On 23 January 2023, I was fortunate to see a concert at the Wigmore Hall in London of four piano hands, those of Lucas Jussen and Arthur Jussen. The programme of the Jussen brothers comprised:
Continue reading ‘Pianos with attitude’
Herewith a list of concert halls in which I have been fortunate to experience concerts and musical performances.
- The Barbican Concert Hall, London
- Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
- Brisbane City Hall, Brisbane
- Cadogan Hall, London
- Casino Civic Hall, Casino, NSW
- City Recital Hall, Sydney
- Sir John Clancy Auditorium, University of New South Wales, Sydney
- Salle de Flagey, Brussels
- Salle Gaveau, Paris
- Hamburgische Staatsoper, Hamburg
- Hamer Concert Hall, Melbourne
- Ipswich Civic Hall, Ipswich, QLD
- Chapel, King’s College London, London
- King’s Place, London
- Leggate Theatre, University of Liverpool, Liverpool
- City Hall, Lismore, NSW
- Llewellyn Hall, Canberra School of Music, Canberra, ACT
- Little Oratory Chapel, London
- LSO St Luke’s, London
- Auditorium, Maison de la Radio et de la Musique, Paris
- Melba Hall, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Melbourne
- Milton Court Concert Hall, Guildhall School of Music, London
- Auditorium, St Joseph’s Nudgee College, Nudgee, Brisbane
- Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London
- Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London
- Royal Albert Hall, London
- Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
- Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
- Golden Concert Room, St George’s Hall, Liverpool
- Seymour Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney
- Concert Hall, South Bank Centre, London
- Sydney Opera House Concert Hall
- Sydney Opera House Opera Theatre
- Tanglewood, MA
- Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris
- Sydney Town Hall, Sydney
- Tyalgum Literary Institute Hall, Tyalgum, NSW
- Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Sydney
- Wigmore Hall, London
The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order. In this edition, the books include several written by Miles Copeland II and his sons, Miles III, Ian and Stewart Copeland, or about them.
- Ian Copeland : Wild Thing: The Backstage – on the Road -in the Studio – Off the Charts: Memoirs of Ian Copeland. Simon and Schuster.
- Miles Copeland II : The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA’s Original Political Operative. Aurum Press. A well-written and fascinating, but often unreliable, account of Miles Copeland’s life. I admire the great intellectual heft and subtlety of political analysis Copeland demonstrates, something he shared with his contemporaries among the founders of CIA. These features stands in great contrast to the simple-minded nature of many of the attacks on intelligence, both from the State Department and the Pentagon in the 1950s, and from the left in the years since.
It is interesting that a book published in 1989, in a chapter about his work in the US intelligence community in the late 1940s, argues that the main thrust of Soviet aggression towards the West was expected even then by Copeland and some of his intelligence community colleagues to be disinformation campaigns (dezinformatzia) directed against the West (page 74).
It was unexpected but very heartening to see how much he despised the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement.
Listening to the string quarters of Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), his Basque composition student Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (1806-1826), and those of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), we can hear the influence of musical ideas. I thought it interesting to list their quartets in the order they were composed. (In the list below, each quartet is prefaced by the composer’s initials.). Arriaga’s three quartets were published in 1824, but may have been written well before. It is interesting that Cherubini had only written one string quartet before meeting Arriaga, while after Arriaga’s three were written, Cherubini then wrote another five.
1814: LC Quartet No. 1 in Eb major
1822 October: Arriaga moved to Paris from Bilbao
1824: JA Quartet No.1 in D minor
1824: JA Quartet No. 2 in A major
1824: JA Quartet No.3 in Eb major
1825 Spring: Mendelssohn’s father took his son to Paris to visit with Cherubini, and while there Mendelssohn may also have met with Arriaga
1825: FM Octet in Eb major, Op. 20
1826: Death of Arriaga
1827: FM Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13
1829: LC Quartet No. 2 in C major
1829: FM Quartet No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 12
1834: LC Quartet No. 3 in D minor
1835: LC Quartet No. 4 in E
1835: LC Quartet No. 5 in F
1837: LC Quartet No. 6 in A minor
1837/9: FM Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2
1838: FM Quartet No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 44, No. 3,
1838: FM Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 44, No. 1
1842: Death of Cherubini
1847: FM Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80
1847: Death of Mendelssohn.
