Recently in Music Category

Tooting mornings...

...are particularly spendid at the moment.

Up at 5 a.m. to some minor edits to the 1 & 2 piano scores of The Green Table, which I've been editing on and off for the last 10 years. Nice to think that this will be one of the most user-friendly scores in the repertoire, so much care & thought went into making it work for rehearsals. It's also nice to be able to open a file that you last used in Amsterdam 3 years ago, and find it all works still!

Then to the pool at 7.45. Slightly ahead of myself at 50 lengths this morning, just over a mile. That's Garratt Lane on the left, just before turning into the leisure centre.

And now off to send off some CDs that we finished mixing yesterday, and collect some more scores for yet another book...

Simon Jaymes nominated for the Indy Awards

It's a funny old world. It must have been 3 years ago or more that I bumped into Simon Jaymes (as he now is) outside the Sadlers Wells in the interval of a dance performance, and got talking to him about the music he was making. I'd known him from a youth ballet company as a dancer: mesmerizing to watch on stage, because he was a brilliant actor as well as dancer, with terrific stage presence, and an intelligent, creative, articulate person as well. When I heard he was songwriting, I knew instantly he'd be good, and I asked him if he'd ever be up for collaborating on a project that I knew would be coming up where I'd need a collaborator. It was tricky just then because he was with K ballet, but we agreed to chat sometime when he was back. As it turned out I had to shelve that one because another came up, but I've had his number in my phone ever since, and meant to ring. Well you know how it is. And then today - on the day that the other recording project finished -  I get a text from Simon to say that he's just been nominated for the Indy Music Awards 2008. Congratulations, Simon - you have my vote!

Do your bit for music (and dance, of course) and vote for Simon at the Indy Awards site. And for all you South Londoners, he's going to be doing a gig at the Bedford in Balham on 20th March.

The picture is of the King's Head in Tooting this morning. Never seen it looking so clean & shiny, but that's probably because I usually see it after a few pints.

Music & Terror

“You are in a place that is out of the world. . . ”: Music in the Detention Camps of the “Global War on Terror” is an article by Suzanne G. Cusick from the Journal of the Society for American Music. The full text of the article is currently available online as a taster of the current issue of the journal, but I don't know for how much longer, so if the subject interests you, hurry on over.

There's a bit of a leftish cynic in me that thinks that the ghastly practices referred to in this article are just the pointy end of a systemic abuse of music in many Western societies.  For weeks before Christmas, Sainsburys filled the air in their shops with loud, nasty christmas shopping music, the same MOR shite day in, day out. It made me feel sick and angry for the 20 minutes or so that I was in there, heaven help the poor staff. One of the reasons I don't wear trainers anymore is because I can't stay in a shop that sells them long enough without feeling assaulted by the music which I didn't ask for, and has nothing to do with shoes. No wonder the staff look so vacuous.

Is it surprising, then, that when Americans think up ideas for abusing inmates of detention camps, they take their cue from the world of retail, where music is already, on a much lower level, being used to stupefy people into turning their pockets out?

Russian music

There's one benefit of insomnia (which I'm suffering from at the moment) and that's being able to read books that you don't have time to finish during your waking hours, which in the case of the one pictured left, is hugely frustrating.

From the very first page, I discovered with some embarrassment that my mental construct of Russian music was a completely unconsidered acceptance of the project of concert promoters and propagandists. I suppose it's worse when you think you know something about your subject.

Try this for size, on page 49, speaking of the success of Firebird, the Rimsky-Korsakov ballets and Balakirev's Tamara:

"For the French, and later for the English audiences of Diaghilev's Saisons, Russian music was forever associated with its colourful packaging, and this image was passed along to later generations. This music was itself heard as bright, decorative, exotic and fantastic; no Russian tragic soul was in view."

She goes on to say "It is important to realize that the Saisons Russes were entirely conceived for the export market; no such venture could have been undertaken in Russia..."

There's hardly a paragraph without insights like these, and as I read on, it's like someone drawing the curtains to reveal that the room I've been standing in is altogether different to how I imagined it.  This is the music I grew up with, the music I earned my living from, and the building where I now work is steeped in paraphernalia of this period. I guess it's not too late to take a critical look at your surroundings, but it's a weird (yet wonderful) feeling.

By bizarre coincidence, Marina Frolova-Walker was giving a lecture on her subject at the RA on the very day and at the very time when I was visiting the From Russia exhibition (see previous entry). I wish I'd known.

