● 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.

Wednesday 29 February 2012

Boring, and mean with it

Apologies for this post – it’s gonna be dull, I feel it in my bones. Or perhaps, more mysteriously, in my water.

I launched Tone Deaf to see if I could write about music. However musical examples are essential. YouTube works and there’ve been fascinating chases (eg, linking up with The Crow to find a decent Dvorak American quartet).

But, as my home page pic shows, I have my own resources. I could post via YouTube but techno-reasons discourage this. Instead, following Blogger, I have set up an intermediary site where I can store linkable files. I did this aeons ago when in a fit of hubris I recorded my own sonnets and I’ve resurrected the practise with Dame Janet (see Gilding the Gingerbread?).

This facility, provided by Box.com, is free but clunky. Click the link, then click Download, then click Run. This clunkiness is intentional since Box.com would love me to opt for smoothness at $15 a month. Believe me, I love you all but to the tune of $180 a year? Do you – after all – love me that much? Course you don’t. We’re very platonic here at Tone Deaf.

I mention this to explain the clunkiness and to ask you to forgive my parsimony. Incidentally, I get emails each time this facility is used so if news eventually percolates that I’ve cut my throat you can guess why. Oh wah! I wasn’t expecting love but wasn’t I worth a smidgeon of clunkiness?

Not only dull but maudlin. I’m ashamed. You all need something to help you wash out your eyes and ears. How about: the flute and harp concerto (WAM), Caravan (Joe Pass), Ticket to Ride (The Carpenters), the prisoners’ chorus (LvB - Ignore chat, coughing, metallic acoustic and too-quick tempo - it's got passion!). Links are all - ironically - YouTube.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Opus - and other - snobbery

Music – undefinable, ephemeral, with its own unique language – is ripe for snobs. The humble refer to Beethoven’s fifth symphony, snobs say the C-minor. Tough if you don’t know key signatures but at least Ludwig only wrote nine symphonies. But how about his C-sharp minor piano sonata? – given he wrote 32 of them. That, incidentally, is the Moonlight and snobs would rather burst at the seams than say Moonlight. My mentor, Richard, who was more than a bit of a snob, went even further and called it the Quasi una fantasia sonata.

LvB’s opus numbers are just about snob-manageable at 135 but Mozart’s 600-plus (called Kőchel numbers) are indigestible. And nobody plays this game with Bach whose BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) listings run all the way to 1127. In any case this is just a start. When talking about Cosi Fan Tutte snobs never say Soave il vento, always “the first-act trio”. And you’re supposed to know which three instruments solo in LvB’s triple concerto. Anything to make understanding that little bit harder.

I do it myself.

But not with pop, where I’m disadvantaged. Others do it for me. Cliff Richards sells millions of discs but have you ever met anyone who admits to having bought one? Garth Crooks, a country-western singer who wears a suit, is in the top five best-sellers of all time (with Elvis, the Beatles) and yet might as well be a Trappist. Travelling in reverse, when I saw Michael Jackson on telly for the first time I was sure no one could take this horribly mutilated creature seriously. Turned out one, if not both, of my daughters owned discs.

Jazz. The snobbiest, cliquey-ist music of all but I’ve run out of space.

Saturday 25 February 2012

Gilding the gingerbread?

Shakespeare set to music: success or failure?

One notable success for my money is Feste’s song from Twelfth Night:

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

The trouble is I’m not alone. Apart from Quilter, Finzi, Arne, Arne (arr, Grainger), Morley and Stanford every high school in the US has helped choke out YouTube with its own setting, some not too dusty. But not alas the version pinging round my head, recorded by Janet Baker aeons ago and unamenable directly via Google Video.

The technique is to Google the song title conventionally, linked to Janet Baker. Time after time I came so close only to be forestalled by lack of composer attribution. Eventually the door opened on Charles Hubert Hastings Parry, a great tunesmith if nothing else, author of Jerusalem and the hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. A Janet Baker confirmation was unavailable but there are specialist CD retailers who offer downloads of individual tracks, supported by a browsing function.

