Electronic music and the Cold War

For a decimated post-War West Germany, the Studio für Elektronische Musik at Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) was a beacon of hope.

In the 1950s, when technologies were plentiful and the need for reconstruction was great, West Germany began to rebuild its cultural prestige via aesthetic and technical advances. The reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio were part of this process.

The studio’s composers, collaborating with scientists and technicians, coaxed music from sine-tone oscillators, noise generators, band-pass filters, and magnetic tape. Together, they applied core tenets from information theory and phonetics, reclaiming military communication technologies as well as fascist propaganda broadcasting spaces.

The electronic studio nurtured a revolutionary synthesis of science, technology, politics, and aesthetics. Its esoteric sounds transformed mid-century music and continue to reverberate today. Electronic music—echoing both cultural anxiety and promise—is a quintessential Cold War innovation.

This according to Electronic inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War musical avant-garde by Jennifer Iverson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

Below, Herbert Eimert’s and Robert Beyer’s Klangstudie II, one of the first works produced at the WDR studio.

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Journal of sound and music in games

In 2020 the University of California Press launched Journal of sound and music in games (eISSN 2578-3432), a peer-reviewed journal that presents high-quality research concerning all areas of music and/or sound in games.

The journal serves a diverse community of readers and authors, encompassing industry practitioners alongside scholars from disciplinary perspectives including anthropology, computer science, media/game studies, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, as well as musicology. JSMG is the only journal exclusively dedicated to this subject, and provides a meeting point for professionals and academics from any tradition to advance knowledge of music and sound in this important medium.

Below, the trailer for Xenoblade chronicles, a video game discussed in the inaugural issue.

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NPR’s April Fools’ Day hoaxes

On this April Fools’ Day we celebrate a resource that chronicles how National Public Radio (NPR) has annually planted a hoax in their programming each first day of April since the 1980s.

NPR’s April Fools’ Day hoaxes (RILM Abstracts 1925-86280) is an online collection of brief articles published by The Museum of Hoaxes. Music-related entries include Orchestra steroid scandal, Ring-tone rage, and Beethoven’s 10th symphony.

Above and below, Robin Olson’s appearance on NPR’s Tiny desk concert series on 1 April 2018.

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Philip Ewell: Erasing colorasure in American music theory, and confronting demons from our past

Photo by Pascal Perich

Introduction: Dr. Philip Ewell, Associate Professor of Music at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, posted a series of daily tweets during Black History Month (February 2021) providing information on some under-researched Black composers and musicians under the rubric Colorased. These tweets contain names and basic information about each neglected figure. In keeping with RILM’s mission to document and disseminate writings about music, we wanted to preserve and share these tweets, and asked Dr. Ewell if he would be willing to re-post them, along with some text framing his project, here on RILM’s blog. 

We are delighted that Dr. Ewell accepted our invitation. Below are his text and his Colorased tweets. RILM Assistant Editor Michael Lupo has added the number of times (if any) the names are represented in each of RILM’s resources as of this date to aid further research. (Where a product is not listed, it means the name was not present at all.) The dearth of references highlights the fact that more research is needed. We hope this proves to be fodder for the scholarly music community.

-Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie, Executive Director, RILM

This past Black History Month, 2021, I undertook a Twitter project, Erasing colorasure in American music theory. In the history of American music theory, and American classical music, Whiteness has consistently erased nonWhiteness from existence as unimportant in a process I call colorasure, which I based on Kate Manne’s useful concept of herasure when the same happens with women.1 In order to shine a light on notable colorased Black musicians, every February morning I sent out a tweet of a Black African musical figure, usually American, who has been colorased by American music theory—this list of 28 figures appears at the end of this post. 

Many such figures are now being (re)discovered. While some are more famous—e.g., Joseph Bologne, Scott Joplin, Yusef Lateef, Vicente Lusitano, Charles Mingus, Florence Price, or George Russell (none of whom I listed for Erasing colorasure)—others never broke through. Importantly, Black women have been both colorased and herased from existence, which has made it nearly impossible for them to break through in the history of American classical music.

