● Lady Percy moves me - might she move you? CLICK TO FIND OUT
● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
● Most posts are 300 words. I respond to all comments/re-comments.
● See Tone Deaf in New blogger.

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Me and Paul (No, not Macca)

EXPLORING POP. A detour. Walking to Damascus Saul was struck blind. A bad thing. But not as bad as hearing a voice unmistakably that of Jahweh suggesting he make a big career move, re-brand himself as Paul, stop being over-zealous and start doing good. The Damascene Moment, in fact.

Yesterday, I had one – albeit smaller. I was in The Land Of Telephonic Limbo, listening to music over the line, waiting to be connected to the electricity company. Blah-di-blah went the music.

Patrons of Tone Deaf will know I am trying to learn pop and thereby widen the blog’s scope. It’s early days. U2 and Beyoncé are still a mystery; in the meantime I listen to others’ suggestions and try to analyse.

I wasn’t enjoying Limbo because of the blah-di-blah. It was barbarously simple-minded and the lyrics were – alas – quite clear. And repetitive. Musically it was bricks without straw. Over and over I was told:

You can count on me,
One, two, three, four.

This is a bad song, I said. Then I quivered. Not only had I judged a pop song but I had subconsciously tested its wretchedness against those I’d been analysing over the past weeks. Recognised that they were better. I’d started to accumulate a comparative pop database and was now using it. Small yippee. I hope those who recommended the superior stuff are pleased.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Genre - the comic side of pop

Did you know that Grindcore rock can be sub-divided into Crustgrind, Goregrind, Noisegrind and – let’s not forget – Pornogrind? I intended to post about pop/rock genres but not now. Nor, for similar reasons, will I study Aramaic

As pop/rock started in the fifties, academics who could sing mixolydian mode were invited to comment. One typed it “disposable”, forgotten in six months. In fact Rock Around The Clock, launched in 1953, was still on juke boxes in 1978 (see Tone Deaf, January 7) and the flame's still lit for Elvis, born the year I was. Genres, however, might well be disposable.

Take Nirvana whose Nevermind in the mid-nineties was identified as Grunge (distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, apathetic and angsty lyrics – doesn’t that sound unexceptional?) and Grunge got hot. Along came Foo Fighters (like Grunge, friendlier, more commercial) who attracted the unimaginative label Post-Grunge.

Thus Funk (no, I can’t be bothered to define it) became Deep Funk and Disco became Post-Disco. It was a game anyone could play though there’s a hint of desperation in some of the evolutions. Heavy Metal (definition: noisy) became as schismatic as the left-wing, giving birth to: Alternative, Black, Christian, Death, Doom, Drone and Glam. Anyone for Christian Heavy Metal?

Who profits? Not the consumers. None I’ve questioned had a clue about Garage Rock (Raw R&R; young amateurish performers singing about high-school; “naïve”). Managers, perhaps, claiming that their new Industrial Rock group is pushing back the frontiers. Falling leaves in the stream but fascinating. Sort of.

I may try out Baroque Pop.

PERFECT The Takacz Qt. Much admired by Tone Deaf (passim), played Haydn and Dvorak at a concert covered by The Guardian and were awarded five stars (out of five).

Blest Redeemer: 40,069 words (Another ten-thousand milestone passed)

Thursday 26 January 2012

The voiceless plea

The only imaginative work that tackled the WW2 death camps satisfactorily was the nine-hour documentary, Shoah, famous for excluding historical footage. Otherwise it has to be music. Not voice because singing emphasises the human source. Not the simulation of recognisable emotions like sympathy because these risk grievous failure. It must be abstract music, on a remote yet parallel course, and it must imply: this is our other side.

As I struggle with the novel unproductive impulses delay me. Gosh it’s ages since I heard Bach’s Chaconne. A piece for unaccompanied violin; the most inaccessible he ever wrote. Two (perhaps) bars of one voice then two bars of the other, over and over. After thirteen minutes of jagged alternating fragments the two lines are remembered as continuous and interweaving. Calling it a masterpiece trivialises it.

The clip starts with snow falling on modern-day Auschwitz. In a corridor in one of the huts Maxim Vengerov launches into the opening, his violin shouting hoarsely. He emerges from the hut, concentrating, still playing, walking beside the wire fence with those overhanging lights resembling metal snowdrops. Somewhere, off-camera, he assumes an overcoat and a carelessly tied scarf; there’s snow on the ground and Auschwitz is cold and wind-swept.

The violent music continues, its seriousness inarguable. Vengerov now wears fingerless mittens so that the chaconne’s intentions are not traduced. Hunched, implacable, he walks along the railway line, then back, out through the archway, crosses over the line, his shoes black and shiny. By now the Bach is everywhere, perhaps saying “This! This!” Then it ends, because everything ends. The early seventeen-hundreds crying out universally to the nineteen-forties.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Is music for nerds? Yes or No?

