A series of concerts next week in Napa Valley, called the "Festival del Sole." Artists include Anne Sofie Von Otter, Joshua Bell, the Russian National Orchestra, Christopher Taylor, Samuel Ramey, Frederica Von Stade, Emerson String Quartet et al. Amidst all the European classical music, the only American piece is People Will Say We Are in Love from Oklahoma. Festival wine schedule here.
These included its focus on emotional empathy; characters and
situations far removed from the audience by time and geography; its use
of American historical and social materials; and its use of dance and
song to convey plot and character rather than act as an intermission or
diversion from the story.
It's like we're back to the era of 45s or 78s before LPs with short playing music (YouTube video files are limited to 100 Mb). Here's the first movement of Copland's Piano Sonata played by Mario Ajero (who has a piano podcast here).
Mario also has a video describing how to play Clocks by Coldplay; I enjoy this purely for pedagogical reasons, of course. And The Standing Room highlights the Chinese group Twelve Girls Band, who play Coldplay covers on an erhu.
Mario in the comments points out the Piano Sonata is in Copland's "rugged
modernist" style; I've been so immersed in this stuff lately I forgot it
may sound unusual to those expecting say, Billy the
And this quote just in from Chris Martin of Coldplay: When I’m 40, and too old to be a rock star, I plan to go back to college to study classical music.
Not sure where I am going with this, but I'm in a bit of a wtf mood...
As You Said. Wheels of Fire. Jack Bruce, Pete Brown. Cream. And who would Pete Brown be?
Fantasia after Music by Bach. Ferruccio Busoni. Egon Petri. Not that I know who Egon Petri is, for that matter.
Etude No. 1. John Cage. Stephen Drury. What's Elliott Carter's opinion of John Cage? Just wondering...
Depth Perception. Paul Rosas. The Frog Peak Collection. Short piece that could be misconstrued as coming from an ailing computer.
2005-06-20. John Maxwell Hobbs. Cinema Volta. Would Mozart have been this good at daily podcasting? His, John's that is, new podcast, Sporadic Outbursts, here.
Build My House. Marcia Henderson. 100 Years of Peter Pan. Is Marcia related to Skitch or Florence? Were Skitch and Florence related?
Etude No. 6. John Cage. Stephen Drury. What exactly was Cage's educational agenda with these pieces? This one is a little too sparse and uneventful, even for me. On the other hand, if he really wrote these in the thirties, they were radical beyond belief, an homage to Satie, or both.
Etude No. 2. John Cage. Stephen Drury. Ok, that's better. It has so much energy it even reminds me of ragtime. Ok, not really.
When Soft Winds. George Antheil. George Antheil. Antheil Plays Antheil. This is a choral piece. Antheil can also sing?
Willie the Pimp Part One. Frank Zappa. Fillmore East, June 1971. This is so unlike the stellar Captain Beefheart/Frank Zappa studio version on Hot Rats. Even the FZ guitar solo on this version is lacking. So what's the story between those two? Any Zappa-ologists in the audience?
WGBH is currently airing self-congratulatory spots, playing clips of an
address Aaron Copland gave on its inaugural broadcast. To paraphrase,
Copland says that 'GBH should particularly focus on music of our own
time and place, to the point that contemporary American music is as
well known as that of the classical masters. It's great talk, and I
absolutely agree with the sentiment, but it made me consider; does WGBH
actually do that?
He also points out the WGBH-run Art of the States site. From Art of the States, a Real streaming version of Aaron Copland's Sextet here although for some reason, I get no audio...
In a review of 24 from this week's New Yorker, Nancy Franklin comments:
(By the way, judging by the soundtrack of "24," when a nuclear bomb does go off the accompanying music will sound something like Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. Good because Pachelbel's Canon is so 1990).
