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May 2017

Discogs Blog What I Did (And Records I Bought) On My Spring Vacation: Part 2

Check out Part 1 of what I did on my spring vacation here! No notes were taken on Sunday, the day of the record show. The following is scribed together from notes from the day following and from scraps of information we have that survived. I have something of an awful tradition. What you got […]

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The Real Mick Rock Freddie Mercury – London, 1974

Discogs Blog What I Did (And Records I Bought) On My Spring Vacation: Part 2

Check out Part 1 of what I did on my spring vacation here! No notes were taken on Sunday, the day of the record show. The following is scribed together from notes from the day following and from scraps of information we have that survived. I have something of an awful tradition. What you got […]

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Songlines World Music News Song of Contagion: Music and Science Unite

Grand-Union-Orchestra

From June 13-17, Wilton’s Music Hall will be taken over by an alliance between music and science in Song of Contagion

East London’s Grand Union Orchestra are set to unite music and science in a brand new project this June. A week of events taking place in Wilton’s Music Hall, London will explore the relationship between the two disciplines, featuring some of the UK’s best musicians and singers with origins from across the globe.

The grand centrepiece of this unique programme will be Song of Contagion, a new creation by the orchestra. Thought-provoking and globally relevant, the piece questions why some diseases are covered extensively in the media, attracting billions in funding, while others are left to languish, largely unnoticed and unaided. Through a musical narrative, and using data compiled by epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani, the comparison between where money is spent and where disease is rife is explored. 

Audiences will journey with the orchestra to Central Africa where dengue fever has been claiming lives for years, to the Caribbean, where the disease has found an additional home, and to Brazil, where headlines of Zika came as often as Olympic medals from Rio. This is set to be a fascinating performance.

Find out more: http://ift.tt/2rUlaWo

Image courtesy of Grand Union Orchestra.

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Classical-Music.com Whose tune is it anyway?

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Beethoven’s symphonies are by Beethoven. And Verdi’s operas are by Verdi. By and large, we can be fairly confident that when we think a much-loved work is by a certain composer, the likelihood is that it is so.

However, not everything is always quite as it seems – some pieces simply aren’t by the composer whose name they traditionally carry. Haydn’s Serenade for string quartet, for instance, is not by Haydn, and Albinoni’s Adagio is not by Albinoni. In one way or another, they have been attributed to the wrong person.

On the whole, wrong attributions arrive like old wives’ tales or Chinese whispers. If enough people think a work is by one person then barnacled tradition decrees it must be. Most works get attributed to the wrong composer by accident: a misleading manuscript, a wrong assumption, an arranger not checking facts, or a later version turning up that everyone takes as gospel. Some works get wrongly ascribed through sheer skulduggery. After all, Squire, a publisher has to make an honest buck – if he puts it about that this beautiful work is by Bach, or that song is by the Beatles, then who cares if it’s not really, so long as the sales are good? 

Some works are definitely not by the composer whose name is on the cover. Some performances, meanwhile, really shouldn’t have the composer’s name on them. How far from Handel were the popular gut-wrenching, tear-jerking versions of his so-called ‘Largo’, when the original is a slightly comic larghetto in the style of a minuet. In their own way, distorting performances should be thought of as misattributions. Some interpreters are as dishonest as publishers who change names on covers for profit.

But which are the most famous works whose composers are not necessarily who we think they are? Here are a few for starters:

 

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) – Adagio in G minor

The ‘baroque masterpiece’… from the 1950s

There was a time when every ‘death in the family’ TV scene was accompanied by solemn faces, muted histrionics and ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ pulsating in the background. It became so essential a part of popular tearfulness that it was used as part of background music for the film Gallipoli in 1981. But I wonder how many after rushing out to buy the recording thought it would be nice to hear what the rest of Albinoni was like. Disappointment loomed, as nothing else by Albinoni sounds remotely like the Adagio. That’s because the Adagio in G minor is not by Albinoni. It was composed in the 1950s by Remo Giazotto, some 200 years after Albinoni died in Venice in 1751. Rumour had it that it was built up from an Albinoni fragment found in the Saxon State Library in Dresden, subsequently destroyed in the Allied bombing raids – handy, as no one could check. In fact, it is all Giazotto’s own work, though why Albinoni’s should have been good coat-tails to hang onto is difficult to say. Someone really should have spotted the deception. Or perhaps not. After all, Hitler was believed to have written diaries!

