainted by orchid-wild Romanticism, but both reaching toward the late Schoenberg.

Apr 17, 2012, 8:50pm Top

Lola, I will try.

I have gotten a bit ahead because I know that I will get behind again, and 1) I am amazed that I recognize the names (and sometimes works) of so many 20th century composers and 2) I am amazed at how much they incorporated parts of others' works in new compositions. I promise you, however, that there is nothing and no one that will reconcile me to Stravinsky and Bartok.

Edited: Apr 17, 2012, 9:45pm Top

Murr, I was very familiar with Lark Ascending, but not VW's oboe concerto, which is gorgeous, and in same ways similar to The Lark. Thanks for the links. It seems here's another composer of the same period who was consciously rejecting the German tradition, even before WW1.

The symbolist movement is a whole entirely different field from semiotics, right?

Lisa, you realise you are issuing a challenge to the Stravinsky and Bartok lovers around here... :)

Edited: Apr 18, 2012, 12:20am Top

Bartok--reminds me of Douglas Hofstadter, in Le ton beau de Marot, he talks of the radical divide between himself and a dear friend precisely on the topic of Bartok. I can't remember which one of the two was the anti-Bartok; at any rate, the conflict was so stark "Bartok" became a code word for anything they couldn't begin to agree on.

I'm not very familiar with his music, with the exception of some piano works, some chamber, and the famous Concerto for orchestra (specifically, in the famous performance by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago SO). I'm thinking that must be his most popular piece, so maybe that would be the obvious first test for compatibility?

Stravinsky--how about giving a whirl to Apollon Musagète, it's all strings, no sharp brasses or jarring percussion. It's still Stravinsky, though. :)

Apr 18, 2012, 7:57am Top

I have never liked anything I have heard by Bartok or Stravinsky. That is not to say that I have listened to the complete works of either of them. When one has not heard anything to like, it is hard to move on to more. That being said, I will try listening to anything suggested, at least for a minute! :-)

Apr 18, 2012, 11:29am Top

Ok. Again i urge you to listen to the 44th duo for two violins by Bartok.

Apr 18, 2012, 2:25pm Top

Coming from a proud Hungarian heritage, I grew up with Bartok and Kodaly (who has not been mentioned here, I guess, and is pretty modern but more folk music inspired than B) and I think a lot of my love for modern music comes from familiarity with hearing those two during childhood. My mom had really strong feelings against Stravinsky so I did not hear him until I was grown. Interestingly, I like Stra. and my own younger son, who is not very expert on classical music and has no musical training, adores everything he's ever heard by him as well. This is the son that is particularly fond of ballet. He first heard the Rite of Spring through watching Disney's Fantasia and loved it from the get-go.

Apr 18, 2012, 4:15pm Top

Anna, a couple of Naxos Kodaly chamber cds are household standards, and my female dog was named after him (zoltana, since the a generally matters here).

Apr 18, 2012, 9:25pm Top

Rick, I have listened to 20 minutes. To me, sounds like two out of tune violins. Listened to the first movement of the Concerto for Orchestra (Pierre Boulez with Orchestre de Paris--not Fritz Reiner). I found it tolerable as I find some wine drinkable. Would not seek out either.

The beauty of this is the opportunity to listen and make choices, and that there is so much music out there.

Kodaly is mentioned in Chapter three--but not much. I am sure CM will get to that. I recognize the name, but cannot think of anything in particular.

I am looking forward to the discussion of American composers and, in particular, jazz. The jazz of the early 20th century is my love.

Apr 18, 2012, 9:40pm Top

The jazz of the early 20th century is my love.

Mine too!

In honour of this thread I've put on Stravinsky all evening--Les noces; and now L'histoire du soldat. Good stuff. (Lisa, there are jazz influences in the Soldat!)

YouTube is a grand reference and browsing area, but I couldn't listen to long pieces like that. I don't know, maybe if I had more of a space-age computer-entertainment system or something. As it is, my best birthday present was from a friend who got me... a turntable. Yeah, it's one of those newfangled machines with USBs and whatnot, but IT PLAYS VINYL!

Edited: Apr 18, 2012, 9:47pm Top

*Murr faints at the memory of a huge vinyl collection he left behind in the old country when he moved to this godforsaken rain drenched shithole*

Lisa: try this Kodaly, if it doesn't grab you, you aint got ears girl!


Apr 18, 2012, 10:27pm Top

On the symbolist paintings in >50 ChocolateMuse::

I'd not seen any of these before, to my recollection. I was most struck by Boecklin's grandiosity, which for me packs a punch in its straight-up emulation of 19c European and US landscape schools. The style and realism so simple, the image in-your-face, but the overall effect compact and somehow evocative. A fair representation of what tone poems are for me, and I came to classical music through programmatic music and tone poems.

The others I like but seem more self-conscious and cerebral.

Really appreciate bringing the visual element into the conversation, CM.

I also have to say I'm intrigued by Debussy's hermetic opinions: any recommended source for a review of them? I know the comments above were not favourable, so I'm not expecting an enthusiastic account!

Apr 18, 2012, 11:15pm Top

>60 ChocolateMuse: choco
The symbolist movement is a whole entirely different field from semiotics, right?

oh gosh yes. Symbolism refers to a period in art history covering 1870s to 1910 give a or take a few years in different countries and different arts. you're familiar with Art Nouveau? It comes after that, and is kind of art nouveau gone decadent and crazy.

big names:

Oscar Wilde
Walter Pater
Puvis Chevanne

etc etc

Semiotics is a field of critical theory involving the study of sign systems.

Hope this helps :)

Apr 19, 2012, 1:15am Top

Murr, I thought so. Thanks for your patience with my ignorance, I kinda knew it was a dumb thing to write as I wrote it. :)

Thanks elenchus. I think Debussy ended up changing his hermetic opinions later in life, when he started incorporating elements of popular music into his works, such as Spanish flamencos and cabaret tunes. Here's his Interrupted Serenade: http://youtu.be/I6j5Vk6nhJU The Spanish serenader tunes up first, then hesitantly starts playing his guitar. Then something drastic happens (bucket of water?). He loses his thread, fumbles around for a bit, having lost his temper, and then finally goes back to the serenade, with a lovely singing bit in the middle. Rarely has a piano sounded so much like a Spanish guitar. That's not the work of a hermetic scholar.

As for the rest of you, you are getting ahead, you disorderly lot! It's all Lisa's fault. I see I will have to get my act together and start on the next chapter soon. When I do, I have a Stravinsky for Lisa that will change everything.

Apr 19, 2012, 4:50am Top

Help! Drowning in music, Difficult to stay afloat.

Apr 19, 2012, 8:12am Top

B, I will send you a life jacket--we have plenty on board.

Murr, thanks. I have heard it, although I could not have told you that it was Kodaly, and it is wonderful.

Lola, since I don't own any of this, youtube is a blessing. Although my computer cannot convey the best of the music, I am pretty sure that the best system would not make me like those 44 duos any better :-). BTW, I still own a turntable with a needle.

This morning I heard an "Ave Maria" by Janacek (sorry, don't have the right keyboard accessible). Another composer whose name I know but could not place anything by him. I think the religious music was composed somewhat later in his career.

CM, sorry. Leading this group is a bit like herding cats, isn't it. With deference to Murr. I am anxiously awaiting the Stravinsky that will change everything.

