Finnissy Piano Works (7) and (8) – November 7th and 21st, Oxford

poster-for-oxford-finnissy-concerts

 

[NEW: There will now be a new world premiere in the concert on Monday, November 21st, of the newly-composed Kleine Fjeldmelodien, dedicated to Ian Pace and Nigel McBride]

The seventh and eight concerts in my ongoing series of the complete piano works of Michael Finnissy will take place on Monday, November 7th, and Monday, November 21st, in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. Both concerts will begin at 19:30. Tickets are £10, £5 concessions.

The first programme features a range of lesser-known works from the 1990s to the present day, including Finnissy’s unusual Machaut arrangement De toutes flours,of Francisco de Vidales’ villancico ‘Los que fueren de buen gusto’ in …desde que naçe, or his moving intimate tribute to soprano Tracey Chadwell, Tracey and Snowy in KölnThe much more extended Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) is a series of fantastical post-Busoniesque chorale preludes sharing common material, an exercise in both compositional and pianistic virtuosity. The second half contains the second ever complete performance of the Second Political Agenda, three c. 20′ pieces embodying Finnissy’s extremely individual take on the music of Erik Satie, Arnold Schoenberg and Aleksander Skryabin.

The second programme features further tributes, to Satie again,  to Oliver Messiaen in A solis ortus cardine, to Bulgarian composer Georghi Tutev, and the UK premiere of Finnissy’s Brahms-Lieder, not to mention his Beatles’ arrangement Two of Us, as well as some pieces written for children or elementary pianists in Wee Saw Footprints and Edward. The longer pieces in the programme include Enough, Finnissy’s response to Samuel Beckett’s short text Assezand the monumental recent work Beat Generation Ballads.

 

Monday, November 7th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (7)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

Elephant (1994)
Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1996)
The larger heart, the kindlier hand (1993)
…desde que naçe (1993)
De toutes flours (1990)
Cibavit eos (1991-92)
Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006)
Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003)
Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2012)

***

Second Political Agenda (2000-8)

  1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else;
  2. Mit Arnold Schoenberg ;
  3. SKRYABIN in itself.

 

machaut-de-toutes-flours

Guillaume de Machaut, De toutes flours

finnissy-de-toutes-flours

Finnissy, De toutes flours (1990)

 

Monday, November 21st, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (8)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

A solis ortus cardine (1992)
Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836
(1989-94)
Edward
(2002)
Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie)
(2001)
Z/K
(2012)
Brahms-Lieder (2015) (UK Premiere)
Enough
(2001)

***

Wee Saw Footprints (1986-90)
Kleine Fjeldmelodien 
(2016) (World Premiere)
Lylyly li (1988-89)
Pimmel (1988-89)
Two of Us (1990)
Georghi Tutev (1996, rev. 2002)

***

Beat Generation Ballads (2013)
Meeting is pleasure, parting a grief (1996)

finnissy-stanley-stokes

Finnissy, Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836 (1989-94)

 

finnissy-from-beat-generation-ballads

Finnissy, Beat Generation Ballads (2013)


Spinning Research

Oxford University put out a page in May of this year, relating to a grandiose project entitled ‘Transforming 19th-Century Historically-Informed Performance’, which has been awarded a major grant (£1 million) by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Whether the writing and quotations from investigators in this article does justice to the nature or scope of the project I cannot be sure, but the article certainly does reveal how empty and self-undermining can be various research projects which are publicly defined by their spin rather than apparent content.

I believe it is worth unpacking the description, which I will attempt to do here:

The research will help today’s professional performers and music college students understand more about 19th-century style, and will offer them new approaches to the preparation of music for performance, as well as expanding their expressive possibilities.

That much seems fine and worthy – researching an area of performance style in such a way as might be useful for professional and student performers. This in itself is far from new, though; there is a large body of work on this subject in several language by a wide range of scholars (examples would include Clive Brown, Will Crutchfield, Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Martha Elliott, Dana Gooley, Philip Gossett, Kenneth Hamilton, Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, Johann Hüttner, George Kennaway, Daniel J. Koury, Colin Lawson, David Milsom, David Montgomery, Michael Musgrave, Robert Philip, Clemens Risi, Sarah Potter, Robin Stowell and to a lesser degree myself), not to mention a wider range of literature on performance conditions, programming, acoustics, audience habits, and much more.

So what is different about this project? We read:

The project’s Principal Investigator, Claire Holden, said: ‘Contemporary performances of C19th repertoire by specialist ‘period instrument’ ensembles reflect little of what is known about historical style. Many aspects of C19th style are fundamentally at odds with the habits and expectations of modern day performers and audiences, conservatoire training and methods of performance preparation.

