Sunday, December 21, 2014

"American music is not jazz. Jazz is not music."

Paul Rosenfeld
Paul Rosenfeld, photographed by Alfred Stieglitz (image source: George Eastman Archive, Still Photograph Archive)

Today these words shock.  They were probably even shocking to some who read them at the time in 1929.  But they were written by one of America's most esteemed music critics, Paul Rosenfeld, who wrote at various times for prestigious publications like The New Republic, Vanity Fair, and The Nation.  That he was a recognized figure in America's cultural life is attested to by his being the subject of the portrait above by famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

The Library owns six books of Rosenfeld's writings about music.  The notorious quote above comes from An Hour With American Music.  This book was part of publisher J.B. Lippincott's "The One Hour Series" which commissioned introductions to a variety of topics "by an expert in the field."  For instance, Ford Madox Ford wrote "The One Hour" title for the English novel, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote the title for American history, and Gilbert Seldes wrote An Hour with the Movies and the Talkies (the Library still has a reference copy of the latter, but has not owned the former two books for a long time - but you can request them using Link+).

A closer look at the entirety of of An Hour With American Music will show that Rosenfeld set up this polemic not so much to run down jazz as to introduce and advocate for other contemporaneous American music.  The composers he discusses and extols read like a roster of what our San Francisco Symphony's music director Michael Tilson Thomas would call "American Mavericks."  He devotes parts of chapters to composers like Leo Ornstein, Dane Rudhyar, Carl Ruggles, Aaron Copland, and Edgard Varèse.

What we get with this book (after a not fully comprehending, but nevertheless interesting and opinionated put-down of jazz) is an informed look at some of the most daring classical composers of the roaring twenties.  In the the twentieth first century both kinds of American music can be found together in our concert halls, but it's informative to know one critic's reaction to them when they were current.

An Hour with American Music by Paul Rosenfeld (J. B. Lippincott Company, 1929).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Current Museum Exhibits - new books

At the Art, Music and Recreation Center reference desk, we make an effort to display catalogues of current or recent museum shows in San Francisco. We currently have three new titles on display.

Masters of Fire: Copper Age Art from Israel accompanies an exhibit that originated at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in New York and that will be on display at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor through January 4, 2015.  This book documents objects that had been preserved in a cave in the Judean Desert for 6,000 years until their discovery in 1961.

Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection will remain on view until January 4, 2015 at the DeYoung Museum.  This collection of ceramics and textiles was donated to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by the Theodore W. Weisel family in 2013.

The Salon Doré from the Hôtel de la Trémoille is now a permanent display at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.  This French Neoclassical interior was renovated for 18 months during 2012-2014 and opened to the public on April 5, 2014.

In addition to these reference copies of the books, the Library has circulating copies of each title at the main and a few branches.

Shortly we will have copies available for the Keith Haring: The Political Line which is current on display at the DeYoung Museum.  Place a hold to be notified when a copy is available to borrow.

Keith Haring: The Political Line by Dieter Bucchart, et al. (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2014).

Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection by Matthew H. Robb, and Jill D'Alessandro (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2014)

Masters of Fire: Copper Age Art from Israel, edited by Michael Sebbane, et al. (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University; Princeton University Press, 2014).

The Salon Doré from the Hôtel de la Trémoille by Martin Chapman (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2014)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"They Talk About Music"

Nowadays there are so many ways to see the early days of television programming - streaming video on or Youtube, and classic television channels.  This was a period of variety shows where high and low culture frequently intermingled.  Owing to the availability of these programs we are able to witness many celebrities of serious and popular entertainment of the past.

They Talk About Music, published in 1971, is a time capsule of that period.  The publishers of the The Music Journal, a popular music magazine of the time, put together a series of short essays by musicians familiar to audiences of that time.  Luminaries were as varied as Mischa Elman, Mahalia Jackson, Skitch Henderson, Benny Goodman, Connie Francis, Al Hirt, Roland Hayes and Duke Ellington.  The book also provides basic music appreciation with essays like "Good Music is Timeless," "What is a Conductor?," "Cultivate That Musical Youngster," "Selecting a Voice Teacher," and "The World of Sound."

There are many insightful and unique passages to be found in They Talk About Music.

In "How Jazz Came To Life," Louis Armstrong talks about the profound affect that watching the funeral processions in the New Orleans of his youth had on his belief in music that "has as its base a great sympathy and feeling."  He asserts that "jazz came to life" from these ceremonies of public mourning.

