<![CDATA[Professor Michael C. Wheeler - Blog]]>Fri, 22 Jan 2016 02:52:43 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Book Review: The Sardinian Chronicles By Bernard Lortat-Jacob]]>Mon, 22 Dec 2014 06:53:33 GMThttp://professormichaelwheeler.weebly.com/blog/book-review-the-sardinian-chronicles-by-bernard-lortat-jacob Lortat-Jacob, Bernard. Sardinian Chronicles. 1st ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995. Fagan, Teresa Lavender translation. Pp. x + 118, forward, photographs, compact disc, index, illustrations. $65.00 hardcover $22.50 paperback.

The sound of the launeddas, a traditional clarinet along with the playing of the more modern accordion and polyphonic singing have remained hallmarks of Sardinian music. Distinct from the rest of Italy primarily because of its proximity to Africa to the south and neighboring Corsica to the north it has been a staple of sound cultural inquiry, and within that inquiry, music can be examined alongside whatever the primary focus is. This is largely the case with Bernard Lortat-Jacob'sSardinian Chronicles. Unique among scholarly texts, the book is written with an air of travel writing complete with descriptions of beautiful sights, sounds, and people. It is perhaps because of this style that the text is often considered to be a seminal project in the study of ethnomusicology.

Unlike most texts on the subject of ethnomusicology, Sardinian Chronicles dispenses with lengthy transcriptions of melodies and rhythms heard during fieldwork. There is very little written on the long history of the music, and very little attention is paid to pedagogical subjects on the teaching of the art form. Rather, Lortat-Jacob seems to be more interested in the individuals making the music and the environment in which it takes place. As Julane Beetham wrote; “Sardinian Chronicles is less a theoretical discussion than a simple, straightforward presentation of people and their customs.” (Beetham, 1997) This sentiment is echoed in Jane Cowan's statement; “Lortat-Jacob resists abstracting the musical and social systems from the everyday life in which they are embedded.” (Cowan p. 158) In many ways, the text reads like a cast of characters making appearances in a series of one-act plays as the chapters move on. This form of writing challenges the reader to consider the issue of culture from the individual or household level, all the way to the larger society.

The forward is written by Michel Leiris who begins by comparing Lortat-Jacob's work in ethnomusicology to Karl Marx's contributions to the dialectics of Hegel. Leiris then describes the process by which the author moved through Sardinia finding musicians at fetes (parties), spending time with them in their homes and at times traveling with them. It is Leiris' contention that the “flesh-and-blood characters” help us to “learn in the most direct of ways from the portraits of these people,” (p. ix) which gives an intimate look at a culture as opposed to other writers of the time who might otherwise paint it with a very broad brush.

In chapter one, Lortat-Jacob describes the beginning of his journey. The ferry that will take him to Sardinia is not a comfortable one, but in some ways this acts as a metaphor for the feelings of cultural displacements experienced by the author later on in the text. It is on the ferry that the reader is introduced to the first of the “flesh and blood” characters who make the book such a rich read. Coco, a man who likes to talk about stars and poetry. The two men engage in a conversation about the role of music in Sardinian culture being primarily an accompaniment for dancing whereas poetry is the more refined art form. There is also discussion on an instrument which is never mentioned again; the serragia, which is a type of bowed lute, Lorat-Jacob describes this as a “cello” made out of a pigs bladder fashioned to a broom-stick played with a bow strung with a few strands of horsehair.

Lortat-Jacob hits the ground running in chapter two with rich descriptions of virtuoso accordionists and issues of performance rights along with a very detailed account of a traditional fete for this town. The reader becomes acquainted with two rival accordionists named Pichiaddas and Dillu who both capture the author's attention. Pichiaddas for his virtuosity while playing at fetes and Dillu for his once great fame, but present attempt to sell his repertoire. This attempt raises issues of artistic rights and ownership of interpretation of traditional melodies and leads to an argument between Dillu and one of the author's friends. There is also some time devoted to the author attempting to learn accordion techniques from Pichiaddas, but to little avail as Pichiaddas is inept at teaching.

It is in the town of Oliena that Lortat-Jacob finds a radio station that plays all traditional Sardinian music. He uses this to familiarize himself with what is current in terms of taste, and write down insights. The main thrust of this chapter revolves around an exchange of the author's accordion with a performer in the town who arranges for the author to borrow an accordion from a friend who has just been a funeral. The instrument turns out to be virtually unplayable, and in his own colorful language Lortat-Jacob contemplates the handling of such a situation as borrowing items within the climate of Sardinian culture.

Chapter four is the first (outside of the ferry) to introduce the reader to an instrument or musical style other than the accordion. In Orgosolo, Lortat-Jacob writes about a shepherd's choir performing the traditional polyphonic song so popular in Sardinia as well as a famous maker of Jew's harps. The Jew's harp maker turns out to be a very young man who credits his father for everything he knows, and then gifts the author with some of his creations. The section of the text devoted to Orgosolo is in all actuality a very somber one. The main characters for this portion of the book live in a house with a woman who's husband is spending time in prison. This casts an uncomfortable state upon Lortat-Jacob as he attempts to carry out his research.

