Friday Quickie: Failed Emphatic Modifier Edition

Violinist plays Tchaikovsky's lone concerto

(Tucson Explorer, 2/10/2010)


Violinist Vadim Gluzman, NPR's #1 New Classical Music Face of 2008…

Number One Face, eh? I wonder who won "Best New Musician".

I kid, I kid.

Figure 1: Vadim Gluzman's Face with Hand and Violin

…for his recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, performs the concerto with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra this Thursday, Friday and Sunday, Feb. 11-12 and 14.

Okay, that’s relevant, I guess, since it’s the same piece. Do go on.

Gluzman and the TSO, led by music director and conductor George Hanson, present the only violin concerto by one of the most beloved Romantic era composers ever.

One of the most-beloved [sic] Romantic composers…ever?

Whereas, I suppose, Dowland was one of the most-beloved Romantic composers...of the Renaissance.

Besides, the force of the emphatic modifier "ever" is already undermined by the initial qualifier "one of".

Figure 2: "One. of. the. Worst. Episodes. Ever."


Why do you ask? No, seriously?

The Sacramento Philharmonic played a piece of new music recently, and Edward Ortiz of the Sacramento Bee wants to know, "to what end?"

What I want to know is, "why do you ask?"

Music Review: Philharmonic program ambitious, imperfect

It was fitting that the piece that opened the Sacramento Philharmonic's latest performance was titled "Chasing Light."

It was fitting that the piece starting the concert was titled "Chasing Light"? I would normally assume that "Chasing Light" was simply abstract imagery, or a poetic turn of phrase. Frankly Ed, I'm not entirely sure that has any concrete meaning.

Apparently not. Let's find out why, shall we.

For it was the chasing of light, namely in the form of capturing it in soulful musical inspiration, that went missing Saturday evening at the Community Center Theater.

Oh. Okay.

figure confused: Huh?

Wait, no. The title, "Chasing Light" was fitting because the chasing of light was missing?

Then, by that logic, shouldn't the title Henry Kissinger's Topless Zombie Goldfish also have been fitting?

But I guess my problem is one of definition. What does chasing light mean?

[Rereads sentence] "Chasing light" means capturing soulful musical inspiration.

Of course!

(Don't worry, I've already updated urbandictionary.com)

So, clearly, we're all familiar with capturing soulful musical inspiration, but how is it therefore "fitting" if that soulful musical stuff wasn't actually part of the concert?

I guess I still don't understand. Can you can elaborate for us?

Although the night would see moments of spirited musicianship,...

I'm assuming "spirited musicianship" doesn't qualify as "soulful musical inspiration" (aka. "chasing light"). Anyways, go on...

...especially during composer Joseph Schwantner's "Chasing Light,"....

It's amazing how Schwantner was able to fittingly name his piece the very thing missing from a concert not programed until after his piece had been written. That's pretty awesome.

...the concert did not do service to the rest of the program,...

Are "concert" and "program" not interchangeable here?

...which included Sergei Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme on Paganini,"...

I have nothing to add here except to say this is a long sentence. I've now interrupted it 4 times.

...and Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2.


So, this Schwantner piece really seems to be the linchpin of the concert. What's the story here?

The appearance of "Chasing Light," came by way of an unusual commissioning project called "Ford Made In America," financed through the philanthropic arm of the Ford Motor Co.

Ooh. A commissioning project. Cool. I'm a big fan of those. Why do you say it was unusual?

[Checks the internets...]

This doesn't seem so odd. Are you saying that a car company can't have an appreciation for the arts? (Have you seen the new Ford Fusion?)

Or are you saying that there's no reason to commission new music?

When done, that project, in its second year, will have brought Schwantner's work to 58 regional orchestras in all 50 states. It's an admirable idea.

Admirable? It's a great idea. And kudos to Ford for partnering with Meet the Composer and the League of American Orchestras to make this a reality.

It allows smaller-budget orchestras to commission and perform new works – always a costly endeavor.

Yes, exactly, which is why it's so great when large corporations extend their limited philanthropy dollars to easily overlooked projects like bringing new classical music to smaller communities.

Why do I sense that you have some issue with this?

But the effort does not answer the crucial question: "To what end?"

What?! Why do you ask? No, seriously, what the fuck?

I just told you, and you yourself already explained it...to bring new music to small regional orchestras. Da. Fuck?

I guess I don't understand your question. Is this some sort of philosophical riddle?

figure riddle: If Schwantner's "Chasing Light" is played in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does Edward Ortiz care?

But Mr. Ortiz, I guess you do have a point. What justification is there for this project? I mean, to think that Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 was only played by 28 orchestras in the 2007-2008 season, and they're spending money to spread this piece?! What a fucking crime. I can only imagine where this will lead us as a society.

