All around us, the arts and humanities are being reported as experiencing cutbacks out of all proportion to other sectors of society. Whether or not any, all, or none of these can be justified is a multi-faceted question. But every once in a while an instance sticks out. Considering everything Germany has been through since 1537 when the great Augsburg library collection came into existence, it is quite remarkable that it may be dissolved and dispersed so relatively early in the current economic downturn. This is a collection of unique value for, among other subjects, Renaissance and Baroque music. To have it experience such a scattering of its materials will constitute a humanistic tragedy. An account of what’s happening, in German, English, and Castilian can be found at this link, as well as instructions for writing an e-mail of support. If you are moved to write to authorities, templates are provided for letters that you may send to the Augsburg city government.

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“You Are a Chord”

October 30, 2010

While selected sound is always on my conscious mind, during the past few days I’ve mentioned to a couple of musician friends the fact that I’m noticing the unchosen noise of the city in a new, and often painful, way. As a consequence, I reckon, of spending so much of the past few months in my own relatively serene environment (because of writing a book pretty intensively) and spending such a large proportion of my outdoor time in Central Park (only a block away), I now suddenly find common street sounds almost unbearable. This feels like a reversion to my earliest days in New York: in my early twenties — being country-bred and not habituated to a large city — I felt it necessary to wear earplugs in the streets and subways. At some point I became hardened, evidently. This new TED Talk encourages me to be more attentive to my renewed impulse to avoid the abuse of cruel noise:

UPDATE: Martin Anderson of Toccata Classics and Toccata Press writes, in part, on the e-mail list of the American Musicological Society:

What the video doesn’t touch on is Alice’s extraordinary connections: her mother was a childhood friend of Mahler; she herself studied with Conrad Ansorge, making her a grand-student of Liszt; her elder sister was married to a close friend of Kafka, who would take Alice and her twin sister out into the woods and tell them stories — “We were like three little children”, Alice told me (as two of them were, of course); “He had zese great big eyes”; and she knew Zemlinsky — as well, obviously, as the composers incarcerated with her in TerezĂ­n. I did ask her if Ansorge had communicated any playing tips from Liszt, but “No, nothing like that”.

The co-author of her biography (it is sentimental, which Alice certainly isn’t) brought out a CD to coincide with the German edition of the book which revealed her as a great pianist — really: that’s an adjective I use very sparingly. I got to know Alice in her late 90s, long after she had stopped playing in public (she still plays at home every day), and so took her musicianship on trust. So I was bowled over when I heard this CD — private recordings from her 70s and 80s, on her out-of-tune upright at home,
with the sparrows singing in the background. She’s playing Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Bach (IIRC), and the sense of pulse is absolutely secure; she understood the very core of the music — I’d put her on a par with, say, Serkin and Horszowski in terms of her depth of insight. An enormous loss, then, that as far as I’m aware, she never had recording
career of any sort.

A Boy and His Computer

October 21, 2010

In a manner that we will surely see more of as time moves on, a young enthusiast merges the digital (in both senses) and “ancient musick.”

Musicians! Tired of memory slips and page-turners? Help is on the way!


Surprisingly perhaps, given my interest in social media, I haven’t seen The Social Network yet, though I do know that much disdain is being expressed in many places for the main character. But here, in a short video clip, Zukerberg makes a really excellent point about two different (and sometimes warring) kinds of creativity:

A Harvard Law School professor argues that remix technology, conventions, and ethics should be taught in school. For one who has read a lot of medieval treatises, as I did in a former life, such new procedures irresistibly recall the way writers quoted “from authority” — i.e., from the ancient and patristic authors — with varying degrees of attribution, paraphrase, and reframing. In fact, many such works were simply centones, potpourris of passages from older authors, often combined to creative and revelatory effect. The same can be true of remix, when done with skill and originality.