Monday, August 27, 2012

The post linked to here is getting worse.

Kitsch is a term that describes the relation of an artwork to its themes. The word presupposes a specific moral and esthetic relation to language and social form. The discussion has left Quiggin behind long since.

Horowitz makes a hash of it. The transcription is in his archives. Andre Previn talks about the transcription and describes a meeting with Tatum. It may well be a myth.

I referred to Bartok in relation to folk music because it was obvious, but also because I once listened to Bartok scholar with no background in folk music describe what he'd learned going back to Bartok's source. He realized that the lack of complexity of the material was not the issue; what was important was the specificity of tone and musical gesture in performance.

T.S. Eliot
It requires some effort of analysis to understand why one person, among many who do a thing with accomplished skill, should be greater than the others; nor is it always easy to distinguish superiority from great popularity, when the two go together. I am thinking of Marie Lloyd, who has died only a short time before the writing of this letter. Although I have always admired her genius I do not think that I always appreciated its uniqueness; I certainly did not realize that her death would strike me as the most important event which I have had to chronicle in these pages. Marie Lloyd was the greatest music-hall artist in England: she was also the most popular. And popularity in her case was not merely evidence of her accomplishment; it was something more than success. It is evidence of the extent to which she represented and expressed that part of the English nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality and interest.

...It is true that in the details of acting Marie Lloyd was perhaps the most perfect, in her own line, of British actresses. There are--thank God--no cinema records of her; she never descended to this form of money-making; it is to be regretted, however, that there is no film of her to preserve for the recollection of her admirers the perfect expressiveness of her smallest gestures. But it is more in the thing that she made it, than in the accomplishment of her act, that she differed from other comedians. There was nothing about her of the grotesque; none of her comic appeal was due to exaggeration; it was all a matter of selection and concentration. The most remarkable of the survivors of the music-hall stage, to my mind, are Nellie Wallace and Little Tich; but each of these is a kind of grotesque; their acts are an inconceivable orgy of parody of the human race. For this reason, the appreciation of these artists requires less knowledge of the environment. To appreciate for instance the last turn in which Marie Lloyd appeared, one ought to know already exactly what objects a middle-aged woman of the charwoman class would carry in her bag; exactly how she would go through her bag in search of something; and exactly the tone of voice in which she would enumerate the objects she found in it. This was only part of the acting in Marie Lloyd's last song, I'm One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked Abaht a Bit.
Most serious lovers of Italian opera pay more attention to the music in the ear than on the page. Puccini is hardly Mozart, but to a great singer that's not the point. Sinatra said what Tommy Dorsey taught him was timing.  My mother, who played Bach mostly for the last 20 years of her life, on hearing Ralph Stanley for the first time noted his perfect even tone.  The problem with the worst of progressive rock, like the worst of jazz fusion, is a lack of structure, covered up by technically proficient bombast. The greatness of jazz in the early and middle 20th century is that it took the dregs of the classical tradition and gave structure to what had become cheap melodrama, without needing, as a popular form, to devolve into formal academicism. There's a reason Verklärte Nacht always reminds me of Korngold. For Schoenberg the glass was half empty and leaking; for Ellington, Strayhorn, Tatum, Parker, a long list, whatever their insecurities they played as if it was half full and rising.

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