Apr 19, 2012, 8:32am Top

Ah, Janaček! I see we will get nowhere with you and Bartok, but Janaček: (youtube)
Leoš Janáček - String Quartet No. 1, 'Kreutzer Sonata' (1 of 2)

string quartet 2 is also great

piano: my favorite (translation may not be best--tawny?)-- (youtube) Leoš Janáček - String Quartet No. 1, 'Kreutzer Sonata' (1 of 2)

Pohadka for cello and piano

a lot of this was well-used in the film Unbearable Lightness of Being

Apr 19, 2012, 7:29pm Top

I can understand Janacek. Kreutzer Sonata: "Folk" music, some tunes carrying throughout, but some atonality and some discord. This is interesting music and worth listening to.

Apr 22, 2012, 1:54pm Top

We must have just discussed Cage.

Apr 22, 2012, 4:47pm Top

LOLOL I love this place.

Apr 22, 2012, 8:57pm Top

Rick, that is an lquarl if there ever was one.

I'll do the next chapter soon, I promise.

Apr 22, 2012, 9:09pm Top

it's the pause between movements. No talking or applause please.

Apr 22, 2012, 9:41pm Top

And if you must leave, please be sure the door closes silently so we don't preserve it on the recording, forever.

Apr 22, 2012, 11:00pm Top

I'll just have a free cough drop while I wait.

Apr 23, 2012, 12:01am Top

*crackle crackle... cough*


*large sniff*

Apr 23, 2012, 12:52am Top

Actually, while we're waiting, I realised the other day that I forgot to link Strauss's four last songs in the Strauss chapter:

1. Spring: http://youtu.be/iVWrjDEVrHo
2. September: http://youtu.be/LIlPm-myghQ
3. Going to Sleep: http://youtu.be/-v1zlfWZXDw (my favourite)
4. At Sunset: http://youtu.be/ppoqUVlKkBU

Explanation and translation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Last_Songs

Edited: Apr 29, 2012, 10:48pm Top

Chapter 3: Dance of the Earth
The Rite, The Folk, le Jazz

In search of the Real: Janacek, Bartok, Ravel
Stravinsky and the Rite
Les Six and Le Jazz
The Politics of Style

Rite of Spring – the scandal (or le scandale) was more common than is usually thought of – Diaghilev’s Theatre des Champs-Elysees http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Théâtre_des_Champs-Élysées was already controversial in itself.

Key point on p.83: For much of the nineteenth century, music had been a theater of the mind; now composers would create a music of the body. Melodies would follow the patterns of speech; rhythm would match the energy of dance; musical forms would be more concise and clear; sonorities would have the hardness of life as it is really lived.

Percy Grainger - one of the VERY few Australians we will come across here! :) {though he ended up being more English than Australian}
Shallow Brown: http://youtu.be/YG-Y2O75t_0 (if we believe what is written there, this performance was conducted by Benjamin Britten!)
Mo Nighean Dubh (My dark-haired maiden) at the Proms (aren't they all so... British...) http://youtu.be/SSFVfPW0qoA

Janáček's Jenůfa: http://youtu.be/u1-yc7-V9ek
– speech patterns in music, the search for what’s real… “listening to the chords of nature”

Maxim Gorky – whose realistic portrayal of peasants changed Bartok from a musical traditionalist into Bartok.

Interpretation of what folk music is – for Bartok it was as un-urban as possible, and preferably surrounded by poverty. Rural music is “a kind of archaic avante garde”.

More later. I think I'd better do smaller chunks more often, instead of a whole chapter once a week.

Edited: Apr 23, 2012, 8:49am Top

I like Percy Grainger very much, he had passion. I came to him as a piano virtuoso (evident not only in his recordings, but in his compositions too; and transcriptions), then a friend gave me his letters, a fascinating portrait of a prime oddball, from his Nordic nationalism (how he pined for the fjords!) to obsessive sadomasochism. Musicians are rarely that colourful.

P.S. The letters are The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger, 1901-1914 and The All-Round Man: Selected Letters of Percy Grainger, vol.2, 1914-1961, and highly recommended not just as personal history, but as testament of the times, from performance practice, correspondence with modern composers to white supremacist theories. Plus, the floggings, the many, many floggings. :)

Edited: Apr 23, 2012, 11:04pm Top

Audio guide for Chapter 3, which includes a recording of Stravinsky talking about what he said to Diaghilev. And a picture of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées apparently taken during the riot.

It also contains this link: http://www.keepingscore.org/sites/default/files/swf/stravinsky/full to the Keeping score website which allows you to explore the score and get more detail about the premiere.

Apr 23, 2012, 11:04pm Top

Lola, I had no idea there was all that side to Grainger! I hope I can get hold of those letters.

Apr 24, 2012, 1:06am Top

is there any truth to the story that Grieg and Grainger were lovers for a while?

Apr 24, 2012, 7:08am Top

I think that's where the famous Bonobo term g-g rubbing comes from.

Apr 24, 2012, 8:33am Top

No clue; Grainger hero-worshiped Grieg, but the latter was already ancient, and Percy seems to have been pretty much exclusively laydeez-oriented, at least in the whip-and-chains department. But it's a cool ship, as kidz (and a gaggle of middle-aged slash-writing women) would say!

(Google, well done! Gideon Sundback, thanks for everything!)

Edited: Apr 29, 2012, 10:33pm Top

My sincere apologies everyone. It's been that sort of week. I intend to be a better girl from now on.

Here are the rest of my notes on Chapter 3:

Stravinsky at last! According to Nabokov: "His music reflects his peculiarly elastic walk, the syncopated nod of his head and shrug of his shoulders, and those abrupt stops in the middle of a conversation when, like a dancer, he suddenly freezes in a balletlike pose and punctuates his argument with a broad and sarcastic grin."

(he looks a bit like Rachmaninov don't you think? The Russian composer look...)

The Firebird Suite: http://youtu.be/ashMSM_kc4M (a most dramatic video!) - Stravinsky supposedly got the scale it uses (alternate tones and semitones) from Rimsky-Korsakov, but rhythm is the key thing here (and so it should be, right, being a ballet?) In Rite of Spring, the ear gets tricked about which is the on-beat and which is the off-beat, i.e. whether it's ONE two three or one TWO three - but here in Firebird is a different rhythmic confusion, in which the main beat appears to fall in between the beats altogether, on the syncopated bits. one-BOOM-two-BLANK-three (or something like that!).

And we can't not have a link to The Rite, so here it is. This is apparently the original Nijinsky choreography. You will need to skip to 6:00mins into the video for the start: http://youtu.be/xhCJQo3J2DY

No matter what may follow, I love that oboe opening. But I think the whole thing is increasingly beautiful, the more times I hear it.

Part 2, where the ballet part starts, is here: http://youtu.be/dBgasG_gm1Q

All the strange syncopations are exhausting - the girl is dancing herself to death.

And here Lisa, is the Stravinsky piece that will change everything - his violin concerto. Do not give up until you've heard the third movement :) - here's the beginning of the first: http://youtu.be/ErxgHH2eeFQ
At risk of sounding like a second-rate critic, this concerto is muscular and anti-Romantic, but it also has such heart!

The Nightingale - small-scale opera - a new kind of unsentimental, abstract music, in which "each object will be set out apart from the others and as if surrounded by white": http://youtu.be/p7GWKLIsqGM


Then on to War, which sped up the anti-Germanic reaction in music as in everything else. I rather like Ross's description of Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin which he composed during the war:

In the context of its time, Le Tombeau may seem a little precious, as if it were averting its gaze from the carnage. Not only the title but also the names of the movements - Prelude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet, and Toccata - look back to the French Baroque, paying homage to the harpsichord suites of Couperin and Rameau. But, as ever with Ravel, emotion smoulders under the exquisite surface. Each piece is dedicated to a friend who died in battle, the old styles pass by like a procession of ghosts.
Here it is: http://youtu.be/1Mgw8pV4iPM

Debussy composed En blanc et noir, a with war as its theme: http://youtu.be/PCaf8SEAz9o then, afterward composed a cycle of six sonatas for different instruments, after the manner of French Baroque, effectively turning his back on all he had done before that time. "New beauty should fill the air, Debussy told Stravinsky, when the cannons fall silent" (p.105)

A German counterattack in 1917 was called Operation Alberich, after the lead dwarf in Wagner's Ring cycle.