It begins with small orchestras, like the Sacramento Philharmonic, playing music written in the last 25 years. Then, old people become alienated by all the "weird" music and stop coming the concerts. And before you know it, no one in attendance will care if there's a Mozart Piano Concerto on the concert, or even a Strauss waltz! Then, there will be nothing but new music on the concerts -- or in other words, anarchy. The new music elitistism will then spread to our museums, tearing down Bellini paintings in favor of this:

And the movie theaters will only play films by this guy:

and this guy:

A scary prospect, I know. Just think of the consequences if these people were ever to get involved politics. Goddamn socialists! Er... I mean new music.

But I digress. What were you saying again?

Although "Chasing Light" is a vibrant and descriptive work,...

It's a "descriptive work"? This isn't a third grader's report on the class trip to the zoo. Would you mind tell us what it "described"?

...it was hard to fathom why this piece, as opposed to any other, was chosen for the Ford project.

So your objection is not towards Ford or this project, your existential rumination was specific to this piece.

Yeah, Schwanter...why'd you write this piece? Seriously, what the fuck?

No doubt, the New Hampshire-based Schwantner shows a unique approach to orchestration. The 18-minute "Chasing Light" is a powerful, four-movement work that proceeds boldly and without pause.

"Without pause". How could you doubt the aptness of piece that proceeded without pause?!!

The work begins with a thunderous call from timpani that gives way to a descriptive theme in the strings.

Descriptive? Again? Really?

You are really struggling for compliments aren't you?

Perhaps I can help you out a little:

"The Schwantner is a piece. It both had a beginning and an end. I was impressed with the loudness in some parts, but also with the quiet stuff. Also, there was a flute. All of the notes were written down on paper, and the conductor led the orchestra. But, I couldn't help but wish there was more
molto in the playing. It was without pause." (The "without pause" really is a winner, no need to change that one.)

The work evolves fro
m its tumultuous beginning to a pastoral middle section of great color and emotional weight.

figure emotional weight: Like the Schwanter...metaphorically speaking, of course.

Throughout the work can be found an interesting interplay between strings and woodwinds.

And there was percussion too!

Here conductor Michael Morgan kept the orchestra on a crisp pace.

Here? Is "interesting interplay" a place?

But, at times, it seemed derivative and repetitive.

Define "it" again? Was "it" the "interplay", the "here", the "crisp pace", or just the piece in general?

And, derivative of what? Does derivation mean that it should be left only to the large metropolitan orchestras? And also unworthy of Ford's "Made in America" grant money? Schwantner is American, right?

Next came a warp-speed performance of "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" by pianist Misha Dichter.

Wait a minute. Let's back this thing up. I do have a relatively short attention span, but I remember something about the very existence of this piece being called into question.

It allows smaller-budget orchestras to commission and perform new works – always a costly endeavor. But the effort does not answer the crucial question: "To what end?"

Although "Chasing Light" is a vibrant and descriptive work,
it was hard to fathom why this piece, as opposed to any other, was chosen for the Ford project.

Ring a bell? Did you answer your own query already and I just missed it?

[Rereads review: ...descriptive work...without pause...descriptive...interplay...crisp pace...repetitive...]

Nope. Pretty sure you didn't really answer it. So, seriously, why do you ask?

What exactly is your point? Because it seems that you don't really have one, and you think it's fashionable to cast aspersions onto new classical music. Yes? Maybe?

But, hell, that doesn't even make any sense, because you seem to have liked the piece, at least a little. You did say that it was "descriptive", didn't you? And it does "proceed without pause", right?

Seriously, what the fuck.


Epilogue: Later, Mr. Ortiz, makes one very lame attempt to justify the whole fitting title introduction.

Overbearing performances of this symphony [Sibelius Symphony No. 2] often leave audiences with the impression that Sibelius' orchestrations are heavy-handed and redundant. But one would not have had that impression on Saturday. It would have been the opposite. There was nothing heavy-handed here; rather it was like Sibelius "light."

Ha ha. I was wrong. It all works now.

Plus, puns are awesome.



Music Theorist of the Day!

Today's Music Theorist of the Day is Heinrich Glarean (1488-1563)!

Figure 1: As well as being mentally taxing, thinking about modes instills an unfortunate aversion to hairbrushes.

Glarean bucked the centuries-old trend of thinking about musical modes as eight in number, as the reader no doubt knows from their familiarity with the Guidonian hand. Right?

Figure 2: Which assumes the reader is a sixteenth-century choirboy.

Finals on D, E, F, and G were posited to exist each in their authentic and plagal forms. The distinction between authentic and plagal modes with the same final, of course, was the addition of a fourth (diatesseron) above or below the fifth (diapente) defining the mode. This systemization held from (at least) Guidonian thinking until the early 16th century (for example, Vanneaus' Recatetum de musica aurea (Rome, 1533)).

