Patriotic Sounds 2020

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It’s July 4th weekend… are you missing the fireworks over the Charles and the sounds of the Boston Pops over the Esplanade?

Here are a ten links and suggestions to help you get your patriotic musical “fix” in early July:

The 2020 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular broadcast, under the direction Keith Lockhart, will present A Boston Pops Salute to Our Heroes, featuring both new content (the fantastic newly released video of John Williams’ Summon the Heroes) and favorites from past celebrations, including (in order) Broadway legend Brian Stokes Mitchell singing “America the Beautiful” and “Wheels of a Dream”; Amanda Mena, America’s Got Talent semi-finalist from Lynn, MA, sings Pink’s What About US and the national anthem with the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters; Melissa Etheridge (“I Wanna Come Over”); Amanda Gorman, first-ever Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, performs a new take on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” entitled “Believer’s Hymn for the Republic,” Broadway star Leslie Odom, Jr, singing “Sarah” from The Civil War, and “Without You” from Rent; Rhiannon Giddens (“Pretty Little Girl” and “She’s Got You”); Rita Moreno narrating excerpts from Ellis Island: The Dream of America; Arlo Guthrie & The Texas Tenors singing “This Land Is Your Land;” Queen Latifah,  (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”); Andy Grammer (“Give Love”); and The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus and the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drum (Lexington, MA) joining the Pops for Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” [continued…]

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African American Voices in Early Boston

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Roland Hayes

Music and poetry can be means of resistance, and they also play a role in uniting diverse groups. Boston’s early heritage of African American scholars, writers, and musicians make the city an interesting subject for artistic and historical inquiry in these challenging times.

THE LEGACY OF PHYLLIS WHEATLEY

The first Africans arrived in Boston in 1638, and the city became very active in the slave trade. By 1700 there were more than 400 enslaved African Americans in Boston, with the beginnings of a free Black community in the North End. At mid-century, the British mainland American colonies had a population of approximately 1.5 million. Each year 3,500 captives arrived from Africa and the Caribbean, so nearly one in five Americans, or 300,000 people, were enslaved.

Lucy Terry Prince (c1730-1821) was a gifted speaker and the first recorded African American author of a poem (“Bars Fight,” see the full poem HERE), describing the last Indian massacre in Deerfield, MA in 1746, where she worked as a household slave in from 1735-1756. The poem became part of local oral tradition and was finally published in 1855 in Josiah Gilbert Holland’s History of Western Massachusetts. Prince later moved to Vermont, where she became the first woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court (winning a land dispute); two of her sons enlisted in the Continental army in Massachusetts, and the Vermont Heritage Songbook includes a children’s song about her life. [continued…]

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In-Person Music To Resume

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Toward the new post-normal: A baby step for audiences, a leap for performance.

Who misses live music more than the audiences? Musicians, that’s who.

Now that summer has arrived, the chamber organization Mistral Music will be joined, this Saturday at 6pm in Brookline’s Knyvet Square, by three BSO players to play the Ravel Duo, the Schubert Rosamunde Quartet, and a Beethoven String Trio.

North of the city, as part of its Summer Music on the Hill series, the Church of St. Andrew in Marblehead presents “On the Street Where You Live,” an outdoor concert featuring area star vocalists Holly Cameron and Matt Arnold accompanied by church music director Mary Jodice, on Sunday July 12, at 7pm. The rain date is July 18.

[continued…]

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Juneteenth Thoughts on Boston & Current African American Composers

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Gate to Ashton Villa

Four years ago, Liane Curtis, President of Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy, wrote a review for BMInt entitled “Black Composers Matter,”  highlighting the work of Boston’s concert and educational series Castle of Our Skins, named for a line from celebrated poet Nikki Giovanni’s Poem (for Nina). You can hear the original, read by the author, HERE.

After this month’s tragic events, peaceful protest, riots, and renewed calls for unity, Giovanni’s words ring loudly in my ears (“for we spirit to spirit will embrace this world”). Castle of Our Skins has begun to present community-based, multi-disciplinary projects (Ain’t I a Woman?) [reviewed HERE],  “I Am a Man,” 2019), and concerts featuring the works of local African American composers such as Trevor Weston, [reviewed HERE], but they make me want to hear more, to listen more deeply, and to explore Boston’s rich, local heritage of African American music.

Anthony R. Green, the director of Boston’s Castle of Our Skins, has presented new works in Boston almost every year since 2004: he has been commissioned by Make Music Boston, Celebrity Series Boston, and the Landmarks Orchestra. Excerpts of nine of his works can be heard HERE. His recent arrangement of Chouconne – Haitian Folk Song (for string quartet and orchestra) premiered at the Hatch Shell on Boston’s Esplanade in August 2019, and his recent youth orchestra commission Catto’s Courage premiered online in April 2020. Green’s prescient article on representation in the New Music community is available at NewMusicBox HERE. [continued…]

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From the New World — of Online Summer Music

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How to listen this summer.

