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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

There is no doubt in my mind that an engagement with the fine arts, music in particular, is psychologically healthy. I think it helps to prevent falling into some of the typical failings of our time: narcissism, neurosis, excessive emotionalism. So it is nice to see the idea echoed in a scientific study: Want to live longer? Art museums may be the key, study suggests.
“While previous studies have shown the association between arts engagement and the prevention and treatment of mental and physical health conditions, including depression, dementia, chronic pain, and frailty, whether arts engagement actually confers survival benefits remains unclear,” the study read. “Some research has proposed that the universality of art and the strong emotional responses it induces are indications of its association with evolutionary adaptations, while other research has questioned whether art is an evolutionary parasite, with no particular evolutionary benefits to our species.” 
Researchers found that adults 50 or older who engaged with arts frequently, or every few months or more — whether by going to the theater, museums, attending concerts, the opera or visiting art galleries and exhibitions — had a 31% lower risk of dying in the follow-up period.
What is left out of this discussion is the benefit accruing from the discipline of practicing the arts. Learning a musical instrument, for example, involves developing all kinds of disciplined approaches and techniques.

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Norman Lebrecht has a rather breathless and inaccurate post over at Slipped Disc about the passing of the last "true" musicologist that I felt impelled to comment on.
 The Czech-born ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl died yesterday at 89. 
A child refugee from Hitler, he taught at the University of Illinois and conducted research among Native Americans, and in Iran and South India.
One of the other comments is such a hilarious parody that one suspects it is from the Babylon Bee. It received unanimous down votes...

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I mentioned how sad it was that musicologist Linda Shaver-Gleason had to stop posting on her blog due to her battle with cancer. She just passed away at the tragically young age of thirty-six.
Rebecca Schaefer Cypess: I never had the chance to meet Linda Shaver-Gleason in person, but conversing with her and reading her work was a great blessing for me, just as she was a blessing to the whole field of musicology. Her early death–she was, as she put it, “assassinated by cancer”–is a tremendous loss. She was a public scholar with grace and humor, in addition to being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. My heart goes out to Chris Gleason and Linus at this unbearably difficult time. Toward the end of her life Linda was interviewed numerous times by other journalists, but I’ll share the link to her blog because it’s best to let her speak for herself. https://notanothermusichistorycliche.blogspot.com/…
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Yes, this is the bicenquinquagenary, or two hundred and fiftieth anniversary, of the birth of Beethoven so we should be listening to quite a lot of Beethoven this year. Norman Lebrecht has a non-recommendation of an integral symphony recording: A BEETHOVEN A DAY: THE CYCLE QUESTION.
In all of my listening, I have yet to encounter a boxed set without flaws. Not just minor lapses, but fundamental, stagnant black holes like the indeterminate Pastoral in Hebert von Karajan’s otherwise imposing first Berlin cycle of 1963 (he went on to record seven or eight more), or the far-too rushed Eroica in Nikolaus Hanoncourt’s refreshing 1990 set with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.  Boxed sets, I’ve always understood, are for Christmas. Beethoven is for the other 364 days of the year.
The last one I listened to and quite enjoyed was the Roger Norrington box with the London Classical Players. The idea that every single cycle has "flaws" assumes that there is a Platonic Ideal Form of performances of the Beethoven symphonies. Does anyone actually believe that?

Oh, and could any of my readers either correct or support my attempt at finding the Latin equivalent of "two hundred and fiftieth anniversary"?

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 I have seen a number of disturbing stories of public libraries that are more or less doing away with actual books. But maybe there is also an upside: Public Libraries’ Latest Offering: Musical Instruments. This is what is happening in Brooklyn:
But in one quiet wing on the third floor, the 78-year old institution goes beyond a place to read and rent books. There, it becomes New York City’s only library branch where patrons can take home musical instruments — for free.
For a 30-day period, any library-card-holder (with the permission of an adult, for minors) can take home instruments that range from electric guitars and keyboards to drum pads and cowbells. The library also boasts on-site recording studios, where borrowers can freely play.
But I gotta ask, who is actually going to take out cowbells?

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We had something on this story in the New York Times recently. Here is another take from Rolling Stone: How Music Copyright Lawsuits Are Scaring Away New Hits.
In the five years since a court ruled that “Blurred Lines” infringed on Marvin Gaye’s 1977 “Got to Give It Up,” demanding that Thicke and Williams fork over $5 million to the Gaye estate for straying too close to the older song’s “vibe,” the once-sleepy realm of music copyright law has turned into a minefield. Chart-topping musicians have been slapped with infringement lawsuits like never before, and stars like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are being asked to pay millions in cases that have many experts scratching their heads. Across genres, artists are putting out new music with the same question in the backs of their minds: Will this song get me sued?
“There is a lot of confusion about what’s permissible and what’s not,” says Sandy Wilbur, a forensic musicologist who served as an expert witness for the defense in the “Blurred Lines” case. Because cases are decided by “the average listener, who is not an educated musicologist or musician,” she notes, “labels are very afraid.” Since that game-changing ruling in 2015, Wilbur says, she’s received triple the number of requests from music companies to double-check new songs before they are even considered for release.
I have at times dreamed of being a "forensic musicologist" called to crime scenes to identify a musical murder weapon: "this man was strangled by a set of sleigh bells imported from Austria," or perhaps, "what a horrible death--bludgeoned to death by a contrabassoon!" But alas, it seems that what you really have to do is listen to a whole bunch of 70s tracks. Oh well, this is how dreams perish...

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I once horrified a writer on music by saying that Beethoven did not write very well for the voice to which he replied "But Fidelio is one of my favorite operas!" "Exactly!" was my response. I'm not the only one who wonders about FidelioDavid Lang: why I freed Fidelio's other prisoners. After discussing the problems with the original opera, composer David Lang explains how and why he decided to re-write it.

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Damian Thompson at The Spectator is overcome with the marvelousness of Beethoven: Beethoven wasn’t just history’s greatest composer but also one of its greatest human beings.
That was Beethoven’s message to himself: to revolutionise music as economically as possible. And he succeeds, even when the page is black with notes that make terrifying technical demands. Although some of his later music may sound wild, verging on the atonal, it is not confused.
The strangeness does not reflect the chaotic despair of Beethoven’s drink-sodden personal life (he may unintentionally have drunk himself to death). On the contrary, Beethoven is making musical recompense for his behaviour. Some aspects of composing, such as counterpoint, didn’t come naturally to him. His two great fugues, the finale of the Hammerklavier sonata and the Grosse Fuge for string quartet, reach unprecedented levels of experimental complexity which still scare off some 21st-century listeners. But every note justifies itself. Beethoven sweated over them through fevers and hangovers. People in Vienna sometimes mistook him for a tramp; what they were actually witnessing was the ultimate musical perfectionist, albeit after a few too many beers.
There is absolutely no doubt about the astonishing quality of Beethoven's music, but it is hard for me to extend that to saying that he is one of history's greatest human beings. I just don't think it works like that.

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We have not had much Beethoven lately, so let's listen to an excerpt from Igor Levit's new integral recording of the piano sonatas. This is the first movement of the Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13, "Pathétique" which Blogger won't embed:


Incidentally, he will be playing all the sonatas in a series of concerts at the Salzburg Festival this coming August.


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