Mawer, Deborah (2009) Jazzing a classic: Hylton and Stravinsky’s Mavra at the Paris Opéra. Twentieth-Century Music, 6 (2). pp. 155-182. ISSN 1478-5730
This article focuses upon an arrangement of part of Stravinsky’s Mavra made for the British dance bandleader Jack Hylton (1892-1965), which, on its presentation at the Paris Opéra in 1931, marked a notable, yet ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at ‘jazzing a classic’. For the French critic Pierre Leroi the failure was a direct consequence of combining different musics (‘La confusion de genres aboutit toujours à un résultat mauvais’). But while the ‘contest’ of style and genre undoubtedly played its part in the negative critical reception of the transcription, the reasons for its failure were not entirely straightforward. Drawing on Fauconnier and Turner’s models of ‘conceptual blending’ and their recent applications in theories of musical ‘multimedia’, I compare Stravinsky’s source and the Hylton band’s jazz translation in terms of their intrinsic musical ‘attributes’, their relationship, and their potential emergent meanings. The exercise identifies commonalities and discrepancies, revealing problems with the original, the reworkings, and the resulting performances. The main issue is, however, not so much one of mixture (‘confusion’) as of imbalance between the elements invoked: ultimately, it is argued, Hylton’s reading was insufficiently ‘jazzique’.
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