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Thursday 31 May 2012

Dehyd. (poet.): shorter.1

On March 2 I invited a sonnet with the fewest words, the Dehydrated Sonnet. I can’t remember where the impulse came from.

Plutarch wasn’t interested. With good reason. Poetic rules are easily explained, poetic obligations are something else again. Opportunities for betrayal occur between every syllable. Imposing an artificial – irrational - restriction as I had done corrupted the whole process.

Thus: you write a decent line. Then try to compress the wordage, making it indecent. Your options shrink. You become obsessed with long words

I am lucky in that I write verse not poetry (In soccer terms: the conference vs. the championship). My effort appears tomorrow. However here are entries from two bloggers who take poetry more seriously. Both get prizes.

Note 1: To legitimise the project as a TD post, a musical reference was required.
Note 2: Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee…” is 114 words.

Lucy: (Untitled). 56 words

Inspirational daPonte, that
tirelessly charming persiflager,
luminary of my commentariat,
proposes playfully a wager:

reductionistic sonneteering - make,
Italianate Petrarchan, or Miltonic,
Wordsworthian, Spenserian or Shake-
spearian form - example most laconic.

Yet minimalising semantemes, while meeting
pentametrical demands - conjunctions,
prepositions, articles, pronouns deleting -
linguisticality, alas, malfunctions.

Syllabic prodigality alone
provides excessive flesh, deficient bone.

Lucas: Riding the Sonnet. 72 words

…started with microcosmic excitation,
one introverted thought at liberty,
choosing relaxing camaraderie,
not the controlling baton’s orchestration –
initially a steady undulation,
pre-propagating through the qwerty
keyboard, a salon’s tripping melody
melodiously rippling, building, spinning on

until its music flooded, overtaking me
accelerando. A crazy streamer,
stream-lined, concert-hall high, broke free,
roguishingly ascending and getting weightier
above my clipped peaks.
The salon swam, landfall ever h a z i e r.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Looking on the bright side

Felt a surge of optimism yesterday morning. True the thermometer said 24 deg C but I try to ignore weather. More important I was en route to French (a raison d’etre  right there) and the book we’re doing is often hilarious. The drive took in somnolent rural Herefordshire and involved a Wye crossing.

Also Blest Redeemer is nearing 90,000 words (since past). Another ten-thousand would be six figures but 90K is good. I suspect The Great Gatsby has fewer. Just checked: a mere 47,000. And yes, I know what hubris is.

Blest Redeemer comes from a LUGUBRIOUS HYMN (not enhanced here by the Bahamian congregation I fear):

Our blest redeemer ‘ere he breathed
His tender last farewell.

The theme is secular redemption. The title may not survive but, for the moment, that archaic “blest” is important. I don’t know why. Plutarch approves of the title since unlike other titles attached temporarily to my two earlier novels, he insists he will remember this one. Plutarch read the first 20,000 words when I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested. Encouraged me to continue. So did Mrs LdP, the first time I have ever asked her to look at my fiction.

So, optimism. It’s a sometime thing at age 77 and deserves celebration. But which music best expresses optimism? For my money a passage from Britten’s Spring Symphony. Here’s Wikipedia: “The crowning glory of the work is the enthralling moment when the children’s voices re-enter the scene and sing the 13th century round Sumer Is Icumen In.

That passage isn’t available on YouTube and this PALE SHADOW (Top of the Pops in AD 1260) will have to do. But, please, I beg of you search out the real thing some day.

Thursday 24 May 2012

How about tapping a foot?

Did singability mark the pop music watershed?

I listened to pop between 1951 and 1953 (as a tea-boy then trainee newspaper journalist in Bradford) and 1955 to1957 (National Service in the RAF). Beyond that anything I heard was accidental.

Although Elvis and Bill Haley were yodelling in the late fifties I’d lost interest. My big names were Tennessee Waltz (Patti Page), Oh Mein Papa (Eddie Fisher), There’s a Pawnshop on the Corner (Guy Mitchell), Shrimpboats are a’Coming (Jo Stafford) – clear-voiced, tuneful singers processing naïve, rather terrible songs composed as if Cole Porter and Irving Berlin had never lived.

Audience age topped out at fifty. Singers were usually in their late twenties and early thirties. The composers were (I believe) studio-bound and middle-aged. But the songs had coherent lyrics and could be sung by those who listened.

Rock/pop changed all this. The new music was based on repetition, a 700-word lyric vocabulary and unremitting volume. Electric guitars uttered twisted chord variants and synthesisers re-invented sound. The audience couldn’t even la-la what they heard; vocal participation ended and people simply went along for the ride.

I’d just discovered Bach and the new stuff, aimed at teens, didn’t tempt me.  Nor was I inclined to disinter lines such as:

I was dancin' with my darlin to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see.
I introduced him to my darlin' and while they were dancin'
My friend stole my sweetheart from me.

