Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mnozil @3QD, plus notes on repertoire and comedy

My latest 3QD piece went up on Monday, A look under the hood through the insane musical genius that is Mnozil Brass. I took some of the pieces I’ve written here and edited them together along with some new material. Basically, I’m trying to figure out what these guys are doing. I’ve got more thinking to do.

Lurking in the back of my mind is the question: Why isn’t there more of this kind of thing, whatever it is?

Repertoire & cultural fluidity

Last week I began thinking about their repertoire, which ranges across classical, pop, jazz, movies, and folk. That in itself is perhaps not so unusual. The Canadian Brass has been doing that for years. My childhood hero, Rafael Mendez, did it as well, putting out records with selections from at least two or three genres. And then we have the variety shows that were once a staple of television programming. Of course such shows had different kinds of acts – music, comedy, dance, magic – but the musical acts were often enough from different genres.

But then we have single pieces that crossed genres. That’s been around for awhile as well. In the early 1940s Harry James performed “Concerto for Trumpet” in a movie – which Mnozil has performed recently. It was about three minutes long and combined classical, swing, klezmer (as it’s now called). Rafael Mendez had and arrangement of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. Five” that includes swing sections. Mnozil’s “Remixes of Concerto of Arutiunian” combines classical, the “Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto”, folk, “Mexican Hat Dance”, and a bit of a TV theme, from Bonanza.

This kind of eclecticism presupposes an audience that can respond to it. In particular, I think it presupposes an audience that recognizes many of these different sources. You may not be able to identify all the sources – I certainly can’t – but you need to be able to identify many of them. It’s not enough that you are willing to listen to these different kinds of music, and even like them, but you need to recognize that they have different origins. This is music that’s about cultural fluidity.


And then there’s the comedy. Not all of their pieces have a comedic element. But many, perhaps most, do. In some cases it is relatively slight, in others it is pervasive. And in some cases the piece becomes a kind of performance art. For example, here’s Der Drache (The Dragon):

The musicians occupy the stage, facing to the left, milling about and playing. There is a “dragon” off stage to the right. We never see it, but it occasionally delivers a musical blast that sends our musicians scattering. The entire nine-minute piece is about the musicians coming to terms with this dragon. Which they do with various kinds of music, all – I assumed – composed for this piece.

That’s it.

That’s very different from “Moldavia”, which I discussed in the 3QD piece (and here). The music is rooted in East European and Balkan folk traditions. If you simply listen to the music you’d hear them playing a technically and rhythmically complex piece of music with utter conviction. The comedy is in actions and gestures that accompany some sections. But what’s that comedy about? Are they satirizing the musical idiom, or the performance (of that idiom)? I’m not sure; I’m not even sure what that question means?

When I think over all the pieces I’ve seen the most obvious object of their satire seems to be male arrogance and aggression. These are men strutting about and posturing while they somehow manage to make music together. Are we bearing witness to the power of music to tame the male ego? Is this about civilization versus animal being?

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And why isn’t there more of this kind of thing, whatever it is? The closest comparable acts I can think of are the Victor Borge and Peter Schickele’s P.D.Q. Bach. Is this blending of music and comedy difficult to do, requiring a skill set that few have? Or is the audience so small that it can’t support many such acts? Are those the right questions to ask?

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A 2011 interview with Wilfried Branstötter (tuba) and gerhard Füssl (trombone).

1 comment:

  1. Ballet d'action

    Traditional art form + mime = narrative opportunity

    Possible line of comparison with the fusion of ballet and pantomime.