Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gramophone gives up on CDs

Cover CDs, that is. Editor James Inverne has been looking for a way to fuck up the cover CD ever since he took the job several years ago - talking over the musical extracts, "great composers" podcasts, really short excerpts, and so on - but he's finally decided to just ditch the thing altogether.
Oh! Wait, sorry, I'm coming at this from the wrong angle. Let's start again.
Exciting news from Gramophone! The magazine is soon to launch the Gramophone Player on its web site, promising longer excerpts from the Editor's Choice discs, complete recordings, video, and the like. This is to replace the cover disc. I'm in two minds about this. The disc, as I've said before, isn't as valuable as it used to be, but then again I tend not to listen to music online: my "using the computer" habit is not really connected to my "listening to music properly" habit. Inverne tries a little rhetorical gambit in his blurb for the Player that actually serves to highlight my preferred option: "Have you ever felt that our cover-mounted CD doesn’t contain enough music? Have you, like many of us, wished there was space on the disc for longer excerpts? Even complete performances?" Well, if there are 10 Editor's Choice discs and one Gramophone Collection disc, that makes for 11 tracks, which over an 80-minute disc allows for very healthy excerpts and would, I think, be a fine thing. But it doesn't work like that, unfortunately, with those 11 tracks generally comprising much less than half the disc. I assume they've market-tested everything and explored all the options and nobody agrees with me. No doubt there are other Gramophone readers who are experiencing erections just thinking about the possibility of three hours' worth of excerpts and "treasurable complete archival recordings". A bunch of questions remain as to what this Player is going to involve, which will certainly affect whether I end up using it: will you need to install something on your computer? will the monthly excerpts be available always or will it be a this-month-only sort of thing? will the sound quality be good enough that you can simply connect your PC's earphone socket to your PC's mic socket and hit "record" on your music editing software to get all that music for free?
The bigger picture is more interesting, though. To get full enjoyment from Gramophone, you'll now need to go online. Given that the magazine's archives are now available on the site, and there's some web content that doesn't appear in the magazine, the Gramophone Player seems like another step on the road to a web-only publication. Will the print version survive until 2023, the magazine's centenary?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tonight on "Padmore & Lewis"

A prestigious new crime drama comes to ITV this autumn...
Not too many details as yet, but our spies tell us that the first episode sees DCI Padmore and trusty sidekick DS Lewis investigate the puzzling death of a homeless man, apparently at the hands of a busker. A dark, brooding tale is promised. In episode two, a young miller is found drowned in a brook, but this apparent suicide raises too many questions: why was the dead man obsessed with the colour green? And who is the mysterious Hunter?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

V for Weinberg

Many years ago I was browsing through a branch of Golden Discs in Cork and noticed an album by The Shadows filed, with impeccable logic, under C. For "Cliff Richard", I believe, and not because Hank Marvin's a c**t.
A couple of discs in what shall hereafter be known as Nereffid's Montreal Bounty are causing filing problems. I came across multiple copies of an Olympia compilation from 2001 called "Discover Vainberg". Mieczysław Vainberg or Weinberg or Vaynberg or Wajnberg or Вайнберг was born in Poland but spent his working life in Russia, leading to all sorts of transliterative shenanigans. There seems to be a shift away from Vainberg and toward Weinberg, so that Vainberg is going to stick out like a... well, hardly stick out at all unless you're a compulsive indexer. Thank goodness nobody seems to have followed up on the suggestion that Tchaikovsky should be spelled without the T, a la Chekov.
Meanwhile, the Huelgas Ensemble's album of motets by Jacobus Gallus can sit neatly on the shelf between Fux and Galuppi, but the fact that he also went by the name Jacob Handl has thrown a spanner in the works as regards my database. Why are composers so selfish?

Friday, August 20, 2010

1948: You heard it here last

The Year in American Music 1948 includes a list of "the most important world premieres which took place in this country during the calendar period of this Yearbook, i.e. June 1947 to May 1948, inclusive". Over 300 composers are listed, with over 500 works. I certainly hadn't heard of most of the composers, let alone their compositions. Many of the premieres are mentioned in the book's main chronological section, so I suppose they're the most important of the most important:

James Aliferis: Symphony no.1
Samuel Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915; Medea, ballet suite
Marion Bauer: Sun Splendor, for orchestra
William Bergsma: The Fortunate Islands, for orchestra
Nick Bolin: California Sketches, for orchestra
Henry Brant: Symphony no.1
Alexander Brott: Fancy and Folly, for orchestra
Henry Cowell: Big Sing, for orchestra; Hymn and Fuguing Tune no.2, revised; Short Symphony
Paul Creston: Fantasy, for trombone and orchestra
Norman Dello Joio: Concerto for harp and chamber orchestra; Symphonic Dances
David Diamond: Music for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet; Symphony no.4
Edoardo Di Biase: Music for Orchestra
Walter Eiger: American Youth Overture
Herbert Elwell: Pastorale, for voice and orchestra
Alvin Etler: Passcaglia and Fugue, for orchestra
Grant Fletcher: An American Overture
Isadore Freed: Princess and the Vagabond, opera
Edwin Gerschefski: Half Moon Mountain, for baritone, women's chorus, and orchestra
Don Gillis: The New America, for orchestra; Portrait of a Frontier Town
Percy Grainger: The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart, for band
Camargo Guarnieri: Prologo e Fuga, for orchestra
Guido Guerrini: La Citta perduta, for mezzo, bass, chorus, and orchestra
Roy Harris: Mass for men's voices and organ; Theme and Variations, for accordion and orchestra
Philip Henry: Pacific Nocturne
Frederick Jacobi: Symphony in C; Two Pieces in Sabbath Mood, for large orchestra
Walter S. Jenkins: Prelude and Passacaglia, for orchestra
Ernst Krenek: Symphony no.4
Dai-Keong Lee: Capriccio for Band
Benjamin Ludlow: Fantasy on Christmas Carols
Otto Luening: Evangeline, opera
Alan Macneil: Procession of the Kings from Act II of Macbeth
Gian Francesco Malipiero: Symphony no.4
Bohuslav Martinu: Three Madrigals, for violin and viola
Harl McDonald: Saga of the Mississippi, for orchestra
Peter Mennin: Fantasia for Strings
Darius Milhaud: Sonata a trois, for violin, viola, and cello
Douglas Moore: Farm Journal, suite for orchestra
Jerome Moross: Ballet Ballads
Harold Morris: Symphony no.3, "Amaranth"
Nicolas Nabokov: The Return of Pushkin, for high voice and orchestra
Herman M. Parris: The Hospital, suite for orchestra
Vincent Persichetti: Symphony no.3
Walter Piston: Symphony no.3; Symphonic Suite
Quincy Porter: Viola concerto
Karol Rathaus: Chorus from Iphigenia in Aulis
Gardner Read: Pennsylvaniana, suite for orchestra
Wallingford Riegger: Symphony no.3
Leroy Robertson: Trilogy, for orchestra
Bernard Rogers: Symphony no.4
Robert Rohe: Prelude, for orchestra
Artur Schnabel: Rhapsody for Orchestra
Tom Scott: Johnny Appleseed, portrait for orchestra
Elie Siegmeister: Symphony no.1
David Stanley Smith: Quartet no.10
Igor Stravinsky: Orpheus, ballet; Symphonies of Wind Instruments, revised
Alexander Tansman: Symphony no.7
Virgil Thomson: The Seine at Night, for orchestra
Ernst Toch: Hyperion: A Dramatic Prelude, for orchestra
Godfrey Turner: Gregorian Overture
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Madona, for orchestra; Mandu Carara, symphonic poem
George Volkel: Symphony of Psalms
Robert Ward: Symphony no.2
George Wargo: Symphony no.1
Powell Weaver: Fugue for Strings
Alec Wilder: Piece for Orchestra
Efrem Zimablist: Violin concerto in C sharp minor

As I look over this list I realise it's really just a vain attempt to make this blog fodder for obscure Google searches...
Of the 77 works listed, I've heard 6. And yes, I did look thoroughly on ArkivMusic to see how many of the works are currently available in recordings, and the answer is 19, so I suppose 6 isn't too bad. (And of the 66 composers listed here, 21 didn't appear on ArkivMusic at all.) What of those works that aren't currently available - have any or many of them ever been recorded? And more to the point, are they worth recording? Are we missing out on some gems? Could George Wargo's Symphony no.1 be a masterpiece? Who the hell was George Wargo anyway? What about the intruigingly named Half Moon Mountain by Edwin Gerschefski? Well there's an interesting story to that - it was inspired by, and uses the text of, a Time magazine article about a recluse named Gilbert Pitt; read about it here. According to The Year in American Music, "The ballad, written in four sections, begins with a spectacular choral repetition of the title; it combines folksy rhythms with romantic themes contrasted to the more raucous sounds of automobile civilization". Will I ever hear this work?

