Next up in the Western Lands mixtape series: piano! Keyboards are perhaps the heart of western music, the site where composition often occurs. Its maestros are at the front of the orchestras, the rock stars of concert hall (Lisztomania!). Piano music is capable of the most delicate intricacies, the most overwhelming fiery explosions, and everything in between.
A side note: there are two African-American jazz composers/pianists included on these mixtapes. Cecil Taylor is up front about looking at the European tradition as much as the history of jazz; Monk, not as much. A purist would argue about their inclusion, but it is well known that 20th century composers by and large were eager to celebrate the contributions of jazz . . . Stravinsky, for instance, wrote pieces for "jazz orchestra" and is said to have championed Duke Ellington as the greatest composer as the 20th century. And though Monk may not display the chops of a Glenn Gould (okay, that's not fair, because who does?), the parallels between his brand of eccentricity and someone like Satie seems fairly clear.
So, enjoy this playlist as some of the all time greats tickle the ivories! As always, Spotify playlist tracks mixtapes as closely as reasonably possible.
Tape 5: Piano
Beethoven – Piano Sonata No.2: II Adagio cantabile (Glenn Gould)
Erik Satie –
Trios Nocturnes (Aldo Ciccolini)
John Cage –
Music of Changes III (David Tudor)
– Erzulie Maketh Scent: Part II (Cecil Taylor)
My mother, in a well-intentioned (probably Dr. Spock influenced) effort to expose her firstborn to culture at a young age, made sure I listened to a copy of some sort of Disney-esqe classical music for children LP. It went well with the grey wool pants, suspenders, starched white shirt, bow tie, and sweater with a crest that I sported in my toddler pictures. Fortunately for everyone involved, she gave up on that by the time her other children showed up. I did, however, manage to pick up a couple orchestral favorites before I turned five: Handel's Water Music, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Neither are of major interest to me anymore, but I have copies on hand in case I ever want to revisit them.
As a teenager, I became obsessed with rock, mainly hard rock/heavy metal. Led Zeppelin was never far from the turntable, nor were The Who, Hendrix, or the Rolling Stones. Eventually, Frank Zappa became an obsession, which led to my second brush with classical music: I had his first London Symphony Orchestra record, 200 Motels, and Orchestral Favorites (one of the Läther releases). I didn't really "get" it, I didn't know if it was supposed to be good or not (because lord knows you can't count on Zappa fans for a reasonable critique of his "genius"). It occurred to me to start listening to classical music as a way to acquire more knowledge of music - which was quickly becoming my main fascination - and to that end, I picked up a couple cheap classical cassettes. One, Grieg's Peer Gynt Suites, remains a favorite to this day; a second, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, is also a piece that still stays with me.
But then, punk rock happened to me, and I took a different track.
A few years into punk, I headed hard in the noise direction. At some point someone pointed out that there were "modern classical" composers who were even more obnoxious than Einstürzende Neubauten, and I discovered Turnabout's infamous Electronic Music LP, which featured Cage's "Fontana Mix", Berio's "Visage", and Mimaroglu's "Agony". Not far behind were Varèse, Stockhausen, Penderecki, Xenakis . . .
From there, I decided to start listening to classical music in a somewhat more systematic way. One gray day I ended up in Ars Nova/The Glass Harmonica, a classical music store (sheet music as well as classical LPs, cassettes, and the then-new medium of CD) just off Third Street down by Indiana University's School of Music, poking around to find something that might catch my interest. I found a tape from the so-called Walkman Classics series that featured Arnold Schoenberg. The only thing I know about Schoenberg is that a classical music snob I knew went on and on about how terrible he was, and said I should listen to everything by Mozart before anything else. I hated the Mozart I heard, so I guessed that I would like the guy he hated. That tape turned out to be one of the most deeply influential music pickups I ever made: Verklärte Nacht is one of my favorite pieces, but the other stuff blew me away as well: Ligeti's Lux aeterna, Nono's Como una ola de fuerza y luz, some Alban Berg . . . and a Stravinsky piece I didn't care for much. Maybe it was how the music perfectly sliced through the fog of the day, maybe it was the mood I was in; whatever the reason, that tape (pictured above) sent me on my quest to grasp classical music. Transfigured night, indeed.
I tell people all the time that I got into classical music backwards, starting with "difficult" modern composers and going backwards to more traditional classical music icons. I really don't go back to much further than Beethoven. I still hate most of the Mozart I hear (with the notable exception of his Requiem), and Bach sounds like math to me unless it is played by a transcendent musician such as Pablo Casals or Glenn Gould. But there is plenty of the romantic that I like - Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, Grieg, Sibelius - and I'm down for the mixing of melody, atonality, and just plain insanity of composers from Shostakovich to Cowell and Ives.
This, then, would be a reckoning.
As always, the Spotify playlist hews as close to the tapes as possible, but it is not always possible to find the exact version that I have. And yes, there are more to come: as I write this, I am up to tape 9.
Luigi Nono –
Y su sangre ya viene cantando (Maderna/Rome Symphony Orchestra)