Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake!

in an era that takes cultural, social and artistic relativism to unprecidated heights, it's not surprising to find a serious article in the los angeles times calendar section about so-called crossover music (a melding of classical and...rock, jazz, pop etc)—this time featuring the "new" sensation david garrett and his recent violin cd mixing classical hits from beethoven, vivaldi etc with the pop music of nirvana, aerosmith, led zepplin and paul mccartney.

well, this is america and classical music is largely european; we've been shirking off those viking roots for the past 150 years. though garrett (born in germany, now an american citizen) studied at the julliard with itzak perlman and has played with some pretty heavy classical hitters like zubin mehta, he has yet to record a so-called serious classical piece (one that is familiar enough and challenging enough so as to accurately gauge his talent) so it's impossible to know how good he is—not that it matters. we need another virtuoso violinist like we need another dylan album...

what irks me is how readily this music is now being marketed and sold to the general public with abject impunity. particularly, for me anyway, this album featuring vivaldi's four seasons, the first movement from the fourth concerto called winter (the original piece includes all four concertos; spring, summer, autumn and winter and lasts up to 45 mins)...garrett's version with drums, rock guitar and u2 last about 4 mins. (i would love to have been a fly on the wall when some genius producer or perhaps garrett himself decided that what this classic tour de force needs is a little bit of u2's vertigo thrown into the mix "yeah yeah yeah yeah..!").


vivaldi's four seasons, a late baroque composition (four violin concertos: spring, summer, autumn and winter) is perhaps the most abused piece of music ever written. it has been used in countless films and tv commercials and it has suffered countless re-interpretations, from standard orchestral versions (played on contemporary instruments w/modern size orchestra), historically aware versions (same but with allowences for the period ie, smaller orchestra and baroque ornamentation), horrible period versions (original period instruments with godawful baroque ornamentations-that, in the view of this writer, are horribly overdone and in some cases, completely unauthentic). i prefer vivaldi in a more classical period style, more closely alinged with mozart than with more early baroque composers and all the more recent recordings on period instruments reek of re-interpretation and over ornamentation. this most recent bastardization of vivaldi's four seaons comes from david garrett has him pairing the first movement, a scant 4 minute piece (the original set of concertos lasts about 40 minutes) with electric guitars, drum tracks and u2s vertigo.  crossover, the melding of classical music with popular styles of music; jazz, pop, rock etc, has been around for ages. most classical composers realized early on that to make money writing music, they would have to dumb it down and "popularize" it. the tradition of so-called "lite-music" is a long lasting and great tradition; one needs only to reference the great music heard on the titanic and featured in the james cameron film (they used the original "white star line" book of arrangements for the of the few things he got right in the film).


i remember my vivaldi phase distinctly. it started in 1972 with the film "the cowboys" with john wayne and bruce dern. vivaldi's mandolin concerto was used in a couple of key scenes (the mandolin concerto is rarely heard on mandolin—the guitar has long since eclipsed the mandolin for most recordings of the piece). the scene started out with a young cowboy (played by robert carradine, david carradine's younger brother) innocently plucking a steel strung dreadnought guitar and then majestically, the theme is lifted into a wonderful orchestral arrangement by the great film composer john williams...okay, its not the original piece but it didnt have hendrix in the background either. the same piece was used powerfully in the cult classic "a little romance" with lawrence olivier and the 12 year old diane lane in her first screen performance. this time the piece was original. 

i soon moved on to vivaldi's four seasons, a set of four violin concertos whose themes are as recognizable to most classical lovers as the beatles sgt. pepper is to most fans of pop—again, all original sans drum track and electric guitars.  what i find curious about david garrett's version is not that it's never been done before—vanessa mae did this back in 97, but she only re-arranged the piece for violin and rock band...

nigel kennedy, an acknowleged master violinist, staked is entire career on the notion of "crossover" music, the melding of classial and pop music—he performed hendrix on the violin back in the 80s, much to the horror of classical purists and to the mild delight of so-called "crossover" fans—but, he also made an original version of vivaldi's four seasons (this original version was quite "shocking" at the time, relatively off course, for its overt showmanship and ostentatious interpretation-which was nigel kennedy's capture the rock/pop crowd and it's often cited as being the highest selling classical album of all time, one of the few classcial cds that might be found in the library of a pop/rock lover, along with coltrane's "a love supreme," another legendary genre crossover cd). at least nigel had the good taste to leave well enough alone and use the original text.

please listen to these three versions and tell me honestly which one you like. if you like david garrett's—go fuck yourself (sorry...), this conversation is over...and so are your hopes of ever learning to enjoy the classics. if you like vanessa mae's version, there might just be hope for you. it, admittedly, rocks...and at least it's the original music albeit arranged for rock band. if you like nigel kennedy's version—well, need i say more...
let me make myself perfectly clear—i dont give a flying rat's ass what music you like or dont like. iv'e been out of the recruiting business for years and if you have bad taste in music i have no sympathy for you. what i find interesting is that we've just about completely lost our great musical heritage in this country; from classical music to jazz...even so-called classic rock—(i'm not taling about all the great independant music out there, and there is a lot of it...i'm talking about what's being peddled to the masses, to the general populace whose taste, for better or worse, governs 99% of all the art we make.  our tastes have all gone lowest common denomenator with highest bidder taking all. in this case, the highest bidder is the typical american consumer who has lost his once great cultural and artistic soul to a bunch of corporate whores that pander to 12 year olds by selling them teen idols, american idols and lady gaga.

well, i say: "let em eat cake!"  i've got my great musical heritage on my ipad and i can pull up stravinsky's histoire du soldat or shostakovich's preludes or bartok's string quartets or hindemith's ludas tonalis or britten's peter grimes or bach's kunst der fuge or even the beatles, the who, captain beefheart, dylan, gentle giant, led zepplin, neil young, king crimson, david bowie, talking heads, sonic youth, kurt cobain, beck, radiohead, jack white, wilco, eliot smith, or even our great jazz tradition, arguably america's only true original art form; charlie parker, thelonius monk, charles mingus, miles davis, dave brubeck, horace silver, john coltrane, eric dolphy, ornette coleman etc. 

do you remember that classic scene from jerry maguire; the scene where the emasculated male character, played to perfection by todd louiso, rambles on about miles davis and the bastardization of jazz etc...he is the defacto geek, unable to get laid and plying his pitiful trade in the only venue available for losers; jazz, classical and progressive rock, the elephant graveyard of america's great musical tradition.  well, the music that was playing during that classic bedroom scene was not miles davis with coltrane in sweeden, it was charles mingus (the title of the piece escapes me at this writing).  here is a clip of charles mingus, during his bleak period in the mid 60s, broken, forgotten and relegated to a dilapidated apartment building in which he is being evicted by the city.  the reason you don't recognize charles mingus in this clip is because you are a victim of the great sell-out, the corporate theft of america's great musical tradtion...but, it's not too late!

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