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Mulgrew Miller, whose supple touch and thorough command made him a leading jazz pianist, died early Wednesday. His death was related to a stroke he suffered a week earlier, according to saxophonist David Demsey, coordinator of jazz studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., where Miller served as director of jazz studies. Miller was 57.
Mulgrew Miller And Wingspan On JazzSet
A versatile player, Miller had a style that sparkled with clarity and bounded with soulfulness — a combination that can be heard on more than 500 albums, by his own estimation. His gentle personality and thoughtful mentorship further endeared him to multiple generations of musicians. “He was a very positive kind of human being,” said Steve Wilson, a saxophonist and close associate. “He never had anything negative to say about anyone or anything. … But the second he sat down at the piano, he was in the zone. Whether he was at soundcheck, or trying to see if the piano was in tune, or at a gig — whenever he played that first note, he was in that zone.” Miller was born in 1955 in Greenwood, Miss. and his father bought him a piano six years later. At 14 he saw Oscar Peterson play on TV and was smitten by jazz. Miller studied at Memphis State University and in Boston, then spent the next two decades as a full-time touring professional. Among his highest-profile associations were with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (under the direction of Mercer Ellington), singer Betty Carter, trumpeter Woody Shaw, drummer Tony Williams and drummer Art Blakey, whose band served as a development academy for star young talent. Though Miller recorded much more as a sideman than a bandleader, he left behind an estimable solo discography of well over a dozen albums. He released his debut recording in 1985; two years later, he released Wingspan, which shared its name with the band he led off and on. In recent years, Miller also performed frequently with a trio of younger musicians (Rodney Green on drums and Ivan Taylor or Derrick Hodge on bass), and was often spotted with bassist Ron Carter’s Golden Striker trio, a drummerless ensemble with guitarist Russell Malone. Miller was recorded often by the NPR Music program JazzSet, produced by member station WBGO. His trio visited the Kennedy Center in Washington last year, and a Detroit Jazz Festival performance found him leading Wingspan and duetting with fellow pianist Kenny Barron. Before Miller died, he also saluted his colleagues. He can be heard in a JazzSet recording of a tribute to pianist James Williams, whom he knew since his college years in Memphis, and who preceded him as a professor at William Paterson.
This past week, the No. 1 album in America was by a polo-shirted New York band that has never had a hit single. Even alt-rock radio doesn’t play them much.
This week, that band will be replaced at No. 1 by a French duo that only appears publicly in robot getups and, until a month ago, had never seen the inside of the Top 40.
This is notable activity atop a Billboard album chart that, in 2013, has been led by the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi, Michael Bublé and Lady Antebellum.
Are Vampire Weekend and Daft Punk — our latest and next chart-topper — the hippest pair of acts ever to top the U.S. album chart back-to-back? Depending on how you define “hip,” maybe. And does this chart-topping success make them instantly unhip? Maybe not.
As of last week, Vampire Weekend’s third album Modern Vampires of the City led the Billboard 200, the music-industry bible’s flagship album chart. Modern Vampires is actually VW’s second straight No. 1; their sophomore disc Contra debuted on top, too, back in 2010. Disappearing for three years doesn’t seem to have been bad for business — Modern Vampires rolled 134,000 in sales in its debut week, about 10,000 copies higher than Contra‘s first-week total.
But VW’s solid six-figure sum looks like chump change this week. Daft Punk, who have been away from recording even longer, are replacing VW at No. 1 with Random Access Memories. Billboard just announced late Tuesday that the album rolled an eye-popping debut-week total of 339,000 copies.
That’s not only more than twice what VW tallied; Random Access Memories‘ opening tally is the second-largest debut of the year to date, after Justin Timberlake’s 968,000-album arrival in March. For Daft Punk, it’s the biggest sales week of a two-decade career, and about two and a half times what the robotic duo’s last studio album, 2005’s Human After All, sold in total.
Daft Punk’s album is benefiting from a savvy prerelease awareness campaign that’s been months (even years) in the making. But the duo is also reaping rewards from the public as electronic-music godfathers, for helping to birth the sound that’s been permeating the radio for about five years now.
In one sense, Vampire Weekend’s debut is the more impressive — despite recording a raft of catchy songs, they can’t rely on the radio. Ezra Koenig’s jaunty, Paul Simon–esque foursome is selling largely based on buzz and hardcore fandom (a Saturday Night Live appearance two weeks ago didn’t hurt).
