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Old 02-11-2006, 02:06 PM
northmallexile northmallexile is offline
 
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Default A-Z of Classical Music

Courtesy of Joe Queenan of the Guardian.

A is for ... Amadeus (Mozart)

Most of what the public knows about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart it knows from watching Milos Forman's bouncy, irreverent, factually absurd 1984 biopic. This is the Academy Award winner that briefly made Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham famous, before the public came to its senses. Forman, reworking Peter Shaffer's ingenious play, depicts Mozart as God's cruelest joke: a vulgar simpleton obsessed with bodily functions who has inexplicably been blessed with the ability to write a catchy tune

The truth is more nuanced. Mozart was absolutely brilliant, the most talented artist in human history, doing more things well in a shorter lifetime than Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Picasso, Bono. He was a fabulous pianist, an amazing conductor, a superb violinist. He wrote the most sophisticated operas the world has ever known - cerebral compositions in an art form dominated by sappy cornballs - at least a dozen gorgeous symphonies (his early work does not count; he wrote his first symphony at age seven), truckloads of concertos for piano and violin, and haunting chamber music that will be performed up to and including Armageddon.
His Requiem, unfinished, surpasses any Requiem that is. There is no one alive today who is even vaguely in the same weight class as Mozart, nor has there been since Wagner died. And Wagner was only vaguely in the same weight class.

Arguably bringing more sheer beauty into the world than anyone who ever lived, Mozart was rewarded by the fates with a preposterously unhappy life. His childhood was sabotaged by his musician father, who pimped him out as a juvenile circus act; his aristocratic employers showered their wealth and praise on butchers and charlatans; he married badly; he was constantly in debt; he had bum kidneys. He was short, his hands were stubby, and, oh yes, his face was marred by smallpox. He died at age 35, and no one knows where he is buried. Anyone who believes that life is fair should try being born in Afghanistan or study the life of Mozart or just go straight to hell.

B is for... (Ludwig van) Beethoven Every musician who thinks he is god's gift to the world can thank Ludwig van Beethoven - who actually was God's gift to the world. Before Beethoven, the rich and the stupid, who were usually one and the same, decided what got written and when it got performed - usually at the king's brunch; after Beethoven, musicians stopped being flunkies and got to call the tune. Beethoven was the first composer to write first and ask questions later; the whole notion of the tormented artist shaking his fist at a cruel and very possibly idiotic universe originates with him. Rock stars, with their pre-fab, off-the-rack personas, may not owe all that much to Beethoven's art. But they owe everything to his attitude.

Like Mozart, Beethoven wrote an enormous number of pieces that no one has come close to equalling. Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Shostakovich and Strauss all wrote majestic symphonies, but none of them equal the power and drama of Beethoven's Third, Fifth, Seventh or Ninth. Beethoven's sonatas are still the gold standard by which all pianists are measured; and his string quartets, written almost 200 years ago, still sound harsh and demanding, even to modern ears. Unlike most of his predecessors, whose music was sweet but harmless; Beethoven's music is generally dark and daring; unlike many of his descendants, whose music is intellectually challenging but unlistenable, Beethoven's music is haunting, sublime. As for minimalists like Philip Glass and John Adams, were Beethoven alive today, he would smack them.

Like Mozart, Beethoven was rewarded for his innumerable gifts to mankind by enduring a thoroughly miserable existence. Unlike the self-monauralizing Van Gogh, who could always fall back on that spare ear, Beethoven lost his hearing while he was still young, resulting in some rather wild conducting performances after he went deaf. Coarse, maladroit, hard to get along with, unsuccessful in love, Beethoven was still evolving as a composer when he died in his fifty-seventh year. None of us will ever live to see a 57-year-old composer who is not washed up. And yes, that includes Dylan.


C is for ... Carmen (Bizet)
One of the three most beloved operas in the world (joining Aida and La Bohème), Carmen is quite amazingly ridiculous, even by the standards of 19th century entertainment. The saga of a feisty femme fatale who works in a Seville cigarette factory and falls in love with el hombre wrongo, Carmen features a handful of catchy tunes that sound instantly appealing on first hearing, then a bit silly, and then, as the listener grows more sophisticated, start to get on the nerves

