Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Problems with “Evolution” Narratives

A side note before I get into this post: I’ve recently received some unfortunate medical news that will probably affect my ability to update this blog. In a previous post, I’ve mentioned that I have cancer. A few weeks ago, we learned that it has spread to my brain, and that I’ll be undergoing full brain radiation (starting this afternoon!), which will affect my short-term memory and ability to concentrate. In the future, I hope to work on writing with the extra mental challenges, but in the meantime, even just finding out about the cancer spreading has made it difficult to focus.

…Which is why I haven’t updated for a while, despite there being plenty of musical misconceptions to clear up. I’ve actually had two potential posts on my agenda for over a week: a take-down of a “new” (actually just recirculating) theory about Beethoven’s infamous Immortal Beloved, and a Twitter conversation I had last week about whether classical music can be considered political (my stance: Of course it’s political!). I’m still planning to post about those, as I think they’re both interesting and important. But what ultimately motivated me to update the blog today was a cartoon:

“The Evolution of Classical Composition” is as adorable as it is problematic!
Note: The panels read down first, then right. Click link for larger version.
Source: http://classic-jenny.tumblr.com

Monday, February 13, 2017

Has Elgar’s Enigma finally been cracked? (Spoiler: No.)

Check out this sensational headline, fresh from Facebook!
“Did a Violin Teacher From Plano, Texas Solve
the World’s Greatest Classical Music Mystery?”
I don’t know, but all these superimposed notes look pretty convincing!
This story has something for everyone: An unassuming person from Middle America finds the solution that has eluded scholars and specialists for generations! If you’re into classical music, this is a major finding that may change the way you listen to a major piece in the repertoire! If you’re an average dude, your kind has just scored a major victory over educated elitists with nothing but gumption and a little help from, yes, God above.

Ah, but remember Betteridge’s Law of Headlines (which I’ve discussed on this blog before): “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” Admittedly, this “law” is intended more for humor than accuracy, but it holds true in this case. No, Bob Padgett did not crack the “Enigma” of Edward Elgar’s famous variations.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Classical music isn't "cool": Essay for VAN Magazine

I have another debunking post in the works, but in the meantime, I wrote an essay for VAN Magazine about the cliché of equating composers with rock stars: "Classical Music Isn't Cool." Rather than give you a preview paragraph, this time I'll show you how VAN promoted it in their weekly newsletter:
You know the drill: Mozart was a lover of fart jokes, Liszt was a pervy proto-rock star--these are all attempts to make classical music seem radical and hip. But are we fooling anyone? An essay by Linda Shaver-Gleason

Since I couldn't in the essay, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Emma Parker, Sarah Elaine Neill, Andrew Dell'Antonio, and Carl Shaver for their feedback on early drafts.

Perhaps you disagree with my bold assertion, and hearing about Berlioz's drug use is what got you to check out Symphonie Fantastique. If so, let me know! I'd love to hear other perspectives on this topic.

Next time: I scrutinize a potential solution to Elgar's enigma, and one news outlet's coverage of it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Myths about Beethoven's deafness: Guest post for The Avid Listener

After I've been teasing you about it for over a month, The Avid Listener published my essay "Beethoven’s Deafness and the Myth of the Isolated Artist" today! Here’s a preview:

Beethoven’s disability forms a large part of our concept of him as the quintessential Romantic Hero, as it is a tragic flaw he must overcome to produce his great Art.

The above clip [from Mr. Holland's Opus] mentions two stories about Beethoven’s deafness that have circulated for centuries. In one, Beethoven waves his arms at the podium, oblivious to the fact that the orchestra cannot keep up. In the other, he saws off the legs of his piano so he can feel the vibrations through the floor.

Neither of these stories is true.

Read more »
The Avid Listener also has
a spiffy logo.
The Avid Listener is a blog published by W.W. Norton & Company, intended to foster discussion in and beyond the classroom (hence the discussion questions at the end). I’m excited about this collaboration, as I got to blend my interests in musical mythbusting with their house style emphasizing multimedia presentations.

Also, I am very grateful for the input from Robin Wallace of Baylor University. He is currently writing an entire book devoted to Beethoven myths, and he was generous enough to share some of his drafts with me. He goes into more depth than I’m able to on this blog, so if this topic interests you, please check out his work!

I’m currently working on another off-blog essay about the cliché of making classical music look "cool," and I’m expecting that to be published next week. In the meantime, please enjoy the other wonderful essays on The Avid Listener, and keep sending me suspect links as you find them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Many Mozart Myths: A pauper’s grave, labor screams, and more!

Happy 261st! Don’t worry, we’ll
still treat you like you’re 11.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthday is nearly upon us: On January 27, he’ll be turning 261 years old. ’Tis the season for listicles touting the miraculous powers of the Mozart Effect (which I’ve discussed here and, more recently, in the article I wrote for The Outline). Some website or publication might mention his rivalry with Salieri, or extol his otherworldly perfection. But The Telegraph got a head start and already published “Myleene Klass on the enduring appeal of Mozart” (Warning: Video autoplays), an article filled with so many myths and clichés that debunking them might take care of my Mozart quota for a while.