Charles Munch

“ CHARLES MUNCH” In “Charles Munch” I discuss the greatness of the greatest orchestra conductor recorded. I will gradually consider various factors in the art of the performance of music, in context of the art of Charles Munch. One of these is phrasing. Imagine five notes in a sequence; then ask the basic question, what emphasis do you want to give each note, then ask the kindred question, how long should each note last. Let me be more precise: emphasis can be given in various ways, for example by loudness or softness, or by quality of attack (as sharpness or softness of striking the note). Also, keep in mind that no music writing can properly establish the precise length of any particular note(reasonably speaking).

Wednesday, July 2, 2003
Saturday, June 14, 2003 7:30 pm In my section “CULTURE BEARER” (18) I dissect a foul article about Charles Munch, and rumor-mongering based on that article. ( It is in that section that you will get my opinions about the article by Jeffrey Mehlman which appeared some months ago in the magazine “Salmagundi” put out by Skidmore College, and available via Skidmore (not web) — also, I comment on the stupid essay by David Weininger (based on that article and comments in the Boston Globe newspaper) which appeared on WBUR and NPR and associated websites. )
Elf (for the ambassador)

There are various tendencies due to ethnic traditions, e g, Vienna or Paris. The Viennese tend to phrase smoothly, and the Parisians with distinct separation between the notes. All art is ethnic; all i can do is offer my own personal opinion from within my own ethnic tendencies. I cannot prove anything in the sense of absolute fact. What i can do is offer a clear presentation in reasonable coherent thought. This i hope will be a drastic improvement over the crap usually thrown about among so-called critics. Of course ethnic considerations are not the entire answer; beyond the ethnic is the cosmic. For example, Beethoven is a germanic artist, but his appeal is universal. But besides these matters there is also the task of high art: that Beethoven appeals universally is not the whole of it — people vary in their capacity to apprehend art, and this area transcends ethnicity. A classic example of this problem is the sixth symphony by Tschaikovski: some reasonably intelligent listeners disparage that piece, while i myself consider it one of the very greatest symphonies, and perhaps the greatest of all (one of the pleasures of the life in art is the constant reconsidering of marvellous works in the ali baba cave of life in time). Ethnic considerations play a part in this particular disagreement; the English have their attitudes. On the other hand, the specific characteristics of listeners by which i perceive the ethnic patterns, are ubiquitous: the reluctance of the english to engage passively with art, is not unique to them. Nor is soft superficiality unique to vienna. The ease with which characteristics become entrenched in ethnicities is always startling. We wonder how come societies of the past practiced human sacrifice. It may have been for the most banal reasons, some priests started it out of their own personal perversity, and it grew like topsy, for who could stop it, especially once transgeneration-ism clicked in (by which i mean the structural consequence of succeeding generations being unable to evaluate their generational predecessors). Reasonable people ask how come the Germans could not get rid of Hitler, but Americans were unable to get rid of Reagan. Similarly, i note that in the time of witch-hunting, scholars were exempt—mysterious, what??? Now we see in universities the power to stultify art; for one thing there is the obsession with grading, so as to justify the professorial status as judge and certifier. This starts in early training of artists: what is to be approved is layed down to innocent young and maintained throughout education, so limitted notions become sacrosanct and tools to terrorize all. It has to be kept in mind that universities are properly battlefields of not only ideas but also personalities. Art is the plaything of power games among relatively ignorant experts claiming to define arts. I hope my remarks help the more genuine individuals struggling in the corrupt milieu of theory. Smugness is a revealing feature of those experts who assume that since there is no real standard, they can bully the uninitiated while disputing endlessly with co-conspirators, called colleagues. I hope you will use the innate capacity you were born with individually, to relate with the myriad innate capacities native to all and sundry and have fun and joy being naughty and ecstatic—in art you have to fly by the seat of your pants, alone in the dark sky of stars called artists. Art is in a sense a language. By which i mean it is intermediary as well as ideosyncratic; it is a tool as well as an integral entity. Intelligence includes imagination and the courage (initiative) to choose. In a sense, accordingly, art is war without blood, being a parallel to the ballot (power without the sword). A moral factor is immanent (latent) in art; this has got art in trouble, and made art truly war with blood. And of course, the personal lives of artists involve sacrifice of self in direct physical and psychological ways. The notion of time in culture (exemplified by The Old Testament) expresses the commitment to the transcendant, the beyond today, the beyond immediate gratification. This notion manifests an intrinsic urge to meaning, and is often assigned to a notional persona (god). We are physically links in a chain going back to the dawn of time and forward into infinite future. Mind is where we live in time. Art tries to connect with this infinite process. Even the scribblings of kindergarten children are manifestations of this intrinsic urge. Scholars put names to all these expressions. It is best remembered that scholars also are kindergarten children stumbling through the night. The great artist reminds us that we are not alone in our individual wanderings. ——————

