Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Lost Telemann Work Found after 280 Years!


The Telemann Research Center in Magdeburg, Germany has announced that Georg Philipp Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for Viola da Gamba has been found.  Telemann had released the work to his publisher in August 1735, but it was believed that the work had not survived.

Following a tip from a French colleague, Thomas Fritzsch located a complete copy of the printed score approved for publication in a private collection.

It is stated that publication of a collection of works for viola da gamba without a bass would have been unprecedented for 1735.  The fantasias are described as a “cornucopia of musical ideas” demonstrating Telemann’s “extraordinary knowledge of the capabilities of the instrument” and his mastery of the chamber music form.

The fantasias will be presented for the first time at the Telemann Festival to be held in Magdeburg, Telemann’s home town, on 11-20 March 2016.  At the same time a CD and the long-awaited published score will be made available.


Zentrum für Telemann-Pflege und -Forschung Magdeburg


Image attribution:  Georg Philipp Telemann, watercolor by Valentin Daniel Preisler [Public domain], after a lost painting by Ludwig Michael Schneider (1750), via Wikimedia Commons.



Haiku Wednesday:  Paganini, the Devil’s Violinist


Did he sell his soul?
Did he have extra fingers?
No; he was that good.

They swooned when they saw
His flying fingers and heard
Songs played from the soul.

Niccolò Paganini (27 October 1782-27 May 1840) was the premier violinist of his time and an outstanding composer.  His 24 Caprices for Solo Violin have been the inspiration and bedevilment of generations of violinists.  And that was his Opus 1!  He composed solos, duos, trios, and quartets, including works for the violin, viola, and guitar.  He is also well known for his works on violin technique.

Although he was employed at various times in his career by nobility, most of the time Paganini was a freelance virtuoso.  He performed his own works in concerts, and his fame spread far beyond his native Italy.  His themes have been used by numerous composers as the basis for sets of variations.  His work has also been incorporated into performances by guitarists far outside the classical realm, namely rock guitarists Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai.

Ever the showman, it is said that Paganini intentionally used worn strings in performance so that they would break, at which point he would continue playing on the remaining strings as if nothing had happened.  Paganini even wrote a violin piece to be played on only one string. (Jazz fans: check out the video of bass player Victor Wooten playing with a broken string–like a boss. String breaks at about 2:45.)

Paganini’s appearance only added to the mesmerizing effect of his playing.  Tall, gaunt, dressed in black, many suspected that the only way one could play so rapidly and so well was through a pact with the devil.  But a human source of his great flexibility and appearance is more likely.  It is believed that Paganini had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Marfan syndrome, a symptom of which is abnormal flexibility of the joints.  But a period during which he is said to have played up to 15 hours a day may also have had something to do with it.

Here is Jascha Heifetz playing Caprice No 24.

You can hear all 24 caprices here.

Here is Paganini’s La Campanella (Violin Concerto No 2 in B Minor, Op. 7, third movement).

Here is Paganini’s Duetto Amoroso for violin and guitar.

Want to hear a 1615 viola?  Here is Paganini’s Sonata per Gran Viol played on the Amati viola “La Stauffer.”


Nicolo Paganini: His Life and Work, Stephen Samuel Stratton. NY: Scribner’s, 1907.


Image attribution:  Niccolò Paganini  by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Happy Birthday, Domenico Scarlatti!

Portrait of Domenico Scarlatti painted in 1738 by Domingo Antonio Velasco

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) is best known for his 555 keyboard sonatas.  Although he was a composer of the Baroque period, his influence of his work extended into the Classical period.

Born in the same year as Bach and Handel, he was the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, also a composer of note.  Domenico Scarlatti spent most of his career in Spain and Portugal, where he was the music tutor of the Portuguese princess Maria Magdalena Barbara.  He continued to serve her when she married into the Spanish royal family.

His sonatas consist of a single movement.  Some are in sonata form, others in binary form.  Some are known for their unusual harmonies.

Lesser known are his operas and masses.  He wrote a number of operas for Maria Casimira, Queen of Poland, before his sojourn in Portugal and Spain.  He also wrote masses and other sacred music for the Capella Giulia, the quintessential Vatican choir formerly directed by none other than Palestrina.

Here is the jaunty Sonata in C Major K 159 played on the harpsichord by Luc Beauséjour.

I can’t resist including a video of the incomparable Vladimir Horowitz, shown here playing the beautiful Sonata in B Minor K 87 in Moscow.

And let’s not neglect Scarlatti’s exquisite choral music.  Here is his Salve Regina in A minor.