A perusal of Billboard‘s flagship singles chart, the Hot 100, shows a dearth of hits for VW. In the five years since their 2008 debut, none of their songs has peaked higher on the chart than 2010’s “Horchata,” which reached No. 102. That’s not a typo — Billboard tracks songs that “Bubble Under” the Hot 100, many of which never make the leap onto the list. All of VW’s singles have bubbled under the Hot 100, from 2008’s “A-Punk” (No. 106) to the new album’s “Diane Young” (No. 119). Essentially, Top 40 radio has largely ignored VW; and their fans seem to buy the albums, not the singles. Even on Billboard‘s Alternative Songs list (an all-radio chart), success for VW has been hard-won — 2010’s “Cousins” stalled at No. 18, and current single “Diane Young” has fought its way to No. 11. These are modest chart results for a band with two No. 1 albums.
Daft Punk’s pop profile is only moderately higher. Prior to this year, they’d only hit the Hot 100 twice: 1997’s “Around the World” and 2001’s “One More Time” each peaked, coincidentally, at a dismal No. 61. They’ve scored Top 10s and even No. 1’s on the Dance Club chart before, but that’s a tastemaker list, one of the few Billboard charts with no consumer or radio component at all.
This time, however, Daft Punk have an honest-to-goodness, booming-from-a-car-near-you U.S. hit: the Song of Summer frontrunner “Get Lucky,” featuring producer–vocalist Pharrell Williams and legendary, should-damned-well-be-in-the–Hall of Fame–already Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. A month ago, “Lucky” crashed onto the Hot 100 at No. 19, instantly becoming Daft Punk’s first Top 40 pop hit, period. Last week, just as Random Access Memories hit stores, “Get Lucky” rose into Billboard‘s Top 10. An actual hit surely helps DP’s U.S. momentum. But to a large extent, the radio gatekeepers are belatedly catching on to DP’s deafening buzz and jumping on the bandwagon.
So, given all this commercial success for VW and DP, just how hip are these two albums?
By chart standards, pretty hip. Flipping though 50 years of Billboard album-chart No. 1’s, it’s hard to find a pair of back-to-back chart-topping acts (not counting soundtrack albums or compilations) with such a heretofore low profile on Billboard‘s song and radio charts. No. 1 albums have occasionally reflected their era’s hipper rock movements, something that was percolating just to the left of the singles charts; but it’s near-unprecedented for two such albums to own the penthouse in a row.
For example, some classic-rock albums we now consider lugubrious dinosaurs were considered “hip” in their day. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon reached the album-chart summit in April 1973, a few weeks before the band had scored its first radio hit (“Money,” which crossed from AOR radio to the Top 40). But Floyd’s first chart-topping LP wasn’t part of a hipster twofer — it was directly preceded in the No. 1 spot by an Alice Cooper album (already regular hitmakers by ’73) and followed by an Elvis Presley album.
In the ’90s, at the peak of alt-rock, several acts topped the album chart before crossing to Top 40 radio: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains. But all scored copious rock-radio hits beforehand, and there were no twofers — their runs atop the Billboard 200 were bookended by the likes of Snoop Dogg, Mariah Carey and Ace of Base. Alt-metal band Pantera were, in a way, even further out — they managed to top the chart in 1994 with Far Beyond Driven, without going near the Hot 100 or even the upper reaches of the rock charts, a truly rare feat at the time. But they were succeeded by a Bonnie Raitt album. (That’s the fun of the album chart, where disparate discs take turns at the summit week after week.)
Hip-hop has also generated its share of up-from-underground successes. Back in the summer of 1996, Nas had yet to score any Top 40 pop hits or Top 10 R&B hits when he topped the album chart with It Was Written, the followup to his classic Illmatic. That album was succeeded at No. 1 by A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes and Life — their only chart-topping disc in an acclaimed career with no major pop or R&B hits. But Tribe had by then scored plenty of top 10 hits on the Rap chart; so it would be a stretch to call them, in ’96, singles-chart newbies.