Glarean, though, began to think of the octave (diapson) as a unit instead of the sum of a fourth and a fifth. This insight, coupled with a dire misunderstanding of Greek modal theory* and (panicked) Catholic thinking during the Reformation** led him to posit a system of 12 (!) modes in his Dodecachordon (1547).

In his taxonomy, every diatonic note except B (owing to the false fifth) could be a final, with corresponding authentic and plagal modes for each. Thusly the number of modes leapt dramatically in his conception from 8 to 12 (!), which added the now-familiar Ioninian and Aeolian modes known to today's music students.

I knew you were wondering.


"But, Sator Arepo," you're thinking, "how will I ever memorize up to and including seven Latin words?"

Never fear!

Today we know the "church" modes and their finals (ending notes) including the more-or-less never-used Locrian mode as:

Ionian (c)
Dorian (d)
Phrygian (e)
Lydian (f)
Mixolydian (g)
Aeolian (a)
Locrian (b)

Say what?

So just remember this:


Thanks, conservatory education!


* See Palisca, "Mode Ethos in the Renaissance" in Essays in Musicology, ed. Lockwood, pp. 126-39 (1990) .
** See Judd, "Renaissance Modal Theory" in Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Christiansen, p. 388, Cambridge University Press (2002).


Another Possible Outcome of the Infinite Monkey Theorem

Emanuel Ax plays Chopin and Schumann in recital

Dependability isn't necessarily the greatest compliment in classical music, but in Emanuel Ax's case, it's dependability of the highest order.

Figure 1. Extinct volcano: High degree of dependability; they’re also often fun to look at.

Figure 2a. Dormant volcano: Not so dependable

Figure 2b. But deathly exciting!

Figure 3. Active volcano: Also a high degree of dependability, plus, “meh.”

Okay. I’m going to go out on I limb, here, and offer an interpretation, because, hey, we’ve got to start somewhere and this could be interpreted in any number of ways. So, here is how I read it: Emanuel Ax brings a dependable quality to his performances. That seems reasonable, I think. Sure. Why not?

Outbursts of musical temperament do indeed happen...

Implying: dependability really means flat, monotone, or tempered. But then again, what the hell is “flatness of the highest order” supposed to mean? Let’s see. Or more likely, let’s not and say we did.

Outbursts of musical temperament do indeed happen with this 60-year-old pianist, but you don't feel as if you've missed anything when the repertoire requires and receives a genteel veneer [...]

Weird. It’s as if scores impart information. And who knew that performers actually follow what’s on the printed page? Geesh! The more you know...

To continue, Ax’s flat (?) dependability is interrupted by outbursts, which tend (?) to obscure genteel “things” written in the score, which are subsequently played. Clear enough. [Ahem]

But that doesn't mean Ax was glossy.

Right! He had “outbursts of musical temperament,” remember? Or were those written in the score, too, implying that the outbursts were independent of the score?

The Schumann selections showed the composer at his most lyrical, though even amid the extravagant outpouring of the Fantasy in C, Ax revealed glimpses of the composer's darker side, as if to show how his musical love letter to Clara Wieck (his future wife) was just one side of a passionate personality that at its most benign retreated into the world of E.T.A. Hoffmann's scary fairies, and in future years would drive him to attempt suicide.

I think Lacan would have something to say about Schumann’s fulfilled desire for Clara.

Figure 4. No objet petit a for you!

As happens from time to time, or simply all the time, the issue, I think, is that composer and performer--more appropriately, interpreter—are being confused. Is Ax being temperamental? Or is Schumann being temperamental?

More on point, if Ax is being temperamental, then what the fuck is this dependability thing?

Those were only glimpses, however.

Well, maybe Ax is dependable in that regard. You know, making sure those glimpses (which are flat and/or glossy?) aren’t obscured by his own outbursts.

Ax doesn't impose retrospective anachronisms onto music.

Figure 5. Powerpoint slide from Advanced Criticism, Week 4: Knot Tying

Where were we, again? Oh right: Huh?

Because the first movement's burst of C-major exaltation is the sort that even geniuses...

Uh, hold on. Looking at the score, I’m hard-pressed to call any of it firmly in C major. (Here’s just the first page; I dare you to call it a burst.) But, then again, scores exist for performers to ignore.

That’s it! Maybe Ax is dependably ignoring the score, which he follows sometimes, but only during moments of genteel veneer.

Because the first movement's burst of C-major exaltation is the sort that even geniuses deliver only a few times in a creative lifetime, the Fantasy's subsequent movements were fated to be anticlimactic.

Fate, ruins, Clara, olives, Beethoven, Im Lengendenton, An die Ferne Geliebte: whatever. After all this, I demand to know about Ax’s dependability!

Wisely, Ax didn't try to sustain the music's emotional temperature in later movements, but let the piece go to different, also compelling places, often by tapping into the singular eloquence of simplicity.

Figure T-Shirt.

