13 Days When Music Changed Forever
October 25, 2011 4:08 PM   Subscribe

The San Francisco Symphony’s radio project, The Keeping Score Series: 13 Days When Music Changed Forever, is about musical revolutions—about the composers, compositions, and musical movements that changed the way people heard, or thought about, music. Each program explores the historical backdrop and the musical precursors to the revolutionary change, as well as the lasting influence of that moment in music history. posted by hippybear (34 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
All the episodes can be listened to online, but I don't seem to be able to find podcast/download links. If anyone does find those, I hope they get posted here for take-it-with-you listening.
posted by hippybear at 4:08 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

That's a pretty narrow definition of music.
posted by empath at 4:11 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

What did you expect from a symphony?
posted by hippybear at 4:12 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I dunno. Maybe a tiny little bit of Jazz? Certainly not something so insular.
posted by empath at 4:14 PM on October 25, 2011

What do you want, empath? This is a program produced by the San Francisco Symphony.

I look forward to listening to these, though I have to admit that Michael Tilson Thomas has always annoyed me, for reasons I can't even begin to try to explain.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:17 PM on October 25, 2011

Well, the episode about Bach does get into examining how his influence is seen in The Doors' Light My Fire... that's not entirely insular...
posted by hippybear at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2011

All the episodes can be listened to online, but I don't seem to be able to find podcast/download links. If anyone does find those, I hope they get posted here for take-it-with-you listening.

PRX and other radio networks should really get agreements going with Mog or Spotify. This could solve the ongoing problem of not being able to listen to streaming programs conveniently.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:21 PM on October 25, 2011

If only I could impress Mozart's inimitable works on the soul of every friend of music, and the souls of high personages in particular, as deeply, with the same musical understanding and with the same deep feeling, as I understand and feel them, the nations would vie with each other to possess such a jewel. - Haydn
posted by Trurl at 4:34 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

14) July 25, 1965: Electric Dylan
posted by R. Schlock at 4:43 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

R. Schlock: the best examination of that particular Day I've seen yet is Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home.
posted by hippybear at 4:46 PM on October 25, 2011

Michael Tilson Thomas, the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, has a similar project archived here

His program on James Brown, which includes an extensive and musically substantive interview with the maestro, is really great.
posted by ferdydurke at 4:49 PM on October 25, 2011

15) July 6, 1957: At Woolton Parish Church in Liverpool, Paul McCartney meets John Lennon backstage after a concert by The Quarrymen
posted by Trurl at 4:50 PM on October 25, 2011

hippybear: All the episodes can be listened to online, but I don't seem to be able to find podcast/download links. If anyone does find those, I hope they get posted here for take-it-with-you listening.

It looks like they're hosted on Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3), which helps prevent link copying, though DownloadHelper and similar extensions make short work of those embedded links.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:00 PM on October 25, 2011

Thanks, hippybear. I will enjoy the links for what they are, and not complain about what they are not.
posted by Cranberry at 5:08 PM on October 25, 2011

That's a pretty narrow definition of music.

Well, considering that music is an utterly ubiquitous human activity throughout all of known human history, it sort of has to be narrowed down to think and speak about it meaningfully, don't you think?

Plus, those ARE 13 important days, however you slice it--all of the music discussed had (and still has, in some cases) influence far and wide, well beyond its immediate stylistic world.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oooooonice! Xtra credit to SFS for -several- programs about the 20th century. (Few patrons rattle their jewelry for those.)

For anyone who might be interested, a **** similar series (podcasts by Paul Sheeky) on the history of electronic music... starting with the Telharmonium and still being (occasionally) expanded.
posted by Twang at 5:11 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The funny thing about #4 is that Beethoven actually ordered the Érard, and apparently directly made people in Vienna believe, that it was a present (modeling that story after Haydn, who had gotten an Érard in 1801). He also never seems to have paid.
Later, toward the end of the 19th century, it was pretty much okay for the Érard firm to support the myth of the present (This is all research from the last 8 years. I could footnote this if anyone needs the evidence).
First real present for Beethoven was a Broadwood grand he got in 1818.
posted by Namlit at 5:11 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Actually, more revolutionary than all of these put together is:

April 9, 1860: Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville produces the first sound recording
posted by Trurl at 5:18 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

1955: Bill Haley and his Comets: Rock around the Clock. Generally regarded as the beginning of Rock and Roll.

But even more important: 1956: Elvis Presley appears on the Ed Sullivan show.

