Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cultural Leadership in Canada

I moved from Canada to Mexico almost twenty years ago, but I still read Canadian newspapers online quite often. I just ran across two articles in the Globe and Mail about cultural leadership in Canada, which seems to be in a bit of a crisis. The first one is The outsiders who got in: Why sought-after arts positions in the country are going to non-Canadians and the second is How to change arts leadership in Canada: An insider’s perspective. Both are worth reading, but let me just quote some excerpts from the second article:
Canadian cultural organizations are experiencing a leadership deficit and the problem is worsening as more and more highly regarded chief executive officers announce their retirement. We are seeing a generational change in leadership. Coming retirements for 2018 include long-standing CEOs Peter Herrndorf of the National Arts Centre and Piers Handling of TIFF.
The National Arts Centre in Ottawa is a facility for the performing arts with four different spaces ranging from 150 seats to over 2,000 seats. TIFF is the Toronto International Film Festival.
Here in Canada, we have plenty of arts training models and success stories to build on for leadership development: think back to the Centre of Expertise on Culture and Communities (2005-2008) at Simon Fraser University, or the groundbreaking work of the Canadian Museums Human Resources Action Strategy (1995), or the Toronto performing arts collaboration Creative Trust (1998-2012). These were innovative programs, bringing people together for challenging learning and development.
The point is acute because it's getting harder. CEOs in any sector today have to concern themselves with an increasingly complex array of issues from diversity to digital to reconciliation. All while ensuring safe and creative workplaces and strategically leading their organizations into the future.
Are you starting to sense the blind spot here?
Rightly so, governments are investing more in culture. These new investments are upping the expectations for what the sector can achieve in society – and we are meeting the challenge. Canadian cultural organizations, together with their counterparts in other countries, are experiencing a transformation of engagement and empowerment – a transformation that will serve us all well. For our efforts and our examples, Canadian cultural leaders – past and present – are active and respected across the globe.
Ok. Well then, let's just name some of these internationally respected Canadian cultural leaders. I'm sure some of my Canadian commentators could step up, but just because someone is known in Canada for running this or that arts organization, doesn't quite signal an international reputation. One final quote:
Throughout my professional career working with cultural and creative organizations, I have never been more proud of the potential of our sector to contribute to our humanity and our society, nor have I been more preoccupied about the future of our sector – to train the next generation, to develop our own body of knowledge, and over all, to nurture culture and creativity for the benefit of all Canadians.
Do you see what is missing? Throughout both of these articles on arts leadership in Canada the missing element is, wait for it, the arts! Not one artist in any field was mentioned. Not one artwork of any kind was mentioned. The entire focus was on arts administration which is universally, in every culture I can think of, only haphazardly related to the actual arts. What is amazingly bizarre here is that all these people, all these cultural and arts leaders, seem to think that what they are doing has something to do with leading the arts somewhere. They see the arts as some sort of high-level education program or moral guide to "nurture culture and creativity for the benefit of all Canadians." I mean that is just totally obvious, right?

I hate to rain on their parade, but all of this "investing" in the arts does nothing for the arts. What it does is provide a wealth of middle and upper management jobs for the well-connected and credentialed. Yes, and they build some nice new buildings to present the arts. I guess it is so appealing to Canadians because it is so very terribly safe. The arts are tightly controlled through all of these well-managed arts organizations who are the gate-keepers. It all sounds very benevolent, though what I see is richly funded administration, not richly patronized artists. I have long noticed a pattern in Canada of well-padded administrative salaries together with the most pathetic crumbs given to the actual artists.

All of this is kind of a Potemkin village of the arts: instead of individual artists producing some artworks of some significance, what we have are arts institutions and organizations who attempt to administer the field from the top down. This is about as successful as petting a cat against the fur. The arts, now and always, flow from the individual efforts of individuals, not the collective efforts of institutions. Yes, arts institutions can be of immense value in nurturing and supporting artists, but what usually happens, and in Canada seems to regularly happen, is that these institutions end up serving the best interests of those people who run them and are employed by them instead of that vague and debatable goal of "the arts" or "aesthetics." Who the heck knows what they are?

And this is why almost no one outside Canada can name a single Canadian composer of any significance.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 11

When I was an undergraduate in my first couple of years, I was at a university with an active composition department. I think the professor of composition was a Czech bassoonist. The students formed a kind of collective that were very active. The music department at that time was camped out in the back of a building largely devoted to visual arts. I think we had three classrooms and the use of an auditorium that sat a couple of hundred people. This was used for student concerts every Friday and a couple of times the student composers commandeered the room for a special concert. This provided, at least, a relief from the brass quintets and shaky attempts at lieder. I was responsible for one of the latter as, at the time, I was enrolled in a vocal techniques class and ended up performing a Schubert lied--"Heidenröslein" as I recall.

So one Friday the composer's collective took over the hall and delivered a "happening." One fellow (who now teaches composition in this very same department) delivered some French nightclub chansons over desultory piano accompaniment; another climbed a high ladder, I don't recall why exactly; another fried up some pork chops in an electric fry pan. There was some other stuff going on, but I don't recall the details. This was followed by a tribute to the French clavicinistes who were accused of a fixation on poultry. Someone might have played "La Poule" by Rameau. Here is a performance by Hank Knox, who teaches at McGill and was a fellow student of mine there in the 70s:

This was followed or accompanied by the rolling of eggs, both raw and hard-boiled, onstage, the tossing of chickens, both raw and BBQed, and the final entry of an indignant rooster who strutted out to mid-stage and proceeded to stare down the audience (who by this point were diminishing rapidly). The next year saw them form their own ensemble, the "Vegteband," consisting of hollowed out vegetables with mouthpieces from wind instruments like the clarinet and trumpet.

This all took place in the early 70s, probably 1972 or 73. I mention this only because in my reading of the biography of Sofia Gubaidulina, I have come to the chapter where a group of young composers in Moscow that included Gubaidulina, Elena Firsova, Dmitri Smirnov, Alexander Raskatov, Vladislav Shoot, Viatscheslav Artyomov and others came together. The last, Artyomov, was a percussionist and collector of folk instruments from Central Asia and the Transcaucasus. Artyomov, Gubaidulina and Victor Suslin formed an ad-hoc trio that improvised together using these instruments. It was a kind of research project in, among other things, timbre. Here is a photo of the group. From left to right, Artyomov on Tár (an Uzbek-Tadzhik plucked instrument), Gubaidulina on Georgian hunting horn and Suslin on Pandura:

They were attracted by the spontaneity of folk music as well as the unusual timbres which they explored in every possible way. They would improvise for hours at a time. Gubaidulina in particular seemed to be guided by an inner voice or "demon" that directed her path and even forced the others to follow her. They gave public concerts, sometimes with other musicians, that attracted the attention of the KGB who, frankly, had no idea what to make of these musicians. "Where did you come from?" and "What did you study?" they would ask. The group, that came to be called Astraea, had weekly sessions between 1975 and 1981.