In the 2000s, particularly in the last half-decade — as album sales have waned and the bar to top the Billboard 200 has lowered — we’ve seen some more overtly hipster-friendly bands top the chart. Among them have been Modest Mouse (March 2007, 129,000 in first-week sales), Death Cab for Cutie (May 2008, 144,000), Arcade Fire (August 2010, 156,000) and Jack White (April 2012, 138,000 — former band The White Stripes never reached the summit). During this period we’ve even had something close to a twofer: In February 2010, chamber-pop band The Decemberists topped the chart with The King Is Dead, selling a modest 94,000 copies; they were directly followed at No. 1 by adult-alternative guitarist Amos Lee, whose Mission Bell hit the top with just 40,000 copies (still a record for the lowest sales total ever atop the Billboard 200). Neither act had scored an appreciable Hot 100 or rock radio hit.
As for our current twofer, Vampire Weekend and Daft Punk are surely bigger cool-kid fetish objects than barista favorite Lee or even the twee Decemberists. Both Modern Vampires of the City and Random Access Memories have earned “Best New Music” reviews from online alt-music bible Pitchfork (9.3 and 8.8, respectively, on their 10-scale). At the same time, both acts are more established than almost any of the recent hipster chart-toppers — VW is on their second No. 1 album, and DP just rolled an opening sales number higher than either Britney Spears’s or Rihanna’s last albums.
So, Vampire Weekend and Daft Punk: the ultimate hipster chart-topping twofer? Or now terminally unhip pop acts?
You’ll notice we’ve gotten this far in this discussion without using the shopworn term “indie.”
When I tweeted last week the tidbit that VW and DP were going to succeed each other atop the album chart, I added the jokey hashtag #indieplatinum. That prompted NPR Pop Critic Ann Powers to tweet back, declaratively: “the final exhaustion of the usefulness of the category ‘indie.'”
Indeed. That moniker, coined decades ago to denote music released by independent labels, has since the turn of the century replaced “alternative” as the idiom of choice for music loved by urbane cool-hunters. But the problem with “indie” is that it’s not useful either as a designator of coolness nor as a sign of artistic independence.
Of the half-dozen “indie” artists listed above who topped the charts since 2007, only the Arcade Fire is on a fully independent label, Merge. Major-label refugee Jack White self-releases on his own label, Third Man — but distribution of his solo debut Blunderbuss was handled last year by Sony’s Columbia label.
By any reasonable standard, Vampire Weekend’s new album is an indie. The band’s label, XL Recordings, is not directly affiliated with any major label. But even that status is a bit muddy; XL, part of the Beggars indie-label group, teams up with the majors quite frequently. VW’s albums on XL are distributed by the Alternative Distribution Alliance, an arm of Warner Music. And another XL signee in the U.K. — a little artist you might’ve heard named Adele — is promoted in the States by Sony label Columbia.
According to Billboard, “Modern Vampires of the City is the 19th independently-distributed album to reach No. 1 since the Billboard 200 chart began using SoundScan sales data in 1991.” But the record industry’s definition of indie is technical and unintuitive. The roster of labels distributing those 19 No. 1 albums over the last 22 years ranges from N.W.A label Ruthless to, seriously, Walt Disney Records. (Bet you didn’t know the Lion King and Pocahontas soundtracks were “indie” albums.) Even the effing Eagles are now considered “independent,” in the sense that the veteran band self-releases its work — but their 2007 comeback album Long Road Out of Eden was launched via an exclusive release by Wal-Mart, that classic indie shop.
On the other hand, consider Daft Punk. None of their albums has been released on an indie label — their early classics Homework (1997) and Discovery (2001) were released by EMI subsidiary Virgin. Their new album Random Access Memories is DP’s debut on Columbia, a more than century-old label that’s about as un-indie as it gets.
But talk about independence: After taking their sweet time to record their new album for half a decade, the French duo signed a one-album distribution deal with the Sony label, with no promise of a followup — a far cry from the typical recording contract. Sounds rather … indie.
If it’s near-impossible, then, in 2013, to call any album “indie” by genre, can we still call a hit album “hip”? “Hipster” has become a virtual four-letter word in recent years. But hip is a more elastic concept, essentially meaning “something that appeals to a limited segment of the population.” There’s an idea of exclusivity attached to the word that makes it stick.