 

J S Bach  (1685-1750) – Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Organ fireworks among the feuding scholars

It’s not that Bach’s celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor is definitely not by him, but that we can’t be sure it is by him – to some, stylistic elements within it seem just too unlikely to have come from his pen. Like most of Bach’s organ works, the original manuscript is lost so, like Crime Scene Investigation, scholars have gone to work on style, dating of surviving contemporary copies, and all sorts of other ways of trying to establish composership. One suggestion has been Johannes Ringk, allegedly a pupil of Bach who had access to his works: perhaps he cribbed it (in which case it could still be by Bach!), or is it an arrangement of another work? Who knows? ‘I do!’, thundered Christian Wolff, the most eminent Bach scholar of them all, from his Harvard haven. There’s no ‘jury proof’ one way or the other and so, for the moment, we are spared having to re-catalogue our CDs.

 

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) – Trumpet Voluntary

Alteration at the altar, as Clarke gets the push

Some time ago brides who wanted to show that their musical tastes were a cut above the average decided against coming down the aisle to Wagner’s ‘Here comes the bride, short, fat and wide’ (from Lohengrin) in favour of an uplifting march from the 17th century. From the late 19th century till the middle of the 20th, said march was widely thought to be by Henry Purcell and was so published as ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary’ in many organ anthologies. Henry Wood further enhanced the myth by making two orchestral transcriptions of it under that title. In fact it comes from a semi-opera called The Island Princess, for which the music was composed by Jeremiah Clarke and Daniel (not Henry) Purcell, hence the misunderstanding. It’s just as well the brides didn’t know anything about poor old Clarke, as he fell hopelessly in love with a woman out of his social reach and ended up shooting himself, having previously thought of hanging or drowning himself. He was only 33. 

 

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) – Serenade op. 3

The Monk hidin’ behind Haydn

One of Haydn’s most loved works is his ‘Serenade’ from the string quartets Op. 3. This Andante cantabile with its alluring tune poised over a gentle pizzicato accompaniment is justly famous, but it is not by Haydn (either Joseph or even his brother Michael), even though it appeared in a creditable 18th-century edition of his works with his name on it. It’s from this edition that the misappropriation of the whole opus has arisen. The real composer was the Benedictine monk Roman Hofstetter (1742-1815), and a deliberate deception was involved. In the 1770s Haydn became ever more widely admired. His popularity in Paris was so great that his music spawned a number of imitators who tried to pass off their works as by him – his name on a publication could double sales. When the plates of a set of string quartets arrived in Paris in the 1770s clearly showing them to be by Hofstetter, the publisher, Bailleux, scratched out Hofstetter’s name and put Haydn’s instead. But he wasn’t that good at scratching (except a living) – the original composer’s name is still detectable. 

 

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) – Haydn Variations… the tune

Variations on a theme not by Haydn

Even the scholarly Brahms made a celebrated misattribution. He called his magnificent orchestral work Variations on a theme of Haydn. Alas, the theme is not by Haydn, but Brahms’s mistake is very understandable. A friend, Carl Ferdinand Pohl, the librarian of the Vienna Musikverein, was working on a biography of Haydn and showed Brahms his transcription of a Haydn Divertimento, whose second movement was variations on the ‘St Anthony Chorale’. Brahms put two and two together and made five, attributing the chorale to Haydn even though the older master had tried to indicate otherwise. There the dust might have settled, but some have also suggested that Haydn’s Divertimento itself was not in fact by Haydn but by his pupil Ignaz Pleyel. So now conductors will be able to programme a redesignated work by Brahms ‘Variations on a theme once thought to be by Haydn, then by person or persons unknown, then by Pleyel’. 