The later 70s were very difficult for Gubaidulina from a financial point of view as commissions for film scores dried up entirely. At one point she was approached to write a piece combining popular and serious music for a music hall performance. The actual performance did not materialize, but she wrote her Concerto for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band for which she did receive a substantial honorarium. It was written in 1976 and first performed in 1978. I think I put this up before, but now we should hear it in its proper historical context. This version is for wind band and jazz ensemble:

It was also used as a ballet piece. In 1976 she also wrote a trio for three trumpets:

I find it fascinating that, during the same decade of the 70s, young composers in Canada and the Soviet Union were engaged in similar kinds of improvisatory work. The group in Moscow were older, of course, in their forties, while the Canadians were in their twenties. They also took different paths. The Canadians were probably influenced by John Cage while the Russians were reacting against the strictures of official socialist realism and the intellectualism of Westerners like Pierre Boulez.

I had no attraction to what my fellow students were doing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was simply too unsophisticated to understand what they were up to. But more importantly, I was on a trajectory from being a folk, rock and blues musician to being a disciplined classical guitarist. I had spent years doing free-form blues improvisations and what I was looking for was to get away from that! The transcendental austerity of Bach played by people like Andrés Segovia was what was attracting me. My fellow students were rebelling against the strictures of classical music, which is exactly what was attracting me.

Here is what I was aiming for back then:

Talk about being out of step with history!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Defective Strings

Turning to more practical matters, one of the issues that one has to deal with as a string instrument player is, of course, strings. A while back I gave some simple advice to guitar players about how to improve and it boiled down to three suggestions:

  1. Change your strings!
  2. Either buy a better guitar or have the action gone over on yours
  3. Practice a lot slower!
Unfortunately, because of the frets, guitar strings have to be changed a lot more often than bowed instrument strings. When I was an active professional soloist I played around thirty hours a week and my strings would only last a couple of weeks before they became unusable. What goes wrong is the treble strings get dented by the frets and their pitch starts to become ambiguous. The bass strings start to go dead and the 4th string winding wears through on the second fret. There are guitar players who keep their strings on for a very, very long time, but this is why they sound so bad!

As you are constantly replacing your strings, you are also looking to find the best strings for your instrument and individual approach to tone color. A very popular string for many players that is consistently good and well-priced is the basic Pro Arté brand:

They also have some higher-priced sets that I tend to prefer such as:

A while ago I mentioned trying some new Italian strings that I really liked. I just put another set of their strings on, these ones are called "Rubino" and the trebles are colored red:

Alas, these ones are not working out as the second string (and also the third, to a lesser extent) is defective. We used to run into this problem very frequently with Augustine strings. The frequency or pitch of a string depends on three things: the length of the string, the tension and the mass per unit length or linear density. So:
  • the shorter the string, the higher the frequency of the fundamental
  • the higher the tension, the higher the frequency of the fundamental
  • the lighter the string, the higher the frequency of the fundamental
On the guitar the strings are all the same length so the difference in pitch is achieved through changing the tension with the tuning mechanism and by each string having a different mass, which means that the thinner strings are a higher pitch than the thicker ones.

The problem arises with the mass of the string. With the wound strings, this is pretty easy to control, but it is different with the treble strings. If they are not exactly the same diameter throughout, the pitch will not be clear and defined. Nowadays most trebles are reliably consistent, but you can still get a defective string. Amazingly, some guitarists don't even notice but just struggle a bit with tuning until they replace the string. But it is easy to detect a defective string. Just pluck it and watch closely how it vibrates against the dark background of the sound-hole. A good string will show a smooth band of vibration that grows narrower as the vibration ceases. A bad string will have a jerky, jagged vibration because it is trying to vibrate in more than one frequency due to the variation in the mass or diameter. It will not sound good and you will never get it in tune!

The solution (which I am going to apply this morning): take off the string and replace it with a new one! Luckily, I have a number of sets of extra trebles because sometimes I just replace the basses as they usually go dead before the trebles start sounding bad. With the old Augustine strings, about a third of them were defective. Nowadays it is pretty rare. But now you know what to do.

For our envoi today, the Carora-vals venezolano by Antonio Lauro played by me on a pretty good set of Pro Artés:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on composer/impresario Paola Prestini that is likely worth your time:
Born in Trento, Italy, and raised in Arizona by a single mother, Prestini was one of only three women in her composition class of 50 at Juilliard, where her taste for experimental opera and large-scale multimedia works put her at odds with the school’s more conservative teaching. In 1999, while she was still a student and thinking ahead to staging her own pieces after graduation, she co-founded the scrappy production company VisionIntoArt; its ups and downs gave her a real-world education in getting music in front of an audience. A decade ago, Prestini met Kevin Dolan, a Washington, D.C., tax lawyer and arts patron looking to launch a venue for emerging talent. Seven years and $16 million later, National Sawdust opened its doors. Today it boasts a staff of 16 (10 of them women) and hosts seven diverse performances a week. Prestini dreams of opening satellites in London and Tokyo.
* * *

Curious about the Reigning Divas of Carnatic Music? Well, so was I!
India’s national instrument, the Saraswati veena, has been patronized by many artists over the decades. Even the legendary vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi was a trained veena player. In recent times, the undisputed queen of the veena is Jayanthi Kumaresh, who hails from a family of Carnatic music practitioners. Her mother Lalgudi Rajalakshmi was also a noted veena player. Her maternal uncle was the famous violin maestro, the late Lalgudi Jayaraman. Known for her technical expertise, strict classicism and authenticity, Kumaresh’s music has gained considerable global popularity. Kumaresh is also a composer. Her albums, like Mysterious Duality (2013), and her work with the Indian National Orchestra, a syndicate she formed along with 20 other musicians in 2011, have shown her to be a composer of high musical standards.

