Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winter Chapter Meeting, February 2, 2013 (Tufts University)

AMS-NE Chapter Meeting
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Tufts University

Louis Epstein, "Triple Threat: Ida Rubinstein as Patron, Impresario, and Director"

Between 1928 and 1934, Ida Rubinstein and her Ballets Rubinstein presented four ambitious seasons of original works in Paris, filling a gap left by the demise of the Ballets Russes and defying the economic downturn that hobbled other cultural institutions. Like the Ballets Russes, whose opulet, exoticist performances of Cléopâtre and Schéhérezade in 1909 and 1910 had made Rubinstein a household name, the Ballets Rubinstein featured mainly foreign performers and visual artists in big budget spectacles that married dance, mime, music, and declamation. Rubinstein solicited musical scores almost exclusively from contemporary French composers. Rubinstein – who funded, managed, and directed her productions – offered exceptionally lucrative commissions to Ravel, Stravinsky, Auric, Milhaud, Honegger, Sauguet, and Ibert. Rubinstein originally built her stage reputation with the Ballets Russes, whose opulent, exoticist spectacles  representations of Russian culture, many of the works performed by the Ballets Rubinstein relied on classical subjects and neoclassical scores to evoke nostalgia for an elegant, imperial past, one not so subtly coded as French.Rubinstein’s successful work as patron, impresario, and ballet director remains little recognized today. I situate Rubinstein’s contributions to French musical life in the context of the activities of other patron-directors of ballet in interwar France. Drawing on analyses of several works in her troupe’s repertoire, I argue that Rubinstein’s commissions sought to realize a particularly French form of “total art” with roots in early modern dance and ballet-chanté. Instead of hailing her artistic achievements and valuing her Francophilia, critics attacked Rubinstein mercilessly. They focused on her age, her appearance, her heavy French accent, her inadequate footwork as prima ballerina. Before his death, Diaghilev dismissed Rubinstein’s troupe as “Les Ballets Juifs,” while others laced misogynist and xenophobic barbs throughout their reactions to her performances. By framing critical invective in terms of the anxiety felt over the economic and cultural power wielded by Ida Rubinstein, I offer a new approach to the roles she played – both on stage and in interwar French musical culture. 

Basil Considine, "Music and the Pirates of Madagascar"

The stereotypical Western image of pirates derives largely from the Golden Age of Piracy (c. 1650-c. 1740). These pirates – including infamous figures such as Henry Morgan, William Kidd, and Edward Teach (Blackbeard) – have been immortalized and glamorized in numerous depictions in popular culture. Most details about pirate life and culture, however, can be traced back to a small number of sources, most of which are in turn surrounded by questions of dubious authorship and authenticity. The scholarly consensus is that the popular Western depiction of a pirate is primarily founded on works of fiction and varying levels of fabrication.

This paper examines music and other cultural activities practiced by European-led pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy, focusing on pirates who operated near or based themselves in Madagascar. It describes music making and its function in pirate society, using archival documents from Dutch, English, and French sources that record first-hand observations. It outlines the formation and origins of the pirate crews, contextualizes the use of music in shipboard and shore life, details musical interactions between pirate crews and the natives of Madagascar, and describes the musical and dance entertainments witnessed during pirate expeditions to the Dutch colony of Mauritius. It also examines some of the reasons behind the dissolution of the so-called “Pirate’s Republic” in Madagascar, including the use of European art music in Mauritius as an inducement for pirates to retire peacefully to that island. 

Matthew Mugmon, "Copland, Mahler, and the American Sound"

Scholars, composers, and critics have long suggested relationships between the music of the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler and the American composer Aaron Copland. That such connections would exist is not surprising, given that Copland routinely praised Mahler’s music, particularly its orchestration, in his writings.Nonetheless, the specific role Mahler’s music played in Copland’s compositional aesthetic — an aesthetic that is often viewed as having embodied a distinctly “American sound” — has yet to be studied thoroughly.
This paper begins to address this gap by arguing that Copland composed references to Mahler’s music — particularly to the conclusion of Das Lied von der Erde — into his own. Copland wrote and spoke fondly of this distinctive passage, which features colorful orchestration, non-chord tones layered over a static harmony, and a melody that does not cadence. Strikingly similar passages from several of Copland’s compositions from the 1920s through the 1940s — including Music for the Theatre, Statements, Appalachian Spring, the Third Symphony, and the Clarinet Concerto — reveal the extent to which the end of Das Lied informed Copland’s composing. Because Copland initially experienced Mahler’s orchestral works by playing through them on the relatively uniform timbre of the piano, I suggest that he satisfied the desire he repeatedly expressed to “hear” Mahler’s music by including Mahlerian sonorities in his compositions.
These links between Mahler’s and Copland’s compositions invite a reexamination of the relationships between Romanticism and American modernism. Locating Mahler’smusic as a source of American modernism challenges narratives that downplay its debts to Austro-German music.

