A New Operatic Dogma- How Gluck changed the ‘ridiculous and wearisome’

Christoph_Willibald_Ritter_von_GluckOpera, Italian for ‘work’, is an art form over 400 years old. Inspired by mythology, history, folk stories and politics, composers have turned to writing operas as an outlet of creativity, but the stories behind opera’s broad and fascinating history are incredibly thought provoking in themselves.

The fifth week of our opera history course at the Royal College of Music has seen us studying the operas of Gluck, paying close attention to his reforms to the way opera was written and perceived by its audiences. Willibald Christoph Gluck (1714-1787) is best known for is opera ‘Orpheo ed Euridice’, based on the ancient legend Orpheus and Euridice. I think it is important to remember that opera’s ‘purpose’ previous to Gluck had been rather light and fun entertainment. Of course, darker themes were addressed, but in general opera was, by and large, a social event accompanied by virtuosic and light music. Gluck made it known that he highly disregarded this ‘ridiculous and wearisome’ Italian opera. Gluck believed opera was ready for reform, and made it no secret that he was to lead this ‘stripping down’ of opera into something much simpler. Gluck believed that by ‘stifling the action with superfluidity of ornaments’ composers were taking music away from its ‘true office of serving poetry’. In order to serve the text, Gluck controversially removed virtuosic melismas, da capo arias and vocal improvisation, and instead increased the orchestra’s dramatic presence and gave it a greater role.

Although these reforms paved the way for the operas of Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner, I believe Gluck’s dogmatic views on the true purpose of music to be somewhat flawed. Gluck talks of the ‘true purpose’ of music being to serve the text. Perhaps in opera this holds more truth than symphonies based on stories or texts, though talking of music’s true purpose is not something that can be taken lightly. Music and its purpose has a highly personalised response from each person. Some people interpret music as a playful use of emotions, some see it as escapism, others as an academic and chemical process. For Gluck, its true purpose was to serve the text and through his musical reforms, he could bring the text out by keeping the musical interest out of the vocal line and putting it in the orchestra. A good example of this is Orfeo’s arioso “Che puro ciel”. Here the voice is reduced to the minor role of recit-style oration. Here it is the oboe that carries the main melody, supported by solos from the flute, cello, bassoon, and horn. There is also accompaniment from the strings (playing in triplets) and the continuo. This is thought to be the most complex orchestration that Gluck ever wrote.

Although, on the face of it, Gluck’s ideas for reform appear rather opinionated and controversial, we cannot deny that his opera style triggered a major shift in Operas style. An example of Gluck’s influence is the quotation in Mozart’s Don Giovanni of Gluck’s Alceste. Mozart used the same chord progression in the garden scene for the Commendatore speaking to Don Giovanni that Gluck used in his opera when the High Priest says Alceste will die if no one takes her place. The influence is unquestionable, and leads us to question whether Gluck’s philosophy behind music and opera, although seemingly narrow minded, holds a longevity to inspire and influence other great composers.

 

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Our World From Up Here

Our world from up here

Vast scenes below then hypnotic

Sunsets far and wide

And warm until memories 

Like a canal flow gliding

Open to us and run free- 

Alive in the clouds but 

Below the moon still 

Glowing black like darkened

Emotion pouring to heal

And your voice to seal 

Echoed cries from their booming

5 Big Mistakes in Dealing with Performance Anxiety

Being musical. Being human.

1. Treating the symptoms instead of the cause

You’re about to take the stage and all you can feel is your racing heart, trembling hands, and shallow breathing. Maybe you even feel nauseous and you’re having trouble focusing your vision. How could anyone in this condition perform in a way that’s expressive…well, expressive of anything other than dread! It’s no wonder that overcoming performance anxiety is equated to eliminating these troublesome bodily sensations.

But sometimes attending only to the physiological symptoms of anxiety is like putting a Band-Aid on a more serious injury. These symptoms are a natural part of the body’s “fight or flight” response, which kicks in when a person perceives a threat. In the case of a real threat—say, coming across a wild animal trying to hurt you—these physiological responses are good. They help you to more effectively fight or take flight. So if your symptoms…

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On Flight Pattern

A reflection in words of the contemporary ballet ‘Flight Pattern’ choreographed by Crystal Pite

 

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Heavily they walk

No two men the same

But united through rejection

Or maybe through the spartan

Uniforms they wear

Of doubt that hope

Exists or may come into

Existing only for a past

Life not so easily left behind-

The Hill of Crosses


This poem is inspired by a recent visit to the Hill of Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania. 


Ashed grey and weathered through

Surrounded some century’s

Past suffering not so different from our own.