Lacking the benefit of hindsight (or excellent foresight), The Year in American Music attaches no significance to one premiere in Los Angeles in April 1948: John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, or "Sonata and Interludes, for piano" as it appears in the list. Well - who knew? Americans were perhaps more interested in "A festival of three concerts devoted exclusively to the music of Ernest Bloch" at Juilliard in November 1947 ("one of the great creative figures in the music of our day"); or attending a February 1948 performance in New York of music by "One of the greatest but most rarely heard masters of contrapuntal choral music of the sixteenth century" - Josquin des Prez; or Wanda Landowska playing Book I of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier, where she "shattered tradition in the employment of tempi in many of these works"; or perhaps being wowed by "A Wunderkind of the baton, eight-year-old Ferruccio Burco of Milan, Italy" conducting an orchestra at Carnegie Hll on February 28 in a program of mostly preludes and overtures. In the New York Sun, Irving Kolodin wrote, "Does driving a car make one a mechanic? He is a new kind of musical phenomenon - a backseat driver, rather than a leader or conductor... until he goes out and builds a vehicle of his own, he can hardly be considered a musical technician in any mature sense". Thomas Beecham is quoted as saying, "The child should be in a kindergarten, sucking a lollypop".

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More from 1948

Here's some more snippets from The Year in American Music 1948...

November 30, 1947. "An innovation in program-making was offered tonight by Edward Kilenyi, pianist, in a recital at Fullerton Hall of the Chicago Art Institute. This was believed to be the first audience-participation event in American concert history". Basically, Kilenyi performed 4 Beethoven sonatas voted on by the audience before the concert; they chose one early work, one middle-period work, one of the 5 "best-known sonatas", and one of the last 5 sonatas. What did the audience pick? The sonata op.10 no.3, the "Appassionata", and opuses 90 and 111.

January 13, 1948. Staying in Chicago: "The directors of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra announced firmly today that at the conclusion of the present season, Artur Rodzinski would not be re-engaged as musical director... It was generally felt that Dr. Rodzinski's refusal to adhere to advertised programs, his repetition of programs in defiance of the policy of the orchestra, and his insistence on expensive opera productions were some of the factors involved in his dismissal".

March 26. The book devotes a full 2 pages to the "voluntary deportation" of Hanns Eisler, who the previous September had been hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which called him "the Karl Marx of the musical world". After his questioning, he was arrested over "irregularity in entrance" into the U.S., mainly because he sworn an oath that he was not a Communist. "During the period of his travail, prominent musicians throughout the country as well as distinguished citizens in all other fields rallied to his support... Statements were issued pointing out his international eminence as a composer not only of film music and of workers' songs, widely sung by anti-Fascist forces throughout Europe, but in the field of concert and chamber music as one of the more famous of Schoenberg's pupils". Eisler's "voluntary" deportation allowed him "to go to any country to which he could obtain a visa except Canada or Mexico". He went to Prague and then Vienna. "Eisler himself reiterated as he left that he was an anti-Fascist but not a Communist and that he was without rancor toward the American people".

May 12. In other "red menace" news: "In the State Supreme Court of New York, four Soviet composers today asked for restriction of the use of their music in the film, The Iron Curtain, produced by Twentieth Century-Fox. These composers - Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Prokofieff, and Miaskovsky - maintained that the use of their music without their consent for a film that was anti-Soviet put them in a treasonable position. The injuction was sought on four legal grounds: it violated their right of privacy under Section 50 of the civil rights law; that it constituted a libel on them; that it deliberaetly caused them injury without just cause; and that it abused their "moral rights" as composers". On June 7, the motion was denied "on the grounds that the civil rights of the composers had not been violated and that the music in question was in public domain enjoying "no copyright protection whatever"". The Iron Curtain starred Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney and has an IMDb score of 6.3 with 183 votes.

On the subject of movies, the book has a section listing "motion pictures, foreign as well as domestic... in which the musical interest warrants bringing them to the attention of the music world". There are several Italian productions of an operatic nature, including Elixir of Love, "A rather vague adaptation of the Donizetti opera", and Anything for a Song, starring Ferruccio Tagliavini as "a young man who quits the eggplant business for a singing career". English-language films include Song of Love, with Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henried as Clara and Robert Schumann and Robert Walker as Brahms; The Magic Bow, "A screen story supposedly built around incidents in the life of Paganini"; and Song of my Heart, "purporting to be a biography of Tchaikovsky".