With Ax, the notes unfolded with the inner time clock of Vladimir Horowitz but with a tone that lacked a bit of Ax's usual sheen in favor of the more mellow coloring of Arthur Rubinstein.

Dependably imposing anachronisms without imposing anachronisms?

His own strong personality accommodates influences from elsewhere in ways that add to (rather than dilute) his musical identity.

Oh. Dependably imposing anachronisms without imposing retrospective anachronisms that dilute his musical identity, which sometimes comes in outbursts of musical temperament that don’t obscure glimpses of genteel veneer the score requires, which is then to be played. Got it.

In the second half, which included Chopin's Andante spianato and Schumann's early Fantasiestucke, his tone quality deteriorated...

Uh. In other words, Ax's tone quality wasn't dependable?

...perhaps in an attempt to climax the recital with fortissimos this particular instrument couldn't easily take.

The piano wasn’t dependable!

Better to end with a bang than a whimper.

Random, closing sentence shrouded in irony.


All the Editors are Dead and Such

Just because it's Charles Ward (who I thought retired) and because it has one of those great music review titles...

Heavy-handed pianist slightly dims otherwise bright performance

The world's most popular symphony (maybe), the Houston debut of a fearless pianist, a tribute to the Chinese New Year's and no conductor in one event?

One of the greatest opening sentences ever (maybe).

The principle attraction Saturday afternoon at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church was Brooklyn-based soloist Simone Dinnerstein. She's earned quotable raves from the New York Times and best-seller status for two CDs.

The principle attraction?

figure editor: Don't worry. I know it's hard.

and finally, because there was music on the concert...

Chinese New Year's Eve was observed with Shuo (Initiate) by Chinese-American composer Chen Yi.

Cool. I like Chen Yi.

figure great composer: Chen Yi sporting the nifty "mom" hair and jean jacket combo.

Yep. Love me some Chen Yi. Her music is so...hmmm...what's the word?



Comforting! That's it!

A brief work for string orchestra, it deftly merged comforting chords, piquant sounds of unusual scales and a balance of reflective and driving music. Chen got that celebration off to a sweet start.


The Transitive Property of Intermission?

PSO concert's formula equals success

Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/30/2010

Cheesy title notwithstanding, the premise of this review is fascinating.

Intermission at this Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert might as well have been an equal sign in what amounted to a giant musical formula.

(Small quibble, but I think I'd have gone with "equals" sign, but that's just what 1.8 seconds of research suggests is common usage. Also, I asked a mathematician friend of mine.)

Nonetheless: I'm totally intrigued, as I'm interested in the intersection of mathematics and music.

What could this mean?

Figure 1: Which falsely implied that the Pittsburgh Symphony's intermission was a strong statement of support for LGBT equality.

In the first half were two examples of the classical period by Haydn and Mozart, coincidently Violin Concertos No. 2 each performed with ravishing tone by violinist Gil Shaham.

Cheers for the use of the unusual synonym (and near-homonym)-slash-alternate spelling of "coincidentally."

Jeers for...well, a couple of things. There's clearly a comma missing, probably after "No. 2". Either that, or this is a hopelessly garbled paragraph. Er, sentence. Sentence-paragraph.

Moreover, was it really a coincidence that the concerti [sic] were both "number two"s? Like they rolled dice to determine which pieces to perform or something?*

Figure 2: But there's no d5...how am I supposed to choose a Mozart Violin Concerto?**

In the second half was Mahler's manipulation of that classical style in his Symphony No. 4.

Mmm, hmm, mmm-hmm. "That" classical style, eh?

It was almost as if music director Manfred Honeck were a mathematician, carefully balancing the equation to let the audience in on what Mahler was doing.


Or rather: What?

I guess the equation is

(Mozart Violin Concerto No. 2) + (Haydn Violin Concerto No. 2) = Mahler Symphony No. 4.


2 * ("That" classical style) = Manipulation of "that" classical style.

which implies that

Manipulation = 2

which is, really, no less logical.

Which is to say: Not logical at all. Obviously it's only a metaphor, but it should still work on some level, right? Well, I'm still intrigued, and would like to unpack the metaphor, if possible.

So let's back up.

It was almost as if music director Manfred Honeck were a mathematician, carefully balancing the equation to let the audience in on what Mahler was doing.

First, if it's an equation, it's by definition balanced. Second, the equation metaphor implied that the (or "that") classical style evidenced in the first half is somehow balanced by the Mahler, and, further, that the stylistic balance is achieved...how?***

Nice of him, since the first audiences (and critics) that heard the Fourth Symphony missed the boat pretty badly on this one.

They missed the boat...badly? Were they shooting at it?

Figure 3: Artist's rendering. (Pro tip: You have to lead them a little.)

When Mahler conducted the premiere of his Symphony No. 4 in Munich in 1901, boos rang out in the hall.

