From The Rest is Noise: Notable Notes

From The Rest is Noise

Alex Ross, by E.H Jan 17th 2013

May 11, 2018
Finley’s Amfortas
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The incandescent Canadian recently outdid himself in a Parsifal with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. The performance is well worth a ten-euro fee for a week’s pass at the Digital Concert Hall — and there is much else on offer. Sir Simon will lead his final concert as Berlin’s principal conductor on June 20; he bids farewell with Mahler’s Sixth Symphony.

April 29, 2018
Mahler still grooves
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Zach Smith, who was responsible for a rash of Mahlerian graffiti in Washington, DC in the late seventies and early eighties, sent me this picture taken in the fall of 1977, showing his handiwork on the base of the Arizona Avenue Trestle. In a 1995 article for The New Yorker, I related how the graffiti caught my eye as I rode a school bus back and forth to the Potomac School, in McLean, VA. (I misremembered it as Mahler Lives.) This was not the first time the Austrian master’s name had appeared by the side of Canal Road. In a 2009 post, I noted that Stephen Chanock, later of the National Cancer Institute, had originally painted Mahler Grooves at this location in 1972. Zach Smith reapplied the legend five years later, and in 1982 painted Gustav Mahler [heart] Alma in the same spot. The latter was duly reported in The Washington Post. Mahler graffiti also appeared in Toronto circa 2007. May the trend long continue.
Photo: Zach Smith’s Mom.

April 25, 2018
Astrid Varnay at 100

The great Swedish-American soprano would have been one hundred today. Her centenary is receiving considerably less hoopla than that of her compatriot Birgit Nilsson, which arrives on May 17. Indeed, as far as I can tell, it is receiving no hoopla at all. This is a pity, because Varnay was to my way of thinking the deeper, more substantial artist. I couldn’t really construct a rational argument to contest the claim that Kirsten Flagstad is the supreme dramatic soprano on record, but my personal preference goes toward Varnay, whose extraordinary dark-gleaming voice was joined to ferocious dramatic intelligence. Her singing of Brünnhilde on the 1955 Keilberth Ring from Bayreuth anchors what may be the finest account of the cycle available. The video above is taken from her 1956 Ring with Knappertsbusch; that and the 1953 version with Krauss are also glorious. Varnay’s autobiography, Fifty-five Years in Five Acts, is one of the most rewarding of singer memoirs.

See the full article here .

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The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century is a voyage into the labyrinth of modern music, which remains an obscure world for most people. While paintings of Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, and lines from T. S. Eliot are quoted on the yearbook pages of alienated teenagers across the land, twentieth-century classical music still sends ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, its influence can be felt everywhere. Atonal chords crop up in jazz. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalism has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward.

The Rest Is Noise shows why twentieth-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise. It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with sweet sounds or battered them with dissonance, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art. The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

John Schaefer


For new music by living composers

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