But I can still sing this tat. The fact is you need electronics to re-create most rock/pop, but not Shrimpboats. But don’t for a minute think I’m getting sentimental.

Pic note. Stole the inset from someone who thinks it says I Love Pop Music. Surely its message is: I Irritate Others With Pop Music.  

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Heavenly music, heavenly words

Perhaps aware of Tone Deaf’s godlessness Beth comments “I too am a classical music lover and lifelong choir singer (high church Anglican, I'm afraid).” I make noises about being the paradoxical atheist owning CDs of Easter Oratorio, excerpts from Die Schőpfung and Dream of Gerontius.

But I realise I can go further; Christian (or at least Biblical) words can also transfix me. Take the Messiah aria, “He was despised” and especially:

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Handel’s setting is masterly (more later) but that’s a hell of a libretto. First glance - “acquainted” seems under-stated; second glance – but not if grief means what grief should. Exaggeration is the enemy of depth; this phrase uses great art to fix a sense of tragedy.

Providing a link to a JANET BAKER version I email Julia asking: Is the aria minor key? For surely (to this ignoramus at least) this is why music and words fuse so effectively
Here’s her answer: Handel is playing with major and minor (but) the aria is set in E flat Major and ends with a nice solid E flat M chord. I can see how you would think it was minor though, as he uses the second and the seventh to create tight intervals that make us think of minor keys, and he also adds an E flat minor chord to move the major into minor at particularly sad moments in the text (see "grief" at 1:54).

Conclusions: (1) I remain an ignoramus but my instincts rate 3/10. (2) Handel was well ahead of me – what a surprise! (3) The King James committee score 9/10. (4) Memo: must invite Julia to become TD’s musical consultant. (5) Julia accepts.

SECURITY NOTE Other bloggers, more courageous than me and more sensitive to the needs of commenters, have switched off Blogger's fiendish word verification system. (A simple matter in Settings). Yesterday I did so and received a very strange comment which appeared in Inbox but not in the blog. But I'll give it a week or so before I decide. 

Sunday 20 May 2012

All hail the democratic clt

Having ransacked all databases (ie, ninety seconds with Wikipedia) I am unable to pin down a more profound definition of the concerto than the most obvious: a solo instrument (occasionally more than one) playing brilliant passages against an orchestral background. Handel muddied the water with his concerti grossi and Bartok even more so with his Concerto for Orchestra but neither significantly moved the goalposts.

Tone Deaf remains opposed to music that is showy for the sake of being showy. It’s one reason I still can’t take Rossini and it’s why I struggled with Liszt until finding Années de Pélérinage. Also – whisper it not in Gath – why I used to resent piano and (especially) violin concerti. Don’t get me wrong, I have evolved and the Sibelius violin concerto is now Top Ten. But in my callow years I felt the soloist was saying “Bet you can’t do this.” to the orchestra. In effect taunting those worthies.

And there was the cadenza mystique, where everyone worshipfully stopped music-making so that the soloist could run up and down the scales in a virtuosic (ie, frequently vulgar) manner. OK, I’m over that and Beethoven Four and Brahms Two are part of my heart-beat.

But it’s why the Mozart clarinet concerto is my favourite example of that form. Not that it isn’t technically demanding – that’s why Benny Goodman, the great swing clarinettist, recorded it. It’s just that the liquorice stick seems to integrate so well with its accompanying fellows. It doesn’t compete and no cadenza was written for it. One reason may be it is very late Mozart, K622, finished a month or so before he died. I trust this is no great discovery for TD faithful but if not, please try it. Reassuring music to wake up to: today I shall live!  

Wednesday 16 May 2012

The Bard embroidered

Do musical settings of Shakespeare risk gilding the lily  (or the gingerbread, if that's your preferred cliché)? In one instance at least it's the other way round; surely Finzi's tune for It Was A Lover And His Lass is dragged down by the words. The four verses contain one good line - How that life was but a flower - with the rest encumbered by hey-nonny and ding-a-ding.

Here's an unnamed, no-frills soprano doing her best after being parachuted into a GRAIN SILO. And what about that piano made exclusively from Heinz baked beans tins? They at least deserve A for effort; the sound recordist deserves the treatment accorded to Hamlet's father.

What YouTube takes away, it may also bestow in large measure, and Finzi's reputation gets an out-of-this-world propulsion with this magnificent, definitive version of Fear No More The Heat O' The Sun (Cymbeline) sung by peerless BRYN TERFEL accompanied by Malcolm Martineau. I tell you, boyo, Wales is just down the road from where I live and listening to this inclined me to rush over the border and embrace everyone individually. That voice is beef stroganoff, followed by Christmas pudding, followed by half a stone of bleu d'Auvergne. Rich? It could pay off Greece's debt.