Continuing with California-themed articles in the journal American Music, Sally Bick writes Of Mice and Men: Copland, Hollywood, and American Musical Modernism. Copland wrote the score for the film of John Steinbeck's novel even though at that point, at least in Hollywood, he was seen as a "modernist art music composer." Copland:
It seems to me that what I was trying for in the simpler works was only partly the writing of compositions that might speak to a broader audience. More than that they gave me an opportunity to try for a more homespun musical idiom not so different in intention from what attracted me in more hectic fashion in my jazz-influenced works of the twenties. In other words it was not only musical functionalism that was in question but also musical language.
Bick goes on to suggest that in a quest for realism in the film, Copland effectively uses dissonance, "unusual rhythms and melodic structures," and novel timbres in the context of an overall simplified musical approach, resulting in the marriage of the pastoral with the contemporary.
And as a tonic to tonight's pop-jazz, it's the crisp and weird percussion music of Edgard Varèse. Let's see -- five degrees of connection would be Cyndi Lauper to Miles Davis to Teo Macero to Edgard Varèse to Richard Strauss. Although apparently, Cyndi Lauper and Richard Strauss have already been linked, at least artistically. Regarding a performance of Strauss' Arabella:
only clear visual reference to a specific era was an inexplicable image from the
1980s — a group of Asian waiters break-dancing on stage while Milli
(the trilling Russian coloratura Olga Trifonova) sang dressed up like the pop
star Cyndi Lauper in the video "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
Back to Varèse, Paul Griffiths in the Penguin Companion to Classical Musicsuggests he was "an extreme radical in a radical generation" and kept pushing his modernist vision even while others were backing away.
For the record (and to dispel a stereotype), I'm continuing to realize that Aaron Copland is America's greatest composer. But I won't make that assertion in this post. Instead, this is preamble for how I found myself attending a Rob Kapilow music appreciation event at Stanford on Sunday. For those who don't know Rob, he educates listeners on the details and meaning of a particular piece through closer examination. I have a CD of his covering Mozart's Jupiter Symphony where he provides musical examples and insights (prior aworks note here):
Remember, things with Mozart are never as simple as you think....The martial flourish versus intimate strings....Contrast transformed into unity...
I found this CD (hi, Amoeba bin) quite annoying but this month's concert with Rob accompanied by an augmented St. Lawrence String Quartet was too much for me to resist since it presented Copland's Appalachian Spring. If I truly believe Copland is the guy, how could I not attend?
And fortunately, at least live, Rob was interesting, funny, entertaining, and memorable. He also worked the sell-out audience effectively. The format was an hour of lecture with examples from the piece, the piece itself in a full run-through and then a Q&A. Pedagogically, it was so-so. I could understand each isolated musical example, but in real-time, since I didn't know exactly the context in which they would appear, I missed many of the examples we had just covered. This may just be a remnant of my jazz days where I learned best by replaying sections ad infinitum.
What was interesting? He talked a lot about the "Appalachian Spring" chord, how the rest of the piece grows out of its use in the beginning, and while seemingly simple, there's more than than you might think. On the other hand, he suggested Copland had the courage to be so simple. I may prefer my simplicity truly simple but I understand his point.
Kapilow did have a particularly clever idea of reciting the text to the familiar Shaker song used as source material in the work while the clarinetist played the melody. I doubt I will ever hear "A.S." again without thinking about that. I'm less enamored about how I may also remember Rob Kapilow everytime I hear this composition. In particular, I have a low threshold for hyperbole; to suggest that the ending is "superb, fantastic and amazing" doesn't help me like it more. Although, that may just be me; at the end of what I thought was a reasonable performance, the crowd applauded more enthusiastically than any concert I've been to in awhile.
Moving beyond specific musical details, Kapilow had some larger insight into what Copland was doing and why we like this piece so much. Copland's intent was to capture the essence of what this music was about but in no way was it an attempt to be authentic. As was pointed out, presumably Shaker music didn't use modulation and counterpoint and yet Copland incorporated these techniques to his benefit. Similarly, Copland's Billy the Kid was given as another example f an imaginative interpretation rather than a factual account. This has me wondering if Doctor Atomic's downfall may ultimately be because it attempted the latter?