This is true, but his reputation as the heavy-handed director of the Vienna Opera and the fervent, pervasive, and increasingly normalized anti-Semitic sentiment in Austria at the time (the mayor of Vienna was openly anti-Semitic) likely played a role in this reaction (although Mahler officially "converted" to Catholicism as a requirement for his post at the Opera).

Or, you know, they just really hated it.

But today, it's hard to understand how the audience didn't realize why he was using ultra-simple themes and orchestration instead of his typical aggressive and sometimes terrifying music.

Wow. Okay...

The orchestra is smaller, sure (no trombones, fewer than 374 horns), but I don't know if (for example) the sleigh bells in the opening bars count as "ultra-simple" orchestration. Also, the characterization of Mahler's music as "typical[ly] aggressive and sometimes terrifying" strikes me as, er, odd. Mahler's music is bucolic, ironic, witty, parodic, occasionally faux-pastoral, nuanced...but not really aggressive. For me, at least.

But let's follow the argument in the service of understanding the metaphor.

After all, he ends the work with a setting for soprano and orchestra of a poem in which a child sings about what heaven is, or might be like.

After all?

Obviously the music was meant to mirror that....

Obviously? What's all this rhetoric about?

...and if you listened closely to Honeck's interpretation of it on Friday night at Heinz Hall, the PSO also revealed Mahler's constant questioning of this child-like state.

That seems closer to the point.

At times, Mahler is reminding us that even the most innocent picture of heaven is tied to Earth.

Figure 4: Mahler's vision went unrealized until 1990.

Mahler achieved this by playing with style -- specifically that classical style of Mozart and Haydn.

I think that hearing the Fourth's perceived classicism as [ironically?] naive and speaking to the poem in the fourth movement is fair.

Surely, though, the metaphorical equation doesn't come down to

Classicism (Mozart, Haydn) = Referential, throwback-y-sort-of Classicism (Mahler's 4th)

...does it? There's more, right? Because that's pretty thin.

It is extremely hard to separate a style of music from the time in which it arose.

Unless we lived in some fantastic, unimaginable, futuristic age where basically any music that was ever recorded by anyone, anywhere was available at our fingertips. That'd be crazy.

If Beyonce were to release a new song in the style of big band jazz or Bruce Springsteen a new Elvis-like rock-n-roll tune, we would see them as throwbacks or tributes, not new explorations.

Maybe. Or as ironic. Or referential, or reverent/irreverent. Or parodic, or evocative--or crossover. Or deliberately and pointedly anachronistic. Or shamelessly commercial. Or lots of things, really, besides throwbacks or tributes. Or this:

Figure 5: Nice fucking font. Er, fonts.

Mahler was counting on this in the Fourth. He expected that by using music from an earlier style that was already 100 years past would evoke a simpler time, much in the way folk music is used today.

[Sentence error 506: missing object. Please fire editor.]

So, in this regard, one can see how early audiences had trouble understanding it.

No, I can't see that. You just laid out a pretty simple (if speculative) argument that it's easy to understand. Besides, you just wrote this a few paragraphs ago:

But today, it's hard to understand how the audience didn't realize why he was using ultra-simple themes and orchestration instead of his typical aggressive and sometimes terrifying music.

Or I guess you were ironically disproving your own assertion? How...Mahlerian.

Honeck's reading succeeded because he treated the galant style of the work sincerely and then upset it by manipulating dynamics.

That' a pretty nice assessment, nuanced and thoughtful. (I'd probably argue that "galant" is not equivalent to "classical" in current musicological parlance. (Perhaps we should check with some musicologists?))****

He kept the work from turning sappy or saccharine. This meant pulling back on the strings even more than he is sometimes wont to do, and it also meant emphasizing the solo elements of the symphony.

Okay, great. I'm losing the thread here, though. Something about an equation?

Principal after principal stepped up with rich and colorful solos, from William Caballero's sometimes radiant, sometimes protesting horn to Michael Rusinek's alternately full-bodied and wailing clarinet to Andres Cardenes' scordatura violin (tuned up a tone).

Scordatura violin doesn't seem like "ultra-simple orchestration" either. Just sayin'.

The latter was a tour-de-force for the concertmaster as he constantly switched violins in the second movement to assume the character of the Devil.

Uh, yeah. No. The character is supposed to be Freund Hein, a mythological German character closer to Death than the Devil, a skeleton who leads a Totentanz and plays the fiddle.

Figure 6: Ein Totentanz. Death is indeed a wily one, as the fiddle he's playing appears to be some sort of clarinet.
Figure 7: Austrian Melodic Death/Thrash Metal band Freund Hein.

Oboist Cynthia DeAlmeida, timpanist Christopher Allen, trumpeter George Vosburgh and the entire cell and bass sections also played crucial roles. Unfortunately, the soprano who sang the song "Life in Heaven" in the finale did not follow suit. Sunhae Im didn't muster the volume and didn't enunciate well. While this must be treated in a child-like manner, the part must be heard.

