Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Arcangelo Corelli

Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Hugh Howard

“Concerti Grossi,
Arcangelo Corelli”
Said the disc label.

I had not heard it,
So thought I’d give it a try
One hectic morning.

And in the chaos
That swirled around me that day
Came a soothing calm.

Like spring’s first flowers,
A sunny day in winter,
Crisp cider in fall,
I don’t know how, but
Arcangelo Corelli
Somehow made me smile.

Arcangelo Corelli is perhaps best known for his development of the concerto grosso form and for his advancement of violin technique.  His set of 12 concerti (Op. 6) was published in 1714.  They inspired Handel to write his own set of concerti (also Op. 6).  Corelli’s concerti remain popular to this day.  There’s something about Corelli’s music.  Somehow, it seems to catch you unawares* and relax you.  It’s happy, without being cloying.  Pleasant, but not boring or insipid.  Engaging, but not overwhelming (on the day in question, Beethoven or Schubert, even Mozart, would have been a bad choice.  Too much drama!).  Some days, Corelli is the perfect fit.

Here is Corelli’s Concerto in F Major, Op. 6, No. 2, played on original instruments by Voices of Music.

 

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* “unawares” is a strange, low-frequency English word that looks wrong, but isn’t.  It’s an adverb form that’s a leftover from Middle English, which also gave us “towards” and “afterwards.”  The more you know….

Image attribution: Portrait of Arcangelo Corelli by Hugh Howard, 1697, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

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Free Live Concert Webcast: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Grosse Fuge and More

Broadcast tower topped by music note, globe in background

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) will present a live concert webcast tonight, 13 January 2018, at 8 PM CST (2 AM GMT).  You can see it here.  Here’s the program:

Jessie Montgomery: Records from a Vanishing City
Beethoven: Grosse Fuge for String Quartet
Beethoven: Violin Concerto

The soloist will be Steven Copes, concertmaster of the SPCO.

If you can’t make it, it will soon be available as part of the SPCO’s library of classical music performances.  With performances of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, John Adams, Hugo Wolf, Shostakovich and more, you’re sure to find a favorite.


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Free Lectures on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas by Jonathan Biss

Beethoven

Happy New Year, everyone!  It’s good to be back after a very busy holiday season.

Great news for piano music lovers!  Pianist Jonathan Biss is back with his third series of lectures on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas on Coursera.org.  Biss is in the process of recording all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

This series, like the previous two, is designed for everyone—no prior knowledge is needed.  And if you missed the first two lecture series, they are also available on Coursera.  The first series provides a wealth of background information to understand Beethoven’s world and the sonata form.  I wrote about series one here.  The second series focuses on the exploration of individual sonatas, including the Waldstein and Pathétique.

Here are links for the three lecture series on Coursera

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Part 2

Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Part 3.

Need more Beethoven?  This post provides more resources for learning more about Beethoven.

Here is a video of Biss playing a portion of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor.

You can hear the entire sonata here.

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Image attribution:  Beethoven, Painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beethoven_.jpg.


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Haiku Wednesday: For George

George Butterworth, around 1914

Silence need not fall,
Nor memories fade away.
Music will endure.

Recently, I had the honor of presenting one of my compositions at a composers circle.  The blog has been quiet lately because I have been diligently preparing for that event and a major choral event.

I started writing The Lost (for George Butterworth) after a 2016 blog post for Veterans Day.  At that time, I did more research into Butterworth than had appeared in the initial post, and his story affected me deeply.

George Butterworth was a promising young English composer.  One of his best-known works, which I quoted in remembrance of him in my composition, is The Banks of Green Willow, which you can hear here.  He was friends with Ralph Vaughan Williams, and, as noted in the blog post The Symphony Lost in the Mail, helped Vaughan Williams reconstruct his symphony score when it disappeared.

He was also a folk dancer.  There is film of him performing (in 1912!), alone, and as part of a group.  You can see it here.  At one point as four people are folk dancing, Butterworth and his friend accidentally collide, and you can see them laughing at their mistake.

Butterworth served ably in World War I.  In 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, he was killed by a sniper.  The fighting was so ferocious that the dead were quickly buried where they fell.  Butterworth’s body was never recovered.

Butterworth:  a composer, a lively, laughing dancer.  Cut down.  Lost.

