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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

As a guitarist I was not too familiar with Chopin except as an occasional listener until I was asked to give a pre-concert talk on his music. That galvanized me into giving myself a quick graduate seminar on Chopin and I have been an admirer ever since. Opera composers aside, he is possibly the greatest composer not to have spread himself among different forms and genres, focussing almost entirely on one instrument. Mind you, he exhaustively explored that instrument and invented or expanded quite a few sub-genres like the mazurka, ballade and, the subject of a new piece by Alex Ross in The New Yorker, the nocturne: Chopin’s Nocturnes Are Arias for the Piano.
Three recordings of Chopin’s complete Nocturnes have arrived in the past year: one on the Deutsche Grammophon label, with the young Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki; one on Harmonia Mundi, with the veteran French artist Alain Planès, who uses a vintage 1836 Pleyel instrument; and one on Hyperion, with the British polymath Stephen Hough. The notion of listening in a single setting to these leisurely, contemplative pieces—twenty or twenty-one in all, depending on how you count—might have struck Chopin as bizarre. Although he assembled sets of nocturnes, preludes, waltzes, mazurkas, and so on, his legendarily bewitching recitals intermingled selections from various categories, and also incorporated works by other composers. Chopin pianists tend to follow that practice today, in the interest of cultivating contrast; live traversals of the entire set of Nocturnes are rare. In the more intimate sphere of home listening, however, the idea of spending a couple of hours in this realm is by no means strange, and the experience gathers its own dream logic.

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Norman Lebrecht launches a biting criticism of the new AI Beethoven:

The attempt to manufacture a tenth Beethoven symphony by means of Artificial Intelligence has proved about as intelligent as cloning Albert Einstein out of paper from his wastebasket. 

The outcome, 21 minutes long, is performed on YouTube by the Beethoven Orchestra of Bonn. It welds fragments of a discarded project onto bits of other symphonies in a manner so uninspiring that it reduces Beethoven to the level of a Hummel. The work’s opening, a student-essay paraphrase of the fifth symphony, is all you need to hear. 

The rest just gets worse. What possessed the brains of Bonn to think they could create a Beethoven symphony ab virtually nihilo? Probably the thought that fellow-necrophiles had done such things before.

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 Here is a fairly long discussion of recent events at the Seattle Symphony: Seattle Symphony Update: A Cautionary Tale? I really wanted to put up a pithy quote for you, but after reading the whole thing I can't find one! It is a complex situation with the music director resigning making some serious allegations, but the writer seems to have failed to come up with what really went on. Still, worth reading to get a sense of the challenges facing orchestras today.

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I'm going to stay completely away from this story: "Spotify sides with Joe Rogan after Neil Young ultimatum."

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Here is a very peculiar story: Music Society Sparks Outrage For Letter Critical Of Diversity In Classical Music

The Twitterverse has been in an uproar this week after a US-based composer (Spencer Arias) shared a letter he received from an alleged organization called, “Society for the Preservation of Western Music” (SPWM).

I mean, who could possibly want to preserve Western Music? Unless they meant "Country and Western"?

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 I don't really do obituaries which is why I haven't mentioned the passing of Terry Teachout, but this is interesting:

The critic and dramatist Terry Teachout had many friends, so news of his death at age 65 on January 13 spread very quickly. I heard about it that afternoon, shortly after listening to the episode of the podcast Know Your Enemy dealing with the recent death of another prominent writer: Joan Didion. The podcast and Teachout’s death became quickly intertwined in my mind not just because of the coincidence of timing. Didion and Teachout were both exemplars of a kind of literate and skeptical cultural conservatism that with their deaths now seems a preciously rare commodity. The United States in 2022 is awash in conservatives trying to ignite a culture war, but now there aren’t many conservatives engaged in genuine cultural conversation and debate.

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I don't often get over to the Journal of the American Musicological Society of which I used to be a member, though I should. But I found this review of a recent collection of essays by Richard Taruskin rather perplexing: Cursed Questions: On Music and Its Social Practices, by Richard Taruskin. Perplexing why? Because it seems to have almost nothing to do with any of the things discussed in the essays. Instead we are treated to a meandering discussion of re-reading. I did my own post on the collection a year and a half ago here: All Kinds of Brows and to my surprise received a comment from Dr. Taruskin himself.

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Here is Stephen Hough with possibly the most famous of the Chopin Nocturnes:

 Here is Thomas Dausgaard conducting the Seattle Symphony in the Dvořák: Symphony No. 8,  Allegro con brio:

And finally, Anton Webern's orchestration of the six-part ricercare from The Musical Offering by J. S. Bach, discussed in one of the essays from the Taruskin collection. Bach from an unusual perspective.

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