Again, those seem like valid observations, praises, and criticisms. So what's with the goddamn math metaphor?

Shaham, of course, didn't exist just to set up the Mahler.

I guess he'd be glad to know that.

That was a nice byproduct of his exquisite performance of the two concertos.

Shaham's performances in the first half helped set up the Mahler? Now we're getting somewhere. Right? Equation metaphor? Something?

His reading of Mozart's concerto was inspiring, but the surprise for me was the Haydn, whose unhurried treatment of the exquisite but deliberate middle movement was like watching some spectacular HDTV sports highlight in slow motion.

Either Haydn's treatment of his own middle movement was...like watching sports, or there's a pretty preposterous pronoun problem. Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse. But, hey, at least we're getting to the...

Shaham was far less animated on stage than his last appearance and took the pose of someone humbled by the music. His ability to play legato even in the quickest of runs (especially in his encore, the Preludio from Bach's Partita No. 3) infused this music with winning flair.

Okay, but...

Problem solved: both sides of this equation were equally masterful in the hands of these artists.

That's it? Everything was super? After all that?

Oh, come on! That's a fucking cop out.

Figure 8: Maxwell's Equations, or: Not A Fucking Cop Out

* Of course, "number two" also has the common, if vulgar, connotation of "shit."

** 1d10/2, obviously.

***Still further, if it's an equation it has to hold that the program would be transitive as well as reflexive (that is, it could have worked in reverse order (since both halves are (by definition) equal)), but that's not what's implied here.

****And, yes, I like nested parentheses.


News Flash: John Cage Not a Hamster Cage

I know classical music composers aren't as famous as, say, a member of the President's Cabinet, but you'd think they wouldn't be that easy to get confused. Sally Vollongo at the Toledo Blade apparently disagrees.

"Who was that first composer - Sib-something?" asked one listener of another slogging through the snow.

Sib-something? Ha ha. Ignorance is funny.

Not surprising if confusion arises about Sibelius, Jean, the late Finnish composer, and Sebelius, Kathleen, the current U.S. secretary of health and human services.

Seriously, you thought it was possible that the former Governor of Kansas was having her fifth symphony performed on this concert?

I know distinguishing people with similarly pronounced last names can be a real chore. But it's kind of like mixing up this guy...

with this guy.

Or, mixing up this guy...

with this guy.

I guess you're right, that is pretty confusing. Help me out some, Sally.

Just to be clear, it was the former whose music dominated the first half of the program.

Ohhhh...thanks for clearing that up. So, Kathleen Sebelius didn't compose Jean Sibelius' Fifth Symphony. Got it.

But I'm pretty sure that this guy was the second President of the United States, right?


Some easily confused pairs that didn't make my list:
Henry Cowell / Simon Cowell
Ted Turner / Tina Turner

Ross Lee Finney / Albert Finney
Rube Goldberg / Whoopi Goldberg

Warren Benson / Benson DuBois
Christopher Rouse / Rickey Rouse

Kevin Bacon / Canadian Bacon
/ Robert E. Lee

Who am I forgetting?


Composer of the Day!

Today's composer of the day is Alban Berg.

February 9, 1885 - December 24, 1935

(Photo: Alban Berg as played by Christopher Walken.)

Today would have been the 125th birthday for Mr. Berg, if he'd only had superhuman immortality. Berg represents Part II of our three part Composer of the Day! series on Second Viennese School composers. (see Part I here)

Berg was born into wealth, and died in poverty, the latter due to blacklisting by the Nazis. After knocking up one of his family's servants at age 17, Berg did the practical thing and got a job as a bookkeeper. By the age of 19, though, Berg did the unpractical thing and started to study composition with Arnold Schoenberg.

Berg is perhaps best known as the composer most-often cited by twelve-tone apologists and by haters of modernist music in need of some credibility. This is primarily due to Berg's reputation as a composer who successfully combined the musical sensibilities of Romanticism with Expressionist ideals and post-tonal musical languages.

Berg also ascribed to a system of composition that ventured to compose entire works of music from a single motive or musical gesture. This conservation of ideas manifests itself in many of his works, including the musicologist's wet-dream Lyric Suite, of which the first movement, for example, is derived entirely from a series of intervals in the very first bar. His most famous works are probably his Violin Concerto and his two operas, Wozzeck and Lulu. Both operas are touching stories of hope and the unwavering human spirit; the former about a soldier driven insane by doctors who then stabs his mistress, and the latter about a woman who kills her husband, kills her doctor, becomes a prostitute who is in turn killed by Jack the Ripper.