What was hip in, say, 1968? Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, no doubt — and those two acts (the former with Big Brother and the Holding Company) topped the chart back-to-back in the fall of ’68 with Cheap Thrills and Electric Ladyland. Each album spun off one hit, neither one a Top 10 smash: Big Brother’s searing cover of the Erma Franklin single “Piece of My Heart,” and Hendrix’s definitive cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Janis and Jimi each died young and have since been merchandised to the hilt (especially Hendrix), but each remains fairly cool, even if their hip days as electric-blues avatars are long over.
In 40 years, are we going to think of either Modern Vampires of the City or Random Access Memories as “hip?” Probably not. They may not even sound that hip now — Daft Punk’s unironic resurrection of ’70s-era soft-rock schmaltz on its new album is, to some, either horrifically square or too hip for the room.
For chart fanatics and pop followers, however, there’s nothing wrong with identifying a moment when the mainstream embraces something that was previously — literally — off the charts. Call it hip; call it alternative; call it indie, if you must. Whatever it is, it’s pretty cool, and cool is eternal.
Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches performs at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March.
Adam Kissick for NPR
Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches performs at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March.
Adam Kissick for NPR
In my line of work you hear about new bands every day. Maybe there’s a cool new electronic duo coming out of Silverlake in L.A., or a lo-fi trio reinventing Motown from an illegal loft in Bushwick or an amazing heir to the Amy Winehouse throne emerging from a seaside town in England. All day, every day, the buzz is sounding. Recently, The Guardian featured a compellingly gloomy Mancunian quartet called PINS as its New Band of the Day; a publicist I trust insisted I go hear this London-based group called Savages; several good rock friends were independently obsessed with a Glaswegian synth-pop trio called Chvrches. It was only when I spent an hour in front of the TV one night watching Rectify and casually Googling these new artists that I realized: Wait, all three of these groups are led by women.
For as long as rock ‘n’ roll has been around, women have been in the mix, as songwriters, performers and muses. But even in the ’90s, which saw the rise of Riot Grrrl culture and the mainstream prominence of powerhouse female rockers like Courtney Love and Gwen Stefani and PJ Harvey, the first thing generally mentioned about any band fronted by or entirely comprising women was that it was fronted by or entirely comprised women. Not so much this time. In fact, little effort is being made to paint these groups — who are all from the U.K. and formed within the past year and a half — as part of a cohesive scene, which is good since they’re all from different cities and sound nothing alike.
, which released its LuvU4Lyf EP in the fall, shows the band members striding through a quaint small town street decked out in full-on CBGB-era rocker thrifted threads and holding hands. They look like a gang of secretly sentimental thugs — and that’s exactly how they sound, too, like a motorcycle gang whose members spend their days defending their gritty turf then going home and dancing in their underwear to The Beach Boys. That’s a party you could invite Chvrches to. The Glasgow-based group is fronted by the elfin Lauren Mayberry, a former law and journalism student, who connected with her synth-playing band mates, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, via the city’s intimate music scene. Their online breakthrough came when the blog for Neon Gold — a label known for earmarking some of the best dance rock bands of the recent era, including Gotye, Ellie Goulding and Passion Pit — posted the shimmering, confident “Lies.” The Recover EP capitalized on that momentum and now we’re awaiting the band’s debut full-length.
It’s a testament to the potency of Savages that they stand out so starkly when compared with these other promising bands. To borrow a kind of sleazy term used by scouts in the music industry, Savages are very “fully formed,” which is to say they have a clearly defined look (tailored androgyny), sound (ferocious post-punk) and philosophy about the world (it’s damaged and in need of a violent rescuing). The combined effect is that they feel inevitable. When you first hear a new band there’s a sense of you, the listener, trying them on. Do I like this? From Note 1, Savages seem to have answered this question on the listener’s behalf. Their debut, Silence Yourself, is out May 7 on Matador Records.
The collective rise of PINS, Chvrches and Savages does not indicate a sudden lack of sexism in rock ‘n’ roll. And I’m not suggesting that the gender demographics aren’t interesting. That image of PINS is powerful in part because it features four rocker women in a version of a pose typically struck by four rocker men. When I saw Savages perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, the entire band was wearing all black except for the blue scrunchie in drummer Fay Milton’s hair and the bright red Dorothy pumps on singer Jehnny Beth’s feet. All my guy friends have goofy crushes on Chvrches’ Mayberry. The fact that these artists are women, in other words, is not beside the point, it’s just not the only point being made. And that’s a good sign.