Scarlatti can be like potato chips: you can’t stop at just one sonata.  In case you crave more, check out the delightful Sonata in E Major K 380 played by Vadim Chaimovich or the Sonata in B Minor K 27 played with speed and bravura by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.  Abundant videos of Scarlatti sonatas and some of his sacred music can be found on YouTube.



Image attribution: Domenico Scarlatti by Domingo Antonio Velasco, 1738.


Evil Masterminds, Organists, and Halloween–Spooky Classical Music Sources

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925

It’s getting toward Halloween here in the US and I got to thinking about spooky music.

Why is it that organ music is always considered mad scientist/evil mastermind music?

I mean, think about it: do these guys have time to be practicing their arpeggios and pedalwork?

Do they really want their hands tied up with massive nasty, gnarly chords?

Is it easy to come up with byzantine evil plans while playing the intricate counterpoint of a fugue?

Can we picture an evil mastermind wearing sensible organist shoes?

Photo via

Photo via

C’mon, really?

I guess we’re stuck with that image though.

So, ok, we’re going with it.  What are our options here to make folks think an evil genius lives at your house while you’re handing out candy at Halloween?

Everyone thinks of the Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor first.  Recordings of ALL of Bach’s organ music are available for free.  Or you can download a subset of more familiar pieces.  The pieces were recorded by Dr. James Kibbie on baroque organs in Germany (learn more about the project here).

Also, check out The 13 Scariest Pieces of Classical Music for Halloween (and the readers’ suggestions) for classics like Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre, and Liszt’s Totentanz, among others.

Looking for something different and original?  Try Frederik Magle’s music.  Delectably dark and hair-raising, from traditional Gothic organ to rock/classical fusion.  Here’s Origin.

Here Stockhausen presents his composition Gesang der Jünglige, which is just a little unnerving, and I imagine terrifying in the dark, played at low volume in some obscure corner.

Got 99 cents? Go to Amazon’s MP3 store for The Darkest Classical Piano Pieces, or the Little Box of Horror, or 100 Must-Have Horror Classics.  All may not be what you think of as terror-inducing but for 99 cents, one can’t quibble.

And finally, this less terrifying but fascinating mash-up of classical works by Guy Cavill, from The Frankenstein Suite, Movement 3, It’s Alive – The Frankenstein Breathes.  I like how the composers’ faces morph into one another in the video, all focused on the eyes.

Do you have any other suggestions for scary music?  What’s the most terrifying music you’ve heard?


Haiku Wednesday: 24 Preludes

Twenty-four preludes
Each key, its own universe
Beauty crystallized.

But whose? You may ask.
Is it Bach? Shostakovich?
Chopin? Debussy?

Today it’s Chopin
Preludes to infinity,
Where will they lead you?

Pianist James Rhodes has posted an interesting video at Apple Music.  He urges people to take the time, just a little time each day, to do something they have always wanted to do.  Want to play the piano?  He says there are pieces even a beginner can learn if they put in some time, some effort.  He suggests Chopin’s Prelude in E minor.

Imagine playing it for your friends.  Not a piano person?  Ok, how about guitar? (sweet lesson on playing the prelude here). Friends not into classical music?  I think Jimmy Page has it covered here. Don’t get me started on Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai.

Not a guitarist, not a musician at all?  Then press play and play it for your friends.  You’ve just become an ambassador of classical music.  And think of how much music you’d get to know, if you listened to just a little every day.

So how about those preludes?

Chopin wrote them in the winter of 1838-39 in Majorca.  At the time, Chopin was immersed in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, two volumes each containing 24 preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys.  Chopin’s preludes are brief, lasting from 12 to 90 measures.  Some are immensely challenging to play.  Each seems to convey an emotion, but which one is open to interpretation.  Alfred Cortot and Hans von Bülow (who was married to Liszt’s daughter Cosima, before she left him for Wagner; read his quotes at the bottom of the Wikipedia article for a laugh) wrote brief descriptions for each prelude, but experience them for yourself, and see what each says to you.

Now I think I have some practicing to do.

Here are some resources if you’d like to know more about Chopin’s preludes.