Nat "King" Cole, in "Fads, Fans and Foreign Ambassadors," writes of the significance of music to him and his aim as a performer:
I guess I could best sum up what I have tried and am still trying to get out of success by saying that it truly gives me a good feeling to bring people closer together through music.
Noel Coward writes a precis of his life in "To Thine Own Self, Be True!"  The author of Bittersweet propounds a rather bittersweet worldview:
As to myself, I am optimistic.   As to life, I am pessimistic.  I explain this duality this way: I amuse myself and I am happy, being first of all disposed to mirth.  But I detest the follies and stupidities of the human race.
Another delightful moment is when Jack Benny addresses the subject "How well do I play the violin?"  His modest answer might do for many amateur musicians: "Not so badly as I often sound, but not as well as I would like."  From here he goes on the extol the "amateur" - someone who "does something for the love of it, not necessarily badly."

There are many other entertaining vignettes for those interested in musicians of the mid-20th century.

They Talk About Music (Belwin/Mills, 1971).

This book also includes a number of whimsical illustrations by Walt Trag - a musical note plucking a bouquet of musical notes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Know Your SFPL Call Numbers - Drawing (741, 743)

 The call numbers for books on learning how to draw are located in two separate Dewey Decimal sections.

741.2 is the call number for "Drawing-Technique."  743 is the call number for "Drawing By Subject."

Within these numbers there are books with greater subject specificity.  For instance, the drawing technique numbers also have exact numbers for different drawing media:

741.22 - charcoal
741.235 - pastel
741.24 - pencil
741.26 - pen

The drawing by subject area likewise has exact decimal numbers for various categories of people (men, women), human anatomy, and other living things (animals and plants), nature, landscapes and fantasy.

743.4 - human figures
743.42 - portraiture
743.43 - men
743.44 - women
743.49 - anatomy for artists
743.6 - drawing animals
743.7 - drawing plants
743.8 - nature and landscapes
743.87 - fantasy
743.89 - the supernatural

With this in mind you can browse in our online catalog or on the shelves of any San Francisco Public Library location.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Two Music Critics

In the Pink Section of last Sunday's paper (November 2, 2014), in an article entitled "A Critic Worth Emulating," San Francisco Chronicle classical music critic Joshua Kosman wrote a comparison of two of the most esteemed English-language music critics -- George Bernard Shaw and Virgil Thomson.  This article was originally published online with the title "Rubin Institute for Music Criticism hits a critical note in S.F." (October 30, 2014) on the occasion of a conference on music criticism currently taking place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Virgil Thomson has been called a "music critic of singular brilliance" by Nicholas Slonimsky (in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians).  Given that Thomson was a Pulitzer prize-winning composer as well as a venerable music critic for New York Herald Tribune, such an accolade may seem fitting.  Yet Kosman does not concur.  He finds Thomson's criticism uncreative and  unsubstantial, faulting it for a "lack of description or substantive discussion."  For Kosman, Thomson is "a virtual paragon of how not to practice music criticism."

Bernard Shaw, on the contrary, is the model of a music critic.  "Shaw's writings are fearless ... yet genial in their tone."  Kosman praises Shaw's tone and avoidance of technical language.  While not always in agreement with his judgments, Kosman sees Shaw's work as an examplar of true criticism:
The job of the critic is not to be “right” (especially not when “right” means “in sync with someone else’s opinion”), but to make his or her case persuasively and with conviction. Shaw did that every week.
Here, Mr. Kosman also makes his case persuasively and with conviction.  But, of course, you need not take a critic's word for any of this.  You can go to the sources to read and evaluate the works of both men yourself.  The Library awaits with a number of books collecting the writings of George Shaw and Virgil Thomson.  While here you can also check out the writing many contemporary music critics like Alex Ross, Alan Rich, Kyle Gann, and Tim Page.

Works by Bernard Shaw:

How to Become a Musical Critic, edited with an introduction by Dan H. Laurence (Hill and Wang, 1961).

Music in London, 1890-94 (Constable and Company Limited, 1932)

The Perfect Wagnerite; A Commentary on the Niblung's Ring (Dover Publications, 1967).

The Great composers: Reviews and Bombardments; edited with an introduction by Louis Crompton (University of California Press, 1978).

Shaw's Music: The Complete Musical Criticism in Three Volumes; edited by Dan H. Laurence (Dodd, Mead, 1981).


Works by Virgil Thomson:

The Art of Judging Music (A. A. Knopf, 1948).

Music, Right and Left (Holt, 1951).

The Musical Scene (A. A. Knopf, 1945).

A Virgil Thomson Reader; with an introduction by John Rockwell (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).