In Muravera the reader becomes acquainted with the launeddas which is described in the chapter as a “Sardinian Clarinet.” In truth the instrument is really more of a bag-less bag-pipe made from canes. There is no hard-description of the instrument in the the book, although there are a few pictures of the instrument being played in the following chapter. Lortat-Jacob spends some time comparing the conversational style of Moroccan people and the Sardinians in relationship to music. The author determines that Sardinians discuss musical subjects openly, which is quite the opposite to the Moroccan taste for conversations around art. The process of tuning launeddas is also a large portion of this chapter, where one of the makers of the instrument; a man named Cannargiu, shows the author his process for hearing correct pitches over a drone which contrasts other multi-tonic traditions of the west.

Chapter six devotes more time to the launeddas players in Sardinia. In this case the reader is introduced to another two (for the most part) friendly rivals by the names of Aurelio and Luigi. A good portion of this chapter is taken up describing Aurelio playing for a religious procession in which statues of the Virgin Mary along with angels and saints are carted through the streets. The procession went from the church into the village and back to the church again and was treated by the player as a kind of manual labor. There is also a description of a dinner party in which Aurelio brings the author with him with the intention of reinforcing his social status. A status he needed in order to keep receiving well-paying jobs. The chapter ends with a quaint story about the author needing to invite both men to play in Paris at the command of Aurelio which seems to show a certain mutual respect.

The thrust of chapter seven is really taken up with the author's anticipation of aiding gentleman in a serenade. Lortat-Jacob fancifully daydreams about the young woman who is to be sung to, leaning out her bedroom window looking beautiful and reminiscent of the most romantic of European films. His hopes are dashed when he learns that the individual who is to be serenaded is a mature man who has never been married. It seems the serenade was to be an encouragement for him to find a suitable bride and settle down. The man is gracious in meeting with the musicians and offers them cheese and wine keeping everyone at his home until daybreak.

Chapter eight begins with a reminiscence of the author being in France, witness to a phone call between two Sardinians from Irgoli. The pages then segue into a narrative on the town itself and Lortat-Jacob's fondness for it. He states that he would always stay there longer than was necessary due to its pleasant people and pretty girls. The primary musician in this chapter in a mature singer by the name of Tonino who participates in bar-songs around a guitar as well as a traditional Sardinian vocal quartet style known as a tenore. The bulk of this chapter, however; deals with local squabbles over a bridge that has been restricted by the town government due to its instability. The chapter ends with the decision of the village to build another bridge alongside and a little lower than the original.

Chapter nine deals very little with music of any kind. It begins with a conversation with the women of Santu Lussurgiu decorating the church for the procession of Christ through the town. The author then goes into an in-depth description of two very colorful characters; a local scholar named Pietro Lombardini and the son of a Sardinian expatriot named Dimitrius Onni. Onni is looking for lost kin and information on his father who lived in exile after emigrating to Italy, and later, the family eventually settled in France. As the quest for potential family turns out numerous candidates the story segues to the church music that is performed during the wooden Christ's procession. This music is described in the text as loud and aggressive, sung by four men and working better outside while the wind blows. The chapter ends with Onni's van having left before daybreak so as to escape his new friends in Santu Lussurgiu.

Castelsardo is another account showing a procession, this time the text deals quite a bit more with music and slightly less with the characters involved. This chapter has an atmospherically detailed account of the rehearsal process, in which the choirs used for the procession participate. The rehearsals are done around food and wine and from all hints in the book revolve around the act of careful listening. This is shown more in depth later on in the chapter, which describes members of the choir listening for an harmonic overtone addition to their four-person sound called the quintina (translating to; “little fifth”). The text then goes on to describe the gentlemen socially meeting in a bar after the procession is completed. There is a lengthy description of conversation about whose ice cream is better (the bar owner's or his competitor across the street) along with observations about the qualifying nature of Sardinian dialectics (the use of statements such as “however,” “on one hand” and so on). 

Chapter eleven is primarily a recount of the author's time with a retired opera singer, turned choral instructor named Carlo Cicilloni. It begins with a somewhat opinionated description of Italian bel canto singing as “it claims to be beautiful; the singer believes it natural to accede to the sublime, and he must have a certain talent for combining sentimental narcissism with the unbridled outpurings of the heart.” (p. 99) The text goes on to retell a rehearsal of traditional Sardinian music, and how it was stripped of its beauty by the implementation of operatic technique on the part of Cicilloni. Lortat-Jacob makes no qualms about his distaste for this practice and even exclaims relief when his tape-recorder breaks making any record of the evening unavailable. Carlo is described as a passionate character, but one who is not totally sympathetic as his cosmopolitan approach to teaching singing is seen to be a detriment to what the author views as authentic music of Sardinia. The chapter ends with reflections on his automobile accompanying him through eight years of visiting Sardinia and not being able to make another trip.

