On Bach, Titian & Charlie Parker.
Recent links of note:
“Yardbird: 100 Years of Charlie Parker”
Dominic Green, The Critic
To George Santayana’s apodictic declaration about history and those doomed to repeat it, we prefer the witticism of Mark Twain, who correctly noted that “the past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” And if it can be said to rhyme generally, imagine what riches of harmony exist in the history of music. The saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker was a jazz pioneer who, in the words of Dominic Green for The Critic, “combined the facility of Paganini with the harmonic intelligence of Beethoven.” But the echoes hardly end there. Listening to Parker’s early Savoy recordings, recently reissued, one may think of Chopin and his Romantic chromaticism; add Parker’s initial mediocrity and subsequent meteoric rise, and the virtuoso Liszt comes to mind, whose self-imposed “statutory woodshedding” with a piano lasted ten years and produced incontestable stardom. Or, sometime after Parker was turned away from Stravinsky’s Los Angeles doorstep in the middle of the night, moviegoers heard those two strains of chromatic harmony, jazz and classical, consummate “a union which everyone knows from the Sixties and Seventies’ soundtracks of Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and Jerry Goldsmith.” Parker died in 1955 at the age of thirty-five. It’s unlikely that he would have lived to see a hundred years, bringing him up to the present day. Nor should we expect another Yardbird in our time, or any time. But if we listen closely, we might pick out a rhyme or two.
“What Did Bach Sound Like to Bach?”
Paula Wasley, Humanities
Works of classical music are commonly thought to originate on some sort of disembodied, quasi-Platonic level. Under this view, each composition exists on the shelf, so to speak, and is brought down for a performance from time to time before being returned to its place. A deaf Beethoven can continue to conduct his Ninth Symphony after his orchestra has finished playing, because the real thing exists in his head. Or, to put it differently, if your jazz sextet plays Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green,” it’s called a cover, but if you play a Bartók string quartet, it’s just Bartók.
This line of thinking tends to obscure the very real impact that the venue, the instruments, and the performers themselves have on the classical music tradition. In a fascinating piece for Humanities magazine, Paula Wasley describes the recent efforts of Braxton Boren, an assistant professor of audio technology at American University, to reconstruct the performance acoustics of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig as J. S. Bach, the resident Thomaskantor and director of church music for twenty-seven years, would have experienced them. By Bach’s day, Protestant reforms had dramatically altered church architecture: sight lines between the pulpit and parishioners were opened up and heavy drapes were hung from the walls to dampen reverberation and increase clarity. These measures had a profound impact on the way church music was performed, and one can be sure they had an impact on the way it was written, too. This goal of getting to the original Bach is all the more worthwhile in our age of cut-and-paste duplication and reiteration.
“Titian: Love, Desire, Death”
Giorgio Tagliaferro, The Burlington Magazine
To consider individually the many myths of Ovid’s Metamorphoses makes for fascinating and profitable study. But it is no substitute for considering them in their unity, accounting for the juxtapositions, resonances, and thematic reconsiderations that characterize the greater work. The same might be said for Titian’s famous series of “poesies'' painted for Phillip II of Spain, which took their subjects from those Ovidian myths. A few weeks back, Andrew Shea took to our Critic’s Notebook to flag the catalogue for “Titian: Love, Desire, Death,” a significant exhibition centered on these paintings at the National Gallery, London. (Stops were slated for Edinburgh, Madrid, and Boston before museums shuttered their doors due to COVID-19.) In a review for The Burlington Magazine, Giorgio Tagliaferro, who managed to see the exhibition before it closed, discusses at some length what he considers its primary strength: the opportunity to consider, as Titian intended, the paintings as a unified body of work. Reading him makes the closure seem an even greater injustice, but rest assured that, if the exhibition reopens, you’ll have the chance to read about it in our pages too.
“Roger Kimball introduces the June issue.”
A new podcast from the Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion.
“The fox of Villa Crawford”
Stephen Schmalhofer on the life of Francis Marion Crawford.
Author’s note: My year as the Hilton Kramer Fellow is coming to a close, and this will be the last “Week in review” I publish on Dispatch. Sad as I am to go, I leave the column in the capable hands of my successor, Isaac Sligh. I have little doubt that the sum of his efforts, reckoned at this time next year, will exceed whatever contributions I have made over this past one.
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