 

3/10/2m I enjoyed celebrating the birthday of Charles Munch 26/9/2m. One feature of the way Charles Munch conducts, is the shape of the phrase: between each note in music there is space; to get from one note to the next one must traverse space (here I am including in the notion of note the notion “chord”, as what is sounded simultaneously). The phrase forms itself as a hand clay.It has shape. This means that information is transmitted with startling rapidity: Note that the music has several dimensions, including harmony, loudness, hardness or softness of the sound itself, general speed, speed variation, overtones, etc. With practice one develops oneself as a listening instrument. But even in tyro stages one can apprehend much, especially with a bit of help. This makes important what kind of help, from whom etc, including timing in one`s own life. And of course one cannot respond in immature years as one would later in life — but this is paradox, too: one best responds later if the ground has been broken earlier and connections await. 31may2001 hello. I wish immediately to get off my chest a couple of matters unpleasant briefly: The then music critic of The New York Times, Harold Schonberg, in my opinion, had a sick perverse obsession against Charles Munch. Also the music critic then of The Saturday Review (…of Literature), Irving Kolodin, had a set bias in favor of The Philadelphia Orchestra and its conductor Eugene Ormandy. Good. I feel better. 21jun01 16:05 When one hears a phrase one may have heard the entire piece in which it is, before; one may have heard the phrase before; or parts of it; or it may have been hinted at by the music leading to it; or one may have heard it before elsewhere, as in folk-music; and eventually one has remembered it perhaps many times in one´s head; and heard different performances, and remember them.

As with a very excellent camera-lens, we can imagine a multitude of “lines” of distinction of image, delicate separations and articulations of detail, in music performance. When one is skilled at discriminating the fine fine details of several aspects of the subtlety of music performance, one can articulate distinctions between one performance and another—including one playing of a phrase in the same performance, and another occurance of that same phrase; and as the phrase unfolds, one can see the petals and hairs variously forming. Now that we have available to us high fidelity recordings, we can notice details after many hearings of a recording we would otherwise have missed (and even the same recording is (being a creature of variable technologies) different as tape from as CD, etc; and different through different sound systems and media (e g, radio) ).

The touch of the tympanist is as the beat of a human heart, various in its possibilities of expression. The breath of the person playing the flute is as a kiss, full of content delicate and forceful. The touch of five dozen stringed instrument bows is a wave of manifold surf suspended and crashing and spreading and pulling back to its depths along sand moving underneath over brass.

All this and more is heard as a statement. We know the mind of the conductor and how he/she is in relationship with the people of the orchestra. We divine their relationships with the composer. And we are the mole in the harbor washed by the music; we submit ourselves to the play of the myriad waves of the com-pressed water that is music, as when we were ourselves sea-creatures and when in amniotic fluid. We are reborn and rewombed breast-fed and weaned — our minds abstract with the cosmic abstract and the mind of abstract, knowing the actuality of the abstract through ears and marrow through patterns living in us forever.

The sounds also end—they do not only sound, they terminate their sounding; and that too is in the care of the musician. And remember the acoustics of the concert hall, or the recording studio. (And I shed a tear at the impossibility of undisturbed listening when surrounded by audience including eg, coughers.)

But eventually it is in one´s own head that one hears the music; in combinations of recollection and surmise, of poetic identification with the composer and her/his world; and comparison with performances remembered, how that note or chord was played then and how we remember it now in context of this present listening to this here performance sounding in present time among the corridors of remembered music constituting my palace eternal.

We live in a world of touch, whose fingers are multiform, caressing our ears, battering our flesh with horrible weapons, arousing our lust, calming our anxieties, building our strengths through the time from conception —it is through this touch that composers express their presence and reach out to us imploring our recognition of their souls; and when we answer them with our own souls, we are propagated as soul.