 
To come and lay a sign

That love releases to save

Black memory’s, solidify some erotic emotions alluring

 

And then wander up and through the woven pathways

A child’s playground

Spiritual maze from loud cries of women weeping

 

To look up from the ground at them

And see some serialist horror

Scraped and scourged graveyard rituals

 

Only to feel also

peaceful serenity from suffering’s rock

Flowing with the river that sits alongside

 

Then to the other end

To realising that the mass continues

Around for acres of simple honoured vessels

Our Streets

I encountered more people

With faces, sunken

Cut through with a cold stone blade

Blinked- then an opportunity missed

For here, now to give wider

No eyes to see change

Through skin so scaled and rusted

That your copper coin sticks fast

To make a golden impression to

Listen and answer the rattling

Of the links untied through neglect

One by one to convince them

That the world’s hope is to dust

And passers by are too busy to give a thought to change a

World’s eye view

 

Through a hole in the wall

They now can see the flowers

In the gardens we dance

Striving for wilting dandelions find

Peace of mind to sing of love

We- the deaf who walk close each time

To the silent hum of our eye lined bubble because

You don’t want to know, and you don’t have to

Play- pretend sublimity, oblivious fun

You are the most through dust on the ground

The creaking-jointed human

Kind of the broken wanderer

Who need us as we are and ask for

No more.

street-wallpaper-3

Talking About Performance Anxiety

anxietyHaving started the cello much later to most other musicians, I found myself battling the fear of performing at the same time as facing an insecure self-image that often comes with being a 12 year old. I believe this made the issue far greater than it would’ve been, had I been performing at an earlier age. It has, nonetheless, forced me to address the way I deal with my anxiety on and off stage and encouraged me to read much more into the subject.

What is performance anxiety for you?

Performance anxiety for me is waking up on the day of a performance and being so terrified that you are unable to move. It is going over and over in your head all the possible worst-case scenarios and the consequences of performing badly. It’s being desperate to impress people and to receive reassurance that you’re doing OK. It’s trying to calm your breathing but you end up making it more rapid. Then it’s playing as though you have no connection between your mind and your arms and even less connection between your mind and your instrument. Performing feels like a mad free-for-all. Every man is for himself as I push through this Bach suite movement, making a hundred mistakes a minute working to the end. And then there’s after; the beating yourself up for being so anxious and losing security and control, feeling as though it was never all worth it and will never be again. But what is important to remember, though difficult to believe, is that these are all just thoughts.

We are not doomed. We deserve to play the way we dream about and share music with people on the the highest level that we a capable. We can hold ourselves and forget ourselves at the same time and we can find the benefits to this alongside. The philosopher Kierkegaard had an existentialist theory which I think can help us understand the way we perceive music in performance. His idea was that people need a deep satisfaction and relationship with themselves, the energy of the universe (God etc.) and the core of their being. It is only after that that they can enjoy the materials (aesthetic) and relationships on earth without depending on them. We are all guilty about having a huge desire to impress people, but the issue is that we make this the center of our thoughts around a performance and become greedy for praise and recognition. If we think about Kierkegaard’s theory, connect with ourselves through being mindful and agree that whether or not our performance goes well, we will still feel at one with ourselves (and music!), we suddenly see a performance completely differently. It’s purpose isn’t to satisfy our needs as individuals for recognition, it is for us to connect with the power music has and our ability to give this power to our audience as a gift. It is much less diabolical to hold this at the centre of our thinking. Then, be it praise, opportunity or reward, we can enjoy these parts to a performance without relying on them.

This theory is not so difficult to explain or understand, but how can it be applied? Many books have helped me shape a rusty but improving bank of coping strategies alongside experience and talking to different people about their opinions and experiences. The most important way to start is to talk about it. Just like any mental health issue (people dislike the terminology but it is what it is!) performance anxiety can be improved by talking to people. One of many reasons for this is it can make you feel much less alone- almost all musicians experience performance anxiety to some degree and certainly have a lot to say about it. Another reason for this is it can increase awareness of the issue of performance anxiety in the arts industry and encourage more people to talk about it. Certainly raising the issue with your teacher can hold enormous benefits, but anyone you trust can be a worthy listener.

But even once you’ve altered your mindset towards performing and you are happy that everything will be OK, how do you manage the sometimes inevitable symptoms that we experience before a performance? The most important thing to remember here is that we can still perform well when we are nervous. There is nothing stopping us even when feeling sick and shaky- we can concentrate and there is no reason the physical emotions should overpower us. It is easy to develop a ‘fear of the fear’ because we associate the physical sensations with a bad performance, but there’s no reason for us to. We are still in control. People often talk about being prepared as being a very important part of combating anxiety but I contrary this and say that practicing performing when you’re under-prepared is incredibly beneficial. Of course, the anxiety involved in this is great but it is likely that you will emerge feeling much better about the situation. The reason is that your confidence increases as your mind believes ‘well if I did that when I was so unprepared, I can do anything!’

