Friday, March 6, 2009

Jill Murray

Jill Murray is my friend. She is a Canadian YA author who wrote the B-girl book Break on Through (which I loved like I love my fave dance movies. It's so good!) She's also the genius behind Y-eh, a Canadian YA Community blog. She's a kind soul, plays a mean game of Carcassone, and can bake vegan cupcakes like nobody's business.

She's brilliantly come up with a top ten classical punk list.

Of Punk, Cecil says "It is an alternative spirit that is outside of the box. It is freedom and bucking the trend. It is rock and roll when it was born. Or crazy post modern music. It is asking questions. And paying attention."

Since I wrote Break On Through, a book about breakdance, you might expect me to focus on old school funk or at least punk funk. But Beige is a YA book, and in my own YA era, I was an intense classical music nerd.

Therefore, in celebration of all that is Punk and Classical, here is my top ten list of great classical punks, as I remember them from high school.

You can check the whole list as an iMix

1- Bach was never a rebel, but Canadian pianist and Bach obsédée Glenn Gould was. Eccentric, disheveled and, ultimately, reclusive, he made a legend of himself by playing Bach’s meticulously structured pieces to the beat of his own smashed metronome. Many of his recordings are way lo-fi; listen closely and you can hear not only coughing and chair shuffling, but even Gould himself humming along.
Track: The Well-Tempered Clavichordier, Book I, BWV 847: Prelude No. 2 in C Minor, from the Film "CD 318" 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Glenn Gould, Johann Sebastian Bach

2- Mozart was the original music pirate, far deadlier than Napster. Armed with perfect pitch and photographic memory, he went into a church, listened just once to piece of sacred music that was forbidden to copy or reproduce, went home and wrote the whole thing out by hand, directly from memory. Then he partied too hard and died tragically young, while working on what Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus tried to argue was essentially his own Requiem. Here it is in all its tragic glory.
Track: Requiem in D Minor, K. 626: 1. Introitus: Requiem, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus, Sir Neville Marriner & Sylvia McNair, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

3- Pianos in Mozart’s time were delicate tinkly things. Then Beethoven came along. Deaf and ragey, he used to play them so hard the legs would break off. It’s thanks to him that modern pianos are the steel-reinforced affairs they are today. To that end: the movement of the moonlight sonata you’ll never hear on a relaxation CD. Presto Agitato, indeed!
Track: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2, "Moonlight": III. Presto Agitato, Louis Lortie, Ludwig van Beethoven

4- Overreaching Chopin was into body modifaction. Forget tats and gauges; Chopin reportedly slept with corks between his fingers in an attempt to stretch them. Some of his fingerings are almost impossible to reach if you have ladyhands. He also introduced the concept of the artist interpreting the tempo and mood of a piece, so its not necessary to go all Glenn Gould on Chopin’s ass. He wants you to play it like that. Here’s a sonata you will no doubt recognize as your favourite funeral march.
Track: Sonata No. 2, Op. 35, in B-Flat Minor, Marche Funèbre: Lento, Evgeny Kissin, Frédéric Chopin

5- Tchaikovsky was SO EMO. The poor St-Pertersburgian was gay in a pre-Harvey Milk time and place when you Just. Weren’t. So he was repressed and depressed and spent a lot of time in the country trying to get over himself. Even other moody composers would note Tchaicovsky’s extreme melancholy. Just listen to The Nutcracker. It’s everybody’s favourite Christmas Cheer ballet, but deep down, I suspect it’s the darker, more minor currents of the score that not only serve Hoffman’s twisted original tale, but keep this classic pressed deep into our tortured little psyches, to be dragged out with grandma’s moth-eaten heirloom ornaments year after year. Listen to this pas de deux. Can you hear the yearning? It’s pretty much all *I* can hear, but maybe that says more about me than Piotr Ilyich.
Track: The Nutcracker, Op.71: No. 14a Pas De Deux: Intrada, Orchestra of the Kirov Opera, St. Petersburg & Valery Gergiev, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

6- Paganini: throat cancer, syphillis, mercury poisoning, multiple disinterment, Devil’s Music. ‘Nuff said? The man was all about solo virtuosity to the point where no orchestra ever got to hear the real point of the exercise— the violin solo— until opening night. So he was basically like that tempermental lead guitarist no one can work with but you can’t fire him because people keep paying to see him and besides, he draws out all the hot chicks you’re afraid to talk to. Here’s a “Caprice”— which is classical music speak for “a little piece of nothing I dashed off, like, dude, these things just come to me in the shower, on the can, wherever.”
Track: 24 Caprices for Violin, Op.1: No.5 in A Minor, Ruggiero Ricci, Niccolo Paganini

7- Mahler was a late-Romantic composer, but not nearly late enough for the Viennese, who never got used to him in his own time. Known for his indiscriminate minglings, he wrote what he felt and blurred genres to fit his broody purposes (like putting singing in symphonies. TOTALLY uncouth). Constantly on the run from dissatisfied orchestra boards, (the late romantic version of starting a bar brawl and then skipping town) he reportedly said. "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." Here’s Symphony #5 in C-sharp minor— notable because contrarian Mahler even disagreed with the key signature for his own symphony. (He didn’t think it should have one.)
Track: Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor, Part III: 4. Adagietto: Sehr langsam, Maurice Abravanel & Utah Symphony Orchestra, Gustav Mahler

Then there are the early 20th century Russian/Soviet composers. When you’ve been labouring under a decadent monarchy for centuries, you don’t usually turn to anarchy as a first alternative for the people. A whole crop of new nationalist composers out of Moscow devoted their music to revolutionary dissonance and bigging-up the proletariat. They nevertheless constantly ran afoul of their various emerging governments even as they rose to international stardom.

8- Don’t go looking for the world in bloom and love in the air in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It’s about ritual sacrifice.
Track: The Rite of Spring: XIV. Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One), Kirov Orchestra & Valery Gergiev, Igor Stravinsky

9- Prokofiev’s ballet score for Romeo & Juliet— a classic today— was, in its time, so noisy and avant-garde that the prima-ballerina Galina Ulanova at first refused to perform it.
Track: Romeo and Juliet, Op.64: Montagues and Capulets, Berliner Philharmoniker & Claudio Abbado, Sergei Prokofiev

10-“Degenerate modernist” Shostakovich kind of split the difference between Stravinsky and Prokofiev, producing a more moderate balance between extremes. Nonetheless he had ongoing problems with the government, which banned his music twice in the 30s and 40s.
Track: Suite from the Opera "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District", Op.29 (a): III. Allegretto, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra & Thomas Sanderlin, Dmitri Shostakovich

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