Obama Inauguration Music & Symbolism, Part 2

This post was supposed to be a discussion of the John Williams Inauguration composition Air and Simple Gifts. But the piece itself just wasn’t that interesting! So how about some brief comments and links, and have some more Marian Anderson?

The piece (see video below) consisted of an air that felt primarily soothing, rather like a sunbeam that comes through the window warms part of your carpet on an otherwise chilly day. The “Simple Gifts” portion was an obvious nod to Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which is perhaps the quintessential American classical composition. So quintessential, probably, that it’s unnecessary to point out that Anthony McGill’s gorgeously played clarinet entrance on the “Simple Gifts” melody is a verbatim quote from the Copland version. (Listen to that on YouTube, with some Ansel Adams photographs.)

Here’s the video from the Inauguration:

Alex Ross gathers some reviews, and offers some hopes for what an Obama administration might do for classical music and the arts. He also links to a brief video of Obama narrating Copland’s Lincoln Portait.

By now the “scandal” has broken that the musicians, due to the cold temperature, were marking along to a recording they’d made — the instrumental equivalent of lip-synching. There have been a few “Milli Vanilli” quips, but it’s not like they hired, well, better musicians to do the playing behind the scenes. My favorites were the attempts to tie this “scandal” to the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, where the “cuter” girl lip-synched for the girl with the better voice. Whether they could have found “cuter musicians” than Ma, Perlman, McGill and Gabriela Montero is pretty subjective, but believe me when I say the use of a prerecording was the right call. Musical instruments are made of wood, metal, fabric and glue. Know what happens to those materials in cold weather? They contract. Strings, inparticular, get brittle. The brass band hit several clunkers in those fanfares they played as people were walked in.

So, let’s get back to Marian Anderson and why she was such a big deal. Some of my favorite clips:

Handel’s “He Shall Feed His Flock” in a very slow performance that would certainly never be allowed in today’s era of “early music authenticity.”

 

Schubert’s “Erlkoenig” — listen to how successfuly Marian differentiates the voices.

“Sometimes I fee Like a Motherless Child”

For those reading this on a feed - this is Bonnie Gibbons talking, not John. It’s come to my attention that author names aren’t being included on the feed, which I’ll try to get fixed. Generally, if the post discusses a piece of music in detail it’s John, because that’s what he does for a living. With a day job in web site development, I’m generally the one with the digital music industry news, or the “around the web” stuff. Due to my respect for this day job, I rarely have an opportunity to discuss music in detail, and never did get the chops to, say, discuss the music of George Perle, who passed last week.