In my first post on this topic I mentioned the qualities of “glamour,” “atmosphere,” and “immediacy” as important to music’s successful use in the theater. In order to talk about one of the ways composers achieve glamour and atmosphere in classical music, we need to momentarily attempt to separate the sound of a piece from its content. But as soon as we try, we immediately discover that the performance sounds are crucial to the effect of the whole.
I’ll turn for a moment to popular music to make this point clear. Below is Little Richard singing “Tutti Frutti” in a 1956 rock movie. (A wilder performance from 1995 can be heard here, though Little Richard's effort to maintain a youthful appearance is slightly scary.)
Pat Boone’s sanitized cover of the same piece actually climbed higher in the 1950s charts than Little Richard’s. (You can hear Elvis Presley’s version of “Tutti Frutti” here. Incidentally, the text of Little Richard’s recording of Tutti Frutti” was incredibly sanitized from his initial version. I doubt if it could be recorded even today.)
Another interesting comparison is Little Richard’s recording of “Long Tall Sally” with Pat Boone’s remarkably insipid cover. Unfortunately, I could not find an online version of the latter. The Beatles did a version that reflects Little Richard’s vocal styling more closely. Both recordings are exciting, but it is easy to hear why Jimi Hendrix said, “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.”
These various versions of these popular songs often feel surprisingly different, sometimes because of tempo differences, but also because different instruments and different singers have different qualities of sound. Thus, even though in some ways the content of different versions of a song might be said to be the same, the effect of a song changes when the sounds used to perform it change.
Classical composers write out in some detail specifically how they want their works performed. So if a composer writes a work for orchestra, he specifies which instruments will play what parts and how. These details seldom get significantly changed by anyone other than the composer.
However, individual works sometimes get transcribed from one medium to another. A famous example is Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Originally written for piano, some parts of the work are fiendishly difficult, and it is used as a show piece by virtuoso pianists. Here is Victor Merzhanov performing the opening section. (I chose this version because the piano is recorded from the hall, rather than from a close microphone. It’s only the first 1'35" that I will use for comparison.)
This work has been transcribed for orchestra several times. The most famous version is by Maurice Ravel, who transcribed many of his own piano pieces for orchestra. Here is the opening promenade conducted by Tomomi Nishimoto. (I choose this version partly because I felt the both hall and Ms. Nishimoto are visually glamorous.)
Notice how different the orchestral version feels from the piano version. A grand piano is a remarkably beautiful instrument, and a great pianist can create subtle differences of color. But these are limited when compared to all color possibilities offered by the orchestra. And as I will discuss in part 3, using these color possibilities theatrically is one way composers can, if they choose to, add glamour and atmosphere.
Posted by Randall Shinn on April 30, 2009 in
I've long been fascinated by the culture of dolls for adults: Who collects them, and why? What longings does their obvious glamour appeal to?
Little girls may like dolls because they yearn to grow up, but adults are wishing for something else. Some of the appeal is not that different from that of fashion magazines--beautiful faces and beautiful clothes and the pleasures of imagining yourself in them. (Jason Wu, who designed Michelle Obama's inaugural gown, is best known as a doll designer.) Some comes from having the doll you always dreamed of as a child. Some comes from having the child you always dreamed of in a doll.
But the appeal is not always that simple. Take Delilah Noir, whose website describes her as "Honor Student by Day, Shadowy Siren by Night." Here's a bit of her backstory:
Sometimes, I would just like to forget about the future and dream. A world without rules, structure, and pressure...
Yeah, freedom to be me....just for a little while.
The night excites me. There is something about the darkness that stirs my soul. I can't explain it. The street lights are lit, the stars peek out and the rays of the moon glow through a cloudy sky. I find comfort in the embrace of a buzzing city night.
The cool air that bites at my heels makes me want to dance. Stiletto lace ups are my passion. Corsets and coattails are only some of the clothes stashed away in the back of my closet. Red velvet, black lace, purple silk take my breath away....
I admit to finding this Gothic Lolita positioning a little kinky and assuming that she'd appeal to the sexual fantasies of those turned on by school uniforms. But, as is so often the case, the desire she appeals to is not the desire to possess her but the desire to (momentarily at least) be her. Her glamour, like glamour in general, is all about escape and transformation--made quite explicit in her self-description.
