Posts Tagged 'classical'

Great Masters of the Musical – Part Two

Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin certainly knew how to write tunes. But as Jonathan Webster discovers in the second part of his survey of the century’s greatest musicals, these popular composers are at last gaining respect as writers of ‘serious’ music.

Gershwin, Porter and Berlin are excellent songwriters. But think – where did you first hear their songs? Chances are it was in the jazz club arena rather than in the Broadway theatre or Hollywood cinema. Many of the greatest showstoppers have been taken up by pop and jazz singers and arguably have received their greatest interpretations from a Fitzgerald, Holiday or Sinatra. But what has happened to the shows they were designed for? Here we look at these great songs in the original context of their largely forgotten shows.

The word musical is an all-embracing term which has come to mean many things to different music-lovers. For some it’s a frothy operetta-style entertainment, as epitomised by the works of composers such as Franz Lehár and Sigmund Romberg; for others it signifies the era of the film musical – a form which dawned in spectacular fashion with the 1930’s celluloid showcases for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In our last issue we covered the post-war Broadway musical; now we wind back the clock to the musical comedy between 1900 and 1950.

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Great Masters of the Musical – Part One

The Broadway musical is at an all time high – opera singers can’t stop recording them. What exactly is the fascination and which shows stand up to the best operas? In the first of a two-part special, Jonathan Webster looks at music since 1945.

The Broadway and Hollywood musical holds a huge attraction for both pop and opera singers. In the 1960s opera diva Joan Sutherland stunned music critics at the height of her career by making one of the first crossover discs, a collection of Noel Coward songs. Since then, and often to huge controversy, Kiri Te Kanawa, the Three Tenors, Dawn Upshaw and now Bryn Terfel have followed in the footsteps of Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra and Howard Keel. But it is not just about thumping good tunes. Music theatre acts as a superb mirror of popular culture. From the Shavian wit of Coward and Porter lyrics to the streetwise rawness and orchestral sophistication of West Side Story this is a genre which cannot be overlooked by anyone who appreciates good music, be it pop or classical. We start our two-part history of the musical at the end of the Second World War.

America’s post-war feel-good factor
By 1945 America and its allies had as good as won the war. Militarily and economically, the United States was now undisputably the most powerful nation on earth; and in a neat bit of synchronicity, Broadway, the hub of New York’s theatre district, became the heart and soul of the post-war musical – a position it was to retain right up until the early 1970s. Amid the worldwide rejoicing that victory brought, one musical seemed to sum up this new-found optimism better than any other: Oklahoma.

Continue reading ‘Great Masters of the Musical – Part One’

Music Monday: Jerusalem

Music Masters of the Universe

Join us on a musical grand tour and discover the exotic sounds and inspirations behind some of the most colourful classical music. Ken Hunt guides you through composer, country and instrument.

‘Today I’ve been in touch with a composer from Yugoslavia, another from Korea, one from Argentina and Hamza El Din called today too’ enthuses David Harrington, the San Francisco-based member of the Kronos Quartet. ‘The possibilities are greater than ever. It’s astonishing what can be done now. You never know what you might be able to hear next.’

As the next century races to greet us, it’s easy to forget that much of the music available has only been accessible for a few decades. To have listened to authentic Indian music at the turn of the century would have meant visiting Madras or Benares or attending an exhibition such as the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908 with the Ceylon Village and Indian Area. To have studied it might have entailed reading the ‘Music in Hindustan, Siam and Java’, a chapter in Weber’s A Popular History of Music from the Earliest Times (1891). Little assisted culturally-challenged westerners to overcome their musical superiority. Witness one H Cottrell writing from Bombay in 1907 who observed of Hindu (Indian) musicians: ‘They make most awful noises.’

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Wielders of the Baton

Whether they play different continents on consecutive nights and record everything possible with any orchestra, or loathe the limelight but always cause a sensation, conductors of the twentieth century come in all shapes and guises. Michael Tanner gives us the score.

The great age of the conductor, or the age of the cult of the great conductor, coincided with the rise fo the gramophone. The relationship between art and technology has been, here as elsewhere, fraught. Many of the finest conductors loathed recording, especially when they had to stop every four minutes, as in the age of the 78rpm record. Both Toscanini’s and Furtwängler’s greatest records, with a few exceptions, tend to be of live performances. But with the advent of the LP and of recording tape, some conductors became more attached to the studio than the concert hall, and some even learned scores in order to record them, rather than setting down, after many years, the fruits of their experience. And as recording techniques became ever more sophisticated, it was the sheer sound rather than the meaning of the music which absorbed much of their attention. The most conspicuous case of that was Herbert von Karajan (1908-89), who made a phenomenal number of records and became more interested in the control room than the podium. The other crucial way in which records affected conducting, as they did to a lesser extent other modes of music making, was that the educated musical public began going to concerts, or buying new recordings of familiar works, with the experience of many other performances fresh in their minds. Correlatively, younger conductors naturally tended to listen to the recordings of the masters to hear what they sounded like, and either formed resolutions to play in the same way – a striking example was the Italian Guido Cantelli, killed in an air crash in 1956, who modelled himself very successfully on his idol Toscanini – or determined that they would be different. But as the number of Beethoven Fifths increased, it became difficult to be different from all of them, so some very strange recordings resulted from this need to be individual. It was this factor, too, rather than any burning artistic zeal, which led to the cult of period instruments and ‘authentic’ performances.

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