Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day, Ludwig...

For Valentine's Day in #Beethoven250 year I've written a chunky piece about the Immortal Beloved for Universal's Udiscovermusic classical section. Here's a sample...

After Ludwig van Beethoven’s death on 26 March 1827, his sometime secretary Anton Schindler and two close friends combed through the composer’s last apartment, hunting for some bank bonds he had bequeathed to his nephew. They found more than they had bargained for. In a small drawer, they discovered the Heiligenstadt Testament, in which Beethoven had described his devastating battle with deafness in 1802; and with it, an apparently unsent love letter, addressed only to a woman he terms his ‘Immortal Beloved’...

...So well did Beethoven protect the identity of his Immortal Beloved that musicologists spent around 200 years trying to find out who she was. It is still disputed today.

Something else vital was missing from the letter: a date. Beethoven wrote on it only ‘July 6’. No year. Through matching days of the week with the date, possible years were narrowed down to a shortlist and watermark identification finally settled upon 1812. From that flowed several possibilities...
Antonie Brentano? Julie ("Giulietta") Guicciardi? Bettina Brentano? Therese Brunsvik von Korompa? Or her sister Josephine?

RTR here:

Immortal, meanwhile, is with editorial, so I'm biting my nails a bit; not many people have read it and I am too close to it to have much sense of how it will really go over. Happily, I now know it is to have the same editor as Ghost Variations, who was fantastic, and I'm looking forward to polishing it up into final form in the months ahead. (More details about it here...)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Glass Bead Game, alive and well in Belgium

A CD by the young Belgian pianist Julien Libeer has just crossed my desk, so I looked him up online.  He's part of a new generation of intelligent and engaged young musicians trying to steer their way through the shark oceans of the music industry, considering where art belongs in the 21st century and in the development of us all as human beings. As part of that he has set up a Youtube channel in which he and guests discuss these matters.

It's called Glass Bead Game Talks, after the book by Hermann Hesse in which these issues were paramount (if somewhat different - I don't think Hesse had to contend with why a disc of classic violin concertos by the violinist Nathan Milstein should be rereleased sporting a sales-friendly photo of an arty nude). The crucial thing, though, is not that Libeer is trying to provide answers - he isn't; it is that he recognises we need to think about things in depth if we're going to justify devoting ourselves to this art - even if that justification is only to ourselves - and creating a community and talking is the best way to spark ideas.

Libeer was a protegé of Maria João Pires, among other mentors, and besides his concert activities he has set up a project in Molenbeek to bring singing to schoolchildren. I thought I'd give him a quick plug here because he is a fine musician and deserves it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

A quick recap

Happy February, everyone. I usually post on 1 January a state-of-the-blog update explaining for the benefit of newcomers what JDCMB is, what it does, what it doesn't, and why, but this year I forgot what with one thing and another. So here it is.

A very warm welcome to all readers, whoever and wherever you may be! JDCMB is Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog. It's a random and spontaneous collection of content involving words and music. I only write it if and when I have time and inclination. 

I'm a writer who has a blog, rather than a 'blogger'. There are plenty of real, well-organised bloggers who plan everything meticulously, sometimes months in advance, and I'm afraid I'm not one of them. I'm very, very bad at thinking ahead; somewhat better at thinking aloud, or at least in writing.

Since my posts appear irregularly, if you'd like to be certain of seeing all new pieces, please sign up for the email distribution in the appropriate sidebar box (it is all automated by the site and I neither see nor harvest your address!).

About me: I studied music at Cambridge and piano with Joan Havill. I started out in editorial jobs on various music magazines, then spearheaded the UK's first independent piano magazine, which I edited for five years. I was with The Independent as a music journalist and critic for 12 years until 2016. Now I'm juggling novels, librettos, articles, reviews, programme notes and more. I give pre-concert talks and I love creating and presenting narrated concerts. Upcoming dates are listed in the sidebar. 