And, of course, 1967: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:21 PM on October 25, 2011

I would put it to you that Elvis Presley plus The Beatles changed music at least as much as anything on that list up there.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:23 PM on October 25, 2011

Given that most of the extra points in history made here in the comments are pretty recent moments that are more freshly accessible in pop culture, I'm happy that this exists. I'm listening to the first one now, and they're talking about very basic operations in music and how they relate to the culture of the time. If the rest of the episodes are as good as this (and I bet they are), then this is a very awesome post. Good find!
posted by hanoixan at 5:32 PM on October 25, 2011

28) September 28, 1985 My parents know that I want to play saxophone in the school band but opt instead to saddle me with a clarinet which leads to a long, bitter lifetime of me derailing legitimate musical discussions due to my ...oh.

posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:46 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

1985: Austrian rock group Falco records

posted by jmccw at 5:58 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I listened to these a few months ago and thought they were well done and interesting. Thanks for that link ferdydurke, that one looks like a good series as well.
posted by sleepy pete at 6:09 PM on October 25, 2011


[A word should be said here for St. Ambrose and Gregorian chant, but I don't know enough about them to provide a good link.]

c. 1200 Perotin writes four-part polyphony.

c. 1500 Josquin des Prez, "Ave Maria".

Both recordings are by the Hilliard Ensemble.

The "Ave Maria" seems to me one of the places where polyphony first effectively expresses human feeling, and western classical music really becomes something wonderful. The last words ("remember me") are just chilling.
posted by Montgomery Roebuck at 6:36 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Looking forward to enjoying this. The American Mavericks series which is mentioned in the first link deserves highlighting. I caught this some years ago and really enjoyed it. I've hunted for the original 13 episodes many times in the years since to no avail. So if anyone might know where I can get my hands on them, help a brother out.
posted by calamari kid at 7:01 PM on October 25, 2011

For a broader definition of music check out CBCradio's Twenty Pieces of Music that Changed the World.
posted by Wulfhere at 9:19 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the post! Had a very enjoyable evening firming up on Tapiola and Elektra. Loved the interviews with the musicians and totally dug they had Alex Ross put in his opinions. "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Ross is a book that everyone should read. It also got me to dig out my old electronic music vinyl which was super fun.
posted by somnambulist at 10:02 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heh. Always the people who must declare that they know better.

Someone has created a radio series about some of the biggest events in the last 350 years of Western orchestral music. I don't think they are claiming anything about completeness, or at least I don't see anything about completeness on the web site. I'm sure the list was constrained by the limited number of pieces The San Francisco Symphony could perform in the radio time slots for this series. I'm pretty sure everyone involved has heard something of these "jazz" and "rock" fads to which some of you refer. I'm also pretty sure they have heard of the entire continents and cultures that are missing from the list. But it's quite obviously not just a list of every damned thing that ever happened in music since a Neanderthal hit a bear skull with an antler.
posted by pracowity at 11:51 PM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Mod note: The very first link makes it clear what framework is: instead of focusing on seismic shifts in American music during the 20th century, the series will extend back to the 1600s. Everybody is now invited to completely drop the "narrow definition" derail.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:15 AM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

History really did go exponential in the 20th century huh, 6 of the 13 links are in the previous century.

The academies and the conservatories may have been oppressive and stuffy, but I kind of like the idea of a once upon a time when seemingly objective factors other than dollars differentiated good music from bad.

I knew before I saw the list that they would leave out the symphonic music of Cage and Xenakis, and I knew that I would be disappointed.
posted by idiopath at 3:04 AM on October 26, 2011

Gah, wanted to listen to this but I probably won't bother since I can't download them.
posted by Theta States at 8:18 AM on October 26, 2011

Okay, perhaps it is a good idea to show in one example, how these programs are good, and where they could have been better (regarding the "narrow definition" discussion, I feel if someone sets out to describe some (Western Art Music Canon-) major shifts, in thirteen programs, we could give them some leeway for not covering the entire universe).

Now, more about the fourth of these programs:
It is brilliant, incorporates cutting-edge views, and serves as a good example of popularized scholarship (buzz term: "outreach"), in that it tries to problematize the interaction between composers (and other musicians) and various types of evolving technologies, as opposed to simply assuming that there exists some strong link of a defined sort. The program finds some answers as to how such links worked differently, in different periods.
Very good points are being made, for example, about the general belief at the beginning of the 19th century that newer is better; it permeated everything, including the making of art and music, and thus, at that time, it indisputably was influential in this discipline (but perhaps not in other times).
The sequence around Debussy and the third pedal makes use of the word "feedback loop" which is the key term in modern studies of instrument-player interactions; great choice.
As a third example, the link between the upcoming pianola and proto-passive-listening behavior is well reasoned and presented.
Great is also the selection of sound examples, which often are spot-on and illustrative.
The people who made these programs undoubtedly spent some time with dedicated reading and selecting, so that's all great.

