Tag Archives: 20th- and 21st-century music

Stravinsky and cubism

 

Stravinsky’s Svadebka/Les noces—an assault of nonsense syllables, snatches of conversation, and ritual fragments—is a cubist reconstruction of a Russian peasant wedding. Despite its invocation of Christian saints, the work might be Neolithic or even Australopithicine, so backward-looking is its range of auditory allusion.

All of the action is accompanied by chatter, out of which a whoop or intelligible phrase may emerge—we hear pet names, silly games, much commentary on the wine and beer, and some veiled sexual talk; it is the auditory equivalent of the strips of newsprint that Picasso glued to some of his canvases.

This according to Stravinsky: The music box and the nightingale by Daniel Albright (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1989-12654).

Today is Stravinsky’s 140th birthday! Above and below, Bronislava Nijinska’s original choreography for the work.

 

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dance, Visual art

Laurie Anderson and “O Superman”

“You know the reason that I really love the stars? It’s that we cannot hurt them. We can’t burn them. We can’t melt them or make them overflow. We can’t flood them or blow them up… But we are reaching for them.”

Laurie Anderson with the Kronos Quartet, Landfall (2018)

Typically, academic writing on Laurie Anderson’s performative electronic storytelling has not explicitly addressed its musical characteristics. Instead, Anderson’s pieces are often viewed as postmodern performance, video, or multimedia art, and analyses have focused on (hyper)mediation; the technological fragmentation of the subject; politicized language games and multiplicities of textual meaning; and Anderson’s androgynous, cyborg performance personæ. 

One major exception to this trend is Susan McClary’s chapter on Anderson in Feminine endings, which serves as the starting point for an analysis of O Superman that examines its harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic features, focusing on her resistance to establishing a tonic key, use of additive and subtractive processes, and avoidance of entrainable metric regularity. 

Ultimately, these features culminate in a kind of estranging ambiguity, inviting us to actively shift how we listen to—and interpret—one of Anderson’s most enduring musical negotiations of the social, political, and technological terrains of American life. 

This according to “Once again, on the music of Laurie Anderson’s O Superman (for Massenet)” by Lindsey Eckenroth (American music review XLIII/2 [spring 2014] 21–24; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2014-6985).

Today is Anderson’s 75th birthday! Above, photographed by Annie Liebovitz; below, the official music video.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Performers

Intertextuality and Britten’s War Requiem

Intertextuality is an integral part of Britten’s musical rhetoric in War Requiem, for which he interpolated nine of Wilfred Owen’s poems about World War I within the Requiem text.

Britten created a dialogue between the Requiem text and the poems, and between the Requiem genre and other works—in particular the medieval planctus and Bach’s Matthäuspassion.

During the Middle Ages, texts in Latin and the vernacular were interpolated into liturgies as commentary, sometimes adding an emotional response to the ritual. The War Requiem expresses a similar theological dialogue between traditional and nontraditional imagery in the postmodern age. Britten presents the voice of Owen’s soldier as the voice of Christ, expressing the pity of war.

This according to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: Parody and the transmutation of myth, Thomas Francis Rooney’s 1997 dissertation for Boston University (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1997-7442).

Today is the 60th anniversary of War Requiem’s premiere. The work was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in the Coventry Blitz on 14 November 1940. Above, the ruins of the original 14th-century structure; below, the same space as it looks today, serving as a courtyard adjacent to the new building.

BONUS: In the first section of the work’s Dies irae Britten contrasts the glorious trumpets of heaven in the Latin text with the bloody bugles of men in Owen’s Bugles sang; Mstislav Rostropovich conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Politics

Aurel Stroe and the Romanian avant-garde

In the 1960s Romanian culture had just escaped from communist control, and free expression was only recently permitted. Aurel Stroe represents the first Romanian avant-garde wave in composition.

Stroe’s artistic development may be viewed in three compositional stages. The first one relates to the aesthetic ideas of composition classes, to tone-chord music, and to geometric music with certain archetypal intersections. The second stage, dating to the 1970s, is in compliance with morphogenetic music. The third stage, which started in the 1980s and lasted to the end of the composer’s life, employed the sound palette of music written in different tuning systems.