Monday, August 16, 2010

At last the 1948 show

I just couldn't pass this one up when I came across it at a church fair: The Year in American Music, 1948 edition, edited by David Ewen. In its own words, it's "A comprehensive chronicle of major events in the American musical scene amplified by a number of detailed and valuable appendices and checklists". It was a great idea but alas, despite dust-jacket praise from the likes of Virgil Thomson ("A useful reference book, and pleasant to peruse"), this second edition seems to also have been the final one. I'm a sucker for this sort of book - a hindsight-free snapshot of a moment in time. It's a fascinating browse, and I suspect the next several entries in this blog will be devoted to it.
The first two-fifths or so are dedicated to a day-by-day account (not every day) of concerts, premieres, and other musical news from June 1947 to May 1948, beginning with the American premiere of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and ending with the first modern performance of Pergolesi's Lo frate 'nnamorato (in English, as The Brother in Love). Let's take a look...

June 4. "The Music Critics Circle of New York announced awards for outstanding new compositions by American citizens heard for the first time in New York during the 1946-47 season". The two winners were Copland's Symphony no.3 and Bloch's String quartet no.3; honourable mentions went to Douglas Moore's Symphony no.2, David Diamond's String quartet no.3, and Weill's Street Scene. Also, "Five American chamber-music works, reheard during this period, were singled out as worthy of a permanent place in the repertory", these being Barber's Capricorn concerto, Copland's Sextet, Ives's String quartet no.2, Moore's String quartet no.1, and Piston's String quartet no.2. Not all have received that permanent place, of course: the number of recordings of each listed by Arkivmusic is, respectively, 10, 5, 6, 0, and 0.

August 23. "Margaret Truman, soprano, daughter of the President of the United States, made her concert debut today by appearing as guest artist with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, directed by Eugene Ormandy". Alas, critics were not kind. Mildred Norton in the L.A. Daily News said "Her performance... proved her ill-equipped for any vocal exhibition outside the most kindly and intimate of gatherings".

October 5. Poor old Jean Hubeau. This French composer's Violin concerto in C received its American premiere from Ruggiero Ricci and "was rather universally condemned as weak in imagination and platitudinous in materials". Twelve days later, Arnold Eidus performed Hubeau's Violin sonata in C minor, which was dismissed as "merely old hat".

October 9 saw the beginning of the new season for several orchestras: Stokowski conducted the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York in Bach's Sinfonia from Cantata no.156, Brahms' Symphony no.2, Debussy's Nocturnes, and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe suite no.2; Artur Rodzinski was in Chicago conducting Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Brahms' Symphony no.2 again, Copland's Appalachian Spring, and, er, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe suite no.2. Meanwhile Georgen Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra brought us Weber's Euryanthe overture, Debussy's Nocturnes, Smetana's Moldau, and Brahms' Symphony no.1. Yeah. The following night, Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony performed Bach's Brandenburg concerto no.1, Hindemith's Mathis der Maler symphony, and Beethoven's Symphony no.5, while in Cincinnati Thor Johnson conducted a Concerto grosso by Vivaldi, Griffes' The White Peacock, Strauss's Don Juan, and Beethoven's Symphony no.3.

October 30. Edith Piaf makes her American debut: "Her authentic repertory of ballads of the unprivileged and the outcast, and her effective and highly individual style and personality not only threatened to start a cult but inspired columns of scholarly comment by some of America's most important music critics".
More to come...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blog entries I missed

Seeing as how I'm on "vacation", as they say in these "united" "states", blogging has been even lighter than promised. These are some of the posts I have so far failed to write:
So this is what I'm missing
A brief overview of the classical selection on eMusic US - what Sony offers, basically. Some comments regarding the venerable but by now rather aged Columbia/CBS/RCA catalogues. General expression of "meh". Voicing of relief that I don't have to pay nearly twice as much for the privilege of downloading this stuff. Followed by observations regarding's download options. A degree of "meh" here also. Clicking of heels; there is no place like home.
I saw Inception
...and it was [redacted in accordance with blog policy].
Some notes on the state of classical radio locally. Invocation of basic rule, "if in doubt, play Mozart". Discussion suddenly moves, along with its author, to Montreal. Observation that the presenter of CBC Radio 2's "Tempo" program is so frigging chipper she really needs to be smashed in the face with her own coffee mug.
Blame Canada
Extensive travel-blogging from "North America's most European city" (you could not get away with that sort of thing in the US, let me tell you) is eschewed in favour of brief complaint that industrial action by Montreal municipal employees meant that the Biodome was closed and this made my four-year-old daughter cry.
Emergency Telemann stop
A short laudatory note recounting how there were two excellent used CD shops within 5 minutes walk from where we were staying, almost side by side and practically across the street from the local Metro stop. Weeping, the author tells of one occasion when he says to his companions, "you guys go back to the apartment - I must just nip over to get that Telemann disc I didn't get yesterday". Music of the north German baroque mingles in the author's mind with "The Big Rock Candy Mountain". Concludes with fireworks, dancing bears, &c.