Thoughts. No.6 – Singers


Tagged 564, Musée Condé, The Manuscript Chantilly

Listening to some medieval vocal music yesterday morning, I was sickened by how the singers handled it. Absolutely sickened, for the umpteenth time, by what singers do to the material they are given.

In this case it’s a power thing. Who can, hand on heart, swear that they know how a Minnesinger, or a troubadour, would have sounded? Or how theCantigas de Santa Maria would have sounded?

So it’s carte blanche for the singers, sod them. They only have to get the pitches and rhythms right. (In contemporary music, they don’t even feel obligated to do that……they just wobble along, going up and down roughly at the right moments………but in a terribly “impressive” display of bel canto, of course……..)

So I was fuming away, wondering precisely how to define what I detest so much in thisespressivo, and how to counteract it, when, by chance, a possible solution presented itself….

Further along on the CD was a recording of some Codex Chantilly pieces in the Ars Subtilior style of the 14th century. Marvelous for me, some polyphonicballades……….absolutely adorable. (Composers such as Symonis, Suzay, Solage and des Molins).

But of course the singers have to count like crazy to do these things, or they fall apart. They are so busy counting that they don’t have any time for their usual espressivofarting……

Thoughts. No. 5 – Surviving the day

"Melancholy" by Edvard Munch

“Melancholy” by Edvard Munch

Let those who need to go to the therapist just go. Go, get on with it. And those who don’t want to go (can you blame them? – that person sitting there in the corner, saying nothing, is probably earning a lot more money than they are, right now), whether they need to or not, let them stay at home and survive the best they can. Stay or go. It’s probably all the same in the end.

You don’t have a god to help you, and you yourself are not one. (What god drinks six cups of coffee in a row for no good reason?)

This is my thought about how you will survive (and I will give you this advice free of charge). Make a list of the five things you have to do today. Then randomly decide which order to do them in. Then assign one hour to each task. Then follow the clock obediently, as a child does, at school. If there were a god, I am sure he would give you just the same advice as I am giving you now.

As to the greater malaise of your life, you’re on your own, baby.

Tribute to Benjamin Britten, by Geoffrey King and Ananda Sukarlan

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten

A.S. Am really curious about your string quartet………………..

G.K. Did you read what I said?

A.S. Yes.

G.K. Is it understandable? It was a bit hard to explain.

A.S. For musicians it’s understandable.

G.K. Am just listenening to Britten’s Cello Symphony.

A.S. Oh. Love it.

G.K. I am still baffled by Britten’s poor reputation.

A.S. Poor ??? Really ?

G.K. Amongst the cognoscenti, I mean. Late 60s, early 70s, when I was a student, he was just dismissed. Did these people actually LISTEN to his work?

A.S. Oh, by “avant-gardes”. They always dismiss people. Even their own mummy.

G.K. I mean, that’s mastery that almost NO ONE has.

A.S. Yes I know. I really envy him. Those people did too. That’s why they dismissed him. Envy. Jealousy.

G.K. How can you just dismiss it? I don’t know anything about the piece, I must read about it. What a master he was.

A.S. Yes. I have almost all of his works……Just some operas I don’t have. Owen Wingrave, Billy Budd. The rest, yes.

String Quartet no.2 (in progress) and a reference to Vivaldi’s “Not The Seasons”

Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi

The ten methods of development (“change” is a less loaded word) chosen for the quick music of the first movement were not all used up:- 1/transposition 2/new register 3/inversion 4/retrograde 5/chromatic decorations 6/divisions into sixteenths 7/cantabile 8/double stops 9/pizzicato 10/hocket.

This list could have been carefully chosen, or randomly chosen or spontaneously chosen.

As far as texture is concerned, I spread the material (a fake folk dance) either in solo form or in duo form, in the following ways:- S./A./T./B./S.A./S.T./S.B./A.T./A.B./T.B. Of course, where these extensions coincide, they may even result in four-part textures. And you have solo moments, duos and trios.

I already alluded to the problem of formlessness [Sunday, May 20th] and it happened that I liked very much the first duo I wrote (bitonal in harmony, but polyphonically good, also). So I decided to make a ritornello from that.

This is not the only baroque reference. I had meanwhile taken the first of the sketches from the Poulenc model and changed my mind about what to do with it [Thursday, May 10th]. I have made it into a single mood, texturally constant slow movement, such as you can find in Vivaldi (his op.8 no.1 and 3 have slow movements like that). Incidentally, I intend to call Vivaldi’s
“Not The Seasons” just “op.8″ from now on. I hope others will follow suit.

