Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from WGUC!

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are interested in a playlist to accompany your festivities today, please see my last post that features a list of famous, American works.

As you stop to celebrate this important American holiday, why not take the time to reflect: what are you thankful for?

Just a reminder that we have several Thanksgiving specials airing on 90.9 WGUC today to accompany your holiday activities! Below is the schedule:

 10:00 AM: Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

 6:00 PM: Giving Thanks 2014: Maya Angelou & Nikki Giovanni

With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Thanksgiving Music Playlist

This week we gather with our loved ones and remember our nation’s history, reflect on what we’re thankful for in life, and eat good food! Have you ever thought about what music best exhibits an American national sound? In honor of this great American holiday, let’s talk about composers who succeeded in creating American nationalism in their music. Below, I list several American composers with example works but the list is by no means exhaustive. What other works/composers can you think of? Please provide examples of your favorites!

William Billings, Chester

Stephen Foster, Old Folks at Home

George Chadwick, Symphonic Sketches: Jubilee

Henry Mancini, Moon River

John Philip Sousa, Stars and Stripes Forever

Irving Berlin, God Bless America

George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

Ferde Grofe, Grand Canyon Suite

Charles Ives, Concord Sonata: The Alcotts

Leonard Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

Aaron Copland, Appalachian Spring

William Grant Still, Afro-American Symphony

Cole Porter, Anything Goes

Duke Ellington, Satin Doll

Scott Joplin, The Entertainer

Erich Korngold, Violin Concerto

Mark O’Connor, Appalachia Waltz

This week on WGUC we will offer several Thanksgiving specials to accompany your festivities. Below is a schedule of our offerings!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 6:00 PM
Thanksgiving with Cantus – Cantus is one of the premiere men’s vocal ensembles, and with Alison Young, they talk about the holiday, music and food.

Thursday, November 27, 10:00 AM
Feast for the Ears with Mark Perzel

Thursday, November 27, 6:00 PM
Giving Thanks 2014: Maya Angelou & Nikki Giovanni
With music and stories for Thanksgiving, host John Birge creates a thoughtful, contemporary reflection on the meaning of the holiday.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Russian Nationalism: Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Festival Overture

Last time we looked at Russian nationalism in the music of Alexander Borodin and discussed “The Mighty Handful.” Today, let’s talk about another member of this Russian group of composers: Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.

Rimsky-Korsakov helped ensure that distinct Russian music carried on into the future by editing, completing, and orchestrating works of other Russian composers. He also taught key composers including Alexander Glazunov and Igor Stravinsky. Like Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov had nationalistic tendencies. One example can be found in his Russian Easter Festival Overture. This particular piece incorporates four themes from the Russian Orthodox book of canticles. It’s no surprise that Rimsky-Korsakov chose this holiday to depict in music as it’s known as the nation’s most significant holiday and the composer most likely had memories of it from growing up in Russia. You can even hear Easter bells toward the end of the work!

Here is a clip with Russian Easter Festival Overture. In your opinion, does it sound Russian?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Russian Nationalism: Borodin's "Polovstian Dances"

Music transcends borders and has a way of speaking to everyone across the globe in some way. Many composers over the past centuries, however, have found inspiration within their homeland. Whether that inspiration stems from racial tensions within their society or nationalistic pride for the country, these composers found a way to pull from ethnic influences when writing their music.

Today, let’s look at a 19th-century Russian composer who allowed nationalism to influence his work. Alexander Borodin is one of the members of what has been dubbed “The Mighty Five,” a group of composers living and working within 19th-century Russia who were enthusiastic about the progression they witnessed within the Western music world. Using progressive ideas in their own music, they sought to incorporate Russian folk music amongst other elements in their work. Besides Borodin, the group also consisted of Balakirev, Cui, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov (who we will discuss further during my next post!)

Though holding a career as a chemist, Alexander Borodin somehow still managed to successfully find time to compose. One of his famous, though unfinished, works is his opera Prince Igor. The work was later finished by Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov following Borodin’s death. The opera tells the story of Prince Igor and his son who go on military campaign against nomadic Polovtsi tribe. They end up captured but are treated surprisingly well by the nomads. Later in the opera, Prince Igor escapes, leaving behind his son who has fallen in love with a girl from the tribe. In order to prepare for this composition, Borodin actually researched the folk music of Russian nomadic tribes! You can hear the “Polovstian Dances” from Prince Igor below. Listen for the robust rhythms and the Russian-folk feel in the video clip below. Do you find this piece to exhibit Russian nationalism?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Racial Tensions Surrounding West Side Story

Last time we looked at how the racial tensions happening in America during the early 20th-century manifested themselves in Show Boat, the 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Today, let’s continue this theme by using Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story as the example.

During the mid-20th century, New York City existed in a state of unrest as Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S. Juvenile delinquency became a popular topic in the press as street gangs formed and rivalries developed between Caucasians and Puerto Ricans. Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and the team that worked behind the making of West Side Story decided to use this contemporary and real problem in society as the basis for their new musical, a show based in the Upper West Side of New York City and involving two gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Caucasian Jets.