* * *

The Globe and Mail has a thoughtful article on the reign of Charles Dutoit in Montreal before his fall from grace:
An old story caught up with the board and administration of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra last week, as allegations of psychological abuse of players by former music director Charles Dutoit were spelled out in detail in two francophone newspapers.
The scenario resembled that of many recent accusations of sexual misconduct – including those against Mr. Dutoit – with one important difference: The players' complaints of bullying from the podium were made very public 15 years ago, and ignored.
An open letter alleging the abuse, in April, 2002, was the precipitating factor in Mr. Dutoit's abrupt resignation days later. "The reality of life in the MSO for most players," wrote Quebec Musicians' Guild president Émile Subirana, "is unrelenting harassment, condescension and humiliation by a man whose autocratic behaviour has become intolerable."
Regarding the way marketing and promotion can lead to abuse:
As shown by the Dutoit case, and by that of James Levine at the Metropolitan Opera, selling your leader as an indispensable wizard makes it hard to control him if he steps out of line. It also confuses the public about what an orchestra is. It's not a band of puppets waiting to be activated by an inspired pair of hands. It's a gathering of individual artists, who together maintain the sound, traditions and personality of the ensemble. However great the conductor, nothing would be heard without the craft, dedication and art of the players.
There is a complex relationship between the conductor and the orchestra. I was just talking with someone about her experiences. For quite a few years they had to contend with an erratic and abusive conductor. He was finally replaced with another, much easier to work with but, at the end of the day, rather boring! Some of the best conductors can be temperamental, but as long as it does not become actual abuse, that probably gives better results than a conductor who is bland and mediocre.

* * *

And the soap opera that is the Oregon Bach Festival just keeps a'coming:
Destrubé said he couldn’t continue as program director. “I have … relinquished my role as program director of the Berwick Academy,” he said by email. “As it was I who invited Jaap ter Linden, also at the suggestion of several of the other faculty members, and as the OBF/UO administration decided to un-invite him following your article, unjustifiably in my opinion, I felt that my position as program director was untenable. As simple as that.”
It's complicated, but as best as I can make out, the festival administration's hypersensitivity to anything outside the strict parameters of political correctness, combined with their utter lack of a sense of humor, seems to be causing a string of firings and resignations.

* * *

Once a meme gets firmly rooted, it is hard to get rid of it. Case in point, the ongoing complaint that classical music programs are larded with compositions by dead, white males to the exclusion of women and people of color. While there is certainly truth in this, the explanation of why this is so and the social justice ideology surrounding it are both deeply flawed. Let's look at this recent example: Systemic Discrimination: the Burden of Sameness in American Orchestras.
Classical music lovers feel a rush of excitement each year when orchestras release their plans for an upcoming season. Marketing brochures feature glossy photos of conductors and soloists, hopefully enticing patrons to swoon over the year’s top-flight catches. But many listeners also take a closer look at the musical programs. And every year, social media platforms explode with disappointment as one orchestra after another tries to sell a season riddled with music by dead white men.
I like that "riddled with" phrase: it suggests that white men are akin to termites or a deadly virus. Crude claims like this are the norm:
Simply put, lack of diversity on concert programs is built into the institutional structure of American classical music organizations, leading to systemic discrimination against women, people of color, and other historically underrepresented musicians.
Let's dismantle this, shall we? First of all, the buzzword "diversity" is simply code for saying that concert programs, membership in orchestras, conductors, soloists, and in every other aspect, classical music organizations must mirror exactly the gender and racial makeup of the society as a whole. Why is this? It is nothing more than a numbskull's concept of "justice." I think that one of the best ripostes to this kind of argument was Jordan Peterson's to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's virtue-signalling action of making sure exactly 50% of his cabinet were women. His reason? "Because it is 2015." Peterson's comment was that this was idiotic because what you have to select for in cabinet posts is not gender balance, but competence. Justice is not served when group identity trumps everything else. Similarly, we should apply a multivariate analysis to these other claims. For a variety of reasons that undoubtedly include child-bearing and raising, education, social biases, interests and the fact that men and women tend to have different goals, European music history has vastly more male composers than female ones. There are no women composers of the stature of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. Now, if you want to simply decide by fiat that your music history starts in the year 1950 or 2000, then fine. I'm sure that you can find a great number of women composers. But good luck getting audiences to attend your concerts! Oh, and the whole notion of "systemic" discrimination is only hauled out when you can't find an actual individual to blame.

* * *

So if you don't get to shoehorn in women composers and composers of color just because they belong to "oppressed" identity groups, then how do they enter the canon? Just the way dead, white males did, through merit. Joseph Haydn is not widely performed because he is dead and white. If that were the case then his brother Michael, also a prolific composer, would also be widely performed. He's not and the reason is that Joseph is the far better composer. The process of canon formation is a constant one and there are always people advocating for the addition of neglected composers. A good case in point is a recent article by Alex Ross in The New Yorker about neglected composer Florence Price who was a woman and partly black.
Price was born in 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas, and grew up in a middle-class household. She returned home after attending the New England Conservatory, one of the few conservatories that admitted African-Americans at the time. Her early adulthood was devoted largely to teaching and to raising a family. Life in Arkansas was oppressive; lynchings were routine. In 1927, Price moved with her family to Chicago, where her horizons began to expand. She divorced her husband, who had become abusive, and struck out on her own. Until then, her compositional output had consisted mostly of songs, short pieces, and music for children. She increasingly essayed larger symphonic and concerto forms, winning support from Stock, a conductor of rare broad-mindedness.
Beginning in 1931, Price wrote or sketched a total of four symphonies. The First and the Third have been published by A-R Editions, under the scholarly guidance of the late Rae Linda Brown, and recorded by the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble and the Women’s Philharmonic, respectively. The Second was apparently never finished; the Fourth, whose score turned up in the St. Anne house, will receive its première by the Fort Smith Symphony, in Arkansas, in May.
And that is how it starts. Over time, the music of Florence Price may or may not find a niche in the repertory. What will determine that is the collective aesthetic judgement of performers, conductors, critics and audiences.

* * *

Here is a piece by Paola Prestini for solo cello with pre-recorded cellos and electric bass titled "Mourning" from a larger piece titled Body Maps. The cellist is Jeffrey Ziegler.

And here is the first movement of Florence Price's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major. Blogger doesn't want to embed, so just follow the link:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Diminished Blogging

I haven't put quite as much time into blogging the last little while for several reasons. First, I have had other responsibilities that have taken up quite a bit of time. Also, I am working on my piece for violin and guitar in which I am wrestling with some compositional problems that I have avoided until now. The piece is now titled Dark Dream and I read through it in its current form with my violinist friend last Sunday. It has some unique problems of ensemble.