Sundays like this

To the ROH studios today to play for the Ballet Black class as a result of a late night last-minute phone call from BB director Cassa Pancho who was one of my students back in the day, though I think I probably learned more valuable stuff from her than she did from me, especially about the Language of Hair in women - what changing your hair during the day really means, how much Hair Product is too much, and the peculiar importance of sparkly things & Bacardi Breezers.

As I was on my bike, it took five minutes to get to Regent Street (where the Salvation Army band were marching and playing wonderfully - see left) and the Apple Store to buy an Eyetv for my lovely Macbook. It works like a dream. Sailing down Regent Street, Haymarket, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, and along the embankment past the Tate, I thought, as I do nearly every day, that having a bike in London is the best and only way to travel. You relive the excitement of seeing London for the first time, every time, quite apart from being able to get everywhere quickly and easily.

Marina Frolova-Walker at the British Library

Just booked tickets to a lecture at the British Museum in March by the wonderful Marina Frolova-Walker called 'Music of the Russian Avant Garde - A Revolution in Sound?'. This is part of the Saul Seminars, organized by the Sound Archive of the British Library, and the last one I went to was just brilliant. I'm in the middle of reading Marina Frolova-Walker's hot-off-the-press book Russia: Music & Nation from Glinka to Stalin, and loving every page. The idea that I will be able to go and hear her lecture at the BL for £6 is just astounding, and I can't wait. As great as the internet is, there's something about public lectures, especially when they're in surroundings like this, that have a much longer, more satisfying and meaningful effect.

This is day 9 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

Elizabeth Sawyer, in her book about dance accompaniment Dance With The Music tells a story about Antony Tudor disparaging a pianist who dared to play the theme tune to 'Around the World in Eighty Days' in his class. To paraphrase, it was a case of 'play that vulgar stuff again once more mate, and you're out'. 

The story doesn't endear me to Tudor, and if it's as bad as it sounds, in my view it's the Shibboleth that refuses him (and others like him) entry to any league that includes Balanchine, Mark Morris, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Shostakovich and the friends and colleagues that you'll find in these advent calendars.  All these people seem to have an easy, earthy connection to the popular - what Constant Lambert, in Music Ho! called 'healthy vulgarity' , while being able to create and appreciate the most complex, esoteric and sublime art. My own friend & composition teacher Malcolm Williamson (see previous entries) was a perfect example.

Ich wollt' ich wär' ein Huhn is the heartening proof, I think, that you can't get too serious about music for class exercises. It's a silly song - silly tune, silly lyrics, silly speed, silly rhythm (all those things need to work together for the full comic effect), but for all that, it usually matches a typical petits battements exercise 'word for word'.  My point? If you want music for an exercise that goes that speed, with that phrase structure, that articulation, those dynamics and that rhythm, then don't blame me if you end up with Ich woll't ich wär' ein Huhn. Or Stick A Deckchair Up Your Nose. Or My Old Man's A Dustman. Or Officer Krupke.

If you want anything more subtle or serious, you've got a bit of a problem, because everything that implies comedy and popular song is already in the exercise itself. Likewise, Tchaikovsky's Mirlitons from The Nutcracker was just waiting for someone to write 'Everyone's a fruit and nut case' because everything about that tune suggests 'comic song'. The fact that people still sing those words to that tune is not proof of 21st century man's shallowness and lack of respect for art, it's evidence of Tchaikovsky's humanity and understanding of the genre he was writing in.
This is day 8 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I'm giving the story behind some of the music that I've collected for ballet classes. All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD

I hate being asked who my favourite composer is. For one thing, the kind of people who ask the question usually won't have heard of the likely contenders. In any case, as a working musician, it's your duty and pleasure to love whichever composer you're playing at the moment (see footnote), like an arranged marriage that works out for the best.

But if I had to choose one, I suppose it would be Shostakovich.  He does comedy, tragedy, irony, melody, harmony, structure, pathos, vulgarity and everything that lies between with a voice that feels so direct and familiar, it's as if this was the music that I would write if I only could.

When I discovered a few years ago that Shostakovich had written, of all things, a musical, I was as overjoyed as someone might be to discover that Shakespeare had written a bodice ripper. Moskva Cheryomushki isn't exactly a musical, 'operetta' or 'review' might be nearer, but that's immaterial - it's the fact that you could get Shostakovich distilled into a popular stage work that was exciting. 