Here is a small bit from one of my favorite moments of Lulu:

Like his serialist comrade, Anton Webern, Berg suffered a rather tragic and gruesome death when he was (likely) bitten by an insect and died of blood poisoning, worsened by a little home surgery performed by his wife. He died on Christmas Eve, which, of course, totally sucks.

In the unlikely case that you haven't heard his music, please remedy that immediately. His music is a marvel of carefully executed musical architecture, and of lyrical and emotional depth.

Besides the already named works, his Chamber Concerto (1925) and Altenberg leider (1911-12) are amazing pieces more than worth the listen.

Chamber Concerto (1925), mvt. 1:

Five Orchestral Songs on Postcard Texts of Peter Altenberg, Op. 4 (1911-12):


"I think the origin of all this clamour for tonality is not so much the need to sense a relationship to the tonic, as a need for familiar chords: let us be frank and say "for the triad"; and I believe I have good reason to say that just so long as a certain kind of music contains enough such triads, it causes no offence, even if in other ways it most violently clashes with the sacred laws of tonality."
-- Alban Berg, quoted in Reich, Willi (1971). Schoenberg: A Critical Biography, p.34.


Friday Quickie -- Asshat Edition

I ran across this blog entry from Steven Humphrey on The Portland Mercury's website a week or so ago. The Mercury is an alternative (read hipster) newspaper in Portland, Oregon primarily dedicated to covering the popular music scene in and around Portland. So, to be fair, they don't really cover classical music. And for this reason I hesitated to reprint this on our site. But upon further consideration, it's an intelligent and lively exchange of ideas that I think the Detritus readers would be remiss not to have read.

Today's Symphony Review. SNORE!!!!

HA! That's so funny. Because you know, now that I think about it, classical music is boring. Awesome.

figure symphony concert: BOR-ING!

As you probably realize, we jaded, tight-pant wearing hipsters here at the



Yes, why?

Because it is OLD... TIMEY, yo!

Well, fuck, I've never seen it put so succinctly before. It is OLD! And for the most part I hate everything old too. But that can't be the only reason...why else do you HATE THE SYMPHONY?

The symphony is for Metamucil...

hehe...old people have more health problems than young people. Awesome reference!

figure boring: Old people like the symphony.

...Metamucil sippin' bucket kickers who are too freaking SQUARE to listen to the greatest band of all time (Vampire Weekend, 'natch).

figure old people: Old people don't know the greatest band of all time and, therefore, deserve our ridicule

figure greatest band of all time: Greatest band ever?! Talk about the greatest understatement of all time. I have no idea how I was able to make it through my life without this!

However, for the two or three creaky old-timers who accidentally stumble on to this site while trying to figure out their AARP benefits...

Ha ha! Old people need non-profit lobbying groups.

...or how email works,...

LOL! And they're terrible with technology. What a fucking waste of space old people are.
figure moe: "Call this an unfair generalization if you must, but old people are no good at everything."

Did you have help writing this, because I'm not sure it's humanly possible for one person to be as awesome as you.

...here is the latest in the weekly scolding emails we receive from symphony lover (HA!) Brian Horay. (Seriously, he writes us, like, every week. Can't he Twitter this?)

Fucking old guy doesn't use Twitter. Because everyone knows that the only way to be hip or cool is to use Twitter. Just ask any 13-year-old.

So, what email did this fucking loser send? ...

...wait?...he sent an email? Dude, Steven, I thought you said old people couldn't figure out email.

Fuck. Now I don't know what to think...
Dear Mercury: I've completely given up on you. Not only did soloist Chee-Yun tear up the Schnitzer with a 302-year-old violin at the Oregon Symphony this weekend, she was also featured in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode last fall. All this without even a mention in your so-called music previews. If Horse Feathers was playing a show with a 302-year-old fiddle, it would have been on your fucking cover. Once again, you've managed to drop the ol' proverbial ball.

Brian Horay
You're totally right, Steven Humphrey, old people are just TOO SQUARE to be taken seriously.

It's hard to see how you've managed to tolerate totally bogus emails like this for so long. Thanks for putting this old guy in his place. It's really a public service you're providing and frankly, it's probably the Lord's work you're doing (I can only assume that God hates old people too).

So from one music lover to another, Thanks. And, oh, by the way...

figure fuck you steve: "Fuck you, Steve."


Here's hoping some old woman hits you with her out-of-control Camry.


If You Don't Eat Your Meat, How Can You Have Any Pudding?

The concert program as a hermeneutic object has been, until pretty recently, not all that interesting to me. Usually, it seems, the organizing idea behind a concert program is about as interesting as "all the pieces are sort of about planets!" or "all the composers probably liked flowers".

Figure 1: An astonishingly original idea for your next Obligatory Jocular Costume party.

