Saturday, March 03, 2007

Give Us a Tune

I've been finding some hidden gold in the YouTube video mines. This is a fascinating clip from one of those great BBC documentaries that airs once and dissapears into the ether to us on the other side of the ocean (meanwhile our American idea of quality, educational/cultural/artistic programming is "Curses of the Mummy's Tomb: The DaVinci Connection" on the History Channel, and an 8 hour PBS marathon on Chinese foot-binding). The clip makes me happy in many ways. Haitnik bemoaning production of the Ring with aeroplanes and naked Rhinemaidens, young Brits arguing in front of the Opera House about...Opera, the protester's shouts of "Heckle for Harmony!"...

I again will admit my fondness for the music and person of Harrison Birtwistle, the premiere of his Gawain being the object of the protest in the footage. I love a tune as much as any body, and Birtwistle's music is extremely melodic. He's a master of endless, snake-like melodic lines. Gawain is actually a great opera, and a perfect example of his hyper-modern, primal power. It's like Aeschylus in a steel factory.


Blogger Henry Holland said...

Found your blog via Alex Ross' site.

The clip is from The House which caused quite an uproar in Britain when it aired, making the ROH look like an insane asylum taken over by the inmates. I watched it years ago on VHS thanks to a cool local librarian and I didn't quite get the uproar it caused.

The stuff it showed that everyone jumped on the ROH for --some productions not doing well, having to find a lead in an opera on short notice and so on-- is common stuff in opera houses.

As for the argument outside the ROH re: Birtwistle and modernism, the "Let's pretend music stopped with the death of Brahms" crowd comes across as a bunch of total wankers. "Fascist"? Please. I adore Puccini but I also love Birtwistle--it's possible to, you know, just like good music.

I suspect you're being sarcastic about your love of Birtwistle's music, otherwise I'd offer to make you a copy of my bootleg of his great The Second Mrs. Kong. :-)

9:55 PM  
Blogger PWS said...

Thanks for the information! I was hoping to track down a copy of the entire doc one day...

I love Birtwistle's music. Really! I've written about him elsewhere on this site.

1:26 AM  
Blogger Henry Holland said...

Wow, you have written about Birtwistle's music and *gasp* you don't treat it as the musical equivalent of Satan. Or something.

You never did follow up with a review of The Mask of Orpheus. What did you think? It's a very strange opera, to be sure, but I'd love to see a production of it (fat chance). I love the sound the computer makes for Orpheus' voice. That opera also cemented my hatred of bees.

You might have it already, but DG released an incredible Birtwistle disc consisting of his recent Thesus Games (which I like a lot) and an incredible performance conducted by Boulez of the amazing Earth Dances. Well worth seeking out. I've only found it on the file theft site Soulseek, but another big Birtwistle piece worth seeking out is Exody: 23:59:59, which I think might be even better than Earth Dances.

Nice summary of Lulu too.

4:05 PM  
Blogger PWS said...

Ah..."The Mask of Orpheus". I will give in and say that musically it seems not able to stand on its own, unlike most great opera (or even "Gawain") really is a piece that needs the visual, ritualistic element that would be acheived on a stage. Much of the music is haunting, especially the electronic pieces you mention.
Sadly, I doubt my Southwest Minneapolis neighborhood will be putting on "The Mask of Orpheus" anytime soon. It is, as Birtwistle noted with some pride, one of the most complicated pieces of theater ever devised. It is too difficult to even imagine an opera house giving an adequate performance of-but perhaps a DVD will come out one day of some brave attempt. It demands to be heard being one of the most important works of one of the most important composers.

I haven't heard "Exody" or "Theseus Game", but will seek them out legally or illegally as it comes. I've also always wanted to hear "AGM", which I've studied but never heard, and "Yan Tan Tathera"-his sheep opera.
It's often observed that Birtwistle seems to write the same piece over and over, but their concerns seem timeless enough, and his vision and skill are quite overwhelming to me.
"Earth Dances" is like 'The Rite of Spring' on PCP and steroids. Mammoth.

12:35 AM  

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