I thought I'd never get the chance to hear it, but as it happened, it was only a couple of years later that the first recording came out (the one in the picture above) and I bought it immediately, and fellow Shostakovich fan Christopher Hampson & I cracked open a bottle or three of something and played our favourite bits over and over again, one of which was the 'Excursion Around Moscow'.

A few years later, Russian music expert & composer Gerard McBurney re-arranged it for Opera North at Sadler's Wells, and I think that counts as one of my favourite nights out in the theatre ever (and I don't often enjoy them, to be honest).  From the moment the curtain went up, you were just swept up in a whirlwind of Shostakovich madness. Neither Rozhdestvennsky's recording or the Kirov's semi-staged production at the Coliseum last year come anywhere near.  It's what you would expect, really - I'd worked with Gerard on his ballet for ENB, White Nights, and knew him to be one of the greatest experts on Russian music. Go and listen to his programmes on Sleeping Beauty and The Rite of Spring on BBC Radio 3's Discovering Music - they're brilliant.

The extract of 'The Excursion Around Moscow' on Studio Series 4 must be the longest frappé exercise in the history of ballet (though you could use it for loads of other things too), but the whole point about this piece is the way it just carries on and on and on, unstoppable in its momentum, energy and humour. It's musical madness. It's too fast, too long, and to play feels like doing ballet on a trampoline. And Shostakovich's command of popular music is breathtaking - you bounce happily up and down the scale once, then twice, then all of a sudden, you find yourself thrown into a harmonic double back-flip at the end of the phrase, and crash land back in the tonic to start again. But then you're thrown into another key, and so on until you're exhausted; and then there's more, and more and more. The few times I've played this in class, it has an equally exhilarating effect on the dancers, and that's why it's on the CD.

Footnote: 'Herr Still,'  a conductor once said to me with a puzzled sideways smirk as  he conducted me through waved his hands dismissively (like a customs controller who doesn't want to see the contents of your bag) through  the finale of Paquita in a dress rehearsal one day, 'You play this music as if you enjoy it. Why?!!'
'Because it's my job', I said under my breath, but the irony would have been lost on him.  It's strange but true that 'serious' musicians think that playing popular music in a slapdash, bored way will reflect badly on the composer, rather than on them. Minkus and his ilk has had this treatment from most academics and critics for a long time (by coincidence,  Chris Hampson's blog entry for today touches on this very point).
lion2.jpgSpare a thought for 75-year old David Johnson, a man with a leg ulcer who was so annoyed by the pop music inflicted on him and others in the waiting room of the NHS clinic at The Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington, that he pulled the plug on the portable stereo (not so portable, in fact, as it had been chained to a shelf).  Those nice people behind the counter turned it on again, so he pulled the plug a second time. 

It's for your own good, sir...
He was told - and oh how familiar this kind of crap sounds - that it was there "to ensure that conversations in treatment rooms could be kept private".  What kind of health centre is built with such disregard for patient privacy that they have to drown out the sound of conversations with pop music? And if it's necessary in a building with treatment rooms, why don't banks & post offices do the same, where privacy is important, yet no physical barriers exist between those waiting and those being served?

"Patient choice"
But I digress. Despite the murmurs of appreciation from his fellow sufferers, it was clear that the patients were going to continue to have to put up with music whether they liked it or not, so next week, Mr Johnson brings along some CDs of ballet music, which go down rather well.

Notice how the corporate story changes. A spokesman for Warrington Primary Care Trust now claims that the music was there to "enhance the ambiance, making the wait for patients more pleasant.The choice of music is varied and has been selected following discussions with patients about their preferred choice."

But wait, there's more. It now seems that they've decided to pull the plug on the music themselves, saying that they're 'reviewing the situation'.  The nameless spokesperson continues "If the outcome is to reinstate the music, then we would only do so following the purchase of the appropriate licence."  I'll return to that, but meanwhile, we now have three different stories from the NHS:

1) The music's there to protect patient confidentiality
2) The music's there to improve the patients' waiting experience
3) Oh, er, the music's not there any more, because we're reviewing the situation.

Pulling the biggest plug of all

So why the sudden turnaround in (c), given that Mr Johnson's efforts to turn the music off were so vehemently rebuffed at first?

Well, reading between the lines, my guess is that someone in the story must have familiarised themselves with music licensing regulations, and discovered that if the NHS want to inflict music on patients in the waiting room, they'll have to buy  an annual licence from the PRS & PPL, which, given the words "we would only do so following the purchase of the appropriate licence", they had probably neglected to do. It wouldn't cost them a whole lot of money, and if they really believed that it was so important for patient confidentiality and enjoyment, they would have just bought the darned licence and continued to ask the patients what they'd like to listen to.

