Category Archives: Romantic era

Instant Classics: RILM’s Top 10 Most Reviewed Texts, 2017–19

Reviews serve many valuable functions in music scholarship, from sparking critical discourse, to revealing topics of interest at a particular historical moment, to providing summaries and assessments for further inquiries, to shining a light on superlative (or, in some cases, substandard) research. Reviews collect and constitute interpretive communities, which arguably play a role in constructing the very meaning of a text.

In recognition of the importance of reviews, RILM inaugurates its Instant Classics series—a collection of the ten most-reviewed monographs indexed in the extensive international holdings of RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. The current list of books spans the two-year period from 2017 to 2019 and is ordered from least to most reviewed. Since it takes some time for texts to be assessed and reviews to be released, going back a few years provides a fuller and more accurate picture of a book in review.

This list is inherently limited, dynamic, and subject to continuous revision as more reviews potentially accrue for these and other texts. What we offer here is merely an inchoate snapshot, one that reflects the biases and areas of interest in music research at a specific time and place in history. With that in mind, it is also more than simply another “Top Ten” list, as it may hold a degree of historiographic value.

And finally, an important reminder: We need your help! RILM always welcomes your reviews or reviews of your publications. Notice an omission? Help us fill in our gaps by submitting your review.

– Compiled and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor and Marketing Coordinator, RILM

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#10. Wheeler, Barbara L., Donna W. Polen, and Carol L. Shultis. Clinical training guide for the student music therapist (2nd ed., rev.; Dallas: Barcelona, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-43779]

Abstract: Covers planning, assessment, goals and objectives, improvisation, composing, listening, individual and group work, documentation, and self-assessment.

#9. Borge, Jason R. Tropical riffs: Latin America and the politics of jazz (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-1970]

Abstract: This book traces how jazz helped forge modern identities and national imaginaries in Latin America during the mid-20th century. Across Latin America jazz functioned as a conduit through which debates about race, sexuality, nation, technology, and modernity raged in newspapers, magazines, literature, and film. For Latin American audiences, critics, and intellectuals—who often understood jazz to stem from social conditions similar to their own—the profound penetration into the fabric of everyday life of musicians like Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker represented the promises of modernity while simultaneously posing a threat to local and national identities. Brazilian anti-jazz rhetoric branded jazz as a problematic challenge to samba and emblematic of Americanization. In Argentina, jazz catalyzed discussions about musical authenticity, race, and national culture, especially in relation to tango. And in Cuba, the widespread popularity of Chano Pozo and Dámaso Pérez Prado challenged the United States’s monopoly on jazz. Outlining these hemispheric flows of ideas, bodies, and music, this book elucidates how the art form was, and remains, a transnational project and a collective idea.

#8. Chua, Daniel K.L. Beethoven & freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-28046]

Abstract: Over the last two centuries, Beethoven’s music has been synonymous with the idea of freedom, in particular a freedom embodied in the heroic figure of Prometheus. This image arises from a relatively small circle of heroic works from the composer’s middle period, most notably the Eroica symphony. However, the freedom associated with the Promethean hero has also come under considerable critique by philosophers, theologians, and political theorists; its promise of autonomy easily inverts into various forms of authoritarianism, and the sovereign will it champions is not merely a liberating force but a discriminatory one. Beethoven’s freedom, then, appears to be increasingly problematic; yet his music is still employed today to mark political events from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the attacks of 9/11. Even more problematic, perhaps, is the fact that this freedom has shaped the reception of Beethoven’s music to such an extent that we forget that there is another kind of music in his oeuvre that is not heroic, a music that opens the possibility of a freedom yet to be articulated or defined. By exploring the musical philosophy of Theodor W. Adorno through a wide range of the composer’s music, this book arrives at a markedly different vision of freedom. The author suggests that a more human and fragile concept of freedom can be found in the music that has less to do with the autonomy of the will and its stoical corollary than with questions of human relation, donation, and a yielding to radical alterity. This work makes a major and controversial statement by challenging the current image of Beethoven, and by suggesting an alterior freedom that can speak ethically to the 21st century.

