Saturday, June 29, 2019

Surprises from the BeeBC

Here's a beekeeper who uses a cello as a hive for bees

The BBC has a bunch of other bee videos there too!

Capitalism Defined, Musical Capitalism Explored

In Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities, Paul Arnheim, one of the more interesting characters I have encountered in literature, defines capitalism in a way that I can understand it.
"But money is surely just as safe a means of managing human relationships as physical force, the crude uses of which it allows us to discontinue. Money is power in the abstract, a pliant, highly developed, and creative form, a unique form, of power. Isn't business really based on cunning and force, on outwitting and exploiting others, except that in business, cunning and force have become wholly civilized, internatlized in fact, so that they are actually clothed in the guise of man's liberty? Capitalism, as the organization of egotism based on a hierarchy in which one's rank depends on one's capacity for getting money, is simply the greatest and yet the most humane order we have been able to devise, to Your everlasting glory. There is no more precise measure than this for all human action." [Translated into English by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike]

In the original German:
»Aber ist das Geld nicht eine ebenso sichere Methode der Behandlung menschlicher Beziehungen wie die Gewalt und erlaubt uns, auf ihre naive Anwendung zu verzichten? Es ist vergeistigte Gewalt, eine geschmeidige, hochentwickelte und schöpferische Spezialform der Gewalt. Beruht nicht das Geschäft auf List und Zwang, auf Übervorteilung und Ausnützung, nur sind diese zivilisiert, ganz in das Innere des Menschen verlegt, ja geradezu in das Aussehen seiner Freiheit gekleidet? Der Kapitalismus, als Organisation der Ichsucht nach der Rangordnung der Kräfte, sich Geld zu verschaffen, ist geradezu die größte und dabei noch humanste Ordnung, die wir zu Deiner Ehre haben ausbilden können; ein genaueres Maß trägt das menschliche Tun nicht in sich!«
This makes me think about musical capitalism: composers being valued for how much money it costs to commission their works, or how much their orchestral music is worth to a publisher who can make money on renting parts, or how the name of a composer can attract audiences to performances, or how much the name of a soloist can attract audiences to performances, or how easily a composer or a performer can be publicized through media (social or otherwise), and how an image can be created that will suggest musical experiences of great value or of great controversy (which eventually translate into value).

I have participated in the capitalistic world of music. I wrote CD reviews for more than twenty years, and found my reviews being used to promote recordings. My words had some kind of value in the hierarchy of influence, and were used to sell CDs. Do the things I say on this blog, which are not intended to sell anything, and are accessible to anyone for free, have less value? If I were to put my posts together and sell them as a book, would they have more value?

Choosing not to participate in music from a capitalistic perspective has its low points (in the form of blows to the musical ego in this extremely hierarchical musical world) but I think I lead a more honest musical life by giving out an equal amount to what I have taken in over the years. And I have learned so much about music and musicianship that I will surely be paying it forward for the rest of my life.

I charge money for lessons because the time I spend with students is time when I direct all my attention to their needs. I save that time for them week after week, and they know that their lesson time is something they can count on to become better players and better musicians. I also know that if I didn't charge for that time, my students wouldn't practice. I charge money to playing for weddings and for other forms of entertainment, and I happily accept money for participating in orchestral rehearsals and concerts.

I also accept money for commissions, and the money paid to me guarantees that the commissioning people will be the first to perform the music I have written for them. But I no longer work with publishers because I want to continue to have full ownership of the music I write and arrange; and I find more value in sharing music with people than selling it. Selling through a publisher means that I make about 10% of the selling price. Selling music myself means I have to set myself up as a company, which means dealing with all the business-related stuff that constitutes that 90% that publishers make from the music I write. I also prefer to think of other musicians (who generally don't make tons of money) as colleagues rather than as customers. Does that mean that the music I write, keep in the public domain, and make available through the IMSLP is of lesser value than the music I have published? I don't think so!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Locatelli D major Cello Sonata Performed by Daniel Morganstern and Gordon Steel

My friend Daniel Morganstern and his friend Gordon Steel made this recording of the Locatelli a long time ago. Danny just made it available on YouTube. There is some absolutely beautiful "bel canto" cello playing here.

What I did on my summer vacation . . .

Summer seems to be a good time for me to write music. At least this summer has been, so far.

This piece started as a song that I set, for a lark, on a random piece of text. That melody became the first theme. I abandoned the text and started adding instruments, themes, and material. I had a narrative in mind (it's my secret, and I'll never tell), which I abandoned once the piece had a form that worked. And then came the countless hours of work making sure the right notes end up being in the right places. It is not a thankless task because every little improvement is cause for personal celebration. A lot of little improvements add up, and the piece ends up being better.

Some people ask how composers know when a piece of music is finished. It would be nice if a piece could be finished when you make that final double bar, like the way it is depicted in the (very) occasional movie about one composer or another. But the double bar just signifies the ending point of the piece. For me that is where most of the hard work begins. Sometimes I decide a piece is finished when I get tired of working on it. Once what has been running through my head long day and night (all day and all night) is accurately represented by what is written down, and what is written down is in a form that makes physical sense to play, it is done. When I cannot find ways to improve it, it is done.

I did toy with the idea of adding another movement, thus postponing the void created by not having this piece as my companion; but I abandoned that idea because I felt the piece was the right length.

So now I'm writing a blog post about it because I guess I am having a bit of difficulty letting go of it.

The score and parts are on this page of the IMSLP. You can also listen to a computer-generated recording here.

I guess I'll go practice some scales now.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I'm All Ears

Errol Morris's New York Times Opinion piece about Sviatoslav Richter, "The Pianist and the Lobster," is a fantastic piece of writing about one of the most enigmatic of an enigmatic breed of great pianists. And it includes interviews with Richter's video biographer Bruno Monsaingeon and pianist (and illustrious member of the musical blogosphere) Jeremy Denk.

I knew about Richter's problems with pitch as he got older, but I was struck by the peculiar nature of the way Richter's sense of pitch changed. Then again, why should Richter, who functioned on the on outer expressive margins of musical possibilities, have an experience with physical changes in his hearing that wasn't singular?
ERROL MORRIS Hearing things a half tone up or down — was this also a problem related to depression?

BRUNO MONSAINGEON It was probably related to depression. But actually, he mentioned that a bit later in our conversations. One day in a hotel room in Paris, he went to the Clavinova [an electric practice piano] which he had in his room. We had great problems plugging the machine in. And finally he started playing the “Carmen” overture. And he said, “This is in A major, isn’t it?” And I said, “Yes, yes of course, Maestro.” But he was playing the left hand in B major. There was a separation in his mind between the left and the right hand. One was playing one key and another in another key. It must have been a real nightmare for him.

ERROL MORRIS How can you play a piece when you’re transposing only one hand into a different key?

BRUNO MONSAINGEON Well, that’s why he stopped. At that time, he had stopped playing in public. He was trying, towards the very end, the very, very last weeks of his life, he was trying to go back to the keyboard and was even planning to play some concerts. But, during those three years, there was not one note played (except on occasion on that Clavinova). Not one note. And he was desperate about it. It’s a very sad ending. This mighty artist and great, great mind, affected by all these problems.

Both my parents, at least two of my grandparents, and all three of my brothers were born with absolute pitch. Even within the term "absolute pitch" there is a continuum. My father has it to a lesser degree than my brother Marshall, who had a pair of ears that might have compared to Richter's, but Marshall didn't live long enough to experience physical changes in his hearing. To the rest of the family perfect pitch was just a given utilitarian thing. I grew up feeling like I was missing something. In most families the person with absolute pitch is the "other." In my family of origin I was "other." And if I sang something in the wrong key, my brothers would always let me know.

"You're in the wrong key!"

Pitches and harmonies are magical to me. They always were. But like most magical things they are also illusive. Sometimes a piece of music running through my head is in the right key, but I just don't have the wherewithal to name the key or the particular pitches. I sometimes recognize pitches by their color when they are played on a particular instrument, and my string-playing arm will usually find them when prompted by visual (i.e. reading music) stimulation. But my navigation through the world of pitches is like the visual experience of walking through a seasonally changing stretch of woods, following a well-worn path, and looking up, down, and all around to find wonderful happenings. Some people who walk through the woods see (and name) species of trees, species of flowers, species of birds, species of insects, species of mold, numbers of living trees, numbers of dead trees, geologic formations, erosion, and diseases of all sorts. Their visual experience is different from mine.

