Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: The The Cumnor Affair (Phillip Cashian, 2008)

Did you know about the infamous “Cashian Affair?” Essentially, it was the illicit love between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, made more complicated by his wife Amy Cumnor (or Amy Robsart. You can now read about it at the new Wikipedia entry, solely written by me!

In the words of its creator Phillip Cushia,

“I wanted to write an opera where the audience is constantly on the edge of their seats wanting to know what’s going to happen next. The Cumnor Affair is my first opera although I had the idea for the story about 10 years ago. After reading Iain Pears An Instance of the Fingerpost I thought he’d be the perfect librettist for an Elizabethan murder mystery and was thrilled when he agreed to write the words.”

Tête à Tête

Enjoy reading ~ John V.

Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: Felix Mendelssohn’s “Oedipus at Colonus” (1894)

A new work to me, the ten-scene opera entitled “Oedipus at Colonus” (Op.93) follows the Greek tragedy written by Sophocles during the 1st century, included in his “Three Thebian Plays.” Recently, in 2010 the work had its contemporary revival and its now recorded for future generations.

For some context, the work was a commission by Frederick William IV of Prussia in order to encourage Berlin audiences to pay more attention to the classical works of Greek theatre, particularly tragedy. Featuring two soloists, a double male chorus, and an orchestra of 15 instruments, the opera is a captivating and highly sophisticated look at the horrors that befell Oedipus at the end of his life. To summarize, Oedipus (Rex) is a figure doomed to fate and try as he might, he ends up killing his father and marrying his mother unknowingly. At the knowledge of this, he claws his own eyes out while his mother hangs herself in despair and shame.

The opera received its first (private) performance at the Neues Palais in Potsdam, Germany on November 1st, 1845. Nine days later, the work received its first public performance in Stuttgart. According to knowledge of the work, it was relatively popular during Mendelssohn’s time and even received performance within and outside Germany. However, for audiences outside Germany the work may not be familiar if known at all.

If you’d like to learn more, I have linked some academic sources for you to read:

  1. Jason Duane Geary (2004): “Ancient voices: Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Sophocles’s “Antigone” and “Oedipus at Colonus.”
  2. Maria Teresa Arfini (2015): “Around Antigone: The Iconography and Music in the German Revival of the Classical Tragedy.”
Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: The Kazakh Father of Battle Rap (Aytysh)

Although battle rap’s African origins are well understood, I want to understand the global roots of battle rap. To do this, I have begun looking at a Kazakh father of the battle rap style in form of the ‘Aytysh‘ (in Kazakh Aйтыш). This style finds its roots in several different folk music styles, and recently it was included in UNESCO’s list of intangible world history! Taking place between two improvisational poet/singers called akyn, these Kazakh bards duel in exceptional skill and mastery. Not only in music and oratorical poetics but in local and national history, incorporating their heritage and epics into their battling. However is able to showcase themselves as the master of text and music is the winner of the event. Finding primordial roots in the folk music style of the Kazakh zhar-zhar and the Kazakh badik, battle rap is incorrectly associated only with Africa.

In a general definition, Aytysh is the name for the style of primarily oral folk music culture emanating from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, although more accurately many regions across central Asia and the far East. The relationship between Turkey and Russia is widely studied but the musical synthesis between these two countries within the world of Russian rap culture is not yet. Olcay (2022) looked at the phenomenon of first-wave Russian emigres and their emigration to Turkey, of which many well-known composers and musicians were a part of but there is a significant lack in transfers of culture in terms of popular music.

During the aytysh (a competition between two akyns sitting opposite each other), each opponent strums a folk instrument and goes back and forth with rhymed lines. The winner is based upon who can come up with the most ingenious text attacks while showing a high level of competency on their respective instrument. Typically, themes will be based around several key areas including boy/girl relations, current events, historical stories and epics, personal and domestic conflicts and arguments, as well as the incorporation of religious and spiritual themes. More often, however, is the usage of satirical aggression in order to one-up the opponent. Politics is also a major theme that is often used, tying the genre to the world in which it inhabits. Researchers have noted that the aytysh is a reflection of the life and worldview of Kazakh nomads and folk experience, who use this form as a way to deal with and make sense of their environment and society.