Parade, 1917, by Satie, Cocteau, Picasso, Massine, Apollinaire and Diaghilev. The theme being that low culture wins over high. Paris during the war had become a place in which people mocked everything... this video is not a performance of the piece, but shows Cocteau talking about it (with subtitles): http://youtu.be/WATQDqjAOUc It's brilliant. "I had to go fetch Ravel to tell the musicians that it wasn't ballroom music, but a stylistic masterpiece"... and then Satie's masterful set-down to the flautist at the end!


Les Six: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Six

A reaction against Germany yet again - "the lie of the great style" - a la Nietzche, with particular reference to Wagner.

My Happy Life - Milhaud, the member of Les Six who most embraced jazz.

Milhaud's ballet Man and his Desire: http://youtu.be/uDxCQPUOAqk (can't seem to get the complete version online)

Milhaud's The Creation of the World 'intermingling of jazz and Bach: http://youtu.be/NwwT0BX2zBs

le jazz officially lasted three years... then Cocteau declared it dead.

"Period modernism" - where old styles, particularly baroque, were revived and turned 'neo'.

"Lifestyle modernism"

Poulenc, one of my favourite composers. Grew up among the modernists, not the romantics - therefore a whole new breed of composer.

Seems they all had to pass the controversial ballet test.. Poulenc's was Les Biches. Nuff said. http://youtu.be/As5T5JyMVFw

Oh man, this is such a long chapter! I have to leave it here despite my good intentions, it's been hours already. More later.

Apr 28, 2012, 7:12am Top

Picasso's portrait of Stravinsky

Edited: Apr 28, 2012, 7:22am Top

Stravinsky and Picasso collaborated in the ballet Pulcinella, based on an 18th century play: http://youtu.be/X4KYuhfag5I

This is rather cutesy: http://youtu.be/nFNl6D75Jxo

Apr 28, 2012, 10:21am Top

Great stuff C. Just great stuff.

Apr 28, 2012, 6:56pm Top

Yeah excellent stuff Muse. Thank goodness this thread won't disappear anytime soon. I have got stuck on almost the first piece of music mentioned in the book Wagner's Parsifal; I may be some time.

I don't need convincing about the Stravinsky. The Rite of Spring is one of my favourite pieces of orchestral music and for those who are old enough and remember CD's being introduced on the market then my copy of Le Sacre de Printemps played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Antal Dorati was the first CD I bought way back in 1981. It still shakes me out of my seat.

Apr 29, 2012, 10:48am Top

A busy weekend, here, so have not had a chance to actually listen to the Stravinsky, CM. I will; I promise.

But on a musical note, last night we saw Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It was a tribute to big band/swing with many of the greats including Begin the Beguine, One O'Clock Jump, Mood Indigo and I have already forgotten what else. I need to start taking notes!

Two particular highlights were Natalie Cole who has to be one of the best modern "scat" singers around. She was spectacular. For an encore, only the piano player, Dan Nimmer, the bass player, Carlos Henriquez, drummer, Ali Jackson, tenor sax, Walter Blanding and Marsalis essentially jamming for almost ten minutes.

Apr 29, 2012, 11:06am Top

How great is the Marsalis piano playing old father? Sounds like a fine musucal session.

Apr 29, 2012, 12:37pm Top

Was not sure whether that was just a comment on how great the dad--Ellis--is or if it was a question. Ellis does not play with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra so far as I know. But yes, it was a fine musical evening.

Apr 29, 2012, 12:49pm Top

Bit of both. I was just name dropping, as is my wont. I love to keep the names alive.

Apr 29, 2012, 10:06pm Top

choco, this is so great. Thanks for making everything so clear. I'm listening to all the links. I'm not a huge fan of Stravinsky, except The Rite, which I do love. I also saw 'The Rakes Progress' years ago, which I love mostly because of auden's libretto.

"I'm just back from California. Stravinsky was extraordinarily nice. I played duets with him on the piano. Some of the fugal parts of his new ballet Orpheus were too complicated for a single player. We kept talking this tutti-frutti language, going from English to German to French - "C'est the end, nicht wahr?" He told me the most amusing definition of sex in the abridged Larousse. Some of his anti-Semitic remarks were a little hard to take. oh no, it wasn't anything extreme, but he kept saying: 'Why do they have to call themselves Russians?' that sort of thing. ...."

from The Table Talk of W.H. Auden


I love les six, and years ago, I used to play Scaramouche with my piano teacher. In fact, I know lots of Milhaud, come to think of it. Here are some more links:

Scaramouch with the divine Martha

Saudades do Brazil

Sonata for oboe, flute, clarinet and piano

Take your time Choco, no need to rush any of this. It's all too rich to rush.

Edited: Apr 30, 2012, 1:29am Top

Thanks for all your kind words!

Auden's libretto from Murr's link above:

No word from Tom.
Has Love no voice, can Love not keep
A Maytime vow in cities? Fades it as the rose
Cut for a rich display? Forgot! But no, to weep
Is not enough. He needs my help.
Love hears, love knows,
Love answers him across the silent miles, and goes.

Quietly, night, O find him and caress,
And may thou quiet find
His heart, although it be unkind,
Nor may its beat confess,
Although I weep, it knows of loneliness.
Guide me, O moon, chastely when I depart,
And warmly be the same
He watches without grief or shame;
It cannot be thou art
A colder moon upon a colder heart.

(Trulove’s voice is heard calling from the
house: «Anne, Anne».)

My Father! Can I desert him and his devotion
for a love who has deserted me?

(Starts walking back to the house. Then she stops suddenly.)

No, my father has strength of purpose, while Tom is weak, and needs the comfort of a helping hand.

(She kneels.)

O God, protect dear Tom, support my father, and strengthen my resolve.

(She bows her head, then rises and comes forward with great decision.)


I go to him.
Love cannot falter,
Cannot desert;
Though it be shunned,
Or be forgotten,
Though it be hurt
If love be love
It will not alter.
Though it be shunned
Or be forgotten,
Though it be hurt,
If love be love
It will not alter.
O should I see
My love in need,
It shall not matter
What he may be.
I go to him.
Love cannot falter,
Cannot desert
A loving heart,
An ever-loving heart.

(She turns and starts toward the garden gate.)

May 3, 2012, 8:13pm Top

Thank you for calling The Rest is Noise. Your call will be answered by the next available operator. We really truly with all our hearts value your service and appreciate your patience at this time. http://youtu.be/LCnRYkPgKgw



May 3, 2012, 8:42pm Top

Well, I finally had a few minutes to listen. Sorry, CM. Stravinsky is not my cup of tea. Listened to the first parts of the first and second movements of the violin concerto and all the way through the third movement. Third movement was tolerable.

I wish I knew what grated on me. I have always enjoyed Le Tombeau de Couperin (maybe I just like the title in french). The Debussy En blanc et noir grates,but not all of his music does. Milhaud did not write jazz, IMHO. The Europeans did not "get it" at all. Thank heaven Cocteau was wrong.

No need to worry, CM, about the pace. We appreciate your work, and it does not matter if we are doing this two months from now!

