Tuesday: February 9, 2010
Does a 125th birthday count as a significant anniversary? If so — also if not — today is Alban Berg’s 125th. In commemoration, I’m playing the only really tolerable pieces written by the New Vienna School, Berg’s Violin Concerto and Lyric Suite for String Quartet. Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg published a few other pieces that are not just tolerable but very pleasant, but they are arrangements of Strauss waltzes — the Old Vienna School reworked by the New — so they don’t really count.
So what would we call a 125th birthday? A hemi-demi-semi-millennium, of course.
By the way, ‘Alban’ seems an odd name for a German. I mostly know it from the name of the Alban Mount, southeast of Rome. It’s odd that ‘Berg’ is German for mount(ain), though the mountain is apparently not called the Albanberg in German. The ancient Roman name is singular, Albanus Mons, but German Wikipedia gives the plural ‘Albaner Berge’ as the preferred form, with ‘Albaner Hügel’ and ‘Albanergebirge’ as alternatives. I still wonder if Alban’s father was indulging in a pun: perhaps a native speaker can tell us.
Friday: June 19, 2009
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell twice quotes a song popular among the proles of his imagined future, “composed without any human intervention whatever on an instrument known as a versificator”. He calls it “dreadful rubbish” and a “driveling song”, but it seems to me that it would fit right in to the Great American Songbook. Of course, we cannot judge the music, but I have certainly heard worse words. Here are the lyrics, with the proletarian (Cockney) mispronunciations edited out:
It was only a hopeless fancy,
It passed like an April day,
But a look and a word and the dreams they stirred
They have stolen my heart away!
They say that time heals all things,
They say you can always forget;
But the smiles and the tears across the years
They twist my heartstrings yet!
(George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, II.iv and II.x)
It is not deep, but other than the awkward rhythm of the fifth line, I don’t see anything embarrassingly wrong with it. Do I need a taste-bud transplant?
Saturday: February 16, 2008
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this in manuals of rhetoric or lists of figures of speech, but these three sentences all use the same rhetorical trick:
- Nice we’re having weather, isn’t it?
- What’s a girl like you doing in a nice place like this?
- I’ve got high friends in places all over time.
The last is the title of one of the three good songs on what is apparently the only album by Scott McQuaig. Can anyone quote more examples? I have a feeling I’ve forgotten one or two.
Randall Jarrell describes a student art exhibit at a fictional women’s college (”Benson”):
The students had learned all the new ways to paint something (an old way, to them, was a way not to paint something) but thye had not had anything to paint. The paintings were paintings of nothing at all. It did not seem possible to you that so many things could have happened to a piece of canvas in vain. You looked at a painting and thought, “It’s an imitation Arshile Gorky; it’s casein and aluminum paint on canvasboard, has been scratched all over with a razor blade, and then was glazed–or scumbled, perhaps–with several transparent oil washes.” And when you had said this there was no more for you to say. If you had given a Benton student a pencil and a piece of paper, and asked her to draw something, she would have looked at you in helpless astonishment: it would have been plain to her that you knew nothing about art. By the time a Benton artist got through exploiting the possibilities of her medium, it was too dark to do anything else that day; and most of the students never learned that there was anything else to do.
(Pictures from an Institution, Chapter 6, “Art Night”, section 2)
I was reminded of this by A. C. Douglas’ comments (here and here) on a contemporary composer’s desciption of how he composes his works. He may be a bit unfair to the composer, who does imply that he has to have an idea before he can tinker with it.
Saturday: March 24, 2007
Eve Tushnet has a top-ten post on horror in pop songs. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard of any of the songs, and only one of the performers – Siouxsie and the Banshies – who was (were?) the object of a Beavis & Butt-Head text-and-commentary segment. The last title on the Tushnet list is a song by the Cramps (whoever they are) called “Eyeball in my Martini”. My split-second reaction was “shouldn’t that be ‘Eyeball in my Highball’?”. A Google search shows that a song by that name has already been written, and is available for 50¢ from Lulu. I haven’t decided yet whether to pay for a copy.
Wednesday: March 21, 2007
Charles Rosen, The Classical Style, p. 170:
It was Handel who said that Gluck ‘knows no more counterpoint than my cook’ . . . Tovey has pointed out that Handel’s cook, who was also a singer in Handel’s opera company, probably knew a good bit of counterpoint.
Saturday: November 25, 2006
Our Biology teacher despises Wikipedia, but I think its usefulness depends a great deal on the subject. Anything technical is likely to be ill-informed, and anything political is almost certain to be tendentious, at least until someone corrects or hypercorrects it, but that still leaves subjects like Geography, where the articles are generally solid, and the soft spots are in obvious places (e.g. the Balkans).
