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What was it like as one of the few female performers in the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s? We sat down with cellist and author Evangeline Benedetti to hear the answer to this and other questions about performance and teaching careers, favorite composers, and life behind the doors of Lincoln Center.
Between 1986 and 1988, the jazz musician and experimental music pioneer George Lewis created the first version of Voyager. After spending some time making work that involved compositional programmes in Paris, Lewis returned to the US and began work on Voyager. His aspiration was not simply to use computers as a tool or raw material, but to create software that could take an equal improvisational role to the other (human) musicians in the performance.
First, some axioms. Points. Nodes. Notes. (After which, a few fragments.)
From Alfred Nobel's will: "The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: ...one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction..."
Even if every winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature were universally acclaimed as worthy, there would still be more worthy people who had not won the Prize than who had. Thus, the Nobel Prize in Literature will always be disappointing. The history of the Nobel Prize in Literature is a history of constant, repeated disappointment.
The Nobel Prize in Literature's purpose is not to recognize the unrecognized, nor to provide wealth to the unwealthy, nor to celebrate literary translation, nor to bring attention to small publishers. Occasionally, it does one or more of these things, and doing so is good. It would be nice if any or all of those were its purpose. I'm not sure what purpose it does serve except as a sort of Hall of Fame thing, which reminds me of what Tom Waits said at his induction to the Rocknroll Hall of Fame: "Thank you very much. This has been very encouraging."
As with many things, Coetzee probably got it most right: "Why must our mothers be 99 and long in the grave before we can come running home with a prize that will make up for all the trouble we have been to them?"
My personal pick for a Nobel Literature laureate among the writers who seem like plausible candidates — that is, among the small group of writers whose names continue to be mentioned, year after year — is Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Among such American writers, I guess I'd pick Pynchon (not just for the early work — Mason & Dixon is a wonder, and Against the Daycontinues to seem to me to be the best science fiction novel of the 21st century), though I doubt they'd give it to him because he's pretty much guaranteed not to show up for the ceremonies. Among writers never/seldom spoken of for the Prize, I can hardly come up with a list without narrowing it somehow; for instance, U.S. writers I would like to see in contention include Ursula Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany, as well as countless poets, various nonfiction writers, a playwright or two (Wallace Shawn! Suzan-Lori Parks!), and maybe some unclassifiable weirdos. (I certainly feel no excitement for the idea of Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates winning, the two Americans typically mentioned.) We live in a very rich time for literature of all sorts, whether popular or elite.
But — brace yourself — hard as it is to believe, my personal desires are irrelevant to the Nobel Prize in Literature. I'm not even Swedish!
Anyway, I'm quite happy with Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature because I like Bob Dylan's songs. Thus, the Prize as such seems to reflect well on my taste, and I want to defend it because my taste is mine and therefore I like it. If the Prize went, as it sometimes has, to a writer I don't especially care about, or whose work I don't especially like, I would feel annoyed, because isn't the job of prizes to flatter my taste?
I suppose this is how people who have passions for corporate sports teams feel when their favorite corporate sports team wins the corporate sports team tournament.
I adore Dylan and thus I agree with the Nobel Prize Committee. Their referees this year have made good calls, generally, though of course if I were one of the referees this year, the calls would have been even better.
No, I don't think Dylan is a poet in a strict, contemporary sense. He doesn't have to be. It's not the Nobel Prize in Poetry. ("Literature" is always in the making.) Dylan is a songwriter and a performer. Separating his lyrics from performances of those lyrics can be clarifying, but it does violence to the work, leaves out an entire realm of communication. Nonetheless, his lyrics have proved portable, his music malleable, as he himself has often shown in performance (listen to "The Times They Are A-Changin'" on MTV Unpluggedor "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" from Live 1975 for just a couple of the many examples) and countless musicians of various styles have proved (one of my favorites is Chris Smithers' version of "Visions of Johanna"; also, Antony & the Johnsons' "Knockin' on Heaven's Door").