First, of course, the sheet music, if you’d like to try that Prelude in E minor or follow as you listen (scroll down for sheet music),_Op.28_(Chopin,_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric)

Inevitably, Wikipedia

Radio Chopin, where you can hear each prelude individually

[Analysis] Discussion of the individual preludes:  brief (, with moderate detail ( and [in depth] more (

A thesis paper on the history of the prelude and Chopin’s preludes in particular at

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Bach Mystery Solved! St. John, Cantata Librettist Identified

Portrait of Christoph Birkmann by Georg Lichtensteger, 1759 via

Portrait of Christoph Birkmann by Georg Lichtensteger, 1759 via

Researcher Christine Blanken of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig has determined that Christoph Birkmann, a student associated with Bach’s choir in Leipzig, was the author of text used in some Bach cantatas and portions of the St. John Passion.

Birkmann (1703-1771) was a theology and mathematics student from Nuremberg who was in Leipzig in 1724-1727.  During that time, Birkmann states, “I diligently followed the great composer Mr. Bach and his choir, and in winter joined in with the collegia musica.”1

Blanken matched handwriting found on libretto manuscripts with writings by theologian Birkmann at the Nuremberg State Library.2 The findings were announced by the director of the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, Peter Wollny.3

Blanken’s detailed, yet abbreviated, paper (in English) on Birkmann and his contributions to Bach’s cantatas can be found here.  It includes a discussion of how Birkmann’s studies of mathematics and astronomy figured into his libretti (pp 25-28).

A more extensive report will be published in the Bach-Jahrbuch 2015.


  3. [in German]


Image attribution:  Portrait of Christoph Birkmann by Georg Lichtensteger, 1759 via

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TGIF! Boisterous Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev


Rock on, Ludwig!

The weekend is here, finally, and there is definitely a fun, Friday night vibe in the program of tonight’s free live webcast by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with pianist Ingrid Fliter (8 PM, GMT -4).

First up is Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”).  He said, “If Haydn had lived to our era, he would have retained his compositional style but would also have absorbed something from what was new.”1 So what we have is a classical era symphony with unmistakably modern harmonies and voicings (some way higher than Haydn would have dared,2 and 2-octave leaps!3). This symphony has been called “intentionally rude but wonderful fun” and a “joyous romp.”4  Sounds like a great Friday night symphony!

Next on the program is Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Mendelssohn wrote it in 1831 after falling in love with a beautiful young pianist while traveling to Italy.5  It’s youthful, flashy music, and a delight to hear (and watch!).  The piano can’t wait to get the party started–it jumps right in before the orchestra can even state the first theme!6

The tempos of the movements tell the whole story: Molto allegro con fuoco [fiery!]; Andante (a sweet theme); Presto; Molto allegro e vivace [lively].  It’s a fun bit of music!

The concert will conclude with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, written in 1813.  The words used to describe this symphony sound more like rock than Beethoven:  “hard-driving,”7 “loud, ferocious outbursts alternating with soft, light responses,” and “raging demonic energy.”8 Wow!  Listen for the rhythm patterns that give the symphony that driving sound (heavy/light/light in movement 1 and long, short/short, long, long in movement 2).9

Can you imagine Beethoven conducting it?  Here’s a firsthand account by violinist Ludwig Spohr:

At this concert I first saw Beethoven conduct.  As often as I had heard about it, it still surprised me very much.  He was accustomed to convey the marks of expression to the orchestra by the most peculiar motions of his body.  Thus at a sforzando [strong accent] he tore his arms, which until then had been crossed on his breast, violently apart.  He crouched down at a piano [soft section], bending lower as the tone decreased.  At a crescendo [gradual increase in loudness] he raised himself by degrees until at the forte [loud section] he leapt to his full height; and often without being conscious of it, would shout aloud at the same time.10

Mosh pit Beethoven!

Even without the shouting, I’m sure it’s going to be a great concert, and I hope you’ll be there online.  If you can’t be there, DSO offers their DSO Replay program.

If you can’t make it, or if you can’t wait to hear this music, here are some performances to watch.

Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Ilya Yakushev

Prokofiev’s Symphony No 1, Valery Gergiev conducting

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Ivan Fischer



1, 2. Libbey, Ted, NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection.  NY: Workman Publishing, 1999 pp 129-130.

  1. Berger, Melvin, The Anchor Guide to Orchestral Masterpieces. NY: Anchor Books, 1995 pp 228-229.
  2. Libbey, Ted, Op. cit.

5, 6.  Berger, Melvin, Op. cit. p 180.

  1. Smith, Tim, NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Classical Music.  NY: Perigee Books, 2002 p 90.

8, 9, 10.  Berger, Melvin, Op. cit. pp 43-44.

Image attribution:  Try as I might, I could not find a source for this image, but thanks, Artist!  The sunglasses are mine though.