I am also reading Jordan Peterson's new book, 12 Rules for Life which is, astonishingly, the most sold nonfiction book at Amazon. That would be worldwide! Pretty good for a guy from Fairview, Alberta. That's in the Peace River country in northern Alberta about twenty miles from where I was born. He also graduated from McGill, as I did. I do recommend the book, by the way. It falls into a odd sort of category: it has intellectual substance, but it is really about the practical problems of life.

The other project that is taking up time, most delightfully, is listening to Haydn. I'm up to the Symphony No. 17 which means only 155 CDs to go!

I do intend to get back to Sofia Gubaidulina pretty soon and to continue my series of posts on aesthetics, which have been in abeyance for much too long.

Just to get back to Peterson for a moment. I think one way to describe what he is up to is a revival of what are some hard truths: life is suffering, humans have the capacity to create a hell on earth, and you need to tell the truth, or at least, avoid lying. He connects totalitarianism with the propensity for human societies to allow a web of deceit to slowly develop over time to the point where everyone, nearly, is living some sort of lie. Yes, it is often, perhaps even usually expedient for us to avoid confronting the truth, but that road leads to a place that no-one wants to go.

The sorry fact is that the rise of various forms of relativism over the course of the 20th century allowed for the development of ever more sophisticated forms of lying. A lot of criticism of Peterson is along the lines that he is repeating worn-out platitudes and he lacks nuance and sophistication. It is interesting to watch some of his YouTube videos, especially when he is speaking to a non-university audience as you can hear the wry astonishment of the listeners as he tells them some pretty hard truths. We have become all too used to the empty recitation of comfortable deceits. I might well have put this up before, but here he is exploding some of the most popular of those regarding oppression. I want you to notice how the fellow on the left is reacting when the camera pans in that direction.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Haydn Edition

I have two confessions this morning: I have a weakness for those big boxes of CDs that are such good value these days, and I have an abiding enthusiasm for the music of Joseph Haydn. Given this, plus the news that Brilliant Classics released a big box titled the Haydn Edition in November, it was inevitable that one thing would lead to another.

So yes, I just received the box yesterday and I'm already deep in the symphonies that occupy the first thirty-three discs of this 160 CD box. Yes, I already have the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra thirty-seven CD box of all the symphonies, but those performances, fine as they are, are all taken from live concerts. The ones in the Haydn Edition are by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra and were recorded in the Haydnsaal of the Esterházy Palace where they were originally performed. From what I have heard so far, they are brilliant and energetic performances. Down the road I'm sure I will do a post comparing the two sets.

The other box of Haydn already on my shelves is a box of the complete string quartets with the Angeles String Quartet, a perfectly serviceable version but not one that keeps drawing me back. So I am looking forward to hearing the Buchberger Quartet performances. Some of the other reasons I got the new edition is for the piano sonatas and trios, the operas, the masses and, heck, even the baryton trios which I have never heard. Why oh why, I cry to myself, could not the Prince have been a serious guitar aficionado instead of a baryton player? Then we might have had dozens and dozens of guitar trios from the pen of Haydn and the history of the guitar would be quite different. Alas...

There are lots of things to bemoan about the general state of culture these days, but the accessibility of great music is not one of them. These CDs are less than a dollar each and contain a vast wealth of truly great music.

The wonder of Haydn is that, even from his very first symphony, he wrote energizing, charming, delightful music, and kept doing it with greater and greater subtlety for forty or fifty years.

Here are the first five symphonies performed by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra conducted by Adam Fischer:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Going to Hell in a Handbasket

I was hoping to avoid this entirely, but I don't have another convenient topic to post on this morning, so, I guess I have to talk about a performance I saw Friday night. It was a miserable night with a cold drizzle and I was standing waiting for my driver getting wetter and wetter. I nearly threw in the towel. But I had a ticket waiting for me, so... A ticket for what, you ask?

Each year the local classical music series schedules an opera. In past years they have put on Madame Butterfly and other romantic operas. For various reasons, I have not made it to any of these performances which they have been giving for, I guess, four or five years. The cast is made up of singers from the Mexico City opera, sets are minimal and, instead of an orchestra, there is a lone piano. So I wasn't exactly in a hurry to hie myself hither. But this year they are doing Don Giovanni by Mozart, so I thought I would go.

Don Giovanni is one of the few operas I sort of know. I played mandolin in a production of it years ago, shoehorned into the orchestra pit, so I didn't have a good view of the stage. Heh! It was also taken up in a couple of music history courses at university and I have listened to a CD of it along with all the other Mozart operas in my big box Mozart Complete Edition.

I decided to opt for a side balcony ticket instead of a more expensive box or orchestra seat (down in front). Alas, my seat gave me a view of about 10% of the stage and it seemed to be the 10% where very little happened. The production started about fifteen minutes late and the first disconcerting thing was: no overture. We immediately launched into "Notte e giorno faticar." OK. The singing was all right, though not really to my taste. But as time went on the somewhat shaky piano part, the so-so singing and the inability to actually see any of the stage action became more and more tiresome. Also, the handling of the accompaniment of the recitatives showed little sense of 18th century style.

When the intermission belatedly arrived, I just left. I have left lots of concerts in the middle, but never an opera before. I guess I am a bit spoiled by seeing some productions in European opera houses. Sure, there are extreme and understandable limitations on what the local group can do. They have no access to a proper theater. The one they use seats 400 to 500 at the most and the sight-lines are bad for a lot of the seats. There is extremely minimal lighting and the set is nothing more than a painted backdrop. Also, there is no orchestra pit, which means nowhere to put an orchestra even if they could afford one. If the singing was less bombastic and they managed to tuck a string quartet away in a corner somewhere it might have worked. But as it was, it gave the impression of a not very accomplished high school caricature of a Mozart opera. Am I just being a curmudgeon? Well, yes, probably.

If I were to give some advice, it would be to suggest they try and put on something less ambitious, something that they have the resources to handle. But I'm sure that advice will be ignored. What they want to do is familiar works that everyone will want to attend. Well, everyone except me, I guess!

Here's that missing overture:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

And 7,245 Comments!

I really have to acknowledge the contribution made by my commentators on this blog. They are a great group that really stand out in my view. The Internet is full of trolls and just nasty people, but they almost never find their way to this blog (though I did get a flurry of spam comments this past week advertising escorts in India?!?). Indeed, except for one incident relating to guitarist Narciso Yepes that brought a host of weird and off-topic comments, I have only ever had to delete one comment due to slander and obscenity. That has got to be an Internet record.