#7. Talle, Andrew. Beyond Bach: Music and everyday life in the eighteenth century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-24136]

Abstract: Reverence for J.S. Bach’s music and its towering presence in our cultural memory have long affected how people hear his works. In his own time, however, Bach stood as just another figure among a number of composers, many of them more popular with the music-loving public. Eschewing the great composer style of music history, the book takes us on a journey that looks at how ordinary people made music in Bach’s Germany. The author focuses in particular on the culture of keyboard playing as lived in public and private. Ranging through a wealth of documents, instruments, diaries, account ledgers, and works of art, he brings a fascinating cast of characters to life. These individuals—amateur and professional performers, patrons, instrument builders, and listeners—inhabited a lost world, and this book teases out the diverse roles music played in their lives and in their relationships with one another. At the same time, the author’s nuanced recreation of keyboard playing’s social milieu illuminates the era’s reception of Bach’s immortal works. An excerpt is abstracted as RILM 2018-7846.

#6. Watt, Paul. Ernest Newman: A critical biography. Music in Britain, 1600–2000 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2017). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-24973]

Abstract: Ernest Newman (1868–1959) left an indelible mark on British musical criticism in a career spanning more than 70 years. His magisterial (a reprint of which is cited as RILM 1976-2951), published in four volumes between 1933 and 1946, is regarded as his crowning achievement, but Newman wrote many other influential books and essays on a variety of subjects ranging from early music to Schoenberg. In this book, the geneses of Newman’s major publications are examined in the context of prevailing intellectual trends in history, criticism, and biography. Newman’s career as a writer is traced across a wide range of subjects including English and French literature; evolutionary theory and biographical method; and French, German, and Russian music. Underpinning many of these works is Newman’s preoccupation with rationalism and historical method. By examining particular sets of writings such as composer-biographies and essays from leading newspapers such as the and the Manchester guardian and the Sunday times, this book illustrates the ways in which Newman’s work was grounded in late–19th-century intellectual paradigms that made him a unique and at times controversial figure.

#5. García, David F. Listening for Africa: Freedom, modernity, and the logic of Black music’s African origins (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017) [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-38670]

Abstract: Explores how a diverse group of musicians, dancers, academics, and activists engaged with the idea of Black music and dance’s African origins between the 1930s and 1950s. The author examines the work of figures ranging from Melville J. Herskovits, Katherine Dunham, and Asadata Dafora to Duke Ellington, Dámaso Pérez Prado, and others who believed that linking Black music and dance with Africa and nature would help realize modernity’s promises of freedom in the face of fascism and racism in Europe and the Americas, colonialism in Africa, and the nuclear threat at the start of the Cold War. In analyzing their work, the author traces how such attempts to link Black music and dance to Africa unintentionally reinforced the binary relationships between the West and Africa, white and black, the modern and the primitive, science and magic, and rural and urban. Counter to the movement’s goals, it was modernity’s determinations of unraced, heteronormative, and productive bodies, and of scientific truth, that helped defer the realization of individual and political freedom in the world.

#4. Tunbridge, Laura. Singing in the age of anxiety: Lieder performances in New York and London between the World Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-4190]

Abstract: In New York and London during World War I, the performance of lieder was roundly prohibited, representing as they did the music and language of the enemy. But as German musicians returned to the transatlantic circuit in the 1920s, so too did the lieder of Schubert, Wolf, and Strauss. Lieder were encountered in a variety of venues and media—at luxury hotels and on ocean liners, in vaudeville productions and at Carnegie Hall, and on gramophone recordings, radio broadcasts, and films. The renewed vitality of this refugee musical form between the World Wars is examined here, offering a fresh perspective on a period that was pervaded by anxieties of displacement. Through richly varied case studies, it traces how lieder were circulated, presented, and consumed in metropolitan contexts, shedding new light on how music facilitated unlikely crossings of nationalist and internationalist ideologies during the interwar period.

#3. Eidsheim, Nina Sun. The race of sound: Listening, timbre, and vocality in African American music. Refiguring American music (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-7187]

Abstract: Traces the ways in which sonic attributes that might seem natural, such as the voice and its qualities, are socially produced. The author illustrates how listeners measure race through sound and locate racial subjectivities in vocal timbre—the color or tone of a voice. The author examines singers Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, and Jimmy Scott as well as the vocal synthesis technology Vocaloid to show how listeners carry a series of assumptions about the nature of the voice and to whom it belongs. Outlining how the voice is linked to ideas of racial essentialism and authenticity, the author untangles the relationship between race, gender, vocal technique, and timbre while addressing an under-theorized space of racial and ethnic performance. In so doing, she advances our knowledge of the cultural-historical formation of the timbral politics of difference and the ways that comprehending voice remains central to understanding human experience, all the while advocating for a form of listening that would allow us to hear singers in a self-reflexive, denaturalized way.

