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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Here is an odd little ad from Advertising Standards Canada:

Now is this valid aesthetic criticism or just a cheap shot? Is there any reason it can't be both? I'm reminded of that fantastic scene in Green Card where Gérard Depardieu fakes an avant-garde performance on piano--or does he? At the end he just gives a Gallic shrug and says "it's not Mozart." Here is another ad from the same folks:

Same idea, but with painting. Incidentally, the music is the Badinerie movement from the Orchestral Suite No. 2 by Bach. Let me make one crucially important modification to their premiss that creativity is subjective. The reception of creativity (art, music and so on) is subjective. The aesthetic objects themselves are not. They have real existence just like anything else. But how you take them, interpret them, perceive them as beautiful, is indeed subjective. Up to you, in other words. By the way, the Advertising Standards folks ought to take a look at political advertising. I understand some of it is pretty uh, subjective!

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Bachtrack has crunched the numbers for 2019 in music. Let's look at a few. But first here are some of their premisses:
It’s not unknown for us to groan in despair at how slow classical music is to change and, indeed, some of the stats for 2019 show, shall we say, a degree of continuity (Beethoven and Mozart the top two composers, with Brahms and Bach in the top five).
As a person of a certain age, I am rather in favor of things, especially good things, staying just as they are. Would they prefer that Beethoven was largely replaced by Nico Muhly? Ah, but that's not what they mean:
But look into the numbers more closely and you’ll see that slowly but surely, there’s progress: more women composers and conductors, more contemporary music being played, more variety of operatic repertoire. The whole scene feels pretty vibrant from where we’re sitting, with our reviewers getting every bit as excited about the music and the musicians they’ve seen during the year.
So, just the usual virtue-signalling. Passing that by, here are some of the actual numbers. The most-performed concert piece: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" by Beethoven. Here are the top ten:
1 Beethoven: Symphony no. 3 “Eroica”
2 Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
3 Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 5
4 Vivaldi: Four Seasons
5 Handel: Messiah
6 Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
7 Brahms: Symphony no. 1
8 Brahms: Symphony no. 2
9 Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
10 Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
No Mozart, no Bach? Mozart gets on the list of the top three opera composers preceded by Verdi and Puccini. Lots of statistics about the increasing numbers of women composers and conductors. Here are some miscellaneous statistics: 29% of opera productions in Austria were new in 2019. The busiest conductors?
1 Andris Nelsons
 2 Valery Gergiev
 3 Paavo Järvi
 4 Jakub Hrůša
 5 Jaap van Zweden
=6 François-Xavier Roth
=6 Yannick Nézet-Séguin
=8 Herbert Blomstedt
=8 Daniel Harding
10 Semyon Bychkov
And the busiest pianists:
Yuja Wang
Jan Lisiecki
Emanuel Ax
Daniil Trifonov
Rudolf Buchbinder
Sir András Schiff
Dénes Várjon
Yefim Bronfman
Leif Ove Andsnes
Kirill Gerstein
Igor Levit
Jean-Yves Thibaudet
* * *

The New York Times has a piece on the increasing litigation in pop music: It’s Got a Great Beat, and You Can File a Lawsuit to It. My feeling is that since this end of the music business has become so engorged with revenue, then opportunistic lawsuits are sure to follow. I'm pretty sure no-one will be coming after me, though!
Occasionally, pop innovates in a hard stylistic jolt, or an outlier comes to rapid prominence (see: Lil Nas X), but more often, it moves as a kind of unconscious collective. An evolutionary step is rarely the product of one person working in isolation; it is one brick added atop hundreds of others.
Originality is a con: Pop music history is the history of near overlap. Ideas rarely emerge in complete isolation. In studios around the world, performers, producers and songwriters are all trying to innovate just one step beyond where music currently is, working from the same component parts. It shouldn’t be a surprise when some of what they come up with sounds similar — and also like what came before.
The idea that this might be actionable is the new twist. Every song benefits from what preceded it, whether it’s a melodic idea, a lyrical motif, a sung rhythm, a drum texture. A forensic analysis of any song would find all sorts of pre-existing DNA.
Yabbut, what about cultural appropriation? Oh, never mind. What the above boils down to is that pop music is a high-revenue version of folk music, the result of a kind of collective unconscious and with not a huge amount of creative individuality.

* * *

Who or what is "Musicology Duck"? Not sure, but they do have an interesting proposal: why don't we expand our listening habits in the new year: Listen Wider Challenge 2020. Sounds good!

Well, it did sound good, right up to the virtue-signalling thingy. Really, if you decide to base your musical explorations ONLY on things like gender and skin color, isn't that just a category error? Or sexism and racism? For more examples of the above see their list of how you should broaden your horizons. Some of them are pretty good, such as "A composition written when the composer was older than age 80." I'm sure there are possibilities other than Elliot Carter? Or: "A concerto for tuba, bassoon, or double bass." That could be interesting. But at least half of the suggestions are mere political correctness run amok: "An opera with a libretto by an author of color."

* * *

Taking a cue from that last item, why don't we resolve to expand our listening in the new year? I think I will listen a bit more to some of these:
  • Morton Feldman: I don't think I know much of his music and I probably should.
  • Luigi Nono: same thing. I started to do some posts on him and got sidetracked. But I want to do more reading on him and more listening as well.
  • Mozart Piano Sonatas: there are a bunch of them and I have only the vaguest sense of them.
Others will likely turn up.

* * *

I am astonished to hear for the first time about an interesting musicology blog just as it comes to an end: Myth-busting music blogger honored, mourned online in her final days.
Beethoven’s late music sounds the way it does because he was already deaf when he wrote it. The premiere of “The Rite of Spring” was a historic explosion of anti-modernist outrage. Music is a universal language.
These are things that everyone knows, or at least everyone with an interest in classical music. They go with other familiar stories, like Bach’s houseful of 20 children or Mozart’s deadly feud with Salieri.
And they’re all wrong.
Please don’t take my word for it. For the details on these and other musical yarns ripe for debunking, you could scarcely do better than to consult a blog with the winningly outraged name Not Another Music History Cliché! 
Since 2016, California musicologist Linda Shaver-Gleason has been using that site to compile a clear-eyed and level-headed accounting of the ways in which the conventional wisdom about classical music (like conventional wisdom in all walks of life) consistently leads us astray. She’s tackled issues as specific as whether a newly discovered flute concerto is really by Mozart, and as broad as the role of beauty in music, with particular application to the “ugly” sounds of contemporary composition.
How terribly, terribly sad! I am going to follow her advice and read her blog even though it will no longer be added to.

* * *

 For our envoi today, here is the Orchestral Suite No. 2 by Bach from the Netherlands Bach Society's mammoth project:

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