The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Starting off the New Year, can you identify the opening of certain works of music? Here is an NPR puzzler to open 2015.

January 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is a good way to start off the New Year musically?

There are always the New Year’s Day celebrations from Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic. They get broadcast on PBS and also National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to a preview of this year’s celebrations:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/classical-music-dance-into-2015-this-morning-and-tonight-with-waltzes-and-more-from-vienna-on-public-radio-and-tv/

Golden Hall in Vienna

But this year sees another way, an intriguing and original way, to mark the new year: A quiz about how great works of classical music begin and whether you can recognize them right away.

Female Orchestra Conductor With Baton

So here is The New Year Puzzler from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR.

Go ahead.

Take it and see how well you do.

The Ear wants to hear.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/06/375127303/getting-off-to-a-good-start-a-new-years-puzzler

And below is a popular YouTube video, with 2.5 million hits, of one of my favorite and most inspired and dramatic openings that should be immediately recognizable:

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform rarely heard vocal and instrumental holiday music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras this Saturday night.

December 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you follow this blog, you know the high respect that The Ear has for the Madison Bach Musicians (below) and its founder-director Trevor Stephenson, who is also a first-rate keyboard player and a supremely talented explainer whose talks are unfailingly instructive and entertaining.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Stephenson writes to The Ear about this weekend’s upcoming holiday concert, which will feature a lot of vocal music and compositions that are rarely heard in the usual holiday concert programs. Each year, he says, attendance keeps growing steadily for the early holiday music performed on period instruments with historically informed performance practices.

Here is what Trevor Stephenson (below) says:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This Saturday evening, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. the Madison Bach Musicians will present its fourth annual Holiday Concert (below is a photo from the 2012 holiday concert) in the beautiful sanctuary of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, near historic Camp Randall stadium.

Madison Bach Musicians in Bach Cantata Dec. 2012

The preconcert lecture is at 7:15 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the public, $20 for students and seniors over 65, and they are available at Orange Tree Imports, Willy Street Co-op (east & west), Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own and Ward Brodt. For tickets bought at the door, add $5. Student rush tickets will be available for $10 with a valid student ID. For more information about tickets and about MBM, visit www.madsionbachmusicians.org

This year, MBM has set the “Way-Back” machine for the 16th and 17th centuries.

We’ll open with a set of five masterworks for a capella or unaccompanied vocal quartet by Orlando di Lassus.

In addition to soprano Chelsea Morris (below, who now lives in Madison and who won the second Handel Aria Competition last summer at the Madison Early Music Festival), and alto Sarah Leuwerke (who also lives here in Madison), two outstanding young singers from New York City will be featured. Bass Davone Tines and tenor Kyle Bielfield are both recent graduates in voice from the Juilliard School and both are concertizing extensively throughout the world. Here are their websites. http://www.davonetines.com/ and
http://www.bielfield.com/

Chelsea Morris soprano

Then an instrumental band featuring recorder, dulcian or Renaissance bassoon, two viola da gambas, two baroque violins, and positive organ will present sonatas by Antonio Bertali and Johann Schenk.

Instruments and voices will join in works by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schelle, Johann Froberger, and two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s amazing uncles Heinrich Bach and Johann Michael Bach.

The 16th and 17th centuries were full of religious upheaval, scientific advancement, global exploration and great advances in the dissemination of knowledge through the publishing revolution. The music printing presses as well really start rolling during these centuries.

The astoundingly beautiful music of Orlando di Lassus (below), which will open our upcoming concert, might have been largely unknown and –- after his death — even completely lost had it not been for the publishing houses (many of them in the Netherlands) that saw a strong market for this work.

Orlando di Lasso

It’s staggering really to think of the dozens, probably hundreds, of musicians pre-dating the advent of broad publication whose works existed only in a few handwritten copies that have not survived. Of course, even after publishing gets going in the latter part of what we now call the Renaissance in the 16th century, only a few composers enjoyed consistent press

What strikes me over and over again me about Lassus’ music is how the incredible complexity of its counterpoint is consistently directed toward a clear spiritual point. Remarkably, this miracle of style is still present 200 years after Lassus in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, where the density of the countrapuntal fabric actually helps keep the emotion centered. Claude Debussy remarked how in Bach’s music “the issue is never lost.”

Also, Lassus treats the human voice so well; all four singers have beautiful, independent lines that weave together into a mesmerizing curtain of sound. Legend has it that Lassus’ voice itself was so compelling that as a young singer he was “absconded with” more than once.