The living U.S. Nobel Laureates in Literature are Toni Morrison and Bob Dylan. Obviously, American literature (what means "American"? what means "literature"?) is far more capacious than any two people, no matter how talented or accomplished, can represent, but nonetheless, look at the idea of American literature embodied in those two figures together: there's a perspective there on history, myth, and experience, on culture and creation. Both are popular artists, despite their obscurities and weirdnesses and highbrow allusions. They draw on and contribute to what can be called, for all such a term's inadequacies, an American vernacular. They are both obsessed, in their own unique ways, with the old, weird America, its slave songs, murder ballads, hymns, blues, and jazz. There is something that feels very right to me about the pairing of their oeuvres, the way their poetries sing stories together.
I don't really care about the Nobel Prize, though. All prizes are awful. I won't defend the Nobel as a prize. Say what you want about it; I don't care. (Unless they give it to me. Then I'd care and I would accept the prize and I would do whatever they wanted me to do, because hey, why not? And the money would be nice.)
I care a lot about Bob Dylan, though — not the man, who I doubt I'd get along with very well, but his work, which awes me. The song "Blind Willie McTell" alone would be enough to assure its writer of a place in the pantheon, and he's written dozens more of equal wonder.
To draw a bit of attention away from the ultimately useless questions of "Is it poetry?" or "Did he deserve to win?", here are some random, fragmentary thoughts on just a few corners of Dylan's body of work:
Everyone who has any liking for Dylan at all likes some Dylans more than others. I don't at all care for the current torchsong-singing Dylan. The last album I really adored was 2003's "Love and Theft", though there are individual songs on the later albums, particularly Tempest, that I enjoy. But there's a looseness to his later work, a tendency to let songs go on and on with the same rhythm, that doesn't do much for me. My favorite period is the 1970s, the period from roughly Self-Portrait through At Budokan, a period I often prefer in bootlegs and alternate versions of individual songs rather than the album versions, but which also includes my single favorite album, Blood on the Tracks. Maybe it's because I was born the same year as Blood on the Tracks, and maybe it's because I grew up listening to Dylan — but I didn't grow up listening to the '70s Dylan, since my father, the Dylan fan in the house, seemed to have given up on Dylan after he went electric. By the time I entered high school, I knew all the words to the first five albums, but had no idea there were later albums. Those later albums would be a revelation, first with Highway 61 Revisited, then Blood on the Tracks. A friend in college had the first official Bootlegs album, and we listened to it like a secret hymnal. (I feel a bit sad that I heard "official bootlegs" before I ever heard the real boots, but the official ones are pretty great, and now that the Basement Tapes have been released, there are only a handful of unofficial tracks I really love.)
Two somewhat unheralded albums are among my favorites: Hard Rain and World Gone Wrong. Hard Rain is punk Dylan — live recordings in bad weather, with all the instruments going out of tune and the musicians furiously trying to get through their set. That album's versions of "Maggie's Farm" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile..." are especially fierce, but it's all great, wild, angry, dissonant. World Gone Wrong is one of a pair of albums (with Good as I Been to You) that brought Dylan back from the brink and rejuvenated him for some of his later masterpieces. Good as I Been to You is good, but World Gone Wrong somehow goes beyond it, and sometimes vies for position as my favorite Dylan album: it's just Dylan and his guitar, singing old songs. Each track is wondrous, a reinvention that is also a summoning.
I love how much of a magpie Dylan is, a thief and a scoundrel, a channeler of all he's ever heard. I said a year ago, and still say: "Dylan's references, allusions, echoes, riffs, cut-ups, and copies expand his work and connect it to networks of meaning." Also: "Dylan is all poses, all artifice, and he always was. He's not, though, a postmodern ironizer; his earnestness is in the earnestness of his artifice. (His art is real for as long as he performs it.)"
Ahh well, enough of this. Go listen to some songs.
