Archive pour July, 2009

Classics at the movies

31 July 2009

Rather than collaborating with living composers, some directors prefer to draw upon the existing classical repertory to adorn their cinematography. Such is the case with Luchino Visconti and the famous Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

One can also think of the rosy, romantic scene in Elvira Madigan from the Swedish director Bo Widerberg, who used Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 467.

Barber’s Adagio for Strings has been used by film directors repeatedly over the years. Ever since its premiere in 1938, music lovers have taken this powerfully moving work to their hearts. It has been used in such films as Oliver Stone’s Platoon, David Lynch’s Elephant Man and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie.

One must not forget the famous scene from Apocalyse Now featuring Wagner’s “Ride of the Walkyries”.

Another all-time classic remains the use of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s opening credits.

At the movies

29 July 2009

December 28, 1895 was a red-letter day in the realm of human artistic endeavor. On that date, a captivated audience watched images projected on a screen by the Lumière brothers from a cinematograph. This initial film experience did not take place in total silence. A pianist improvised to the images flickering on the screen, partly to mask the intrusive noise from the projector, which had no soundproofing, and partly to provide the observers with a means to transcend their daily lives and enter another world.

With the advent of the “talkies,” piano improvisers were no longer needed, as sound was now recorded directly on tape, which became an essential and integral part of the process. Now it became vital for a composer to establish a close working relationship with the director before even thinking about what kind of music he was going to write. Above all, he had to understand the role music would play in a particular scene or episode. Music could by turns underscore the storyline, suggest movement, anticipate an upcoming event, depict a scene (introducing the listener to a particular cultural, social or historical milieu), provide a counterpoint to the storyline (either as a musical synopsis of or as a blatant contradiction to what’s on the screen), express the actors’ emotions, or serve as an emotional or symbolic guideline, much in the manner of Wagner’s leitmotifs.

The world of film music is constantly evolving. Thirty or forty years ago, when “serious” classical musicians talked about film scores, they made no effort to hide their disdain, calling it third-class music. Today, its quality is no longer in question, and one can speak of it as an art form in its own right. Hence, it is hardly surprising that a number of famous composers have considered it a worthy challenge.

As music speaks above all to the unconscious, the best film scores are often those that do not call undue attention to themselves, contributing an additional layer of meaning to the film without overpowering it. Nevertheless, there still remain those major scores that stay in our minds, sometimes for years after details of the film have faded from memory. Is this not how we remember the music of John Williams, winner of five Oscars and composer of scores to E.T., Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jaws and others?

In the next post, classical music that was “borrowed” to become an intrinsic part of a movie.

Merce Cunningham dies

27 July 2009

The American choreographer Merce Cunningham, among a handful of 20th-century figures to make dance a major art, died last night at his home in Manhattan, at the age of 90. Life and creative partner of John Cage, he always carried a dice in his pocket that influenced his was of approaching choreography. The New York Times dedicates a lenghty article to this legend. Read here…

Two new Mozart works discovered

25 July 2009

According to Reuters, two new works by Mozart have been discovered. The International Mozarterum Foundation said in a statement that it had “identified two works, which have long been in the possession of the Foundation, as compositions of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.”

Details of the two pieces written for the piano will be revealed at a press conference on August 2.

The International Mozarteum Foundation was founded as a non-profit organization in 1880 to focus on the life and work of Mozart by holding concerts, running museums and promoting research regarding the composer.

Be part of the Verbier Festival

24 July 2009

Once again, has renewed its partnership with the prestigious Verbier Festival and offers Internet users remarkable concerts live. (They will stay on the site for a few weeks.) The quality of the video gives the impression that you are sitting in the front row. The roaster of international stars include Martha Argerich, Vadim Repin, Evgeny Kissin, David Fray, Bryn Terfer and Thomas Quasthoff. To listen…

Richard Strauss’ Ten Golden Rules of Conducting

22 July 2009

This text was originally published by Richard Strauss in 1925 as The Golden Rules for the Album of a Young Conductor.

  1. Remember that you are making music not to amuse yourself, but to delight your audience.
  2. You should not perspire when conducting: only the audience should get warm.
  3. Conduct Salome and Elektra as if they were Mendelssohn: Fairy Music.
  4. Never look encouragingly at the brass, except with a brief glance to give an important cue.
  5. But never let the horns and woodwinds out of your sight. If you can hear them at all they are still too strong.
  6. If you think that the brass is not blowing hard enough, tone it down another shade or two.
  7. It is not enough that you yourself should hear every word the soloist sings. You should know it by heart anyway. The audience must be able to follow without effort. If they do not understand the words they will go to sleep.
  8. Always accompany the singer in such a way that he can sing without effort.
  9. When you think you have reached the limits of prestissimo, double the pace.
  10. If you follow these rules carefully you will, with your fine gifts and your great accomplishments, always be the darling of your listeners.

