Friday, September 30, 2011

Composing the polyphony of ideas

'Though distrustful of logical chains of ideas, I loved the polyphony of ideas. As long as you don't believe in them, the collision of two ideas - both false - can create a pleasing interval, a kind of diabolus in musica. I had no respect for some ideas people were willing to stake their lives on, but two or three ideas that I did not respect might still make a nice melody. Or have a good beat, and if it was jazz, all the better.'
Umberto Eco writing in Foucault's Pendulum gives the lie to our hypermediated society which silences the all-important polyphony of ideas. Header photo shows Quator PercuCIMO in the Benedictine Abbey Church of Saint-Jean d’Orbestier in Château-d'Olonne, France. Adding to the polyphony of ideas in the 12th century church was the artwork by Bernard Philippeaux seen below. More on the importance of the diabolus in musica here.


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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Art cannot ignore what is joyful

Art disconnected from suffering is thought by some impoverished on account of its apparent failure to face up to the genuinely tragic episodes of life. Yet there remains a serious risk that in the name of a dubious artistic authenticity we may inhumanly reject all harking back, and, in so doing, cut ourselves off from important facets of art's joyfulness - some of it not unconnected with cosiness. Good art, it is undeniable, ought to engage in due measure with the more painful aspects of life, but it cannot, without denaturing itself, wholly ignore what is joyful and comfortable, even if such an engagement be achieved via indulgence of nostalgia.
From Piers Tattersall's programme note for the world premiere of his Kreisler, l'entre deux guerres which is being given by Henning Kraggerud and the Britten Sinfonia. Header image is from the London Children's Ballet production of Piers Tattersall's Rumpelstiltskin. Philippa Schuyler's 1946 debut as composer and soloist with the New York Philharmonic included her Rumpelstiltskin Scherzo. More on that concert in Philippa Schuyler - genius or genetic experiment.

Piers Tattersall's programme note is available online until October 14. Kreisler, l'entre deux guerres is a commission by the Britten Sinfonia with support and funding from the William Alwyn Foundation and RVW Trust. Photo credit London Children's Ballet. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Abbey Road board game


Could this activity on my site's traffic log be related to October 5 being the closing date for offers for EMI? The occupants of the deckchairs on the Titanic were reading this article. They should have been reading this one.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Mahler turned up the bass


While Gustav Mahler was composing his Third Symphony, the longest work in the mainstream symphonic repertoire, he was also working on an arrangement for string orchestra of Schubert's Second Quartet, Death and the Maiden. In 1894 Mahler gave a performance of his re-orchestration of the second movement of the Quartet in Hamburg where he was chief conductor at the Stadttheater. But he did not complete the arrangement and it was only published in 1984 after the manuscript was discovered by the composer's daughter Anna. The performing edition is the work of Mahler authorities Donald Mitchell and David Matthews who produced it from the composer's annotated score.

What motivated Mahler to arrange a string quartet while composing his Third Symphony and leading a major opera company? Was the Death and the Maiden project simply the composer's way of destressing or was there another motivation? As classical music struggles to reach new audiences, is there something we can learn from the now neglected practice of re-orchestrating masterpieces to increase their sonic impact?

Mahler put the arrangement aside following criticism from purists after the 1894 performance; is it still a target for the music thought police? The performing version of Mahler's incomplete arrangement was realised by two expert editors; does this reduce its authenticity?

It is apocryphally reported that Mahler said "Schubert's skill fell far short of his sensibility and invention"; was he hoping to "improve" the Quartet by arranging it? Conversely, Schubert is considered to be one of the foundations of Mahler's music; does Mahler's fascination with the Death and the Maiden tell us anything about Schubert's influence on the composer's symphonic output?

Those are just some of the questions I will be discussing with Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud at the Britten Sinfonia pre-concert talk in Norwich on Sunday October 2. Henning is soloist and director in a typically bracing Britten Sinfonia programme that includes the Duets for Two Violins by a composer who famously re-purposed Mahler, Luciano Berio, a first performance from the young British composer Piers Tattersall, and a Mozart Violin Concerto.

You can catch the Britten Sinfonia with the same programme in Cambridge on October 5 and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London on October 7 . Hosting the QEH pre-concert talk is
Fiona Talkington. Fiona presents BBC Radio 3's "these moments are rare in radio" Late Junction programme and her Norwegian credentials include curating the prestigious Punkt Festival at Kristiansand. Her talk will be available as a Britten Sinfonia podcast and the London concert is being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, which means readers around the world can hear for themselves how Mahler turned up the bass.

* There are a number of recordings of Mahler arrangement of Death and the Maiden in the catalogue. These include a hybrid SACD rom the Kiev Chamber Orchestra which receives a very favourable review here.

