Saturday, June 15, 2019

And now a few words by Ruth Gipps on modern musicology

You can find out more about the British composer Ruth Gipps here.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Musical Assumptions in a Free and Open Internet

This is kind of a "meta" post in response to a request from Michael to collect posts made today from people who still enjoy using these internets as a way of communicating about the wonders of the world (from their particular corners) through bloggery. In the spirit of what we still like to think of as the blogosphere, he will collect all the posts that readers send to him and make a post from the links.

I suppose I should wax a bit about what being able to blog means to me. In many ways I treat it as a way to collect thoughts and things that I otherwise might forget. I have kept paper journals over the years, and I write in them occasionally still. But what I write about there I really don't want anyone else to see: thoughts and feelings that would otherwise fester inside me and disturb my sleep.

Be glad, faithful or casual reader, that I don't share those thoughts here.

I like to use this space for musical thoughts, and I like to use this space as an exercise in writing posts that are worth reading. Making something worth reading is work, but it is the kind of work I like doing. It's easier than writing music, and it uses different parts of my brain and different senses from the parts I use when I am practicing. Now that I am sixty and have dropped any illusions of "becoming" (what you see is what you get), I sit at my computer in my comfortable house, in my quiet small town, and if I temporarily ignore the craziness of the outside world (the "presidency" and supporters of this "president" in other areas of government) I feel pretty content.

I love the daily challenge of practicing, and I love learning more about the ways and wonders of my instruments. I love searching for the right notes when I am writing music, and I particularly love finding them. But I find looking out at the world from the standpoint of a section player rather than from the standpoint of a section leader, a conductor, or a soloist to be the thing that brings me the most happiness.

When I was a child I had greatness all around me. Then I became a teenager, and I suppose greatness was expected of me (not by my family, but by people outside of my family). Then, responding from cues from the outside and deep desire on the inside, I spent my teenage years actively pursuing greatness. At Juilliard I was surrounded by people who were truly great and truly talented. I was also surrounded by people who were not truly talented, but they pretended to be. And I was surrounded by people of both persuasions who were talented at promoting themselves and making alliances.

In retrospect I realize that I was one of the select few. I was one of a relative handful of people at Juilliard who were in search of the "why" of music rather than the "how" of music. I was one of a handful of people who wanted to play with other people as a way of achieving magical musical intimacy. I was one of the people who didn't know that there was a hierarchy based on anything other than merit, and that there was a game to play. I suppose I had early exposure such a hierarchy (growing up as the child of a principal player in a major orchestra), and I thought, in my childish way, that it was all about natural order. I always thought that if I worked really hard, my work would be recognized. At Juilliard I learned that if I worked really hard I would be observed by my peers, who would then try to work harder.

And in the real musical world outside of Juilliard I learned that I did have something to offer musically, but I knew that I lacked the professional skills I could have learned at Juilliard, if I had been paying attention to things other than music.

I have made radical changes during the forty years since the four I spent at Juilliard. I have changed instruments, sustained a meaningful relationship with my husband, become a parent and a grandparent, become a composer, become a teacher, worked as a radio broadcaster, worked as a CD reviewer, as a book editor, and I have become a good chamber music player and a good section player.

I have helped create situations for non-professional musicians (late-starter adults and kids) to make music together in our small town without using money to make it happen. I have learned to garden, learned to cook really well, learned a lot about the "why" of music, become a better reader (thanks to the Four Seasons Reading Club), and, somehow, I have achieved a sense of balance and peace with myself and my relationship to the larger world, both musical and extra-musical.

And I have this blog as a place to share the good things that have happened, as well as muse on the bumps I have encountered along the way.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mystery Conductor (?) Drawing Found in the NYP Archive

I found this in a viola part. Any guesses?

This is a photo of Charles Munch in 1940. I think Lisa is right!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

New York Philharmonic Marked Parts!