 

Gaetano Pugnani (1731-1798) – Tempo di Menuetto

A master fiddler tinkers with history

Gaetano Pugnani was a bona fide Italian composer who studied under Tartini. He was employed in Turin but enjoyed great success in Paris in the 1750s, and then in the 1760s in London where he eventually directed the music for the King’s theatre for two years. His reputation went the way of most composers, ie into obscurity, eventually being eclipsed by his most famous pupil Giovanni Viotti. It was this obscurity that allowed the Austrian violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler to fake the birth certificates of some of his own pastiche compositions, such as the Tempo di Menuetto, attributing them to Pugnani. Maybe he felt age lent them respectability, or maybe he couldn’t think of anything more modern but didn’t want to be found out. In 1935 he confessed his deception, but not before the works had been published under the Italian’s name (not in fact the only name that Kreisler had used for his fakes). When some people complained to Kreisler about his fraud he replied nonchalantly: ‘The name changes, the value remains’. Clearly crime paid.

 

Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652) – Miserere

Musical piracy on the High Cs?

There is no doubt that Allegri composed his celebrated setting of Psalm 51, the Miserere, in 1638. The question is how much of what we hear today he composed. Vatican censorship was partly responsible for the confusion. So beautiful did the authorities consider the work, in particular the way the smaller choir performed the elaborate ornaments (abbellimenti), that any copy or performance outside the Sistine Chapel was to be punished by excommunication. This did not deter some intrepid souls, and by the early 18th century a version had leaked out that combined Allegri’s original with some later additions by Tommaso Bai. However, this did not show the stratospheric ornaments for which the work is now known. The Pope was in a more forgiving mood when the 14-year-old Mozart wrote it down from memory, as presents were showered on him. But even Mozart didn’t put in the ornaments, and this plain version was the basis of the London edition of 1771. Once published, the Vatican gave in and the ban was lifted. But still the way the Sistine choristers performed it did not appear in print until 1840 when Pietro Alfieri, a Roman priest, published an edition with all those high Cs we know today, hoping thereby to preserve the ‘traditional’ way. In fact, he probably added even more distance between today’s performances and the original. But who knows?

 

John Redford  (d.1547) Rejoice in the Lord

Lost in Transcription, a 16th-century farce

Up and down the country, Advent resounds to ‘Redford’s Rejoice’. Because it is quite easy, it gives the choirs much-needed time to rehearse all the music for Christmas. This punchy piece of polyphony appeared first in the Mulliner Book, a 16th-century anthology of sacred keyboard pieces compiled for his own use by one Thomas Mulliner. In one or two cases the keyboard pieces are, in fact, anthems that Mulliner had copied out, eg ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’. Nowadays, ‘Redford’ has become ‘anon’ because his authorship was due to this work being sandwiched in the manuscript between two other works that are definitely by him. But ‘Rejoice’ has no ascription, so when the anthem became separated from its source it acquired his name. He may have written it, he may not, but like many misattributions the truth lies beyond our grasp.

 

Editor’s note: While we have very good reason to believe this article was written by Roderick Swanston, we do remind readers to treat the authorship of any work with caution.

This article first appeared in the May 2009 issue of BBC Music Magazine.

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Classical-Music.com Musical memory | Why are orchestras learning symphonies off by heart?

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In the age of Wikipedia and smart phones, the whole idea of committing information to memory seems increasingly quaint (how many millennials have even had cause to memorise a phone number?).  Where once the ability to recall information was prized as an indicator of learning, today we rely far more on ‘external' memory in the form of information stored digitally in the cloud.  The skill is not so much remembering information as knowing where to find it.  

