Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Tonus peregrinus

Renaissance painting of people in procession in an ornate twisting mountainous background. Journey of hte Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli.

Tonus peregrinus is an ancient plainchant mode.  It differs from other modes in that the first half of the verse begins on one note of the scale, and the second half begins on a different note (this was a deviation from the norm at the time).   Here’s what the chant looks and sounds like in its basic form.

The name means “wandering tone,” or as I saw it described in one source “pilgrim’s tone.”  Of course, both names work.  The phrases “wander” to an extent that is unusual for plainchant.  Christian pilgrims wandered their way across Europe to the Holy Land.  It has also been suggested that this rule-bending chant mode may have come from Eastern Christian religious practice, or perhaps an even more ancient form of chant.  So, it appears to have done a bit of wandering itself.

Here is an example of the use of the tonus peregrinus, which is typically used in the singing of Psalm 114.  In this example it is sung in English with organ accompaniment.

I haven’t written much here on the blog lately because I have been doing a bit of peregrination myself of late, physical and virtual, as a number of changes have occurred around me.

I have helped no fewer than three sets of folks move their belongings from one household to another, some over long distances.  Anyone who has ever moved knows it is not just the physical moving of stuff that is exhausting—it is all the paperwork, and details, and the sheer mental adjustment to new surroundings (where did I put the light bulbs? where is the nearest bank?).  Thankfully, my only challenge was lifting things and finding my way from point A to B.  GPS made my peregrinations much easier than those of the pilgrims of old.

Earlier in the year, a place where I spent a great deal of time as a child passed from family hands, so the places where I once walked were no longer mine to tread, my steps redirected from once familiar paths. Rooms deprived of their furniture echo differently.  The tone is shifted, slightly, but perceptibly.

The elderly relative who had lived there is living a contented life, but can no longer clearly identify other family members.  They are familiar, perhaps, on a good day, but, as they say, the mind wanders.

Even more changes:  recently, our choir director retired.  While we are sad to see him step down from the podium, we are happy that he will enjoy a well-deserved retirement.  When the new director signals the downbeat, some of the music will be the same, but we know it may sound a little different.  After all, Glenn Gould’s Chromatic Fantasy (Bach) is different from András Schiff’s Chromatic Fantasy, and Wanda Landowska’s Chromatic Fantasy (and of course, Gould’s Goldberg Variations are different from … Gould’s Goldberg Variations).

Also, recently I performed a piece of music that I had written.  It was first set to paper five years ago.   It has undergone some changes since then, though the basic tune remained the same.

Tonus peregrinus.  Things change, they shift in unexpected ways.  And we continue to meet new challenges and new opportunities.  It may not be clear how things will turn out, or where we’ll end up.  But we keep wandering anyway.

In my search for examples of tonus peregrinus, I stumbled upon a work by Perotin on an album by the group Tonus Peregrinus.  The work, Beata viscera, is not an example of tonus peregrinus; it is a monophonic conductus, a work for one voice, typically used in processions.  This was probably sung at Notre Dame in Paris–it too will return, but be not quite the same.  The twisting and turning of the melody, beautiful and haunting, made it a perfectly imperfect accompaniment to this post.  Here is Beata viscera by Perotin, performed by soprano Rebecca Hickey.

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Image attribution:  Procession of the Youngest King, also known as Journey of the Magi, by Benozzo Gozzoli [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gozzoli_magi.jpg.

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Of iTunes, Streaming, and Thrift Shop Finds

A gramophone. The binary text in the caption says "gramophone".

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Apple has announced that it will be discontinuing iTunes on Apple devices.  For the moment, iTunes will remain untouched in the Windows environment.  You can read about the change in this Apple press release about the new Catalina OS.  You might also find this CNET article of interest.  Apple users will still have access to all of their music, but will reach it through the Apple Music app.  You do not have to subscribe to the Apple Music streaming service to access your existing collection, and the iTunes Store will still exist to purchase music.  The decommissioning of iTunes follows the trend of more people using streaming services to access music.  Also, iTunes has been criticized as it has evolved from its earlier sleeker form.

If any of you find this upcoming change uncomfortable, you might want to check out my survey of music management software for Apple and Windows devices.  There are a variety of solutions available (many free) for managing your music library.  Also, here is a previous post on streaming services.

In the meantime, you still have all of your digital music on your computer.  As with any digital data, I would advise readers to keep their music media in several locations.  I learned this the hard way after a hard drive failure, followed shortly thereafter by an external drive failure.  My mistake was to have data in only one operational device—which then failed.  Fortunately, only a small amount of data was lost; unfortunately, this included a couple years of photographs.  Yeah, you don’t want that to happen.

So how do you avoid that?  External drives have been dropping in price and are very portable, so if you can afford one, having one wouldn’t hurt.  Also, microSD cards, the size of your fingernail, now have capacities that can handle even large music libraries.  You might also decide to back up your music to the cloud, for example, with Amazon Music, Google Play Music, or iCloud.

Do be aware, however, that if you “upload” your music library to iCloud, Amazon Music, or Google Play Music and play it from there, you may not actually be hearing your copy of your music.  To save space, these services match your track to an existing track in their system, and use that one instead.  Otherwise, they might be storing millions of copies of, say, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  To hear your copy, you would need to back your music up to a service like Dropbox or OneDrive, or the like, that doesn’t have its own music database (but you will probably have to pay a fee for storage if you have more than a small music collection).

