Tonight’s meal, the majority of which came from this week’s CSA. Contents include

  • Radish Spinach Goat Cheese Frittata
  • Fresh Green Salad with Pickled Beets (from last year’s CSA)
  • Radish Green Pesto (for later this week)
  • Rhubarb Apple Frangipane Pie

I made up the recipes for everything except the pie, which comes from First Prize Pies by Allison Kave. I’ve made a few of her pies, and so far her recipes have been winners!

Today begins our yearly CSA (community supported agriculture) for our neighborhood in Brooklyn. The collective of people in my neighborhood pay in advance to a farm upstate. During the growing season (late May-October) the farm delivers whatever is in season to us. This week included a lot of lettuce, radishes, spinach and more. Above is my first CSA meal of the season! Fried eggs, a slice of bread, radishes, and a salad made with pickled beets I made at the end of last season.

Today begins our yearly CSA (community supported agriculture) for our neighborhood in Brooklyn. The collective of people in my neighborhood pay in advance to a farm upstate. During the growing season (late May-October) the farm delivers whatever is in season to us. This week included a lot of lettuce, radishes, spinach and more. Above is my first CSA meal of the season! Fried eggs, a slice of bread, radishes, and a salad made with pickled beets I made at the end of last season.

This video features John L. Lewis, an outspoken early and mid-twentieth century labor and union leader. I’m sure I had to remember his name in high school US history, but I relearned his name yesterday in rehearsal for Julia Wolfe's ANTHRACITE FIELDS with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Bang on a Can All-Stars, presented by The New York Philharmonic.  Details here

John L. Lewis delivers a fiery speech to congress wherein he lambasts Secretary of the Interior J. A. Krug for his lack of attention to the conditions of the mining industry after a 1947 mining disaster in Centralia, IL that killed 111 men. I drove through Centralia in March with New York Polyphony and didn’t know anything about this.

Julia sets some of the most haunting words in the piece:

If we must grind up human flesh and bones in this industrial machine that we call modern America, then before God, I assert that those who consume the coal and you and I who benefit from that service, because we live in comfort… We owe protection to those men, and we owe the security to their families if they die.

To be honest, singing these words makes me feel like a hypocrite. I am blissfully unaware of the conditions of the people who have made my clothes, shoes, or computer. Just 2 months ago, some NGOs called for a boycott of Apple for “needlessly exposing workers … to toxic chemicals.” What kind of a person am I, singing these lyrics, but playing an active role in permitting injustice, whether directly or indirectly?

Photos of the Mysterious New York City Island You’ve Never Heard Of

I think it would be so so so eerie to visit this place. A ghost town with a view of Manhattan!

The best is when you unexpectedly get to sing a friend’s name in the piece you’re doing. This is Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe. The friend is John Lake.

The best is when you unexpectedly get to sing a friend’s name in the piece you’re doing. This is Anthracite Fields by Julia Wolfe. The friend is John Lake.

On Friday and Saturday (May 30 and 31) I’ll be part of a performance of Julia Wolfe's ANTHRACITE FIELDS with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Bang on a Can All-Stars, presented by The New York Philharmonic.  Details here

The piece, which takes the form of extended oratorio for ensemble and choir, explores the relationship of America to coal. In our rehearsals Julia Wolfe reminded us that still over 50% of American electricity comes from coal. Over 50%! I had never even heard of “anthracite”; I only knew it as “clean coal” - coal that burns cleaner and brighter than other less pure forms of this addictive carbon compound. Although today “anthracite” sounds like a parasite or a disease, it used to be a commonplace advertising term. 

In the last movement, the basses sing a fun 3 against 4 ostinato to the words “Phoebe Snow about to go on the train to Buffalo.” In the rehearsal I had no clue what this was about. It turns out that Phoebe Snow was a fictional character, a lady dressed all in white, who was able to take the train all the way from Hoboken to Buffalo without getting soot on her clothes. The revolution of anthracite combustion made this clean trip possible. Above are a series of advertisements I found that play homage to anthracite as Phoebe revels in her enjoyable trip.

Pope Marcellus Mass / Missa Papae Marcelli

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In June I’ll perform the Pope Marcellus Mass/Missa Papae Marcelli by Palestrina with my ensemble New York Polyphony. Although I am a musician who performs a lot of Early Music, I admit that I was late in the game in getting on the Early Music enthusiast bandwagon. (Many reasons for that - I’ll save that for another time.) 

Because of this until-recent lack of enthusiasm for Early Music, I think I blocked the unit about Palestrina in my college music history course. In the spirit of turning over new leaves, I had to ask: what’s the story behind the Pope Marcellus Mass?

It turns out that there’s a good deal of mythology about this Mass in musicology circles. Some have gone so far as to mark the Missa Papae Marcelli as an important turning point in Western Music and its relationship to the Church. My attempt with this post is to break down this myth of the mass vis-a-vis its historical context.

