Tag Archives: Birthdays

Oliver Mtukudzi: Instruction and reconstruction

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi left a vast and rich body of music produced over a long and illustrious career. Through his skillful use of traditional Shona proverbs, textured idiomatic expressions, metaphor, and ingenious word play, he was able to teach while simultaneously entertaining his audience.

Through its dialogic nature, Mtukudzi’s music positioned itself at the service of both instruction and reconstruction in ways that differed markedly from those offered by Western formal education.

These pedagogical and reconstructive potentials are located in traditional forms of knowledge generation and knowledge transfer. Mtukudzi’s music must be viewed as a reconstructive pedagogy that raises the social consciousness of its listeners. Framed against current trends in Africa and other formerly colonized spaces for the decolonization of ways of learning and teaching, Mtukudzi’s music articulates reconstructive ways of thinking about knowledge, knowledge generation, knowledge transfer, and the archiving of lived experiences in Africa.

This according to “Music as pedagogy: The life, times, and music of Oliver Mtukudzi” by Gibson Ncube and Yemurai Gwatirisa, an essay included in The life and music of Oliver Mtukudzi: Reconstruction and identity (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 39–50; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-407).

Today would have been Oliver Mtukudzi’s 70th birthday!

Below, Mtukudzi’s Todii (What shall we do?) evokes the world of traditional proverbs to convey new messages of social commentary.

BONUS: In a collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mtukudzi’s Neria raises vital themes involving women, family relations, and politics.

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John Cage’s microtonal rāgas

John Cage’s 18 microtonal rāgas are found in Solo for voice 58 from Song books (1970).

To perform them, the dhrupad and experimental music specialist Amelia Cuni decided to apply experimental procedures to dhrupad vocalism and to elaborate her Indian music background in a new music context. She also wanted to explore an influential contemporary composer’s take on rāgas and step back from her personal involvement with the tradition and observe it from another perspective.

In collaboration with the Berliner Festspiele and several other contemporary music venues, Cuni’s interpretation of Solo for voice 58 was premiered in Berlin in 2006 and has been performed since then at several European and U.S. festivals.

This according to Cuni’s “Chance generated ragas in Solo for voice 58: A dhrupad singer performs John Cage” (Journal of the Indian Musicological Society  XLI [2011–12] pp. 127–54; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-23192).

Today is Cage’s 110th birthday!

Below, a studio recording of Cuni’s realization; a full live performance can be viewed here (the performance starts at 10:00).

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Debussy and gamelan

Claude Debussy first heard Javanese gamelan music from a relatively small group at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle; he finally heard a full ensemble at the 1900 Exposition.

While he generally disapproved of the Orientalism of earlier Romantic-era composers, he found tremendous inspiration in gamelan music—not in its surface exoticism, but in the details of its structure, texture, and modality.

Exposure to Javanese gamelan music was one of the important catalysts in the flowering of Debussy’s mature style, and it left its mark on his work in a much broader and more profound way than is generally supposed.

“Javanese music obeys laws of counterpoint that make Palestrina seem like child’s play,” he wrote, “and if one listens to it without being prejudiced by one’s European ears, one will find a percussive charm that forces one to admit that our own music is not much more than a barbarous kind of noise more fit for a traveling circus.”

He also wrote of “Javanese rhapsodies, which, instead of confining themselves in a traditional form, develop according to the fantasy of countless arabesques.”

This according to Echoes from the East: The Javanese gamelan and its influence on the music of Claude Debussy, a 1988 dissertation for the University of Texas, Austin, by Kiyoshi Tamagawa (RILM Abstracts 1988-4625).

Today is Debussy’s 160th birthday! Below, “Sirènes” from his Nocturnes, a piece in which Tamagawa demonstrates extensive influence of gamelan music; this influence may be best discerned in the two-piano version presented here.

Related article: Historic Balinese gamelans

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

Woody Guthrie, American radical

Although he achieved a host of national honors and adorned U.S. postage stamps, and although his song This land is your land is widely considered the nation’s second national anthem, Woody Guthrie committed his life to radical struggle.

