Blogging Pachelbel #2 — Muenchinger/Stuttgart

Had I listened to this recording before the Baumgartner, I would have been scandalized, because this recording makes a cut around the same place as in the Baumgartner, but, as ugly as the Baumgartner recording is, the cuts here do much more violence to the essential nature of the piece.

It seems obvious that the Baumgartner recording is related to this one as both recordings screw around in exactly the same locations. The Baumgartner omits the opening continuo-only statement of the ground — this recording includes it, but instead of going straight into the canon in m. 3, it orchestrates a second statement, before starting the canon in m. 6. I’m not sure what problem was being solved here, but if the Baumgartner was cutting something that was too bare, this recording eases us into the full texture a few voices at a time.

Then there’s the question of the cuts, which happen in the same location, but whereas the Baumgartner carefully maintained the integrity of the canon and just omitted the same 8 measures of the canon in each part, this recording simply jumps from m. 27 to to m. 35 in all the parts at once. This means that the first violin plays the full canon except for 4 of the couplets, but that the 2nd and 3rd violin skip a different 4 couplets! So, while two couplets (mm. 27-30 in v. 1) are never heard, two of the other couplets cut from violin 1 are heard only in the 2nd and 3rd violins. The couplet introduced in v. 1 in m. 31 is heard only in the 2nd and 3rd violins, and the next couplet only in the 3rd violin.

In investigating the historiography of the Canon, one of the things that has struck me is the degree to which popular culture seems to have latched onto the harmonic progression of Pachelbel’s Canon more than the intricately woven contrapuntal texture. For instance, the amazing Canon Rock phenomenon partakes of the harmonic progression and uses the canonic theme as melodic material, and the passages where the canon is in thirds with itself certainly get used as an opportunity to show off guitar virtuosity. But there is never any true canonic imitation.

Most of the keyboard transcriptions are far worse about this, even though a keyboard player ought to be able to recreate a fair amount of contrapuntal texture. It’s clear that the canonic texture is not primarily what people who respond to Pachelbel’s piece by creating their own versions are moved by, since the canonic texture almost never appears in these transcriptions/arrangements. And the general public still loves these pieces, despite the richness in the original that has been bleached out.

I had attributed this to garden-variety musical naïveté, but now that I’ve heard some of these early recordings of Pachelbel’s Canon that were prepared and played by professional Classical musicians who have every capacity for understanding contrapuntal textures, it seems quite obvious to me that the popular imagination is not alone in responding mostly to the harmony and melody. The balances in both the Paillard and Baumgartner recordings, along with this one, tend to highly emphasize one of the lines as the clear MELODY at any point, and it’s this aspect of the musical conception, I think, that leads to such cuts as the one we see here that is completely devestating to the contrapuntal texture.

Now, of course, it doesn’t sound bad, because the canon is designed so that you can pretty much mix and match any of the parts and it will come out all right (that’s the nature of the ground bass, within limits, of course). And, indeed, had I not been watching the score scroll by in Finale while listening, I’m not sure I would have noticed. I certainly did miss the repeated notes in the Baumgartner, but thought they were just made into accompaniment figures so that I had simply missed them. In this case, I would have been less likely to notice, given that it’s the three couplets before the repeated notes that are omitted.

But I can’t help but wonder exactly what it is that leads to these cuts. What is wrong with this passage that it gets taken out in two of these early recordings? I’m pretty much at a loss for an explanation, myself.

Blogging Pachelbel #1 — Baumgartner

I’m skipping Fiedler right now because it’s not available for MP3 download, and the CD won’t arrive for a few days.

This is a stunningly slow recording. It clocks in at 6:16 to begin with (the only slower recording is the Paillard), but that’s without 10 measures that are cut from the performance. First, it skips the first two measures of the bass. It then starts to slow and then slows down some more, exhibiting a woozy-headed, completely unsteady tempo, like molasses. The ugliness of the bass line stands out — it’s too strong for the middle parts, and not in tune enough. The balance is very strange, as though the conductor is afraid of letting the lines come to the fore as Pachelbel wrote them. This badly mucks up the balance so that some of the new canonic entrances are inaudible until the third violin gets its statement. This results in some very weird textures and tends to suppress the figuration in certain voices.

