Art and Hype

May 3, 2012

I’m frequently in conversations with musicians — composers or performers — who bemoan the subordinate role that ability and quality of output may often play in their success or obscurity. It’s not only having a industrious and cunning publicist that makes the difference; it can be just one work that catches the imagination of the media or public and propels a career.

The whole subject has been on my mind since the news that The Scream by Edvard Munch sold for an astounding $120 million last night. Whatever determined that price, it was not the artistic quality of the work. As Clyde Haberman says, “If you’ve never seen a tacky facsimile of it, there’s a chance that you have also never seen a coffee mug, a T-shirt or a Macaulay Culkin poster.” If they weren’t paying for art, what were the buyers shelling out all that money for? An economist nails it: “Whatever was being bought, here, it wasn’t really art, in any pure sense. It was more the result of a century’s worth of marketing and hype.”

It’s not only in Hollywood or Washington that name-recognition rules.

Bellissimo Canto

May 2, 2012

Abraham Bloemaert: A Shepherdess Reading a Sonnet

When people think of opera, they often think too exclusively of huge orchestral sound above which massive vocal equipment is required even to be heard — a need to employ a term Luciano Pavarotti used to characterize his own art: “controlled screaming.” Who among us has not thrilled to some of that? But it’s refreshing to hear the kind of equally passionate expression that some of the early creators of opera were able to enable in smaller spaces, with quiet instruments, employing a varied palate and dynamic range, but a more personal intimate one. Herewith one of the greatest songs ever written, from 1601:

Amarilli, mia bella,
Non credi, o del mio cor dolce desio,
D’esser tu l’amor mio?
Credilo pur: e se timor t’assale,
Prendi questo mio strale.
Aprimi il petto e vedrai scritto in core:
Amarilli, Amarilli, Amarilli
è il mio amore.

Amaryllis, my lovely one,
Do you not believe, O my heart’s sweet desire,
That you are my love?
Believe it thus: and if fear assails you,
Doubt not its truth.
Take this arrow of mine.
Open my breast and see written on my heart:
Amaryllis, Amaryllis, Amaryllis,
Is my beloved.