However, I'm coming around a bit. So, when thinking about a concert as a text to be interpreted, consideration is given not only to the pieces programmed, but the order in which they're presented. This can lead to more interesting issues, such as those raised recently in this review:

Visitors from Vienna Bring Both the Pastoral and the Not-So-Pastoral
(James R. Oestreich, New York Times, 1/27/2010)

However, as with all things hermeneutic, the license to interpret is easily carried too far. I'm not sure that's the case here, but it's something of which to be wary.

Programming symphonic concerts is too often done to formula, the lamest, nowadays, being overture, concerto, intermission, symphony.

Agreed, and point taken.

I'll also take this opportunity to note that Messiaen's "Intermission with Bird Songs, Traffic Noise, and Cigarettes" is my favorite work in that underrated genre.

If anything more challenging can be slipped by the marketing department, it is tucked somewhere inside to avoid encouraging patrons to arrive late or leave early.

Why would the marketing department care when you come or go if they sell you a ticket?


Oh, wait: I forgot to put on my hermeneutic hat!

Figure 2a: Apparently, literally every fucking thing in the world is available on a hat at CafePress.*

Figure 2b: Seriously?! What the hell?

That's better. Let's try this again.

If anything more challenging can be slipped by the marketing department, it is tucked somewhere inside to avoid encouraging patrons to arrive late or leave early.

Besides privileging the Romantic-transcendent cultural paradigm by placing the hierarchical, canonic works at the marked positions of the beginning and end of the concert, this programming strategy further others the "challenging" work by "tucking" it away (or "slipping" it in) between the metaphorical legs of the event-body, resulting in a gendered construction that patriarchally confines the transgressive or dangerous pieces out-of-sight.

Wait. What?

Oh, hell. That was my New Musicology hat.

Figure 3: Apologies to Dr. Susan McClary, Distinguished Professor of Musicology at UCLA.**

Where is that blasted hat?

[rifles through the hat closet at Detritus Towers]

Maybe this is it?

If anything more challenging can be slipped by the marketing department, it is tucked somewhere inside to avoid encouraging patrons to arrive late or leave early.

It sounds like the marketing department is trying to prevent the protrusion into reality of the real by sublimating the object-cause of its desire.

Gah. That's not it, either.

Figure 4: Objet petit a

Ah, screw it. No hat, then. I'll have to proceed with only my meager, Cthulhu-given interpretive skills.

The Vienna Philharmonic, in its three programs conducted by Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez at Carnegie Hall over the weekend, managed to present a lot of challenging material: substantial works by Arnold Schoenberg in each concert, a piece by Anton Webern, another by Mr. Boulez.

I am, I think, firmly on the record as being in favor of this programming.

And at least at the first concert, on Friday evening, the order of the program represented a small triumph of musical values over marketing wimpiness.

Ah, now we're talking. Let's do some goddamn interpretation! Who's with me?

Mr. Barenboim offered a quick historical jaunt, from the bedrock harmonies of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony through the unmoored and disintegrating tonalities of the Prelude and “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” to the 12-tone machinations of Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra (Op. 31), and it made for a rich and illuminating experience.

I would totally go to that concert. So, Mr. Oestreich, why the preamble about the programming?

But as much sense as that ordering made, it was by no means inevitable.

So the chronological order of the program made sense, as the structure of the concert mirrored the linear, unidirectional flow of time. But, crucially, it was not inevitable.

It's the cutting edge: considering performing pieces not in the order in which they were composed.

The program book, in fact, listed an earlier version,

Ah. Now that's interesting!

...with the mildly intractable Schoenberg work coming before the lush payoff of the Wagner.

Bucking the positivist, rational, linear logic of chronology in favor of the aforementioned "marketer's choice" arrangement.

So, to be clear: The program listed the Schoenberg as the middle work, but it was actually the last on the concert.

An insert sheet gave the revised order, evidently arrived at late,

A fair interpretation.

...and you could almost see the always provocative hand of the headstrong Mr. Barenboim at work in it.

Only a Maestro could have conceived of (provocatively) re-ordering the program at the last minute? To chronologically?

He virtually confirmed as much at the end of the evening when he conspiratorially announced the encore,

Wait wait wait.

There was an encore? This absolutely and drastically affects any close reading of the program. What was it, for Azathoth's sake?

Figure 5: Azathoth, the Insane Outer God at the Center of the Universe. We are all naught but his dreams of dancing. (Duh.)

...Johann Strauss’s “Thunder and Lightning” Polka, “for you and for those who left before the Schoenberg.”

Ha. That's great.

If and only if you stayed for the Schoenberg, which was strategically moved to the end of the program, you got a lollipop.

I take it all back. That's out-fucking-standing.***

*Gratuitous profanity indicates here that I am in no way advertising--or even advocating--for or against this company.

**The music school at UCLA is called the Herb Alpert School of Music, which is almost unbearably awesome. It's a fact; you can look it up.

Figure Anhang: A supplement implies a structural lack.

***This profanity is emphatic, and more elaborative than structural.