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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Alex Ross has long been a fan of Radiohead and Jonny Greenwood in particular: How Jonny Greenwood Wrote the Year’s Best Film Score.

When, in the nineteen-nineties, the grand and strange rock band known as Radiohead rose to fame, word began spreading excitedly among younger classical-music nerds: we now had someone on the inside. If an arena-filling band was inserting multi-octave octatonic scales into guitar anthems or derailing string arrangements with cluster string chords, the likelihood was strong that a modern-classical mole had penetrated the inner sanctum of pop power. The agent was soon unmasked as Jonny Greenwood, the band’s lead guitarist, who, in the past two decades, has established himself as a concert composer and as a creator of film scores. Once a lanky youth barely visible behind a mop of black hair, Greenwood is now a seasoned fifty-year-old who, in recent weeks, has cemented his status as a leading film composer with the release of three projects: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” and—Oscar voters, this is your cue—Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog.”

Follow the link for an interview with the composer.

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While we are at the New Yorker, there is an article by Louis Menand reviewing two new books by humanities professors arguing for the "Great Books", what I often call a "classical education."

Both men teach what are called—unfortunately but inescapably—“great books” courses. Since Weinstein works at a college that has no requirements outside the major, his courses are departmental offerings, but the syllabi seem to be composed largely of books by well-known Western writers, from Sophocles to Toni Morrison. At Columbia, undergraduates must complete two years of non-departmental great-books courses: Masterpieces of Western Literature and Philosophy, for first-year students, and Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West, for sophomores. These courses, among others, known as “the Core,” originated around the time of the First World War and have been required since 1947. Montás not only teaches in the Core; he served for ten years as the director of the Center for the Core Curriculum.

Although Montás and Weinstein are highly successful academics at two leading universities, where they are, no doubt, popular teachers, they feel alienated from and, to some extent, disrespected by the higher-education system. As they see it, they are doing God’s work. Their humanities colleagues are careerists who have lost sight of what education is about, and their institutions are in service to Mammon and Big Tech.

Menand ends his very thoughtful commentary by pointing out:

The humanities do not have a monopoly on moral insight. Reading Weinstein and Montás, you might conclude that English professors, having spent their entire lives reading and discussing works of literature, must be the wisest and most humane people on earth. Take my word for it, we are not. We are not better or worse than anyone else. I have read and taught hundreds of books, including most of the books in the Columbia Core. I teach a great-books course now. I like my job, and I think I understand many things that are important to me much better than I did when I was seventeen. But I don’t think I’m a better person.

Nope, you can read the great books and listen to Bach and still be a sonofabitch. Mind you, you can also be a professional careerist in service to Mammon and Big Tech! What you don't want to be, I think, is someone who is simply unaware of Shakespeare, Dante, Homer and the others.

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 This year is the 300th anniversary of the composition of the Brandenburg Concertos by J. S. Bach: 

 This year celebrates the 300th anniversary of Bach having presented the concertos as a gift to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg on March 24, 1721. The composer's stated intention was to give His Royal Highness pleasure (not that Bach didn't imply that a little employment wouldn’t hurt). Musicologists are not so sure about the margrave's penchant for pleasure (Bach didn't get the job), but the concertos have continued to cheer music lovers for three centuries.

The piece reviews a number of new recordings:

But one set turns out to be the knockout of the "Brandenburg" year. In 1997, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin made a dutiful recording of the concertos, careful not to violate norms of what we now call historically informed performance (or HIP). Over nearly a quarter-century of "Brandenburg"-ing, the period instrument Berliners have loosened up and, during lockdown, made a buoyant new recording. It features violinist Isabelle Faust and violist Antoine Tamestit, two especially dynamic soloists who bring with them exceptional contemporary music chops.

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Back when I was a practicing popular (well, not that popular!) musician I could never have imagined the story behind this headline: A $550 Million Springsteen Deal? It’s Glory Days for Catalog Sales.

In 1972, a struggling New Jersey musician hustled into Manhattan for an audition at Columbia Records, using an acoustic guitar borrowed from his former drummer.

“I had to haul it ‘Midnight Cowboy’-style over my shoulder on the bus and through the streets of the city,” the rocker, Bruce Springsteen, later recalled in his memoirs.

Half a century later, he can afford plenty of guitars. Last week Sony, which now owns Columbia, announced that it acquired Springsteen’s entire body of work — his recordings and his songwriting catalog — for what two people briefed on the deal said was about $550 million.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be some sort of cognitive dissonance between the down home, just folks, personal statement of most popular music artists and the billions of dollars that popular music earns these days?

* * *

Here is the Guardian's list of the best classical recordings of the year:

As usual there was no shortage of high-quality chamber music and solo-piano releases. The Takács Quartet in Mendelssohn, both Fanny and Felix, Les Vents Français surveying the Hindemith wind sonatas and Nicholas Daniel and the Doric Quartet in a selection of early 20th-century British oboe quintets were all in their very different ways outstanding. The exceptional piano releases were headed by Igor Levit’s pairing of Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaglia on DSCH and Shostakovich preludes and fugues, and Piotr Anderszewski’s selection from the second book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. But there was also elegant Liszt from Kenneth Hamilton, brilliant Ligeti Études from Danny Driver, and the start of a series devoted to the piano works of the disgracefully neglected Elisabeth Lutyens from Martin Jones, as well as a delectable selection of French music for two pianos from Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne.

* * * 

First up in our envois today is a taste of the new Brandenburg Concertos recording. This is the first movement of the 5th Concerto:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQkqPyIbBWQ

And here is the soundtrack album of Jonny Greenwood's score for The Power of the Dog. It starts with his imitation of banjo music on a cello pizzicato:


And here is the Prelude and Fugue in F minor from the second book of The Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach in the new recording by Piotr Anderszewski:




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