The rapidity of such empathy is a big bang event; listen to several recordings of the first minute of the Cesar Franck symphony, and Tschaikovski´s Sixth, including one by Charles Munch—if you are paying attention, you immediately hear the difference between the Charles Munch recordings and the others: Charles Munch knows what he is doing, and the other conductors do not know what they are doing and this is a matter of understanding the mind of the composer. The composer is a human being in a society, and the music is a form of art which is comprehensible to others. The techniques of music creating constitute the terms of communication; the interpreter needs to comprehend the use of the techniques attempted by the composer—note that the composer is in a poignant situation, forced to use a silent medium (the notes on paper) to transmit sounding event; even when as now we have recordings made by the composer, there is still plenty of this paradox remaining, as it is in the very nature of music that it can be played by someone else better than by the composer: how can this be?

The art is confirmed by actual contact among people; we all meet in the art—we serve the muse together. A great work of music is not a political article in a newspaper: it is precisely because we choose to enter the constrained world of the art form that there is art at all. It is not the tragic life of the composer that validates tragic music, it is the fulfillment of the tragedy in the art form that ennobles our being: Brahms´music helps us say to god, “Yes, all flesh is like the grass…BUT!!!!!”. We seek ways to say that throughout art. We confront mortality by a general confirmation of our nobility. We exhalt our existence by choosing values we feel to be eternal. Art is the attempt to correct somewhat the imbalance put in the opposite pan by overwhelming chaos. It is the insistance by the baby that the world is safe.

So art is political, asserting a territory in mind, an abstract castle and spaceship, so evolution can continue as we wish. There is territoriality in time as well as land area; we fight to influence posterity in our own ways. “Art is long, life is short”. To perform a great work of music is a responsibilty accepted. But most performers cannot envision any of what I have been writing here; they are small-minded hacks. This is not to be marvelled at, as their teachers have the mentalities of assembly-line laborers in a factory of stupidity given authority — the institution-ality of the wrong.

So, again, art is war. clik 060701 I may call vienna roll the weak phrasing that loses the particular note weighting.

120701 20:19 Pandolfi is a nonprolific marvellous composer whose violin sonatas are on a terrific Harmonia Mundi CD , (recorded 1998) with Andrew Manze (violin) and Richard Egarr(harpsichord)(what a funny word, harpsichord). I bought it yesterday, due to hearing it recently on the local 24 hour classical music station (one of the good features of Oslo). Please note the intense detailed emphases in the performance of these deeply erotic works (recommended for use in bed, so to speak).

070801 17:19 Most musicians fail to realize the great import of just two notes, but Charles Munch presents for us the subtle communication in each note in relation to all other notes and phrases and the whole in architectural context; there is almost no other conductor who does or can, as in order to do so one must UNDERSTAND the music, as music, and, simultaneously, as poetry.

140801 07:17 Listening to Glenn Gould´s recording (concert) of the first Bach keyboard concerto with the Leningrad Orchestra conducted by Slavik(?), I enjoy the effect he achieves like twirling a baton, as he strikes the keys, and I feel it as a matter of manipulation of timing— this reminds me of a remark on radio in Boston by Doriot Anthony Dwyer (first flute of BSO with Munch) , that Charles Munch would often wait into the time of the beat before having the sound occur. (Another great recording of Bach on piano is in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, Lukas Foss with BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra) conducted by Charles Munch.)

180801 23:39 Of course one wants to avoid exaggerated or mannered or manneristic emphasis on the two notes bit.

071001 0024 Compression.

tirsdag 6. november 2001 18:48 Imagine a triangle, side C low, side A left, side B right. Place a point about midway on side A and likewise side B, call them respectively D, E.. Call intersections: AC, AB, but ignore BC. Imagine music notes at these intersections and at ³midpoints². So we have four notes. Imagine them rising as if ascending from AC to D, to AB, and then descending to E. Question: How do you wish to accent the notes? e g, Do you like: AC with D, plus AB with E? or, AC with D and AB, and E separate? or, AC alone, then D with AB, and E alone? or, all joined? or, AC alone and the rest joined? or, all separate? And another question: How emphatic do you wish the accents? Now imagine a symphony by Tschaikovski, or a waltz by Chopin, or whatever. How do you wish to put all the myriad notes together? If one choice is important to you in your understanding of the piece, with regard to some of the notes, how will you decide about the rest of them? And besides the accents, how fast, and how fast where? and WHY? Questions? torsdag 8. november 2001 23:35 Isn´t anyone exploring variety of performance carefully by use of oscillascopes on cathode ray tubes or whatever you youngúns use these hyer years? Shucks.

