08-18: New Orleans Rhythm Kings 1922-1923 - Elmer Bernstein The Magnificent Seven 1960 - Monteverdi Fifth Book of Madrigals La Venexiana

Ordered chronologically. Tagged image here.
1613 – Giovanni Artusi (Italian music theorist, writer, polemicist & composer)
1811 – Johann Heinrich Zang (German cantor, organist, mosaic painter, composer & writer)
1853 – Peter Lichtenthal (Austrian musician, lexicographer & biographer of Niccolò Paganini)
1894 – William Charles Levey (Irish conductor, composer & pianist)
1896 – Frederick Crouch (English composer & cellist)
1942 – Erwin Schulhoff (Czech composer & pianist, perished at Wülzburg concentration camp)
1949 – Paul Mares (American jazz cornetist, trumpeter & bandleader, New Orleans Rhythm Kings)
1957 – Wawrzyniec Żuławski (Polish mountaineer, teacher, composer, music critic & musicologist)
1968 – Cy Walter (American jazz & café society pianist)
1969 – Laci Boldemann (Swedish composer, conductor & pianist)
1980 – Norman Cazden (American pianist, composer, teacher & folk musicologist)
1990 – Grethe Ingmann (Danish pop singer)
1992 – Gerard Sonder (Dutch radio host, Algemene Vereniging Radio Omroep)
1994 – Gottlob Frick (German operatic bass)
2004 – Elmer Bernstein (American film score composer & conductor)
2006 – Fernand Gignac (Canadian singer, actor & comedian)


Our most prominent deathdays for August 18th include Giovanni Artusi, who's known for his arguments with the Monteverdis; Paul Mares, who led the New Orleans Rhythm Kings; pianist Cy Walter, Mabel Mercer's accompanist on many occasions, and Elmer Bernstein, one of the all-time great movie soundtrack composers.

First, a little about some of the others who caught my eye. Like Johann Heinrich Zang did with his artwork. Zang's profession was that of a church musician, but he was more famous as a creator of Musivbilder. Musivbildung, or mosaic painting, is a genre of German folk art dating back to the Middle Ages, that consists of employing everyday natural materials such as paper, sand, minerals, and even dried weeds and wildflowers to create a collage of a landscape, or a figurative or topographical scene. Zang's Musivbild pictured above (go here for a better look) is The Month of May, one of a cycle of 12 Musivbilder Zang made for each month of the year; the only two other paintings from the cycle known to survive are those for October and December. One account claims that Zang’s production of Musivbilder in the 1790s had earned him such a reputation that he even came to the attention of Czar Paul I of Russia (reigned 1796–1801), who asked Zang to send him several examples of his work. Zang produced six pieces for the Czar, including a representation of the Russian imperial coat of arms made out of seeds, grains, and butterfly wings. The Czar was so pleased with Zang’s gift that he sent not only a letter of praise but also a gold watch inlaid with 454 diamonds and 24 pearls. Unfortunately, no trace of this object exists. Probably at a pawn shop in Baltimore.

Irish conductor and composer William Charles Levey first won recognition in Paris and was subsequently conductor at the Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters in London. He was the son of violinist and composer R. M. Levey, whose original family name was O'Shaughnessy. He adopted his mother's Hebraic maiden name on the advice of an enrollment official at one of his early London engagements, on the grounds that it was easier to pronounce, and thus would expedite his career. Well, isn't that typical? You know how it is in the Biz... if your name sounds too Irish, your agent will tell you to change it to something more Jewish-sounding. R. M. Levey is best known for co-founding the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and for his many arrangements of Irish folk tunes for violin with piano accompaniment. His son R. M. Levey II, the elder brother of William Charles Levey, was a renowned violinist who won distinction at concerts in Paris, and later in London, where he was known as "Paganini Redivus" ("Paganini Revived"). Quite a coincidence, considering that in this edition we're also remembering the man who wrote the very first biography of Niccolò Paganini, Peter Lichtenthal.

Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech composer of German ancestry, is among those quirky figures in music history who make for interesting discoveries. His early works were heavily influenced by Impressionism, and his later ones by neoclassicism and jazz, and finally by the social realism favored by Soviet composers in the 1930s and 40s. But Schulhoff also went through a Dadaist phase in the late 10s and early 20s, during which he composed a number of pieces with absurdist elements, including "In futurum" from his Fünf Pittoresken for piano, which is a completely silent piece, anticipating John Cage's 4′33″ by more than three decades. The piece, despite being composed entirely with rests, is notated in great detail durationally, employing bizarre time signatures and rhythmic patterns of considerable intricacy. Actually, Cage's 4′33″ was planned out very carefully durationally as well. It's just that he didn't write any of that down for the piece... invisible notation, to go with silent music...

Giovanni Artusi is one of the great conservatives of music history, someone who staunchly resisted the change that was happening all around him. He's remembered today almost solely for his published polemical writings, especially those against some of this crazy new music that began appearing in the 1580s & 90s, and in particular their very free treatment of dissonance, which contradicted the authoritative standards that had been set forth by Gioseffo Zarlino in Le istitutione harmonice... (1558). In L'Artusi overo delle imperfettioni della moderna musica... (1600), he railed against some of the harmonies the kids were using those days, and singled out some unpublished madrigals he'd heard by a young composer whose name he did not reveal. He even provided notated musical examples of some passages from these madrigals, although he notably omitted their texts.

The young composer turned out to be Claudio Monteverdi, and the works Artusi had cited were published later in Monteverdi's Fourth and Fifth Books of Madrigals (1603, 1605). For the time being, the composer chose to remain silent on the attacks against his music, and let it speak for itself. But when Seconda parte dell'Artusi overo delle imperfettioni della moderna musica... appeared in 1603, Monteverdi decided a response was in order, and wrote one as the preface to his Fifth Book, which opened with "Cruda Amarilli," the main piece Artusi had taken issue with in his publication from 1600. In this preface, Monteverdi wrote:
I hereby present to Your Grace this group of madrigals I have created....

Do not be surprised at my publishing these madrigals without first replying to the objections raised by Artusi to a few tiny portions of them. Since I am in the service of His Grace the Duke of Mantua, I do not have the necessary time at my disposal. Nevertheless, I have written the reply to show what I do is not done by accident. As soon as my reply is copied out it will be published under the title Seconda Pratica, overo Perfettione Della Moderna Musica. Some people may marvel at this, thinking that there is no other practice than the one taught by Zarlino; but they can be sure that, with regard to consonances and dissonances, there is yet another point of view which defends modern compositional practice to the satisfaction of both the mind and the senses. I wanted to tell you this both to keep others from preempting my expression "Second practice," and so that even ingenious persons may meanwhile countenance other new viewpoints on harmony. Believe me, the modern composer is building upon the foundations of truth.

Live happily.

Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, brother of the composer, was later to write a much more detailed response to Artusi as a preface to the Sixth Book of Madrigals (1607). The gist of it is that in the "Second practice," the music exists to serve the expressive needs of the text (which Artusi had been unfairly omitting in his examples), and that therefore the strict rules about how dissonances are prepared and resolved from the "First practice" of Josquin, Palestrina, and Zarlino, no longer necessarily apply. The Second practice can't be held to the standards of the First practice, because it's a completely different kind of music. This came to be true not just of dissonance treatment, and the relationship of text to music, but to the very fabric or texture of the music - the contrapuntal polyphony of the First practice, with its more-or-less equal voices, versus the monody of the Second practice, with its predominant upper melody and bass line and chords filling in the middle. The "Artusi-Monteverdi Controversy," as it's often called, is thus far more than an argument about dissonance, or music vs. text. It's rare a defining moment in music history we can point to and say that here, we can see the Renaissance dying, and the Baroque being born... (Read more below)

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