Tanglewood announces what’s up and what’s new:

Last fall, before the time of plague, we published the upcoming Tanglewood season announcement, and then a month ago followed up with the BSO’s new plans for the online Tanglewood festival, called a Summer Tradition Transformed. Now, management has announced program details for the upcoming summer’s content both free and paid, the latter going on sale Monday, June 15th, through www.tanglewood.org. The audio and video streams will include material newly created and recorded at Tanglewood’s Linde Center this month and next, featuring artists and programs of the announced season. In addition to the free offerings, online programs range from $5 to $12 for a single stream to $15 to $90 for multiple-stream packages.

New content includes Saturday evening great performers in recital — video streams recorded at the Linde Center — spotlighting some who were to appear in the Shed as well as additional guests: Gil Shaham (7/3); Emanuel Ax (7/11); Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth, and Bryan Wagorn (7/18); Augustin Hadelich and Orion Weiss (7/25); Yo-Yo Ma (8/1); Daniil Trifonov (8/8); Conrad Tao (8/15); and Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk (8/22).

BSO musicians in recital features 40 orchestra members in a Friday evening online series of new programs programs to be recorded at the Linde Center starting next week through July 11th.

But wait, there’s more. [continued…]

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Alone Together Streams Saturday at 8:00

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Juventas New Music Ensemble’s 15th-anniversary season “Emergence” will conclude with a livestreamed concert that will safely bring ensemble musicians back together for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ensemble bills its YouTube appearance in Alone Together [HERE] as, “…one of the first concerts of its kind in America.”

While social distancing live at Futura Productions in Roslindale, Julia Carey, piano; Minjin Chung, cello; Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet; Kelley Hollis, soprano; and Olga Patramanska-Bell, violin; will essay audience favorites by Emma Wine, Michael Gandolfi and Wei-Chieh Hu, plus Aaron Copland’s “Laurie’s Song” and the world premiere of Juventas Artistic Director Oliver Caplan’s Alone Together. An interactive pre-concert Composer Conversation moderated by horn player Anne Howarth begins at 7:00pm on Zoom [HERE].

Caplan wrote the program’s title piece Alone during the Massachusetts stay home advisory this spring. It reflects on the paradox of caring for each other by staying apart, and offers a hopeful vision of the day “the sun will shine again… somewhere beyond the bend.” [continued…]

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Beethoven and the Leitmotive

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Jon Vickers as Florestan

As everybody, including musicologists, begin celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s  birth, I throw in few observations on Fidelio, which I heard for the first time only in graduate school; it certainly opened my understanding to all of the rest of his work.

It is said by some that the technique of the leitmotive (my preferred English spelling, without italics, which would imply actual German: Leitmotiv, singular, or Leitmotive, plural) in opera originated with the 18th-century melodrama — instrumental accompaniment to interspersed or overlaid spoken dialogue. A 19th-century melodrama illustrates the type: the second scene of Act II of Fidelio, immediately after Florestan, chained to the dungeon wall, has heroically exerted himself in a hallucinatory aria and collapsed in utter exhaustion. Leonore (still disguised as the boy Fidelio) and Rocco, the jailer, descend into the dungeon and exchange spoken dialogue in whispers between short bursts of indistinct orchestration. [continued…]

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A Firebird Anniversary

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Stravinsky by Picasso

On June 25, 2020, the musical world will take note of the 110th anniversary of the premiere in Paris of Igor Stravinsky’s Zhar-ptitsa (Firebird), an event which launched an extraordinary career in Western music that continued through two world wars and three citizenships, lasted 61 years, and left a legacy of greatness that endures undiminished today.

Stravinsky had just celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday when the Firebird ballet burst on a Parisian public that had only recently learned to embrace Debussy and Ravel as the flagbearers of ultra-modernism. French Impressionism, in the visual arts, was already well established before its counterpart in music caught up with it. Debussy had been nationally recognized as the leading French composer only since Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and La mer (1905), and only Ravel could match him on the same ground with works like Rapsodie espagnole (1908); all of these were considered the ne plus ultra of orchestral vigor and splendor on the one hand and emotional subtlety on the other.

Then with amazing suddenness Stravinsky arrived on the scene, challenging the French moderns with a violent brilliance of a Russian Impressionism that hardly anyone had even imagined. It was more than orchestral color and a strange new harmonic vocabulary — it was oriental exoticism, “For Russian Export,” as Stravinsky, weary of his Firebird achievement and its excessive popularity, later derided it. Fokine’s choreography was Russian-conventional but expertly planned, and Tamara Karsavina as the Firebird (gliding onto the stage on a wire) was both beautiful and astonishing throughout the evening, but it was the music that continues to amaze audiences today. (Odd footnote: Karsavina was succeeded in the post-season by a neophyte dancer, Lydia Lopokova, who later married John Maynard Keynes.) Debussy and Ravel, both then at the height of their careers, became Stravinsky’s close friends, “en toute sympathie artistique,” as Debussy wrote on a photograph. [continued…]

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Fair Use of Flickers

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Even as our communities slowly unlock, and however tentatively the tumblers are turning, we’ve already become accustomed to the replacement of our cherished communal musical events with figurative and literal flickers reaching us via our computers, smart TVs, and mobile devices. Every once in a while, though, something may go amiss: a performance from someone’s living room, empty concert hall or patchwork ensemble winks out, sometimes entirely, sometimes for an extended period. Was that some technical glitch of recording or transmission, something in our internet connection, or an inept engineer or what? In many cases, it seems, the gremlin in the works may have been put there deliberately, and it may have had assistance of counsel.