But to me the most shocking discovery was that this performances entirely cuts the two couplets of repeated notes and the two couplets before that (mm. 27-34). At 3:06 in the recording:

  • v. 1 cuts from m. 27 to m. 35
  • v. 2 cuts from 29 to 37
  • v. 3 cuts from 31 to 39

This is my favorite part! And I thought all string players loved playing repeated notes under a single bow! It’s one of the loveliest sounds strings can have, a heartbeat-like pulsing that is quite lovely. But this recording sacrifices it to no end that I can imagine.

The ending is grandiose beyond belief, and just unpleasant. It’s as though the conductor misread the composer as Wagner.

Except that Wagner had better taste, and a much more finely tuned sense of historical musical style.

Blogging Pachelbel

I’ve been obsessed the last few weeks with the history of Pachelbel’s Canon. I got interested because my viol consort had originally planned to do Purcell’s Three Parts on a Ground (Z. 731), which is for the exact same instrumentation, and I thought we should get the Pachelbel under our belts while we were at it. For various reasons we decided not to do either piece, but I’d gotten fascinated by the historiography of the Canon. This weekend I started buying every MP3 version of it I could find that was a serious attempt to present the Canon, and not variations on the Canon’s chaconne bass.

I’ve figured out the timings for all the ones I have and the average beats per minute (BPM), and now I’ve just started listening through them to get a sense of how the different performances differ. I’d started taking notes, but I realized it would make more sense to just blog the whole process as I go along, and do it one performance per blog post.

Here’s the list of the recordings I’m looking at, in roughly chronological order (it’s tough to say on some of them since they are re-issues of re-issues and don’t have the original release dates so far as I can tell):

[Editorial Note: Since originally posting this, I've come up with additional information on recording dates. I've updated a few major items here, but will not get back to this project until the weekend, when I should have significant revisions based on additional information received very gratefully from many helpful correspondents.]

Ensemble/Performer Version Est. Date
Fiedler Sinfonietta Orchestral ?1940s, R1991
Baumgartner, Festival Strings, Lucerne Orchestral, 8mm. cut 1966, R1968, R1969, R1976, R1978, R1981, R1984, R1986, R1991
Münchinger/Stuttgart Orchestral, 8mm. cut 1967, R1978, R1989
Paillard 1968 Orchestral arr. 1968, R1979, R1984
Ettore Stratta Orchestral, 8mm. cut 1970s, many re-releases, lastest R2002 (is this the Ordinary People version?)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestral arr. with winds and brass, non-original bass line, incomplete in all downloadable versions (fadeout after c. 2:30) ?1970s, R2008
London Philharmonic Orchestral ?1970s, R2008
101 Strings Orchestral ?1970s, R2008
Gerhardt/National Philharmonic Orchestral ?1970s-80s, R2007
Vienna Baroque Ensemble Orchestral ?1970s-80s, R2009
New Bach Collegium Orchestral (tutti/solo?) ?1980s, R1989, R1999, R2009
Hogwood Original 1981 (1983?) R1994-95
Musica Antiqua Köln/Goebel Original 1981, R1995
London Baroque Original 1981 R1998 R2005
Leppard Orchestral 1981-82 (83?) R1988
Slatkin Orchestral 1982-83 (84?), R2008
I Musici Orchestral 1983, R1990
English Concert Original 1986 (1985?)
Taverner Players Original 1988, R1993, R1996, R2004-05, R2006-07
Paillard 1989 Orchestral arr. 1991 (recorded in 1989), R1995
London Chamber Orchestra Orchestral 1989 R1994
Orpheus Orchestral 1990
Manze Original 1993
Royal Philharmonic/Carney Orchestral 2009 [new release?]