May 3, 2012, 10:04pm Top

Hear, hear: there's lots left to follow through among your previous links and comments.

Passierengehen, nichts?

May 3, 2012, 10:39pm Top

Thanks Lisa and elenchus.

Oh well! Stravinsky's not entirely my kinda cuppa either. But the great benefit for me of doing this is that now I'm no longer scared of Stravinsky like I was before. I'd go and hear his music if I had the opportunity, and I have a much clearer idea now of what he sounds like. And though I don't love him, I really can appreciate him, and do love the violin concerto. That's a pretty big benefit to begin with, I reckon, and could even end in my being a devotee of him in years to come...

I predict, Lisa, that you will be saying oh for the days of Stravinsky etc, once we get up to around 1960... :)

May 4, 2012, 7:52am Top

Around 1960, CM, I think I will be listening to rock and roll! Of course, I don't know what Alex Ross has in store.

I love this reading because it is exposing me to so much more. Whether I like it or not is not relevant. Putting the music in perspective is important for me.

May 4, 2012, 11:00am Top

This is great music in my opinion.

Edited: May 6, 2012, 6:05am Top

Stravinsky "declared, 'I consider music by its very nature powerless to express anything...' This chic formalism echoed Cocteau ('Dance must express nothing'), who probably{?} got it from Oscar Wilde ('Art never expresses anything but itself')."

I'm thinking that while the essence of most Romantic music was the striving to express stuff like emotion, subjectivity, individualism and extra-musical ideas, maybe much of the early 20th century music might have been an equally great striving for objectivity. Complete reversal, even of the belief of what music is.

Couldn't find on you tube any recording of Bohuslav Martinu's ballet Revolt, which is about music itself, "in which classical music fights dance hits, gramophones rebel against their masters, critics commit suicide, Stravinsky escapes to a desert island, and a Moravian folk song saves the day." Sounds cool, if a bit kitschy.

From the end of WWI to the mid twenties, music seemed to be trying to find out what it was, where it was and what was going on. I guess the war made it feel as if nothing fitted right, whatever they tried.

Ravel's La Valse, which according to Diaghilev: "it's a masterpiece, but it isn't a ballet, it's a portrait of a ballet." Ross disagrees - 'a dazzling incarnation of the twenties and a dazzling satire of it...' http://youtu.be/TMSgWhIENSk

Janacek's opera The Cunning Little Vixen - of the part just after the fox dies, Janacek said, 'you must play this for me when I die', and they did (1928). http://youtu.be/MZ2tS0javdU

Stravinsky had a religious experience, and then wrote what Ross calls his 'sacred tryptich':

Oedipus Rex in Latin, where only the heads and shoulders should move, as if they are living statues. (And for which Cocteau wrote the libretto. Stravinsky was totally in earnest about the whole thing, but the ever-irreverent Cocteau couldn't resist - at one point the Speaker, so wrapped up in his literary dignity that he doesn't notice what's actually going on, says 'and now you will hear the famous monologue, "The Divine Jocasta is dead" - but no monologue happens.) http://youtu.be/BcGT9CC_kO8

The ballet Apollon musagete - the reversal of his own trend of hard sonorities in woodwind and brass: http://youtu.be/sBGZ2pgHYlw

And his Symphony of Psalms: http://youtu.be/Nhk96KX6I6I (I really like this!)

Lisa, any luck on these latter three? Probably not - like Ned Rorem, I must say, 'my heart is not melted'. :)

So much was happening so fast, and there was never really a fixed point - no wonder Ross quotes contemporary Yeats: 'this is no country for old men'.

Edited: May 6, 2012, 7:24am Top

As far as I can see, Ross will only refer offhandedly to the Dadaist movement 1916-1922. We shall not pass over it so lightly!

Wikipedia is our friend: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada - quotes below taken from here.

Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, anarchy, irrationality and intuition. The name 'Dada' was reputedly arrived at during a meeting of the group when a paper knife stuck into a French-German dictionary happened to point to 'dada', a French word for 'hobbyhorse."


Dada is the groundwork to abstract art and sound poetry, a starting point for performance art, a prelude to postmodernism, an influence on pop art, a celebration of antiart to be later embraced for anarcho-political uses in the 1960s and the movement that lay the foundation for Surrealism.
—Marc Lowenthal, translator's introduction to Francis Picabia's I Am a Beautiful Monster: Poetry, Prose, And Provocation

Hans Richter: Dada was not art, it was "anti-art."

Hugo Ball: "For us, art is not an end in itself ... but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in."

and afterwards, some 'Dada artists': "{It was} a systematic work of destruction and demoralization... In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege."

Adam and Eve by Francis Picabia (known as Papa Dada)

Les Six is very much associated with the Dada movement.

May 6, 2012, 7:00am Top

Bicycle Wheel by Marcel Duchamp

Edited: May 6, 2012, 9:25am Top

Andrew Ford gives a bit more space to Dadaism. There is no 'great' dada work, since it's anti-great by definition. But there is a famous piece of pure Dada - Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate: http://youtu.be/JgNL8-FdG-k

"The British jazz singer and art critic George Melly once found himself approached by a couple of potential muggers in a dark alley. As they came closer, Melly began a spirited rendition of Schwitters's Ursonate. His assailants exchanged quick glances and fled."

It's hard not to quote everything Ford says about it. Here's another anecdote: Satie composed Musique de ameublemont (or furniture music), 'essays in early Muzak'. They are pieces to be ignored, and at their first performance at a Paris art gallery, Satie, disappointed to find the patrons falling silent in order to listen, took to striding about urging them to talk.

Satie's ballet Relache literally means 'tonight's performance is cancelled'.

Ross also doesn't spend much time with Poulenc, so here is a little bit of Poulenc for you:

Three Novelettes (I learned no.2, it's awesome! And no.3 is unusually intimate... maybe its beauty and sorrow is actually ironic, who knows): http://youtu.be/vWtdLYdGaR0

Sonata for Clarinet and Piano: http://youtu.be/9XtVXHhYWco

Sonata for Oboe and Piano (late Poulenc, and the last movement is again very sorrowful): http://youtu.be/hY1j_DJDOf8

May 6, 2012, 9:21am Top


May 6, 2012, 10:24am Top

Great work C.

May 7, 2012, 9:04am Top

You're writing your own book, CM! I'm enjoying it.

May 7, 2012, 9:08pm Top

Well, CM, Poulenc I like. The Dadaists?????

You are right--I don't think I will ever find anything to enjoy in Stravinsky. The older I get, the more I realize there is not enough time to waste trying to like something when there is so much that I like without trying.

May 7, 2012, 9:42pm Top

Absolutely. All we need to do is give it a good and fair chance, IMO. No point flogging it further, especially if it means missing out on something that might resonate more.

I LOVE Poulenc. The more I hear of his music the more I love it.

>144 - Thanks elenchus - me and Wikipedia both, which is probably how lots of people write books these days...

Thanks P - and Rick, I reckon the 'greatness' of ursonate would rely even more than usual on the performer. That guy does it awesomely.

What's happened to A_Musing I wonder? The crowd in here is very small these days. And now Murr's gone to Vietnam, too. Thank you all for the comments which help me feel like I'm not just talking to myself in here...ere...ere...ere...

May 7, 2012, 9:49pm Top

The Dadaists interest me, even though I don't like most of their stuff. I really think we aren't meant to like it. I think it's interesting because of its context - remember about this time last year we were all reading A World Undone together... and a war like that breaking into complacent Victorianism and dazzling Edwardianism is enough to bring out some pretty extreme reactions. It strikes me that Dadaism gets close to helping us understand that shock and disillusion.

