Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fall Chapter Meeting, October 1, 2011 (Capital Community College)

AMS-NE Chapter Meeting
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Capital Community College

Max DeCurtins, "Changing Contexts for Bach Reception in Israel"

In February 1927, an all-Bach concert at Terra Santa College appeared in the performance series of the Jerusalem Musical Society. The program notes began: “Bach occupies in the musical world the same position as Moses in the religious. He established its Torah on which everything else was subsequently built.” This venerating prose, read by attendees at one of the earliest documented Bach performances in the future State of Israel, offers a glimpse into the beginnings of the reception of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music there. The language is nothing if not charged—with religious ideas as well as ideas of musical heritage. The conflation of the musical and the religious stems from the nineteenth-century German context from which many Zionist movements began.
The program notes almost seem to proclaim the secure position of Bach in Israel a fait accompli. Forty-one years after the Terra Santa concert, the St. Matthew Passion had its premiere there. During the performance, a part of the Israel Festival of 1968 marking the twentieth anniversary of independence, a group of Orthodox yeshiva students broke into the hall in protest and began to quarrel with the performers. The critical commentary and letters to the editor that followed suggest that the Passion had touched a nerve. The St. John Passion—often cited as more ‘openly’ anti-Semitic—would not have its Israeli premiere until 1993 (under a guest conductor). Today, performances of the Passions, such as the St. John Passion given in early 2011 by the young period performance group The Israeli Bach Soloists, are well-attended and praised by critics. This paper will trace the changing contexts for Israeli Bach reception and describe the influence of period performance in shaping them.

David Schneider, "Mad for her Country: Melinda’s Insanity, the Csárdás, and Erkel’s Nationalist Dramaturgy in Bánk bán"

Framed by Béla Bartók’s criticism of Ferenc Erkel’s nationally inappropriate style in his polemic “On Hungarian Music,” this paper examines, on the one hand, the overlap between the conventions of the bel canto Italian mad scene and the structure of verbunkos in act 3, scene 1 of Erkel’s Bánk bán, and, on the other, the dramaturgical and national significance of Erkel’s particular mixture of such international and Hungarian traditions. In particular, I consider the seeming incongruence between the typically celebratory mood of the csárdás and its function as the cabaletta of Melinda’s mad scene as an expression of Hungarian national preoccupation with victimhood (propagated by such foundational national texts as Mihály Vörösmárty’s 1836 Szózat, which has served as Hungary’s “second national anthem”). Melinda’s mad scene takes place on the banks of the Tisza River on the Great Hungarian Plain, a location of central importance to Hungarian national identity. This environment, which Erkel and his librettist invented for the mad scene, reinforces Melinda’s tragic role as a symbol of the nation. With eye and ear attuned to Hungarian traditions on several different levels, a close reading of this scene demonstrates that even when Erkel works within well-worn traditions of the international opera stage, he does so in a manner specifically suited to the spirit of nineteenth-century Hungarian nationalism. 

Klara Moricz, "Symphonies and Funeral Games: Lourie’s Reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s Neoclassicism"

One of the last works of Arthur Vincent Lourié (1892-1966) is his Funeral Games in Honor of Chronos for 3 flutes, piano and cymbals (1964). A little known Russian composer, Lourié was one of Stravinsky’s most influential confidants in the 1920s and early 1930s in Paris and a propagator of his new neoclassical aesthetics. Lourié dedicated his Funeral Games to the memory of Abbé Roger Bréchard, a Catholic priest who, like Lourié, was a member of Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain’s circle in Paris in the 1920s. Aspects of Lourié’s preoccupation with the passing of time, with Greek themes, with Maritain’s neo-Thomist philosophy, and with his Russian past are all present in his Funeral Games.
In this paper I explore Lourié’s musical references to his Greek topic; the work’s neoclassical characteristics that show how closely Lourié modeled his Funeral Games on Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Winds Instruments, which he arranged for piano at Stravinsky’s request in 1926; and the last slow section’s relation to the closing part of the Russian Orthodox memorial service, the panikhida, which, as Richard Taruskin has shown, Stravinsky also recalled in his Symphonies.
Yet as I show in this paper, Lourié is not simply an epigone of Stravinsky: despite the clear parallels between the two, Lourié’s music sounds decidedly different from that of his compatriot. There is a spiritual quality, an uncompromising sincerity in this music that meditates on the passing of time honoring, and at the same time defying Chronos by making the leap from measurable human time to eternity. The difference between the music of Lourié and Stravinsky show that after their break-up in 1939 Lourié reinterpreted neoclassicism, bringing it closer to the neo-Thomist beliefs of Maritain, whose ideas inspired neoclassicism in the first place.

