Short Hiatus—Back in Summer

As you may have noticed, the TC has lain dormant for a couple of weeks now. Zach and I were hit with an especially busy term teaching and researching. This term doesn’t look like it will be much better: Zach is teaching a seminar, and I’m living in a cave while I finish up my dissertation in the coming weeks. Because we want to make sure that we give these last two volumes the attention they deserve, we have decided to take a short hiatus. But never fear! Look for us to return at full tilt at the beginning of summer, as we come to the end of this journey. I’m sure there will be a cluster of juicy topics coming our way. Till soon—

Stravinsky on Film

There have been few—if any—composers in the canon who were more aware of their public image than Igor Stravinsky. The classic 1946 portrait by Arnold Newman demonstrates this quite clearly, and will serve as our header image for the next couple weeks. Here is the photograph in full.

Be sure to also check out this modernist, avant garde interpretation of Newman’s image.

French Modernist Listening List, Part I

A partial list of musical examples from Taruskin, Vol. IV, Ch. 2. This is part I, corresponding to pages 59-84: Erik Satie, and Claude Debussy. More to come later…

On a personal note: my 1 1/2-year-old son sat by my side as I compiled this playlist. He kept saying “No! No!” when he heard/saw the videos. But trust me, it’s not that he didn’t enjoy the music: “no” is just how he says “piano” right now.

Click through below for more videos. Enjoy!

Continue reading “French Modernist Listening List, Part I”

A Funeral Rite for Vol. IV

And now to the music. (IV, 10)

To the music indeed. Over the last couple of weeks, Zach and I have been wrapping up our comments on Vol. III (19th century). We both realized that the “wrapping” could indeed go on and on, and that we must move forward.

So here we are at the dawn of Richard Taruskin’s next volume, Music in the Early Twentieth Century (his account of the century comprises two volumes). And the first musical example we are introduced to is the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, first premiered in Berlin in late 1895. The movement is called Todtenfeier (“Funeral Rite”).

May I suggest sitting down, putting on the first movement of the symphony, and reading the first 20 pages of RT’s text? There’s no better way to get in the spirit—and trust me, you’ll finish the 20 pages before the orchestra finishes the first movement…

With a Little Help from My Friends

“Henceforth [i.e., from the 1870s], Grieg was the Norwegian composer in the eyes of Europe and America; and, as always, it was reception, not immanent content or character—consumption, not production—that proved decisive in making him so.” (III, 818, emphasis in original)

Consumption, not production. This is a radical up-ending of the 19th-century nationalist narrative (see my recent post on Elgar). It’s supposed to matter where you’re from (production), not how you’re marketed (consumption). But Taruskin is right on this one. Has any composer entered the canon without the benefit of a highly influential advocate, whether of their own time or later in history?

The Riddle that Broke History’s Back

What do you get when you put the best four composers ever to come out of London in a room together?

-Two Germans, one Italian, and a Bohemian.

By the end of the 19th century, English culture had become the butt of every nationalist joke. They were known to Germans as Das Land ohne Musik, a people without a music—and by extension without a culture—of their own (III, 802). England was undergoing a dry spell. A centuries-long dry spell in fact—”since the death of Purcell in 1695, the English had been without a native-born composer of wide international repute” (III, 804).*

But my poor excuse for a joke above is not the “riddle” that I refer to in the title of this post. I’m of course talking about Continue reading “The Riddle that Broke History’s Back”

Music History in Pairs

Comparison is a strong rhetorical tool. Bach vs. Handel, Beethoven vs. Rossini, Stravinsky vs. Schoenberg. These are only a few of the piquant juxtapositions that have been used by music history teachers for years, to great effect in the classroom. Taruskin has used this approach in his history as well, by treating exact contemporaries as “classes.” In Vol. II it was the class of 1685: JS Bach, Handel, and D. Scarlatti; in Vol. III it is the class of 1813: Wagner and Verdi.

Is there any stronger or more towering comparison in the 19th century than the two titans of opera, Verdi and Wagner?Continue reading “Music History in Pairs”

Our Weight is Lifted: The OHWM Online

The folks over at Oxford University Press (OUP) recently rolled out the latest component in the OHWM ecosystem: an online version of Taruskin’s complete text, accessible through a institutional or individual subscription. A few weeks ago, the people over at OUP gave me advance access to the database, which allowed me to poke around and ponder some of the advantages and potential disadvantages of this new iteration of the OHWM.

The first advantage is perhaps the most obvious: it makes the OHWM portable. “Portable” is definitely not a word used to describe the series up to now. Virtually every story written about Taruskin’s opus has mentioned its formidable size, this blog included (more than once).  My non-virtual edition (that is, the paperback one) of the OHWM lives at home, and I almost never take it with me to school or class, for practical reasons. I certainly have never taken the entire set out of the house at once. There have been several times over the last year when, in the final preparations for teaching a music history class, I suddenly think of something in the OHWM that would go perfectly in the lecture. Whereas before I would have to file it away “for next time,” having access to this database anywhere, anytime, could bring more of those potential teaching moments to immediate reality.

The second advantage I noticed was the searching capability, which allows the reader to investigate conceptual threads throughout all volumes. Search “passus duriusculus,” for instance, and you immediately get an at-a-glance perspective of this rich concept’s pervasive presence in Taruskin’s history.

From my limited interaction with the site (my preview access has expired), it seems like a fairly straightforward porting of the text from page to screen, with only a few bells and whistles. The pages are parsed out by section (rather than chapter), so that the text comes in relatively small chunks, equivalent to a few “real” pages at a time. All musical examples and images are incorporated into the flow of the text (with a handy “Art Credits” link). Though each entry is placed within the flow of the overall text via the table of contents sidebar, the interface encourages various reading experiences other than the traditional linear one. You can skip around, search key terms, or click on the related links to outside material from Grove Music Online. While I can see some benefits of these alternate strategies, I can’t help but feel that the overall narrative and argumentative arc of the history, which Taruskin has crafted so consistently and skillfully, will be lost on more casual users of the site.

One opportunity that I would like to see pursued is the development of even more interconnectivity with Oxford Music Online. Currently, Taruskin’s sections link to Grove online, but it doesn’t look like that connection is a two-way one. It would be nice, with a single search, to receive results from Grove Music Online, the Oxford Companion to Music, the Oxford Dictionary Online, and the OHWM. I don’t know if this is even possible (for legal reasons) or ultimately desirable (for philosophical ones), but the prospect is a tantalizing one. I can easily imagine a distinct benefit for the end user.

In my opinion, the best way to experience the OHWM is to read it straight through, on paper. This is the way Taruskin conceived of it, and his writing shows that he took the long-form medium seriously. I also see the immense practicality the digital OHWM will bring to its current readers, and the increased dissemination of the material to potential readers. In other words, I like both; I want both. Can I have my cake and eat a virtual version of it too?

But now I ask you: If you had access to this database, how/when/why would you use it? Would you do all your reading on the site, or only when you were away from your paper copy? If you don’t own a paper copy, would you feel a need to buy one given that it’s all there online?