None of the above scholars, nor anyone else who has studied the subject, would I believe seriously dispute the second sentence above (but some might question the degree). But the first sentence suggests a wider attack on contemporary ‘specialist ‘period instrument’ ensembles’ – which of these does Claire Holden mean? The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, perhaps (of which – see below – she has been a member for 16 years. Is this a principled but scathing critique of the very institution which has provided her with a salary for an extended period)? Or the Belgian orchestra Anima Eterna, directed by Jos van Immerseel? Or the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, as directed by John Eliot Gardiner? Or period instrument string quartets such as Quatuor Mosaïques or the Eroica Quartet? Or the mixed ensemble Hausmusik? All of these have presented a wide range of performances of nineteenth-century music using period instruments, all quite differently, but mostly in ways which constitute distinct breaks with other extant performing traditions for this music (in terms of tempo, timbre, approaches to vibrato, portamento, articulation, instrumental technique, and various else, as well as fundamental conception as manifested in the work), at least at the times of their pioneering work. However, in some cases other supposedly ‘mainstream’ performers and groups have changed their own styles, in a productive spirit of cross-fertilisation.

But in the absence of any names (and those above are amongst the most prominent), nor any specifics about which aspects of ‘historical style’ (on which these groups will by no means necessarily agree) reflect ‘little of what is known’, this appears to me like a convenient straw target, in order to be able to assert ‘everyone else before us was wrong, only we can be right’? Why should anyone believe that at this early stage in a project, Holden and her co-investigators are already so considerably more enlightened than all of the many others who have researched C19th performance style and/or attempted to respond to historical information about this style in their work?

Furthermore – and this makes me question the status of this project as ‘research’ – is Holden not pre-empting the results of the research, asserting a priori that ‘Many aspects of C19th style are fundamentally at odds with the habits and expectations of modern day performers and audiences’? Surely this is a hypothesis to be proved or disproved (or, likely, somewhere in between) by research – otherwise why bother doing the research at all?

The article goes on to say:

As a result, “period” ensembles are finding it more and more difficult to maintain a distinct identity in a marketplace where they are increasingly in direct competition with ‘modern’ orchestras – often playing the same repertoire with the same conductors and soloists in a similar style.

It is not difficult to observe how some ‘modern’ orchestras have adapted and moved away from some stylistic norm which had greater traction several decades ago, and adopted aspects of style which were bequeathed by period groups like some of those mentioned above. Many conductors associated with ‘period performance’ – including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington and others – have worked with long-established orchestras, whilst others – for example Charles Mackerras or Simon Rattle – have been eager to take on board some of the achievements of period performers, even when working with modern instruments. All of this has been observed and documented over several decades by most scholarly commentators on the subject, with some (such as Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell in their The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 153-154) noting the blurring of the clear line between ‘period’ and ‘mainstream’ performance that Laurence Dreyfus observed in his 1983 article ‘Early Music Defended Against its Devotees’, Musical Quarterly 49 (1983), pp. 297-322. This is hardly news, what matters is how this might form the basis for some new research questions.

The aim of this project is to engage performers and audiences in a re-invigoration of the ways in which C19th music is performed, by focusing on how this music is prepared for performance. We will use historical knowledge not for prescriptive ends but to open up a wide variety of radical performance and pre-performance practices.

I do not know of many scholars of C19th HIP who would claim that they are using historical knowledge for prescriptive ends, though the earlier text in this article suggests a negative view of what all others have done with such knowledge (or even a suggestion that they are unaware of it, which is ludicrous), which appears quite prescriptive to me.

But how do these scholars know in advance that the results will be ‘radical’? What if the data suggested that some of the historical practices were moderately conservative? Once again, if the conclusions are known in advance, why bother do the research?

In essence, the text above seems to be saying that this is a study of C19th rehearsal and practice techniques. This is a very worthy and important area of study, but would not have sounded so flashy when spun to research funding bodies like the AHRC.

Transforming C19th HIP will address these questions through scholarly research, empirical investigation, and practical enquiry and experimentation, combining historical performance and performance studies scholarship in a significant long-term research project.

Once again, this says little which could not have been said about the majority of previous scholarship on the subject.

The project has two partner organisations: the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; and the Royal Academy of Music.

