The other day I mentioned the Obrecht Mass site, which allows you to hear the music, follow the score bar by bar, and read commentary. There are various online projects in this vein. Also worth investigating are Carnegie Hall's Performance Guides for the Schubert piano sonatas and the Bartók quartets, which mix video commentary (by Leon Fleisher and members of the Emerson Quartet) with animated scores.... William Steinway's Diary, a blow-by-blow account of musical life from 1861 to 1896, is now online.... Here's a behind-the scenes video for the accurately named innova label.... In a video interview for the Danish label dacapo, Per Nørgård talks about he perusaded György Ligeti to listen to the late-Romantic visionary Rued Langgaard. (Thanks to Eduardo Fernandez.) ... Connoisseurs of fictional composers will be glad to find that Charles Jessold, the murderous hero of Wesley Stace's eponymous novel, has his own website. Daniel Felsenfeld has "realized" one of Jessold's works.... The Kaufman Center's Ecstatic Music Festival kicks off with a marathon on Jan. 17.... A sound investment: Carlos Kleiber's Tristan, Traviata, Freischütz, Fledermaus, Brahms 4, Beethoven 5 and 7, and Schubert for less than fifty dollars. But: no texts.... Best Music Writing 2011, which I'm co-editing with Daphne Carr, is accepting submissions. We're seeking the widest possible representation of genres and traditions.
After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that had been hidden from one's tears. I can fancy a man who had led a perfectly commonplace life, hearing by chance some curious piece of music, and suddenly discovering that his soul, without his being conscious of it, had passed through terrible experiences, and known fearful joys, or wild romantic loves, or great renunciations."
— Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"
Wilde did not play the piano; he is speaking through the dialogic character of Gilbert. As it happens, Wilde's brother, Willie, did have some ability as a pianist, and was particularly fond of Chopin. The composer Ethel Smyth reports, in her riveting memoir Impressions That Remained, that Willie not only played the Chopin Études but devised new endings for them. What these might have sounded like is anyone's guess. Even stranger is the fact that Willie proposed marriage to Smyth—immediately after she had become violently seasick during a voyage across the Irish Channel. Smyth entertained the notion for a few weeks, then turned him down. It was for the best: Smyth was a lesbian, Willie was an alcoholic.
Image courtesy of the Morgan Library. Click to enlarge.
Just before Christmas, the Morgan Library unveiled digitized versions of some of the most important music manuscripts in its collection. Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony, Mahler's Fifth Symphony, and Schubert's Winterreise are among the dozens of treasures on offer. (The image above is of the first page of the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth. Note that he writes "Molto Adagio.") The library says that in the near future more than nine hundred manuscripts will be made available. This is obviously a major resource for musicians, scholars, and music-lovers.
Rehearsals for Nixon in China are now under way at the Met.
Photo courtesy of John Adams.
In my column on Renaissance polyphony in this week's New Yorker, I mention in passing the Flemish group Capilla Flamenca. The delightful video above comes from their well-stocked website. Another group with a potent web presence is Cappella Pratensis, which not only has its own site but also participates in Jennifer Bloxam's remarkable multimedia study of Obrecht's Saint Donatian Mass. The latter allows you to follow along in the score and observe how the contrapuntal technique meshes with the religious texts. (Thanks to Matthew Westphal for the tips.) Blue Heron, the main focus of my piece, have their own richly informative site. They'll be back in NYC for a Victoria program on March 13. Pomerium, longtime New York mainstays, appear in the invaluable Music Before 1800 series on Feb. 13. And the Tallis Scholars remain the heavyweights of the polyphonic arena, offering highest-quality downloads through their in-house label, Gimell Records.
I neglected to mark here the death, in late November, of the Canadian composer Ann Southam, whose mesmerizing hour-long piano piece Simple Lines of Enquiry I picked as one of the highlights of the year 2009. (You can hear it at Other Minds radio.) Tamara Bernstein wrote a lovely obituary for the Globe and Mail. It doesn't appear online, so I thought I'd quote the opening lines: "Less than forty-eight hours before she lost a long battle with lung cancer, the composer Ann Southam sat listening to a radio station as it broadcast the well-known Humming Chorus from Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly. 'Imagine being at the first performance of that!' she exclaimed to a friend. 'What did people think of it?'" Elsewhere in the piece, Bernstein observes the intricate balance of consonant and dissonant elements in Southam's music—a balance that achieves sublime repose in Simple Lines—and quotes her saying, "Isn't that life, in a way: trying to accommodate dissonance?"
Update: The obituary has now appeared online.
Many Voices. The New Yorker, Jan. 10, 2011 (subscribers only).
At the New Yorker site, I've posted a little essay on some of the year's memorable moments.
The celebrated Swiss tenor has passed away at the age of 108. Four years ago, he was able to enter into a civil union with the man with whom he shared his life.
Update: A personal tribute from Paul Festa.
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