Brent Wetters, "Choreographic Notation: Richard Barrett’s Ne songe plus à fuir"

Ethnomusicology offers a distinction between prescriptive and descriptive notational systems. Prescriptive scores are those that give the performer a set of instructions on how to make a series of sounds, while descriptive systems attempt to visually represent those sounds, often allowing the performer to decide the approach. Guitar tablature is an example of a prescriptive system, while traditional staff notation is usually held to be descriptive. In practice, most scores are some compromise between the two. The present study aims to assess the important work of Richard Barrett (b. 1959) in light of this tension, and to answer how Barrett holds these two opposing impulses in such delicate balance. The notation of his composition for solo cello, Ne songe plus à fuir (1986), evokes the music; in many respects its level of specificity is so great as to describe music that can never be realized. And yet, certain key moments reveal that the notation describes not so much the sound itself as the physical choreography of interactions between the performer and instrument. This is to say, the musical material is to be found primarily at the level of physical gesture: the work is divided into six sections that each explores a different mode of interaction. Those interactions and their development, however, are mediated by the act of their inscription into notation; the material is developed means of the potentialities inherent in the notational system, each time pushing the specific action to its breaking point. The score stands as an alternative representation of the music that does not fully align with any given performance, because it is descriptive of physicality, not its audible results.

Max De Curtins, "“Computer, Please Replicate One Viola”: The Reanimation of Classical Music in the Future"

Why does “classical” music, despite longtime rhetorical wrangling over its survival, turn up so prominently in science fiction? From A Clockwork Orange to Star Trek: The Next Generation, from Minority Report to Firefly, numerous instances appear in films and television of diegetic classical music serving a variety of functions, not the least of which is to invoke the past. In all cases this music is heavily infused with exoticism. Perhaps no other idiom—by virtue of its age and execution—has a greater ability to connect our future to our past than classical music. Drawing upon Lawrence Kramer’s concept of performance as reanimation, I read the diegetic musical event as a reanimation of classical music’s historical functions and position within cultural discourse. In this paper I conduct a close reading of examples from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Minority Report, and Firefly, in which the reanimation of the music enacts and reflects the film/show’s ethos.
I argue further that two contexts exist for the reanimation of Western art music: the utopian (proposed by Star Trek), in which this music sheds its historical associations with exclusivity, wealth, and power, and serves to enrich daily life; and the dystopian (proposed by Minority Report and Firefly), in which Western art music no longer functions as art, but rather as a tool for imposing a power structure, or—contradictorily—for escaping from one. These depictions, “bridging the gap between fiction and reality,” invite us to contemplate our own musical past, present, and future.

 Hannah Lewis, "Michael Gordon’s Decaying Orchestra: Decasia as Audiovisual Elegy"

Decasia (2001), video artist Bill Morrison and composer Michael Gordon’s most critically acclaimed collaboration, consists of assembled archival footage from nitrate film prints in various stages of decomposition. The on-screen images, according to Morrison, seem to resist their own decay. Gordon’s 55-piece orchestral score accompanies these images, with detuned instruments to “make the orchestra sound like it was covered in cobwebs.”
Decasia’s non-narrative form has elicited diverse interpretations: a call for archival film preservation, a comment on the inevitability of entropy and fragility of the cinematic image, and the cycle of death and re-birth more broadly; some critics have even interpreted darker allusions to concentration camps, Hiroshima, and 9/11. Regardless, by foregrounding its profound material instability, Decasia highlights the precarious nature of its own form. In this paper, I argue that the work is an elegy for a dual ontological death: of cinema and symphonic music. Created at the turn of the millennium, on the cusp of a new technological era that transformed cinematic and musical media, Decasia urges us to watch and listen to what happens when old artistic forms die.  I situate the work within a larger discourse about the changing ontology of cinema and music in the digital age, drawing on Lev Manovich’s definition of “new media” and the writings of film theorist David Rodowick and sound studies scholar Jonathan Sterne. Additionally, I suggest that Gordon’s score, by sonically representing the physical decay of cinema’s materiality, obliquely comments on the material forms of its own dissemination: the transformation from analog to digital recording technology. By showing the potential for beauty in material decay, Decasia is both mournful and hopeful. My analysis sheds light on artistic responses to changing technologies—specifically, how artists and composers comment on new technologies through old ones.