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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea


As for Taruskin’s prejudices and wilful myopia. Tim adds: ‘In his history (of music), for example, there were no mentions of Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Duke Ellington, Ruth Crawford Seeger or Stephen Sondheim. The name of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, once voted the most popular composer in the world in a New York Philharmonic radio poll and the subject of a huge revival in the last two decades of the 20th century, appeared five times in 4,560 pages, and then only in passing.’…

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From somewhat out in left field are these interesting observations: Are Things Really That Bad? Actually, No. In my discussions of aesthetics I often talk about the notion of taste. So does economist Tyler Cowen in this essay:

I am increasingly worried that human success and failure are ruled by taste — the demand side, in economic terms. If there are fewer beautiful and charming residential post-World War II neighborhoods, it is because most people do not want to live in them. If there are fewer movies today with the dramatic impact and compositional rigor of “Citizen Kane,” it is because people do not very much want to see them. It is not that it is too difficult or expensive to make another “Citizen Kane.” 

It’s also important to realize that a lot of politics is about aesthetic tastes for a particular set of values, a particular set of people, a particular set of processes and outcomes. There was a series of democratic revolutions starting in the late 18th century, just as there were numerous fascist revolutions starting in the early 20th century and neoliberal revolutions in the 1990s. Social contagion can help explain those as well.

It is not lengthy, so read the whole thing.

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‘A truce with the trees’: Rebecca Solnit on the wonders of a 300-year old violin

For the last 50 years, David Harrington, the founder and artistic director of San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet, has been playing what he calls “pretty athletic music” on a violin made in 1721. I’ve heard him play all kinds of compositions on it, from the galloping notes of Orange Blossom Special to the minimalism of Terry Riley and even the occasional bit of Bach. The instrument made by Carlo Giuseppe Testore in Milan has survived three centuries, providing music for countless audiences, and can be heard on more than 60 Kronos albums.

When I first learned the age of the instrument I was filled with wonder that a delicate piece of craftsmanship could endure for centuries, that something so small and light could do so much, that an instrument made in the 18th century could have so much to say in the 21st. It felt like a messenger from the past and an emblem of the possible, a relic and a promise.

My Robert Holroyd guitar, built in 1983, will turn forty years old next year and it is as lovely an instrument as ever!

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A madman’s guide to Wagner:

The German composer Richard Wagner wrote seven operas in his mature style. I’ve been going to see them in live performances for the last forty years or so – my very first was Die Walküre at English National Opera in 1983, I think. I knew most of them quite well before that. The BBC, rather astonishingly now, had devoted ten weeks to showing the famous 1976 Bayreuth centenary Ring on TV, act by act; the summer before I went to university in 1983, I splashed out on what I still think is the greatest of all opera recordings, Carlos Kleiber’s Tristan and played it into the ground.

Still, there is no substitute for seeing the things live, in the theatre. Since then I’ve seen all of them repeatedly, brilliantly performed and directed, and some really awful evenings, too.

I'm afraid I have never fallen under his spell, but one of these summers in Europe I will make a concerted effort to see some live performances.

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Alex Ross sums up the stature of Richard Taruskin quite well:

The most formidable of musicologists, one of the most formidable writers on music who ever lived, died early this morning in Oakland, California, at the age of seventy-seven. William Robin has written an obituary for the New York Times. I will have more to say soon in The New Yorker. I can hardly overstate his impact on my own work, and I can hardly imagine a world without him.

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Let's hear David Harrington and the Kronos Quartet playing some music by Rhiannon Giddens:

And here is Simon Rattle conducting the Prelude to Lohengrin by Wagner:

I am halfway through Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music and just finished his discussion of Smetana. Here is Harnoncourt conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Die Moldau:

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