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Posts Tagged ‘music history

“The only truth is music”*…

 

The earliest known practical example of polyphonic music – a piece of choral music written for more than one part – has been found in a British Library manuscript in London.

The inscription is believed to date back to the start of the 10th century and is the setting of a short chant dedicated to Boniface, patron Saint of Germany. It is the earliest practical example of a piece of polyphonic music – the term given to music that combines more than one independent melody – ever discovered.

Written using an early form of notation that predates the invention of the stave, it was inked into the space at the end of a manuscript of the Life of Bishop Maternianus of Reims.

The piece was discovered by Giovanni Varelli, a PhD student from St John’s College, University of Cambridge, while he was working on an internship at the British Library. He discovered the manuscript by chance, and was struck by the unusual form of the notation. Varelli specialises in early musical notation, and realised that it consisted of two vocal parts, each complementing the other.

Polyphony defined most European music up until the 20th century, but it is not clear exactly when it emerged. Treatises which lay out the theoretical basis for music with two independent vocal parts survive from the early Middle Ages, but until now the earliest known examples of a practical piece written specifically for more than one voice came from a collection known as The Winchester Troper, which dates back to the year 1000.

Varelli’s research suggests that the author of the newly-found piece – a short “antiphon” with a second voice providing a vocal accompaniment – was writing around the year 900.

As well as its age, the piece is also significant because it deviates from the convention laid out in treatises at the time. This suggests that even at this embryonic stage, composers were experimenting with form and breaking the rules of polyphony almost at the same time as they were being written…

More background at “Earliest known piece of polyphonic music discovered.”

[TotH to @pickover]

* Jack Kerouac

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As we hum along, we might send melodic birthday greetings to two descendants of the author of the piece above:

Johannes Brahms, the pianist and composer who was a stalwart of the Romantic Period, was born on his date in 1833.

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And Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Brahms’ Russian Romantic counterpart– the first Russian composer to make an international impression–  was born on this date in 1840.

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Written by LW

May 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him”*…

 

Genius follows its own law of gravity. It migrates in ever greater numbers to where it thrives. Hence places like Silicon Valley – and attempts to replicate it elsewhere, like London’s Silicon Roundabout. The phenomenon is older than the microchip, of course…

Watch the centers of creative gravity migrate through Europe, from 1400 to 1950, at “The Geography of Genius.”

* Jonathan Swift (the inspiration for John Kennedy Toole)

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As we put on our sailin’ shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1853 that Steinway & Sons sold its first piano in the United States.  The company had been founded in March of that year by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who’d started making pianos in his native Germany in 1935 (and who didn’t officially change his name to “Steinway” until 1864).  Working in a loft on Varrick Street in Manhattan, he called his first U.S. piano “Number 483” as he’d built 482 pianos before immigrating.  It was sold to a New York family for $500.  Over the next thirty years, Henry and his sons, C. F. Theodore, Charles, Henry Jr., William, and Albert, developed the modern piano; almost half of the company’s 127 patented inventions were developed during this period.

An “Original Style” Steinway piano like #483

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* Jonathan Swift

Written by LW

September 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off”*…

 

A small town with a booming tourism industry, Palm Springs, California, has long served as a celebrity retreat, retirement community, golf destination, and desert oasis. Photographer Nancy Baron, who lives part-time in Palm Springs, takes us behind the classic veneer of the city’s resort glamor in The Good Life > Palm Springs, a new monograph…

To Baron, Palm Springs is one of those misunderstood neighbors. With its crystalline pools warmed by triple-digit desert heat and one of the largest concentrations of mid-century modern architecture in the country, the city–which has been a popular resort since the early 1900s– evokes a particular image that may not do its layered identity justice. “Palm Springs is a brilliant example of the American Dream;” Baron describes, “springing from nothing out of the desert sand, continually reinventing itself with hope, determination, and the belief that everyone is entitled to The Good Life.”…

Baron’s photos, of her Palm Springs friends and their homes, cars, and closets, seek to broaden our concept of the city–though it still looks pretty glamorous to us…

Read– and see– more at Shaunacy Ferro‘s “Photo Essay Of Life In Palm Springs Makes Me Want To Retire Immediately.”