tirsdag 6. november 2001 18:48 Imagine a triangle, side C low, side A left, side B right. Place a point about midway on side A and likewise side B, call them respectively D, E.. Call intersections: AC, AB, but ignore BC. Imagine music notes at these intersections and at ³midpoints². So we have four notes. Imagine them rising as if ascending from AC to D, to AB, and then descending to E. Question: How do you wish to accent the notes? e g, Do you like: AC with D, plus AB with E? or, AC with D and AB, and E separate? or, AC alone, then D with AB, and E alone? or, all joined? or, AC alone and the rest joined? or, all separate? And another question: How emphatic do you wish the accents? Now imagine a symphony by Tschaikovski, or a waltz by Chopin, or whatever. How do you wish to put all the myriad notes together? If one choice is important to you in your understanding of the piece, with regard to some of the notes, how will you decide about the rest of them? And besides the accents, how fast, and how fast where? and WHY? Questions?

mandag 19. november 2001 02:09 The conductor most important esthetically in regard to Charles Munch, is Wilhelm Furtwangler. A main characteristic of Furtwangler is his style of having the players be as if surprised by the next note (³note², so to speak). This is quite good, giving the effect of LISTENING AND THINKING. Unfortunately it has a side-effect of limiting his flexibility at each point. Charles Munch goes deeper, and each ³note² is part of a structure forming before our very ears. Indeed, Charles Munch is the deepest of all conductors. Of course, this is quite beyond the people who make a fetich out of that popular swoon mentality that limits itself to the obvious pretense at ecstacy. Anyway, Furtwangler is truly marvellous. His Wagner ³Ring² is nonpareil. (I really like that word — it always reminds me of those special candies.)

charles munch søndag 13. januar 2002 19:02 How about a counterpoint by singing J S Bach in both major Chinese languages simultaneously.

 

What classical music can give that no other music ever can is PASSION.

 

§ Wednesday, July 24, 2002 23:41 Why does European (especially but not only European) music use so much the pattern : note, down a note, up again; and note, down a note, down a note, up to the second note (or other intervals similarly) — these patterns are ubiquitous, and delightful, and I am asking WHY. This of course relates of my theory of relationship. Also: in East, common is: note, up one note, down to first, next down note, up to first; and this undulating. There are of course variations on all this; the basic point being first note encircled or whatever.

Thursday, July 25, 2002 20:15: And: consider Frank Sinatra´s tremolo; embracing; sexual intercourse; battleships game; use oscillascope, and to show harmonics (as in Sinatra´s voice). Also bracing as completion of phrase or whatever.

Saturday, July 27, 2002 12:20 One of the myriad (so to speak, for it is truly myriad myriad at least ) examples of this is the second movement of the second piano concerto of Shostakovich (I have the CD with Cristina Ortiz, who is probably the best pianist now performing) (EMI Red Line 7243 5 73518 2 9). I actually do not like Shostakovich generally, but, like Mahler (whom I generally detest) he has his moments, and with this item one can put one´s head on the stomach of one´s beloved.

§ One of the advantages of the multiplicity of cds, as opposed to the way it was when i was a boy, is that we are far less slaves to critics. The obscenity of their power reeks yet over the decades — with their whorish pandering to what they conceived to be the available taste of the classical music public (not to mention their ingrown blind (i e deaf) theoretic authoritarianism). The remark by Abram Chasins (“You play fast, but you don´t sound fast”), about my favorite pianist of all (Jorge Bolet), with the complaining meaning that he did not hook the public in a flashy manner, is typical, I contend, of the absurd pretentions of critics, and representative of their inordinate power, like priests in ancient Central America. These comments apply also to the advantages of internet vs normal publishing — literature as we know it is of course actually the record of what got published by the priests of publishing over the many years. Indeed, paradoxically, I feel free to offer my own opinions, aware that I am not harming anyone, as i am simply one of myriads. “Power corrupts.”

 

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