Sunday, January 29, 2006

More Wolfgang (and then some other stuff)

Be sure to check out Sounds and Fury, where ACD has been doing yeoman duty celebrating the 250th birthday of Mozart. Lots of quotes from Mozart's letters, and quotes from writers about Mozart, and general goodness relating to Wolfgang A. I especially enjoyed this post, where ACD reports on listening to a broadcast of the "official" Mozart 250th performance from Salzburg:

I was entirely unprepared, however, for the ringing of the church bells of all Salzburg's churches at precisely 8:00 PM (2:00 PM EST) — the official time of Mozart's birth as noted by his proud papa — and the frisson of emotion and surprise on hearing them literally made the hair rise up on the back of my neck.

One thing I've longed for years to experience is an old-world European city when all the church bells are ringing. Here in America, church bells always sound incongruous and out of place, and when I've lived in a place where church bells could regularly be heard -- always from a single church -- I would occasionally hear complaints from the locals.

Imagine the joyous din of hundreds of such bells, pealing such that individual pitches can barely be made out and only one giant din, marked by the percussion of impact from the bells nearest the listener. I'd love to hear that, just once.

As long as I've got ACD on the brain, though, I note with some amusement that he is, as ever, annoyed with the onward march of "pop culture", now as evidenced by the segments on CBS Sunday Morning. Now, I've not watched this show in over a year, since I've started attending church services at the exact moment the show is on, so I can't confirm for myself whether classical music has received significantly less coverage than it used to. That certainly sounds likely, however, given the general and saddening trend away from classical music these days. And Sunday Morning's failure to note Mozart's 250th constitutes a major gaffe for a show that has always celebrated culture. That cannot be disputed.

But what amused me was the roster of segments on today's program that, for ACD, constitute an unacceptable level of "pop culture" focus:

Consider today's Sunday Morning culture segments, for instance. They were on the turn-of-the-century Viennese painter, Egon Schiele; on C&W singer, Rosanne Cash, daughter of the late Johnny Cash (a regular chip off the ol' block, she is, with the difference that, unlike her papa, she can actually sing somewhat); on a 10-year-old, Oakland, California Black kid who's become a big hit in Oakland's Chinatown singing in his Chinatown elementary school's productions of Chinese opera; and not a word, not so much as a fleeting mention, of the 250th anniversary of the birth of one, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Now, admittedly, Roseanne Cash is a fairly large name in country music, but she's not that big a name, and she is, so far as I can tell, following a line in country music that's more about the folk-art aspects of the genre than the "rockabilly" stuff that dominates the country airwaves these days (think Shania Twain and the like). But a Viennese painter who lived from 1890 to 1918? Some kid who sings Chinese opera? Is this what ACD takes for "pop culture"?

If so, I can only surmise that ACD defines "pop culture" as "that with which ACD is not interested or doesn't like". I don't deny the existence of "pop culture", and I certainly don't share ACD's loathing of it, but I do have a pretty good idea of what "pop culture" is and these subjects ain't it.

Oh, and Johnny Cash most definitely could sing. That man did things with his voice that no one else could have done, and he was, as far as I am concerned, a great American artist.

(Hell, as long as I'm now quibbling with ACD, I figure that I should also note that I've never cared for Wynton Marsalis's playing. He has always sounded to me like a guy whose very tone conveys a "brute force" approach to the instrument, especially in the classical repertoire. [I think Marsalis a far better jazz musician than a classical one, even though it took me years to warm up to his jazz work, and even now I've generally conceded that my ear for jazz is never likely to develop much beyond "bare familiarity". Marsalis's best "classical" album, in my opinion, is his disc of cornet virtuoso showpieces that he recorded with the Eastman Wind Ensemble. It's an incredibly corny record, of course, but as virtuosity-for-virtuosity's sake, it's a lot of fun.]

For the Sunday Morning fanfare, I much prefer the way one of the trumpeters from the Canadian Brass performed it on one of their albums; for general baroque playing, Maurice Andre's level of finesse is far superior to Marsalis's; for contemporary trumpet repertoire, I'll take Hakan Hardenberger. And for orchestral playing -- a totally different animal, of course, as far as the requirements of the performer but worth mentioning -- I will forever worship at the altar of Adolph Herseth.)

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