Not really a full-fledged opera, but a comic opera, Carmen serves the same cultural function as The Old Man and the Sea or The Razor's Edge: delectable pastries suitable for children and rubes, but a bit too sappy for anyone old enough to order hard liquor. Otto von Bismarck, architect of the military-industrial complex responsible for the first world war, saw Carmen 70 times. Proving, once again, that the Germans are capable of anything.
With its saucy factory girls, gallivanting toreadors, swashbuckling smugglers resplendent in their buccaneer finery, and the whole farmyard - horses, donkeys, pigs - merrily cavorting on stage, Carmen is a lavish crowd-pleaser that brings even toreadors in wheelchairs to their feet. Often performed in venues like the Albert Hall, which are far too large for anyone in the peanut gallery to see the performers' faces, Carmen not only encourages but practically demands over-the-top performances by singers who are already predisposed toward the vulgar, the clownish, the scenery-masticating. Composed by Georges Bizet, the ultimate one-hit wonder, who died not long after its unsuccessful premiere, Carmen has been made into a Spanish film that is quite appealing, an American film that is a bit silly, and a French movie that is just plain awful. The Spanish movie stresses dance, not music, and thank God for all of us.

D is for ... Debussy, Claude
The ugliest man to ever write beautiful music, Debussy was an anti-social misanthrope who even the French found unpleasant. Arrogant, shunning human company, emotionally scarred by being short, fat and afflicted by an irregularly surfaced forehead, and regularly pitching camp with women given to recreational suicide attempts, Debussy was the last composer to write music that was both fiercely cerebral and unabashedly emotional (Ravel, though a charmer, was basically a bargain-basement Debussy). After Debussy, classical music would continue to be thought-provoking, but it would never again be sublime.

Debussy is the first truly modern composer, the first to repudiate the concept of music as literature, to focus purely on the emotions triggered by specific sounds. He hated Beethoven, loathed Mozart, ridiculed Brahms and thought Wagner was weighing down western civilization. He liked Satie, who posed no threat.

Ironically, Debussy's anger, personal unhappiness and penchant for hooking up with women likely to shoot themselves if not watched carefully cannot be found in his music, which is uncompromisingly beautiful; no composer's work was ever more disconnected from his personality than Debussy's.

Officially, Debussy is referred to as an Impressionist because he lived at the same time as Monet, Pissaro and Sisley, but the term is a misnomer, like calling the Clash proletarians; Impressionist painting, it too a reaction against the obsessive story-telling qualities of the art that precedes it, prides itself on having almost no intellectual content, while Debussy's music, sometimes lush, sometimes melancholy, sometimes playful, is immensely cerebral. Debussy is more like Cézanne, the father of modern art, who painted canvases purged of all sentiment (no parasols, no rippling flags, no Sunday picnics, and definitely no puppies) that nevertheless managed to be radiant and inspiring.

Debussy's body of work is smaller than that of many other composers, but almost all of it is of the very first order. Only Chopin and Schumann surpass him as a composer for the piano; La Mer is arguably the most successful tone poem of them all; and Pelléas and Mélisande is an opera that is literally like no other, the anti-Carmen, in that it forced the singers to stop hamming it up and actually try singing for a change. Just as Matisse's work is about color, Debussy's work is about sound. With one or two exceptions, Debussy makes all living composers sound pitiful, particularly the academic mafiosi that regularly win Pulitzer prizes in America. Someone once said that the saddest thing about Debussy's music was that it initially seemed like a glorious sunrise when in fact it was a bittersweet sunset. This is correct; when Debussy died, classical music began to die with him
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Old 02-11-2006, 04:16 PM
Coalkay Coalkay is offline
 
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Default Illiterate!

That's only A-D.
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Old 02-11-2006, 05:05 PM
northmallexile northmallexile is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Coalkay
That's only A-D.
Give us a chance. He's only doing 2 letters a week.
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  #4  
Old 02-11-2006, 05:15 PM
Twinks Twinks is offline
 
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very interesting thread (for a change)

thanks!

i love Mozart and always picked a piece by him for piano exams (easy peasy). Bach was again an easy piece to pick too.

i ADORE debussy i spent one summer term (before leaving cert) working my way through the childrens corner, my fav was the little shepherd
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Old 02-11-2006, 06:35 PM
Coalkay Coalkay is offline
 
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Too long anyway. Bite-sized chunks, strictly need-to-know:

A is for Air On A G String
(Orchestral Suite No. 3 – JS Bach)
the one from the Hamlet Health ad.

B is for Burana, Carmina Burana
(O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana)
the one from the Old Spice ad.

C is for Chum, Pedigree Chum
’cos that’s what Antonin Dvorák was thinking about when he wrote the
First Movement of his Symphony No. 9 in E minor – From the New World.