Instead, my commentators are a fair and reasonable lot with considerable knowledge and education. If I ever misspell or misuse a Latin quote I have at least two commentators who will correct me. I have had well-known music critics and composers leave informative comments and we have had extended debates with professors of music. This is all as delightful as it is rare!

I have noticed that some online publications, such as the Globe and Mail, have ceased to allow online comments and I think their value suffers as a result. The Wall Street Journal comments are extremely useful as I nearly always consult them after reading any opinion piece. They are an invaluable corrective. It is very heartening to see how very savvy the commentators are, as a group.

So here's to you! Praise to my commentators and may they live long and prosper.

Time for more celebratory music. This is the Symphony No. 48, "Maria Theresa" by Joseph Haydn, played by The Academy of Ancient Music, conducted by Christopher Hogwood:

Does anyone know a composer more sheerly delightful than Haydn? Ok, Mozart, possibly...

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

The Canadian Opera Company is getting some great publicity from the Toronto Globe and Mail this season. I don't recall such extensive coverage in previous years. Today's piece is on the upcoming production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) composed by Mozart at age twenty-six (he started composing operas at age eleven, so this is a mature work). The article goes into some depth (for a newspaper) on Mozart's Janissary band style, the spoken dialogue and the vocal virtuosity.
The music that Mozart wrote for Abduction (at 26 years old, believe it or not) is not for any old cast of singers. Packed into one opera are all the technical skills that opera singers work for decades to perfect. You'll hear dizzying displays of scales and arpeggios: The lovesick Belmonte kicks off Act 1 with more notes than you ever thought possible from a tenor.
You'll hear basses plunging into to their profound depths: Lean forward and listen as Osmin, right-hand man to the overseer of the harem, dives down to a low D and soars back up as high as an F – this is no droning bass role.
Most memorably, the sopranos of Abduction may cause your ears to pop by hitting impossible heights of their range. In particular, the character Blonde is tasked with singing a few much-anticipated – and freakishly difficult – high Es in her first aria. Konstanze may not rise up quite as high, but she makes a flashy entrance with her first aria, Ach, ich liebte ("Oh, I was in love"), twinkling like a beautiful banshee up on high Bs and Cs.
The way Mozart writes for sopranos is a mix of worshipping their skills and testing their limits – and Abduction is such a extreme example that Milos Forman included it in Amadeus, his 1984 film about Mozart's life. We catch a depiction of the debut performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Vienna, 1782, as soprano Caterina Cavalieri, the diva who first sang the role of Konstanze, flaunts the behemoth aria in Act 2, Martern aller Arten ("Tortures unrelenting").
The production runs until February 24 at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto.

* * *

This is Mozart opera week as tonight our local production of Don Giovanni opens. I have to confess that while I have been at a number of performances of this opera, I have always viewed it from the orchestral pit! Yes, I took up the mandolin just to play the obbligato part in one of the arias one year. It was a great experience even though my chair was right up against the tympani! In any case, tonight I will be seeing it from the audience for the first time.

* * *

Salzburg has had the good sense to turn down the empty symbolism of being named a European "City of Culture." Slipped Disc has the details:
The city council voted overwhelmingly last night not to apply for the EU’s rolling title of City of Culture.
The reason given is that it will cost tens of millions of Euros that could be better spent on culture itself, rather than the trappings of a title.
Salzburg’s decision suggests that the title has been hopelessly devalued by being rolled around provincial fishing and mining towns in obscure corners of the EU under some all-must-have-prizes rule.
This illustrates rather well the futility of official boosterism. Salzburg is about as cultural as a city can get and certainly needs no Euro-stamp as validation. When I was last there, they had twelve concert halls and one (1) cinema!

* * *

Also at Slipped Disc is a quote from a piece by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post about how she sees her job as critic:
Think of the experience as a conversation: The evening offers a point of view, and you respond to it. Is it a conversation that you want to continue, by going back and hearing that music again? Is it one you’re glad to have behind you? Is it something you want to talk about to other people — and can another person change your mind? All of this is part of the experience we have with any art form. And it’s a lot more fun to become an active participant than it is to receive the music in reverential, passive silence.
The comments are also worth reading.

* * *

Quincy Jones, legendary music producer, gets nasty in his latest interview with Vulture (warning, he uses some strong language): 
What were your first impressions of the Beatles?
That they were the worst musicians in the world. They were no-playing motherfuckers. Paul was the worst bass player I ever heard. And Ringo? Don’t even talk about it. I remember once we were in the studio with George Martin, and Ringo had taken three hours for a four-bar thing he was trying to fix on a song. He couldn’t get it. We said, “Mate, why don’t you get some lager and lime, some shepherd’s pie, and take an hour-and-a-half and relax a little bit.” So he did, and we called Ronnie Verrell, a jazz drummer. Ronnie came in for 15 minutes and tore it up. Ringo comes back and says, “George, can you play it back for me one more time?” So George did, and Ringo says, “That didn’t sound so bad.” And I said, “Yeah, motherfucker because it ain’t you.” Great guy, though.
Were there any rock musicians you thought were good?
I used to like Clapton’s band. What were they called?
Yeah, they could play.
Well, I agree with some of that! Not the Ringo stuff, though. Ringo was perhaps the most musical and original drummer in rock. And Paul? A bad bass player? Quincy, whatcha been smoking?

* * *

 If you are interested here is a "new" musicology analysis of the theme music used on Canadian and US tv for the Olympic games:
Melding disparate musical sounds into one new work is part of the CBC’s mandate. In the early 2000s, the network was under pressure to make their programming more multicultural and so they shifted their focus to incorporate more “fusion programming.” This involved bringing together musicians from different cultures, styles and languages to see whether they might be able to find new ways to collaborate.
While the CBC’s intentions may have been good, the results have been mixed. According to ethnomusicologist Rebecca Draisey-Collishaw, the musical output has not served to reflect creative and multicultural “meetings” between different musical traditions. Instead it more often represents — musically — cultural minorities being assimilated into mainstream, white, Anglo codes that serve to reinforce the status quo.
Ah yes, those "white, Anglo codes" that oppress every other musical tradition... Damned C major!

* * *

 Our envoi today is the overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio by Mozart. This is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Fabio Luisi:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Post 2,500!

Yes, it's true this is the 2500th post to this blog. Hmm, lemmesee, at around 800 words per post that comes to

Two Million Words!!

