"With the last chords of the Twilight of the Gods, I had a feeling of liberation from captivity. It may be that The Nibelungs' Ring [sic] is a very great work, but there never has been anything more tedious and more dragged-out than this rigmarole. The agglomeration of the most intricate and contrived harmonies, colorlessness of all that is sung on the stage, interminably long dialogues — all this fatigues the nerves to the utmost degree. So, what is the aim of Wagner's reform? In the past, music was supposed to delight people, and now we are tormented and exhausted by it." —From a letter of Tchaikovsky's from Vienna, to his brother, Modest, 20 August 1876 "I do not believe that a single composition of Wagner will survive him." —From a letter by noted German music theorist, teacher and composer Moritz Hauptmann, 3 February 1849
During his tempestuous life, Wagner lived in many cities across the Continent, leaving an indelible imprint on all of them. In Leipzig, Dresden, Paris, Zurich, Lucerne, Vienna, Munich, and Venice, among other places, you can go on Wagner walking tours, seeing the houses where he lived, the halls where he conducted, and the meeting-places where he held forth. In recent weeks, as a kind of thought-experiment, I have been following ghost tracks of Wagner in New York, a city that he never saw and probably would have hated. A case of authorial obsession is to blame for this peculiar undertaking: I am working on a book called Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music, an account of Wagner’s cultural impact. To be candid, the itinerary is often pretty dull, but it picks up interest toward the end, as traces emerge of hidden links between the Rockefellers and the Holy Grail.Read the full text here.
[T]he injection of a mild strain of Regietheater [in opera stagings in American opera houses] ... is a healthy development because it forces American audiences to see opera as something other than a nostalgia trip. [...] [I]t's because we endlessly repeat the same old pieces that we feel the need to reinvent them in ever more drastic fashion.Yes, well, certainly an interesting view of the matter. Consider, however, that by that same sort of reasoning it might be "a healthy development" if American symphony orchestras did away with repeating year after year performances of, say, those same old Beethoven symphonies the way Beethoven wrote them and instead reinvent them just a bit by injecting some orchestration or other that never occurred to Herr Beethoven such as, say, kazoos in place of bassoons; or, say, slide whistles in place of flutes; or, say, musical saws in place of violas. After all, if that were done, American audiences would surely be forced to see those symphonies as something other than nostalgia trips. Yes indeed. They most assuredly would.
[Schoenberg's] String Quartet No. 2, written in 1908 in the middle of an extreme marital and psychological crisis, starts with a richly harmonised minor key melody which would not have frightened Brahms. But by the end of the piece, a soprano has — highly unconventionally — joined the quartet and she sings "I feel the air of other planets", to music which is fractured, atomised, ethereal and floating utterly free from the gravitational pull of 600 years of harmonic tradition.
For the past five years, the New York Times Magazine has offered an end-of-year feature called "The Music They Made" — an audio collage of musicians who died that year. [...] [W]ith the exception of David Mason, the trumpeter who played on "Penny Lane," no Western classical musician has appeared in these compilations. The omission is particularly maddening this year, since we lost two gigantic figures: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elliott Carter. Almost every other genre has been represented at one time or another....We might point out to Mr. Ross that Western classical musicians have no place in such a compilation and would, in fact, be made to appear ridiculous by their inclusion. They require a completely separate compilation of their own and it's shameful, especially considering the publication, that no such compilation exists there. However, Mr. Ross's complaint that an annual compilation by the same publication called "The Lives They Lived" is also absent any Western classical musicians is a thoroughly justified one and the New York Times Magazine should feel doubly shamed by the omission.