This according to “Aurel Stroe’s artistic ideas within the context of the aesthetic turmoil of the composition scene in Romania and world-wide (1960–1990)” by Octavian Nemescu (Musicology today: Journal of the National University of Music Bucharest XXX/11 [July–September 2012] 121–28; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-7829).

Today would have been Stroe’s 90th birthday! Below, his Arcade for orchestra (1962).

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Germaine Tailleferre and 1920s feminism

In 1923 Germaine Tailleferre completed Le marchand d’oiseaux for the Ballets Suédois, with a scenario, costumes, and set designs by the artist and poet Hélène Perdriat.

While the (male) critics generally praised the ballet, they primarily commented on it as the work of two women; for example, one wrote “here is something that will certainly please the feminists”, while another drew comparisons to the equally male-dominated field of sport: “Nervous and supple like the manner of these female tennis champions, who triumph so easily over the raw brutality of hard masculine wrists…Mme Hélène Perdriat…has imagined the affabulation [sic]…with a sprig of perversity….These candid and malicious games are exactly to the taste of the lovely Muse who dictates to Mlle Germaine Tailleferre her better inspirations.”

Despite this patronizing reception of Le marchand d’oiseaux as a female work, there is nothing feminist in the dramatic action or the music. The ballet is a neoclassical creation that may be seen in the context of a wider trend within interwar modernism, and Tailleferre may be understood as contributing to the development and propagation of this musical style.

A product of two female artists whose immense talents allowed them to overcome the misogynistic social tendencies of their time and achieve success on the Parisian ballet stage, Le marchand d’oiseaux demonstrated that despite all of the French government’s best attempts to suppress the voices of women, with sufficient talent and determination they could still succeed and be recognized as contemporary creative artists.

This according to “Germaine Tailleferre and Hélène Perdriat’s Le marchand d’oiseaux (1923): French feminist ballet?” by Laura Hamer (Studies in musical theatre IV/1 [2010] 113–20; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-14319).

Today is Tailleferre’s 130th birthday! Above, the composer as photographed by Man Ray around the time of the ballet’s premiere; below, Tailleferre’s score for the work.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Reception, Women's studies

Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester

The Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester (also known as the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra) performs on instruments made entirely out of fresh vegetables: cukeophones, radish-marimbas, carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, and so on.

The instruments are all made from scratch one hour prior to each performance, using about 90 pounds of the freshest vegetables available; after the performance they are cooked to make a tasty soup for the audience and performers to enjoy together.

This according to “Music with taste” in Gastronomica (IV/4 [fall 2004], p. 126; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-21764).

Below, the group prepares and performs on their instruments in 2010.

BONUS: A newer video, from 2017.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Food, Instruments

Alban Berg’s convertible

In 2013 Manfred Schmid was commissioned by the Alban Berg Stiftung to go to Carinthia and provide his expert opinion about the Model A Ford cabriolet (Gräf & Stift, type SR3) that had belonged to Alban and Helene Berg and had been sitting in the garage of their country house for decades. The Bergs bought the car new in 1930, but only drove it extensively for five years.

Schmid’s mission was to bring the car to his repair shop, examine it thoroughly, and then restore it with utmost care—a lengthy and complex restoration process. The car, now polished to a high gloss, is on display in the Technischen Museum Wien.

This according to “Fast ein Märchen” by Manfred Schmid, an essay included in Alban Berg und der blaue Vogel: Eine Auto-Biographie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 217, 142–52; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-61270).

Above, the composer, his wife Helene, and the Model A in September 1930; below, the restored Ford at the Technisches Museum. Lovers of Berg’s music are advised to mute the video.

Related post: On the road with Prokof’ev

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

Queer musicology: An annotated bibliography

Drummers of Fogo Azul perform at the New York Pride Parade on June 30, 2019. Photo credit: Luiz C. Ribeiro/New York daily news

The word queer originally meant strange, or odd, and was used as a derogatory term for non-heterosexuals. Beginning in the 1980s, scholars and activists began using the term to refer to sexual or gender identity minorities, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., as a way to combat social stigma.