And there – Oh bliss! – churned out by a nondescript tenor, I had it. As a reward to you all here’s the rest of Feste:

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter…
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then, come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

In effect Donne’s lady going to bed, but without the sweat and twisted sheets. More on musical Shakespeare (with examples) in the future. Not least the bit that inspired Uberliedmeister Schubert. Click here for Dame Janet (then Download followed by Run). Can recommend The Well-Digger's Daughter, a first-rate French feel-good movie.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Friendship - a mixed blessing

Two friends shaped my interest in music. Richard I’ve already mentioned (See “I Told You So”). X came earlier and our friendship ended unpleasantly, hence the need to hide his true identity.

X dates back to mono LPs. He was widely knowledgeable and became a leader writer on The Times and then The Daily Telegraph. He introduced me to Beethoven, Respighi, Stravinsky, Holst and Elgar in particular, and the evolution of European music in general. But I paid a price. He didn’t like Mozart and my later rehabilitation took some time.

X liked jazz and used to play trumpet along with Ellington and Stan Kenton records. He taught me the rudiments of trumpet-playing and gave me his old trumpet when he bought a replacement. Again I paid a price.

His preference was for the high-note jazz-men, especially William Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson (left and right above respectively), and they became my favourites. But it was a very unbalanced view of jazz. Years passed before I was able to appreciate Miles Davies.

Despite the painfulness of our rupture he provided a large early chunk of my musical education. However, as I say, nothing comes for nothing. X was an extremely good journalist, widely read and powerfully opinionated. I was lucky to know him but he wasn’t well liked and impartiality wasn’t one of his qualities. He didn’t care to hear any of my independent opinions. When he pooh-poohed my view that string quartets might represent the most advanced form of musical language I realised he had nothing more to tell me.

Tone Deaf has already shown that music can be a “difficult” enthusiasm. Getting started often requires a kick up the backside. X kicked well and the word “friend” has no simple definition.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

The keys are alive... nah, not that

The greatest conversationalists are: Journalists? Atheists? Book readers? How about jazz musicians? I shared my first London flat with a jazz drummer and I know. Obiter dicta by the great pianist, Thelonius Monk, transcribed by another, Stan Tracey. HHB found them and I’m grateful.

● Just because you’re not a drummer doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

● Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play.

● Stop playing all those weird notes (That bullshit!). Play the melody.

● Make the drummer sound good.

● You’ve got to dig it to dig it – you dig?

● It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need all the lights.

● Let’s lift the bandstand.

● Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you.

● The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.

● Don’t play everything (or every time); let somethings go by. Some music is just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.

● A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world. It depends on your imagination.

● Stay in shape. Sometimes a musician waits for a gig and, when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.

● When you’re swinging, swing some more

● What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible

● To a drummer who didn’t want to solo. Don’t sound anybody for a gig. Just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and to get cats interested enough to get to rehearsal.

Monday 20 February 2012

Lines like these

I wondered first if a hard-edged photo would draw me into one of the untitled sonnets*. And if so which photo would do this best. But that was too preconceived. Flicking backwards and forwards I could see it didn’t work. The more I dabbled the more the text and the illustrations diverged, having different jobs to do.

But there was a link, wasn’t there? The closest analogy consisted of two strata – a dozen strata apart – in a geological cross-section. Two thick lines locked together in time, faintly paralleling each other’s peaks and troughs. Which wasn’t at all surprising given that the authors live in different countries, are of different genders and were working in different media.

One thing’s certain. These are not illustrated sonnets in a book – a gruesome doomed idea whereby the flexibility of language is pinned down for ever in a set of images. Overlaps of meaning and beauty must appear random (as here), two sets of footprints an hour apart on a wet beach, two walkers with different priorities.

I tried to decide where complementarity worked best and when I’d done I realised I’d arrived in second place. On page 5 a bleak shoreline includes a single gull and accompanies:

Poised upon this vantage point or that, you
Can expect to see only to the edge
Of what you count as true. And there, an age
Away, breaks a sea…

Turn to the book’s cover and I see Lucy got there first. There’s also an irony. Lucy writes poems and Joe never stirs without a camera. No doubt two “others” walked along that same beach, but leaving no tracks.