Need help figuring out bowings of fingerings? The New York Philharmonic's Digital Archive has photographs of parts that you can view through their digital viewer. It is the same thing that you would see if you were to go to the archive and look at the physical parts. But you don't have to go to New York to do so.

Say you want to find the first violin part for Brahms Fourth Symphony. Just fill in the name of the piece, and you'll find the markings from a whole section of New York Philharmonic violinists (one part after another).


But if you are not necessarily interested in violin fingerings, there's more to explore in the "parts" part of the archive. For example, the title of the first stand viola part shows some viola humor, and the innards of the viola parts are filled with marginalia and quotes from conductors.

Go forth and explore!

Did I mention that there are marked scores as well?

UPDATE: While exploring further in the archive, I have noticed that parts used by (and owned by) Leonard Bernstein are always clean. Since the violist who marked the above parts did some of his/her best marking work while playing under Kurt Masur, I did a search for Masur and parts. At this point it is pretty clear to me that there was a librarian who allowed this violist's quotations from conductors to stay in the part (marks in the music are often erased after being used).

I found a pretty rich Beethoven 5th viola part to share. If you find parts with markings that have been preserved for posterity by this very kind librarian, please leave links in the comments!


You must remember this
a fifth is still a fifth
a tie is still a tie

The fundamental things apply
as time goes by.

And when two pitches clash
it still sounds rather brash
on that you can rely

And resolution feels so good
as time goes by.

Dodecaphonic rows once thought to be
the future of music--fie on melody!

Who needs stacked thirds when dissonance is key?
Let's ponder that line now.

It's the still the same old story
with drawings by Ed Gorey
a case of do or die

And we will still discuss our music
as time goes by.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Haydn Quartet Project Update

In August of 2016 some friends (a late-starter cellist, a post-career violist in a care facility, a life-long violinist who never really took adequate lessons) and I started a project of playing through all the Haydn Quartets, beginning with Opus 1, at the violist's care facility. We met once every two months or so, and in spite of our challenges, we made our way through the first 15 quartets.

Then the health of our original violist declined steeply, so she was moved to another facility. But my friend/student/consort partner who had never played string quartets before stepped gracefully into the viola seat, and we are now exploring the wonders of Opus 17. And what wonders they are!

Since starting this project the violinist who had never studied properly now has a good instrument and is now working with a great teacher. She is making great strides in her playing. Our cellist has become more confident, and our new violist (with a new gem of a viola) is having a ball. What have I been doing? Practicing violin. A lot.

The first violin parts of the Opus 17 Quartets are really demanding. They make me think like a violinist, and they make me act like one too.

Today we played Opus 17 #2 (Quartet No. 17), and in two weeks we are playing Opus 17 #1 (Quartet No. 18). Don't ask about the order. The numbering systems are all mixed up, so we're just going in Hoboken order.

Which reminds me of the joke about visiting the Hoboken collection in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna . . . (That's the joke).

Haydn makes me giddy.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Something Musically Meaningful

There are a couple of composer communities on Reddit that I look at regularly, and I happened on something of value there yesterday. It was a link to piece that Max Stwertka wrote in honor of his grandfather's uncle, the violinist Julius Stwertka, who died in Theresienstadt in 1942.

Max Stwertka is a 22-year-old senior physics and music major at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He wrote "Julius" for violin, cello, bass, and saxophone as a senior thesis project, and had the great good fortune of working for the past few years with the composer Hilary Tann, who heads the school's very small music department.

"Julius" is a work of substance, which makes it stand out amid the craft, imitation, and superficiality that I find in much of the new music I hear written by people in their twenties. It surprises me that my comments about the piece are the only comments on the Reddit post. Granted, I was interested in listening to it because I recognized Julius Stwertka as one of the violists who played in the Rosé Quartet.

I was impressed the quality of the performance, and I was impressed by the quality of the piece.

(It turns out that the violinist who played in that performance was an old friend of mine!)