‘s relationship with his home state has always been complicated. The singer-songwriter left Oklahoma and traveled the nation, composing some of the best-known songs of his time and ours. But to many in the state, his progressive political views did not fit with a strong conservative streak during the Cold War period. His reputation there is now closer to a full restoration as Oklahoma opens his archives.
The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa owes its existence to the rediscovery of a grave. Several years ago, out of the blue, his daughter, Nora Guthrie, received a telephone call from a nurse who had worked at the State Hospital for the Insane in Norman, Okla., where Woody Guthrie’s mother spent the last three years of her life. The nurse told Nora where to find the plot.
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“It was a very moving experience for me,” Nora Guthrie says. “I was able to call my aunt, Mary Jo, who lives here in Oklahoma — Woody’s little sister — and they were able to have a formal service at her grave site.”
Nora had overseen her father’s collection in Mount Kisco, N.Y., since before the archives opened in the 1990s. More than 10,000 items — including typed song lyrics, scribbled notes, illustrations for children’s songs, recordings, photos and sketches that he used in his autobiography, Bound for Glory — are all now housed at the new center in Tulsa.
Tiffany Colannino is an archivist for the Woody Guthrie Foundation. She stands near a curved wall of etched 8-by-10 metal plates containing some of Guthrie’s drawings.
“And if we look at one or two in particular, we see off the bat a lot of artwork from Bound for Glory. But we also see some political cartoons,” Colannino says, pointing. ” ‘I’m too sober to foreclose on a widow’ — cartoons that appeared in the ’30s in LA when he was a journalist writing for Los Angeles newspapers.”
Woody Guthrie’s support for the downtrodden in his songs, along with his regular column in the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker, did not endear him to many back home. But the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Bob Blackburn downplays Guthrie’s leftist leanings.
“Well, a lot of people identified him with the Communist movement of the 1950s … yet he was on the fringe of the cultural part of it, but never on the political side,” Blackburn says.
Recognizing The Roots
It wasn’t until the 1990s that his hometown of Okemah fully embraced its most famous son with a folk festival on his birthday. Then, in 2011, Oklahoma’s George Kaiser Family Foundation, as part of its efforts to bring the state’s history back home, purchased the archives.
“My mom had preserved everything and packed everything up in boxes when my dad died,” Nora Guthrie says. “And she had always had this dream of, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a place. … I mean, she didn’t dream it would be like this, ’cause this is pretty classy, you know, high-techy stuff.”
The 12,000-square-foot facility sits on a corner of an arts district in an area of Tulsa that itself was disparaged but is now experiencing its own renaissance. The centerpiece inside the Woody Guthrie Center is a special glass case holding the handwritten version of “This Land Is Your Land,” which up until now was generally unavailable for public view. A few steps away, a concrete-walled room contains the material Nora Guthrie had supervised in New York, all carefully cataloged and preserved.
It’s surprising that recorded works make up only a small part of the collection. More than 5,000 pages of unpublished Woody Guthrie manuscript material sits on the gray shelves, with his painted and decorated notebooks, in which typed lyrics are pasted on the pages. For Nora Guthrie, the return of these significant works by her father to his home state is more than a restoration of Woody Guthrie’s reputation in Oklahoma. It’s recognition of his roots.
“It’s just kind of like a pebble that goes and the ripples just keep going out and out and out as he traveled around,” Nora Guthrie says. “But the actual foundation of who he is and what he cared about began here in Oklahoma, and I think that says a lot about the state itself. ”
Oklahomans can now make up their own minds about their feelings toward the worker’s friend who spent his life chronicling theirs.
One hundred years ago this week, a ballet premiered that changed the art world. Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps — The Rite of Spring — was first seen by the public on May 29, 1913, in Paris. As the orchestra played The Rite‘s swirling introduction, the audience at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées began to murmur. Then the curtain opened.
Dancers dressed in folkloric costumes began to move unpredictably to the pounding chords. In the theater, the rumbles grew to pandemonium — hoots and jeers, arguments and even fistfights between traditionalists and modernists in the audience. It became difficult to hear the music.
The composer, who was sitting in the theater, described the scene in a 1965 interview, included in the documentary Stravinsky.
“When the curtain opened on a group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down … the storm broke,” Stravinsky said. “They came for Scheherazade, or for Cleopatra. And they saw Le Sacre du Printemps. They were very shocked. They were very naïve and stupid people.”