An article recently published in the Washington Post (it’s here, but be forewarned of WaPo’s paywall) has called out the impact of recording companies’ copyright enforcement bots (software that patrols the Interwebs) seeking illicit posting or streaming of music for which the labels claim rights. While this form of artificial intelligence has a decent record of accuracy when it comes to pop and rock, where performance styles and the musical elements of performance vary considerably among recordings, it doesn’t work nearly as well with classical music, where not only is the bulk of the repertoire in the public domain, but the differences between particular performances are much more subtle. Nevertheless the principal platforms over which these streamed performances reach us, like Facebook or Google-owned YouTube, rely on these bots to tell them if a copyright claim has been asserted against a performance, leading the platform to shoot (i.e., take it down) first and let the performer ask questions later. As the WaPo article observes, and I have confirmed, the platforms offer means by which an aggrieved performer or producer can seek redress for an unjustified take-down, the process, which requires human staff to review the recordings for similarity and provenance, the process can take days or even weeks to complete, which isn’t much of a live stream, is it? [continued…]

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Wassup With Dedications?

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Dedication rescinded

What do composers mean with dedications to their scores? Compare the situation when an author adds a dedicatory page right after the title page of his book, as in Melville’s dedication of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, thus: “In token of my admiration for his genius this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.” One great writer to another.

Beethoven and Chopin peppered their piano compositions with dedications, chiefly to persons of the nobility or at least locally noteworthy, many of whom sponsored them financially. Many composers have dedicated their compositions to their own students: Mozart and his piano concertos, Beethoven and several sonatas, Chopin his Scherzo no. 3 to Adolf Gutmann (whose strength was such that he “could knock a hole in the table”, according to Huneker, who pointed to a big chord in bar 6).

A surprising number of composers offered dedications to their fellow composers, and this in itself is revealing. Beethoven dedicated his three piano sonatas, op. 2, to Haydn, his friend who to an extent was also his teacher. Schubert, at the very end of his life, dedicated his last three piano sonatas to Johann Nepomuk Hummel; but by the time these were published, in 1839, eleven years after Schubert’s death, Hummel himself had been dead for two years. Schubert’s composed his Sonata for piano four hands, D 812 (“Grand Duo”) in 1824, though not until 1837 did it see publication, and then with the publisher Diabelli’s dedication to the 18-year-old pianist Clara Wieck, three years before she married Schumann. Possibly Schubert, could he have but known, would have approved of this. Ravel dedicated his Jeux d’eau and String Quartet, mature masterpieces, to his “cher maître” Gabriel Fauré while still a student at the Conservatoire. Debussy dedicated his own “First String Quartet [there was never another] in G minor, op. 10 [his only opus number]” to Ernest Chausson, who had nominated him for membership in the Société nationale, and as a man of means may have helped him financially as well. Alban Berg, who worshiped his teacher Schoenberg, dedicated three of his largest compositions to him; but he dedicated Wozzeck to Alma Mahler, who paid for the engraving of the piano score. Another connection with Alma Mahler was an expression of love and grief: Berg’s last work, the Violin Concerto, was dedicated “to the memory of an angel,” her daughter Manon Gropius, who died of polio at age 19. [continued…]

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Virginia Newes 1929 – 2020

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The esteemed musicologist, who died on May 18th from cancer, was one of the Boston Musical Intelligencer’s most prolific and informative writers. She submitted her first review, of Boston Baroque’s performance of Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass in 2009. Her last one reported on Capella Clausura’s take on the visionary-inspired music of Hildegard von Bingen’s on Feb 23rd. In 159 reviews she covered such groups as Capella Clausura, Blue Heron, the Borromeo Quartet, the Lydian Quartet, Emmanuel Music, Concerts at the Gardner, Cantata Singers, Boston Baroque, Back Bay Chorale, Cambridge Society for Early Music, the Newport Music Festival, Rockport Music, Odyssey Opera, NEC, Shakespearean Concerts, Tallis Scholars, and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

But she penned her greatest number of reviews for concerts put on by the Boston Early Music Festival, both for its biennial music orgies and for its performances during its regular seasons. Kathy Fay, executive director of BEMF, wrote today, “On behalf of the board of directors, artists, staff, and patrons of the Boston Early Music Festival, I am deeply saddened by the news. Her delightful and gentle spirit, thoughtful and illuminating reviews of our concerts, operas, and our biennial Festivals, and generous support of our programs and global work, will be sorely missed. Thanks to Virginia’s profound grasp of the classical repertoire—particularly music from centuries past and especially medieval music—we devoured her concert reviews and always emerged with a much deeper understanding of performances we attended.” 

