It's a little shocking but a Zinman Les Noces and Petrushka just appeared online. The Les Noces is very very good and very very slow, not 'Stravinsky's birthday-album' slow, but this is Les Noces under a microscope. Once the performance gels after some spottiness toward the beginning, you hear every line, and yet it doesn't sound cold at all. This is probably the warmest and most 'singing' Les Noces you'll ever hear, which considering the source is quite a surprise. Zinman has always been so fleet and balletic. Zinman is older and clearly suffering from some of old age's frailties in recent years, it's a shame that now when he's finally a semi-celebrity, he can't communicate with orchestras with that Carlos Kleiber level technique he used to have.
Friday, April 30, 2021
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Friday, April 23, 2021
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
OK, seriously folks... here is atonality at its very best: solemn, spiritual, Viennese, innately connected to the worst crises and traumas of the 20th century, and innately connected to the nostalgia for religious absolutes of its founder: Arnold Schoenberg. Atonal music at its very best is like the feeling you get from Freud or Wittgenstein at their best - as though you're gazing past the human composite into the darker essences where the will to life is primally formed (yes, I know that's Schopenhauer not them...), and once you see or hear that darker, more elemental truth about human impulses, you can't unlearn what you learned. If Auschwitz or the Somme could sing, this is the music they would sing.
Atonality is based on a very specific moment in the family of music history. Just as communism is an idea only conceivable out of European industrial capitalism, atonality and its identical twin - serialism, is only conceivable out of common practice Western tonality. Once tonality evolves to incorporate non-western tonal systems, let alone expand to all the various forms of mathematically ratio'd microtonality, and all their related polytonalities, atonality and serialism have no real interest. Atonality and serialism are rebellions against the music of 1910, and became a movement of the musical establishment by 1950.
And like so many academic movements based on critical theories formed in environs around German universities, atonality and serialism are movements that sound suspiciously like replacement religions. It has founding texts, founding myths, founding prophets, founding evangelists, and a long history of heretical schisms in which multiple sides claim to speak as the true mouthpiece for the original intent.
Two of the original heretics were Ernst Krenek and Hans Eisler, the former briefly became Mahler's son-in-law fifteen years after Der Meister died (the network of Viennese women who'd put up with with composers seemed to be very small...). Both quickly realized that atonality was a kind of intellectual litmus test for classical music that would make the concert hall into a clearing house meant to push out the uninitiated, and consequently were thrown out from the original circle before the original circle became merely an enshrined holy trinity for later atonalists to regard as their founding prophets who revealed to them the truth of music's future.
We'll come back to both Krenek and Eisler, but both of them moved back and forth between tonality and atonality rather freely. But Krenek is a particularly interesting case because fifteen years before writing this incredibly dissonant and long but strangely moving choral work, he wrote a jazz opera: Jonny Spielt Auf (Johnny Strikes Up), which, like so many works of the century's first third, was incredibly popular, and then the popularity was lost in the sea of totalitarianism. These works speak to us over the span of a century like more pleasant timeline of how our world might have developed. Krenek clearly understood that music is not written for a niche of initiates to confirm a revealed truth the church already knows, but to challenge a wider public from the most diverse possible backgrounds.
But this work is very much from our timeline. Premiered in 1941 and taking as its text the Lamentations of Jeremiah, it's clearly written to speak to its volatile time. This, is what atonality is meant to do, it expresses the cry of a whole civilization's shattered hopes. It is anything but intellectual. It is music whose emotions are so painful that no tonality can contain it. It is music that could only be written within its time and place, but the pain it expresses can reach out to any place and time.
Monday, April 19, 2021
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Today is not the day to set out Evan's Grand Theory of Musical Interpretation, just to say that by the 1930s, opera had taken independent root in cultures non-native to itself, and evolved into a very different shape from its countries of origin where the stated interpretive wishes and stylistic norms of Verdi and Wagner were more closely honored. It is only when the music takes root elsewhere and is subject to these enormous changes that we find out if the music is truly classical, and can hold the same or greater value in a culture different from the one which birthed it. Here, however scratchy the sound, is a Verdi of far greater abandon than anything it must have ever experienced in Italy - an abandon only possible because during World War II, the greatest singers in the world congregated for a brief glorious moment in New York. Is it great music or drama? Not really. But then again, I'm not convinced much by Verdi is great music or drama either... Only Toscanini can convince me that that's what Verdi is. But as far as cheap thrills go, this is such spectacular opera, the hard rock of the 1870s, and the reason for hundreds of years even before Verdi that people listened with such exalted fascination.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Monday, April 12, 2021
Perhaps more on Hindemith later. In the meantime, appreciate my favorite pianist. The second he tries to give a downbeat you'll see why. The performance gets funnier as it goes along. From the moment after the first chord, the concertmaster seems to be signaling across the piano to the principal second violinist "I got this."
Sunday, April 11, 2021
In 'The Office', one of the most popular TV shows (and one of my favorites) of the last 20 years, there was an entire episode devoted to that crucial existential question of our time: "Is Hillary Swank Hot?"
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Not a long post.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
OK. So Stravinsky died 50 years ago this week. In my mind it's still college and he's barely been dead 30 years. For a 20th century composer more or less on the avant-garde, we know as much of Stravinsky as we know of anyone, but we don't know most of it. Some of it is less good than others, particularly as he aged (nobody can convince me that the Requiem Canticles are a return to form...), but there still are marvelous works that stay basically unknown and unheard: Persephone, The Nightingale, Apollo, Orpheus, Mavra, Concerto for Piano and Winds, King of the Stars, and as of just six years ago, the long lost Funeral Song... You owe it to yourselves to listen to them all.
Monday, April 5, 2021
To: Asher Charlap