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Beyond the Candelabra: The Liberace Show and the Remediation of Beethoven

  • EDGARDO SALINAS
Abstract

Liberace entered the sprawling scene of US pop culture in 1952 emceeing a TV show that initially garnered higher ratings than I Love Lucy. The Liberace Show presented staples of the classical piano repertoire in abridged versions that cut the “dull parts” and liberally added orchestrations. Liberace's heterodox practices outraged prominent music critics, who soon deemed him the very incarnation of kitsch. Turning from aesthetic criticism to an archaeological analysis of media, I discuss the show's presentation of classical music, taking as its main case study Liberace's iconoclastic rendition of Beethoven's “Tempest” sonata, and examine it through the theory of remediation advanced by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. Analyzing archival videos, I show how the alterations exerted on the musical text were inextricably tied to the telegenic mise-en-scènes staged for each episode while situating them in the new media landscape that emerged in the 1950s. The show remediated not only the pieces Liberace performed but also his own TV persona to nurture an intimate bond with home viewers who became captivated by the host's enchanting presence. I contend that Liberace's remediations drastically collapsed the specificity of performance medium that modern critics construed to be immanent to the musical work. This collapse entailed a proliferation of musical and audiovisual media that afforded Liberace's devoted viewers an alluring experience of immediacy and ultimately retrieved the domestic intimacy that had been integral to the genealogy of the piano sonata.

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Journal of the Society for American Music
  • ISSN: 1752-1963
  • EISSN: 1752-1971
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-society-for-american-music
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