Kapilow suggested another reason we respond to Appalachian Spring is that it represents an idealization of America with all the possibility that entails, versus the reality of what we have, and that we want to believe. Well said.
Finally, in the Q&A, I didn't but wanted to ask why does Rob hate "Copland the Modernist?" A presumption on my part, of course...
By the way, the Kapilow Mozart CD has a better Amazon sales rank than the Copland conducts Copland CD.
Update: Copland is of course spelled with a "d." Also, I wonder if Appalachian Spring is one of the few pieces after 1915 that Hucbald doesn't hate?
For that matter, I see Copland as the lowest-common-denominator Greatest American Composer. Does anybody really hate the music of Copland? Other choices are surely more contentious -- Stravinsky? Feldman? Glass? Adams? Ives?
Michael West in the comments suggests Duke Ellington as the Greatest American Composer. I suppose no one generally hates the music of Ellington either athough even that pick gets into the relative merits of jazz composition versus classical composition. This does make me want to listen to East St. Louis Toodle-Oo, though.
Hmm, that was interesting. I've been struggling with a cold all morning, while trying to blog. Then, the rain came down quite heavily, my Firefox browser crashed, I rebooted my PC, the rain stopped and now my cold is better. Blog post is lost however. Cause and effect is not clear to me...
Hymn to St. Cecilia Op.27. II. Benjamin Britten. Courtesy of cddb, the artist field says "I cannot grow". The leading quote will prove significant later.
Spiegel Im Spiegel. Arvo Part. The artist field is empty.
Sorted by album, the first and last songs:
Miles Davis_ John Coltra. Miles Davis. 'Round Midnight.
Spiegel Im Spiegel. Arvo Part. The album field is also empty.
Top 10 most-played songs:
A Spider. Helen Boatwright. Ernst Bacon although the composer tag says John Cage.
Hymn to St. Cecilia Op.27. II. Benjamin Britten. "I cannot grow." In the old iPod, this was at the top of the songs menu and I would accidentally select it (not that I have anything against Benjamin Britten).
Endangered Species. Alvin Curran. Didn't realize I listened that much to this.
Suicide in an Airplane. Leo Ornstein. Marc-André Hamelin.
Top 10 recently played songs:
Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder). Maxwell. I don't have a clue who Maxwell is but the last 10 tracks I've played are all black artists.
D's Choice. Matthew Shipp.
ZX-1. Matthew Shipp.
Yaphet. Miles Davis. The Bitches Brew 4-CD set was on sale last night at Tower.
Corrado. Miles Davis.
Trevere. Miles Davis.
Ndiwa. Kerfala Kante. Le Blues est ne en Afrique (Africa Mother of the Blues).
Diarabi. Boubacar Traore. Le Blues est ne en Afrique.
Nyamatoutou. Nahawa Doumbia. Le Blues est ne en Afrique.
Eighty Nine Ten. Snooky Prior. Chicago Blues Harmonicas.
Find “sex”; how many songs? 25, including "sextet" and "le sexisme" (Hi, Kim Gordon). Find “death”; how many songs? 22 and how come I don't recognize Death of the Machines by George Antheil? Similarly, I just finished The Long Emergency where Kunstler uses (Ira) Gershwin lyrics to make a point about the end of modernity. Try the Amazon search inside this book link that may or may not work. Scroll down to the last paragraph on the page and then to the next page. Scary book by the way. Find “love”; how many songs? 199, including the group "Love." I really enjoy their alternate track (Your Mind and We Belong Together) where Arthur Lee is captured for eternity pointing out screw ups by the guitarist -- shades of Buddy Rich, in a way. I recognize not everyone, at least in my household, sees this as humorous.
Find “peace”; how many songs? 9 including FrogPeace by Kristine Burns. Find “rain”; how many songs? 133 including the group "Train." Find “sun”; how many songs? 98 including the genius "Sun Ra."
aworks bonus question - Find “sun-treader”; how many songs? 1 although again the composer tag says John Cage rather than Carl Ruggles.