Author Archives: rilm

Poe’s concertina

Joseph Holbrooke’s The bells, op. 50(a), a “dramatic poem” scored for large orchestra and chorus and inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s poem by the same name, is highly onomatopoeic and describes the sound, function, and effect of four types of bells: sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells, and funeral bells. A concertina is heard in two sections of the piece: the prelude (section 1) and Iron bells (section 5).

The composer, who had a “lifelong affection for concertinas”, recalled how the instrument was almost cut from the work’s 1906 premiere:

“While I was having my Poem for Orchestra and Chorus, The bells, performed in London under Hans Richter, the eminent conductor noticed that there was a part written for a concertina. ‘Concertina! Concertina!’ said Richter, ‘What is that?’ I explained to him that it was a peculiar instrument like a bellows, played by hand. ‘We cannot have that’ said Richter. ‘There is no instrument like that here.’ I found one, however, and Conductor Richter placed it away back where it could not possibly be heard. But at the concert I saw to it that the concertina player sat directly in front of the conductor.”

This according to “The concertina and The bells” by Eric Matusewitch (Concertina world 488 [December 2021] 17–24). Below, the work’s first movement.

More posts about concertinas are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Romantic era

The book of Requiems

In 2022 Leuven University Press launched The book of Requiems, a chronologically arranged multivolume series that gathers essays—each written by a leading expert—on the most musically and historically important Requiems in Western music history, from the origins of the genre up to the present day. The series will provide an authoritative reference intended as a first port of call for musicologists, music theorists, and performers both professional and student.

Each essay is devoted to a specific Requiem, and offers historical information and a detailed but accessible work discussion. Volume I treats the Requiem’s liturgical and chant background, the craft of early Requiem composition, and eight of the earliest composed Requiems, from ca. 1450 to ca. 1550.

Below, Johannes Ockeghem’s Missa pro defunctis, the first work featured in the inaugural volume.

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A transatlantic decolonization anthem

Written and recorded in 1975 by the Angolan popular singer António Sebastião Vicente (Santocas), Valódia is derived from African praise songs, with their characteristic heroic laudatory epithets. The song demonstrates the timeless quality of such praise songs, as it turns a young soldier into a socialist hero.

Traditional African poets served as both praise singers and court historians, and their successors are in the vanguard of political song movements. Santocas’s lyrics capture the essence of the fallen subject, who fought against neocolonialism, capitalism, and imperialism.

When Valódia was recorded by the Cuban singer Beatriz Márquez it became a transatlantic anthem advocating sociopolitical and economic change framed by communist doctrine, advancing an agenda of decolonization that still lingers over the destinies of both Angola and Cuba.

This according to “Valódia: A transatlantic praise song” by Jorge Luis Morejón-Benitez, an essay included in Indigenous African popular music. I: Prophets and philosophers (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 303–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-2996).

Below, the original recordings.

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Filed under Africa, Central America, Curiosities, Politics, Popular music

Stravinsky mashups

As Stravinsky circulates in the digital age, his work is valorized in the context of digital transformation—a phenomenon reflected in YouTube mashups.

The composer’s iconic Le sacre du printemps provides a rich basis for such tributes; examples include Beyonce in “Dance of the Single Young Girls” by Igor Stravinsky (posted by Stephen Rathjen on 29 March 2015), Stravinsky meets Steely Dan (FM/Rite of Spring mashup) (posted on 20 June 2021 by the English guitarist Howard Wright), and Adam Neely’s 31 March 2017 All Star, but its the rite of spring by igor stravinsky.

These mashups highlight the ways in which pre-existing content from two sources is amalgamated in the form of hybridization (the very idea of a mashup)—for example, in the crossing between Stravinsky and Beyoncé or Steely Dan or Smash Mouth, all unlikely encounters that show an interest in the flagship ballet of the musical avant-garde and the search for stylistic fusion. The originality of the gesture lies in the choice of Le sacre du printemps and the ensuing process of desacralization.