This is hard country to stay alive in Blades are everywhere and they're breaking my skin I'm armed to the hilt and I'm struggling hard You won't get out of here unscarred It's a long road, it's a long and narrow way If I can't work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me someday... —"Narrow Way"
Biography chooses us when there is alchemy between biographer and subject—a perfect fit of interlocking puzzle pieces. In my case, a lifelong fascination with objects and the craftsmen who make them led me to the story of a pioneering violinmaker—American Luthier: Carleen Hutchins—the Art and Science of the Violin.
“Come and put your name on it,” is the first line in Rihanna’s song “Birthday Cake.” She is referring to her female anatomy as she dances in a hip-centered motion, reminiscent of Caribbean movement.
Across the globe, reactions to the song’s connotation and the provocative dancing varied greatly, each individual interpreting the sequence of events based on their own experiences, culture, race and gender. Regardless of the response to the song, the fact that Rihanna’s persona and image are an implication of something greater than herself cannot be denied.
In this episode of the Oxford Comment, Adanna Jones, contributor to the Oxford Handbooks Online, Oneka LaBennett, author of She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn, and Treva Lindsey, author of the forthcoming Colored No More: New Negro Womanhood in the Nation’s Capital, discuss the transnational icon, born in Barbados with Guyanese roots instilled from her upbringing, that challenges the exploitation of the black female body, female empowerment, and what that means in a global space.
Featured Image Credit: Rihanna performing at the Kollen Music Festival 2012 by Jørund F Pedersen. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Ariana Milligan recently started working with Oxford University Press’s Global Digital Products Marketing team in New York. She tells us about how working on products such as Grove Art Online and Oxford Music Online creates an inspiring day-to-day life.
If you were to ask a modern musician what the quarter note means in Common Time the answer would be simple: “It lasts for one full beat, to be released at the beginning of the succeeding beat.” Ah, but eighteenth-century rhythm reading is not a simple “one-size-fits-all” affair. Just as spoken language has evolved over time, so has music notational language. The notation has remained much the same; it is how the notation is read that has changed. So, how is the quarter note quandary solved? Gazing at the issue through an eighteenth-century lens will answer the riddle.
Eighteenth-century style is one of clarity – expressive rhythmic clarity – that projects character or affekt through the notation at hand. And the crisp, articulate fortepiano is the perfectly suited instrument for executing the style. All rhythmic elements are chosen to reflect affekt; so much so that when certain elements are present a particular affekt is understood. The Rhythm Schemata diagram provides insight to the interacting elements:
Notice that affekt is at the center of the wheel. All notational decisions – appropriate tempo and meter, carefully crafted formal and phrase structure to allow for execution of rhetoric, and specific rhythm choices – are made to express the desired affekt.
Execution of the quarter note varies greatly depending on tempo and meter choices, which are directly related to period dances. For example, a march in duple meter commands a different affekt than a minuet in triple meter. Just like there are heavy and light meters, note values act in much the same way. A time signature with a 2 in the bottom denotes heavy affekt, one with a 4 lighter, and one with an 8 in the bottom lighter yet. Note value choices within the meter provide execution clues. For instance, a piece made up primarily of half and quarter notes would be heavier than one of eighth and sixteenth notes. A comparison of Beethoven’s Sonata, op. 10, no. 3 to his Sonata op. 14, no. 2 demonstrates how note values take on differing character based on these period practices. So, the quarter note may take on a variety of characters, and consequently lengths, based on affekt.
Today, legato is the ordinary way of playing. If a line is presented with no markings (staccato or legato), the performer assumes to play legato, holding every rhythm for the full value. Not so in eighteenth-century style. This is where the answer to the riddle lies: The quarter note is held for its full value only when it occurs under a slur or a tenuto marking. How long should it be held? Just when is it appropriate to release the quarter note? This is where affekt is essential (and why it is at the center of the wheel). Depending on affekt, a quarter note may be cut quite short (like a crisp timpani attack) or held for most of the beat (as in a forlorn oboe solo). One must turn to the nuances of notation – formal structure, meter, expression marks, dynamics, and beaming – for clues.