Finally another singer who really deserves the over-used adjective "beloved", jazz-singer CLEO LAINE (pictured) who is eight years older than me. Like Janet Baker she got a damehood not least for the fact that she was Grammy-nominated in three categories: jazz, pop and classical. Here she is singing Our Revels Now Are Ended (The Tempest), arranged by someone or something called Cantabile, and which brings tears to my eyes.

So was the lily or the gingerbread gilded? I was only joking. Most of the time Shakespeare's lyrics can up a composer's game.

Monday 14 May 2012

The later yardstick

Technology can affect our choice of music. I doubt I’d have ever listened to operas when they came as a huge stack of 78s. LPs made them far more accessible and CDs were another major advance. But these steps were simply matters of convenience. Electron flow can also shape our taste.

During my most intense collecting period I could never afford full-price CDs, I was always searching for special reductions. And when Naxos started offering original recordings at £5 a shot I was in like Flynn. But the net result was a load of discs by competent, if unstarry, performers or early versions by stars before they became stars. Very occasionally I would go full whack (Wilhelm Kempf, David Oistrakh, Schwarzkopf) while acknowledging I was only getting 60 minutes playing instead of 180 minutes.

But now I have YouTube. This morning I listened to Heifetz playing Bach’s unaccompanied chaconne. In his day Heifetz was the Beatles and Usain Bolt combined. GB Shaw suggested that Heifetz should, every month or so, play a wrong note just to encourage other violinists. He was note perfect and a masterly interpreter. My own chaconne, bought second-hand, is by Itzhak Perlman and is excellent in its way. But it’s not Heifetz. I’m going to have to have it.

I already mentioned hearing the Takacs playing the late Beethoven quartets. A revelation. They’re now on my shelves.

In the old days I wasn’t all that discriminating and I’m still able to make do with Joe Doak conducting the Transylvanian Phil doing the four Roussel symphonies. But not the biggies that are part of my very fibre. Luckily I’m somewhat better off than I was in the Naxos days. Thanks YouTube.

NOVEL Blest Redeemer 83,043 words. But there are thousands to go. 

Saturday 12 May 2012

A musical malady

I chose Tone Deaf as a blog title not because I am TD but because of my inherent modesty. The condition (an inability to hear and reproduce relative pitch) seems confined to music. TDers recognise inflections in human speech and can thus differentiate between: I thrash your child. (vs. another child), and I thrash your child. (vs. your dog).

Being TD may cause musical reluctance - MR - an unwillingness to sing or touch an instrument in someone else’s hearing. Rated obsessionally MR may match the universal disinclination to expose one’s naughty bits. As a child I suffered from MR but grew out of it, while remaining shy about the other. Mrs LdP thinks most people suffer from MR. Plutarch and Lucy have both come halfway out of the closet to this effect.

Someone who sings tunelessly when bored (eg, in the supermarket) has not rid himself, and it’s nearly always a him, of MR, merely sublimated it.

The condition is easily explained, psychopathologically. Sufferers regard music creation as akin to walking on water and its practitioners reinforce this belief by remaining aloof on the subject. People who have tried to learn music making and failed must often endure pernicious MR.

Videos of two sufferers.

CLICK ONE: Tory MP, John Redwood, then Welsh secretary, trying to disguise his ignorance of the Welsh national anthem.

CLICK TWO: Be patient, wait for two separate  zoom-ins to the distant man on couch. First shot (Thinks): Oh, they’re going to sing, are they. Goodness, how vulgar they are. Second shot (Thinks): They could be voters, I must participate – by nodding, off the beat. He is George Osborne, Eton, Oxford, chancellor of the exchequer, presently saving Britain from financial disaster.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Soprano avoirdupois

A more serious, less anecdotal, follow-up to previous post Does Weight Count?

Do women need to be fat to sing opera? No
Given opera is visual as well as musical should they be thin(ish)? Probably.

Are fat singers better than thin singers? “Better” is subjective; singing voices differ as much as speaking voices. Executive skills (pitch, high-note ability, low-note control, etc) tend to be a given in these competitive days.

Why then are there still fat singers? Why are there fat women?

Why was Debra Voigt (Brunnhilde in the Met’s recent Ring series) required to undergo surgery to reduce her weight while Stephanie Blythe (Fricka in the Ring), of a similar weight, not required to? I think because Voigt takes leading (ie, more dramatic) roles.

Are there disadvantages to being fat? Visible sweat.

Where did the earlier tradition for fat singers begin? The $64,000 question. That singers tended anyway to be fat is speculative. Pre-war opera drew a minority audience who appear to have been satisfied solely with vocal – as opposed to acting – ability. Fat may have been associated with vocal ability because there were fewer thin singers. Amelita Galli-Curci was thin(ish) and a star.

