The counter-tenor, and minimalism


The male counter-tenor voice is well suited to the ethereal. In early music, apart from Michael Chance, you can find many brilliant singers—Andreas Scholl, Iestyn Davies, and so on.

Veering somewhat off the beaten track, here’s Klaus Nomi (1944–83) singing Purcell’s Cold song:

for which I’m again indebted to Private passions, this time George Shaw.

Nomi was singing the song shortly before becoming an early victim of AIDS. But it still recalls the vibrant experimentalism of the New York scene, with punk and so on—like Diaghilev’s Paris, or indeed New York after the war. For more on the American minimalist scene, try Alex Ross, “Beethoven was wrong” (The rest is noise, ch.14); and on BBC Radio 3, Tom Service.

Meanwhile England was buzzing too. Apart from punk, we had the films of Peter Greenaway, like The draughtsman’s contract (1982—just before Lost Jockey’s Buzz Buzz Buzz, and Madonna’s stunning debut album!) with Michael Nyman’s exhilarating minimalist take on Purcell:

And his funky Don Giovanni:

All this, note, at a time when it was Neither Profitable Nor Popular.

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Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world in a poor village in north China, Li Qing was leading the revival of his hereditary tradition of Daoist ritual, copying a full set of their manuals, preserved by his uncle Li Peisen. Indeed, having noted the importance of percussion for the minimalists, they might enjoy the cymbal patterns of the Daoists, with their complex hocketing.

Later (we’re back in England with the counter-tenor now), Martin Jacques, in The Tiger Lilies, was spellbinding too:

For a roundup with further posts, see here.

* Note for Rowan: There, I did notice some popular culture at the time…

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