Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

As I write these lines I have the music of Dutch singer Nynke playing out of my stereo and filling up my kitchen with beautiful and hypnotic notes. Although she sings in Frisian, a language only spoken in the northern part of The Netherlands, her compositions take in genres such as fado and flamenco. It’s difficult to describe her music when, one, I’m not a musician and, two, Nynke doesn’t follow conventional musical patterns.

And neither did Stravinsky. With all the celebrations we have had so far in the UK to mark the centenary of the Russian composer’s Rite of Spring, it has been a good opportunity to become acquainted once again with one of the 20th century’s greatest composers. I won’t write about the riot that apparently ensued as soon as the bassoon broke free and unchallenged at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 1913. I would like to reflect, instead, on the extents to which some musicians, like Stravinsky (and Nynke), go in order to break with musical orthodoxy.

In that sense the Russian maestro was not alone. Schoenberg, an Austrian composer and painter, had already made inroads in the German expressionist movement with a heterodox approach to music. So had Anton Webern, a follower of Schoenberg. Abstract and discordant melodies were the way to go. No more Handel, Mozart and Beethoven. Let’s polarise the audience, these musicians seemed to say. Either you like us or you don’t.

I am of the opinion that sometimes culture needs this type of shake-up. We (journalistic “we”, by the way) become so used to our comfort zone. We breakfast, lunch and dine in it. We grow accustomed to its nooks and crannies and as time moves on it is hard to come out of this me-myself-and-I lair we have created. This cave we have customised to suit our artistic needs. Until one day, when we find ourselves sitting in the auditorium of a half-full – or half-empty, depending on your view – theatre and we are exposed. Exposed by the musician or musicians on stage, with their atonal experimental melodies. First reactions are important. Are you being receptive? Never mind what you think of the music, how do you feel about it? To me the latter question matters more than any rational thought you might possess. It puts me straight away in the composer’s shoes. The woman who dances herself to death in The Sacrificial Dance in The Rite echoes, in my view, Stravinsky’s travails when he wrote the score. I feel her demise, because I feel Stravinsky’s agony. Of all the versions I have seen (not many, by the way; probably three or four) of this particular section, my favourite is the late Pina Bausch’s. In fact, that’s my favourite Rite, too; all of it. Pina’s choreography conveyed both the primitivism and sophistication of Stravinsky’s music in a way that not many other versions have done.

The first time I heard The Rite I found it ugly and beautiful, vulgar and refined at the same time. The same has happened with other artists’ works. Not so much the ugly and vulgar part of it, but more like a strange and alien sense of otherworldliness. The only way I can describe them, and here I include Nynke’s music, too, is like a bassoon breaking free and unchallenged in the middle of a silent theatre. Ready to shake us up.

© 2013

Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 12th June at 11:59pm (GMT)


20 comments:

  1. I like the idea of thinking about how you FEEL about the music rather than how you THINK about it. I like the idea of concentrating on being RECEPTIVE. I did enjoy the You-Tube of Nynke very much. Thank you!

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  2. I really liked Nynke's music!

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  3. nice...i rather like expressive music...i like being able to feel what the musician was feeling in the moment they write it...probably like why i like interpretive dance too....seeing the music in human form...

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  4. Me gusta la veo muy suave, aunque no ando muy al día en música pero reconozco que cuando se hacen ciertas tareas o trabajos con ellas uno se siente mucho mejor.
    Un abrazo

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  5. Everyone can here the same tune but it can give then a 1000 different reactions.

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  6. She captures you right away, intriguingly pulling you to make sense of her cadence, rhythm, phrasing, and then anticipating her next lyrics.
    Lovely.

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  7. I think that challenging ourselves with new experiences, whether it's music or food or travel is the spice of life. It gives us new avenues of thought and perspective and increases the fullness of life.

    Jai

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  8. Sorprendiéndome como siempre amigo.
    Que tengas una muy buena semana.
    Saludos

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  9. Thank you for introducing me to music I had not heard. Such a powerful and haunting voice. I 'understood' none of the lyrics, and felt a great deal.

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  10. i think it's so important that we never stop to try new things and also make emotions visible for others - sometimes can be a big challenge...esp. atonal music is a real challenge for me but think it's worth to stop and listen and try to get what the composer wants to say

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  11. and special and nice music I love to work in kitchen with the music I love and my daugther too but she love a different music :)
    But it nice heard music working:)

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  12. Important points here, I think. We (not just the journalistic we) do become too comfortable in the known and we do tend to think too much and feel too little.

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  13. So right you are. We all need shaking up now and again. I love fado and flamenco and Nynke is wonderful.

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  14. This is the kind of music that touches the senses...I really would love to learn more about history's great composers.

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  15. I think people are a bit jaded now and very few genuinely open to cultural controversy. That's not fair - but I feel like Stravinsky was not just trying to shake things up but also express things differently, and some today - well, some try to do that - but some just really want celebrity. I am thinking more of the art world than music world - I think of people like Jeff Koons - it feels to me to be so much about surface and hipness and money - hardly a shake-up --not like something like Guernica let's say or Pollock -

    Oh well. And then on the music front - well I do like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass quite a bit - I do not know very much. I once saw a John Adams opera - but the problem is to be new but also not so self-indulgent - I don't think Adams is but it was awfully PC.

    Oh well. Thanks for all the interesting idea. Whenever I think of Rites of Spring opening, I think of a story (probably apocryphal) of someone getting so excited that they began drumming on the bald head of the man in front. Ha. k.

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  16. If it is absorbing & irresistible, I don't think at all, just feel~& that is wonderful for me since I often take an issue, turn it upside down & examine it until all the angles are infuriated. ~Mary

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  17. Lots of food for thought here. I am the kind of person who sometimes goes against the grain and sometimes falls for the three-cord melody. But I would like to believe that I am making my own choice. And that's what matter at the end.

    On Nynke, I haven't stopped listening to her CD since it arrived last week. Please, do yourself a favour and get Alter. It's a gem. :-)

    Greetings from London.

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  18. I enjoy music, and I like to experience different types, but I'm no intellectual about it - I haven't studied musical theory and struggle to distinguish instruments by sound. None of that interferes with the emotion, though :)

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  19. It's true...we do tend to THINK about music, when really we should just let ourselves FEEL it.
    Music is the language of the emotions...that is how we can dance to it...as it flows through our entire being.
    Nynke's music is amazing.
    Thank you so much!:)

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  20. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

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