Current Affairs

September 29, 2016

1000The moderator began the program with the subject of the U.S. Presidential debate and asked the guy dressed in red, white, and blue to comment. I was not surprised that the born Europeans were more than eager to express their own thoughts on the subject.

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J.S. Bach wrote these fifteen Inventionen for his own children. This wonderful Dutch series had the enchanting idea of having eight young musicians (ranging from 7 to 16 years) perform them for “All of Bach,” presented by De Nederlandse Bachvereniging/The Netherlands Bach Society, which publishes a new recording of a work by Bach every Friday on, online for free, until they will have collected all of Bach’s works on their 100th birthday in 2021.
 Click to hear these pieces and admire the players:


At the moment, Europe is preoccupied with—if not convulsed by—the issue of massive migration of peoples. Much of the debate stems from a possibility that many of the incoming masses may not share something constantly referred to as European values.

Leaving aside a possible discussion of the extent to which Europe has been busy discarding previously held European values for quite some time (for example, even denying the Christian roots of Europe to the extent that the basic documents of the European Union, against the protests of many, pointedly omit even a neutral mention of them), it is also relevant to recall that far more massive invasion and destruction than is predicted by even the most alarmist commentators took place when Europe invaded the vast continents that Europe has named “the Americas.”

And talk about violating the established values of a society!

A new BBC discussion by renowned experts on the Maya civilization, so largely and purposely destroyed by the Spanish invaders, is estimated to have reduced the population of this very advanced society by ninety percent in a comparatively short time. Ninety percent of the people wiped out. This puts xenophobic whining about letting Muslims back into Spain in quite a different light. And a concomitant of the destruction of humans was a disregard for the many things that Europe could have learned from, for example, their advanced systems of land-use and ecologically wholesome food-production that would mark great progress even today if they could be imitated. The incorporation of vast green spaces into massive city layouts that they accomplished is stunningly sophisticated.

My own comparative lack of interest in and sympathy with Maya civilization (even when I visited one of their former strongholds on the Yucatan Peninsula) had to do with my visceral horror at human sacrifice. This turns out to have been an invented libel, according to advanced academic scholarship. And the idea that the Mayan languages so much admired by scholars were stamped out by Spanish is absurd when we learn that there are still ten million speakers of the various Maya languages surviving (coincidentally about the same number of people who claim to understand the Catalan language, which persistent Spanish violence has also not had the power to stamp out).

I highly recommend this enlightening (and even entertaining) discussion from BBC Radio Four.

Click here.


An Eventful Week in Catalonia

February 19, 2016

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Matthew Tree led an excellent discussion yesterday. All four of us were from different national origins, and different backgrounds sometimes clearly and sometimes subtly enrich such conversations:



Epiphany in Russia

January 13, 2016

There’s still time to get to Russia for this invigorating celebration on January 19:

Good Vibrations

October 30, 2015

Sometime in my mid-twenties, Gustave Reese, whose research assistant I then was, asked me if I would like to go to a private concert that evening at the Morgan Library. His wife had probably begged off at the last moment. The event is well-remembered by me for three reasons. As I left for home at the end of our work day, Professor Reese casually said, “Of course it’s black-tie.” I’m sure that I pretended indifference, but I as surely racked my brain to remember how clean or pressed my tux shirt was and remembered that I had recently lost my nice mother-of-pearl studs and cuff links in one of youth’s follies. I somehow managed, I think, to get it all together in time not to look as poor-graduate-student as I felt—or of course actually was.

The second memory took place in the elevator up to the concert hall. I heard Professor Reese say, “Miss Tully, do you know Mr. Evans?” and found myself face face-to-face with America’s leading patroness of chamber music. I thought of, but of course did not refer to, the many stories that I’d heard about her from Albert Fuller, who was later to be her biographer.

But the third recollection is the reason for this short post. The performers were the Quartetto Italiano, then at the height of their fame but near the end of their career. All I remember of the program is that they played Webern and Haydn. It was in the Haydn quartet that I had an unpleasant experience that I have never forgotten. It had to do with vibrato—not as an effect that should or should not happen in some blanket or doctrinaire way, but as something more complex and which, all during the work, had for me an enormously disorienting effect: namely with all short notes necessarily played without vibrato but all long notes heavily larded with it, a highly unpleasant dialogue emerged between the two kinds of tone production, both of which were arbitrarily decided by mere duration of the notes rather than any considered, rational expressive intention. I have rarely reacted so negatively to a performance, and the matter has interested me ever since.

Of course issues of vibrato emerged regularly in my many years of choral-conducting but never in an unpleasant or controversial way, so far as I can recall. And I have never written about the question except, in a recent book, a brief mention of “. . . the pitch ‘wobble’ that is routinely accepted in opera singers, wherein exact frequency definition is a very low priority. It is sometimes all but left to the harmonies of the orchestra to communicate to us what pitches the singer has in mind.” But, fortunately, someone else has now written on the subject in a way that I would like to have done. The wonderful singer Judith Malafronte here explains it all for you.


Now begins the construction of the central tower (La Torre de Jesús) of the Basilica of the Sagrada Família. It will make that “Expiatory Temple” the tallest building in Barcelona.

Nobody Knows

October 27, 2015

Marian Anderson (photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt )

Marian Anderson (photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt )

In his biographical papers published in the last decade of the twentieth century, Xavier Montsalvatge has a chapter called “Barcelona, en els feliços (per a alguns) anys vint” or “Barcelona, in the happy (for some) 1920s.” In it, he lists many of the world’s leading musicians who appeared in Barcelona as a matter of course before the ravages of the Spanish Civil War and the isolation of the Franco dictatorship. He remembers Ysaye, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Kreisler, Heifetz, and the famous conjunction of Thibaud, Cortot, and Casals, who performed both as soloists and in their equally renowned trio.

He also singles out the “deeply moving beauty of the sublime Marian Anderson” who introduced Catalans to Negro Spirituals, sung in concert. Here is a Victor recording of “Nobody Knows de Troubles I See” from that very period:

Montsalvatge adds that, after so thrilling an introduction, those same spirituals had been debased by a “desmesurada i irregular diffusió” by the 1990s. Their very popularity had caused them to circulate in ways untrue to their original meaning. I can testify that this continues in Sitges where, in the beauty of our iconic parish church, the tune of the sorrowful “Nobody Knows de Troubles I See” is sometimes sung at the end of Communion to the words, “Vos sou, Senyor, la llum del meu cor” (You are, Lord, the light of my heart), of course completely overthrowing the meaning of the lament! I’m sure that we Americans have likewise inappropriately appropriated the artistic treasures of other cultures very often, but it’s very difficult for me to hear that mournful melody of a persecuted race as a thanksgiving after Communion!