Publisher F. Lee Eiseman noted that “she always brought tremendous seriousness of purpose and scrupulousness of research and observation to her work.” Indeed. Virginia continually educated our readers with historically accurate information. A few of examples of the wonderful cadence she brought to her reviews: of the performance by the BSO at Tanglewood on July 24, 2009: “After the opening outburst of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, we were treated to one of the composer’s beautifully flexible Andante melodies:  an English horn solo ably played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena and then heard in canon for winds and strings with rustling wind and percussion accompaniment. “She wrote of fortepianist Christian Bezuidenhout’s debut as conductor in a concert with the Handel & Haydn Society, in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in C Major, Wq. 182/3, “Beginning in a sunny and energetic C Major in forthright unison, sudden interjections on A flat and F sharp lent an air of sudden darkness to the drama.” [continued…]

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From His Desert Island Direct to Ours

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Yo-Yo Ma will broadcast Bach’s immortal Six Suites for Solo Cello as a memorial to the 100,000 who have died in our ongoing plague and as a tribute to the resilience of the survivors. During the 2.5-hour tour of this monumental edifice, Ma’s only companions will be Bach himself and the station’s remote-controlled cameras and receptive microphones, though he will also surely direct his attention to our ears and eyes. The broadcast from isolation will issue forth from the WGBH Fraser Studio in Brighton this Sunday at 3 PM over a significant number of media outlets: WGBH channel 2 in Boston, and on public radio airwaves, stations across the country through the good offices of PRX, and streaming live on Yo-Yo Ma’s YouTube channel and at ClassicalWCRB.org.

Ma’s performance comes in the midst of the interrupted final segment of his “Bach Project,” in which he had intended  to bring the six suites to 36 communities on six continents, as his personal contribution to “build the world we want.”

“In times of challenge, we’ve often come together in shared experiences,” said Jon Abbott, president and CEO of WGBH. “Yo-Yo Ma has a generosity of spirit, a solemnity that the moment deserves, and a warmth that reminds us of togetherness even as we feel alone. It is the strength we draw from each other that will help move us forward, and we are honored to host and produce this memorial event at WGBH and share it with the world through our public media network.” [continued…]

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Tanglewood, Too, Goes Virtual

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Because its beloved summer festival draws approximately 350,000 people and brings more than $100 million in economic activity annually to the Berkshires region, it is with tremendous regret that the BSO has announced cessation of in-person events at Tanglewood for this plagued summer of 2020. Not since 1945 have listeners had to do almost entirely without this essential business. [According to BSO historian Brian Bell, that year, though, the orchestra managed to cut its first RCA Victor recordings on the grounds, and while the shed was dark, six rather impressive concerts took place at the Theater Concert Hall.]

Instead, the BSO will connect performers—both BSO musicians and guest artists—with audiences through the debuting “Tanglewood 2020 Online Festival,” which will disgorge both newly recorded and encoring performances. While it’s doubtful that electronic facsimiles will reach and give pleasure to the third of a million music-lovers who might otherwise have attended, BSO webcasts have attracted tens of thousands over the last few years.

We can’t get specific marketing information on the free BSO live streams, but recent YouTube concert recordings have garnered 292–4000 views, though a highly promoted show, such as the “Concert for Our City” has played to 24,293 virtual viewers so far. Individual concerts available on YouTube for six or more years record up to 51,495 views. It will be very interesting to learn whether viewers will respond to the appointment streaming opportunities, some behind moderate paywalls, that will constitute the Tanglewood experience for this summer. The BSO marketing department reports over 7mm engagements overall since BSO At Home launched, and have had over 1mm engagements specifically with audio (206,000) and video (941,000) media. [Note: Engagements or impressions refer more to server hits or opportunities to be seen, while “views” and refer to real interactions with viewers]

At press time we have not been able to get answers as to what WCRB and other broadcasters will be offering and the extent of overlap with the BSO’s own productions for the Tanglewood season. WCRB will be broadcasting six Boston Pops performances throughout the spring and early summer [continued…]

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Jordan Hall and Sanders Theater Extend Closures

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Boston Baroque subscribers heard this morning that New England Conservatory has closed Jordan Hall to outside organizations for the entire 2020-2021 concert season. This sounds draconian. But to the administration of NEC, protecting students and their tuition revenues apparently trumps the importance of hall rentals and the needs of the Boston concertgoers. We understand this. But we also hope that presenters will find venues where students’ needs won’t be factored into revenue and liability equations.

In announcing the unobtainabilty of Sanders, Harvard has told presenters more or less the same thing, although perhaps with more nuance.

The institutions’ official emails to presenters follow.