Of the many hundreds of important Black musical figures out there, I tried to stick with music theorists and composers who may have been of interest to American music theory, had American music theory ever truly been interested in Blackness. This public music-theory project followed in the footsteps of pioneer scholars who know infinitely more about these figures than I do, scholars such as Samuel Floyd, Tammy Kernodle, Horace Maxile, Emmett Price, and Eileen Southern, and many others, and I was deeply indebted to such scholars with this simple project.2 

Two aspects of Erasing colorasure need to be highlighted, one easier to absorb, one harder. One simple reason that Erasing colorasure was lauded both on Twitter and Facebook, and elsewhere as well, is that the addition of Black musicians to our general music conversation, and to any American music curriculum, does not really threaten the White-cisgender-male power structure of the field in 2021—this structure remains intact and, more important, in control. Consequently, White-male power in academic music actually loves this type of work. This easier unthreatening work generally falls under the rubric of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI), which is now being strongly emphasized in music institutions across the country.

The harder aspect relates to what I call the “three legs” of American music theory’s stool, namely, Whiteness, maleness, and cisnormativity. Examining and exposing how and why White cisgender men, both subconsciously and, frankly, consciously, colorased Blackness and other forms of nonWhiteness from the conversation is what represents true antiracist work in the academic study of music. This much harder work relates to how and why those Black composers and musicians were colorased to begin with. The work is arduous, and exhausting, but ultimately rewarding and emancipating. However, this work directly challenges and threatens the White-cisgender-male power structure of what we do in the United States as musicians, and this is why true antiracist work in academic music is often met with angry, bullying, and gaslighting responses.3

In a response to a 20-minute lecture that I gave in November 2019, music theorist Timothy Jackson wrote:

“As for Black composers, they have had to overcome unbelievable prejudice and hardships, yet there have been many talented and technically competent Black composers in the past hundred years. We can certainly listen to their music with pleasure, even if they are not ‘supreme geniuses’ on the level of the very greatest classical composers.”4

With this jarring statement, Jackson was only saying out loud what, sadly, many senior colleagues still believe: that the musical work by Blacks and Blackness exists, overall, on an inferior level to that of the so-called “masterpieces” by the “supreme geniuses” of the White Western canon. Clearly, in Jackson’s interpretation the 28 musicians I name below from Erasing colorasure, though “competent”, would not qualify as “supreme geniuses” like the composers—Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, etc.—of the White Western canon.

To underscore his belief in Black inferiority, Jackson alleged that I, Philip Ewell, am “uninterested in bringing Blacks up to ‘standard’ so they can compete.”5 I suppose Jackson is correct in one sense—I am uninterested in bringing Blacks up to standard, but our reasoning is quite different. I believe that Blacks, Whites, and all other races are on the same standard, and thus Blacks need no bringing up to begin with, while Jackson clearly believes that Blacks are substandard, and that Blacks, and other nonWhites one presumes, should aspire to Whiteness.

In a fallacy of White supremacy, and of antiBlackness in the case of Erasing colorasure I hasten to add, music of the White Western canon is still thought to be superior to other nonWhite musics of the world. Perhaps most important, Timothy Jackson only wrote down that which many senior figures in music theory, and in academic music, actually believe. Many have tried to cleave themselves from the egregious antiBlack statements that appear in Jackson’s now infamous response, and in the other antiBlack responses in the symposium in Volume 12 of the Journal of Schenkerian studies, but his comments actually represent deep-seated beliefs held by the field of American music theory itself since its inception in the 1960s.6 That is, Jackson’s musical beliefs are not at all uncommon among senior music theorists, musicians, and music pedagogues in our American music institutions. To argue otherwise would be less than candid.

Happily, there are strong currents in the academic study of music in our country that are countering this fallacious and harmful belief in White-male musical superiority. Hardly a week goes by without another source or website being released by mid-career and junior scholars that counters academic music’s false belief in a meritorious White-male exceptionalism.7 These sources underscore the simple truth that music of the White-male Western canon—itself a mythological human construct meant, in very large part, to enshrine White-male dominance in the academic study of music in the U.S.—is not superior (nor inferior) to other musics of the world.8  These sources show the richness of the many musics of our planet for all to see. 