#2. Kreuzer, Gundula. Curtain, gong, steam: Wagnerian technologies of nineteenth-century opera (Oakland: University of California Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-5417]

Abstract: Argues for the foundational role of technologies in the conception, production, and study of 19th-century opera. The author shows how composers increasingly incorporated novel audiovisual effects in their works and how the uses and meanings of the required apparatuses changed through the 20th century, sometimes still resonating in stagings, performance art, and popular culture today. Focusing on devices (which she dubs “Wagnerian technologies”) intended to amalgamate opera’s various media while veiling their mechanics, the author offers a practical counternarrative to Wagner’s idealist theories of total illusionism. At the same time, the book’s multifaceted exploration of the three titular technologies repositions Wagner as catalyst more than inventor in the history of operatic production. With its broad chronological and geographical scope, this book deepens our understanding of the material and mechanical conditions of historical operatic practice as well as of individual works, both well known and obscure.

#1. Iverson, Jennifer. Electronic inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War musical avant-garde. New cultural history of music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-1204]

Abstract: For a decimated post-War West Germany, the electronic music studio at the WDR radio station in Cologne was a beacon of hope. This book traces the reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio. 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 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.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Acoustics, Africa, Analysis, Baroque era, Classic era, Jazz and blues, Musicology, Opera, Opera, Politics, Popular music, Romantic era, Therapy

Donizetti studies

In 2021 Musicom launched Donizetti studies (ISSN 2785-0331; EISSN 2785-4140),  a peer-reviewed print and online journal whose scope is not limited to Donizetti, but extends to include Simon Mayr, the rich musical tradition of Bergamo, and, in general, Italian and French opera in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The journal’s format involves multiple sections: the first comprises original essays, the second presents unpublished or partially known documents, and the third takes on varying contents and forms, depending on needs. Also, the journal provides bibliographic materials that cover the most recent studies on Donizetti and his period.

Below, an excerpt from L’ange de Nisida, one of the works discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under New periodicals, Opera, Romantic era

Olympics and music: A brief history. I

The Beijing Winter Olympic Games have become one of the biggest hot spots in the world’s attention at the moment, and among musicians it is no exception. The Olympic Games and music have always been inextricably linked. In ancient Greek times, music was an essential part of the Olympics. The large crowds brought by the Olympics made it an ideal venue for musicians to perform as well. At the same time, many competitions were called by trumpeters to start.

For the modern Olympics, music is even more ubiquitous. Coubertin‘s Olympic ideology was directly inspired by the opera libretto L’Olimpiade; the Olympic Games from 1912 to 1948 included musical competitions and medals were awarded like sporting events; and today’s Olympic-related musical events are a constant source of cultural and commercial competition.

Let’s take a glimpse at the relationship between music and the Olympics through relevant literature included in RILM.

– Qian Mu, Editor, RILM

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  • Segrave, Jeffrey O. “Music as sport history: The special case of Pietro Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade and the story of the Olympic Games”, Sporting sounds: Relationships between sport and music, ed. by Anthony Bateman and John Bale (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2009) 113–127. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-1570]

Abstract: Pietro Metastasio’s popular 18th-century libretto L’Olimpiade publicized and transmitted a particular ideological and historicized conception of the Olympic Games that would ultimately contribute to the rationalization and legitimization of Pierre de Coubertin’s own idiosyncratic Olympic ideology, a philosophical religious doctrine that embraced a noble and honorable conception of sport at the same time as it served discrete class, race, and gendered ends. The hegemony of the contemporary Olympic Games movement is grounded in part on the appropriation of the classicism and Romanticism transmitted in Metastasio’s work. Musicological readings of opera, sociolinguistic conceptions of meaning, and postmodern social perspectives on material culture are addressed. Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade, in narrative, music, and production, sustained a particular image of the games, an image that nourished Coubertin’s own ideological formulation at the same time as it paved the way for further musical representations of the Games that to this day lend authority to the hegemony of the Olympics by appealing to a musically transmitted, mythologized, and Hellenized past.

