Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

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Free DSO Webcast: Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Mozart

Don’t miss Saturday’s free live webcast from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  That’s January 30, 2016 at 8PM EST at

Here’s the program:

Mozart: Violin Concerto No 1
Mendelssohn: Incidental music for “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4

An hour before the concert there will be an informal presentation to provide more information about the program music.

The last free webcast, which included Bizet’s Carmen Suite and Ravel’s Bolero, was quite a treat.

The performances are great, and the excellent camera work makes the concert come alive.



Haiku Wednesday: A Little Bird Told Me It’s Mozart’s Birthday


Once a bird brightened
Mozart’s day and made him laugh
And smile at its art.

Clever starling! Your
Song is not the loveliest,
But it touched his heart.

It’s Mozart’s 260th birthday!

And here I forgot to get him something.

Writing about Mozart is like writing about Bach or Beethoven.  Where do you start?

I could give his biography, and highlights of his compositions, but you can find that anywhere.

I could tell you about the great pleasure of singing his Solemn Vespers (Vesperae solennes de confessore), which I will never forget.

I could talk about the splendors of the Requiem (see a video of the Lacrimosa, conducted by Claudio Abbado here), or the great successes of his operas.


Autograph manuscript of Mozart’s Requiem.  Austrian National Library, Codex 17561a folio 1 (recto).

I could even talk about the tribute Arcady Volodos rendered to Mozart, a version of Mozart’s Turkish March which uses all 88 keys of the piano.


But instead I’m going to talk about Mozart’s starling.  Because no one else will.

In 1784, Mozart bought a pet starling.  He recorded the purchase in a diary of expenses.  He also wrote a transcription of the bird’s song, a near-perfect rendition of a theme in the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G Major, K. 453.


Illustration from M. J. West, A. P. King, “Mozart’s Starling” American Scientist, March-April 1990 p 112.  Starling’s song at top.

Here’s Menahem Pressler playing the last movement.

Picture Mozart visiting the pet shop, whistling the tune (which had been composed not long before), and having the bird learn it and chirp it back to him!

Of course he brought it home.  It lived with him for three years.  When it died, he gave it a grandiose funeral and recited a poem he had written in the starling’s memory.  It can be found (in English and German) in the American Scientist article cited below.

Here is an article on starlings from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology that includes recordings of starling calls.  Here is an extensive article from the journal American Scientist on the learning capacity of starlings and Mozart’s starling.  In the article it is suggested that A Musical Joke (Ein musikalischer Spaß), K. 522, written shortly after the starling’s demise, may have been influenced by the inexpert song stylings of this madcap little bird.  Maybe you’ll hear it in movement 4, with its triple repeated notes like the passage the bird imitated above, and the melody going more and more awry.  Here you can find Movements 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Viel Spaß! [Have fun!]


Image attributions

European starling by PierreSelim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.

Autograph manuscript of Mozart’s Requiem.  Austrian National Library, Codex 17561a folio 1 (recto).  Public Domain.

Illustration of birdsong and Mozart composition from M. J. West, A. P. King, “Mozart’s Starling” American Scientist, March-April 1990 p 112.

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Free Webcasts from Wigmore Hall

London’s famous Wigmore Hall has announced that it will begin free live streaming of select concerts.

The first streamed concert will be on January 28 at 8 PM GMT (in the US 3 PM EST).

Read more about it here.  To see the webcast, go to .

Also check out Wigmore Hall’s excellent podcasts featuring world renowned performers.


Wigmore Hall, London

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Lost Cantata Co-Written by Mozart and Salieri Found!


Photo of the Czech Museum of Music Library, Prague, published in the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung.  The original caption indicates that Salieri’s portion ends at the top of the page and is followed by Mozart’s contribution to the piece.

Timo Jouko Herrmann, music researcher and expert on the works of Antonio Salieri, has made a startling discovery:  he has found the text and music for a lost solo cantata Mozart and Salieri wrote together in 1785.

So much for the Amadeus movie and any conspiracy theories that may have been floating around.

Herrmann was doing research on the holdings of the Czech Museum of Music Library in Prague when he found the text, and then the music, for a solo cantata written for soprano Nancy Storace.  The piece was called Per la ricuperata salute di Ofelia [On the Recovery of the Health of Ofelia].

Salieri wrote the role of Ofelia in his opera La Grotta di Trofonio [Trofonio’s Cave] specifically for Storace.  However, she had to miss the opening because she lost her voice.  Her recovery took four months.  Mozart wrote the role of Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro [The Marriage of Figaro] for her after she regained her voice.