D is for Duet – Dôme épais le jasmin
(Flower duet from Leo Delibes’s Lakmé)
the one from the British Airways ad.
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  #6  
Old 02-11-2006, 11:03 PM
northmallexile northmallexile is offline
 
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I don't mind so much classical music being known as the soundtrack to Movie X, but to have music marketed as "the tune from the dogfood ad" makes me deeply, deeply sad.
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Old 02-11-2006, 11:07 PM
Lostmeringtopaddypower Lostmeringtopaddypower is online now
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http://www.rte.ie/arts/2001/0405/composers.html
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Cock a snook
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Old 10-11-2006, 02:12 PM
northmallexile northmallexile is offline
 
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E is for English classical music
Not very good and not very much of it. After an auspicious debut with such splendid early Renaissance composers as John Taverner and Thomas Tallis - succeeded by the beloved Elizabethans, Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd and John Dowland, and, somewhat later, the immensely gifted Henry Purcell - English composers basically took the next two centuries off.

The popular wisdom is that English classical music suffered a devastating one-two punch that sent it into a cataleptic kip while its other arts were flourishing. First Handel, master of Baroque easy listening, launched his genre-paralysing Harpsichord Madness tour, forcing the home team to churn out nothing but cheap copies of the original. Then Felix Mendelssohn, the most famous early burnout in history, finished off the job, spawning scores of imitators mass-producing cartloads of civil but vapid music because they knew it would appeal to people like Queen Victoria.

Whether this is fair to Handel, a fabulously gifted bore, or Mendelssohn, a child prodigy whose mature work lacks the snap, crackle and pop of his early compositions, is beside the point: The consensus is that English music never got a chance to evolve because the Germans showed up and spoiled everything, in the way that only Germans can.
A more plausible theory is that serious music is simply one of those things the English don't do well, in the same way that the French cannot play rock'n'roll, the Irish cannot paint, and the Bulgarians are useless at hip-hop. The greatest English composer is Edward Elgar, whose music was joyfully archaic even when it was new; the most appealing English composers are pastoralists like Ralph Vaughan Williams and Frederick Delius, whose undeniably soothing work stops somewhat short of authentic greatness.

Whereas, in the intervening years, the Americans have produced Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Great Britain has produced no musical titan. The most famous, successful and influential English composer is still probably Arthur Sullivan. This is not good.

F is for Gabriel Fauré

One of the few 19th century composers who was not a jerk, Fauré is perhaps the most under-appreciated musician ever. Working mostly in small forms, producing no symphonies, no monumental operas, no steroid-laced piano concertos at a time when everybody else in Europe was constantly showing off their muscles, Fauré composed a deceptively large series of pieces that exude a bittersweet charm evocative of Paris in the late afternoon on a mildly overcast day. (Contemporary composers, whose music is essentially a string of annoying sound effects, hate it when music is written about this way. But most modern composers are suspicious of emotion, contemptuous of the public, and could not write a tune anyone could whistle if you put a gun to their heads. Which is not a bad idea.)

A small-town boy from south-western France, Fauré had the good fortune to be sent to Paris at the age of nine, where he fell under the spell of Camille Saint-Saëns, an even more remarkable child prodigy. Saint-Saëns, who didn't get along with anybody, for some reason took a shine to Fauré, and they remained friends for life. This is a fascinating relationship, because Saint-Saëns was far more talented than his protégé, and became much more famous, but today Fauré's reputation is in the ascendant while his mentor's reputation continues to decline. This is because Fauré, though less gifted, was a more original composer.

Unlike gifted composers who rely too much on schmaltz (Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Puccini, Copland), or demanding composers whose work is an acquired taste (Berg, Schoenberg, Webern, perhaps even Stravinsky), or composers whose idea of entertainment is to pistol-whip the audience into submission (Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Anton Bruckner), Fauré wrote music that is lovely without being treacly, melancholy without being maudlin, complex without being excessively intellectual.

His Requiem, his works for cello and piano, his violin sonatas, his quartets and his songs should be in everyone's collection; they are the very embodiment of that elusive Gallic charm that the French put into their music but keep out of their personalities.

As great as it is possible to be without being one of the True Immortals, Fauré composed a memorable and varied body of work that doesn't sound like anybody else's (except, occasionally, Chopin.) There are many composers whose not having lived would have seriously diminished mankind, but they are mostly colossuses like Bach and Verdi. Fauré, like Delius, is a miniaturist whose work is imbued with the thrill of the evanescent. Some may find it all a bit slight, a bit whimsical, perhaps lacking bite. They are entitled to their opinion. Nevertheless, anyone who does not fall in love with Gabriel Fauré upon first hearing has completely wasted his life.
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