In his later seventies father, who will be eighty-nine in August, noticed that he started hearing pitches half a tone sharp. Since he is a string player, and has the musical habits of someone with relative pitch, he has managed to adjust. My friend Susan Teicher told me that her father, the pianist Louis Teicher also had that problem. And when I learned about Richter's half-tone-off hearing, I started to wonder if this kind of change in hearing might be a general physical phenomenon, but one only noticed by the small segment of the population who are musicians with absolute pitch.

Musicianship is so much more than pitch memory or pitch labeling. And there are zillions of sounds in the world that are not classified as music: language, animal sounds, nature sounds, motors, anything that vibrates, anything that bangs or rubs against objects. There are certainly people with absolute pitch who are not musical. They just use their sense of pitch in other ways.

We do know that size and shape of our ears change as we get older. This video from the BBC shows how the outsides of our ears change over time. I imagine that the insides of our ears change as well. And I imagine that changes in the inner parts of our ears affect the way we hear pitches. I asked an audiologist about this when it was happening to my father, and he could not give me any information.

After reading the article about Richter last night, I did a little google search and came upon this livejournal discussion, which links to a 2007 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about aging and absolute pitch that confirms my suspicions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Robert Musil, guest blogger

In chapter 82 of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Musil's character Ulrich ______ speaks about the idea of the idea:
"You want to organize your life around an idea," he began. "And you'd like to know how to do that. But an idea is the most paradoxical thing in the world. The flesh in the grip of an idea is like a fetish. Bonded to an idea, it becomes magical. An ordinary slap in the face, bound up with ideas of honor, or of punishment and the like, can kill a man. And yet ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful; they're like the kind of substance that, exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, more lasting, but corrupted form. You've been through this often yourself. Because an idea is what you are: an idea in a particular state. You are touched by a breath of something, and it's like a note suddenly emerging from the humming of strings; in front of you there is something like a mirage; out of the confusion of your soul an endless parade is taking shape, with all the world's beauty looking on from the road side. All this can be the effect of a single idea. But after a while it comes to resemble all your previous ideas, it takes its place among them, becomes part of your outlook and your character, your principles or your moods; in the act of taking shape it has lost its wings and its mystery."
In the original German:
»Du möchtest nach deiner Idee leben« hatte er begonnen »und möchtest wissen, wie man das kann. Aber eine Idee, das ist das Paradoxeste von der Welt. Das Fleisch verbindet sich mit Ideen wie ein Fetisch. Es wird zauberhaft, wenn eine Idee dabei ist. Eine gemeine Ohrfeige kann durch die Idee von Ehre, Strafe und dergleichen tödlich werden. Und doch können sich Ideen niemals in dem Zustand, wo sie am stärksten sind, erhalten; sie gleichen jenen Stoffen, die sich sofort an der Luft in eine dauerhaftere andere, aber verdorbene Form umsetzen: Das hast du oft mitgemacht. Denn eine Idee: das bist du; in einem bestimmten Zustand. Irgendetwas haucht dich an; wie wenn in das Rauschen von Saiten plötzlich ein Ton kommt; es steht etwas vor dir wie eine Luftspiegelung; aus dem Gewirr deiner Seele hat sich ein unendlicher Zug geformt, und alle Schönheiten der Welt scheinen an seinem Wege zu stehn. Das bewirkt oft eine einzige Idee. Aber nach einer Weile wird sie allen anderen Ideen, die du schon gehabt hast, ähnlich, sie ordnet sich ihnen unter, sie wird ein Teil deiner Anschauungen und deines Charakters, deiner Grundsätze oder deiner Stimmungen, sie hat die Flügel verloren und eine geheimnislose Festigkeit angenommen.«

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Music Roll!

I have often read about music rolls, but I have never seen one. I had always imagined a piano roll to be some kind of tube. I wondered how large pieces of piano music could be rolled up in a tube, carried somewhere, opened up and used right away. Internet searches (and I have searched often) only seem to find the kind of piano roll you put in a player piano.

Michael and I watched The Scapegoat earlier tonight, and I was thrilled to see a piano roll in action. It seems to gently bend the music while giving it support so that it doesn't get damaged.

I took some photographs:

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.