Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Haiku Wednesday: Christmas 1198


North transept rose window, Notre Dame, Paris

It was Christmastime
In 1198,
Notre Dame, Paris

Through the church rang notes,
Twining around each other,
Viderunt omnes.

Jaunty rhythm; tune
As kaleidoscopic as
A stained glass window

Thank you, Perotin,
for stunning polyphony
From the depths of time.

Viderunt omnes started out as a plainchant.  Before Perotin got ahold of it, it sounded like this (here’s a chance to practice reading that old notation too!)

Along came the Notre Dame school of composers.  Perotin and his predecessor, Leonin, started adding new elements to plainchant.  First they added one voice, moving very slowly (or not at all) against the main melody.  This was called organum.  Then they added another voice…and another.  By Christmas 1198 they were up to four voices.  And now Viderunt omnes sounded like this.

Can you imagine living in that time, shuffling into the vast cathedral, still under construction, looking around, amazed, and hearing those notes bouncing around the sanctuary?  It must have been stunning.  And that was before the dazzling stained glass windows were installed (they weren’t in until around 1250; and it still seems amazing to me to toss around these dates, so long ago).

Polyphony would continue to be refined over time, but the Notre Dame school took a great step forward in the development of music.

Catapulting into Classical will be taking a short break this holiday season and will return in the new year.  Of course, if I find something I can’t wait to tell you about, I might pop in briefly with that.  I’ll be taking some time to work on that quartweet and other projects and spend time with family.

In the meantime, I wish you peace and joy and a happy and healthy new year.


Image attribution: The north transept rose stained glass window at Notre Dame, Paris.  Photograph by Oliver J. Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0].





Berlioz Ho Ho Ho


This weekend one of the choirs I sing with presented a program of seasonal music.  The selections included a sweet lullaby by William Byrd, Schönberg’s Friede auf Erde with its surprising and beautiful chromaticism, and The Shepherds’ Farewell from L’enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz.  I’ve talked about this interesting character before.  There is a great story associated with The Shepherds’ Farewell.  At the time people were…how shall I put this…not thrilled with Hector’s work.  Ok, a lot of people hated it, just his name being on it made them hate it.  So in 1850 he had The Shepherds’ Farewell performed but attributed it to some made-up 17th century composer named “Ducré.”

Well, they loved it.  One woman said, “Berlioz would never be able to write a tune as simple and charming as this little piece by old Ducré.” [1]

That must have been sucré [sweet].

Here is The Shepherds’ Farewell.

Here’s a brief commentary on L’enfance du Christ by Sir Colin Davis.




Free Online Course: The World of the String Quartet

String Quartet

Here’s a valuable resource on the string quartet and its history.

Coursera offers an on-demand free course called The World of the String Quartet.  It was developed by the Curtis Institute of Music.  It is taught by Arnold Steinhardt, first violin of the Guarneri String Quartet, and Mia Chung, an interpretive analysis instructor at Curtis.

The seven-week course (this is a suggested timeframe, it is go at your own pace) covers the following topics:

Week 1: An Overview

Week 2: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven

Week 3: Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms

Week 4: Smetana, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, and Bartok

Week 5:  Debussy Ravel, Barber, Shostakovich, and Britten

Week 6: Schönberg, Webern, Berg, Ives, Cage, and Reich

Week 7: The Next Frontier

In addition, the course has its own webpage that includes links to performances and other online music resources.  There are discussion forums so you can connect with others taking the course, and quizzes to check if you’re on the right track.

Individual videos are fairly short, typically under ten minutes, which makes it easy to watch one when you have a little spare time.  So pour yourself a cup of coffee and get to know the string quartet!

Here’s the Aizuri Quartet at the Curtis Institute of Music performing Haydn’s Quartet Op. 64 No 3 Movement 1.


Image attribution:  Free clipart made available by


Haiku Wednesday: The Quartweet Part 1

Quartweet, quartetto
Slim as a stiletto, a
Hundred forty notes.

The Signum Quartet has presented a challenge:  compose a quartet consisting of no more than 140 notes–a quartweet.  The note limit is the same as the character limit imposed on messages in Twitters, called tweets.  You can read about it in my previous post on the quartweet.

Well, of course, Bach did it first, and masterfully.

I’ve been thinking about trying this since my original post on the subject.  I had a piece in mind, and got it down near the limit; it was still too heavy-handed though.  It was originally written as a choral piece, with four notes for each syllable.  This piece sounded like what it would be like if one asked a quartet to play while wearing parkas and mittens.  Dull, muffled, awkward.  I needed to fix it.

So how do you write a string quartet when you don’t know how?  First, don’t give up and say it can’t be done.  Second, ask your music teacher.

What if you don’t have a music teacher?  Another thing I did was listen to and follow the scores of quartets to get a feel for what it’s supposed to sound (and look) like.  A fine endeavor, and pleasant, but it does take a lot of time.  It’s a little like learning English by reading Shakespeare.

Another approach I took is more like a quote attributed to Michelangelo.  He said a sculpture already existed in a block of marble, all he did was chip away the pieces that didn’t belong.  Fortunately, music scores are more forgiving than marble, in that you can put chunks back in if you happen to lop off the nose.