Memory of the Mirrored Halls of Brussels, by Otto Dix
(I think that's the Kaiser in there)

Edited: May 7, 2012, 10:03pm Top

Great link Por. Dix wasn't really Dadist I'm thinking. Wiki says he was influenced by it, but seems to have moved on from it fairly soon. I seem to remember Murr showing us some Dix a while back, probably in the WW1 read last year.

Like it says on your link, Por: While Grosz delved into the shadows of modern society, Dix stared into the abyss.

Disabled War Veterans Playing Cards

May 8, 2012, 1:36pm Top

Dix and Grosz are Siamese twins in my mind. They also present a strong argument against labels.

May 16, 2012, 3:21am Top

I've been meaning to ask, what is it people are seeing this thread as? How many are reading the book, and how many are following along without it?

Do I look at this as an intermittent lecture series, or a group read-along?

May 16, 2012, 7:01am Top

Keeping in mind the above question, let us nonetheless proceed to the first part of Chapter 4:

Invisible Men: American composers from Ives to Ellington

Will Marion Cook
Charles Ives
The Jazz Age
The Duke

With tribute to Dvorak's amazing insight and lack of prejudice in his predictions regarding "the Negro melody", let us begin by linking to his New World Symphony, just cos we can: http://youtu.be/hWrFVjKKo-U

The Real Slow Drag from Joplin's opera Treemonisha, which was never performed in his lifetime, despite all his efforts: http://youtu.be/ukgWU6JCZkg - You can hear the bel canto plus ragtime that Ross mentions, but there's no mistaking the gospel element in this as well.

Will Marion Cook:

Cook's dream of a 'black Beethoven, burned to the bone by an African sun' never materialised, at least not in the way expected... and the struggle for it was a heartbreak for many.

It seems there's an In Dahomey by Percy Grainger, but there is one recording of "On Emancipation Day" from Will Marion Cook's musical here: http://youtu.be/Q8cyVjuV-Po

Ragtime: A piano roll of Joplin himself playing his Maple Leaf Rag: http://youtu.be/pMAtL7n_-rc

'Slave music':

Song from a Cotton Field by Bessie Brown: http://youtu.be/Zxmbie8dfkI

"Let my People Go", Louis Armstrong: http://youtu.be/SP5EfwBWgg0

May 16, 2012, 7:03am Top

I don't know much about this sort of stuff, do help me out, anyone who can!

May 16, 2012, 8:56am Top

I am following along without reading--I look at this as something to learn from while hopefully picking up a new name or two.

May 16, 2012, 9:42am Top

I'm following along, having read the book 2 years ago or so. I view this as both a refresher and a source of conversation, something I didn't get when reading it myself.

For my purposes, it's been very successful, really appreciate your efforts and enthusiasm, CM.

May 16, 2012, 9:43am Top

Unsurprising and nevertheless interesting to realise that not only was popular music profoundly shaped by the African diaspora, but classical traditions, as well. Such a sea change in musical styles and traditions in that.

May 16, 2012, 9:54am Top

I am reading the book and enjoying the conversation and your comments and additional information. I got a bit ahead in the reading, though, and stopped. I will go back to this chapter for a quick reread--but later.

What don't you know much about? The development of music in the U.S. from music that originated with black slaves?

May 16, 2012, 10:52am Top

Following and learning. Snapping up unconsidered names like Rick H.

May 16, 2012, 11:33am Top

Choc, I am one of those following along because I love music and have some classical background, but am not reading the book. I am finding the whole discussion fascinating and am really grateful to you for all the work and love you've put into this thread.

May 17, 2012, 4:23am Top

I another non-reading follower, though I did read Ross's book when it came out.

May 17, 2012, 5:49am Top

Thank you. So Lisa is the only one reading along - I'm glad you are, Lisa (though don't feel pressure!) because delivering a lecture series based on the book was never my intention and is a tad intimidating. But like I said in the first post, reading along was never a requirement. Still, anyone who can add anything as we go will be greatly appreciated.

>128 LisaCurcio: yes, that and many other things! I'm also conscious that in this chapter I am an Australian talking about American music to a bunch of (mostly) Americans, and that's a little perilous!

But never mind, just chip in when you want, and I'll otherwise continue happily enough in the same way. :)

May 17, 2012, 10:47am Top

I would venture the guess that more Australians know classical music, including U.S. classical music than folks from the U.S.

May 17, 2012, 12:25pm Top

>133 RickHarsch:

As a percentage, very likely: the benefit of a smaller population when identifying a minority within it. As long as there's more than trivial interest, I'd speculate that there's a minimum number of people with an active interest and involvement, just to sustain the symphonies and Opera Houses and such, and that minimum would translate to a higher percentage. I'd expect that effect to go away when identifying groups with a higher cultural profile, say people interested in electronic dance music.

Ironically, this mathematical effect (if I'm correct in my assumption it exists) will dissipate the more popular something becomes.

But I digress. Whether there are actually more Australian individuals knowledgable about classical music than individuals in the U.S. ... well, I have no insight there. If I were a betting man, I'd say not. Anyone have any proxy stats, perhaps subscriptions to Classical magazine or attendance at concerts?

May 17, 2012, 3:10pm Top

elenchus: according to these statistics at least, it's about the same percentage. Not high, but higher than I thought!



May 17, 2012, 8:15pm Top

I have always thought of Australia and the U.S. as having many similarities having started as colonies of GB. Being incredibly poorly educated about Australia in general, I expect that many of the same benefits and foibles exist in the two countries. I think CM was saying she did not have an understanding of the (quite wonderful) music that developed out the slave culture. I am sure I do not have an understanding of any music that might have developed out of the aborigine cultures. Most likely also quite wonderful.

May 17, 2012, 10:34pm Top

ConfiteorMedia, that's great stuff! Amazing what's available on these interwebs. And I agree, not high but higher than I thought, esp the 16% estimate for U.S. Since the Australian estimate hived off the opera goers from the classical concertgoers, and then sat them in the same row with the musical devotee ... well, I'm guessing about the same. And who knows, there could be some mighty interesting conversations between those who appreciate the Ring Cycle and those who were there to see Mamma Mia!

Edited: May 18, 2012, 12:19am Top

>137 elenchus: Those sorts of conversations can be awesome, like mine with the heavy metal musician (#57).

Yes, those links are great, CMedia. Please de-lurk more often! :)

The categories they choose to examine both rile me and delight me. Education (or should I say, "academic attainment") levels, 'level of employment', 'level of income'. Snob-city! And yet, it might have broken the stereotype, except that it didn't. Though, the ability to pay money makes a difference to who can go, obviously, which is why I haven't been to as many myself as I would have liked.

Speaking of which, I went to my first solo piano recital this Monday night. It was Andreas Haefliger playing selections from Liszt's 'Years of Pilgramage' (some of the Swiss ones), three of Debussy's 'Images', and then Beethoven's Hammerklavier. It was great, except that the music was so internal and dense that I was left feeling more ignorant than inspired.

And, wish me luck, because next week I take an exam in music theory! It's at 4th grade level, which isn't all that high, but still... It covers basic harmony (cadences, mostly), basic melody writing (very basic) and being able to regurgitate many rote-learned facts about Bach, Handel, Purcell and the classical suite. I will no doubt be sitting in an exam room with a bunch of 12 year olds. I'm really glad I'm doing it though. There's also an aural component, in which I listen to stuff and then write things about it, like what interval they are playing, and whether a triad is major or minor. It will be good to help me know just where I stand with this level of theory.