  • Charkiolakīs, Alexandros. “Music in the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896: Cultural and social trends”, Mousikos logos 1 (January 2014) 51–64. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2014-4634]

Abstract: Music, without any doubt, has been one of the main features during both the opening ceremony and on the concert that was given in the end of the first day in the Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens. Actually, there were two new works commissioned for performance during that first day: the Olympiakos ymnos (Olympic hymn) by Spyridōn Samaras on a text of Kōstis Palamas and Pentathlon by Dionysios Lauragkas on poetry of Iōannīs Polemīs. Here, we show the cultural and social trends that are implied in these two works and are characteristic of the developing ideologies in Greece of that time. Furthermore, we emphasized our scope towards the impact that these two works had on the contemporary Athenian society of that time.

  • Segrave, Jeffrey O. “‘All men will become brothers’ (“Alle Menschen werden Bruder“): Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Olympic Games ideology”, Sport, music, identities, ed. by Anthony Bateman. Sport in the global society, contemporary perspectives (London: Routledge, 2015) 38–52. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-99]

Abstract: First performed in an Olympic context as part of the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has become a popular mainstay of modern Olympic protocol. Part of a ritualized entertainment spectacle that enhances the appeal and popularity of the Games, the Ninth Symphony elevates the prestige of the Games and helps to sustain the Olympic Movement’s political and commercial dominance within the panoply of institutionalized sport. It is argued here that the normalization of the Finale of the Ninth Symphony in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games not only transmits and reinforces the traditional Olympic ideology, but also reaffirms the ascendant hegemony of the Olympic movement within the world of elite international sport. This study is a critical reading of the Olympic musical ceremonial as a site of ideological production, especially as it pertains to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

  • Dümling, Albrecht. “Zwischen Autonomie und Fremdbestimmung: Die Olympische Hymne von Robert Lubahn und Richard Strauss”, Richard Strauss-Blätter 38 (Dezember 1997) 68–102. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1997-52827]

Abstract: When the Olympic Games were to be held in Berlin in 1936 Strauss was chosen as composer of an Olympic Hymn. Early in 1933 he agreed in principle, but on the condition that he was provided with an appropriate text. Four poems out of 3,000 entries were selected and sent on to Strauss with no mention of the poets’ names. He decided on a text, written by the hitherto unknown poet Robert Lubahn. Despite the favorable response of committees and German music critics, the belongs to Strauss’s weaker works.

  • Barney, Katelyn. “Celebration or cover up? My island home, Australian national identity and the spectacle of Sydney 2000″, Aesthetics and experience in music performance, ed. by Elizabeth Mackinlay, Denis Collins, and Samantha Owens (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2005) 141–150. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-18443]

Abstract: Addresses the conflicts and complexities inherent in musical statements of Australian national identity as represented by Neil Murray’s My island home and Christine Anu’s performance of it at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Her performance functioned simultaneously as a site for celebration of indigeneity and Australian national identity yet also as a concealment or cover-up of the social and political positioning of indigenous Australians within Australian history and contemporary society. As it celebrated localized Torres Strait Islander culture and identity as part of the Australian national imagination, it also concealed the realities of indigenous issues and race relations within Australia.

  • Newman, Melinda and Michael Paoletta. “Goodsports”, Billboard: The international newsweekly of music, video and home entertainment 118/5 (4 February 2006) 22–23. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-2393]

Abstract: Established stars including Andrea Bocelli, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, and Lou Reed, as well as new and developing acts like James Blunt, Switchfoot, Flipsyde, Morningwood, the Donnas, Rock ‘N Roll Soldiers, We Are Scientists, and OK Go are hoping for a career boost from their ties to the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. By using hip, under-the-radar acts, NBC hopes to connect with the much-coveted youth demographic. NBC uses music in four ways for the Olympics: network campaigns in advance of the Games; co-branding opportunities; features and interstitial footage broadcast during the athletic events; and nightly concerts.

  • Lawson, Francesca R. Sborgi. “Music in ritual and ritual in music: A virtual viewer’s perceptions about liminality, functionality, and mediatization in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 42/2 (summer–fall 2011) 3–18. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2011-12007]

Abstract: Concepts such as liminality, functionality, and mediatization were clearly exemplified in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The fascinating use of the ancient practice of liminal integration of music and ritual in a modern mediatized performance illustrates both indigenous Chinese and contemporary Western performance theories. Despite the spectacular nature of the opening ceremony, however, it is doubtful that international viewers fully understood the complex messages communicated through this modern ritual performance.