She makes me think of that side of me I never explored as a young person, because I was just too scared to. But it was always there. It’s still there, that darker side, but I know where it inevitably leads, and I don’t want to go there. So, I chose the light and the Lord where I know I’ll always be safe. But I admire young Delilah for exploring the freedom and excitement of the night - if only for a little while. She seems to be a girl who knows her time there will be limited, which is a good thing, for to linger in the night too long would mean eventually getting sucked into it to the point of no return. And that’s just some thoughts about the duality of man this doll brings to mind.
This post on dolls as therapy picks up the idea of projection in another way. For adults (and possibly for children as well), playing with dolls can take you out of yourself, allowing you to escape the troubles of the moment by focusing on an imagined other person whose desires you can fulfill. It's an escapism based on empathy.
Posted by Virginia Postrel on April 30, 2009 in
Anyone interested in translating my TED talk on glamour into any language other than English? TED is launching a translation Wiki, via dotSub.com, and soliciting speakers to seed the site with translations. They provide an English-language transcript. If you're interested, please email me at virginia-at-deepglamour.net for details.
Posted by Virginia Postrel on April 28, 2009 in
Not all classical music has ‘glamour’, but some does. In her book Dance with the Music Elizabeth Sawyer has a chapter on choosing music suitable to choreograph for ballet. She writes:
One matter on which most writers seem to agree is that music for the theater must have the quality of glamour. This being defined as ‘magic, enchantment; delusive or alluring beauty or charm’, that view seems reasonable.
Sawyer also talks about an indefinable something called “atmosphere.” Although she can’t define theatrical atmosphere in music, she names pairs of composers whose music in general has or does not have theatrical atmosphere. Among others, she says that Monteverdi’s music generally has it, Palestrina’s does not. Similarly, Weber but not Beethoven; Tchaikovsky but not Brahms.
Her perceptions are valid, and since the second composer in each pairing is undeniably great, it shows, as she writes, that “the presence or absence of glamour does not, in itself, determine the worth of a piece of music.”
Sawyer is not saying that some music is glamorous because of its association with glamorous venues or performers, but rather that some pieces of music have qualities that make them intrinsically glamorous. (I would add the caveat that this can only be true of the music is performed well.) And if a piece of music can have the qualities of “glamour” and “atmosphere,” then these qualities can be borrowed by other media, such as dance, film, and even advertising.
If we think of glamour in the older sense in which it was synonymous with a magic “spell,” then some classical music has the ability to immediately cast a spell, whereas other music builds its effect more slowly as it unfolds. In film, as in the theater, immediacy is important, so film makers typically choose music that has atmosphere, especially for emotional moments. In many films where there are sequences of images with no dialogue, borrowing the magic, the glamour, of particular passages of classical music has been crucial to the final effect .
One work that has been used many times in films is “O Fortuna”, the opening movement of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Like most composers whose music Sawyer feels has the quality of “atmosphere,” Orff wrote numerous works for the theater, and though written for the concert hall, Carmina Burana is undeniably theatrical.
You can see a video of “O Fortuna” performed in the concert hall here, with the incredibly dark text given in subtitles. The video below shows how a portion of the music was used in the 1981 film Excalibur. It’s a short excerpt, so I suggest watching it first with the sound off and then again with it on. Notice how remarkably different the emotional effect is when the music is added.
There is some glamour in the knights’ shining armor and their horses. But the music adds tremendous emotion and atmosphere, as well as a sense of universality. The knights seem to represent all warriors who have ridden or marched into battle, and the elemental force of the music suggests that although the orchard they ride past will blossom again next spring, most of these knights will not live to see it.
I plan to talk about a few other examples of films using classical music in the next few weeks, and while doing so I will try to hint at why some music can cast such a powerful spell.
Posted by Randall Shinn on April 28, 2009 in
Dirty Dancing may never make any cineaste's list of best American films, but piffle to that. Who doesn't love the story of Baby and Johnny, brought together by mambo, torn apart by class warfare? And now--it's a musical!
Re-imagined for the stage by the original screenwriter, Dirty Dancing is an unprecedented live musical experience, exploding with heart-pounding music, breathtaking emotion and of course...dancin'!
Limited Engagement Begins May 8th at Hollywood’s Historic Pantages Theatre
Deep Glamour readers and their friends can get a rockin' great discount (35%) on select seats when they order tickets through Ticketmaster with the special code GR35 .
(Thanks to Stacy at Allied Live for this offer, too.)
