Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Musical Numbers (for David Markson)

Musical Numbers:
Anecdotes in the shape of a poem (or the reverse)
(for/after David Markson

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) turned 100 last month.
Elliot Carter (b. 1908) is still composing compelling works at 101.

Philip Langridge gave his final stage performance at the MET,
just after turning 70. If he was suffering from the cancer
which took his life just weeks later, it was not evident.

Most of his vast legacy of twentieth century
opera, concert and recital repertoire was recorded after he turned 50.

Two of the British composers with whom he was most closely
associated were Britten and Tippett.

(Why was the former so much more popular than his older friend?)

Both of their second operas deal with ancient tales. Britten: The Rape of Lucretia; Tippett: King Priam

(Do not ask me which I prefer.)

Both of their first operas are masterpieces of lyric musical dramas from the mid-twentieth century. Peter Grimes (Britten) and The Midsummer Marriage (Tippett).

The association of numbers and music has always been a source of fascination and inspiration.

One of the least discussed of these associations concerns numbers assigned to individual works.

Like the symphony. The 9th being one of the only numbers to merit much attention.

(I am equally interested in firsts.)

Beethoven's 1st vis-a-vis Mozart and the Viennese classical tradition he inherited and exploded.

Brahms' 1st, not finished until he was in his forties ("You have no idea what it's like to hear the footsteps of a giant like that behind you").

(The giant being Beethoven.)

Schumann and Mendelssohn (among others) avoid the question since numbering issues surround the sequence of their symphonies (4 and 5 each, respectively).

Mahler--via philosophy (Jean Paul) and the narrative & dialectical potential of the 19th century symphony--picked up where Beethoven left off, if you will.

His first was the first in a series that would culminate in two 9th's.

Prokofiev and Shostakovich: the anti-firsts.

Barber. Copland. Bernstein: paying homage to tradition with original and distinct voices in each of their firsts.

(The former two both compact and neo-romantic, neo-classical, respectively; the latter, ├╝ber-romantic, mahlerian catharsis)

Why are there so few Mediterranean symphonies?

Besides Mahler, Sibelius and Copland both evoke landscapes in their symphonic essays.

Vaughan Williams' first: A Sea Symphony.

One of its composers many musical settings of Walt Whitman.

One of many symphonic works inspired by the sea.

Debussy's La Mer begat Frank Bridge's The Sea which begat Britten's Sea Interludes which begat Michael Berkeley's Seascape.

The second movement of which is "Threnody for Sad Trumpet:" an elegy for the victims of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami.

It reminds me of the poignant trumpet solo in Tippett's 2nd symphony.

(A recent revisiting of Tippett's under-appreciated music was one of the prompts for this digression that may--or may not be--a poem, essay, and/or series of trivial anecdotes...)

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