Where allowing (or rather forcing) anonymous members of the general public to do all the work fails spectacularly is in iTunes information. It’s been two weeks since I figured out how to move my iTunes library off the hard drive of my laptop, where it was taking up 46G on a 60G drive and I was down to less than 1G available space, and onto my 100G peripheral hard drive. Since then, I’ve been ripping discs all day long whenever I’m at home, and now have 17,197 tracks, adding up to just over 42 days (and nights) of playing time and 81.63 gigabytes, with more to come. The 46G was mostly non-classical, and the newly-ripped stuff is virtually all classical. The main thing that takes time is correcting the information provided by iTunes. It’s bad enough that the format (which information goes in which slot) differs enormously even from disc to disc of a multiple album, but some of the errors are amazing. What kind of idiot thought that piano concerti with K. numbers were by “Mozzart” and should be classified as “Electronica/Dance Music”? It’s only very occasionally that an error is amusing rather than infuriating: I think it was on one of the Gothic Voices’ albums that I found two tracks labeled ‘Angus Dei’, making the Lamb of God into a calf (not a golden one, I hope).
iTunes allows users to upload alternative information, and I’ve learned that when two sets of data are listed, the second one is (not surprisingly) usually better, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to replace the ineptitudes instead of just supplementing them.
So why am I putting most of my classical CDs into iTunes? It’s not to make them portable, since they’re on the peripheral hard drive and I can’t listen to music at work, anyway. (I can play tunes for students, as appropriate, but private listening is out, since we need to keep an
eye ear on what’s going on around us even when we’re not teaching.) There are three reasons:
- Random shuffle, with single works ‘grouped’ as one, provides a cheap, easy way to test one’s ear for music. If a piano piece sounds like Chopin, but even wimpier, it’s probably Poulenc, but if it sounds like it was plagiarized from a folk-tune, it most likely was, by either Bartók or Villa-Lobos.
- Some things are best in small doses. My opinion of Cliff Carlisle, “Blues Yodeler & Steel Guitar Wizard”, went way up after I put him on iTunes. Steel-guitar yodeling sounds much better in very small doses, best of all one at a time. The same goes for harpsichord music, where a whole disc is too much, though three or four cuts are tolerable.
- Some things sound better when listened to without preconceptions. Years ago, I kept my record player and records in the office for a few weeks while I was living in temporary quarters, and my colleagues didn’t mind if I played them now and then. Several of them asked me who wrote one particularly pleasant piece and were disconcerted to hear that it was Arnold Schoenberg. (It was his wind quintet, Op. 26, if you’re wondering, which just goes to show that oboes and bassoons sound good, no matter what notes they play.) I’ve had the same effect more than once with my new iTunes setup, where I’m not prejudiced by vague ideas of which composers or works are supposed to be great or not great, deep or shallow, or distracted by unusually beautiful or ugly album covers.
Wednesday: June 28, 2006
What fact connects the following words?
cross, lane, return, rock, waltz
How about the following series of words and phrases?
amnesia, babe, baby, blues, crowd, gal, girls, hardwood floor, healin’, heart, husband, man, merry go round, moon, night time man, season, song, troubles, waltz, women
Too hard? If suffixes count, the second series also includes -in’ and -itis. And the two riddles are parallel: they have different answers, but work in much the same way. Answers may be placed in the comments. There is no prize but the honor of solving the puzzle. There may be another clue around here somewhere, too.
Wednesday: June 7, 2006
That would be 110-year-old Jutland veteran, Henry Allingham, “who once attributed his old age to ‘cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women’” (þ Harry’s Place). None of the first dozen or so commenters noticed that that was a direct quotation from the Sons of the Pioneers’ 1947 #5 hit “Cigareets [sic] and Whuskey [sic] and Wild Wild Women”: cf. disc four of Swinging Hollywood: Hillbilly Cowboys (Properbox 75). Perhaps there are other versions.
Monday: January 16, 2006
If anyone out there has the CD of the Studio der Frühen Musik’s Carmina Burana, Vol. 2 (Teldec 8.44012), and could burn me a copy, please e-mail. This is a reconstruction of the Mediaeval music, conducted by Thomas Binkley, not the Carl Orff modernization, and the last two cuts, Tempus est iocundum and Ne gruonet aver diu heide, are particular favorites. I still have the records, but no record player, and a malicious student stole the CD (but not the cover or booklet) at my previous teaching job. Since it seems to be out of print and entirely unavailable new or used, it seems to me that burning a copy would be only technically illegal and morally unexceptionable. I’ve already paid for the damned thing once and would gladly do so again if there were copies for sale anywhere.
Sunday: October 16, 2005
I just found out that someone calling himself both ‘logoparenthêtês’ (accents in the original) and ‘quislibet’ has translated Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” into Latin. Even those of us generally unfamiliar with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s oeuvre remember the line “I like big butts and I cannot lie” — from Beavis & Butt-Head, if nowhere else. ‘Quislibet’ translates this magnae clunes mihi placent, nec possum de hac re mentiri, which is quite accurate, if a bit wordy.
Thanks (I think) to Dustbury, not least for titling his post ‘Keister Parade’.
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