Taking specific steps will facilitate creating a rhythmically authentic and personal eighteenth-century style on the modern piano.
Begin with Urtext. It is essential to work from an authentic score to determine how best to follow the clues left by the composer rather than an interpretation offered by an editor.
During initial experiences work with a piece that contains simple textures and is quite bare (few slurs or dynamic markings). Simple dances from Mozart’s Klavierstücke, Beethoven’s German Dances, or Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 545 by Mozart are good starting places.
Do some digging: What dance is being described? Is the meter heavy or light? In context, are the note values heavy or light? Unearthing answers will impact the length of the quarter notes.
Hold the quarter notes for full value only when under a slur or tenuto.
Strive for a strong metrical pulse. The down-beat is extremely important in this style.
Allow the energy and expression (determined by the affekt) to influence carefully placed timing and rubato within metrical boundaries.
Sing each line; this will go a long way in deciding tasteful rhythmic length and timing.
The fortepiano’s strength is crispness and clarity of tone, the modern piano’s is to produce a long, legato line. Listen carefully and continually. Adjust to the feedback from the instrument to prevent a choppy tone and choked endings of phrases.
Hear the improvement in the sound aesthetic as you move through the following audio examples: 1) a frequently-heard modern rendition, 2) an interpretation on a Belt-Walter replica ca. 1780’s five-octave fortepiano, and 3) a reconciled and historically informed rendition on a modern piano. The energy and vibrancy provided by using period rhythm-reading strategies is markedly noticeable.
Clementi, Piano Sonatina in C Major, op. 36, no. 1/I, mm. 1-6.
Taking the time to view the score through an eighteenth-century lens and apply the period performance practices judiciously to modern playing provides the opportunity to discover an old language that may be recreated in a new way.
Featured image: “Fortepiano label” by Ching. CC by 2.0 via Flickr.
Why do some great Broadway shows fail, and mediocre ones thrive? How does the cast onstage manage to keep tabs on the audience without missing a beat or a line? Ken Bloom, author of Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Audiences, delves into the inner workings of the Broadway stage and the culture surrounding Broadway hips and flops.
The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones. Rich Kienzle. 2016. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Would he or wouldn't he show up?
Premise/plot: The Grand Tour is a biography of George Jones that seeks to balance a focus on his life and on his music. The author takes on the role of music critic and biographer. In the prologue he explains his approach, "Jones's life and music are inseparable. The music often triumphed even during his worst personal moments. His evolution from twangy imitator to distinctive new voice, from influential vocalist to master of his craft, is as important as his personal failings. Exploring that musical side--how he found songs and recorded them; the perspectives of the public, those involved in creating his records, and Jones himself--is pivotal to understanding the story. I've attempted to take the long view, examining not only his life and the events that shaped him from start to present, but simultaneously exploring his immense musical legacy, all in a clear chronological context." (13)
My thoughts: I started listening to George Jones' music this summer. And what I loved, I really, really LOVED. So I was curious to pick this new biography up at the library. I picked it up as a new fan and not an expert, so perhaps keep that in mind. But I enjoyed this biography very much. I think I might have appreciated aspects of it even more if I was familiar with more of his albums, more of his songs.
The prologue of this one had me hooked. Here is how the author describes Jones' voice: "The voice was raw nerve put to music...Yet above all that was his consummate ability to explore pain, sorrow, heartbreak, and emotional desolation." (9)
It was an often absorbing read full of highs and lows. I would definitely recommend it.
The sonata concept served some of the greatest imaginations in the history of music, but seriously it is, as I like to say to students, “so not a form”. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms were not in need of a standardized template, and in essence what has come to be called sonata form is more like courtroom procedure: a process that allows for an infinite variety of stories to be unfold, from a fender bender to vandalism to murder.
The Kodály Concept of music education is based on the philosophical writings of Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) and incorporates principles of teaching music developed by his colleagues and students. His writings on music education provided the impetus of developing a new pedagogy for teaching music. On August 30th, we discussed five essential lessons from the Kodály Concept. Below are five additional hallmarks of his work.
