Thursday, September 23, 2010

A quick political rant

Okay, by now, plenty of writers out there have already come to the entirely reasonable, possibly unavoidable conclusion that Tea Partiers, and Americans in general, are a bunch of selfish unrealistic hypocrites. They hate big government but blame the government for everything that goes wrong, and expect it to help them, specifically. And they definitely don't want to pay for any of the help they get. Maybe election advertisements aren't the best place to look for anything sensical in politics, but every Republican or Tea Party-type ad I've heard or seen has promised two things above all others: that the candidate will dramatically reduce government spending, and also help create a shitload of jobs for everyone.... through magic (or something)! I heard a story on NPR the other day where they interviewed all these people who were thinking of voting Tea Party because they weren't seeing enough jobs created. Ya know, by the government. But god forbid the government should create jobs by hiring people and paying them money to perform societally beneficial work. That would be economic stimulus.

Other than craziness, though, what's behind this crazy logic, and where does it lead us, besides into a future of maddeningly inane political advertising?

And just like that....

A new blog is born with a little help from friend, colleague, and competent writer Alissa. Motto: "because there's more to life than soccer, science, politics, and the, New Yorker cartoon captioning."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

goldberg variation rankings, ct'd

When I decided to take my sister's advice and rank each of the Goldberg variations 1-30, I didn't really stop to think how difficult it would be after 29 and 30. They're all brilliant to start with, but from here on out they're, like, really brilliant. So we'll see how long I can keep up this farce.

28: Variation 19
27: Variation 8

Variation 19 (8:40) is a nostalgic break in the action from the charming, echoic canon on the sixth and the bustling, energetic variation 20. Two distinct motives are shared between the three voices throughout: a six-note sixteenths figure, and a syncopated eighth-note/quarter note figure. The genius here is in the tied notes that are suspended over the bar lines; these held notes give the variation its unique rhythmic and harmonic character. Beautiful indeed!

Variation 8, like variation 19, has two main ideas which are repeated measure by measure and passed between two voices. In the first four measures, the top voice plays rising arpeggiated sixteenths (with one sixteenth note "missing" at the end of each bar), while the bass plays four falling eighth notes, followed by three falling sixteenths. In the second phraselet (bars 5-8), both parts are inverted, or turned upside down. This is a common technique Bach uses, especially in GBV, to change things up within a variation while maintaining its rhythmic character and give the listener something to latch onto (it happens to a greater or lesser extent in variations 1, 5, 11-17, 20-21, 23, and 26-28 aka all over the place). Variation 8 is a doozy for pianists; look what GG has to do in the last measure (0:50)! Gah!

Atheism; or, why does everyone think I'm so amoral??

As is my tradition, I now take a break from something I (profess to) have authority over to make room for a new topic altogether. Hey, if Richard Dawkins can do it, then why can't I? My writing may not be quite on the same level, but I can surely be less of a dick. Before getting into the treacherous philosophical/political side of the whole thing, a simpler question: what's it like for me, being an atheist/agnostic in this religious society we call America?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

goldberg variations, ct'd

Okay, enough "Handel-lambasting" (as Brett accused me of in his last comment). Let's do some Bach-lambasting instead.

Wha??? But I thought GBV was, like, the greatest? Well, it is....but Bach does some nasty things in there that just make it really hard to pull off, on harpsichord or piano. Especially on piano....but especially on harpsichord. One of the difficulties in performing, listening to, or understanding GBV is voice-crossing.

When two separates lines of music "cross" pitch paths, we call it a voice-crossing; one starts out above the other in pitch, but ends up below. If one person started singing a scale up from below, and another person down from above, there would be a voice-crossing somewhere in the middle.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

goldberg variations, part 2

While I'm still on the theme of proof by contrast, those who know ol' Golby should listen to this Handel chaconne. Despite obvious differences from the Goldberg Variations, most notably length and, well, quality, comparison is just too easy given the superficial similarities. A chaconne is like a continuous theme and variations light, and Handel treats theme and variation as most composers do: the harmonic progression stays the same more or less throughout, but the melodic rhythm increases steadily, with more and more "flourish" as the piece unfolds. There's also, as is customary, a couple of variations in minor. It's just unfortunate for Handel that he had to write the piece in G (the same key as Goldbergs) and make the opening progression identical to the opening progression in the Goldbergs. Because although the piece is lovely and all, it's a perfect illustration, by contrast, of Bach's genius. This piece, by another giant of the Baroque era, is so vastly inferior to the Goldberg variations in every possible respect, it's astounding. No one could listen to it without feeling the repetition; the variations are different, but only incidentally and ornamentally; there's little fundamental difference of melody, counterpoint, and overall character. In contrast, each variation in the Goldbergs has its own identity, and could stand on its own if it had to (even variations 11 and 18).

Friday, September 3, 2010

vacation PLUS goldberg variations, part 1

Coming off the high of a long vacation isn't easy. For those who don't now, I recently spent a whole week "off the grid," by which I mean, "off the grid by virtue of sheer determination to avoid friends' smart-phones," in Utah, Idaho, and Montana. We were camping, hiking, driving, getting speeding tickets, taking precautions against bear attacks (by speeding), and eating lots of dried foods. Since every time I try to describe how amazing it was I use the word "amazing" a half dozen times per sentence, I will instead complain about various aspects of returning home, and you can infer how, um, amazing the trip was in contrast. Grievance #1: the lack of mountain scenery in Evanston, Il. Also, humidity. Yuck.

Okay, now that that's over with! Among the more comforting privileges of my so-called real life is that of playing the Goldberg Variations, which, if you didn't know, is the greatest piece of music ever. Well, at least it's up there! I generally divide music up into four categories: great, good, bad, and incomprehensible. More and more, I believe that all great music is more or less created equal, that it just takes someone to give it life and realize its potential. (Thus, why my favorite pieces used to so predictably follow my favorite recordings...and maybe still do a little). Bach's music, however, has always stood out above the rest. So while 11 of my favorite 12 composers are always jostling for position, based on what I've listened to in the last day, the top spot's pretty much a done deal.