The final installment in the text is the most meager in the volume, two pages which suggest that as the author was anxious to return home, he was also anxious to end his book. Sassari makes no mention of music or really any characters (save for the employees of the ferry who were satisfied with the end of the busy season of travelers). Rather, it seems as though this closing chapter reasserts the role of the foreigner in a culture that is loved by the traveler, yet the traveler is a foriegner nonetheless and one who eventually must return home.

The accompanying compact disk is a helpful and very positive aspect of the text for those who are unfamiliar with Sardinian music. There is also an appendix in the book itself that contains translations of the songs as well as performers' names and a short description of what the listener is hearing. The disk consists of twelve tracks, mostly a capella vocal and vocal with instrumental accompaniment, but there are also tracks devoted to the launeddas as well as some accordion music. The vocal tracks are perhaps the most valuable as it would be difficult to glean a clear understand of the sound based on Lortat-Jacob's descriptions in the book. Stylistically, within the ensemble vocal pieces there is a heavy emphasis on fry (low growling) sounds made by the low end of the quartet which was something not mentioned in the rest of the text. Indeed, these are very harmonically rich and though it is difficult to make out, the listener could easily imagine the bright overtones that were so sought after in the discussions taking place in chapter ten. These songs cover the religious pieces used in processions as well as the a tenore choral works. Hearing the launeddas is likewise useful, the droning base provides a tonal reference for the dancing tones in the upper two voices which makes for very enjoyable harmonics. Finally, the accordion pieces on the disk do well to illustrate the kinds of ornamentation the author writes about in the first few chapters.

It could be said the the strengths and weakness of the Sardinian Chronicles are one and the same. As stated before, this is not an in-depth look at the music itself, there are no transcriptions available of the music being described and the descriptions themselves are fairly lackluster in their ability to render an accurate portrayal of what the author was hearing. Sabina Magliocco, in her review of the book writes; “this is not, like so much of the distinguished ethnomusicologist's other work, an analysis critique, or deconstruction of the current musical situation in Sardinia.” (Magliocco p. 1998) The book rather chooses to examine the individuals whom the author encounters in his journeys. We learn of their families, their history, their hardships and their ambition. It is as the introduction to the text describes, these are “flesh-and-blood” people and not necessarily what the reader might expect as a series of case studies. The fact that twelve communities are covered is also noteworthy, mostly because Lortat-Jacob is able to illustrate the differences between them to the extent that they hold the attention of the reader. 

There are a number of topics peripheral to music which are raised in Sardinian Chronicles. One subject is the pedagogical issue in chapter two in which the author was trying to learn from Picchiadas, an individual who had been a virtuoso for some time. Because of this, the musician had little idea how to explain his practice to someone attempting to learn. Another issue is the book's insights into the tuning practice, in both the launeddas and the voices that make up the vocal quartets. In both instances the emphasis is on the a sound tuned from the base upward, whether it be the drone note of the Sardinian clarinet or the bass singer of the quartet. The aim appears to be one of harmonics and how the notes fall naturally within the artist's conception of being “in tune.” This contrasts with other texts' presentation of tuning such as The Soul of Mbira by Paul Berliner. In Berliner's text, the instruments are tuned by comparing one Mbira to another which is already in tune. (Berliner, pp. 60-61) In this sense each note is treated as a separate entity whereas in Sardinian Chronicles the scale seems to be treated as a whole unit.

From an ethical standpoint, there are some considerations to be made. The characters who are all important to the base of this text don't seem to be completely aware of their role as it is unfolding. The fact that in chapter two, the author leads the accordionists Dillu to believe that he is a wealthy man who is considering purchasing his repertoire in order to get an interview is problematic at best. The same type of considerations could be made with Lortat-Jacob including so much of his subjects' personal lives in the text when his stated purpose was to study music. This raises many issues on maintaining proper distance with subjects, as Timothy Cooley and Gregory Barz wrote in Casting Shadows: Fieldwork is Dead! Long Live Fieldwork! “...in all field relationships conflicts in loyalty easily occur that mold our experiences with informants.” (Cooley, Barz p. 19) On the other hand, it can't be said one way or the other how much information the individuals knew was going to be included in the final product. For this reason, the reader might be encouraged to give the author the benefit of the doubt, especially as so many of the people described appear to be long-term acquaintances.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the text is its ability to raise questions about the subjects of both ethnomusicology and anthropology. If both are concerned with the study of culture, then the question must be asked “what is culture?” This is not as simple of an answer as might be assumed, evidenced with the frequency of the use of the word. The fact that Lortat-Jacob uses individuals in such an in-depth fashion makes a fairly cogent argument that “culture” might well be defined from the individual, continue to the village, community and all the way up to the nation and beyond. If the reader examines the text from this standpoint then it could be said that Sardinian Chronicles is a valuable and representative account of Sardinian culture. The text is replete with accounts of sights, sounds, taste, costume and custom. Therefore; the musical accounts or lack thereof turns out not to be the thrust, it is the thread that runs through the book tying it together. Music is a way to socialize, and more it is an obvious passion for the author and finally the reader recognizes how it becomes a reason to write and not an end. The writing style is very florid and easy to read, and it is interesting while being educational. The compact disks are well recorded and make for enjoyable listening which in the final analysis makes this book and the recordings indispensable in any study of Mediterranean culture.

