Tag Archives: berlioz

le jour de gloire est arrivé!

no national anthem seems to be as co-opted as La Marseillaise and i know that i first became familiar with it as a theme in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. i don’t know what it is about the anthem but it lends itself to pop culture references. my favorite is in the musical The Barkleys of Broadway. Ginger Rogers’s character who has left the world of musical comedy (and her somewhat controlling husband in Fred Astaire) to be wooed into a life on the dramatic stage. Her debut was as the actress Sarah Bernhardt in the play “Young Sarah”. the one scene we see is the young actress reciting Le Marseillaise and winning over the hearts of a panel of acting teachers. the play is a hit…and we all learn the words to the French national anthem. it’s brilliant and riveting.

and then there’s Berlioz.

“We struck up the Marseillaise. Almost at once a holy stillness fell upon the seething mass at our feet. After each refrain there was a profound silence. This is not at all what I had expected. On beholding that vast concourse of people I recalled that I had just arranged Rouget de Lisle’s song for double chorus and full orchestra, and that where one normally writes ‘tenors and basses’ I had written instead ‘everyone with a voice, a soul and blood in his veins.’ After the fourth verse I could contain myself no longer, and I yelled, ‘Confound it all – sing!’ The great crowd roared out its Aux armes citoyens! with the power and precision of a trained choir.”

enjoy and happy Bastille day!

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it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

just cause everybody’s doing it: a (brief) compilation of my entries for this year’s #operaplot!

1. the mate was pretty venus’ son/the queen was strong & sure/Italie the gods cry the queen’ll die/in this 5 hour tour a 5 hour tour

2. why does the devil always get the good music? this isn’t “the damnation of Lucifer”!

3. heres a story of a lovely lady/who was watching 2 very scary kids/both of them had ghosts who wanna keep them/every1 gets screwed

4. let’s make a deal! door #1=bloody jewels door #2=bloody weapons door#3 = dead wives. wait, shouldn’t one be a car or something?

5. i ❤ a girl but she's w/a thug i'll trick him into getting arrested. wait he's back & took my girl to NYC? oh lawd i'm on my way!

6. baritone lets crazy lady (man? lady?) ride boat for free. puts up w/her moans & reunites lady w/lost (dead) son?! domo arigato!

7. sid & nancy aren't punks but they sure start a riot! albert, mom always said not to drink the kool-(lemon)-aid!

8. stutter much?/throw a punch!/send that Claggart out to lunch/starry Vere/must adhere/beauty Billy must die, i fear

9. from the Piazza San Marco to Lido there's enough malaria and cute Polish boys to go around! book your tickets now, one way only.

10. restless Etruscan rides all night to have way w/chaste Roman. Roman has a "hangover" only suicide can cure. is this it all?

11. Elizabethan queen/though we're sharing the same dream/while our hearts still beat as one/no courtly love (or dances) on the run

can you guess?

1. Berlioz – Les Troyens
2. Berlioz – La Damnation de Faust
3. Britten – Turn of the Screw
4. Bartok – Bluebeard's Castle
5. Gershwin – Porgy and Bess
6. Britten – Curlew River
7. Britten – Albert Herring
8. Britten – Billy Budd
9. Britten – Death in Venice
10. Britten – The Rape of Lucretia
11. Britten – Gloriana

(i tried to do all of the Britten operas, save Grimes. i think it turned out pretty well!)

for more information on #operaplot, what it does & why it’s so awesome, check out its home at The Omniscient Mussel. (if you know where that comes from, you get an internet cookie!)

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oh i forgot, i am a romantic.

…well, fancy that.

so yesterday, in Berlioz class, we spent a great deal of it talking about Romantic aesthetics and music as a Romantic art. from previous posts, you all know how i feel about Romanticism but i have found myself in a bit of a quandary. what is it, you might ask? well, it’s that i love Hegel. yep, there, i’ve said it. i’m a big, big fan. not only that, but i kinda love his views on music and art. what is a neo-everything-ist like me to do?

it all started in my sophomore year of college. i had just started at a new university and didn’t know any better. didn’t know enough to know that taking a class entitled “Philosophy 303: Phenomenology and Transcendentalism” might be something from which to stay away. well, i was in it to win it so myself and eight other philosophy majors trudged our way through Heidigger, Kojève, Strauss and Hegel. after we spent the first two weeks trying to grasp the concepts of “chair” and “triangle” (those were our metaphysical examples) we got to the meat of the class and i made my best attempts at relating it to my own musical life. it was here that i realized that i was deeply and truly interested in the philosophy and aesthetics of music in which Hegel plays a huge part.

yes, i could go into the rise of German-based musicology alongside the rise of Germanic philosophical thought blah blah blah but i wont. that’s what google is for.

well in class, my brain suddenly remembered why i loved all of that in the first place. the idea of abstractness making something more tangible than not, concept and form embodying an ideal, hearing versus seeing — all brilliant things to play with and think about for days, if you have that kind of time. so with all of this in mind, can i still feel the way i do about the artists who tried to reflect these ideas in their works? to that, i’m not sure. all i know is, if Lélio is an example of Hegelian aesthetics, i’ll just pretend that Hegel never existed.

