The Farce Awakens

January 20, 2017 at 10:20 am

Since ‘Murica has turned into a reality TV spin-off, we better pick some appropriate theme music.

It’s tempting to use Art Music to make some clever jokes, but it just doesn’t feel funny because it’s real. Well, let the farce begin. Thankfully, a composer (from ‘Murica, no less) has already composed music which we could use for the run of this TV series: Music for a Farce, by Paul Bowles. And it’s a good thing, since clearly this administration isn’t interested in the arts.

Nah, I take it back. This music is too enjoyable. Let’s Fucik instead.


Passing through the Gate

November 17, 2016 at 10:30 am

The Roman god Janus is the deity of doors, gates, beginnings – basically any point that marks a transition from one state to another. The month of January is named after this god, being the start of a new year.

Tomorrow, this blog will have reached its birthday. It is now over 100,000 words – about as many as Huckleberry Finn, but only half of Moby Dick. I certainly haven’t written a great work of literature here, but even so, The Fine Art of Listening is now a rather large opus.

So as I approach this milestone, this doorway to the future, let’s take a grand, celebratory stroll through Mussorgsky‘s Gate of Kiev.


Music Labels

November 16, 2016 at 10:30 am

We humans like to organize, categorize, and label things. This is usually a good thing. Organizing food into specific groups (meat, vegetables, grains, etc.) helps to prepare our tongues for what we are about to eat. Labelling a piece as “French Baroque” helps us know what sort of sounds we will be hearing. On the other hand, it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how social categorization of human beings can cause huge damage.

So, what about the word “modern“? Does it mean turn-of-the-20th-century, or just current/contemporary? When exactly was (or is) “modern music” written? Is it an intellectual concept rather than a time period? Or perhaps it’s just coded talk for “ugly”? I offer no answers here – the best I can do is point out that the context of the conversation changes how we use the word.

I’m imagining your average high school or college level music appreciation class. The time comes for the 20th century – “modern music”! Without a doubt, the Rite of Spring is played, and enthusiastic discussion ensues. If it’s a high school class, the performance is probably accompanied by the dancing dinos of Fantasia, while college students get to hear stories of riots, orgies, human sacrifice. What ends up happening is that the Rite ends up becoming the piece that defines what modern music is supposed to sound like. Later, when these students hear Stravinsky‘s later works (labelled “neoclassical” and “serial“), they are shocked that it sounds so completely different.

There might have been a riot at the premiere of the Rite, but not because of the ground-breaking modern sound. Five years before, Arnold Schoenberg (who, as a Jew, was labelled by the Nazis as “degenerate”) wrote his Five Pieces for Orchestra. Knowing this piece came first, the Rite almost seems like a step backwards toward romanticism. Fifty years later, Pierre Boulez would label Schoenberg as not modern enough.

Be careful with labels.

This is just the first movement. Listen to the full 5 pieces here.