To be clear, there is far more activity in the realm of DEI in music, that is, the unthreatening additive activity that I describe above. There needs to be more honest antiracist appraisal with respect to how we got to where we are in the academic study of music in our country, one in which the “core” of study still sits squarely on the exclusionist three-legged White-cis-male stool of academic music, one in which assimilating to White-cis-male beliefs, methods, and mythologies remains paramount. Both paths, that of DEI and of antiracism/antisexism, are important to pursue but, currently, DEI work is far more common, for obvious reasons. It is my hope that the harder path of antiracism/antisexism, especially, is pursued with an even greater intensity in the near future, which will help everyone understand that all musics of our world are worthy of our consideration, in the classroom, on the concert stage, and beyond. 

Erasing Colorasure in American Music Theory: Twitter Project, Black History Month, 20219

1. Colorased 1: John T. Douglass (1847–86), violinist, composer. Born in U.S. of slave mother. Studied in Dresden with Eduard Rapoldi, and in Paris. Composed three-act Virginia’s ball, premiered Stuyvesant Institute, 1868, probably the first opera by an African American composer. Taught David Mannes violin, NY, 1870s. Also a pianist, cellist, guitarist. 

Items about John T. Douglass in:

  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 1

2. Colorased 2: Julia Perry (1924–79), composer, educator. Studied at Westminster Choir College, also with N. Boulanger and L. Dallapiccola in France/Italy. Awarded Boulanger Grand Prix for her Viola Sonata. Composed four operas, 12 symphonies, concertos, etc. Received two Guggenheims. 

Items about Julia Perry in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 7
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 13
  • Index to Printed Music: 7

3. Colorased 3: Valerie Capers (b. 1935), pianist, composer. Father was a professional jazz pianist. Blind since the age of six. Got BA and MA degrees from Juilliard, where she was the first blind graduate. Formed her own trio and in 1966 recorded her first jazz album, Portrait in soul. 

Items about Valerie Gail Capers in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 3
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 6
  • Index to Printed Music: 7 

4. Colorased 4: José White Lafitte (1836–1918), composer, violinist. From Cuba, concertized with L.M. Gottschalk. Studied at the Paris Conservatory, Grand Prize winner, 1856. Owner of the “Swansong” Stradivarius. Composed some 30 works, including the F#-minor concerto, recorded by Rachel B. Pine, 1997. 

Items about José White Lafitte in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 10

5. Colorased 5: George Walker (1922–2018), composer. First African American to win a Pulitzer Prize (Lilacs, 1996). First Black graduate of the Curtis Institute (1945), First Black doctorate from the Eastman (1955). Nearly 100 compositions, symphonies, concertos, songs, piano, etc. Studied at Fontainebleau, 1947. 

Items about George Theophilus Walker in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 89
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 44
  • Index to Printed Music: 4

6. Colorased 6: Undine Smith Moore (1904–89), professor, composer, music theorist. Attended Fisk U, Juilliard, Columbia (MA), and workshops at Eastman. In 1969, cofounded Black Music Center at Virginia State College, and wrote music theory textbook featuring music by Black composers. 

Items about Undine Smith Moore in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 16
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 13
  • Index to Printed Music: 10

7. Colorased 7: Horace Boyer (1935–2009), professor, music theorist. Published more than 40 articles in major journals. His 1973 Eastman music theory PhD on Black church music may be the first such PhD awarded to African American Black. Theory professor for 26 years at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 

Items about Horace Clarence Boyer in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 41
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 60

8. Colorased 8: Zenobia Powell Perry (1908–2004), professor, composer. BA Tuskegee Institute, 1938, MA Colorado St. College, 1945. Piano studies with Robert Dett. Composition studies with Darius Milhaud, Charles Jones. Faculty/composer at Central St. University, Ohio, 1955–82. Opera, Tawawa house, 1985. 

Items about Zenobia Powell Perry in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 7
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 6
  • Index to Printed Music: 2

9. Colorased 9: Henry Williams (1813–1903), violinist, composer, educator. Played with Francis Johnson’s band in Philadelphia. Composed Lauriette, 1840, and Parisian Waltzes, 1854. Member of the National Peace Jubilee Orchestra in Boston, 1872. 