*Handbook for Explorers. Poems by Joe Hyam, photos by Lucy Kempton. No, it isn’t musical but there’s more of that tomorrow.

That very vocal sound

HOW CAN YOU TELL? part three.

Judging a violin performance. A violin has a range of nearly four octaves which – believe me – goes from very deep to very high. The bow’s function is obvious, otherwise notes are created by stopping the four strings with the finger tips against the 27 cm long fingerboard (usually ebony). There are no frets (raised bars as on a guitar) to indicate the stopping points and the process gets harder as the notes rise in pitch because the stops get closer and closer together.

An imperfectly stopped note is blurred and the violinist’s intonation is said to be suffering. It happens to famous players. Reviews of Yehudi Menuhin’s later recordings regularly referred to faulty intonation though his interpretations might well be praised. Critics are less forgiving about the intonation of younger players these days and most of us can expect to hear sharply defined notes when the violin is being played staccato – ie, where the notes are separate and not blended together

There is of course no substitute for familiarity with a piece, especially works for the unaccompanied violin. And especially with Bach. Some works attempt the impossible. Denied the left-hand accompaniment to a melody that a piano allows, composers for violin sometimes write chunks of melody alternating with chunks of accompaniment and expect the listener’s ear to “combine” these two voices on what is essentially a one-voice instrument. It works but it helps if you are aware that this is the aim.

Think of the violin as a voice rather than an instrument. Are you being “sung” to?

In violin concerti keep an eye on the first violins (to the left of the conductor) and especially the leader. Their reaction may indicate a great performance by the soloist.

Thursday 16 February 2012

Oil change and a new filter

Tone Deaf’s fiftieth post but it’s no time for celebration, rather for an MoT.

LdP wears a suit as befits his trade whereas sometimes likeable, often detestable BB wore an open-necked plaid shirt. LdP smells of midnight oil whereas BB's after-shave was called Persiflage.

Theoretically music is a leisure-time activity but at TD it's more Eton Wall Game than synchronised swimming. In fact differential calculus is funnier.

Should TD go with the flow and ride Brahmsian and Mozartian war-horses…

… or consider Grant’s gazelle, the quagga, the percheron and other more exotic transportation (Elliott Carter. Morton Feldman and the rest of the gang).

Is asking questions a non-adult way of creating a post?

There are lightning-flash rewards when anyone accepts a TD recommendation. But, oh, the responsibility. Never recommend casually.

Over-familiarity with forms, styles, history and technicalities can be a turn-off for others. I’m presently listening to Bach unaccompanied cello. Might the sound alone disturb a novice?

So far modern-day pop has rarely touched me. Age may be the reason. I’ll continue the analytical approach until someone suggests something better.

Opera is – perhaps – posh music’s best expression. But many posh enthusiasts don’t care for opera. Never forget the judgment of Richard (otherwise a great opera fan) on La Clemenza di Tito: “Hard going”.

Must do memo. Confessions of personal ignorance – especially as a result of snobbism – create a rapport. In fact…

… various aspects of music are prescriptions for embarrassment. Be prepared to embarrass oneself.

Finally, continue to peg away at music’s effect on the listener. Remember being irritated at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, by a flood-tide of elderlies shuffling into their seats. Remember how the Brahms harmonised them all.


Wednesday 15 February 2012

Pop: rhymes and scansion

Responding to my last post about a Manic Street Preachers political song, Plutarch asks – ostensibly - whether “rabbit” may rhyme with “fascist” but also touches on pop lyrics in general. It’s a matter I’ve already wrestled with as I’ve attempted to disinter pop’s nature.

First, I haven’t yet tried to distinguish between pop and rock. I don’t intend to do so here other than offer a single comment: pop tends to favour lyrics (narratives, reflections, confessions, etc) whereas rock tends to use words and/or phrases as sounds, often driving out meaning through repetition and electronic distortion. The problem is that the pop/rock division is not clear-cut.