Peter Charig  NEC Director of Business Relations & Event Management sent an email to all renters on Friday, that reads in part:

The safety and wellness of our community – including students, faculty, and staff – is NEC’s first priority, and with that focus, we have determined that our performance and rehearsal venues will not be available for rentals for the 2020-2021 concert season. Specifically, the time period from September 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. This decision is one prompted by our concern for public health and implemented out of necessity. It is a decision founded in robust planning in consultation with public health agencies and officials. That said, it is also a difficult one, as we have developed many trusted relationships with our partners and friends. We hope that our providing advance notice allows your organization to make alternative arrangements for the coming season, and we hope to continue to grow our relationship, even in these most difficult times.

As the world continues to monitor the ongoing health concerns posed by COVID-19, so will NEC.  Should an opportunity arise to safely and securely re-open our performance venues to our external partners for rental purposes, please be assured that we will consider all possibilities. [continued…]

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Phrasing the Full Glass

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Ludwig Vinthoven

A phrase is a unit of musical time. The term applies to melody, or to a total texture; whether we are listening to Gregorian chant or a Beethoven symphony or a hunk of rock ‘n’ roll, we are hearing a procession of phrases. Most of us think of melody in terms of phrases: “…structurally, a unit approximating to what one could sing in a single breath,” as Arnold Schoenberg wrote in Fundamentals of Musical Composition.  Douglass Green’s Form in Tonal Music is coy: “Writers on music seem to agree only that the phrase: 1) exhibits some degree of completeness; and 2) comes to a point of relative repose.” Whether you look for a musical definition of “phrase” in Webster’s or in different musical dictionaries and encyclopedias, you will find a lot of confusing answers; yet musicians use the term every day. Here, it is easiest to say that the phrase is the basic practical quantity of melody. To make an analogy that isn’t perfect: sometimes it is convenient or necessary to measure wine by drops or milliliters, or by bottles or barrels; but the basic familiar quantity of wine, as we experience it, is the full glass.

Most of the music we know best proceeds in regular phrases: whatever the meter or rhythm, we sense the regular phrase as a fourfold grouping: four bars, eight bars in moderate tempo, sometimes two bars in slow tempo, sixteen bars in fast tempo.  Regular phrases often come in pairs, and these pairs often constitute a small form by themselves, or regular part of a larger form.  One familiar type of paired phrases is parallel phrases: two phrases that are identical except for their endings.  (^1 means the tonic note, first degree of the scale; ^2 the supertonic or second degree, etc.)

It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was || dry,   [ending on ^2]
So hot last night, I froze to death, Susannah, || don’t you cry.   [ends on ^1]

Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus E- || lysium,    [ending on ^2}
Wir betreten, feuertrunken, himmlische, dein || Heiligtum.     [ends on ^1]  [continued…]

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Short Lessons [Readings] and Idle Considerations

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It’s convenient to consider all Western music as employing either closed or open forms. Closed forms typically are songs, measured by regular phrase structure and the boundaries of associated text. Dances are in the same category, sometimes overlapping with songs; they are bounded by the patterns of dance steps and regular phrases. In open forms, which are longer pieces like sonatas and symphonies, one doesn’t know how far or how long they will go, and there is always something to listen forward to; yet the many different open forms often have regular phrases as part of their stable structure.

Songs show a great variety of musical types. Folksongs are normally regular in form, with texts in stanzas of rhymed verse; as sung by different singers, they are subject to every kind of melodic variation, variable accompaniment with many different harmonies (“chord changes”), or no accompaniment at all; and almost never is there an identified composer. Popular songs are more stable, with identifiable composers even if their names are lost, and they tend to be published in sheet music, with standardized accompaniments even if others improvise on them.  Art songs are generally in the classical realm, often by famous composers, to be sung note-for-note precisely, with practiced accompaniments, often but by no means always strophic in form, and in a language we don’t know. [continued…]

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Tiny Works Take Center Stage During Quarantine

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Music is hurting right now. With our concerts cancelled, performers stuck at home making due with lessons over Zoom, and Mayor Marty Walsh suggesting that concerts may not return to Boston until 2021, the future admittedly looks very, very bleak. And new music’s place in the mix looks even bleaker. Already four premieres of my newest compositions and three revivals have been cancelled just through June, with seemingly more to be cut.

Yet some intrepid performers continue to make music through at-home internet projects. One of these that has really been helping the new music scene comes from soprano Stephanie Lamprea, who has taken to Facebook in a new series of premiers of what she has coined “tiny-works” for solo voice. Running around a maximum of two minutes they give concise looks into each composer’s identity and musical interests, highly controlled miniatures usually with a text that run the gamut from narrative works about wishing impatiently for plants to grow to Neo-Gregorian chant to highly avant-garde syllabic stuttering. Every few days, Lamprea posts a new video of her performing one of these tiny-works from the corner of her practice room, performing for the camera with the same energy as if she were playing to a full audience. It’s a rather refreshing series to watch, given how, right now, we hear nothing but continued postponement or cancellation of our concerts and extended stay-at-home orders.

