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Subject: Re: Onegin and Lang
From: donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 26 Aug 2017 01:23:07 -0400

text/plain (110 lines)

Have you ever noticed how Lenski's "big tune": matches
Don Jose's "Flower Song?   I think passages like that are
what opera is all about.  I have been acquainted with Lady
Macbeth's scene for as long as both of them, but to me
she only sounds like an exhausted soprano under generic bel
canto stress, longing for some melodic relief.  Maybe that's
what Verdi intended, but I am not moved by it.


On Fri, Aug 25, 2017 at 1:59 PM, albert innaurato <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> I'm just wasting time. David Shengold is always good to read, here, and in
> many other venues. He is one of the best (the best?) who writes about
> opera. And I am curious about reviewers who have attacked composers, both
> past and recent, based on knowledge or suspicions of their sexuality.
> But I have to disagree about Paul Henry Lang. He was Hungarian. He had a
> superb musical training, far beyond anyone writing professionally today. At
> the University in Budapest and at the conservatory, his studies were
> supervised by Zoltan Kodaly and Erno von Dohnanyi. He worked with Bela
> Bartok. He played the bassoon professionally, and also was a good pianist
> (that was how his contact with Bartok began). He studied the history of
> music intensively, analyzing scores from the Baroque on, and with Bartok
> also studied Hungarian and Rumanian folk music and how it had evolved over
> years.
> Always broke, he began writing music criticism. His work impressed Bartok
> for its secure knowledge, intelligence, and wide sympathies. It was during
> a discussion of finding a future that might support him that Bartok
> suggested he become a musicologist. This was a new discipline then, with
> few practitioners. Lang took the advice and studied first in Germany at
> Heidelberg then moved to the Sorbonne in Paris, where he received his
> second doctorate.
> He had rowed in the Olympics in 1924 and had made some contacts with
> Americans. When he received his doctorate the Rockefeller Foundation
> sponsored him to come to the USA (1928). He spoke no English. He taught
> himself. He earned his third doctorate from Cornell while teaching harmony
> and counterpoint at other colleges. It was on French opera. After a few
> stints at different universities, he was hired by Columbia University as
> their first professor of musicology.
> When Bartok fled Hungary and arrived in New York, Lang was able to hire him
> as a lecturer on ethnomusicology. Bartok didn't speak English but Lang
> insisted. The composer was dying and destitute. Among subsequent students
> was Richard Tarushkin, who David Shengold mentions.
> Lang was definitely NOT "middle brow", nor was he "trendy". The troll who
> started the Onegin thread as usual quotes a writer out of context as though
> that were his/her entire argument. Lang, however, asks an interesting
> question about the style in which Onegin is written. Tchaikovsky operates
> by melodic inflection, so in Lang's opinion, operating from the score,
> Lenski's farewell aria is a beautiful tune -- period. It would sound as
> good on the 'cello. It is not rooted specifically in Lenski's character, or
> really in the situation in which he finds himself. It has a general, and
> appealing quality of melancholy but an instrument can convey that just as
> well, and the melody doesn't need an "actor" precisely located "in the
> moment" to live.
> This is a test of sorts of how well a composer of operas using this style
> inflects his or her melodies to reflect a precise sense of a person's
> psychology, mood, and destiny. Lang perhaps did not know Verdi's Macbeth,
> but the Sleepwalking scene is entirely managed through the vocal line. But
> that line is structured around the words in a way that conveys Lady
> Macbeth's mourning, sorrow, and anxiety with chilling precision. No one
> else could possibly sound that way, the melody is entirely singular and
> personal, precisely rooted in her being in that moment. There is nothing
> general, or "instrumental" about it. It wouldn't do for any other
> character, at any other moment in the story. No matter how sensitively
> played, an oboe would not be anywhere nearly as effective in that sequence
> as the human voice singing words.
> Lang was not "attacking" Tchaikovsky, and no one of sense would deny the
> composer's remarkable melodic ability. But whether a character called
> Lensky actually lives in the fullness of human being facing the possibility
> of his death in that aria can be questioned. It is an intelligent question.
> Aside from David Shengold's brief comments, the praise given Onegin here is
> simple minded and silly, Lang was neither.
> AI
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