Saturday, April 29, 2023

Florence Price Thrift Store Find

Imagine my surprise when I opened up this book and found a Florence Price song.

And if you are curious about Marie Whitbeck Clark, you might consider looking at this.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Money, the Cold War, and Serial Music

Ever since working with Bernie Zaslav on his book The Viola in My Life, I have wondered exactly how it would have been possible for a professional string quartet devoted exclusively to (almost all serial) new music to exist in New York City in the early 1960s. In his chapter about the Composers String Quartet Zaslav mentions that Gunther Schuller came up with the idea of creating this quartet, and was its "manager and our guardian angel. He drew upon his wide knowledge of contemporary music, his numerous contacts, and his understanding of what was new and worth being heard, to choose the music we performed (and slaved over)."

I knew Gunther Schuller was an important person in the new music world, but importance and getting enough money to pay busy New York freelancers to rehearse, perform (premiere), and record the very difficult new music that was being written required enormous resources. I imagined that Gunther must have come from money, and that he might have used a personal fortune to fund this project. But then I read his memoir, and saw that the the only real wealth he and his family had was musical ability, energy, and intellect. That can get you work, but it doesn't provide enough money to generate a musical movement consisting of music that listeners wouldn't be able to understand and honestly didn't like (including many of the musicians who did their best to play it as well as it could be played).

My ears perked up the other day when I heard this 2021 episode of Sound Expertise. Eduardo Herrera and Michael Uy are musicologists who specialize in the rise of New Music during the Cold War (both have written books on the subject). They talk about the role of the Rockefeller Foundation in promoting (i.e. generously funding) serial music in the Americas. I won't offer any spoilers, because I want your jaw to drop the way mine did.

There's also a transcript if you prefer to read instead of listen.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Rye crackers hanging out to dry

Here's my portrait of thinly-sliced and oven-dried sourdough hanging out in the kitchen air so that it stays crispy. The holes in it are the perfect size for passing a string through.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

More on rye

Since my last post about rye I got an excellent recipe from Kevin Hart, and I found a reliable and inexpensive source for whole rye flour. Life is good. I slice my rye thinly and dry it out in a 350 degree oven for five or ten minutes, and the resulting crispy bread has totally replaced my need for ryvita.

After a little encouragement from Michael, who had just listened to a podcast about sourdough (the podcast is, oddly enough, called "Sliced Bread"), I began a starter last week.

Sourdough takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. There is also the fear of failure, brought about partially from looking at too many photos of beautiful-looking sourdough breads on the reddit sub called "breadit." I am amazed at the way mysterious wild yeasts develop when you add water to flour. And when you let the mixture sit in a warm place, and feed it with flour and water for a few days, those wild yeasts form whole colonies of living organisms. Whole worlds.

While washing out a bowl the other day I started to wonder if all of life from the big bang onward is simply a bit of sourdough starter in a giant mason jar that we could call the "universe." And if that is the case, what happens to the bits of dough after they are washed away? And what about the mass destruction that happens when you subject those living beings to extreme heat and then consume what is left behind?

At first the sourdough taste overwhelmed me, but then I started to like it. My starter is living in the refrigerator now, and I will use it again. Working with sourdough has been an emotional roller-coaster for me, but now I feel balanced and kind of proud for having some kind of success my first time around. I took pictures:

The top example in each photo is the sourdough, and the bottom is bread made with commercial yeast. Both loaves are made with the same flour: about 2/3 dark rye flour and about 1/3 stone-ground european-style bread flour that is whole wheat but looks off-white. I baked them the same way in the same bread pans, but they look and taste so very different from one another.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Florence Price Thumbnail Sketches transcribed for String Quartet

It does my heart good to see so many Florence Price birthday celebrations in these internets, including a great article by Samantha Ege and Douglas Shadle in yesterday's New York Times.

A couple of years ago I made a transcription of Price's Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman for string quartet that I know has been performed here and there (I know of performances in Australia and New Zealand), but I have never had the chance to hear it played either live or recorded by a good string quartet.

So I'm taking the celebration of Florence Price's 135th birthday to share the link to the music here. I found the piano music in the IMSLP, so I put my string quartet transcription (I transposed it up a semitone from the original) there as well.

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

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Book Sale Sighting

Michael and I happened upon a book sale today. I was rather surprised to see a copy on the music table (selling for fifty cents) of a 2002 "listener's companion" for classical music that I made a dozen or so contributions to. I believe that I wrote my entries in 1999 or 2000.

My entries covered collections of flute music, oboe music, clarinet music, bassoon music, and harp music. I also wrote entries about recordings of Jewish music and Latin music, as well as some about individual composers: Astor Piazzolla, Lili Boulanger, Joseph Achron, Johann Pachelbel, J.C., J.C.F., and W.F. Bach, Irving Fine, J.J. Quantz, Edward MacDowell, and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

It has been decades since I looked at this book, and am pleased to report that it is a very interesting collection of articles about music on records and the early days of CDs, some of which you might find in used book stores and book sales like the one we went to today.

I was surprised to see the glowing reviews of the book on Amazon. I hope that somebody bought it and is enjoying it.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Schubert in my head

I made this little collage in celebration of Franz Schubert's birthday (this past January 31st). I have been spending a great deal of time with Schubert these past several months. I started with one transcription, which showed me something about his musical thought process. But I was only a casual observer. After making my second Schubert transcription, he has taken up residence in my brain, informing my every musical thought, even when I am asleep (or trying to sleep).

Yesterday, because I could (I have a Henle edition of a volume of Schubert Sonatas that Michael gave me as a gift some ten or fifteen years ago), I took the plunge and sightread some Schubert on the piano.

I was shocked and thrilled to find that after all these years of practicing Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven on the piano I was able to actually make my way slowly through some Schubert. Ten years ago it seemed like something that I would never be able to do. Now Schubert is teaching me things that I have never before had the ability to understand. And he wrote enough piano music in his short life to continue to teach me for the rest of mine.