Saturday, October 18, 2008

"He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)"

In the grand tradition of covers, here's another one cover of "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" by the Crystals, this one by Grizzly Bear. I'm sure quite a few of you have already listened to this, but I imagine it brings an interesting gender dynamic to the song.

You can just follow this link, and there's a link that you can right-click and save as to listen to the song.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Classical Music in Film: A Programmatic Oddity?

In light of our early discussions about assigning "programs" to pieces and our discussion of Stravinsky, I thought I would share a related experience I had recently.

Last week I was watching a 1944 propaganda film called "Know Your Enemy: Japan," which was made to encourage continued American support of the war with Japan. Much can be said about this 70-minute work, but I found one of the most interesting elements of the film to be the use of music. The director (Frank Capra, perhaps better known for his feel-good Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life) uses some clips of Japanese music to demonstrate the "backwardness" and "otherness" of Japanese society, which was not unexpected. However, I was shocked to hear the familiar strains of Le Sacre du Printemps over footage that featured recreations of pre-modern Japanese conflicts. You can watch the scene here (Le Sacre begins around 4:20).

The use of this piece raises a lot of questions. Le Sacre is perhaps one of the most programmatic works in existence, and it's hard to believe that the filmmakers wouldn't have had some idea about the content of the piece. It's not hard to believe that Capra's use of a ballet depicting pagan rites was intentional. Considering his discussion of the objectivity of music in Poetics of Music, one wonders what Stravinsky's perspective on the piece's use might have been, too. Is drawing a parallel between Japan's Shintoism and Russian pagan rites the kind of betrayal Stravinsky considers "interpretation" to be?

Propaganda films aren't the only place one can find reappropriated classical music. Richard Strauss' tone poem "Also Sprach Zarathrustra", based on Friedrich Nietzche's landmark work, is a highly programmatic work in itself, but may be best known in its appropriated form as the "Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey". The piece has been used in other films, in ironic turns in Catch-22 and Clueless. With the piece so firmly ingrained into our cultural memory with images of discovery and vastness, it's hard to hear the seminal opening as anything different.

(Shameless plug: You can hear the piece played by the Brown Orchestra tonight at 10, tomorrow at 8, and Sunday at 3. Tonight's performance will be followed by a screening of 2001, so you can analyze the effects of the reprogramatization of the piece first-hand!)

How does the reappropriation of classical music change how we view its program, whether or not it was initially intended to be programmatic? Is it a betrayal of the composer's intent, or is it just another way to do honor to a great composition?

Signing Up for Leading Discussion

This is the official spot for discussing who will take what assignments. I'll also mention that if no one else wants to claim it, I would be happy to lead discussion on John Cage. To add a comment, just click on the link below where it says "0 comments" (or however many comments have been added by the time you read this post) and leave your preferences. And then be sure to check back to see what other people have requested, etc...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

useful readings on stravinsky

Here are three pieces of writing on Stravinsky that contain important information about the Poetics of Music and The Rite of Spring ; one is by Robert Craft, noted Stravinsky scholar and Stravinsky's long-time amanuensis; two are by Richard Taruskin, surely the world's leading scholarly authority on Stravinsky today.

1) On the actual writing of the Poetics of Music :
Robert Craft, "Roland-Manuel and the 'Poetics of Music,'" Perspectives of New Music , vol. 21, no. 1/2 (Autumn, 1982 - Summer, 1983), pp. 487-505.

2) On Stravinsky's use of Russian folk melodies in Rite of Spring (a usage he wanted subsequently to conceal) :
Richard Taruskin, "Russian Folk Melodies in The Rite of Spring," Journal of the American Musicological Society , Vol. 33, no. 3 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 501-543.

3) On the notorious (fabricated) review by Alexis Tolstoy, as quoted in Stravinsky's Poetics (p. 115), of Shostakovich's 5th Symphony :
see Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, c. 1997), pp. 516-524.