Professor Eric Clarke, Oxford University’s Heather Professor of Music and the project’s Co-Investigator, said: ‘The project is going to employ a very exciting combination of historical, practical and empirical methods, and will be thoroughly engaged with a world-leading HIP orchestra and its audience, and with the students and staff of a world-leading conservatoire.

Run that by me again? I had thought this project set itself up in opposition to ‘Contemporary performances of C19th repertoire by specialist ‘period instrument’ ensembles’ which ‘reflect little of what is known about historical style.’? But there is a ‘world-leading HIP orchestra’ involved – specifically the OAE? Are they an exception to this rule (which would suggest some problem with the rule, as they are one of the most prominent such ensembles), or might they be hauled over the coals as a result of the research? Holden, the Principal Investigator, has been a member of the OAE since 2000, as revealed by her biography – will she subject her own employer to the same level of critical scrutiny as she alleges is required for other (unnamed) ensembles? And we are meant to be impressed by the mention of ‘students and staff of a world-leading conservatoire’ (the RAM), when ‘conservatoire training’ was earlier cited as as leading reason for the problem?

We read in this text a rather shallow attempt to spin a project as being in striking opposition to the practices of established groups, but then it also needs the prestige of a major orchestra and conservatoire to lend it legitimacy. The irony of this is glaring.

As I said earlier, this description may not do justice to the project, and may simply be a misguided promotional piece about a project which is considerably better framed. In this form, I cannot understand why this would have received ‘a large Research Grant’, and wonder if the obtaining of such grants has become mostly a matter of spin and having the right people associated with a project?

The description of a research project as ‘radical’ has become so routine as to be manneristic. It appears as if above all everyone looking for grants must present their work as boundary-breaking, iconoclastic, and in drastic opposition to what has come before. Actually there is plenty of important research which has been done and will continue to be done which attempts a nuanced and balanced approach to the data available, and achieves real original contributions to knowledge without always having to pretend that no-one else before had ever contributed anything of significance. The attention-seeking, pseudo-radical rhetoric in this article borders on the infantile.

Addendum: Looking at another associated project with the same PI, I read the following:

Consequently, true 19th-century practices have never been fully explored or realised,and familiar, secure, yet inaccurate ‘modern’ techniques such as off-string bowings have been the default directive. Whilst recordings of Beethoven’s Symphonies (e.g. by Gardiner, Hogwood and Norrington) are well respected and certainly offer interpretative insights, their acceptance as definitive examples of historical performance in this repertoire is misguided and dangerous. The string playing does not follow either technically or stylistically the conventions that were natural to performers of that time.

Here we are back to the sort of stentorian rhetoric about accuracy and authenticity that has been said to be a feature of the bad old days. To describe performances, or the reception thereof, as ‘misguided and dangerous’, not to mention further claims about ‘there have been no recorded or concert performances which have given any meaningful realisation of early 19th-century string playing’, or how ’19th-century performance practices continue to be grossly misrepresented’, all sounds very ‘prescriptive’ to me. Again, this seems a spin on ‘all the others have got it wrong, only my group can get it right’. With various issues which should be the subject of critical research questions (e.g. the prevalence of off-string bowings) presented as established truth.

A lot of critical methodological reflection on historical performance has concluded that various aspects of performance from eras before the advent of recording are difficult to discern with any certainty, and the results will inevitably be rather provisional and inexact. Yet when some performers wish to claim that existing species of historical performance have got it wrong, they speak in the language of absolute truth. Some humility here would not go amiss.


Musicological Observations 8: Essential listening from post-1945 New Music?

I was considering what I thought should be essential listening from the repertoire of post-1945 new music, to which anyone doing a music degree course which has a Western art music focus should be exposed during the course of their study. I want to be uncompromising and avoid easy populist, ‘democratic’, patronising choices (but look to major, difficult works for which exposure and explication at a university level might really make a difference. So here are six suggestions – I am looking for some others (I have lots of ideas, naturally, but am interested in those of others) that might make this up to ten suggestions. Please do post below. I am aware that there all the below choices are men, so would welcome various views on which works of women composers might also be included, according to the criteria I lay out.

Pierre Boulez, Pli selon pli (1957-62, rev. 1989-90)

 

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kontakte (1958-60)

 

Luigi Nono, La fabbrica illuminata (1964)

 

Morton Feldman, Violin and Orchestra (1979) (only an excerpt is included above)

 

Brian Ferneyhough, Second String Quartet (1980)

 

 

Helmut Lachenmann, Allegro sostenuto (1987-88, rev. 1989-91).


The Piano Music of Michael Finnissy – Forthcoming Concerts 2016-2017

The following is a list of my forthcoming concerts in London and Oxford of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, in celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday. The next concert is next Tuesday, September 27th, 2016, at 18:00 and 19:30 – I hope many will be able to come along to this (see here for reserving places).

finnissy-piano-concerto-no-4-part

From Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996)

 

Tuesday September 27th, 2016, 18:00 and 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

 

Thursday October 27th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (6) – Part of the Royal Holloway Department of Music Finnissy at 70 series
Picture Gallery, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham Hill, Egham.

Kemp’s Morris (1978)
William Billings (1990-91)
Cassandra Miller and Michael Finnissy, Sinner don’t let this Harvest pass (2016)
Beethoven’s Robin Adair (2015)
Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989)

***

Vieux Noël Op. 59 No. 2 (1958)
Romance (with Intermezzo) (1960)
Short but…(1979)
Reels (1980-81)
Australian Sea Shanties Set 2 (1983)
White Rain (1981)
Free Setting (1981, rev. 1995)

 

Monday, November 7th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (7)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

Elephant (1994)
Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1996)
The larger heart, the kindlier hand (1993)
…desde que naçe (1993)
De toutes flours (1990)
Cibavit eos (1991-92)
Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006)
Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003)
Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2012)

***

Second Political Agenda (2000-8)

  1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else;
  2. Mit Arnold Schoenberg ;
  3. SKRYABIN in itself.

 

Monday, November 21st, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (8)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

A solis ortus cardine (1992)
Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836
(1989-94)
Edward
(2002)
Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie)
(2001)
Z/K
(2012)
Brahms-Lieder (2015) (UK Premiere)
Enough
(2001)

***

Wee Saw Footprints (1986-90)
Kleine Feldmelodie
(1999)
Lylyly li (1988-89)
Pimmel (1988-89)
Two of Us (1990)
Georghi Tutev (1996, rev. 2002)

***

Beat Generation Ballads (2013)
Meeting is pleasure, parting a grief (1996)

 

Thursday, December 1st, 2016, 18:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (9)
Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmith’s College, New Cross Road, SE14 6AF

Verdi Transcriptions Books 1-4 (complete) (1972-2005)

 

Friday, January 20th, 2017, times tbc
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (10), as part of a wider mini-conference (January 19th-20th) on Finnissy
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

The History of Photography in Sound (complete) (1995-2000)

This will consist of three concerts during the course of the day and evening, together with talks and other associated events.

I will also be playing works of Finnissy in forthcoming concerts in Leuven (Beethoven’s Robin Adair), Prague (Five Yvaroperas, all.fall.down) and Lisbon (Jazz) during this autumn, and will post further details about these presently.

The earlier concerts this year have been as follows:

 

Tuesday February 16th, 2016, 19:00 (with pre-concert interview of Michael Finnissy by Aaron Einbond at 18:30)
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (1)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Romeo and Juliet are Drowning (1967)
Snowdrift (1972)
My love is like a red red rose (1990)
There never were such hard times before (1991)
French Piano (1991)
New Perspectives on Old Complexity (1990, rev. 1992)
First Political Agenda (1989-2006)

  1. Wrong place. Wrong Time;
  2. Is there any future for new music?;
  3. You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made.

***

English Country Tunes (1977, rev. 1982-85)

 

Tuesday May 10th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (2)
Hollywell Music Room, Hollywell Street OX1 3SD

Song 5 (1966-67)
Song 6 (1968, rev. 1996)
Song 7 (1968-69)
Song 8 (1967)
Song 9 (1968)
Nine Romantics (1992)

***

Ives-Grainger-Nancarrow (1974, 1979, 1979-80) 
Liz (1980-81)
B.S.-G.F.H. (1985-86)
Ethel Smyth (1995)
Joh. Seb. Bach (2003)
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sind (1992)
Rossini (1991)
What the meadow-flowers tell me (1993)
Preambule zu “Carnaval”, gefolgt von der ersten und zweiten symphonischen Etüde nach Schumann (2009-10) [World Premiere of Preambule]
One Minute W… (2006)

 

Friday May 27th, 2016, 18:00 and 19:15
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (3)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1, 18:00
Svatovac (1973-74)
Three Dukes Went A-Riding (1977, rev. 1996)
To & Fro (1978, rev. 1995)
We’ll get there someday (1978)
Terrekeme (1981, rev. 1990)
Taja (1986)
Hikkai (1982-83)
Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992)
John Cage (1992)
Five Yvaroperas (1993-95)
Tell-dirais (1996)
Vanèn (1991)
all.fall.down (1977)

Concert 2, 19:15
Folklore I-IV (1993-94)

 

Thursday July 7th, 2016, 18:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (4)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Third Political Agenda (2016) [World premiere]

  1. Corruption, Deceit, Ignorance, Intolerance
  2. Hier kommt ‘U K Ichbezogen Populismus’
  3. My country has betrayed me

Polskie Tance Op. 32 (1955-62)
Four Mazurkas Op. 142 (1957)
Two Pasodobles (1959)
Autumnall (1968-71)
Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980)
23 Tangos  (1968-99) [World Premiere]

***

Honky Blues (1996)
How dear to me (1991)
Willow Willow (1991)
Poor Stuff (1991, rev. 1996)
Sometimes I… (1990, rev. 1997)
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1990)
Boogie-Woogie (1980, rev. 1981)
Jazz (1976)
Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978-79)


The Gershwin songs that inspired Finnissy

Those who have seen my last blog post will know that on Tuesday, September 27th 2016, beginning at 18:00, at the Performance Space, College Building, City University, I will be playing all of Michael Finnissy’s arrangements of Gershwin, as well as his Piano Concertos 4 and 6. The twenty-three pieces in question (plus a few early versions) are all derived from different Gershwin songs, generally from the musical comedies and revues for which he wrote some or all of the music, and also for various films.

Whilst Gershwin’s original melodies (and some derivative of other aspects of the harmony, figuration, vocal styles of particular performers) are clearly present and generally recognisable (certainly in comparison to the much more oblique Verdi Transcriptions), albeit heavily mediated, nonetheless not all of the originals are amongst Gershwin’s most famous songs, and some are relatively, though undeservedly obscure. Finnissy avoided setting any of the songs which Gershwin had himself transcribed for piano, or which had been transcribed by Percy Grainger. Here are the two sets of arrangements with the origins of each song:

MICHAEL FINNISSY, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-1988)

  1. How long has this been going on? (from the musical comedy Rosalie (1928))
  2. Things are looking up (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  3. A foggy day in London town (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  4. Love is here to stay (from the film The Goldwyn Follies (1938))
  5. They can’t take that away from me (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  6. Shall we dance? (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  7. They’re writing songs of love, but not for me (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  8. Fidgety feet (from the musical comedy Oh, Kay! (1926))
  9. Embraceable you (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  10. Waiting for the sun to come out (from the musical comedy The Sweetheart Shop (1920), book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, most music by Hugo Felix)
  11. Innocent ingénue baby (from the musical comedy Our Nell (1922))
  12. Blah, blah, blah (from the film Delicious (1931))
  13. Boy wanted (from the musical comedy A Dangerous Maid (1921))

 

MICHAEL FINNISSY, More Gershwin (1989-1990)

  1. Limehouse Nights (from the revue Morris Gest’s Midnight Whirl (1919))
  2. Wait a bit, Susie (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  3. I’d Rather Charleston (for 1926 London production of musical comedy Lady, be Good! (1924))
  4. Isn’t it Wonderful! (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  5. Nobody but You (from the musical comedy La, la Lucille (1919))
  6. Swanee (from Demi Tasse Revue, part of Capitol Revue (1919), show produced and choreographed by Ned Wayburn)
  7. Dixie Rose (song from 1921)
  8. Someone Believes in You (from the musical comedy Sweet Little Devil (1924))
  9. Nashville Nightingale (from the revue Nifties of 1923, produced by Charles B. Dillingham)

 

There was also a further arrangement composed in 1998, called Please pay some attention to me, derived from a very little-known song, ‘Pay Some Attention to Me’ (1937) which George and Ira Gershwin had originally written for the film A Damsel in Distress, but abandoned it incomplete. Finnissy obtained the manuscript for this from the late composer Richard Rodney Bennett, and first made a version for soprano and piano duet which was performed at Steyning Music Club, then transformed this into a solo piano work in which Gershwin-derived material is alternated with a type of imaginary dodecaphonic music, as an evocation of the tennis games which Gershwin played with Schoenberg at the former’s Hollywood mansion during the last year of his life.

I thought I would post links to recordings of each of the songs in the two sets as a point of reference, in the same order. Whilst most of the Finnissy works were essentially composed as a free response to the scores (including all of the second set), a few were also inspired by particular performances, including Judy Garland’s ‘But not for me’ and some of the Fred Astaire classics. The particular choices posted here are naturally a little restricted by online availability.

Sarah Vaughan singing ‘How long has this been going on?’ in a 1957 recording with Hal Mooney and his orchestra.

 

‘Things are looking up’ as sung by Fred Astaire to Joan Fontaine in the sequence in A Damsel in Distress (1937).

 

‘A foggy day in London Town’ sung by Fred Astaire in the same film.

 

Kenny Baker singing ‘Love is here to stay’ in The Goldwyn Follies (1938).

 

Fred Astaire singing ‘They can’t take that away from me’ to Ginger Rogers, from the film Shall We Dance (1937).

 

More Astaire and Ginger Rogers: the title track ‘Shall We Dance?’ from the film.

 

The timeless performance by Judy Garland of ‘But not for me’, from Girl Crazy (1943).

 

‘Fidgety Feet’ as played by the Savoy Ophreans, recorded in 1927.

 

Billie Holiday singing ‘Embraceable You’, recorded in 1944.

 

http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7583/

Lambert Murphy singing ‘Waiting for the sun to come out’ (1920 recording) (click on the above to go to the site to play it)

 

A more recent performance of ‘Innocent ingenue baby’ (the only version I could find online)

 

The full film Delicious (1931) – ‘Blah blah blah’ is at around 1h 16’50”.

 

And Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Boy Wanted’.

 

Gershwin’s own piano-roll of ‘Limehouse Nights’, made in 1920.

 

‘Wait a bit, Susie’, played by the Savoy Havana Band in 1924.

 

Fred and Adele Astaire singing ‘I’d rather Charleston’, with Gershwin at the piano, recorded in London in 1926.

 

Steven Blier and Judy Kaye singing ‘Isn’t It Wonderful?’ (requires log-in to Spotify).

 

Gershwin’s 1919 piano roll of ‘Nobody but you’.

 

Al Jolson’s 1920 recording of ‘Swanee’.

 

Rick Rogers sings ‘Dixie Rose’.

I was unable to find a linkable performance of ‘Someone believes in you’, but the track can be bought as an MP3 here as part of the first recording of Sweet Little Devil.

 

‘Nashville Nightingale’, recorded in 1927 by the Piccadilly Revels Dance Band.

 

And Lena Jansson singing ‘Pay some attention to me’ (needs Spotify log-in).


Fifth Concert of Finnissy Piano Music – Piano Concertos, Gershwins – and Lecture on Experimental Music

On Tuesday September 27th, 2016, at City University, beginning at 18:00, I will be giving the fifth concert in my series of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday. This will contain Finnissy’s two piano concertos for solo piano, nos. 4 and 6, and both books of his Gershwin Arrangements (about which more can be found on this separate blog post, including links for all of the original Gershwin songs). The concert will be in two parts, an early evening concert at 18:00, and a main concert at 19:30. Places can be reserved here. The programmes are as follows:

 

Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 6

(From Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980-81))

Finnissy - from Fidgety Feet

(from ‘Fidgety feet’, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88))

 

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 4

(from Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996))

The Piano Concerto No. 4 is by some measure Finnissy’s most manically virtuosic piece, and this is a rare opportunity to hear it live. I gave the world premiere of the revised version in my 1996 series of the piano work and have since performed it many times and recorded it (as I have the Piano Concerto No. 6 and all of the Gershwin Arrangements).

There will be further Finnissy concerts in London, Egham and Oxford in October, November and December, details of which I hope to confirm very soon, including a performance of the complete (four-book) Verdi Transcriptions , and the complete cycle The History of Photography in Sound, as part of a wider day at City University of events relating to Finnissy’s work.

 

Furthermore, on Wednesday October 12th, at 17:30 I will be giving a lecture postponed from earlier this year (due to industrial action).

Lecture:Ideological Constructions of ‘Experimental Music’ and Anglo-American Nationalism in the Historiography of post-1945 Music’
Room AG09, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Abstract: Since the publication of John Cage’s essay ‘Experimental Music: Doctrine’ of 1955, a dichotomy has informed a good deal of historiography of new music between ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ musics, especially following the publication of Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond in 1974. Nyman very clearly portrayed ‘experimental music’ as a fundamentally Anglo-American phenomenon, allowing almost no European composers into his pantheon. This opposition was itself foreshadowed in various writings of John Cage and Morton Feldman, and since the appearance of Nyman’s book has remained a prominent ideological construct, even feeding into other oppositions such as ‘high/low’ music, ‘uptown/downtown’ or ‘modern/postmodern’.

In this paper, I trace the history and development of the concept of ‘experimental’ music in several types of literature published in Europe and North America from the 1950s until the present day: general histories of music of this period, histories of American music, the writings of Cage, Feldman and Wolff, secondary literature on these figures, and other work dealing specifically with ‘experimental music’. I argue that from the late 1950s onwards, there was such a large amount of cross-fertilisation between composers on either side of the Atlantic that the opposition is unsustainable, but its perpetuation served an ideological and nationalistic purpose. Above all, by portraying a group of British and American composers as occupying an aesthetic space at an insurmountable remove from a (simplistic) picture of a European ‘avant-garde’, this facilitated special pleading on the part of the former for programming and other purposes. Even as some writers have grudgingly conceded that a small few continental European composers might also be considered ‘experimental’, they have constructed them as utterly on the margins of a perceived European mainstream to such an extent as to question their very ‘Europeanness’. Remarkably, this opposition has also been continued by various European writers, especially in Germany.

I also argue that the rhetoric of ‘experimental music’ has some roots in mythologies of the US frontier which have informed constructions of its canonical musicians. In place of this, I stress the strong European (as well as American and Asian) provenance of Cage’s thought and work (via that of Duchamp, futurism, Dada, the Bauhaus, Joyce, Satie, Varèse, Webern and Meister Eckhardt), and suggest that Feldman’s romantic, anti-rational individualism can be viewed not only in a clear lineage from nineteenth century European aesthetic thought (not least in Russia), but also in stark opposition to Cage’s anti-subjectivism. And finally I paraphrase Cage’s preface to Lecture on the Weather (1975) to argue that the music of the U.S.A. should be seen as just one part of the musical world, no more, no less.

 

I hope all with an interest in this subject will want to come along.


Deskilling and Musical Education – Response to Arnold Whittall’s 80th Birthday Celebrations

The following article was printed in the Society for Music Analysis Newsletter 2015. I reproduce it with just a few small modifications here.

 

To do justice to Arnold’s enviable legacy, we should reverse the tendency towards the de-skilling of a discipline.

During the contributions to Arnold Whittall’s 80th birthday colloquium at King’s College, London, Jonathan Cross linked two events: Arnold’s appointment as the first Professor of Theory and Analysis in 1982, and later in the decade the purported expansion of musicology to incorporate issues of gender, sexuality and race, methodologies from sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and elsewhere, and greater focus on popular musics and other traditions outside of Western art music. Some of the latter phenomena are associated with the so-called ‘new musicology’ in the US and its slightly milder counterpart ‘critical musicology’ in the UK.

All of these were portrayed by Cross as a general broadening of the discipline, a welcome infusion of increased diversity of subject and methodology, a natural step forward. But an academic field now in large measure antipathetic to claims of musical autonomy seems nonetheless to claim a fair degree of autonomy for its own trajectory, in a way I find implausible and even disingenuous. There may be some common determinants underlying all these apparent broadenings of the field, and both systematic analysis and the new musicology have been opposed by conservatives such as Peter Williams. Nonetheless, the wider ideologies underlying these disparate developments can be quite antagonistic, as was certainly made clear in an important interview between Arnold and Jonathan Dunsby published in Music Analysis (Vol. 14, No. 2/3 (Jul. – Oct., 1995), pp. 131-139) for the former’s 60th birthday.

The ‘new musicology’ is frequently argued to have been inaugurated with the publication of Joseph Kerman’s Contemplating Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985) (UK title Musicology). Despite being replete with factual errors, Kerman’s appeal to a musicological inferiority complex, a field presented as trailing far behind other disciplines in terms of adoption of ideas from phenomenology, post-structuralism, feminism and more, not to mention his negative view of both musical modernism and historically-informed performance, as well as residual anti-German prejudice, would prove very influential.

But Kerman was also the author of the polemical ‘How We Got into Analysis, and How to Get out’ (Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter 1980), pp. 331-331), absolutely at odds with what Arnold was advocating and aiming for at around the same time. The contexts for these two musicologists were very different: Kerman was responding to a particular North American situation (though he was shameless in extrapolating universal pronouncements from a rather provincial perspective), with a much starker distinction between ‘historians’ and ‘theorists’ than in the UK. In the US, a heavily mediated rendition of Schenker’s work had flowered since 1931 through his student Hans Weisse, and in the early post-war era through other students Felix Salzer and Oswald Jonas, whilst other intense analytical approaches had been developed by Rudolph Réti, Milton Babbitt, Allen Forte, George Perle, David Lewin and others. In the UK, on the other hand, as Arnold would note in a 1980 article (‘Musicology in Great Britain since 1945. III. Analysis’, Acta Musicologica, Vol. 52, Fasc. 1 (Jan. – Jun. 1980), pp. 57-62), systematic analysis had made little advance, despite a gauntlet having been set down by Ian Bent’s advocacy at the Congress of the International Musicological Society in 1972. What did exist – through some interest in Réti’s work, the ‘functional analysis’ of Hans Keller, and a smattering of other work from Alan Walker, David Osmond Smith and a few others – was occasional and patchy, and this was undoubtedly a major factor in Arnold’s co- founding, in 1982, the journal Music Analysis together with Jonathan Dunsby, with whom he would author what remains the leading general textbook on analysis in English six years later. The subject has continued to grow and develop, with excellent work from UK academics, such as Matthew Riley’s studies on Haydn and Mozart, Michael Spitzer’s work on the affective function of gesture, Nicholas Cook on analysis and performance, or Allan Moore’s work on rock, but it is difficult in 2015 to see analysis as having attained a central position in musicology as might have seemed possible in 1982. Various musicologists who assumed prominent positions from the 1990s onwards have made no secret of their disdain for this sub-discipline, sometimes inspired by American writings of a similar ideological persuasion.

Assumptions of autonomous development of the discipline in the 1980s and 1990s are belied by issues such as the wider politics of education from the Thatcher years onwards. These entailed cuts in musical provision in schools, the 1992 removal of the formal distinction between universities and polytechnics, and then expansion of student numbers. After a doubling of the number of students (in all subjects) between 1963 and 1970 following the Robbins Report, numbers remained static until the late 1980s, when during a period of around a decade student numbers practically doubled from 17% in 1987 to 33% in 1997, then rose steadily to peak at 49% in 2011. This move from an elite to a mass educational system occurred in parallel with attempts to erase the very real differences in preparedness and background amongst students at different types of institutions, with a net levelling effect upon many.

Much of the new embrace of popular music had less to do with genuine diversification than an enforced denial of very real differences of various forms of musical production’s relationship to the marketplace. One of Thatcher’s neoliberal mantras, ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) was echoed by many a musicologist scornful of any possible value in state-subsidised musical activity thus able to operate with a degree of autonomy from shortterm market utility. As subsidy is rare or minimal in the US, this ideology was convenient for American musicologists eager to claim some radical credentials through valorisation of the commercial whilst still appearing patriotic; it was disappointing to see so much of this ideology imported wholesale in the UK, a country with a modest level of subsidy for music compared to its continental European counterparts.

I had always thought of music, at a tertiary level, as a highly skilled discipline for those who have already developed and refined musicianship prior to entering university. This belief may reflect a background in a specialist music school in which, if nothing else, the teaching of fundamental musical skills was rigorous and thorough. Nonetheless, the importance of not allowing music slip to become a ‘soft’ subject requiring only nominal prior skills (and, as with much work in the realm of cultural studies, not requiring any particular artistic disciplinary expertise or extended knowledge) is to me self-evident. But with declining primary and secondary musical educational provision, frequently the extent of such prior skills amongst students can be quite elementary.

Furthermore, following the trebling of tuition fees in 2012 and other measures removing caps on recruitment, higher education has become a more ruthlessly competitive market with institutions fighting to attract and keep students. These various factors provide the context from which we should view the growth in many departments of types of popular music studies, film music studies, cultural studies, and some varieties of ethnomusicology, in which engagement with sounding music is a secondary or even non-existent concern. Such focus enables the production of modules which can be undertaken by those students with limited prior skills, but militates against musical analysis in particular.

We now have a situation, unthinkable a few decades ago, where some senior academics – even at professorial level – have no ability to read any type of musical notation. These academics (not to mention some of their students who will go onto teach at primary and secondary levels) may only perpetuate and exacerbate this situation for their own students. Similarly, a number of sub-disciplines of academic music can now be undertaken without linguistic skills, or much background in history, literature, the visual arts, philosophy and so on. Students have always had uneven or patchy backgrounds in these respects, but the will to help them improve upon this has also declined in various institutions. Expansion of musical study to encompass wider ranges of music and disciplinary approaches is certainly to be welcomed when this entails the cultivation of equal degrees of expertise and methodological refinement and critical acumen, but not necessarily when these are simply a means for attracting and holding onto less able students.

In short, these developments in musical higher education have seen a well-meaning liberal quest for inclusivity amount in practice to a pseudo-egalitarian de-skilling of a profession. In order to build upon the legacy bequeathed above all by Arnold for the support of specialised and rigorous analytical skills, we cannot ignore this issue any longer.