Wikipedia Woes

October 8, 2016 at 12:04 pm

I graduated from college before Wikipedia became big, so I’ve never had a professor scold me for using it as a source. I have heard about people submitting papers which completely incorrect information, due to faulty articles and non-expert sources. I remain on the fence in this battle, because either one expert or a collective group of people are equally capable of getting things wrong, not to mention that zeitgeists seem to have way too much influence on what is considered fact. I was happy being blissfully ignorant of what was real and what was fake on Wikipedia.

Until today.

Now, there are untruths that hurt people directly, like the supposed link between vaccines and autism. And then there are untruths that may not directly hurt people, but waste human effort and create a distrust of expertise – perhaps like the modern Flat Earth Society. And then there are untruths that don’t cause any real damage, but really piss me off. Like the Wikipedia article on Johannes BrahmsPiano Quartet in G minor.

Traditional sonata form begins with an exposition, which typically has two contrasting themes (occasionally there may be a third theme). The article claims that there are five – FIVE – themes in the first movement. If this were true, the first theme returns in developed version before the third theme is heard. What the author thinks is two themes is simply a short introduction, followed by a single primary theme. Like nearly every sonata, there is a transitional section which brings us to the secondary theme (or, the author’s proposed third theme). The proposed fourth theme is simply the end of the real secondary theme, and theme five is a coda. The only correct thing the author said is: Although the exposition is not repeated, Brahms creates the illusion of its repetition by starting the development section with the identical ten measures that begins the exposition.

And then the ultimate lie: Very atypically, the recapitulation begins not with the first theme, but with the second theme in G major. Sorry, but actually the recapitulation did begin with the primary theme, it just happened way later than you thought. There is no “imitative development” (whatever that is) in the recapitulation. Lastly, in what way is the exposition’s final cadence “reluctant”, and the recapitulation’s final cadence “incomplete”?



Dona Nobis Pacem

July 13, 2016 at 10:00 am

I heard a great anecdote while I was studying at the music conservatory: during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a bass player was sharing an elevator at the conservatory with a woman who was completely out of sorts over the impending doom of nuclear war. “What if they bomb us today? What will we do? What will happen to our world?” She went on and on, working herself into a frenzy of hysteria and anxiety. Finally, the bass player looked over at her and said, “Lady, I have to practice,” left the elevator and walked to his practice room.

Some of us are born to be social activists. Some, like me, are not. The last few weeks in the US have become pretty intense. I despise all this ugliness. Everybody is guilty of it. I find myself searching for and needing some beauty to neutralize the poison. I don’t know this cellist, but I know he’s like me. From his facebook post:

“With all the recent stuff that has happened in society, it has really taken a toll on me mentally/emotionally. My heart is hurting and there’s nothing I can really say. So since music is the thing I know best I figured I’d just play. Here’s a bit of Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. “

Barber’s incredibly famous Adagio for Strings has kept his name among the top 20th century American composers. It is originally a movement from his String Quartet; upon hearing it for the first time, he immediately knew he had written a real winner. He arranged it for many different ensembles, but it is best known as a work for string orchestra or chorus (using the text “Agnus Dei“). It was played at the funerals of JFK, FDR, Albert Einstein, and many more, and is used in numerous video games, TV shows, and movies (most memorably, Platoon).


Life isn’t fair

July 2, 2016 at 10:30 am

To dovetail off of yesterday’s post, music has to be in the present in order to exist. Organized dots on a page are not music – it doesn’t become music until it exists either as imagined or real vibrating air molecules, heard by a human. The harsh reality of this is, sometimes great music can be sitting dormant in books (or even a person’s brain), waiting to be heard by others. Take, for example, Edward Elgar‘s Cello Concerto.

The concerto received one of the famously worst premieres in music history – all thanks to an inconsiderate conductor who didn’t allow for enough time to rehearse the piece. When it was first performed in 1919, the orchestra did so poorly that the piece instantly fell into obscurity. It wasn’t until 1960 – 25 years after Elgar’s death – that the piece exploded in popularity due to a particularly stunning performance by Jacqueline du Pré (about whom a film was recently made.)

A twist of circumstances, a poor decision by a person in control, and history can be changed. It might not be fair, but it’s life.