The style has been protected since 2008 when the Aytysh Public Fund was created in order to encourage the continued legacy of the aytysh tradition. Contemporary competitions have also been held, the first occurring in Bishkek in 2008 followed by a competition in Kyrgyzstan in 2009.


Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: Franz von Suppé’s “Boccaccio”

[The following text was written for the publication Opera Wire]

Boccaccio, oder Der Prinz von Palermo (Boccaccio, or the Prince of Palermo) was one of the most influential operettas written by Austrian composer Franz von Suppè (1819-1895). Although rarely mentioned in the history of opera, von Suppè’s light operas (or operettas) were performed the world round and could be said to be the influence that Gilbert and Sullivan would pull from in the second-half of the 19th century, their name a lasting face to the style of operetta. Despite the operetta element, the work took musical influence from the Italian opera style, in other words bel canto.

The libretto was made by Camillo Walzel and Richard Genée, and was modeled after a similar play by several French playwrights at the time. The story loosely revolves around the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), best known for his work the Decameron, a compilation of 100 stories ranging in themes but all dealing with sides of the human experience. The plot revolves around the public backlash against Boccaccio and his love for the Duke’s daughter Fiammetta.

Begun in the fall of 1878, the work was published the year and had its premiere on February 1st of 1879 at the Carl Theatre in Vienna (destroyed by a bomb in 1943). Following its premiere in 1879, the opera went on a world tour. In 1880, the work came to New York, although not yet the Metropolitan Opera House, and soon after during the 1880s going to six different countries including Italy, France, England, Amazonas, and even Australia. By this time, the work had been performed well over 115 times and von Suppe’s name was known everywhere, most of all in his home of Vienna. During the 20th century, the work would also receive its fair share of international attention, the work making its Broadway debut in 1905. In 1931, the work finally received the Metropolitan Opera stage, being performed ten times during its time. following its performance it has not returned nor secured a spot in the canonized repertoire of opera. In the 1930s, the work would return home after having taken a world tour and from 1930 to 1952 be performed at the Wiener Staatsoper featuring the acclaimed Moravian soprano Maria Jeritza. The work would travel between Germany, France, and Italy for the remainder of the 20th century, and quickly fall off the map upon the drawing of the 21st century. However, during the 2015/2016 season of the Theater für Niedersachsen in Hildesheim, the work was revived under the direction of Spanish director Guillermo Amaya. 

The decline of the work’s popularity is in part due to the excessive modification of von Suppe’s original work, being reworked as early as 1885. By the 1930s, however, the work was undergoing significant change as its operetta element (text and singing) was being changed to include sung recitative instead. Music was also cut and roles recast for different voice parts, leading to general mayhem. That modified version was the one presented by the Metropolitan Opera. During the late 1900s, the opera was “modernized” by directors but the work would never again reach the same level of popularity as it did at the turn of the 20th century. 

Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: Reinhard Gebhardt

Within the fabric of music history, many people fall through. Many, MANY people are ignored who perhaps have interesting stories to share and novel lives and experiences that deserve to be recorded and known. One such individual, prompted by my learning of one of his piano pieces, is the composer, teacher, and performer Dr. Reinhard Gebhardt. Outside of select Etude publications (a newspaper at the time), nothing is known about him. Yet, he was a prolific performer and pedagogue who contributed to the pedagogical scene in Paris, Texas during his time. Read about him at the new Wikipedia page! More information will be added as I find more information about this fascinating and ignored musical individual!

None of his music is recorded and we will never really know what he or his music was meant to sound like outside of his published sheet music.

(A short post for today, sorry about that!)

Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: The Phenomena of “Democratic Satire”

A satirical French cartoon on the subject of Tsar Nicholas II (Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov), the last Emperor of Russia, with a reference to the peace treaty which ended the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). – Year: circa 1905 (Source: Alamy)

A newer concept to me, when I learned of “democratic satire” (in Russian демократическая сатира or demokraticheskaya satira), the equally as complex term of “stiob” (стиоб or stiob, surreptitious irony mixed with biting social commentary) became instantly understandable. The Russian style of humor is often laced with deeply rooted cultural affiliations and politically-motivated allusions. At times, Russian humor takes the troublesome elements of Russian culture and the Russian worldview for a satirical joyride while other times the spiritual moralism at the heart of Russian culture is put on display. Whatever the case may be, to be funny in the Russian context is to pierce holes in the seriousness of all aspects of the Russian system and the myriad of paradoxes, mishandlings, blunders, and inequalities which the system is built upon and upholds. A relatively young genre (emerging only in the 17th century), humor has come a long way in Russia. Yet, as I will show, to understand the existentialist humor of Dostoevsky or the searing transparency at the heart of the Soviet anecdote, one must first comprehend the concept of “democratic satire.”

In this post, I’ll explain what this concept is and some examples for you to read.

A Little Bit of Context

While the “funny” in Russian literature didn’t begin in earnest until after the Times of Trouble (1598-1613), it was because of this period that parody of social conditions, government officials, the church, and tradition would begin. As the hegemony of the Church began to be critiqued and the “new” world of religiosity began, what could and could not be publically said defrosted a bit (think Khrushchev Thaw but medieval). Literature became far more critical of its surroundings rather than staying quiet on the impropriety and duplicity of clerical leaders and the church itself. Finding solace in the growing secularist nature of Russian society (thanks to Peter Ist/The Great), the exploitation of literature for propaganda and fierce political reprobation was common. Literature was one place where authors could be as biting as they wanted, as “freedom of expression” within the confines of text was allowed. As a result, harsh attacks on Orthodoxy and the ideological attachment of the Russian people to it was a popular topic, along with a pessimistic outlook on the future of the Russian nation. It would only be in the late 18th-century (circa 1770-1780s) when a Russian national consciousness / national identity would begin to be conceptualized for the Russian people, but right now a completely new path was opening up for the Russian writer, one decoupled from religion and imbued with Enlightenment ideals and fed on the notion of “liberation.”[1] Upon this foundation of self-development and caustic realism, the genre of a people-oriented, ground-up style of humor emerged.

Democratic Satire is…

Social commentary covered in a façade of humor, wit, and touchy coarseness but never crosses the line into genuine insult or chastisement. Most of the literature that is associated with the genre of “democratic satire” (also called folk satire due to the close relationship of folklore with the style) comes from two centuries, the 17th and 18th centuries. Further still is the anonymous nature of many of the authors, although given the subject matter and the time period it’s not entirely unsurprising. Utilizing common tropes and narrative plots found in folk stories and fairy tales, these stories contain allegories, parodies, satirical jests, and ironic twists that exemplify the real world conditions and situations that they were written within. Democratic satire also in indebted to the tradition of oral narration (i.e., oral history), the oral storytelling device and tradition of Skaz (short for skazka) an example of its cultural significance. But the genre of “democratic satire” is also intimately connected with the desire to make sense of one’s surroundings and/or escape them completely. Under pre-Petrine rule (i.e., Muscovite rule), life was very hard for those not at the top. Thus, early humor writers were conceiving of a world that was becoming too connected to reality. Thus, to cope with this they started embracing this interpolation and poking fun at their own situation with acidic results. Notions of utopia were shattered with brutal scorn masked in jokes, the fear of cultural stagnation hidden behind the laughter at the drunken man, the fat and lazy clergy a symbol of religion’s dwindling efficaciousness (or the putrid ambivalence of mankind to screw things up, even in the divine context). Prior to Peter’s secularization of Russian society, people were still led to believe that God’s kingdom was the purest goal, while corruption in the church was to be ignored, poverty all around them ignored, dirt and disease passively allowed into their homes. If anything, the Russian satirical tradition awakened the masses to the abject dismalness of life and instead of silently allowing it to come and overtake one’s mind satire allowed the public to finally have some type of power, if only on paper.[2]