I suspect that the 'review' consists of the practice manager deciding whether they can justify expenditure of NHS funds on a licence to play music that at least one patient has explicitly stated they don't want. Or whether the patient's confidentiality or fleeting musical enjoyment is worth the bundle of tenners the practice would have to throw at the requisite licences.  I admit, when doctors only earn on average £100,000 a year, it must be a difficult choice.

The moral of the story is, if you are being tormented by someone else's music in a public place, don't bother appealing to reason, or try to pull the plug from the wall. Just ask to see their PRS & PPL licence.

The story comes, by the way, from the aptly named This is Cheshire, so if any of it isn't true, blame them, not me.
This time last week, I was lecturing in Tokyo, but it already feels like two months ago. It was such a lightning visit (oh, how I loved telling people I was going to Tokyo 'for the weekend') that I hardly had a chance to take any pictures at all. However, for those who want all the details, no matter how trivial, go and have a look at my Tokyo 2007 gallery

A Mischievous Muse & Maritime Rites

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williamson.jpgTo the Australian High Commission for the launch of Anthony Meredith & Paul Harris's biography of my late friend, composition tutor and mentor Malcolm Williamson, A Mischievous Muse.  From what I have read so far, it's a terrific book, and it's fascinating to get to know the person I knew so well in some ways, but so little in others.

Malcolm wrote wonderful letters, and lots of them, all of which I kept because they meant a lot to me, and because I hoped that one day someone would write a biography of Malcolm which would do him and his music justice, at which point I'd hand them over. This is definitely the book - Anthony & Paul have done a terrific job - and I'm glad I didn't hesitate to let them have the letters. The book launch was packed, and the affection & respect for Malcolm was palpable. He would have loved it. Wherever his spirit is now, I am sure it's rejoicing.

After that, I cycled down to the Tate Modern to experience Alvin Curran's Maritime Rites.
curran.jpgI would have run a mile from something like this normally, but the idea of a composition which involved the bells of St Pauls & passing foghorns is just the right kind of Weird for me, especially as I love that bit of the river almost more than anywhere in London. It was mindblowing. It was as if everything within a miles radius - me, the bells, birds, people, river, buildings & music from the barge in the river and the platform on the lawns outside the Tate - was suddenly just One Thing, whose nature I had never experienced before. And oddly, you can't take it away with you afterwards - the only place where you can experience that music is exactly where it was.  A great antidote to the world of scores and recordings, repeat performances and insular listening.

Malcolm Williamson in my 'Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar' 2005 and 2006

Latitude Festival

de_small.jpgJust back from the Latitude Festival in Suffolk. Great to get out of London, great to spend the weekend listening to live music with 20,000+ others, great to see old friends Alice & Andrew & their children, and refreshing to sleep in the great outdoors. My favourite event of all was Dickon Edwards DJ-ing for The Beautiful & Damned in the cabaret tent on Saturday. I hope the pics in my Latitude gallery will give you a taste of what it was like.

souvenir.jpgFor year's I've been intrigued by the music for the female variation from Le Corsaire (the one with the Italian fouettés at the end), noting that just very occasionally, you see it attributed to Anton Simon (1850-1916) rather than Riccardo Drigo who is the acknowledged as the composer of the pas de deux as a whole. How could one of the most famous solos in the ballet repertoire be so frequently misattributed?

When I wanted to refer to this solo in an article I wrote in 2000 ("Can I have the wrong music please?") I just risked it and called it Anton Simon's Souvenir de Bal, even though I had never seen any proof that this was true, just a single reference on a CD inlay card. The British Library has a book of parlour pieces by Anton Simon which would have settled it one way or another, but it's now 7 years since I wrote the article, and I've never found the time to go there, and search as I might, I've never come across a single piece by Simon anywhere.

And then, I just stumbled across it, literally, as I was sorting some books out at home. (To the torment of friends, family and significant others, I hoard second hand music. I started when I was about 6, and I still can't stop myself). I'd spread the contents of my shelves on the floor to put it into rough alphabetical order, and tripped over an album containing a number of pieces by East European composers, published around 1916 by Edwin Ashdown. Flicking through it to see whether this was a centimetre of shelf-space that I could reclaim for something better, I noticed a Berceuse by Anton Simon. Was there any chance, I thought, that the Souvenir de Bal was in here too? And blow me down, there it was - it's been on my shelves since I was a child - I probably played it once before I knew what it was, if you see what I mean.