-Michael Wheeler


Barz, Gregory F., and Timothy J. Cooley. Shadows in the field: new perspectives for fieldwork in ethnomusicology. Second ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Beetham, Julane. Reviewed Work: Sardinian Chronicles by Bernard Lortat-Jacob, 1997 published online.Indiana University Article URL:https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/ 2022/2243/28(1)103.pdf?sequence=1

Berliner, Paul. The soul of mbira: music and traditions of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Print.

Cowan, Jane K. Reviewed work(s): Sardinian Chronicles by Bernard Lortat-Jacob American Ethnologist Vol. 23, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), p. 158 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Article URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/646287

Magliocco, Sabina. Reviewed work(s): Sardinian Chronicles by Bernard Lortat-Jacob; Teresa Lavender Fagan The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 111, No. 439 (Winter, 1998), pp. 75-76 Published by: American Folklore Society Article URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/541327]]>
<![CDATA[Reflections and History of Alban Berg's "Lulu"]]>Mon, 22 Dec 2014 06:51:25 GMThttp://professormichaelwheeler.weebly.com/blog/reflections-and-history-of-alban-bergs-lulu            The history of opera in the 20th century is a rich, if not strange one. Its beginning marked with romantic traditionalism in Italy, and its end mirroring the “anything goes” ideals that seemed to encompass every other genre of music. Almost in the center there is Lulu (1935) by Alban Berg. In many ways Lulu represents, in one opera, the transition from romantic fairy-tale stories so popular in Germany just a century earlier to the existential prospect of growing up in the universe without the notion of kind fatherly God. As much as the work was performed, it is likely that it found itself quite at home with the pieces by teams such as Brecht and Weil. On a musical level too, it bridges modernity with traditionalism in both form and technique. Even on the level of multimedia usage there is something to be said of Berg’s Lulu, as the opera did require an onstage film to show passage of time.  In all these aspects, this piece represents a very tightly knit display of the severe transitions occurring in all of music during the modern era, not in any rebellious manner, rather with a serine acceptance of impermanence be it in art or in life.

            It would be a difficult task to understand meaning of the sub-surface level in any piece of art outside of contemporary developments in philosophy and society. Paul Griffiths notes in Chapter 8 of the Oxford Illustrated History of Opera that; “The period of its composition, 1929-1935, saw the crisis and extinction of German democracy, and the liquidation of a thriving operatic culture…”  Indeed, just four years before Berg started on Lulu, the first volume of Mein Kampf was published, selling widely and contributing to the ideology that would submerge the world in war, hatred and mistrust. More diverse and well founded philosophies were in circulation at the time though, such as Gaston Bachelard with his theories of including scientific principals in psychology and vice-versa (published as “The New Scientific Mind” in 1934), as well as Maurice Blondel’s notions of imminence and transcendence which sought to explain trends in human behavior. Both of these philosophers are examples of the distancing from unempirical religious dogma which controlled Europe from the times of the Roman Empire.  There were also the writings of the 20th century existentialist writers which put emphasis on individual search for meaning in existence, that if truly “God is dead” then the individual is responsible solely for themselves and therefore is alone.  Certainly the plot and dialogue in Lulu is more representative of this last idea, but the distancing from the church and God is aided by an emphasis on science in the period of time that led up to the writing (and perhaps more importantly; the success) of the Opera. 

            The opera Lulu is based off of two works by the German playwright Frank Wedekind featuring the title character. The first is Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) which was first performed 1895 and the second; Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box) performed 1904 which is when Berg first saw the work. Pandora’s Box was also adapted to film in 1929 staring Louise Brooks (whose later autobiography was titled Lulu in Hollywood).  Both plays represent a very laxed approach to sexuality which was the primary source of the controversy surrounding the plays, film and opera.  What is interesting, is that for all of its rebelliousness in plot and view of sexual behavior, the central theme (as far as the opera is concerned) is that the temptress of men, the woman who refuses to conform must in the end perish, and very harshly which almost signals a religious morality story, in other words: “be pious and prudish or else…” Of course, this is a very shallow reading of the plotline as the character is seeking self-preservation in a world she had no hand in creating. Lulu moves through a total of four marriages during the course of the work (the final is not a recognized marriage, more of a cohabitation) and engages in sexual activity frequently, yet she never becomes pregnant, she has no children, and she herself seems to be the product of miraculous materialization (in Act II Lulu sing that she “is a miracle”). In this sense, the Wedekind plays represent a transition in storytelling from the young love-obsessed girl to something more enigmatic and complicated, by extracting the character from the traditional feminine pursuits of wifehood and motherhood, the character is left defining meaning one scene at a time which shows a congruency between the artwork and the philosophy at the time.