Virgil Thomson: A Reader: Selected Writings, 1924-1984, edited by Richard Kostelanetz (Routledge, 2002).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Collage Class

A book about Hannah Hoch, a pioneering collagist

A class on making collages will be given in the Sycip Room on the 4th Floor this Saturday. Collage is one of the most egalitarian mediums. One doesn't need paints, brushes or canvas -  just a substrate, or support, images (from magazines or newspapers,) and gluestick. Of course, there's no rule that says you can't decorate a collage with paint or pencil. Below are some books on making collage, with and without embellishment.

The age of collage: contemporary collage in modern art /
[edited by Dennis Busch, Hendrik Hellige, and Robert Klanten
702.812 Ag31

The art of collage
Gerald F. Brommer ; [consulting editors, George F. Horn, Sarita R. Rainey].
702.8 B788a

Collage Art : A Step-By-Step Guide & Showcase
Jennifer L. Atkinson
702.812 At55c

Collage : contemporary artists hunt and gather, cut and paste, mash up and transform 
 Danielle Kryser ; foreword, Anthony Zinonos
709.22 K9493c

The collage handbook
John and Joan Digby
702.8 D569c

Collage playground : a fresh approach to creating mixed-media art
Kimberly Santiago
702.812 Sa595c

Collage : the making of modern art

Brandon Taylor
751.493 T2126c

Cut & paste : 21st-century collage
Richard Brereton ; with Caroline Roberts
709.22 B753c 

Collage lab : experiments, investigations, and exploratory projects
Bee Shay

702.812 Sh29c  

Modern women : women artists at the Museum of Modern Art
edited by Cornelia H. Butler and Alexandra Schwartz
704.042 M7208

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Light Walk: Bob Miller and the Exploratorium

In celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Exploratorium’s Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program the museum presents an investigation of the work of Bob Miller (1935-2007), a self-titled “natural philosopher” and author of many of the museum's most iconic exhibits about light, color, and shadow.

Drawn from Exploratorium archives and first-person accounts of Miller's life and work, Light Walk will include papers, letters, photographs, and objects, as well as public programs such as performances and film experiences.

The Exhibit will be available for viewing from Saturday, 10/25/14 - Thursday, 2/05/15 on the 4th floor of the San Francisco Public Library in the Art, Music and Recreation Center.

The Exhibit opening will be celebrated with a very special film program Radiant Cinema: Reflections on Light and Shadow. The film program shows on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 from 6:30-7:30 and will be preceded by an opening reception.

Bob Miller was a natural philosopher and poet of light. His unlimited imagination, playful insights, and questioning nature combined in powerful ways to influence the way those around him saw the world. His investigations into light and shadow acted as a physical and philosophical matrix on which to muse and discover, both at the Exploratorium and far beyond the museum walls.

Miller's wondrous methods of inquiry are the inspiration for Radiant Cinema, a program that incorporates light not only as a medium, but as a tool to weave abstractions and coherence. Some films take direct inspiration from Miller while others simply embody the type of radiance and mystery he saw in everyday reflections. The cinematic environment gives us the chance to consider the light coming from the projector as a wonder in itself; a portal to discovery.

Films that will be shown include:
Looking at the Light (2014, 3 min, video, color, sound) by David Barker.   This work-in-progress captures the light artist Bob Miller at home philosophizing and at play toward the later part of his life.

Lightwalk (1993, 3 min, 16mm, B&W, sound) by Michael Walsh.  Lightwalk is a cinematic ode to Bob Miller shot one summer afternoon at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Marin Headlands. "Amazing effects stream past our retinas while we are busily distracted by our lives. Using in-camera effects, this film attempts to capture everyday images we might overlook."  —Michael Walsh

Stately Mansions Did Decree (1999, 6 min, 16mm, color, silent) by Stan Brakhage.  Stan Brakhage’s spectacular hand-painted Stately Mansions Did Decree fills the screen with flickering shards of red and orange that present a universe ablaze with energy.

Glistening Thrills (2013, 8m, 16mm, color, sound) by Jodie Mack.  A shiny otherworld of holographic reverie pairs dollar store gift-bags and a haunting vibraphone soundtrack to create an effervescent melancholy in three parts. Featuring compositions by Elliot Cole.

Selected Bibliography compiled by San Francisco Public Library librarians:

Park, David
Call Number: 535 P219f 1999

Zajonc, Arthur
Call Number: 535.02 Z13c

Johnston, Sean F.
Call Number: Ref 535.22 J647h (in library use only)

Gross, Michael
Call Number: 571.455 G9143L

Johnsen, Sonke
Call Number: 571.455 J629o

Eckstut, Joann and Eckstut, Arielle
Call Number: 535.6 Ec59s

Edited by William Duckworth and Richard Fleming.
Call Number: 780.973 So841

Donna M. Stein..
Call Number: 709.04 W648s 

Hilde Hein ; foreword by Philip Morrison.
Call Number: 069.95 H364e