Music

Classical performance practice in the ’30s

Posted in Music on December 14th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Drawing of Furtwangler by Lisl Steiner

Notes from an eyewitness

Theses, monographs and books have been written about orchestral and instrumental performance practice in the Baroque, Classical, and even the Romantic eras.  Indeed, the entire authentic performance and authentic instrument movement, the ‘period performance’ movement, is an attempt to recreate performances of the past.  This movement exploded into academic and musical popularity in the ’60s and early ’70s, and resulted in a great deal of textual research and, on the whole, progress in the authentic recreation of historical instruments.

The recreation of performance practice, however, was disappointing.  Thousands of recordings were made by ‘academically informed’ conductors and soloists.  Too many were thin, metronomic, and dry as dust.  read more »

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Wanda Landowska’s 80th anniversary

Posted in Music, The End of the Monsoon on December 5th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

of her recording of the Goldberg Variations

Landowska’s first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which was not only the first recorded on a harpsichord but the very first recording of the piece ever made, is variously listed as made in 1931, 1933 and 1935; I’m going with the earlier date.  I first listened to it on an LP about 1980.  It made an indelible impression.  She was trained in the classical and romantic repertory, and I’ve read that she played Chopin on the piano all her life, but clearly her heart–or at least a significant part of her heart–was with Bach.  She was also a serious musicologist and researcher with the interest and the languages and the cultural background to do original research, and the luck to be active at a time when you could still collect original manuscripts and instruments–before the the looting of Leipzig, the fire bombing of Bremen and the destruction of Berlin and much of western Europe.

Many reviewers describe her Bach as romantic, at least one as Gothic.  read more »

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Elena Gerhardt sings Brahms

Posted in Lieder, Music on October 17th, 2010 by admin – 1 Comment

Elena Gerhardt in Leipzig, about 1900

Der Tod, das ist die k├╝hle Nacht

Why does this song of Brahms’, from a poem by Heine, mean so much to me?  Why has it meant so much for so many years?  Even as I write, the song playing in the background grips my heart.

Most nineteenth century German Lied is about love–or unrequited love, or death.  This song may be about all three.  It’s hard at first to tell.  It’s a triumph of suggestion, of atmosphere.  Here’s the German text, followed by an English translation: read more »

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Music, spirituality, and the political thriller

Posted in Buddhism, Music, The End of the Monsoon, Writing on August 9th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Bach's instrument: the clavichord

Music in The End of the Monsoon

Can music and spirituality have a place in a political thriller?  I think they can, if they’re sub-themes illuminating character.  In The End of the Monsoon, Mrs Ambler, an idealistic lawyer, is also an amateur musician and practicing Buddhist.  Her guilt over her illicit affair strengthens her desire for at least a breath of transcendence.

In 1983 I thought I had such a breath in the wee small hours of the morning, while playing the clavichord in my third world luxury apartment in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In my novel I transferred this experience to the character of Dr White, a no-nonsense, middle-aged expatriate English doctor in Phnom Penh.  read more »

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On reading again Paul Henry Lang and Leonard Woolf

Posted in Music on March 16th, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

Leonard Woolf

Music and civilization

I’ve just reread, from cover-to-cover, for the first time in years, Lang’s Music in Western Civilization–first published in 1941. My edition dates from 1969. I’m more impressed than ever.

His authority runs through all 1,030 pages. Here are the first lines of the Introduction: read more »

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Building a Friederici clavichord

Posted in Clavichord, Music on March 1st, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Five octave, unfretted clavichord after Friederici, 1765

I had owned and played a small fretted clavichord since 1982, and in 2004 I started researching five octave, unfretted clavichords, with the idea of building an instrument suitable for playing all of J.S. Bach, and Haydn’s F Minor Variations from 1793. read more »

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