November 6, 2007

Strings 'n' Things...

by Chris Randall

It's my wife's birthday, and as per her request we went to see the Oregon Symphony (w/ James DePreist conducting, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg soloist; we may be a largely rural state, but we can pull the talent) and I had an interesting thought half-way through the final piece, Rach #2.

The thing about Rachmaninoff in general, and the 2nd Symphony in particular, that I never really noticed until now, is that it is a relatively young piece as classical standards go, only a hundred years old. That being the case, there is melodic similarity between his symphonies and what we in 2007 would consider, what, epic film music? Very "Gone With The Wind," anyways. Whereas, you take your Beethoven or Mozart or what-have-you, and while there is obvious parentage (especially in the latter case) of much Western music, you kind of have to be deep in to the math of it to really recognize it. But ol' Rach, well, there's film and records of him. He's actually quite contemporary when you get down to it.

No real reason for this; just thinking out loud.



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Nov.06.2007 @ 7:39 AM
I was reading Roy M. Prendegast's 'Film Music' the other day, and he gets into this a little bit in the first chapter. If I remember correctly, his main points were:

a) Composers like Rachmaninoff, and his contemporaries who had an operatic or theatrical bent, had already come up with ways to musically indicate a certain emotion or dramatic beat. Film composers were faced with the same problems, and cribbed their idioms.

b) Most silent films had no fixed score. Culture didn't move so quickly back then; classical music a few decades old was what audiences were familiar with and wanted to hear. So that's what the movie houses played.

That's followed up with a fascinating history of how silent movie houses chose accompaniment, how a market in pre-arranged scores bloomed overnight and then was swiftly killed as technology introduced prerecorded soundtracks. Great book.

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Nov.06.2007 @ 8:18 AM
A friend of mine, whom is a more classically trained piano type, always bitches about Rachmaninoff because she can't figure out how to play some of the chords with standard issue 5 finger hands.

It's strange how much classical discussion has been coming up lately. I found myself looking through the local symphony schedule yesterday, and picked out a couple 20th century composed pieces I would like to see. Classical is the new Alternative.


Nov.06.2007 @ 9:25 AM
I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg back when I was working with our local (Toledo) Symphony. Since it was an outdoor venue she needed to be miked, and she was incredibly patient with me while I worked on getting the placement right. One of the nicer soloists I've gotten to work with. I hope she gave a good performance.

Nov.06.2007 @ 10:53 AM
Funny, I've also been listening to a lot of classical lately, especially piano works by Debussy, Cage, Stockhausen, Xenakis & Satie... any other recommendations?

Nov.06.2007 @ 11:23 AM
A lot of late-romantic composers specialized in opera and ballet, both dramatic forms that fit in naturally with film in a way that symphonic music usually didn't.

Also, much early Hollywood film music was composed by emigres who left Europe because of Hitler. Schoenberg and Stravinsky and dozens of other composers were living in LA at the time. Erich Wolfgang Korngold is a great example. He had trained in Vienna before coming to Hollywood, and earned the praise of both Strauss and Mahler. He was probably the premiere movie composer of the 30s and 40s.


Nov.06.2007 @ 12:05 PM
Check out Olivier Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Elliott Carter, Giacinto Scelsi, Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez. Boulez and Carter are still alive, but very old. Be careful with Messiaen...if you get hooked on his music, it may change your life.

Nov.06.2007 @ 1:41 PM
the Takemitsu I've heard is good too; also into Ryuichi Sakamoto's Derrida soundtrack (which is as much prepared piano and electroacoustic as it is anything) and his collaborations with Alva Noto... Where's a good place to start with Messiaen and Boulez? (and the rest if you feel like pointing me in a good direction!) Bonus points for recordings available via emusic or amazon mp3!

Nov.06.2007 @ 2:03 PM
Astounding performances by the London Sinfonietta of his chamber orch+piano soloist works "Couleurs de la Cit? Celeste" (Colors of the Celestial City) and "Oiseaux Exotiques" (Exotic Birds).
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For solo piano, see one of the many recordings of "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-J?sus."

His most famous work is "Quatuor pour la fin du temps" (Quartet for the End of Time), composed and debuted in a WWII POW camp. There are many recordings. (clar/vln/cel/pno)

I'm more a fan of his (text) writing and conducting than his music...dive in and see what you find. He and Stockhausen were both students of Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire.

Sakamoto is a brilliant artist, but of a completely different generation, milieu, training, experience, intent and culture from those mentioned above. It is pointless to compare him to them, though of course as an omnivorous listener you are free to make any associations, contrasts or juxtapositions you may desire. ;-)


Nov.06.2007 @ 2:28 PM
This is it for me today: one must never forget Gyorgy Ligeti. If you've seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, you know his music. Kubrick used his "Lux Aeterna," if I remember correctly, to signify the power of the monolith being exerted upon our simian ancestors.
Ligeti came to my school for a few days in the mid-1990s, a quite old man then, but with immense energy and vitality. He spoke about 6 or 7 languages and if he didn't know a word in whichever he was speaking at the moment he'd keep trying different languages until the listener "got" it. He did this at enormous speed, I'm not even sure the 130 wpm dude could have kept up...
Ligeti's music is so unlike anyone else's that it doesn't matter where you begin with it. His son Lukas is an electronic percussionist active in NYC and elsewhere.

Ligeti, Boulez, and most famously Stockhausen were all part of the posse of "serious" composers who truly believed in the late 1950s to early 1970s that electronic music was the future of their art. Naturally, audience incomprehension and hostility dragged them back to traditional instrumentation, though Stockhausen was only ever dragged halfway back.


Nov.06.2007 @ 2:38 PM
Ataru, I've been beefing up my Bach collection this year. I've also picked up a lot of the Glenn Gould catalog (dovetails nicely with the Bach). One of the nice things about his stuff is that for many of the pieces you can get performances from both early and late in his career and hear how his interpretation changes.

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