            That the opera Lulu is unfinished is the source of some minor debate. Berg passed away in 1935 from blood poising resulting from an infected insect bite before he was able to complete the orchestrations for the opera. The author Herter Norton in his article “Alban Berg’s ‘Lulu’” (published in The Musical Quarterly 1936) asserts that; “in Lulu, his last completed work, Berg has left us with a precious legacy.” Norton then footnotes this statement by writing: “As has been indicated above, Berg left a complete and very carefully worked out preliminary score. Only the instrumentation of a few places in the middle of the last act was not finished and this could be easily carried out by some friend familiar with Berg’s works.” In fact, originally Arnold Schoenberg was supposed to complete the orchestrations for the Opera, but upon seeing the score stated that it would take more time than he had originally anticipated. The author Charles Osborne in The Dictionary of Composers states that in truth; “he was annoyed by the description in the text of a Jewish character.” Anton Webern was also asked to complete the orchestrations, however; like Schoenberg, passed on the opportunity.  The instrumentation for Act III was finally completed in 1979 by Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha following which the work could be performed in its entirety. Prior to Cerha’s completion of the score, Lulucould only be performed in its first two Acts, which led to a feeling something of a grotesque happy ending as Act two ends with Lulu and Alwa consummating their relationship by the couch where Dr. Schon died.  There was also the “Lulu Suite” which was an orchestral symphony that featured portions of the opera’s music and was first performed in 1934 in Vienna under Maestro Kleiber. This was a very well received work and came in a time of emotional and financial despair for Berg, and the fact that the piece was so popular in the time of repressive ideology in German-speaking countries speaks to the independence of the German people.

            One principal reason that Berg was unable to finish the orchestrations for Lulu was that he became distracted by the commission of a violin concerto by the American violinist Louis Krasner. The work has since become arguably the most well known of all of Berg’s compositions and is frequently performed and recorded.  The emotional content of the Violin Concerto is said to be inspired by the death of Alma Mahler’s 18 year old daughter; Manon Grupius which prompted its slow lamenting character. In fact there has been a fair amount of research into Alban Berg’s compositions that tend to show him as an individual who was inspired to write on themes of a dark nature. One aspect of this is discussed by Michael Hall in the text Leaving Home – a Conducted Tour of 20th Century Music in which there is a discussion of the Chamber Concerto for violin, piano and thirteen wind instruments (1925) which dealt musically with the infidelity of Schoenberg’s wife Mathilde and quoted from Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande.  The chamber concerto was written some ten years prior to the Violin Concerto, but Berg’s reliance on difficult subjects in his music was an aspect that would last through the composition of both Lulu and the Violin Concerto.  It is a work that is discussed in some length by Glen Gould in the film “The Alchemist” in which Gould states that Berg was representative of the more emotional romantic aspect the second Viennese school. This is an opinion that is easy to understand, as both the Violin Concerto and the opera Lulu are works of substantial emotional character that contain a wide array of diverse delivery systems for melody and harmony.  It was written in the Dictionary of Composers that Berg’s intention was also to compose further for chamber ensembles as well as music for radio and film (something that is corroborated by the use of silent film in his last opera) but these were ambitions that were never to be realized.

            Alban Berg’s only other opera was the groundbreaking work;Wozzeck, an atonal piece that found a great deal of success the year it was performed in 1925.  Essentially Wozzeck is the story of a lowly solder who has a child with his lover out of wedlock, the mother is fickle and allows herself to be seduced by the Drum Major of the military marching band which enrages Wozzeck to revenge. He extracts this revenge by stabbing the mother of his child and then drowning himself for all of his grief.  There are several themes that intersect with Lulu, not least of which is the portrayal of sexual women as detrimental to man’s mental state as well as their fortune and even their lives. Because the piece was so successful,Wozzeck bore many imitations, Berg himself seemed somewhat surprised by this and commented that; “I never entertained the idea of reforming the artistic structure of the opera with Wozzeck. Neither when I started nor when I completed this work did I consider it a model for further operatic efforts, whoever the composer might be. I never assumed or expected thatWozzeck should in this sense become the basis of a school” (this quote can be found in the text Music in the Western World edited by Weiss and Taruskin). Musically, the work is notable for its use of classical forms (such as entire scenes being rondos, passacaglia, march/lullaby and inventions). In order to accommodate these traditionally instrumental forms, Berg did away with the aria and recitative which shows how novel the piece really was for the 1920’s.

