The Thousand-Year Ears

A Musical Blog

How to Move Away from the Shadow

by dlwownssla

For those of you who, regarding the title of this post, were expecting a guide half as interesting as these interesting facts about Beethoven(, this isn’t much of a guide as it is a mere observation. Disappointed? Then it is your right to press the Back button.

“The title of this post was merely to get you interested in what I’m about to briefly address today.” Today, I’d like to switch gears for a moment, and discuss the state of modern music. More specifically, a comparison between the aim of the past and the aim of the present in music. Because after all, as awesome as Classical music is, it is our duty to recognize what’s happening around us today, so as to appreciate even more the music of the past that greatly distinguishes itself from that of the present. Also, in all honesty, I really wanted to somehow bring up the topic of modern music, and relating it to the music of the past seemed like a good idea to justify this post on this scholarly blog. I’ll see how this turns out.

Now, as a class, we’re way past the Mid-Term – and coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally), we’re way past the halfway mark of the thousand years of music. That is, Ludwig van Beethoven. But quite impressively, the influence of Beethoven is still lingering within the classroom. Not only are we partying up right after class as we blast his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67, Mvt. I (or at least I am), but he is still mentioned in class, even though we discuss the eras after his death.

This is the shadow of Beethoven.

About two and a half centuries ago, somebody asked, “Who is to air after Beethoven?” Wilhelm Richard Wagner, another German composer, stepped up and responded, “ME!” The master of Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”) was unduly inspired by Beethoven and his works. Not only did he write a piano transcription of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, but Wagner also composed his Symphony in C Major, a Beethovenesque work performed in Prague in 1832 and at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1833. He admired Beethoven so much that he aspired to become the next Beethoven, overcoming the shadow of Beethoven in the process.

How to move away from the shadow of Beethoven: Wagner tried to do so by making himself supreme, provoking his own musical revolution with his total control of the opera (or “music drama” as he preferred to call), his elaborate use of leitmotives, his use of the orchestra as a means to describe the characters’ emotions, and his mystical abyss. He portrayed music as transcending reality.

Though music remained alive, time passed. When Sigmund Freud asked, “What’s in your mind?”, somebody else responded, “What’s in my mind is: How is anyone to live up to Beethoven?” To this, Wagner replied, “Progressively, indeed.” Then came along Johannes Brahms, another German composer. (Germany was undoubtedly full of talent.) To the question as stated above, Brahms replied, “Conservatively, for why shall we not go back to the traditional style?” As mentioned, Brahm’s music returned to earlier forms, combined with Romantic perceptions. His Violin Concerto in D Major, op. 77 very well exemplified this approach with its use of the rondo form. If Wagner chose the innovative reaction, Brahms chose the safe one.

How to move away from the shadow of Beethoven: Brahms tried to do so by looking back into the past and implementing into his music the structure that had already been established – added to it his own delicate taste of Romanticism.

Both Wagner and Brahms were the stars of their own times, but their music certainly revolved, at least in part, around that of Beethoven. Their common goal was to move away from the shadow of Beethoven.

Now, let’s peek into the music of today. Amidst an overwhelmingly huge amalgamation of musicians, there are those who stand out as arising stars in the face of the media. While some of them travel along their own musical paths, many of them struggle to do so. For instance, we often hear the voice of Nick Minaj, tainted by the desire of the music industry to produce explicit content to capture the attention of the media. We are greeted with Miley Cyrus’s twerk (“total work of art?”), as her liberal display pours into the media for the same purpose. These are certainly, as I’d like to believe, talented musicians. However, their true musicianship seems to be hidden under the shadow of today, as their music grows more and more oriented towards profit, not progress. This shadow is cast upon not by the musicians themselves, but rather by the music industry as a whole.

This is the shadow of money.

How to move away from the shadow of money: I’d like to leave you with one of the most intriguing music videos I’ve watched so far.

G-Dragon’s “COUP D’ETAT”:

The music is in Korean, but the visuals within the video are enough to deliver the message. This is certainly not a Classical music, but it shares with the genre the common goal of approaching to the listeners as a form of expression, not exploitation. G-Dragon’s “Coup d’Etat”, as the name suggests, is the artist’s declaration of a revolution – that is, his attempt to break out from boundaries of the music industry.

Though you’ll most likely not understand much of the music itself, I highly suggest that you watch this video, as well as reading this post that offers a detailed analysis of the music video If you find yourself hidden under the shadow of college life – that is, constrained with time – at least spare some time to watch the part of the video from 2:30, which portrays an allusion to David and Goliath (the Goliath, of course, being the seemingly indomitable music industry). The music video, along with the post from the link above, will definitely be thought-provoking. The Korean artist’s recent music video certainly voices the will to direct music into another, totally new, direction.