Since the emergence of queer theory in the 1980s, a growing number of music scholars have begun to focus on the connections among gender identity, sexual orientation, and music/sound. Critical of biologically-based orientations, and emphasizing social gender roles and sexual orientations, queer theory has inspired music scholars to re-examine musicians, music, sound, narrative, and aesthetics through the lens of sex and gender. Below, we share some literature of queer musicology collected by RILM.

– Qian Mu, Editor, RILM

__________________________

  • Moon, Steven. “Queer theory, ethno/musicology, and the disorientation of the field”, Current musicology 106 (2020) 9–33. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-13066]

Abstract: Examines the development of ethno/musicologies’ (queer) theoretical borrowings from anthropology, sociology, and literary/cultural studies in order to historicize the contemporary queer moment both fields are experiencing, and demonstrates the ways in which it might disorient the field. It traces the histories of this queering trend by beginning with early conceptualizations of the ethno/musicological projects, scientism, and quantitative methods. This is in relation to the anthropological method of ethnocartography in order to understand the historical difficulties in creating a queer qualitative field, as opposed to those based in hermeneutics. The first section places the problematics of this enumeration in dialogue with the ethno/musicologies’ tendencies towards nationalizing and globalizing narratives that often run contrary to a queer project. The second section steps back in time to understand how music studies, broadly, entered the queer conversation through early feminist literature in ethnomusicology and historical musicology, as well as literary/cultural studies and anthropology.

  • Maus, Fred Everett. “Classical concert music and queer listening”, Transposition: Musique et sciences sociales 3 (mai 2013) 11p. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2013-31866]

Abstract: The norms of the classical music concert, familiar from the 20th century onward in European and United States contexts, favor an apparently uniform practice of attentive, silent listening, the audience seated in rows with a uniform visual focus. However, within this appearance of quiet conformity, listeners have diverse, intense experiences. The discontinuity between experience and demeanor reflects powerful cultural oppositions between inner and outer, public and private. The discontinuity is particularly stark in light of the erotic qualities of music, as described in brilliant work by Susan McClary (Feminine endings, 1991; RILM 1991-2755) and Suzanne Cusick (On a lesbian relationship with music, 1994; RILM 1994-2517). My essay returns to their work, expanding their accounts to consider a broader range of sexual subjectivities, including bottom subjectivity as described by Trevor Hoppe and femme subjectivity as described by Ann Cvetkovich.

  • Hankins, Sarah. “Ethnographic positionality and psychoanalysis: A queer look at sex and race in fieldwork”, Queering the field: Sounding out ethnomusicology, ed. by Gregory F. Barz and William Cheng (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) 353–363. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-170]

Abstract: Explores the queer dynamics of heterosexual interactions, thinking through issues of race by way of gender. The author further complicates matters by weaving ethnographic discourses of positionally together with psychoanalytic theories of sexuality and the subject. She seeks to bring psychoanalysis—a process she has relied on in her private life to address painful experiences—into some kind of consonance with the academic discourses that have long been touchstones of her professional life. By investigating the multivalent, confusing, and sometimes contradictory dimensions of her own fieldwork, she hopes to encourage further conversations about how sexuality and race intersect in known and unknown ways for other queer ethnographers, in other cross-cultural contexts. Her case study of the Rasta Club in south Tel Aviv is a vivid reflection on queer identity within the context of heterosexual interactions, especially violent ones.

  • Künzig, Bernd. “New queer music: Homosexualität und Neue Musik—Eine Ästhetische Spurensuche”, Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 178/1 (2017) 12–16. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2017-40456]

Abstract: The degree to which sexual orientation affects artistic production has been discussed in various contexts—especially in the anglophone world. However, with respect to composition it remains an open question. This is true of homosexuality, too, which could be openly discussed after the sexual revolution of the 1968 movement. Even today, if one pursues the inquiry, one comes across many not so obvious connections between music and sexuality.

