“It was Beethoven’s skill as an improviser, not as a composer, which first garnered acclaim,” asserts Brian Felix, who will begin UNC Asheville’s Spring Semester 2020 Music Lecture Series with a free public talk, Beethoven the Improviser, on Tuesday, Jan. 28. All events in this series, funded by the Dan Lucas Memorial Fund, take place at 7 p.m. in UNC Asheville’s Karpen Hall, in the Laurel Forum.
Felix, a keyboard artist, associate professor and chair of UNC Asheville’s Department of Music, will be followed by faculty colleague, guitarist Andy Jurik, who on Feb. 25 will lecture on and perform some of the musical melancholy of composers Benjamin Britten and John Dowland.
The spring series will finish with the keynote talk by visiting scholar Gabriel Solis, professor of musicology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Solis, also a scholar of African American studies, will consider singers as laborers in his lecture on March 24, focusing on the experience of blues singers of the early 20th century and mid-century supper-club singers.
Jan. 28 – Beethoven the Improviser, with Brian Felix
As with most piano virtuosos who were active during the 18th and early-19th centuries, Ludwig van Beethoven was a masterful improviser. This ability, to which he dedicated countless hours of practice, was central to his success as a working musician. In this presentation, Felix will explore improvisation as a crucial component of Beethoven’s musical life and, using Beethoven’s piano concertos, will uncover certain aural traits of “Beethoven the Improviser.”
Feb. 25 – “It is always three o’clock in the morning” – Dowland, Britten, Melancholy, Death, with Andy Jurik·
Themes of anxiety, depression, and mortality play significant factors in the music of English composers John Dowland (1563–1626) and Benjamin Britten (1913–1976). This lecture will examine select pieces by Dowland and Britten to better understand how these disconsolate themes factor into both their music and personal narratives. Musical performances include Dowland’s lute song Come, heavy sleep, and Britten’s Nocturnal, op. 70 for guitar.
March 24 – From Songsters to Songbirds: Notes on Singing as Labor in the American Twentieth Century, series keynote by Gabriel Solis·
This talk looks at two moments in American music history where singing was at the front of transformations in the nature of work. The first considers African American blues singers in the early 20th-century recording industry, as they not only carved out roles as traveling professionals but as they also navigated a recording industry that was bent on drawing musical performance into a “Fordist” mode of industrial production.
The second considers singers on the “supper club” circuit around mid-century. While their work has regularly been dismissed as middlebrow, this circuit gave women, primarily performing as torch singers, the opportunity to earn a meaningful living, often as bandleaders. Ultimately both jobs disappeared or were radically transformed with changes in the larger economy. As we move deeper into a new century and further into a world of economic precarity for laborers of all sorts, a consideration of these modes of musical work may help offer models for an uncertain future.