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the elitist within us all

i hate the Romantic period. aside from philosophy and poetry (which i’ll love in any period), the notion of the Romantic aesthetic bothers me. the great genius that is the soul of the artist which allows for creativity on a massive scale that MUST be released? and of course, the later concept of artist as hero. save it.

but there is one aspect that intrigues me. the notion of universality is a cumbersome one but one that is bandied about in regards to music on a regular basis. in the 19th century, this universality acts as double edged rapier. while all of us are able to appreciate art, not all of us are able to create. how indulgent! i can create but you can’t? this is the backbone of the Romantic aesthetic. but is this true? and is it important to think so?

i wasn’t sure to write about this because, at the time, i was in my Berlioz class talking directly about this subject. so, big deal, of course we mention it when dealing with Berlioz and his ilk. but then this idea of music as universal, shared but not created collectively, came up two more times during my day: once during my Mahler 4 rehearsal and again during colloquium. and what was central to both those utterances is the idea of elitism. the best music is created by elitists that, therein, creates its own elitist class of composers. now don’t get me wrong, this is not classism in the sense of the rungs found within today’s classical music audience. this is the separation of gods from mortals, to put it Romantically.

if you don’t think your music is special, so special that it speaks to the whole of humanity but could only do so through the imbuing of your vision, why would anyone listen to it? why do we listen to music in the first place? we give music monikers and adjectives like ‘transcendental’, placing upon the genre of music a burden, albeit an abstract one, to connect us to something. the best music does so. (note, that qualitative term is to prove a point. i’m not here to start an argument about what “best” means.) now this idea about what music should do has existed for as long as music has. but it was not until the Romantic era that people decided to do something about it. the composer moves from the role of craftsman (like Bach) to genius (like Wagner). the plight of the composer/artist is the plight of mankind focused. the way to survive through the miasma is to create and reflect. and as mankind is blessed with the gift of imagination, so is the artist.

here’s the rub. music acts as universal exactly because the spark to create, the ability to imagine lies within every person. we understand music because it is our own plight being reflected through the light of the Romantic lamp, the vision of the artist, who can do so like no other.

i do not like this. i especially do not like the word “universal”. i have been taught, as of recently, that “universal” is a four-letter word (just like if i say “the composer’s intentions”, i’ll get my hand chopped off). that and the idea of owning creativity, hoarding it, just doesn’t seem kosher. doesn’t seem fair. but let’s face it, those who had the ability to be elitist in the 19th century, either financially or artistically, did. wouldn’t you? i don’t blame Berlioz. he was a hyper-everything, a product of his time. but i’m glad the artistic hero has gone the way of the dodo. granted, it took two world wars to do it but, hey, we are dealing with the whole universe.

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my problem with Monsieur Berlioz

the great thing about being a graduate assistant is that it gives me the opportunity to really soak up all of the questions posed in a seminar without the burden and trappings of work and assignments. (and the money.)

i am here, presently, listening to an analysis of Jacques Barzun’s Berlioz (The Cambridge Companion to Berlioz, Berlioz as man and thinker), and wonder if i as a 21st century musician/musicologist can reconcile myself with Berlioz’s 19th century ideas about music and aesthetics. now, maybe, it would be naïve of me to try to do this, or some kind of logician’s folly but i think it’s worth investigating.

the post-Romantic world is an ugly one, full of doubt and mistrust, of music especially. no longer is there a belief that music (and the arts) can stand alone in this world and above the fray. Berlioz, even in the time of political revolution and upheaval, believed that no matter what one’s beliefs may be that a) they should not in any way contribute to one’s artistic agenda and b) that music rises above all terrestrial burdens. is this the Romantic aesthetic taking hold? was Berlioz alone in this?

from reading his memoirs, it seems that this sort of belief in the fortitude of music was pre-natal. but it would not be fair to exclude the influence of theories of the day. even though Berlioz and Wagner were complete opposites in regards to musical aesthetics, it is the world in which they lived that allowed such disparate yet connected views on the role of the arts in society.

from where i stand, Berlioz is the one who seems naïve. how dare he not be prescient enough to forsee the calamity awaiting in the coming century! in this i realize my own folly, expecting too much of the man. but i believe it was foolish to not see the dangers that lay hidden within such a dogma. and here’s where insight into Berlioz as man comes into play. Berlioz was a man stranded on the line between fiction and reality. From this place, it’s hard to see the dangers of artistic ecstasy. But it is possible that this is where music has remained from creation, somewhere between the grim nature of reality, where it can be manipulated, and fiction, where the greatest of possibilities lay dormant.

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