Thus MSP make an emotional point about a serious subject (The Spanish civil war) and go for lyrics. Gradually the accompaniment increases in volume, a legitimate strategy to heighten emotions. Eventually music drowns out the words. Surely they’re meant to be heard. Or are you supposed to know them from scratch? Since the song also seeks to achieve political conversion I think they are intended to be heard.

But how about “rabbit” and fascist”? To which Plutarch might have added “Should pop lines scan?” My interim answer is that good rhymes and good scansion are unnecessary. Pop singers are adept at overcoming terrible rhymes and seriously unbalanced lines. It’s part of the genre. However… and the juxtaposition seems almost to have been planned…

For the same post I listened to The Wanted’s All Time Low. Here the excellent scansion makes the line ends crack like a whip. And there’s even a play on words later on. It seems like an old old story. If your message is heartfelt you needn’t polish the structure. Sophistication is thought to be betrayal. Rubbish, alas. Guernica is a professional painting; it’s also heartfelt.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Wit, plus a bit of politics

POP EXPLORED, part ten. Occasional Speeder says try The Wanted. I choose All Time Low and am rewarded. Much pop lacks wit (ie, a mix of conciseness, humour, invention, style) but this has musical and literary wit.

Minimalist start with chopped-off, di-dah-diddy orchestral string chords which could, for me, have accompanied the song throughout. Instead the texture widens into pulsing guitar-ish sounds. Five solemn youths bemoan lost love in constrained but specific on-the-beat lyrics:

Praying won’t do it.
Hating won’t do it.
Drinking won’t do it.
Fighting won’t knock you

the verse ending with four soft grace notes:

out of my head.

The refrain being:

How do you get up from an all-time low?

And how about:

I’m in pieces,
Seems like peace is,
The only thing I’ll never know.

OS also says check out Manic Street Preachers commemorating the International Brigade in the Spanish civil war: If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next. MSP are “leftist anarchist” a coded phrase for “inadequate vocalist”. Twangy guitar gets more and more twangy (and noisy) and I look up the lyrics elsewhere. Impeccable sentiments; scrapbook video evokes terrible conflict that never ended. First verse says the obvious:

The future teaches you to be alone
The present to be afraid and cold
So if I can shoot rabbits
Then I can shoot fascists

But a later verse complicates things

Gravity keeps my head down
Or is it maybe shame
At being so young and being so vain
Holes in your head today

But I'm a pacifist
I've walked La Ramblas
But not with real intent

Suggesting the coda to “The cost of freedom is eternal vigilance” is “Be prepared to act.” As with Assad’s Syria at this very moment.

Monday 13 February 2012

Valhalla's now a parking lot

Oh no, you say, not more bloody Wagner. And not that one with all the umlauts which most fail to acknowledge. Twilight of the Gods? Isn’t that what Europe is presently experiencing?

I sympathise. Honestly. Think of me not as John The Baptist to the Bayreuth Tyrant. But as John further down the road, post Salome, headless, wandering round like a chicken. I am not here to proselytise. My wheelbarrow is full of horse manure with which you may – if you wish – encrust your musical garden. And think on these things:

● The high definition transmission from the NY Met to our local theatre started at 17.00 GMT. It ended at 23.09.
● I was – am – ill with a malady which, in my gloomier moments, I see eventually carrying me off to my personal Gőtterdämmerung.
● The theatre car-park was full and I had to park near the soccer stadium. Oh-hoy, went the crowd, a bit like Siegfried.
● The TV broadcast is sponsored by Bloomberg so there were commercials.
● A plump blonde with immaculate teeth suggested I might like to make a charitable donation to the opera company in the richest city in the world.