The introduction of this piece expresses mourning for those lost in battle on the windswept fields of the Somme in France.  A brief four-part writing segment asks, in disbelief, whether this is how it must be, with a resigned answer of yes, which returns later in the piece.  The major key section is a paraphrase of Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow, as a half-remembered melody from long ago, twisted at the end by a bitterly mock-heroic snippet of an anthem as Butterworth must abandon his music to go off to war.  A sudden strong C minor chord represents Butterworth’s death, and the pain of that loss, followed by resignation and the return to the introductory theme.

Here is The Lost.

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Image attribution: Photograph of George Butterworth, about 1914 [Public domain], via Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Butterworth_2.jpg


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Free Concert Webcast:  Mahler’s Ninth and More

Gustav Mahler

On Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 3:00 PM EST (GMT -5), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will offer a free concert webcast of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting.  The program will also feature the world premiere of Feuertrunken (Fire-Drunk) by Joshua Cerdenia.

You can see the concert here.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._9_(Mahler)
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2014/jul/29/mahlers-ninth-tom-service-symphony-guide
  3. Simon Rattle discusses Mahler’s Ninth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3DHYRMoTN4
  4. Leonard Bernstein discusses Mahler’s Ninth https://youtu.be/xDW1qQYcjto


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Haiku Wednesday: The Symphony Lost in the Mail

Mail truck driving off with papers flying out the back, stick figure aghast

So, George said to Ralph,
“You should write a symphony.”
He pondered the thought.

He had some sketches,
Some tone poems that would do,
And he set to work.

After the debut,
He sent it to Germany
To a conductor.

It never got there.
A war broke out; it was lost.
What would Ralph do now?

Ralph called his friend George,
Who had been reviewing it
As it was written.

And with some others,
Ralph rebuilt the symphony.
It would live again!

That’s the story of
A London Symphony of
One Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The above haiku (although simplistic) is the true story of A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  In a biography, Vaughan Williams is quoted as saying,

We were talking together one day when he said in his gruff, abrupt manner: ‘You know, you ought to write a symphony’. I answered… that I’d never written a symphony and never intended to… I suppose Butterworth’s words stung me and, anyhow, I looked out some sketches I had made for… a symphonic poem about London and decided to throw it into symphonic form… From that moment, the idea of a symphony dominated my mind. I showed the sketches to George bit by bit as they were finished…1

The Butterworth in the quote is English composer George Butterworth, a personal favorite of mine.  Vaughan Williams dedicated A London Symphony to Butterworth.

The symphony was first performed in 1914.  Thereafter, Vaughan Williams sent the score to conductor Fritz Busch in Germany.

After it was posted, World War I broke out.  In the chaos that ensued, the score really was lost in the mail.

Vaughan Williams called upon Butterworth and some others to help him rebuild the symphony from sketches and orchestral parts he still had.

Finally, the symphony was reconstructed.  But that’s not the end of the story.

This 1913 version underwent several revisions.  Vaughan Williams published the 1920 version.  He revisited it again, and the 1933 version explicitly states that earlier versions should not be performed.  He revised it again, and published a new version in 1936, and that’s the version that is performed today.

Except.

Vaughan Williams’s widow permitted one recording of the original 1913 score.  She was so happy with the recording by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox, that subsequent performances have been made possible.3

Opinions differ strongly about these two versions.  Some say Vaughan Williams said not to perform the earlier one; they say that later editing improved the symphony, giving it a tighter, more cohesive structure.

Some, however, say the removal of nearly 20 minutes of material from the 1913 version totally changed the character of the work.  In its original version it is more like the tone poems it derived from, less like a symphony, and it is a darker, more contemplative work.  They say Vaughan Williams cut out some beautiful melodies for the sake of conciseness.  But then Vaughan Williams himself described one removed passage as “a bad hymn tune.”2

I’m not sure where I stand on this.  I can see both sides.  I’ve listened to both, and I’ll give you links to performances of both.

Regardless of which you prefer, you will be treated to a picture of a bustling London through its day, and, in the end, through the ages.

I hope you will enjoy it.

Here is a performance of the 1913 version, conducted by Richard Hickox.

Here is a performance of the standard version.

