CGF Newsletter 16: School Days
The cookie continues to crumble at Juilliard; Stravinsky's night out; Joey's academic pursuits
Name That Tune
This week’s Name That Tune was submitted by Listener Jeremy. Here’s your hint: this composer simultaneously studied biology and music at different universities. No Googling!
As always, your goal is to provide as much accurate analysis as possible. First try to get the nationality, year, and genre, then make educated guesses about the composer and — if possible— the piece. If you know the piece immediately, send us an email at email@example.com instead of commenting so the rest of us can have fun guessing.
Last Week’s Results
CGF Newsletter 15
Rebecca Clarke, Midsummer Moon
Joey was the only one brave enough to weigh in on this one* and he ventured two very good guesses: Leos Janacek and Georges Enescu, noting that they were both composers of “super interesting violin sonatas.” Great guesses on a rather inscrutable clip. This is one where the fun was in the guessing.
Rebecca Clarke was an British-American composer who is known almost exclusively for her exquisite impressionist-leaning viola sonata from 1919. It might be the best viola sonata in the repertoire. Sharp-eared Gabfest fans will recognize the opening of this piece as the theme music for Viola Hero.
*[Editor’s note: should we keep doing Name That Tune? Interest really seems to have waned; we haven’t received submissions in many weeks, and the comment guesses have dwindled to barely a trickle. The newsletter has a very high click rate overall, so it seems that people are getting something out of it, but it may be that NTT isn’t suited to the format. We welcome your thoughts!]
Think you can stump your fellow Listeners? Go ahead and try!
Head to our Google Form to upload a 30-second clip of an unidentified piece of classical music for us to try to identify.
The plot thickens at Juilliard, as an open letter calling for the investigation and removal of composition professor Robert Beaser has received literally hundreds of signatures from Juilliard students, staff and alumni, as well as random musicians from all walks of life. The most prominent cosigners (in my estimation): Vijay Iyer, Nico Muhly, Aaron Jay Kernis, Jennifer Higdon, Edwin Outwater, Lowell Liebermann, and Lara St. John, who lists herself as “violinist, label owner, survivor.”
Frank Sinatra has an Autograph
A bit of classical lore that I happened upon while traversing the internet this week, from an interview with Elliott Carter:
Tarmy: What was your favorite restaurant?
Carter: La Côte Basque, now sadly closed. I took Igor Stravinsky and his wife there. We got a table in the middle of the room, speaking French, and a man came in, and said in rather good French, “will the maestro please give me an autograph?” Stravinsky said “Certainly not.”
His wife did a great deal of talking in Russian and finally he agreed, but took forever to write out his name. The man waited and waited and by this point the whole room was watching.
Finally Stravinsky was done and the man thanked him and walked away. We asked Stravinsky if he knew who he was and he said, “Certainly, I see him on television all the time.” The man was Frank Sinatra.
Graduate Studies in Music
As many of you know, I (Joey) am a music student. Specifically, I am a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts — a kind of less academically stringent Ph.D. for musical performers) student at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. “What does a pianist need to do with a third degree in music?! Just go and play your heart out!,” you might be thinking to yourself. You may have a point! But I really like studying music formally, with an institutional backing.
For one, I have access to libraries, professional musicians and musical thinkers, and a built-in performing community that requires less networking to enter. (Also, I hope to one day be a professor of piano at a university or conservatory, and this degree is something of a requirement.) But really, the biggest draw for me is that I’m a big nerd, and I like being in classes. This past Fall semester, I took a course called “Elements of Closure” with Professor Kofi Agawu, in which we examined various articles in the literature on how closure — the act or process of ending — is enacted in music.
In lieu of a final exam, each student was to complete a paper on some aspect of closure. I decided to write about cadences in three piano works of Igor Stravinsky from his early Neoclassical period - the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, the Piano Sonata, and the Serenade in A.
Now some nitty gritty theory for my fellow nerds: I decided to survey these pieces for “distinctly articulated cadences,” and I found twenty-six cadences across the three works, which I analyzed for similarities. The gist of my findings was three-fold:
Stravinsky superimposes different but mutually clashing types of common-practice (read: 18th- and 19th-century) cadences, like authentic and plagal cadences, at the same time;
otherwise ‘normative’ harmonies are often purposefully displaced by one rhythmic unit; and
his cadences do not reach their maximum point of tension directly before resolution, as in common-practice music, but rather dissipate and dissolve into their resolution.
The effect of these three findings, philosophically speaking, is somewhat open to interpretation; my own view is that he works against settled closure in these otherwise Classical-sounding moments, and this sense of anti-closure is integral to so much of the modernist music on which Stravinsky’s was influential.
Over the course of this semester, I have also found new joy in reading from music theory journals, and I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is interested in this kind of musical thinking. To start, and for those without institutional access to a database like JSTOR, I suggest the open-access publication of the Society of Music Theory, Music Theory Online. Happy nerding!!
[Will’s note: there was a big hoopla over JSTOR’s insane gatekeeping a few years ago, and the institution was forced to bend to public pressure, so now normie non-academics like me can also get individual accounts and access a certain number of academic articles there for free every month.]
Ernest Bloch, Avodath Hakodesh (“The Sacred Service”)
Ernest Bloch’s Sacred Service from 1933 is the composer’s attempt at creating something akin to the concert mass out of the Jewish liturgy. It’s a fascinating work that has been recorded several times. I include the Bernstein recording as more a matter of curiosity than an endorsement — there are much better recordings out there! One thing I’ve always found interesting about this piece is that the opening measures are reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony.
The Milliken Archives has a great set of notes about the piece.
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Trio for clarinet, violin, and piano. At first, it sounded eastern European, early-ish 20th century, but then it sounded decidedly contemporary and American (the parallel fifths gave it away.)
My best guess is that it's a non-thematic excerpt from John Williams' piece for Obama's first inauguration. The piece was based on "Simple Gifts" but this could be a big of transition or an ancillary episode. That's the only piece in this style that I know for this instrumentation. —Will
That Sinatra/Stravinsky anecdote is delightful.
And Joey, love the glimpse into your academic life there...though you obviously have far more interest in (and patience for) Stravinsky's neoclassical works than I ever did.
As for the NTT, as a frequent submitter I enjoy it...but I know I'm an infrequent (at best) guesser. Part of that has been circumstantial (travels and the like). Part of it is that Thursdays are usually an in-office day for me, so I'm reading the newsletter on the train during my commute, which isn't ideal listening time and I'll often put off the NTT and then neglect it. But part of it is definitely that if I don't have an obvious idea or direction to guess at, I shy away from saying anything. That probably speaks to the format (which just can't achieve the dynamism and fun of our hosts discussing and guessing in real time). But I would still welcome a weekly stumping followed by a reveal.