Tag Archives: Vivaldi

More Music, That Pop

Thank George for sharing Richard Hamilton’s definition of “pop art”:


“Pop Art” does refer to a very specific visual arts movement of the mid-twentieth century, but I thought I’d abuse the term and apply Hamilton’s criterion to some of the music bandied about on this blog (just click to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 11.36.19 AMAs far as the scores go, Vivaldi comes out as the most “pop” while Mozart gets the lowest score, which should satisfy most professional music historians. King Oliver and the California Ramblers tying is sure to irritate jazz purists; Oliver would probably just be happy, and surprised, to know that people are still listening to his music.

I’m happy to justify these scores and be proven wrong in the process.  The scoreboard also includes a few blank columns so you can do your own critical introspection (or vivisection) at home!

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Bom Chicka Wah Wah, Circa 1727

Even if The Borgias, The Tudors, and Boardwalk Empire have established that people have been getting “nasty” for centuries, Vivaldi’s “Sol Da Te” from Orlando Furiso had to have steamed a few collars and corsets in eighteenth century Venice.

The aria takes place right after the knight Ruggiero swallows a love potion and instantly fixates on the sorceress Alcina. Nothing too racy there, so Vivaldi leaves it up to the music to scandalize his audience:

It’s that dark minor key, combined with a tense, palpitating but teasingly slow momentum, that makes the listener feel like they’re in on a very intimate moment. Flute over muted strings now seems like something for the Easy Listening set, but here the flute alternates between Vivaldi’s seductive melody and rapid bursts, as thought it’s having trouble concentrating. The Italian poetry, sung in cultivated operatic tones (originally written for a castrato!), only seems more “romantic” than “sexy;” don’t treat these lyrics too literally:

Sol da te, mio dolce amore,
Questo core
Avra pace, avra conforto.
Le tue vaghe luci belle
Son le stelle,
Onde amor mi guida in porto.

(In loose English translation:
Only from you, my sweet love,
Does this heart
Find peace and comfort.
The beautiful lights of your eyes,
Are the stars,
That guides my love to harbor.)

It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t take a dirty twenty-first century mind to read into all that talk about “comfort, peace” and being “guided” into the harbor. Barry White wasn’t the first one to use “love” as a code word for a variety of feelings and actions. There’s a long history of guys using the right lines and music to get what they want. So get to happy hour tonight, keep the music of a dead Italian priest in mind and have a happy Valentine’s Day!

Give Him a Powdered Wig and a Harpsichord, Then He Can Sit In

Get That Man a Powdered Wig and Electric Harpsichord!

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The Crap of the Cream: A Jazz and Classical Lover’s Apology for Being a Musical Simpleton

This is meant to be the first part of a series of posts dealing with several topics that this writer has wanted to discuss here.  Comments are not only welcome, but kindly requested.

Roman Engraving of the Plebeian Class Waiting to Buy Tickets for Kenny G, or Maybe Mantovani

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with “theory.” As a student of philosophy and history, “theory,” a.k.a. literary theory or French theory, broadened (and occasionally complicated) matters, while as a music lover, “music theory” explained and simplified its subject, often to the point of reductionism.  Apply theory to Moby Dick and it becomes something more than a dense story. Apply theory to Vivaldi’s concertos or King Oliver’s blues, and they might seem like something far less than the sum of all their vivid parts.

While popular wisdom states that an appreciation for jazz and/or classical means a refined ear, over the years many theory experts, in both print and in person, have pointed out how most of the examples of “good music” that this blogger enjoys aren’t very musically sophisticated.  For example, Vivaldi is just repeating the same thing over and over again. There are no interesting modulations in his music, just tonic and dominant with an occasional relative minor. King Oliver is just playing what any other trumpeter could play, over a simple (read, “simplistic”) three-chord progression, no fast runs or innovative chord substitutions to be found. “It’s just a…” is a common phrase, as in “it’s just a ii-V-I,” or “it’s just a Phrygian cadence,” whittling down countless musical moments to their barest, most unremarkable essentials.

There’s no arguing with taste, but mocking it remains fair game. Without outright calling anyone a plebian, clever theory-lovers suggest that everyone is free to listen to what they want in the same way that people are free to enjoy reality television, fast food or tap water.

King Oliver and Vivaldi at least get historical street cred as stepping-stones to the advanced, intelligent music any smart listener should appreciate: in Oliver’s case, anything Louis Armstrong recorded before 1931 and in Vivaldi’s case, all the transcriptions Bach made of his music. Yet for many authorities (whether they have a book deal or not), listening to Buster Bailey, Cimarosa, Red Nichols, Salieri, the California Ramblers, Telemann and many other second-stringers is like ordering the meatloaf in a gourmet restaurant: they just never approach the pleasure and refinement of the other items on the menu. Some people may simply like meatloaf, but more importantly, perhaps the connoisseur is missing out on what those other dishes have to offer.

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