Danger of generalisations... - Dear Bob Yesterday's post was enjoyable as always, but your assertion that you've never been to a concert where the musicians were dead came as a challen...
2 hours ago
You missed a rip-roaring success this evening. Bernard Hughes' children's opera is a multi-layered treat. Beautifully paced and directed with opportunities for every single member of the huge cast (80+ children) to do their bit. Bernard provided patter songs, duets, comic choruses, introspective solos, big set pieces and a neat orchestral interlude between the two acts (was Bernard inspired by a joint outing to see Berg's Lulu a year ago, I was wondering?).
Despite the story's Bengali origins and setting, the score steadfastly avoided any concessions to Bollywood beyond a tabla and a brief episode where a pizzicato cello stood in for a sitar. The music communicated in very singable but by no means predictable terms with remarkably resourceful use of a small group of nine instruments. The closing, roof-raising chorus proceeded majestically in 7/4 with the instrumental ensemble adding a thoroughly rousing contribution.
What was notable throughout was Bernard's clear determination to give each character (and there were six main characters and several subsidiary parts) something individual to sing. Bernard's librettist, William Radice, clearly knows how to inject wit, fantasy, drama and occasional pathos into the simplest of tales. The start, in which the Storyteller is loudly and hilariously rubbished by members of the cast planted in the audience who then get drawn into the story as it unfolds is an inspired opening.
On a more personal note, the stage action managed to include a quick cricket lesson for the hero, something which must have carried particular poignancy for the composer, given Bernard's devotion to the game and his assiduous following of England's unfortunate progress in the Ashes.
The production, choreography, sets and costumes as well as the cast and players all did Bernard's work proud. I think it would be fair to say that for Bernard and his librettist, Christmas has come very early this year.
[ written by Cedric Peachey, 09 Dec 2006]
Many and sundry are the means which philosophers and physicians have prescribed to exhilarate a sorrowful heart, to divert those fixed and intent cares and meditations, which in this malady so much offend; but in my judgment none so present, none so powerful, none so apposite as a cup of strong drink, mirth, music, and merry company...Many other properties Cassiodorus...reckons up of this our divine music, not only to expel the greatest griefs, but 'it doth extenuate fears and furies, appeaseth cruelty, abateth heaviness, and to such as are watchful it causeth quiet rest; it takes away spleen and hatred,' be it instrumental, vocal, with strings, wind, quae a spiritu, sine manuum dexteritate gubernetur, etc.; it cures all irksomeness and heaviness of the soul.
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow;
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies.
When music sounds, out of the water rise
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes,
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face,
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place.
When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
While from Time's woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.
Walter de la Mare, Motley and Other Poems (1918)
Did no one, any more, no one in all this wide world, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thirled to a formula? Authors today wrote so much to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about "a new Silas Weekly" or "a new Lavinia Fitch" exactly as they talked about "a new brick" or "a new hairbrush". They never said "a new book by" whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like.
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
It's an odd thing, but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you. They don't want to have their ideas upset. It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it. So they reject it and refuse to think about it. If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable. But it is much stronger than that, much more positive. They are annoyed.
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
"The London Forum Composers Group All Ears Festival starts on 16th September and continues to October 6th. It is a celebration not only of the variety of music performed by London composers but also the organisation's own 10th anniversary. The music is wide ranging including our very own Cedric Peachey and Bernard Hughes among many others as well as members of the Portsmouth District Composers Alliance. On Saturday 30th September there are three events starting at 2.30 at The Warehouse. A copy of the flier with full information can be found on my website. If you are interested in joining the Forum Composers Group drop me a line. Just 20 quid a year, small beer really."Tim has recently published a second movement in his work for violin, percussion and strings.