So here's a scan of the first page, for the two or three other people in the world that might be as interested as I am to see the proof on paper at last. All credit to the people who've created some marvellous pages on Amazon and Wikipedia and given Simon his due.

Ballet on CD: A guide for performance and listening
MrLopez's pages on Petipa and other topics at wikipedia
Another page by me on things I'm glad I didn't throw away

Chelsea Reach


john_ravera_small.jpgAs a teenager, one of my passions as a pianist was the music of John Ireland, passed on to me by my teacher, Trissie Cox, who introduced me to a piece called Chelsea Reach. Many of Ireland's pieces had such evocative titles - Soho Afternoons, Amberley Wild Brooks, Autumn Equinox, Sarnia, The Island Spell - and his music created the image of these places in my head far more strongly than a photograph or a map could have done.

There's nothing superficially Chelsea-like about Chelsea Reach, and it was written in 1917-1920 so it would be a very different Chelsea anyway - or so you'd think. But in fact, the stretch of river in Battersea where I work, immortalized by Whistler & Turner, sometimes seems no different to the way that it must have been 100 or even 200 years ago.

Especially when I see the light at sunset and twilight over the river in spring, the old houseboats and the seagulls waddling through the gold-leaved mud, Ireland's music feels just right. It was probably a bit old-fashioned when it was written; nostalgic, pensive, idealistic - but I expect there was an old-fashionedness about this part of London even then, and I suspect that's what Ireland was trying to evoke.

Buy A Class

buyaclass.jpgI get quite a few people sending me links to add to my Dance Links page. Most of them haven't taken time to read the bit where I say what kind of links I'm looking for, so they just end up in the trash can.

But in the 7 years that I've had that links page, Buy A Class is quite definitely the most interesting, innovative, and future-hugging site I've seen, and I've very grateful for the tip-off to Gunleik Groven who's behind it. It's got everything I love about Web 2.0 and the professional dance world rolled into one, and I wish them every success with it.

Happy Christmas 2006

251206.jpgHappy Christmas. That's the end of the 2006 Advent Calendar. I'm delighted to say that my aim in starting it last year has been achieved - if you search on Google for many of the names on here that are precious to me, but were only sketchy web presences last year, the Advent calendar entries are now frequently the first results that Google returns for the person in question.

There's another side to it this year, though. As all the blog entries are necessarily but uncharacteristically (for blogs) anachronistic, I decided to do a parallel blog-without-words (as Mendelssohn might have put it), keeping a miniature photo diary of whatever caught my eye or occupied my heart or mind each day. I also intended to do the same with music - since blogs are often off-the-cuff thought pieces, sometimes improvisatory and unfinished but timely, I also started musiblogging, throwing together tiny mood pieces which reflected exactly how I felt at the moment I did them. This was an antidote to the self-enforced rubric of the advent calendar.

advent2b_small.jpgI kept up the photoblogging every day with the exception of 13th & 14th December, when I was just too tired & pre-occupied to get round to a photo before midnight, so I recycled two from 10th December. The pictures are the ones you see to the left of each entry, and if you hover over them, you'll get a small clue as to what they're about.

The musiblogging lasted about a week before my time ran out. I'd love to have carried on, but if you want to hear some hurriedly sketched bloggy musical ramblings, click on the question marks (?) at the bottom of the extended entries for 1st - 8th December 2006. They generally go with the pictures as a kind of scratch-and-sniff effect - in other words, the music tells me (and perhaps you) what I was feeling when I took the picture, or on the day generally. Alternatively, you could (if you've got 8'26" to spare) listen to those first 8 days compiled into a single file (MP3, 6.1MB)

All this may seem an odd thing to do, but I'm as fascinated by the 21st century blog-form as others are by the nineteenth century novel; fascinated by its apparent simplicity, directness and immediacy, but aware as a writer of the technical and writerly hoops that one has to go through to achieve the effect, and of the discipline it takes to do what you say you will do. I'm intrigued by the fact that we effortlessly and involuntarily perceive structure, form, unity and meaning into collections of disparate things which were assembled using routine, piecemeal operations, even when it was we who assembled them.

Lastly, I like the number 24. 24 days from Advent to Christmas Eve, 24 hours in a day, 24 Preludes and Fugues, 24 semiquavers in a 24/16 bar, and of course, 24 pictures on an old reel of 35mm film (plus that extra one you usually get at the end if you're lucky). It's the curious and satisfying paradox of blogging, enormous literary freedom within the most rigorous of forms.

