Archive for italian

Alberto Burri: Form & Matter

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2012 by Robin Gosnall

Sacking and Red 1954

Alberto Burri (1915-95) was an avid footballer who played for the Umbrian first division, a qualified doctor who worked for the Italian army during the Second World War and for the final 18 months was interned in Texas. His first picture, made with canvas and paints supplied by the YMCA, was a view of the desert he could see from the prison camp.

The great postwar pioneer Alberto Burri blazes a trail of sackcloth and ashes in this long overdue UK retrospective, writes Laura Cumming

Alberto Burri: Form and Matter is at the Estorick Collection, London N1 until 7 April 2012

Scordatura: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Scordatura (simply retuning of the strings from their conventional pitches) is not a technique exclusive to modern music; it dates back to the 16th century, when it was employed by French lutenists, then taken up for the violin by many composers, most notable of whom was Biber. After falling out of fashion in the 18th century (though employed for the viola part in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 for violin and viola), many 19th century violin treatises mention it (including that of Baillot from 1834), and it was a speciality of Paganini, and after him de Bériot, Vieuxtemps, and others. Also employed in Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben.

The technique is also common in much non-classical music, especially amongst folk fiddlers in various places. It’s questionable how meaningful the term is when alternative tunings can themselves become standard (as apparently an a-e-a-e tuning is in parts of Scotland and North America).

It is also impossible to play Nick Drake’s songs on the guitar because nobody knows how he tuned the instrument for different songs.

The Biber Rosary Sonatas are surely the classic examples where each sonata is tuned differently. On the only occasion when I heard them performed live the violinist (Elizabeth Wallfisch) had three different violins, each of which was immediately tuned for its own next sonata once it had been played, laid down, and then retuned again when its turn came round. It’s actually a bit of a palaver which detracts a bit from the whole performance because so much time is spent tuning the instruments.

Some Italian words that used to begin “dis” now begin with just “s”. So scordatura probably used to be discordatura.

Giacomo Meyerbeer: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Meyerbeer – like Halévy, Auber, and several other contemporaries – has mostly disappeared into a black hole. Even in France he is mostly ignored (although he worked primarily in France, he was German by birth).

Richard Wagner had personal differences with Meyerbeer (mainly rooted in private jealousies that Meyerbeer’s music was so successful by comparison to his own works at the time – and his perilous financial position for much of his life). However, this does not completely explain the disappearance of Meyerbeer’s works from the repertoire in the 20th century, which seems to be also related to fad and fashion. It’s the entire genre of French grand opera which has fizzled out.

It can be claimed – but without any real justification – that Meyerbeer and Halévy were discriminated against as Jews, but this doesn’t explain why Auber (who had been enormously popular) has dropped off the radar entirely … why Gounod’s works are rarely performed (except for Faust) … why Bizet’s other operas (except Carmen – does anyone even remember them, except for their overtures?) are never staged … why Delibes is utterly ignored … why even Massenet is relegated to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy League.

For me, I’m afraid, the axe-grinding excuse of anti-semitism doesn’t explain any of this … there are too many non-Jewish composers in the same genre who are ignored too. Nor does the word of Wagner, which is a red herring – what opera manager takes Wagner’s views into account when programming a season nowadays?

In short, Meyerbeer’s French grand opera is clearly out of fashion these days. Vast amounts of utterly bloated bombast, a dearth of melodic imagination, and the most ludicrously melodramatic plots, reedemed by the odd inspired moment and a certain dramatic sense. L’Africaine is probably the best (or least bad) and has a few genuinely striking sections. Robert le Diable, the opera that truly established his reputation, was a massive success in the Paris of the July Monarchy; nowadays it works as an unintentional comedy (try the scene in Act 3 with a chorus of dead nuns rising out of their coffins). There’s a pretty good section on Meyerbeer in Charles Rosen’s The Romantic Generation; also worth reading for those interested to know more about the composer are Jane Fulcher’s The Nation’s Image: French Grand Opera as Politics and Politicized Art, Heinz and Gudrun Becker’s Giacomo Meyerbeer: A Life in Letters, and Mark Everist’s collection of essays Giacomo Meyerbeer and Music Drama in Nineteenth Century Paris.

The whole genre of French grand opera (encompassing the works of Meyerbeer, Halévy, Auber and some of the later works of Rossini, and becoming influential on the work of Donizetti, Verdi and even Wagner) is certainly of great interest to those wanting to understand better the cultural history of the period; the works are worth hearing a few times, but I’d be very surprised if they would stand up to the numbers of repeated performances and productions that would lead to their being incorporated into modern standard repertory.