Examining the goals of the renowned musicians of the past and the emerging goals of a few musicians of the present, we can definitely see that the world of music constantly goes through change – not only change in the music itself, but also change in the meaning and perception of it.

If you feel that the title of this post haven’t seemed to serve a purpose in this post already, I throw you questions that extend the topic at hand from the world of music to the world of everything: What is the shadow cast upon your life? How are you moving away from the shadow?

Van Cliburn and Romanticism

by briansc2013

The music of the Romantics has always been my favorite type of classical music. Over the years, I have fallen in love with the music from this period. The music Chopin, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff all were among my personal favorites. The music of the 19th century always has always made more of an emotional impact on me. While the music of Mozart and Haydn is beautiful – I never felt the intensity of emotion or passion I feel when I listen to music from the Romantic period.

As a pianist, one of my favorite performers is Van Cliburn. Although we have talked a lot about the composers in class I thought we should pay a little attention to the performers who brought this music to life. What Van Cliburn was able to do with his piano playing is truly incredible. And I believe his accomplishments are not only a testament to his talent but also to the power of the music of the Romantic time period.

Van Cliburn was born in Louisiana in 1934. He began taking piano lessons from his mother, who had studied under a pupil of Franz Liszt, at the age of three. He moved to Texas at age 6 and then entered the entered the Juilliard School at the age of 17. In 1958 when Cliburn was 23, he traveled to Moscow to take part in the first International Tchaikovsky Competition. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was celebrated by a standing ovation that went on for more than 8 minutes. When a winner needed to be chosen, the judges had to ask Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev where he famously asked, “Is he the best? Then give him the prize!” He returned to New York City greeted by a ticker tape parade – the only one ever given to a classical musician.

What is remarkable about this feat is Van Cliburn was able to go to Moscow in the middle of the Cold War and earn the respect of the Russian audience. He bridged the cultural gap between two countries. He gave Americans a boost in morale right after the Soviets had launched Sputnik. Through the power of music, people were able to forget about political and cultural differences and respect each other for who they were and the talents they possessed. His perfect combination of musicianship and virtuosity brought the music to life and raised the prestige of American classical musicians with music lovers around the world.

Here is a video of Cliburn performing one of Tchaikovsky’s famous piano concertos in Moscow.

Child Opera Prodigy

by whartje

Over the weekend, I came across a fascinating clip from the Holland’s Got Talent, a spinoff of the NBC show America’s Got Talent. The link for the clip can be found below:

Amira Willighagen, a nine year old Dutch girl with no prior vocal training, auditions for the show and catches everyone by surprise with her magnificent soprano aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” from the opera  Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini. Amira picked one of the most famous and challenging opera arias, and performed it better than most professional opera singers possessing years of experience. The levels of focus, maturity, discipline are superb, and the range and flexibility she must have for this song is enormous.

After watching this clip, there are a few thoughts that crossed my mind. First, why are younger children not as attracted to classical music as compared to pop music? Is classical music more popular to children in Europe as compared to the states? I believe much of this has to do with your upbringing and the expose that parents give to their children. With the growing influence of mainstream media, I believe there will be less children interested in pursuing classical music (both vocal and chamber) unless there is a highly visible and talented child opera prodigy that children will gravitate toward and idolize.  Will the classics make a comeback for the youth?

Another thought I had was how can a nine year old with no training have the abilities to pull off a highly technical opera aria? Is there something that children possess that gives them a competitive advantage, other than their naturally high pitched voice (pre-puberty)?  Obviously, the control and vibrato necessary to make this aria outstanding is something that takes years of practice for professional opera singers.  Is Amira a child opera singer with a truly unique gift or will this open the floodgates for more child opera singers?

Your thoughts are welcome!

Atonality in music

by jadanmendoza

The Second Viennese School is the name given to a group formed by some of the first composers to explore expressionism in music, namely Schoenberg and his disciples. One of the techniques explored by these composers was the idea of atonality. Atonality was one of the most radical new musical ideas to be explored during the XX century. Atonality is defined as the “absence of or disregard for an established musical key in a composition.” An example of this kind of music is Schoenger’s Pierrot Lunaire, which is part of a song cycle set to German poems. This song cycle also uses a technique called Sprechstimme, which is a vocal technique between singing and speaking, that I think fits perfectly with the atonal music. This is Pierrot Lunarie:

Many of Schonberg’s contemporaries were outraged with the results of his divergence from the musical tradition, and the discussions regarding atonal music were controversial and rather intense. This is a quote from one of his critics “[atonal music is] the self-gratification of an individual who sits in his studio and invents rules according to which he then writes down his notes.” To which Schoenberg responded that the critic  “wishes for only whores as listeners”.