Judging from the May issue, it appears that Vogue has discovered black people. It's not just putting Michelle Obama on the cover--and even letting her wear her own clothes. This issue actually includes two black models among the nine on the gate-fold cover. Inside, there is, of course, a paean to the new administration's influence on Washington style, with a photo of social secretary (African-American) Desirée Rogers in Carolina Herrera, with the reassurance that "For the best flowers, one still goes to Sue Bluford, who did all of Katharine Graham's arrangements." (Some things don't change, including the bold-faced names.)
Kanye West--you may have heard of him--gets a spread as the "man of the moment." Venus and Serena Williams are celebrated. And--most amazingly of all--there's a piece on Sam Fine, the "go-to makeup master for women of color," complete with tips and a plug for his new DVD (supposedly available at Amazon, but I can't find it. Try your luck and let me know if you have more success.) Here's one corner of the economy that seems to be getting some Obama stimulus.
Posted by Virginia Postrel on April 27, 2009 in
I suppose that one could choose to be glamorous anywhere. While staying in a B&B in Harlech, Wales, we dressed casually and asked where to find a good local pub. After telling us, our host recalled a Parisian couple that had come down from their rooms on a Saturday night, he wearing a tuxedo, and she an evening gown. When they asked, “Where is the nightlife?” he looked at them and said, “You’re it.” Then he explained the local customs, sent them to a local pub dressed as they were, and they had a great time.
The Kentucky Derby provides an opportunity to wear outrageously extravagant hats and drink during the day. Seeing photographs such as this one, I am reminded of Ovid's line in The Art of Love advising young men “to learn to know the places which the fair ones most do haunt.” Places where “they come to see and, more important still, to be seen.” And he mentions Roman horse races as one possible venue.
In large, reasonably fashionable cities, glamorous events are more of a possibility. Theater events, charitable events, perhaps some country club gatherings, and maybe even some night spots where you might feel comfortable dressed in relatively glamorous clothing. While living in New Orleans I was invited to observe the carnival ball of one of the Mardi Gras Krewes, an event so costumed and formal that a tuxedo was required to sit in the balcony and watch. In smaller cities and towns, dress is usually more casual, though in small fashionable cities like Santa Fe, there are more chances to dress up.
How do readers feel? Is an occasion or venue required in order to wear glamorous outfits? Or can touches of glamour be incorporated into more ordinary clothing? While in Breckenridge recently to ski, I noticed that young Japanese skiers were, on the whole, strikingly fashion conscious, and this was true of both young men and women as they were merely window shopping in town. No wonder Japan has become one of the world leaders in style.
In the unlikely event that they remembered me (and my mediocre grades), my college economics professors would be, no doubt, thrilled to hear that I’ve finally developed an interest in their subject. Thanks to proponents of “pop economics” like Freakonomics authors (and bloggers) Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, these days I’m downright entertained by the discipline. The freaky duo and their pop peers apply economic principles to practical subjects – like baby naming – creating accessible, but academic, discussions of everyday problems.
Accessible, academic, and entertaining, but seriously lacking in the glamour department.
In fact, I think economics might just be the polar opposite of glamorous. Where glamour invokes mystery and seduction, econ seeks to compartmentalize, deconstruct and explain.
The differences between the two are readily apparent, even in their language. For example, compare this:
As my research agenda has turned lately to thinking more about business and how companies can maximize their profits, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering customer service.
Those are the first sentences of blog posts by Freakonomic’s Levitt and the undeniably glamorous Manolo the Shoeblogger (interviewed by DG here). The subject of both posts is exactly the same: this tale of amazing customer service on behalf of online shoe retailer Zappos. Zappos sounds like a pretty impressive, well-run company - plus, shoes! - and both blogs regularly sing its praises, for exactly the same reasons. But in such a different way.
The Manolo’s opening sentence might be short and to the point, but its tone very quickly conveys that the blog as a whole is fun and funny and just a little bit exotic, sort of like a tongue-in-cheek romance novel (for more of that, and another Zappos link, check out this post). Levitt’s tone, on the other hand, is a combination of academic and businesslike – pure economist. And he’s one of the accessible ones!
This isn’t a criticism of the world’s economists, by the way. Not everybody can - or should - be a super-fantastic shoeblogger. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s somebody out there who has the capability to glam up economics. Of course, given the current state of the economy, glamorous intrigue and mystery might not be the recipe for recovery. Then again, it just might.
Posted by Kit Pollard on April 24, 2009 in
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