More on 19th century opera

A little clarification. One way to define the artistic limits of 19th century Italian opera is by the way works were cast. New operas were commissioned on a commercial basis. An impresario would rent a city's opera house, recruit singers, and find composers to write operas for the singers to sing. The singers fell into established types -- a prima donna, a primo tenore, a baritone, maybe a buffo or serious bass, and a few comprimarios, singers of small roles, who clearly weren't very good. These comprimarios, and their apparent lack of any … [Read more...]

Well-bred always?

Here's a scary thought I've been nursing for a few months. Has classical music always been well-bred? More well-bred than other arts, I mean. I'm afraid this might be true. I developed this fear after last season's New York Philharmonic performance of Haydn's Creation, which I blogged about, asking what Haydn's treatment of his biblical text could mean to us today. And then it struck me. Why, when we deal with old classical music, are we so often dealing with such lofty subjects? Where, in the 18th century, was the musical equivalent of … [Read more...]

Too well-bred

I didn't hear Elvis Costello's orchestral piece at the Lincoln Center Festival, but I don't think I had to. I did hear the three-track sampler Deutsche Grammophon sent out, and it confirms everything I read in the reviews of the complete work -- the music is notably unoriginal. We can all be glad, I guess, that Costello seems to be a competent orchestral composer, but on second thought, maybe I'm not happy about that. If he hadn't been able to write this score, maybe he wouldn't have written it, and then we (and he, too, if he's honest with … [Read more...]

Pulitzer prizes

Very interesting -- and, I thought, very melancholy -- piece by Stephen Hartke on the Pulitzer prizes, linked here yesterday. Or maybe it's not the piece itself that's melancholy, but me, as a result of reading it. Hartke's subject, of course, was the recent change in the Pulitzer music guidelines. No longer, said the Pulitzer board, will only classical pieces be eligible. According to the new rules, jazz, musicals, and even movie scores -- maybe even pop albums -- can be nominated. And that, says Hartke, is a bad idea. Nor is he alone in … [Read more...]


Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, the NPR ombudsman, says (in a piece linked here) that he finds many of NPR's music reviews "incomprehensible to some listeners, and I confess, to me." And then he gives some examples, one of which, from a review of Wilco, is this: These extended explorations and others, like the five minutes of abrasive dental-drill feedback drone near the end of the disc, give Wilco's music an entirely new dimension. The guitar isn't here to make things pretty. Tweedy uses savage, wild lunges to punctuate the verses and sometimes to … [Read more...]

The Concert Companion again

Never, in all my musical life, have I talked about anything as much as I've talked about the Concert Companion. And not because I start the conversations. At the ASOL conference at Pittsburgh, people wanted to talk about it with me. And the press does, too. I've never done so many interviews about anything before. Obviously, there's lots of interest. But one interviewer, a very smart and serious music critic, said something interesting. He said the Concert Companion is "controversial." I'd never thought of it that way. I know there's some … [Read more...]

Rewarding quality

Some thoughts on the news from Seattle, about that city having the highest concentration of arts-related business. That, the story suggested, had something to do with Seattle being a smart place, and might say something about the quality of Seattle's art. Well, Seattle has one of the absolutely top opera companies in America, a really high-quality operation, and one of the worst music directors of any major orchestra. The larger issue here, though, has nothing to do with the intelligence of any city, or the concentration of arts anywhere. I … [Read more...]