Above, a Cubist mashup portrait of Stravinsky by Albert Gleizes from 1914, the year after Le sacre’s premiere (WikiArt, public domain); below, the video mashups in question.

More articles about Stravinsky are here.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Humor, Reception

Lucia’s cadenza

In the final act of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is forced to marry Arturo, murders him, and promptly goes insane. In the modern tradition, as exemplified by Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas (above), the mad Lucia sings a cadenza accompanied by a flute, in which the instrument takes on the mantle of a ghostly Doppelgänger. Donizetti’s original written cadenza, however, is little more than a short ornament to be sung in one breath on the dominant chord.

The first Lucia, Fanny Tacchinardi-Persiani, probably improvised her own version in performance using the skeletal guide provided by the composer, and developed a cadenza to be sung in two breaths instead of one.

At some point during the second half of the 19th century a new way of executing this cadenza appeared: with obbligato flute. This practice must have drawn upon the composer’s use of an obbligato flute that faithfully follows the soprano in thirds and sixths during the moments leading up to the cadenza. Donizetti had originally indicated the eerie sound of the glass harmonica here, but he had to recast the line for flute following a dispute between the theater and the intended glass harmonica player.

The earliest surviving Lucia/flute cadenza has been attributed to Mathilde Marchesi, who composed a version for her protégé Nellie Melba; when Melba performed Lucia for the first time at the Paris Opéra in 1889 the flutist in the orchestra was Paul Taffanel, who may have assisted in the cadenza’s composition. However, there were at least three singers who executed their own voice/flute cadenzas earlier: Christina Nilsson, Ilma de Murska, and Emma Albani; Nilsson’s cadenza was composed by Luigi Arditi.

The flute-accompanied cadenza marked an important shift in the performance practice of the Lucia role. Being a duet, it could no longer serve as a spontaneous display of the soprano’s vocal virtuosity—it became a preconceived and well-rehearsed collaboration in a more complex form.

This according to “Manacled freedom: Nineteenth-century vocal improvisation and the flute-accompanied cadenza in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor” by Naomi Matsumoto, an essay included in Beyond notes: Improvisation in Western music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Turnhout: Brepols 2011, 295–316; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-15429).

Below, some historical versions of Lucia’s cadenza.

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera, Performance practice

Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries

In 2022 the Amsterdam University Press launched Beiaard- en klokkencultuur in de Lage Landen/Carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries, a bilingual annual journal that publishes editorial board-reviewed articles on the subject of carillon and bell culture in the Low Countries and related material and immaterial heritage.

These articles form the output of academic and artistic research in the areas of history, musicology, sociology, anthropology, historically informed performance practice, heritage, cultural sciences, and campanology. Although the main focus is on the Low Countries, contributions on carillon and bell culture in other countries will also be considered for publication.

Below, Koen Cosaert performs on the carillon at the Beiaardschool “Jef Denyn”, the subject of an article in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under Europe, Instruments, New periodicals

Luiz Gonzaga and traditional ecological knowledge

The Brazilian recording star Luiz Gonzaga made a career of singing about the drought-plagued northeastern Brazil countryside, where he is still revered as emblematic of the region.

For individuals who predict the weather based on natural patterns in the northeastern backlands, Gonzaga’s music continues to lend credibility, clarity, and local significance to the practice known as rain prophecy.

For example, his Acauã clearly conveys the meaning of the laughing falcon’s cry for the region’s inhabitants: it augurs and “invites” drought. “In the joy of the rainy season/sing the river frog, the tree frog, the toad/but in the sorrow of drought/you hear only the acauã.” The song ends with Gonzaga mimicking the bird’s call, evoking a sound that arouses powerful emotions in the region’s inhabitants.

When northeastern rain prophets cite Gonzaga’s songs, they add credibility to their own expertise, framing it in a context that most Brazilians can comprehend. Enhanced by his national fame and legendary status, Gonzaga’s voice continues to play a significant role in the maintenance of traditional ecological knowledge.