You might associate the recorder with memories of a second grade classroom and sounds vaguely resembling the tune of “Three Blind Mice” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” While the recorder has become a popular instrument in music education, it also has an extensive and interesting history.
To teach music effectively, we must know our subject—music. We must embody and exemplify musicianship.” (Elliott, Music Matters, 1995, p. 271). But how are we to communicate our musicianship to students in meaningful ways?
Most would agree with the idea that music can have a powerful hold over us—our thoughts, feelings, and movements. Given this, how might music help measure thoughts, feelings, and movements in a way that allows professionals in healthcare improve client treatment? The music therapy profession seems to be experiencing a surge in developing data-measuring tools that incorporate music in the client assessment.
Every summer since 1895, the Henry Wood Promenade Concert (commonly known as the BBC Proms) presents an eight-week orchestral classical music festival at the Royal Albert Hall in central London. This year’s Proms put a special focus on cellos.
You take out the scratched up Beatles’ Abbey Road LP from its musty slipcover, cue it onto the turntable, and broadcast it to the small, rural area surrounding your college campus. It’s 5:00 AM, you’re the only one in the booth, and you ask yourself: is anyone listening? Does what I’m doing matter? Little do you know, as you speak into the microphone introducing “Here Comes the Sun” (as the sun is literally rising), you are part of a long history of college radio. But how is college radio relevant today?
It is a commonplace to say that, in Renaissance England, music was everywhere. Yet, however true the statement is, it obscures the fact that music existed in many different forms, with very different functions and very different meanings.
It is a commonplace to say that, in Renaissance England, music was everywhere. Yet, however true the statement is, it obscures the fact that music existed in many different forms, with very different functions and very different meanings.
While the high drama of the Brexit vote and the US presidential election has grabbed international headlines, Japan has also completed an election that may have far-reaching implications. In the elections for the Upper House of the Diet (Japan’s parliament) on July 10, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partners won 162 seats.
From his earliest days in Vienna Beethoven associated some of his compositions with friendship—a means by which to repair a disagreement or cement a relationship threatened by separation. One year after his arrival in Vienna, the twenty-three-year-old composer wrote to Eleonore von Breuning, his piano student and close childhood friend in Bonn. Beethoven blamed himself for a quarrel between them and hoped he could make amends by dedicating a short piano piece to her. In a lighter vein Beethoven composed his duet for viola and cello, ‘With Two Eyeglasses Obbligato,’ to play with his friend, the amateur Viennese cellist Nikolaus Zsemskall—both men were short-sighted.
In the second half of 1798, the Bohemian Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz—himself a competent singer, violinist and cellist—commissioned both the aging Haydn and his talented student to write six string quartets. Haydn would compose only the two Opus 77s and the unfinished Opus 103, hindered by other obligations and failing health. Towards the end of 1798 Beethoven began work on what would become his six Opus 18 quartets, and had probably finished them by 18 October 1800, when he received the second installment of a fee totaling four hundred florins from Prince Lobkowitz. This was a significant sum,more than half the amount it is estimated that someone in Beethoven’s situation would have needed to support himself for a year.
Beethoven’s work on his new quartets became intertwined with old and new relationships. By 25 June 1799, he had finished the first version of Opus 18, no. 1 and gave it as ‘a small token’ of friendship to Karl Amenda, a violinist with whom he had become friends following Amenda’s arrival in Vienna in spring 1798. Amenda was a year older than Beethoven and had trained in Lutheran theology at the University of Jena. After he moved to Vienna, he became the music teacher of Mozart’s children. Later in the summer of 1799, the death of his brother forced Amenda to return to his home town of Courland, in Latvia. In honor of their friendship Beethoven made him a gift of Opus 18, no. 1, entreating him to remember the times they had spent together.