  • Sullivan, James. “The queer context and composition of Samuel Barber’s Despite and still“, Twentieth- and twenty-first-century song cycles: Analytical pathways toward performance, ed. by Gordon Sly and Michael Callahan (New York: Routledge, 2021) 79–96. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-264]

Abstract: The author’s approach to Barber’s Despite and still (1968) foregrounds Barber’s autobiographical connection to the cycle, particularly his sexuality and his relationship with Gian Carlo Menotti. With regard to the texts that Barber chose, which include poems by Robert Graves and Theodore Roethke and an excerpt from James Joyce’s Ulysses, the author shows how each text touches upon a particular point of tension in Barber’s relationship with Menotti. Musically, he then demonstrates how Barber’s settings dramatize that tension through the manipulation of perceived meter, especially via close imitation. The essay thus integrates musical analysis with poetic structure and biography.

  • Jones, Matthew J. “‘Something inside so strong’: The Flirtations and the queer politics of a cappella”, Journal of popular music studies 28/2 (June 2016) 142–185. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-19760]

Abstract: Initially formed in 1987, The Flirtations billed themselves as “the world’s most famous, openly-gay, all-male, politically active, multicultural, a cappella singing doo-wop group”. Over the course of the next decade, The Flirts—as they were affectionately known—recorded three albums, crisscrossed the globe to perform at gay pride events and AIDS rallies, sang in small theaters and concert venues, and even appeared in a Hollywood film (Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia released in 1993). Committed advocates of LGBT rights, feminism, multiculturalism, and AIDS activism, The Flirtations used the nostalgic sounds of close-harmony a cappella singing to deliver political messages, enlighten listeners, and entertain audiences. Through fluctuations in membership, personality conflicts, and the AIDS-related deaths of two founding members, The Flirtations kept singing and left behind a unique repository of queer music at the end of the 20th century. Drawing on previously unavailable archival materials, new interviews with surviving members of the group, and close readings of select musical examples, I situate The Flirtations within the history of U.S. close-harmony singing and examine the queer politics of a cappella in their music.

  • Doyle, JD. “Queer music radio: Entertainment, education, and activism”, Journal of popular music studies 18/2 (2006) 215–219. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-5846]

Abstract: Queer music heritage, hosted by the author on KPFT-FM, Houston, Texas, seeks to educate and entertain audiences in the name of LGBT activism. The radio program is designed as a way to share music from a variety of genres—including blues, country, and disco—with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning lyrical themes. Music and interviews are organized into themed shows that address issues such as the concept of “gay music”, expressing sexual identity, and the shifting cultural place of sexual identity in history.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Ethnomusicology, Musicology, Popular music

Swara: Antologi pendidikan musik

Launched in 2020, Swara: Antologi pendidikan musik (Swara: Anthology journal of music education, eISSN 2807-2502) is an open-access research journal published regularly in the months of April, August, and December by the Music Education program in the faculty of Arts and Design Education at Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (Education University of Indonesia) in Bandung, West Java.

Topics explored in the journal’s articles include empirical studies on music education (formal and informal), creativity and musical skills (recorded and live performance), and the analysis of traditional and modern musical works.

Below, Ananda Sukarlan performs and discusses his Rapsodia nusantara no. 15; the work is the subject of an article in Swara’s inaugural issue.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New periodicals

Sound stage screen

In 2021 the Dipartimento di Beni Culturali e Ambientali at the Università degli Studi di Milano launched Sound stage screen (SSS, ISSN 2784-8949), a biannual, peer-reviewed journal devoted to historical and theoretical research into the relations between sound, performance, and media.

SSS addresses a wide range of phenomena, practices, and objects pertaining to sound and music in light of the interconnections between performing traditions and media archaeologies: from opera to musical multimedia, and from cinema to interactive audiovisual platforms. An open-access journal published in English, SSS wishes to redefine the academic study of music as an open field whose boundaries—historical, geographical, and theoretical—are constantly being negotiated.

Below, the official trailer for Christopher Cerrone’s opera Invisible cities, a work discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dramatic arts, New periodicals