Even more exciting is that Lamprea has begun releasing these tiny-works as albums. Recently on Bandcamp, a distribution platform where performing artists can sell their recordings for their own prices on their own terms, Lamprea released the first volume in a series of albums called Unaccompanied: Tiny Works for Quarantine. Volume I of the series represents some of the first examples written for her, including the one that started the project, “I. Boston, MA” from Matthew Kennedy’s Miniatures for One. Other composers represented on this first release include James Banner, Anthony Donofrio, and Caitlin Cawley, among many others. More volumes in this series are expected in the future representing even more pieces from this series, including my own, I Am, I Was.

I had the pleasure of asking Lamprea several questions regarding her endeavor. [continued…]

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Time To Play

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Michael Monroe, le Penseur

In a time with no place to go and not much to hear live, I thought I’d share some of the musical diversions I’ve been creating online for the past 13-plus years. I started mmmusing.blogspot.com/ back before blogging was cool, thinking I would write mostly words to unravel the mysteries of how and why music interacts with our minds. But in short order I discovered it was at least as much fun to create multimedia that do the talking for me. Michael Monroe, music musing, mind and meaning, multimedia mashups, it just started happening, not only alliteratively, and now there are hundreds of thousands of words and also hundreds of creations including videos, mashups, interactive pages, computer programs, and even poems, all interconnected in a way that could never resemble a normal book, even if there are books’ worth of material. If you’re looking for something to read, read on.

This article will be full of links, but first I’ll say a few words about playfulness. It will be clear from following just a few links that I love playing, sometimes irreverently, with music that is loved and generally taken very seriously. A lot I’ve done is just silly, but it still comes from serious affection for music and the way its ideas interact with us. We often talk of “playing music,” but the free-spirited, childlike associations of the word “play” can get lost in a high-stakes world of getting things right, getting to the next gig, getting reviewed. I sometimes smile at the intensely felt arguments about musical performances that appear regularly on this site, both pleased that people care so much about music and amused that they care so much about play.

I’ve come to realize that what I love most about music is its conversational quality — the multidirectional interaction of listening, memory, expectation, and response. For example, the way I hear something like the beginning of The Rite of Spring and it awakens in my mind a memory of Appalachian Spring and out comes The Rite of Appalachian Spring. That’s partly just a musical pun based on a verbal pun, but it’s also articulating an awareness of similarities in the styles of Stravinsky and Copland (something I’d been reading about in Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise at the time this came to mind). Most important, the intricate work that goes into combining these works is a wonderful way to encounter the music of both composers. I’ve never actually played The Rite of Spring, but I’ve played with it many different ways, always inspired by things it has said to me. [continued…]

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BSO Survived Earlier Strokes of Fate

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BSO had enemies visible and invisible

Must one look at the current situation in classical music, indeed in all the arts, as a catastrophe never before seen in our longest lifetimes? A century ago, the Boston Symphony was reeling from a series of disasters that called into question its very survival.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War One, the Boston Symphony was generally accepted as the finest orchestra in the world. Its 110 performances (including 48 in Boston, 15 in New York and Brooklyn, and another 15 in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC) of the 1916-17 season made it, without question, the busiest orchestra in the world. That’s 30 more concerts than both the New York Philharmonic and the New York Symphony combined that same period. Should we even need to account for the 60 concerts by the Boston Pops in 1917?

The orchestra’s first major disaster occurred the following season. The players of the Boston Symphony had come from all over the world (a key difference at this point, since the BSO was not unionized at this juncture, thus management had no obligation to hire players from within the Boston local). A large majority, in fact, had come from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Even before the United States declared war against Germany, in April 1917, Americans had come to fear and hate all things German. Hamburgers became “liberty burgers.” Sauerkraut took on the moniker of “liberty cabbage.” The Metropolitan Opera dropped all works from the German repertoire. Schools banned German as a foreign language study. So it was no surprise that the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with its many members and conductor German-born, was not above suspicion. [continued…]

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An American Scriabin?

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Now is a great time to luxuriate in thinking about little-known but worthy individuals and subjects which had escaped our attention in normal times. More than 60 years after her death, Marion Bauer’s moment may be coming. In some respects, she is an American Hindemith—dare I suggest Scriabin? But a woman!

In the book review I wrote for the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy 2015, I spoke of Bauer’s intrepid personality and the obstacles she faced.  Years ago, Harrison Potter a pianist and intimate of Bauer, died in Holyoke, Mass.  Judith Tick and I drove to the rest home where he had lived, and scooped up unpublished Bauer manuscripts. She wrote for woodwinds and in small ensemble forms; maybe with the new pared down music scene, we can hear these works. My review of “Marion and Emilie Frances Bauer: From the Wild West to American Musical Modernism” by Susan E. Pickett,  published by Lulu.com, in 2014, follows.

This book is a wonderful read! It tells the story of two of America’s outstanding musical women, Marion Eugénie Bauer (1885-1955) and her sister, Emilie Francis Bauer (1865-1926). It also paints a vivid picture of the musical culture of their times, roughly 1860 to 1955. It begins with a man named Jacques Bauer, a Jewish immigrant who moved to Walla Walla in the State of Washington, far away from the known cultural centers. He married Julia Heyman, and they raised seven children, four girls and three boys.