At any rate, I'm posting a link to the piece here.

Not to put pressure on Max Stwertka, but I expect to hear more good music from him in the years to come.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Four Visits to Brügge

Stefan Zweig's work is now in the public domain, which means I can freely share these new settings I made of his four "Brügge" poems.

You can find links to the IMSLP entry and to computer-generated audio files on this page of my thematic catalog blog.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Vivaldi, Pisendel, Respighi, Malipiero, et Moi

The Vivaldi D major Sonata, now known as RV 10, is a much-loved recital piece that became popular in the twentieth century.

We don't have a Vivaldi manuscript, but we do have a copy made by Johann Georg Pisendel. Pisendel (1687-1755) was a great violin virtuoso and a good friend of Johnann Sebastian Bach. We can imagine Pisendel's copy to be (mostly) accurate since he was good friends with Vivaldi as well. He was also friends with Telemann, who was clearly inspired by the spirit and substance of this Vivaldi Sonata while writing his solo violin fantasias. I noticed this yesterday when I played through all twelve.

You can read about the Pisendel/Telemann friendship in this very good article in Classical Net, and you can see Pisendel's work as a composer, a copyist (work he copied for his personal and professional use, no doubt), an arranger, and an editor on this page of the IMSLP.

This is from the cover of Pisendel's copy of the Vivaldi:

This is the first page:

And here is a later page, one of three that are nearly impossible to read:

Ottorino Respighi made an edition of it in 1910, and Gian Francesco Malipiero edited a 1962 Ricordi publication of it, which you can see in the above video.

There are a few mistakes in the Respighi-Malipiero edition, particularly in the slow movement. I was able to correct these in my transcription by referring to the Pisendel copy (a big thanks to the IMSLP for all of this). Some of the last movement is unreadable in the Pisendel copy, so Respighi had to make some educated choices. He also added some original material to the end, which adds considerable excitement (I wonder if Malipiero knew).

Here's the first page of the product of my labors:

And the last page, with Respighi's ending:

You can find the score and parts on this page of the IMSLP.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Note reading game

This little online game is a great way to help people new to reading music learn to read.

You can find it here. It is also a good way to learn to read alto and bass clef.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Robert Musil, Guest Blogger

From Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, The Man Without Qualities, written by Robert Musil in 1913:
Something imponderable. An omen. An illusion. As when a magnet releases iron filings and they fall in confusion again. As when a ball of string comes undone. As when a tension slackens. As when an orchestra begins to play out of tune. No details could be adduced that would not also have been possible before, but all the relationships had shifted a little. Ideas whose currency had once been lean grew fat. Persons who would before never have been taken seriously became famous. Harshness mellowed, separations fused, intransigents made concessions to popularity, tastes already formed relapsed into uncertainties. Sharp boundaries everywhere became blurred and some new, indefinable ability to form alliances brought new people and new ideas to the top. Not that these people and ideas were bad, not at all; it was only that a little too much of the bad was mixed with the good, of error with truth, of accommodation with meaning. There even seemed to be a privileged proportion of this mixture that got furthest on in the world; just the right pinch of makeshift to bring out the genius in genius and make talent look like a white hope, as a pinch of chicory, according to some people, brings out the right coffee flavor in coffee. Suddenly all the prominent and important positions in the intellectual world were filled by such people, and all decisions went their way. There is nothing one can hold responsible for this, nor can one say how it all came about. There are no persons or ideas or specific phenomena that one can fight against. There is no lack of talent or goodwill or even of strong personalities. There is just something missing in everything, though you can't put your finger on it, as if there had been a change in the blood or in the air; a mysterious disease has eaten away the previous period's seeds of genius, but everything sparkles with novelty, and finally one has no way of knowing whether the world has really grown worse, or oneself merely older. At this point a new era has definitively arrived.
[Translation by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike]