This according to “Birdsong and a song about a bird: Popular music and the mediation of traditional ecological knowledge in northeastern Brazil” by Michael B. Silvers (Ethnomusicology LIX/3 [fall 2015] 380–97).

Today is Gonzaga’s 110th birthday! Above, Gonzaga performing in the traditional costume of the northeastern rancheiros, in 1957 (Arquivo Nacional, public domain); below, his 1952 recording of Acauã.

BONUS: Gonzaga performs Acauã in a film intended for television broadcast. In his introduction he compares the local significance of the laughing falcon’s call with that of the purple-throated euphonia, which heralds rain.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Popular music, South America

Barry & Claire Brook’s excellent incipit adventure

The practice of using music incipits for identifying compositions occupies an important place among the many musicological research tools that Barry S. Brook conceived. “The thematic index derives its superiority over non-thematic lists because it can not only arrange a body of music in a systematic order,” he wrote, “but it provides, at the same time, positive identification in a minimum of space and symbols. It does so by the use of the incipit, or musical citation of the opening notes. For most music, an incipit of no more than a dozen pitches is required. When rhythmic values accompany the pitches, the incipit’s uniqueness quotient is astonishingly high” (Notes, 29/3, 1973).

He promoted this idea through the publication of facsimile editions of The Breitkopf thematic calagoue (1967) and The Ringmacher catalogue (1773; 1987); he organized the index to his edition The symphony, 1720–1840 (1986) in the form of a thematic catalogue; and he published the definitive catalogue of thematic catalogues (1973; 2nd ed. 1997). In 1970 he made a proposal for his Plaine and Easie Code, a computer-readable coding system for music incipits in modern or mensural notation, and when RISM initiated the cataloguing of manuscripts in the A/II series he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of the incipit in the bibliographic description of each work.

Brook’s enthusiasm for incipits was sparked when he was writing his dissertation in Paris. His daily correspondence of 1958/59 with his wife Claire—whom he married only a few months before the trip to France—was full of notated incipits for works that he mentioned in his work, La symphonie française dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, and she patiently copied them and organized them in the thematic finder to be included with the final dissertation. His system of organizing incipits was a response to the index of eighteenth-century compositions that Jan LaRue was working on at the time, and the Dictionary of musical themes by Sam Morgenstern and Harold Barlow, both of which he found unsatisfactory.

In February of 1959 he told Claire in a letter about his thoughts for organizing the index:

“I think it will be number of #’s + ♭’s, with minor in with the majors since in some instances it is not immediately apparent from incipit if it is in minor; then subdivided into 2/4, 3/44/4, 3+6/8; then in alphabetical order note by note. If you run into LaRue you might ask him to explain his system—or even better ask him how he would do it if he were to start all over again….Then there is that crazy suggestion of Chailley, which he put very strongly, to transpose all themes into C and list them by letters alphabetically. — Take a look at appendix of Morgenstern-Barlow Dictionary of musical themes that we have and you’ll see what he wants. This looks like another big job for you. 

e.g. EFGGGGGGGGABGBA = Gossec #1
        GCCDGDDEGEEF = Gossec #2
        CDCGCDE♭F = Gossec #3” (15 February 1959).

A week later Barry returned to the topic and again asked Claire to have a talk with LaRue about how his finding system works, and whether or not he counted grace notes in alphabetizing. As LaRue was at the time still collecting incipits for his thematic identifier, he warned Claire not to reveal all that he was doing: “A little birdie keeps tweeting me about what Chailley said about keeping everything (i.e. finds) under wraps until after the thèse” (21 February 1959).

As Barry studied scores in Parisian libraries, he found more works that needed to be included in the finding aid for his thèse, and more incipits were included in his trans-Atlantic letters to Claire. Almost every letter he sent her in the late winter and spring of 1959 included a few handwritten incipits, a new consideration about their ordering, or a question about this or that detail.

