I’m happy to report that, albeit in a very small way, I have possibly contributed to an article in The Boston Globe. More on that in a bit. I’d first like to say, however, that this post is simply about manners, if it’s about anything at all (beyond, perhaps, quasi-narcissistic neuroses). I often consider blogging about etiquette, as there never seems to be enough to go around, but this particular episode has provided the proper inspiration. Again, I’m only concerned with manners here. (I am in NOT suggesting plagiarism or anything of the sort AT ALL – my former students know how seriously I consider that charge to be…)
The Globe article in question is last week’s review of Miles Davis’s recently released Miles at the Fillmore – Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3. It appears as though I helped find source material for the opening passage. Neat! However, I didn’t know at the time because the small nugget of information I believe that I provided – or at least showed the way to – to the article’s author, Globe Correspondent David Weininger, went unthanked and ignored. I’m certainly making a mountain out of a molehill here, but it’s nonetheless curious and a bit annoying.
A few weeks ago I happened to see via Twitter that someone (Weininger, whom I was unfamiliar with at the time) was asking about a particular Keith Jarrett interview regarding a Miles anecdote. His question, retweeted by an account dedicated to ECM (Jarrett’s label of choice), grabbed my attention, as I immediately knew the answer. (My large Miles and Jarrett collections pay off in more ways than one, I suppose.) After quietly gloating to myself and quickly confirming the answer with my own copy of the interview, I checked online video sources (hence the YouTube mention) and answered. And, as you can see, I was at least the only one to respond publicly via Twitter (screenshot taken tonight from his page):
One retweet by @ECMSound and one reply from yours truly. That’s the extent of the whole thread. I had visited his Twitter feed a few times after that to see if anything came of it, but I never heard back and eventually forgot about it. Until this evening, that is, when I thought of it for no reason whatsoever. Returning to his feed, I was surprised to see the following succession of tweets from last week:
And if you click on the links to the actual article, you’ll see that that Miles anecdote is the first paragraph.
Now, should I have been cited in the article? Absolutely not – the very thought is absurd. But a simple reply of “thanks” (no capitalization or punctuation required!) or some other brief acknowledgement would’ve been great. And, who knows, perhaps Weininger found his answer elsewhere. Totally feasible, and I completely understand. Though, the aforementioned video of that interview is difficult to track down outside of sold, copyrighted media – hence my YouTube reference. It’s noteworthy that a quick Google search of that quote, for me, is topped by Weininger’s article, which is accurate, followed by some slightly paraphrased versions on websites of Miles quotes. (I just watched the interview on my DVD again to confirm the accuracy.) So he must’ve tracked down the legit video somewhere…
Even so, isn’t it polite to say “thank you”? In a similar crowdsourcing escapade last summer, Dr. Mark Berry asked his many followers (of which I’m one) for recommended recordings of Wagner art songs. It’s a positive case study, considering he already received his answer:
(Granted, I had had limited online interaction with Dr. Berry preceding this, but I doubt he could pick me out of a crowd despite the semi-annual RT.)
Again, my “role” in that review is tangential at best. If Weininger’s a head chef, then I’m a dishwasher…but he did ask for a clean salad bowl! Tonight I tweeted at David to see if he’d respond. He hasn’t yet, but he’s since been tweeting with others, so I’ll go ahead and green-light this post that I doubt he’ll see. And that’s unfortunate, because I really want to tell him something…
(Photo: Wagner’s grave at Wahnfried, taken by myself)
Today is Wilhelm Richard Wagner‘s 200th birthday. The real world and cyberspace are rife with celebrations today and throughout all of 2013. Although, as Dr. Mark Berry correctly noted, “every year is a Wagner year.” This blog is but a drop in the digital ocean of related tributes, and therefore I’m going to be realistic. First, I won’t be breaking any new Wagnerian ground here. Second, there’s no point in writing what others will and have had covered already. But I would like to share something, and so I’d like to jot down a few thoughts about my relationship with my favorite classical composer.
Being a saxophonist, I ostensibly have little to do with Wagner outside of my instrument’s namesake. (Adolphe Sax was whom Wagner turned to for the development of his Wagner tuba.) That, and Wagner’s use of the saxophone to fill out the needed twelve French horn parts for Tannhäuser‘s Paris premiere, cover most of his saxophonic bases. (Further proof that what you need a ringer, hire a saxophonist!) So what’s my deal?
Honestly, aside from a few random facts and musical excerpts, I knew very little about Wagner until covering him in my music history survey in college. I spent a number of years in my teens voraciously learning about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and so I was also aware of some sort of Hitlerian connection, but the specifics were lost on me until later. So I was a relative novice my class’s Romantic unit. I must say that I was instantly fascinated and even a bit overwhelmed. Some reactions, as I can somewhat remember them:
1. I was instantly moved by the music. If I remember correctly, we watched both the end of Die Walküre (I still have my worksheet) and a portion of Act III (?) of Tristan und Isolde (it’s been a while since that course…). And of course listened to the Tristan prelude. Two passages and works that I’m now all too familiar with but that were completely new to me at the time.
2. The theoretical concepts – leitmotif, gesamtkunstwerk, endless melody, etc. – scratched me where I itched. Saxophone literature is largely twentieth (and twenty-first) century or bust. Chronologically, Wagner’s music and musical approach and philosophy represented the first time we covered music in a similar vocabulary (i.e., late Romanticism, highly chromatic, etc.) as some of the solo literature I’d been learning.
3. DRAMA. Wagner’s focus on drama sucked me right in. That music should serve the drama – the actual end – is something with which I whole-heartedly agree (in many contexts still, but at the time it was absolute).