May 18, 2012, 9:42am Top

I'm envious of you and that theory curriculum. I've read a primer, but I realise what I need is the ability to interact with fellow students and the instructor, and most importantly ... hear the specific musical feature in discussion. I think I can reliably tell when a tune is in a minor versus a major key, but intervals, the specific key, what the tritone sounds like: totally at sea.

May 19, 2012, 10:48am Top

Good luck, Choc!

Classical music, like all non-commercial art, needs state (tax) support to exist. Obligatory musical education in school helps too. Apparently in the US it's not obligatory. I don't get that.

May 19, 2012, 10:50am Top

Schools have to cut some program when the voters have said no to their levy and that program is not going to be football.

May 21, 2012, 12:26am Top

choco, you are doing such a great job with this thread. It doesn't matter that not many others are reading the book: your summaries are wonders of concision and opinion, and the links are exposing me to all kinds of new stuff. Im really enjoying the conversation, too. Good luck in your theory exam!

Take it slowly. actually it occurs to me that this is the 'classical music thread' we talked about starting last year.

I want to sing the praises of Gershwin, whom you mentioned in post 123. His early death was a tragedy for American music. He's the most consistently brilliant American composer of the period, imo. not only his classic songs but his attempt to fuse the late romantic mood with a jazz idiom was brilliant. and his orchestration is peerless.

two of my faves:


May 21, 2012, 12:39am Top

I looove Gershwin! We haven't heard the last of him on this thread by any means. I learned to play that Prelude 2 a while ago, and my teacher kept saying I was playing it too "white". Alas. He says that first part is a picture of slow sad labour (while singing) on the cotton fields, thus fitting in nicely with our black American music topic.

And thanks for the encouragement, Murr. And indeed, I was thinking that once we finish this book (one far-off day) I could start on another one that covers earlier centuries if people are interested. But that's a long way off yet.

I was discouraged a while ago, but not any more. Once I get these exams done, I'll be able to get back into it.

Edited: May 21, 2012, 12:44am Top

I saw an exhibition years ago in London of Otto Dix and George Grosz: Die Neue Sachlichkeit: the new objectivity. It was an overwhelming exhibition, full of raw anger and savage satire. you can imagine the impact of a whole room full of this kind of stuff:

May 21, 2012, 1:06pm Top


Finally I have had a few minutes, and thought I would add a couple of pieces by composers discussed in this chapter.

William Grant Still, who pretty much stuck to the classical mode, but in whose music one can hear melodies of black music of the time:


I think this is only the first movement of his Symphony No. 1. There is not much on youtube

Charles Ives--his music endures in the U.S. although he is not among my favorites. This is Three Places in New England:


and classically trained Duke Ellington with his Black Brown and Beige:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki3LZm7fwVc&feature=results_main&playnext... (1 of 2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xUEoqY0LTI&feature=BFa&list=PLC6D273D473... (2 of 2)

Edited: May 21, 2012, 1:16pm Top

May 21, 2012, 10:16pm Top

>143 ChocolateMuse: Good about the classical music thread. Let's keep it going.

Prelude 2 is interesting because in the recording G made of it himself, he plays it really fast. I prefer it as slow as possible, really make those minor thirds sing.

and in other news today, catching up on the world after my vacation, I'm shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, the best German baritone of all time. I would have put some clips from You tube, but something is wrong with it this morning.


May 22, 2012, 2:19am Top

Shostakovich played his own stuff hilariously fast.

May 22, 2012, 3:13am Top

Awesome links there. You know, this is embarrassing, but I didn't really know what is meant by 'big band'. Still don't, really. But I love the Duke Ellington.

May 22, 2012, 3:46am Top

>149 ChocolateMuse: choc, it just means a jazz orchestra as opposed to a small combo. Like Duke, Count Basie, Glen Miller, al those guys:)


May 22, 2012, 6:31am Top

that would have been too obvious...

May 22, 2012, 12:11pm Top

Is "big band" a U.S. or North America phenomenon? I never really thought of it before having grown up with the concept. I would suggest it is an "age phenomenon", but then Martin knew about it :-)

May 22, 2012, 12:43pm Top

All of the big bands I grew up listening to were U.S. bands, like the ones MM listed above. And Tommy Dorsey. They were really orchestras - huge numbers of musicians on the stage. I wonder if there was something similar going on elsewhere, but really I do think of Jazz as an American thing as much as there are great Jazz musicians from elsewhere, but really it is our special invention.

May 22, 2012, 1:16pm Top

I think you're right on, Lisa--I'm just a weird guy (who did the jazz "career prep"--har--program in high school).

Edited: May 23, 2012, 2:39am Top

Maybe it's similar to 'Second Viennese School' - very anchored in time and place and composer, but you don't have to be Viennese to know about it.

On another note (haha pun), I've done those exams now! Yay! The aural was dead easy, almost degradingly so. The written was this morning, more difficult, I took nearly the whole hour to do it. I'm a bit worried about how the melody writing part went - other people find it so easy, and I do not! But I think I passed.

So in a few days, after I get past some other commitments, I can update this thread again! :) woohoo!

Edited: May 23, 2012, 2:41am Top

I was the oldest candidate for both exams by at least ten years... and this morning the guy I sat near asked me what school I go to! That made my day. He is at the grade below mine in left-handed guitar. I didn't know there was such a thing. (I don't think he was having me on... I assume it's a normal guitar played the other way up.)

In the aural exam, we were asked to describe the 'mood' of a little eight-bar melody played on a piano. It was ridiculous. The melody was played very clearly and plainly, with very precise dynamics... in fact it had no mood whatsoever. So I wrote "Tense and expectant - could be used to herald the arrival of a dignitary". I will probably be marked down for being a pompous twerp, but I was amused, and I think it was only worth one mark. I guess it gave away the fact that I am a mature-age student though...

May 23, 2012, 5:03am Top

And Murr, I totally forgot to say thanks for the Dix post. It's amazing stuff, but I don't understand how such a display could be called 'objectivity', new or otherwise.

May 23, 2012, 6:30am Top

irony irony, choco. Artists more than anyone know that there is no such thing as objectivity, and Dix and Grosz knew it more than most, I should imagine, given the times and circumstances they were living and working in.......

May 23, 2012, 7:40am Top

Hurrah on finishing those exams. More power to mature-age music students!

May 23, 2012, 8:20am Top

Is "big band" a U.S. or North America phenomenon?

As ensembles, certainly not--after all, orchestral music is an European invention. As promoters of primarily jazz, yes, although European copies sprung up in the wake of the music's popularity. They were generally dance or revue orchestras, not that different from any popular, variety or Sunday orchestras, except in playing primarily jazz.

Russia--Soviet Russia--had one of earliest and largest jazz orchestras, started in 1920 or so.

May 23, 2012, 9:13am Top

Of course you are right, Lola. I think it is just the terminology that might be local.

It is Artie Shaw's 102nd birthday, so here is his Concerto for Clarinet played by an Italian "big band":


May 23, 2012, 11:41am Top

156: Last weekend we were at our local hangout, which often has random people doing open mike, and there was a pretty decent guitarist playing his guitar left-handed and upside-down. It was pretty weird looking, but it seemed to work for him. I had never seen it before! Weird you met someone who plays that way, as well. Or perhaps they have a special kind of guitar so you don't have to play it upside down, that's actually strung the other way around? I wonder.

May 23, 2012, 12:32pm Top

Jimi Hendrix?

May 23, 2012, 10:41pm Top

>158 tomcatMurr: Oh, irony! I see. Now I get it. Thanks.