Last week, staying a couple of nights with friends in London, we heard a recital by Jonathan Biss, an unsmiling American pianist who acknowledged applause with his hand over his heart – as if pledging allegiance to the flag. He played two Beethoven sonatas, opus 10 no. 1 and opus 81a (Les Adieux), plus a Janacek sonata (From the Street).

I sort of know most Beethoven piano sonatas but beforehand I let Alfred Brendel refresh opus 10 for me. Les Adieux is famous and I tasted several versions on YouTube. The sonata’s opening bars consist of well separated notes and chords which must be made to hang together as a slow melody. Guiomar Novaes and Solomon managed this, Wilhelm Backhaus did not.

In further preparation I listened to Elias-Axel Pettersson play the Janacek in his final doctoral recital last year at Montreal University. I didn’t know the piece but he played with authority, especially the slow stuff. I emailed to see whether he got his doctorate. He said yes and I was glad.

Forward to Biss. Technically no problems but the opus 10 sounded too loud given its comparative simplicity. I’d have preferred a fortepiano. Facing those initial fragments in Les Adieux Biss avoided the problems by playing faster; legitimate but not as breathtaking. Biss’s Janacek was harsher than Pettersson’s but did it proud. Our friends also hearing the J for the first time liked it and that was good news.

But I was left feeling nerdish. Isn’t such preparation overdoing it? Like boning up on the dictionary before tackling Aldous Huxley. It’s only music. Elsewhere in the world people are really suffering – being denied sub-titled French movies.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

It's sheep-or-goats time

Few people admit to disliking music. It's like disliking babies.
Most say they like music. But how much? Forget scores out of ten; how about: Passively? Actively?

Passive music lover (PML). Turns on radio and is thereafter unaware of what's playing. Hears background music in lift and enjoys identifying tunes. Professes to like Messiah but is secretly relieved when Hallelujah chorus finally starts up - is appalled when told Amen chorus is yet to come. Has small number of CDs, all vaguely themed collections (Music to wash your socks by). Stirs restlessly when new tune disrupts the flow of traditionals at Christmas carol concerts. Claims to be pop fan but only likes two dozen songs dating back to when he/she was 15 – 18. Hums along to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik yet is unaware that Mozart wrote operas. Says British national anthem is a bad tune but cannot identify a better. Cannot sing British national anthem. Prefers Classic FM to Radio 3. Stares in wonder when someone plays a scale on a piano.

Nightmare defined: stuck in background-music lift with PML, knowing his/her lips are moving – to the music.

AML. Has made a decision (pro or anti) about Wagner having heard two of the operas. Likes Bob Dylan selectively. AC/DC about The Beatles. Has sought out John Tavener and rejected it as atavistic tosh. Can play recorder but doesn’t. Mutes TV commercials. Regrets not liking Messiaen more. Secretly ashamed of liking Karen Carpenter (“It’s the voice!”). Doesn’t pursue jazz but is touched by anything pre-1960; constantly devising schemes for listening to more jazz. Has never said “I know what I like”. Is angered by the music played at most funerals. Has never recommended music to anyone below age of 15.

Blest Redeemer. 38,078 words

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Tingle in anticipation

No one has come up with a formula for writing successful songs but, once written
and recognised as such, they can be enhanced by kicking off with an intro - called The Verse in the trade. This was regular practice in the thirties and singers like Sinatra usually include them. But not everyone is au fait. Can you predict these imperishable masterpieces from their verses? Answers below

(1) Like the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom
When the jungle shadows fall
Like the tick, tick, tock of the stately clock
As it stands against the wall

(2) My story is much too sad to be told,
But practically everything
Leaves me totally cold.
The only exception I know is the case,
When I'm out on a quiet spree,
Fighting vainly the old ennui
And I suddenly turn and see,
Your fabulous face.

(3) Times have changed,
And we've often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.

(4) At words poetic, I'm so pathetic
That I always have found it best,
Instead of getting 'em off my chest,
To let 'em rest unexpressed

(5) When the only sound on the empty street
Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet
That belong to a lonesome cop
I open shop

(6) After one whole quart of brandy
Like a daisy I awake
With no Bromo-Seltzer handy
I don't even shake

(7) Behold the way our fine feathered friend
His virtue doth parade
Thou knowest not my dim-witted friend
The picture thou has made

(8) Summer journeys
To Niag'ra
And to other places
Aggravate all our cares
We'll save our fares

(9) Once there was a thing called Spring
When the world was writing verses
Like yours and mine

(10) The world is lyrical
Because a miracle
Has brought my lover to me.
Though he's some other place
His face I see

ANSWERS (1) Night And Day: Cole Porter, (2) I Get A Kick Out Of You: CP, (3) Anything Goes: CP,(4) You`re the top: CP, (5) Love for sale: CP, (6) Bewitched: Rogers and Hart, (7) My Funny Valentine: R&H, (8) Manhattan: R&H, (9) Spring is here: R&H,(10) Dancing on the ceiling; R&H.