As I have often said and sometimes written, the history of art extends from Anonymous to Untitled, from when only the work mattered to where only the name in the signature does. What reminds me of this is a reproduction in The New York Times (10/16/12) of an untitled painting by Franz Kline, which, at the forthcoming auction, “is expected to bring $20 million to $30 million” and make me sick to my stomach. I recall a time, long ago, when Kline yelled at me at a party, “You are full of shit!”, and I replied, “Maybe, but at least I don’t smear it on canvas and peddle it as art.” Art today is the result of a tacit conspiracy among artists, art historians, art critics, art dealers, nabobs who don’t know what to do with their money, and all the people who don’t know anything about art. And why shouldn’t it fetch that much when the article about the Kline painting notes that one by Clyfford Still, resonantly entitled “1949-A-No. 1” went for $61.7 million? Even Clyfford with a Y should raise a cautionary eyebrow.Read the full text here.
James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera’s Music Director, will return to conducting on May 19, 2013 with the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. He will then lead three operas in the Met’s 2013-14 season, including a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff and revivals of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Berg’s Wozzeck. He will also conduct all three Carnegie Hall concerts that season.Oh that it not prove a false (or over-optimistic) alert! Read the full text here.
Riccardo Muti, whose aesthetic preferences are sometimes surprising, chose to inaugurate [the orchestra's] vaunted Manhattan visit with the meretricious claptrap of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. So much for intellectual and/or emotional challenge.On reading this we simultaneously smiled and winced (a neat trick, that), for while we could not help but agree with Mr. Bernheimer's bitingly laconic assessment of the work, we nevertheless harbor "an ongoing, undiminished, and fairly mindless fascination with it," as we've previously remarked here on S&F. As we went on to say:
Its unrelenting ostinati; its primitive, propulsive rhythmic drive; its unsubtle tonic-dominant harmony sans any trace of chromatic coloring — in short, its very "dumbness" — is what seems to attract. It's a sort of invigorating mind-rester: primally engaging, and no thought required. And it's weird. Very weird. The text, I mean, its weirdness sharpened by being written and of course sung mostly in Latin.But as Mr. Bernheimer neatly put it concerning other music on the CSO's program for the following night's concert, "one didn’t have to love the music on this occasion to admire the music-making," so it is with a particularly brilliant reading of Carmina recorded and released on vinyl LP in 1958 by Capitol Records featuring (of all groups!) the Houston Choral, Houston Youth Symphony Boys' Choir, and Houston Symphony Orchestra with the great and inimitable Leopold Stokowski on the podium which recording was subsequently remastered and transferred to CD by EMI. (It's paired on this recording with a reading of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite about which reading the less said the better.) As we wrote about this recorded performance of Carmina:
Lord knows I'm no Stoki fan generally which in my day was enough to get one run out of Philadelphia on a rail were one reckless enough to admit to it in public. But of all the recorded readings of this work of my experience Stoki is the only one to get everything right sans any minuses. He draws from the at that time less than world-class Houston forces performances that the best of the era would have been proud to have produced, and draws from the soloists — Virginia Babikian, Clyde Hager, and Guy Gardner — performances to match. A truly sterling reading. [Our full and more detailed commentary on Carmina and this recorded performance can be read here.]This EMI remastering is a tough-to-impossible CD to find new, but one well worth the search.
The artist who fired the imaginations of Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Proust, Joyce, Mann, Cather, Kandinsky, Isadora Duncan, and Eisenstein, among hundreds of others, cannot be summed up in a few adjectives. [...] Wagner must take some of the blame for the reductionist image that prevails in the public mind. It was his spiteful anti-Semitism that has caused so many people to draw a straight line from the “Ring of the Nibelung” to Hitler.Read the full text here.