The family’s story is a tutorial in tenacity and creative solutions. When Mr. Bauer’s store was destroyed by an opium fire from a nearby building, he rebuilt and started all over again. His wife Julia, though not enamored of where they were living, made the best of it. Fluent in several languages, she taught at Whitman College in Walla Walla and imparted culture to her family as well as to the community. [continued…]

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Types of Melody and Their Uses

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During the current performance drought, your publisher asked me to dust off the manuscript of my book, “Melody and Musical Texture.” Four years after I wrote it, it is still unpublished, mainly because it’s addressed to a limited but widely distributed audience of interested students and amateurs, rather than to conservatories or universities, because departments of music don’t offer courses on melody. Furthermore, textbook publishing everywhere today has turned into a racket.) Let’s begin with the opening paragraph from Chapter 1 (which I might yet revise):

Melody is the wellspring of the human musical mind and feeling. All musicality proceeds from melody, from the most elementary and unformed to the most cultivated and sophisticated. Melody organizes musical sound, and the musical idea behind the sound, as speech organizes thought and statement. Melody is the completeness of song; beyond that, it is the Ariadne’s thread that traces musical time and makes it real, from the smallest musical thought to the largest, from the one-second motive or the five-second phrase to the 70-minute symphony. Melody is the spontaneous and prime manifestation of the composer’s imagination, and it remains the essence of musical substance when all technique and artifice are cleared away. Melody is the first thing we think about when we think of any piece of music; we can identify virtually any familiar piece of music from just a fragment of its melody; in following through the melodic line mentally in real time, we can recreate the entire musical superstructure in our own mind, even without uttering a sound. Every composer begins the compositional process with melody, renewing it every day. [continued…]

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BSO Copes

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Spanish flu closed BSO in 1918

In consequence of the cancellation of more than 130 events between March 12th and mid-June, including the last seven weeks of its 2019-20 subscription season, and the 2020 Pops season,  BSO management has furloughed personnel and reduced musician and staff salaries to remediate for $10 million in forgone revenues. These numbers do not include the possible effect to the bottom line of a complete Tanglewood cancellation. That decision comes in the middle of May.

BSO musicians have unanimously agreed to take a 25% pay reduction through the end of August, to restructure their vacation time allotment over the next two years, and to allow expanded digital performance sharing during the live performance hiatus. According to the BSO PLayers’ Committee, “There’s no doubt that this is an unprecedented time in the history of the BSO. The changes that we’ve needed to undertake across the organization have affected (and will affect) so many people: musicians, staff and board alike. As we continue to foster and grow our relationship with our audiences in an online-only format, our hearts go out to our many colleagues involved in all facets of our work, whether concert production or elsewhere in our organization, who find themselves furloughed. We look forward to the time when we can get back to performing live, working together again to bring music to life.”

Management also announced the furlough of 70 of the organization’s 200 full-time employees as of April 20th.  Furloughs and salary reductions will strike 80% of the BSO’s full-time employees. More than 400 part-time personnel had previously been furloughed in connection with the concert cancellations. Workers will retain healthcare coverage and can apply for unemployment insurance and supplemental income under the terms of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Employees who are enrolled in health, dental, life, Long Term Disability (LTD), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Health Savings Accounts (HAS), will maintain these benefits during the period of their furloughs.

The organization has also implemented a 5%-15% sliding scale salary reduction policy for a significant portion of the staff; depending on salary level, some employees will not experience any reduction in their compensation.

Mark Volpe, BSO President and CEO, will take a 50% reduction in his base salary. BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons will not receive compensation for all canceled performances. Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart will also take a substantial cut in his compensation. Volpe writes: [continued…]

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Rabelaisian Musical Optimism Cut Short

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About this time every year I like to put in a plug for one of my favorite unknown French composers, Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-94). “Unknown” isn’t quite exact, but in fact in America he is recognized, if at all, only for the brilliant orchestral rhapsody España (still so much of a concert favorite that it has been handily besmirched in a Perry Como song, “Hot diggity, dog ziggity, boom, whatcha do to me”). In his native France, and almost equally in England, Chabrier is respected and cherished as the most original and most instinctively Gallic of all the composers between Berlioz and Debussy. His mature appearance on the Parisian scene was relatively brief but of surpassing brilliance, and every French composer since has joyfully acknowledged his influence. The composer Jean Françaix, citing Roland-Manuel, said: “Let’s stop rediscovering Chabrier every twenty years. Let’s put him once and for all at his true place, right at the top.” Chabrier was a leading figure in the arts and salons of the belle époque, a close friend of writers, poets, and painters as well as musicians; Manet painted his portrait twice, and Chabrier himself was the owner of Manet’s last masterpiece Un bar aux Folies-bergère (although the shadowy figure in the mirror is probably not Chabrier). A photograph by Nadar shows Chabrier’s huge frame that matched his booming, profane, generous personality, one that was noted for breaking strings when he sat down at the piano.