The final part to thinking and discovering more about performance anxiety is forgiving yourself for failure. You are on an incredible road, learning at every part of it and finding ways to manage anxiety is just a part of the bigger picture. It cannot be solved overnight, but you  will find that you become more and more aware of yourself and your purpose as a musician. These ideas I have shared are not an exhaustive list and I will collect many resources below for you to explore. What works for me may not work for you and I am a long way from an answer. I still can get cripplingly nervous but I try to distance myself from my thoughts and turn the focus for the music. I think to take any of this on board you must first ask yourself why. Why music and why love and why faith? The answer is purpose and if music gives you an enormous sense of purpose, you are not destined to sabotage your communication and expression and you will, in time, find a solution.

“There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming” Soren Kierkegaard

Resources:

This is an amazing, short book complied by many famous classical musicians- great short term relief!  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Keeping-Your-Nerve-Confidence-Strategies/dp/0571519229/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490095038&sr=8-1&keywords=keeping+your+nerve

For changing your perception:Life Is Not A Journey  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSSzYIqQsdw

A classic, but it really helped me to start thinking: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Game-Music-Timothy-Gallwey/dp/1447291727/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490095345&sr=8-1&keywords=the+inner+game+of+music

How do we feel inspired in the world at the moment? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tSBkT9AFWA

Fantastic book for liberally exploring faith https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simple-Faith-Margaret-Silf/dp/0232527946/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490095497&sr=8-1&keywords=faith+margaret+silf

 

21/03/2017 Hattie Butterworth

 

 

Larsen Magnacore Cello String Review

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Strings are to a musician like ballet shoes are to a dancer. Just as each dancer is very different and requires different size and softness of shoes, every cello is vastly different and requires different strings to compliment the resonance of the instrument. My cello has an especially bright and powerful quality, especially on the A string, but it also has the tendency to sound brash. It also often has projection difficulties on the low strings, particularly in high positions. I knew more could be done to improve the sound and I started to think about trying new strings in order to address this issue.

With this in mind, I got in contact with Larsen some weeks ago, eager to try new strings on my cello. Having been a devotee to their standard cello strings for quite a while, I was hearing great things about their Magnacore strings and was desperate to give them a try. I’d been reassured how balanced the string sounds were across the cello and, knowing my cello was in desperate need of this balance, was excited to try them. Suffice it so say, I was not disappointed! I changed the A and D strings first and noticed an immediate increase in the sound quality. The strings needed virtually no playing in time and adapted to my cello immediately. A strings on my cello often have the tendency to sound increasingly ‘brash’ on my cello, but the Magnacore A string had a sweetness that I was convinced my cello wasn’t capable of producing. The D string matched the A both in resonance and quality of sound and was so buoyant to play. Finally I have found strings that create equal tones on both A and D, I have struggled for so long with a brash A string and a muted D string, thanks to these strings I feel my strings compliment each other and my playing.

I later replaced my G and C Spirocore strings with the Magnacore C and G and, once again, the effect was immediate. The strings were so much more responsive on my cello and the resonance was electric. I did find the strings to feel quite a bit stiffer and not entirely flexible under the fingers, though they tuned up easily and maintained tuning with no issues. In saying this, it was as I expected that the bottom two strings took a few days to play in and feel totally settled. This created an short period of discomfort, but it quickly subsided and, once settled, my cello produced resonant and expressive sonorities that were unprecedented but certainly welcome!

Proof of the strings’ transformation of my cello came about when I played the Bach Suite no.3 in my cello lesson last week. My Teacher immediately mention how much she thought my sound had improved. I mentioned that I’d recently changed my strings to Magnacore and she was fascinated at how much of a difference they had made to my sound in such a short space of time.

It’s such a joy and a blessing to find strings finally that work with my cello and not against it. I’ll certainly be using Magnacore again and will be intrigued to witness their longevity. They cannot come more highly recommended!

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Hattie Butterworth

REVIVAL

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Etched emotion opened

A basic can opener

some tainted past

Revealed, oppressed depressed

Stark compression released, deceased

Speaking to break the silence, altered

Alive not alone

Far from the floor

But escaping the lifeless lies through a stiffening door

Glass Half Gone

The World demands your deliberate artifice

But right in the now and hear

You’re Walking alone, along a lonely
Love burnt grey and dust of stars

Streaming ankle level and below

Beneath and between your fears own me
Dawn cracking down on a darkened day

Alive about a sunbeam, once in May

Living a lie, a dream, still lonely
Shipwrecked amongst the living

A breathing hollow and lifeless laughter

Piercing a cry of cold limbs, only
Ended right at the beginning

From A blackened senseless lying

And a deadened deafness, a restless dying