New Yorker music critic Alex Ross says Stravinsky shocked the audience with a revolution in harmony.
“You have these two chords slammed together: E Major — actually F-Flat Major, as it’s spelled in the score — and an E-Flat Dominant 7th chord,” Ross explains. “These are two adjacent chords. They’re dissonant. They’re being jammed together. And that’s a harsh sound, and he keeps insisting on it. That chord repeats and repeats and repeats, pounding away.”
And then, Ross says, there was Stravinsky’s revolution in rhythm.
“It seems as though at first he’s just going to have this regular pulse. But then these accents start landing in unexpected places, and you can’t quite get the pattern of it,” Ross says. “It’s as if you’re in a boxing ring, and this sort of brilliant fighter is coming at you from all directions with these jabs.”
As unsettling as the music was, the audience at the premiere of The Rite of Spring was even more shocked by Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography.
“This was not ballet,” says Lynn Garafola, a professor of dance at Barnard College and author of a history called Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. “It was a style of expressive performance that was extremely violent, and that seemed to depart completely from conventional ballet vocabulary.
An image from the 2013 production of Le Sacre du Printemps by the Joffrey Ballet, Chicago, reflects the hard jumps and stamps of Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography.
Herbert Migdoll/Joffrey Ballet
An image from the 2013 production of Le Sacre du Printemps by the Joffrey Ballet, Chicago, reflects the hard jumps and stamps of Vaslav Nijinsky’s original choreography.
Herbert Migdoll/Joffrey Ballet
“It included a lot of stamping. It included jumps. It didn’t aspire to be ethereal — in other words, to look like jumps that could hang in the air. … They seemed to go up simply to crash down into the earth. And then there were parts where they were simply trembling, when their hands were in fists, doing something that seemed, for all the world, to be primitive.”
The story itself is primitive: An ancient Russian tribe makes a sacrifice to the gods of fertility; a virgin is chosen; and she dances herself to death.
But Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev, who staged the ballet, was also intent on presenting modern works. Stravinsky had already written two scores for the company, The Firebird and Petrushka. He said the idea for The Rite of Spring came to him in a dream. He also claimed a sort of mystical creative process.
“Very little immediate tradition lies behind Le Sacre du Printemps, and no theory,” Stravinsky said. “I had only my ear to help me. I heard, and I wrote what I heard. I am the vessel through which the Sacre passed.”
However it came to Stravinsky, Alex Ross says the music still has an impact.
“The Rite felt completely different. And that has remained a very powerful influence,” Ross says. “Even the youngest composers coming to the fore today listen to The Rite and think, ‘my God.’ It still sounds new to them.”
The Rite of Spring influenced 20th century composers from Bartok and Stockhausen to Steve Reich and the American minimalists. Within a year of the premiere, the score was hailed by critics and audiences as a masterpiece.
As for the ballet, Nijinksy’s original choreography was abandoned after the initial run, and wouldn’t be seen again until the 1980s.
But historian Lynn Garafola says the choreography had an equally dramatic impact on the world of dance.
“I think it was the beginning of what eventually becomes modern dance. It meant that it was possible to create a large-scale work — not a work for a soloist — that departed from the traditional vocabularies of ballet,” she says. “This was a new kind of ballet, a new kind of choreography, and a new kind of music.”
In the century since its premiere, The Rite of Spring has become a symbol of what’s modern. And Igor Stravinsky knew better than to try a sequel.
Georges Moustaki, one of France’s most beloved songwriters, died Thursday in Nice after a long illness. He was 79. Moustaki was known for infusing French song with sounds from around the world.
In 1959, Moustaki wrote the lyrics to Edith Piaf’s international hit “Milord,” a song about a working-class girl who falls for an English gentleman. At the time, Piaf was in her early 40s and the handsome Moustaki was in his mid-20s.
Piaf was smitten with Moustaki’s music, as well as his great charm. Carolyn Burke, who wrote a biography of Piaf, says the two were lovers. They wrote “Milord” while they were on vacation.
“He started writing words down on a paper napkin. One of them was the word ‘milord.’ Piaf chose it, drew a circle around it and told him, ‘Start from there,’ ” Burke says.
Although Moustaki did not write the music for “Milord,” Piaf liked how his compositions were flavored with jazz and styles that went beyond France’s borders. She sang a number of his songs, including “Le Gitan et La Fille” and “Eden Blues.”