A native of Ambert, Puy-de-Dôme, in the Auvergne, Chabrier showed early talent and got some training, but at his family’s insistence became a lawyer for the French government, where, he said later, “I lost 15 years.” The years weren’t entirely lost, because he began to write operettas, one of which, l’Étoile (1877), was successful (Opera Boston mounted a delightful production about fifteen years ago). An encounter with Wagner’s music shook Chabrier to the core. In 1880 he signed out for a long weekend in order to hear Tristan und Isolde in Munich. A well-known story has Chabrier fainting from expectant emotion even before the curtain rose; he never returned to his civil service job, resigning to become a full-time composer at age 39.  

The first significant result was Dix pièces pittoresques for piano, four of which Chabrier later orchestrated as a Suite pastorale. Hearing a performance, César Franck remarked, “These pieces are a bridge between our own time and that of Couperin and Rameau.” In addition to a remarkable pianistic inventiveness, the ten Pièces pittoresques marked a point of departure in harmonic originality comparable to that of Chabrier’s slightly younger contemporary, Fauré; both composers would point the way to Debussy’s flowering a decade later. España, appearing with the Lamoureux Orchestra in 1883, made Chabrier instantly famous; its bright orchestral color was irresistible, and its brash harmony is still refreshing today. [continued…]

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Society Gives Musicians 100%

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Historic H&H graphic

Unlike many if not most presenters, the Handel and Haydn Society has announced it will be paying musicians for the concerts canceled in its 2019-20 season, to wit, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which was scheduled for April 3rd and 5th , and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, set for May 1st and 3rd.

The H+H Executive Committee has pledged to pay 88 orchestra and chorus members more than $350,000, which is 100% of their expected salaries for these performances. “The society, like all arts organizations, is feeling the impact of these incredibly trying times,” said David Snead, president and CEO. “The board felt we needed to stand by our musicians as we all navigate the economic uncertainty ahead. H+H is thankful for the many patrons who donated back their tickets, the generous donors to the Musicians’ Relief Fund, and we welcome all additional support through the donation page on our website.”

FLE: How is Boston’s oldest music society doing?

DS: Fortunately, we were already set up to work remotely when the pandemic hit; everyone has laptops and VPNs. Our Vonage phone system transfers calls so that somebody answers it in their kitchen instead of the office. So the organization is getting along fine from that point of view.

Except the most important thing you want to be doing, giving concerts, you’re not going to be able to do for a while, and when you have the word “society” in your name, it must be hard when you can’t be social.

What are trying to find other ways serve people’s needs for music. [continued…]

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What’s It Called, or What’s in a Name?

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Mark DeVoto ca. 2000

The composers of the earliest written music, like chant and medieval polyphony, identified their works by the incipit of a text. Thus Pérotin’s 20-minute-long Sederunt principes, even in a 12th-century manuscript, didn’t have a title page or a heading at the top of the first page of score: “Sederunt principes, organum in 4 parts,” but would be known by the text of its cantus firmus, even though the successive syllables of the tenor might be several pages apart.

Two centuries or so later, Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1383) left chansons to posterity—his music with his own verses. We know these songs by the first line of text. He also left a complete Ordinary of the Mass, with an actual title: Messe de Nostre Dame. Within another century, dozens of Mass compositions would become well known in church use, and these would be identified by title and usually by composer as well: Josquin des Prez left a Missa Pange lingua (based on a chant, a Good Friday hymn), a Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae (on a “hidden subject”), and of course a Missa l’Homme armé (on a popular song), as did a dozen or more other composers.

During the High Renaissance (16th century) titles begin to emerge that indicated specific formal types independent of texts; these tell the prospective listener at least something of what to expect. The title Diferencias sobre Guardame las vacas refers to the popular song that is the theme, but otherwise indicates diferencias as a formal type, one variation followed by another. The chaconne, and later the passacaglia, arose as a continuous-variation form. In this period, dance forms generate musical titles, and these multiply in the Baroque era: sarabande, passepied, galliard, allemande, gigue, bourrée, all imply stylized group dances, and these usually have identifiable musical properties, such as specific meters (sarabande in slow triple meter, gigue in fast 6/8, etc.). From the middle 16th century, some titles suggest more style than form: prelude (praeludium), fantasia, toccata, etc., imply non-sectional extended pieces with a mixture of styles, and this tendency continued through Bach and Mozart into the 19th century and even beyond; a fantasia might be paired with a contrasting fugue, identifiable as to form but more uniform in style. In opera, another product of the 16th century, a title could mean a principal character or characters, or a main subject, but essentially functioned just like the title of an Elizabethan play, a name on a rural mailbox, or a coat of arms over the door of a shop. That’s also true of big titles like The Well-tempered Clavier, like the gold lettering on the binding of a multi-volume set, even though by itself it tells you almost nothing of what’s inside. [continued…]

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