A page of incipits sent to Claire on 14 March.

Replies from Claire included “just finished cutting a complete set of corrected insipids [sic], wrapped, stored, and next set ready to go” (19 April 1959), and “I refused to allow myself to sit down and write to you until the thematic index was cut and packed for mailing. A sort of external discipline—childish but effective. Just finished tying the string and lettering in the beloved name of my husband, and here I am” (27 March 1959). It seems that Claire worked on his dissertation in New York as hard as Barry did in Paris! It is impressive to see how they worked together on the intricate project of organizing the musical index of incipits, without having instant messaging, a possibility of online conversations in real time, and any other benefit of communications that we take for granted today.

At one point he was frustrated with difficulties in sorting incipits, and described to Claire his idea about an incipit box. Claire was confused by his eccentric idea and asked him to describe his concept better. In his second attempt he drew the design of the box along with his explanation of the concept: “Incipits are arranged in order in the box like file cards in a filing box or fiches in a fichier. Only the box is very flat—just high enough for the incipits to stand up in” (24 March 1959). As the deadline for submitting the dissertation was approaching fast, there was no time for constructing the box.

Brook’s drawing of the incipit box.

On 29 June the thesis—which included some 60 pages of incipits in addition to some 800 items that converted incipits to alphanumeric strings—was “delivered to [Jacques] Chailley at 5:30 in the afternoon”. This might have been one of the earliest dissertations that included such an extensive catalogue of incipits. A week after it was delivered, Claire landed in Paris for their belated honeymoon.

Above, one of Barry and Claire Brook’s wedding photographs from June 1958.

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Filed under From the archives, Musicologists, Musicology

Little Richard, “Architect of Rock & Roll”

“Little” Richard Wayne Penniman burst onto the American scene in 1955 with his mega-hit Tutti frutti, and went on to write the anti-rules and pour the concrete for the foundation of a new musical art form.

Dubbing himself “The Architect of Rock & Roll,” Little Richard had an incalculable impact on musicians and singers black and white with his wild, flamboyant performances and outrageous costumes, which included sequined tuxedos, velvet capes, pancake make-up, eyeliner, and a six-inch pompadour hairdo.

He was one of the first artists to make the androgynous look popular, and his influence could be experienced in the music and performances of Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie—who all cited him as their inspiration.

But Little Richard also had demons he struggled with throughout his career: his complicated relationship with his sexual orientation, and its effect on his faith. He left secular music 18 months after his first hit to sing “for the Lord” in an effort to suppress his homosexuality; but four years later he was back on stage in London with The Beatles as his opening act, shaking his hips and singing Tutti frutti, a song that originated as a testament to gay sex.

This according to Awop bop aloo mop: Little Richard—A life of sex, drugs, rock & roll…and religion by Tina Andrews (New York: The Malibu Press, 2020; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-55689).

Today is Little Richard’s 90th birthday! Above, an uncredited photo from 1967; below, performing in 1957 (the year John Lennon met Paul McCartney around some of Little Richard’s songs).

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Louisa May Alcott’s musical leitmotif

Louisa May Alcott effectively depicted collective musical performances to affirm community in Little women; but more significantly, she used music to represent the feminine sphere as she and the culture of her time defined it.

Each sister’s acceptance of or entry into that domain is depicted through scenes of musical performance: “No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano; but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoilt the most pensive tune.”

Laurie, the rich boy next door, who is a talented pianist, must take the opposite path on his journey; his attainment of manhood is symbolically represented through the silencing of his musical voice.

In these and more ways, the musical leitmotif in Little Women tells us much about gender roles in American culture and about the limited choices facing both nineteenth-century American women and nineteenth-century American men.

This according to “Music as leitmotif in Louisa May Alcott’s Little women” by Colleen Reardon (Children’s literature XXIV [1996] 74-85; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-26449).

Today is Alcott’s 190th birthday! Below, Beth’s Christmas scene from the 1994 film.

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Filed under Literature, Women's studies