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Music

Arnold Schoenberg rarely missed a punch. Whether in music theory, composition, or the fraught polemics of his age, he communicated with a clarity of purpose verging on the tyrannical. Visiting Schoenberg in California during his last years, the conductor Robert Craft commented on ‘the danger of crossing the circle of his pride, for though his humility is fathomless it is also plated all the way down with a hubris of stainless steel’. Harvey Sachs is worried that music lovers of the twenty-first century are failing to appreciate the continuing significance of the composer despite, or perhaps because of, this armour-plating. Addressed to the musical ‘layman’, Sachs’s ‘interpretive study’ is a passionate, occasionally self-doubting essay intended to demonstrate why Schoenberg still matters. Schoenberg’s five chapters follow a chronological track, attempting to account for most of the fifty-odd opuses of Schoenberg’s oeuvre, within a rich context of his life’s turbulent course. His chapter titles dramatically reflect the struggle – battle lines, war, breakthrough, and breakaway – of both his life and his works. Sachs popularises, refreshes, and sometimes refutes the stainless-steel images passed down in the sanctioned texts of musicology, many written by Schoenberg’s acolytes.

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In the film Almost Famous (2000), director Cameron Crowe’s alter ego, fifteen-year-old William Miller, doggedly pursues his dream of breaking into rock journalism. He cold-calls legendary music journalist Lester Bangs (marvellously played by a dishevelled Philip Seymour Hoffman). Next thing we know, he is commissioned by Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres to head out on the road with fictitious band Stillwater to write a story that ends up on the cover of Rolling Stone. If only it were that easy.

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival 

Melbourne International Jazz Festival
by
30 October 2023

Building on the success of the 2022 Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) – never guaranteed, coming off Melbourne’s lockdowns – the MJIF’s artistic team, at first glance, looked to have voted for more of the same, casting a wide net to ensure that plenty of musical diversity was on offer. After the triumph of last year’s Big Saturday event at Sidney Myer Music Bowl, featuring New Zealand funksters Fat Freddy’s Drop, the Festival rebranded this year’s event Jazz at the Bowl, headlined by 1980s soul diva Chaka Khan and funk producer Nile Rodgers, best known for his pioneering work with Diana Ross and David Bowie.

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Nick Drake’s ‘Fruit Tree’, one of his best-known songs, addresses the idea that even if an artist is ignored in their lifetime, their legacy can be secured, and their work imortalised, with an early death. The song, as we learn from Richard Morton Jack’s exhaustive biography of the English singer-songwriter, was partly inspired by the precocious English boy poet Thomas Chatterton, who committed suicide at the age of seventeen, in 1770.

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The remarkable second act of Jimmy Little’s career commenced with the release of Messenger in 1999. The album was a selection of atmospheric renditions of classic Australian rock songs. In stark contrast to the reassuring homeliness of his earlier recordings, Little’s reading of them evoked an Australia of vast empty spaces, melancholy, and solitude. Those lucky enough to attend the concerts that followed were struck by his goodwill and by the assured mastery of his performance and the fineness of his voice, which hadn’t deteriorated with age. 

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Jillian Graham begins her biography of Margaret Sutherland (1897–1984) with a story that vividly captures two themes that recur throughout the book: Sutherland’s activism, and her sometime exclusion from Australia’s institutional musical life as it developed through her lifetime.

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Subtler in its purring resonances than the cello and more closely resembling the human form in its body, the viola da gamba was cultivated to its greatest heights in the court of Louis XIV. The great virtuoso Marin Marais will be the most familiar name for any who are acquainted with this instrument, but two later figures of equal ability were Antoine Forqueray and his son, Jean-Baptiste. Tumultuous in their relationship, they become the rather unexpected subject of a compelling new novel by Michael Meehan. 

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'You got a habit, a bad habit. You fell in love with the hard stuff. You fell for the foxy harlot, the vamp who lives around here somewhere, and you’re silly about her, she’s got you hooked.’

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Peggy Glanville-Hicks ranks as one of the few Australian composers whose international training and reputation mean that she remains vastly more appreciated outside Australia than within the shores of her native land. A student of Vaughan Williams and Nadia Boulanger, a close friend of the Menuhins, Carlos Surinach, and a host of other major figures, she was a genuine pioneer in the realms of ethnomusicology and music journalism, and an energetic advocate in the articulation of a post-serial musical aesthetic. Her courage and enduring individuality in all of these areas make her one of the most interesting figures in the annals of Australian composers.

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War Requiem 

WASO
by
23 August 2022

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was written for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962, after the old cathedral had been destroyed by German bombing raids in 1940. He dedicated the work to four friends, three of whom were killed while on active service during World War II, and the fourth of whom survived the war but later committed suicide. As an avowed pacificist who had been a conscientious objector during the war, Britten took the opportunity to compose a work combining the traditional Latin Requiem Mass with the anti-war poetry of Wilfred Owen: a fellow pacificist (and fellow gay man) who had served as a lieutenant in World War I and who was killed on the Western Front one week before the Armistice was declared in 1918.

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