Monday 9 January 2012

Economy's a shambles, but...

Some languages are meant for singing, others not. A huge generalisation of course and it depends on what mother tongue you start out with. But there is a grudging consensus about Italian (and Welsh, but that's another story). Take this Handel aria:

Ombra mai fu
Di vegetabile
Cara ed amabile
Soave piu.

Never was there a shadow
Of branches
Sweeter, more refreshing
Or more gentle.

Yes, I know vegetabile looks a bit weird, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know the tune – lovely and simple as it is – you don’t have to know the words are Italian, to realise that those syllables are easily singable and that they receive their stresses gracefully.

Contrast that with the second of these two lines from the French national anthem:

Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?

Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers.

I have spent half my life trying to learn French and adore its quirkiness. But that conglomeration of Ss between ferocious and soldiers (Even English sounds better!) requires gymnastics from the singer. And there’s worse.

One aria from Carmen (not my favourite opera) ends with Yes, I love you (Oui, je t’aime.). There’s so little in those vital words for the composer to hang his melody on. No resonances. As luck would have it I went on to play versions of the Queen of the Night aria from Magic Flute and the German for My Dear Son stood out: Mein liebe Sohn. (the Queen yearns achingly here). So much easier for Mozart than if she’d been French, singing Mon cher fils.

Here’s how ITALIAN (with help from Handel) wins every time

Saturday 7 January 2012

LdP's for turning - sometimes

Reversing an opinion is rare. Admitting to it even rarer. Thick toned memories of Don Carlos and Un Ballo in Maschera leak under door like marsh gas and I never see myself liking Verdi. Yes, he’s great and I haven’t listened hard enough. But I’m not exactly cast in stone.

Liszt. I hate music that’s showy for showiness’ sake. Things like Tartini’s The Devil’s Trill, and that’s how I saw Liszt for decades. Then, subconsciously brave, I bought Années de Pèlerinage (Italie) - a cheapo from Naxos to be safe - and suffered apostasy. Oh yes there’s virtuoso solo piano there but it’s a tour of Italy as varied as the country itself and it hangs together.

Rock Around The Clock. It emerged during my RAF national service (1955 – 57) as I was digesting my conversion to posh music. I hated its wilful noisiness, its meaningless words. On my first ski-ing holiday in Italy in 1978 they cleared a space in the bar and two athletic young people went to town with that roaring out of the juke-box. I saw the point.

Schubert songs. Very foolishly I allowed myself to be exposed to the trite English translations. Hearing them sung in German effected an instant and complete conversion. An Die Musik still makes me cry.

The Beatles. I simply ignored them but the movie, A Hard Day’s Night, got good reviews. I found them entertaining if simplistic. Sergeant Pepper (and especially the line “meeting a man from the motor-trade”) raised the bar a bit. But they could have learned from Paul Simon.

Dvorak. Have you heard any of the symphonies other than The New World? Boreeng. Luckily he wrote the cello concerto and, a later discovery, the twelfth string quartet known as the American

Thursday 5 January 2012

Generation gap gets wider

POP EXPLORED, part eight. Resuming Cool Kid’s list (December 11)

Danny le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. Letter from God. But not from an avenging Yahway, rather one who’s down in the dumps. To heavy three-chord guitars, increasing in tempo and volume throughout, this panicky accountant Deity, burdened with an estuarine accent, praises Man for “all the beautiful art you’ve created with such grace and finesse.” but whinges that “a lot of the good I tried to do was corrupted when organised religion got into full swing.” In unmusical recitative he apologises “to Mother Nature because I created you.” Not a whole lot of fun.

Bright Eyes. Lover I don’t have to love. Ding-dong introduction. Whispering monotone vocalist gradually assumes an understated melody. Lyrics tend towards incoherence “I picked you out of a crowd… I said ‘I like your shoes’” plus repeated reference to a man with chemicals. I’m much too old for this. YouTube commenters are very acrimonious to each other about this piece: “I’m through with you and your stupid mouth; you give people a bad name.” and “You disgrace literature with your blatant corruption”.

Ed Sheeran. Small Bump. (Cool Kid admits Sheeran is the most popular singer on his list). Although modestly employed the guitar has a plucked theme to introduce things and there are sufficient chords thereafter to identify a tune. An incredibly young-sounding voice sings about a child “unborn for four months then brought to life”, capable of wrapping its fingers (“nails the size of half a grain of rice”) round the singer’s thumb, then “torn from life and maybe you were needed up there but we’re unaware as to why”. Some pediatric inconsistencies here. But it’s a song with a tale to tell.