Items about Henry F. Williams in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 3
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 5
  • Index to Printed Music: 7

10. Colorased 10: Margaret Bonds (1913–72), pianist, educator, composer. Composition studies with Florence Price. BM/MM Northwestern (1933–34). Juilliard comp studies with Roy Harris, Emerson Harper. Theater/song composer, collaborated with Langston Hughes. First Black to perform with Chicago Symphony Orchestra. 

Items about Margaret Bonds in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 27
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 15
  • Index to Printed Music: 12

11. Colorased 11: William Marion Cook (1869–1944), composer, violinist, conductor. Studied violin, Oberlin. Studied composition with A. Dvořák, 1894–95. Studied violin, Berlin Hochschule, with Heinrich Jacobson and Joseph Joachim. Composed/staged many Broadway musicals in New York City. 

Items about Will Marion Cook in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 68
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 53
  • Index to Printed Music: 4
  • MGG Online: 1

12. Colorased 12: Carl Rossini Diton (1886–1962), pianist, composer, educator. Graduated University of Pennsylvania, 1909. Studied in Munich, Germany, 1910–11. Certificate, voice, Juilliard, 1931. Taught at Paine College, Wiley University, and Talladega College (1911–18). Accompanied Marian Anderson and Jules Bledsoe. 

Items about Carl Diton in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 3
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 12
  • Index to Printed Music: 1

13. Colorased 13: Calvin Bernard Grimes (1939–2011), professor, music theorist. 1974 University of Iowa music theory PhD, “American musical periodicals, 1819–52: Music theory and musical thought in the U.S.” Chair, Division Dean, Music Theory Professor, Morehouse College (his alma mater, ’62). Choir director. 

Items about Calvin Bernard Grimes in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 1

14. Colorased 14: Francis Johnson (1792–1844), composer, bandleader, bugler, violinist. Collection of new cottillions, 1818. Wrote more than 200 compositions. First African American composer to have music published as sheet music. Active in Philadelphia. 

Items about Francis Johnson in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 28
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 29
  • Index to Printed Music: 53

15. Colorased 15: Joseph Douglass (1871–1935), violinist, conductor, educator. Grandson of Frederick Douglass. First violinist to record for Victor recordings. Studied at Boston Conservatory. First Black violinist to tour Europe. Taught at Howard University. 

Items about Joseph Douglass in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 1
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 11

16. Colorased 16: Mary Lou Williams (1910–81), composer, educator. Guggenheims 1972 and 1977. Taught at Duke University, 1977–81. Wrote hundreds of compositions. Worked with and/or mentored most jazz greats of the twentieth century. Wrote Zodiac suite, Mary Lou’s Mass, and Black Christ of the Andes

Items about Mary Lou Williams in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 110
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 31
  • Index to Printed Music: 15
  • MGG Online: 1

17. Colorased 17: Roland Wiggins (1932–2019), professor, music theorist. PhD, Combs College of Music. Studied with V. Persichetti, H. Cowell. Taught J. Coltrane, T. Monk, Y. Lateef, B. Taylor. Used Schillinger System. Director Center for Aesthetics, University of Massachusetts. Professor at Hampshire College and University of Virginia. 

There are no items about Roland Wiggins in any RILM product.

18. Colorased 18: Olly Wilson (1937–2018), composer, pianist, musicologist. BM, Washington University, St. Louis; MM, composition, University of Illinois; PhD University of Iowa (1964). Taught Florida A&M, Oberlin, UC-Berkeley. Commissions by Chicago and Boston symphonies and NY Philharmonic. Guggenheim, 1971. Rome Prize, 2008. 

Items about Olly Woodrow Wilson, Jr. in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 50
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 14
  • MGG Online: 1

19. Colorased 19: Harry Lawrence Freeman (1869–1954), composer. Composed 23 operas, the first of which, Epthelia, was premiered in New York in 1891. Papers housed at Columbia University. Unpublished manuscript entitled The negro in music and drama. Wrote of other Black composers as “our musical cousins”. 

Items about Harry Lawrence Freeman in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 6
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 4

20. Colorased 20: Jewel Thompson (b. 1935), professor, music theorist, Hunter College CUNY. PhD, Music Theory, Eastman, 1981, “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: The development of his compositional style”. Probably first African American woman to earn music theory PhD in U.S., and likely first music theory dissertation on a Black composer. 