That’s a lot of recordings to review, but so far, it’s been fairly fascinating, discovering all the surprises, the parallel octaves and fifths, the shocking cuts, the ridiculous tempos (both fast and slow). Fun stuff!

Next post in this series: Blogging Pachelbel #1 — Baumgartner

“Neuroenhancing” Drugs

I was just reading Margaret Talbot’s article in this week’s New Yorker about so-called “neuroenhancing” drugs, titled “Brain Gain: The underground world of ‘neuroenhancing’ drugs.” I am struck by what seems to be an underlying assumption among many of those who find these drugs useful, that life in general works a lot like college. Anyone who’s been out of college for a couple of years quickly realizes that most of the real world doesn’t work like exams and papers that are due on certain dates and that you could pull all-nighters to complete.

When I was an undergraduate, I never pulled an all-nighter. I always felt that the facts that I might cram into my head during the extra time would be offset by the lowering of my level of functioning due to tiredness. It is true that I did sometimes stay up all night writing papers, but that’s because you got the thing onto paper and didn’t have to then perform the next day. It wasn’t until grad school until I stayed up all night writing a paper that I then had to read out loud in a seminar the next morning. Now that was gruelling!

I can’t help but think about recent activities with my viol consort, The Teares of the Muses. We just gave two concerts (last Saturday and just last night, on Tuesday), and the group is a nice mix of players ranging in age from 20 years old to mumble mumble mumble over 50. I’m 47, but I can say that I am able to absorb more in a rehearsal than the college kids in the group. This is not because I’m mentally more acute, but because I have a much greater store of musical experience to which I can connect new musical ideas that come up in rehearsal. When I first play a new piece, I already have a store of musical experiences playing other pieces that I can connect the new one to. The student players are much newer to this repertory, and are very often encountering the musical style for the first time. They don’t have any background of musical memory in which to contextualize what they are playing, and the result is that they are less reliable from rehearsal to rehearsal in terms of what they absorb and retain.

This is no criticism of them — they are very talented and work extremely hard. It’s just that experience really does count for something that couldn’t possibly be overcome by them by simply enhancing their native memorization or cognitive abilities — they lack the store of experience and knowledge to connect new musical experiences to, and thus are at a disadvantage in comparison to the oldsters (I’ve been playing viol for 20 years). They might be (and are) more technically adept, but that doesn’t make up for long experience of the musical style and the ability to play with others in an ensemble.

That’s why I’m not so worried about losing out to youngsters on these new drugs — they lack the foundation to truly be able to capitalize on the enhanced mental acuity.

A response to Kyle Gann

I have found Kyle Gann’s writings over the years to be interesting and stimulating (I first encountered him when he was a critic for the Village Voice, back when there was a reason to read the Village Voice). For the most part, he writes about music that I don’t know well, so I am not usually in a position to evaluate his positions. Recently on his blog (PostClassic), he wrote about Ives, and asked the question “…why the musicological glee among those who attempt to discredit Ives?” Leaving aside the polemical wording of the question (it has since become obvious that I shouldn’t have ignored it), I thought I had an answer. So I wrote to Gann:

SUBJECT: Why the musicological glee among those who attempt to discredit Ives?

You’re missing the issue. The issue is not about revision, it’s about
the back-dating of the revision to stand in place of the original

Maynard Solomon’s article from way back when about Ives and his
father (which is the first source I know of regarding the manuscript
evidence of Ives’s alterations to his works — given Solomon’s work
on Beethoven and his father, Mozart and his father, and Ives and his,
I always thought someone should write an article on Solomon and *his*
father, but I digress…) made the assertion (insofar as I’m
remembering it) that Ives made the revisions without acknowledging
them as later revisions.

My memory of the timeline on this may be wrong, but I seem to
remember that the MSS of some works that are dated as having been
composed in the teens were altered in the 30s or later to have more
adventurous juxtapositions of harmonies. But the works are still
treated (either by Ives or by those writing about Ives) as having
been brought into that final state in the teens (not the 30s).