Guthrie’s political awakening and activism can be traced throughout the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Civil Rights struggle, and the poison of McCarthyism. He played a major role in the development of a workers’ culture in the context of radical activism, particularly through his influence on the U.S. and international protest song movement.

This according to Woody Guthrie, American radical by Will Kaufman (Urbana: Universty of Illinois Press, 2011; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-1681).

Today is Woody Guthrie’s 110th birthday! Below, Emmylou Harris and his son Arlo present Woody’s classic take on a still-timely topic. Guthrie was inspired to write Deportee by what he considered the racist mistreatment of Mexican migrant farm workers before and after a 1948 airplane crash that killed 32 people. Subsequent news coverage only named the four U.S. citizens who died in the accident, so Guthrie sought to identify the 28 fallen Mexicans as real people as well.

Related article: Woody Guthrie, visual artist

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Percy Grainger and world music


Today, on Percy Grainger’s 140th birthday, let’s recall his reflections on the two broad stylistic groups he discerned in world music.

Grainger believed that strong musical and human characteristics unite the musical output of the Nordic countries, which include Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Australia, and several others.

To him, the melodic habits of Nordic music were more like those of China and other Mongolian countries than those of such European countries as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Austria. His Mongolian-Nordic musical tradition favored solemn or spiritual unadorned melodies with long sustained notes, gapped scales, and a tendency to underlying polyphonic thought. The Nordic musical mind sought inspiration in nature.

In contrast, the southern or Mohammedan tradition favored nervous, excitable, and florid tunes with quickly fluctuating notes, closely filled-up scales, and a tendency to seek surface complexity in technical passagework rather than in harmony.

This according to Characteristics of Nordic music, a talk broadcast on New York’s WEVD radio on 4 July 1933. Grainger’s talk is reprinted from a typescript held by the Grainger Museum, Melbourne, in Grainger on music (Oxford: Clarendon 1999, 258–266; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-20329).

Above, Grainger with a radio microphone in 1928; below, some vintage recordings.

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

Krishnaveni Lakshmanan arrives

Writing in 2004, the bharatanāṭyam performer and teacher S. (Peria) Sarada recalled her first encounter with Krishnaveni Lakshmanan:

Rukmini Devi and I noticed a girl watching, day after day, from the window, the dance classes we were teaching in the Mirror Cottage in the Theosophical Society where Kalakshetra was then situated. The child did this invariably on her way back home from The Besant Theosophical High School.”

“Rukmini Devi—Athai—called the child inside and asked her: ‘Would you like to dance?’ The child’s joy knew no bounds and she readily tried to repeat the dance she had been viewing. Athai immediately arranged for her, Krishnaveni, to join Kalakshetra as a part-time student.”

Lakshmanan went on to become “a danseuse of exceptional talent, versatility, and genius. Indeed, a very rare combination of stage presence and presentation! Devoted and totally dedicated to her career, which balances both teaching and performing. Krishnaveni is God’s beautiful gift to the magic world of dance.”

Quoted from “Krishnaveni of Kalakshetra” (Sruti 241 [October 2004] 19–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-34001.)

Today would have been Lakshmanan’s 80th birthday! Below, rare footage of her in performance.

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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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David Byrne and performance

In a 2004 interview, David Byrne recalled “In hindsight I realize that at first I used to get onstage out of some desperate need—I was so painfully shy that strangely it was the only way I could express myself. So it was cathartic and powerful, but hardly what you would call pleasure.”

“When Talking Heads became a big funk ensemble, I sensed there was something more. I began to dance, to enjoy myself, to sense the connection between secular music and the gospel church, with the ecstatic religions like Candomblé and Santeria.”

“Now it’s completely pleasurable—just the physical and emotional pleasure of singing is completely transporting. The act of singing recreates the emotions that went into the songs in the first place—like adding water to freeze-dried food, the emotions get reconstituted and the singing is the water you add. And I still dance, sort of.”

Quoted in “An interview with David Byrne” by Dave Eggers (The believer II/6 [June 2004]; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-22964.)

Today is Byrne’s 70th birthday! Above, performing with Talking Heads in 1983; below, with his American utopia tour in 2018.

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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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