The article focuses on opera as a theatrical genre, brought to life only through specific stagings. This concept implies that the traditional concept of an artistic work needs to be questioned. If the live performance on stage is regarded as a work in its own right, the «original operatic work» might be conceived as a «souvenir», as suggested by Carolyn Abbate, whereas David Levin makes a distinction between the «opera text» and the «performance text», the latter signifying a particular staging.
The point of departure for this discussion is the production of Handels Giulio Cesare, staged in 2005 by the Norwegian (Berlin based) director Stefan Herheim at the Oslo national opera. The staging was a highly inventive, unconventional interpretation, recreating the visual and vocal splendour of baroque opera performances. The critics were, however, divided between appraisal and rejection, and some of these comments are highlighted as pertinent to the overall argument.
Due to developments within music technology and media, Western notions and conceptions of the voice have changed fundamentally. Internet-based media provides examples of how listeners celebrate and fetishise voices that have become detached from their performance context, in terms of time, space, linguistic and cultural context, as well as from their bodily source. Thus the listener is given wide interpretive freedom and signification possibilities. To discuss these processes, this article looks at the changes in performance practice and style within the genre of Scottish Gaelic work songs, and at how the genre has become highly romanticized by the ideology of Celticism. Furthermore, it discusses the role of recording and amplification technology in the development of the soft «Celtic» sound.
This article is a reworking of a paper presented at The 6th International Conference on Chopin in Warsaw, 2006. The study of Tellefsens mazurkas shows that several traits can be traced back to Chopins style idiom. Tellefsen tried to put his own stamp on the genre by assimilating traits from Norwegian folk music into his mazurkas. From the very first presentation of the mazurkas in Norway, these Norwegian folk music traits were heard and experienced as something positive. However, from the 1860s onwards, Tellefsens music was gradually understood as an inauthentic expression of the national. His work also became criticised for its close relation to Chopins style and a lack of personal tone. Following this, Tellefsens music seems to have failed to meet two important requirements of 19th century music aesthetics, the requirement to be original and the requirement to present something national through music.
Following the first performance of Peer Gynt in Berlin in 1914, the critics gave their unanimous verdict on Griegs extensive music for Ibsens drama: unsuitable. What they really meant was romanticized. There is in fact a great discrepancy between this one-dimensional reception of the music and Ibsens initial intentions which entailed an attitude of caricature, parody and irony. Griegs remarks show that he had attempted to realize these concepts in his composition. The paper intends to reveal the tangled mesh of the various causes of miscomprehension. The greatest motivation however lies in the music itself: the problem of how to establish a secondary level to communicate the concept of irony at the time of composition in 1875.
This is a study in musical recordings of Gustav Mahlers Second Symphony, fifth movement («Im Tempo des Scherzo. Wild herausfahrend»). The author has collected, analysed and compared more than 85 recordings of this work, made by different conductors and orchestras in the period of 1924–2009. The first part of the article gives a brief presentation of the performance history and the recording history of this work, inscribing it in changing cultural contexts where ideas of the German and the Jewish has had a certain role to play. The articles second part discusses musical differences between the recordings. A main topic is the question of how Mahlers music can be said to reconstruct the very idea of the symphonic by consciously playing with musical figures and by placing orchestration at the forefront of symphonic articulation and form.
The articles theoretical point of departure is the so-called performative turn in musicology. The author refers to the somewhat puzzling fact that in current textbooks and analyses of Mahlers music, actual performances and interpretations are rarely taken into account, nor even named. Mahlers music is generally analysed as if diverging performances do not make a difference as to the question of how the musical figures and processes are to be understood. However, in the history of recordings there are obvious and striking differences in musical understanding and expression, interpretation and style, tempo and balance, phrasing and articulation. Arguably, these differences are not merely of a secondary and accidential nature, which leaves the «work,» as such, unaffected. Rather, musical performances and their history may be regarded as constitutive as to what the musical work actually is.
This article seeks to reassess Arnold Schönbergs concept of colour in his atonal music in light of a reading of the «Death Dance of the Principles», a text written by Schönberg in 1915. In his text Schönberg expressed in poetic formulations the critique of fundamental truths serving as the foundation for traditional systems of knowledge in aesthetics, philosophy, and science. Inspired by Dehmel, Strindberg, and Balzac/Swedenborg, Schönbergs «Death Dance of the Principles» describes the dissolution of the categories of perception and cognition, originating in the epistemological crisis of the Viennese fin-de-siècle. The re-assessment of central works of the atonal period such as Pierrot lunaire and Jakobs Ladder in light of the «Death Dance of the Principles» reveals how crucial the scrutiny of symbolic and metaphorical aspects of colour was for Schönbergs musical quest for spiritual transformation prior to World War I. After breaking colour down into its fundamental function as an element of perception and cognition, Schönberg saw that colour became the source of a new sensitivity enabling new kinds of cognition and knowledge, once the old principles were danced to death.
John Cage produced and published works within the traditional confines of art-music while at the same time continously testing – and occasionally breaking – the limits of the concept «musical work». Subject to scorn form Pierre Boulez (among others), Cage nevertheless maintained a fruitfull dialogue with the European tradition. Drawing on contemporary theoretical research, this article surveys Cages production of «works», while paying attention to the history behind this fuzzy concept.
Many contemporary composers have become increasingly aware of their position as interpreters and critics of music history, interacting with a pluralistic multitude of musical possibilities. One of the most distinct of these composers is the German Hans Zender (1936-). Through his numerous essays on music, he is moreover one of the writers who have reflected most profoundly upon the challenges of pluralism. This essay explores how Zenders concept of productive listening, developed in critical dialogue with both Cages ideas and the hermeneutic tradition, forms the platform for his understanding of interpretation and composition. Composer, performer and listener are equalled in Zenders poetics; all are receivers, and all are producers. Zender regards composition as a tension-filled confrontation of the unfinished past with the sensibility of the present. In a coda, it is suggested how Zenders ideas have correlations to Walter Benjamins philosophy of history.
2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edward MacDowell (1860–1908), the most important American composer prior to Charles Ives. After discussing MacDowells position in music history, the author focuses on his second piano concerto in D minor (1884–1886). First, the work is described structurally with regard to form and generic features. Then the author recalls his excitement when, as a boy of fifteen, he listened to the magnificent recording of the concerto by Van Cliburn and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (recorded in 1960). He ascertains that traditional criteria for musical value, such as structural integration (thematic coherence, tonal unity), played a lesser part in his listening experience than the character of the music, the tensional fluxes and Cliburns virtuosity. In works like MacDowells concerto, the virtuoso and idiomatic element must be regarded as an essential part of the aesthetic basis and the musical expression.