Which is quite a few. And some of them were actually informative. And I'm not even counting those occasionally profuse musical examples.

This is, for me, a fulfilling experience and it is especially good when you comment as that always adds a lot.

Let's have some celebratory music. Bach, Magnificat:

Haydn, Lord Nelson Mass:

Mozart, Symphony No. 41, Jupiter:

Wait, is this getting excessive? Oh, probably. But that's one of the cool things about music. We have just piles and piles of really great, joyous, over the top, celebratory music. So let's end with one more, the Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Training is Expensive

A friend of mine who happens to be a seasoned orchestral string player and I attended a concert by our local youth orchestra on Sunday. The concert began with two isolated movements from different Mozart symphonies and continued with a movement from a Haydn symphony. At that point we left. Yes, we were horrible people, not giving these young musicians and their conductor a chance. But, believe me, the aesthetic pain was considerable!

So we should talk about how young musicians become capable performers. The short answer is: a great deal of painstaking work. This is also expensive work because students need a great deal of supervision by highly-capable teachers. I recently ran across a video clip that is a very good articulation of how this works. Over to Jordan Peterson, who explains how to teach people how to think:

As he says, marking a good essay is easy: check, A. Marking a bad essay is unbelievably difficult because everything is wrong. Well, that's the way it is with young music students. With very, very, very few exceptions everything they do is wrong: they hold the instrument incorrectly, they don't play in tune, their rhythms are shaky or soggy or just wrong, they miscount the rests, they play with an unpleasant grating tone, sometimes they play the wrong notes. What every one of the players in a youth orchestra needs is intensive private instruction from highly-capable teachers who have spent many years being trained themselves.

Some youth orchestras have gotten this kind of attention and one example is likely the students that have come out of El Systema in Venezuela and other places. I am not sure of the details of how they managed it--I suspect that if you have some pretty good devoted teachers and a very broad intake of thousands and thousands of candidates you can likely filter them down to a core of pretty darn good student players.

But the problem with our youth orchestra is that they are just getting started and I suspect that there is little quality private instruction available. There is probably limited rehearsal time as well. A very important intermediate step between weekly private lessons and orchestral performance is the sectional rehearsal where, for example, all the first violins get together and rehearse their part, ironing out differences in tuning and bowing so that they come together as a group. Every section in the orchestra needs this same attention and the leader of each section, the concertmaster in the case of the first violins and the principal players in each section needs to have the capacity and authority to lead and rehearse the section.

When we get to the full rehearsal it is the concertmaster and the conductor who need to be unambiguously in charge. The problem is that hiring capable concertmasters and conductors is very expensive and this youth orchestra, at least, simply can't afford it. My friend rather unkindly described our local conductor as someone who does not actually conduct, but rather does a kind of "interpretive dance" expressing what he feels about the rhythms. Amusing to watch, but not very helpful to the players.

My friend and I attended the first concert by this youth orchestra a few months ago, in the fall. Unfortunately they have not improved to any great extent. What they need to do is rigorous, disciplined work and they have to remove the less-capable players and seek out better ones to replace them. Or they can continue on as they have, which is more likely. I'm sure they will receive support from the local community.

As we were leaving the concert I said to my friend, that, you know, we really cannot beef about the performance because we, who are capable of helping them improve, are not actually doing so. We should probably be making a contribution. Unfortunately, there are turf issues here. The conductor, who has been growing this orchestra from scratch, likely does not want to hear our critique, nor accept our assistance because the first thing we would do is demand a much higher commitment to precision and accuracy as the sine qua non of any real progress.

I am reminded of a student I had when I taught at university who had come to us after a couple of years at a community college: he was an intelligent and motivated student, but, alas, he had a very sloppy technique that had not been well grounded. So for the first four months he studied with me I insisted he do nothing but play simple scales, slurs and arpeggios very slowly and only work on the very simplest of pieces. He had to take several steps back to go forward. This is what needs to be done with the youth orchestra. They need to understand that, no they really can't play a Mozart symphony. Not yet. They need to spend months or years learning how to play the very basic components that down the road would make up the elements of a Mozart symphony. If you can't play four notes in tune then you certainly should not be trying to play one hundred notes.

Unfortunately, every hour you spend playing with bad technique will take several hours to undo. There is no getting around this very hard truth. I would like to help the orchestra, but somehow, I suspect they would not welcome my help.

But, if you work hard for perhaps thirty years with a great deal of support from the surrounding society, you can get to some amazing results. As proof, here is a performance from the 2007 Proms by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela conducted by the charismatic Gustavo Dudamel in a remarkable performance of the Symphony No. 10 by Shostakovich:

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Composer's Musings

Just by chance I ran across an item in the Wall Street Journal from several years ago in which composer Morten Lauridsen muses about what inspires him.
At the core of my work as a composer over the past 45 years are seven multimovement vocal cycles, each centered on a single poetic theme, most often by one author -- for example, "Les Chansons des Roses" on Rainer Maria Rilke's delightful poems penned in 1924; the "Madrigali 'Fire-Songs'" on Renaissance Italian poems; "Cuatro Canciones," my chamber settings of Federico García Lorca's poems about time and night; and the "Lux Aeterna" on sacred texts about "light." And for each cycle I've selected my musical materials -- harmonies, melodies, rhythm, formal construction, orchestration, etc. -- to complement aspects of the texts I've chosen, including their style, content, language and historical context. The musical settings range from accessible and direct to atonal, abstract and highly coloristic.
The piece he is talking about in this essay is "O Magnum Mysterium" premiered in 1994 by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under the baton of Paul Salamunovich. Here is a performance from YouTube:

Somehow he manages to make the harmonies sound fresh and interesting, which is a pretty neat trick (no, not a trick, a method).