Cartoon of Mahler as Schubert is by the Viennese caricaturist Theo Zasche. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Classical music and the literature of the layman

'Images are the literature of the layman.'
Umberto Eco provides that coda to yesterday's path about the medium usurping the message. Connecting with the layman is the holy grail of the arts. Yet it is one of the paradoxes of digital culture that so much emphasis is placed on communications technology while so little is placed on the visual and verbal vocabularies that populate the technology networks. Umberto Eco's field is semiotics, so I offer two interpretations of the non-photo of Carl Nielsen.

The glass is half empty - as Umberto Eco tells us, the visual is the literature of the layman, which once again points to the path of seeing the music. Yet, as Philip Amos points out in a a thought provoking comment, that literature and the important cultural linkages which sustain it are being subverted in the name of accessibility. Yes, a lot of fuss about a photo of a radio presenter. But just one example of how media organisations are cynically abusing the arts in their frantic scramble for market share. To achieve ratings targets and performance related bonuses they are buying short term audience gains which are no more than the cultural equivalent of toxic mortgages. This debate is not about accessibility versus elitism, although the BBC wants us to think so. Rather, just like the News International scandal, it is about naked ambition and greed, which, contrary to received wisdom, is as virulent in public service broadcasting as it is in commercial.

The glass is half full - since writing my post BBC Radio 3 has a new composer of the week. And, as seen below, on their website is an image of Antonio Vivaldi, not Donald Macleod. Will somebody at Radio 3 now please read this post about Petroc Trelawny?


The Red Priest takes us down an Italian path. Umberto Eco was born in northern Italy and my header quote is from his novel The Name of the Rose. The Abbey in which the action takes place is modelled on the Castel el Monte in Perugia which featured in Music to the Power of Eight.

Photo of German gun emplacement at Sion Sur l'Ocean, France is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2011. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who was the composer?


An awful lot of visitors are arriving today on my article about Anna Meredith's children's opera Tarantula in Petrol Blue, see production photo above. They are all coming from searches for 'Who composed The Young Person's Guide to the Opera?', because that happens to be the title of my post but sadly not of Anna's opera. The profile of the traffic is that normally associated with a crossword clue. So please can one of my many erudite readers put the googlers out of their agony - who was the composer of 'The Young Person's Guide to the Opera'? Or is there a crossword compiler somewhere who hasn't got a clue? My post about Anna Meredith's opera, which was premiered at Snape in 2009, is here.

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Travels with Manfred Eicher


Sounds and Silence, the film of Manfred Eicher working with leading ECM artists including Arvo Pärt, Anja Lechner, Anouar Brahem, Kim Kashkashian and Jan Garbarek, which featured in a 2009 path, is now available on DVD and the accompanying soundtrack CD is seen above. Much appreciated on my recent travels was the new ECM CD capturing Maria Farantouri in concert in Athens with saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Maria Farantouri, who has been called the Joan Baez of the Mediterranean, is accompanied by John Williams in songs and music by Mikis Theodorakis on one of my favourite discs of all time.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rare photo of Carl Nielsen discovered


From BBC Radio 3 website. More on the cult of the presenter here.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Seen while travelling


Installation by Rainer Gross in Chapelle Saint-Nicholas, Pluméliau, Brittany is above and mural by Olivier Nottellet in Chapelle Saint-Jean, Le Sourn is below. Both part of the annual L’art dans les chapelles (Art in the chapels). Is the link between music and the visual arts neglected?


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Monday, September 19, 2011

Wagner for the birds


It may sound unlikely, but this aerial ballet performed by trained birds of prey to Wagner’s Venusberg music was both powerful and chilling, doubtless helped by the visual resonances from the arena design. Recorded classical music is an integral part of the family oriented spectacles at the Puy du Fou near Nantes, France; the superb reproduced sound at the outdoor performances left me thinking that Jonathan Harvey was on the right track when he suggested that, in certain circumstances, classical music should be amplified, and that Jeff Harrington also had a good point when he said we need to turn up the bass. Les Orgues de Feu, another of the spectacles at the Puy du Fou, follows the overgrown path of seeing the music. The result is a typically Gallic mix of the genuinely inspired and totally naff. See for yourself below while I continue on my travels.



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Friday, September 16, 2011

Music to go


Friday evening live music from Hélène Brunet and Nicola Hayes in the Leclerc hypermarket at Pontivy, Brittany . Their latest Cajun, Irish and Appalachian flavoured album is titled Travelling. Which is appropriate because that is what I am still doing. More music outside the comfort zone here.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Still travelling


Second World War German gun emplacement on L'île de Noirmoutier overlooking the seaward approach to Saint Nazaire. Follow this path to musique concrete.


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