Personally I found this music to be extremely hard to listen to, although I do sympathize with the idea of new composers exploring new ways of creating music and trying to use new styles. This seems to be the motivating force behind Shoenberg’s creations, Richard Taruskin, an American musicologist, has described that Schoenberg had “the conviction that what matters most in a work of art is the making of it, the maker’s input, and that the listener’s pleasure must not be the composer’s primary objective.”

This made me realize how important tonality can be when listening to music, and how easily we as listeners are able to realize something is off about a particular piece music even if we don’t know what that is. I think any listener could notice that Pierrot Lunarie is not your standard piece of music, even if they have no idea of what tonality means.

Separating Sense from Sound

by burgdoerferp

As people today listen to the music of Richard Wagner, they are often presented with the challenge of separating the controversial opinions of the nineteenth century composer from the musical dramas he is famous for composing. After many of Wagner’s writings, including “Jewishness in Music,” revealed the composer’s narcissistic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic views, his music became less popular, and today it is very rarely played on a large, public, scale.  However, what I found most interesting was that in addition to what we studied in class, the hesitation to perform Wagner is also deeply rooted in the political reputations of his family. Wagner’s descendants today manage the Bayreuth festival in southern Germany. The festival hosts viewinsg of private film footage from the reign of Hitler, yet the Wagner’s family connection to the Nazi party has never been made public. Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Winifred, was at one time involved in relations with Adolf Hitler, and the Wagner clan was very close with the Nazi dictator as well. Hitler made it clear during his lifetime that Wagner was his favorite composer, and it is thought that he may have borrowed from Wagner’s “Jewishness in Music” to fuel his anti-Semitic thinking. Although Gottfried Wagner has condemned “his ancestor as a deeply unpleasant character,” the rest of the Wagner family has yet to speak of their ties to the Nazi leader (Connolly). For the family of the famous composer to remain tied to such a horrific leader is tragic, particularly for the sake of Wagner’s music dramas. Today, fans of Richard Wagner must work “to separate the man and his music” (Connolly). The question to be answered is whether or not this diminishes the value of his works, as characteristics such as the length of the performances are highly correlated with Wagner’s egotistical personality. I have attached Kate Connolly’s article below, as it originally sparked my interest on the Wagner family and the controversies associated with the clan. I highly recommend that you read it!

I also attached the clip below from The Rise of Evil, and I think that it is worth contemplating whether Wagner was tied to Hitler by choice, whether Hitler took it upon himself to connect with the composer, and whether it matters!

P.D.Q. Bach: The Forgotten Composer

by Eli Pollock

As we have been discussing J.S. Bach in class, I was reminded of a lesser-known Bach.  P.D.Q. Bach was the son of J.S. Bach, and his works, lost for years, were discovered in recent decades by composer and musicologist Peter Schickele.  From some biographical notes on Schickele’s about P.D.Q. Bach:

“P.D.Q. Bach once said that his illustrious father gave him no training in music whatsoever, and it is one of the few things he said that we can believe without reservation.  His rebelliousness was such, in fact, that he avoided music as much as possible until he was well into his thirties (as a teenager he did assist in the construction of the loudest instrument ever created, the pandemonium, but he wisely skipped town before the instrument’s completion, having sensed with uncanny accuracy, that the Pavilion of Glass was perhaps not the most felicitous location for the inaugural concert).  But by the mid 1770s he realized that, given his last name, writing music was the easiest thing he could do, and he began composing the works that were to catapult him into obscurity.”

Of course, there was no P.D.Q. Bach.  Schickele invented this fictional character as an alter ego, under which he has written numerous musical parodies of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic music.  The name itself is poking fun at the numerous Bach’s in history that were well-known composers.  Schickele frequently takes a well-known theme and adds bits of other music from vastly different styles to create musical comedy.  For example, below is Eine Kleine Nichtmusik, which translates to “A Little Not-Music” and is a parody of Mozart’s famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.  The piece contains Mozart’s famous theme interspersed with excerpts from an array of popular pieces, many of which should be familiar to listeners.  Everything from “the Mexican hat dance” to The Nutcracker can be heard at some point.

One other example is the Schleptet in E Flat Major, a hilarious romp through the possibilities of musical humor.

The reason that Schikele’s works are so funny is that they take everything we know about Western music and turn it on its head.  The first song I posted juxtaposes so many musical styles that we would not normally expect to hear, and in that incongruity we find humor.  It is best listened to with a strong musical background, as listeners can then discern all of the various styles and tunes it contains.  The Schleptet is funny because of its unique use of instruments, whose parts are put together in a playful way.