And because of the 20th-century fetish for novelty and innovation,
Ives got credit for being a before-his-time innovator on the basis of
a perception that he was writing the more adventurous harmonies in
the teens, not revising the works to use them in the 30s (at which
point they wouldn’t have been particularly innovative).

Now, I may have mis-stated the exact facts here in regard to dates,
but the main point is this: the works have not been *treated* as
works with two versions (at least, before the publication of
Solomon’s article and the discussion that followed), but as a single
work dating from the original composition date, yet bearing the
musical content of the later revision.

Whether it was Ives himself who perpetrated this misrepresentation or
Ives’s promoters, the fact remains: Ives was not in all cases the
innovator he is painted as being in the conventional narrative about

This matters most to people who think “getting there first” has some
value, but given that Ives was himself one of those people, it seems
to me to be a significant point about Ives and his works, and worth
noting, rather than trying casting it as merely the revisions of any
composer who revisits and alters earlier compositions.

And if I’m not mistaken, Solomon’s conclusions about the MS
alterations have themselves been disputed (Solomon is not the most
reliable researcher in regard to evaluation of musical sources). So,
it could be that, as with Solomon’s Schubert speculations, the
original argument has been wholly disproven.

But I would say this about Ives’s music: the reason the allegation
has always made sense to someone like me is that I’ve always felt
that his music lacks an organic unity, that it seems to have been
composed by layering by chance and not by design — his music often
sounds to me exactly like a piece that has been altered at some later
date. While this is a perfectly valid compositional approach, it is
not entirely in line with that Ives himself advocated, nor with what
he is valorized for having practiced.

In short, his music has always felt more like taped improvisations,
added to in tracks layered on top of the original, than it has like
organically-designed musical wholes that hang together.

Indeed, I have always felt that the main lack in Ives’s work is the
*lack* of sufficient revision, the process by which the composer
takes the original inspiration and reworks it to make it more
consistent and resonant with itself.

Of course, these comments betray my own esthetic stances on musical
value (as musicologist and composer).

But that is hardly a topic to be avoided when discussing a composer
like Ives, who was himself rather hard-headed and voluble on the

Now, the tone was rather informal, I allowed as how I wasn’t completely in possession of all the facts. I thought I was speaking to a sympathetic individual who was interested in finding the answer to the question. I was sadly mistaken. Next I replied to his response:

SUBJECT: Why the musicological glee among those who attempt to discredit Ives?

On 16 May 2004 at 17:29, Kyle Gann wrote:
> There are many
> composers from the classical repertoire whose
> music I’m not fond of, but I don’t go out of
> my way to try to discredit them, to prove that
> they were fakes in some way.

The reason the charge resonated for me was that the music always felt
fake, false, inauthentic, incompletely realized, half-finished — and
that was in all my exposure to the music before having read the
allegations of tampering with the MSS.

So, I think we all hear different things in the music. Ives has
always sounded to me like someone with interesting ideas who didn’t
work them out sufficiently.

And it does to this day.

Perhaps it’s true that were I to perform the music I’d find things
that are not audible (to me) in repeated hearings (the Concord is
actually one of his pieces I’ve heard a lot) — that is certainly the
case with other music that I’ve performed.

But in other music that I’ve invested time in, I’ve found the surface
of the music and its discourse with itself interesting and satisfying
*before* delving in deeply.

And for me, it’s the failure of Ives’s music to work with itself
internally that has been off-putting. For my ears, there was never
any there there in terms of the reputation of the composer and music.

There was a damned good story, though, and I still think that has had
a lot to do with Ives’s continuing popularity.

Which is fine.

I do not begrudge people their ability to enjoy his music.

I just don’t see what’s so attractive about it.

There was something of Schadenfreude in the possibility of Ives’s
having tampered with his scores to make them retrospectively more
“modern”, to find out that the emperor had no clothes.