That “single affection” kind of movement is the simplest thing you can do. So why choose it? Three reasons. 1/ It breaks the habit of trying to be difficult and complex in order to impress colleagues. 2/ It was the first thing that came into my mind and so the choice breaks with the habit of calling into question one’s imagination. 3/ Like a meal, a piece needs contrast, and simplicity contrasts well with complexity.

I like concerts that have varied “courses” too. Six grim dirges in a row are not very appetizing. But Satie’s flouting of such classical music conventions in the Gymnopédies is vastly entertaining. And in Vexations, even more so.

Pasta, union meeting, Mozart and the Red Light District

Amsterdam, Muziekgebouw aan ´t IJ

Amsterdam, Muziekgebouw aan ´t IJ

A delicious pasta yesterday evening at Frances-Marie Uitti’s house, not far from the Muziekgebouw aan ´t IJwhere the composers’ union meeting (Componisten 96) was to take place. Chatting away, Frances quickly threw together a tortelloni. Spices, broccoli and parmegiano. Mmmm. Better than you would get in a restaurant, of course. And we drank a good red wine. Frances is my best friend in Amsterdam and a top cellist and improviser. But I shouldn’t forget also to mention the large and imposing marmalade cat that resides at this same address……………

Nice conversation, as usual, but mainly we were meeting to decide which events to attend in the upcoming Holland Festival. Frances herself is giving two performances during this festival, on the 8th and 9th of June.

Then I walked quickly to the union meeting. Saw some friends and colleagues there – Peter Adriaansz, Roderik de Man, Michel van der Aa, Martin Altena, Martijn Padding and David Dramm. Louis Andriessen was also in attendance. There was a long presentation of what will be the new structure for administering contemporary music in Holland and many questions about it. Then some other business. Quite heavy stuff. So I was glad to drink a glass of rosé during the break.

Cycled back through the Red Light District. Lots of drunken men swaying around the narrow lanes, making it difficult to get by. And two pedestrians crashed together suddenly. I thought there would be a punch-up, but fortunately it was good humoured. As always, the atmosphere in this quarter irritated me and I was glad to be out of it. Years ago, coming down from the composer Jan-Bas Bollen’s apartment on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal we had to step over a huge drop of blood on the doorstep – obviously left there by an addict shooting up. Then a few doors away you had the prostitutes sitting in the windows. I remarked to Jan-Bas, how bizarre it was, this juxtaposition of sordid 20th century life and exquisite old buildings. He said “no, this is the oldest part of town and the prostitutes were always here. This is where the sailors came when the boats docked”.

In one of these streets, Mozart (may his name live forever) stayed, during his visit to Amsterdam, aged nine or ten. He spent seven months or so in Holland and wrote twelve works, including two symphonies….

Thoughts. No.4 – Composers and protocol

Lord Britten

Lord Britten

I will attend the Componisten ’96 meeting this evening, for only the second time. As a foreigner, I need to put my face around a bit (well I’m quite reclusive, actually) and also listen and watch. I am interested in learning further how the Dutch do things. I never went to a union meeting in the UK, so I can’t compare the two approaches, though at least in one detail I can. Louis Andriessen was at the first meeting I attended and I was struck by that…………as the leading Dutch composer, he wasn’t following anything like English protocol. In England, such a figure wouldn’t be found dead at a composers’ union meeting. Can you imagine Baron Britten of Aldeburgh attending a union meeting? No. Never. And Britten was seriously posh, so that’s another layer of protocol again.

Why English and Dutch protocol differs in this matter I don’t know.

Thoughts. No. 2 – Sex addicts

sex-addictLate last night, as I cycled home from work, a thought occured to me. I should say “recurred”, because I already had this thought some months previously. It had to do with masturbation…………of all unmentionable things…………..The context for this quite serious reflection (cycling along on my bike, in the dark) will make it comic for some.

“You will go blind” was the saying that amused the boys at my school. How risible they found the idea. And I think we can truly doubt that anyone was ever made blind by doing this dirty, dirty thing, (UGH!). But did anyone ever become mad because of it? Wasn’t that the other half of the saying we used to laugh at? I forget.

(Googling the subject, today, I immediately come across the topic “Does Masturbation Cause Madness?” in a men’s health website, with a reassurance that it, of course, doesn’t.)

Anyway, what I was thinking about as I beetled along, was that, nowadays, people (Hollywood people, anyway) do sometimes check themselves into clinics in order to be treated for sex addiction – in other words, sex is driving them nuts. So, maybe the schoolboys of my day should have been a little more attentive to the advice given, a little less dismissive………….they should have seen further……….. that there was a useful message hidden in there somewhere………or should I say lost in there somewhere. The whole idea having become so abbreviated as to become nonsensical.