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Musical interlude

It's been a while since I wrote about what I've been listening to. When last I reported, I was focused on Schoenberg and Mahler. That continued for a while, and in particular I got deeper into Mahler. My favorite piece by him is the song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), but I'm also quite fond of the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. (The Adagietto of the Fifth was conducted by Leonard Bernstein at JFK's funeral.) The Sixth and Seventh Symphonies are still on the agenda.

In the meantime, however, I figured I'd been focused on the early 20th Century for long enough, so I turned my attention to Aaron Copland and Benjamin Britten. For Copland this has been the Third Symphony, which I got on a CD that also included Roy Harris' Third, which I've therefore also been listening to. For Britten I first picked up the War Requiem, but I bounced off that. After watching Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom for the third time and finally realizing how deeply embedded Britten's music is in that film, I pursued some of that music. So far that's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (without the narrative) and Simple Symphony -- the latter of which is based on music he wrote between the ages of ten and thirteen. Britten strikes me as something of a post-modernist who adopted elements of musical styles of all eras and apparently of other cultures as well (e.g., gamelan music). A bit of a chameleon.

The other Britten work used heavily in Moonrise Kingdom (both as a source of music and as a source of narrative) is the "opera for amateurs," Noye's Fludde, and indeed it is in opera that Britten seemed have left his strongest mark. There's a lot more for me to explore there, and in general I haven't gotten very far in opera lately, although I did spend a few months delving into Wagner's Ring Cycle, so there's that.

Also I recently uncovered a list of Great Twentieth Century Music that I made a couple of years ago, and that prompted me to go back and to listen to a few things I'd been listening to when I made the list, including Stravinsky, Bartok, Ravel, John Cage (Sonatas and Interludes) and Steve Reich. It also reminded me that I hadn't tried any of Ravel's chamber music, other than the string quartet, so I've been loading up on his solo piano music, piano trio, sonatas for violin and cello and for violin and piano, and the Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet, and string quartet -- all of which is remarkably beautiful. Ravel continues to be a revelation for me. I can get lost in dreamland listening to the piano music of Satie, Ravel, and Cage.

In 21st Century music, I've picked up a couple of CDs recommended by Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, which I'd just discovered in that last post about music here. First up was an album called String Paths by Elena Tabakova. I have mixed feelings about her music, which sounds a lot like film music at times, but I've liked "Frozen River Flows" quite a bit. The other album I've been listening to quite a bit is In the Library of Dreams by Frances White. Again, mixed reactions to various pieces (and I really don't like "The Book of Roses and Memory" at all), but two of them I like a lot: "The Ocean Inside" and "In the Library of Dreams". White's music sounds ambient to me at times, and she gets into sonic textures that sometimes remind me of Kaija Saariaho. Speaking of whom, I continue to find Saariaho a fairly daunting, difficult composer, but the more I listen, the more I like. Her opera, L'amour de loin, is still the best thing I've heard by her.

For further study: In a piece about Sibelius' Seventh Symphony (still a benchmark work for my engagement with 20th Century classical music), Tom Service brings up the concept of metric modulation -- "in which you use a common unit of musical time to elide from one speed to another" -- in his discussion of how Sibelius creates a sense of "musical time-warp." I think this probably gets at the sense of organic unfurling I get from the piece -- the way that it finds points of connection or commonality between two apparently very different tempos and uses them to transition.


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