>162 anna_in_pdx: On searching 'left hand guitar' on You Tube I see it is indeed a Thing. Most of the videos seem to be lessons on how to do it, rather than performances, but Por is right, Jimi Hendrix played left handed. http://youtu.be/0tUdUVmnWNc

And here's wikipedia, this is interesting: "Left-handed adaptations have even bridged the world of music. Left-handed guitars are manufactured as an alternative to using a flipped around right-handed guitar. There have even been inverted pianos where the deepest notes correspond to the rightmost keys instead of the leftmost. Inverted trumpets are made, too. Although most brass instruments' main valves are designed to be operated with the right hand, the prevailing belief is that left-handed performers are not at a significant disadvantage. The French horn is played with the left hand, and there is no evidence that right-handed performers are at a disadvantage on that instrument."

May 24, 2012, 11:38am Top

Speaking of jazz, and jazz influencing 20th century "classical" music, here's one example of a fusion of styles (I could be anticipating Ross, although so far it doesn't sound like he ventures away from the mainstream?)

Nikolai Kapustin playing his Toccatina, from Eight Concert Etudes, Op. 40 (1984)

Kapustin played straight jazz for years, professionally, although he received a classical education.

May 24, 2012, 12:43pm Top

WOW! That is an amazing fusion of styles.

Don't have the book with me, so I don't know if Kapustin comes up. I will have a look tonight if CM does not beat me to it.

May 24, 2012, 12:45pm Top

In this one I can hear more of the jazz influence:


May 24, 2012, 9:49pm Top

It's peculiar to see that in notation, isn't it? It sounds freely improvised.

May 25, 2012, 7:31am Top

I know nothing about such things, but could it have been first improvised and then written?

And Kapustin is not in Ross's book. The book is roughly chronological, so I don't know how far he gets from "mainstream" (or really what mainstream means in the 20th Century) but Kapustin appears to have escaped his attention. Glad you pointed him out here, Lola.

May 25, 2012, 11:03pm Top

Wow! I had never heard of Kapustin. Amazing stuff. When I hear the word "fusion" I generally think of some unholy amalgam of jazz and pop, and reach for my pistol. This is something entirely different.

It reminded me a little of Frederick Rzewski (who I think Ross does mention), though in that Rzewski works with folk motifs he also has something in common with the many composers who've dipped into that well.


May 26, 2012, 4:41am Top

170--where was you pistol last night? my wife went to the sort of fusion you meant last night, only perhaps worse, the program reading Chopin, Paganini, Rahmaninoff, and at least four more recognizable worthies...The performer was a solo pianist, but he did not play alone...show begins--synthesizer Barroomphs...

May 26, 2012, 6:33pm Top

Well, I'm glad I didn't interfere with Choc's schedule, although I'm sorry Ross isn't more comprehensive... less conventional... If he omits Kapustin, I have an idea of who else is missing.

And, maybe it's the times and the people he's trying to reach, but it looks as if the book meant as more or less straight history, and without a specific critical point of view to it. (That was my original complaint about Ross' articles, they are just so predictable...)

May 26, 2012, 6:42pm Top

I would say that the book is not critical and is history. I don't mind since my education in music is so sorely lacking that the history is good for me. I guess I am probably one of the people he is trying to reach!

May 27, 2012, 3:58am Top

Me too.

This is one reason why I think Ford's book is a good companion to it. It's certainly not controversial, but it is perhaps a little more critical. Though, Kapustin isn't mentioned there either...

This is also why input from you people is so very welcome.

Ford criticises Ross for leaving out Harrison Birtwhistle... I don't yet have a clue who he is, but when the time comes we shall all find out.

May 27, 2012, 4:33am Top

he leaves out Birtwhistle? does he talk about Britten.

I enjoyed the Kapustin. Reminds me of some of Keith Jarrett's more abstract improvisations.

May 27, 2012, 5:45am Top

To anticipate: I just listened to Schnittke's tribute/memorial/whatever to Shostakovich for two violins...about four minutes of wrenching beauty

May 27, 2012, 5:18pm Top

Any survey is going to leave out someone, and that someone will usually be one of our favorite composers (I remember that when I read it I was perturbed that there was no mention of Valentin Silvestrov). I think most of Ross's selections (and omissions) make sense.

Edited: May 27, 2012, 7:00pm Top

There's one recent English-language study of Russian music by Richard Taruskin, On Russian music, worth getting, although it too isn't completely comprehensive. It reaches back to 18th century, but as it happens, classical music really boomed in Russia by the last third of the 19th, and things got very interesting in the 20th. So that would be a good complement to Ross' book, I think. I'm not sure his omissions make sense, unless the text is both too short and meant as a general introduction, and even then I'd quibble. Add some footnotes or appendices, but list everyone worth listening to. Naturally you're going to discuss Debussy if you're surveying 20th century music, but it's a crying shame not to mention Scriabin, for instance, because he's unique, because he's odd, because he prefigured any number of harmonic inventions of the Viennese school etc. Because he composed wonderful music.

I think it's wrong to perpetuate historical outlines with a few names and pretend that everyone not on that tree is somehow "deservedly" in the background. In classical music even more than in literature, because fewer people dare (or care) to delve into it, we depend on canons and let "giants" overshadow everyone. Everyone has heard of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, a general history will devote its bulk to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and the landscape looks like a steppe with three trees and a few scattered shrubs. It's an impoverished view, and I think a pity especially when it comes to the 20th century, because of its quirks: complete opening to experimentation, and the fact of cultural isolation of Eastern Europe. I'm not a musicologist, it took reading Taruskin to learn how little is known in the West of the arts, including music, in Eastern Europe, pre- and post-Communism. And because Ross' journalism reaches much farther than some academic's monographs, it would be great if he occasionally made room for someone less well known than Stravinsky, say.

But I'm just thinking out loud, as I said before, I enjoy this thread and Choc's fabulous work very much.

Vladimir Horowitz plays Scriabin's Vers la flamme

Scriabin was a mystic, interested in theosophy and the occult, and developing his own ideas on erotic magic. Vers la flamme has a strange sexual tension to my ears, a dialectic between a desire to die (like a moth burning in the flame) and desire to orgasm.

The sound in this version isn't the best, and Horowitz had several, but I thought it was nice that he spoke, and the casual setting.

May 27, 2012, 8:01pm Top

Well I don't think Ross is THAT bad. Although I am a musical dolt, I listen to enough that I recognize more names than Stravinsky and Bartok, and Ross has, so far, profiled a number of composers I either did not know of or whose music I did not really know anything about.

Unfortunately, my computer does not want to play that Scriabin well enough for me to hear it. I am going to check my collection of Horowitz to see if it might be on one of the discs.

Edited: May 27, 2012, 9:31pm Top

He will mention Scriabin, who happens to be one of my all-time favourites. From memory (haven't got the book here with me now) Scriabin and one other Russian get a whole chapter to themselves. Prokofiev I think? Not sure now.

We haven't got to all the early 20thC Russians yet by any means - Stravinsky was an exception, because his Rite of Spring really introduced the idea of modern music - rhythm, and music of the body instead of the romantic spirit - things like that. Ross isn't totally chronological, moving around more by type and idea, though still roughly in order. I am going very slow. Most of the composers you mention come after the 20s - and we are going back through the early two decades in several different countries and ways first. So don't give up on Ross yet - give up on me instead for going so glacially slow :)

All those who haven't yet read the book will not really have a sense of it yet, we are only at the very beginning of chapter FOUR. It's a fat book. Still, Ross overlooks an awful lot. Pity I don't have volumes four and five of Taruskin’s The Oxford History of Western Music to compliment all this. Anyone got it?

May 27, 2012, 9:29pm Top

Oh and Rick, I cannot wait for Shostakovich. I expect a lot from you then...

