The Avid Listener: Western Art Music

32 posts categorized "Western Art Music"

January 31, 2017

Beethoven’s Deafness and the Myth of the Isolated Artist

Linda Shaver-Gleason (Lompoc, CA)

 

In a scene from the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, music teacher Glenn Holland tells his high school students about Beethoven’s deafness while playing the second movement of the composer’s seventh symphony (the same movement used fifteen years later during the climax of The King’s Speech). Holland has just learned that his toddler son is deaf. While Holland describes the irony of Beethoven’s situation—one of the greatest composers not being able to hear—it’s clear to the viewer that he’s connecting it to his personal irony, as his son will never be able to hear the music that has been his life’s purpose.

 

A scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus, in which Mr. Holland discusses Beethoven’s deafness with his students. 

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November 28, 2016

Stop Copying My Music!: The Emergence of Musical Copyright in England

Ann van Allen-Russell, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

 

J. C. Bach’s Symphony in B-flat Major, Op. 9, no. 3. This symphony is one of the three Op. 9 symphonies that were at the heart of J. C. Bach’s second lawsuit against the London publishers Longman and Lukey, who were accused by Bach of producing and selling unauthorized copies of the symphonies.

 

Make up a tune. You can hum it, whistle it, play on an instrument—anything you like. It’s your own tune after all. Or is it? Can you own something that doesn’t physically exist? And could you stop someone from stealing it? In modern times, a whole body of law exists around musical copyright, which protects musicians from having their intellectual property used without permission. However, such protection did not always exist. In fact, the modern-day concept of musical copyright can be traced back to mid-eighteenth century England, when Johann Christian Bach—the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach—started a lawsuit to stop a minor theft. Unbeknownst to him, it would end up changing the way we think about music.

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October 17, 2016

Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller

Stefan Sunandan Honisch (Vancouver, British Columbia)

 

My hands evoke sight and sound out of feeling,

Intershifting the senses endlessly,

Linking motion with sight, odor with sound.

They give color to the honeyed breeze,

The measure and passion of a symphony

To the beat and quiver of unseen wings.

In the secrets of earth and sun and air

My fingers are wise;

They snatch light out of darkness,

They thrill to harmonies breathed in silence.

Helen Keller, A Chant of Darkness

 

 

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April 4, 2016

Opera in America after the Civil War: Many Languages and a Splintered Audience

Kristen M. Turner (North Carolina State University)

In one of the most memorable scenes in the movie Pretty Woman (1990), Richard Gere’s character takes Julia Roberts to the San Francisco Opera. She wears a stunning dress but is clearly uncomfortable in their box seats at the lavish opera house. Gere, who plays a sophisticated businessman eager to introduce Roberts to the finer things in life, warns her that people have strong reactions to opera. The scene tells us much about how Americans today view this musical form. In Pretty Woman, it’s exotic, best enjoyed in luxury by older, wealthy people in expensive, formal clothes, and presented in an atmosphere completely different from the fun, relaxed concerts most people attend. The humor of the scene is the fish-out-of-water prostitute (played by Roberts) who does not know how to behave. She interacts with the other operagoers with wide-eyed ignorance and naiveté, out of place among the cultured (and uptight) sophisticates around her. Yet, without preconceived notions about opera, she is drawn to the beautiful music and the story of La traviata, which bears some resemblance to her own life.

This view of opera as the forbidding preserve of the wealthy, so embedded in our culture now, was just beginning to take shape one hundred years before Pretty Woman was released. For much of the nineteenth century, opera in the United States was a popular form of entertainment attended by men and women from all walks of life. Excerpts from operas also turned up in minstrel shows, vaudeville acts, sheet music destined for the parlor, and on the bandstand. However, the audience for operas performed in full began to fragment in the 1870s, and this fragmentation is one of the reasons that opera is on the periphery of America’s cultural life today.

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March 28, 2016

Temperamental Differences

Blake Howe (Louisiana State University)

In their lessons, violinists must train very hard to play “in tune.” Singers face the same challenge; some, fearful of sounding “pitchy,” might even use Auto-Tune to prevent mistakes in live performance. The slightest change in temperature and humidity can knock a piano “out of tune,” so concert halls usually hire a professional tuner to “retune” the instrument before each concert—a grueling process that can take hours.

To play or sing in tune is to match the pitch frequencies prescribed by a tuning system. Despite an infinite number of possible systems, for the past 200 years most Western musicians have used just one, called “equal temperament. Listeners have become so accustomed to the sound of equal temperament that its organization of pitch frequencies sounds normal, and a performer’s failure to match those frequencies produces music that sounds wrong. But equal temperament, much like the very concept of normality, is a product of its time and place. It reflects the politics of a culture that values consistency over variety, uniformity over difference—and, as we will learn, a prototypical nondisabled body over the extraordinary diversity of human morphology.

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Norton Music

A History of Western Music

J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca

The Enjoyment of Music

Kristine Forney, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis