December 05, 2016

Moving Day

This site is now officially a ghost town—though, rest assured, the ghosts will remain, lively and fractious. Please visit for more current contemplations.

November 24, 2016

"We seem to go extremely slow, / it is so hard to wait!"

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, and I hope it's a fine one for anyone reading. Here's what we'll be offering guests at the door—a bright, fruity counterbalance to a ton of stuffing.
Fall In

  • 2 parts rosemary-infused rye (just rye and rosemary stalks left for a day or two to get to know each other, like there at the right—plain rye is just as good)
  • 2 parts pineapple juice
  • 1 part cranberry juice
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • plum bitters to taste
Shake the base ingredients with ice and strain, then combine equal parts base and chilled sparkling wine. Garnish with a cranberry, maybe? Or an orange twist, your call.
Thanksgiving being the calendar's main food-based holiday, I normally take the opportunity to throw a few bucks at my local food bank, and encourage everyone I know to do the same. Given that things aren't exactly normal right now, here's a few more worthy causes that probably would appreciate a financial vote of confidence:

Happy holidays! Traveling mercies if you're traveling. And remember the words of Ian MacLaren: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

November 17, 2016

Esta cerca

Guerrieri: ¡Alégrense! (2016) (PDF, 49Kb)

One of the side benefits of a church-music gig is that you get to spend a fair amount of time living in the future. For instance, we're only halfway through November; but, thanks to preparation needs and Thanksgiving eating a rehearsal whole, I'm already well into Advent. Here's this year's introit: a bright, feisty 35-second riposte to 2016. Kick it to the curb! There's work to do.

November 15, 2016

Steel and bronze

Catching up on weekend links:

Score: the exacting world of piano wire.
Boston Globe, November 11, 2016.

(In advance of Eli Keszler's performance this Friday in connection with his installation Northern Stair Projection.)

Reviewing the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle.
Boston Globe, November 12, 2016.

Also: I've been forgetting to link to this, but you can now read an article I wrote for Symphony magazine on titling trends in new orchestral works.

November 10, 2016

"Do as I do"

Jean Jaurès before the storm, and Jean Jaurès after. Go back to July of 1898, the height of the Dreyfus Affair. At the end of 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian-born, Jewish officer in the French Army, had been railroaded by a military court, convicted of passing secret information to Germany, largely on the basis of a secret dossier of letters—including some forgeries—prepared by the Army and passed on to the judges to forestall any possibility of an acquittal. For the next three years, the Dreyfus family and a band of journalists and intellectuals advocated for the decision to be overturned. Investigations by Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Picquart, head of the Army's intelligence service, revealed the true culprit, one Major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. But the Army closed ranks: Picquart's deputy, Major Hubert-Joseph Henry, fashioned another forgery that seemed to prove Dreyfus's guilt. Esterhazy was, on order from the Army leadership, acquitted by another military court, while Picquart was ostracized. That led to novelist Émile Zola's famous "J'Accuse" open letter, which (by design) led to Zola being tried and convicted for defamation, putting many of the details of the Affair in open court.

The momentum was on the side of the Dreyfusards for a new trial. But Jules Méline, the prime minister—who knew that the letter Henry produced had been forged—nonetheless declared the case closed. Then, a month after Zola's conviction, new elections brought a new Minister of War, Godefroy Cavaignac, who in July 1898, gave a speech in the French Chamber of Deputies doubling down on Dreyfus's guilt and the authenticity of the forged documents. The Chamber gave Cavaignac a rousing ovation, voting unanimously to post copies of the speech and the documents outside town halls across the country. Historian Barbara Tuchman, in her book The Proud Tower, picks up the story:
For the Dreyfusards it was an unbelievable blow, an "atrocious moment." A journalist came hot from the Chamber to bring the news to Lucien Herr [a leader of the Dreyfusards], who was in his study with Léon Blum [Socialist politician, later to become prime minister of France]. They were struck mute; tears were close to the surface; they sat immobilized by consternation and despair. Suddenly the doorbell rang and Jaurès burst in, brushed aside the gesture of his friends inviting him to mourn and berated them in a tone of triumph. "What, you too?... Don't you understand that now, now for the first time we are certain of victory? Méline was invulnerable because he said nothing. Cavaignac talks, so he will be beaten.... Now Cavaignac has named the documents and I, yes I, tell you they are false, they feel false, they smell false. They are forgeries.... I am certain of it and will prove it. The forgers have come out of their holes; we'll have them by the throat. Forget your funeral faces. Do as I do; rejoice."

Jaurès went out and wrote Les Preuves (The Proofs), a series of articles beginning that week in the Socialist paper, La Petite République, which stunned its readers and marked the first collaboration of Socialism with a cause of the bourgeois world. Through the Affair the bridge of class enmity was crossed.
Jaurès's indefatigable and zealous hope (Georges Clemenceau once joked that Jaurès's articles were easy to spot: "all the verbs are in the future tense") is hard work. But why not? The times are dark, and with good reason. But we have everything to gain.

November 07, 2016

Better get ready for a brand new day

I'm totally behind on links, so let's catch up:

Score: William Merritt Chase—an American Impressionist and his instruments.
Boston Globe, October 21, 2016.

Score: Rosemary Brown and her famous (dead) collaborators.
Boston Globe, October 29, 2016.

Score: Ray Conniff and Billy May at 100.
Boston Globe, November 4, 2016.

In defense of my tardiness, I can claim a) a crush of work, b) a three-year-old who demanded a custom-tailored Cinderella dress for Halloween (which meant a week's battle with the sewing machine), and c) um, well, this:

My more-often-than-not forlorn fandom has been commemorated in this space at assorted past moments of temporary buoyancy, so it is not a surprise that my productivity has been utterly subverted for some weeks now. (I played "Go Cubs Go" as an organ postlude this past Sunday and I don't think there was a soul in the congregation who had a clue what it was, which somehow made it even more fun.)

Still: slacking. So, to make it up to you, I made you a drink:

Clock Watcher

½ oz Bénédictine
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz lime juice
2-3 oz Canadian Club (or any rye-heavy whiskey; amount based on just how much time we're trying to skip over here)
a healthy 4-5 dashes of Peychaud's bitters

Shake everything up with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with an orange twist.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) is election day here in the U.S. Go vote! And remember the words of that most optimistic of radicals, Jean Jaurès:
All of us forget that before everything else, we are... ephemeral beings lost in the immense universe, so full of terrors. We are inclined to neglect the search for the real meaning of life, to ignore the real goals—serenity of the spirit and sublimity of the heart ... To reach them—that is the revolution.

September 30, 2016

Second line

Score: The funeral march's public and private origins.
Boston Globe, September 30, 2016.

Noël des jouets

But has no one realized that I might be artificial by nature?
—Maurice Ravel
One notable bit of pop-music news last week was the release of a new box set of recordings by the late David Bowie, called Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976), laying out, in exhaustive detail, one of Bowie's more remarkable shifts of identity, from the glitteringly Orwellian Bowie of Diamond Dogs to the blue-eyed soul Bowie of Young Americans to the brittle, elegantly debauched Bowie of Station to Station. The biggest novelty of the set is the inclusion of the official release of a "lost" Bowie album, The Gouster, a precursor to Young Americans that includes earlier, grittier versions of four of that album's songs as well as four other tracks. The prospect of this new-not-new album made a splash when it was announced back in July, but only a small one—if you're a mildly obsessive Bowie fan, you probably already knew about these recordings; if you're a mildly obsessive Bowie fan with an internet connection, you probably already had all or most of them in varying states of fidelity and legality. (I mentioned "Who Can I Be Now?," one of those extra songs, a few years back.)

What we didn't have, however, was the cover.

That's Bowie, in front of an American flag, keeping warm under the Arts section of the February 16, 1975 New York Times. On the section's front page, below the fold (hence, not shown in the photo) was an article by Henry Edwards, titled "Pop Notes: What Is Bowie Up to Now?" An excerpt:
"Black and British" may sound like a contradictory term, but it accurately describes this week's new David Bowie single release. The song is an original Bowie composition entitled "Young Americans" backed by the English rock-superstar's reworking of the old Eddie Floyd soul-hit "Knock on Wood." Abandoning glitter, outer space, bisexuality and showy theatrics, the orange haired Bowie now seems determined to prove that he's got as much soul as any successful black recording artist. For more proof, he is now completing a new LP highlighted by a series of driving rhythm-and-blues arrangements
—which, of course, is the very LP that you would have been holding in your hand had The Gouster been released in 1975.

But take a look at what the photo actually does show: an article titled "Gerard Souzay and the Sport of Singing French Songs," an interview with the great French baritone by Richard Dyer (later and for many years the chief classical-music critic of The Boston Globe). The occasion of the interview was a recital of songs by Maurice Ravel Souzay was about to give at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in honor of Ravel's centenary. And, honestly, I wonder (though I'm pretty sure this is just idle speculation) I wonder if Bowie held on to the paper because he realized that, through the coincidental mechanism of a newspaper layout, he could claim Ravel as a colleague. From the interview:
“You know," [says Souzay,] "Ravel did not write very many songs, but everything that he wrote was good—you cannot say that about very many composers. He was a man who traveled very little, but he wrote music that evokes, even represents, many countries—Asia, the Middle East, Spain, Africa, Hungary, even, in the piano concerto, America; it's amazing. In his home he lived with objects from around the world, and when he studied them, his imagination ran wild."
Game recognize game: Bowie might have been more diligent about actually making the pilgrimage (sessions for The Gouster-slash-Young Americans, for instance, were at Sigma Sound studios, the nerve center of Philadelphia soul) but that description—living with the objects and letting the imagination fly—describes what makes Bowie's engagement with so many different styles of music both compelling and compellingly alienating, in a Brechtian way. It's the plasticity in Bowie's "plastic soul." It leaves a gap, a vacuum, that your own needs and expectations as a listener rush in and fill, with satisfaction or disdain, depending on whether you're a fan or a detractor.

Or, maybe, both. Because what we're talking about here, after all, is appropriation, which is both an inescapable part of musical creation and (for good reason) a loaded term in the course of cultural history. Bowie and Ravel, who both appropriated early and often, seemingly managed to, more often than not, sidestep the critical pitfalls of appropriation. Part of that, I'm sure, is simply the cushion of time: the pantheon is a forgiving place. Part of it is their usual habit of total immersion in whatever caught their fascination—a habit sometimes amplified in its atypical absence. (One could, I realize, make an interesting comparison between Ravel's Chansons madécasses, in which the composer absorbed elements of Malagasy music so completely that many critics have wondered if they're even there, and Bowie's Lodger album, where the world-music clichés come so fast and furious that many critics have wondered if it's supposed to be some sort of satire.) But it strikes me that Bowie and Ravel also circumvented many of the hazards of appropriation in the same way: by leveraging their finely-honed and persistent weirdness.

This is, perhaps, the most familiar of all critical tropes regarding Bowie. I'm a stranger here myself, he always seemed to be saying; he was alien to whatever style he put on, and used that disconnect, acknowledging it and mining it for expression. (Go back to his early, Anthony-Newley-wannabe days; even in the whitest possible white-people music, Bowie still felt like he was appropriating it from outside.) But the tracks from The Gouster put it in stark relief. Listen to the two versions of "Right"—one of the songs recorded for The Gouster and then remixed for Young Americans.

In the earlier version, his vocals are forward, drier, in the aural spotlight; when he goes into a call-and-response with the (black) backup vocalists—Ava Cherry, Robin Clark, and Luther Vandross—Bowie seems to be the odd person out: his rhythm skitters over the top of the groove rather than settling into it, his growls and interjections more studied than organic. The later version pushes Bowie a little bit back into the mix, brings up the solid and steady clavinet in the left channel, and gives the whole just the slightest cushion of additional reverb. Bowie's singular strangeness swirls amidst the song, rather than bumping into its vernacular.

That modulated, subsumed foreignness is a hallmark of Ravel's musical tourism as well. On those occasions when Ravel straight-up borrowed material, rather than just imitating a style, you can almost feel him carefully and deliberately portioning out his distinctive, idiosyncratic musical personality. Take one of the songs that Souzay performed at that 1975 recital: the “Chanson hébraïque” from the 1910 Chants populaires. Ravel wrote the set for a contest, sponsored by the Moscow-based Maison du Lied, an organization founded to promote folksong research and performance. Contestants fashioned arrangements of seven folksongs, from seven different cultures, chosen by the Maison; Ravel's efforts won four of the seven prizes. (He only published the prize-winners, though a fifth song turned up posthumously.)

The “Hebrew song” was actually Yiddish: “Meyerke, mayn Zun,” dating from the 18th century. (Some sources attribute it to the famous Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.) Ravel's version starts out reasonably straight, with a little dance rhythm and a modal sway in the right hand:

But at the end of the first chorus (and every chorus after), the piano slides into a cadence by way of a series of chromatically-advancing harmonies:

This progression is the most Ravel-like thing in the song; is that why it's purposefully at odds with everything around it? Every chord produces a whole-step or half-step clash (or, sometimes, both) with some other note. And yet the melody and accompaniment eventually arrive at a solid E-minor triad. Ravel slips into the song as an acknowledged outsider, but ends up meeting it halfway.

After World War I, Ravel's music fell somewhat out of favor in France, at least among the avant-garde, who came to regard him as a slightly fussy and old-fashioned figure. Interestingly, those who took up Ravel's rehabilitation did so by celebrating his artifice. One such advocate, Roland-Manuel, made this the centerpiece of a 1925 defense called “Maurice Ravel ou l'esthétique de l'imposture,” in terms that Souzay would echo fifty years later. “It is in [Ravel's] attachment to the most clearly defined objects that he perceives new connections between things," Roland-Manuel wrote. "The more familiar they are, the more significant will the discovery be.” And, anticipating the chameleonic Bowie, Roland-Manuel argued that art is not, for Ravel, "the supreme truth, but the most brilliant lie; an amazing imposture.” (Translations from Barbara L. Kelly, "Re-presenting Ravel: Artificiality and the Aesthetic of Imposture," in Peter Kaminsky, ed., Unmasking Ravel: New Perspectives on the Music.)

This is what makes The Gouster, long-suppressed, finally-released, such an interesting artifact to me. I wonder if, at the time, Bowie (on some intuitive level, at least ) realized that, with The Gouster, he hadn't yet perceived enough new connections, that it was still a David-Bowie-sings-soul-music album rather than a David Bowie album. (Maybe Henry Edwards, writing in the Times, categorized Bowie's initial efforts a little more neatly and perfunctorily than Bowie would have liked.) Young Americans came in for a certain amount of appropriation-based criticism at the time; it's only in retrospect, in the wake of all the blue-eyed soul that followed it, that the album, for all its obvious and apparent soul trappings, revealed itself as something beyond—or, at least, in addition to—imitation.

Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, the violinist who was one of Ravel's closest friends, once wrote that Ravel's was a restless muse; he always wanted to work "against the successes he has achieved, abandoning the hope of being immediately understood by the public, and even musicians". That seems an odd characterization of a composer whose music is now and inescapably enshrined as popular. Then again, even The Gouster seems more like a curiosity than a provocation at four decades' remove. Styles change; artifice (and weirdness) prevail.

September 23, 2016


Which is to say, cinema pioneers moonlighting as famous composers.

Johann Sebastian Bach (Vladimir Gardin) gets Anton Ivanovich Voronov (Nikolai Konovalov) to lighten up in director Aleksandr Ivanovsky's popular 1941 musical Anton Ivanovich Is Angry. Voronov, a conservatory professor, is horrified that his daughter has decided to abandon classical music for a career in operetta; Bach steps down from a portrait in Voronov's studio to be a pragmatic voice of reason. (The film enjoys a rather nice score by Dmitry Kabalevsky.)

Gardin was a theatrical actor who jumped into the movies early on, producing, directing, and starring in silent-film versions of Russian classics. After the Bolshevik Revolution, he founded the State Institute for Cinematography (known by its Russian-language acronym, VGIK), one of the first film schools in the world. His 1923 film A Spectre Haunts Europe, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" that played up confluences with the October Revolution, featured a scene of a massacre shot on the Odessa Steps that almost certainly gave Sergei Eisenstein the idea of using the same location for the massacre in Battleship Potemkin.

Ludwig van Beethoven (Erich von Stroheim) tickles the ivories for a gathering of nobility in Sacha Guitry's star-studded 1955 Napoléon. After finishing the "Appassionata," Beethoven then begins to play a bit of the "Eroica" symphony, prompting the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise (Maria Schell) to throw an anti-Napoléon tantrum—which, of course, is when Francis II decides to tell her that her marriage to Napoléon has just been arranged. Napoléon has a grand but oddly Les-Six-esque score by Jean Francaix; appropriate, though, since the whole story is being told in flashback by the supremely, cynically bemused Talleyrand (Guitry himself).

Stroheim, despite only directing a handful of movies (and being studio-replaced on a handful of others), was one of the greatest filmmakers of the silent era, with his crazy-lurid Foolish Wives, his brittle, elegant version of The Merry Widow, and his masterpiece, the partially lost but unparalleled Greed. His later acting roles (Grand Illusion, Sunset Boulevard) fixed his image—a deadpan-stiff Austrian gravity. Napoléon was his last screen appearance.

September 21, 2016

September 20, 2016

Now and later

Reviewing Dinosaur Annex.
Boston Globe, September 20, 2016.

Once again reviewing for the Globe, at least for the time being—with a concert that, it turned out, was all about the time being.

September 19, 2016

September 17, 2016

Beatus cuius

Guerrieri: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob (2016) (PDF, 45 Kb)

New program year, new introit. This one recombines a gradually-unveiled 12-tone row into triads and near-triads, which then more or less skip down their own evolutionary path. I always like writing this way: you get cadences that are the harmonic equivalent of handbrake parallel parking. Sure, you could play the organ part on two different coupled manuals, but I kind of like having the hands crowding each other out. We'll give this one a run tomorrow morning. Seatbelts fastened? OK, then.

September 13, 2016


"Snapshot of the Duruflés arriving at Holiday Inn in Lancaster, c. 1966, photographer unknown. Left to right: Maurice Duruflé, Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier, Ralph Kneeram." (Source: Maurice Duruflé, 1902-1986: The Last Impressionist, edited by Ronald Ebrecht.)

August 05, 2016

148, 149, 150

Recent Score columns:

July 22, 2016: Remembering Justin Holland

A sketch of the guitarist, pedagogue, and activist (and birthday buddy).

July 29, 2016: George Butterworth, composer and casualty

Killed a century ago today, leaving a catalogue small, singular, and intense.

August 5, 2016: Beethoven's op. 11 (and Joseph Weigl)

And, for the 150th of these efforts, a look at the milieu of what is still (perversely, I know) my favorite Beethoven piece.

June 04, 2016

This I know

It seems that this space is destined to be updated only in transit. The last post (five months ago?! yikes) was written in the midst of a change of abode, and now we are preparing to move Soho the Dog HQ yet again. It's like our own Year of the Three Kings, except, instead of monarchs, it's places to live. Which means we're about to start living in the residential equivalent of... Richard III? I think that analogy ran off the rails somewhere.

At any rate: as proof that I have not been completely idle, the list of Score columns over on the sidebar there has been finally brought up to date. That's 141 installments (and counting) of oblique musicological speculation for your summer reading entertainment. I should also link to this article that Molly coaxed out of me for NewMusicBox, which ended up with a pleasant amount of break on its curve, I thought. Plus, there was this Messiaen introduction for Red Bull Music Academy Daily, which led me down the garden path of echoes between Messiaen's idiosyncratic theology and that of the Flemish mystic Jan van Ruusbroec.

Oh, yeah, and this went down, which at least resulted in some flattering sympathies from smart and nice people—thank you! Like I've said before: I have a knack for getting into careers in their categorical twilight. On the other hand, it does leave more time for composing:

Guerrieri: Shining Throne (Prelude on "Jesus Loves Me") (2016) (PDF, 48 Kb)

And a low-fidelity phone recording:

The registration is only a suggestion, i.e., what happens to work on my particular church organ. (I am, now and forever, a sucker for a good—or even not-so-good—celeste stop.)

And with that, it's northern-hemisphere summer. Whatever critical scrapes I manage to get myself into will be duly noted here. Or not—I picked up some Apuleius for a dollar at a library sale today, and, I have to say, it's a better-looking prospect than a lot else that's going on out there. But Apuleius probably always is.

January 12, 2016

Thanks for hesitating

I spent last weekend packing up our house so we could move, listening to David Bowie the whole time, beginning with the new album, Blackstar, then following the hard drive on its automatic pilgrimage through the rest of his catalog. Then I woke up on Monday, saw that Bowie had died, and continued packing, and listening. And I thought about rubato.

Bowie's rubato, the way he expressively pried melodic phrases loose from the underlying rhythm, was, I think, an expression of the old-school pop singing in his genes. It could be flamboyant, particularly in ballads—Bowie's soaring 1976 cover of the Dmitri Tiomkin-Ned Washington standard “Wild is the Wind” practically never touches rhythmic ground—but more often, it was subtle. In his lower, baritone range, he would make consonants heavy and long, stickier than most, the gravity tugging the melody into his own orbit. (“I Can't Give Anything Away,” the final track on Blackstar, is elegantly saturated with this.) Sometimes he would keep the rhythm crisp until the very end of a phrase, the melody suddenly turning louche. Consider, in “Golden Years,” how Bowie's repeated, offhand punctuation—“wop wop wop”—is never quite in time.

The earliest, classical rubato was a scrupulous give-and-take: if you took extra rhythm in one place, you had to give it back somewhere else. Pop and rock's underlying rhythmic grid likewise squares rubato's demonstrative distortion. Bowie made great use of that. On “V-2 Schneider,” the Kraftwerk homage/critique from the 1977 album Heroes, Bowie's saxophone is off-beat the entire time (a dubbing error Bowie left in), flesh-and-blood at constant odds with the machine-like drive. Bowie's vocal for his 1983 hit “Let's Dance” similarly slips the bonds of its pinpoint dance rhythms. Throughout the 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, such tension echoes that between the rock-star Ziggy persona and those around him, the singer incurring debts the band necessarily pays back. Bowie's rubato always pulled the spotlight onto the individual, true to his most longstanding artistic concern, stretching from “Space Oddity” all the way through Blackstar: the human need, for good or for ill, to assert one's significance in the face of fleeting time.

I concede: rubato is not the most obvious thing to consider in the wake of Bowie's death, even for someone who, when introduced to Bowie's music (by Jack Miller, my best friend in high school), responded not to the personae, the theatricality, the defiant weirdness (it would be years before I was comfortable enough in my own skin to pursue those virtues), but to Bowie's exquisitely chameleonic technique. Even in that regard, Bowie's rubato is hardly the most distinctive thing about his music. But it felt appropriate. Rubato is, after all, borrowed time—what, it turns out, Bowie knew he was living on when he made Blackstar, what we all live on, whether we acknowledge it or not.

And, besides, its earliest classical practitioners didn't think of rubato as borrowed time; rather, they called it “stolen”—and Bowie stole it the way all great performers do. Like Robin Hood, they take an outsize share of life and give it to us, we who never have enough of it. They redistribute the limited wealth of existence so we all can have a little more. And so I pack boxes, watch my daughter dance around the living room to “Heroes,” and, for a while, believe that, somehow, I can stretch my allotted span on the planet—stealing time, just for one day.

January 06, 2016


Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor, insurgent and praetor, the refiner's fire, died yesterday at the age of 90.

He smashed icons, only to later hold their shards up to the light and reveal how their truest, most elemental natures had been taken for granted. He often and often rudely disdained convention; but convention is, often, rude. In Boulez's music, and music-making, the conventional was steamrolled, superseded by the more advanced metaphysics of music itself.

Clarity is sensual; the recondite is direct and plain; the most intricate technicalities are the most expressive, and vice versa. In an oblique way, it echoed that old Romantic transcendence, transformed into something more extreme (the twentieth century's cataclysms had, after all, left far more to transcend). But, unlike the Romantics, for Boulez, music wasn't a gateway or a symbol or a stand-in for some higher unity, be it philosophical, political, or spiritual; it was the unity, the realm where contradictions were pulverized, burned away, leaving only its own fierce, reproachful beauty.