When writing the music for West Side Story, Bernstein traveled to Puerto Rico for inspiration. The musical indeed draws on Hispanic elements in both music and dance. In her book West Side Story: Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical, Elizabeth A. Wells states “the adoption of a specific ethnic style in a serious and self-consciously ‘American’ work has ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, earned for the Hispanic style a level of recognition in American culture it had never before achieved.”

Two popular Latin American dance forms are found in the gymnasium dance scene: the mambo and the cha-cha. During the mambo, Bernstein chose to use bongos, cowbells, and trumpets in order to resemble a Latin jazz band. The performers yell “Mambo!” from the sidelines of the dance floor, directly referencing the flamenco tradition in which dancers are urged on by onlookers. The choreography during this scene is also based on conventions of Latin social dancing.

You can watch the “Mambo” clip from the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story here:

Coming up next week, let’s continue looking at music and ethnicity only this time, in Russia!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Social Issues and Show Boat

For the next few weeks, Clef Notes is talking about music and ethnicity. Going along with this theme, this week let’s look at how ethnicity plays a role in various 20th-century Broadway musicals including Show Boat and West Side Story.

During the 20th century, some composers sought to touch on American racial tensions in their work. One example of this can be found in the first authentic musical written, Show Boat (1927). Written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, Show Boat deals with serious social issues such as racism and miscegenation, both major issues during the time this musical was written.

When Show Boat first premiered, it resulted in a shock from the audience following the opening lines “'Niggers all work on the Mississippi/Niggers all work while de white folks play.” This shock continued throughout the musical as it also openly mentioned mixed-race marriages, which was still illegal in many states during the 1920s. African Americans were treated in a sympathetic way rather the comic, foolish way of the black-faced minstrels, something quite new for the time.

Below you can watch a clip of the famous “Ol’ Man River” from a later version of Show Boat. Notice that at this point, the word “Nigger” is exchanged for “Darkie.” This was also changed to “Colored folk” in additional versions of the musical.

Join me next time as we look at racial tensions found in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nationalism and The Ring of the Nibelung

For the next few weeks, Clef Notes is taking a look at music and ethnicity including nationalism. This nationalism may show up in the form of folk song influences in music or even aural depictions of the visual setting of one’s homeland. Last time, we discussed one negative form of nationalism, Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Today, let’s look at how this shows up in his music.

Richard Wagner took great pride in his German heritage, much of his music displaying a sense of nationalism. One example of this is his cycle of four music dramas, The Ring of the Nibelung, which takes its plot from stories found in medieval German epic poems.

But how does Wagner’s anti-Semitism show up in his music? This topic is debatable but some scholars find that he alludes to what he considered Jewish characteristics in several characters found in his dramas. In his book The 'Jewish Question' in German Literature, 1749-1939:  Emancipation and its Discontents, Ritchie Robertson states, “Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg represents the philistine, uncreative Jew, the castrated Klingsor in Parsifal represents the unmanly Jew, Kundry the sensual and Oriental Jewish woman, Alberich in the Ring the Jewish capitalist. The clearest case is Alberich’s brother Mime. Mime’s very name implies the imitativeness of the Jew…”

What do you think? Can you think of any other examples in music history when a composer shows anti-Semitic views? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wagner and Anti-Semitism

Throughout history, nationalism has affected the music of many composers. Defined as “devotion and loyalty to one’s own country,” nationalism takes on many guises in music. While some composers use folk songs from their native lands, some may write music to reflect the visual images of their homeland. A pride in one’s homeland can also convey itself in negative ways. One such example we will discuss today, the German-nationalistic Richard Wagner, and the anti-Semitism result.

In addition to his musical output, Richard Wagner is known for his writings. Throughout his life, Wagner wrote many essays on subjects ranging from music, literature, drama, politics, and morality. A true German nationalist, Wagner believed that German art was pure and true and only people who shared ethnicity could be part of a nation. Jews, he believed, could not be German because Hebrew (a dead language) was their real language. He claimed the Jewish people mimicked other European nations in speaking their languages as foreigners.

In his 1850 essay Judaism in Music, Wagner attacks the Jewish people, specifically his former friend and influence, Giacomo Meyerbeer. Though Meyerbeer had helped Wagner get his start, this anti-Semitic writing attacks the Jewish composer, claiming that because of his Jewish heritage, he is weak and lacks a nationalistic style. According to musicologists, this writing was sparked when a critic wrote that Wagner’s music had Meyerbeer influences, a statement that offended the independent composer. Wagner also went on to attack Mendelssohn’s Jewish roots although, like Meyerbeer, Wagner once admired his work.

During the 20th-century, Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings gained popularity among the Nazis and Hitler. His views supporting Hitler’s own, Wagner became his favorite composer.

Next time, join me as I continue looking at Wagner’s anti-Semitism by exploring where it appears in his music.