But, nonetheless, it didn’t seem to me to be a matter of revisions
(of which Ives did plenty, no?) as of covert back-dating to establish
chronological primacy of innovation.

All of that could be a matter of Ives needing to be defended against
his defenders, but I’ve never liked him personally either (the
individual that comes through in his writings is a homophobic,
arrogant bastard, so far as I can tell), so he didn’t get the benefit
of the doubt from me when someone stuck a pin in the bubble of his

Of course, I also think Schubert is vastly overrated…

In response to this informal reply, I got back the “challenge” replicated in Gann’s most recent posting (If Ives Was a Poseur, Prove It):

SUBJECT: Why the musicological glee among those who attempt to discredit Ives?

On 16 May 2004 at 22:11, Kyle Gann wrote:
> You show me where in Ives’s writings,
> letters, or recorded conversations he
> makes a claim to have been the first in
> history to have done anything, and I’ll
> recant everything. Failing that, leave me
> alone to enjoy his music as I have for decades.

Ah, we come to the crux of the problem: you think that I don’t want
you to enjoy Ives’s music.

I never said that or implied it.

Nor did any of Ives’s other critics so far as I can tell.

Gann then agrees that I never objected to his enjoyment of Ives’s music, and levels a different accusation:

SUBJECT: Why the musicological glee among those who attempt to discredit Ives?

On 17 May 2004 at 12:23, Kyle Gann wrote:
> No, you said you didn’t begrudge me enjoying
> Ives’ music. But you sure find it important
> to let me know that you don’t, and why, and at
> length. It seems an odd thing to tell a total
> stranger who you already know disagrees with you.

Read the subject of this email exchange. It’s a question you asked on
your blog. I was only responding to a question you asked.

In other words, my simple reply to his question constitutes for Gann an attack on his esthetics, which he seems to think was initiated by me, personally. This, despite the fact that I admitted that my esthetics were my own and put no requirements on other people.

In reponse to this, Gann descends into more of the same intellectual dishonesty exhibited in his blog’s summary of my position:

SUBJECT: Why the musicological glee among those who attempt to discredit Ives?

On 17 May 2004 at 14:32, Kyle Gann wrote:
> Ah! It didn’t even occur to me that that could
> be an answer to the question, but now I get it:
> Q. Why the musicological glee among those who
> attempt to discredit Ives?
> A. Because we don’t like his music.

That’s an intellectually dishonest summary of my reply and you know

> Subjectivity as a basis for music history. There
> are a lot of composers whose music I don’t like,
> but I don’t jump to the conclusion that they’re
> bad people. But I appreciate the frank admission,
> which sort of confirms my worst suspicions.

I made no such “admission,” which you know quite well.

Are you a Republican?

In any event, no reply necessary — clearly no honest discussion is
possible with you.

It was only after that reply that I discovered that Gann had used my emails to him as a jumping off point for his blog entry (and, as you can see from the text of my emails above, mischaracterized my position badly), and I fired off one last email to him:

SUBJECT: Your most recent post on your blog

I did not say I *believed* Solomon’s article — I said the accusation
was plausible to me based on how I hear Ives’s music, and on what I
know of the valorization of Ives in the literature, and based on the
attitudes espoused in Ives’s own writings. [Here, I also should have pointed out that I was mostly talking about how it felt in 1988 reading Solomon's 1987 article, before other scholars got a chance to dispute Solomon's hypothesis]

When you write:

     What puzzles me is why people who find Ives not to their taste
     always seem in such a hurry to discredit him

you are inventing motives.

I don’t give a rat’s ass if Ives is discredited.

I simply answered your question in your last post, and you’ve twisted
everything I’ve written to you, summarizing it in your public posts
in a way that gives you a handy hobby horse to ride into the battle
against the musicologists.

You are the most intellectually dishonest blogger I’ve ever [sic]
encountered in a long time.

Enjoy your echo chamber, since it’s pretty clear you can’t abide
discussions with anyone who disagrees with your esthetics.