What we know:

Palestrina wrote this mass most likely in 1562 to honor the late Pope Marcellus II, who reigned for 3 weeks during 1555. Marcellus II was succeeded by Paul IV, who did not share the same support for the arts as his predecessors Marcellus II (as if he really mattered) and Julius III. Although Palestrina enjoyed patronage from Julius III, he was excluded from St. Peter’s by Paul IV, a counter-reformationist and key figure in the Roman Inquisition. Paul IV was succeeded by Pius IV, who was the leader in the final meetings of the Council of Trent in 1562, likely the same year as the Pope Marcellus Mass. By this time, Palestrina had regained some favor in Rome. 

This is where it gets interesting from a musicology angle. The Council of Trent posed a problem for polyphonic music. As K.G. Fellerer stated over half a century ago, the Council of Trent recommended “that music must serve to uplift the faithful, that its words must be intelligible, and that secular expression must be avoided” (K. G. Fellerer and Moses Hadas, “Church Music and the Council of Trent,” The Musical Quarterly. Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1953), pp. 576-594, p. 576.). What musicologists don’t agree on is how much this recommendation was put into practice. It seems that the Council was discouraging polyphony in favor of more homophonic structures that allowed for clearer interpretation of text. However, in broad strokes, polyphony continued to develop, with ever-more ornate structures, particularly in Venice with Willaert and his musical heirs including Gabrielli and Monteverdi. In Rome, with Palestrina leading the charge, it appears that musical development remained a bit more conservative, though certainly polyphonic.

What we might guess:

According to some, Palestrina curtailed his style to some degree in the composition of the Missa Papae Marcelli. Unlike much of his music, this mass is more homophonic and verges toward what we would recognize now as functional harmony, with less emphasis on the intervalic relationships between lines of counterpoint. You see this particularly in the Gloria and Credo movements, where textual declamations are performed in homophony by three or more voices throughout the entire piece. What makes this declamation interesting is how Palestrina varies it by switching the vocal pairings and adding passing tones of interest for each part. This homophonic display is the reason that we might believe Palestrina wrote this piece directly in response to the new rules of the Council of Trent. 

I can almost imagine Palestrina hearing of the Council’s recommendations about polyphonic style and saying to himself, “I can still write polyphony, but I can be even more brilliant.” If I were to make a modern comparison, I would compare him to Shostakovich at the time of his Fifth Symphony. Shostakovich’s Fifth was written following the severe reactionist censorship of the Communist government after the production of his opera Lady MacBeth of Mtensk. As the lead up to the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich wrote that his work was “a Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism.” Despite this overt bowing to the Soviet overlords, the work contains subversive musical language and succeeds at being artistically compelling while politically acceptable.

We can’t say that Palestrina had the same relationship with the church that Shostakovich had with the Soviet authorities, but it does seem that Palestrina might have needed to walk a similar line in order to produce the Missa Papae Marcelli.

All that being said, this myth doesn’t hold too much water, particularly when you look at the Kyrie movement. There’s nothing homophonic about the Kyrie; it’s Palestrina at his typical finest, writing beautiful extended lines of polyphony. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei also follow in this style. Artistic concerns aside, it’s not even clear that Palestrina wrote the mass in 1562. According to Peter Gutmann, there is evidence that Palestrina wrote it in 1555 during Pope Marcellus’ actual reign.

So then, how has this myth about the Missa Papae Marcelli endured for such a long time? Gutmann tells us that the myth possibly dates back to 1607 with a treatise by Agostini Agazzari, who asserted:

"… music would have come very near to being banished from the Holy Church by a sovereign pontiff had not Giovanni Palestrina found the remedy, finding that the fault and error lay, not with music, but with the composers, and composing in confirmation of this the mass entitled Missa Papae Marcelli.”

Strong words indeed, but they seem to have little historical backing. What seems to have happened is an historical myth compounding upon this assertion by Agazzari, so much so that composers throughout the generations (including Mendelssohn, Wagner, Verdi and Debussy) looked to Palestrina as a great savior of Western Music. Was Palestrina influential? Undoubtedly. But to cast him in the role of demagogue doesn’t serve him or his music. After all, by the end of his life he became a successful fur trader - hardly what one would expect from the valiant rescuer of an art form.

What does all this mean for us as we perform this piece? Although it’s likely that the Missa Papae Marcelli was not written in reaction to the Council of Trent, I think it’s fun to imagine Palestrina as a subversive artist and this piece as a political tool. It makes the piece a little more risky and immediate. If that helps our performance, then the myth serves a valuable purpose. Nonetheless, it’s good to know that not all myths are true.

theatlantic:

In Focus: Libya’s Long, Slow Recovery

Nearly two years since the overthrow of the dictator Moammar Qaddafi, Libyans are still struggling to return to normal lives. A temporary national assembly just cleared the way for a new constitution to be drafted by the end of this year. Some of the rebel militia groups who banded together to oust Qaddafi have donned uniforms and become members of the police and army of the new government. Other rebel groups have maintained independence, clashing with those who seek unity under rule of law. The economy continues to suffer: Oil production is way down, and tourism has nearly evaporated. But foreign aid has increased, reconstruction in Benghazi has picked up, and Libya is bidding to host the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.

Read more.