Saturday, 25 December 2010

Why is contemporary classical music so boring?

(Arvo Pärt)

My CD music collection includes quite a number of contemporary classical music recordings, which I have aquired for different reasons - some because I have happened to know the composers or performers personally. However, at this point in time I have to admit that I have not listened to most of these recordings more than once.

The question is: Why is contemporary classical music so uninteresting?
My answer is short: Because - in most cases - it lacks a clear melodic line, and often also a rhytmic pulse.

For some strange reason most contemporary composers have discarded the basic truth that enjoyable music requires both melody and rhytm. Maybe the reason is that they do not dare to compete with all the great classical masters? Or maybe they think that all beautiful melodies already have been written?

On the positive side, it must be mentioned that some living composers, like the Estonian Arvo Pärt, and the American Philip Glass are writing melodic music - which certainly must be one reason why they are quite popular. One can only hope that many more dare to return to the essence of good music!

The British composer Ian Stewart has some interesting things to say about the problems of contemporary classical music:

 What does not exist anymore, in most classical music though, is the sheer love of melody and pulsing rhythm. If you listen to good pop music, the Beach Boys and The Beatles for instance, a joy in melodic songs comes over. Even Bob Dylan's most acerbic, or embittered, songs are still melodic. Why has contemporary classical music lost this? As I wrote above, I think composers are stuck and rather than dealing with the problem, they evade it. Some contemporary classical music does have melodic themes, such as the repetitive works of composers such as Glass and Reich, and it is not surprising that they are among the most popular living classical composers. However this genre is distinct in itself and not representative of most contemporary concert music. We are now in the 21st century and, to many, the serial principles of the 20th century seem old fashioned. The total serialist composers were criticised by the more traditional music establishment, now they have become a sort of music establishment themselves. Now it is they and their supporters who are criticising music that does not comply with their austere, aesthetic rigour. To me though, music is part of the fashion world and classical music is every bit as fashion conscious as pop music. In the same way as international haute couture designers visit the streets and clubs in London, to inspire their own work, I believe classical composers will start doing the same. It is only a matter of time before the melodic forms of popular music inspire concert music again; and it is only a matter of time before there will be distinctive 21st century melodic works. Perhaps more importantly I also believe that classical composers will come up with distinctive melodic forms that will be new.

(Please note another related post here)

Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas at Sea

My thoughts go to the thousands of ship crews all over the world who spend their Christmas far away from their families and friends. The crew of the Mærsk Ferrol - here photographed at noon today  near Helsingør - will spend their Christmas Eve on the North Sea on the way to Bremerhaven.

At Christmas Time

When  snow has fallen ant lakes are frozen
and when the eye of the sun is dim,
when forests silently lie deserted
by swallows flown to a distant clime,
a breath is warm in the winter weather
    at Christmas time!

Now none are thinking of care and sorrow
or feeling frost with its bitter bite,
a carol rings from the mouths of children
and eyes are glittering with delight,
the Christmas tree is ablaze with candles
   at Christmas time!

Good cheer our mother has spread before us
and now she gives and receives her gifts,
meanwhile the manger, the straw, the starlight
appear to eyes that belief uplifts -
and that´s why Christians are tender-hearted
   at Christmas time!

Alpo Noponen 1862-1927 (Finnish poet and writer)

Tanslation by Keith Bosley. From the book "Skating on the Sea - Poetry from Finland", Bloodaxe Books 1997

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Pueri, Concinite

This beautiful motet by Johann Ritter Von Herbeck was first performed in the Imperial Chapel in Vienna on Christmas Day 1868. Listen to the Wiener Sängerknaben perform Pueri, Concinite: 


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Time for Slowtech?

The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue has for ten years been writing about the latest personal tech gadgets. But even for him there seems to be a little too much of all this new technology:

it’s mind-frying to contemplate the millions of dollars and person-years that were spent on products and services that now fill the Great Tech Graveyard: Olympus M-Robe. PocketPC. Smart Display. MicroMV. MSN Explorer. Aibo. All those PlaysForSure music players, all those Palm organizers, all those GPS units you had to load up with maps from your computer.
Everywhere I go, I meet people who express the same reaction to consumer tech today: there’s too much stuff coming too fast. It’s impossible to keep up with trends, to know what to buy, to avoid feeling left behind.
They’re right. There’s never been a period of greater technological change. You couldn’t keep up with all of it if you tried.
Well, here’s a dirty little secret: It’s almost too much for me, too. Heck, it’s my job to stay on top of this stuff — and even for me, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. I do my best — I read all the blogs, devour the magazines, attend the conferences and listen to the PR pitches — but I sometimes feel as if I’m furiously paddling my surfboard on the top of a tsunami wave.
In other words, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone, and it’s O.K. to let yourself off the hook.
And for that, let us give thanks. Now, can you put down that iPad and pass the gravy?

Publisher Peter Osnos, writing in the Atlantic, seems to agree:

Facebook and the iPad were this year's champions of brilliant marketing, with Mark Zuckerberg as Time's Person of the Year -- both icon and demon at 26 -- and Steve Jobs' ascendance into a stratosphere of unmatched technical celebrity. They deserve the recognition, but as we confront the inevitable next wave of what engineers and salesmen conjure, there is a case to be made for placing our digital exploration and consumption on pause; in the meantime, happy holidays.

I think there are millions of us who share the same feelings. So, maybe it´s  time for somebody to start a SLOWTECH movement?

PS 2
When writing this piece, I did not realise that there already is a Slowtech "movement", judging from this book, which sounds quite interesting.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army - now working in 122 countries - has since its founding in 1865 done a great job in helping the needy. Christmas is a good time to give a contribution to this important work!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Winter Sunset

(click on picture to get a larger image)

This time of the year the sun sets early here in the North of Europe. I shot this image through the living room window at 4.42 PM this afteroon. Below the sinking sun you can see a glimpse of the Danish coast.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Glenn Gould

A quote:

I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that — its humanity.

Glenn Gould

It is difficult to disagree. In my case the desert island disc would be the Goldberg variations performed by Gould. Watch and listen here, or here, to see if you agree.  


(Click for a larger image)

This is not going to be a bird spotting blog, but I cound not resist adding these two photos of a blackbird in my garden, which I shot a couple of minutes ago!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Me & Bobby McGee with Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin´s life was full of problems, but in her best moments she was a great performer. My favourite has always been her version of Kris Kristofferson´s Me & Bobby McGee. Here is a rare studio rehearsal with only one guitar accompaniment.