  • Juzwiak, Rich. “Village Person says Y.M.C.A. isn’t about gays, is probably lying”, http://gawker.com/village-person-says-y-m-c-a-isnt-about-gays-is-pro-1493380284. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-293]

Abstract: A common reading of the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. (1978) posits the song as a post-Stonewall stealth attack on heteronormative America. From discos to weddings to sports arenas across the country, millions have contorted in acronymal glee, singing the praises of the male-only fitness center/boarding house where you can “hang out with the boys” and “do whatever you feel”. The song first appeared on an album titled Cruisin’. Despite the seemingly obvious subtext, members of the Village People deny any subtextual intent. Victor Willis, the first lead singer of the Village People who played the role of “cop” and co-wrote Y.M.C.A., recently spoke out against using the song as Team USA’s entrance music at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics–intended in protest of Putin’s anti-gay mandate and the rash of violent hate crimes in its wake (not to mention the Sports Minister’s threat to jail gay athletes). The author notes that “the inherent gayness of the Village People has been a point of contention between the people who were (and are) in the group and its creators, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo. Morali, who died in 1991, was gay and in last year’s documentary about the politics of disco, Secret disco revolution, Belolo said that the Village People were Morali’s statement of his own gay pride, as well as an exercise in double entendre”.

  • Cottrell, Stephen. “Glad to meet you: North Korea’s pop orchestra warms hearts in the South”, The conversation (UK) (9 February 2018) https://theconversation.com/glad-to-meet-you-north-koreas-pop-orchestra-warms-hearts-in-the-south-91499. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-52079]

Abstract: Describes a performance by Samjiyon Band, a well-known fixture from North Korea’s cultural scene, on the first night of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Part II is here.

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Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Literature, Mass media, Popular music, Romantic era, Sports and games, Uncategorized, World music

Dickens and music

Charles Dickens’s works attest to a keen familiarity with the ballads and traditional songs of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Less obvious from his writings is his deep love of Western classical music—he adored the lieder of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, he championed Arthur Sullivan, and he reported being “overcome” by Gounod’s Faust.

Still, Dickens found a rich vein of humor in the music making of the common folk—not least in the character of Mr. Morfin in Dombey and Son:

“He was a great musical amateur in his way…and had a paternal affection for his violoncello, which was once in every week transported from Islington, his place of abode, to a certain club-room hard by the Bank, where quartettes of the most tormenting and excruciating nature were executed every Wednesday evening by a private party.”

“He was solacing himself with this melodious grumbler one evening, and, having been much dispirited by the proceedings of the day, was scraping consolation out of its deepest notes…[but] his landlady…was fortunately deaf, and had no other consciousness of these performances than a sensation of something rumbling in her bones.”

This according to “Dickens and music” by Charles Cudworth (The musical times CXI/1528 [June 1970] pp. 588–590. Today is Dickens’s 210th birthday!

Related article: Musicology and fiction

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Delius’s taste

Today, on Delius’s 160th birthday, let’s eavesdrop on the reminiscences of his friend Percy Grainger.

“Composer never had truer colleague than I had in Frederick Delius, and when he died I felt that my music had lost its best friend.”

“Our outlook on life was very similar, our artistic tastes met at many points. Both of us considered the Icelandic sagas the pinnacle of narrative prose. Both of us knew the Scandinavian languages and admired the culture of Scandinavia as the flower of Europeanism.”

“Both of us worshipped Walt Whitman, Wagner, Grieg, and Jens Peter Jacobsen. Both of us detested music of the Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven period. ‘If a man tells me he likes Mozart, I know in advance that he is a bad musician’ Delius was fond of saying.”

“One year he would ask for Bach; the next year he would say ‘You know, Bach always bores me.’ But Chopin and Grieg he never turned against. He preferred Ravel to Debussy. He had no patience with Richard Strauss, Mahler, or Hindemith.”

This from “About Delius”, reprinted in Grainger on music (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999, pp. 361–368). Above, Grainger and Delius in 1923. Below, Delius’s On hearing the first cuckoo in spring.

Related article: Esoteric orchestration

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Filed under Impressionism, Reception, Romantic era

Pollini on Chopin

maurizio-pollini

In a 2006 interview Maurizio Pollini discussed his relationship with the works of Chopin, which began most publicly with his victory at the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1960.

“The music of Chopin has been with me my entire life, since when I was a boy. My love for the music of Chopin has become greater and greater for years, perhaps because I understand better this music…Each note speaks in a more clear, convincing way to the audience.”