May 27, 2012, 9:40pm Top

and of course there's Scriabin's influence on Pasternak...

Edited: May 27, 2012, 9:42pm Top

So - all offshoots and meanderings aside (and they are so completely welcome, don't stop!) I will just put into context where we are at "officially" as it were.

Chapter 1 was the last of the Old Germans - Strauss and Mahler mainly.
Chapter 2 covered Europe from around 1900 to WW1, including the anti-Germanic in Paris (Debussy and Satie); and Shoenberg and the Second Viennese School.
Chapter 3 was mainly Stravinsky, with a nod to Bartok, Ravel and Janacek.

Indeed, these are only the big names, aren't they. And the very broad categories. Put like that, Lola definitely has a point.

Now we are at Chapter 4, which goes back in time to the beginning of the century to begin with. We've covered Joplin and his contemporaries of ragtime and the like. We are about to embark on Ives. Fingers crossed I will do my bit of Ives for you all tonight.

Edited: May 28, 2012, 7:03am Top

Ives - macho and arrogant. Ford tells a lovely, possibly apocryphal story about when an audience booed a piece by Ives' friend Carl Ruggles, he stood up and told them all to take their dissonance 'like a man'. He said Haydn is 'easy music for sissies'. And he said that the American classical music culture of the time was made up of 'pussies, sissies and pansies'. This gives us a fairly clear idea of his character, I think.

Ross will tell us more about Ruggles soon, but in the meantime, here's an early work by him: called 'Mood', from 1918: http://youtu.be/xYMSLFkXgx0

Ives was nothing if not opinionated. One of his ideas was that no composer should try to make money from art. He himself was a seller of life insurance.

A great story is that Ives' father George, a band-leader, got his family to sing 'Swanee River' in E-flat while he accompanied them on the piano in C - to '"stretch their ears". He also purposely got two marching bands to walk by each other playing different things. Both Iveses, father and son, delighted in cacophony.

I recently listened to a recording of Leonard Bernstein explaining bit by bit how Dvorak's 'New World' symphony is entirely Old World and has nothing of America in it at all. I have some small doubts - there's one bit of that symphony that plays a melody that sounds entirely Native American to me, despite Bernstein saying that the use of the pentatonic scale is the only thing that could make it 'American', and that such scales are used in all "primitive" music.

Anyway, the reason I say all that, is because Ives was really the first composer to create large-scale works that really are American, and to do it in a way that Europe wouldn't do.

By a nice juxtaposition, here's Bernstein himself conducting Ives' Second Symphony. How many tunes do you recognise? :) http://youtu.be/d0OpTJlXdko

And, whaddya know, here's Bernstein talking about Ives on the same occasion (though here he goes talking about "primitives" again, though in a different context this time): http://youtu.be/1MMkP3aZIxw

I won't put up too many links to Ives' music here, no doubt you all have favourites to direct us to.

Here's a final quote from Ross, which I rather like, with reference to the fact that, despite Ives' opinionated ways, he nevertheless was always trying different things: "{Ives} was incapable of asserting a monolithic point of view; instead, he created a kind of open-ended listening room."

May 28, 2012, 6:53am Top

That video of Bernstein talking about Ives is very good stuff.

Edited: May 28, 2012, 2:17pm Top

Bernstein wrote some excellent music-comprehension books. I prefer him as teacher to composer or conductor.


The joy of music

The infinite variety of music

Dang, can't remember the third one...


Glad to hear Scriabin is in, I thought chronologically his period was over!

May 28, 2012, 8:39pm Top

I have the joy of music at home, it's fantastic.

AND, guess what.... I was WRONG yesterday and as a result I am utterly disgusted at Ross. I was mixing up this book with another one, The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C Schonberg, which I've read before and which justly devotes a chapter to Scriabin and Rachmaninov. Therefore I will throw a defiant Scriabin party, either now, or else at the end of the American chapter. I almost feel like throwing Ross over altogether, and if anyone knows of a book better suited to this read, tell me about it.

Bernstein will officially come later, after Gershwin, somewhere around Copeland.

May 28, 2012, 9:10pm Top

Yeah, Bernstein was absolutely a born teacher. His conducting is a bit too sacharine, and his own music is meh. But I love him anyway for his passion and style.

Stick with Ross, if you can bear too, Choco. we got enough expertise among us to fill in the blanks.

Has anyone seen the Simon Rattle TV show on 20th century music that was done by the BBC some years ago? My mother raves about it.

May 29, 2012, 5:36am Top

Is Copeland necessary?

May 29, 2012, 11:31am Top


May 29, 2012, 5:16pm Top

I am a happier man now.

May 29, 2012, 5:25pm Top

Me too.

Edited: May 29, 2012, 8:21pm Top

Aw. Poor Copeland.

Murr, I haven't. But I will... (I saw Rattle in an airport once. It was an exciting star-spotting moment for me. Even if I hadn't recognised him, I would have noticed him. He looked like he came from a different planet from all the ordinary travellers.) The series, according to Google, is called "Leaving Home": http://vimeo.com/12323549

Jun 3, 2012, 1:52pm Top

Copeland also wrote an excellent book, What to listen for in music. Should be a freebie in schools and groceries everywhere.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 9:33pm Top

Yes! I have that one too! He really makes it understandable for the layperson. These American composers are happy to share their knowledge with the masses - it seems to be a Thing, which is awesome.

So does nobody have any Ives to share? I was waiting for some but none have surfaced.

Here's the Unanswered Question: http://youtu.be/tbArUJBRRJ0
Wikipedia says: The three layers involve the scoring for a woodwind quartet, solo trumpet, and offstage string quartet. Each layer has its own tempo and key. Ives himself described the work as a "cosmic landscape" in which the strings represent "the Silences of the Druids—who Know, See and Hear Nothing." The trumpet then asks "The Perennial Question of Existence" and the woodwinds seek "The Invisible Answer", but abandon it in frustration, so that ultimately the question is answered only by the "Silences".

Weird. Almost Scriabinish. The explanation bar in the link above gives a good summary of its central idea. Note that the string quartet is offstage.

And then there's Central Park in the Dark, which references the Unanswered Question but makes fun of it (though not until about halfway through): http://youtu.be/1qPZbHNuZzI
You have to wait until about 6:30 minutes in before the sudden flippancy arrives. It's quite a moment, and doesn't last long.

This is 1906, remember. Mahler was still composing, Dvorak had only died two years before, and Poulenc and his ilk came almost two decades later. Shostakovich was born in 1906. Stravinsky was still an unheard-of composer studying music with Rimsky-Korsakov. This puts Ives about equal with Schoenberg in creating really new things for his time - and Schoenberg did not abondon tonality until 1908.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 9:34pm Top

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 9:37pm Top

Excellent, Por. The red-blooded Man of outdoors. No high-shouldered spectacled nerd, not he.

ooh and the essay is online!

Jun 5, 2012, 9:22pm Top

Intermission: this is from Carmina Burana, with the lyrics misheard. Hilarious: http://youtu.be/nIwrgAnx6Q8

Jun 5, 2012, 9:31pm Top

hahaha brilliant!!!!!

I also loved the Ives back in 196.

Edited: Jun 5, 2012, 11:02pm Top

>196 ChocolateMuse: Choc, fwiw, my favorite Ives is Concord Sonata. Here's the first movement: Emerson

Jun 6, 2012, 1:40am Top

Wow, thea. Very dense. I can see there's a lot in it, but have no idea what.

Jun 6, 2012, 4:00am Top

Suck juice from moose!

This topic was continued by The Rest is Noise #2.


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