References

  1. Lloyd, Stephen, in Ralph Vaughan Williams in Perspective, ed. Lewis Foreman, Albion Music Ltd, 1998.  “The quoted text in (a) is a portmanteau of two originals, the bulk being from a letter to Sir Alexander Butterworth, father of the composer” via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_London_Symphony.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_London_Symphony.
  3. McGregor, Andrew, “Vaughan Williams. A London Symphony. Review” http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/88cz/
  4. You can see the revised score at http://imslp.org/wiki/File:PMLP60779-Vaughan-Williams_-_Symphony_No._2_(orch._score).pdf.

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Image attribution: C. Gallant, 2017.


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Haiku Wednesday: Old Music, New World

Sheet music in old notation showing parts of the Quechua hymn Hanacpachap cussicuinin
Thousands of miles from
Home, they sought the solace of
A familiar faith.

The same sun shone down,
And the church looked just the same,
But a world away.

And new believers,
At home here, sought connection,
Familiar comfort.

And on that Sunday,
The music sounded the same,
But the words were new.

And both would smile in
This new and ancient landscape,
Worlds joined in music.

I love the things I find during my random walks through music history.  I was doing research on Tomás Luis de Victoria (around 1548-1611; you’ll see a post on him soon) when I found out that he published a collection of his music for distribution throughout Europe and the New World.  The New World.  I hadn’t thought about it before.  Typically, newly built colonial cities in the Americas had a central town square, and on one side of this square there was always a church, if not a cathedral.  And these churches needed music.

Victoria’s music traveled to Bogota, Colombia; Lima and Cusco, Peru; Mexico City, Mexico; and other cities in the New World.  The Spanish composer Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla didn’t send his music; he came to Mexico, composed music in the city of Puebla, and was the music director of the city’s cathedral.  Composer Juan García de Zéspedes, born in Puebla, studied under Gutiérrez de Padilla and later succeeded him as the music director.

At the cathedral of Santiago de Guatemala, now Antigua Guatemala, the Portuguese composer Gaspar Fernandes compiled a collection of choral music written by him and by the Spanish composers Francisco Guerrero, Cristóbal de Morales, and Pedro Bermúdez.  Fernandes and Bermúdez were also active at the cathedral in Puebla, Mexico.

I discovered that there is a wealth of information on sacred and secular music in the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s.  Some are listed in the references, but there are many more.

I had only begun to scratch the surface when this music stopped me in my tracks, music that I needed to share.  The first vocal polyphonic work published in the New World (in 1631) is from Peru, and it is in the Quechua language.  It is Hanacpachap cussicuinin, a hymn to the Virgin Mary.  And it is beautiful.  Here are the words of the first verse (presented today in Haiku form):

O, Joy of Heaven,
We praise you a thousand times,
Tree of thrice-blessed fruit.
Hope of humankind,
You help all those who are weak.
Attend to our prayer.

And now, here is a performance of Hanacpachap cussicuinin.

References

  1. Tomás Luis de Victoria, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom%C3%A1s_Luis_de_Victoria.
  2. Sacred Music: God’s Composer.  Music by Tomás Luis de Victoria.  BBC DVD, 2012.  https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Music-Gods-Composer-Victoria/dp/B006ZBJJI2
  3. Cramer, Eugene, Tomás Luis de Victoria: A Guide to Research. Psychology Press, 1998, 53-72.
  4. http://www.lacompania.com.au/reviews/cds/
  5. Bowers, Teresa, “The Golden Age of Choral Music in the Cathedrals of Colonial Mexico,” The Choral Journal, Vol 40 No 9 (April 2000) pp 9-13 via jstor.org.
  6. Escalada, Oscar, “Hanaqpachaq: The First Polyphonic Work Published (and Composed?) in the New World” [trans., ed. David Castleberry], The Choral Journal, Vol 43 No 2 (September 2002) pp 9-16 via jstor.org.
  7. Also see works by musicologist Robert Stevenson.

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Image attribution: Juan Pérez Bocanegra. Ritual, formulario, e institución de curas para administrar a los naturales de este reyno, los santos sacramentos del baptismo, confirmacion, eucaristia, y viatico, penitencia, extremauncion, y matrimonio: con aduertencias muy necessarias. Lima: Geronymo de Contreras, 1631, p 708, via the Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/ritualformulario00pr.