“Chopin is an innately seductive composer. But there is an incredible depth to Chopin, and this depth should come, finally, from a performance of him…What was extraordinary is, he was able to achieve universality. It is amazing that music so completely personal is able to conquer everybody.”

Quoted in “Pollini speaks! (in his fashion)” by Daniel J. Wakin (The New York times 7 May 2006, p. AR9).

Today is Pollini’s 80th birthday! Below, a recent Chopin performance.

BONUS: The pianist at the 1960 Chopin competition.

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Filed under Performers, Romantic era

Minnie Hauk, American savage

When the U.S. operatic soprano Minnie Hauk (1851–1929) first toured Europe in 1868, her instant success was due largely to shrewd marketing by her teacher and manager Maurice Strakosch.

Capitalizing on Hauk’s childhood on the American prairie, Strakosch’s advance publicity described her as “a kind of half-civilized Pocahontas, who, back in the wilds of her homeland, was accustomed to riding a mustang bareback and being worshipped by the continent’s aborigines as a ‘dusky daughter of the sun.’”

Thanks to widespread curiosity about this exotic creature—and, of course, to her prodigious talent—Hauk remained abroad for the next eight years, performing at all the major opera houses in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, and Russia.

This according to Women in the spotlight: Divas in nineteenth-century New York by Andrea Saposnik (Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing).

Today is Hauk’s 170th birthday! Above, the soprano in her highly acclaimed role as Carmen; over the course of her career she performed the work in four languages.

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Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro

When he was growing up in Catania, Sicily, Bellini undoubtedly heard the peasants from the far side of Mount Etna who came to town every Advent with their zampogne (bagpipes). The young prodigy was influenced by these traditional musicians in several ways.

The bagpipers’ improvisations helped to shape the seemingly meandering and unpredictable melodies that Bellini became famous for. Also, the balance between the drones and the chanters influenced his handling of accompaniment and melody. Finally, the music of the bagpipes found its way into Bellini’s uses of modality, his chromaticisms, and his oscillations between major and minor keys. The Mediterranean vibrancy of his slow music was particularly grounded in the traditional music of his youth.

This according to Vincenzo Bellini, zampognaro del melodramma by Salvatore Enrico Failla (Catania: Maimone, 1985).

Today is Bellini’s 220th birthday! Below, a modern-day incarnation of the Sicilian Advent zampognaro.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Opera, Romantic era

Liszt’s monster instrument

In September 1854 Liszt wrote to the cellist Bernhard Cossmann “My monster instrument with three keyboards arrived about a fortnight ago and seems to be a great success.”

The 3000-pound instrument, a seven-octave grand piano plus two five-octave harmonium keyboards, was built by Alexandre Père et Fils and Pierre Érard to Liszt’s specifications. Although the critic Richard Pohl reported having heard the composer play this piano-harmonium, apparently it was never heard in concert until Joris Verdin (left) presented a recital on the instrument, newly restored by Patrick Collon and the Manufacture d’orgues de Bruxelles 150 years after it was built, at the Wiener Musikverein.

In addition to the piano and pumping pedals seen above, the original version included a 20-note pedalboard and an attachment allowing an assistant to pump the bellows while the player used the organ or piano pedals; these are lost and have not been reconstructed.

This according to “Liszt’s monster instrument revisited” by Wayne T. Moore (The diapason XCVI/5 [May 2005] p. 15). Today is Liszt’s 210th birthday!

Below, Professor Verdin demonstrates Liszt’s monster instrument.

More posts about Franz Liszt are here.

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Ethel Smyth: Serenade in D

In 2021 A-R Editions issued a new critical edition of Ethel Smyth’s Serenade in D major for orchestra (1889 and possibly early 1890). Premiered at a Crystal Palace concert on 26 April 1890, the work was received well by the audience and garnered positive notices in the press.

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth was a member of the women’s suffrage movement, and was alternately praised and panned for writing music that was considered too masculine for a “lady composer”; yet when she produced more delicate compositions they were criticized for not measuring up to the standard of her male counterparts. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1922, becoming the first woman composer to be awarded a damehood.

This critical edition is based on a photocopy of the autograph manuscript, now in the Royal College of Music Library, with reference also to a fair copy of the score, now in the British Library. The extensive critical notes by John L, Snyder document the changes made by the composer, as well as editorial and performance suggestions made by both the composer and August Manns, who conducted the premiere.

Below, a performance of the work from 2018.

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Filed under New editions, Romantic era, Women's studies