            The performance of Lulu viewed prior to the writing of this essay was a DVD edition of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, directed by Graham Vick, conducted by Andrew Davis and released on Kultur video 1997. The principal roles were sung by Christine Schafer as Lulu, David Kuebler as Alwa, Wolfgang Schone as Dr. Schon and Jack the Ripper, Kathryn Harries as Countess Geschwitz, Jonathan Veira as Doctor, Theatre Manager, Banker and Professor, and Stephan Drakulich as Painter and Negro. This particular production used minimal scene changes as regardless of the setting, the same static brick wall surrounded the characters with a hole in the center of the stage. A great lamp on which the title character descended was featured almost directly above the hole. The stage itself rotated with four rings moving in opposite directions which made for an interesting effect as the only furniture on stage were chairs that could rotate the characters on stage.  Lighting was used very effectively, as when the stage was an art studio it was incredibly well lit, same with the impression of it being a house, but as an alley it was dark and gruesome. The minimal effects in the production helped with the repetition of the same actors playing different characters.  The only genuine change in scenery was the film that takes place in the middle of Act II which features some location sets of a prison and hospital as well as a short shower scene where the singer Christine Schafer allowed herself to be filmed topless. A film was to take place in the original production but it has since been lost over the years. According to George Pearle in his text “The Operas of Alban Berg” it is common for opera companies to shoot a fresh film for each production.

The plot of Lulu is rich with literary substance. Like the old operas of the pre Jean Batiste Lully Baroque period, the piece begins with a prologue instead of an overture. In the Glyndebourne production, the singer is dressed very much like a cabaret host who sings the majority of the lyrics to the audience holding a mirror almost in mockery. In this sense he is calling to the world branding humans as filthy or wretched but in a very playful manner. When Lulu descends on the lamp (sleeping) the prologue singer states that she is his “creation” which seems to indicate that we are hearing the declamations of God, stating widely held ideas in Christianity that humanity is unworthy of God’s love or forgiveness.

The prologue segues into the first scene where Lulu is posing for a portrait being painted, the very portrait that will come back to haunt the primary characters for the entire production. Dr. Schon and his son Alwa are both present with the painter having trivial discussions, when the Schons leave, the painter immediately attempts to seduce Lulu who is flirtatious but reminds her would be suitor that her husband is due any minute. In this production the painter is quite rough and violent with Lulu which seems to win her over in an almost animalistic fashion.  The painter has his pants down and his head up the shirt of Lulu when her husband bursts in and immediately has a heart attack in the middle of the stage.  The painter is overcome with grief but Lulu taunts the dead body while dreamy languid flutes play in the background, there is then a shift in the music to funereal like reeds and horns while the two discuss deeper matters of existence over the corpse. This is where the audience is privy to the first of existential crisis. The painter asks God for help upon which he is scolded by Lulu. The Painter then asks “do you believe in a Creator?” which hearkens back to the prologue of the singer saying that Lulu is his “creation.”

In the next scene some time has passed and the image of a happy successful marriage is presented to the audience. The painter is selling and they are enjoying an affluent lifestyle. When Lulu’s supposed father, Schigolch shows up to ask for money the incestuous relationship is hinted at through the vocal coyness of Lulu’s melodic lines. It is here that yet another existential question is broached when Schigolch asks “what are you then?” to which Lulu responds “… an animal.” Finally Dr. Schon enters and the audience is granted access to the knowledge that there has been an affair between the two of them, he is there to break it off, but Lulu is always in control when it comes to men (at least in the first half) and from her refusal to understand this prompts Dr Schon to confront her current husband who then kills himself out of grief. Lulu states that “he always had a death wish” and again she is talking over a dead body with a man.

It is in the third scene of Act I that reality starts a serious decay. Alwa states that “someone could write an opera about her” and has a prophetic glimpse into his possible (and imminent) demise. Almost as an aside, Berg quotes music from Wozzeck to signal to the audience that this will be a tragedy. As they are backstage at a theatre, there are cheers from the audience, the line “sounds like feeding time at the zoo” is stated which again hearkens back to the Prologue’s description of the audience as animals. If indeed humans are wild animals that need taming, then Dr. Schon’s harsh treatment of Lulu by making her dance in front of his fiancé is what prompts her to lash out. She is quick to take control of the situation by threatening to disappear to Africa which Dr. Schon simply cannot deal with. He gives into her and states that he wants to “run away from life” (which in essence he is doing by dooming himself by attaching to Lulu) and writes a letter to his fiancé telling her the engagement is no more. This is where the audience is witness to virtually every aspect of Lulu, in effect she is every woman (evidenced by her many names; Lulu, Mignon, Nelly and Eva) and she is no woman, in the sense that she would have perished on the streets if not for her cunning use of men which is something she continues to do as she rises through available social ranks. This aspect is discussed thoroughly by the author Paul Griffiths in the Oxford Illustrated History of Opera, in which he writes; “Lulu herself, however, is deliberately enigmatic. In one respect she is not a person but a mirror for the designs of others: the romantic ardour of Alwa, the cynicism of his father Dr Schon, the life-rejection of Jack the Ripper, by whom in squalor, she is finally murdered.”