For the second work on the program I’ll play a fugue on the positive organ. This type of organ weighs only about 200 pounds and is relatively portable; MBM borrowed this beautiful instrument, made by the Dutch builder Klop, from Stephen Alltop in Evanston, Illinois.

The fugue I’ll play is by Giovanni Gabrieli, music director at the magisterial St. Mark’s church in Venice, which still stands today. Pieces like this fugue were typically composed in “open score,” simply four independent lines with no instrumental designation — the counterpoint is so great, the music works in any medium. I always imagine what it might have sounded like on four sackbuts (Renaissance trombones) positioned in opposing galleries in a resonant space like St. Marks.

Giovanni Gabrieli

The program also features two viola da gambas, bowed though fretted instrument in roughly the same register as a cello (there are also tenor and treble gambas).

Gambists Martha Vallon and Anna Steinhoff will perform a sonata by Heinrich Schenck based upon the famous Rhinemaidens legend, though this work comes two centuries before Richard Wagner went ballistic on the idea in hid “Ring” cycle.

Johann Schenck

The first half of the program will end with instrumental sonatas by the Italian virtuoso violinist Antonio Bertali (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), who worked most of his career in Vienna, and was known for importing early Italian opera into the Austrian region. We’ll mix baroque violins, gambas, recorder, dulcian and organ in the Bertali set.

antonio bertali

The second part of the program opens with two pieces by German composer Heinrich Schütz (below).

Heinrich Schutz

The first is a celebratory Christmas piece (Christ the Lord is Born Today) for voices and instruments. That will be followed by a very secular piece, Golden Hair–for soprano, alto, two violins, and continuo—about how “you torture me with your beauty. Why won’t Venus send me some comfort! I languish and die.”

Seventeenth-century or whenever — how some things never change! Schütz worked at the Dresden court during the incredibly turbulent times of the Thirty Years War; some of his music is even designed for reduced ensembles, due to the ravages of the war. As a young man he traveled to Italy and studied with Monteverdi. Some of Schutz’s music is even directly borrowed, or adapted from Monteverdi, as is the case with Golden Hair as Schutz converts it from Italian to German.

Next are two works by Heinrich Bach (below),  Johann Sebastian Bach’s great uncle. First is an instrumental transcription of “Have Mercy Upon Us, O Lord God” for two violins and two gambas. Second is the mezzo-soprano solo, with instrumental accompaniment, “Oh, had I tears enough in my head to wash away my sins.” This unusual work sounds almost like 20th-century expressionism in many places. The harmony is very gnarled, twisted and gothic. To me, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is just around the corner.

Heinrich Bach

Following this is a rare vocal work by the great 17th-century keyboard composer Johann Froberger (below). The inventive texture mixes three voices and instruments and the text celebrates the vanquishing of death and the ecstatic speaking in tongues by the Apostles when visited by the Holy Spirit. The vocal lines are very nimble and suggest the animation of “speaking in all languages.”

johann froberger

Johann Schelle’s wrote a good deal of seasonal music and this Christmas piece is a prayer to the infant Jesus imploring him to rest in our hearts so that we will never again forget him.

The sentiment is very close to that found in the final aria in J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, “Mache dich mein herze rein,” in which the soul expresses its longing to have the Savior entombed and enshrined within our hearts, so that we may live in grace. Schelle was the Kapellmeister at Leipzig during much of the latter part of the 17th century — two generations before J. S. Bach took the job in the early 1720s.

The final composer featured on this Holiday program, Johann Michael Bach, was the son of Heinrich Bach and was also the father of Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. Put another way, Johann Michael Bach was J. S. Bach’s father-in-law. The text is from the Christmas gospel, where the angels implore the shepherds not to be afraid, but to rejoice, for the Savior has come to earth. J. M. Bach set the text for antiphonal choirs, and MBM will do this by having voices in dialogue with the instrumental band.

Johann Michael Bach

Here is the complete program:

Orlando de Lassus (c. 1532–1594): Ave Regina Coelorum; Adoramus te; Carmina Chromatico; Missa pro defunctis; Introit Jubilate Deo

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557–1612): Fuga del nono tono

Johann Schenck (1660–1716?): Sonata III for two viols from “Le Nymphe di Rheno”

Antonio Bertali (1605–1669): Sonata in A minor for two violins and continuo; Sonata in G major for recorder, violin and dulcian

INTERMISSION

Heinrich Schütz (1585–1682): Heute ist Christus der Herr geboren; Güldne Haare

Heinrich Bach (1615–1692): Erbarm dich ein, O Herre Gott (instrumental version).