The views of philosopher Peter Singer have always struck me as humourless and puritanical. Confirmation of a conflict in our respective values comes today in a quotation from his latest book in a review in the NYT by Dwight Garner:
Writing about the sale of paintings by artists like Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol for obscene sums at Christie’s, he declares: “Why would anyone want to pay tens of millions of dollars for works like these? They are not beautiful, nor do they display great artistic skill. They are not even unusual within the artist’s oeuvres. Do an image search for ‘Barnett Newman’ and you will see many paintings with vertical color bars, usually divided by a thin line. Once Newman had an idea, it seems, he liked to work out all the variations.”
Well, others may see these art works as beautiful, so it takes some arrogance to assert the contrary subjective opinion as if it were objective fact. As well as learning how much he values his own aesthetic judgment over anyone else’s, from this we also learn that Singer does not like modern art; he apparently also lacks the capability of seeing the beauty inherent in subtle variations of a single, simple theme. The first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth must also not be to his taste, for working out all the variations of the one idea is all that movement is. And let us not mention the minimalist works of JS Bach, where there may be even fewer ideas than one.
Even when his works of art are considered individually, some of Newman’s art is sublime, for example, the painting “Midnight Blue,” (pictured), currently on display at the Royal Academy in London, as part of the RA’s Abstract Expressionism Exhibition. In my experience, to appreciate the sublime, one needs to disengage one’s left-brain (for right-handed people) – the verbal, rational, sequential side – and seek to appreciate the work with one’s right-brain – the intuitive, holistic side; in other words: don’t think about the painting, just feel it. Most English-language philosophers, in my experience, are all left-brain, all the time. (George Santayana, who wrote poetry as well as philosophy, was perhaps an exception.)
And to mention only the beauty of an art work, or the supposed artistic skill needed for its creation, would seem to indicate an impoverished view of the many purposes and functions of art. At least one purpose of painting, and a common motivation for people who paint, is not to produce beautiful (or indeed, ugly) objects, but to express oneself through the act of painting. This was famously the purpose of the artists who came to be called abstract expressionists, of whom Newman is one. Closely related, one may also paint in order to express the feelings one has while engaged in the act of painting. (See here for a discussion of this purpose, and here for lists of reasons why people may draw or make music. Beauty is not the half of it.) Nothing in Singer’s words indicates that he has any appreciation of these other purposes, or that he has even read or reflected on the extensive literature in philosophy, history, theology, and anthropology on art and aesthetics. Of course, one can be a famous philosopher without knowing much of anything except one’s own special topic and being blind to non-verbal ways of knowing and understanding, as the humourless Bertrand Russell showed.
Bernard O’Reilly (1903-1975), of Green Mountains fame, writing about his bush childhood in the Kanimbla Valley, NSW:
That music! – accordians and concertinas [page break]- low brow, but who is so high brow or blasé that he doesn’t secretly enjoy such music? But best were the violins and they were played by men to whom violin playing had come as legacies from father to son and on to grandson. Their music was a thing apart, it had the quality of antiquity which is only possible where father had taught son and no outside influence or technique had been allowed to creep in. Thinking back now it is impossible for me to say whether or not they played well from a technical point of view – you wouldn’t even think of that whilst you listened. The violin became a live thing in their hands; it didn’t merely express their moods and feelings, but it commanded and all who listened followed as they would the Piper of Hamelin through moods of tenderness, through sorrow and through wild joy.
Are they all gone, these men? No, there is one left. Our old neighbour, Pat Cullen, of Long Swamp, has lived beyond his four score years, but in his hands, that old brown violin can still make you dance or laugh or cry.” (pages 37-38)
Bernard O’Reilly : Cullenbenbong. Brisbane: WR Smith and Paterson Pty Ltd. My copy was purchased in 1945 by Burl Ives.
Several newspapers have recently carried reviews of a new book presented short biographies of 8 female composers (Beer 2016). It is certainly true that female composers have suffered from misogyny, and probably still do. But the situation is more subtle than it may appear at first. The discrimination may arise because composers such as Fanny Hensel (neé Mendelssohn) wrote mostly for small-scale, intimate forms, such as lieder and solo piano. Hensel wrote no operas or concertos or symphonies, as far as I know. Since the industrial revolution our society, one could argue, has favoured the grand and the grandiose, so anyone who writes only in small forms is ignored. This is true even of male composers: Hugo Wolf, who wrote art song, is unjustly overlooked, for instance. (This bias for the big and bombastic could also be a strongly male one.) Against this argument that composers need to go large or be ignored, one could cite the case of nineteenth century French composer Louise Farrenc (pictured), who wrote symphonies and full-length chamber works (indeed, very good ones), yet still was ignored by the musical establishment. Despite her music being as good as Schumann’s or Mendelssohn’s, she still is ignored. Even Beer does not, apparently, profile her.