To listen to Strauss’ symphonic poem Don Juan, with the Orchestre de la francophonie as led by Jean-Philippe Tremblay…

The song as thread of human history

20 July 2009

Dutch evolutionary biologist Armand Le Roi reworked Alan Lomax’s quantification of numerous songs from all over the world. Le Roi crunched the data and now believes that song can help us understand geographical migration but also human history. Jonathan Bellman of Dial “M” for Musicology talks about it here.

You can view Professor Le Roi’s very compelling address there.

Classical music is buck!

18 July 2009

Hip-hop singers and rappers have always been masters of the sampling, working on loops or rhythmic sections of older pop songs that become clever support to their texts. It’s of no surprise then to realize that some of them went further back in time to use classical works.

Ludacris, a rapper and actor, had a big hit with his third CD, Word of Mouf. On it, you can find Coming 2 America that toys (in a slightly sped up version) with the “Dies Irae” from Mozart’s Requiem.

Young Buck, who started to rap when he was 12 (he now is 28) also reused part of the Requiem (the”Confutatis” section) in his Say it to my Face.

Mozart again but this time the famous aria of the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute is part of the soundtrack of the song Like You as sung by Kelis (an R’n’B singer, also the wife of Nas – see previous posts). In the chorus, she even integrates a wink to Papageno and Papagena (“You can fluff my feathers”).

Pachelbel’s Canon can be found on numerous new age CDs and is recycled in I’ll C U When U Get There by Coolio, an Old School rapper who has been concentrating on his acting career more recently.

Beethoven Pop

16 July 2009

It is most probable that Beethoven would break into one of his famous tantrums if he were to realize how quite a few pop artists have “recycled” some of his most beloved works. At the same time, since he has always been the king of the variation form (that sounds pop right there!) and was able to take the smallest idea and turn it into a large-scale work (difficult to find more simple than the opening of his Fifth or the beginning of the “Moonlight” Sonata), maybe he would have appreciated the originality of some of these treatments.

Let’s start with the famous motif for Für Elise (that could very well have been named Für Therese instead, if one is to believe some recent handwriting analysis) that has been used before the invasion of the (aggravating) cellphone ring.

As a first example, a rather appealing duet between Whitney Houston and Deborah Cox, Same Script, Different Cast

Same Script, Different Cast – Whitney Houston & Deborah cox

The most well-known use of the motif is probably the song I Can by B-Boy Nas, written to serve as inspiration for the youth. (Beethoven would most certainly have appreciated this message.)

The first movement of the Sonata opus 27 No. 1, “Moonlight” (CD 4 of the Kuerti boxset) also seems a constant source of inspiration.

We have Piano & I by Alicia Keys, an anthem song taken from the now-classic Songs in A Minor.

The Beatles also used it in Because, the accompaniment of the song having been directly inspired by Yoko Ono working on the famous piece.

The Beatles (1969) – Abbey Road – 08 – Because – Sep 30, 2003 21.57.22.mp3 –

Let’s not forget the classic of classics, Walter Murphy’s disco hit, A Fifth of Beethoven.

A Fifth of Beethoven – Walter Murphy

In Quebec, around the same time, André Gagnon had written his own Dedethoven on the album Neiges.

The set of variations that shape the second movement of the Seventh Symphony served as the theme for some rather unusual numbers, for example, Symphonie as sung by Norma Ray.

but also the very exalted Poème sur la Septième in which Johnny Halliday reveals himself under a very different light.

In my next post, hip-hop and classical music get it on.

Classical and pop: two solitudes?

14 July 2009

Ask a pop music fan if he likes classical music and he will most probably give you a dirty look or say something like “I don’t really like it!”, “It’s totally passé!” or “It’s much too complicated, I don’t get it!” (The reverse proposition may be just as conclusive.) Nevertheless, numerous pop singers or bands have used, at one time or another, a classical work and “corrupted” it, whether they admit it or not. If Sting dutifully thanks Prokofiev in the liner’s notes under his hit song Russians, Phil Collins “forgets” to mention his blatant pastiche of the last movement of Clementi‘s Sonatina opus 36 no 5, a beginners’ favourite, in his A Groovy Kind of Love.

Other examples? The possibilities are almost endless and this is why I start today a series on these “borrowings”.

In 1975, Eric Carmen was greatly inspired by Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in his nevertheless very convincing All by myself (covered a few years back by Céline Dion).

All By Myself – Eric Carmen

In the 80s, Louise Tucker built Midnight Blue, a rather sappy duet, on the second movement of Beethoven Sonata opus 13, “Pathétique”.

Midnight blue – Louise Tucker

A difficult-to-beat summit of kitsch is certainly French singer Dave’s album of songs inspired by Classical hits, such as Liszt’s Rêve d’amour or Bach’s (in)famous Air on the G String. To listen…

He is not the only French singer to have succombed to this. Nana Mouskouri did the same in Classic.

More recently, one of the numerous lounge compilations put out by the very hip Buddha Bar in Paris featured a song by B-Tribe that uses Lakmé’s Duet of the flowers.

Angelic Voices (Rebirth Remix) – B-Tribe

In my next post, a series of hits (and some odd takes) inspired by the music of Beethoven.