In the original German:
Etwas Unwägbares. Ein Vorzeichen. Eine Illusion. Wie wenn ein Magnet die Eisenspäne losläßt und sie wieder durcheinandergeraten. Wie wenn Fäden aus einem Knäuel herausfallen. Wie wenn ein Zug sich gelockert hat. Wie wenn ein Orchester falsch zu spielen anfängt. Es würden sich schlechterdings keine Einzelheiten haben nachweisen lassen, die nicht auch früher möglich gewesen wären, aber alle Verhältnisse hatten sich ein wenig verschoben. Vorstellungen, deren Geltung früher mager gewesen war, wurden dick. Personen ernteten Ruhm, die man früher nicht für voll genommen hätte. Schroffes milderte sich, Getrenntes lief wieder zusammen, Unabhängige zollten dem Beifall Zugeständnisse, der schon gebildete Geschmack erlitt von neuem Unsicherheiten. Die scharfen Grenzen hatten sich allenthalben verwischt, und irgendeine neue, nicht zu beschreibende Fähigkeit, sich zu versippen, hob neue Menschen und Vorstellungen empor. Die waren nicht schlecht, gewiß nicht; nein, es war nur ein wenig zu viel Schlechtes ins Gute gemengt, Irrtum in die Wahrheit, Anpassung in die Bedeutung. Es schien geradezu einen bevorzugten Prozentsatz dieser Mischung zu geben, der in der Welt am weitesten kam; eine kleine, eben ausreichende Beimengung von Surrogat, die das Genie erst genial und das Talent als Hoffnung erscheinen ließ, so wie ein gewisser Zusatz von Feigen- oder Zichorienkaffee nach Ansicht mancher Leute dem Kaffee erst die rechte gehaltvolle Kaffeehaftigkeit verleiht, und mit einemmal waren alle bevorzugten und wichtigen Stellungen des Geistes von solchen Menschen besetzt, und alle Entscheidungen fielen in ihrem Sinne. Man kann nichts dafür verantwortlich machen. Man kann auch nicht sagen, wie alles so geworden ist. Man kann weder gegen Personen noch gegen Ideen oder bestimmte Erscheinungen kämpfen. Es fehlt nicht an Begabung noch an gutem Willen, ja nicht einmal an Charakteren. Es fehlt bloß ebensogut an allem wie an nichts; es ist, als ob sich das Blut oder die Luft verändert hätte, eine geheimnisvolle Krankheit hat den kleinen Ansatz zu Genialem der früheren Zeit verzehrt, aber alles funkelt von Neuheit, und zum Schluß weiß man nicht mehr, ob wirklich die Welt schlechter geworden sei oder man selbst bloß älter. Dann ist endgültig eine neue Zeit gekommen.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Emma Goldman on the American Experience

I just finished watching a broadcast of the excellent PBS American Experience program made by Nebraska Public Television in 2004 about Emma Goldman (you can stream it and/or read the transcript here).

In my late 20s I learned from my grandmother that my great grandfather was a friend of Emma Goldman, and then I spent a good decade reading everything I could find about her. In 2005 I wrote an opera using the text of Howard Zinn's play EMMA as its libretto. Being true to the spirit of Emma Goldman, Howard Zinn and I kept the work in the public domain, and we made it available in the IMSLP.

I was particularly pleased when the historian (and playwright) Martin Duberman, who made comments in this documentary, said of Emma Goldman that he thought her whole life was operatic. It was.

You can find the score and a computer-generated recording of my Emma Goldman opera here. And you can see other Musical Assumptions posts about Emma Goldman here.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Four Seasons Reading Club

Michael keeps lists of the books we read together, and makes an “annual report” every May. Here is the list from 2018-2019.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Some of the best writing about music I have read in a major magazine

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic has written one of the best pieces of writing about music I have read in a long time. Meyer normally writes about climate change and technology for the magazine, but I hope he gets more chances to write about music.