September keeps me busy with two activities related to the music of Nikolai Medtner. I am again contributing to a project based at TU Dresden, providing harmonic analyses for a bunch of Medtner’s fascinating skazki in order to make the music accessible to computational modeling. At the end of the month I will be participating in the annual conference of Gesellschaft für Musikforschung for the first time, presenting a paper on Medtner’s massive ›Night Wind‹ Sonata, Op. 25 No. 2, at Universität Kassel. Couldn’t be more excited!
Three short announcements to fill the summer slump, wishing all of you an awesome holiday time:
(1) My favourite workspace of the last months, Goodies Deli cafe at Bikini Berlin, has suddenly closed without notifying me in advance (#wtf).
(2) I would really appreciate if German academia took similar care in advertising their vacancies as the University of Copenhagen does (#omg).
(3) Nikolai Medtner‘s E minor Piano Sonata, Op. 25 No. 2, is one of the most intriguing pieces of music I have ever encountered (#yolo).
There are two general tendencies in music university administration in the German-speaking countries. First, more and more institutions are led by music theorists and composers (Berlin, Freiburg, Hamburg, Mainz, Munich, Nuremberg). Second, an increasing number of principals and deans are female (Augsburg, Dresden, Hanover, Rostock, Stuttgart; a significant peak in Austria: Graz, Linz, Salzburg, and Vienna; none in Switzerland). I feel positive about both of these developments. Let me know what you think!
I am announcing here that I will no longer teach at the Berlin University of the Arts, Faculty of Music. My decision to quit is the result of a number of developments and personal experiences during the last months and years. However, this farewell has absolutely nothing to do with my students who belong to the most devoted, curious, and amiable persons I encountered at university. If you would like to learn more about my thoughts on lectureship at UdK Berlin and on academic teaching and precarious work in general, please read this paper (in German only).
My colleague Benjamin Vogels published an excellent study on the applicability of social media in academic teaching, particularly in the context of music theory. The article is available in the current issue of the journal of the Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie (ZGMTH). An exciting read, and highly recommendable for faculty and students open to present-day teaching methods.
Besides, my own article on Vincent d’Indy’s Cours de composition musicale has recently been published in the first volume of Bärenreiter’s new dictionary of music theory treatises and textbooks.
German classical music journalism has approached a state of mud-wrestling these days. Alban Gerhardt is attacked by Christine Lemke-Matwey for his political engagement, Laura Wikert‘s criticism of David Garrett earns her a mini shitstorm from his groupies, Norbert Schläbitz condemns traditional musicology, Hartmut Welscher and Tobias Ruderer settle up with Deutsche Grammophon‘s marketing policy, Igor Levit defends his unjustly harassed colleagues in an angry rant, and Alphonse Sauer seriously speaks of »journalist fascism«. Feuilletonistic trifle at its best! I feel very well entertained.
This is why I am not really interested in performers of classical music. My impression is that many artists, particularly those featured by the major labels, abuse their personality to mask the music. I cringe whenever I see a concert ad or CD cover with a performer’s name printed in capital letters bigger than the composer’s—this makes me stay away from the concert or leave the store. Their faces may be pretty and their attitude seductive, but unfortunately I am attracted by the music itself rather than by the people performing it. And what they perform is largely uninteresting—no surprises, hardly anything beyond the established canon. So all of you big shots and top sellers: Please spare me your hundreds of Moony Sonatas, Teardrop Preludes, and La Campannoyas just serving your self-portrayal. Keep your artistic profile neurosis for yourself. For being commercially controlled puppets of the music industry, you have my pity, not my sympathy. You don’t illuminate the music, you are basking in its light. Go on selling your shallow high-gloss products, but don’t expect me to watch or listen.
Dear fellow musicians and performers, please do me a favour. Do not write music-related texts or documents on your own unless you really, really know how to do this! In any other case, have somebody write these for you (or at least show your writings to somebody) who is specialised in this field. You may be wonderful as performers, but I recently made so many encounters with poorly written, awkward, or even embarrassing texts authored by musicians that I cannot suppress this plea. So if you need professional assistance with your CV, concert announcement, work introduction, liner notes, or texts for your website: Please do let me know! I’ll be more than happy to help you.