Items about Jewel Thompson in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 4

21. Colorased 21: Clarence Cameron White (1880–1960), violinist, composer. Studied at Oberlin, Howard University, and with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in London. Compositions include a violin concerto, operas, and ballets. Composed the opera Ouanga!, 1932.

Items about Clarence Cameron White in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 9
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 6

22. Colorased 22: James Reese Europe (1881–1919), composer, bandleader. In 1910, organized Clef Club Orchestra, first group to play early jazz at Carnegie Hall. Played music solely by Black composers. Europe’s orchestra included Will Marion Cook. 

Items about James Reese Europe in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 65
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 29
  • Index to Printed Music: 2
  • MGG Online: 1

23. Colorased 23: Hazel Harrison (1883–1969), pianist. Studied with Hugo van Dalen in Berlin, soloed with the Berlin Philharmonic and performed recitals there. Also studied with Ferruccio Busoni. Taught at Tuskegee Institute and Howard University. 

Items about Hazel Harrison in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 6
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 8

24. Colorased 24: Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943), professor, composer, pianist. Performed at Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Hall as pianist and choir director. Studied at Oberlin, with A. Foote at Harvard (1920–21), and N. Boulanger at Fontainebleau (1929). MM, Eastman, 1932. 

Items about Robert Nathaniel Dett in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 73
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 28
  • Index to Printed Music: 46
  • MGG Online: 1

25. Colorased 25: Dorothy Rudd (b. 1940), composer, educator. Cofounder of Society of Black Composers. Graduated Howard University, 1963, Studies with N. Boulanger, Paris, 1963. Chamber works, symphony, song cycles, and three-act opera Frederick Douglass (1985). 

Items about Dorothy Rudd Moore in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 8
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 10
  • Index to Printed Music: 2

26. Colorased 26: Lucius Wyatt (b. 1938), professor, music theorist. 1973 Eastman PhD, “The mid-twentieth-century orchestral variation, 1953–1963”. Former chair, music department, Prairie View A&M. Director Prairie View Symphonic Band. Published more than 25 articles in major journals. Director of bands at Tuskegee University. 

Items about Lucius Wyatt in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 11
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 7

27. Colorased 27: Hale Smith (1925–2009), composer, pianist. BM/MM, Cleveland Institute of Music. Compositions include band, choir, orchestra, chamber, and song. Taught at Long Island University and University of Connecticut, Storrs. Honorary Doctorate, Cleveland Institute of Music, 1988. Worked with Eric Dolphy, D. Gillespie, and others. 

Items about Hale Smith in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 28
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 13
  • Index to Printed Music: 4

28. Colorased 28: Kermit Moore (1929–2013), cellist, conductor, composer. Studied Cleveland Institute of Music, Juilliard, NYU, Paris Conservatoire. Cello teachers: F. Salmond, P. Bazelaire, G. Piatigorsky, P. Casals. Composition with N. Boulanger. Conducting with S. Koussevitsky. Compositions include film scores and chamber music.

Items about Kermit Moore in:

  • RILM Abstracts of Music Literature: 5
  • RILM Music Encyclopedias: 10 

1 See Kate Manne, Down girl: The logic of misogyny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017) and Entitled: How male privilege hurts women (New York: Crown Publishers, 2020). 

2 See, for example, Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., International dictionary of Black composers (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999; RILM Abstracts 1999-5098); Tammy L. Kernodle, Horace J. Maxile, Jr., and Emmett G. Price, III, eds., Encyclopedia of African American music (Santa Barbara: Greenwood, 2010; RILM Abstracts 2011-1135); and Eileen Southern, Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982; RILM Abstracts 1982-44).

3 The angry response from conservative forces in music theory to my antiracist work in the field closely resembles the angry response from those same forces to the antisexist work by Susan McClary in her landmark Feminine endings: Music, gender, and sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1991; RILM Abstracts 1991-2755). I am proud to be mentioned in the same breath as a pioneer such as McClary.

4 Timothy L. Jackson, “A preliminary response to Ewell”, Journal of Schenkerian studies XII (2020) 165; RILM Abstracts with Full Text 2019-20465. 

5 Jackson, 163.

6 For more on the controversy that this volume issue instigated, see the “Media” tab of my website, philipewell.com, where I have linked many feature stories that explain some of the issues surrounding this controversy.