A few weeks after my aforementioned introduction, I checked a recording of Tristan und Isolde out from the music library, and the rest is history. From there I moved to Der Ring des Nibelungen – the Levine/Met recording of the whole cycle – and then Lohengrin, and beyond. I was hooked. A couple years later I completed an independent study for which I researched and wrote about exclusive similarities between Der Ring des Nibelungen and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth works, separate from both creators’ common mythological sources. (Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, was at one time quite the Wagnerite.) While at first blush it seems like an easy target, there’s much debate surrounding this topic. Sometime I’d actually like to revisit that paper/project for revision and expansion.
The following semester I saw the full Ring cycle live at the Chicago Lyric Opera featuring James Morris, Michelle DeYoung, Plácido Domingo, Jane Eaglen, and John Treleaven. From the rushing, flowing E-flat chord that opens Das Rheingold to Valhalla’s destruction at the end of Götterdämmerung, I was transfixed. And not just when I was in the theater, mind you. For example, I saw Joshua Redman with the SFJazz Collective on the night between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and remember only bits of that performance. My mind was with Wagner throughout. It was my first Ring, and surely not my last. There are so many aspects of that performance I could write about here, but suffice it to say I was profoundly moved. I will say that one of the many things that stood to me was Sir Andrew Davis‘s musicianship. He phrased throughout the whole cycle. For example, the loudest and biggest moments of the whole week were Siegfried’s “Trauermarsch” and Brünnhilde’s “Immolation Scene,” both in Götterdämmerung‘s Act III. He let the music unfold with the drama, and therefore the audience and production alike grew throughout the week.
At this point, there was (and has been) no turning back. In 2008, I had the good fortune of spending some time in Bayreuth while on vacation. Having not been on the infamous years-long wait list, I didn’t attend that afternoon’s Tristan. But simply touring the grounds of the Festspielhaus and spending considerable time at Wahnfried was all I needed (and hoped for) for that trip. (And I ended up seeing Tristan that following fall in Chicago. Another moving performance.) Hopefully I’ll get a chance to return this summer while teaching abroad.
(Photo: Yours truly at Bayreuth, 2008)
Yadda, yadda, yadda. I could go on and on, but it’s best to find a point.
So those are some things I’ve done. But what does that have to do with today’s bicentennial? The day I returned to school after seeing the Ring, I met with my saxophone professor, John Nichol, to talk about my trip. I jokingly told him that by the end of Götterdämmerung I felt like I had accomplished something just by sitting through it. After a good chuckle, he asked, “But did Wagner accomplish something?” I told him that he did. And I really meant it. Much like Beethoven with the symphony, Wagner composed a relatively “small” number of operas (13, with only 10 being performed regularly). But most of those compositions seemed to dramatically shift the music world in its own way. Most of the operas are artistic behemoths, requiring significant work on behalf of both performer and observer. Unlike Beethoven, however, he wrote very little outside of his operas.(Various orchestral works, songs, and piano work exist but are rarely performed, with Siegfried Idyll being arguably the most well known. I recommend The Other Wagner as a nice, comprehensive starting point.) He also wrote a lot of prose, and his ideas were/are just as game-changing as his music (and not all for the better).
200 years on, Wagner’s legacy continues to cast a shadow over so much in the art world, extending far beyond opera, and in ways that most people perhaps don’t notice. For instance, film music – from the early talkies to present – owes much to his lush musical style and leitmotif-laden compositional approach. Just think: The Wizard of Oz would be a very different film if it weren’t for him (e.g., the overture’s lush orchestration and play-by-play of the various melodies/characters.) And, specifically, much later, how would Apocalypse Now have fared? And how many weddings use Lohengrin‘s “Bridal Chorus”? (That’s not without controversy, as most Wagnerian things aren’t.) And how many children have enjoyed this cartoon? And without Wagner there’d possibly be no castle for Cinderella. Hell, Wagner even gave us horns, spears, and breastplates. (And, occasionally, the all-too-familiar fat lady who sings.)
Yet, despite all of this and more, we Wagnerites must often defend our love of his art and publicly state that we’re not in fact members of the Nazi party. (I didn’t really address that issue in this post. That’s not the purpose here, and it’s much too broad and muddled of a topic, though I touch on it here.) A nice, humorous encapsulation of this, especially the latter point, can be found is “Trick or Treat” from Season 2 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Imagine my delight upon first seeing this, considering that Seinfeld – Curb‘s older brother – is my all-time favorite show.) Here’s a slightly NSFW clip:
[NOTE: Larry David’s brief but hilariously clever quotation of “Springtime for Hitler” is especially entertaining when juxtaposed with the Meistersinger overture at the end, the latter having a main character named Walther – the clip’s antagonist – and being closely associated with German nationalism.]
Pros, cons, and everything in between, Wagner left a huge mark. As mentioned above, his legacy extends far beyond his own music. Price asks if Wagner is bad for us, to which I strongly answer NO. Speaking for myself, his music has left an indelible impression on me. Two of my favorite musical experiences have been because of him (seeing the Ring and Meistersinger), and he’s never far from my ears and mind. And that is why his 200th anniversary is worth noting for me. I’ll of course be enjoying some of my favorite recordings and may even go through some select scenes on DVD. Who knows, perhaps I’ll wear one of my t-shirts and play with my action figure…
For y’all, I recommend and leave you with one of my favorite clips from the great BBC documentary The Golden Ring (about Solti’s recording Götterdämmerung for his landmark cycle):
And so I say, in the manner of Cosima’s tweets: Happy Birthday, R.