Things you might already know: I fight the good fight for equality and internationalism. I have two cats. I'm married to a violinist. I've written biographies of Korngold and Fauré. My latest novels are Ghost Variations (about Jelly d'Arányi and the Schumann Violin Concerto) and Odette (swan-girl). I'm working on a novel about Beethoven's 'Immortal Beloved', Immortal. I've been writing opera libretti recently, respectively with composers Roxanna Panufnik, Paul Fincham and John Barber, in commissions for Garsington. 

Things you might not know: Of my various hats, my librettist one is my absolute favourite. Meanwhile I'm a piano nerd. I adore historical recordings, especially slidey violins. I love a massive range of music from many centuries. I go to a lot of opera, orchestras and piano recitals, but my favourite pieces are mostly chamber music. I have some great roses in the garden. And I have a strong bullsh*t radar. 

JDCMB has:
• Personal thoughts and occasional polemics, links to my various projects and articles, occasionally exclusive reviews of live performances. 
• Values about music, art, quality, equality, passion. I believe everybody deserves to have great music, art and creativity in their lives.
• A feminist slant, because people are people are people, but the music business and related fields (actually, most fields) still often treat women as second-class citizens. There's been progress recently, but not enough.
• An internationalist outlook. Music is an international art and depends on its internationalism for its very existence. 
• Irony and sarcasm. Please be prepared.
• English English, not American. I'm in London, UK.

JDCMB doesn't like:
• Sexism, racism or other prejudices.
• Porn.
• Comments boxes. For discussions, please come over to Facebook - I put all the links on my author page and we have some lively chats, but you do have to say who you are.
• Brexit. It's a gigantic mistake and we'll all be paying the price soon.
• Conspiracy theories.
• Personal attacks.
• Pop music or crossover. I've nothing against them but I don't cover them, because I do other stuff. 

If you want coverage:
• Please remember that blogging is unpaid and time-consuming. Therefore I'm doing less of it than I used to. For example, while prices in the shops have doubled, and public transport more than that, many organisations are paying the same rates now as they did in 2000. I receive a lot of requests for coverage, but I can't do it all. 

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the site. xx

Friday, January 31, 2020

The sun is setting

Tonight's the night they throw our country over the cliffs - probably to the hyenas waiting beneath. Playing the Ode to Joy is a predictable resistance, but it's not what I'm feeling right now, Beethoven addict though I am. Instead, it's Korngold's exquisite Pierrot Tanzlied from Die tote Stadt that says everything in my heart. Here it is, with subtitles. (Production by Pier Luigi Pizzi from La Fenice, Venice, 2009. Pierrot is sung by Stephan Genz.)

We'll still be here in the morning, as if nothing happened, but God alone knows where this is going to lead - and heaven help us all.

See you on the other side.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Beethoven meets Shakespeare #1

I've spent some time considering the associations of Beethoven's D minor Piano Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 with "Der Sturm" - as referenced by the not-too-reliable Anton Schindler. In his book on the composer, whose amanuensis he briefly was, Schindler recalled asking Beethoven for the "key" to this enigmatic work and being told "Read Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'" (German: 'Der Sturm').

One has doubts, of course. Nothing with a nickname can ever be totally trusted, unfortunately, and when it's Schindler providing the basis, even less so. I was considering an alternative theory: that in fact Beethoven - assuming he said anything of this kind at all to Schindler, perhaps inaccurately remembered by the latter - had been referring to the poet Christian Christoph Sturm, whose writings he held in high regard and who often considers the wonders of nature, the place of humanity within it and the relation of both to God and the divine order, all of which seem more than pertinent to the atmosphere of this piece.

However, try reading 'Full Fathom Five' from The Tempest and remember it is sung by Ariel, the spirit of the air, and then listen to the slow movement of the D minor sonata. The beginning seems almost to serve as the introduction to a song; then the theme arrives, deep set, full fathom five down, with a high, seagull-like figure decorating the upper register and casting perspective. The harmonies become richer and stranger; and a figure appears in the bass (sometimes, also, the treble) that flickers like a drum roll, or a distant tolling bell.

Both theories actually work. Neither is strictly necessary. But they are wonderful to ponder. Enjoy.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them,ding-dong, bell.

Here's Ashley Wass with a fine performance. 

If you've enjoyed this post, please consider supporting IMMORTAL, my Beethoven novel due out in the autumn