Three Examples

  1. The ABC of a Naked and Poor Man (1663)
  2. Service to the Kabak (17th c.)
  3. The Tale of the Hen and the Fox (17th c.)
Wiki With Me

Wiki With Me: Antonio Bononcini’s “Sesostri re di Egitto” (1716)

[Picture: First page of the libretto of Sesostri re di Egitto]

Within the world of Baroque opera, there are far too many operas to be cognisant of them all, let alone a handful of them. Nevertheless, because I’m fascinated by unknown and lesser-known operatic works, Wikipedia is a wonderful venue for low-commitment research. Therefore, venture with me as we discover the opera “Sesostri re di Egitto” by Baroque composer Antonio Maria Bononcini (1677-1726).

Who Was Bononcini?

Born in Moderna, Italy, Antonio is the little-known brother of much more known Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747), composer and cellist (among other things). He’s most widely known for his impressive catalogue of operatic compositions but particularly his opera “Xerxes” (1694). This was modeled of earlier Italian versions (Francesco Cavalli’s Il Xerses, 1655), and included the aria “Ombra Mai Fu,” although the opera would be later adapted and the aria transformed by G.F. Handel. But back to his brother!

Having been born to a musical family, his father Giovanni Maria Bononcini a violinist and composer by trade. In his youth, Antonio studied with Giovanni Paolo Colonna (1637-1695), Italian composer and organist, praised for his sacred music and stellar ability to navigate between classical sophistication and the baroque stylized sensibility. He started his musical career in the orchestra of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, although he’d begin to compose his first works in the late 17th century (around the 1690s). Interesting is that he would go onto write 12 cello sonatas, a historical event given the fact that only one other composer had written solo material for the instrument, the famed cellist Domenico Gabrielli having written quite a few works.

In 1700, he moved to Vienna with his brother and played at several venues before settling into service with Emperor Joseph I. He was even acquaintanced with George Telemann, a contemporary of J.S. Bach and criminally undervalued. In 1705, he became Kapellmeister (Chapel Choir Master) for Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, although returning to Italy in the early 1710s with his brother to become the maestro di cappella (Italian version) of Moderna. He lived a small bit in Rome but moved back in 1716 where he set up shop as a cellist and composer with the Molza Theater. It was during this time when he would write a good amount of his operatic works.

He’d go onto get married and have five children (four sons and one daughter), although none would continue the bloodline of musicians.

Now The Opera!

Premiered on February 2, 1716 at the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan, Bononcini’s opera tells the story of the fictious king of Egypt named Sesostris who is alleged to have explored Europe. Modern research notes that this mythical king is most likely Senusret III, a very real individual and the fifth Pharaoh of the 12th Dynasty of Egypt. The libretto, in the old Italian language, was written by two individuals,  Apostolo Zeno, a journalist turned poet, and Pietro Pariati, a well-known poet and librettist who created other works such as Orfeo ed Euridice (set by J. J. Fux in 1715)

The opera is in three acts and is modeled after the melodramma, in the 17th-century this term was synonymous with opera (it’s not the English over-the-top thing until the 19th-century). Featuring seven parts and a seven-instrument orchestra, the work could be considered a chamber work by today’s standards, although not a wise choice. Interesting still is its dedicated person, Prince Eugene of Savoy and Piedmont (a highly successful military commander of the Hapsburg Dynasty). He was known for his patronage of the musical and intellectual arts, aiding persons such as J. J. Rousseau and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

I hope you found this post interesting. Until next time!