But then things got hectic.  Like Willie Dixon’s old song said, “I can’t quit you, baby/But I got to put you down a little while.” And so it was.  Yes, this post contains quartets and American blues.

But I recently got to thinking about the quartweet again…and decided that I had the wrong song for the project.  Part of the heavy-handedness was that it was ab initio clunky (there’s a word combination you don’t see often).  But luckily, I thought of some possible replacements.

I had written a setting of Nunc dimittis, but I wasn’t sure it would work; it would need some tinkering.  But there was another setting, this one of In Manus Tuas, and it occurred to me that the first iteration of words seemed just about the right length.  So I counted the notes as written: 135.  Q.E.D., right?

Well, not exactly.  I ran into the same problem I had with the other piece–choral writing is not quartet writing (unless you’re Bach; and I think we’ve pretty firmly established where I stand in that regard).

So I’m continuing to chip away the bits that don’t sound like a cello, or a violin, put the nose back on the viola…and it’s coming along, but it’s not there yet.

And that is why this is The Quartweet Part One.

A number of people have already submitted their quartweets, and you can find them here.


Catapulting into Classical Is Now on Facebook, Twitter

This is blog post 100.  I can hardly believe it.

I hope you have had as much fun reading the posts and listening to the music as I have putting them together!

I want to thank all of my readers, whether you are visiting for the first time (welcome!) or have joined me mid-flight.  I would like to especially thank those of you who have been there from the launch (and before).  I have enjoyed sharing what I have found with you, and hope you have shared it with your friends.  I value your comments and encourage you to join the conversation!

Breaking news!  Catapulting into Classical is now flying into Facebook!  There is now a freshly-minted Facebook page for the blog.  It’s yet another venue to see the posts and share your comments and findings.

You can also find interesting content on Twitter (@CintoClassical).  The Twitter feed can also be viewed at the bottom right corner of the blog.

But now let’s talk about you, the readers!  You come from 89 countries (that’s right—89!).


Among you are people from all walks of life, all education levels, speaking a myriad of languages.

All of you love music.

Some of you don’t play an instrument.  Some say they can’t carry a tune.  Some don’t read music.  Others are composers, conductors, music teachers, musicians of all sorts.

All are welcome here.

Twitter followers include the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Signum Quartet, Musicology Duck (I’m not making this up), and Wolfgang Mozart.

There are physicists, programmers, teachers, doctors, business people, and artists in your midst, and more folks whose occupations are unknown to me.

Whether you wield a torque wrench, a hammer, a scalpel, or a keyboard, we all put on a CD or LP, or stream, or attend concerts, and we all get caught up in the music.

Some of you are jumping into your cars to go to work (or maybe you’re coming home from work, depending on your time zone) and turning on the radio, or popping in a CD.  Parents might be playing some Mozart for their little ones.

We can all sing in the shower or car and pretend we’re at La Scala.  Those other drivers staring at you are just jealous!

There are Haiku enthusiasts and micropoets, essayists, and novelists.

Readers, I appreciate each and every one of you, and I’m happy you’re here!

So, now we need some music!  Let’s put on a little Mozart.  Here’s a snippet of Symphony No. 40You can hear the whole symphony here.



Haiku Wednesday:  Bach’s Goldberg Variations


For Bach to give us
The Goldberg Variations
Would have been enough.

But that was number
9-8-8 of 10-80
It boggles the mind.

 “After a concert, I want to grab people by the lapels and tell them how lucky we are as a species that, out of all the hundreds of billions of us who ever lived, one of us managed to come up with the Goldberg Variations.”

Armando Iannucci, in The Guardian

The Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) is an aria and set of 30 variations by J. S. Bach published in 1741.  It is a masterpiece.

And what shall I say next?

I like this quote by pianist Jeremy Denk: “If there’s anything more terrifying than adding another recording to the existing legacy, it’s the idea of adding even one more word to the quivering mass of adulatory Goldberg verbiage” (read the entire excellent article here).

Yeah, um, what he said.  What could I possibly add?  So instead I provide resources to learn more and hear the variations for yourself.

NPR has written an introductory article on the piece and its history.

The Open Goldberg Variations project has made Kimiko Ishizaka’s performance of the piece on a Bösendorfer piano available for download for free or donation.  They also offer an option to purchase the performance on CD.  The score is available on the same page (scroll down).  You can also listen the piece and follow along in the score here.

Prefer a harpsichord?  The Oregon Bach Festival has made available an interactive website on which you can listen to the Goldberg Variations on harpsichord, piano, or synthesizer while following along on a score.

I urge you to also hear Glenn Gould’s legendary performances (both of them, 1955 and 1981—I abstain from expressing an opinion on which I prefer).  For something different, listen to Catrin Finch’s arrangement for harp.


Image attribution:

Elias Gottlob Haussmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Sibelius 150: Over 1000 Gather To Sing Finlandia

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius, somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people gathered in Helsinki to sing Finlandia.

I couldn’t extract the video, so I’m giving you the website, which is in Finnish.  Click the play button on the video–wow!