Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Music21 Sep 2007 02:21 pm
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had an extremely unique career, and one of the oddest things about it was his relationship with the composer Richard Wagner. The infamous Baltimore journalist H. L. Mencken summed it up well in his book The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche: “In the decade from 1869 to 1878 [Nietzsche] was the king of German Wagnerians. In the decade from 1879 to 1889, he was the most bitter, the most violent, the most resourceful and the most effective of Wagner’s enemies.”
Why did Nietzsche regard Wagner so highly in the beginning of his career and repudiate him so violently later on? The first question is best answered by a glance at Nietzsche’s first book: The Birth of Tragedy, ostensibly a comparison of “Dionysian” tragedy (a reference to the god of wine and mirth) and “Apollonian” art and philosophy (a reference to the god of sunshine and order). In reality, the book a desperate plea against the conformity of the German art and society of Nietzsche’s day, with the strong implication that Wagner’s art might provide a way back to the tragic greatness of the Greeks.
Wagner was obviously pleased by this and he and Nietzsche were dear friends for many years. However, Nietzsche did not shy away from the philosophic consequences of his early ideas, and Wagner did. In his next books – Human, All Too Human, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, On the Genealogy of Morals – Nietzsche fearlessly pursued his train of thought to its radical and atheist consequences. Wagner, on the other hand, wrote Parsifal, an opera based on the story of the Holy Grail, (exactly the kind of tired old myth Nietzsche loathed). Nietzsche’s break with Wagner was decisive, eventually leading to an angry polemic against his old friend: The Case of Wagner.
There may be a simpler explanation, however. Like many brilliant and original men, Nietzsche may have been embarrassed by the fact that he idolized anybody so completely in his youth. As he put it in another context, ““You are rewarding a teacher poorly if you remain always a pupil.” With his rejection of Wagner, Nietzsche made sure this could never be said of him.
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Music20 Jul 2007 08:29 am
If Felix Mendelssohn were the only famous member of his family, the clan would still have quite a bit to be proud of. Felix was one of the great composers of the Romantic Period, and his “Wedding March” may be the most commonly performed piece from the era. But Felix’s grandfather Moses was no less accomplished himself. Regarded by some as the “Third Moses” (after the Biblical Moses and the Medieval scholar Moses Maimonides), Moses Mendelssohn was among the most influential philosophers of the Enlightenment era.
The Mendelssohn’s were not the only family to be so lucky. In England, the utilitarian philosopher James Mill provided a rigorous education to his son John Stuart, who would himself become one of the greatest philosophers in history. In a somewhat different field, there is the Amis family. Father Kingsley won the Somerset Maugham Award for the best novel by a young writer for his 1955 book Lucky Jim. In 1973, his son Martin won the same award for his first novel: The Rachel Papers. In politics, America has the Adams family, which produced two presidents and a number of great writers. And the siblings Henry and William James covered everything from literature to psychology to (perhaps less impressively) the paranormal. Maybe there is something in the genes.
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Music22 Jun 2007 09:02 am
You’d think that works by artists recognized as “great” would be easy enough to track down, but that’s not always the case. Would it shock you to know that the majority of Orson Welles’ films are not available on DVD? Many people think Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made, but it was only Welles’ first film and it’s often difficult to track down his later ones. The same can be said of Ludwig van Beethoven. He is considered one of the great masters of classical music, along with Bach, Brahms, Mozart and very few others. He was also a prodigious artist, composing over 380 catalogued works. Remarkably, there are also hundreds of works that have never been recorded, and some that haven’t even been published.
Well, as familiar with the web as The Devoted Intellectual has become over the years, there are still shocking little discoveries to be had. One of these was “The Unheard Beethoven,” a website started by Willem Holsbergen and Mark S. Zimmer. Holsbergen, a Dutch composer, and Zimmer, a tax attorney from Wisconsin, met online in a Beethoven chat room in 1997. Eventually, they moved from trading sheet music of rare Beethoven works to converting those works into MIDI files. This simple, no-frills format doesn’t approach the work of a trained orchestra but it allowed two amateur enthusiasts to do what the professional music establishment couldn’t: make every last work by Beethoven available for fans to hear.
As it happened, the professionals listened too. In 1999, Holsbergen posted a MIDI of Beethoven’s “Macbeth Overture,” an eight minute recording pieced together from various incomplete works. One of the people who heard it was Leonard Slatkin, the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. The National Symphony performed the work, for the first time ever, in 2001.
You can hear the MIDI version of the “Macbeth Overture” right here:
(copyright Willem Holsbergen)
Learn more about “The Unheard Beethoven” in this article from C-NET.
And visit the site here.
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Music01 Jun 2007 07:14 am
When Mozart set out to write Don Giovanni, he based it on Giovanni Bertati’s theatrical version of the Don Juan story. There were over a dozen versions of the story in Mozart’s time, and dozens more have been written since. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when “Don Juan” wasn’t a character everyone had heard of. (That’s why words like “folklore” come up so often when discussing the story, putting its origin in a far-off, mythical past.) But, like Peter Pan, another great myth that is actually the creation of a flesh-and-blood artist (J. M. Barrie), Don Juan was created by a single author: a 17th century Spanish playwright named Tirso de Molina. His most famous work, a three act play called El Burlador de Sevilla, introduced Don Juan to the world.
The story centers on Don Juan Tenorio, a 14th century nobleman of Seville. Don Juan is forced to flee Seville after spending the night with the Duchess Isabella, who had mistaken him for her lover Duke Octavia. In his absence, arrangements are made for Don Juan to marry Doña Ana, the daughter of the powerful Don Gonzalo. But, of course, Don Juan betrays her, and Don Gonzalo vows with his dying breath to haunt the philandering nobleman. He eventually appears to Don Juan in a cemetery and strikes him dead, but not before forcing him to eat a banquet of snakes, fingernails, and tarantulas.
Important as it is, translations of the play are hard to come by. A good project for a devoted intellectual who knows Spanish!
Speak Spanish? Read El Burlador de Sevilla in the original (PDF) here.
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