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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea


The German violinist just spent 3.5 mllion Euros at auction on a Guarneri del Gesù.

To afford it, he tells Bild, he had to sell a New York apartment.

It was a 42nd birthday present to himself, he adds.

I did quite a few concerts with my friend Paul Kling who played a Guarnerius--oh, yes absolutely lovely sound.

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Those pesky earworms are back: Playback Mode.

WHILE A SONG PLAYS ON A LOOP IN MY MIND, I’m free from the infinity of anxious thoughts that would otherwise spiral there. My waking hours become distinguished by one song or a few—the playlist depends on my mood or, maybe, determines my mood; every morning, I hear, inwardly, a lyric that speaks to me, a melody that soothes me, and I bring it along through the day—marking time, marking time by its repetition. I recite it in silence. I hum or whistle it. I belt it out of tune.

But the condition of having a lyric or melody repeating in the mind to an excessive extent has been pathologized as stuck song syndrome. Neuroscientists call the song in question involuntary musical imagery, or an earworm, inspired by the German use of ohrwurm (an earwig) to name the phenomenon. Oliver Sacks called it a brainworm. Theodor Reik, Freud’s protégé, called it the haunting melody.

There is an ice cream truck that passes through my neighborhood that has the most annoying music ever and it frequently gets stuck in my head. But the other day for some unknown reason it was the Habanera from Carmen. Over the years I have come up with a solution that works for me: I start humming a Bach fugue theme to myself. It is a more pleasant alternative to most earworms and since it is a bit more complicated, it fades away in a few minutes leaving the mind free.

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Music-loving economist Tyler Cowen makes some recommendations: How to discover Indian classical music.

Twice I heard L. Subramaniam play Indian classical violin.  Wow!  My head was spinning, and from there on out I was determined to hear as many Indian classical concerts as possible.  Maybe his melodic lines are not the very deepest, but he was a remarkably exciting performer.  A whole new world was opened up to me.  I also heard Shakti, with Zakir Hussein and John McLaughlin, play at GWU.  That was fusion yes, but it owed more to Indian classical traditions than anything else.  To this day it remains one of the three or four best concerts I’ve ever seen.

I was lucky enough to hear Ravi Shankar play a concert in Vancouver in 1967 or 8. I even got his autograph, but lost it long ago!

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Roger Norrington on a quest: ‘I’ve been trying to play Mozart for 60 years. On this, my last recording, I think I’ve finally cracked it’

Listening to Mozart’s music makes it seem quite easy. Some of it indeed does have a childlike simplicity. But in fact it’s incredibly difficult to play well. The short span of only 50 years that the classical period lasted (the romantic by contrast lasted 100, and the baroque 150 years) seems to demand the strictest stylistic niceties in the entire repertoire. There’s a self-consciousness about the music that results from a heady set of conflicts: late aristocratic society versus the Enlightenment; a brand new popular music versus its late baroque parent; the composer as servant (Haydn wore a light blue uniform for 30 years) versus the self-employed genius (Mozart in Vienna in the late years).

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As a guitarist I don't have that problem as we don't have any Mozart repertoire. But I remember feeling this way about Bach. A couple of decades ago I even said to a violinist friend of mine that I never quite knew how to play Bach. As a seasoned orchestral musician she just looked at me as if I had suddenly started speaking Klingon. Well, sure, I knew how to play Bach in any of the usual senses of the words, but I never really felt I got inside the music. I'm preparing a program right now with some Bach in it and, oddly, for the first time I really do feel comfortably inside the music. Funny...

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These are not happy times in Russia: The Last String of Russian Greatness Is About to Snap.

Russia may be on its last gasp when it comes to classical music and other fine arts, too. Even during the Cold War, Soviet musicians dazzled the West during their guest appearances. To be sure, there were the odd, embarrassing defections, like those of the dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev, and the forced exile of husband-and-wife team Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya. But Soviet state backing of the traditional fine arts helped maintain excellence, even as censorship and disdain for modern art and music cost the chance to develop new scenes. But even after the Soviet Union crumbled, Russia was able to keep up its classical strengths—and attract artists from all around the world.

But most times are not happy times in Russia, it seems.

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For anyonw who missed it, here is a summary of the controversy over the music theorist Heinrich Schenker that is still wending its way slowly through the courts: Music in the Background.

In all this, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies has been forgotten, its activities on hold until a new editor is found. UNT says that while it would like the publication’s activities to continue, it simply has received no applications. For his part, Jackson says that the university has structured the job announcement to discourage applications, with the intended outcome of shuttering the journal completely. 

Either way, it’s not hard to understand why scholars would be reluctant to apply for the JSS editorship. A music theorist with a healthy skepticism of Schenker’s personality and methods would reasonably worry about being portrayed as an outsider intent on destroying the journal from within. A passionate Schenkerian would have grounds to suspect being dismissed as a racist just for taking the post. A nuanced and scholarly debate both about Schenker’s racism and methods would be best for the field of music theory, leading as it could to a genuine reexamination of music education in the United States. That seems highly unlikely now.

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Some weeks I am puzzled as to what to pick for some envois. Not so this week! Let's start with the fugue from the Violin Sonata No. 1 by Bach. This is the theme I hum to myself to get rid of earworms. The player is Iris Kengen:

And here are Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha from around the time when I heard them in concert:

Here is Francesca Dego with the first movement of Mozart's 3rd Violin Concerto:

And all that should make you a little happier!

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