Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries (The 12 Musings of Christmas #6)

Yesterday, I mentioned that not all YouTube commenters are thrilled with my Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine. Then there was this more positive (?) comment:


I can't disagree with ol' Curt - I didn't even post the "Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries" on my blog when I first created it. But, it's grown on me over the years - more smash-up than mash-up, perhaps. The opening actually works pretty well, and the final cadence has a nice whiplash effect. The less said about the middle, the better. I think what I like best about the whole thing is the unlikely combination of Sleigh Ride's completely good-natured merriment and Wagner's slashing menace.



Anyway, to quote Taylor Swift, "haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate." Nicholas Slonimsky has famously documented a wide-ranging number of great works that were initally panned by critics. In fact, when the #fakeAMS meme was going around a few years ago (mimicking the absurdist style of so many musicology paper titles), I proposed the following:
It's true that this "work" was also initially panned by me, but what do I know?

If this holiday offering disappoints you, I can also recommend Matthew Guerrieri's 2006 Dreidel Attraction, in which the Valkyries take a ride Wagner would never have imagined:




The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine
  6. Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine (The 12 Musings of Christmas #5)

This will be a quick post - a fast ride, if you will. We're entering the "Sleigh Ride" portion of these twelve days, so today's special is a 2010 Anderson/Adams combo. If you don't know John Adams' scintillating Short Ride in a Fast Machine, here's a short, fast video to get you up to speed:



Adams' piece has also taken on a life as a "music history survey" piece that shows up in a variety of textbook anthologies. Strangely, it's often presented as a rep for Minimalism, even though there's more variety and clear forward momentum here than is typical of such music - of course, the "short" quality is handy for those survey courses where the last fifty years are generally handled in something like half a class. Anyway, it's a delightful fanfare, full of vibrant orchestral color and sophisticated syncopations, and it actually works pretty well with Leroy Anderson's biggest hit. In fact, I only just learned tonight that Mr. Adams himself has viewed and posted about this mashup in a good-natured manner.



Of course, with attention comes notoriety, and I've noticed one YouTuber complaining "If the tempos were lined up this might actually make a good mashup. As it is, it just sounds a bit like a mess." Well, yeah. It's more a mildly elaborate realization of a pun than a fully realized musical concept. However, I think the way the the pulses phase in and out of each other is actually related to the kinds of metrical phasing characteristic of much Minimalist music. Yes, there are audio-manipulation tools that might make it possible to synchronize the beats more squarely, but audio layering provides some wonderful opportunities for phasing effects that would be extremely difficult to realize in real time. I enjoy trying to follow both tracks as they weave in and out from each other. As it is, with the Short Ride slowly coming to the fore as the mashup progresses, Adams' sharp accents do interact pretty effectively with horse and sleigh. Or so I choose to believe, even if scottallen1990 disagrees.




The 12 Musings of Christmas (so far...)
  1. Christmas Time is Here
  2. In Season
  3. Vertical Christmas Medley
  4. Trippin' with Chestnuts
  5. Sleigh Ride in a Fast Machine

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Rite of "Spring Sonata"

We interrupt the "12 Musings of Christmas" with this special musicological news bulletin. (It is Beethoven's birthday, after all.)

When you break a story (as I did three years ago) about how Stravinsky's famous Rite of Spring chords were originally sketched by Beethoven for possible use in his "Eroica" Symphony, a few things happen. First, people warily avoid any mention of the scoop because the truth frightens people; the musical world just goes about its business as if nothing had happened. But also, as I've learned, sometimes strange men with hybrid German/Russian accents approach you in the back of libraries to whisper secrets that dare not be uttered in the light of day. So it is that I was recently presented with more Beethoven sketches (too fragile to be photographed as of yet) that prove Beethoven had also imagined using these same famous chords in what would come to be known as as his "Spring" Sonata.

It's always been a bit of a mystery as to how this sonata got its name, but these sketches make it pretty clear that Beethoven had something much darker in mind before he took a left turn (opposite of rite) and published one of the sunnier sonatas in the repertoire. The music is still being painstakingly reconstructed from the sketchy sketches, but here's a sampling of what Beethoven might've had in mind, if he'd truly had the spirit of a revolutionary....OK, wait, I gotta admit, this is one of my least successful experiments ever. I thought the idea of a Rite of "Spring Sonata" seemed clever enough, and these fairly distinctive repeated chords in the Beethoven seemed to be the rite place for Stravinsky's famous chords to intrude:

...and it could probably work if enough work was put into it, but I'm gonna step aside here and leave this as is.


[UPDATE: Looking at it again the next day, I realize it would've made more "musical" sense to start Stravinsky's chords in that third measure, right after the sfp. Those actually look like the "rite" chords. Maybe later...]

...and done!



...and, there's more [Updated 12/17]:


I'll just exit by affirming that I've had better luck with these chords in the past:






The Reich of Spring



and maybe even here...