Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gilles Apap Mozart Cadenza

I love Gilles Apap's playing, and it is just great to have this video clip of him accessible to anyone by way of YouTube.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Excellent Mozart Article in the New Yorker

"Examination of Mozart’s surviving sketches and drafts—Constanze threw many sketches away—reveals that the composer sometimes began a piece, set it aside, and resumed it months or years later; rewrote troubling sections several times in a row; started movements from scratch when a first attempt failed to satisfy; and waited to finish an aria until a singer had tried out the opening. Ulrich Konrad calls these stockpiles of material “departure points”—“a delineation of intellectual places to which Mozart could return as necessary.” In other words, the music in Mozart’s mind may have been like a huge map of half-explored territories; in a way, he was writing all his works all the time. The new image of him as a kind of improvising perfectionist is even more formidable than the previous one of God’s stenographer. Ambitious parents who are currently playing the “Baby Mozart” video for their toddlers may be disappointed to learn that Mozart became Mozart by working furiously hard, and, if Constanze was right, by working himself to death."

I was really happy to come across this article called A Storm of Style by Alex Ross in the New Yorker. The article speaks for itself: no comment is needed. I'm glad that a "hard copy" will be arriving in the mail shortly because this is one I would like to read many times.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Just the way it has always been

I find a special pleasure knowing that when I practice I am doing pretty much the same thing in the pretty much the same way that I would have done ten years ago, or twenty years ago, or fifty years ago, or one hundred years ago, or one hundred fifty years ago, or even two hundred years ago. In this modern world where much of the technology we use on a daily basis changes so quickly it is nice to know that the most important musical technology, careful practicing, has remained pretty much the same.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Making judgements about music

"No art is so subject to indiscriminate judgement as music. It would seem that nothing could be easier to judge. Not only professional musicians, but even those who pose as amateurs, would like to be regarded as judges of what they hear."

". . . We fare no better with regard to composition. We would not willingly be considered ignorant, and yet we do not always feel that we are capable of deciding matters rightly. Thus, in order that we may regulate our judgements accordingly, our first question is usually, 'By whom is the piece composed?' If, then, the piece is by someone to whom we have previoulsy given our approval, we immediately, and without further reflection, declare it beautiful. If the opposite is the case, or if we perhaps object to something about the person of the composer, the piece too is considered worthless. If anyone wishes to be palpably convinced of this, he needs only to put forth two compositions of equal quality under different names, one in good, the other in bad repute. The ignorance of many judges will soon be apparent."

Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute (1752), translated by Edward R. Reilly

Musicians are still basically an insecure lot, and there is nothing that aggravates musicians' insecurities more than having to make a judgement about a piece of music written by a living composer. There seem to be all sorts of strings attached to formulating an opinion, including exposing oneself as being ignorant of 20th century- or 21st-century techniques, or being thought of as "backwards" for embracing and enjoying tonality. Some people find favor with music from "exotic cultures" simply because of the "hipness" of the culture, whether it be foreign or domestic; and some people have preconceptions about music written by a person of a particular nationality, and they don't know whether to judge the music as "good" on the basis of how much it represents their own preconceptions of the culture. We also still tend to judge music on the basis of the gender of the composer.

I find myself in at least three positions regarding making judgements about music. Since I write CD reviews, I am required to make judgements about recordings I hear. I always have to go with my instincts regarding new music that is unfamiliar to me. Through reviewing recordings I have found several living composers who have written pieces of music that I really like. I feel it is my duty as a musician to say why I like what they have written. Hopefully there are music lovers and composers who appreciate my efforts.

As a performing musician I look for usefulness in music. If I am going to perform a piece of music, I want it to be a piece that I can spend several hours a day with for a long time. I want it to be a piece that is continually interesting for me to practice and rehearse. I want it to be a piece that can eventually sound good on my instrument, and a piece that I can express myself through musically.

As a composer, everything is different when it comes to making judgements about music because I don't write music to be judged. I write music because I like to write music. I do not consider anything I write to be anything besides what it is: music to play and to enjoy. It is not great. It is what it is. It is a vacation from what I do as a "critic," but not far removed from what I do as a performing musician because I do feel that it is somehow useful. People still need new music to play, and people (people who do not feel the burden of having to make any sort of "larger" judgement) seem to like listening to the stuff I write. I have come to the conclusion that people of the present like to have music and art that reflects something of whatever this era we live in is, and as long as I need to express myself in this way, it is perfectly fine to do so.

So, if anyone reading this ever hears anything I write, please refrain from having to make a judgement about it and its place in the "grand scheme" of music. Just enjoy it if you do, and listen to something else if you don't. I imagine there are other composers who feel this way.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Words on marrying well from Virgil Thomson

This is from Virgil Thomson's 1939 essay "How Composers Eat, or Who Does What to Whom and Who gets Paid."

. . . A surprisingly large number of composers are men of private fortune. Some of these have it from papa, but the number of those who have married their money is not small. The composer, in fact, is rather in demand as a husband. Boston and New England generally are noted for the high position there allotted to musicians in the social hierarchy and for the number of gifted composers who have in consequence married into flowery beds of ease. I don't know why so many composers marry well, but they do. It is a fact. I don't suppose their sexuality is any more impressive than anybody else's, though certainly, as intellectuals go, the musician yields to none in that domain. After all, if a lady of means really wants an artistic husband, a composer is about the best bet, I imagine. Painters are notoriously unfaithful, and they don't age gracefully. They dry up and sour. Sculptors are of an incredible stupidity. Poets are either too violent or too tame, and terrifyingly expensive. Also, due to the exhausting nature of their early lives, they are likely to be impotent after forty. Pianists and singers are megalomaniacs; conductors worse. Besides, executants don't stay home enough. The composer, of all art-workers in the vineyard, has the prettiest manners and ripens the most satisfactorily. His intellectual and his amorous powers seldom give completely out before his death.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Song of the Limberlost: a new piece for harp

Last summer, after promising myself that I would have nothing to do with composition contests, I wrote a piece for one. I did it because the specifics of the contest (it is called the USA International Harp Competition) asked for a piece that had something to do with Gene Stratton-Porter, who is one of my favorite writers. My first favorite book ever was The Magic Garden. I found a copy of it in my attic when I was a child. I was looking for The Secret Garden because my fourth grade teacher was reading it to us, and I wanted to read ahead. I read it countless times in childhood, and was able to read it again in adulthood when my husband Michael found a copy of it through a used book store many years ago, and gave it to me as a present. He also read it out loud to me. What a guy.

When I moved to my small midwestern town I actually found people who knew who Gene Stratton-Porter was, and there were even books of hers in the local library. Thanks to the library and to interlibrary loan (and a few lucky days in used book stores) I was able to read nearly all of her books in their original editions. Now her books have been reissued and are easily available. They are still rare and special to me.

For this contest I chose to write reflections on A Girl of the Limberlost because I have always wanted to write a piece to reflect the music in the novel. I am very proud of what I wrote, but it didn't win any of the prizes offered by the competition.

The big prize for me is that now I can share the piece, and anyone can play it. Here is a recording of it played by Julia Kay Jamieson.