Johann Froberger (1616-1667): Ach, dass ich Wassers genug hätte; Alleluia Absorta est mors.

Johann Schelle (1648–1701): Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein

Johann Michael Bach (1648–1694): Fürchtet euch nicht


Classical music: What’s the best classical music of the past 100 years? Take part in the contemporary music poll by radio station Q2 Music -– and help determine the Top 100 musicians and compositions of the past 100 years. Then tune in starting Dec. 27 to hear the results. Plus, this afternoon’s Christmas concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra is SOLD OUT.

December 7, 2014
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ALERT: This just in: This afternoon’s performance at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Christmas concert, with guest soloist and local groups under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Bob Rashid) is virtually SOLD OUT. But you can call the Overture Center Box Office (608-258-4141) to determine any availability.

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

By Jacob Stockinger

Sure, you look at the entirety of classical music history and you can name your favorite composers and favorite works: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Ninth Symphony, right?

But there are surprises awaiting you, if you restrict the choices to the past century.

Looking over the past 100 years — starting Jan, 1, 1914 — who would have guessed, for example, that: Music for 18 Musicians (at bottom, in a complete performance in a YouTube video by the acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning new music group eighth blackbird) by contemporary minimalist composer Steve Reich (below, in a photo by Wonge Bergmann) would pull out ahead of George Gershwin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Alban Berg and all others in last year’s Q2 Music poll?

Steve Reich  CR Wonge Bergmann

The Q2 Music poll is done by WQXR in New York City, a radio station that is a member station of NPR, or National Public Radio.

Anyway, the terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” recently posted a story about the Q2 Music poll.

It included an entry form that will allow readers to pick up to FIVE works and composers as they participate in this year’s poll that dates back to Jan. 1, 1915.

Voting closes on Dec. 20, 2014.

Then, starting on Saturday, Dec. 27, as a way to close out the old year and ring in the new, a marathon countdown will begin and all the works will be played in reverse order of the survey results.

No word if it will be webcast, but The Ear suspects you can easily tune into Q2 Music by going to the website for WQXR.

Here is a link to the NPR story by Anastasia Tsioulcas  and to the poll entry form.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/01/366570066/whats-your-top-100-of-the-last-100-years

And here is a link to WQXR where you can find a way to listen (at the top of the page), to sign up for the Q2 Music Newsletter and also see the results of the Q2 polls for 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as the upcoming 2014. It makes for some interesting reading and listening.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/q2-musics-2014-new-music-countdown/

And here is a link to a Dec. 2 concert, now archived at NPR, in which some of the best new recordings and music from 2014 was performed:

http://www.npr.org/e2014/11/26/366570255/celebrate-some-of-the-years-best-new-releases-with-q2

As for the Q2 Music poll, The Ear hopes someone chooses – make that that many people choose – the gorgeous Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber, who was less hot and controversial but much more gifted as a composer.

barber 1

But whatever happens, have fun choosing and voting.

Don’t forget to use the COMMENTS section to tell The Ear and his readers what works you entered.

And don’t forget to fill in your date book for some happy listening to new music.


Classical music: Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby takes a surprising turn to classical music. He performs in Madison on Oct. 30.

September 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby (below) has made quite the reputation for himself over the past 25 years or so as a keyboard wizard — and singer — who explores all kinds of music, including rock and folk, with impressive improvisations and interpretations.

bruce hornsby with piano

But imagine The Ear’s surprise when Hornsby announced that he was looking and playing and even programming classical music as well as jazz.

And on top of that, some of the classical music he is favoring comes from the Second Viennese School – the difficult 12-tone and atonal composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. He also plays music by Gyorgy Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen.

Clearly, Hornsby’s classical tastes runs to early modernism. One can’t be sure that kind of music will be included in the upcoming concert, but it sure sounds as if it will.

Hornsby’s concert in Madison is in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30. Tickets run $39.50 to $59.50.

Here is a link to more information about the concert and tickets, which have been on sale for about two weeks now and which can also be reserved by calling the Overture Center box office at (608) 251-4848.

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/bruce-hornsby

Hornsby also talked to All Things Considered, on NPR or National Public Radio, about his turn toward the classics, especially in the wake of being a relatively late bloomer as a student instrumentalist. (And the classical stuff he plays is hard and very challenging both for performers and listeners.) But you can tell he has impressive technique in the YouTube video at the bottom.