The true genius of Peter Schikele’s humor is that it does more than make us laugh.  In clashing music from completely different eras together, it makes us think about the elements of those styles.  In order to laugh at a jazzy version of a fugue, one must know the musical elements of jazz as well as those of a fugue.

Listening and Visualizing the Music of Bach

by briansc2013

While exploring some of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, I came across many different versions and interpretations. My favorite discovery was one creative and interesting version of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, Fugue in C Major.  I did not find this interpretation particularly virtuosic or incredible – but I love the way it was presented. The computer-generated images that accompanied the playing really helped me to follow the way the fugue was being shaped. As a visual person, it helped to see the different lines and colors representing each melodic voice. This visual aid is especially helpful in this fugue where the entries enter in quick succession towards the end of the piece. You can see the first stretto come in as soon as the exposition is complete and then Bach never looks back. I thought the sheet music on the upper left hand corner was helpful too.  Granted this player is no Glenn Gould, but I really enjoyed how the fugue was presented. It is just another way in which we can appreciate the beauty of the music of Bach.

This user also has uploaded many other similar videos.  Many of the other uploads are also Bach pieces. I found it very easy to become hypnotized by the combination of the beautiful music and captivating visuals. The video for the Prelude in C Major is also worth checking out. The visual provides the bowing the player uses. This again is not my favorite version of the song because I feel it is too slow and there is to much ritardando but the visual is really cool.

Antonio Stradivarius

by youyezeng

As I was reading the textbook, I noticed a name: Antonio Stradivarius. His name was mentioned when the author talks about improvements in the technology of instrument making, which has led to the rise of instrumental music in the Baroque era. In the book, the author says that “the name of Antonio Stradivarius is known to many because of auctions where prices soar into the millions for one of his violins…”. I was shocked and did a quick search and get the following results:

“On 14 October 2010, a 1697 Stradivari violin known as “The Molitor” was sold online by Tarisio Auctions for a world-record price of $3,600,000 to renowned concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers: at the time it price was the highest for any musical instrument sold at auction.

On 21 June 2011, a 1721 Stradivari violin known as “Lady Blunt” was auctioned by Tarisio to an anonymous bidder for £9,808,000 with all proceeds going to help the victims of the Japan earthquake.”

Why are his instruments so expensive? And since it’s so expensive, who can afford playing with it?

The Answer is, no matter how expensive an item is, there is always people who are able and willing to buy. Yo-Yo Ma currently uses the Davidov Stradivarius.  Mstislav Rostropovich played on the Duport Stradivarius. Also, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra uses several Stradivari instruments, which are purchased by the Austrian National Bank.

Stradivarius’s works do not only interests musicians, they have also caught the attention of the scientists. Twelve French and Germany experts have studied carefully of the layer of the varnish on the violin for four years, only to conclude that the ingredients on the varnish are just normal red paints used a lot by Italian artists at the time. They had to admit that they were nowhere near piercing the secret of Stradivarius’ instruments.

You can find the video of those scientists talk about their research here.

Viderunt Omnes

by abdullayevalfi

Out of all the different styles of music we have looked at so far my favorite has been the Gregorian chant. The thing that appeals to me the most about this style is the lack of instruments. I really enjoyed seeing what the early singers could accomplish with just their voices. So for this post I want to talk a bit more about one of the chants we went over in class, Viderunt Omnes by Perotin. Viderunt Omnes is a traditional Gregorian chant that is based on a Gradual of the same title. Though the composer of the original chant is unknown, several variations of it have been made over the years. Probably the most famous version of the chant is the one by Perotin, a composer from the Notre Dame school of polyphony.  Before Perotin, Leonin, another famous composer of Notre Dame had made his variance of Viderunt Omnes. His version included two voices; one which sang in the familiar style of chant, slow and droning, and another which had a rich polyphony. These two voices symbolized a sense of unity and togetherness but the chant itself was not completely different from its previous versions and in fact, other Gregorian chants. Perotin, however, introduced a very different variation of this chant. He introduced the Organum Quadrupulum or the four-voice polyphony to the chant which had a drastic effect on the sound produced. The melimas in the chant became so drawn out that the lyrics seemed unintelligible to the listeners, an effect which was amplified by the polyphony. However, the chant is not fully polyphonic and instead is a mixture of polyphony and monophony. The drawn out melismas also have the added effect of making the change in the tempo of the chant easily noticeable. The last few words and syllables in the chant are closed quickly and the whole chant ends with the voices singing in unison. I really enjoyed the feeling of harmony that this chant creates and that is why I wanted to share some information about it.

Alessandro Moreschi Recording

by mariaelainemurphy

Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) is known as one of the last castrati. Although Moreschi may have been past his vocal prime in this recording of Bach/Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” it can give you a little perspective about the quality of the castrato voice.