If Franz Schubert's reputation as a melodist ever needed demonstrating - which it doesn't - one could do worse than point others to his beautiful impromptus, such as this one performed by Krystian Zimerman.
I share completely Thomas Edison's conviction that religion is bunk, but if there were anything with the power to sway me towards religious belief, it would be the existence of sublime works such as this passion or Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610"; these are compositions of whose authors, one feels justified in quoting the famous passage from Hamlet:
What a piece of work is man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties. In form and moving, how express and admirable. In action how like an angel. In apprehension, how like a god.
Indeed, sometimes I find myself wondering how it can be that the greatest composers, painters, writers and scientists, who leave behind works able to astonish, surprise and delight long after their creators are dead, and the dim-witted hordes who love "Twilight", proudly hang Thomas Kinkade paintings on their walls, think Lady Gaga is a rebel and a genius, and follow the fabricated adventures of the Kardashians with rapt attention, can really be said to belong to the same species ...
Having criticized Classic FM earlier in the day for presenting music from the classical tradition in a manner least likely to encourage listeners to gain a deeper appreciation, let me take the time to actually do something constructive along just such lines: if you want an accessible and down-to-earth introduction to what classical music is really all about, I highly recommend this set of video lectures by Yale's Professor Craig Wright. If you want to understand why Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is held in such high esteem, what Beethoven is really doing in the opening movement of his 5th symphony, how exactly Debussy paved the way for horror movie music (aka atonalism), or why the "Star Wars" and "Superman" themes owe a great debt to Richard Wagner, here's your chance to learn all of this and more. Once one learns how to listen actively, instead of just keeping an ear out for an easily hummable tune and a catchy beat, the world of classical music becomes a lot more comprehensible and inviting.
I will go further: not only do I believe that watching Wright's lectures will give one a deeper understanding of what exactly is going on at a level beyond just "gut" feeling, I'm convinced that the experience will deepen one's understanding of all musical forms, period, even of the most formulaic pop drivel: if nothing else, a little musical knowledge will help one start to appreciate precisely why certain musicians aren't worth taking seriously, media hype notwithstanding ...
Seeing as we are currently in what is considered - in the nominally "Christian" parts of the world at least - a festive season, I think it most appropriate to share with my readers this deliciously detailed tear-down of Classic FM, Britain's most popular classical radio channel.
I am not opposed in principle to efforts at broadening the audience for classical music, nor do I have any ideological objections to attempting to mix commerce with art - my views run, if anything, in the contrary direction - but there are good and bad ways of striving towards even the most positive ends, and reducing a musical tradition with so much sophistication, and so many centuries of tradition behind it, to only the most easily memorized excerpts of a select few "greatest hits" from the same limited selection of usual suspects*, actually does a tremendous disservice to the cause Classic FM is supposedly championing.
Classical music is not pop, and cannot be reduced to a few minutes of catchy tunes sandwiched in between adverts and smarmy banter. Unless audiences are taught to appreciate the importance of musical structure and development, they will never come to understand just why it is that the classical tradition should be worth holding in high regard, other than as just another means of signaling one's social status. To truly appreciate the intellectual and artistic ingenuity of the likes of even such well-known names as Bach and Beethoven, one needs to go beyond the familar strains of "Sheep May Safely Graze" and "Für Elise" to explore works like the Goldberg Variations and the Große Fuge, and that will never happen if one is constantly indulged in the notion that the essence of any musical work can be grasped in just a few minutes.
*Bach, Beethoven, Händel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Wagner, with a side order of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and Pachelbel's Canon.
For many years Glenn Gould's performance had been the last word on the piece, but I have to say that Murray Perahia's take has now firmly replaced Gould's in my estimation: it has all of the liveliness of the former standard without the annoying accompaniment provided by Glenn Gould's humming.
Not that Gould has entirely lost his place in my catalogue, however: I still am unaware of any substitute for his "Well-Tempered Clavier" (Andras Schiff's much lauded version sends me to sleep).
Commenting at length about the ephemera of popular culture isn't really what I have in mind to write about on here, but on this occasion I must make an exception, as Nathan Heller does such a superb job of explaining what it is I can't stand about Stefani Germanotta's "Lady Gaga" persona. Some choice excerpts:
It's been ages since I last read a blog post by W. David Marx, but this examination of Japan's Visual Kei music business is a good reminder of why I used to be such an avid reader of Neomarxisme (and no, it's not because I have a fondness for "Das Kapital" ...). Anyway, getting back to the Visual Kei post, let's just say that all those kids who've latched on to "Dir en Grey", "X Japan" and co. as representative of some sort of "edgy", "alternative" counterculture are just as deluded as the millions who fail to realize that "Lady Gaga" is the product of the most soulless and calculating corporate focus-testing. Seeing young people express their "rebellion" and "individuality" against "The Man" by collectively blaring his music and wearing his clothes provides endless fodder for amusement to cynics such as myself; at least the "J Crew" and "Abercrombie" clones know that they're mindless conformists!
I actually discovered this video in the course of a search motivated by my lamentation about the dearth of decent pop music to suit baritones, but I was so impressed by the quality of the singing - especially that of the cantor - that I just had to share it.
That's some incredible melisma there, wouldn't you agree? The human voice sounds best when it isn't drowned out by orchestration, but is treated as a first-rate musical instrument in its own right - oh, and by the way, this is just one more example of how tenors seem to get all the best parts ...
Just thought I'd share a certain music video which brings back fond memories for me, performed by a certain Bobby Brown (guess I'm showing my age, huh?)
The haircut was questionable even back then, but the music and the dance moves are still awesome after all these years. It just makes you wonder what might have been if the guy hadn't become a coke-addled alcoholic.
If one's taste in music were as reliable an indicator of one's "race" as some ignoramuses would make it out to be, I must be among the whitest people on the planet these days, but it always wasn't so, and this insightful article explains why I and hip-hop/rap came to have a parting of ways: I don't want to hear about "bitches" and "hoes", I don't want to listen to idiots glorifying drug dealers and gun battles, I flinch everytime I hear retards spitting "nigga" this and "nigga" that, and I'm tired of morons extolling vulgar, tasteless "bling bling" conspicuous consumption as if it were something to be admired. I'll take the Foo Fighters over DMX, 50 Cent and all the other purveyors of garbage values any day of the week, even if it means forfeiting my "blackness" card to the "Keep it Real" police: modern hip-hop is nothing more than a new minstrelsy anyway.