Beethoven complained to Amenda at this time of a broken heart, likely caused not so much by Amenda’s imminent departure as by the marriage plans of one of Beethoven’s piano students, Joesphine von Brunsvik. In May that year, Josephine’s mother Anna had brought Josephine and her sister Therese to Vienna and persuaded Beethoven to give them piano lessons. Beethoven’s acquaintance with the family and possible infatuation with Josephine seems to have caused an interruption to his work on Opus 18, no. 1. Five years later, after the death of Josephine’s first husband, Beethoven would repeatedly declare his love for her, recalling that when he had first met her in 1799 he had been determined not to let himself fall in love. It seems rather more likely that Josephine was responsible for discouraging his overtures than that the young musician heroically repressed the desires of his heart. Whether or not her impending marriage was the cause of Beethoven’s distress in the summer of 1799, Beethoven fell in love easily and frequently: a broken heart was a common emotional state for the sensitive composer who craved depth and intensity in his relationships.
Amenda’s departure from Vienna may have contributed to Beethoven’s anguish. Over a year later, Amenda wrote to Beethoven explaining that he had fallen in love and was likely to settle for good in Courtland, but that when he played or listened to Beethoven’s music, ‘All of the ardent feelings awaken in me in the liveliest manner, [feelings] that your company itself inspired in me. It seems to me as if I must then get away from here and go to you, to the source of my most tender and most animated sentiments.’ Amenda feared—correctly—that hey might never see each other again, and entreated Beethoven never to forget him.
The overt emotion in Amenda’s letter was reciprocated. In the summer of 1801 Beethoven shared a painful secret with him:
How often would I like to have you here with me, for your B is leading a very unhappy life and is at variance with Nature and his Creator. Many times already I have cursed Him for exposing His creatures to the slightest hazard, so that the most beautiful blossom is thereby often crushed and destroyed. Let me tell you that my most prized possession, my hearing , has greatly deteriorated. When you were still with me, I already felt the symptoms; but I said nothing about them. Now they have become very much worse.
Franz Wegeler was another of only a few close friends in whom Beethoven confided: ‘For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf.’
Beethoven’s professional situation, however, was now much better than it had been during his first years in Vienna. Publishers competed to publish his works, and as a result he was able to charge a higher fee for his compositions. He could now afford his own apartment and servant, although the increased independence was itself facilitated by Prince Lichnowsky, who paid him an annuity of six hundred gulden (or florins).
Some time after the composition and publication of Opus 18, Lichnowsky further demonstrated his belief in Beethoven’s string quartet projects by purchasing a quartet of Italian string instruments for him: violins by Joseph Guarnerius and Nicolò Amati, a viola by Vincenzo Rugeri and a cello by Andreas Guarnerius. The seal of Beethoven, stamped under the neck of the instruments, must have not seemed adequate proof of ownership: Beethoven took matters into his own hands, scratching a big B on the back of each instrument. Although Beethoven himself played the violin and viola, given his hearing problems it seems most likely that the primary beneficiaries of this purchase would have been Schuppanzigh and his quartet colleagues.
Thus Beethoven composed his Opus 18 quartets at a time when considerable professional recognition could not keep at bay feelings of social isolation, caused in a large part by his increased deafness and frustrations about his Viennese friends, many of whom he dared not to tell about his condition. To Amenda he worried not so much about the danger to his professional abilities as about the devastating effect on the his social interactions. In 1824 Goethe would describe a string quartet as ‘four rational people conversing with each other.’ Grieving the loss of companionship, Beethoven created his own ideal dialogues in his Opus 18 quartets, conversations in which he held complete control.
It’s been said that the Devil has all the best tunes. If this is true, he likes to keep a conspicuously low profile. While songs of praise for Jesus, God, Krishna, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, and a host of other deities, saints, and semi-deities abound, Satan is seldom properly hymned.
Shakespeare has inspired countless and varied performances, works of art and pieces of writing. He has also inspired music. In this 400th year since Shakespeare's death we asked five composers 'how did you approach setting the Shakespeare text you chose for your recent work?'