Happy Christmas!

Kitten on the Keys

kitten_on_the_keys.jpgI swear to God I didn't set this shot up. As I was sorting out some music, I came across the famous Kitten on the Keys by Zez Confrey, and thought I'd play through it for fun. The minute I put it on the music stand, another aspiring pianist jumped onto the keyboard as the picture shows.

The Kazoo Trumpet

Click on this picture to see a video of the Kazoo Trumpet being played I've complained about the occasional scarcity of kazoos in London before, so I'm delighted to offer a mini-clip of a girl in Electric Town in Tokyo playing her heart out on the Kazoo Trumpet. I just wish she'd done it for longer. Click the photograph, or click here to see the video (it's about 1.35 Mb).

Now that's what I call...Bournonville

The most exciting news I've heard in a long time - Dance Books have just announced the release of a 9-CD set of "Music to the Bournonville Ballets", including Napoli, A Folk Tale, Kermesse in Bruges, La Sylphide, Flower Festival, Far from Denmark and a few other things. Before that, the most exciting thing in my life was the online score repository of Bournonville ballets at the Royal Library in Copenhagen, so all hail Denmark & their very joined-up ballet/musical thinking.

Musipedia - name that tune!

Possibly the most amazing discovery I ever made on the web - Musipedia. I needed to find the name of a folk song that I know by ear, but couldn't remember the title of for a copyright clearance form. Not thinking for a moment that I'd be able to sort this out, I tried the Musipedia site, putting in the basic melodic contour using D for Down, U for Up and R for repeat, and hey presto, the first tune that it found was exactly what I was looking for - Mason's Apron. Amazingly, you can also whistle or sing the tune to the computer rather than using Parson's Code.

I tried three other tunes, all with equally accurate results. I can see this becoming something of an obsession...

The wonderful voice of Oleg Pogudin


In my search for the authors of Dorogoi Dlinnoyu (see last entry) I have listened to scores of different recordings, and discovered that Aleksandr Vertinskii wrote some of the most beautiful songs, in addition to making Fomin's song famous.

But the real find of the day, indeed of the year, is the singer Oleg Pogudin whose album of Vertinskii's songs, Panikhida Khrustal'naya is one of the most beautiful things I've heard in a long time. Pogudin's voice is warm, clear and soulful, like stroking velvet. He makes each song sound like a masterpiece.

What makes the album even more stunning is the brilliant accompaniment of Igor' Ur'yash. He's a fanstastic pianist, and his accompanying is probably the best I've ever heard in this genre. If I was Pogudin, I'd want to sign him for life. Both of them can do the 'caf' sound to perfection, but with a subtlety, technique and depth that is breathtaking, and their partnership is so well attuned that they sound like a single voice.

Copyrighting the public domain

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When the choreographer Christopher Hampson had to change the music for his piece Canciones four days before the premiere because City Ballet of London couldn't get permission to use de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españas for a ballet, I was so angry that I fantasized about bringing a case called 'The People of Spain vs. Publisher X', or putting the decision to the Spaniards in a referendum.

What vexed me was that these songs were, as the title suggests, based on public domain material. In an absolutely fair world, the 'folk' from whom these 'folksongs' came should have been party to the decision. Furthermore, if royalties were payable to The Folk for their contribution to the songs, then The Folk would have had a financial interest in the public performance of those songs.

Unlike the de Falla estate (or whoever it was who initiated the refusal), they might have been glad of the few pence owing to them, rather than saying sniffily 'We don't want ballet done to our songs!'.

Just when I had calmed down (about five years later) I came across a similar problem with another concert-hall composer and his folk song arrangements. I have been struggling with the morality of the question ever since - can copyright, designed to protect author's rights, really be so exploitative?

[NB: 26/05/07 - on checking, half these links are dead now - but I'm leaving them in for historical accuracy, and for the sake of those who might want to follow them up]

Then I found this article in the South African Sunday Times from 2000 called 'Where has all the money gone?'. The article is mainly about the case of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' from the Lion King (Margo v. Weiss), but along the way, the author mentions the American folk singer Pete Seeger who feels it is wrong for songwriters to claim all the royalties from folk songs, and tries to put the money back somewhere, even if it's a rather oblique target:

He [Seeger] has directed, for example, that royalties from the version of We Shall Overcome he recorded in 1959, with extra verses he penned, be directed to US trade union benefits - an arrangement that still continues. Elsewhere, he wants royalties from Where Have all the Flowers Gone? sent to a Russian folk-song archive - because he got the idea for the song from the Mikhail Sholokhov novel, And Quiet Flows the Don.

