Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Eclipse!

Stick people safely viewing solar eclipse

These highly responsible stick people know to use their eclipse glasses and pinhole projectors at all times except during totality, when it’s ok to view the eclipse directly.

It’s Eclipse Day in the US, and the moon will cast its shadow along a path that stretches across the entire country, allowing everyone (including Alaska and Hawaii) to see at least a partial eclipse. Some lucky folks in a 70-mile-wide band will get to see a total eclipse.

So what does this have to do with classical music?

It is likely that Handel saw the 1715 total eclipse over London. Later, in 1741, he wrote the aria Total Eclipse for his oratorio Samson. You can read more about the aria and that eclipse here.

Today, the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, the Kronos Quartet, and composer Wayne Grim will produce a sonification of the 2017 total eclipse, turning digital data into music. You can read about it here. You can hear Grim’s interpretation of the 2016 total eclipse in Micronesia here.

If you’re not in the US (or if your skies are cloudy) you can still see the eclipse via webcasts:

NASA coverage beginning at 12PM EDT (GMT-4) https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream

Exploratorium coverage beginning at 1PM EDT (GMT-4) https://www.exploratorium.edu/eclipse

And now, Handel’s Total Eclipse.

Note:  If you’re in the US and you don’t have eclipse glasses, you can print out a pinhole projector here, and view the sun’s image safely.  Wishing you clear skies!


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Haiku Wednesday: Gigue

Dancer with Cello by Hakan Sevgen

Photograph by Hakan Sevgen, copyright 2016

Now it’s time to dance.
Forget, for a moment, the
Worries of the world.

If you look at the names of the movements of Bach’s cello suites, you’ll see they are dances:  allemande, courante, sarabande, minuet, bourrée, gavotte, gigue.  Look around, and you will see many pieces of classical music rooted in dance–ecossaises, ländlers, hallings, and of course, waltzes.  While they may be dances of another time and another place, you can’t help but pick up on some of their infectious rhythms.

And no one wrote a gigue like Bach.  He even wrote a gigue fugue, one of my favorites.

For your enjoyment, here is the gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4 played by Mischa Maisky.

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Image attribution:  Photograph of dancer and cello by Hakan Sevgen, copyright 2016, via Facebook (check out his other work, it’s brilliant!), https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154813926058478&set=a.184796868477.155176.543318477&type=3&theater


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Bach Cello Suite No. 6, Sarabande

Did you ever listen to a piece of music and have it take hold of you, and not let go?  Or have it end, and sit there, absorbing what you’ve heard, needing time to…I don’t know, be.  Sit with it quietly for a while, like an old friend.

When I heard this performance by Miklos Perenyi of the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6, that’s how I felt.  I have heard other wonderful performances, but there was something about this performance, the sound of this cello, that was particularly moving.

I hope you will savor it too.


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New Free Online Concert Resource

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has announced the addition of video to their collection of audio concert recordings.  The recordings are free and available on demand.  A series of live-stream concert webcasts will begin in September.

At the moment there are only a few video recordings available, but they are outstanding.  There are performances by pianist Jeremy Denk (Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue –wow!), as well as a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s  Symphony No. 4 “Italian”, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  You can check out their library of recordings here.  Videos are indicated by a small camera icon, and clicking on a hyperlinked performer name will give you a list of performances by the artist available on the site.

With selections from John Adams to Hugo Wolf, you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy!

 

 


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Haiku Wednesday:  Butterfly

Monarch butterfly on a cluster of purple flowers

With fluttering wings
The butterfly alights on
A vibrant flower.

Sweet summer nectar,
Abundant blossoms, and a
Gentle summer breeze;
These are the good times,
And the butterfly dances
To music unheard.

Soon its wand’ring path
Will lead it to warmer climes
Before the air chills,
And fall’s orange leaves
Become a poor mimic on
The cold autumn wind.

Butterflies seem impossible; their wings are so delicate, their colors too bright to be real.  And yet, you can walk right up to them, and for the most part, they don’t mind if you look closely at the texture of their wings as they extract nectar from flowers one by one.  And then, on a whim, they fly off, seemingly not quite under control, in search of a new set of blossoms.

In Norway, Edvard Grieg too must have stopped to watch these marvels, and the result was Butterfly (Op. 43, No. 1) from his Lyric Pieces.  And here is a treat—this recording comes from a reproducing piano roll that was created as Grieg himself played the piece.  Perhaps you can hear the butterfly’s fluttering, somewhat chaotic flight in the notes.

 

More asides than references

If you’d like to see the reproducing piano at work, here is a video of Grieg’s Berceuse (Op. 38, No. 1) being played from a piano roll created by Grieg.

Grieg’s Lyric Pieces is great summer music.  You might also like Summer Evening (Op. 71, No. 2).

In case you were wondering, there are over 2,000 species of butterflies and moths in Norway.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Lepidoptera_of_Norway

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Image attribution: Monarch butterfly by Richiebits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABBGMonarchButterflyWings.jpg


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The Music of Agincourt

Drawing of the Battle of Agincourt from a French manuscript of the late 1400s

Last week, I was off doing what I call “saturation genealogy.”  That’s where I immerse myself in research until I can’t absorb any more names, dates, places, lineages..lots of work, but fun too as new discoveries are made.

I know, fun summer vacation, right?

Anyway, somewhere along the way I found a family tree that someone else had created that would seem to indicate that an ancestor of my spouse was at the Battle of Agincourt (on the French side).  That will have to be investigated further, but it got me to thinking about what sort of secular music those folks might have been listening to.

1415 would have been rich in chansons, and the first name that sprung to mind was Guillaume de Machaut.  Here is his Douce Dame Jolie.

A song of the 14th century that might still have been making the rounds is Je Voy Mon Cuer.  You can see it here, played on a cool modern reproduction of a portative organ.

A little later, survivors would have recounted the battle to their rapt listeners while the music of Guillaume Dufay sounded through the hall. Here is the lovely Vergine bella, che di sol vestita .

Sadly, the supposed ancestor was one of the casualties.  By that time, poet Christine De Pizan had written the heart-wrenching Deuill Angoisseux, written in 1390 on the death of her husband.  Gilles Binchois set it to music in the mid-1400s.  The French and English words can be found here.  An extended version filmed at Chateau de Germolles, a residence of the dukes of Burgundy, can be seen at the link.

I guess the account would not be complete without the Agincourt Carol, written in England in celebration of the English victory.  The instrument at the very beginning is a crumhorn, in case you’re wondering.  You can see manuscripts containing the carol here.

If you’re in the mood for more Medieval music, there are a number of extended playlists available online, including the interestingly-named “Medieval Music – ‘Hardcore’ Party Mix” full of lively dance tunes.

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Image attribution:  Battle of Agincourt, from the Chroniques d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASchlacht_von_Azincourt.jpg.  Original manuscript Biblioteque National de France.


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Haiku Wednesday: Chopin at Dusk

Dusk. As the light fades,
Birds sing their last song, and deer
Emerge from the woods.

A crescent moon peeks
Through the trees, gathers courage,
And rises boldly.

An open window.
Notes like fireflies twinkle
In the cool night air.

They dance for a while,
Then fade away, but surely
They’ll last forever.

You might be expecting a nocturne here.  But what inspired this was Chopin’s Andante Spianato.  Below is a performance by Daniil Trifonov.*  I also like the performance of Benjamin Grosvenor on his Dances album.  Both sublime.

Have a pleasant evening.

 

*Email subscribers, please click here to see the video on my webpage.

References

http://daniiltrifonov.com/

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Image attribution: Nightfall image via https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1324389, CC0, public domain.