Pic: The LdPs’ latest act of patronage crossed a very significant price barrier.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Music as our calling card

An adult brought up on Mars asks “Posh music?” What’s the best answer?

Schools grind out Peter and the Wolf or Carnival of the Animals saying kids respond best to a story. Both fail twice over: neither is memorable and it isn’t music’s job to tell a story. Most story-telling (ie, programmatic) music tends to be inferior and, if music has a job, it’s to evoke emotions. Strong melodies do this best.

Melodies can be sad or rambunctious (I don’t go for humorous). No point in saddening our Martian so let’s opt for the latter. And for the moment exclude the human voice. Because we’re conveying the quintessence, abstract music is our best bet. A voice brings too much to the party.

Here I’m saddling up my hobby-horse. A concerto simultaneously demonstrates the individual and the group and is usually by definition dramatic. But what instrument? I must confess that neither Mrs LdP nor I, as complete novices, responded well to the solo violin however much we embraced it later. It’s gotta be the joanna.

And, since I’m writing the post (though anyone can later disagree) I want something that says, “If you don’t get this you’re not of our species”

Here it comes. Horns and piano trading bars. Hinting: Bom, bom, bom, bom-di-di-di, bom, bom! Brahms two!

By some diabolically competent Russian – Emil Gilels for choice. But EVGENY KISSIN (see inset) will do. Welcome to our civilised but emotional world.

HOW MUSIC’S MADE. A tough act to follow but The Crow saw this on the US’s Public Broadcasting channel and wondered if I’d be interested. I was. Anything that blows away music’s apartheid is commendable and this celebrates an important moment in American musical history. Click GERSHWIN.

Monday 2 January 2012

No man can serve two masters

Music is infectious and pernicious.

I listened again to the Wynton Marsalis link at the end of the previous post. Even better fun second time round. In the sidebar I noticed Wynton had done Embraceable You and that set me trawling Charlie Parker’s version which he’d needed a quart of whiskey to complete. Found one but it wasn’t the one.

However I noticed (again in the sidebar) that the late pop singer, Amy Winehouse, had done Tenderly. But that’s a standard, poppers usually avoid standards. Tried that and was moderately impressed by her bluesing her way through the first eight bars accompanied by Jools Holland. But I couldn’t leave it at that and had to listen to Sarah Vaughan who showed how it really should be done.

Listened, too, to Sarah’s Summertime but interrupted her on a sudden impulse to hear that ultimate-quintessence-of-cool version by the Emperor of Cool, Miles Davies. Then I went on to other stuff which I’ve completely forgotten.

I notice I’ve done 30 posts for Tone Deaf, roughly one a day. But it could easily have been 60. With music, I post one sub-subject and a hydra-headed half- dozen springs up immediately. The temptation is enormous since the alternative – writing Blest Redeemer – is like waiting for charity in Times Square. Slow progress. Three thousand words in five weeks. Since I have no plot summary each sentence I write has imaginary links with as-yet-unwritten passages ten-thousand or twenty-thousand words ahead.

Far easier to write a comparison between LvB’s fourth and fifth piano concerti which is, in fact, more or less complete in my head as I type. Oh dear, din-din time.

Yes, I know, I should be ashamed

I’ve always been drawn to trumpets and I believe it’s Freudian. They’re compact (by orchestral standards), understandable and phallic, which suggests the attraction may be shared with my instinctive feeling for hand-guns – a shocking admission, I know, but one in which form follows function. Not that I’ve ever owned a hand-gun or would want to.

Given all that, I’m not expecting many comments (“Let’s stay clear of that weirdo with the elaborate Italian name.”) I should add I love the brilliant sound trumpets make in the upper register which is where they’re most often employed. I tried to recall orchestral music that best exemplifies this but all I could come up with is Bach and that’s cheating. Bach tends to be scored for natural (ie valveless) or baroque trumpets which I believe make higher notes easier to reach.

I resorted to my personal Google system – Julia, the Prague Polymath – and even she could only come up with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Copland's Buckaroo Holiday from Rodeo, and Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets in C. Finally I stumbled on to the discography of Wynton Marsalis the trumpeter who does posh as well as jazz and some new names emerged: Mouret and Fasch (both 17th cent.), André Jolivet and Henri Tomasi (both French and both 20th cent.), Jules Levy (English, 19th cent), Herman Bellstedt (USA 20th cent).

Most are trumpet concerti and there are other more familiar names: Purcell, Telemann, Mozart’s dad Leopold and Hummel. Marsalis is, of course, flawless in whatever he plays and no doubt could play valveless. However when he needs to go stratospheric he uses the piccolo trumpet.

Click Wynton. I had intended a posh piece but couldn’t resist this, given I’ve been nasty about the tune.

Pic: Should be given a decent burial