Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Greg Sandow writes, "Measured by index space in Paul Griffiths’s Modern Music, Milton Babbitt is the most important living American nonexperimental composer, and apart from John Cage, the most notable American composer of any kind. But Griffiths can't show nonspecialists why they should care. Babbitt's Second String Quartet, he says, "is based on an all-interval series which is introduced interval by interval, as it were, with each new arrival initiating a development of the interval repertory acquired thus far, each development being argued in terms of derived sets." This comes close to what George Bernard Shaw dismissed as "parsing", and which parodied with an "analysis" of "To be or not to be." Shakespeare, Shaw wrote, "announces his subject at once in the infinitive, in which mood it is presently repeated after a short connecting passage in which, brief as it is, we recognize the alternative and negative forms on which so much of the significance of repetition depends." Musical parsing is far more defensible now than it was in Shaw's time -- styles vary so much that musical grammar can't be taken for granted – but Griffiths does too much of it. He doesn't say how the structures he talks about really work, how Babbitt's derived sets "argue" (whatever that means) each new "development"(oh, really?); and Griffith has only passing remarks about the music's "wit", "surface rhythmic appeal", and the work's "sure musical continuity" - nothing about how Babbitt's music sounds or how it might make a listener feel. This isn't entirely his fault, though, because composer Milton Babbitt talks about music the same way." With all that in mine, let's just sit back and LISTEN to Babbitt's music - in this case his String Quartet No. 4 (1970) - and enjoy the sound world of one of the great composers of our time . . . one of this week's FEATURED NEW MUSIC VIDEOS.

"Take an Argentine composer of Jewish extraction, mix in the dance rhythms of Africa – by way of Brazil and Cuba – and you might just get a flavor of Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion) - a work which has been rapturously received by audiences everywhere. So, without hearing a note of La Pasión según San Marcos it’s clearly as far from Johann Sebastian Bach’s own Passions and Lutheran sensibilities as it’s possible to get. Golijov was able to start from a clean slate as it were, since the score of Bach’s St. Mark Passion, premiered in Leipzig in 1731, is lost. One can only wonder what the venerable old organist would have made of the forces assembled by Golijov – choir, all-important percussionists, trumpets, trombones, guitars (including bass), piano, strings, Berimbau (a Brazilian instrument of African origin), vocalists and dancers. Indeed, only the stoniest of hearts could fail to be moved – and moved mightily – by this searing work." [Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International] . . . read more about the latest recording of this groundbreaking work and hear, and watch, excerpts from Golijov's St. Mark Passion . . . it's our FEATURED RECORDING for the week.

"The Seven Deadly Sins marks the end of Kurt Weill’s European career and the beginning of a nearly two-decade hiatus in Bertold Brecht’s. It was Weill’s last collaboration with Brecht and the last enduring work that he composed in his European theater style. This style is characterized by its directness, which is a product of Weill’s use of elements from popular music – in the case of this work, dance music and the barbershop quartet – as well as his use of established musical forms, like the church chorale. Weill would adapt his style to Broadway when he came to the United States in 1935, and he really never composed anything quite like The Seven Deadly Sins again." [John Mangum/The LA Philharmonic] Hear a performance of "Anger" from Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) by Measha Brueggergosman, Peter John Buchan, Scott Reimer, Kris Kornelsen, Derek Morphy and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with Ann Manson conducting . . . our current PYTHEAS EARFUL.

Born in 1876 in Cadiz, Spain, the historical seaport town at the southern-most tip of Andalucia, Manuel de Falla was the greatest Spanish composer of the 20th century. After the death of Claude Debussy in 1918, Falla was asked to contribute to a planned memorial issue of La revue Musicale, one of the most famous musical publications of the time. Though the request was for an article, Falla preferred to respond with a piece of music. The result was his Homenaje (Homage) - The tomb of Debussy (1920). Watch a performance by the great Julian Bream . . . this week's FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst
Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music

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