You may also notice that buying a concert ticket gets you a copy of his latest 25-track, 2-CD set with The Noisemakers called “Solo Concerts,” which includes some of the classical music.

Anyway, here is a link to the NPR story about Bruce Hornsby’s Classical Moment:

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/341957012/bruce-hornsbys-modern-classical-moment?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=music

 

 


Classical music Q&A: University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith discusses the program of Beethoven, Stravinsky and Sibelius that the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform at a FREE concert this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Also, UW soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn will sing Mahler songs in a FREE concert Thursday afternoon at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, plus a WORT-FM show on Thursday morning highlights the Madison Symphony Orchestra and its music director John DeMain.

September 25, 2013
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TWO ALERTS: On this Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, UW-Madison dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below) —  filling in for soprano Julia Faulkner, who is on a leave-of-absence this academic year — will make her local debut. The FREE concert features her singing Gustav Mahler‘s moving “Rueckert Songs” with UW pianist Martha Fischer. It is part of the Wisconsin Science Festival that combines science lectures and live classical music  in the SoundWaves program that is organized and directed by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois. For more information, visit the outstanding “Fanfare” blog at the UW School of Music: Here is a link:

 http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/soundwaves9-26-2013/

And here are links to more stories about Elizabeth Hagedorn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/classical-music-wisconsin-born-and-vienna-based-dramatic-soprano-elizabeth-hagedorn-will-replace-julia-faulkner-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-for-the-next-school-year-but-faulkners/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/hagedorn/

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

ALSO: Blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels (below) writes: “On this Thursday morning, Sept. 26, beginning at 7:08 a.m. on my weekly show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast from 5-8 a.m. on WORT 89.9 FM. I’ll be airing an interview I recently recorded with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (the MSO’s 2013-2914 concert season begins, of course, on this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

“Maestro DeMain talks about his transition from the Houston Grand Opera to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and about the artistic state of the orchestra as he begins his 20th season on the podium.

“Music for the segment will include selections from DeMain’s 1996 Grammy award-winning recording the Houston Grand Opera made when its production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” was playing Broadway.

“Half the segment deals with the upcoming season and some of the younger soloists who will be heard between now and next May. We’ll hear performances by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, violinist Augustin Hadelich, soprano Emily Birsan and the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (not to be confused with pianist Garrick Ohlsson).”

Rich Samuels

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the week of orchestral season debuts. Yesterday, The Ear spotlighted the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerts this weekend.

But at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Sunday evening — on what The Ear calls “Symphony Sunday” with performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW Symphony Orchestra and the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra — the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under its longtime director James Smith, who also directs the UW Chamber Orchestra and is the music director of University Opera.

Smith recently granted The Ear an email Q&A about the concert:

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

You programmed “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (below) because this is the centennial year of its world premiere. How important is that work in the symphonic repertoire and to music history in general?

It is often cited as a landmark work in all respects.  Several faculty members mentioned that we ought to perform it so that the students can appreciate its impact.  At the time, 1913, the harmonies, the savage rhythms and the choreography were all quite jolting to the Paris audiences.

Right from the start, the bassoon explores a new range for the instrument as it sets the stage for the pagan ritual ahead.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

How challenging technically is the “Rite of Spring” in general to perform but especially for UW undergraduate students? What makes it such a difficult work?

It is difficult on all levels: rhythmic, technical and tessitura (the comfort range of notes for a specific kind of voice or instrument).. We have performed works by Bohuslav Martinu, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Gustav Mahler who also posed special difficulties. The students are working very hard outside of the rehearsals so that we can all experience this exciting work. (Below is a photo of the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union plus a link to a video by Kathy Esposito, concert manager and public relations director at the UW School of Music, of the UW Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Smith rehearsing “The Rite of Spring” that Esposito posted on Facebook.)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=632954003411618

UW Symphony w choral-union2

Why did you choose the “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven to go with this program? Are there special thematic or pedagogical reasons?

Simple answer:  It is a great way to start a program, and an opportunity for my graduate assistant to be introduced to the audience.  His name is Kyle Knox (below).  He is also an accomplished clarinetist who is the assistant principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Kyle Knox

The Third Symphony is not one of the most famous or popular symphonies by Jean Sibelius (below). Why did you choose to program it and what should audience members listen for or pay attention to?

Good question. After the rather romantic and somewhat conventional First and Second Symphonies, the Third Symphony loses much of the bombast and announces a more austere and restless path. As my teacher one commented, Sibelius became more and more “north” in style and mood: austere and quixotic. (The first movement can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.)

sibelius


Classical music: The Metropolitan Opera announces next season’s schedule “Met Live in HD” broadcasts – which cuts back from 12 to 10 productions.

