Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Glimpse Into What My Colleagues Must Endure

Colleague: Hey, does your son use Play-Doh?

Me: No, he's really more of an Aristotelian.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Fraktur For Me, Suckers!

It seems that one of my local university libraries is disgorging itself of Fraktur-fonted texts. For a mere $1.50 I now own the complete works of Ludwigs Tieck and Uhland. Except in Fraktur.

It's odd, but I think that people still somehow associate Fraktur with National Socialism, even though from what I know, the Nazis didn't like Fraktur. Nonetheless, the stain of its germaness remains and so there appears to be a push to "modernize" by eliminating Fraktur texts from today's libraries (google books excepted!)

The editions are part of the Meyer Klassiker-Ausgaben, a 19th Century "Great Books" Series that reprinted the critical editions of major German authors. As Library copies, they bear the markings of administration, if not of use. Most of my colleagues in the German department tend to shy away from texts in this font, however, I've come to realise that where there's disinterest, there's cheap books to be had!

I wonder how difficult it would be to collect an entire set of this series? Perhaps even more interesting, thanks to the power of the Internet, if turns out that Arnold Schoenberg had the Meyer editions! So by buying these old books, I'm allowed to remain on the cutting edge of musical innovation, unless you read Greg Sandow, which I'm sure none of my audience does, right? Yes, his blog bothers me mightily, and I do intend to write more Adorno-inspired thoughts on what he and his ilk are doing to "classical music". Suffice to say that I'm on Schoenberg's side.

Let the collecting begin!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

K. 310

Waking up this morning, and feeling dislocated from reality (OK, more dislocated than usual), I went through my usual routine - a homemade latte, some toast, and their quiet, if brief, consumption.

When I returned from walking my dog, I realised just how little I was feeling anything today. So I took out the only piece of music that affects me, that wakes my out of my waking slumber - Mozart's Piano Sonata no. 8 in A minor.

As I'm sure many of you know, Mozart wrote this piece in an around the death of his mother, and so we, desperate to read life into abstract music, have surmised that the minor key and the pathos of the work are connected to his loss.

Without delving too deeply and finding myself committing myself to the intentional fallacy, I will say that, for me, feeling something is central to this work, and I would very much like to think that Mozart intended this, not necessarily for the listener, but for the player.

I would like to imagine that he, or anyone else, can open this up, and play through the dark march of the exposition, only to find themselves in the development in a nice, bright C major. One almost feels relieved at this point, that the gleeful Mozart that we're all raised on, you know, the one that makes babies smarter, will carry us through and make this a minor a jovial, ironic work.

We all know how this winds up.

He doesn't just use dissonance, he hammers us. He does this for a while, very elegantly and sequentially, simultaneously unnerving, jarring. When Mozart lets us loose, releasing us from these semitones, instead of giving us a moment to breathe, and I believe that this is the key to the whole first movement, he unleashes what I can only imagine is fury. Sixteenth notes in the right hand, painting the harmony while the left hand plays these remarkable leaps and defiantly trill their way to resolution (this is not the best the much-maligned left hand gets in this work).

And then he winds us up chromatically into the recap in A minor. But we are not home free, on our way to a nice, if dark, martial recap of the 2nd theme in A minor. No, in a move that moves this work from the pathetic (old sense) to the sublime is when he drops the opening theme into the left hand, this dissonant right hand accompaniment reminding us of the development we just thought we'd safely resolved.

There is no resolution in this first movement, or if there is, it's a Phyrric one, reluctantly playing out the formal constraints of the day before Beethoven would come along and really throw them all aside.

There is no other piece of music I play that wakes me up to the world the way this one does. If it didn't, I certainly wouldn't have written about it today.

I wouldn't have written about anything today.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Frankfurt School on BBC

In an effort to continue my love-in with Adorno et al. I'm pointing you to the latest broadcast of BBC's excellent In Our Time with host Melvyn Bragg. This week they're discussing the Frankfurt School, so if you're interested in hearing more about Adorno beyond the fact that he hated jazz, this is a good starting point!

You can listen to it here, and if it's gone, it's sure to be in the archives.

Also, will I return to regular blogging on matters that matter (or not, depending on your point of view)? We'll see!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Travails of Habit - Beethoven Edition

I have been noodling around with Beethoven's 2nd Piano Sonata for about a year now, and have finally settled down to try to actually learn it by practising.

As many musicians know, there's an upside and a downside to playing through something - on the one hand, there's the whole sight-reading thing, that exhilarating sense of that first encounter of "playing" a work, which, especially for an amateur like me, typifies much of my playing. I have no concert to perform, so I have the luxury of screwing up and not worrying too much about it.

The problem with this kind of playing though is that by the time you sit down to actually learn a work, clean it up and make it performable, you find that all the little habits you've accumulated over time have become the barnacles that get in the way of a clean, thoughtful performance.

So it is with Op. 2 No. 2. For reasons that will remain mysterious, I have been playing (or more accurately, trying to play) the following with only the right hand (image taken from this score on the IMSLP:

This image happens to be the 1st edition of the sonata. If you take a look at the whole score, you'll see that this happens to be one of the few places where fingerings are marked, which is a pretty sure sign that those fingers come from Beethoven himself.

For some reason, I took these fingerings to mean that this was meant to be played with the right hand. After all, the marking are all above the stave, so they're for the right hand, right? But then it occurs to you that this is really, really difficult to pull of cleanly. So I practise and practise and it never really comes together.

Then it hits me - my left hand sits limp on my lap while I try to execute these octave arpeggios with the right hand! And then I take a good look again at my own score (the Henle), and realise that they've got some of the fingerings below (indicating use of the left hand), while also preserving Beethoven's own fingerings.

My apologies if this is too much inside baseball, but seeing this, I decided to grab my dvds of Daniel Barenboim playing all the Beethoven sonatas to see what he does - to my absent surprise, he uses both hands!

This takes quite a load off then, doesn't it? Playing these arpeggios over two hands makes them a lot easier, doesn't it? But there is a problem, and it's right there in that image of the 1st Edition:

Beethoven wants you to play this with the right hand alone!

Or does he? One could see this as economy on the part of the publisher, but knowing what I do about Beethoven, it seems pretty clear to me that he's taken the time to write in the fingerings because this is how Ludwig van frickin' Beethoven wants you to play this. If he wanted it played partly with the left hand, he would have pointed that out in addition to the fingerings, especially when this is the only time in the entire movement where he indicates fingerings.

So he wants it rough and tumble, maybe a bit insecure, but definitely with the right hand. Or does he? What do any of you think?

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Winter Olympics as State of Exception

Supposedly some people are upset that the season premiere of the tv show "Lost" could be interrupted the US State of the Union address. Michael Rolston does a nice takedown of the banality of this position.

But this story would be so much funnier to this smug Canadian if I didn't have to say to someone, like oh say those Americans we Canadians love to mock, that our Prime Minister shut down the entire federal government so that we could all watch the Olympics?

I suppose that given our transition to democracy was gradual and peaceful, it shouldn't come as a surprise that our transition to some kind of benign despotism wouldn't be the same way, but still...the Olympics?

I know that's not the real reason he did it, but seriously, that it's even a plausible talking point just blows my mind because a lot of people probably think that shutting down something they don't pay attention to would have gotten in the way of something they may pay attention to, because governments are always getting in the way of stuff!