* Abe Lemons

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As we cool it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967, up the coast of California, that the Summer of Love kicked off:  the Monterey Pop Festival opened.  The Fest featured California acts– e.g., The Jefferson Airplane and The Mamas and the Papas– but is perhaps better remembered for the first major American appearances by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Who, and Ravi Shankar, the first large-scale public performance of Janis Joplin, and the introduction of Otis Redding to a large, predominantly white audience.  (The Beach Boys helped conceive the event, and were originally slated to headline; they pulled out as the material that became Smiley Smile wasn’t ready, and they didn’t want to do old material.  The Kinks and Donovan were also meant to appear, but could not secure visas.)  With the exception of Ravi Shankar and Country Joe and the Fish, all acts preformed for free, with all proceeds going to charity.

In fact, the first rock festival had been held just one week earlier at Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco: the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival But because Monterey was more widely promoted and heavily attended, featured historic performances, and was the subject of a successful theatrical documentary film, it became the inspiration and template for future music festivals– including, as your correspondent can attest, the Woodstock Festival two years later.

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 Happy Bloomsday!

Written by LW

June 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

A Little Traveling Music, Please…

 

On the heels of yesterday’s nod to the music of Miami Vice, a reprise

 click here for a larger, interactive version

Follow the journeys that various music genres took as one style developed into another: “How Music Travels – The Evolution of Western Dance Music.”

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As we celebrate the interconnection of influence, we might send tightly-woven birthday greetings to Johannes Eugenius Bülow “Eugen” Warming; he was born on this date in 1841.  A globe-trotting botanist, he wrote the first textbook (1895) on plant ecology, taught the first university course in ecology, and gave the concept its meaning and content.  So, though the term “ecology” was coined by Ernst Haeckel in 1866, (the retrospectively-poignantly named) Warming can be considered the father of Ecology as a discipline.

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Written by LW

November 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

You are (how you say) what you eat…

 

Bert Vaux, now at Cambridge University, created The Dialect Survey while teaching at Harvard.  Dr. Vaux and his colleagues asked scores of North Americans to pronounce several dozen common English words and phrases, recoded their pronunciations, and mapped the results– as for “pecan,” above.  The full list is at The Dialect Survey; each example clicks through to a set of maps like this one.

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As we mind our p’s and q’s, we might spare a thought for an extraordinary enunciator, Tammi Terrell; she died, aged 24, on this date in  1970.  Born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery, Terrell had begun performing at age 14, recording for Sceptre Records, then for James Brown’s Try Me label, before signing with Motown in 1965.  After two years as a solo artist, Berry Gordy teamed her with Marvin Gaye.  Their first release, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” was recorded by each separately, then mixed by Motown… and became a solid hit.  Their follow-ups, “Your Precious Love” and “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” also charted Top Ten.

Terrell reportedly had a tempestuous love life (including relationships with Brown and The Temptation’s David Ruffin); but her relationship with Gaye, while extraordinarily close, was platonic (friends and colleagues Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson characterized it as “sibling-like”).  In October 1967, just six months after the release of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Terrell collapsed onstage during a performance at Hampton-Sydney College.  Motown kept the incident quiet– and the duo on the road.  Two-and-a-half years later, on this date in 1970, she died of complications from the malignant brain tumor that had caused her 1967 collapse.  Following Terrell’s death, Gaye refrained from live performance for three years; his 1971 album What’s Going On– an introspective, mature masterpiece– was in part a reaction to her passing.

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Written by LW

March 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

Plain English…

 

On the heels of National Grammar Day: these and other “corrected” covers at “If Strunk and White Had Titled Some Famous Novels.”

[TotH to Pop Loser…  the title of this post is an allusion to the manual your correspondent prefers to Elements of Style— the Plain English Handbook.]

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As we allow for idiosyncrasy, we might send melodious birthday greeting to Henry Purcell; he was born on this date in 1959 (or on September 10 of that year; scholars are divided).  An accomplished organist, Purcell is best remembered as one of the leading Baroque composers of his time (e.g., Dido and Aeneas,  The Fairy-Queen [an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream]).  Indeed, he was the most famous native-born English composer until Edward Elgar.

Hear Purcell’s “Toccata in A Major” here.

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Written by LW

March 7, 2013 at 1:01 am

Play on…

 

A selection of entries from Music History in GIFs

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As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1946– on his 11th birthday– that Elvis Presley received his first guitar.  Elvis had coveted a bicycle or a rifle, but his protective mother (“She never let me out of her sight,” Elvis later said) took him to the Tupelo Hardware Store and convinced him to accept a $7.75 Kay guitar instead.  The rest is, as they say, history.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2013 at 1:01 am

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