"Latest news is that my children' opera Chincha-Chancha Cooroo is finally finished (in vocal score at least) and goes into rehearsal in a couple of weeks ahead of its performance in December by W11 Opera. The extract of The Death of Balder, performed by the BBC Singers in June, will be broadcast of Radio 3 some time in the autumn (and be available for a week online). The complete piece is due to be recorded by the Singers in January. Over the summer my Missa Sancti Michaelis was sung at both Norwich and Coventry Cathedrals, and at long last my Nonsense Songs for children’s choir have been published by Wild Woods Music. What next: who knows?"Fung has been involved in many composing projects, including a sound installation outside the South Bank Centre, and a concert with his orchestration of music by the Icelandic group Sigur Ros.
If you happen to be one of the fretful minority who can do creative work, never force an idea; you’ll abort it if you do. Be patient and you’ll give birth to it when the time is ripe. Learn to wait.
It's hoped that endless scrutiny of documents will tell us which movements are ironic, which victories that his symphonies apparently achieve are designedly pyrrhic, tell us, in fact, what the music itself fails to achieve.
"Ever since that day I have been dubious of hit-and-run assessments by Great Men, even when I myself am the great man. A composer recently asked to have a lesson with me, and I replied that, while I am always happy to look at someone's music, "a lesson" is something I feel capable of giving only the fourth or fifth time I see a student, after I've gotten an idea what they're trying to achieve in piece after piece, and have had a chance to observe what is holding them back or subverting their intentions. The inept feature that sticks out and ruins a young composer's otherwise suave piece might be the only original thing in it; it may be that they should keep the flaw and lose all the suavity they learned from other people's music, but it would take some depth of observation before I'd chance recommending that."So, what do you all think our young colleagues at the forum are seeking, when they post links to their scores and ask for comments: Instant advice, or, advanced insights?
"I've worked with a lot of artists, Em, and they all have a need that cannot be met by another human being."In Madeleine L'Engle's novel Certain Women, which I am reading this summer (and can't recommend as one of her best!), the younger actress Emma is onboard the old and famous actor David Wheaton's big yacht, somewhere among the islands on the Pacific Northwest coast (near Vancouver, I think). David is her father, and he is very ill, probably dying. Together with friends and relatives, they talk about his life -- and his many wives...
Just as it is generally assumed that professionalism represents a status and identity to be aspired to, especially by the middle class, so most practitioners of Western music history assume that composers view publication as a universally desirable goal. But given the fact that women historically have had fewer pieces published than men, we might start to wonder about the assumptions behind that statement. Why has it been assumed desirable to publish? Why does a composer publish music? Might there be reasons why a composer might not wish to publish? What are the larger implications of such a choice? Are women problematized through ideological conflicts arising from publication?
- Marcia J. Citron: Gender and the Musical Canon (1993), p. 108.Reading on in the chapter, I find that Citron makes the common analogy between creating works of art and raising children, and that she assumes only mothers, not fathers, can feel insecure and concerned about sending their "babies" out in the big bad world, and thus are more naturally controlling personalities, reluctant to show their efforts to anybody outside their circle of family and friends -- people the artist/writer/composer knows and can trust -- since "women may feel more comfortable conceiving a work for a knowable context" (p.111). Publication is like sending your children out in the unknown, it is also in part like the loss of a family member, the grown child who moves out of the house to live on his own; a "loss of control that engenders anxiety" (p.112). This possible anxiety of separation Citron says can be a problem both to male and female composers, but she suspects the "social conditioning" (conditions?) make it easier for a man to let a work of his enter the public's consciousness, as that is expected and encouraged practice in the world of professionalism, where his activities are supposed to belong.
Wits are never happy people. The anguish that has scraped their nerves and left them raw to every flicker of life is the base of wit—for the raw nerve reacts at once without any agent, the reaction is direct, with no integumentary obstacles. Wit is the cry of pain, the true word that pierces the heart. If it does not pierce, then it is not true wit. True wit should break a good man's heart.