 7 See, for example, Black opera research network (blackoperaresearch.net); Composers of Color Resource Project (composersofcolor.hcommons.org); Cora S. Palfy and Eric Gilson, “The hidden curriculum in the music theory classroom”, Journal of music theory pedagogy 32 (2018; RILM Abstracts 2018-52605); Dave Molk and Michelle Ohnona, “Promoting equity: Developing an antiracist music theory classroom”, New music box 29 January 2020 (https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/promoting-equity-developing-an-antiracist-music-theory-classroom/); ÆPEX Contemporary Performance (http://aepexcontemporary.org); Engaged music theory (engagedmusictheory.com); Music by Black composers (musicbyblackcomposers.org); Institute for Composer Diversity (composerdiversity.com); Expanding the music theory canon (expandingthemusictheorycanon.com); Project spectrum (projectspectrummusic.com); Rachel Lumsden and Jeffrey Swinkin, eds., The Norton guide to teaching music theory (W. W. Norton & Company, 2018; RILM Abstracts 2018-52608); and Robin D. Moore, ed., College music curricula for a new century (Oxford University Press, 2017; RILM Abstracts 2017-25093). Finally, see Rosa Abrahams, Philip Ewell, Aaron Grant, and Cora S. Palfy, The practicing music theorist, a new modernized and inclusive undergraduate music theory textbook (W.W. Norton, projected release 2023).

8 For more on the many mythologies of “Western civilization”, see Kwame Anthony Appiah, “There is no such thing as Western civilization”, The guardian, November 9, 2016.

9 I’ve written out the many abbreviations I used in my original tweets here. 

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Béla Bartók, entomologist

Béla Bartók is renowned as one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers and as one of the founders of ethnomusicology. Less known is his love of animals, particularly his fascination with insects.

When he was a child he bred silkworms, and later he systematically collected insects, assembling a beautiful assortment. His son Béla Jr. recalled helping him with this hobby. “The most important instruction that he gave…was that no pain whatsoever was to be inflicted on the animals. And so he always took the appropriate drug with him on his insect-collecting expeditions. The insects, therefore, died and came into his collection without any suffering.”

This according to “The private man” by Béla Bartók, Jr. (as translated by Judit Rácz), which is included in The Bartók companion (London: Faber & Faber, 1993; RILM Abstracts 1993-4867).

Today is Bartók’s 140th birthday! Above, a watercolor caricature of him as an insect enthusiast by his cousin Ervin Voit. Below, his “Mese a kis légyrõl” (From the diary of a fly, Mikrokosmos, BB 105, Sz. 107, VI/142).

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Animals, Nature, Science

The Bristol sessions

In the summer of 1927 a group of musicians gathered for a recording session in Bristol, on the Tennessee-Virginia border, including musicians who would become some of the most influential names in American music—the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Stoneman, and more.

Organized by Ralph Peer for Victor Records to capitalize on the popularity of “hillbilly” music, the Bristol sessions were a key moment in country music’s evolution, producing the first commercial recordings by these artists.

The musicians played a variety of styles largely endemic to the Appalachian region. Rather than attempting to record purely traditional sounds, however, Peer sought a combination of musical elements, an amalgam that would form the backbone of modern country music. The reverberations of the Bristol sessions are still felt, yet their influence is widely misunderstood, and popular accounts of the event are more legend than history.

This according to The Bristol sessions: Writings about the big bang of country music (Jefferson: McFarland, 2005; RILM Abstracts 2005-19593).

Below, all four tracks from the Carter Family’s Bristol session.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

The female harp

The harp in its winged-maiden form was the standard symbol of Ireland in the eighteenth century, and with the rise of Romantic nationalism the harp was increasingly personified as a female symbol of Ireland and her struggle for political independence.

The iconography of the harp in the context of the United Irishmen of the 1790s formed the basis for the Romanticization of the harp symbol and the female personification of Erin (Ireland) in the poetry of Thomas Moore. While more realistic forms of the Irish harp emerge in nationalist iconography of the nineteenth century, Moore’s imagery inspired paintings and other illustrations of the harp as a woman by artists including Robert Fagan and Daniel Maclise.

