A day of composer collaborations
When we're not marking the birthday of Baroque great Georg Philipp Telemann today on WFCR, we'll present some unusual compositional collaborations between some pretty big classical music names. In each case, the second participant made his contribution to the work after the death the first, sometimes right after, sometimes many years after. Why? The answer is different in each case.
"They were very defective, teeming with clumsy, disconnected harmonies, shocking part-writing, amazingly illogical modulations or intolerably long stretches without ever a modulation, and bad scoring. ...what is needed is an edition for practical and artistic purposes, suitable for performances and for those who wish to admire (his) genius, not to study his idiosyncrasies and sins against art." And this from a friend and admirer of the composer in question! But Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (above right) was merely expressing the once-common view of music of Modest Mussorgsky (above left): A talented original, but without the training, discipline or even intelligence to know what to make out of his ideas. For a century after Mussorgsky's death, his operas and other best-known works were commonly heard in Rimsky's highly expurgated editions; nowadays, we're more likely to hear Mussorgsky's "clumsy, disconnected harmonies" and "bad scoring" as evidence of his originality, and to present his music as he wrote it. But today during the 11:00 hour we'll present Rimsky's side of the story, with his well-known version of Mussorgsky's "A Night on the Bare Mountain."
Imagine one of the paragons of 18th-century musical classicism at one piano, playing one of his most charming works − while a celebrated composer of a century later plays along, in his own romantic fashion, on a second piano. What kind of musical mish-mosh would that make? A lovely and charming mish-mosh, as you'll hear during the noon hour today. On the first piano will be Martha Argerich, playing the original part of (above left) Mozart's 1788 Sonata in C major, K. 545 (whose opening bars will be familiar to every ex-piano student). At the second piano is Piotr Anderszewski, playing the music added as an homage by Edvard Grieg (above right) to his favorite composer's original in 1877. Peer Gynt meets Papageno? Something like that.
No composer has had his works transcribed, transformed, arranged or even deranged more than Johann Sebastian Bach (above left). Not even close. I mean, just for starters, there's The Swingle Singers, Wendy Carlos, Jacques Loussier, Béla Fleck, Uri Caine, our own Peter Blanchette − and that's just the last 50 years. So, what's up with that? First of all, Bach was a composer of the Baroque, when transcribing (i.e., rescoring) music from one set of voices and/or instruments to another was common practice. He did itself many times to his own works and others'. Back then, a work's notes were not as inextricably bound to the particular attributes of specific voices or instruments as they have been since. This goes extra for Bach, whose genius is solidly embedded in his lines, patterns and structures, regardless of how they're colored and decorated. Plus, more than any other composer — the closest comparison would probably be Shakespeare — Bach has remained a source of study and fascination for musicians of every era and genre, each of whom want to put their own particular stamp on his music. So, we'll present two visions of Bach today on WFCR. One, familiar to fans of the film Fantasia, is the best-known of the legendary conductor (above center) Leopold Stokowski's many ultra-romantic Bach orchestrations, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ. The other is one I blogged about, perhaps too critically, in a previous post, Italian guitarist-composer (above right) Carlo Domeniconi's transformation of Bach's Chaconne for solo violin.
So, are two composers better than one? Not usually. But sometimes, the results can be fun. And if they're fun, why not enjoy them once in a while?