Music

Forbidden Music by Michael Haas & Hollywood and Hitler by Thomas Doherty

by
August 2014, no. 363

For all their differences of subject matter and approach (not to mention style), both of these studies can be seen as belonging to the category of what might be termed archaeological history. That is, they are concerned with retrieving and bringing to the surface a gallery of characters and set of important stories and connections which have been either suppressed or ignored.

... (read more)

I was a part-time pilgrim on John Eliot Gardiner’s extraordinary year-long journey, from Christmas 1999 to New Year’s Eve 2000, when he took Johann Sebastian Bach on the road. Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, with his fifteen-member Monteverdi Choir and the twenty instrumentalists of the English Baroque Soloists, performed in Britain, Europe, and the United States all of JSB’s 198 surviving sacred cantatas on the liturgically appropriate days for which they were composed.

... (read more)

How does one get a handle on a phenomenon like Leonard Bernstein? The whirling dervish of the podium was also a brilliant pianist and a composer who wrote for both Broadway and the concert hall, although it is interesting that his most performed orchestral pieces, the overture to Candide and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, are both from his Broadway life. He was a great proselytiser for classical music, as one can still see in his Omnibus appearances and his Young People’s Concerts, and a strong advocate for American composers, but he was also a ruthless self-promoter, as some of his erstwhile friends and mentors found to their cost. A mostly happily married man and loving father, he was also a wildly promiscuous, mostly gay, Lothario.

... (read more)

Lecturing in Vienna in 1999, Nick Cave outlined his theory on the nature of the love song. ‘Within the fabric of the Love Song … one must sense an acknowledgement of its capacity for suffering.’ Unless pain and longing simmer beneath the surface of the music, it isn’t a love song at all. What Lorca referred to as ‘duende’ and Cave himself calls ‘an inexplicable sadness’ at the heart of the love song is evidenced in even the most cursory sampling of his oeuvre. From the despairing lilt of ‘Where Do We Go Now but Nowhere’ to the apocalyptic cheer of ‘Straight to You’, the darkness and desperation of love are constants in his work.

... (read more)

Alma Moodie’s story is remarkable, which makes it all the stranger that she has been so thoroughly forgotten. A frail child prodigy from central Queensland, she became Carl Flesch’s favourite pupil and a renowned concert violinist in Germany after World War I, friend and performer of most of the great figures of international contemporary music, from Max Reger to Igor Stravinsky. As no recordings survive, we have to guess how she played, but it was evidently a style that suited the new music of the time – crisp, rhythmic, and intense, without the overt emotionalism of an Ysaÿe or a Kreisler. She was the dedicatee of violin concerti by Hans Pfitzner and Paul Hindemith, as well as Ernst Krenek, who drew on aspects of her personality as the basis for Anita, the musician who has a brief love affair with the black jazz band leader in Jonny spielt auf, the controversial opera that made his name. Moodie’s story ends sadly with artistic and personal decline before her death in Frankfurt at forty-four, probably by her own hand. But it is the vitality, ebullience, and courage of the earlier years that leaves the strongest impression.

... (read more)

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music by Martin Geck (translated by Stewart Spencer)

by
February 2014, no. 358

After four days in the theatre, and just as many resting up between instalments, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen ends with a big tune. Like most of Wagner’s themes, this one has been given a name: the ‘Redemption through Love’ motif. The name was not the work of the composer but of one of his acolytes, Hans von Wolzogen, and in its original German it is ‘Liebeserlösung’ which, strictly speaking, is ‘Redemption of Love’ or ‘Love’s Redemption’. But ever since guides to Wagner’s music began appearing in English – which is to say, a long time ago – the motif has been incorrectly labelled ‘Redemption through Love’, and so it has stuck.

... (read more)

That George William Lewis Marshall-Hall (1862–1915) is far from a household name cannot simply reflect collective amnesia about Australian music of the era. While Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger remain widely celebrated, subversion of moral and religious orthodoxies left Marshall-Hall’s legacy significantly undervalued. These sixteen carefully sequenced essays, emerging from a 2010 symposium on Marshall-Hall’s life and legacy at the Grainger Museum, reflect two decades of thought and research into a man who, as the Foreword observes, ‘exercised an unprecedented influence over music-making in Melbourne’.

... (read more)

In A Lasting Record, journalist and food writer Stephen Downes recounts the serendipitous tale of an eccentric music lover from Melbourne who, with a primitive home recording device, captured the only extant recording of American pianist William Kapell’s final performance. Downes vacillates between biography, literature, diary, and musicological critique.

... (read more)

It would be a pity if this well-researched and nuanced biography of the greatest English composer of the second half of the twentieth century became known for the rather sensational medical revelations contained in the last chapter. Certainly, they gave me pause before I began reading the book.

... (read more)

In one of the most penetrating essays in this wide-ranging collection, the pianist and scholar Charles Rosen, while addressing the topic of ‘La Fontaine: The Ethical Power of Style’, notes in an aside: ‘What is original in Montaigne is the strange path he takes to arrive at the idea.’ It is an observation that might be equally well applied to the author of the twenty-eight pieces in this volume, most of which originated as extended reviews for the New York Review of Books over the past two decades, apart from ‘Too Much Opera’, which dates from 1979 and, to put it politely, rather shows its age. On the other hand, the subsection entitled ‘Mostly Mozart’ includes, along with four previously published pieces, three new essays, which offer clear evidence of Rosen’s gifts as musical and cultural analyst. Covering topics as varied as dramatic and tonal logic in the operas, Mozart’s entry into the twentieth century, and Mozart and posterity, these hundred-plus pages provide a combination of sociology and musicology, history and aesthetics, performance analysis, and a grasp of the secondary literature that is characteristic of the Rosen who was both performer and critic. (He died in December 2012.)

... (read more)