[from SA Sunday Times, 27/08/2000]

I'm glad that someone in Russia is getting some money from Russian 'folk songs'. Consider how much cash has been made from the 1960s hit Those were the days my friend (Mary Hopkin, 1968), and then ask yourself how much of it found its way to the family of Boris Fomin 1900-1948 who wrote the song on which it was based (called Дорогой длинною, with words by the poet Konstantin Podrevskii). Anglophone sites talk vaguely and shamelessly about this as a 'Russian folk song' or 'gipsy song'. To anyone except the anglophones, the provenance is clear (see Willy P's diary on the subject, for example).

The absolute proof is in this recording of Дорогой длинною by Aleksander Vertinskii (track 3), from the wonderful Vertinsky website. [NB: 26/05/07: I've updated this link because the Vertinskii site has changed address - but the direct link to the track is yielding a 404 page - but the link just given points to the album tracklisting, and hopefully the site-owners will repair the link soon]. Boris Fomin's grandson DJ Fomin is alive and well and dj-ing in Moscow and could buy some fantastic new gear with the royalties. The Copyright Term Extension Act put all kinds of Russian music (including the Rite of Spring) back into copyright in the USA, so I wonder how long it will be before the unrepresented Russians like the Fomin estate are able to collect in the way that 'classical' composers do?

Another 'folk' song which people seem happy to copy and post all over the net without fear of copyright infringement is Poliushko-pole, made famous by the Red Army Choir. Once again, this isn't a folk song, but was written by Viktor Gusev to music by Lev Knipper in 1934.

More copyright fun...

Choreographers & composers

A very handy report on Choreographer and Composer Collaboration by Van Stiefel, from Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies. It's so complete, it could be an undergraduate text book on the subject (and boy, do we need one of those).

Music shops in London

Just the beginning - but I'm finally getting my act together and making a page of links for music shops (eventually to include sheet music and instruments). As with my other links, this is just a handy one-stop page so that you can find your favourite shops easily when you're searching for a price or item.
Here it is - The Music Resources Page

4'33" - isn't it time we shut up about it?

At great expense to you and me, BBC4 have broadcast Cage's 4'33" 'played' by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. As you will know from a previous entry, Cage made a lot of money out of silence, even posthumously. We can't touch Cage, of course, because he's holy, canonized by the higher education/music publishing/concert promoter fraternity, but isn't this rather similar to the GM food scare? That pharmaceutical companies would begin to copyright carrots, for example, so that you'd have to pay a licence fee to grow a carrot that had been genetically modified?

John Cage, how very, very modern. And yet oh-so-modern JC made his money out of that oh-so-19th century concept of the musical work and copyright. The only thing 20th century about 4'33" is clocks, time management and lawyers.

I didn't watch it. I was too busy listening to Schumann's Sphinxes from Carneval.

Magic and Mazurkaphobia

You'd think I made it up, wouldn't you? Well I didn't.

Taming a Tartar; or, Magic & mazourkaphobia, "an operatic, romantic, magical, semi-burlesque, terpsichorean burletta, in two acts, founded on the grand ballet spectacle, called 'Le diable à quatre'" is one of the works by Charles Selby (1802? - 1863) held in the Templeman Library of the University of Kent at Canterbury. Selby was something of a wag with titles, like his 1857 Tragedy in the Seven Dials (I've seen a few of those in my time), or Phantom Breakfast: a farce in one act (it's the only breakfast I seem to get).

I think I would have liked one of Selby's shows. It's around this time of year that I get mazurkaphobia, and if 'Taming a Tartar' was only semi-burlesque, you wonder what Selby got up to when he really went for it.

History of a song & Vejvodova Zbraslav


Amazing what you can turn up from a simple question. Is Roll Out the Barrel still in copyright? Like me, you may have thought it was one of those diehard Edwardian music hall songs that everyone knows, but nobody can trace. It's not, as a bit of research shows.

First stop, ASCAP, and the remarkable ACE on the web directory, where you can search for a song title, and find out who's registered as composer, lyricist and performer.

