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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Last week the New York Times had an article on an upcoming premiere and now appears the review of the performance: At Rothko Chapel, a Composer Is Haunted by a Hero. Rothko Chapel, the piece by Morton Feldman written to be performed in the Chapel occupied by the fourteen paintings of Mark Rothko is a monument of late 20th century music and the last assignment I completed in a 20th Century Theory and Analysis seminar, so I have known it for quite a while. I look forward to hearing the new piece. As the article says, "Tyshawn Sorey’s “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife),” for the 50th anniversary of the Houston space, closely echoes Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel.” "

“Rothko Chapel” and “Monochromatic Light,” both spacious yet intimate, share a certain ritualistic sobriety, with a choir textlessly hovering over soft, somber beats of percussion. Both feature a solo violist whose phrases — sometimes halting, sometimes expressive — exist in something like a duet of duets. The more immediate pairing is with a punctuating, interrogating keyboardist; more distant, more refracted, more delayed is the viola’s echo in a solo vocalist, who also sings enigmatic phrases without text and is the only other performer permitted lyrical expansion.

Both pieces unfold as single movements without clear pulse or meter; the music pauses only occasionally for momentary rests, and both composers’ emphasis on the natural decay of sound means that even those brief silences seem hazily saturated.

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 The remarkably prolific Ted Gioia has a new post up: Protest Music Hasn't Disappeared—It's Everywhere (Except the Music Business) After a long list of examples, he concludes:

Each of these situations is different, but it’s curious to note how little the music business has done to spur these musical movements. Or even notice them.

If you judged music by radio or TV or promoted playlists, you wouldn’t know about any of this. The explanation is simple. You can’t make much money off these songs—especially if they get censored and prohibited. So there’s no incentive to expose audiences to these songs, or even let you know they exist.

But the protesters certainly know about them. And the authorities fear them.

This is a useful reminder that the dominant commercial model, which views songs as an entertainment product, distorts and constrains our musical culture. We’re fortunate that people still remember the power of song in changing the world, even when it’s been forgotten by the people running the business.

I have made the accusation myself that a great deal of the musical mainstream these days is music as an industrial product.

* * *

The Guardian has a comment on the classical nominations for the Grammys: ‘How is this classical music?’ Composers’ fury at Grammys shortlist

When is a classical music composition not actually classical? This is the conundrum now at the heart of a heated row over the shortlisted songs for the Grammys, the annual awards that will be handed out in a few weeks’ time to recognise outstanding contributions to music.

A number of musicians have collectively expressed their outrage that nominations for the “classical music” awards include recordings they consider anything but classical. Letters of complaint have been sent to the organisers, the Recording Academy, arguing that the tracks in question – by two separate artists, Jon Batiste and Curtis Stewart – have been “mis-categorised”.

Marc Neikrug wrote:

“As a serious, dedicated composer of what has always been considered ‘classical’ music, I am dismayed. I have spent 60 years studying and labouring at this precise craft. It is unfathomable that an organisation which is supposed to have some inherent knowledge of music would choose to re-categorise an entire segment of our inherited culture.”

Read the whole thing as the article contains arguments for both sides of the question.

* * *

Economist Tyler Cowen walks us through an appreciation of the Beach Boys: What is so great about *Pet Sounds*?

It is an album of sadness, loss, and infinite longing.  Melancholy.  Do I know of a sadder album?  Listen to the lyrics.  And yet it is all set amongst the sunshine and girls and southern California.  As for the harmonies, they are continually building up expectation and never satisfying it.  It is necessary for the album to end on the down note of “Caroline, No,” a song which itself just fades away and ends, merging into the “pet sounds” that give the album its name.  I think of the combination of the sadness and the rising and swelling but never satisfied expectations as the key feature of Pet Sounds.

Plus lots more interesting observations.

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And then there is the story of Charles Dibdin, a huge megastar of popular music in the late 18th century:

Think of an era-defining, wildly popular pop star: are you picturing David Bowie? Prince? Elton John? Maybe Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga or Adele? The solo singer-songwriter, whose persona is as well-known as their music and lyrics, is a cornerstone of popular music.

Yet none of those names achieved anything like the domination of arguably Britain's first popular music star: Charles Dibdin. If the name isn't familiar, that's probably because he died in 1814 his own lifetime – and indeed for half a century after his death – Dibdin was no one-hit wonder, but a hugely prolific, extremely famous figure. He performed in operas and then wrote his own, composed more than a thousand songs, toured one-man shows around the country, and opened his own London theatre. He penned several novels and a five-volume history of theatre. His own autobiography also stretched to four volumes – the largest memoir of the period, and a good indication of Dibdin's remarkable facility for self-promotion. 

"He was the most dominant singer-songwriter that Britain has ever had," insists David Chandler, Professor of English Literature at Doshiba University in Kyoto. 

And then… a gradual fade into relative obscurity. A version of The Waterman was performed in Covent Garden in 1911. Another opera, Lionel and Clarissa, was revived at the Lyric Theatre in London in 1925. And people continue to record Tom Bowling to this day… Still, it's a sharp decline from Britain's most prolific and popular singer-songwriter to being remembered for one tune only.

* * * 

 Our first envoi is necessarily going to be Feldman's Rothko Chapel:

And here is one of those controversial Grammy nominees: Jon Batiste, Movement 11:

And finally, the one song by Charles Dibdin that has survived, "Tom Bowling":

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