In 1785 many newspapers contained stories about the piece, which was given the Köchel number KV477a (each of Mozart’s compositions has its own number).  But it was considered lost.  It was known that Mozart and Salieri had collaborated on the piece.

The text is drawn from a 30-stanza poem written by Lorenzo da Ponte.  Only four stanzas were set in the solo cantata.  Mozart wrote the middle of the piece.  The beginning was written by Salieri, the final portion by someone named Cornetti, whose identity remains unclear.

The title of the work was recorded accurately in the library’s online catalog.  Amazingly, no one realized that it referred to the lost work.

In an interview, Hermann noted that he had planned to go through the library’s online libretto catalog in search of a title by one of Salieri’s students, Antonio Cartellieri.  He was surprised and delighted to come upon the text.  But when he found not only the text but the notes that went with it, Hermann said, “I could hardly believe my luck.”

Herrmann has submitted an early publication to the Leipziger Hofmeister Verlag to inform musicians where the composition can be found.

Plans are being made by the Mozarteum in Salzburg to stage a public performance of the piece in late February.


Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung 19 January 2016,-Walldorfer-Musikforscher-weist-Teamwork-von –Mozart-und-Salieri-nach-_arid,162807.html,-Walldorfer-Musikforscher-weist-Teamwork-von%20–Mozart-und-Salieri-nach-_arid,162807.html

Mozarteum, 19 January

Schwä, 10 January 2016,-Sensation-Gemeinschaftswerk-von-Mozart-und-Salieri-in-Prag-entdeckt-_arid,10372846.html


Haiku Wednesday: John Dowland, Cut-up

John Dowland

What can stay my thoughts?
Shall I straight yield to despair
Wherein I suffer?

Never may my woes
Be relieved, pity is fled,
Exiled forever.

Poor souls sigh and weep.
Who giveth all hath nothing;
My fortune is thrown.

Should I aggrieved then
In deadly pain and mis’ry
Still on sorrow feed?

Of all joys deprived,
Gone are all my joys at once.
Let me live forlorn.

Woeful wretched wight!
Love and I shall die together.
Let me living die.

Following upon Monday’s musical mash-up, I present today’s haiku cut-up. To craft today’s haiku, I printed out lines of John Dowland’s songs that have 5 or 7 syllables and cut them up so that I could rearrange them. [1]

Want to play along? I’ve set up a page with 5-syllable (plain) and 7-syllable (Italic) lines that you can cut out to make your own sigh-swoll’n despairful haiku. You can find it by hovering over the words More Useful Stuff at the top of the web page. Feel free to share your creations as a comment!

One could hardly call John Dowland a cut-up, or comedian, judging by his music. In fact his personal motto was Semper Dowland semper dolens [always Dowland, always Doleful]. His songs tend to be mournful affairs of love gone wrong or unrequited. And they’re wonderful.

My favorite recording of John Dowland’s songs is by British tenor Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Kenny (lute). The disk also includes Benjamin Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland performed by Craig Ogden (guitar). Here is an article Padmore wrote on Dowland’s music.

Many artists have recorded Dowland songs, including, surprisingly, Sting and Elvis Costello.

Here is Dowland’s In Darkness Let Me Dwell performed by soprano Ellen Hargis with Jacob Heringman (lute) and Mary Springfels (viol).

1. This isn’t my first mash-up. Back in high school I recombined lines from the poetry of John Donne to retell the story of Hamlet from Hamlet’s perspective….hey, it was a small town, not much to do!


Call it Quodlibet or Mashup, It’s Still Classic(al)

A quodlibet is a piece of music that features a combination of melodies, for example, popular tunes.  They are typically combined in a surprising way that makes them funny (especially if you know the typically non-funny intent of the original tunes).

A mashup combines two or more pieces of music, sometimes superimposing the vocal track of one song over the instrumental track of another.

Either may consist entirely of other people’s music.  The art is in the blending.

Grant Woolard has combined 57 classical themes by 33 composers in this clever YouTube video.  The graphics are as entertaining as the music.


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Free Webcast: Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony from the DSO


Detroit. Tomorrow. Be there.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will present a free webcast of Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony on January 16, 2016 at 8:00 PM EST.  The program will also include works by Dvorak, Elgar, and Mohammed Fairouz.  Here’s the program:

Dvorak              Serenade for Winds

Elgar                  Serenade for Strings

Mozart              Symphony No 38, “Prague”

Mohammed Fairouz       Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

The program will feature Israeli-born cellist Maya Beiser performing the world premiere of the concerto by Mohammed Fairouz titled “Desert Sorrows.”

You can find the webcast here.  Don’t miss it!


Image attribution: Mozart c. 1780, portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce. Public domain. Questionably modified by C. Gallant.