There were a number of live and studio recordings, mostly from my school and university years, that used to linger on my hard disks. In addition to my composer profile and that of my choir, I have now launched a separate SoundCloud page dedicated to performances of other people’s piano music. Here you will find some pieces by Bach, Schumann, Franck, Scriabin, and Gershwin. I’d be so delighted if thou wouldst kindly lend me thine ears!
Update: I uploaded additional recordings dating from 2005–2009, including piano music, duo chamber music, and some romantic lieder and musical songs. Particularly recommendable are the compositions by Enrique Granados, Leoš Janáček, Alban Berg, Francis Poulenc, Viktor Ullmann, and Dmitry Shostakovich, but you’ll also find pieces from the standard canon of keyboard music such as Bach’s, Chopin’s, and Brahms’s. Have a look at my SoundCloud performer profile!
My satirical retrospect on the music year of 2016 has been published at German blog Musik – mit allem und viel scharf. The four episodes deal with aspects of musical performance, composition, and academic life, drawing on a handful of recent Facebook posts—you will probably recognize some of them. Postfactual alert in advance: Please be aware of your sense of absurd irony and subtle mockery being put to the test 😉
The denomination of key signatures of musical works does not always reflect the actual reality. For example, Beethoven‘s Kreutzer Sonata, Op. 47, is referred to as an A major work due to the tonality of the introduction and the finale, whereas the sonata-allegro part of the 1st movement is in A minor. A slightly different case is Schumann‘s String Quartet, Op. 41 No. 1, where the introduction also determines the alleged tonality of A minor, regardless of the fact that the first sonata-allegro is in F major. Even more curious is the key of Schubert‘s Impromptu, Op. 90 No. 4, notated and generally given as A flat major, even if the music clearly begins in A flat minor.
Isn’t it a bit awkward to only look at a piece’s beginning when identifying its overall key? To me it seems reasonable to consider the main section of a movement more relevant than an introduction, as long as the latter only switches between major and minor modes—such as Mendelssohn‘s Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14 (correctly termed an E minor work, even if its introduction is in E major), or Dvořák‘s Eighth Symphony, Op. 88 (a G major work with a 1st-movement introduction in G minor). According to that principle, we should speak of the Kreutzer Sonata as an A minor composition. On the contrary, the abovementioned Schumann remains an A minor work, as indicated by three of its four movements, and despite the 1st movement moving to the submediant. What do you think?
Tonight is my first appearance as a music communicator in Hamburg. Pretty excited to present an introduction to an orchestral concert in the Laeiszhalle, featuring the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and violinist Christian Tetzlaff as a soloist. If you feel in the mood for Mozart, Beethoven, and Schoenberg’s »Transfigured Night«, it’d be just awesome to have your company! Introduction 7 pm at the Recital Hall, concert 8 pm.
I have started a Medtner newsletter. The idea is to send information and updates on events, publications, recent recordings, and other developments related to Nikolai Medtner—to be issued from time to time, presumably 2–3 numbers per year. Let me know if you want to subscribe. I will also be grateful if you provided me with information to include in the following issues!
This has been an issue to me ever since I started observing classical music: Singers tend to ignore a large portion of the repertoire composed for them. While common practice of vocalists seems to be limited to music from a period of some 250 years, most Renaissance, early Baroque, and 20th-century music is neglected. Read my full complaint on the Hello Stage blog.
To all Berlin-based musicians and music teachers: Please take notice of an extended article co-authored by Helge Harding and me, published on the website of the Tonkünstlerverband Berlin (DTKV). The essay is concerned with the current state of freelance musicianship and music education in Berlin, pleading for more professionalized activity and engagement. Feel free to read, share, and comment. We’d also appreciate you to get involved yourselves!