If the accuracy of this report by Norman Lebrecht can be trusted (a not always safe assumption), The New York Times reassigned the wrong man.It was our way of letting our readers know that we had no corroboration of any of Mr. Lebrecht's report and were aware that taking at face value all the details included in Mr. Lebrecht's reporting of such news stories is generally not, um, shall we say, an entirely prudent thing to do. In his blog item, Mr. Lebrecht had some quite nasty things to say about the Times's Classical Music Editor James R. Oestreich and in the ensuing comments section of that item (which at present numbers some 141 comments) one commenter suggested that Mr. Lebrecht's nastiness toward Mr. Oestreich might have something to do with Mr. Oestreich's New York Times book review of Mr. Lebrecht's latest book, Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World, in which review Mr. Oestreich gave the book a bit of a drubbing. Mr. Lebrecht responded to the commenter's suggestion by saying he (Norman Lebrecht) was unaware of the review and then altered his response to say, "Never saw it… won’t bother now." Another commenter responded with the link to the review whereupon Mr. Lebrecht deleted both the comment providing the link and the original comment suggesting that Mr. Lebrecht's nastiness toward Mr. Oestreich might be due the latter's uncomplimentary review of Mr. Lebrecht's book. All of this within the space of some ten minutes or so. We were able to see it all only because we'd subscribed to eMail notification of all comments for that item which eMail is sent automatically by the software the instant a comment is made public. (Ironically, Mr. Lebrecht neglected to delete his own laconic response to the original comment which response is, at this writing, still extant and just sitting there all by its lonesome, disconnected from everything and making no sense whatsoever.) We must confess we found this whole business on Mr. Lebrecht's part quite dismaying. His deleting of the two comments was dishonest enough, but his declaration that he was ignorant of or never saw The New York Times's review of his new book strains credibility well past the breaking point. We'd long been aware of Mr. Lebrecht's, um, playing loose with facts but had never suspected him of outright dishonesty. And just why are we troubling to relate this sordid business here? Because it's prelude to what followed in that same comments thread which involved our good self and which we want to make a matter of record here on S&F just in case the involved comments should one day, um, mysteriously no longer display in that comments thread. One of the commenters in that comments thread was one William Osborne; a True Believer of the PC sort and a man with an agenda. We'd run into Mr. Osborne some four years earlier in another comments thread on another website and had exchanged some few comments with him having to do with the Vienna Philharmonic's practice of denying membership in the orchestra to females and non-White males. Mr. Osborne was on a crusade to bring a halt to this "bigoted and racist" practice, as he called it, and we took the position — one which we still hold today — that the Vienna Philharmonic, a private organization, is entitled to deny membership to anyone it pleases for whatever reason, stupid and self-defeating though that reason may be. This of course fairly incensed Mr. Osborne who promptly labeled us a bigot and racist for our view of the matter. In the present comments thread on Mr. Lebrecht's blog, we read the following comment from Mr. Osborne in response to a comment by another commenter wherein the commenter had written, among other negative things about Mr. Oestreich, "Mr Oestreich has annoyed so many people with his bile-rich reviews":
Very good observations, and they also apply well to the review of Norman’s book that was mentioned. One senses his [James R. Oestreich's] personal resentments in the commentary. We might also remember that Oestreich is an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic. He has written articles defending the orchestra and rationalizing its sexism and racism. It is one thing to appreciate the orchestra’s music-making, but another to dismiss its bigotry and treat it as a non-topic. I think many are looking forward to the sea change that will come when he leaves the Times.Our jaw dropped on reading this. What could Mr. Oestreich being "an apologist for the Vienna Philharmonic" possibly have to do with the business to hand? Not a damn thing that we could see, and so we responded:
Still riding that same old, stillborn hobbyhorse regarding the Vienna Philharmonic, I see. Time to dismount and move on.To which Mr. Osborne replied:
In earlier discussions in other forums, Mr. Douglas has gone on record saying that the Vienna Philharmonic/Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities.To which we replied:
And up to your same old tricks again, I see. You know very well that the last time you tried to sneak the Vienna State Opera Orchestra into the Vienna Philharmonic question you were roundly and soundly called out for the underhanded attempt as you're perfectly aware they're two entirely separate organizations — one public, one private — regardless that the same personnel occupy both.That comment never saw the light of day because it was deleted instantly by Mr. Lebrecht before it was made public. Although we were unaware of it at the time, we shortly thereafter learned that not only does Mr. Lebrecht hold the same view as Mr. Osborne regarding the Vienna Philharmonic in this matter but had even promoted and linked to Mr. Osborne's crusade against the orchestra. When we discovered our comment had been deleted, we shot off another comment addressed directly to Mr. Lebrecht and for his eyes only (he moderates all comments posted to his blog so we knew he would see it and know it was not for publication) which read:
Mr. Lebrecht: I see you declined to publish my response to William Osborne's subtle lie about me (I'm nowhere on record or off as saying "the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities" as he invidiously suggested). It's not the first time he's done that, usually following it by declaring me a racist and bigot, his favorite response to those who disagree with his position on the Vienna Philharmonic. I realize this thread is no place to have this business out, but having let stand Mr. Osborne's subtle lie, you owe me at least a response to it.In response to which Mr. Lebrecht, instead of asking us to resubmit the comment he deleted, extracted from our above protest the single sentence, "I’m nowhere on record or off as saying 'the Vienna State Opera Orchestra is entitled to exclude both women and racial minorities' as Mr Osborne invidiously suggested. ACD," and without explanation or editor's note published that as OUR response to Mr. Osborne. Mr. Osborne, being ignorant of these machinations and innocently taking what Mr. Lebrecht had published under our name at face value, replied:
Notice that Mr. Douglas only mentions the Vienna State Opera Orchestra as not entitled to exclude women and racial minorities. He conspicuously does not mention the Vienna Philharmonic. His claim has been that since the Vienna Philharmonic is a “private” organization, it can exclude whoever it wants. It is important to remember that the State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic are the same orchestra and use the same personnel. The members of the opera orchestra just run the Vienna Philharmonic on the side as a nominally “private” organization. If the Philharmonic excludes people based on race and gender, so does the State Opera Orchestra. So Mr. Douglas, if you have changed your stance and no longer feel the Vienna Philharmonic is entitled to exclude people based on race and gender, please let us know.To which we responded:
Mr. Lebrecht will not permit me to respond to any of your posts on this matter. He deleted my original response to your prior post, and when I protested, he extracted a single sentence from my protest and published it above as my response to you. It’s pointless for me to attempt to continue to post here as even if this post gets through, which is extremely doubtful, Mr. Lebrecht will delete or edit any replies I make to your subtly false and invidious charges. I may be blocked from replying here, but you may be certain I’ll be posting the entire dishonest history of this exchange and more on the dishonesty of Mr. Lebrecht on Sounds & Fury (my blog) which is read by most if not all who read this blog.(We here freely confess we were being somewhat disingenuous in our above by saying that it's "extremely doubtful" our above comment would "get through." We knew for certain it would because of the threat of its last sentence. Mr. Lebrecht may be dishonest, but he's not stupid.) Mr. Lebrecht replied to our above with the laconic and dishonest comment:
This site operates a non-abuse policy. ACD’s replies were deleted or redacted on those grounds.It would appear Mr. Lebrecht considers a true recounting of inconvenient fact to be abusive and so felt compelled to delete our response to Mr. Osborne. And so endeth the ugly tale. As previously noted, all the above just for the record.
Next month marks the centenary of the birth of the conductor, musician, visionary, jester, husband and father who bore witness to, and embodies, his time, the core of the 20th century, and whose genius — a word too liberally used nowadays — not only towered over the music-making of his lifetime but radically changed it in ways that are only now becoming clear. [...] [H]e made music of magic and quality, entwining power and clarity, that no other interpreter of his time — not even Karajan, Jansons, Ancerl, Böhm or Bernstein, in what is rightly considered music's golden age — could match. In the studio, Solti revolutionised the science and art of recorded music so as to democratise it at the highest — still unsurpassed — level of atmosphere and sound quality. And in concert, Solti is the only name one can speak in the same breath as those that dominated the generation that preceded him — astride both the second world war and the iron curtain — Evgeny Mravinsky in Leningrad and Wilhelm Furtwängler in Berlin. Solti was the true heir to their legacy on record, and their way of electrifying live performance through blending restless and rigorous perfectionism with explosive spontaneity.Read the full text here.