— BBC News
“In the fall of 1956, the Soviet Union crushed an uprising in Hungary, swiftly ending an attempt to escape the superpower’s grip on the Eastern bloc. The Soviet tanks that rolled through Budapest also brought an end to the belief of many intellectuals and artists here in the ideals of Communism.
The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag, then 30, felt his whole world collapse that year. “Not just the outside world, but my inner universe, too,” he once said in an interview.
Mr. Kurtag spent the next two years in Paris, seeking new meaning for his life and work under the guidance of a psychoanalyst. He studied with the composer Olivier Messiaen, and heard the music of Anton Webern and Arnold Schoenberg at concerts given by Pierre Boulez. From the isolation of Communist Hungary, he had emerged into the West’s center of musical modernism.
It was in Paris during this period that Mr. Kurtag first saw Samuel Beckett’s play “Endgame.” The encounter set him on a lifelong journey, studying Beckett’s works and creating music inspired by them. Six decades later, on Nov. 15, this odyssey — and the career of one of the last living giants of 20th-century music — will culminate in Mr. Kurtag’s long-awaited, long-delayed first opera, based on “Endgame,” at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.”
“Universal-owned Deutsche Grammaphon and Decca conducted a study into multiple recordings of Bach’s famed Double Violin Concerto in celebration of the release of Bach 333, a box set marking the 333rd anniversary of the German composer’s birth. The labels found that modern recordings of the work have shaved off one-third of the length of recordings from 50 years ago, quickening by about a minute per decade. That performance trend would fall in line with faster tempos in modern music, as audiences’ attention spans shrink and streaming particularly pushes artists and songwriters to be more conscious of every second.”
“It might have been about two years before the birth of tintinnabuli, in 1974, when Arvo and Nora Pärt met the icon painter Viktor Krivorotov in Georgia, who also dealt with creative psychology. And Nora asked for his advice. What can he do? How could he find a way out of this creative dead end? ‘And Krivorotov recommended experimenting with different types of art – precisely the ones you do not know or command. You just have to have the courage to do poorly and fail, and even have a certain impudence,’ Nora relates.
As the paper and canvas felt too demanding to paint on, at some point they arrived at flowerpots – ordinary clay pots that usually came with flowers. ‘And then I just waited for the flowers to dry, to get the pot,’ she continues. In the beginning it was only Nora who painted the pots with water-based paint, but one day Arvo too took a pot in his hands. ‘And what did he paint? Some sort of lines. Simple lines in different colours,’ Nora recalls. We will never know if it was painting that eventually got the composer’s creativity flowing again, but indeed it released something in him.”
A conference at the University of York • 17-19 May 2018
Archival excavation and detailed contextualisation is becoming increasingly central to scholarship on literary modernism. In recent years, the increased – and often online – accessibility and dissemination of previously unpublished or little-known texts has led to paradigm-shifting scholarly interventions across a range of canonical and lesser-known authors, neglected topics, and critical methodologies including genetic criticism, intertextuality, book history, and historical documentation. This trend is only bound to increase as large-scale digitisation of archival materials gathers pace, and existing copyright restrictions gradually lapse.
These two book series have been at the forefront of this burgeoning trend, and this international conference will take stock of these developments. Above all, it will also point forwards, towards future avenues of research. The authors and editorial board members connected with the series will reflect upon the ‘state of the art’ regarding archive-based research within their particular sub-discipline, connecting this to Modernism Studies as a whole. The provisional paper titles listed below reflect their responses to this invitation. (more…)
“Ambient Music has arrived at middle age. 2018 marks 40 years since the release of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, which effectively introduced the term. As a musical form it has endured, even though its sense of self as a genre has become arguably obfuscated at best and ineffectual at worst. Genres, like human beings, can undergo periods where direction and clarity are lacking. When such periods take hold in the middle years, a mid-life crisis can often occur. With that in mind, I am reconsidering ambient music and its place looking into the 21st century. What might ambient music’s next decade (let alone 40 years) be concerned with?”
“As the highlight of the 800th anniversary celebrations of the University of Salamanca, the oldest university in Spain, an extraordinary concert will be performed on 18 February 2018, with the world premiere of Arvo Pärt’s new a cappella composition, And I heard a voice… / Ja ma kuulsin hääle… as part of the programme.” — Arvo Pärt Centre
On words, music, and expression
“Most of my early music was non-vocal. In fact, I only started writing intensively for choirs after I met the Hilliards. Hearing them for the first time changed my life totally. The tears fell over my face and I was not able to say where I was – in heaven or here on Earth. It was a shock.”
I see that Sony Classical has released an impressive new box set of Glenn Gould‘s unreleased 1955 renditions of Bach‘s Goldberg Variations. Andrew Clements weighs in on the exhaustive 8-disc collection:
“It constitutes detailed documentation of Gould’s quest for his ideal Bach performance – his obsession with every detail, his insistence on getting the articulation of every semiquaver in every bar exactly as he imagined it, sometimes to the audible exasperation of the producer, Howard Scott. There are multiple takes of every variation, each subtly distinct in tempo and nuance, from which the definitive performance as it eventually appeared on LP was later spliced together. Taken together they also demonstrate the unwavering virtuosity of Gould’s playing, and the startling clarity he seemed effortlessly able to bring to the densest contrapuntal textures.”
— Andrew Clements, The Guardian
Catching up on my reading. What follows are a few of the articles and interviews that have caught my eye over the last few weeks – and some that I have been inspired to revisit.
Joseph Conrad on Henry James and what makes a great writer • Marilynne Robinson on William Faulkner and what literature owes to the Bible • Sonny Rollins on how fifty years of practicing yoga made him a better musician • Alex Ross on the consolations of Arvo Pärt‘s music • Peter Bouteneff in conversation about Arvo Pärt • On the lasting emotional impact of Louis Kahn‘s architecture
I have been revisiting the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt recently, which I find very consoling. Back in 2014, Tom Huizenga (NPR) managed to secure an interview with Pärt, where he reflected on the use of space and silence in his work:
“[W]hen we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn’t even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve.”
Back in February, Van Magazine, an independent publication that celebrates classical music, published an interview with the writer Teju Cole. (more…)
Curating some of the best recent links across literature, philosophy, and the arts
A selection of the articles, reviews, interviews and miscellany that have caught my eye this week. Highlights include: an interview with President Barack Obama on his life as a reader and writer; the late Mark Fisher’s discussion of post-punk group Joy Division; a free Yale course on the American Novel since 1945; and much more.