Debussy and Japan

Music is the silence between notes. — Claude Debussy It could easily be a stanza from Basho (or at least a snippet from Cage’s zen-inspired lectures). In La Mer, Debussy drew inspiration from the famous Edo-period woodblock print by Hokusai showing match-stick boats being tossed violently between monstrous waves. It’s a striking, kinetic, tumultuous image;Continue reading “Debussy and Japan”

Representations of “Nature” in Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony

[It’s been a while since we’ve posted a longer, essay-style piece so I thought I’d make another contribution to the genre to ring in the new year. Although Sibelius was folded into the last few pages of Vol. III, the first two decades of the 20th Century were his moment. I hope readers won’t mindContinue reading “Representations of “Nature” in Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony”

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 theContinue reading “French Modernist Listening List, Part I”

Mahler the Giant

… [A symphony] so great that the whole world is actually reflected therein – so that one is, so to speak, only an instrument upon which the universe plays.   — Mahler Ambitious goal, that. To Mahler, the artistic aim to create a “universal symphony”  translated into expanding both the size and scope of the ensembleContinue reading “Mahler the Giant”

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 theContinue reading “A Funeral Rite for Vol. IV”

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 (seeContinue reading “With a Little Help from My Friends”

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, aContinue reading “The Riddle that Broke History’s Back”