I ran across this reading an article in American Digest titled “O Magnum Mysterium:” The Persistence of Sacred Beauty
It is a commonplace that the overwhelming mass of our contemporary art that is “exhibited” has devolved into mere “exhibitionism.” Vapid, disposable and preening the works are doomed to be buried in the gaping garbage pits of marketing-driven museums, and crapulous galleries that hold most contemporary American and European art. Still, great souls persist among us and great art, though it is often obscured by poseurs and perverts and pallid imitators of all stripes, can still emerge when talent and skill are wedded to inspiration and belief.
It is too easy to simply condemn most contemporary art as garbage even though a great deal of it may be. The Lauridsen piece is absolutely lovely in a way that slightly reminds me of Arvo Pärt, but it does exist in a delimited realm. All I mean by that is that it renders homage to great vocal music of the past a bit too literally. If we set all ideology to one side, as we should, then music like this deserves a place in our contemporary musical world. But so does, for example, Lux Aeterna by Ligeti:

Yes, that is a bit disquieting, but we do live in disquieting times so we need music like this as well as music that soothes. We also need music that explores, like this piece by Morton Feldman, Rothko Chapel:

Perhaps we even need music that challenges us, like this piece, Poem No 1 (1959), by Galina Ustvolskaya:

Is there any reason that we can't make a place for all of these different kinds of musics?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 10

As I was only barely aware of Gubaidulina prior to starting on this project, what I am doing first is just taking a journey through her life and listening to pieces along the way in chronological order. When this is done, I will do some more analytical posts on the music. We are in the later 70s. One large project she was engaged in was a large collaborative oratorio with two other composers, Paul-Heinz Dittrich of East Germany and Marek Kopelent of Czechoslovakia. The piece, on a text by Czech humanist Amon Comenius, was titled Laudatio Pacis. Unfortunately the authorities managed to prevent its performance and it wasn't premiered until after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1993.

At around the same time, Gubaidulina was working on a very different kind of piece, her Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings. She has long had a fascination with low-register instruments. The inspiration for this work came from the virtuoso bassoonist Valery Popov of the State Symphony Orchestra. As became her standard practice, once Popov asked her for a piece, she began to study not only his instrument but he himself and his approach to the instrument. She wrote:
I had never heard a bassoon with such a voice and was literally bewitched by the musician's artistry. I attended all his concerts and class lessons at the Moscow Conservatory, where he taught. Gradually I began to penetrate into the essence of the instrument itself, to understand it like some character in a play. It was then that the idea came to me to surround the "personality" of the bassoon with low-register strings--double basses and cellos. The interactions between the soloist and the surrounding instruments are complex, contradictory, as in a dramatic scene full of action. The concerto includes moments of reconciliation and hostility, tragedy and loneliness. [Quoted in Kurtz, op. cit., p. 116]
The piece, despite a flurry of objections from Serafim Tulikov, president of the Moscow Composers Union, and Evgeny Makarov, head of the Artistic Council, was premiered in May 1975 in the Hall of the Composers Union. Here is a performance:

As of this writing, the clip has had only 43 views on YouTube! Also, the performance is curtailed and the other clips I see on YouTube are of single movements. Here is one of the last movement, but I am not sure of how it fits with the clip above:

Friday, February 2, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Philip Glass, one of our most prolific composers, is premiering a new symphony, a homage to David Bowie, in May 2019. The Guardian has the story:
London Contemporary Orchestra and organist James McVinnie will perform Glass’s Lodger symphony, a work the composer had discussed with Bowie before his death, but only now has been realised. Based on Bowie’s 1979 album of the same name, it completes Glass’s reimagining of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, following 1992’s Low symphony (Glass’s Symphony No 1), and 1996’s Heroes symphony (Glass’s fourth). 
The two musicians were friends and mutual admirers for many decades. “The two symphonies were of course originally intended to be part of a trilogy, just as Bowie and Eno’s Berlin albums are,” Glass told the Guardian in 2016, shortly after Bowie’s death. “We talked, years ago, about doing the third symphony based on Lodger, and the idea has not totally disappeared.”
* * *

Slipped Disc has an item on the classical awards at the Grammys.

* * *

Speaking of the Grammys, one winner was pianist Daniel Trifonov and the Globe and Mail has a profile of him:
Trifonov's postvirtuosic playing has its capacity to surprise, though. Listeners blown away by brilliant passage work in one section aren't prepared for the sensuousness of the next. The repertoire chosen for his Toronto concert – much of it taken from his new Chopin Evocations album on Deutsche Grammophon – heads deep into the heart of the Romantic Era, allowing for about as much heartfelt playing as can be imagined.
Yes, maybe this does represent a turn back to the romantic repertoire. But channelling Chopin is in itself sending a signal – rather like those newer, smarter businesses encouraging their employees to get plenty of sleep – that slow and soft may be the new fast and furious.
I want to take the opportunity to point out that the Globe and Mail last month decided to kill their comments completely until further notice. As I see it the problem was that every time the Globe published an obviously biased or simply false item they were repeatedly lambasted in the comments by people who were better-informed. This happened with such a high number of articles and opinion pieces that I guess they just couldn't take it any more. They could either strive for a better newspaper or simply suppress all the comments and, to their shame, they chose the latter. This frees them up to be even more biased and vicious, of course. There is an excellent example today. Jordan B. Peterson is pretty much a nightmare to every member of the Canadian establishment, whose voice is the Globe and Mail, so the more famous he becomes, the more pressing the need to smear him at every opportunity. The thinly veiled conceit of this item is Peterson's "paradox": The Jordan Peterson paradox: high intellect, or just another angry white guy?
Where other academics rise on the strength of their ideas, Peterson's fame has crested on their sheer proliferation. As with his online lectures, his new book is rangy and digressive, addressing a wide range of subjects (history, theology, critical theory, evolutionary biology) well outside his realm of professional expertise. He can skip from the journals of the Columbine shooters to Goethe within three sentences; and within three pages skips to Tolstoy, to Cain and Abel, to Christ Himself, and back to "the Columbine boys." If psychology has always been the smorgasbord of soft sciences, Peterson's brand of profundity is the sprawling, all-you-can-eat Mandarin buffet – a medley of undercooked ideas warmed under the heat lamp of his own faintly flickering intellect.
I would pay good money to witness a debate between this nonentity, John Semley, and Prof. Peterson. In days past a transparently biased article like this in the Globe would have been pummeled and slashed to ribbons by dozens upon dozens of commentators, but no more. They have solved their problem at last! In Canada, this is how we roll.