But there are signs of a reaction against this collective memory loss. A number of recent bestsellers have highlighted the dangers which the information age can pose to our minds (including recent works by neuroscientists Ryuta Kawashima and Daniel Levitin); ‘brain training’ websites such as Lumosity and Memrise have proliferated; and there is an increasing body of scientific evidence indicating that keeping our memories active can help militate against dementia later in life. 

Against this background it’s fascinating to see Aurora Orchestra emerge over recent years as the first orchestra to perform whole symphonies from memory as a regular feature of its artistic output.  Watching an orchestra perform without printed music is completely alien to the status quo for audiences, and so unusual as to be disconcerting. There are vanishingly few historical precedents: Hans von Bülow seems to have encouraged the Meiningen Court Orchestra to play without music in the late 19th century, and I've read a suggestion that the virtuoso Mannheim Orchestra, which so impressed Mozart, did the same. And that's about it. 

But why should we be so surprised when an experienced, tight-knit chamber orchestra like Aurora decides to perform without music parts? As Aurora’s Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon points out, we are accustomed to seeing instrumental soloists, singers, and musicians in other genres performing from memory (it takes an effort to imagine The Who's Pete Townshend glancing carefully at his music stand before smashing his guitar to pieces). Granted, there are a lot of notes to learn in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica' or ‘Pastoral' Symphonies, but nowhere near as many per part as a pianist has to memorise playing the same composer's Hammerklavier Sonata. True, there are complicated interactions between the players to be learned – the kind of thing sometimes helpfully 'cued' in the parts – but opera singers have to learn all that, plus the words, plus the actions, and try to avoid crashing into the stage props at the same time. The main reason why orchestras have not memorised, historically, is purely practical: professional players have to perform hundreds of different works each year, and setting aide the time needed to memorise more than a handful would be impossible.  

So why bother memorising, if it’s so time-consuming?  What kinds of advantage might it confer on the performerss?  It's interesting that it should have been von Bülow who seems to have been behind one of the first historical experiments in orchestra memorising, as it was his one-time friend and father-in-law Franz Liszt who is said to have started the fashion for giving solo piano recitals from memory. Liszt had a keen sense of theatre, and no doubt the thought of stoking up the audience's sense of awe at his prodigious abilities played a part. But Liszt was also a man with strong spiritual inclinations (he later became a priest), forging his stellar career at a time when art was beginning to take over some of the functions of religion for many educated Europeans. Memorising texts had long been an important part of religious devotion, Catholic and Protestant. On the subject of sacred texts, the poet George Herbert wrote:

                     A man that looks on glass,
                     On it may stay his eye;
                     Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
                     And then the heav'n espy.

Learning a couple of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas recently, and reaching the point when I've been able to take off the water wings of the printed music, I've realised how valuable it is, as Thomas Beecham put it, to have the music in your head rather than at arms' length. Somehow taking the music into one's own body, as it were, increases that sense of identification with the mysterious substance of music. It reminds you that, whatever else music is, it isn't printed notes.

Aurora, however, are going much further than that. They're not just memorising their own parts, plus all the pencil markings they may have added: they're effectively memorising the whole score. British orchestras are famously expert sight-readers – they have to be, given the premium placed on rehearsal time. But having to spend extra time learning the parts gives the players' unconscious minds more time to process what they take. What will come out at the end stands a chance of being a more 'inwardly-digested' performance, not solely reliant on the conductor's interpretative overview.  

Then there's the effect on the orchestra as a group. There is, says one player (Michael Trainor), a new 'bond' between the players: 'It creates a whole new clarity on the stage.' The musicians are 'listening in a totally different way, hearing things they wouldn't have picked up on before. Each person knows it in such an intimate way.' Of course it can be scary, but nerves – if they're not totally paralysing – can add a new edge, alertness and vitality to a performance. 'Despite the nerves and pressure that we feel', says another (Jamie Campbell), 'I think we play better, and we play more freely.' There's psychological evidence that when we're apprehensive about a task, we can change our feelings from fear to excitement simply by telling ourselves that we are excited. Several of the Aurora musicians appear to have made this discovery for themselves: 'It's the most exciting thing I've ever done', says Tamara Elias, quite categorically. 

