Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 1st marks the anniversary of the release of Sony's "Walkman" - the iconic little "personal stereo" released in 1979 - whose brand name became synonymous with the technology itself, no matter who the maker. For those too young to remember, and we know you are out there, the Walkman was the portable cassette player that first made it fashionable to wear headphones as an accessory, that single-handedly killed the sales of vinyl albums, and that made it possible to enjoy your own intimate musical world no matter where you were. To commemorate this anniversary, Polley Music Library offers a few more interesting facts about how the way we listen to music can be as influential as the music itself.

1880s - The phonograph is developed and mass produced.
1902 - Opera tenor Enrico Caruso becomes the first recording superstar. Other vocal ranges sound terrible with the recording technology of the time.
1910s - Playback time on discs was brief so popular songs had to become instantly recognizable.
1917 - First jazz recordings released; large numbers of people exposed to new music.
1940s - Sound recording quality improves due to technology used during WWII.
1950s - Some recording artists fight for the right to receive royalties when their songs are played on the radio.
1954 - Pocket transistor radios allow teenagers to listen to rock 'n' roll wherever they went.
1965 - 8-Track players became popular due to their ease of use in cars.
1976 - Hip-hop culture embraces the "Ghetto Blaster" - turntables and microphones can be plugged in to make every street corner a place to mix records, rap, and dance.
1979 - The Walkman allows people to choose their music everywhere they go.
1980s - The Discman appears on the market. CDs create a boom in the music industry as people replace their music collections with the new technology.
1990s - MP3 technology becomes accessible to the masses. Some recording artists fight to punish anyone who "pirates" their music.
2000s - The iPod. Now capable of storing up to 30 days of music.

Before the invention of the phonograph, listening to music was a fleeting experience, enjoyed in the moment and never repeated. During the 20th Century, we music listeners have demanded more and more control over our musical environments - in our homes, in our cars, and eventually, everywhere we went. The way we listen to music has an impact on the music industry itself, on fashion, on vocabulary, and perhaps most importantly, on the way we interact with and experience the music itself.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Toscanini's Conducting Debut

On June 30, 1886 (125 years ago), Arturo Toscanini made his conducting debut in Rio de Janiero. The young Toscanini had been hired as principal cellist and assistant chorus master for an Italian opera company's tour of Brazil. On the ship on the way to Brazil, he coached the singers and impressed them with his knowledge of the music they were to sing. Although most of the company was Italian, the conductor for the tour was Brazilian, Leopoldo Miguez, and the company didn't meet him until their arrival in Sao Paulo. To put it mildly, Miguez and the troup did not work well together. Miguez resigned on June 30th, the day of a performance of Aida; Miguez also published a letter blaming his resignation on the Italians.

The show must go on, so the assistant conductor, Carlo Superti took the podium and began the opening of Aida. The audience made so much noise that the music could not be heard, and Superti left to jeers and catcalls. The company's impressario, Claudio Rossi, tried to speak with the audience with no greater success, and an audience heading to the ticket stand for refunds. What to do? The singers backstage suggested the nineteen year old Arturo Toscanini knew the score. What was there to lose? Toscanini took the helm of the orchestra and the rest is history.

To read more about Toscanini, books such as Understanding Toscanini, by Joseph Horowitz, Reflections on Toscanini, by Harvey Sachs, and Arturo Toscanini: the NBC Years, by Mortimer H. Frank, can be found in the Polley Music Library. The library also has several recordings with Toscanini conducting.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Igor Stravinsky (June 17,1882 - April 6, 1971)

On a warm, May evening in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, a barely recognizable bassoon sang out the first few bars of the new ballet, The Rite of Spring. The bassoon continued in the highest notes of the intrument’s range as the dancers took their cues on stage. The audience, dressed to the nines, began to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Moments later, composer Camille Saint-Saëns walked out of the performance, loudly complaining that the bassoon had been misused. Fights broke out as members of the audience argued over the artistic value of the piece. People shouted both insults and accolades at the stage. Whether or not audiences were ready for it, Modernism had arrived in the classical music world.

Over the years, Stravinsky experimented with and transformed many 20th Century musical techniques including Neo-classicism, polytonal styles, and 12-tone serialism. Though his compositions were influenced by Russia’s expressive folk music and the romantic orchestrations of his famous teacher, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, his own voice was always present through his unique, energetic, rhythmic drive.

Stravinsky is also famous for his cosmopolitan lifestyle. He travelled the world and became a citizen in both France and the United States. He had numerous affairs with influential women, including Coco Chanel, and his second wife, dancer and artist Vera de Bosset. He was also close friends with composer Claude Debussy, author Aldous Huxley, and artist Pable Picasso.

Igor Stravinsky was an energetic, charismatic, musical revolutionary that never stopped evolving and experimenting. His personal life was as interesting and controversial as his musical creations. Learn more from Lincoln City Libraries!


Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents - by Vera Stravinsky & Robert Craft

Stravinsky - The Second Exile: France & America (1934-1971) - by Stephen Walsh


Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky - (2009) Sony Pictures


The Firebird: Russian Fairy Tale - Seattle Symphony Orchestra
The Rite of Spring - London Symphony Orchestra

Monday, June 13, 2011

International Surf Music Month

June is International Surf Music Month -- a perfect time to think of fun in the sun, sand and surf. And to think of the really fun rock and pop music from Southern California that's come to be known as "surf music."

There are two major types of surf music: rock instrumentals such as Wipeout, Pipeline or the Hawaii Five-O theme, and pop rock vocals like Surfin' Safari. Bands like the Tornadoes, the Chantays, the Ventures, the Surfaris, the Beach Boys, and artists like Dick Dale and Jan and Dean have left us the wonderful summer surf music.

A couple of books in our collection that touch on surf music include Timothy White's A Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the Southern California Experience, along with Bob Greene's When We Get to Surf City: A Journey Through America in Pursuit of Rock and Roll, Friendship, and Dreams (as Bob Greene tours the State Fair circuit with Jan and Dean). There are also many websites devoted to surf music and lots of YouTube videos to get you in the summer surfin' mood.