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November 30, 2012 / C. J. Sperling

Elephant Plays Piano

Yes, a real elephant, and a real piano.

And not as result of circus training or the like.

While Peter (that’s the elephant’s name) certainly isn’t classically trained, it seems also obvious to me that he in fact intends to join the pianist in producing sounds. Just compare his actions to those of the second elephant, arriving later, who isn’t into playing at all and just looks around.


But, after all, we already know that birds mimick city noises, several animals make use of tools, cats understand the cause/effect relation of laserpointer and that little red point they like to chase after – so it shouldn’t be so much of a surprise.

Waiting for an animal music school, though…


Find a video of the elephant pianist here, along with some more information.

August 18, 2012 / C. J. Sperling

Pussy Riot: Classical Silence

As Norman Lebrecht points out on Slipped Disc, concerning the dictator style persecution of punk-feminist band Pussy Riot in Moscow: “From the classical music community, not a peep has been heard”.

That’s an utter shame for a community that oh so often talks about “humanity”, “higher values” etc. pp.

Is such talk only done when nothing of importance is at stake? Is such talk avoided if some of the 1%, or politicians, or churches, could feel offended? Are those values applied selectively? If yes, on which criteria?

Many classical musicians seem to have lost all connection to the people. Which is somewhat ironic, as it’s the people who pay them – directly through tickets, indirectly through tax-funded subsidies. Wonder why public funding becomes harder and harder to get? Wonder why classical music loses relevance?

Mozart, living in imperial Vienna, chose Beaumarchais’ Figaro text for his opera. Does any classical singer nowadays think of the risk Mozart put himself in when he connected his name to lines like “Will der Herr Graf / ein Tänzchen mit mir wagen”? That’s roughly what those brave musicians dared. And what seemingly no currently known classical singer feels like supporting even by word, ’cause, y’know – he/she might lose some gigs. So: what do classical singers sing when they sing Figaro? What do they feel? Same about conductors and directors: what do they interpret? What do opera lovers hear? What do critics write about? What do they all pretend?

In the trial, a member of the band wore a t-shirt that featured the words “¡NO PASARÁN!”. Which known classical musician of our times is standing by his – our – values to such a level?

In our times, moral values are not defended by classical music, but by non-classical. At least when something important is at stake. And when it’s about one’s own country and not within the state-granted jester’s license of art.

It’s a shame.

Not only for Russia.


PS – Recommended video: “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters. (Not aimed at classical musicians, FYIO)


PPS – to get a grasp of just how big the difference of classical vs. non-classical artists is, here’s a list of some prominent non-classical Pussy Riot supporters: Kate Nash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Cornershop, Faith No More, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, Patti Smith, The Beastie Boys, Refused, Zola Jesus, Die Antwoord, Jarvis Cocker, Pete Townshend, The Joy Formidable, Peaches, Madonna, Genesis, Tegan and Sara, Johnny Marr, Courtney Love, Iiro Rantala, Propagandhi, Anti-Flag, Rise Against, Corinne Bailey Rae, Peter Hammill, Kathleen Hanna, Björk, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono.

August 11, 2012 / C. J. Sperling

Beethoven 9th Symphony – A Totally Neutral Rant

In Germany, the 9th has been tought to be The Culmination Of All Music by generations of conservative teachers, and still is by some.

In spite of having grown up with classical music, I never really liked it.

It’s not a “Beethoven symphony” problem. Years ago, I used to play a game with a friend: one of us would whistle an arbitrary motif of an arbitrary Beethoven symphony movement, all unimportant counterpoints etc. included; the other one had to tell what it was. (We had to exclude the 9th, as I would have almost invariably lost there).

It’s not a “late Beethoven” problem. I love e.g. the op.110 & op.111 piano sonatas.


Much of my dislike is probably “antipathy by association”: I can’t think of another classical piece that is so extremely coupled with TV images of politicians unsuccessfully pretending to have moral values.

For me and my prejudices, it makes perfect sense that
– Karajan made transcriptions of Ode an die Freude so it could be used as European Council hymn (among others, he arranged it for brass ensemble – well, he assumedly got paid well, so why care about artistic integrity…);
– “white supremacy” Rhodesia took the Ode an die Freude melody as national anthem;
– the last act of socialist German Democratic Republic was a concert of Beethoven 9th;
– the London corporation & security games a.k.a “Olympia” were opened with the 9th;
and so on, and so on.

It has become a prime example of representational music. Music that is mostly played because the powers that be need “some culture” for a big event. Music for people who don’t know much about music, but believe that European classical music is a priori better music, no matter what. Music for people who “enjoy culture”, but only each sunday afternoon 4pm-5.30pm, and the children have to attend, too. “Pour Elise” for the sophisticated upper class.

(I have to admit that there are learnéd people who like the piece for good reasons. But I don’t think they even account for 1% of all Beethoven 9th fans.)


So, from my completely objective point of view, which naturally is in no way whatsoever influenced by how the piece is used today, I herewith decree the following well-balanced Absolute Truths:

The 9th is too long. Its contents is diluted.

In the 9th, the “small parts” form just doesn’t work. Some of this, some of that, no convincing thread.

The 9th is pompous. Fit for those “official” uses mentioned above.

The inclusion of lyrics (singers/chorus) in 4th movement is either a makeshift to keep it all running, or a main content with an introduction that stretches over three movements – faaaaaar to long.

To sum it up:

Beethoven 9th is heavily overrated.


And now I go listen to Bernstein’s Eroica.

Or to AC/DC. “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap”. Great album.