Once you've got the significant contributors to the song from there, it's no more than a hop skip and a jump to find that Roll Out the Barrel was originally composed by Jaromír Vejvoda (1902 - 1988), a Czech composer from Zbraslav who wrote it in 1927 (without words) as Modřanská polka. Seven years later in 1934, it acquired Czech words by Vašek Zeman, where it becomes Škoda lásky, and English words by Lew Brown and a title by Wladimir Timm, becoming - at last - the Beer Barrel Polka. In 1935, it's a massive hit in Europe for German accordeonist and bandleader Will Glahé (1902 - 1989) who gets a gold disc for it in 1938 as Rosamunde with German words by Klaus Richter. In 1939, Glahé and his Musette Orchestra sell a million copies of the song in America, and the now famous Beer Barrel Polka, is covered by the Andrews Sisters whose first big hit the year before was - interestingly - the Yiddish song Bei mir bist du schoen. Go to for more of the 1939 US hit parade.

It was sung by soldiers in WWII, and also reputed to be Eisenhower's favourite song. It has been a hit in fifteen countries and 36 languages, including a Danish version called Hvor er min kone. And in a recent poll in the Czech republic, it's now been voted the most popular Czech song ever.

So one of those songs that we think of as quintessentially English (or American) is in fact a tune written by a Czech composer, with lyrics by someone who was born in Odessa. How's that for cultural diversity?

Quite by chance, this weekend happens to be is the occasion of the annual Vejvodova Zbraslav Festival, an international festival of brass band music which takes place in Zbraslav, the area of Prague where Vejvoda was born. Cheers, Jaromir, I'm glad I made it in time.

The bizarre world of Conservatism

On the trail of that bizarre case involving Mike Batt (composer of the Wombles signature tune) and Peters Edition, in which Peters demanded a quarter of Batt's royalties for a track of one minute's silence, because - in attributing it to Batt/Cage - he had infringed Cage's copyright in 4'33" (it was settled out of court when Batt paid a six-figure sum to Peters), I discovered something even more bizarre.

Batt happens also to have written Heartlands, the theme tune to the Conservatives' 2001 election campaign. OK, that's nothing strange - who cares as long as he got paid?

But what is weird is the puff about the track on the Conservatives' website (Bond man composes Conservative theme), which claims that the music "aims to embody the core values and basic principles of the Conservative Party". Batt himself says "I wanted the music to have gravitas, to be orchestral but also modern, to have compassion and warmth of spirit, but at the same time, strength of purpose.'

I'm a great admirer of Philip Tagg's work and thought, in particular his analyses of library music, and why people use the music they do and for what purpose. But if you aren't, and you find Tagg's perspective all a bit leftish and anti-establishment, think again - here is the Conservative Party of all people telling you that Tagg is absolutely right. Not only can music be used to manipulate you to vote, it can even communicate a political agenda. The track in question is here - I presume this is the more "dynamic variation for use on the campaign trail". Altogether, not a wise move on the part of the Conservatives, since if you work backwards - and use a musicological analysis to try and understand what 'the core values and principles' of Conservatism might be, you could start claiming all kinds of things for Conservatism which I am sure they neither intended nor would wish to publicize if they did.

Splish Splash

Here, late at night in the Tooting sound laboratory, Dan searches for the ideal means of creating the sound of splashing in puddles after a hard day in the studio.

The art of Foley has fascinated me ever since I met an entertainer on a cruise ship whose day-job was making the sound of beer being poured into glasses for TV adverts. Until I met him, I had always assumed that you'd just pour beer into a glass, but no, in fact this doesn't sound like beer at all. After years of this, the poor guy couldn't speak normally any more; worse still, his act bombed, so to speak, when he decided to finish his show to the mainly American passengers with a re-enactment of Pearl Harbour using only his mouth and a microphone.

It was a revelation to me that the art of sounding real was to use anything but the actual object you were trying to recreate. Ray Brunelle's history of sound effects makes you realise how many comedy shows you heard on the radio without ever questioning that the sound of canaries meant that you'd banged your head, or that everyone makes the sound of a slide-whistle when they fall down a wall. But the real find was this 'how to' guide for radio sound effects. The answer, it seems, to making the perfect splash, is to make an x-shape with two bits of plywood on the end of a stick, and pull it out of a bucket of water, not plunge it in.

Private Fountains

By chance, came across this most eloquent description of a night with ENB at the Coliseum. I'm really taken by his view of Drink:

"...Mark Morris' Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes, can be compared to the sound of water washing over rocks- soothing, peaceful, and refreshing. It accomplishes quite the same effect as the minature fountains that people place in their homes..."

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