Neither Mrs LdP nor I anticipate Wagner as we do Richard Strauss. It is an act of faith. And whereas Mrs LdP can handle trolls, giants and dragons I can’t. Happily the music absorbs these misgivings and our concerns become familiar: love, power, greed, jealousy, moral weakness. Siegfried is a pain-in-the-ass hooligan and must die. But it helps if you make him innocent, even playful. Debra Voigt (Brűnnhilde) sings endlessly, glowing, a reminder that love is more than sentimentality or mere desire. And Wagner’s loud enough to cough in without disturbing others.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Eternally rendered in b-flat

Music, good and bad, I attach to people, events and places.

Barbara Ellen (English folk song). Sung round piano at a friend’s house near Bradford in the early fifties, with the names of the song's protagonists (BE and Jemmy Coe) switched romantically to two blushing members of our party. Allowed me to hover near a young woman I had my eye on. All I got was close.

Tijuana Taxi (Herb Alpert), People (Barbra Streisand). Echoing through a thousand juke boxes in early 1966, during the first weeks of my six-year stay in the USA

Songs for Swinging Lovers (Sinatra). Background music to late summer 1959 as I courted Miss T who became Mrs LdP. She cannot now identify a favourite track. Mine might well be: I Thought About You:

Two or three cars parked under the stars, a winding stream,
Moon shining down on some little town,
And with each beam the same old dream

Lord dismiss us with thy blessing. (Second verse). Sung at end of term at Bradford Grammar School:

Bless thou all our days of leisure
Help us selfish lure to flee
Sanctify our every pleasure
Pure and blameless may it be.

It didn’t work.

Italian national anthem.

Part of first stanza
Fratelli d'italia
L'Italia s'è desta
Dell'elmo di Scipio
S'è cinta la testa

Stringiamoci a coorte!
Siam pronti alla morte

Chorus has doubled-up gig-like tempo. During his Ferrari glory years Schumacher used to conduct the anthem at this point from the prize-winner’s podium until told to desist for some rubbishy nationalistic reason.

Lili Marlene. German army song in WW2, adopted by British army. My father, almost totally deaf, became aware of it in 1948 and sang it tunelessly in moments of reminiscence.

Isn’t it grand boys to be bloody well dead? (Folk song?) A later “awareness” song of my dad’s.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

An ode to paracetemol

Even the Appassionata lacks passion

No choirs in force, no bows at venture drawn,
No fugal lines well wove, no trills sustained,
No brass afire, the tympani long gone,
The woods like trees, the podium disdained.

With him as guest all music is de trop,
What once beguiled is now mere memory,
He nags within from doh to doh to doh
Reducing sounds to physiology

But not to silence, he’s well-fuelled with bile,
My airways creak and strive to pass my breath,
My nostrils bubble, custardwise, awhile
I murmur requiems and think on death.

Death at least marked by dignified bass clef,
But, no, the thief that racks me is tone deaf.

NOTE 1. Shakespearean sonnet. Having tried the
Miltonian format once I don't do the funny ones.
NOTE 2. The version that drew the first four comments
(for which much thanks) was a draft written in
feverishness. This version has been significantly
edited - though custard stays.

Monday 6 February 2012

Voices - it's up to you

TELL? – Pt 2
The short answer is you can’t tell. No musical performance is definitively good or bad. Opinions always differ.

For decades received wisdom said Beethoven’s metronome must have been faulty, too fast*. So his speed markings were ignored, especially for the piano sonatas. The pianist Friedrich Gulda (who also plays jazz) accepts LvB’s markings. Last week I heard his version of the Waldstein. A right gabble it sounded, but there were YouTube commenters who approved.

All performances are subjective. No more so than with the solo voice. That’s why this series – about judging performance – omits voices since they impose yet another layer of subjectivity.

Mozart’s best known aria is probably Voi che sapete (che cosa e amor) (You who know what love is). I tried out six sopranos, one after the other, on YouTube. First, singing voice tones differ as widely as talking voices and can’t be measured, that choice is up to you. Second, Mozart’s Cherubino doesn’t suit all voices; this aria was too low for instance for Joan Sutherland the diva’s diva in bel canto roles like Lucia di Lammermoor and La Sonnambula. Third, over two or three decades the style of singing this aria has changed radically. Sutherland and (this surprised me) Elizabeth Schwarzkopf articulate the words precisely; younger singers like Frederica von Stade are more legato, giving a smoother effect.

