(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music history

“It is the special province of music to move the heart”*…

From the estimable Ted Gioia

Here’s one of the best music videos you will see this year.

Bach’s score for The Art of Fugue—perhaps his last work—does not specify the instrumentation, thus giving later musicians tremendous creative latitude. It’s based on [the motif pictured above].

This new video performance, released last week by the Netherlands Bach Society, features an impressive range of settings—starting with solo voices, and working through combinations of a dozen other instruments…

Bach– as Wagner proclaimed, “the most stupendous miracle in all music!”: The Art of the Fugue

* Johann Sebastian Bach

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As we appreciate patterns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1738 that Handel, Bach’s contemporary (he, Bach, and Domenico Scarlatti were all born in 1685), finished his his oratorio Saul and starts Israel in Egypt.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 27, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Your memory and your senses will be nourishment for your creativity”*…

Handel and Beethoven

On which senses do great creators rely? Randall Collins investigates…

Beethoven started going deaf in his late 20s.  Already famous by age 25 for his piano sonatas, at 31 he was traumatized by losing his hearing. But he kept on composing: the Moonlight Sonata during the onset of deafness; the dramatic Waldstein Sonata at 32; piano sonatas kept on coming until he was 50. In his deaf period came the revolutionary sounds of his 3rd through 8th symphonies, piano and violin concertos (age 32-40). After 44 he became less productive, with intermittent flashes (Missa Solemnis, Diabelli variations, 9th symphony) composed at 47-53, dying at 56. His last string quartets were composed entirely in his head, left unperformed in his lifetime.

Handel went blind in one eye at age 66; laboriously finished the oratorio he was working on; went completely blind at 68. He never produced another significant work. But he kept on playing organ concertos, “performing from memory, or extemporizing while the players waited for their cue” almost to the day he died, aged 74. 

Johann Sebastian Bach fell ill in his 64th year; next year his vision was nearly gone; he died at 65 “after two unsuccessful operations for a cataract.”  At 62 he was still producing great works; at 64 he finished assembling the pieces of his B Minor Mass (recycling his older works being his modus operandi). At death he left unfinished his monument of musical puzzles, The Art of the Fugue, on which he had been working since 55.

Can we conclude, it is more important for a composer to see than hear?…

And given examples like Milton, that it’s more critical to poets and writers to hear than see? More at “Deaf or Blind: Beethoven, Handel,” from @sociologicaleye.

* Arthur Rimbaud

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As we contemplate creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 2013 that Google– Google Search, YouTube, Google Mail, and Google Drive, et al.– went down for about 5 minutes. During that brief window, internet traffic around the world dropped by 40 percent.

“A nice blend of prediction and surprise seem to be at the heart of the best art”*…

Walter, later Wendy, Carlos was a pioneer of electronic music, a collaborator with Robert Moog in developing the Moog Synthesizer that changed music forever (among other things, she convinced Moog to add a touch-sensitive device, allowing greater musical dynamics) and a performer/recording artist who popularized the instrument. In 1970, she did an explainer for the BBC…

We can break popular music into two periods: before the Moog and after the Moog. Upon its debut in 1964, that synthesizer made a big splash in the small but long-established electronic-music world by, among other innovative qualities, being smaller than an entire room. Over the next few years, inventor Bob Moog (whose previous line was in theremins) refined his eponymous brainchild to the point that it became accessible to composers not already on the cutting edge of music technology. But for Wendy Carlos, the cutting edge of music technology was where she’d spent most of her life; hence her ability to create the first bestselling all-Moog album, 1968’s Switched-On Bach

She even plays a bit of the second movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #4, Carlos’ rendition of which on Switched-On Bach‘s follow-up The Well-Tempered Synthesizer moved no less an authority than Glenn Gould to call it “the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs — live, canned, or intuited — I’ve ever heard.”…

A titan of electronic music breaks it down: “Wendy Carlos Demonstrates the Moog Synthesizer on the BBC (1970),” from Colin Marshall (@colinmarshall) in @openculture.

* Wendy Carlos

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As we plug in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Chuck Berry recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” for Chess Records. It was released the following month and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard R&B chart and number 29 on the pop chart. “Roll Over Beethoven” is one of the most widely covered songs in popular music – “a staple of rock and roll bands”, according to Cub Koda of AllMusic– with famous versions by Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles, Carl Perkins, and Electric Light Orchestra. In 2003 it was was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.