March 10, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Metropolitan Opera has announced the next season (2013-14) of “Live From the Met in HD” broadcasts, which are shown in cinemas around the world, including at the Eastgate (below) and Point cinemas in Madison.

Eastgate

It is an impressive lineup for the series that, according to The Met, gets transmitted via satellite to 1,900 theaters in 64 countries and has sold more than 12 million tickets since it began in 2006.

But nobody is saying why the season has been cut back from 12 to 10 after two years of expanding, if I recall correctly. Maybe the market can only bear so much. Or maybe it is the budget.

Rheingold audience point

There will be one a month except for two in October and April.

Also, if I recall correctly, the whole program has been a great moneymaker for the Met. So I am not sure why the program was cut back. Maybe it just has to do with impressive new productions and only so much time to stage them in.

Also to look forward to is the return of conductor and Met artistic director James Levine (below top) after a hiatus of two years due to ill health. He will conduct Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte,” Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck.” Also, “Two Boys,” a new opera commissioned by the Met from composer Nico Muhly (below bottom), will be featured.

James Levine conducting

Nico Muhly 2

As always, the season opens Oct. 5 with a bang – in this case, Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” with superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below right).

Eugene Onegin Met HD Mariusz Kwiecien and Anna Netrebko

And there are a lot of other top-name singers and conductors who will be involved.

Here are the official announcements:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/news/press/releases/2013-14-season/

http://www.metoperafamily.org/en/news-and-features1/press-releases/releases/2013-14-Live-in-HD/

Here is a link to the series’ home website:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/1314

And here are some other stories about the regular Met season and the HD season that offer some analysis and other details:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-met-live-in-hd-announces-2013-14-season

And here is another, featuring world-famous opera (and food) expert Fred Plotkin (below), who writes the blog “Operavore” and is a 1978 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/operavore/2013/feb/26/analysis-metropolitan-operas-2013-14-season/

fred plotkin USE


Classical music survey: What musical blind spots do you have? What works and composers just don’t speak to you?

February 12, 2012
18 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I find much to praise in the honesty and intellectual forthrightness of people who admit that some important and widely accepted kinds of classical music – or art, in general – somehow escape them.

It is as though they are saying: I don’t care what everyone else thinks or says, this just doesn’t speak to me somehow.

It isn’t always the result of ignorance, stupidity or insensitivity.

It can also happen with some pretty standard works and some really big or important composers. I know of serious classical music fans, for example, who just don’t like Handel, Mozart or Brahms.

There are other examples.

Take NPR’s “Delayed Cadence” blogger Tom Huizenga (below) on the music Haydn, a towering figure who never quite connects with him as he should:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/02/03/146365081/where-are-your-musical-blind-spots

On a smaller scale, the gifted and urbane American pianist Jonathan Biss (below), who has started a Beethoven sonata cycle and who has written an outstanding book on Beethoven (“Beethoven’s Shadow”), responded to Huizenga’s challenge by admitting that he feels bad about his ignorance of Brahms’ vocal music, especially his duets:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/02/07/146473471/jonathan-biss-uncovers-a-brahms-blind-spot

It is a good exercise to try on oneself. It can point to directions to grow in. Or, if you hear the same response others, it can validate your own responses. It will be telling to see who else responds to NPR’s challenge in the coming weeks and months, and what else they say.

And what about The Ear? you may wonder.

One of my major blind spots is a lot – though by no means all — of pre-Bach music, especially scratchy violin sonatas by, say, Heinrich Biber (below).

I also have a blind spot with a lot of contemporary classical music.

Both of them too often just seem boring and tedious, kind of like R&D (research and development) music. I mean, it is good music, even great music sometimes, like that of the Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi or the contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov. But too often I hear it and think, ho-hum. For me, I guess, J.S. Bach (below) remains the Big Bang.

But surely my biggest musical blind spot is the Second Viennese School of Arnold Schoenberg (below), Anton Webern and Alban Berg.

Even a century after this music was written, it just doesn’t reach me directly or speak to me with enough urgency. It still seems like one ambitious but failed experiment, despite the pleas of musicians, critics and historians I respect and despite the supposed revolution that this atonal, 12-tonal and serial music brought about. Just give me a tune, please.

But what about you?

What do you consider to be your major blind spots?

What major composers or major works just escape you or disappoint you?

Are there other composers and music that you think is overrated by others?

The Ear wants to hear.


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