Category: Music

Beethoven died from lead poisoning

By focusing the most powerful X-ray beam in the Western Hemisphere
on six of Ludwig van Beethoven’s hairs and a few pieces of his skull,
scientists have gathered what they say is conclusive evidence that the
famous composer died of lead poisoning.

The work, done at the
Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago,
confirms earlier hints that lead may have caused Beethoven’s decades of
poor health, which culminated in a long and painful death in 1827 at
age 56.

Wine from lead cups may have been the problem.  Here is the full story.  Just yesterday over lunch I had to shoot down (shout down?) Bryan Caplan’s claim that Wagner was the greater composer of the two.  Bach and Beethoven are at the top, then Mozart and Brahms.  After that it gets hard, but Stravinsky, Chopin, Monteverdi, Haydn, and Wagner come to mind…

Sonic paternalism, Australian style

Like elsewhere in the Australian work force, an
industrial revolution is happening in the pit of the Sydney Opera
House. Under a new interpretation of WorkCover rules, players in the
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra can’t be exposed to sound levels
higher than 85 decibels averaged over a day.

This will have implications for orchestral music generally, but its
immediate impact is being felt on, of all things, the Australian
Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. To avoid any one musician being exposed to
excessive sound, the orchestra is working with relay teams of extra
musicians: four separate horn sections, four of clarinets, four of
flutes, and so on. The orchestra that begins a particular performance
isn’t necessarily the same one that finishes it.

It’s a logistical nightmare and an expensive one, adding $100,000
to the ballet’s production costs. And all this for a score as lyrical
and romantic as Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, never mind the noisily
modernist Rite of Spring.

Here is the full story.

Musical protectionism, continued

…the musicians of the Cologne New Philharmonic are young freelancers who get to travel and perform live, the public pays less for tickets, and another small step is taken toward fulfilling the vision of the founders of the European Union: free movement of people, goods and services.

They also don’t take government subsidies, but the response has been harsh:

…the influential French and German musicians’ unions contend that his use of mostly Eastern Europeans at nonunion wages amounts to exploitation.

While France is the only country where he has faced charges, several English churches have denied him the right to play there. And although he is allowed to operate as usual in Germany, the musicians’ union has waged a persistent campaign against him.

[In Strasbourg] French officials – tipped off by the union, Hartung says – sent about 80 police officers to arrest him.

The German union has gone as far as to call work in Hartung’s orchestra "a kind of modern slavery."

The unions say a unionized German or French musician would be paid $120 to $180 a day. Hartung says he pays $95 to $120 per concert.

Here is the full story.  Here is my previous post on the dispute.

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash

I’d always thought that Sun Records and Sam Philips himself had created the most crucial, uplifting and powerful records ever made.  Next to Sam’s records, all the rest sounded fruity.  On Sun Records the artists were singing for their lives and sounded like they were coming from the most mysterious place on the planet.  No justice for them.  They were so strong, can send you up a wall.  If you were walking away and looked back at them, you could be turned into stone.  Johnny Cash’s records were no exception, but they weren’t what you expected.  Johnny didn’t have a piercing yell, but ten thousand years of culture fell from him.  He could have been a cave dweller.  He sounds like he’s at the edge of the fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest, the coolness of conscious obvious strength, full tilt and vibrant with danger.  "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine."  Indeed.  I must have recited those lines to myself a million times.  Johnny’s voice was so big, it made the world grow small, unusually low pitched – dark and booming, and he had the right band to match him, the rippling rhythm and cadence of click-clack.  Words that were the rule of law and backed by the power of God.