Hensel’s brother, Felix, was a symphonist and composer of overtures who audibly honed his technical craft writing a dozen string symphonies for the pick-up orchestra his mother assembled for the family’s weekly salon concerts each Sunday afternoon in Berlin. Very few women composers have had such an advantage, which perhaps explains something of Felix Mendelssohn’s comparative abilities. But Fanny Mendelssohn certainly had access to this resource. What explains her failure to write for it? Was it some pressure in the family, or just in herself? Did their parents, perhaps unconsciously and subtly, expect Felix to write pieces for the family salons, but not expect Fanny to do so? Was it a matter of social and class expectations of gender roles which the family had internalised? Or was Fanny simply lacking in confidence? She once wrote a song to secretly communicate her love for the man who later became her husband at a time when her parents refused to allow the pair to meet or write letters, so it seems she could disobey the spirit of any explicit family imposition, if not the letter.
Or are we looking in the wrong place entirely here? The Mendelssohns’ father and his brothers were bankers. Felix’s father took him to Paris as a teenager to meet Cherubini explicitly to assess whether the boy had a future as a composer. It is easy to imagine that his father wanted him to follow in the family bank, so perhaps Felix had to fight to get to be a composer. It was not, perhaps, that the family discouraged Fanny in particular from a career as a composer but that both children were thus discouraged, but only Felix resisted this pressure. To be honest, however, Felix’s published letters do not reveal any such discouragement from their parents.
Anna Beer : Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music. Oneworld, London, auK.
On 14 January 1965 in New York City, Bob Dylan recorded the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and the single was released on 8 March 1965. The song includes the lines:
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.
The metaphor expressed in these lines was very influential. For instance, the main left-wing armed terrorist movement in the USA, formed in 1969, called itself Weatherman, or The Weathermen, later calling itself The Weather Underground.
Was the metaphor originally due to Dylan? We can answer NO to that question. On 18 March 1957, Time magazine reported on political events in Poland, where the ruling Polish United Workers Party had recently seen some liberalization of its earlier Stalinism (and the return to power of reformist communist Wladyslaw Gomulka), followed by something of a reversal back to hard-line policies. The Time article began:
There is usually one Communist who knows the way the wind is blowing long before the official weather vanes swing into line. In stormy Poland he is a longtime Stalinist timeserver named Jerzy Putrament. When Wladyslaw Gomulka broke with Moscow last October, Comrade Putrament was so enthusiastic in Gomulka’s support that Pravda publicly rebuked him for saying that he preferred “imperialist Coca-Cola to the best home-distilled vodka.” Last month Weatherman Putrament held up a moist forefinger and got the feel of a new breeze blowing through Poland.
People who have passed on during 2015, whose life or works have influenced me:
- Yogi Berra (1925-2015), American baseball player
- Ornette Coleman (1930-2015), American jazz musician
- Robert Conquest (1917-2015), British kremlinologist
- Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015), Australian politician
- Jaako Hintikka (1929-2015), Finnish philosopher and logician
- Lisa Jardine (1944-2015), British historian
- Joan Kirner (1938-2015), Australian politician, aka “Mother Russia”
- Kurt Masur (1927-2015), East German conductor
- John Forbes Nash (1928-2015), American mathematician
- Boris Nemtsov (1959-2015), Russian politician
- Oliver Sacks (1933-2015), British-American neurologist and writer
- Gunter Schabowski (1929-2015), East German politician
- Alex Schalck-Golodkowski (1932-2015), East German politician
- Gunther Schuller (1925-2015), American composer and musician (and French horn player on Miles Davis’ 1959 album, Porgy and Bess).
- Brian Stewart (1922-2015), British intelligence agent.
- Ward Swingle (1927-2015), American singer and jazz musician.
Last year’s post is here.
For reasons of record, here is a list of musical instrument museums, ordered by their location:
- Athens, Greece: Museum of Popular Musical Instruments
- Berlin, Germany: Musikinstrumenten Museum
- Brussels, Belgium: Musical Instrument Museum
- Monte Estoril, Portugal: Museum of Portuguese Music, Casa Verdades de Faria
- New York, NY, USA: Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Phoenix, AZ, USA: Musical Instrument Museum
- Rome, Italy: Museo di Strumenti Musicali dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
- Vermillion, SD, USA: National Music Museum, University of South Dakota
- Vienna, Austria: Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, Kunsthistorisches Museum