Act II, Scene I represents the culmination of Lulu’s power and presence; she is married to Dr. Schon and enjoys her victory as well as affluence. Her elderly husband laments over his twilight years being infected by a “plague” which is the wife who ensnared him.  The two of them do seem happy approaching the bedroom during which Lulu asks if he can take the day off to spend with her. The scene then shifts to the noisy ruffians who are Lulu’s friends. The audience learns that her father is not really her father and when asked where she came from, Lulu responds “I’m a miracle.”  During this time, the music frequently changes from comedic to psychotic signaling that her playfulness is verging on disaster. When Alwa comes in the music shifts again to more heartfelt long sustained notes while the two of them flirt. Alwa is forced to confess his love for Lulu and Dr. Schon becomes enraged while listening. Dr. Schon attempts to get Lulu to kill herself but while she is holding the gun she shoots her husband in the back in order to protect herself and the schoolboy she was hiding in the room.  At this point Lulu’s power wanes and she must cling to Alwa for help. But this is to no immediate avail as the police come in and arrest her.  It is at this point that the silent film (discussed above) plays. The music for this scene is notable for its palindrome effect which does very well indicating a passage of time. The middle point of the film is accented by a scalar passage in the piano which then descends and leads into the much darker second half of the opera.

After the silent film there is a great deal of anticipation regarding Lulu’s escape from prison.  The audience is able to see a little more of the lesbian affection held by the Countess for Lulu, evidenced by her willingness to poison herself with disease in order to help her escape. When Lulu does enter the scene she sings “freedom, thank God” and there is an orchestral swell not terribly dissimilar from the “I shall win” line in Puccini’s Turandot.  She is coy enough with Alwa to get him back under her control at which time she returns to an uncaring state. During their verbal courtship Alwa is making constant comparisons of lulu to music, body-parts being a cantabile, a misterioso and an andante which hearkens back to Berg’s own treatment of compositional forms in Wozzeck. Alwa is overcome with lust as she allows him to part her legs and fondle her.  Just to reemphasize her power over the man, when they are about to have sex she says “isn’t this the sofa where your father bleed to death?” so they consummate their relationship on the floor.

The whole of Act III can be seen as a statement about prostitution in general. It opens with a party of wealthy individuals touting their economic prowess and speculating on a railway company. In the Glyndebourne version, the actors go out of their way to display a fakeness about their attitudes regarding relationships with their fellow characters. This aspect is aided by the revolving stage that creates a dizzying effect during the only real ensemble vocal piece in the entire production which is a confusing cacophony of conversation and panic. In the first scene, Lulu is being pulled by all angles, Marquis who wants to make her a prostitute, Rodrigo who would blackmail her, Schigolch who agrees to solve her problem but only if she will have sex with him. All of this she overcomes by use of her sexuality and yet she still makes the statement that she “would not sell what is her own.” It is here where the audience is presented with a more complicated view of what might be called a “sex worker,” it is the notion of survival versus profit. Lulu does what any animal seeks to do in the natural world; survive, whereas the bankers, investors and even Alwa sell out their livelihood on speculation and greed.  Their greed is met with destitution in the end as their speculation turns sour, and in one moment the entire cast of wealthy characters are forced to consider themselves without their worldly possessions.

The final scene of Act III is the most musically diverse of the entire production, there is a genuine hint at cabaret music as well as sexy saxophone accompaniment for Lulu’s seductive powers with her clients. The remaining characters have been stripped of everything; wealth, luxury, power and even any hope of a sound mind.  When the Countess brings in Lulu’s tattered portrait, they squabble over how this will be an omen of better luck whereas Lulu seems more accepting of her lot and requests the picture be disposed of. In this sense she has come to a period of resolution in that the only escape she will have from the situation in which she finds herself is her imminent death.  Again, this is something that Griffiths notes in writing: “the only real escape she can have, within the world as it is, is the escape into death. Her death is accompanied, as Wozzeck’s is, by an orchestral threnody, but the tone is different: where in Wozzeck protest is mixed with lament, in Lulu the near-final adagio is an acceptance, and even a homecoming.” After Lulu’s death at the hands of Jack the Ripper (played by the same singer as Dr. Schon) the stage is left lonely with only the countess singing a farewell, and finally, the world plunges into darkness.