And what happens physically when you take the music stand away? The effect, says violinist Elizabeth Cooney, is simply liberating. 'Without the music stand you're definitely more free to move around. You can communicate a bit easier amongst yourselves, but also to the audience. There's no barrier.' It's when you hear comments like that that you realise this could be the beginning of a revolution in orchestral music making. We all want to hear orchestras play with feeling and understanding. What better way than to invite them to play 'by heart'?

Aurora play Brahms Symphony No. 1 from memory at St John’s Smith Square on 3 June and Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 4 June, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the 'Eroica', from memory at the BBC Proms on 22 July. Find out more about their upcoming performances here

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JazzWax Jazz Feel in New York Film

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Jazz was so potent in the 1950s that young experimental filmmakers in New York tried to express the improvisational feel with motion and abstraction. I’ve been doing a bit of research lately on the subject. Here are four of the best by the New York school of filmmakers with a fifth as a bonus [Photo above of director Shirley Clarke courtesy of Wikipedia]…

Here’s D.A. Pennebaker’s Daybreak Express, inspired by Duke Ellington’s recording. The 15-minute film, from 1953, captured New York’s Third Ave. elevated train two years before it was torn down, with Ellington’s music as a backdrop…

https://player.vimeo.com/video/16674798

Here’s Francis Thompson’s N.Y., N.Y. from 1957, a collection of New York scenes that he captured with a special kaleidoscopic lens…

Here’s Shirley Clarke’s Bridges-Go-Round from 1958, featuring a montage of New York’s bridges with superimposition. (In 1961, Clarke would film The Connection, with pianist Freddie Redd and alto saxophonist Jackie McLean)…

And here’s William Klein’s Broadway by Light, from 1958, which gives you a sense of Martin Scorsese’s inspiration for the nocturnal Times Square scenes in Taxi Driver

Bonus: Here are musical selections from Shirley Clarke’s The Connection. Clarke died in 1997…

https://player.vimeo.com/video/207999965

       

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This day in music On this Day May 31, 2006

71 year-old songwriter Hal Bynum, (whose credits include Kenny Rogers “Lucille,”) and his wife were arrested and charged with growing marijuana inside their Nashville home and possessing hallucinogenic mushrooms. After receiving a tip, police searched the couple’s home and confiscated 256 marijuana plants, 7.5 pounds of harvested marijuana, 14 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms, growing lamps and other drug paraphernalia. Bynum, and his wife were released on $73,500 bond each.

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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise Miscellany

Lisa Bielawa has written an imaginative TV/video opera entitled Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, unfolding in twelve episodes. They will go online tomorrow at KCET and LinkTV, and the series will have its broadcast premiere on June 13. Josh Kosman has a preview in the San Francisco Chronicle…. The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet has a splendid new record entitled BEYOND, conveying works of Daníel Bjarnason, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Chris Cerrone, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh — an interesting mix of Icelandic and Southern California composers. There will be live concerts at National Sawdust on Thursday and at USC on June 16…. The seventy-fifth birthday of Petr Kotik, a stalwart of New York and international experimental music, will be celebrated on June 21 at LPR. George Lewis, Philip Glass, and Alex Mincek will be on hand to discuss this remarkable musician, composer, and advocate. I profiled Kotik for the New York Times back in 1993…. Listen here to a recent Jeremy Denk recital in Duisburg, with a marvelous set devoted to ragtime-inspired pieces. As a consequence, the final two movements of Schubert’s great B-flat Sonata, which can sometimes seem anticlimactic, take on new rhythmic vibrancy…. Justin Davidson, author of Magnetic City, has had two noteworthy pieces in New York in recent weeks: one on the status quo at the Met and the New York Philharmonic, another in defense of the beleaguered business of criticism.

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