Moustaki was born in Egypt to Greek parents and moved to France when he was a teenager. He wrote poetry and worked as a journalist for an Egyptian newspaper. As a solo artist, Moustaki became popular for songs about freedom and individuality. His first hit — “Le Meteque” (or “The Mongrel”) — is about being an outsider.
In one of the many tributes being written today, France’s culture minister wrote that Georges Moustaki was “an artist committed to humanist values.”
Henri Dutilleux, a leading French composer who wrote music of luminous perfection, died Wednesday in Paris at age 97. His family announced the death, which was reported by one of his publishers, Schott Music, and the Agence-France Presse.
Throughout his career, which took off after World War II with performances of his First Symphony, Dutilleux wrote music with particular musicians in mind. His cello concerto Tout un monde lointain was written for Mstislav Rostropovich and the violin concerto L’arbre des songes for Isaac Stern. One of his last works, Le temps l’horloge, was composed for soprano Renée Fleming, who won a Grammy for her recording of the work.
Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, whom Dutilleux asked to record his 2003 piece Correspondances, attested to the composer’s perfectionist tendencies. At a record release party in Paris in January to celebrate the composer’s 97th birthday, an event recorded for a promotional trailer, Salonen recalled the recording sessions: “I indeed remember moments in Correspondances, when after a take I would turn towards Mr. Dutilleux and I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ and he said, ‘Well, you know, this phrase should be a little faster and maybe you might want to take a little bit more time there.”
Dutilleux, who continually revised his works, abandoned most of his compositions that preceded his Piano Sonata, begun in 1946. He composed the piece for the pianist Geneviève Joy, whom he married the same year.
Born in Angers in 1916 into a family with artistic connections (his grandfather was a composer and close friend of Gabriel Fauré, his great-grandfather a painter and friend of Eugène Delacroix), Dutilleux studied first at the local conservatory in Douai. As a teenager, after the family moved to Paris, he attended the Paris Conservatory, winning the Prix de Rome in 1938 on his third attempt. After the outbreak of World War II, Dutilleux was enlisted to carry stretchers. Later, he held posts at the Paris Opera and French Radio. His teaching jobs were few, but significant, with stints at the École Normale de Musique and Paris Conservatory and frequent visits to Tanglewood as a guest instructor.
Tom Service, writing for the Guardian, notes that Dutilleux never fit (or associated himself) with any particular school of composition. His anti-ideological approach to music history, Service says, resulted in “some of the most poetically flexible music of recent decades.” Dutilleux’s rich coloration, shifting textures and streams of melody seem to form a style of his own, with influences of Debussy and Bartók.
Dutilleux’s love of literature resulted in numerous songs, incidental music for Wuthering Heights, and Correspondances, in which he set texts by Rainer Maria Rilke, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vincent Van Gogh. His family ties with visual artists and his lifelong love of painting surfaced not only in the calligraphy of his beautifully crafted scores but also in one of his best-known works, Timbres, espace, movement, a 1978 orchestral piece inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
In 2012 Dutilleux was the first to receive the New York Philharmonic’s newly established Marie-Josée Kravis Prize for New Music. The award resulted in performances of three of his works at Avery Fisher Hall last summer. His other awards include the French Grand Prix de la Musique, an honorary membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a MIDEM lifetime achievement award.
At a Paris event in January marking the release of a new album and his 97th birthday, Dutilleux, in a wheelchair and slightly frail, was appreciative of both his longevity and of the musicians and recording industry colleagues gathered around him.
“I have had the great joy of living a long life,” the composer announced. “And you are, each and every one of you, doing all that can be done to make the end of it as easy and enjoyable as possible. Thanks to all of you.”
Dutilleux’s legacy will hang on relatively few perfectly polished compositions such as The Shadows of Time, his symphonies, Timbres and the concertos. But it’s not the quantity of pieces that’s important to Tom Service:
The influence of Dutilleux’s music on the 20th and 21st centuries isn’t to be measured in how his work revolutionized the languages of musical possibility, or even in the roster of his pupils (who include Gérard Grisey). Instead, his music is a realization of a complete world, independent of concerns for cutting-edge contemporaneity, and one that becomes more essential the more you hear it, above all for how he transforms his astonishing compositional refinement into real emotional immediacy.