great composers steal

February 26, 2012

There is a controversy in the classical music world.

Yes, you read that right. Those words haven’t appeared much in the past 100 years, but there they are.

In a nutshell: The composer Osvaldo Golijov, who has been quite popular amongst people who commission works over the past decade, submitted a work called Sidereus for orchestra to fulfill a commission from 35(!) orchestras. In the notes for the piece, he noted that he used a melody from a piece by a friend, Michael Wald-Bergeron’s work Barbeich. This is nothing unusual, as composers have appropriated small themes (sometimes with due credit, sometimes without) throughout the history of music. Bach used to rewrite Vivaldi’s works.

A music critic and a trumpet player who were at the concert (and who were collaborating on a recording of Barbeich) noticed that Golijov used more than just “a melody.” By their reckoning, Golijov used a significant amount of the piece – “at least half,” according to the critic (Tom Manoff). Golijov is the composer of record. We do not know the interpersonal relationship between Ward-Bergeron and Golijov in terms of how much permission was given and if any money changed hands, and neither one has been willing to comment on the matter.

I did my dissertation on the third movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia for 8 voices and orchestra. That movement uses the third movement of Mahler’s second symphony as a starting point, and by starting point I mean that the work pretty much quotes the entire Mahler movement. On top of that, Berio adds quotes from dozens of other pieces, including The Rite of Spring, La Valse, Der Rosenkavalier, F├╝nf Orchesterst├╝cke and La Mer. On top of that, Berio adds a text adapted from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable.

In my opinion, here is the difference: Berio told you up front that is what he was doing. He described the movement as his summation of the history of music. Charles Ives did many of the same things, using quotes to evoke memory and musical response in his many collage-based and quotation-based works. Golijov is doing none of that. Perhaps he and Ward-Bergeron had an arrangement, financial or otherwise, but he is passing off the work as a Golijov work when a good chunk of it clearly is not.

WF

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cartography

February 22, 2012

This is so great – the Interstate Highway System as it would look if it were a subway map:

(from here, via Kevin Drum)

WF


Interchangeable, or In Which I Am An Old Fart

February 20, 2012

I had a lengthy conversation with a colleague today about musical theatre. Over the course of the conversation, we came to the conclusion that the genre is much more homogeneous than it was even 40 years ago. As to why this is the case, we chalked it up to the following:

(1) Market forces. No one involved in the production is willing to take the risk of failure. Even Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark, as big of a disaster as it is, is likely to recoup its (sizable) investment. The music has a “name” behind it, as does the choreography/direction. A side result of this is:

(2) Fewer unique voices. My colleague’s statement (after judging a mess of musical theatre voice students at a competition this weekend) is that they all sounded like a generic musical theatre voice. No one had an ounce of individuality. I believe that this is because:

(3) All the roles are more or less interchangeable. There’s no characterization anymore. We get plenty of archetypes and stock characters, but everything seems so formulaic now. As a result of this:

(4) All the music is more or less interchangeable. My colleague mentioned She Loves Me by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock as an example of a show where the music, while firmly in the Mid-20th-Century-American-Musical-Theatre genre, never lets you forget you’re in 1930s Hungary. The same is true of The Music Man, which is very much in the same genre but always within the frame of 1912 Iowa. For the life of me, and while I may enjoy the tunes on a certain level, I cannot find any difference in setting just by listening to the music of Rent versus that of Spring Awakening.

All of these factors work together, of course, and it’s a part of the larger cultural homogenization that we’re dealing with (chain restaurants/stores are more common than ever, and exurbs of different cities might as well be mass-produced). However, I can’t say as I like it. You can pick out a Mandy Patinkin or Bernadette Peters or Mary Martin or Julie Andrews or Brian Stokes Mitchell a mile away. You can’t do that with most singers anymore.

What do you think?

WF


actually academic

February 19, 2012

If I can, I’m going to do a dry run of a conference-ish presentation later this week. I hope to record the presentation; if the general consensus is that I should, I will post it here.

WF


Spam

February 15, 2012

What I don’t get is why this blog, with only one semi-regular commenter (thanks, Mark!), gets spam comments. There’s virtually no audience; it just seems like a waste of time.

WF


Endorsement

February 7, 2012

I know, I know, we haven’t lived in Cincinnati for nearly four years. Still, apart from my hometown in Indiana it’s where I lived the longest, and I consider it home for now. Because of this, I stay informed on the political goings-on back in the Queen City.

Those of you who live in the new 31st Ohio House District (which includes Amberley Village, Silverton, Madisonville, Clifton, Walnut Hills, St. Bernard, Norwood and other places in central Cincinnati/Hamilton County) should vote in the Democratic Primary for Luke Brockmeier. He’s running against two old-school anti-choice “Democrats,” and he’ll be a fine representative for this district. I know Luke and I’ve worked with Luke, and I can tell you this: No one will work harder to represent all the people of the 31st District. No one.

The primary is March 6. Vote for Luke Brockmeier!

WF


XLVI

February 5, 2012

My prediction? Giants in a fairly close one.

I probably just guaranteed a Pats blowout.

Also: Halftime show will be pointless. Why isn’t a top-shelf college band or drum corps involved? And where are my stewed prunes? You kids get off my lawn.

WF