Musical polymaths and ravenous cultural omnivores, composer Johan and conductor Yuga Cohler are the visionaries behind the Yeethoven project. This cross-century dialogue between Beethoven and Kanye West comes to Alice Tully Hall on January 18 as a part of the Lincoln Center Young Patrons 101 series. By juxtaposing, combining, and comparing music written 200 years apart, the Yeethoven project refracts each artist's music and reveals a common musical backbone. Of course, Beethoven and Kanye aren't the only kindred spirits to cross the divide of time and space, as evidenced by this illuminating playlist of surprising pairs.
Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”
Niccolò Paganini – Caprice for Solo Violin in C major, Op. 1, No. 18
As virtuosos of their respective crafts, both Kendrick Lamar and Niccolò Paganini are keen to showcase their technical facility. Perhaps the most common musical framework for doing so is rapid-fire repetition of short rhythmical units, as can be heard in the second verse of "Alright" and in Paganini’s 18th Caprice.
Sylvan Esso – “Kick Jump Twist”
Franz Schubert – “Das Wandern” from Die schöne Müllerin
The juxtaposition of mechanical sounds with more emotive human elements is a consistent feature in music of all genres, such as in Sylvan Esso’s "Kick Jump Twist," which marries the evocative voice of Amelia Meath with an austere, mechanical backing track. But this stylistic combination far predates the advent of electronic music production. Many of Schubert’s art songs, such as "Das Wandern," are constructed similarly, consisting of an impassioned narrator accompanied by the motor rhythms of a piano.
Daft Punk – “Harder Better Faster”
Hector Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique, V. Dream of the Night of the Sabbath
Daft Punk’s track is distinctive for its introduction of two separate components that are later combined together: “Work it, Make it, Do it, Make us” vs. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” This device is reminiscent of many classical works, such as Berlioz’s fugue in Symphonie Fantastique, which first introduces, then interpolates the Dies irae with the theme of the Witches’ Sabbath.
Frank Ocean – “Be Yourself”
Caroline Shaw – Partita for 8 Voices, I. Allemande
The use of arrhythmic speech as a central musical element is relatively uncommon in most genres. But Blonde, Frank Ocean’s most recent album, and Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices both make liberal use of the sound of talking, accompanied by lush harmonies, as a recurring theme in the place of a conventional melody.
Flying Lotus – “Theme”
Igor Stravinsky - Les Noces, Scene 1
The predictability of the verse-chorus song format deprives many pop songs of a sense of sustained tension. Flying Lotus abandons this form and subverts expectations in these first two tracks of You’re Dead!, alternating between moments of extreme stasis and rhythmic propulsion. The high degree of tension created by these stark contrasts is similar to that of the first movement of Stravinsky’s Les Noces, which also shifts dramatically between sections of calm and movement.
Kiiara – “Gold”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – “Pa… pa… pa…” from The Magic Flute
Melodies made with “chopped-up” recorded vocals are common in contemporary pop music, but usually they’re created from a single syllable, played like a keyboard, creating an instrument-like effect. The chorus of Kiiara’s "Gold" was unusual for a top-40 pop chorus because the “vocal chop” uses longer pieces of words, resulting in sonic gibberish. Mozart similarly uses long sections of partial words for a comedic effect in this excerpt from The Magic Flute, in which Papageno and Papagena can hardly finish the other’s name when they finally meet towards the end of the operetta.
About the Curators
Johan is a singer, producer, and composer who works in a variety of genres, including pop, classical, and musical theater. His songs have been heard millions of times on Spotify and featured in music publications including Pigeons and Planes and The Fader. As a producer and arranger, he has worked closely with artists including Vic Mensa, Alessia Cara, Rufus Wainwright, Trinidad James, and Mr. Hudson, as well as producer No I.D.
Yuga Cohler is an internationally renowned orchestral conductor and cultural innovator. Currently the music director of the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, he has appeared as guest conductor with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Juilliard Orchestra, and covered for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New Jersey Symphony. Awards he has won include the Orchestral Prize at the Toscanini International Conducting Competition and the Career Assistance Award from the Solti Foundation U.S. Cohler attended Harvard University, from which he graduated summa cum laude in computer science, and the Juilliard School, where he was Alan Gilbert’s youngest conducting student.