Maurizio Pollini

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Pianist Maurizio Pollini interviewed by Nicholas Wroe in the Grauniad:

His strong belief in the social benefits of art remains undimmed. “I think great art has entirely progressive aspects within it, elements that are somehow outside the detail of the text or even the political opinions of the person who made it. Art itself, if it is really great, has a progressive aspect that is needed by a society, even if it seems absolutely useless in strictly practical terms. In a way art is a little like the dreams of a society. They seem to contribute little, but sleeping and dreaming are vitally important in that a human couldn’t live without them, in the same way a society cannot live without art.”

Pollini’s restrained on-stage demeanour and dapperly conservative off-stage appearance indeed promote a strong sense of detached accomplishment. But he is by no means a “musical adding machine”, as he was once described. His distinguished silver hair, aquiline profile and line in smart grey suits may have prompted the observation that he resembled a typical Fiat factory executive, but in reality his political history reveals him as closer to a typical Fiat factory union organiser. He continually fishes in the pockets of those expensive jackets for an apparently never-ending supply of cigarettes, smoking no more than a quarter before stubbing one out and lighting another.

Search terms for 7 days ending 2010-12-03

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Blog Stats, Culture, Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Beverley Callard

Some people who typed in these search terms were directed to this blog:

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Beverley Callard has appeared in Coronation Street for several years. She is five years older than I am.

Classical Music: Who Cares?

Posted in Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

A survey reveals that Britons are clueless about classical music. A third of participants have never listened to the genre and 4% wrongly identified a type of Italian cheese ball as a composer.

One in three people (33%) have never listened to classical music and 4% of those surveyed wrongly identified Bocconcini – small Italian cheese balls – as a composer. The Reader’s Digest survey of 1,516 people also found that most were unable to link composers to their masterpieces. Three out of four (75%) did not know that Elgar wrote Pomp and Circumstance, and 27% did not even know he was a composer. Sixty-eight percent did not know Tchaikovsky wrote the 1812 Overture.

The Welsh were more likely to own some Vivaldi or Wagner, with 72% possessing at least one classical CD compared with the British average of 59%.

Most participants (61%) said they liked classical music, with the older generation much keener than the younger generation.

Gill Hudson, editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, said:

As our survey shows, there’s clearly an appetite for classical music. I suspect that a combination of uninspired teaching and the elitism that surrounds much of the genre has alienated many people, hence the lack of knowledge of some of the greatest classical music and composers of all time. Classical music at its best can be moving, life-enhancing and uplifting. It should be accessible to all.

(Press Association)

Giacinto Scelsi

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Is Scelsi the forgotten man of 20th century music par excellence?

Well, perhaps not forgotten, as such. I do think that he didn’t, and doesn’t, fit neatly into the usual mould of musically and intellectually bankrupt avant-garde composers because he wasn’t musically and intellectually bankrupt. The destructive, screaming left, that champions anything it sees as being against tradition, has a hard time with the aristocratic Scelsi who remained all his life a benign, decent, conservative and fascinating man.

In addition, most of what Scelsi wrote he worked hard at and he actually meant to write it. Not for him the random chance, but, as for Webern, every note mattered. He was a craftsman who took immense pains over what he wrote. Moreover, he was an extremely talented virtuoso pianist. Such a combination of skill and hard work sits uneasily with the usual run of posturing and pretentious frauds calling themselves composers in the 20th century. This unease has continued, so that the sycophants and fellow travellers of contemporary music today don’t give Scelsi the space that they allot to other talent-free artists whose music is as empty as their own heads.

That the man was slightly mad is probable; that his madness was akin to genius is also likely. I doubt anyone would enjoy everything he wrote but there is much of fascination and much of beauty, with influences way back to medieval chant and Renaissance polyphony – all of which Scelsi studied assiduously.

He is arguably most famous for Quattro Pezzi and his fascination for the constituent elements of sound, but it would be a mistake to believe that this was all he was. Personally, I think it’s a very minor part and there is much to enjoy in the works of a hard-working, deep-thinking, unusual, original and eminently capable musician.

For anyone interested in listening to some Scelsi, I’d suggest two pieces in particular that would repay the time involved are his Uaxuctum and the Suite No. 9.

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