Regarding the coat-hanger of this program, on the other hand, that is, Beethoven's new Érard, I am one of those who feel that they know better, (but without the "heh").

Correct in the story is the fact that the "Waldstein" sonata Op. 53 was sketched and written after the piano had freshly arrived in Beethoven's Viennese residence. The piano's presence is not necessarily reflected in the sonata's keyboard range (FF-a3; the piano has a range FF-c4, a minor third more), but can be guessed in Beethoven's new takes on texture, tessitura, the pedal indications of the last movement and a few other gimmicks, among which the relative lack of quickly repeated notes on one pitch.

Why is that last feature noteworthy? Because the English/French action of that time, which was built into the Érard, was heavier to play than the Viennese, and had a poorer repetition. Beethoven was used to Viennese pianos. In fact, there are documents to show that he had trouble playing the new Érard, because its action was less supple than he was used to. He let its action be changed quite substantially, albeit unsuccessfully, by an (unknown) Viennese piano maker within the next two years.

So some basic claims at the beginning of the program, about (as I wrote upthread) that the Érard was a present, about it being notably sturdier, and about it being louder and quieter (better to control, in other words) than the Viennese pianos are simply wrong (it is also wrong to depict, as elsewhere in the program, all early fortepianos as fragile and imperfect).

Explanation of this hassle: Beethoven scholarship required more than a century to assemble all the facts and documents around the Érard, to analyze the (surviving; in a museum in Linz, Astria) instrument properly, to correct the imprecise claims of earlier researchers, and to combine everything in some articles and book sections.

The other bit of Beethoven lore that doesn't fly is the claim that his friends knew that he frequently broke strings and keys and that the Érard was an answer, and a well-received one, to his "animal energies" (As William S. Newman once has called it). A careful chronological review of the documents shows that the breaking of strings did become ever more an issue with Beethoven, but that this, unsurprisingly, was a deterioration process of his skills as a performer, in direct connection with his worsening hearing (broken keys are nowhere reported, so that's fabrication in any case).

Beethoven's hearing had started act up around 1797-8 (poor guy was in his late twenties at the point); a year before he got the Érard he had a much-written-about crisis about all this. The Érard is, in its preserved condition today, actual physical proof of his growing impatience with piano playing, as only 19 out of 174 strings (the instrument is triple-strung throughout; most of its strings are from before 1845, likely from much earlier) are of a more or less original diameter, or in their original position (the typical remedy for breaking strings would be to take broken long, thicker, ones to replace broken shorter, thinner, ones higher up, causing the average diameter of strings to increase over time especially in the higher regions of the instrument. This is the case in Beethoven's Érard. Apart from this, there is almost no consistency in the string diameters).

So in short: Beethoven's ever-increasing tendency to mistreat his pianos coincides roughly with the arrival of the Érard. It is amply documented from the last decade of his life, but there is only one single source that mentions breaking strings due to Beethoven's playing from before the Érard arrived. The suggestion that August 8, 1803 (which is the date that the Érard factory dispatched the piano - its arrival in Vienna is not known) was one of those days that changed music forever is at best an enormous stretch, a prolongation of what we always thought we knew about Beethoven but never cared to look up in detail.

The point being that the research to correct that picture actually is out there, and that the authors who made this show just didn't look in the right place. That's neither here nor there, agreed. But the problem remains that the story thus painted is basically wrong: even if it was somehow, at the time, Beethoven's dearest desire to get a louder piano (there are some indications that he was dissatisfied with the Viennese production of around 1800), the Érard absolutely did not fulfill this wish. He had it changed (and botched up, in fact) and a mere seven years later, he called it, in a letter to the Viennese piano maker Streicher, "utterly useless." After that, and until he received a Broadwood grand as a present in 1818, he appears to have borrowed Viennese pianos (mostly from Streicher).

*End nerd alert* (and fwiw).
posted by Namlit at 10:09 AM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

For a broader definition of music check out CBCradio's Twenty Pieces of Music that Changed the World.

I went to this and saw Public Enemy's Fight The Power. "Oh awesome, let's click that!" 5 minutes later 2 old people are guffawing confusedly about "what is this hiphop thing?" and I had to turn it off.
If you are going to have people discuss Twenty Pieces of Music That Changed The World, please be sure to get music fans that actually KNOW the music.
posted by Theta States at 6:09 AM on October 27, 2011

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