And, as with movies, I’m a snob when it comes to music. Some of my musical likes and dislikes are a matter of taste: while Brahms’ symphonies seem bombastic and overblown to me, his chamber music can engulf me with pleasure. In this case, since Brahms’s symphonies are considered gems in the canon, I assume that something is amiss with me: I either lack some aesthetic sense which can follow Brahms along in his grand (grandiose, it sounds to me) productions or, perhaps, instead of hearing a universal paean to the romance of humanity, I take the ecstasies and pathos of Brahms’ symphonies personally, and what I hear is what, if I, myself, were to display such emotions, would be extravagance and bathos.
But a large area of my musical taste is informed by snobbism: the snobbism of a sophisticated purist who, unlike most other folk, who are benighted, deluded and easily misled, knows the difference between good and bad.
To bring in Brahms again: I don’t like his symphonies, but I don’t think they are bad music. When it comes to bad music, I think the worst of the worst is the music (if I were an academic, I would feel free to write “musics”) called fusion and crossover.
Fusion is “world music” which unites the music of a number of cultures: such things as flamenco guitar backed by synthesized percussion or The Girl from Ipanema sung by Tuvan throat singers accompanied by electric guitar.
Crossover is the combining of two musical genres, and generally refers to music which is partly classical and partly something else. Unlike fusion, which arises from a genuine idealistic politico-aesthetic impulse in musicians whom globalization, for better or worse, has made rootless, crossover is a deliberate strategy on the part of classical music promoters to plump up their audience, which has remained loyal but is, alas, diminishing simply from attrition. Some examples: the Brodsky String Quartet’s collaboration with Elvis Costello, Yo Yo Ma and his unholy alliance with bluegrass (or, to put it another way, bluegrass’ unholy alliance with Yo Yo Ma) and symphony orchestras programming medleys from Broadway musicals to soften the blow of the Shostakovich or Bruckner to follow.
So, thanks to a twist of fate engineered by Paebachia (a first year trainee of Nemesis’), my second favorite CD is a crossover disc, music of Satie played by Danceries, a Japanese early music group (that’s early European music, very early, with crumhorns, citterns and recorders, not early Japanese music).
The fact that the composer is Satie, whose essence is the playful dispersal of classical music’s aura of sanctity, definitely makes it easier for me to overcome my prejudices against crossover music and accept the charm of this CD, but what raises it to the level of Second Most Favored CD is that that charm is heightened by two singers, soprano Tomoe Matsui and mezzo Mamiko Hirai, who capture Satie’s delicacy, wit and nonchalance. (The best Satie pianists can do this, but singers of Satie generally cannot seem to jettison their operatic blowsiness or their lieder like ((liedische?)) angst.)
The high point of the CD is a performance by Tomoe Matsui of La Diva de l’Empire., a burlesque of English music hall pedoprurience.
Mettant l'éclat d'un sourire,
D'un rire charmant et frais
De baby étonné qui soupire,
Little girl aux yeux veloutés,
C'est la Diva de l'Empire.
C'est la rein' dont s'éprennent
Et tous les dandys
Dans un seul "yes" elle met tant de douceur
Que tous les snobs en gilet à coeur,
L'accueillant de hourras frénétiques,
Sur la scène lancent des gerbes de fleurs,
Sans remarquer le rire narquois
De son joli minois.
Elle danse presque automatiquement
Et soulève, oh très pudiquement,
Ses jolis dessous de fanfreluches,
De ses jambes montrant le frétillement.
C'est à la fois très très innocent
Et très très excitant.
Under the large Greenaway hat,
Showing a smile that bursts
Into the laugh, charming and fresh,
Of an astonished, sighing baby,
Little girl with velvety eyes,
It's the Diva of the Empire.
It's the queen who is love by
And all the dandys
Into only "yes" she puts so much sweetness
That all the snobs with waistcoats for hearts,
Welcome her with frenetic hurrahs,
And toss wreaths of flowers onto the stage
Without noticing the mocking laugh
On her sweet little face.
She dances almost automatically
And lifts, oh very modestly,
Her underthings of frills and furbelows,
And shows her quivering legs.
It is at the same time very very innocent
And very very exciting.
(And speaking of pedoprurience and bringing it back round to Danceries – it seems to be the Japanese, with their predilection for ladies of the night dressed as schoolgirls, who go in most for that particular kind of titillation these days.)
Here’s another Satie song, which may sound familiar since it is often heard played on the accordion in low budget films to indicate that, yes, the red checkered tablecloths do mean that the scene has shifted to Paris. Je te veux.