As a result apples aren’t being compared with apples. Any guidance on singing I offered would probably be personal rather than factual. Also, these differences are quite easy to recognise without my dubious help. Comparing instrumentalists (mainly pianists and violinists) is harder and orchestras even harder so that’s what I’m concentrating on.

*Surely LvB would have known. Or is this a polite way of saying he was wrong?

Friday 3 February 2012

Behold a mystery

- Pt 1
How many posh music concerts have I seen? Say 200 - 300. How many have caught my breath? About five. A workshop version of Cosi,. Stephen Hough playing a Cesar Franck sonata, Richard Hickox (sadly, now late) conducting Mahler’s Symphony for a Thousand, Herbert Blomstedt with the Leipzig Gewandhaus doing Brahms Symphony 3, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, CBSO with Simon Rattle.

Yesterday Mrs LdP and I risked ass-chill in Birmingham (time to kill; lunch to find) and struck lucky with Brahms again. The fourth movement of Symphony 1 (CBSO with Andrés Orozco-Estrada) qualified.

That’s 1% in 55 years. About what I’d expect. How many real turkeys? Fewer. And two of the most notorious involved very late replacements.

Over lunch (lasagne, a large glass of Puglia Rosso, and an excellent not-too-sweet cheesecake, since you ask) Mrs LdP and I discussed judging musical performances. Ruling out amateurs (and I do) and strange venues with professional unknowns (ditto) one can expect technical competence at the very least. Music is so competitive. Anyone who can’t do all the notes is quickly doomed to instructing secondary school classes in Come Unto These Yellow Sands.

At venues like Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall advanced interpretations can be expected and judgement starts to be based on finer and finer nuances. It’s at this point that people who’ve lapped up the Eroica, the Mozart piano concerto 21 and a host of other accessible masterpieces often find themselves faced with another level of comprehension and give up. “I’ll only bother with music that simply washes over me,” they say.

Certainly the above percentage wouldn’t encourage them. For what it’s worth I’ll try and address this in my bumbling way but it will take several posts and the erection of several goalposts.
Re pic: He's just a bit younger than me.

Has veteran had his teeth fixed?

POP EXPLORED, part nine. Pop supports freedom (from drug restrictions, parents, the need to work, politics by rote, etc) so the emergence of gay singers wasn’t surprising. But androgyny also became sellable. Epicene David Bowie has lasted ages.

His Space Oddity is from 1969. No doubt the punning title had contemporary resonances but the lyrics treat vagaries of being an astronaut unseriously, ape simpler Beatles songs (as does the accent) and verge on childishness:

Ground control to Major Tom,
Take your protein pill and put your helmet on

The tune is even more infantile: rumpti-tum setting for nursery rhyme or ad jingle. On the beat, limited dynamics, tentative echoing. Video reveals Bowie’s misshapen teeth. Clearly I’ve missed the point.

I ask elder daughter, Professional Bleeder, for a newer DB song and she “bellows like a little Turk”. Can’t handle “a Bowie virgin” (ie, me), recommends whole albums, says DB constantly re-invents himself, no song is typical. I say Lady Gaga and Hank Williams wait in the wings and DB must rely on Space Oddity and one other. I’m given Quick Sand.

Good grief! A positive and congenial tune. Might even listen to it again. Crescendo starts with acoustic guitar decorated, apparently, with strips of tinsel. Then funky (Dare I say that?) piano, then strings, then chorus or, possibly, Bowie x 50. Much louder, more assertive piano. Said to last 7 m 42 sec, cuts off at 5 m 08 sec.

Lyrics intermittently memorable if impenetrable:

I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
Of imagery.

And unexpected:

I’m the twisted name
On Garbo’s eyes,
Living proof of
Churchill’s lies.

Homo sapiens appears, but without final s. Significant?

Claims for “revolutionary” advances in pop often occur within a narrow compass. More microscope than searchlight.