No reply, please, and don’t even think about summarizing this message
in your blog.

This is all pretty shocking to me. Gann seems to have brought a huge load of baggage along with him when he read my email. I should have seen the sneer behind his every reference to “musicologists.”

The other thing that bothers me is that, in the end, he seems to think that subjectivity should play no role in motivating musicological research. Of course, what he’s actually alleging is that I am judging musicological research not on the facts but on my own subjective feelings about the music, when, in fact, I pointed out that I didn’t know whether the Solomon accusations were true or not (this was in my original email to him). I was simply explaining to him one reason why a musicologist could reject the “revisions” special pleading.

I’m not in a position to do the library research to answer Gann’s juvenile challenge, but I’m really not interested in it even if I had the tools handy, because doing so would tend to reinforce the impression that Gann has correctly characterized my position in the first place.

My mistake was in considering Gann to be a sympathetic correspondent. Instead, he was clearly suspicious of everything I wrote, and took the inconsistencies of informal communication as an opportunity to beat musicologists around the shoulders once again for supposedly being stupid.

Maybe he’s auditioning for a job at the New York Times.

And here’s a final note to Gann:


With the evidence available to me, I can’t prove the assertion you erroneously attribute to me.

I’m not going to play your game, so you win. You can feel very satisfied that you’ve discredited the discreditors.

But to me, it just looks like you were spoiling for a fight, and not really interested in most of the issues I raised in my original email messages to you.

So, you can feel as superior to this lowly musicologist as you like.

And I shall take you off my blogroll.

Listening This Week

  • Mendelssohn: Octet & String Quintets: Hausmusik, London, Monica Huggett, dir.
  • Cannabich: Symphonies, Lukas Consort, Viktor Lukas, dir.
  • Schmelzer & Muffat: Sonatas, London Baroque, Charles Medlam, dir.
  • Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel
  • Schenck: L’Echo du Danube, Sonatas 1-3, 5, Berliner Conzert
  • Mozart: Harmoniemusikien, vol. III, Don Giovanni, Consortium Classicum, Dieter Klöcker, dir.
  • John Blow: Ode on the Death of Purcell and Songs from Amphion anglicus, Leonhardt, et. al.
  • Satie: Works for Piano, Aldo Ciccolini
  • G.B. & G. Sammartini: Concerti & Sinfonie, Ensemble 415, Chiara Banchini, dir.
  • Jane Siberry: No Borders Here
  • Mendelssohn Cello Sonatas, Variations & Songs Without Words: Mischa Maisky, cello, Sergio Tiempo, piano
  • Alberta Hunter: The Legendary Alberta Hunter (London Sessions, 1934)
  • John Field: Piano Concertos #1 & #2: Miceal O’Rourke, London Mozart Players, Matthias Bamert, dir.

I almost have to put down two piano quartets of Hoffmeister, since I definitely “listened” to them many, many times over the last week as I scored them up from the original 1788 parts. MIDI files of those will soon be available on my page of works I’m studying for my dissertation.

Ethel Merman disco album (!)

Ethel Merman: Disco AlbumWell, I guess it had to happen eventually, but they’ve re-released the ETHEL MERMAN DISCO ALBUM. It’s not in record stores until the end of the month, but for right now if you’re dying to have it, you can get it online. There are even RealAudio samples of some of the tracks, which include some of those great disco standards like “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and that old disco favorite, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” The samples don’t give you much in the way of Merman’s performance, but it does show off the “art” of the arrangers. There’s actually some pretty clever stuff in there, but whoever did the arranging does seem to have had only one way to start every piece. Was disco really like that? The material I’ve read about this album says that Merman recorded her track alone, without hearing the orchestrations. Given the pacing and rhythm of her performance, I can’t imagine but that some version of the rhythm track must have been laid down for her to go with, as her timing and style are just perfect. You can’t invent that kind of thing after the fact by wrapping an arrangement around it!