This according to “The female harp: The Irish harp in 18th- and early–19th-century Romantic nationalism” By Barra Boydell (RIdIM/RCMI newsletter XX/1 [spring 1995] 10–17; RILM Abstracts 1995-5656).

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Above, Maclise’s The origin of the harp (1842), inspired by Moore’s poem of the same name. Below, Michelle Mulcahy plays The mountains of Pomeroy, Martin Hardiman’s jig, andThe lark on the strand on the Irish harp.

Related article: The female accordion.

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Filed under Iconography, Instruments, Politics, Romantic era

Telemann’s wit

Georg Philipp Telemann’s ability to produce high-quality works at lightning speed is well known; less remembered today is his mischievous sense of humor. He was known among his friends for writing wickedly clever satirical verses and playing musical practical jokes, as he once did with a cantor from a nearby village.

Seeking to aggrandize himself, this cantor determined that he would honor a certain festival day by performing a new sacred work by the local master. He repeatedly requested that Telemann write something for him and his choir, and, knowing that their musicianship was decidedly inferior, the composer repeatedly declined. At last the cantor made such a pest of himself that Telemann told him that he and a few friends would arrive with the new work for a rehearsal before the performance.

On the appointed day the composer handed the new work—a treacherously difficult fugue—to the cantor, whispering to his friends “Now the thieves shall confess their sins.” The singers proceeded to produce a dismal, discordant rendition as they unknowingly made fun of themselves. Telemann had set the line “Wir können nichts wider den Herrn reden” (We cannot speak against the Lord) in such a way that the hapless singers were “confessing” their ineptitude by repeating the words “Wir können nichts” (We cannot)!

The composer laughed heartily. “That certainly won’t do” he said. “Let’s see how we can remedy this.” He then took out a different composition, and he and his friends performed it—both saving the day and humiliating the presumptuous cantor.

This according to “Images of Telemann: Narratives of reception in the composer’s anecdote, 1750–1830” by Steven Zohn (The journal of musicology XXI/4 [2005] 459–486; RILM Abstracts 2004-6402).

Today is Telemann’s 340th birthday! Below, a merry bit of tone-painting—“Postillion” from his Tafelmusik.

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Iberian women and square frame drums

The Iberian double-skinned square frame drum known as the adufe, the pandeiro quadrado (Portuguese), or the pandera cuadrado (Spanish) is played almost exclusively by women, and is a legacy from the medieval period.

While Spanish and Portuguese women play various round-frame drums, the square drum has particular roles in several aspects of secular, religious, and ritual life. The songs women sing while playing the drum reflect their thoughts, concerns, and circumstances.

This according to “‘This drum I play’: Women and square frame drums in Portugal and Spain” by Judith R. Cohen (Ethnomusicology forum XVII/1 [June 2008] 95–124; RILM Abstracts 2008-2708).

Today is International Women’s Day! Below, Vanesa Muela demonstrates.

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Filed under Europe, Instruments, Women's studies

Halim El-Dabh, electronic music pioneer

 

After earning a degree in agricultural engineering in Cairo, Halim El-Dabh traveled to outlying Egyptian villages to assist with agricultural development projects. During these visits he became increasingly drawn to traditional music and dance.

Fascinated by the possibilities of manipulating sound, he borrowed a wire recorder from a Cairo radio station and began recording folk songs, religious rites, and vendors’ cries in the city’s streets. The experience gave rise to an early electronic composition using his recording of the zaar, a traditional exorcism ritual, which he manipulated in the studio.

“I was carving sound,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 1974. “I used noise like I would a piece of stone”.

That work, later released as Wire recorder piece, was well-received, and became one of the catalysts for El-Dabh’s decision to pursue a career as a composer. In the late 1950s he became associated with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, a hotbed of sonic ferment.

This according to “Halim El-Dabh, composer of Martha Graham ballets, dies at 96” by Margalit Fox (The New York times 8 September 2017).

Today would have been El-Dabh’s 100th birthday! Above, a photo by Robert Christy (Kent State University; used with permission); below, Leiyla and the poet, which brought him international recognition in the early 1960s.

BONUS: An excerpt from Wire recorder piece, often cited as the earliest example of musique concrete.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music