[As] far as any geologist has yet gone down into the world, it is found to consist of nothing but surface stratified on surface. To its axis, the world being nothing but superinduced superficies. By vast pains we mine into the pyramid; by horrible gropings we come to the central room; with joy we espy the sarcophagus; but we lift the lid—and no body is there!—appallingly vacant as vast is the soul of a man!
—Herman Melville, Pierre
For the more I studied, the more I saw that reading a text necessarily involves interpreting a text. I suppose when I started my studies I had a rather unsophisticated view of reading: that the point of reading a text is simply to let the text "speak for itself," to uncover the meaning inherent in its words. The reality, I came to see, is that meaning is not inherent and texts do not speak for themselves. If texts could speak for themselves, then everyone honestly and openly reading a text would agree on what the text says. But interpretations of texts abound, and people in fact do not agree on what the texts mean...The only way to make sense of a text is to read it, and the only way to read it is by putting it in other words, and the only way to put it in other words is by having other words to put it into, and the only way you have other words to put it into is that you have a life, and the only way to have a life is by being filled with desires, longings, needs, wants, beliefs, perspectives, worldviews, opinions, likes, dislikes—and all the other things that make human beings human. And so to read a text is, necessarily, to change a text.
Let's not be naive about this. Jowly Robert Schumann with his hangdog eyes is never going to sell as many marzipan boxes as the Wolf Gang, nor does any of his music fall as easily on the ear as the Amadeus soundtrack or the special-offer i-Tunes site. Where Mozart mints money, Schumann hints at suicide.I wonder if this is a correct analysis. Maybe the market strategy for selling music to a mass audience can't count on success if the ads are centred on unpleasant facts in a composer's life - or his death. But, aren't celebrity scandals and unhappiness the very things that the public is interested in hearing more about? Are we admiring WAM today at the anniversary celebrating of his short life for the pleasantness of it - a short but happy and successful life in music - or are we secretly or openly admiring his dark sides, and are relieved that we are not sick and unhappy creative geniuses like WAM? Or, if I may introduce a little blasphemy: is he (and other "great artists", like Robert Schumann) worshipped as our musical saviour, who sacrificed himself?
Both parts of Don Quixote form a veritable encyclopedia of cruelty. From that viewpoint it is one of the most bitter and barbarous books ever written.
"Conformity is the inspiration of much second-rate virtue. If we keep near a certain humble level of morality and achievement, our neighbors are willing to let us slip through life unchallenged. Those who anticipate the opinions and decisions of society must expect to be found guilty of many sins."
—Sarah Orne Jewett, A Country Doctor
"Do you know that I have understood something lately better than I ever did before,—it is that success and happiness are not things of chance with us, but of choice. I can see how we might so easily have had a dull summer here. Of course it is our own fault if the events of our lives are hindrances; it is we who make them bad or good. Sometimes it is a conscious choice, but oftener unconscious. I suppose we educate ourselves for taking the best of life or the worst, do not you?"
— Sarah Orne Jewett, Deephaven
"As soon as Bion, our baby, was in nursery school, I dropped out of the group of mothers who occasionally gathered together to drink coffee and gossip. This was writing time. Nobody else needed writing time. And I felt that I was looked at askance because I spent so much time at the typewriter and yet couldn't sell what I wrote. I certainly wasn't pulling my weight financially.
"In my journal I wrote: 'There is a gap in understanding between me and our friends and acquaintances. I can't quite understand a life without books and study and music and pictures and a driving passion. And they, on the other hand, can't understand why I have to write, why I am a writer. When, for instance, I say to someone that I have to get home to work, the assumption is that I mean housecleaning or ironing, not writing a book. I'm very kindly permitted to be a writer but not to take time in pursuing my trade. Nor can they understand the importance of music, or why an hour spent with a Mozart sonata at the piano is not wasted time but time spent on a real value. Or really listening, without talking, to music. Or going for a walk simply to see the beauty around me, or the real importance of a view from a window.' "
– Madeleine L'Engle, Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (1988)