* * *

Finally classical music finds its niche in the 21st century: Classical Music on the London Underground. It is used to control anti-social behavior on the London subway:
The use of classical music to deter anti-social behavior began on the District Line in 2003, which over the next 18 months saw a reported reduction of 25 percent in assaults on staff, and a 37 percent reduction in graffiti within the station. Subsequently, the scheme was rolled out to over 40 stations in 2008, and has been subtly altering moods ever since.
* * *

And finally, the Atlantic has a think piece about the question of the universality of musical language. The first problem is that music, while it has some language-like properties, isn't really a language.
Imagine that you’re a researcher who has unlimited time and resources, and a time machine that can travel anywhere in the world. You use these wondrous gifts to get a recording of every song that has ever been sung, whether by people in big cities or those in small hunter-gatherer groups. You play these recordings to random volunteers, and ask them to guess the behaviors that were associated with each tune. Was the song used for dancing? For soothing a baby? For healing illness? Could people guess what songs are for by their sound alone, without any knowledge about their cultural context?
Yep, that's the question all right. The researchers did what I would call begging the question by severely limiting the song-types to just four out of a huge number of possibles:
Their collection—the Natural History of Song discography—represents music of four types: dances; lullabies; expressions of love; and healing songs intended to cure the sick in ceremonies.
Let's compare these categories to the songs on a CD of Nootka music we were listening to the other day: Canoe Paddle Song, Entrance Song, Medicine Man Song, Whale Song, Farewell Song, Echo Song, Welcome Song, Warrior Song, Wolf Song, etc. The only one that looks like it might fit in one of their categories is the Medicine Man Song, and that might not even be a "healing" song. So, right away, we see how the categories chosen map very poorly on at least one body of traditional music. Musicologists have tended to be skeptical of this project for different reasons:
“While music is universal, its meanings are not,” adds Anne Rasmussen, an ethnomusicologist at the College of William and Mary. And those meanings are created both by the people making and hearing the music, and by the entire cultural package that surrounds it. A Bach cantata that was composed to celebrate God, for example, means something very different when played in a 21st-century concert hall or in a New York deli. The meaning of music, in other words, “is not something you can perceive while listening through a pair of headphones,” says Rasmussen. 
Yes, musical meaning is really only comprehensible within a particular cultural context--in the absence of words, that is.

* * *

YouTube has just about everything, including Machaut's tour-de-force rondeau, "Ma fin est mon commencement" that is a crab canon over a palindrome, meaning, well, that its beginning is its end. This video clip of the score shows exactly how that works:

The best description I can find on the web of what Machaut is up to with this piece is in the Wikipedia article on Retrograde Music.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Resplendent M. Rameau!

I have, from time to time, mentioned Jean-Philippe Rameau, but have devoted surprisingly little space to him given how important a composer he is. He did after all, literally, write the book on harmony! So let us take some time and celebrate this remarkable composer.

Jean-Philippe Rameau, by Jacques Aved, 1728
Just to whet your appetite, here is a rondeau from his opera-ballet Les Indes galantes:

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 - 1764) is famous for being one of the leading composers and theorists of the 18th century. He, along with François Couperin, is the glory of the French Baroque. His greatest works were operas and he did not embark on this phase of his life until he was nearly fifty. He achieved early fame with his Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels, published in 1722, which attempts to discover the fundamental principles underlying tonal harmony and does a pretty good job of it. He says:
Music is a science which should have definite rules; these rules should be drawn from an evident principle; and this principle cannot really be known to us without the aid of mathematics.
[Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Treatise on Harmony (Dover Books on Music) (Kindle Locations 456-458). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.]
Despite his best efforts and those of others, including Paul Hindemith, it is not quite possible to derive the rules of harmony from the overtone series or by dividing a string into its parts, and Rameau acknowledges this when he later says
No rules have yet been devised to teach composition in all its present perfection. Every skillful man in this field sincerely confesses that he owes all his knowledge to experience alone.
[Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Treatise on Harmony (Dover Books on Music) (Kindle Locations 482-484). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.]
Rameau focuses on the fundamental importance of the fifth:
The sounds which form the fifth and the fourth are included in the divisions of the undivided string and are consequently generated by the fundamental sound. With regard to intervals, however, only the octave and the fifth are directly generated by the fundamental sound. The fourth is merely a result of the octave, since it arises from the difference between this octave and the fifth.
[Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Treatise on Harmony (Dover Books on Music) (Kindle Locations 967-969). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.]
 It must be confessed that as a writer Rameau was confusing, awkward and prolix and his explanations are often difficult to sort out. Here is his explanation of the relationship between the three different possible inversions of a major chord:
The major perfect chord is formed from the three numbers 4:5:6. If we raise 4. to its octave, we shall have 5:6:8; this forms the chord called the sixth chord, because the sixth is heard between the two extreme sounds. If we then raise 5 to its octave, we shall have 6:8:10; this forms another chord called the six-four chord, because the sixth and the fourth are heard between the two upper sounds and the lowest sound (to which all intervals of a chord should be compared). If we then raised 6 to its octave, we should have 8:10:12, which is in the same proportion as 4:5:6.
[Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Treatise on Harmony (Dover Books on Music) (Kindle Locations 1365-1369). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.]
What he terms 4:5:6 we would call a major chord in root position: CEG. If you raise the C an octave you obtain the chord EGC which is notated in figured bass as a 6 chord (meaning that the C is now a sixth above the bass, E). Then if you then raise the E an octave you have the chord GCE which is, in figured bass notation, referred to as a 6/4 chord because the two notes above are now at the intervals of a sixth and a fourth. This is taught to every beginning music student and it was in fact Rameau that first laid out a coherent theory of inversion which provided a rational foundation for the theory of harmony and gave him wide recognition as a music theorist, as famous in his own field as Isaac Newton was in physics.

But it is for his compositions that he is most know today. Neglected for nearly two hundred years, it is only in the last fifty or so years that his music has been unearthed and restored to its previous glory. He was not a prolific composer, but his few suites for harpsichord are justly appreciated today. Fanciful names were typical of the French clavecinistes. Here is one of his most delightful pieces Les Niais de Sologne avec six doubles meaning "The Simpletons of Soulogne with six variations." This is Trevor Pinnock on harpsichord:

In recent years Grigory Sokolov has given some extraordinary performances of Rameau on piano. This is Les Cyclopes:

But his greatest achievements were in the realm of opera. Here is the overture to Hippolyte and Aricie:

And, if you have the time, here is a complete performance of Les Indes galantes, though I should warn you, as it is a recent production (Bordeaux, 2014) while the instruments are original, the costuming most certainly is not. The opening ballet, for example, is danced by a whole troupe of nude dancers though the singer is somewhat clothed. Rest assured that later on the costume department does come up with some items so the entire opera is not performed in the nude! Blogger won't embed, so just follow the link:


(I would have put up the less-controversial and perhaps more faithful version by William Christie, but I could not find it on YouTube.)

If you want a less, uh, "galant" version, here is the closing Chaconne:

My expertise does not extend to dance, so I am not sure how much if any of this choreography is the original. I'm pretty sure that they had dance notation, so perhaps it is. But again, the costuming is likely not!