Thursday, February 26, 2009

New York Opera

What is the music of New York City? Okay, it’s a stupid question. Depending on what you like, you can chose almost anything you’d want to listen to, and call it authentic New York music. Genre after genre of American music has its roots in New York City, from classical music—native New Yorkers Copland, Gershwin, and Carter are perhaps the greatest composers in 20th century America—to all of the creators of rap music, from Grandmaster Flash to Jay-Z. But leave us to avoid chauvinism, or ill-becoming boosterism. For most musical genres, New York City has to share the honors with other cities. If nothing says New York City in music like jazz, NYC must share the honors as the pre-eminent jazz city with Chicago, Kansas City, and of course, New Orleans. And New York City, if not quite tangential to the development of the post-war blues and rock and roll, is not nearly as central as say, Detroit or Memphis, or for that matter, Liverpool. But there is one musical genre which was New York City born and bred, and really had no life outside of the city, except for a few of its practitioners who ventured to Hollywood. This is the remarkable flourishing of musical theater in New York City from about 1920 to about 1970, a rough half century that saw the production of masterpiece after masterpiece. It was a synthetic genre, with a foundation in Viennese operetta on which was overlaid ragtime, jazz, and newer popular music styles, but it has a coherence and distinctiveness that was all its own; verbally deft, melodically pungent, nimble in its dance, and elegant in its presentation. In his history of Opera in America, John Dizikes, calls this, quite aptly, “New York Opera” and the name is a good one. For most of the 20th century, some of the most sophisticated, memorable, and lasting musical theater, anywhere in the world, was created in New York City.

These reflections are prompted by the sad news that John McGlinn, an extraordinary conductor of American musicals, passed away last week. Before McGlinn, the performance of American musicals was haphazard, with numbers cut out, added, or reshaped according to the whims of the performers. Little attention had been paid to the original intentions of the composers, or efforts made to search out the original scores, and attempt to create authentic performing additions. What a host of musicologists were doing in the 1980s and 1990s for baroque music, McGlinn did for American musicals. His masterpiece was undoubtedly the 3 CD release in 1988 of the complete score for “Show Boat,” demonstrating an previously unrecognized architecture to the entire work, and salvaging numbers cut from the show. It was a revelation, and he followed this up with similarly vital reconstructions of the works of Cole Porter, Gershwin, and all of the giants of mid century American musical theater. There is nothing automatic about the preservation of our cultural heritage. John McGlinn, in his many recordings, did much to help keep the mighty majesty of the musical “rolling along.”

14 comments:

LuannD said...

I know this blog is not the setting to ask this question, but I can't think of any two people, who can give me the information that is accurate and right on.
Perhaps this will look like a naive and silly query, but ..
Is Rush Limbaugh a dangerous man that we should fear or a fool with a radio show? To be honest, he is starting to frighten me...his out of control rants and the ability to stir up his listeners. Who would say (publicly, no less) that he wishes the president to fail? Plus, the fact I have no idea what his ideology is that he draws such an audience.
Thank you...Luann D

Rob Snyder said...

Your question is a good one.

Rush Limbaugh is a liar,a bigmouth, and a bully who represents an isolated segment of right-wing opinion.

Back in the Nineties, he did have clout as the mouthpiece of the Republicans who worked with Newt Gingrich to attack the Clinton administration. And his dishonest rantings against the "liberal media" did rattle some people in American newsrooms.

But Limbaugh today represents little more than the embittered wing of a party that was soundly defeated in the last presidential election. His prominence in the news is the product of both Republicans' inability to come up with a better representative and Democrats' eagerness to take him on: as long as Limbaugh speaks for the Republicans, the GOP is going nowhere.

While the "anti-socialism" that Limbaugh espouses is an old theme in American politics, I think his rantings are more sign of desperation than of strength.

Rest easy. I don't think you have anything to fear from Rush Limbaugh.

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