When did this tradition change? Post-war; Callas started out fat (and drab); dieted; became a world star. However, Joan Sutherland (known affectionately as La Stupenda) was almost her equal. Because Callas became shrill in the upper register while Sutherland’s typically bel canto technique was impeccable the fat-is-best credo still had some support.

Why did the tradition change? LPs made opera more popular and (arguably) led to more live opera. TV also contributed, certainly in my case. More people were seeing opera.

Will fat singers die out? Perhaps. Or drop down financially to sing oratorios, cantatas, masses, etc.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Does weight count?

A mezzo-soprano in the Huffington Post writes she is frequently told: “Aren’t you too thin to sing opera?” The rest of her article is incoherent so I conclude she is boasting.

Pundits used say the beanpoles could never match the fatties. But times have changed. A year or two ago the NY Met required Debra Voigt to undergo a rather hideous operation, and lose several stones (1 st =14 lb), in order to keep on singing there. Last year, via HD TV, I saw a comparatively svelte Debra sing the socks off Brunnhilde.

I can offer only anecdotal comment. CLICK HERE to see and hear gorgeously slender and gorgeously larynxed blonde Miah Persson (Fiordiligi) and similarly endowed Anke Vondung (Dorabella) unite in Soave Sia Il Vento in Glyndebourne’s Cosi.

CLICK HERE to hear Janet Baker and Montserrat Caballé (sound only; sorry about the paragliding) doing the same thing. On the avoirdupois front Janet could affectionately be called voluptuous. Montserrat, I fear, always resembled pre-op Debra.

Both are terrific performances. Which is the better? It isn’t apples vs. apples. The voices of Persson/Vondung are less often clearly identified whereas Baker and Caballé are quite separate throughout and profit (I think) from a wider range recording. But there are those who are going to be influenced by the Glyndebourne duo’s loveliness, especially near the end when Fiordiligi reaches out to take Dorabella’s hand.

I could have done fellas but it’s not as much fun

Thursday 3 May 2012

Looks hard, actually easier

HHB who, from my point of view, dates back to the early days of Works Well, sadly admits defeat in the face of updated Blogger saying her little notebook computer can’t cope. However, she may crop up on Tone Deaf with further bits and pieces emailed from Perth, W. Australia. Like this LITTLE GEM.

 I was amazed the audience responded with some precision to the sequences initiated by the engaging Bobby McFerrin given that the pentatonic scale (PS) is two semitone intervals fewer than the more familiar seven-note heptatonic (ie, doh-re-me, etc) scale. Having Googled PS, and discovered for myself the tune Comin’ Through The Rye which can be played all bar one note on the keyboard’s black notes (thus probably making it pentatonic), I emailed Julia in Prague for amplification since she represents in human form the full 25,000-page Grove Musical Dictionary.

Julia never disappoints: “As you realized, the black keys make up an excellent example of a pentatonic scale. Because black keys are very easy to harmonize with, due to their lack of dissonant notes, when I work with little kids on the piano, I like to get them to make up music using only black keys as it is easy to do and the results sound good right off the beat.

“On to your next question: lots of folk music is pentatonic for the very same reason that it's fun for kids to compose using only the black keys - because pentatonic music is very easy to harmonize to - and the easier it is to harmonize to music, the more likely that folk tune is going to get and stay popular with musicians across the years. I suspect Comin' Through The Rye falls under that category!”

Thanks to you both.

Pic: EnchantedLearning.com copyright 

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Bad music, good fun

One doesn’t expect immediacy from music criticism a hundred years old but how about this:

“I have long since learnt to leave my commonsense at the door when I go to the opera.” Faced with Hamlet by Frenchman Ambroise Thomas the writer continues: “Mlle Richard never faces the other dramatis personae but tacks around them, looking at them out of the corners of her eyes and agitating her bosom with a tireless persistence that must be the result of long practice.”

Adding: “(Ophelia) goes to the water and drowns herself, in token whereof  her ‘double’ presently appears supine on a sort of toboggan car, and shoots along feet foremost through the bulrushes to the prompt side.”

Given that Mrs LdP and I decided not to retain our seats for the second act of the following opera I was pleased to read: “In vain the weeping staff  (of the newspaper the writer worked for) held out stall tickets for Her Majesty’s Theatre to me with imploring gestures. I folded my arms and said that if the name of Lucia di Lammermoor were mentioned in my presence again my resignation would follow instantaneously.”

On the working class and oratorios. “There are working men who delight in piety – who join the Salvation Army, or drag their unfortunate children evening after evening to dismal chapels, where their poor little imaginations are filled with eternal torment, vengeance, sin and the devil. Others there be who go to secular halls and revel in demonstrations that Moses thought the earth flat, and if any of the four evangelists told the truth the other three necessarily told lies.”

GBS of course.

Blessed Redeemer - 73,773 words. Now it’s going too quickly.