One of the reasons streaming services are appealing is that this pesky maintenance issue goes away.  For a small monthly fee, you don’t have to worry about losing your music, or getting scratches on your CDs (or vinyl) and you have access to a vast library (as long as you keep paying).  You will always have a pristine copy anywhere you go (as long as you have an internet connection).

You also don’t have to physically store music in “pre-digital” form.  More than one article I’ve read recently has declared the CD dead.  Many computers no longer have drives that can play CDs; some tablets no longer have USB ports to hook up an external DVD drive or hard drive (digitally, you can still usually accommodate a microSD card, especially in phones).  The inexorable force that moved us from VHS to DVD, from LP to 8-track to cassette to CD is now nudging us toward the cloud.

The other day, I was wandering through a local thrift shop and stopped to look at the CDs and LPs.  For those of you for whom these are not extinct formats (and who have room for them) there are wonderful bargains to be found, as people digitize and divest themselves of physical media.  And in fact, I found LP box sets of Wanda Landowska playing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1 and 2.  Each box set contained three LPs—all were in perfect condition.  I paid 99 cents for each box set (about the cost of buying one digital track).

LP box sets of Wanda Landowska playing Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, priced 99 cents

I lowered the needle on the record, and clear analog sound streamed forth.  Twenty-some minutes later, I had to get up and flip the record.

Or I could have listened on YouTube.

The choice is yours.

 

 

 

 


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Free Opera Webcasts: Il trovatore and the Marriage of Figaro

stick guy singing opera on a television with a viking helmet for an antenna

Two classic operas will be presented on OperaVision in the next week.

First, on July 6, 2019 at 21:00 CET (GMT -2; 3PM EDT) the Teatro Real in Madrid will present Verdi’s Il trovatore.

Next, on July 9, 2019 at 20:00 CET (GMT -2; 2PM EDT) the Royal Opera House in London will present Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Go to the OperVision link above to view the performances.  If you will not be able to watch the operas at these times, they will be available for on-demand viewing shortly thereafter for a limited time.  Follow this link to see the operas currently available in the library.

Enjoy!


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Haiku Wednesday:  Hands

Six foot six Sergei
Rachmaninoff’s hands were huge,
With enormous span.

Do not ask “Can you
Reach a tenth?” Ask “Can you reach
The listener’s heart?”

I was doing some research on Rachmaninoff because there’s going to be a free online concert this weekend (June 9, 2019).  Anytime you start looking, you’re going to come across at least one article on Rachmaninoff’s hands.

Basically, the guy had huge mitts.

And I was going to write about comparative hand sizes of famous musicians, and flexibility, and speed, and blah, blah, blah.  It’s all been written before.

And I didn’t want even one of you to say, “well, I have small hands, that’s never going to work, so why bother.”  Or stiff hands, or slow hands, or whatever.

Nonsense.  Whatever you love to do, go for it!  You don’t have to be Rachmaninoff, or Rembrandt, or Robert Frost.  Or whoever.  Enjoy what you can do.  And you might surprise yourself if you keep at it.

If you don’t play an instrument and love music, you don’t have to be a specialist to share the music and help someone to hear what you hear and enjoy.

Here is a video of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-Sharp Minor, Op. 32, No. 12, performed by Wael Farouk.  Dr. Farouk, director of piano studies at Carthage College and a faculty member of the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, was told that he would never be able to be a concert pianist because of shortened ligaments in his hands.  He has performed all of Rachmaninoff’s solo piano works.

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Image attribution:  Sergei Rachmaninoff, 1936 or earlier, photographer unknown, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARachmaninoff_plyaing_Steinway_grand_piano.jpg.


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Live Concert Webcasts: La traviata, Bruckner, Brahms and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Today, May 24, 2019, at 19:00 CET (2 PM EDT, UTC -1), OperaVision will present Verdi’s La Traviata from the Icelandic OperaYou can see it here.

Tomorrow, May 25, 2019 at 8PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3Kent Nagano will conduct, and the program will feature pianist Beatrice RanaYou can see it here.

On May 31, 2019 at 10:45 AM (GMT -4) the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present Brahms’s Symphony No. 4.  Also on the program is Webern’s Passacaglia, and Haydn’s Concerto for Two Horns.  You can see it here.


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Haiku Wednesday: Not Your Typical Prelude and Fugue

American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein

Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
Leonard Bernstein conducting
Hang on tight; listen.

As usual, looking for something else, I happened upon this great 1955 video of Leonard Bernstein conducting his composition Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs.  It’s a wild ride, and not what you’d typically think of when you hear “prelude and fugue.”

At the same time, I found another video of the same piece, this time by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony.  An equally good performance, but perhaps a bit more …controlled? Refined?  I enjoyed it just as much, and I hope you will too.

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Image attribution:  Leonard Bernstein, by Jack Mitchell [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonard_Bernstein_by_Jack_Mitchell.jpg


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Free Concert Webcast Tonight: Vivaldi!

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

Tonight, April 27, 2019 at 8PM EDT (GMT -4), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a Vivaldi-rich concert webcast.  Nicholas McGegan will conduct.  You can see the concert here.  The program also includes a concerto by Anna Clyne.  Here is the program:

Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings, RV 114

Anna Clyne: Concerto for Mandolin and Strings, “Three Sisters”

Vivaldi: Concerto for Mandolin, R 425

Vivaldi: Concerto Grosso, RV 565 (from L’estro armónico)

Vivaldi: Gloria, R 589