Elinor Frey, "The voice of the violoncello: The musical context of the first great cellist-composers of Italy" 

The first unaccompanied cello works originated in Italy at the end of the 17th century. The immense creative output for the cello during those decades echoed into later eras, making Italy a critical center for the fueling of new cello compositions. Italian Baroque cello works respond to period changes in tuning and technology (such as winding metal around gut strings), heightened performance demands, the emergence of virtuosos, and the needs of cellists’ employers and concert venues. Indeed, some of the best-loved Baroque works for cello were written by performers whose titles often extended beyond that of violoncellist. Several of these performers had storied careers and even earned distinctive nicknames. More importantly, Italian cellist-composers contributed some of the most original and celebrated Baroque works for the instrument. Virtuosos who performed their own works also indicated their approach to physical aspects of performance through their written compositions. Listening to these pieces, one can freshly explore the incredible achievements of Baroque cellists in search of a voice for their instrument, meeting new demands that, in turn, become features of solo music and indicate a repertoire always in flux. In my performance-based presentation, I will show how many of the first composer-cellists contributed to the development of the solo role and unique voice of the violoncello. Among these cellists, one rarely-performed example is the Modenese musician Domenico Galli, a versatile craftsman who presented Duke Francesco II d’Este, an amateur cellist, with an ornately carved cello along with twelve companion sonatas, his Trattenimenti or “entertainments” for violoncello alone. I will also perform and discuss unaccompanied repertoire by G.B. Vitali, G.M. Dall’Abaco, Francesco Paolo Scipriani, Domenico Gabrielli, and Giulio Ruvo.

Emily Richmond Pollock, "The Opera Underneath: Carl Orff's Oedipus der Tyrann"

The score for Carl Orff’s Oedipus der Tyrann (1959) is a monument to severity. Orff’s second Sophocles setting, even more so than its predecessor Antigonae, eschews ornament and lyricism in favor of a stripped-down accompaniment, long stretches of monotone declamation, and spoken dialogue. Orff (as well as his present-day advocates) used this profound absence of traditional operatic machinery to support the idea that Oedipus der Tyrann was more authentically “Greek” than any previous musical theater. On the other hand, contemporary reviews show critics questioning not only whether it could properly be considered an opera, but whether Orff’s apparent lack of compositional intervention resulted in a piece of music theater “without music.” 

As a result of both its studied lack of operaticism and its Classical roots, Oedipus der Tyrann lays claim to an aura of naturalness and universality. The piece’s seeming self-evidence, however, is contradicted by the intense effort it took to achieve this composerly pretense of non-presence. The sources for Oedipus der Tyrann held by the Orff-Zentrum München reveal a multitude of elaborate alternative settings for nearly every passage in the piece, featuring more rhythmic variation, more melismatic vocal lines, and a more active orchestra. These sketches and drafts reveal a consistent pattern of changing priorities over the decade of the opera’s composition, manifesting a process of gradual but radical reduction of means: in the final version, melodic passages were instead declaimed on a single pitch, passages that had been declaimed were spoken instead, registers were shortened overall, and orchestral accompaniment was erased or filtered down. The earlier, more “operatic” materials show that behind Orff’s studied severity lay a lyrical impulse, a fundamental change in aesthetic orientation, coming only over time and with great effort, that occasions a reconsideration of the piece’s relationship to the genre of opera.

Gabriel Alfieri, "War, Intertextuality, and Pop Art: Reassessing Cumming’s We Happy Few"

We Happy Few is a cycle of ten songs for voice and piano by American composer Richard Cumming, united around the theme of war. It was written for bass-baritone, Donald Gramm, as part of the Ford Foundation’s Program for Concert Soloists, a major commissioning and performance project launched in 1962, when the Cold War was at its height and U.S. military involvement in southeast Asia was (again) looming. Often forgotten today, We Happy Few is, nonetheless, an important example of the large American song cycle, and a complex, elegant musical comment upon its subject matter that both reflects its time and transcends it in striking ways. This essay examines Cumming’s work in the contexts of its original commission, its reception history, its function as social commentary, and its position within mid-twentieth century American art and ìartî music.
Milton Babbit’s Philomel, perhaps the best-known work to come out of the Program for Concert Soloists, serves to contrast the high-experimentalism of the period with Cumming’s heavily referential, pop-influenced tonalism. The concept of intertextuality and devices of collage/pastiche are used to illuminate processes of signification in We Happy Few, and its relation to larger aesthetic trends of the mid-twentieth century, especially ìpopî art. Because the dominant aesthetic of the early 21st century relies heavily upon these same techniques, modern audiences are particularly adept at processing intertextual meaning; this, coupled with our current state of war/State of War, may allow the "pop/art" signification of We Happy Few to speak even more meaningfully today than when it was written.