An Australian guy makes the case:

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As a young horn virtuoso in Finland, Esa-Pekka Salonen decided that his true path must be that of a composer. In an interview back in the 1990s, he told me that he quickly became dissatisfied with performances that his compositions were receiving; and, having laid down his horn permanently, he took up the baton as a way of making sure that his works were performed to his own satisfaction. The unbidden success that he found as a conductor led, without his intending it, to the stratospheric heights in that field that we all know about.

Now, on receiving the most prestigious composition laurel there is, he makes this interesting statement (via Twitter):

“The beautiful thing about our kind of music (unfortunately called classical) is continuity: never felt more grateful to my mentors & heroes.”

I think that gets it about right. Not that other kinds of music don’t have continuity; but is it not true that the “we” he is talking about feel a more conscious, almost measurable, connection with even our most remote documented forebears? Except in the most extreme, purposely disconnected individual musicians (whose chances of communication with a public are scant), we exist in light of a tradition. Even the most innovative developments have their effect against an inescapable backdrop — a backdrop that carries with it the joys, sorrows, aspirations, despair, consolations, misery, frolics, and dirges of countless generations.

And this should make us very happy.

What’s In a Name?

November 29, 2011

A Recital

November 28, 2011

R.I.P. Montserrat Figueras

November 23, 2011

I’ll never forget the first time I heard her, with her husband Jordi Savall, in Barcelona. The news that she has died is shocking, but one consolation is that she must be one of the most-recorded singers of our time. Here is the first report of her death (in Catalan), and Alex Ross has posted this in her memory:

Happy St. Cecilia’s Day

November 22, 2011

A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687

FROM harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
‘Arise, ye more than dead!’
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood around,
And, wondering, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly, and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

The trumpet’s loud clangour
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger,
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum
Cries Hark! the foes come;
Charge, charge, ’tis too late to retreat!

The soft complaining flute,
In dying notes, discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the warbling lute.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains, and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.

But O, what art can teach,
What human voice can reach,
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre;
But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appear’d
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.

GRAND CHORUS.

As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator’s praise
To all the Blest above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky!

— John Dryden

Amidst a lot of wacky stuff, Björk, in this interview, makes uncommon sense about the life of a musician, the place of technology, how formats have formed habits (like the idea of an “album”), and how a relaxed approach to recording has increased her joy in music.