Last Thursday’s stream certainly had the most viewer engagement of any one to date (I only bear a slight grudge that that didn’t translate into financial tips … honest … ). Among other things, it bore fruit in the first concrete requests of the ‘series’: probably both sparked by my mandolin and vocals rendition of ‘Dirty Old Town’, I can confirm the next stream will include versions of the traditional ‘Scarborough Fair’ and the Pogues original ‘Dark Streets of London’ (with potentially offensive lyrics; consider yourself warned). I don’t think responding to my ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by pointing me to Johnny Cash’s self-effacing comic masterpiece ‘Chicken in Black’ was intended to constitute a request as such … though I might try it some time anyway, if I stick to the streams for long enough …
Besides those two songs at the end then, here’s what I played on the 16th:
The Swallow’s Tail / The Irish Washerwoman (two traditional Irish jigs, for which, worryingly, an arm of Sony via YouTube’s automated system tried to make a copyright claim on the grounds of a recorded medley also including ‘The Road to Lisdoonvarna’, which I played in a previous stream; they haven’t responded to my disputing the claim on the grounds traditional compositions cannot be copyrighted as such, so hopefully I’ve fought that one off)
Another Jig will Do / The Rocky Road to Dublin (two slip jigs, as opposed to the ordinary 6/8 variety)
The Bonnie Lass o’ Bon Accord (a J Scott Skinner violin solo, Scottish folk-inflected in melody but definitely a light classical virtuoso performance piece)
The Bluehill Boys / The Harvest Home (two hornpipes that I know as Irish but seem to be known in Scotland and America too)
A tour of 18th-century art music written for different instruments on viola:
The Gigue from Bach’s C major suite for cello
Telemann’s third Fantasia for violin
Hoffmeister’s 9th étude, actually written for viola
Antidotum Tarantulae, a sequence of mandolin melodies used as part of a process to cure spider bites in 17th century southern Italy (it probably didn’t work).
Then the songs as above.
The Bach, like the vast majority of dance rhythm-based late baroque movements for any instrumentation, is in binary form: two parts, the first modulating away from the tonic key, the (longer) second returning to the home key and to some, or an altered form, of the opening material, both marked to be repeated. This creates a certain amount of difficulty for performers now that the Bach solo cello suites and solo violin partitas are considered among the pinnacles of chamber concert repertoire. Does one play the vast majority of the music twice identically? Does one ignore the repeat marks? Both are certainly done, the latter a lot more commonly. What is done surprisingly infrequently is to play the repeats but vary them. ‘Surprisingly’ because we know players of the period were given to substantially ornamenting, varying and simply changing the written music. Indeed, it’s been suggested that some passages apparently consisting of held notes or broken chords were never intended to be played as written but are merely frameworks for improvisation, and that what appear to be incredibly short slow movements (a handful of chords) in various pieces should really frame cadenzas ad lib. Admittedly, some suggest that Bach conversely wished performers wouldn’t alter his music! However, I think it’s also true that the solo string works have tended to remain largely divorced from the historically informed performance movement, largely played in not very 18th-century ways by players who do not specialise in ‘early’ music and often may not play much else of it. Also, Bach must be one of the two or three composers most still ‘reified’ in contemporary classical culture: you can ‘recompose’ the ‘Four Seasons’ and take liberties with Mozart, but you don’t mess with Bach!
Perhaps in line with this, my decision to play and ornament the repeats in the Bach movement provoked (neutral, possibly carefully so) comment from a listener – all right, it was my dad; does that entirely matter? Admittedly I had talked about ornamenting repeats by the time I took rather more radical steps with the Hoffmeister piece, also in binary form as a great many Classical movements are (sonata form in its earlier incarnations is effectively a subset of binary, with the earlier material of the second section ‘developed’ from the first; the falling away of the second and eventually the first repeat and the increasing role of the coda are developments into the Romantic period, notably pushed forward by Beethoven); but it attracted no such attention, even though late-Classical performers were probably less given to departure from the written part than their equivalents three generations earlier. Perhaps because even ornamentation of an immediate direct repeat is less obvious if you don’t know the piece beforehand, and I don’t think anyone listening knew the Hoffmeister études significantly (a shame); perhaps because no one is that worked up about the insertion of ‘extra twiddles’ into the work of a late-18th-century kleinmeister (yes, the German for ‘little master’ really is a term used in writing about Classical music!) – which of itself might be to me more of an appealing piece of freedom than a regrettable indifference, but that probably again marks me in the maverick / outsider category.
I can confirm requests for next week of Scarborough Fair and Dark Streets of London, as above, and for ‘Strip the Willow’. To see how I handle those and what else I get up to, maverick or mainstream, tune in at 8 with your PayPal balances at the ready! I might not do many more streams if the takings don’t improve, they’re a lot of work …