Musically, the piece is a diverse one. Berg wrote the opera using the serial techniques developed by Schoenberg, but tempered in a way so that the music’s representational ability still remained the primary goal. A great deal has been written on this subject since the work’s completion. George Perle, in the text; The Operas of Alban Berg writes: “Berg’s twelve tone practice as represented in Lulu and in the works that precede it, though historically derived from Schoenberg’s concept of twelve-tone composition must be distinguished from the latter in several fundamental respects.” Perle then goes on to list five ways in which Berg’s composition is unique, paraphrased there are 1) Lulu is based on many tone rows, which Perle considers to be a violation of Schoenbergian compositional practice, 2) Some are tone rows, others are pitch cells or “tropes,” 3) Berg treats the tone row as a very melodic device, therefore, the character of the row, in inversion or retrograde changes the entire structure of that device, 4) Berg is able to leave behind the twelve-tone method where it is suitable, even though a serial structure remains, and 5) The harmonic language of Lulu is very rich and uses melodic structures in the outer voices particularly the bass.  These writings are somewhat contrasted in the article; “Alban Berg’s Lulu” by Norton, who states that in fact Lulu is based on one tone row, and other rows are generated by adaptations of chordal structures and other methods of combining the row in a novel fashion. Interestingly, one point that is agreed upon by Perle and Norton is the notion that Berg willingly employs aspects of the row that indicate a very tonal quality and can be used much as a Wagnerian Leitmotif. For instance, Alwa’s row indicates a minor chord in its second inversion whereas his father, Dr. Schon’s row indicates a major chord in its second inversion. Alwa’s row is much more subtle and languid whereas Dr. Schon’s is jagged and forceful. The row, in a harmonic form can be observed in the motif for the portrait which is essentially of almost quartal sounding chords. From the outer and middle voices new rows are derived which are then used to associate with situations or characters in the production. Another major aspect of the composition is the notion of a musical “mirror” so elegantly done in the silent film portion. This idea is also reinforced by the usage of the same singers to play both Lulu’s husbands and her attackers.  Alban Berg was well known for this as a compositional tool in his writing. It is no doubt that the very well founded theoretical aspects of Lulu contributed to the pieces success, not only in general for creating a succinct opera for lovers of the genre, but also a rich wellspring for academic study. 

Griffiths writes; “If Lulu can also be seen as a personification of opera – a persistent, unattainable ideal for composers – then the work is an elegy for the genre within which it was conceived. “ Which is a well-founded sentiment considering the plot and almost metatheatre qualities of the work. In truth, the opera’s place in the history of the genre is one that represents something of a mid-life crisis. On one hand it is a piece that navigates the gray area between the thoroughly modern and accessibility.  It is a piece that foreshadows the use of multimedia as well as tackling social themes that cannot be summed up by a moral song in the shape of an epilogue, the way Don Giovanni or even The Rake’s Progress could. Lulustands central to a century uncertain regarding style, philosophy, religion or politics and it does so on its own terms with its own unique and yet still inclusive language.]]>
<![CDATA[Arabic Orchestral Music]]>Mon, 22 Dec 2014 06:48:28 GMThttp://professormichaelwheeler.weebly.com/blog/arabic-orchestral-music It's funny that this style of music has drawn so much criticism from the scholarly community revolving around Arabic music.
So, I am a little disappointed that the orchestra doesn't contain any "traditional" middle-eastern bowed lutes such as the rabab or even a yayli tambur. Of course, you could make the argument that the Violin family of instruments are just rababs that grew up in Europe and they are finally coming home.

That aside, this does seem to be a somewhat typical arrangement of the recent Arabic orchestras over the last century. We have European bowed lutes (violin, cello, D. Bass), some winds (flute and ney), middle eastern plucked zithers (Kanoon) as well as plucked lutes (oud and some kind of saz) and of course, percussion (darbuka, daff, riq and so on).

Harmonically speaking the texture is quite thin. Although, I wouldn't quite say "heterophonic." Yes, its true that the ensemble plays in what we could call "decorated unison," but there are also very poignant question and answer dialogs going on between the various players, and often there is even something of an argument as instruments periodically interject motivic ideas. Another consideration is that there are also accompanying ostinato figures in both percussion and melodic parts over which the flute may improvise.

So what has the connoisseurs so upset? I wouldn't say that it s quite the same mentality as critics of counterpoint in the 15th through 16th centuries in Europe, or those who complained about popular melodies being used in religious music (Une Jeunne Fillette - and the like). I do believe that mindset exists, however I think we have to look a little bit beyond just the obvious.

Music is often one of the biggest staples of a core cultural identity, but we also have to remember that cultural identity is almost always measured against the "other" - as if to say: "we don't know exactly who we are, but who we are NOT is you." But why? over history musics and musical instruments have been exchanged and evolved/adapted often greatly in the course of just one generation. The same phenomenon takes place linguistically. Indeed, virtually every time humans interact the net result is a change (sometimes minor) in identity and culture. It is one of the major caveats to being a herd/pack species.

Of course, in our day where economic and cultural imperialism seems to overshadow any attempts in history of the same adaptation, it looks like some who hold a protectionist mindset are saying "enough!" There may not be a place for western style-orchestras adapting Middle-Eastern musical styles, because to do that would be tantamount to saying "we still think they are better than us." And do they have a point? The European mindset has always felt, at least a little, as though the rest of the world looks on them as being the most evolved, the most cultured and the most free. It is a mentality that has filtered all the way to the United States where every child in America is taught from their first day in school that all other children all over the world go to sleep at night dreaming of being Americans, eating hot dogs and watching baseball games. Needless to say, its pretty insulting to the rest of the world, isn't it? And in the end is it better to work on preserving and exalting traditional styles?