That is from Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, volume I.  And I am picking the film to win Best Picture this year, whether or not it deserves it.

iPod thanks

These are not all my favorite songs, or the best songs ever, but rather great songs you won’t otherwise hear enough of:

96 Teardrops – ? and the Mysterians

Honey Honey – Abba

Murder She Wrote – Chaka Demus

Havana Moon – Chuck Berry

Blue Moon Revisited – Cowboy Junkies

Licking Stick – Desmond Dekker

I Want You Back – Jackson Five

Belshazzar – Johnny Cash

Roast Fish and Cornbread – Lee Perry

I’m a Ding Dong Daddy – Louis Armstrong

Suddenly Blue – Roger McGuinn

Amy – Ryan Adams

Seu Jorge – His five David Bowie songs, from The Life Aquatic

Jenny and the Ess-Dog – Stephen Malkmus

Strollin’ with Bone – T-Bone Walker

Bewildered – James Brown

Jive at Five – Count Basie

Split Enz – I Hope I Never (for the badly hurt and lovesick)

*Malakado (Be My Baby) – Tarika (the song is sung in English, French, and then Malagasy; a special favorite of mine)

Hey, maybe these are the best songs ever!

iPod bleg

I am soliciting song suggestions to put on my iPod; all genres are welcome.  There is no need to suggest famous songs, such as the classics of classic rock.  Most pieces of classical music are too long for how I use the medium.  Comments, of course, are open.

The future of classical music?

Via ArtsJournal, a good piece by Marc Shulgold on classical downloading. Shulgold writes: "Naturally, we’re not talking huge volume here: According to [Naxos’s Mark] Berry, classical downloads account for only about 6 percent of the total of all music downloaded on the Internet." But note: classical music has had 3 percent of the CD market in recent years. So it’s twice as popular on the Internet, and growing. The death of the death of classical music continues. By the way, Naxos’s $19.95 offer – which gives you Internet access to their entire catalogue for a year – is quite a deal.

Here is the link, from my favorite music blog, (here is his Rameau review). The obvious prediction, of course, is that classical composers will start writing — will have to start writing — more very short pieces. 

But what price will markets sustain?  Classical music performances are, to most listeners, interchangeable.  When will they offer the Beethoven symphonies again for free?  Music companies were not happy.

I welcome the Ubermensch

There is a great scene in the movie Gattaca of a piano recital.  (As I remember it).  As we listen to the beautiful and complex music the camera slowly pans in on the pianist’s fast-moving fingers until we see why the music is so amazing, the pianist has six fingers on each hand.  Was the music written for the pianist or was the pianist written for the music?  Even though Gattaca is often understood as a dystopia the movie is great at showing the promise of genetic engineering.

In India, genetic mutation has done what we are close to doing with genetic engineering.  Devender Harne has six fingers on each hand and six toes on one foot and seven on the other.  He says the extra fingers let him work faster than other children. 


If you think the photo has been Photoshopped, it hasn’t.  See here for the full story and video.  Thanks to J-Walk Blog for the link.

I guess I still do care about this guy…

A collaboration of titans, Bob Dylan – No Direction Home, directed by Martin Scorsese.  I’ve just started watching, but it is hard to recommend this too highly.  The quality of the music clips — most of which are not Dylan — simply defies belief.  And did you know that Dylan wanted to attend West Point and his favorite politician is Barry Goldwater?  Fifteen years ago I thought this guy would go into the dustbin of musical history, but I was so so wrong.  The DVD was released today, and the show will be on PBS soon.  And when it comes to CDs, Entertainment Weekly outlines the essential Bob Dylan.

Does anyone still listen to Harry Nilsson?

1. Cuddly Toy

2. Many Rivers to Cross/Subterranean Homesick Blues

3. Gotta’ Get Up

4. Puget Sound (#1 favorite)

5. Maybe

6. Lifeline

7. All I Think About is You

8. P.O.V. Waltz

9. Remember (Christmas)

10. Vine St.

11. How Long Can Disco Go On

12. It’s Been So Long/River Deep Mountain High.

Those are just a few that come to mind.  Here are some resources on Harry Nilsson.  Try here also.  We may someday see another Harry album.

Further evidence that illegal downloads are a red herring

Music copied onto blank recordable CDs is becoming a bigger threat to
the bottom line of record stores and music labels than online
file-sharing, the head of the recording industry’s trade group said
Friday…"Burned" CDs accounted for 29 percent of all recorded music obtained by
fans in 2004, compared to 16 percent attributed to downloads from
online file-sharing networks…

Here is the story.