“The wind has its reasons”*…

For Theo Jansen, it’s all about the wind…

Many of us hit the beach to enjoy some sunshine or catch a wave. But for Dutch artist Theo Jansen it’s all about the wind. Jansen’s been working with this limitless natural resource for 30 years to create a fabulous array of giant beach creatures—brought to life by the wind. With every gust, his wondrous seaside sculptures become more lifelike, ambling along the coast like creatures in their own right…

Jansen started designing them in the 1990s after reading about rising sea levels threatening the low-lying Netherlands—a country famous for the fact that one third of it is below sea level. He had a dream of creating a herd of wind-powered coastal sentinels, perpetually piling sand high onto the dunes to keep the water at bay.

What he ended up building took a different turn, with Jansen developing the idea to explore evolution as the primary creative force behind all life on Earth, capturing people’s imaginations in the process…

An artist’s moving tribute to nature’s powerful resource: “Fantastic Beasts Brought to Life by the Wind,” @HoeveMarie in @NautilusMag on @StrandBeests.

* Haruki Murakami

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As we feel the breeze, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that Richard StraussAlso sprach Zarathustra (Opus 30) was first performed (in Frankfurt).

“People ought to stop saying, ‘Rock is dead.’ It gets old.”*…

Big Star (Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel, Alex Chilton), photographed by William Eggleston

Mo Troper (and here) offers a treatise on the hotly debated subgenre Power Pop…

What is power pop? It is a question many have asked and few have satisfyingly answered. To many, power pop is any modern idealization of mid-‘60s British pop, a sticky and sickly sweet Neapolitan of “chiming guitars,” “heavy drums” and “aching vocal harmonies.” The Raspberries, Big Star, Badfinger, Todd Rundgren — these are just a few of power pop’s pioneering practitioners.

There are entire message boards and stuffy Facebook groups dedicated to debating its origins and musical properties. Power pop fandom is as isolated as it is isolating. Most of the year it’s a pasty shut-in muttering to itself, every now and then it’s an evangelist screaming from the rooftops. To be a power pop “fan” is to be in endless pursuit of the greatest post-Beatles guitar pop single the general public has yet to hear. And once you find it: Should you share it with the world or keep it all to yourself?

To the outside world — and even to nominal double-P fans — the drama and rigorous dialectic associated with this genre is insane, and understandably so.

The gatekeeping makes a little more sense if you relate power pop to a more general aesthetic phenomenon: camp.

Susan Sontag published her essay Notes on “Camp” in 1964, the same year The Beatles conquered America. According to the Wikipedia article on camp, the phrase is “etymologically obscure” — it was once a specific cultural posture associated with working-class gay communities, but it would later be subsumed under (or, co-opted by) the postmodern umbrella. Sontag herself believed camp was fundamentally non-discriminating, although acknowledges it is by and large a sensibility created by gay men. Attempting to distinguish “camp” from other, similar aesthetics is campy. 

“Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world,” Sontag writes. “The whole point of camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”

Like camp art, the lines between seriousness and frivolity in power pop can be maddeningly obscure. Fountains of Wayne are often considered one of the greatest power pop bands of all time; their most celebrated record, Welcome Interstate Managers, is not power pop in the strict, sonic sense — it covers everything from Oasis and Cars pastiche to acoustic confessionals and quasi-lounge. What makes this record so great — and what makes it so campy — is the level of scholarship, commitment, and straight-faced passion the band brings to their interpretations of old hat musical tropes. Camp, according to Sontag, “reeks of self-love” even when it revels in parody.

Power Pop Is Camp,” from @mo_troper.

(To Moe’s point: “That Thing You Do,” the song performed by the fictional 1960s band The Wonders in Tom Hank’s film of the same name, was written by Adam Schlesinger, co-founder of Fountains of Wayne. It succeeded both in the film as an evocation of the Beatles-inspired melodic pop of 1964-65 and as a power pop success of it own (it charted in 1997 in the U.S. and Australia and was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.)

* Matthew Sweet

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As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that record store manager Brian Epstein called the Cavern Club in Liverpool to arrange to see a lunchtime performance the following day by a local group, The Beatles. After the show, he went backstage to introduce himself… returned for several subsequent shows… left his retailing career to become the group’s manager… and helped them become… well, the ultimate inspiration for Power Pop.

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